The Shadow of the Tower: Power in the Land


Catching up with The Shadow of the Tower — Moving on to Part 2: Power in the Land. The scene opens with the Earl of Surrey, who it seems has been pardoned but is still imprisoned in the Tower for supporting Richard III.

The Shadow of the Tower 1972

Is it just me, or do I detect an air of “Captain Kirk” about him?

He is visited by the Duke of Northumberland, who has been released because he had the good sense to switch to Team Henry early on.

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He’s really not there to rub it in. Much.

Northumberland is wearing a brocaded velvet coat with green velvet accents and a fetching green velvet cloak-thingy over it.

The Shadow of the Tower 1972

It’s spiffy. Quite like it.


Meanwhile, Surrey, who has quickly established that he’s the roguish sort, is wearing jerkin and hose of green wool. And boots. Indoors. Sigh.

The Shadow of the Tower 1972

You never know when you’ll need to hop on a horse for a ride when you’re in prison…

The Shadow of the Tower 1972

Definitely Capt. Kirk.

It is revealed that the king intends to go on progress to the north (i.e., Yorkshire, where he’s Definitely Not PopularTM), so Northumberland is dispatched to make sure the streets are safe.

The Shadow of the Tower 1972

Northumberland: “See that guy in plain sight aiming a crossbow?”

The Shadow of the Tower 1972

Guard: “That guy?”

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Guard: “Wait. What guy?”

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Northumberland: “I was never here…”

And so the king progresses safely through the streets of York in all his kingly splendor.

The Shadow of the Tower 1972

Look! It’s another extra wearing period-appropriate dress and headgear!


Meanwhile, Lord Lovell pays another visit to the Stafford brothers who are holed up in Colchester Cathedral, plotting rebellion. We won’t discuss their costumes because they’re pretty boring. But Lovell definitely brought the hair game.

The Shadow of the Tower 1972

It’s all so clear now…

Humphrey demonstrates how to achieve a close shave with a prop dagger.

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I want to see how he gets rid of pesky nose hairs.

And it’s only now starting to dawn on Thomas that what they’re plotting is Actual TreasonTM.

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He’s slow, but cute!

Now the scene switches to Henry, his uncle Jasper (wearing furs because he’s Welsh, I guess), and Northumberland discussing how to best flush the Staffords and Lovell out of their hole and squash the rebellion they’re surely trying to start:

The Shadow of the Tower 1972

Welsh noblemen = Conan the Barbarian, apparently.

Meanwhile, Queen Nitwit is being nitwitty. She’s pregnant, and she can’t understand why she’s not allowed to go with Henry on progress to the north. She is Elizabeth of York, after all.

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Honestly, York can have her.

The Shadow of the Tower 1972

Margaret is as sick of her shit as I am.

Aaaaand, now we’re back with Lovell and Sir Humphrey Stafford. They are Dramatically Plotting RebellionTM. In order to show what a rebel he is, Humphrey is wearing a leather jacket and playing with his knife again.

The Shadow of the Tower 1972

Humphrey, put that dagger down and stop trying to be a badass.

The scene shifts back to Henry, Jasper, and Northumberland, who are discussing how best to head the rebels off at the pass. But none of that matters, because…

The Shadow of the Tower 1972


The Shadow of the Tower 1972

Daggers: Not just for stabbing.

Cut to the Earl of Oxford:

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Filthy peasants.

Henry’s plan is to give all the rebels a chance to swear allegiance to him without penalty…

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You have no idea how hard I’m restraining myself from inserting a Monty Python quote here…

Or be excommunicated on the authority of the Pope himself, who has recognized Henry’s claim to the throne and legitimized his marriage to Elizabeth of York.

The Shadow of the Tower 1972

It was all going so well until the Pope got involved.

So, the rebels peace out, leaving Lovell and the Staffords to marvel at Henry’s cunning:

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Welp, looks like we’re screwed, guys.

Henry explains to his mother what a brilliant politician he is:

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Mummy didn’t raise no dummy.

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I’m not convinced that she would have mixed and matched her widow’s wimple with more flashy headgear…

And then, Henry uses a game of hopscotch as an analogy of how he plans to flush the Staffords from their sanctuary at Abingdon:

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I’m not even making this up.

