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Spanish Princess Last Episode: Why Contradict History?

I was very disappointed in the last episode of Spanish Princess. The truth about Katherine of Aragon is both dramatic and a testament to the strong woman she was—the woman Spanish Princess painted in earlier episodes.  In past episodes, the truth has been embroidered a bit—people appearing at the wrong times and places, doing things they didn't do, for example—but the big picture was reasonably accurate. In the last episode, though, Starz re-wrote history in fundamental ways, then dressed it up with odd, fake torture devices and murder attempts to make it more dramatic, then destroyed the strong and historically accurate character of Katherine that they earlier created.


 In Starz' "Peace" episode, Katherine gave up. In real life, she didn't.  And because she didn't, the history of the English-speaking world changed enormously and irreversibly. It's a shame Starz didn't show that.


Here's the reality: Katherine fought vigorously against Henry's attempts to divorce her, across Europe and for a number of years. She left Henry's household only in obedience to Henry's orders. Even then, she refused to answer those who would not address her as Queen. In doing this, she was also defending the legitimacy of her daughter Mary, who was fiercely devoted to her. The Pole family also remained faithful to her, an unswerving loyalty that ultimately cost Margaret Pole her head.


 Katherine also testified forcefully under oath, in front of high church officials, that she was a virgin when she married Henry, and his obedient wife throughout their marriage. If Margaret Pole had told Henry that Katherine was not a virgin, as portrayed in the final Spanish Princess episode, Margaret would have been forced to testify at that "Blackfriars"canon law trial. Henry sought records from all over Europe, hoping to show that Katherine's marriage to his brother was consummated. He found circumstantial evidence—Arthur bragging about being "in Spain," after marrying Katherine, for example.  But nothing in Katherine's communications with others that contradicted her.


The drama I expected to see was the Blackfriars canon law trial. Starz not only ignored it—they contradicted it. Had Katherine not doggedly pushed for it, that trial would never have happened.  Because it did happen—and Henry lost—he was forced to break with the Catholic Church, a decision of enormous historical consequence.


Starz also manufactured Margaret Pole's betrayal of Katherine, and the story that King Henry confiscated Margaret's properties along with Buckingham's. Total fiction. We will never know if Margaret's silence about Katherine's virginity was because Katherine told the truth, or because Margaret was loyal to her beloved mistress, or because she had no idea what happened between Katherine and Arthur. Whatever the case, the way Starz treated Margaret Pole in the last episode tarnishes her reputation, along with Katherine's.


And Sir Thomas (later Saint Thomas) More, author of the "Utopia" that promoted religious tolerance, setting up a personal torture device for Protestants in his home? A few were burned while he was Chancellor, with his approval, and he was accused of personally whipping Protestants—which he bitterly denied. Isn't that enough? Why exaggerate the sins of a respected historical figure?


Starz also has Henry trying to murder Katherine, and Katherine herself magically finding a crossbow and almost murdering Henry. And one of the Boleyn girls mysteriously stripping herself naked in front of Henry, standing upright in a dark courtyard. (I couldn't tell which it was—Henry bedded Mary Boleyn, and possibly the girls' mother, before his infatuation with Anne.) Does Starz think women's dresses were constructed with Velcro seams in Tudor England, or was this a dream sequence that I misunderstood? Whatever the case, it was unbelievable, cheesy and unnecessary.


It's one thing to embellish history, or to take one side in a historical controversy—I do that in all my "real history mysteries," including just-published Cannon Conspiracy, set early in Henry and Katherine's reign.  Philippa Gregory and other popular authors of good historical fiction do the same. It's quite another, though, to create a completely false narrative that contradicts an undisputed and significant historic record.


I am aware that both Starz and Philippa Gregory, the author of the Spanish Princess novels, took the position that Katherine lied when she maintained that her marriage to Henry's older brother was never consummated.  Historians have debated the point endlessly, and we will never know the truth. Personally, I cannot see a woman as devout as Katherine lying under oath before high church officials on this point, and doing it passionately, consistently and well. Her lies would have damned her, according to the religious thinking of the day. And why do it, when she could have relied on the papal dispensation that her father and Henry VII obtained for her marriage to Henry? According to her biographer Patrick Williams, that papal dispensation assumed that her first marriage may have been consummated. It therefore made the question of her virginity irrelevant, except in the mind of Henry VIII.


