Forgotten Tudors

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Our occasional series about history’s most interesting people who have been overlooked by Hollywood. See also our articles about scientistsqueer peoplewritersartistsRenaissance womenMedieval women18th-century peoplepirate women, and journalists who need movies made about them. We’ve also also nominated Rose Bertin and several of Henry VIII’s wives for specific screen treatment.

 

3,000* movies and TV series have been made about the various members of the Tudor family, from Henry VIII and his many wives, to Queen Elizabeth I (*accurate number). There’s only three core generations of the Tudor family when it comes to the English throne — Henry VII, Henry VIII, and then Edward/Mary I/Elizabeth I — but this family gets a LOT of screen time. That being said, there are some core, super interesting members of the Tudor family that have gotten absolute short shrift when it comes to even minor appearances on screen. WTF, Hollywood?

Maybe instead of making yet another Henry VII and His Six Wives, you could consider putting one of these three fascinating women into your productions:

 

Margaret Douglas

Margaret Douglas (1515-78) was the daughter of Henry VIII’s sister, Margaret, Queen of Scotland (who we’ll discuss further in a minute). She was, therefore, the king’s niece and frequently was in line for the succession. She lived with various key people in the Tudor world — first Cardinal Wolsey, then was brought up with the future Queen Mary I. But there’s much more to Margaret than just hanging around: there’s drama!

Margaret_Douglas

Margaret Douglas, 1560-65, via Wikimedia Commons

First, she secretly married Anne Boleyn‘s uncle, Lord Thomas Howard. And it was true wuv, too, with many shmoopy letters surviving! Just as Henry was ditching Anne, and declaring his two daughters (Mary and Elizabeth) bastards, thus placing Margaret very close to the throne, he found out. Furious, Henry threw both Margaret and Thomas into the Tower of London, and Thomas died there. Margaret fell ill, with the strong possibility that her “illness” was actually a pregnancy. A few years later, Margaret fell into disgrace again after having an affair with Sir Charles Howard, a relative of Thomas’.

Margaret finally married the Scottish Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox, and their son was Henry, Lord Darnley — future husband of Mary Queen of Scots. Margaret was involved in getting the two hitched, and later in life would care for her other son’s daughter, Arbella…

As far as I can tell, Margaret Douglas hasn’t EVER made it to screen. What the frock, Hollywood? You’ve got illicit marriages and affairs undertaken by a woman close to the throne, who later gets involved in the marriage of the key rival to Elizabeth I. How is this not binge-worthy?

 

Arbella Stuart

Arbella Stuart (1575-1615) was the granddaughter of Margaret Douglas, by Douglas’s second son, Charles. She was therefore a great-great-granddaughter of Henry VIII, and often regarded as one of THE main possibilities to succeed the childless Elizabeth I.

Lady_Arabella_Stuart

Robert Peake the elder, Lady Arbella Stuart, c. 1577 – 1615, Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Because of her key position, Arbella was raised in semi-isolation by her grandmother, the legendary Bess of Hardwick (both Arbella’s parents were dead), although she occasionally went to court. She was seen as the main contender for the throne against James VI of Scotland, and was the unwilling figurehead of a rebellion against James after he came to the English throne as James I of England.

However, Arbella wasn’t just well-positioned in Tudor society. Multiple marriage options having never panned out, Arbella secretly married William Seymour, the future Duke of Somerset. When King James I found out, he suspected she was hoping to take the throne. Both were imprisoned in separate locations and hatched a plot to run away together to France. Arbella dressed as a man and snuck to the meeting point, but William wasn’t there, so Arbella delayed and delayed her ship. Finally, she embarked, only to be caught just before reaching Calais; meanwhile, William had caught another ship and made it to France. Arbella was forced to return to England, imprisoned, and starved herself to death in the Tower of London.

There appears to be only ONE pathetic little attempt to put Arbella on film: the 1972 BBC miniseries about Arbella’s grandmother Bess, called Mistress of Hardwick. But this show is old enough and piddly enough that this is all the evidence I can find:

1972 Mistress of Hardwick

This is Hilary Mason, who plays Bess of Hardwick.

