How accurate is the TV Series ‘The Spanish Princess?’ by versus history resident blogger tanya price.
I am a massive fan of TV dramatisations based on the Tudor era, and most recently I have been watching ‘The Spanish Princess’ by Starzplay which is an adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s two books ‘The Constant Princess’ and ‘The King’s Curse.’ It is a sequel to the White Queen and White Princess which followed the War of the Roses and the Ascension of Henry VII to be King. The first series aired on Amazon Prime in 2019 and the second series will be released in October 2020.
I have been interested in Henry VIII and his six wives for over 17 years and wondered as I watched the TV series how accurate would it be and would I learn anything new about Catherine of Aragon and the future Henry VIII and his family? Let’s have a closer look at what the show says happened in History and how accurate this is!
In the White Princess the last episode depicts Catherine of Aragon’s mother Isabella of Castille and father Ferdinand of Aragon ordering two heirs to the Tudor throne to be deposed for the betrothal of Catherine to Arthur, the Prince of Wales. How true is this? Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York did execute the pretender to the throne Perkin Warbeck and Edward Plantagenet, the 17th Earl of Warwick. Both these men were possibly related to Elizabeth of York, with Edward being her cousin and Perkin ‘pretending’ to be her brother Richard, who was supposed to have disappeared from his imprisonment in the Tower of London under his uncle Richard III reign. Edward was beheaded in 1499 aged 24 alongside Perkin. What I find interesting is the lengths that Royal Families were willing to go to secure an alliance with another country and eliminate potential rivals to the throne. Catherine inadvertently was responsible for the death of 1 member of the Royal Family of not two to have her ill-fated marriage to Arthur.
In the first episode of the Spanish Princess, it depicts that the marriage between Arthur, the Prince of Wales and Catherine of Aragon had indeed been consummated. It portrays a night of passion between the young couple which is overheard by Catalina (Catherine’s royal bed maker and black Tudor) and Lady Margaret Pole, who was sister to Edward Plantagenet and was overseeing Arthur and Catherine’s stay at Ludlow Castle alongside her husband Richard Pole. Arthur reportedly claimed the day after their arrival at Ludlow to have ‘spent the night in Spain.’ Now I found this interesting as I have always taught that the couple did not have intimate relations as I believed Catherine’s side of the story when Henry VIII was trying to annul their marriage that she was a maid after Arthur died. According to historical sources this scene in the TV series could be true, as Arthur did proclaim being a husband was ‘thirsty work’ and he found his wife ‘pleasing.’ Historians debate whether Arthur was covering up the fact that he has not done the deed or if Catherine later told a white lie to marry Henry VIII and fulfil her destiny of becoming the Queen of England.
After Arthur’s death, the TV series showed that Henry VII wanted to marry his dead son’s wife. This is after the sad death of his wife Elizabeth of York who passed away after giving birth to a stillborn daughter Katherine at the age of 37 on her birthday. Again this was a fact I had not heard of before and found interesting that Henry VII would consider marrying Catherine of Aragon when he knew his son Henry Tudor wanted to. This may only have been for monetary and political gain, as Henry VII may have wanted Catherine’s dowry from her mother and also to secure the alliance with Spain. Or it could have been that he wished to create more heirs and sons. It is said his wife’s last dying wish was for him to marry Catherine of Aragon. As it happened Isabella of Castille blocked this union and Catherine continued her attempts to secure a papal dispensation from the Pope to marry Henry Tudor.
Catherine of Aragon’s sister Joanna of Castille was crowned Queen of Spain after Isabella passed away on the 26th November 1504. The TV series depicts Joanna as slightly insane but also hints at a possible liaison with Henry Tudor whilst she is visiting England after her ships get blown off course in 1505. How true is this? Joanna did have the nickname Juana the Mad and was married to Philip the Fair, the son of Maximillian I who was the Emperor of Austria. It is said that it was her husband’s adulterous ways that led her to have bouts of depression and periods of insanity. Philip also confined Joanna to her rooms as a way to exert control over his wife, and as a protest, she would refuse to eat or sleep. It is unclear from historical evidence if Henry and Joanna did have a liaison or not but I would like to believe that at this point Henry was devoted in his pursuit of getting married to Catherine and would not be so easily swayed! Joanna is a figure that I now want to research further.