The Shadow of the Tower 1972


The Shadow of the Tower 1972


There’s some more exposition with the Staffords and who should be king after they manage to depose Henry, but I was having a hard time focusing:

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I’m sorry, could you repeat that?

Meanwhile, Lincoln, Northumberland, and Oxford are pissed off that the king has decided to ban personal liveries:

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I want to say something snarky about Lincoln’s green tights, but actually, their outfits are pretty damn good.

Henry can hear the bitching and moaning on the other side of his curtain, but he remains indifferent. He’s got good reasons, after all, for making it harder for nobles to raise an army against him:

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I have to admit, James Maxwell is really starting to grow on me as Henry.

Henry enters the chambers and announces he intends to discuss two matters, one of importance and one of little note. He begins with the Stafford Rebellion conspirators, who are still claiming sanctuary in the abbey at Abingdon. Then he switches to the issue of livery:

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Council: Our rights are being infringed upon!

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Henry: Well, at least you won’t be able to raise an army against me. So suck it.

The Bishop of Exeter is dispatched to Abingdon to arrest the Stafford brothers and has them imprisoned in the tower:

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I’ll take codpieces that look like merkins for $200, Alex.

A couple of largely uninteresting (from a costuming standpoint) scenes follow, in which Henry does what he does best and manipulates the defiant Abbot Sante of Abingdon into an alliance. The abbot informs Henry that of both Staffords, Thomas was the least involved in the actual act of treason. Then it switches to the Stafford brothers taking the air on the ramparts of the Tower. It’s super interesting from a plot standpoint, but yeah … Not so much costuming-wise.

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Seriously. Merkin.

The Earl of Lincoln even reappears after having been out of the picture for the past 40 minutes. He attempts to distance himself from the traitors when Humphrey tries to insinuate that he’s no better than they are. Then comes the Staffords’ trial:

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I can’t stop seeing Oxford as John Belushi.

Humphrey thinks he’s going to out-logic the king by having Thomas cite, in Latin, a Mercian statute that granted the right to give asylum beyond of the law of the land in perpetuity to the Abbey of Abingdon:

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“And verily didst they go forth unto the world with merkins upon their privates…”

But of course, this is Henry VII and if you looked up “shrewd” in the dictionary, you’d find a picture of his smug face smiling back at you. He’s struck a bargain with Abbot Sante that allows for the abbot to turn over the Staffords to be tried for treason without contradicting the spiritual rights assigned to the abbot by the Church to protect anyone seeking sanctuary. The Staffords are, unpredictably, sentenced to die.

The scene cuts to Elizabeth and Margaret, discussing the attempt on the king’s life:

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Elizabeth is wearing the loose gown that’s been recycled a few times in other shows.

Henry shows up with Oxford and Lincoln in tow, anxious about Elizabeth’s ability to travel to Winchester so that their child can be born there, in order to fulfill the prophecy that Arthur would be reborn at Winchester:

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This is called “foreshadowing.”

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Another, almost full-length, shot of the loose gown.

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As always, it’s interesting to see what the ladies in waiting are wearing. It’s all kind of a mixed bag of Tudor-ish. The headgear on the left and middle ladies, however, is pretty much spot on.

In a cold cell of the Tower, the Stafford brothers come to grips with their impending deaths:

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I’m going to miss Thomas’ merkin. It was good while it lasted.

But wait! It’s a last second pardon … For Thomas. Humphrey still dies:

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Huzzah! Long live the merkin!

Northumberland and Lincoln discuss the execution and remind one another that there but for the grace of God, they go as well:

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We totally dodged that bullet.

Henry meets with the abbot of Abingdon who thanks him for sparing Thomas Stafford. They discuss the abbot’s future as an ambassador for the king, which initially flatters Sante until he realizes that Henry’s basically neutered him with a hefty fine of 2,000 marks for harboring a traitor and is more or less shipping him off so he can’t cause any more trouble. Meanwhile, back at the Tower, Surrey congratulates Thomas on not being dead:

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Didn’t anyone tell Surrey about the bro code that you’re not supposed to stand at the urinal right next to a guy?

At Winchester, Elizabeth is in labor a full month earlier than expected. Margaret has ditched her hood which gives us a good glimpse of how her wimple and barbette are put together:

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Henry is beside himself with anxiety, worrying that the baby won’t make it. But to everyone’s great relief, baby and mother are fine. Henry has an heir! And he’s named him dun dun duuuun Arthur!