You’ve got the young contender for the throne, held in isolation! And then the drama of the secret marriage and star-crossed escape attempt! What about this is not MADE for the big screen??

 

Margaret Tudor

Okay, this is the one that kills me. Margaret Tudor (1489-1541) was HENRY VIII’S SISTER. Even more than that, she became the QUEEN OF SCOTLAND. And when she remarried after her husband’s death, she found out her new hubby was cheating on her and so she DIVORCED HIS ASS and married another. HOW IS THIS NOT MADE FOR A BIG-BUDGET PRODUCTION??!!

Margaret Tudor, via Wikimedia Commons

Margaret Tudor, via Wikimedia Commons

Margaret was Henry VII’s second child, after Arthur, Prince of Wales. Although The Spanish Princess doesn’t seem to get the whole concept of dynastic marriage, her father started thinking about a Scottish match for Margaret around her sixth birthday; she did indeed marry James IV of Scotland, becoming queen, when she was 14.

Margaret and James had six children, although only one survived: the future James V of Scotland (father of Mary Queen of Scots). When her husband James died in a battle with England, Margaret took over as regent for her son. She secretly remarried, to Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, thus pissing off the rest of the Scottish nobility. The terms of her husband’s will meant that she was then booted from the regency, and when the new regent got a hold of her children, Margaret fled to England, and there gave birth to daughter Margaret Douglas (above), while husband Angus ditched her to return to Scotland. She spent a year at Henry VIII’s court, then returned to Scotland, only to have her suspicions about her husband confirmed when she discovered he was having an affair. She led a coup to regain the Scottish regency, and when her husband tried to assert his right to attend Parliament, she had cannons fired on him. GO GIRL!

Margaret_Tudor_-_Daniel_Mytens

Daniël Mijtens, Posthumous portrait of Margaret Tudor, c. 1620-1638, Royal Collection

When the pope finally granted Margaret a petition of divorce (which, ironically, her brother Henry VIII opposed; however, it’s an excellent example of how royal divorces usually worked, thus explaining some of Henry’s frustration when he couldn’t get the same deal), she remarried yet again, this time to Henry Stewart, Lord Methven. However, he too turned out to be a wanker, so Margaret tried to divorce him, but died before she could see that through.

It kills me that Margaret has only made it to screen in three and a half very piddly attempts:

1972 The Shadow of the Tower

As a young girl, in the BBC miniseries The Shadow of the Tower (1972).

The Tudors

In The Tudors, “Margaret” is a composite of the real Margaret and her younger sister, Mary, although I’d argue her storyline much more favors Mary’s life than Margarets.

2017 King Henry VIII and Queen Margaret Tudor

What appears to be the shittiest attempt at a documentary, called King Henry VIII & Queen Margaret Tudor (2017), in which Margaret apparently is a big fan of botox and fillers.

Spanish Princess

And as the dumpily dressed, has-no-idea-how-political-marriage-works sister of Arthur and Henry in The Spanish Princess (2019).

PEOPLE! QUEEN OF SCOTLAND! SHOT CANNONS AT HER DEADBEAT HUSBAND! DIVORCED HIS SORRY ASS! PUT THIS WOMAN ON FILM, STAT, OR THERE WILL BE WORDS!!!

 

 

Which other Tudors do we need to see more of on-screen?

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

33 Responses

  1. mmcquown

    I think a big part of the problem is that they haven’t been novelised. At least Margaret Douglas gets featured as a villain in the Lymond Chronicles, but that has yet to reach the screen. Too bad for so many reasons, but mostly because it’s good history combined with some brilliant fictional action. I don’t think anyone has come up with better than the scavenger hunt across the rooftops of Blois.

    Reply
    • Kathleen Julie Norvell

      OMG! The scavenger hunt in Blois! WHY has no one filmed this series???? Good history, great stories. The Lymond Chronicles is the best historical fiction ever.

