I’m a sucker for the 16th century, and Starz is delivering a slightly new topic with The Serpent Queen! Check in on Tuesdays for my thoughts on the previous two weeks’ worth of episodes, mostly costumes.
Episode 3, “The Price”
Starting out in 1560, as per usual, and the wounded servant blames Rehima (appropriately enough, since she planted the bomb). She’s about to get punished but Queen Catherine intervenes. Off Rehima is whisked to nicer quarters and a fancy new dress.
They take another walk around so Catherine can continue her story…
Back in the 1530s, young Cath reads a letter from Henry, who’s been off for a year at war in Tuscany, “fighting for her.” Of course, he’s already coming back home, and the court is all a-buzz.
Oh look, Henry has brought a new friend with him — Filippa (Elissa Alloula) and their baby daughter, Diane. Historically, the woman would be Filippa Duci, who was herself the daughter of a lesser noble from Piedmont. Henry tells Catherine this could be someone “fun” for her to speak Italian with. eyeroll
Everyone at court sings Henry’s praises because of the war ‘n stuff. But the King’s councilors also say France should make a deal with the Holy Roman Emperor to split some of the territories for a more substantial peace.
Diane visits Catherine who’s having a sad about Henry’s new baby. Suddenly, Diane is on Catherine’s side and says they’re both screwed if Henry finds and knocks up a more royal mistress. So let’s work together! I did appreciate Diane saying: “Men are too simple to cry over.” True ‘dat.
Next, Diane chats with Filippa, who says “Henry told me you will be like a grandmother” to the baby. HAH. Diane takes the zinger and counters with an obsequious, of course she’ll help. How about finding you a place in a convent? She also threatens to throw the baby out the window. As you do.
The King sees Catherine going for a ride and tells her he knows that the war was her idea. He likes her political acumen. +1 for Catherine.
Let me take this moment to chat about headgear! The Mickey Mouse ears thing Catherine wears (and others have so far in this show) is yet another sad theatrical take on the “Marie Stuart” cap or the “attifet.” That term may date to 1480 France with the meaning of a woman’s cap “advancing to a point on the forehead,” and there are numerous casual references to women and “attifets” in French books from the 16th century. But 16th century caps did not resemble this wild concoction!
First off, most of the women at the French court in both the 1530s and 1560s should be wearing French hoods — or as they’d call ’em, just hoods, LOL. Y’know, the headgear that Anne Boleyn was famous for picking up at the French court and bringing back to England. Well, it was worn in France at this time! It’s shown in plenty of portraits of the court ladies, including Catherine de’ Medici.
Next, if they’re not wearing hoods, and they are wearing the “attifet” type cap, it did not look have the wings / ears poking up from the head as in this TV show and countless others. While construction of this headgear is conjectural, just looking at period images, you can see it’s not like what’s onscreen:
It’s similar to a French hood with an added piece of delicate fabric in the front, which comes to a center point (like the bottom two images). It could also be done as a linen cap that was gathered or pleated and possibly wired to form a heart-like shape around the face — I’ve experimented with this a lot and have images and how-tos on my blog.
In the Bruyn engraving above, you can see some of the top of the cap, it’s just fabric, with the curve part coming out over the rolled hair. In the Pourbus painting below, the cap details show pleating, similar to the cap Rehima wore in episode 2, only hers was more clunky.
An important thing to note is that the hair is usually styled in large rolls above the forehead that frame the face in a heart-like shape. Then the cap goes over this. Together they create the effect. It’s not just hat ears. Again, this is something I’ve done myself on a small scale and it’s not difficult. Check out the hair in this drawing, it’s the same style as that worn with the headgear.
Oh, and have I mentioned that these styles were far more common in the 1560s and later? So young Catherine (or Diane or anyone else in the flashback story) has no business wearing it yet.
Anyway. The brothers are playing tennis, and François isn’t feeling so great. This is foreshadowing the Dauphin’s death.
Diane interrupts the game and asks Henry to “do something” wrt knocking up his wife.
Thus, Henry and Catherine get inspected by doctor in front of the King, the Queen, and Diane. The young couple is proclaimed “completely healthy,” but the doctor demonstrates with a bent squash and a cut melon how the two aren’t fucking correctly. There’s been all kinds of speculation on what physical problem kept Henry and Catherine from getting pregnant for the first decade of their marriage. Here, it’s a bent penis, but we’ll never know for sure.