Whilst Joanna is in England the Spanish Princess depicts that she arranges with Margaret Beaufort (The King’s Mother) and Henry VII for the betrothal of the youngest Tudor daughter Mary to be married to her son Charles, who would later become the Holy Roman Emperor. This is true however the marriage was called off in 1513 as Mary went on to marry the King of France. In addition, Henry VII agreed to marry Philip the Fair’s sister Margaret but did not see this through. It also claims that Joanna arranged for Henry, the Prince of Wales to marry her daughter Eleanor who was Catherine’s niece. This claim has been proven to be correct. Again this level of political intrigue I had been previously unaware of beforehand.
The depiction of Margaret Beaufort in the programme is that she vehemently dislikes Catherine of Aragon and will do anything in her power to make sure she does not marry the future Henry VIII but one could argue she had ulterior motives in the fact that Maximillan who was Philip’s father was supposed to be harbouring Edmund de la Pool/Pole, the grandson of Richard III and Yorkist opponent to her son Henry VII’s throne. The Tudors wanted Edmund found and all supporters of him to be handed over and put in the Tower of London! Margaret has always been a woman I respected for her sheer devotion to her son and her utmost belief in his destiny to be King. I now wonder what lines she was willing to cross to ensure his safety and continuation as a ruler? It seems that any threat to his rule in History she has had a hand in eliminating with efficiency.
Margaret Beaufort is also shown having contempt for Elizabeth of York’s cousin Lady Margaret Pole. The reason for this could be as when quizzed by the King’s mother Margaret Pole does not disclose whether Prince Arthur and Catherine were ‘really’ man and wife. As a punishment, she raises the rents on Lady Pole’s lands which resulted in her becoming destitute. How accurate is this? History says that after the death of Richard Pole in 1504 Margaret indeed did not have the fortune to support her family which consisted of five children. Her fourth child Reginald Pole had to go live with a church to ease her financial burden. He later became the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury under Mary I. So her destitution is correct, but is it due to keeping Catherine of Aragon’s night or nights in the bedroom with Arthur a secret? Margaret did become one of Catherine of Aragon’s ladies in waiting and is seen on the show to be taken in by Catherine when she is residing in Durham house.
Henry VII dies in the last episode of series one in the bathtub after 24 years of reigning at the age of 52. How accurate is this portrayal? Henry did die in April 1509 after falling ill in late 1508. The exact date is not clear, historians debate it could be the 21st or 22nd as it was not until the 23rd that the new King Henry VIII was informed. It appears he had tuberculosis which is the accepted conclusion by academics. After Henry VII's death, Henry VIII was free to take the bride of his choosing which was ultimately Catherine of Aragon. Margaret Beaufort who has already shown her shrewdness throughout and before her son’s reign was quick to execute Edmund Dudley immediately afterwards to hide her illegal raise of tenants taxes. This is not quite accurate as Edmund was only tried for treason in the July of 1509 and beheaded in 1510 and by this time Margaret had passed away herself. She died the day after Henry VIII’s 18th birthday on June 29th 1509.
Therefore having watched and reflected on the accuracy of the first series of the Spanish Princess it seems that although a drama made for entertainment, it does have a degree of historical correctness, and has thrown into light events and characters I had not considered before. I am much more interested in the life of Margaret Pole and Joanna of Castille then I was previously and for those who did not know Black Tudors existed, the show features three of them; Catalina the Royal Bed Maker, John Blanke and Oviedo the bow maker. This brings some illumination of the story of migration during the Tudor era and also the Spanish Inquisition that ‘moors’ in Spain who had not converted to Catholicism were subjected to by Isabella and Ferdinand. I am intrigued to see what questions and historical figures series two brings into my subject knowledge of the Tudors, Henry VIII and the issue of his six wives.
