Oh dear. I don’t know why I watched this: Philippa Gregory’s interpretation of the events of the 1480s puts my back right up, and this TV adaptation of it is even more annoying than the book! Having said which, the great thing about 1485 and all that is that it does get everyone worked up, and hotly debating what went on. In terms of conspiracy theories and news which may or may not be fake, the likes of Messrs Trump and Putin have got nothing on the Yorkists and the Tudors. It should really be the Civil War and the Glorious Revolution which people get worked up about, but most people don’t get half as aereated over any of that as they do over Henry VII and Richard III.
I like Henry VII. I like Lady Margaret Beaufort. Nothing short of hard scientific evidence will ever convince me that Richard III wasn’t responsible for the murders of the Princes in the Tower. And, as far as “the White Princess”, Elizabeth of York, is concerned, I’m inclined to believe … well, The Song of Lady Bessy is possibly a bit OTT, but I would still go for the version of events in which Elizabeth of York and her mother were sure that Richard had murdered the princes, and were working with Henry Tudor well before Bosworth Field.
But, OK, we really don’t know what happened, and, with all the different versions of events, it is entirely possible that the version which Philippa Gregory’s gone for, in which Elizabeth of York wanted to marry her uncle Richard III (there was the infamous incident, before this book starts, with Elizabeth turning up at court in the same dress as Anne Neville, and there were certainly plenty of rumours that Richard was after Elizabeth), and hated the fact that she had to marry Henry, is true instead.
But The White Princess really does over-egg the pudding. It’s got Elizabeth having actually had a physical affair with Richard. And it’s also got the young Duke of York having been sneaked out of the Tower and sent off to Tournai, to the Warbecks … to return, several years later, as Perkin Warbeck, claiming to be the Duke of York. In the book, that was only hinted at. He was sent off to Tournai, but the names “Perkin” and “Warbeck” weren’t used. Anyone familiar with the reign of Henry VII would have sussed out the idea, but it wasn’t spelt out. It has been in the TV series – which is interesting, because Philippa Gregory seemed to lose interest in the idea and has never written a book covering the Warbeck years, so it’s going to have to be left as a very big loose end. Mind you, the book didn’t go that far anyway, so it won’t really matter. Everyone in my history A-level group was obsessed with Perkin Warbeck. Whilst he clearly wasn’t Richard, Duke of York, he was very handsome and dashing … which Henry VII assuredly was not. However, in this adaptation, he is. That’s rather nice from an eye candy point of view, but rather annoying from a historical accuracy point of view.
Also, why is she referred to as “Princess Elizabeth” when surely she’d have been referred to as “Lady Elizabeth”, under the rather awkward circumstances? And no-one would have called her “Lizzie”: the usual “shorts” for Elizabeth at the time were “Bess” and “Bessie” And why does Henry address Jasper Tudor by his first name, rather than as uncle. I really like Jasper, BTW. And he’s about the only person who’s been represented reasonably accurately!
What else can I whinge about? Oh yes, the old chestnut that, because Arthur was born about eight months after the wedding, Henry must have decided to make sure that Elizabeth was fertile before marrying her. How advanced do people think 15th century obstetrics were?! No way could anyone have been sure that early on. Boringly, the far more likely explanation is that Arthur was premature. And this obsession Philippa Gregory has with the idea that the Woodvilles practised witchcraft. I hate that. Throughout history, men have attacked women who gained power by throwing allegations of witchcraft at them – most famously at Anne Boleyn. It’s a horrible, horrible, misogynistic idea, and I’m not very impressed with Philippa Gregory for using it.
Meanwhile, Henry VII, one of the best kings England has ever had in terms of administrative ability, has so far been shown as a bit of a playboy who was more interested in practising his archery and admiring ladies dancing than in running the country, whilst Lady Margaret Beaufort/Stanley and Archbishop Morton tell him what to do. What utter rubbish! Incidentally, the first time we “did” Henry VII at school was around the time that A-ha were the number one boyband, so, every time Morton was mentioned, people started giggling and muttering about Morten Harket … so, even now, whenever Archbishop/Cardinal Morton’s name comes up, I want to start singing “Take on me” or “You are the one”. But never mind. But I do mind poor Henry being misrepresented so badly!
The actual political events are being shown more accurately, though – we’ve had the Lovell/Stafford rebellion, and the poor little Earl of Warwick has been locked up in the Tower – with the Lambert Simnel affair presumably coming up in the next episode. But why make out that Henry was so unpopular, and the Yorkists so popular? By 1485, it seems that most people were so fed up of all the chopping and changing that they were past caring who was king, and just wanted peace and stability. Obviously Henry was an unknown quantity, but, whilst Edward IV may have been popular, Richard III had managed to upset an awful lot of people, and Elizabeth Woodville wasn’t exactly top of the popularity charts either.
I do quite like the way Elizabeth Woodville comes across, though. There is a view that she decided of her own accord to go off and enter a convent. Nah. The alternative view, that she plotted and meddled until Henry packed her off out of the way, which is the one that Philippa Gregory’s gone for, works much better as far as I’m concerned! But what about “The White Princess” herself? She’s very feisty in this – and we’re given the impression that she, having been born and brought up a princess, knew how to do things properly and showed Henry what was expected of a king, in terms of sending assistance when there was plague etc. It’s a nice idea, and not an illogical one, but it’s just not the impression you get from reading the actual history of the time. Henry was a very able and talented man. Philippa Gregory really does seem to have it in for him, and for his mother, and doesn’t give either of them the credit they deserve.
And the marriage? Well, it worked out very well in the end. Henry was devoted to Elizabeth, as time went on, and she seems to have grown fond of him as well. There were hints at the end of the second episode that some sort of affection was growing. But … well, I know what the book says, and I know what all Philippa Gregory’s books are like when it comes to the events of the 1480s, so I don’t know why I’m moaning because it was only what I expected! But isn’t it great how, over 500 years later, everyone does get so worked up over this particular period in history? There’s just something about it!
Oh, and, from an entertainment point of view, this is actually quite good. But how it does annoy me when people mess about with history!