After the medical bit, Diane gives Henry a pep talk with the Bible and probably a hand job, then he goes to Catherine’s room and fucks her from behind.
Meanwhile, François and Mathilde are naked in bed together. He tells her about being held hostage when he was a kid, and clearly this is the seminal event in his and Henry’s lives that make them how they are. Which makes sense, though why it makes one of them a raging asshole and the other a sensitive flower, IDK (and I don’t have time for armchair philosophizing). Oh, and François says there was a little person where he was being held, so he’s OK with Mathilde. Whatever, dude.
There’s a knock on the door, and the Dauphin tells Mathilde to hide. Charles de Bourbon (Paul Chahidi) wants to talk about Italy. He disses Catherine and thinks Henry is getting too high and mighty. He suggests: “If an accident were to befall Catherine…”
Seemingly next day, Catherine’s in a good mood for the moment because her period is late.
At court, the envoy of the Holy Roman Emperor says France’s offer isn’t enough. The Dauphin gets all uppity and rails agains Italy and Catherine, who runs out of the room. The King is pissed at his eldest son for speaking out of turn and smacks him around.
Oh look, someone on the internets got better screencaps. Maybe they’d like to do screencaps for Frock Flicks pls?
Compare with the historical person:
As Catherine runs out of court and back to her rooms, we can see this weird thing she’s wearing over the red gown. When she was sitting, I thought maybe it was a zimmara, a loose overgown popular among Italian upper-class women. But no, it’s some kind of mutant bolero!
Someone went through a lot of trouble there, what with that pleated back and the puffed sleeves. But they didn’t need to. A zimmara is a loose, long, flowing robe. You could put a bunch of trim on it if you like. One example is the purple overgown trimmed in gold in this portrait:
Diane follows Catherine, who admits that now she’s bleeding (that was fast, btw). Diane says: “Your body will not cooperate if you force it. You must be calm. You must be at peace.” Which honestly sounds like the Renaissance version of “Have you tried yoga? You should meditate,” when someone is complaining about a medical problem.
That night Mathilde comforts François, but he’s over being nice to her, saying: “a king does not fuck freaks.” Well good then, you’ll never be a king, asshole.
Catherine goes out riding in the forest again, and she’s attacked by marauders. She runs and hides during night. Henry finds her, and they have sex in the woods. Awww…
The next day, Henry accuses his brother of plotting against Cath because of what Mathilde heard (but not naming her).
Catherine goes back to the woods and asks Ruggieri to help her get pregnant “at whatever cost.” He says some ominous stuff and gives her a book about mushrooms.
Big sleeves were definitely a feature of 1530s Italian fashion, which Catherine de’ Medici could have worn (although the few extant images of her show her wearing French fashion with the narrow sleeves that have big turnbacks from the wrist to elbow, same as the Tudor court). If the show wanted to show her in an Italian of the period, something like this would be more appropriate (and also less work that all that wacky pleated stuff):
So off she goes to Sebastio’s workshop to talk with him, but the Queen wants a dress made first. Catherine leaves the book in his room. Dun dun dunnnnnn….
Another tennis match for the brothers, and François is feeling bad again. He calls out for water. Catherine tells Sebastio to do it. After drinking from the cup, the Dauphin keels over. Bye-bye, buckko.
François died on August 10, 1536, age 18, just to note where we are in the history. The court doctor proclaims the cause of death as heart failure, but the King says poison. Charles de Bourbon, the little shit, says “Italians are known poisoners” and reminds the court about accusations Catherine recently leveled against the Dauphin.
Obviously, Catherine freaks out. Guards come to her room and get Sebastio because they found a “uses of poison mushrooms” book in his workshop. Catherine does nothing to save him.
The King finalizes his deal with the Holy Roman Emperor and also dismisses Montmorency (Barry Atsma), in case anyone cares.
Sebastio is drawn and quartered in front of the court.
Catherine runs back to her rooms and is sick. Aabis says that’s because Catherine is pregnant. So there ya go, Sebastio’s death is “the price” she paid.
The King announces the new Dauphin and Dauphine at court, and that she’s with child. Catherine’s retinue realizes that this means none of them are safe.
Finishing up in 1560, Queen Catherine and Rehima run into Mary Queen of Scots (Antonia Clarke) and her ladies in waiting.
