Fact-Checking The Spanish Princess: Episode Five

I have mixed feelings about this show. It has good moments when it is historically accurate, then it abruptly veers into “Wait, what?!?!?” territory.

As a Tudor novelist, I know how hard it is to keep to the facts without becoming predictable. You must create drama. Unless you want to invent fictional characters and have their stories play out alongside actual events, you make changes.

It works in the narrative to have Harry and Henry at each other’s throats over Catherine. The real story, however, was far different. Prince Harry was “cowed” by his father. Henry VII was intimidating. He had a warm side, but was also calculating and emotionally withdrawn to everyone except his wife. He kept his son (and Harry’s friends) on a tight leash. Various contemporary sources mentioned that Harry was “subdued” and compliant in his father’s presence, especially as a young man.

He would not have shown up at a Council meeting and shamed his father by calling him weak and simpering, because there was nothing weak or simpering about his father. Henry VII took a financially insecure country and made it a formidable European power. He was one of the most influential people of his time, because of the sheer amount of money he had to spend. Other nations wanted it. Nor did Harry fight his father’s wishes for his marriage. Harry wanted Catherine and worked toward that end, but within the appropriate channels. That is where this show founders. It’s trying too hard to have it both ways, to let Catherine want to cater to her mother’s wishes, to remind us no one has any choices (the king decides), yet have rebellious children flouting parental authority. Going against your parents was rare enough it shocked people. Until Margaret and Mary Tudor flouted authority as adults, the Tudors children just did not do it.

Two things bug me about Catalina seeking a way to abort a baby. Margaret Beaufort is not ignorant of how life works. She was pregnant at twelve years old and almost died giving birth. She attended most of the royal births, both for her daughter-in-law, and for the former queen. You can’t tell me seeing a lady throw up in the morning would not make her suspicious, especially after how two weeks ago she was going on about the “visible signs of pregnancy.” Her cluelessness makes no narrative sense.

Second, this is 1502. Catalina is a “converted” Catholic. Abortion was not a common practice. The Church would have considered it sinful. Catholics believed God ordains how many children you have, so the thought of getting rid of one would circumvent His will, a damning sin. Yet, no one talks about this, no one debates its morality, no one fears for the mother’s eternal soul. Catalina assumes Margaret Pole will know how to “get rid of it.” Why would she assume that? Why would Lady Pole know? Children were valuable commodities, since many of them did not live to adulthood. Most women suffered many miscarriages and/or delivered dead fetuses. Few married women would WANT to get rid of a baby, so how to get rid of one would not be common knowledge outside a brothel. Tudor-period women engaged in primitive contraceptives but not many abortions.

Catalina says in one breath she cannot risk her reputation by asking how to get rid of a baby among the taverns (because someone might link her to Catherine’s household) and then goes to a brothel to get an abortive method. Isn’t it worse to be seen visiting a Madam in a whorehouse than ask around in a tavern? 😛

The inconsistencies make my brain hurt.

They have Margaret Beaufort, an otherwise pious woman concerned with the morality of a son marrying his dead brother’s wife (but not her son marrying his daughter-in-law?) turn around and offer her grandson “whores” so he can get over his sexual fixation on Catherine?, I just laughed because I could do nothing else. It’s profoundly out of character for her within the show’s context. Historically, Margaret Beaufort was so pious she took a vow of celibacy in her final marriage (with her husband’s consent). So, no, she wouldn’t ask Stafford to bring a bunch of whores into Croydon so her grandson could “fulfill his needs.” She would have expected him to show godly self control.

The show says Queen Isabella gave consent for Catherine to marry King Henry (I guess King Ferdinand doesn’t exist in this universe??). Never happened. Ambassadors discussed the idea, but both sides refuted it. Isabella even wrote to her envoy that such a thing would be “an abomination” in the eyes of the Lord.

Since I spend most of my time griping about this series, I’d like to mention the things they got right. It’s true Margaret Tudor arrived in Scotland and met her future husband’s bastards the day after they met! o.O

This episode captures King Henry’s more empathetic side well. I loved what he said about one day realizing Lizzie had fallen in love with him and how it felt “right.” It also showed his tenderness and charm. Aside from him being too overly anxious, I think this is the most fair treatment I have seen of him in a historical series.

The series has also done a lovely job with Margaret Pole. We are not sure what happened to her husband, but it’s true he died in this time frame, leaving her alone with a half-dozen children and no income. This Margaret Beaufort is also growing on me, because of Harriet Walter’s brilliant performance. She has wonderful levels of skepticism and disbelief. Even when she’s being awful, she is a scene-stealer. Seeing her help run the Council and telling off her grandson is priceless.

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