Getting to know ‘The Tudors’

I spent the recent 4th of July weekend watching nothing but British television. I started out the morning watching “The Sarah Jane Adventures,” ate lunch while watching (yet again) reruns of “Doctor Who” on BBC America and finished the day off watching season 1 of “The Tudors.” (OK, so, “The Tudors” isn’t exactly British television, but it’s close enough.)

Anne Boleyn — what's a little historical inaccuracy compared to ratings?

I’ve always been fascinated with English history (more so than American history *yawn*), but never to the point of actually wanting to know more. Until Showtime premiered its new series back in 2007, dramatizing the life of King Henry VIII and his six wives. I knew the basic story of course, that King Henry, in his desperate attempt to have a son, broke with the Catholic Church in order to divorce his wife and marry another woman, whose head he chopped off three years later. But I never really knew the details or much of anything about his other four wives.

Of course, watching a Showtime program isn’t the best way to learn what really happened. When the series first began, I devoured all the Wikipedia entries for Henry and his six wives. Wikipedia isn’t the most trustworthy source of information, but I find it to be a good starting point to learn about things I didn’t know before. For instance, by the time the series had introduced Henry’s sister, Princess Margaret, I had already learned that he actually had two sisters, Princess Mary and Princess Margaret. I guess the writers thought the show already had too many Marys because Princess Mary got written out of the show completely, and Princess Margaret was given her role. In history, Princess Margaret married King James IV of Scotland and would become the grandmother of Mary, Queen of Scots. In “The Tudors,” Princess Margaret married the king of Portugal, smothered him, then married the king’s friend Charles Brandon without his permission. In reality, Princess Mary married Louis XII of France, became a widow three months later, and then married Charles Brandon in secret, eventually becoming the grandmother of Lady Jane Grey. (Both granddaughters were later, of course, beheaded.)

Yikes. Talk about artistic license.

But despite the gross historical inaccuracies of “The Tudors” (like 16th century women were really that clean-shaven), my parents and I became engrossed in the show. And it led me to want to learn not only more about the lives (and deaths) of Henry’s six wives, but also what really happened, as opposed to what Showtime’s interpretation of the events were. So I bought a book. My first non-fiction book in… well, ever. A 650+ monstrosity of a book. And I devoured it. And I bought more non-fiction books, The Children of Henry VIII and The Life of Elizabeth I. Which led to more curiosity about the royal family in the Middle Ages and the purchase of The Princes in the Tower, with more books put on my Amazon wish list.

It became a little ritual between my mother and myself that, after watching the latest episode of “The Tudors,” she would ask me, “OK, what really happened?” And, armed with my new-found knowledge, I could tell her. I think I now know more about Tudor history than I do about the history of my own country(ies).

Sadly, we had to give up Showtime before season four of “The Tudors” aired, but the DVDs will follow eventually. My parents and I will watch, and then I’ll tell them how it really went down.

As historically inaccurate as “The Tudors” may be, it opened up a door to an era of history that I didn’t I would be so fascinated by, and gave me an opportunity to learn something new.

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