      Reply
    • Kristin

      Margaret Tudor was the narrator in the Philippa Gregory novel, Three Sisters, Three Queens. She was a whiny brat through much of it, so I don’t know that I’d want to watch a movie version of the novel.

      Reply
  2. Sam Marchiony

    Margaret Douglas showed up in REIGN of all places, and she was… weird. She deserves redemption for that at least.

    Reply
  3. Roxana

    Well Margaret Douglas was Darnley’s scheming mom. 😀 But she was much more than that. Thomas Howard apparently literally died of love of her and Lennox seems to have been happy with her so she must have had some positive personal qualities. She was devoted to the worthless Darnley and literally collapsed from grief when she heard of his death. Her reaction was so extreme that even Elizabeth, who despised her cousin Margaret, was alarmed and released her from the Tower.

    Margaret Douglas’ mother and namesake had the same rotten taste in men as her granddaughter Mary, but was a much better plotter and ruler. Not that that isn’t a low bar.

    Poor, POOR, Arbella Stuart! She was conceived to be a pawn and that’s all she was her entire life but she didn’t tamely submit. Her efforts at escape all fails but she made them regularly. Her choice of William Seymour, who had his own claim to the throne through the Greys, suggests she wasn’t lacking in ambition either.

    Reply
  4. Elizabeth Kerri Mahon

    I hated that The Tudors combined Mary and Margaret Tudor because they thought viewers would get confused with two Mary Tudors running around. Jean Plaidy wrote about both Mary (Mary, Queen of France) and Margaret Tudor (The Thistle and the Rose). And I know our favorite author Philippa Gregory wrote a book recently about them which I’m sure will somehow get shoved into series two of the Spanish Princess. I definitely think that all of these women deserve a really good movie or miniseries. I remember that there was a movie in the 50’s about Mary Tudor and her marriage to Brandon (The Sword and the Rose).

    Reply
    • Nzie

      I went to school with approximately one million Katelyns/Caitlyns/Catelyns… and it was fine. I don’t know why people think it will be that big a problem on tv.

      Reply
    • Kendra

      Yep, I thought about including Mary Tudor here, but at least she got that film, plus another in the 20s (When Knighthood Was in Flower), and the storyline on The Tudors…

      Reply
  5. picasso Manu

    Ah, but there is a fatal flaw in your proposal: All of these were strong women who didn’t even have the excuse of a crown on their silly heads. Hollywood not interested, it might give their own wiminzs ideas.
    So, yes, we’re going to see Henri time and time again, because I’m pretty certain, some Hollywood directors & execs just dream of beheading their ex wives when they want to get a newer model. Also, old fat man indulging in every possible way and getting all the pretty girls nonetheless.
    Only queens are allowed to indulge in some of that behavior, and think of how many films about Elizabeth (both of them), are in the end about a man?
    Closer to us, your review of the Catherine series, very recent. The real Catherine was an autocrat, but my, what a sex drive! And you got to have some respect for a woman that had a table made with dicks (amongst other stuff, but that table stayed with me). She consumed men like kleenex and all of Europe knew it. Yet, that last effort with Helen Mirren shows a lovesick woman who couldn’t survive without her man.
    The real Catherine would have laughed in that director’s face, and then had him beheaded or stuff, I’m sure.

    Reply
  6. Nzie

    Maybe given the issues in representing historical women accurately it’s better that they don’t? I mean, it’s a shame, but I feel like until your article on how to make feminist historical films becomes required reading at production companies, we’re doomed to crappy portrayals.

    Reply
  7. Charity

    A big part of me is like FROCK YES because these women are awesome and under-represented and flat out ignored (especially Margaret Tudor for reasons I shall never understand; she had her moments of boss bitch that deserve to be remembered).

    And then I remember WTF they did to Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I in the recent Mary Queen of Scots movie and assume the asshats will treat these frocking fabulous ladies with the same disdain so… no thanks. :P

    Reply
  8. Brandy Loutherback

    Catherine of Valois would also make good biopic! She married Henry V, the victor of the Battle of Agincourt in 1420, and gave birth to Henry VI in 1421, But Henry V died in 1422, leaving behind an infant as King. Catherine secretly married Owen Tudor, and had 2 children, so she was the progenitor of the whole Tudor line!

