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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.

She isn’t “going through the card” after all

As you probably know, the list of women who have been beheaded in England is very short. Helena Bonham Carter has played two of them so far – Lady Jane (1554) in 1986 and Anne Boleyn (1536) (opposite Ray Winstone’s Henry VIII on ITV) in 2003 and I heard that she was about to play a royal character named Margaret.

Further reading informs me that this is to be Princess Margaret, late sister of Her Majesty and Countess of Snowdon, NOT of Salisbury (1541). The other beheaded women in England were Katherine Howard and Jane, Viscountess Rochford (both 1542), Mary of Scotland (1587) and Alice, Baroness Lisle (1685).

 

The anachronism that wasn’t

This article lists a few errors in two current popular drama series but its criticisms are not as authoritative as they may seem. On “Victoria”, it quotes Professor Jane Ridley, who is a leading expert on that monarch and is a descendant of one of England’s first married bishops, and A.N. Wilson on several points. However, some of the suggestions are not actually attributed to either source.

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Professor Ridley insists that Victoria did not have a German accent and a recording may well exist to demonstrate this. She, her father and paternal grandfather were all British-born and raised. As soon as George I succeeded to the British throne, he moved permanently to this country with his heir, so the Hanoverians became principally a British dynasty. Prince Frederick (1707-51) lived in Germany until just after his father’s accession but crossed the North Sea eight years before his marriage and nine before any of his legitimate children were born.

Dramatists do make mistakes with historical programmes but their critics have been known to err as well. Ray Winstone’s Henry VIII (2003) is a case in point – his birthplace is near Henry’s in Greenwich and his accent was probably mis-rendered but one reader thought that he should “sound Welsh”. The “Tudors” was of particular interest to pedants as well.

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