By Versus History Resident Blogger, Tanya Price (@littlemisshistory81)
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Does the name William Marshal ring a bell? If not, you're not alone. This medieval knight's story was for many centuries largely lost to the annals of history. It was only when his biography L'Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal, comte de Striguil et de Pembroke was discovered in 1881 by Paul Meyer that suddenly his rags to riches story truly came to light.
From a young hostage to King Stephen I to becoming regent for the minor King Henry III - Marshall's life was shaped by six very different English kings: Stephen, Henry II, Henry the Young King, Richard I, John I and Henry III.
Stephen was the last Norman King of England and Marshal was born in his reign in 1146. This period was marred by civil war known as the Anarchy. It was Stephen versus his cousin Empress Matilda, as she was the legitimate heir to the throne but had been usurped by Stephen in 1135. Marshal ended up becoming Stephen's hostage when he was around five or six years old. His father John Marshal offered him as hostage for a truce, which he then reneged on endangering Marshal’s life. Apparently he declared "he did not care about the child, since he still had the anvils and hammers to forge even finer ones". This could have been the end of young Marshal, with Stephen threatening to follow through and have him executed. Yet for all Stephen's faults as a ruler, he was not a cruel man and ultimately Marshal was spared a terrible fate.
Henry the Young King
Many years passed and with poor inheritance prospects, Marshal had to go out to make a name for himself. He became a knight, and utilising his family connections, ended up working for his powerful uncle the Earl of Salisbury. This got him noticed by the formidable (and frankly amazing) Eleanor of Aquitaine. He joined her retinue and eventually he became a part of the entourage of her son Henry. Henry is known as the Young King as he was crowned in his father Henry II’s lifetime to secure the succession. In terms of Marshal’s personal relationships with these monarchs, his relationship with Henry the Young King was by far the strongest. He served him from 1170 to Henry's premature death in 1183. During this time they became incredibly close friends taking part in the tournament circuits together. Yet it wasn't all plain sailing and Marshal left Henry's retinue for a time, after malicious rumours put a wedge between the young king and his knight. By the time of Henry's death though the two had reconciled and Henry asked him to take the cross on his behalf and go on crusade. Marshal fulfilled his friend's dying wish, travelling to the Holy Land and staying there for two years.
After his crusade, Marshal returned to England and went into the service of Henry II. Marshal was in his forties by this time, and served in Henry’s household for the next three years until Henry’s death in 1189. Although he did not serve Henry long compared to the other Plantagenets Marshal worked for, he did remain steadfastly loyal. Henry was in bitter conflict with his heir apparent Richard, and when he fell ill and was dying many nobles (including his beloved son John) abandoned him to secure privileges in the upcoming Ricardian regime. Marshal stayed with Henry until the bitter end though, a testament to his character and reputation for loyalty.
Marshal and Richard the Lionheart were both incredibly successful military men. They had one conflict in 1899 where Marshal came out victorious, proving his legendary moniker “the Greatest Knight”. Henry II was fleeing from Le Mans to Angers, with Marshal acting as the rearguard. Richard was in full pursuit, as once again Henry II had fallen out with one of his sons. Upon reaching Marshal, Richard realised his vulnerability as he was only dressed lightly and was without his supporting forces who hadn’t kept up with him. Marshal could have killed Richard there and then, and Richard knew it. He asked Marshal to spare him, to which Marshal replied “let the Devil kill you, I shall not be the one to do it”, he then killed Richard’s horse to stop further pursuit. You might think that this meant on Richard’s accession later that year that Marshal would be ousted from court. Instead, Richard was pragmatic enough to respect Marshal’s skill and he confirmed Marshal’s rights to Striguil and marriage to wealthy heiress Isabel de Clare as discussed in the previous reign. This helped secure Marshal’s financial future. Marshal supported Richard throughout his 10 year reign, his reputation for loyalty cemented after being of service to the Plantagenets for so many years.
