You know, I sat down to write this with the goal of being positive, calling out what the show is doing well since I’ve already outlined what isn’t working for me. But then I saw this episode and that’s over now. The first half is essentially a couple scenes of casserole in which every notable character is thrown around the same place to make it interesting. I have no idea if this comes from the book or is from the show, but let’s start with the basics.
The episode covers the birth of Prince Arthur and a peace envoy sent by England to Burgundy, or, more specifically, by Henry Tudor to Margaret of York, Dowager Duchess of Burgundy (who I will refer to as MOY from here on out). Let’s start with the latter:
- Ostensibly this episode is set in September 1486 (the month Arthur was actually born) and yet features Mary, Duchess of Burgundy – MOY’s stepdaughter. In reality, MOY died in 1482. Why is she here? Her death via horseback at the end of the episode is at least the accurate mode, but it just seems so superfluous, even tied to the Tudor visit.
- Cecily Neville, Duchess of York was absolutely not in Burgundy. And did the show ever explain how she left the Tower (another false location they placed her in)?
- Did they *really* include a throwaway line insinuating MOY might have had her husband murdered?
- Is that supposed to be sexual tension between MOY and Jasper? No.
- Jasper didn’t lose kin to the war? Well, Henry VI was his half-brother, so…
Back in England, Henry is thrilled Arthur was born. He has a boy! And on his first try, too! What a wonderful precedent that the Tudors won’t be able to keep up with. Naturally, within an hour of it, Margaret and Elizabeth are threatening each other in the hallway, but besides them everyone is happy. Oh, not Cecily – she has a bee in her bonnet about the fact that she…I don’t know, isn’t Lizzie? And let’s net forget Maggie who is still upset Teddy is in the Tower. I guess, really, it comes down to Henry and Lizzie – they’re pleased.
The whole issue of Arthur’s christening is also false. Arthur was christened in Winchester, but he was also born there, not London. Where someone was born was of more significance than where they were christened – the symbolism of Arthur’s birth in Winchester, and the play upon his name and the legend, was well-mapped out beforehand.
After Lizzie is churched, she and Maggie visit Teddy in the Tower, an event that causes both of them to cry because all Teddy understands is that he isn’t home and he wants to be.
After the christening, the royal party returns to London and Cecily announces that she is to be married to Lord John Welles. This is true, as is his connection to Margaret Beaufort – in fact, by all appearances the closeness between Cecily and Margaret depicted in the show is accurate. Whether or not it indicates strife between Cecily and Elizabeth/Lizzie is less clear.
While on the trip, Margaret convinces Henry to imprison Elizabeth. When he gets back to London he tells Lizzie she has been locked up “in a dungeon.” No, that’s not how that would have worked. However, the question as to whether Elizabeth spent these years plotting against Henry and the Tudors is up for debate. There is a very real theory that Elizabeth’s eventual retirement to Bermondsey Abbey – shown for the first time this episode – was a result of her political meddling on York’s behalf. As such, I don’t take issue with this broader storyline.
Which brings me to my earlier goal – what I like about this show. The dynamics between the women are well-done, as is the inclusion of MOY and Maggie, two figures it would have been easy to cut, particularly Maggie. As referenced above, to what extent Cecily was truly at odds with her sister and mother is debatable, but the relationship between all of the York women, including the younger sisters once they were grown, is a bit of a question mark and it’s interesting to see that being addressed here.
Similarly, the single best part of the issue is the complexity of the relationship between Henry and Lizzie, which, arguably, is the center of the entire plot. There’s white space in the historical record; they could hone in on this, ignore the magic and manufactured drama and have a very solid show.
Anyway, back to the episode and my grievances. Elizabeth is shown living at Bermondsey with Anne, Katherine and Bridget. For the record, she wasn’t accompanied by her daughters when she left for the convent. Anne and Katherine remained under Lizzie’s protection, while Bridget entered a different convent – Dartford Priory – at some point between 1486 (the year being depicted) and 1492 (the year Elizabeth Woodville died in real life). Never fear, the show’s Elizabeth has already figured out a way to ferret letters to Lizzie in and out of the convent grounds, using her younger daughter as a bodily shield.
The conversation between Henry and Lizzie is, I believe, meant to be quite the emotional climax. Some of it is very effective – the extent to which Lizzie was brought up in this environment and may know more about how to rule and function at court than Henry does. Less effective is the whinging about “having been told your whole life what you are” – look, Henry, you’re not Holden Caulfield. And Lizzie, before your father died, you were going to marry the dauphin of France – marrying a man you loved was never in the cards.
Whatever, the best line of episode was when Henry ended it with a heartfelt, “I only ask that you do not plot against my life. At least spare me that humiliation. But, of course, you cannot even promise that.” It’s a sorry state of affairs when you can’t aim higher with your own wife.
Lizzie is crowned queen, further underlining the extent to which her loyalties are now divided between her mother and her son. She fails to visit her mother when provided with an opportunity and the episode ends with her choosing to sleep beside Henry, Arthur in a cradle in their bedchamber. The coronation took place in November 1487, however given that Jasper remains in Burgundy for the entirety of the episode, I’m going to assume the plot doesn’t actually mean to jump forward 14 months.
Now, one last note on this whole MOY/Jasper dynamic – I mean, besides NO. In reality Jasper was married. I’m genuinely curious as to whether this show means to completely ignore Katherine Woodville and whether this is true to the book or a deviation the show took.