    Reply
    • Northcountry gal

      She was in a black and white BBC drama: The Queen and the Welshman, 1966 (I think!), with Dorothy Tutin as Catherine. I remember watching it on Public TV in around 1969.

      Reply
      • Roxana

        It’s a good, cinematic story. Young princess, neglected by her mad father and ambitious mother, married off to a national enemy and left a widow in an alien country with an infant son. Eventually finds personal happiness with a commoner.

        Reply
    • Roxana

      She had two surviving children, Edmund and Jasper Tudor but there is record of another son who may have become a monk and at least one, maybe two daughters.

      Reply
  9. Brandy Loutherback

    Hollywood: Dear Frock Flicks,

    Please, these women aren’t sexy enough for us! Also they ain’t empowering if they aren’t strong FEMINIST characters, who have sex a lot, and aren’t shamed for it! Also these characters wear corsets(EWWW!!!) and enter arranged marriages and do what MEN with Penises tell them what to do! That’s not FEMINIST! Also we have to have our Strong women complaining about how evil corsets are!!! That’s the FEMINIST way of doing it! Have we mentioned FEMINIST at least twice? Good! Remember: Sexy and Marketable=Feminist!
    Good Day!:
    Hollywood :P!

    Reply
  10. Julie

    I’d love to see Margaret Pole get a little screen love.
    She was George Duke of Clarence’s daughter, which makes her a Plantagent, but she married a cousin of Henry VII, so she’s a Tudor by marriage? Sort of?
    But OMG that girl lived a life. She was born in 1475, and was in the line of succession, but somehow survived the reign of Richard III, the battle of Bosworth, and the reign of Henry VII, She was born a princess and became a Countess in her own right (since her brother was executed for making Henry VII nervous), clawed back her fortune after Henry VII stole it, and served as lady in waiting to Catherine of Aragon, and governess to Princess Mary.

    Reply
  11. Roxana

    Mary Tudor, the French Queen’s daughters are also neglected or worse.
    Frances Brandon, Marchioness of Dorset and eventual Duchess of Suffolk figures in movies about her eldest daughter as an evil, abusive harridan. A misidentified portrait has given her a reputation for being fat and mannish and resembling her uncle Henry at his worst. In fact she was a small, pretty woman like her mother and her daughters. She was no believer in sparing the rod but her reputation as an abusive parent is based on dubious grounds. She may have been ambitious but she seems to have opposed her husband selling their daughter’s wardship to Thomas Seymour making a determined effort to get Jane back after Queen Catherine Parr died. Jane herself clung to her parents for protection against her father in law Northumberland, who terrified her. Frances’ second husband was no boy toy but a gentleman a mere two years her junior who she may have chosen at least in part because his low rank pretty much took her out of power politics. If she had been ambitious the deaths of her first husband and eldest daughter cured her. She lived in happy obscurity until 1559 and was rewarded for her self effacement by Elizabeth’s favor.

    Her younger sister, Eleanor Brandon was married, apparently happily, to the Earl of Cumberland which took her well away from court and it’s intrigues. She died the same year as her Uncle Henry. Her daughter, another Margaret, was not so wise. She was apparently not happy with her husband the Earl of Derby and obsessed over her right to the succession which was a grand way to set Elizabeth against her. Nobody but Margaret seems to have taken her claim seriously.

    Reply
  12. Roxana

    All of the Tudor women inherited at least some of the intelligence and strong will of the dynasty’s matriarch, Margaret Beaufort. Unfortunately for them most did not get her good judgement.
    Margaret is, as we know, the most maligned of women in historical films.

    Reply
  13. Maria

    Can anyone recommend movies or tv shows that accurately depict Tudor costumes, specifically from Henry VIII’s reign? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Kendra

      Hmm, that’s a tough one! Wolf Hall is probably your best bet, although search our site for reviews to see the few things they got wrong.

      Reply

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