When I recorded the first episode of the Sky series Royal Bastards: Rise of the Tudors, I watched it on 23rd November, which is the anniversary of the day in 1450 when Richard 3rd Duke of York returned to London [and Parliament] with his sword unsheathed to claim his right.
The docudrama series kicks off (mainly) with Margaret Beaufort, who is described as minor nobility, an unimportant heiress in the House of Lancaster. Huh? She was a great Lancastrian heiress, only child and therefore heiress of the Duke of Somerset (the baseborn but legitimised Beaufort grandson of John of Gaunt) which is why Edmund Tudor was so keen to have her, before she was of age at that. He had to bed her immediately to be sure of her inheritance! No silliness about her still being a child. She, of course, is a victim (which she was then), perfect and saintly except for a passion for gambling.
On Edmund’s demise she takes herself to his brother Jasper, Earl of Pembroke, who, incidentally, is the only decent beefcake in this first episode. He manages to look presentable throughout. The Welsh were clearly obsessed with cleanliness, unlike their uncivilised English counterparts.
Margaret eventually gives birth to an enormous baby….a 20-pounder at the very least. She names him Henry, for the weak, mentally unstable Lancastrian king, Henry VI, of whom her late husband was a half-brother. As soon as she holds little Henry Tudor in her arms, she knows she “always had powerful sense of destiny”. She immediately tells Jasper she’s going to take another husband and will choose him herself. Jasper—malleable Welshman that he is—gives in meekly. One doesn’t argue with Margaret, even if she is only 13.
Next we concentrate on Richard, 3rd Duke of York. My, is he a rough diamond. I could almost smell him on the screen. Scruffy, foul-mouthed—his favourite word was “fookin’” (he’s from Yorkshire, right?) and believe me, he uses it constantly. Crude and violent are adjectives applied to him on screen, and at first there’s no suggestion whatsoever that he thinks he has a right to the throne, instead he “has his eye on it”. Pure ambition. I kept seeing images of him entering Proud Cis’s bedchamber of a night (or whatever time of day the itch took him). Bet he left his boots on and hadn’t washed all year. That woman would have really had to close her eyes and think of England with such concentration her teeth must have been ground down to her gums!
I know the times were harsh, but somehow this is just overdone. The great lords should only look like this on the battlefield – in between surely they presented a more refined face to the world? The high magnates like York were very civilised and educated, and always very mindful of their manners (which is why half a century earlier the sometimes uncouth Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel was eventually flattened by Richard II, who couldn’t abide him any more) Arundel was deficient in tact, but even he wasn’t uncivilised and ignorant.
In this docudrama beards and moustaches proliferate, and if the men’s hair hasn’t been chopped to a virtual crew-cut, it’s longer and looks like a storm-torn haystack. They don’t actually scratch all the time, but you can sense the fleas! These men, not the general population, really are the great unwashed. Am I too namby-pamby and modern-fussy? Maybe, but even so I do want my magnates to look like magnates, not mad, frothing-at-the-mouth brigands in stolen clothes. And the truth is far closer to my idea than the ideas of those who produced this series.
As for clothes, the men were seldom out of armour or bits of armour, and I couldn’t tell you what other colours they wore. Once again Jasper Tudor outdid them all. As my late, much-loved moth er-in-law would have said, “Oh, he’s such a nice boy, Sandra….”
I wasn’t really taken with the female fashions either. Their outfits just didn’t work for me, they didn’t look contemporary, and the weird headgear was fascinating to say the least.
Anyway, back to the plot. Margaret of Anjou and the present Duke of Somerset want rid of York, who is rather cramping their style. To get back at them, York starts rumours that they’re lovers—and hence that Margaret’s son, supposedly by Henry VI is actually another pesky Beaufort. There’s uproar, etc. etc. High dudgeon from York, leading to the first Battle of St Albans, at which Somerset is murdered….and York spits on his body. Nice. And here I was, thinking Somerset was simply killed in the course of the battle, not cold-bloodedly murdered in a barn.
