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Dyer or Dire?

Many of you will remember the episode of “Who do you think you are” in which Danny Dyer was revealed as a descendant of Edward III. In this new two part series, he “meets” a few prominent ancestors, some even more distant.

The first episode began with Rollo, ancestor of the Dukes of Normandy, which saw Dyer visit Sweden, although Danes and Norwegians also claim that Viking dynast, to learn sparring with a sword and shield. Then he went to the Tower to talk about William I and Dover Castle for Henry II, discussing his rebellious sons and his mixed relationship with Becket. At every stage, riding a horse, jousting or dyeing (Dyeing?), he was accompanied by a professional genealogist (Anthony Adolph, in a cafe opposite Buckingham Palace) or a historian, if not one of television’s “usual suspects”. At the end, Dyer visited France to learn of a slightly different ancestor – St. Louis IX, although Margaret of Wessex is another canonised forebear.

The second episode did feature some real historians: Elizabeth Norton, Chris Given-Wilson, Tobias Capwell and Tracy Borman. The opening scene had Isabella on the Leeds Castle drawbridge shouting at Edward II (Dyer): “Git aht ov moi carsel” (you may need Google Translate, but not from French). We were shown an image of Hugh le Despencer’s grisly execution, without pointing out that there were two of that name, followed by Edward’s confinement in Berkeley Castle, forced abdication and the legend of his even grislier end. Henry “Hotspur” Percy, who died in battle at Shrewsbury, followed as Dyer tried on late mediaeval armour. The next scenes concerned Sir John Seymour at Wolf Hall, inveigling his daughter into Henry VIII’s world, as Dyer dressed up and tried “Tudor” dancing. We then moved on to Helmingham Hall as Catherine Cromwell married Lord Tollemache, whose successor met Dyer, his cousin, again. The series concluded with a “sugar banquet” as the star’s family joined in, dressed as Elizabeth I’s contemporaries.

Both programmes were informative about mediaeval life, such as the “silver pennies” bearing Dyer’s image and the West Ham badge, although his stereotypical East London patois grates a little. It brought to mind Ray Winstone as Henry VIII (“I have been betrayed!”) or Nick Knowles‘ egregious Historyonics.

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The Rise of the Clans

Neil Oliver‘s

latest history series has been shown through December on Monday evenings (BBC1 Scotland) and twenty-four hours later on BBC4.

The first part, of three, showed how the power vacuum caused by the sudden deaths of Alexander III and his granddaughter was resolved through the clan system and John Balliol’s abdication so that alliances were formed behind the remaining claimants Robert Bruce and John “Red” Comyn, culminating in a brawl in the Dumfries Greyfriars, during which Comyn was fatally stabbed. Robert I’s reign, including his strategic triumph as he unexpectedly arranged a pitched battle at Bannockburn is also explored.

The second part explores how, after the reign of David II, Robert I’s son, Clan Stewart evolved from a branch of the (Norman) Fitzalans, who are now Dukes of Norfolk through their Howard marriage, to supply every Scottish monarch from 1371 and every English monarch from 1603, now through the Bohemian marriage of James VI and I’s daughter. The reigns of the first three Stewarts were narrated, the weaknesses of Robert II and Robert III, the absence and the authoritarian – Lancastrian? – royal style of James I together with the conflict between Robert III‘s sons were used to show how James’ assassination and the ensuing executions, organised by his widow Joan “Beaufort”, resolved this before the end of 1437. Gradually, from James I’s time, the Stewarts succeeded in gaining power from the MacDonalds, who held the Lordship of the Isles.

Finally, we focus on Mary, simultaneously the last Stewart and the first Stuart, through her marriage to Henry, Lord Darnley (of the Lennox Stuarts), and his mysterious death at Kirk o’Fields, up to her dethronement and exile. The clan chieftains played a significant part in her initial downfall, as they plotted to reverse Knox’s organic Reformation that had taken place during her absence. At this time, her half-brother the Earl of Moray allied himself to the Earl of Morton, the leading Douglas. Then, after marrying the (Hepburn) Earl of Bothwell, Mary fled south – and her life ended at Fotheringhay where Richard III’s had begun.

As usual, this evocative series features realistic dramatisations in which Oliver appears almost as a witness in some scenes. The detail exceeds that of his A History of Scotland and, as usual, nobody featured in the episodes is beyond reproach.

The Fabulous Cheapside Hoard….