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Thoughts on Part 2:

Overall, the pacing and the plot were waaaaay better in this episode, compared to Part 1 (both were written by Rosemary Anne Sisson). James Maxwell is really starting to grow on me as Henry … I think he plays the role with the right amount of wry humor and slyness. He’s more of a politician than probably any king before or after, and he’s actually pretty likable.

Norma West as Elizabeth of York continues to irritate me to no end, however. I’m not sure if that’s intentional or just a byproduct of where historians viewed her position in the mid-20th century. She’s mostly simplistic and a touch too simpering for my taste. However, I really like Marigold Sharman as Margaret Beaufort. Initially, I was pretty sure Margaret was going to be Elizabeth’s antagonist, but it’s looking more like Margaret cares for Elizabeth not just as a means to secure her son’s hold on the throne, but also in a motherly way (it is mentioned a time or two that Margaret was Elizabeth’s guardian during her childhood, so there’s a history between the two women).

The costumes are, like I’ve said, a bit all over the place as far as the women’s clothes are concerned. The menswear is nicely done, looking appropriate for the period, albeit in a highly theatrical sort of way. I don’t see any real egregious issues with the costuming, only that it does look pretty dated (as most of the 1970s BBC productions tend to).

Check out Part 1, and stay tuned for Part 3!


About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

9 Responses

  1. indiaedghill

    The most amazing this about this miniseries (to me) is the fact that the actor playing Henry VII is American. Also, I’m delighted to find someone else besides me who’s seen it!

    • Sarah Lorraine

      He’s American by birth, but I think he spent most of his career/life in England, if the Wikipedia bio is anything to go by. He’s fabulous as Henry VII!

  2. Northcountrygal

    I actually love this series as well, since I love Henry VII. I was amazed when I found that not only was a series about him filmed, but he wasn’t the bad guy! (Since he beat Richard III at Bosworth and Richard now has so many devoted followers, Henry tends to considered awful by popular fiction writers).

    One sniggly little detail – that is Henry Percy, the EARL, not the Duke of Northumberland.

    • Sarah Lorraine

      D’oh! Good catch on the Earl/Duke mix up. I have a hard time remembering when that title switched from earl to duke.

  3. Dee

    Does the Earl of Lincoln wear Lincoln green tights? ;)

    A lot of historical thought for a long time, much of it expressed in historical fiction but not all, was that Margaret Beaufort completely dominated Elizabeth of York. Some of it as a positive and the 2 women got along, but a lot of it negative. A terrible lot. And there’s always been a question of how willing Elizabeth was to marry Henry, anyway.

    Henry VII has gotten a lot of negative publicity as well, seen as a tightfisted little man. Which he could be, especially demanding a lot on taxes and fond of levying fees as punishment. See Morton’s Fork. He definitely doesn’t show up well tucked between the generous Plantagents (Philippa Gregory had that one right, I think) and the wild, florid life of Henry VIII. But he did bring the country around to peace and prosperity, tried to forge solid alliances abroad, all that sort of thing. Which is what usually goes unappreciated.

    James Maxwell seems physically like a good choice for Henry.

  4. SaraV

    I kinda love the fact that the badass looking actress who played Margaret Beaufort (who was actually regent of England at one point) has the amazing name of ‘Marigold Sharman…. it sounds like the name of some nasty, plotsome girl from Slytherin.

  5. Julia

    I started watching this series a few months ago and while it’s not Elizabeth R, I’ve still been enjoying it. Other than the hair I thought the costumes were pretty great if you forget what the put on Elizabeth of York

  6. missdisco

    I kinda enjoyed this series. (it was on youtube a while back, but don’t tell the BBC). Not as great as Elizabeth R but more cohesive than Six Wives, which I’ve always thought is very over the top and disjointed (although i do love the anne of cleves/holbein fanfic of it!). James Maxwell does pull the whole thing together. He is striking, charming and downright conniving. Elizabeth of York i think doesn’t have much to do, she is a bit of an afterthought, but her last episode with her own and Arthur’s death has more strength.

  7. North

    Never ever stop these! They are so funny and thoughtful! And I agree that I love James Maxwell as Henry VII ^^ Elizabeth may grow on you eventually lol