For a while York is Lord Protector, until Henry VI recovers from his bout of “insanity” and Margaret of Anjou manages to get York not only ousted but attainted as well. He and Warwick (who it seems is driven solely by greed) flee to Ireland. Only now does it seem to dawn on York that he has a rather good claim to the throne himself. Hmm, I think he always knew this. Anyway, there’s a brief shot of a genealogical tree and a finger pointing to the left in the line of Edward III’s sons, indicating that York’s claim went back to Lionel of Clarence, Edward III’s second son. There’s no mention that the Lancastrian claim also went back to Edward III, but to a lesser son to the right, John of Gaunt.
This “epiphany” of York’s leads to Warwick and he deciding that Henry VI has to be toppled and York crowned in his stead. Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI flee to Scotland, and when York gets to Westminster to state his case (23rd November 1460) he “makes the mistake” of putting a hand on the vacant throne. Oops. It’s his undoing, and eventually leads to the Lancastrian victory at Battle of Wakefield, where York and one of his sons, Edmund, are decapitated.
Was this the end of the House of York? Heaven forfend. In more ways than one. York left three other sons, and the eldest, Edward, Earl of March, picks up the baton. He’s eighteen-going-on-thirty by the look of him, with straggling hair, moustache and beard. The real Edward wouldn’t have been seen dead looking like that, nor was he when he turned up his toes in 1483. A bit bloated and unlovely by then, but still clean-shaven.
Anyway, at this point, 1460, he still manages to be everything his father wasn’t when it comes to the appeal factor. And at Mortimer’s Cross, boy, is he a clever opportunist. The heavens come to his aid. The story of the three suns really did happen, so Edward was indeed a sharp cookie. He defeats Jasper Tudor’s (leader of the Lancastrian army) and sweeps to power. Jasper escapes. We only get a distant shot of him fleeing on horseback, but I’ll bet he was still immaculate. He leaves behind a victorious Edward IV of York.
Cut to Margaret Beaufort again. The Yorkists are in power and are gobbling up all Lancastrian lands, including Jasper Tudor’s in Pembrokeshire where—horror!—the Yorkists have stolen little Henry Tudor! The rotters! Have they eaten him? So there she stands, beside an empty cradle into which I doubt that whopper of a baby ever fitted, let alone as a young lad. And that’s where this first episode ends.
So, next we have the reign of King Edward IV. I do hope he cleans up his act by then, and sees to it that his magnates do as well, because the grime and grunting surrounding his ruffianly father was a bit much. I hope too that they start filming in the UK instead of some eastern European locations that simply do not look in the least like medieval England!
Oh, and if you hope for some class acting from Philip Glenister, forget it. He merely narrates the Yorkist pov. Well, Sky’s idea of the Yorkist pov.
Rise of the Tudors Part 2, aka more tosh about the House of York….
I have now had the dubious delight of watching Part 2 of Royal Bastards. Oh, dear, where to start? Perhaps if I tell you that at one point, when Warwick and Clarence crawl to Margaret of Anjou, wanting to turn traitor to Edward IV, she sits proudly on her throne and hears Warwick out. Long silence. Then she says, “OK, Warwick.” OK? Are you kidding me?
To go back to the beginning of this historical horror fest, the Wars of the Roses are called “The Darkest Moment in English History”. Hmm, I can think of darker ones. We’re in 1468, and England is ruled with “an iron fist” by the House of York. Yet again the scene is set for the monstrous Yorkists to beat seven shades out of the noble, long-suffering Lancastrians. Margaret Beaufort is dolling herself up like a dog’s dinner to have, well, dinner with Edward IV, whom she hates because he’s the “enemy king”. But she smiles sweetly and flirtatiously, looking as unlike the Margaret Beaufort we know and love as it’s possible to be. She hates all Yorkists, including Edward’s close ally and friend, William Herbert, who has custody of her dear little Henry Tudor. Bless his cotton socks, he’s all rosy cheeks and wavy hair. Such a little charmer. With lovely level eyes. He’s the future Saviour of the Realm.
As for Edward IV, well, he’s the same as at the end of Part 1. Skinny, long-haired, with moustache and a beard. He’s his father all over again, fookin’ this and fookin’ that, a Yorkshire oaf who clearly has no idea about table manners. All three York brothers are broad Yorkshire. No one else has an accent, only them. Oh, and later on the French king. We know, of course, that the York brothers, as with all highborn nobles at this time, were cultured, literate and knew their manners inside out and back to front. Not for this daft series, however.