There has only been one King of England called John, and for good reason, as John was a pretty terrible king. Upon hearing of Richard’s death, Marshal went straight to the Archbishop of Canterbury Hubert Walter to discuss the succession. Marshal decided to support John to which the Archbishop responded “that you will never come to regret anything you did as much as what you're doing now”. Considering how events later unfolded, this was a pretty accurate assessment. Marshal’s loyalty to the Plantagents and the crown was severely tested during John’s reign. They had a huge falling out in 1205, regarding the Marshal paying homage to the French king for his lands in Normandy. Their deteriorating relationship led to what historian David Crouch described as Marshal’s “seven years in the political wilderness”. Yet by the time of the First Barons War (1215-1217), Marshal had been restored to John’s good graces and was integral to the royalist cause.
John died suddenly in 1216 from dysentry, leaving his 9 year old son Henry as King of England. A minority kingship was usually a disaster, as the monarch wasn’t in a position to lead and was reliant on nobles and key family members. Henry’s mother Isabella deserted him, and it was Marshal who took the reins. John had named Marshal as one of the 13 executors to assist Henry, but as events unfolded Marshal assumed the responsibilities of a regent. The war was still ongoing, and although nobles were defecting back to the royalist cause it wasn’t enough. The Battle of Lincoln proved a huge turning point for the royalists and contributed towards the end of the war. Marshal himself (at an incredible 72 years old!) was involved and took part in the combat. The war was resolved with the Treaty of Kingston-upon-Thames. For the next three years Marshal was England’s guardian, helping secure peace for his young King. Marshall died during Henry’s reign on the 14th May 1219.
Marshal’s life is full of twists and turns which this article barely scratches the surface of. He is a fascinating figure who witnessed the rise and decline of the Angevin empire, rising from obscurity to becoming one of the most powerful men in Western Christendom. 6 kings of England shaped Marshal and the course of his life, leading him to become “the greatest knight”.
Oxford National Biography: 'Marshal, William [called the Marshal]' by David Crouch
The Greatest Knight by Thomas Asbridge
Rex Factor Podcast: https://rexfactor.podbean.com/
Online Medieval Sources Bibliography: http://medievalsourcesbibliography.org/sources.php?id=2146116715
Oxford National Biography: ‘Henry III’ by H.W. Ridgeway
In @VersusHistory Podcast Episode #102, we interviewed David Gessner, the author of 'LEAVE IT AS IT IS'. At the end of the Podcast, David asked a question. If you want to be in with a chance of winning a copy of the book delivered straight to your door, just enter the correct answer below. The competition closes on Sunday 25 October 2020. Good luck!
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Guest contributor, Tanya Price, reveals what she learned from Hallie Rubenhold's revelatory book about the victims of Jack the Ripper, The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper.
I have taught the topic 'Jack the Ripper' several times, at my first school in a unit on ‘Conspiracy Theories’, and also at my most recent school, as a standalone unit; both to year 9 students. Students are generally fascinated by the 'Jack the Ripper' murders and the mystery of who Jack could be: Why did he target women? Why did he kill prostitutes? What was his motive? And ‘Was there a conspiracy’ involving Her Majesty the Queen? All of these are popular avenues down which I have ventured in the past. Having recently read The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, by Hallie Rubenhold, my thinking has altered. Why have I focused on the identity of 'Jack' instead of looking at who the women were that he murdered? I have never once questioned where they came from, what their back stories were, or even whether they were married and had children. I now think that this is just as interesting as who Jack could possibly be, for by learning the stories of the five victims one learns so much more about the attitudes, experiences and social culture of Victorian London. I also began to question how I, as a single parent with a broken marriage, with experience of parental bereavement at a young age, might have fared if I had lived in 1888. Would my life have trodden a similar path to the women in The Five?
