The madness of King Henry and four other The Spanish Princess historical observations
Things get further complicated on The Spanish Princess this week as Catherine is sent into virtual exile, whispers of a Yorkist rebellion gain traction, and Henry VII cedes power to his mother Lady Margaret Beaufort while he wallows in his grief.
On the romance side, we see Catherine continue trying to woo Harry — but under the influence of his grandmother, he questions whether her motives are more romantic or political. Oviedo and Lina still circle around their attraction for each other, but Lina feels bound to her duty to her mistress above her personal happiness. Oviedo is conscripted into service as part of an army to fight rising Yorkist sentiment, but quickly he’s diverted into Lady Margaret’s ever-expanding network of spies. So much of this week’s episode is mired in the very real political maneuverings and policies of the early 1500s—here are 5 historical observations from this week’s The Spanish Princess.
So much of what happened to Catherine in the years in between Arthur’s death and her marriage to Henry VIII is uncertain. We know her fate lay in the hands of papal dispensation — whether or not she was granted permission to marry Harry. And for those around her, she was largely seen as a political tool. England was reluctant to let her go, hungry for the rest of her dowry and to cement the alliance they craved, while her parents were initially eager for her to return home so they might regain her dowry and start over.
But Catherine did not return home. Instead, she was exiled to Durham House on the Strand in London, a turn of events we see in this week’s episode. During the years after Arthur’s death, Catherine was a virtual prisoner in Durham House, struggling to survive and financially support herself and her ladies-in-waiting. Letters to her father complaining of her treatment and the shabby conditions of her housing (as seen here) still exist to this day. Durham House would remain an important property throughout the reign of the Tudors — it housed various notable figures, including Cardinal Wolsey, Anne Boleyn during Henry’s courtship of her, and ultimately, it was gifted to Anne’s daughter Elizabeth. When she became Queen, she bestowed it upon a favored courtier, Sir Walter Raleigh.
The Regency of Lady M and Edmund Dudley
With Henry VII overcome by grief (more on that below), Lady Margaret Beaufort takes even greater power at court. She appoints herself regent, dismisses both Catherine and Maggie Pole from the palace, and brings in one Edmund Dudley to help address their shrinking treasury. Lady Margaret’s thirst for power and unprecedented political control were well-known throughout her son’s reign. She devised her own title, “My Lady, the Queen’s Mother” and signed documents Margaret R., as in “Margaret Regina.”
When Henry became ill and withdrew following Elizabeth’s death, historical records indicate Margaret increasingly took over the role of governing the country. She didn’t officially become regent, however, until her son’s death in 1509 — at that time, Henry VIII was still declared too young to officially assume the crown. The slightly older Harry in this series would definitely have something to say about that — we already see them go toe-to-toe on several things as he tries to assert his newfound power as heir to the throne.
We also see the introduction of another political figure at Margaret’s behest in this episode, one Edmund Dudley, the Speaker of the Commons. He suggests to the privy council that they gather money for an army by raising taxes and introducing new fines. Henry VII was noted for being a frugal king, obsessed with bulking up the royal treasury through widespread taxation and economic initiatives. At the end of Henry’s reign, Edmund Dudley was responsible for instituting and overseeing the most egregious taxation policies, policies so unpopular they actually led to his arrest and execution for treason under Henry VIII. So, the privy council’s estimation in this episode that these ideas will stir resentment among the people are…not wrong.
One quick note, Edmund Dudley was the grandfather of Robert Dudley, the oh so sexy favorite of Queen Elizabeth, who may or may not have secretly undone her status as “the Virgin Queen.”
Wedding Gowns of Many Colors
While Henry mourns, Meg prepares for her move to Scotland and her wedding to James IV of Scotland. She is being fitted for her wedding gown, and she tells Maggie that James has demanded they wear “matching white damask” on their wedding day. Maggie tells her that her mother Elizabeth wore red for war on her wedding day, and Meg resolves to use some of her mother’s gown for trim in her own wedding dress.
This sartorial conversation is partly based in fact and partly based on television series that have come before. There is no record of Elizabeth of York’s wedding gown, and it was not yet commonplace for women to wear white on their wedding day. The costume designers for The White Princess put Elizabeth in a crimson and black gown to emphasize the political alliance of her marriage, and how it was brokered in the face of war.
However, Meg’s white damask wedding gown and James’ matching attire are true to history. The king is recorded as wearing magnificent attire as part of a trousseau he ordered from Paris, including a grand wedding outfit of white damask. Meg is also noted as having worn a gown trimmed in crimson, so although we don’t know if it was her mother’s gown that provided the materials for it, the details of the dress itself are straight from the pages of history.
Edmund de la Pole
The Wars of the Roses are technically over, but claims from Yorkist descendants plagued Henry VII’s reign. We already know he executed supposed “pretender” Perkin Warbeck and Maggie’s brother Edward to secure the throne. But this week brings a new threat, Maggie’s cousin Edmund de la Pole, a Yorkist claimant who is supported and protected by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. He not only throws the Tudor court into a panic, but he endangers Maggie and her family as Lady Margaret uses his plots, coupled with her refusal to confirm Arthur and Catherine’s sexy times, to ban Maggie from any Tudor palace. We even see him come to England under the cover of night (and a plague mask) to try to convince his cousin to help him rally support, but Maggie has had enough of war and rebellion and refuses for the sake of her family.
Edmund has an interesting history in the Tudor court. Despite his valid claims to the throne, for a while, he surrendered his title of Duke and acknowledged Henry as the true King. He even witnessed the signing of the treaty that brokered Catherine’s marriage to Arthur. But then, in 1501, he left England without leave, took refuge with the Emperor, reclaimed his title as the Duke of Suffolk, and earned the nickname the “White Rose,” referring to his Yorkist blood. His efforts were short-lived, however, because in July 1502 the emperor signed a treaty pledging not to assist any English rebels.
Though it doesn’t necessarily seem directly related, following the death of Arthur, Maggie Pole was indeed exiled from the Tudor court and not invited to return until Catherine married Henry VIII.
The Grief of King Henry
This episode shows us King Henry as a broken man, a man who cannot recover from the death of his wife. He withdraws into his rooms, refusing to speak to anyone but his mother. And then, when he finally does come back to court, he stuns everyone by announcing his intention to marry Catherine himself! All of which is absolutely true to history.
Records show he both sobbed at Arthur’s funeral and then shut himself away in total seclusion following Elizabeth’s death. Here, we even see him mourning near a lion — it’s not said explicitly onscreen, but he was well-known to be a loving, generous husband and father based on his account books. Henry really bought Elizabeth a lion for part of her menagerie, and we can only assume the one he’s seen mourning near in this episode is that beast.
He also really did temporarily entertain the notion of marrying Catherine. He was eager not to lose the Spanish Alliance after Arthur’s death. So, though he initially applied for papal dispensation on behalf of his son, he later added an addendum for the pope to also approve his own marriage to the Spanish princess. The Tudors had no shortage of daddy issues, huh?