Ironically, Henry's sister Margaret got her divorce, a fact not mentioned in Starz' portrayal of her battles with her first husband Angus. (Her cannons actually did fire on him, though she probably wasn't lighting the fuses. He survived.) It seems Angus was already betrothed when he married Margaret, standard grounds for annulment. However, Margaret did not loot her brother's treasury, and was not quite the firebrand shown by Starz. Still, she was a strong and adroit woman, who managed to maneuver between rival Scottish clans to see her son crowned king. She and her second husband become respected advisors to him. That child's grandson would unite the thrones of England and Scotland as James I, after the death of Elizabeth I.


I wish Starz had been as fair to Katherine as the were to Margaret.  And I'm sorry the series did not end as strongly as it started.  But speaking of starting: if you want a good picture of Katherine and Henry at the beginning of their promising reign, try Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon and the Cannon Conspiracy, lavishly illustrated with period  art and portraits, FREE to Amazon Unlimited members and otherwise only $2.99. It's available at https://www.amazon.com/Maryann-philip/e/B009WCCZ6O/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_ebooks_1  You will also learn the real history of Henry's first affair, get a glimpse of Tudor Advent, Christmas and New Year's customs, and watch my winsome protagonist avoid Henry's sexual advances and work with Queen Katherine to thwart an early threat to his reign.


For summaries of what was historically accurate in all the episodes, check my blogs at https//maryannphilip.com/blog. While you are there, check out my other real history mysteries set during this time period, that average 4+ stars on Amazon, after more than 225 reviews.  

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"Faith" on Spanish Princess: Is It Faithful to the Real History?

We see the roots of future English violence over religion in the "Faith" episode of Spanish Princess, an odd choice of emphasis. It is mystifying that a series so centered on sex does not mention Henry's affair with Mary Boleyn, sister of Anne Boleyn. That affair was well-known by the time Edward Stafford, Third Duke of Buckingham, was tried for treason in 1520. (Starz also ignored Henry's early affair with Buckingham's sister, the only affair Katherine ever made a public fuss about. If you want to read about that or about Tudor Christmas customs, my latest "real history mystery" covers both—and also explains why Katherine lost all those babies. Find CANNON CONSPIRACY and other blogs about Spanish Princess at maryannphilip.com, or at https://www.amazon.com/Maryann-Philip/e/B009WCCZ6O?



Is this episode historically accurate?  Only in the broadest sense. Biggest falsehoods: I am aware of no evidence that Queen Margaret somehow managed to raid the English treasury, though she did scandalize Henry and Katherine by seeking (and ultimately obtaining!) a divorce from her adulterous husband. Nor did Queen Katherine ever miscarry in a hallway, much less attended only by Buckingham.  Her last known pregnancy, a stillborn daughter, occurred two years before Buckingham's trial.


As for that trial: Starz got the essential accusation and end result right (treason, beheading) but most else wrong.


Here is background you need to understand the real history: Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, was the richest man in England—perhaps even richer than Henry—and a potential rival for Henry's throne, because he was a direct male descendant of the youngest son of King Edward III. In fact, if you look at lineage (which CANNON CONSPIRACY lays out for you) the Tudor claim to the throne was very weak—something Buckingham pointed out, a bit too loudly, when Henry VIII ascended to the throne. So there were murmurings about his treasonous leanings from the beginning. By 1520, he had linked himself with all the other powerful families of England through adroit marriages, which made him even more of a threat.


While he was one of Henry's tennis partners and a member of his Council, Buckingham often skipped those meetings. When he showed up, he clashed with Wolsey, whom he loudly despised as lowborn. In fact, he once dumped water on Wolsey. Big mistake.


Historical documents show that Henry himself instigated the close watch on Buckingham that provided the (weak) evidence for treason at his ultimate trial. Buckingham was more threatening to Henry by then, simply because Katherine had not produced a male heir and looked unlikely to do so. And Henry likely had covetous designs on Buckingham's wealth.


