The Spanish Princess recap: Catherine charts a new course and other historical observations
This week’s penultimate episode of The Spanish Princess brings Catherine to her lowest point. Abandoned by her family, she cannot afford to pay her rising rent, and she struggles to gain an audience with any of the Tudors. Even worse, she learns that not only is Princess Mary betrothed to her sister’s son, but Harry is to marry her sister’s daughter, Eleanor. She has been completely eliminated from any alliance.
But “sweet, constant” Catherine as Henry VII refers to her (and if there’s anything history knows Catherine for, it’s her constancy) will not waver from her love and her belief in her destiny. She meets with Maggie, whose financial situation grows so dire she agrees to engage in treason to try to bring down the Tudors. Meanwhile, Lina and Oviedo’s relationship grows increasingly complex as he ramps up his spying for Lady Margaret, which Lina feels is a betrayal of Catherine. But Catherine doesn’t stay knocked down for long — her sister’s husband dies, leaving their father Ferdinand to lock Joanna away for her “madness.” What’s more, Ferdinand agrees to send Catherine’s dowry and appoints her the new Spanish Ambassador. Let’s dig into this historical detail and more from “All Is Lost.”
The Spanish Ambassador
While Catherine of Aragon did eventually become Queen of England, she temporarily held a different crucial role in the Tudor Court — the Spanish Ambassador. In 1507, her father Ferdinand named her the first ever female to act as the Spanish Ambassador to England. For him, it was probably extremely convenient — she was stuck in limbo in England, so why not utilize her place there to his benefit? Not to mention, as she cites here to Lady Margaret, she’d been educated in statecraft from a very young age, given the war-mongering of her mother and the intense politics of Spain. Lady Margaret is irritated by this turn of events since a woman has never held the post before — and Catherine later uses this to torture her a bit, taunting her for her ambition and the fact that Margaret Beaufort’s claim to the throne is stronger than her son or grandson’s lineage.
Here, we see Catherine readily taking charge of her new role, organizing and over-seeing Princess Mary’s betrothal ceremony to Charles I. The timing is certainly right, but it’s difficult to discern if Catherine did actually do this. However, historical records do suggest that Henry VII expected Catherine to be easily manipulated in the role and was greatly dismayed to find that far from how things actually went down. Given all of this, it is rather mind-boggling to think that a few more decades down the line, Henry VIII would make the same mistake of underestimating a woman who time and again proved herself to be a formidable statesman.
Did The Twilight Zone music start going through your head? In possibly the eeriest moment of the series, Catherine meets a little girl named Anne (she is flanked by a slightly older, blonde girl, who is not named but is undoubtedly Mary, the subject of Philippa Gregory’s most famous novel, The Other Boleyn Girl). Anne and Catherine share some banter before being interrupted by Thomas Boleyn, one of Henry VII’s primary advisors and a frequent foreign ambassador on behalf of England. Thomas warns Catherine that her time at court is over and begs her to return to Spain and give up this folly.
It’s a fun Easter egg for history nerds and we really have no way of knowing if it could have happened. Anne Boleyn’s birth date is not known but estimated to be somewhere between 1501 and 1507. If it’s on the earlier end of that spectrum, there’s no saying the young aristocrat wouldn’t have visited court alongside her powerful father and crossed paths with Catherine. Much of her youth was spent learning courtly ways abroad, but Anne didn’t leave England until 1513.
Either way, it’s fun to imagine this moment of peace between the two women before Anne would literally ruin Catherine’s entire life. It’s also delicious to watch Thomas Boleyn be the one to urge Catherine to go — his own maneuverings are what placed two of his daughters in the king’s bed down the line. So, it’s a little nod to his eventual disregard for Catherine’s place in Henry’s affections.
Catherine has a powerful dream in the midst of this episode. She imagines meeting Harry in a palace hallway scattered with their love letters. They embrace, but then he tells her he would toss love away for the crown. He introduces her to his bride Princess Eleanor and then their letters catch fire and burn. She turns to her compass for guidance and finds herself in a boat going over a waterfall.
This is a spectacular set piece that really capitalizes on the central issue of the show: the battle between duty and heart. Not to mention, it means we get to see Harry and Catherine looking extra sexy (and really who would complain about that?!). But it also is a historically resonant interlude. First off, it is true that Harry was betrothed to Joanna and Philip’s daughter Eleanor for a brief time before choosing Catherine as his bride.
But it is impossible to overstate how much stock the Tudors put in dreams as auguries for their future. You see it everywhere in the popular literature of the era — Shakespeare writes often of dreams and their prophecies in everything from Macbeth to Romeo and Juliet. And royalty often turned to trusted spiritual advisors to interpret their dreams for warnings of assassination, invasion, and more. Elizabeth I relied heavily on her alchemist John Dee to interpret her dreams and help her with other spiritual/magical inquiries.
Yorkist Treason and Maggie Pole
Things go from bad to worse this week for Maggie. She is forced to leave her home, deposit her son Reggie at Sheen Priory, and take refuge in Syon Abbey. All of this is true, and if you think Maggie admitting her young son to an abbey where the monks have taken a vow of silence is heartbreaking, it truly was. Reggie never got over it, and it featured prominently in his own treason and Maggie’s tragic demise later in their lives.
Fueled by her anger at the Tudors for putting her in this position, she partners with her relatives working to support Edmund de la Pole and his Yorkist claim to the throne. There is no evidence Maggie ever did this (and when she was accused of treason later in life for another charge, she maintained her innocence and loyalty to the Tudor crown to the last). This plot and its failure appears to be one that the creators have moved around in history for dramatic emphasis.
Before Henry VII ever signed a treaty to have Edmund de la Pole handed over, he used his network of spies to round up, arrest, and strip 51 men of their title in January 1504. This was the largest single number of men to be attainted (to be condemned to death and stripped of titles). It included many of the men cited in the list of names Lady Margaret receives from an almost gleeful Oviedo, namely Sir James Tyrell and William Courtenay.
Though she certainly would have had good cause to do so, the historical record doesn’t necessarily bear out Maggie’s participation in such a plot, particularly because her husband died around the same time it actually occurred.But it makes for excellent drama and gives Maggie more to do than sit in a convent feeling sorry for herself.
“About F—king Time”
This is a quick one, but you may have noticed that one of Lady Margaret’s soldiers mutters “about f—king time” to a nun when pursuing Maggie into the night. Let me stop you right now and say that it is my number one historical pet peeve when people think swearing is anachronistic.
The Oxford English Dictionary cites 1503 as the earliest written use of the word in the form of fukkit. But historians largely agree it was probably a much more ancient word, even if not used in written form/omitted from dictionaries for propriety, etc. So, to Emma Frost and Matthew Graham, for the use of this word in a historical drama in a moment of appropriate terror and disgust, I say it’s about f—king time.