Random Thoughts on Lucy Worsley’s Six Wives

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I do love a good historical documentary, and Lucy Worsley’s are right up at the top of my favorites… so I can’t believe it took me so long to get around to watching her Six Wives (“Six Wives of Henry VIII” in the UK, “Secrets of the Six Wives” in the US). I was in need of some comfort watching, so I fired it up this weekend, and I definitely enjoyed it. It was pretty to look at (costume- and location-wise), I thought in general it was well-cast, and I always find Worsley charming (although there were fewer chic coats this time around!). Most importantly, I thought they did a good job presenting the history, and I’m glad they went for what seems to be the current historical consensus rather than dated perspectives. And I loved how they integrated Worsley into the story, having her take on the role of various servants who just happened to be overhearing/witnessing one of the scenes take place.

Sarah is planning another post where she’s going to do a deep dive on the costumes, and since she knows this period WAY better than me, I’m just going to give you my random thoughts on the production, touching only occasionally costumes and focusing more on history and casting.

Lucy Worsley

She’s cute! She’s smart! She’s a wascawy wabbit!

Lucy Worsley's "Six Wives" (2016)
Lucy Worsley's "Six Wives" (2016)

Did servants’ wear really not change over that many decades?

I was thrilled her costumes were so well done, because she’s worn some clunkers in earlier series…

*shudder* (A Very British Romance)

It’s impressive just how huge that dress is on her. (A Very British Romance)

 

Henry VIII

Red hair — props!

Lucy Worsley's "Six Wives" (2016)

However,I thought the aging jump was too abrupt. I’m glad they didn’t just put the first actor into old age makeup … but they could have aged him a bit before they went to Old Henry with Anne of Cleves.

Lucy Worsley's "Six Wives" (2016)

 

Catherine of Aragon

I WAS SO HAPPY WITH THIS SEGMENT!!!!

For one thing, Catherine had auburn hair, which as y’all know, is a point that is usually ignored and therefore bugs me.

Even more, though, I loved that the show didn’t just mention that Henry and Catherine had been married for decades, and that they had been In Love, they showed it!!!!! I’m not saying that the whole divorcing your wife/queen and quitting Catholicism isn’t dramatic. But Catherine’s early life is also super dramatic, so I hate when books/movies/documentaries cut right to the end. I think it does Catherine a disservice, making her forever the old, barren shrew. I remember my mind being blown when I first learned that Henry and Catherine were known across Europe for being a love match. Yay for telling the fuller story!

Lucy Worsley's "Six Wives" (2016)

It also made me really happy that they got into Catherine and Henry’s first son, Henry Junior. I’ll bet if you polled people, 99% would say she never gave birth to any live children, and if she did, then only a girl (Mary Tudor). But Catherine did have at least one live son, who if he had lived would have changed everything.

Lucy Worsley's "Six Wives" (2016)

SO many great gable hoods!

 

Anne Boleyn

I thought this section was made more interesting by being intercut with Catherine’s story, which was, of course, going on at the same time. I do wish they had gotten a little bit more into Anne‘s initial situation with Henry. I definitely buy the argument (brought up in the doc) that Anne was in a way trapped — the king wants you, you don’t say no. There’s a great book (Divorced, Beheaded, Survived by Karen Lindsey) that makes a compelling argument that Anne was essentially a victim of sexual harassment.

Lucy Worsley's "Six Wives" (2016)

Methinks I spy a visor French hood … and I hope that’s not crushed velvet on the hood?

I liked the casting here, too. A good pick for someone very elegant.

Lucy Worsley's "Six Wives" (2016)

Brides didn’t really wear white in this era…

 

Jane Seymour

I wished they had gone a little bit more into Jane‘s family connections, who was pushing her into the king’s way and what they had to gain from it. Otherwise, though, I was quite happy, except…

Lucy Worsley's "Six Wives" (2016)

I thought the actress they chose was great, looks-wise, for Jane, but I was annoyed that the portrait they kept showing was a prettified version. Most of the other wives’ portraits look pretty spot-on for copies, but the classic Holbein portrait they showed of Jane was definitely redone to minimize her receding chin. I’m not saying they had to cast an actress with a similar chin! But versimilitude, people!

Jane Seymour Holbein portrait

The real Holbein on the left, the prettified documentary version on the right.

 

Anne of Cleves

SO. GORGEOUS. Costume-wise.

Lucy Worsley's "Six Wives" (2016)

THAT HEADDRESS

Again, I loved that they showed the whole Henry-surprising-Anne thing, instead of just going for “Anne was dumpy and smelled bad.” I find the whole incident hilarious — what, Henry, was Anne SUPPOSED to keel over in lust for some stranger who burst into her room? (I know, she was supposed to know it was THE KING and simultaneously keel over in lust). Henry. Time to have a talk about reasonable expectations.

Lucy Worsley's "Six Wives" (2016)

I was a little bit confused why Anne would still be wearing Germanic clothing months later. Sure, she would have come with a wardrobe, but whether or not things were going well, I think Anglicizing the queen would have been a pretty high priority. If she can now speak fluent English, she should probably be dressing the part too.Lucy Worsley's "Six Wives" (2016)

Catherine Howard

I wish they would have focused a bit more on the psychology of someone who was sexually abused that young, and how that tied in to her later affairs. Worsley brings up the point, but I felt like it needed some more explanation. Catherine started being sexual around age 13, but it was in the context of peer pressure and lack of parenting. Worsley argues that Catherine was possibly being blackmailed by one of her while-married lovers, but beyond that, and beyond mentioning that Catherine was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, she doesn’t talk at length about the connection.

