Fact-Checking The Spanish Princess: Episode 3

More inaccuracies abound this week. It’s fine within the context of the story line, but it annoys me to have to correct people’s historical misjudgments based on fiction, so I’m going to once again tell you ‘fact from fiction’ as regards the unfolding events.

The weird thing about this week was the ‘refitting’ of earlier historical events into the timeline ‘later on’ for thematic purposes – namely, Elizabeth of York sending Catherine her black litter, and Catherine choosing to ride in on a donkey instead. Historically, these two incidents did not happen at one time. Catherine chose to ride a donkey into London upon her arrival from Spain, despite arguments from the Duke of Buckingham. She insisted on holding onto the Spanish tradition of entering a city on a donkey. It was a tradition of showing “humility” before God (it was also symbolic of the Virgin Mary riding a donkey to Bethlehem). So, the circumstances were quite different – she did not insult Elizabeth of York by refusing her litter, but instead insisted on holding to her Spanish Catholic roots until her marriage to Prince Arthur (including wearing a veil in front of the Tudors, which they addressed in the first episode).

Elizabeth did send her litter for Catherine – but it’s my understanding it was more of a royal coach, decorated in expensive black ribbons, to carry her home from Ludlow Castle in the Welsh Marches to Richmond in London, after Arthur’s death. The series isn’t clear about Arthur’s burial place; it seems to imply he’s buried in London (he isn’t). They also use his funeral as a chance to show further differences between the Spanish and English, in having Catherine and her ladies present. Her ladies start “keening” (wailing) halfway through the service.

Monarchs did not attend funerals in Tudor times. Various noblemen oversaw Prince Arthur’s interment. His mother traveled to his graveside a few months later. None of his family members attended, and neither did Catherine. She stayed at Ludlow after his burial, since she was far too ill to travel. Upon her return to London, Margaret Beaufort took her into her house at Croydon.

The series has Elizabeth already pregnant by the time of Arthur’s funeral; every historian agrees that they conceived their last child around that time, presumably for two reasons (mutual taking of comfort in each other, and because they wanted to try for another male heir). The circumstances of the queen’s premature pregnancy are also altered – by all accounts, Elizabeth carried the child the full 9 months, and had been in confinement (seclusion with her ladies) for a month, before the child’s birth. The baby was not dead on arrival, it lived for 10 days while Elizabeth fought for her life against a serious infection. Henry sent for all the best physicians in England to try and save her, but they failed. He was certainly not present for the birth; having men in the room was inappropriate. Nor would her daughter have watched in horror – unmarried women could not enter confinement, since it was considered a “mature woman only” situation and it was deemed “inappropriate” for unmarried virgins to know about or see such things in the upper class.

Margaret Beaufort is pushing hard for her granddaughter’s Scottish marriage. In actuality, she agreed to the alliance but influenced King Henry to keep his daughter in England for as long as possible. She fell pregnant at 12 years old (that’s true) and almost died giving birth to her only child (which ruined her from having any more) – between that and the trauma of a forced marriage as a child, Margaret was very protective over her granddaughters and their marital alliances. King James had asked for her namesake to come to Scotland and live in his court many times, but Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth of York, and Henry all agreed to refuse. They also brokered a marriage that ensured James never touched his new wife sexually until she “came of age.”

The weird hostility between all the women continues, and with that brings the problem of characters not behaving in a manner befitting the times. Margaret Beaufort harassing Catherine about her pregnancy and feeling her up to find out if she’s carrying a child is a prime example of something that would never have happened. True, Catherine’s marriage had ended, but she was still a representative of Spain. England needed Spain. Margaret Beaufort knew that. You do not insult and mistreat the daughter of the most powerful monarchs on earth, if you need their support against your enemies. By all accounts, the real Margaret Beaufort was fond of Catherine of Aragon.

Catherine and Henry sparring with swords is really inaccurate, but it’s also kind of sexy and cute, so I’ll ignore it.

Some of the massive info dumps are not helping the story – things like Margaret having to tell a servant what “Dowager” (widow) means, when it has zero impact on the plot. But the bigger “WHAT?” is Lina being totally shocked that the Inquisition exists. Uh, she comes from Spain. This would not be news to her.

Philippa Gregory’s plot hinges on Catherine lying about her consummation with Arthur, and a large chunk of the plot in this episode revolves around Catherine scheming and hiding the truth. In actuality, chaste young marriages were somewhat common among the aristocracy (Margaret Beaufort getting knocked up at twelve horrified most of the court). Why? A prime example comes from Catherine’s own family. Her brother, Juan, married Emperor Maximilan’s daughter. Within a few months, Juan was dead. The doctors blamed too much sex. (I’m not joking.) Her parents, and the English monarchs, would have known about this, which is why debate raged over whether to send Arthur and Catherine to live together at Ludlow. They wanted nothing similar to happen in England.

Since there’s a lot of criticism continued within, I will say one thing: I am 100% behind the tender, loving relationship shown between Elizabeth of York and Henry VII. That’s as it was. And as it should be.

7 thoughts on “Fact-Checking The Spanish Princess: Episode 3

Add yours

  1. The intensity with which you write is as grand as your knowledge on the subject about which you write. I’d rather read your corrections than the actual butchered show LOL!

    1. Especially when what they are saying has zero bearing on the plot. Nobody ever calls Catherine “Dowager Princess” to her face (so far), so it’s just a throwback to the title of the book — which is not the title of the show. 😛

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