Watching Becoming Elizabeth, I think that most people (existing Tudor fans included) would be forgiven from coming away asking: but what are the timescales for these events? This is not a show that flashes up subtitles with the date and, with the exception of Katherine Parr’s pregnancy where we can guess the number of months, the pacing is unclear. It has also simplified some events (for example the 1549 rebellions), left lesser known individuals out and given their actions to the main cast, and moved some events around. So, if you are left wondering when the events occured, here is a select timeline of the period.
*In the interest of avoiding spoilers, the timeline currently covers only the events shown up to the end of episode 6. I will update it once the show has ended!
England is blessed with a large number of castles (both ruined and adapted for later use) many of which are of interest to fans of the Tudor period. It is also often possible to combine two of my favourite pasttimes – visiting historic sites and eating ice cream. In this series of posts, I am going to give you run down of my favourite castles with a connection to the Tudor period (and the opportunities for eating ice cream in the local area!). This first post mostly covers northern England/Midlands, further south to follow in part 2.
Norham Castle (Northumberland)
Why should I visit? One of the most important castles in the English/Scottish border area. Between the 12th and 16th centuries, the castle was beseiged at least 13 times. In the Tudor period, it was captured by King James IV of Scotland when he invaded England in 1513. Afterward the English victory at the battle of Flodden, the castle adapted for artillery but, in the 1590s, Elizabeth I refused to spend any more money on its upkeep and it soon feel into disrepair.
One thing I have noticed about the dialogue in Starz Becoming Elizabeth is the tendency to refer to Elizabeth as “Princess Elizabeth”, “princess”, “the princess” etc. It seem a logical choice – after all she is the daughter of a King – but is it accurate?
In episode 2 of Becoming Elizabeth, we were introduced to two young men – Robert Dudley (wearing a fetching pearl earring) and his brother, Guildford. Elizabeth is shown to already know the two brothers and she introduces them to Lady Jane Grey. Robert goes on to play an important role in episode 3 when he makes Elizabeth understand her own power as the daughter of a King, and shames her for humiliating Lady Jane. Both boys have an important role in episode 5 – they are with the King when Thomas Seymour comes to steal him away, culminating in Seymour attacking Robert – and, in episode 6, Robert goes with his father to deal with rebels in Norfolk. But who were Robert and Guildford?
*In addition to this post about Guildford and Robert, you can find my post about Robert and Elizabeth here!
After receiving a generally positive response to episode 1, Becoming Elizabeth unleashed a whole load of online controversy with episode 2 (and prompted a direct response from a cast member to one review). Read on to find out more…
Last weekend saw the premiere of episode 1 of the hotly anticipated Starz series “Becoming Elizabeth”. I tuned in with some trepidation as historical drama produced by this channel can be hit and miss – the scene in “The Spanish Princess” where a pregnant Catherine of Aragon rides into battle in full pregnancy army being a particularly egregious example. “Becoming Elizabeth” was therefore a pleasant surprise. So what were the good, bad and intriguing parts of this first episode?
In the first episode of “Becoming Elizabeth”, the young Lady Jane Grey moves into the household of Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour because she is in the line of succession. When Elizabeth states that the line of succession is her brother Edward and his heirs, her sister Mary, and then herself, Jane clarifies that she means the ‘legitimate’ line of succession. She states that Mary and Elizabeth could still be found illegitimate, and that some people call Elizabeth a “bastard”.
So, what was Lady Jane’s claim to the throne?
Jane was the eldest daughter of Henry Grey, Marquis of Dorset, and his wife, Lady Frances Grey. Frances Grey was the daughter of Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister, and Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk. In his will of 1547, Henry VIII laid out the line of succession as Edward VI and his heirs, Mary and her heirs, Elizabeth and her heirs. He then stated that, after that, the crown would pass to the heirs of his niece, Lady Frances Grey.
“The Catte, the Ratte and Lovell our dogge rulyth all Englande under a hogge.”
In July 1484, William Collingbourne pinned a short poem to the door of St Paul’s Cathedral. In it, he lampooned Richard III and the three men seen as his principal advisors – Sir William Catesby, Sir Richard Ratcliffe and Francis Lovell.
Francis Lovell’s father had died in 1465 when he was around 9 years old. The young Lord Lovell was placed in the custody of Richard Neville, earl of Warwick. This overlapped with the final year that Richard, duke of Gloucester, spent in Warwick’s household and was likely the first time that the two men met. Warwick also arranged for his niece,Anne FitzHugh to marry Lovell, whilst Richard married Neville’s daughter, (another) Anne. After Warwick’s death in 1471, Lovell’s wardship was granted to John de la Pole, duke of Suffolk.
Inspired by a Twitter conversation about this Guardian article, I recently visited “The Tudors: Passion, Power, and Politics” exhibition at the Holburne Museum in Bath. The article is headlined: ‘Beginning of modern Britain’ and the text talks about a compelling period of “British history”, and relations between “Britain” and European countries. Whilst it makes for a compelling headline (especially in the context of Brexit), it was immediately obvious that the portraits mentioned were all English, and the article made no reference to the fact that Scotland was a separate kingdom in the 16th-century with its own politics and international relationships.
Contrary to the impression given by the article, the exhibition does not erase the Scottish experience of the 16th-century by equating it with “Britain”. However, if you are looking for an exhibition that explores the experiences of the different nations that make of the British Isles, you will not find it here. As the title says, this is an exhibition about the Tudor dynasty. The only non-English figures to feature are Mary, Queen of Scots (in the context of Queenship and conflict with England); Katherine of Aragon (in the context of her marriage into England); Gerlack Flicke (who worked largely in England); and (arguably) half-Welsh Henry VII, though little reference is made to his Welsh roots.
Having established what the exhibition is not, what was my experience of it?
Henry VIII was buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle on 16th February 1547. However, although he is one of the most recognisable figures of English history there is no large, elaborate tomb. Instead, Henry and Jane Seymour’s final resting place is marked with a plain marble slab installed in 1837 by William IV. The slab also records the burial of Charles I and a child of Queen Anne in the same vault. However, in 1547, Henry VIII had a partially complete tomb which has since been lost. Tantalisingly, there are no known contemporary drawings of the tomb, or drawings from the decades before it was lost. Documentary sources are focused only on particular elements of the tomb/construction process or ambiguously dated. For extra complication, the design and construction took place over nearly 20 years with at least three sculptors being employed by Henry VIII – are some of the sources we rely on actually describing earlier versions of the tomb?