As observed in my earlier blogs on SPANISH PRINCESS, Starz gets the major historical events right, but leaves out or fictionalizes many (very entertaining!) details. Here is a breakdown of the 11/8 "Plague" episode, if you care to separate facts from fiction.
From the "real' history (my specialty, as a writer of "real history mysteries") we know that "Plague" occurs during 1515 (when Louis XII died, reportedly from too much sex, and Mary promptly wed Charles Brandon), 1516 (when Katherine gave birth to Mary), 1517 (when Queen Margaret discovered her husband's affair with Jane Stewart), and 1519 (when Bessie Blount gave birth to King Henry's first surviving son). Much was simplified and major facts were left out: Charles Brandon's previous two wives and Margaret's daughter by Angus, for example. (See my blog illustrated with Mary and Charles' wedding portrait at https://www.maryannphilip.com/blog for details.) But the basic history is correct, including Thomas Wolsey's meteoric rise to become the second most powerful man in England.
However, Starz was unfair to Queen Katherine, Cardinal Wolsey and to a lesser extent, King Henry VIII, at least in my opinion.
Before discussing that unfairness, let's be clear on the fiction in "Plague": first, Bessie Blount – a legendary beauty, inexplicably portrayed as very plain by Starz– was hustled away from the court as soon as her pregnancy began to show. Katherine was nowhere near when Bessie gave birth, much less brandishing a knife to do an episiotomy so she could carry a newborn son to Henry. And William Compton—who was NOT Lady Margaret Pole's suitor, because he was already married—did not die of "the plague" then, much less get dragged off and buried by Thomas More and Lena's fictional husband. He died more than ten years later, during a "plague" of the mysterious "sweating sickness" that killed many in Tudor England. Starz has evidently borrowed from events in 1528 to promote the fictional romance between Lady Margaret Pole and Thomas More, addressed in my blog illustrated with Henry's armor at https://www.maryannphilip.com/blog .
I see why Starz invented the Lady Margaret-Thomas More romance, perhaps. More on that below.
Here's why Starz has been unfair to Thomas Wolsey, Queen Katherine, and Henry VIII himself, in my opinion: Wolsey was a very able administrator and statesman, whom Starz portrays as corrupt, slow-witted and nasty to the Queen. The fact is, King Henry was smart to rely on him—and Henry himself smarter and far less arbitrary than Starz paints him. Wolsey became rapidly wealthy not due to French bribes, but to numerous church benefices–literally, sources of income—that piled on as Henry pushed him to bishop, archbishop and finally cardinal. While this is a form of corruption, it was a worldwide corruption of the existing church, ultimately one of the causes of the Protestant Reformation and Henry's version of it, which transferred Catholic Church wealth to the Crown.
The relationship between Queen Katherine and Wolsey during this period is mysterious in the histories, but there is evidence that they cooperated (planning for the Battle of Flodden, for example—see my blog illustrated with a picture of Henry's armor at https://www.maryannphilip.com/blog ). Promoted by Henry because of his many talents, Wolsey was certainly not stupid enough to be rude to the Queen. He was undoubtedly hated by many of Henry's other councilors, if only because of his "low birth." But if Katherine felt as they did, she kept it to herself.
Necessarily, though, as Wolsey's power rose, Katherine's diminished. Wolsey wasn't the only reason, however. Starz has not mentioned most of Katherine's known pregnancies: seven, including one false pregnancy, between 1510 and 1518. With the exception of the false pregnancy, this counts only those she carried to term or nearly to term. Constantly pregnant, she gained weight and aged prematurely, something Starz does not show us. When "Plague" occurs, her glamor is mostly gone. She may also have been carrying a fatal illness, thanks to Henry—read the first pages of CANNON CONSPIRACY to see what it was, here: 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 . (Eventually I'll address the circumstantial evidence supporting this theory in this blog. For now, you'll have to read the Afterword in CANNON CONSPIRACY to find the evidence.)
Katherine was aware of and angry about Henry's adulteries from the first, contrary to Starz' portrayal. While infidelity was typical behavior for monarchs of that era—Katherine's father, among others—her marriage was undoubtedly fraying because of it. Henry also bedded more women than Starz acknowledges during Katherine's pregnancies, perhaps because she was unavailable to him sexually until she was "churched" after she gave birth—a Tudor custom explored in my book, CANNON CONSPIRACY and discussed in my blog illustrated with Henry's armor, at https://www.maryannphilip.com/blog . (By the way, CANNON CONSPIRACY lays out the Tudor customs around royal and upperclass births, all of which were attended by skilled midwives. Starz' consistent portrayal of ladies-in-waiting attending births in hallways has no basis in fact.)
Starz was also unfair to Queen Katherine in portraying her as cold towards her only child. By all accounts, Queen Katherine was a loving mother to her daughter Mary. We also know that Mary was extremely fond of her, an attitude that seems unlikely if she was shunned as a small child. It is also well documented that together, Queen Katherine and Margaret Pole—both very educated women for that era—oversaw Mary's excellent education and preparation for her future as Queen. (Margaret Pole was appointed as Mary's governess in 1520, when Mary was four.)
Like them, Thomas More was an early proponent of women's education, insisting on it for his own daughters even though it was very controversial at the time. I suspect that Starz has created the fiction of a romantic relationship between Lady Margaret and Thomas More (identified as such in my blog illustrated with the Princess Mary-Charles Brandon wedding portrait) in order to emphasize their agreement on women's education in later episodes. We'll see.
While Starz does not emphasize Katherine or Margaret's religiosity, history reveals them as very pious women, just as Thomas (later Saint Thomas) More was an intensely pious man. It is probably no coincidence that the future Queen Mary grew up fervently Catholic—just like them. Starz, in the "Plague" episode, shows us the roots of future tragic conflict without touching this religious aspect. That is understandable, because piety is not entertaining. But I wonder if they can continue to pull it off.