Five compelling aspects of the victims' lives that I discovered from reading The Five:
Polly Nichols, also known as Mary Ann Nichols, was the first victim of Jack the Ripper and was killed on the 31st August 1888. What I found fascinating about Polly was that she once lived in the Peabody Apartments with her husband. This was a brand-new complex built at great expense by the American banker, George Peabody, at the cost of £22,000. The apartments had modern conveniences such as a meat safe, several cupboards, picture rails, and even separate bedrooms. However, it was while Polly and her husband William were living in luxury at the Peabody Apartments that life began to unravel for her. Her husband began an affair with another tenant and Polly saw no other option but to abandon her family and home. In March 1880 Polly began an irregular life living on the streets as a tramp or having short stints in the workhouse. I questioned at this point how women in the 21st century, who have been in a similar position, would have fared. I cannot imagine the majority of women would have to leave their family home and children and live life homeless today due to their partner’s indiscretions. Polly began to drink a lot due to her irregular life, and on the night of her murder she had been drinking in the pub The Frying Pan. It is believed that Polly had no money the night of her murder and was asleep drunk in the corner of Buck’s Row. Hallie Rubenhold’s book asserts that Polly was not a prostitute – something that I have previously taught in school.
Annie Chapman was the second victim of 'Jack the Ripper' and was murdered on 8th September 1888. What I enjoyed finding out about Annie was that she grew up as a soldier’s daughter and her family lived in close geographical proximity to the royal family and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Her family suffered tragedy when several of her siblings died from the disease scarlet fever. This impacted her father so badly that he later committed suicide. Annie married a coach driver - John Chapman. Fascinatingly, the couple had a photograph taken of themselves along with her first two children. John and Annie went to live in Berkshire at a country estate when John became the coach driver for a wealthy gentleman. At this point Annie was now an alcoholic and any subsequent children were born with alcohol foetal syndrome. Annie’s sisters were part of the Temperance Movement and decided she needed to go to a sanatorium for a year to dry out. When Annie returned home to her husband he was suffering from a cold and so was drinking a hot whiskey. On kissing his wife, the fumes were apparently enough to reverse the yearlong abstinence. John and Annie separated but he agreed to pay her a maintenance of 10 shillings a month. Unfortunately, when John died this money stopped and, like Polly Nichols, Annie found herself homeless or living in doss houses. On the night of her murder she was drunk and sleeping rough – just like Polly - at 29 Hanbury Street.
Discovered in Dutfield’s Yard, adjacent to Berner Street, Elizabeth Stride was the third victim of Jack the Ripper, having been murdered on the 30th September 1888. What I found interesting about Elizabeth was that she was originally from Sweden and was raised as Lutheran. Unlike Polly and Annie, Elizabeth was a prostitute in the city of Gothenburg and it was during this time that she contracted the sexual disease of syphilis - a disease for which she was treated but that never left her body completely. Moving to London, Elizabeth married John Stride and together they opened a Coffee Shop in the area of Poplar. Due to the pre-existing health conditions that Elizabeth had, the couple never had any children and the marriage broke down. Interestingly, Elizabeth became somewhat of a con artist and used the disaster of the Princess Anne, which sank in the Thames, to illicit money from sympathetic passers by claiming that her husband and four children had drowned in the shipping tragedy. In 1888, Elizabeth began suffering from epileptic fits and dementia due to her syphilis. She was also arrested several times for drunk and disorderly behaviour. On the night of her murder she visited the Queen’s Head pub on Commercial Street and was seen talking to a man on Berner Street by several witnesses close to midnight. This is the night of the ‘double murder’ and it is believed that 'Jack the Ripper' was disturbed on this occasion.