On the other hand, Margaret speaks perfect BBC English. Oh, she’s a classy piece and no mistake. She wants her little Henry back and to achieve this is playing “the long game” with Edward. All sweetness and smiles, gaining the ogre-king’s confidence.
But those closest to Edward are planning to betray him anyway. Zoom in on Warwick, the wicked pirate king. The Wars of the Roses are all his fault, his and his alone. He’s devious and ambitious and doesn’t like it that he’s being edged out of Edward’s confidence by the likes of Herbert. So he casts around for someone who is both powerful and stupid. Not far to look. Enter George, Duke of Clarence, Edward’s idiot of a middle brother. He’s 19, spoilt and arrogant, with 1000s of armed men at his disposal. Really? Oh, and to show he’s a piece of work, he kicks and abuses servants. He has a vacant expression, is clean-shaven and his blond locks are short in the fashion of Henry V. He’s ideal prey for the likes of Warwick, and is soon in the latter’s capacious back pocket. Warwick leads him into stirring up trouble, then produces a “manifesto” that absolutely infuriates Edward when he cops sight of it. But it does what Warwick wants and starts a full-scale rebellion against the king.
Then we see Richard of Gloucester for the first time. (Yes, you may groan loudly, for he’s the piece of work we’ve come to expect.) He’s a thinner Clarence, clean-shaven with the same short hair, but is blonder. Not peroxide, I hasten to say. His back is perfectly straight and his shoulders level, which is something, and his face is lean in a recognisably Ricardian way. But when he turns sideways, his conk is rather large. Don’t leap to conclusions about typos—I’m talking about his nose! And this Richard is scheming, sly and nasty, with shifty eyes and clearly possessed of nothing but rancid grey cells. Nothing angelic about him. He’s brutal and therefore House of York to his vile fingertips. Abandon hope all ye shivering cherubic Lancastrians….
Margaret of course is distraught about the rebellion, because the king’s creature, Herbert, has charge of her little angel. “Margaret’s son is in danger,” the narrator declares ominously. Hmm, clearly not enough danger because the little twerp survives the Battle of Edgecote, where he fights in his suit of armour. Yes, at 12 he braved the bloodbath. Right, as an aside, this experience clearly taught him to avoid such things forever more, and if he couldn’t avoid them, to hang around at the back behind a wall of guards. At the battle Herbert led the king’s forces, which lost, and he was executed. Margaret spies her chance and with Jasper Tudor (still looking such a nice boy, all clean and tidy) goes to see Herbert’s widow to beg her to hand over lickle Henners. Lady Herbert won’t. Edward IV may have suffered a setback, and has fled for the moment, but he’s still king and because he’s a rabid Yorkist cookie will be back to wreak terrible revenge. Lady Herbert isn’t about to take risks. Cue the grinding of Margaret’s foxy little teeth, but she can’t move the obstinate lady.
By the way, during the above battle it’s impossible to tell who’s who. They’re all wearing armour, helmets etc. Granted their visors are up, but a helmeted face covered in blood and grime is a helmeted face covered in blood and grime. Completely anonymous. There aren’t any coats of arms, colours, banners or whatever. How the slaughter wasn’t 100% I can’t understand. I suppose someone like little Henners could be identified because he’s only half the height of everyone else!
Then we go to Southampton 1470. Edward is striking back, killing every wrongdoer he can get his hands on. And if he can catch him, that includes Margaret’s little Lancastrian darling. Oh no! Cue panic!
Edward is annoyed because Warwick and Clarence are still at large, stripped of lands, property and so on. They’re not pleased either, and flee to France. Warwick’s devious little mind is at work. He needs money to take on Edward and the French can provide it. He’ll really turn traitor and morph into a Lancastrian! So we have a scene where he and the French king seem to be in some sort of tavern somewhere. The French king has one of the most impenetrable accents you’ve ever heard, but I think he must have agreed to cough up the dosh, men, weapons and whatever.
Warwick is a man devoid of any political conscience. Now he has to persuade the exiled Lancastrians he’s genuine, starting with Queen Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI. He offers her his daughter Anne (never on screen) in marriage to Margaret’s son by Henry VI. This is when Queen Margaret utters the immortal “OK, Warwick”.
