I was lucky enough to get tickets to one of the first matinee performance of teh RSC’s “The Mirror and the Light” as a birthday present this year, and I thought that I would jot down some of my thoughts about the play.
Spoiler warning: I am going to try not to give too much away but there will be some small spoilers for the production (and historical events) beyond this point…
Back in 2015, I wrote a blog post about the decision to depict the female characters in Wolf Hall wearing French hoods with gauze veils in a variety of colours (with their hair visible below). The new Channel 5 drama Anne Boleyn throws up a new take on the French hood – the hood worn on a bare head without veil or cap.
All the surviving evidence shows that French hoods were worn with white linen caps and with (black) veils. The costumes for this production have clearly been designed to be visually striking and are perhaps best described as interpretations of Tudor dress rather than replicas. The decision for Anne and the ladies of the court to wear their French hoods much like oversized headbands should be seen in this light rather than as historically accurate.
If you want to read more about dress at Henry VIII’s court, I recommend:
Maria Hayward, Dress at the Court of Henry VIII and Rich Apparel (the former is full of photographs which does make it expensive so worth looking for a library copy)
The publications produced by The Tudor Tailor which include patterns to make your own garments (they also make YouTube video tutorials)
One question that I have been asked about the BBC version of Wolf Hall is whether the headdresses worn by Anne and her ladies are accurate. In particular, whether they would really have been made of such light, gauzy fabric with very narrow hoods?
It has taken me a while to get round to looking into this and I have to say that, given how well most of this production was researched, I am not entirely sure where they have got this idea from. They are not the only ones to go with this interpretation. The stage production of Wolf Hall also seems to use a lightweight fabric in headdresses, although it is more substantial. It is possible that they have been inspired by contemporary portraits where the French hoods (with their distinctive horseshoe shape set far back on the head) appear less bulky than the gable hoods favoured by Catherine of Aragon and the English hoods worn by Jane Seymour.
However, accounts and inventories relating to Princess Mary, Catherine Parr and Jane Seymour all refer to velvet French hoods, which would likely have been more substantial than those seen in the images above. Furthermore, whilst costume makers seem to like producing colour coordinated headdresses, the veils would invariably have been black – this can be seen in portraits. The final problem I have with the BBC version of the hoods is that the hair is visible through it and, when Anne is executed, they take her hood off to replace it with a white cap. In reality, a linen cap would have been worn under the headdress to protect it from the oils in the wearer’s hair – portraits sometimes show the edge of this cap peeking out. Whilst, the stage production shows this white edging, they make the error (also popular with the makers of the The Tudors) of showing Anne with her hair loose and visible over her shoulders.
Period dramas are often known for their stunning costumes but in this case their take on the French hoods slightly miss the mark.
In my post on Anne Boleyn’s family, I commented that I was interested to see how they were going to depict Jane, Lady Rochford’s involvement in Anne’s fall. In the end, they showed her talking to Cromwell after flirtatious chatter between Anne, Mark Smeaton, Francis Weston, Henry Norris and William Brereton gets out of hand. She then goes on to claim that her husband has committed adultery with his sister. Cromwell makes reference to Anne’s other ladies having talked after her arrest but we don’t see them. This is a departure from the book where Cromwell is shown talking to Elizabeth, countess of Worcester and Margaret Shelton before he talks to Jane Rochford.
Fans of Philippa Gregory may have found themselves wondering where Mary Boleyn was as his sister was falling from favour and ultimately meeting her fate at the hands of the executioner. After all, in The Other Boleyn Girl book, Mary is at court when Anne is arrested and her daughter is taken to the Tower as a companion to Anne. In the 2008 film, Mary rides back to court to plead with Henry for her sister’s life and then sees Anne, promising to look after her daughter, Elizabeth. In contrast, Mary Boleyn disappeared from sight after episode 3 of Wolf Hall. Continue reading “Wolf Hall Explained – Where was Mary Boleyn?”
I have watched the final episode of Wolf Hall twice now and both times it has moved me to tears. I am familiar with numerous instances of executions ordered by Henry VIII to the extent that I had become matter of fact about them, feeling little emotion. Peter Kosminsky changed that with his powerful depiction of the interrogations, trials and executions that humanized this stories for me.
In episode 5 of Wolf Hall, we saw Eustace Chapuys at Court, being tricked into bowing to Anne Boleyn before being yelled at by Henry VIII, after which Cromwell also found himself on the receiving end of Henry’s anger. So, what exactly was it all about?
In the 4th episode of Wolf Hall, Thomas Cromwell was shown discovering that Henry Pole, Lord Montagu, and Henry Courtenay, marquis of Exeter, amongst the visitors to Elizabeth Barton (the nun who has been prophesying that Henry will not be King if he divorces Katherine of Aragon and marries Anne Boleyn). He is then shown questioning Margaret Pole, countess of Salisbury and Gertrude, marchioness of Exeter. But why were the Pole and Courtenay families important? And why did it matter if they were meeting with the woman predicting doom for Henry and England? Continue reading “Why did the Pole and Courtenay families matter?”
In episode 3 of Wolf Hall, Cromwell was summoned to a crisis gathering of Anne’s family to deal with Henry Percy’s claim that he and Anne had been contracted to one another (in Tudor England, promises of marriage were seen as binding contracts and would mean that Anne was not free to marry Henry VIII). But who exactly were all the people standing around? Continue reading “Wolf Hall Explained – Anne’s Family”