When I was 17, I took my first jump across the pond to visit the branch of the Carters still in England. My father’s cousin and his family took me on a tour of London, complete with a roam through the foreboding Tower of London. I remember the Beefeaters standing still as stone in the yard and the black crows, gathered in crowds, as if still scavenging bloody bits from all those beheadings.
This love of British history drew me last night to the Tudors, a new Showtime production that debuted last week. On our ancient 1970’s television set, the 16th century court came to life, accentuated by King Henry’s recreated studliness. While I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the spontaneous shirtless wrestling scene with the King of France, I am hoping that the show will transform him, taking us through the series of confused, greed-driven actions that resulted in him packing on the pounds.
I know it’s difficult to condense a lifetime into a television series, but watching with my copy of David Starkey’s Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII in hand caused some confusion. As it always does, history shifted for the sake of dramatic device. Most particularly, in the role of Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife.
This woman took a lot. A failed baby-making machine, she bore her cheating husband six babies in eight years and watched them all die, except one. But near the end of last night’s episode, after Henry has the Duke of Buckingham executed (this happened in 1521) and his mistress, Elizabeth Blount gives birth to a son (which occured in 1519), Catherine kneels before the Virgin Mary and asks her to fill her barren womb.
Huh? She wasn’t barren. She already had a daughter, Mary, the only child to survive into adulthood, running around in the King’s court. Maybe the writers meant something different. More like, “Please God, give me an heir that will survive past childhood for my greedy, gluttonous husband, Henry, who is going to kill me or send me to a nunnery if I don’t produce.”
Ah, well, it’s long before the days of women’s lib. Still, I can’t help but think that Catherine of Aragon deserves to have her truth told and left unaltered, even if tragic infertility is a much bigger draw.