In England word soon spreads that Warwick is planning to restore the Henry VI to the throne, and gleeful Lancastrians flock to the cause. This ends up with Edward IV fleeing to Burgundy and taking Richard of Gloucester with him. Henry VI is restored and Margaret is finally reunited with her beloved little angel, whom she hasn’t seen in nine years. He’s still clean shaven, with perfect eyes, unlike the real thing.
Now Warwick is the real power in England. There’s no mention of Clarence being his son-in-law, only that he’s Edward’s brother, but it’s all too good to be true for the pair of them, because Edward IV and Richard of Gloucester return. Clarence then betrays Warwick and returns to Edward – which doesn’t please Richard of Gloucester because Clarence is a senior brother to him. So Clarence is back in the fold of “England’s most dysfunctional family”. Oh, come on! We have one treacherous brother who changes sides. That doesn’t make the whole family dysfunctional. Silly. ?
Anyway, Edward returns with an army, but is outnumbered. This is the Battle of Barnet, and like Mortimer’s Cross before, the heavens come to his rescue. Well, perhaps not the heavens, more Mother Nature. She conjures a thick fog, through which Edward and his army creep undetected and catching Warwick napping! Victory goes to Edward, and Warwick is “murdered”. Hardly. Let’s face it, if anyone was murdered in battle, it was Richard III at Bosworth. He died because of so-called friends who turned traitor during the fight. That’s premeditated and therefore murder. In my opinion. Anyway, back to Barnet. Warwick’s naked body is displayed in St Paul’s Cathedral. No, we don’t see this.
At this point Margaret takes the “ultimate political gamble” and decides to support Edward. Wise move, except that he’s still an unspeakable Yorkist pig and she shudders just to think of him. How to reason with such barbaric brute? She now acquires another husband, the truly unspeakable Yorkist Lord Stanley. Well, we know he’s unspeakable, but in this series he’s an honourable gentleman to his fingertips, and has been fooled by her. She’s only in it for political advantage. We’re not told that he was also in it for political advantage. As far as the script is concerned, she’s a pretty little vixen of the bluest blood ever, and he’s just a gullible Yorkist gander of common stock. She can’t stand Yorkists, remember? Anyway, you can forget her vow of widowhood and chastity, or whatever it was, because we have a bedroom scene. Yes, really. There they are, gazing cow-eyed at each other in their nighties, smiling and holding hands. Oh yuk! You couldn’t make it up. Oh, except that the scriptwriter did indeed make it up. But he didn’t make up that dear little Henners is still in exile wiv Nunky Jasper. And likely to stay there for good, unless Edward IV can sink bloody claws into him.
Margaret and Stanley seek an audience with Edward, during which she seems to have charmed the Awful Beast into doing what she wants and let her little boy return. Edward even draws up a pardon…but doesn’t sign it. The dirty rotten swine! He’s not as daft as Margaret thought.
Now we’re reaching the close of this episode. Cut to Edward’s home life and his two darling little boys, whom we view through a rosy glow. Oh, such sweetness and harmony. But suddenly we learn that Edward has been womanising all his life and eating and drinking to excess. Amazingly, he’s still as thin as ever. Anyway, its April 1483, and at the age of 40 he turns up his royal toes.
The absolute final scene is a brief trailer for Episode 3, showing Richard of Gloucester as Richard III. See the illustration of him above. He’s no longer Sneaky Richard but has become a megalomaniac who screams and bawls and stomps around like a boar with tuskache. Until now he’s been all softly, softly catchee monkey!
Needless to say I don’t know whether I’ll be able to stomach Episode 3. Watch more of this pro-Lancastrian tripe to the very bitter end? Nope. It’s too much to ask of this Yorkist!
Rise of the Tudors, Part 3 – power grab and the bitter end
Well, you lucky people, in spite of my decision not to sit through any more of this dire docudrama dross, I was persuaded to watch the last episode. I girded up my Yorkist loins, adjusted my best sallet and sallied forth to my sofa bastion with grim determination.
We start with Brittany, September 1484. A barn in a field. Henry Tudor asleep in the hay. (echoes of Christmas? Well, he is going to be a saviour, is he not?) Nunky Jasper enters. “Word from your mother. Run!” Then he marches out again. Henry puts on his boots and makes a dash for it.