The essence of the treason claim: Buckingham had paid too much attention to the predictions of a monk who said Henry would die without male issue and Buckingham would ascend the throne. There were no insinuations that Buckingham was seen in Katherine's rooms. In fact, Katherine's attitude towards his trial is unknown, according to the three biographies I have consulted.  "She kept her own counsel," says Julia Fox, who wrote Sister Queens (about Katherine and Juana).  Little wonder: Buckingham was a threat to her daughter Mary. However she felt about him personally, his death indirectly benefitted her and her child.


I think I have figured out where Starz' information on her attitude comes from, however: Shakespeare. He co-wrote a play on Henry VIII, little known and seldom performed, that has Katherine defending Buckingham. Shakespeare's history is shakey (pun!) but always entertaining. 


There is only one Spanish Princess episode left, and so much to cover! Queen Margaret's future history alone is worth a miniseries. She was scandalously entertaining and ultimately successful: her grandson finally united the thrones of England and Scotland.  We're also starting to see the real Thomas More, dedicated scholar and persecutor of Protestants –thank goodness Margaret Pole does as well. Again, his history could be a miniseries of its own. So could Margaret Pole's.


I wonder what Starz will do next?


Primary source for this blog:  Young Henry: The Rise of Henry VIII by Robert Hutchinson (St. Martin's Press, 2012 Ed.)  

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"The Field of the Cloth of Gold" Episode of Spanish Princess: What's the Real History?

Starz' "Spanish Princess" is like a chocolate chip cookie. The wonderful chocolate nuggets are the real history, surrounded by a tasty but completely fictional dough.


Here are the real historical nuggets, sorted for you. For more such nuggets, see my blogs on the previous episodes, at https://maryannphilip.com/blog .


The "Cloth of Gold" episode portrays events that occurred between 1517, the year of the "Apprentice Riots," and the "Field of the Cloth of Gold" itself in 1520.  Starz does not mention two things needed to separate fact from fiction here: first, Katherine's father, Ferdinand of Spain, died the year Mary was born (1516), and the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximillian, died in 1519. The grandson of these two monarchs then became Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain.


Starz brought him to England as "Charles V" in the first "Camelot" episode, when he was only nine years old and just plain "Duke Charles."  That was total fiction, as was his appearance at the "Cloth of Gold" in this episode.  He wasn't there.  But he did meet briefly with King Henry and Queen Katherine—for the first time in all their lives—in Dover when the English monarchs were on their way to "the Cloth of Gold" summit.  Charles himself was en route between Spain and "the Low Countries" where he had been raised by his paternal family.  By inheritance and election by German princes, he now ruled the largest empire since Roman times, incorporating much of Europe. (His mother, Katherine's sister Juana, remained locked in a tower in Spain, allegedly hopelessly insane.)


At that time of the Cloth of Gold summit, Katherine's daughter Mary was already betrothed to the Dauphin of France—and had been, since age 2. So the supposed negotiations between Henry and Francis over this betrothal were fictional, as was the insult from Francis that triggered the wrestling match between the two monarchs portrayed in "Cloth of Gold."  The wrestling match did happen, however. And Henry did lose, to his considerable embarrassment. There was also a great deal of jousting and other knight-in-shining-armor stuff, which Starz does not portray. The real "Field of the Cloth of Gold" was famous primarily for the staggering amount of money the two kings spent, showing off and being studiously polite to each other. Starz does not capture this, likely because they simply didn't have the budget for it.


Starz also flipped these events with "the Apprentice Riots" which occurred three years earlier.  According to Queen Katherine's biographer Patrick Williams, Wolsey, King Henry and Queen Katherine orchestrated the scene where Katherine begged Henry to be merciful to those who participated in the riots, after the ringleaders had been hanged and cut in quarters.  The idea was to show the Queen as empathic and the King as merciful, and it worked well. Their popularity soared, as Starz hints.  But the royal family was never endangered by these riots, which were indeed directed against foreigners perceived as taking English jobs. Mary—who was only a year old—was not kidnapped and witnessed nothing of these events, even as an infant.


Starz is getting back to the truth in one respect: both Queen Katherine and Lady Margaret took great care to see that Princess Mary received an excellent education, something both of them had themeselves, though educated women were rare at the time. It is also true that Princess Mary was later betrothed to Charles V, and eventually married his son.


