“Writing The Tudors” – an Evening with Michael Hirst

The Tudors television series was a massively popular hit around the world. It’s sexy! It’s entertaining! Everyone looks like a model! Henry VIII wasn’t a ginger fat bloke, but a dark-haired god!

Well, to be perfectly blunt, it’s become a bit of a joke within the academic world. Historians have criticised the show, and its writer, Michael Hirst, for being lax when it comes to historical accuracy, for dumbing it down, sexing it up, just to appeal to modern audiences. While I can understand the need to make money, of course, does it necessarily follow that one cannot keep to the known facts of the Tudor family?

Whilst the young Henry was athletic, handsome and virile, he did not look like Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (who I think is a very good actor), regardless of Hirst saying that we can have no idea how the real Henry looked. I don’t agree – I believe the amount of portraiture, and accounts of his physical attributes speak for themselves.

This evening was a members event for members of Historic Royal Palaces, which I am both a member of and volunteer for, and it took place at the Clore Learning Centre at Hampton Court Palace.

“Writing the Tudors” event, Hampton Court.

Now, I’m currently researching William & Mary and I’m working meticulously in order to make my fictional story coincide exactly within the historical record. I have gone to Hampton Court Palace countless times in order to get a feel for my characters. Needless to say, I was most surprised to learn that Mr. Hirst hadn’t gone to Hampton Court to get a feel for Henry VIII and his court. When I walk around that palace, I can feel the history around me.

I’m sorry to say that most of the audience didn’t seem to care that lots of the story was made up. This is the trouble with historical fiction when it is popularised and filmed – many people seem to accept the story as fact, without going through the trouble of learning about the true people. How many times have I heard someone saying that Anne Boleyn’s brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochdale, was a homosexual just because that was what Hirst had written into the Tudors show? There is *no* evidence to support this idea, and Hirst himself was quite cagey when my husband asked him why he felt the need to change George’s sexuality. The middle-aged woman sitting next to us gave us a look of absolute contempt for daring to say anything other than praise (I was a little disturbed by some of the older women that attended who were gushing in their praise of him and his show).

Actually, I’m sorry to say that I didn’t agree with most of the things he said.

The character Margaret Tudor is an amalgamation of Henry’s sisters Mary and Margaret. According to the series, Margaret marries the King of Portugal and kills him. This didn’t happen. Mary wed the King of France, then Charles Brandon. Margaret wed the Scottish King James IV, then the 6th Earl of Angus, then Henry Stewart. Why not keep things as they were and weave in fiction into that structure? I know that many Tudor enthusiasts are in agreement with me about this.

My question is this: Is it necessary to make stuff up when the truth is just as interesting? The story of Henry VIII and his six wives is quite a story in and of itself, so why change bits around? Why introduce completely made-up characters like Lady Ursula Misseldon (Season 3)? Please don’t misunderstand what I am writing, I enjoyed the show, and bought each season, and two of the beautiful soundtracks by Trevor Morris, but I still find it rather irritating that the history is not more accurate. If it had been, it would have indeed been a very good show and those people who are inclined to believe everything in shows would actually have the correct information.

For more about the show: http://www.sho.com/sho/the-tudors/home

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