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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