Catherine Eddowes was the fourth victim of 'Jack the Ripper' and was murdered on the 30th September 1888; she was found in Mitre Square. This was the night of the ‘double murder’. What I found out about Catherine – something I had no prior knowledge of – was that she actually originated from Wolverhampton and her family had worked in the tin trade for two generations. Her father, George Eddowes, was a member of the Tin Man Society and was actually prosecuted for taking part in a strike at his employer’s factory, The Old Hall Works. Rather than face two months’ hard labour in prison, George did a ‘moonlight flit’ and took his family on a canal barge to London. I learned that, in London, Catherine went to school and attended the Great Exhibition as part of a school outing, however her scholarly days were cut short when her mother and father both died of TB within two years of each other. Catherine’s older sisters made the decision to send Catherine back to Wolverhampton to stay with her uncle and aunt whereas the six younger Eddowes children had to live in the workhouse. It was at this point that I started to compare my own childhood with Catherine’s – would I have ended up in the workhouse as a child (aged 5) when my father died with my mother and sister? I assume I would have if I had had no other relatives to look after me and my sister. Catherine ended up working in the Old Hall Works like her father before her, until she decided to walk to Birmingham and try her luck there. In Birmingham, Catherine stayed with her uncle – who was a bare-knuckled boxer – until she met Thomas Conway. Conway was a retired army officer who had been relieved of duty due to a weak heart and was living on his pension and the money he earnt being a ‘chapman’. A chapman is someone who travels from place to place selling pamphlets and ballads. Catherine seemed to be attracted to the idea of accompanying Thomas and, pregnant with his child, they began their life as a duo. The life of a travelling chapman must not have been easy for Catherine – sleeping rough whilst pregnant and not having a guaranteed safe place to give birth must have caused her some anxiety. Catherine gave birth in Great Yarmouth Workhouse Infirmary to a daughter called Annie. The couple continued to tramp about the country looking for a breakthrough – which they found in the form of a ballad about one of Catherine’s distant cousins who was being publicly executed. In 1868, the couple decided to settle in London. This is when the relationship soured. Thomas was unable to find employment and had to leave Catherine and the children to find better prospects. She and the children ended up in the Greenwich Union Workhouse. Again, I made a comparison with my own life and that of many other women in the 21st century. Would this have been my fate if I had been alive in the 1800s after the break down of my marriage? Would I have no other option but to go to the workhouse with my child and be supported by the state?
Mary Jane Kelly was murdered on the 9th November 1888 at Miller’s Court, and is the fifth victim of 'Jack the Ripper'. What I found interesting about Mary Jane Kelly was the fact that she was the only victim who was murdered inside and was in a relatively stable relationship; she was also much younger than the other victims. The details of her early life is not very well known but according to her partner, Joseph Barrett, she originated from Ireland and then moved to Wales whereupon she married a coal miner who died in a tragic accident. She headed to London and became a high-end escort or prostitute for a brothel in the West End, which was run by a French woman. Mary Jane Kelly would dine out at fancy restaurants with clients and ride around in carriages. She was also known to have trunk loads of clothes. It all went wrong for Mary when she was offered a trip to Paris which, it transpires, could have been a trap by one of her clients to force her into the French sex trade. Mary Jane Kelly returned to London on the run and had to try and hide out in the East End. It is believed that she may have changed her name at this point to Mary Jane Kelly and made up her backstory to ward off any chance of being found. Prior to the night of her murder, Mary Jane and her partner had an argument over whether Mary should allow other prostitutes to stay in Miller’s Court as a way to protect them for the serial killer 'Jack the Ripper'. This argument led to a windowpane of glass being smashed which, apparently, allowed easy access to 'Jack the Ripper' into 13 Miller’s Court. It was here that, undisturbed, he had more time to spend on his gruesome acts.
In conclusion, reading Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five has made me more aware of the victims as actual people who had a life before they became a name attached to a mortuary photograph. They were loved. They lived and suffered the same heartbreaks and tragedies that many of us face today but, being part of a different time period and social system, ended up on the streets or living in lodging houses, desperately trying to survive without any help from the government of the day. This book made me personally appreciate how my life – which has, in some respects, endured similar experiences to some of the victims in the book – has had a different outcome, perhaps solely because of the time period I live in.
Our guest on @VersusHistory Podcast Episode #98 was Historian Charles Freeman. We are giving away a gratis copy of his brand new book!
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