Then we go back to the previous year, and see Henry’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, in bed with hubby Thomas Stanley, who seems to have been dreaming about Robert Downey Jr because he mutters about an Iron Man. Well, maybe that isn’t what he says, but it sounds like it. Listening again, he says nightmare. He was being chased by a huge boar. Oh, so nothing symbolic there, eh? Margaret doesn’t see the significance, giggles girlishly while stroking his chest, then teases “You’re not afraid of dreams, are you?” As if she wouldn’t dance a medieval jig at his mention of a fearsome boar. He’s a Yorkist and dreams of a terrifying boar? Oh, manna from heaven in the propaganda stakes. Well, that’s clearly what the producers of this junk are trying to dish out. All boars are nasty, but especially white ones, right? Nudge, nudge. Anyway, she and Thomas link fingers and gaze adoringly at each other. Forget her vow of chastity, it didn’t happen! Clearly a morning bonk is imminent.
Anyway, Thomas is a powerful lord, one of the wealthiest men in the country, and Margaret has both him and the late King Edward’s draft pardon, which would allow her lickle Henwy to return from an exile of twelve unbearable years. The draft which the Nasty Hairy Yorkist Beast Edward IV had neglected to sign! Unfortunately, the narrator produces this draft to hold before us…but it’s a photocopy in the middle of a larger sheet of paper. Why? The draft itself could have been cut out and she could wave just that. As it is, it looks decidedly unmedieval. Ah, but clearly it’s a sign that Henry Tudor had already invented the first photocopier.
Margaret needs a signature, and as Edward IV has popped his royal clogs, she has to approach the new king, Edward’s son, Edward V. Little Ned is too young, however (only twelve) so Margaret has to approach his uncle, the Lord Protector, smarmy, blond Richard of Gloucester, whose voice is as smarmy as his smile. Cue a close-up of Richard’s white boar pendant. Boar. Nightmare. Remember? Well, in case you didn’t, the script introduces an almighty jab of the elbow to wake you up.
“Richard loved his [late] brother and is devoted to doing his duty as Lord Protector. Cue another close-up of that darned white boar badge. The Lancastrian/Tudor narrator then declares that Richard claims to be 100% loyal to his nephew, BUT…(enormous BUT)…immediately has the boy’s maternal family killed. The Woodville are all angels, of course. Every last one. And they never, ever, ever plotted to kill Richard. Oh no, wash your mouth out with carbolic for even suspecting such a diabolical thing. Now Richard is quite clearly taking out his foes.
But wait, cue the Yorkist narrator, who says Richard was perfectly within his right because he did know they were so plotting, intent upon one of their number being Lord Protector and gaining control of the young king. Thomas Stanley’s hose are in a knot because he dreamed of that nasty giant [white] boar. As he reminds Margaret when they’re out shopping in a market. Perhaps her cooks are out of turnips. All she’s interested in otherwise is getting Edward V’s juvenile moniker on that damned draft! She wants her little boy home for Christmas. Well, perhaps she can also see that Richard wants more than just being Lord Protector. You can’t put one past her. She’s determined that whatever heinous thing Richard’s planning, she and Thomas will be on the right side.
Cut to that notorious June 1483 meeting of the Privy Council. Enter Richard, who has a tiresome cough. He tells them he knows he’s not well liked. Oh? By whom? Well, the Woodvilles and Lancastrians, I suppose. The council murmurs reassurances that of course he’s liked. But he leans on the fairly high back of a chair, and as he speaks he sinks against it until he’s clutching it in an effort to stand up! Well, that’s the impression I gained. In fact, he uses his chin on the top of the chair back to hold himself up. Well, it is a formidable chin, yes? Then he comes to the front of the chair and sits down. Most odd behaviour. Why not sit down in the first place. Well, that would be too normal, I suppose, and we have to be reminded that Richard isn’t normal. The chair and the offending article he produces next can be seen in the illustration below.