Lucy Worsley's "Six Wives" (2016)

Also, I have questions about that pointy in-front-of-the-ear bit on the hood, but I’ll leave it to Sarah.

Lucy Worsley's "Six Wives" (2016)
Lucy Worsley's "Six Wives" (2016)

Another visor? 

 

Catherine Parr

Casting-wise, I felt like this actress looked the least like the real deal (although as we have said before, we know that they aren’t just casting for looks…). The real Catherine is very rosebud-y and full-cheeked, and I thought this actress’s features didn’t match my mental image. Nonetheless…

Lucy Worsley's "Six Wives" (2016)

Yay for showing Parr’s intellectualism! But, boo for not getting into her life post-Henry. Okay, so the whole Thomas Seymour grooming/molesting her ward Princess Elizabeth is a complicated story. But I find it the ultimate irony — she’d given up love so many times for duty, and then she finally got to marry her “true love,” and he turned out to be a dick. HOW is that not fascinating?

 

What did you think of Lucy Worsley’s Six Wives, history and casting-wise?

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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.

18 Responses

  1. Adina

    In the second picture of Anne Boleyn, the french hood with the veil thingy is a rewear from Wolf Hall.
    I’ve also noticed it in a couple of other documentaries about the Tudors.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      Most of the costumes in this documentary are from Wolf Hall. I’ll dig into it when I get around to writing the follow-up to this… Eventually. ;)

      Reply
  2. Frannie Germeshausen

    I was so thrilled to see a young, happy, auburn-haired, fair-skinned Catherine of Aragon! Someone finally got it right.

    Reply
  3. SarahV

    I would watch a documentary told entirely from the perspective of Catherine of Aragon, with her marriages being additions to her blazingly interesting story. Her parents! Her first husband! Her retinue of Spanish ladies. The way she dealt with insurrectionist Scots as Queen Regent! … and lastly her abysmal treatment by the Henry.

    (similarly, I think Catherine Parr is the second most interesting the Henrician Queens… I often wonder, as a weird counterfactual, if she ended up married to Henry at an earlier point in their lives, how she would possibly have put a stamp on woman’s intellectualism in England)

    Reply
  4. Melissa Bein

    honestly, I did love it, especially for the fact that she/the show DID talk about the fact that Catherine and Henry were a love match, and were for many years. and I will totally admit to wanting a servant’s outfit like Lucy’s if I ever am able to get out to faire again.

    Reply
  5. Susan Pola Staples

    I really enjoyed the series. And beaucoup props for casting a ginger as Katherine of Aragon.
    And props for cast an actress for Catherine Howard that resembles her cousin, Anne Boleyn.
    Although Catherine Howard is tied with Jame Seymour as my least favourite wife, I felt that her sexual molestation at 13 contributed to her supposed wanton behavior as Queen. Just wished Dr Worsley expanded on that.
    Henry the no. 1 manchild of history was fortunate in having 4 intelligent Queens: Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Anne of Cleeves & Katherine Parr Of course, he totally regulated them to failures in boy heir production.

    Reply
  6. Brandy Loutherback

    There were lots of re wears from the Wolf Hall Miniseries, that just look odd for documentary perspective but over all I thought it very interesting, and entertaining.

    Reply
  7. Saraquill

    I’m having fun ogling the pearls on those outfits. It might be cool to do a tangential but interesting piece on pearl accessories, as most people don’t know how valuable they were pre-Mikimoto.

    Reply
  8. milli

    even if Worsley mentioned Katherine’s sexual harassment and the mishandling of her betrothal affairs breifly and without much context( like how K was just a kid and not as wordly wise as any of other wives of Henry , being brought up in a remote and provincial education of her guardian and a lousy, bad one at that) it is heartening that she at least mentioned it. Have you seen what they intepreated her in Dan Jones’s docu-drama? a teenage vixen! i do sometimes hate him tbh.
    Another good touch would have been to show how she was the least extravagant of all Henry’s wives( especially compared to Jane Seymour who demanded every lady to wear particular number of pearls to look rich even if they can’t afford it) . The only expensive thing she ever brought was woollen clothes for Margaret Pole who Henry like a rascal sociopath that he is held captive because…?

    Reply
  9. eldalorien

    OH MY GLOB THOSE GABLE HOODS SO FABULOUS

    I gotta watch this! Henry and his wives are one of my especial favourite subjects, and I’m super excited at the prospect of Katherine of Aragon getting proper representation.

    Reply
  10. Charity

    I loved it.

    BUT…

    I felt it deserved more episodes.

    The momentum was so marvelous with the KoA (EP1) and Anne Boleyn (EP2) that when it just kind of smashed the rest of the wives together in later episodes, I felt a bit cheated out of Worsley’s terrific commentary on history. I guess I shouldn’t complain, though, because at least KoA got a fair, empathetic, strong-willed presentation, and usually these things gloss over a lot of her story.

    My favorite part? Where KoA sat on that throne, totally stoic, and said, “I asked you for [the Scottish king’s] HEAD, not his coat.” Ha, ha, ha. Love it.

    Reply
  11. Nonnymus

    Overall really loved the costumes and the actresses were perfectly cast! They’re actually wearing farthingales! And fabulous gable hoods! Though at one point I saw some extras wearing the early gable hood from the 1500s/1510s in a scene in the 1530s. I don’t love the fit of Kate Howard’s dress. But the sticky-outy part of her hood is accurate for that time period–at that point they even had ties that went under the chin. But some other French hoods esp. on Anne Boleyn look like headbands (mostly the ones reworn from Wolf Hall).

    Reply
  12. Becca

    As far as the Jane Seymour portraits go, look a bit closer and you’ll see that they’re two different paintings. They didn’t just photoshop the one on the left. Otherwise, love the post!

    Reply

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