Saturday, 1 June 2013

The popularity of the Tudors

The tudor age is one of the most exciting dynasties that ruled England.  The first Tudor Henry VII had a negligible claim to the throne when he returned from years of exile to raise an army against the last Plantagenet King Richard III at Bosworth.  To protect his throne he destroyed the reputation of Richard III who died at Bosworth and what of the lives of the young princes in the Tower !!! - Henry would have us believe they were murdered by Richard their uncle but which of them had the most to lose if their claim to the throne was greater than his.  Henry VII was not popular and the brilliant documentary last night on TV showed him as a man  who if he could noy rule by popularity he would rule by terror. Yet this ascethic, mean spirited and miserly King fathered the bombastic, charismatic Henry VIII and a more dramatic reign that changed not only our religion but the way of life of the people of England would be difficult to contest. 

Henry VIII was famous for his six wives and their untimely ends. The rhyme for remembering their fate being - divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived - but their fate also brought down great statesmen and their families.  And no wonder it is the background for many great novels, films and tv dramas. The heir to Henry was the sickly and short lived Edward VI and then an even more turbulent age began. Lady Jane Grey, a young girl was used by her family and declared Queen.  She ruled for 9 days before being overthrown by Henry's eldest daughter Mary. Jane Grey was beheaded and Mary ruled, with a single-mindedness of returning England to a Catholic state at the expenses of the lives of hundreds of heretics burned at the stake for supporting her father's religious changes.  And waiting in the wings and surviving plots against her life was the most powerful of all the Tudors, Elizabeth I.

This weekend tv gives us a documentary about English life under the Tudors, the replaying of The Tudors series and The Other Boleyn Girl which provides another slant on the enigmatic reign of Henry VIII.

The most well known actors for playing Henry VIII are Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Keith Michell (top of last two photos).

I am rewatching the latest Tudors with Jonathan Rhys Meyers because the story is irrestistible but it is not my favourite portrayal.  It makes good viewing but the inaccuracies of some of the historical facts and the lack of authenticity of the costumes to make the actors more pretty or sexy has led to many a rant at the tv screen.  For me the BBC Henry VIII's six wives series was far superior. Keith Michell played Henry as the aging despot with chilling accuracy and made the manipulation by their families of his later sacrifical wives all the more shocking.

The BBC followed this great series with Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth and for all lovers of tudor history it is a box set worth investing in as her portrayal of the young Elizabeth through to her death remains vivid in my mind today from seeing it in the  1970's.

Other interesting films about the Tudors was Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth and Shakespeare in Love where the wonderful Judy Dench played Elizabeth.

I am sure that you have your own favourites. The two BBC series about Henry and Elizabeth inspired my own love of the drama and times of the Tudors and why I had to write about this period in ROGUES AND PLAYERS and KNAVES AND PLAYERS.  I hope that those readers who have read them will feel that I accurately portrayed the great queen and the turbulent times that the Elizabethan people lived in.

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