Thursday, 15 March 2007

King from the valleys

When I took an English Literature exam years ago, one of the set books was Pride and Prejudice, which I didn’t actually get around to reading, but I had seen the Olivier/Garson film. Many liberties had been taken with the plot (Lady Catherine de Bourgh turns out to be an absolute sweetie in the end), but it didn’t seem to matter: I managed to answer some questions on it and passed the exam.

Film-makers often twist plots, characterisations or historical facts away from universally acknowledged truths. Films as History notes the reasons why they have to do this, and quotes assessments by historians of the accuracy of some historical films.

The same applies to plays, and Shakespeare is particularly unreliable as a guide to, for example, fifteenth-century history. After watching the 1955 film of Richard III on DVD the other day, It struck me that the Tudor take-over from the last Plantagenet was unconvincing. I mean, the upstart won a battle*, but what made people fight for him? Richard may have been a scoundrel but why replace him with an unknown youngster?

So I thought I’d look up some of the facts, such as Henry Tudor’s justification for seizing the throne; I wish I hadn’t bothered, really. This is the explanation; you will have to pay careful attention:

His father, the Earl of Richmond, had been the offspring of Henry V’s French widow by a secret marriage with her Clerk of the Wardrobe—an obscure Welsh gentleman named Owen Tudor, later beheaded—while his mother, Margaret Beaufort, through whom he claimed the throne, was grand-daughter to one of John of Gaunt’s bastard Beaufort sons by his mistress and third wife, Catherine Swynford, Chaucer’s sister-in-law.

Quite clear now?

Anyway, the first Tudor king (and VIIth Henry) was a hard-nosed Welsh bruiser. So, in real life, was Stanley Baker who played him in Laurence Olivier’s film, though he looked a bit of a pantywaist when he was being pious in a silly auburn wig.

[*The film’s battle scenes were shot in a highly inappropriate Spanish location; visitors to Bosworth Field may be surprised to find that this part of Warwickshire is not in reality a parched plain with olive trees, surrounded by mountains.]

3 comments:

Tony said...

I will read J Tey's book if my local library has it, though "just a propagandist for the Tudors" sounds a bit sniffy.

I am delighted to welcome you back, Minty, though I have to confess I hadn't noticed that you'd been away; your name doesn't link to a website—do I know you? Who is Minty, what is she?

Minty said...

You may not remember me. I wrote you an appreciative letter some time ago, and asked if you had read Lord Wavell's "Other Men's Flowers", which of course you had.

Jospehine Tey's book is a defence of Richard III, very cleverly written, and she points out that the histories of Richard all come from Sir Thomas More's account, and he had been only eight when Richard died, and thus grown up under a Tudor administration. From his account Holinshed took his material, and from that Shakespeare wrote his plays. (Of course I meant "just a propagandist" in this very narrow sense).

If you do find the book you also need to see the portrait of Richard in the National Portrait Gallery.

Tony said...

Oh that Minty, I remember now; nice to hear from you again.
It was just that I was afraid you might be Lieutenant "Minty" Pargeter, a frightful ass who got very drunk at a regimental reunion dinner in the seventies and was sick all over my dress uniform.