Cheapside Hoard - examples

I have just watched a fascinating BBC documentary from 2013, concerning the amazing hoard of 17th-Century (and earlier) jewels that was found in Cheapside at the beginning of the 20th Century. The documentary is called Secret Knowledge: The Hidden Jewels of the Cheapside Hoard, and was presented by modern jeweller, Shaun Leane. You can see it here.

If you Google the hoard, there are countless sites that deal with it. The link below is just one that I picked out. The subject of buried jewels is always engrossing, with so many possible reasons why they were buried. This hoard was, apparently, entirely forgotten, and would still be lost were it not for the utter transformation and rebuilding of Cheapside. Original foundations, vaults and cellars were found again…and so were these priceless jewels.

Watching the documentary isn’t obligatory, but it certainly helps, because the camera goes in so close and personal, encircling these objects and showing every detail.

See also here.

Channel 5’s “Inside the Tower of London”

This four-part series is narrated by Jason Watkins and heavily features Tracy Borman, Joint Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces.

The first part dealt with the Peasants’ Revolt, which resulted in Simon of Sudbury‘s beheading and Borman travelled to St. Gregory’s in his home town to view the preserved head. She spoke about the animals kept in the various mini-towers and the Royal Mint that coined “Long Cross Pennies”, introduced by Henry III. We saw the Beefeaters, including a retirement party for one, before scholars at Eton and King’s College commemorated their founder, Henry VI, at the “Ceremony of the Lilies and Roses”. Then came the mystery of the “Princes”, as Borman used Domenico Mancini’s correct forename whilst taking him at face value a little too much, although she did note that More was five in 1483 and wrote three decades later to please Henry VIII. The seventeenth century discovery of remains of some sort was mentioned and a new exhibition on the “Princes” was launched, even as counter-evidence has emerged and been clarified.

Part two focussed on Henry VIII’s first and second “marriages”, together with the dramatic end of the second. Part three moved on to the twentieth century with the shooting of Josef Jakobs and other German spies, together with the 1913 visit of the suffragette Leonora Cohen. Rudolf Hess was also held there, as were the Kray twins later. The concluding part dealt with the role of the Constable, the ravens and the interrogation of Guy Fawkes and other prisoners, together with the tale of the more privileged, such as Raleigh, and the audacity of Colonel Blood’s attempt to steal the Crown Jewels, so soon after many of them had been recreated.

WHERE HENRY MET JANE:THE REAL WOLF HALL FOUND

Many of us watched the TV version of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, showing  a nicely unsanitised view of the Tudor world. Wolf Hall itself, of course, is the grand manor where Henry met his third wife, Jane Seymour–the one often described as ‘mousy’ but the ‘only one Henry loved’ (because she gave him a living son and then expired, giving him no need to remove her head.)

Wolf Hall, which stood near Burbage in Wiltshire, vanished centuries ago after becoming derelict as early as 1571, only 40 years after it was built, undoubtedly due to the decline in the family fortunes, which included several beheadings… The church in Great Bedwyn still retains some original glass  saved from the hall; it also boasts the stunning tomb of Jane’s father and some other highly interesting memorials of the period.

After the remains of the ruined hall were completely demolished in the 1700’s, another house was  built near the place where the great manor house once stood. Nothing remained above ground. But this year there has been an excavation of the site, and Wolf Hall has, after all these centuries, been found–the archaeologists have now revealed the plan of  two hexagonal towers and an amazingly complete brick sewers, along with a collection of painted tiles.

WOLF HALL ARTICLE

The present Wolf Hall below (1700’s)

WOLF HALL

A very busy presenter

Rob Bell seems to be on television a lot at the moment. Although he is an engineer and not quite a historian, many of his programmes go back in time as structures were built. Walking Britain’s Lost Railways, for instance, goes back under two centuries because of the subject matter, but Great British Ships (both Channel Five) has already covered HMS Victory and the Mary Rose, which was built in 1510 and sank in 1545. At the same time, possibly literally, Bell is appearing on BBC1 and BBC4’s (repeated) Engineering Giants, projects which he narrates actively with enthusiasm and technical knowledge, together with an interest in the local culture. For example, he tells viewers of Brunel’s great feats, tries to explain why the Mary Rose sank and walks most of the Dartmoor route from Plymouth to Exeter, although a small stage of this track has re-opened in recent years.

The last episode featured Ruabon to Barmouth via Llangollen, where the Irish Ladies lived.