He holds up a handkerchief, and for a split second I thought it was his boxer shorts! But no, it’s a harmless hanky, except it has what appear to be two small bloodstains. He speaks of sorcery by Edward IV’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville (whom we never see). He laughs in a rather suppressed, lunatic way. Thomas (I think) ventures to say they don’t wish Richard harm and are loyal…at which Richard loses it, thumps his first on the table and yells, “But not to me!” This outburst is the signal for men-at-arms to stride in and drag Thomas and the chamberlain, Hastings, from the room. Outside, a roughed-up Thomas watches as Hastings is given the chop on the spot. No messing. This is pure Shakespeare, but without those damned strawberries and the withered arm. Richard observes the execution by peering around a corner. All he lacks is a villainous moustache to twiddle. His demonic smirk says it all.
The narrator for the other side immediately calls this “gangster politics”, saying that Richard had illegally executed a Privy Councillor and stepped over the line. This is a.w.f.u.l. even by medieval standards, the script points out. Well, Richard was Lord Protector and could execute someone on the spot if he deemed it to be required. So, not illegal at all, and we know that Richard did have a reason. Hastings was up to his armpits in plotting with the Woodvilles.
Now we see a very jittery Thomas, his head wound being lovingly tended by beautiful Margaret Nightingale. Those nasty big Yorkist men-at-arms were vewy cwuel, you understand. He’s rapidly changing sides before our very eyes. AND he reminds us yet again about his nightmare. Yes, yes, we get it! No need for the idiot card. Richard “is a fookin’ snake who arrests his own kin and executes them without trial”. Which kin? As she dabs hubby’s gashed forehead, Margaret, as sneaky as Richard, advises Thomas to be Richard’s friend, or words to that effect. Richard’s position is rocky and Thomas should step in to be a stabilising influence. Like, yeah…we know how stabilising he proved to be! And his rotten brother.
Right, now Richard declares himself King of England. A slight problem in his path is Edward V. To get around this, Richard publishes an “utterly shameless” press release called the Titulus Regius in which he claims that Edward V and Edward IV were bastards – the latter from his mother’s adultery, the former because Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV weren’t married. This is all a lie, of course, and everyone knows it, yet Parliament and the Church approve Richard’s claim to the throne. Lily-livered yes-men, one and all. Margaret (wearing black) and Thomas stay close, playing the loyal subjects. It pays off, and Richard asks Thomas to be his steward. Encouraged, Margaret asks Richard to sign the unsigned draft. Richard promises to look into the matter, but doesn’t sign it there and then, dang it! This is the moment Margaret realises Richard views lickle Henwy as “just another threat to his power that needs to be eliminated”. So she makes a decision that will change the course of English politics forever. “Fuck politics”, she’s going to overthrow a king! Yikes.
Richard’s coronation day (no sign or mention of Anne Neville, except in the Wheel of Fortune that’s continually referred to throughout the series) and he’s wearing some weird scrap metal on his head. Meccano gone wrong, I think. We see his white boar badge being handed out. Mustn’t forget the nightmare. But behind Thomas’s trusting back, Margaret is joining a plot to free the two boys in the Tower and put Edward V on the throne. Fires are to be set around London as a distraction and in the confusion armed men will free the boys and spirit them away. But the conspiracy is exposed and the conspirators are arrested and killed. Margaret isn’t even suspected. Oh, and there’s no mention that her half-brother, John Welles, who was definitely involved in it, isn’t killed at all. How remiss of Richard. Not that this aside is mentioned. No, Richard killed all of them, martyrs that they were.
Now we have a delightful little scene of Uncle Richard reading a bedtime story to the little princes. One might as well have Hannibal Lektor sitting there sizing them up for dinner. Now Richard decides to kill both cherubs, who are golden-haired and cuddlesome, of course. Now, it’s the Yorkist narrator who says this! Richard—murdered—the—boys—in—the—Tower. Unequivocal statement.
I’m afraid folks that at this monstrous claim, for which there is no proof whatsoever of Richard’s guilt, I’d had enough of this anti-Richard drivel. No, not just anti-Richard, anti-all-Yorkists (except the wavering Thomas, who has “noble” written through him as in a stick of Blackpool rock. Well, the Stanleys are from Lancashire, right?)
The whole series has been written for and by Lancastrian/Tudor supporters. Even-handed it is not, yet it purports to be a documentary, which implies a reasonable element of truth. I’m not even halfway through the final episode and my stomach has rebelled once and for all. No more. And that’s a promise.
You can view the actors in the series here. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt16233670/