There are only two more episodes, and a great deal left to happen! I'm wondering why the last one is called "Peace." I won't spoil the ending, for those who don't know it. I do hope Starz lets Katherine find peace.

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"The Other Woman" in Starz' Spanish Princess: What is Real History, and What Is NOT

Episode 4 of Starz' Spanish Princess, "The Other Woman," again gets the essential history right but plays with the human details. There is little real history in this episode, and therefore a lot of romantic fiction.


What Starz got right: first, Queen Margaret did secretly marry Angus, reluctantly relinquish her sons, and escape to Henry's protection in England because she feared for her life. All the details in the episode are wrong, but the result is correct. Her oldest son becomes the grandfather of Mary Queen of Scots and great grandfather of James I, Queen Elizabeth I's anointed heir and the monarch who united England and Scotland and thus brought peace between them thereafter. Mostly.


The remainder of Margaret's story is racy and bizarre enough that I hope Starz will simply document the truth in future episodes. 


Second, "The Other Woman" documents the ascendancy of Thomas Wolsey, wisely relied on by Henry VIII because Wolsey was a brilliant and enormously capable man—not the foolish misogynist pictured by Starz. Henry's Council, all from ancient families, despised Wolsey for his low birth and power. While Queen Katherine may have felt the same, the real histories document only cooperation between them (before the Battle of Flodden, for example, discussed in my blog on the "Flodden" episode) at this time. 


We can date "The Other Woman" episode to 1516, when Margaret fled Scotland, Katherine gave birth to Mary and Bessie Blount became Henry's next mistress, probably during that pregnancy. But Starz stuck some of the earlier and later history into "The Other Woman"—and inevitably got most of the details wrong in the process.


Where to begin in identifying the fiction in this episode?  Probably five years earlier, in 1510, when Henry's affair with Anne Hastings actually occurred, during Katherine's first pregnancy and "confinement." (Starz skipped that entirely—Katherine's first stillborn was a daughter. She also had another stillborn son in 1514.) There was a well-documented explosion between Katherine and Henry at that time, when she found out about Anne. Details, along with what actually happened to queens during "confinement"  are in my book, CANNON CONSPIRACY, available through the link below. Anne was bundled off to a convent by her husband and never reinstated as lady-in-waiting to the Queen.  She had eight children by Lord Hastings—at least three by the time of this episode—so her marriage was hardly sexless. William Compton covered for them during her affair with Henry, and was himself accused of living with her eleven years later, in 1527—a mysterious and unproved accusation, since both remained married to their respective spouses.


Those true events are the likely basis for Starz' fiction that Lady Margaret fobbed Compton off on Anne Hastings.  We know Henry did NOT try to marry Lady Margaret off to Compton, ever, because Compton was already married, as documented fact. Neither did Margaret flirt with Sir Thomas More, at least then, because he was never her son's tutor and not yet active at court. That comes later. (See my blog on the "Grief" episode for more on this point.) It is true, however, that Margaret was well-educated and that Thomas More promoted womens' education by raising erudite daughters. So they had something in common. But they could not have carried on a flirtation in 1516 because More was not there.


Why did Katherine have all those stillbirths, and all Henry's children except for Elizabeth die young, the boys in their teens and small, constantly ill Mary at 45? Why did Anne Boleyn have three miscarriages before she was beheaded?  And why did Katherine die before Anne Boleyn did, and Bessie Blount also die young? There is a simple though disputed explanation, which you can learn FREE by reading the first pages of A CANNON CONSPIRACY, available at https://www.amazon.com/Henry-VIII-Katherine-Aragon-Machiavelli-ebook/dp/B08KSKXW2S/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=Maryann+Philip&qid=1604341142&sr=8-2  (Just tap the picture of the book, for access to the FREE pages.) For a summary of the circumstantial evidence supporting that theory, though, you'll have to buy the e-book—or get it FREE if you have KindleUnlimited—and check the Afterword. CANNON CONSPIRACY is full of wonderful portraits from that era, including the one featured in this blog. Like my other "real history mysteries,"  it averages 4 out of 5 stars in early reviews.  And it's only $2.99. Please write a review if you enjoy it! 


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