A cursed title?

This very informative BBC documentary, presented by Dr. Bendor Grosvenor, showed how a portrait, presently on display in Glasgow, was proved to be an original Rubens.  George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, was a courtier and soldier, serving under both James VI/I and Charles I as well as being a possible partner of the former. He was assassinated in 1628 and the portrait (left) dates from about three years before this.

Villiers’ line fared no better than their predecessors in their tenure of the Buckingham title. Just as two of the three Stafford Dukes were executed and one killed at Northampton over their 67 years, Villiers’ son went into exile in France after serving in Charles II’s “CABAL” – he left no male heir and both his brothers had already died without issue. The title was recreated, with Normanby, for John Sheffield in 1703 but his male line expired in 1735 whilst Richard Grenville’s family held it, with Chandos, from 1822-89.

The passing of Bernard Hepton….

Bernard Hepton as Cranmer

I always admired Bernard Hepton, who could be guaranteed to bring Class, capital “C”, to any production. His voice was smooth and creamy, and his understated approach always seemed to fit his role to perfection. I remember him in various historical roles, particularly Cranmer. But I didn’t know he was renowned for arranging film fights, including those of Olivier’s Richard III. It’s sad that he has gone

Read more here: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/bernard-hepton-obituary-6xvj83qp5

Versailles

Three series of this Canale Plus production, showing a charismatic Louis XIV (George Blagden) decreeing a new palace outside Paris, have now been shown in the UK and it seems that a fourth will not now be made. It has much in common with “The Tudors ” in that it has been enjoyable from a dramatic perspective, broadcast after the watershed, allowing for many scenes of “horizontal jogging” and there has been some adjustment to the historical record. Whilst “The Tudors” conflated Henry VIII’s sisters Margaret and Mary, marrying her to the King of Portugal and not those of Scotland and France, among other crimes against history, “Versailles” has just gone further.

Perhaps the producers have been reading the research of Kathryn Warner and Ian Mortimer but the Man in the Iron Mask, who was almost certainly a valet named Eustache Dauger, is the King’s father and predecessor by the same forename, Louis XIII, about forty years after his witnessed death. They have also shuffled historic events such that Louis XIV’s niece marries Carlos II, Spain’s last Habsburg King, in 1679 AFTER Louis’ first wife Maria Theresa died in 1683 – indeed Cardinals refer to her death in discussing Carlos’ marriage plans, however they made better work of “l’affaire des poisons”, culminating in the burning of “la Voisin” at the end of series two (1680). Blagden appears to have a similar build to Meyers, although the latter was surely too thin to portray Henry VIII, as he moves the court to a new location southwest of Paris.

Interestingly, the BBC followed the first two series with a five-minute “Inside Versailles” slot with Kate Williams and other historians.

 

Yet another case

This year’s third series of “Versailles” reminded me of a further instance of secret marriage, even though some people maintain that nobody ever married in secret despite this case, that spawned two whole books, this one and this just decades ago, let alone Edward IV and Elizabeth Wydeville or her parents.
In 1683 or 1684, just months after the death of his first wife, Louis XIV is widely regarded as having married the similarly widowed Francoise d’ Aubigny, Madame Scarron, subsequently known as the Marquise de Maintenon. Just like Lady Eleanor, she was never crowned, but the similarities end in that she was married by an Archbishop not, perhaps a Canon, remained Louis XIV’s morganatic wife and outlived him.

Indeed, historians have no doubt at all that Louis XIV married Madame de Maintenon. Albeit they are not sure exactly when. Despite this, the marriage was never officially recognised – as will be seen, the King swore everyone to secrecy – and Madame de Maintenon was certainly never recognised as Queen of France.

From the memoirs of the Duc de St. Simon:

“But what is very certain and very true, is, that some time after the return of the King from Fontainebleau, and in the midst of the winter that followed the death of the Queen (posterity will with difficulty believe it, although perfectly true and proved), Père de la Chaise, confessor of the King, said mass at the dead of night in one of the King’s cabinets at Versailles. Bontems, governor of Versailles, chief valet on duty, and the most confidential of the four, was present at this mass, at which the monarch and La Maintenon were married in presence of Harlay, Archbishop of Paris, as diocesan, of Louvois (both of whom drew from the King a promise that he would never declare this marriage), and of Montchevreuil. …”

Another example of how easy it was to get married in secret, without ceremony or records, albeit in this case in 17th Century France.

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