Six historical observations on the season 2 premiere of The Spanish Princess
We open on glimpses of their mutual coronation, along with some role-playing sexcapades, before really jumping into what will be the meat of this season: political dramas, struggles to conceive, and Catherine’s attempts to hold on to her role as a fierce queen.
With the return of the Starz series comes the return of our historical recaps, fact-checking and giving you the rundown on all the outrageous historical truths creators Matthew Graham and Emma Frost have dramatized for our enjoyment.
So, without further delay, here are 6 historical observations from the season 2 premiere.
Throughout the episode, both Henry and Catherine refer to their rule as Camelot, referencing the legendary and idyllic King Arthur’s court. It’s a helpful metaphor for how secure they feel in their lives at the moment, but it’s also one drawn directly from history. Henry VII, Harry’s father, claimed the Tudors were direct descendants of the most-likely mythical King Arthur, even using Arthur’s symbol of the red dragon. It was for this reason that Harry’s older brother (and Catherine’s first husband) was named Arthur. But even after the dream of that version of Camelot died, Henry VIII ran with it. He even repainted a round table first commissioned by Edward I with a Tudor rose at the center and a rendering of himself as King Arthur. Though given his proclivity for marital infidelity, he’s really more a Lancelot, wouldn’t you say?
Catherine and Henry’s playful sex life
One of our first glimpses of Catherine and Henry’s married life is of a husband and wife who enjoy good sport in the bedroom. Early in the episode, Catherine is “kidnapped” by masked men and brought into a bedchamber where she and an also masked Henry banter about her knife, before stripping off their corsets and hose. This isn’t some far-fetched imagining of their love life — in just one example from the historical record, in 1524, Henry and his men burst into Catherine’s chambers dressed as Robin Hood and his merry men, spurring an impromptu party. The couple that role plays together stays together...at least, for a little bit.
It’s a well-recorded fact that Henry VIII, who was over-protected as a child, absolutely loved to joust. It was a common revel during his marriage to Catherine, and it’s true that he notably often wore her colors and her symbol of the pomegranate while participating in jousts as depicted here. Here, the joust is used as a means to impress a visiting King Ferdinand. But its closest real-life approximation is the 1511 Westminster Tournament, immortalized on a vellum roll. The tournament, fittingly, was in celebration of Henry and Catherine’s newborn son.
In the episode, he unseats Edward Stafford (Olly Rix) and costs him his eye, which ironically is closer to an accident Henry suffered himself. Though he was an avid competitor and regularly unseated other men as he does here, Henry notably was involved in two jousting accidents in his life. In 1524, he nearly lost his eye in an accident and suffered migraines consistently afterward. An even worse accident in 1536 knocked him out cold, causing a lifelong leg injury and possibly inducing a version of CTE, which some historians muse caused his erratic mood-swings and tyrannical behavior later in life.
Meg is a queen among swine
Graham and Frost promised this season would also dedicate time to Meg (Georgie Henley) and Mary (Sai Bennett), Henry’s two sisters who have significant roles to play in political alliances and strategy. We get a glimpse of Meg’s life in Scotland throughout this episode, a wife who’s not only lost several of her own children but is raising many of her husband’s illegitimate offspring as well.
There’s also James’ unique position himself. We get a hint of the Renaissance man he was historically known to be. He talks much of the value of science, and the actual King James had an alchemy lab at Stirling Castle amidst other explorations into the field. But he also must navigate the whims of the clan leaders like the Douglases and the Stuarts. Like many Scottish kings, he struggled with resistance to Edinburgh rule and getting the clans of the Highlands and the Scottish Isles to submit to him. It’s not only a challenge for him, but one for Meg as well, who we see display her spine of steel when she suggests her husband make an example of them via execution. It’s this determination to be as great a queen as Catherine that will certainly come into play throughout this season.
King Ferdinand does England dirty
Catherine trusts her father to become an ally to the English in the season premiere. After he comes to visit England (a trip that we can’t find evidence for), he forges an alliance with Henry and Catherine, a commitment to fight on the Pope’s behalf and win back parts of France for Henry. At Catherine’s urging, the English decide to go after Aquitaine first and await Ferdinand’s men in the South of France, rather than simply hopping across the Channel. But Ferdinand plays them, using them as a diversion to seize Navarre and around 200,000 men die from hunger or disease simply waiting around.
This is all more or less true. In November 1511, Spain and England signed the Treaty of Westminster, pledging the mutual aid outlined here. Henry also followed Ferdinand’s lead in joining the anti-French Holy League in defense of the Pope. The English did choose to focus on Aquitaine first, which Ferdinand, in turn, used to further his attempts to invade Navarre. This strained Anglo-Spanish relations, but alas, there’s no evidence Catherine gave a bad-ass speech renouncing her Spanish citizenship like she does here. God Save the Queen indeed.
Poor Baby Henry
At the episode’s start, all seems well in England. Henry and Catherine have a kingdom to be proud of and a son and heir, yet another Henry. There’s some allusion to Catherine’s previous misfortune (she had a stillborn daughter in 1510 and it’s disputed as to whether she also suffered other miscarriages this early), but she and Henry revel in the birth of their son. There’s already some strain in Catherine and Henry’s marriage (for instance, he turns her away from his bed saying he’s too tired), but in this, they are united. Catherine even foregoes a wet nurse and breastfeeds the baby herself (I hope this is true, but can’t find immediate evidence of it!).
But by the end of the episode, their joy is gone. Henry has died suddenly, and the monarchs throw a lavish state funeral in his honor, throwing the entire court into mourning. The actual baby Henry only lived for 52 days. He was to be their only son to live past a few hours of his birth. Contemporary accounts suggest that Catherine and Henry both were thrown into horrific grief at the death of their son, a glimpse of which we see here.