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.