The Tudors, Artistic Licence and Outright Fictions

I love The Tudors, I probably shouldn’t, but I really do. The history is so ridiculous and mashed together and I wonder why at various times they make up stuff when the actual history is far more interesting and dramatic, but the acting is good and the costumes are stunning. It would take far, far too long to take apart every instance of artistic licence in this highly dramatised series, but here are some examples of the outright fictionalised aspects.

Henry VIII’s Uncle

The Tudors: Starting as it means to go on…the opening scene of episode one, series one presents the murder of Henry VIII’s Uncle (the Ambassador to Urbino) at the hands of the French which precipitates a war between England and France.

The History: Henry VIII did not have an uncle. Henry VII was Margaret Beaufort’s only child while his mother had two brothers, the Princes in the Tower, who died before Henry VIII’s was born. There are a couple of contenders who the character could be based on in the persons of Arthur Plantagenet, an illegitimate uncle of Henry VIII’s mother or William Courtenay, a courtier who married Henry VIII’s aunt. Neither were the ambassador to Urbino (a fictional position) and neither died particularly violent deaths abroad. Both had, very separate, spells in the Tower of London before Henry VIII pardoned and released them. In Plantagenet’s case the news of his release caused him to have a fatal heart attack before he could enjoy his freedom.

Henry VIII’s Sister

The Tudors: Henry VIII has a sister, Princess Margaret, who marries the ageing King of Portugal who she then murders in order to marry the courtier Charles Brandon. The two have a childless and unhappy marriage before Margaret’s death of tuberculosis.

The History: Henry VIII had two sisters; Margaret and Mary. To avoid confusion between his sister and his daughter Mary, the producers amalgamated the two sisters giving the character Margaret’s name but Mary’s life story. An 18 year old Mary married the 52 year old Louis XII of France but far from being murdered by her, he died just three months after the wedding supposedly exhausted from their attempts to produce an heir. Upon his death Mary was moved to an abbey while the new king Francis was crowned, where Charles Brandon was to meet her and return her to England. It was obviously known that Mary had feelings for Brandon as before he left as Henry had Brandon promise that he would not marry Mary without Henry’s permission. This promise was promptly discarded when the two wed in France before the return journey. Their marriage seems to have been successful, producing four children, though they did face a political backlash from their unsanctioned marriage from Henry and the Privy Council. It was Wolsey who intervened on their behalf allowing the marriage to continue but with the couple heavily fined. The cause of Mary’s death has not been recorded, but she died shortly after Anne Boleyn’s coronation.

The Treaty of Universal and Perpetual Peace

The Tudors: Thomas Wolsey spearheads a treaty on a European scale, binding all European countries together in peace under the conditions that any aggressor country would be attacked by the other countries. Henry VIII travels to France to sign the treaty with King Francis at the Field of the Cloth of Gold.

The History: The Field of the Cloth of Gold took place in 1520 and had little political significance. The meeting was to affirm the friendship declared in an earlier Anglo-French treaty and mostly a chance for both kings to demonstrate the wealth and grandeur of their courts. The treaty of ‘universal and perpetual peace’ bears similarities to the Treaty of London of 1518 which saw the leading twenty European countries promise to maintain peace between them all, else they end up at war with all the other signatories. The treaty was a short lived triumph for Wolsey and England, on one hand it brought Henry great prestige as the King who orchestrated such a large scale treaty, on the other many of the smaller European countries were at war within years without the consequences promised by the signatories.

Assassinating Anne Boleyn

The Tudors: The Pope creates an order of Catholics called the Jesuits and commissions William Brereton to assassinate Anne Boleyn with the support of the Spanish ambassador. Ultimately his repeated attempts to kill Anne fail, until an opportunity presents itself allowing him to confess adultery with her, condemning them both to death.

The History: Though the Jesuit order did exist, it was not created until some years after Anne Boleyn’s execution. William Brereton was not a member and as part of the Boleyn court faction, was certainly not commissioned to assassinate Anne. We can speculate that it had probably crossed the minds of Anne’s enemies that life would be easier without her in it, but there were no sustained attempts to remove her permanently from Henry’s affections let alone assassinate her. Brereton was arrested along with others in the faction and tried for adultery with Anne, but he did not admit it.

Fictional Affairs

The Tudors: Practically everyone is sleeping with everyone else! Well not really, but there is a lot of sex in the Tudors. It would take too long to list all the affairs that did not happen, but here’s a selection…

The History:
– Henry VIII’s mistresses Eleanor Luke and Ursula Misseldon are completely fictional, Princess Marguerite of Navarre was known for her chastity and so it’s unlikely she had an affair with Henry and there is no evidence to suggest Henry instigated a sexual relationship with Anne of Cleves after they divorced.
– Thomas Tallis never met William Compton so a homosexual affair between the two was out of the question.
– Charles Brandon was a womaniser in his youth, but did not have an affair with Anna Buckingham (Anne Hastings. Though Anne was thought to have had an affair with William Compton possible after an affair with Henry VIII). He was supposedly entirely faithful to his fourth and final wife Catherine Willoughby, and his French mistress Brigitte, is fictional.
– Anne Stanhope, the wife of Edward Seymour, is portrayed as a serial adulteress going so far as to bearing her brother in law’s child who she names Thomas. While Seymour’s first wife was found to be having an affair with Seymour’s father, Anne Stanhope was (as far as we know) faithful to her husband and bore him ten children.

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2 comments

  1. sonetka

    I can only take The Tudors in very small doses; I don’t know why I can put up with anything in novels but when Princess Margaret is smothering the King of Portugal on screen, I’m hitting the Off button so hard it practically gets pushed through the remote. That being said a lot of the individual scenes where they happened to flake out and use historical sources were awesome, Anne Boleyn’s execution especially so.

    • I know what you mean, I couldn’t stand the Tudors at all when I started watching it. I disliked it so much a friend got me the box set for a joke…then I sort of had to watch it and I really enjoyed parts of it. It’s so bizarre because they fictionalise parts of history that really don’t *need* to be fictionalised but then they have some conversations that are taken from sources ad verbatim!

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