Catherine says: “The Queen has insisted that all her maids be named ‘Mary’ — to avoid confusion, no doubt.” Which is not true, she’s just being bitchy.
Mary replies that they’re all named in honor of the Virgin Mary (which is only true in the sense that any Christian female of the period was; I think the dialog here is just to make MQoS sound literally holier than thou). Then she “compliments” Rehima’s dress. Which apparently was hers, and Catherine has given it with out permission.
As Catherine leaves, Mary says in an aside to her ladies: “If Charles IX is king, we will all be bending our knee to that Italian witch. I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that doesn’t happen, as the king’s widow the throne is rightfully mine.” Which is some kind of bullshit historically, but now we know where some scheming is coming from in that part of the story.
It’s funny, because I can see how they came up with that hat. They looked at the Clouet portrait of Mary in mourning for Francis II and then got the proportions ALL out of wack. It’s too huge, sideways and back. And here’s a key point that I mentioned earlier: the hair! Antonia Clarke’s hair is slicked down, so you can see a giant space between her head and the hat, making it look even bigger. In the portait, Mary’s hair is curled and puffed so it fills that void, plus she’s wearing a small cap under the larger hood.
The portrait’s headgear is much closer to the face, framing the face, and showcasing the face. The TV show version headgear sits on top of and towards the back of the head. In a way, this one in the show is closer to accurate than the Mickey Mouse ears versions previously done in the series. But just a quick look at the period image, and anyone can see it’s still not right. You can also clearly see a BLACK gown underneath that white veil. sigh
Episode 4, “A New Era”
Still in 1560, we see Rehima admiring herself in that same fancy dress, alone in her room. Then she goes off to bring Queen Catherine a tray. Rehima passes the servant she fucked up, who spreads malicious gossip, as one does.
Back to the Catherine’s story, and we’re done with Liv Hill because 15 years have passed. The timeline’s a little off, typical for TV and movies — Catherine and Henry were married in 1533, François died in 1536, and Henry became king in 1547, so it was about 11 years since the action in ep 3. Also, she didn’t have their first son, Francis, until 1544. Which is going to make things awkward in a minute. But let us bid a fond farewell to Liv Hill, who’s a fine actress and has an excellent performance on her resume now!
The scene opens with Catherine giving birth rather horribly. This baby dies, and her voiceover says they have nine children already. This fudges the truth as well. They had eight children who survived. Catherine’s final pregnancy was in 1556 with twins, and the doctor did break one of the daughter’s limbs to save the mother’s life. The other daughter died within months.
Diane helpfully coaches, which, uh, is not really helpful.
We’re introduced to Mary Queen of Scots, who’s betrothed to their son Francis, and she’d been at the French court since she was a child. At least that much is true, but Mary arrived after King Francis I died. It was King Henry who arranged for the marriage between her and his then three-year-old son. The timeline is all screwy.
Since either 11 or 15 years have passed, the who’s who at court has changed up, and a new generation of the Guise and Bourbon families are in. It’s a little odd that now the younger Guise and Bourbon boys are part of the action when the show has switched to older actors for Henry and Catherine. They should all be around the same ages, at least the same generation.
Meanwhile, King Francis is still alive and is still a horndog, but he can’t get it up with Anne. He claims it’s because he’s sad about treating his dead first wife poorly when their sons were held hostage. Anne doesn’t buy it, and she just wants to know what he’s leaving for her when he dies. Which will be soon.
Catherine has post-partum depression (who wouldn’t after all those births?), but Angelica and Aabis tell her to get over it.
Down in the gardens, Diane is watching the kids play. Catherine comes along, having finally gotten dressed. She asks Henry for comfort and sympathy, but you just know he DGAF.
Catherine’s gown is so pretty, and the shape is like many seen in period images, especially Italian portraits. Compare with this one I lightened so the details are more visible:
At a meeting with the King, Henry (Lee Ingleby) talks about the people’s complaints about shit the Guise brothers are doing, and there’s a bunch of bickering between them and the Bourbon brothers.
King Francis is sick of everyone, so much so that he spits up the food he’s been eating and yells at everyone. A not-so-subtle foreshadowing that his health isn’t great.
Catherine has been invited to play cards with the Queen and two other old biddies. One lady says Catherine can now be a “permanent member of their club” since she no longer get husband’s attentions, and the other biddies joke about how relieved they are not to have sex with men anymore. Catherine isn’t so thrilled, but the Queen lectures her about getting the hell over herself.
