Absolutely loving this! I sometimes say that there are too many Tudor-era documentaries on TV, made at the expense of looking into other eras; but this one’s different, because it doesn’t just look at one country. The centrepoint is the French Wars of Religion, but it looks into how that fitted into what was going on elsewhere. I remember a wonderful aide-memoire from A-level days – that Elizabeth I sought to fight the Spanish in the Netherlands to the last drop of French blood. Confusing? Oh, gloriously so! And, after three episodes, we’re only up to 1569 , so we haven’t even got to the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre yet. The next episode is entitled “Blood Wedding”, just in case anyone doesn’t know what’s coming!
The programme’s done in what seems to be in the “in” way now, with actors playing the parts of the historical figures and the presenter acting as narrator but not actually being seen. Maybe it’s “dumbing down” a bit, but it does work better than the old-style programmes which had a presenter sitting behind a desk and just talking. The American narrator is doing my head in a bit, with his talk about Toodors and Stooarts and the Dookes of Guise, but I suppose you can’t have everything.
So, what’s going on? Well, Henry VIII wanted the infant Mary Queen of Scots to marry the future Edward VI, but, instead, she was shipped off to France and married to Francois, the heir to the French throne – son of Henri II, who despite spending most of his time with his mistress Diane de Poitiers, had managed to father ten children on his wife, Catherine de Medici, she of alleged poisoned gloves fame. Edward then died, and was succeeded by Mary, who married Philip II of Spain (Aragon and Castile). Then Mary died, and was succeeded by Elizabeth. Then Francis died. Numerous suitors were suggested for both Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots. Elizabeth kept ’em dangling. Mary married Lord Darnley, and then he died in mysterious circumstances and she … well, we don’t know whether she went off with Bothwell or whether he forced her, but this programme insisted that they were lovers and didn’t even say that there were big doubts over what actually happened. That actually quite annoyed me. There are big doubts over what actually happened.
Meanwhile, there were ongoing political and sometimes military clashes in France between the Catholics, led by the Guises, the maternal uncles of Mary Queen of Scots, and the Protestants. And, in the Netherlands, there’d been a revolt against Spanish rule. England hadn’t got stuck in yet, but would do later – largely through getting the French to get stuck in, in the hope of winning Elizabeth’s hand in marriage. And the French Wars of Religion were supposed to be being sorted by marrying the king (three brothers all became king and all died young, so it got very confusing, but the king at this point was Charles IX)’s sister Margot to the Protestant Henry of Navarre, but, of course, the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre took place a few days later.
We did all this for A-level. OK, it was very gory, but it was also very exciting. This is the sort of stuff which kids like to learn about, not motte and bailey castles or the daily lives of medieval monks, which we had to do in the first year. This was exciting and fast-moving, full of romance and fighting, and guaranteed to keep the attention of viewers, whether kids or adults. More series like this, please!!