That game is contrasted with Diane and Henry playing cards in bed. Which Catherine interrupts thinking Henry should come visit her bed. Nope. Diane tells her that the doctor said Catherine would die if she got pregnant again, and “we don’t want to take the risk.” That final 1556 birth was so dangerous that Catherine was advised not to get pregnant again, but having Diane tell her is just cruel.
Of course, Catherine likes salt in her own wounds so she suggests, let’s ask Henry, who says, “What can I say, I’m where I want to be.” Turd.
Suddenly, the King wants to go hunting extra early in the morning, so everyone’s up and at it.
Catherine watches the King let a big stag go free, and they have a moment. It’s probably symbolic of something, blah blah blah. The King falls from his horse and heads right to his deathbed.
Before he dies, he tells Catherine, “You will be the real winner” and makes her promise not to give up on Henry because of the other woman. The King gives her some political advice, then tells Henry: “When you are king, you will put this fine woman on your privy council. She will be our salvation.”
Francis I is dead (so it should be 1547), Anne leaves, and the plotting among the nobility begins in earnest.
The Queen also leaves, but first gives Catherine some terrible advice.
Henry’s privy council meets, and the Guises want to beat up Protestants, while the Bourbons are all about capitalism and expansion. Catherine says to watch out for the Holy Roman Emperor.
She’s going back and forth between Italian and French styles. The French still had these big turn-back sleeves in the 1540s like this portrait of Catherine:
Later, Henry and Catherine look out at their kids, where we get the hint that their eldest boy Francis is sickly. Which he was, and he’ll die at age 16. Also, the series wants us to think that his fiancee Mary hen-pecks him from the first, which is just fictional drama. Francis and Mary were raised together in the royal nursery and were quite fond of each other by all accounts. They were probably more like brother and sister than future husband and wife, if anything.
Catherine has an idea to give Diane a “gift” of the Château de Chaumont, and tells Henry he can visit Diane there after the coronation.
Back in her rooms, Catherine tells Diane of her little plan. Obvs, Diane’s not thrilled.
So Diane summons Angelica and requests a “solution” to her problem. “I want to be unforgettable,” she says, and she’ll pay double whatever Catherine can. Angelica says that, while this can make you go a little insane, ingesting a little bit of gold will preserve youth and make you “shine from within.” eyeroll
The night before the coronation, Henry’s hanging out with Diane. She’s suddenly extra slutty and shiny, bending down naked to apparently give him a blow job he won’t forget.
The next morning, Henry is wearing Diane’s colors for the coronation, which Catherine remarks on, and Henry is a total idiot about.
Diane is extra bitchy to Catherine, saying “Never forget, the throne belongs to me, every single bit as it belongs to you,” and then announcing the new King to the crowd. And, oh yeah, the new Queen, sure, that chick too.
They get a message from Holy Roman Emperor — a severed, maggoty head. Because Catherine was right about the threat, and Henry didn’t take it seriously enough.
Back in the 1560s, Queen Catherine gets a letter that she calls “treachery.” She offers it to Rehima to read, and the maid acts like she’s illiterate.
Rehima leaves, then she gets some rando dudes in the hallway in trouble with one of the Queen’s guards. She tells him the dudes were “exposing” themselves to her, and she can only ID the right one if she saw it again. The guard makes the dudes pull their pants down, Rehima makes a joke, and the dudes are embarrassed in front of anyone walking by.
Funny gag, but I have to note that 1) the dudes are wearing tights which weren’t available at the time; they’d have individual hose, like tall socks, one on each leg, held up by garters tied or buckled around their knees. And 2) their top and bottom garments would have been laced together, so they couldn’t just slide the bottoms down. There were lacing holes at the top of the breeches that met lacing holes at the bottom inside of the doublet. They were tied around the back and sides, coming together at the center front crotch area. This is why there’s a codpiece, it covers the join, and a guy can easily unlace that spot to take a piss. Sure, you need to unlace more to take a shit, but that’s not as frequent (and can be part of one’s morning ablutions when you’re half-dressed).
Lastly, Rehima returns to her room and pulls out a book to read. Dun dun dunnnnnn….
What did you think of the next two episodes and the time jumps? Will you miss Liv Hill as young Catherine?