Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Tudors Fact Check: William Compton

William Compton features prominently in the first season of the series, The Tudors.  He is cast as a close friend to King Henry VIII, among several other young men, participating in festivities, tournaments, and generally enjoying what having a best buddy in the big chair has to offer. 

Notable details of his story, as portrayed in the series, include: Compton telling Henry that Charles Brandon had married Henry's sister, Margaret, Compton carrying a large tree as a joke during a tournament, Compton pursuing a homosexual relationship with composer and musician, Thomas Tallis, his "common-law" marriage to Lady Anne Hastings, and his death during an outbreak of the sweating sickness plague. 

So, is any of this true?

Did William Compton tell Henry VIII that Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, married his sister?
In the series, Brandon returns to England having married Margaret somewhere on the way home from Portugal after she smothered her husband, the elderly king.  He sets up a meeting in a tavern with Compton, explaining to him what happened and asking him to intervene on his behalf.  In the series, it is Compton who, at court, tells Henry what happened.

No, in reality, he did not. In fact, Charles Brandon married Mary Tudor (the character is called Margaret in the series) while she was in France.  Her husband, the elderly King of France, died months into their marriage, and Henry sent Charles to retrieve her.  Mary, who had been in seclusion in a traditional form of French mourning, demanded that Charles marry her then and there, and he did.  Immediately grasping the ramifications of his actions, he actually wrote to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey to ask for his intervention on their behalf.  Henry heavily fined Brandon for marrying his sister without his consent, but he also allowed them to celebrate a large, public wedding in England.

Did Compton carry a tree as a joke during a jousting tournament?
During a jousting tournament, in which Compton and Henry both participate, Compton's squire hands him a large tree trunk to serve as a lance as a joke.

Notably, the man who carried the tree trunk was another courtier, Nicholas Carew.

Did Compton and Thomas Tallis engage in a homosexual relationship?
In the series, William Compton, impressed by his musical talents, pursues a homosexual relationship with Thomas Tallis. 

None of that is true.

Thomas Tallis did exist, however, although his career only seemingly took off during the end of Henry VIII's reign.  It did, in fact, continue throughout the reigns of Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I.  It is generally thought that Thomas was born around the beginning of the 16th century.  He did not appear in the royal court until 1543, much too late as the first season of the series is generally concerned with events that took place in the 1520s.  In the series, although it isn't stressed, William Compton is often portrayed as sitting out of the flirtations in the royal court.  This is only "explained" indirectly by his pursuit of Tallis and subsequent short relationship with him. 

In the series, Thomas married a young woman named Joan who lost her twin sister to the sweating sickness.  Although Thomas did marry a woman named Joan, the rest of that story is a fabrication.  Thomas died in 1585 after a very long, successful musical career.

Was Compton in a "common-law" marriage with Anne Hastings?
Anne Hastings is first introduced in The Tudors as the daughter of the Duke of Buckingham.  Henry makes a wager with Charles Brandon that he would never succeed in seducing Anne.  Charles, as he does many times in the first season, lands Anne in bed.  Unfortunately for both of them, the Duke of Buckingham finds them together--Brandon leaves with a cruel jibe.  Buckingham demands that Henry punish Charles, which he is unwilling to do.  Later, Buckingham, who is descended from the Plantagenets, devises a plot to kill Henry and set himself as king.  This plot is discovered and he is executed, his daughter watching the gruesome scene.

Anne Hastings appears again after William Compton succumbs to the sweating sickness later in the season.  The physician calls her in to tell her what happened, addressing her as Compton's common-law wife.  She breaks down, approaching Compton's body much closer than is advisable, and later, dies of the plague herself.  Henry VIII later receives Compton's affects, instructing that they be sent to Anne.

This story is a little more complicated.

Anne Hastings was actually the sister of the Duke of Buckingham, not his daughter.  Although there is no record of a tryst between Anne and Charles Brandon, there is, perhaps, some evidence that she was pursued by Henry VIII.  In 1510, while Katherine of Aragon was pregnant, either Henry or William Compton, or perhaps both men were pursuing Anne Hastings, who served Katherine as a lady in waiting.  When this affair was revealed, Anne's husband packed her off to a nunnery (apparently not permanently), and this led to a rather serious falling-out between the royal couple.  Katherine was extremely angry at Henry's infidelity, although Henry saw nothing wrong with the affair.  The Duke of Buckingham apparently thought that William Compton was the man in question, rather than Henry, which provides evidence that Compton may have been covering for the king. 

William Compton, however, did have a long-term affair with Anne.  In 1520, Compton was prosecuted by an ecclesiastical court for living openly in sin with a married woman (Anne Hastings).  Upon his death, William bequeathed his wealth to Anne.  Regardless, it has been asserted that Anne enjoyed a fairly good relationship with George Hastings, her husband.  Her eight children were at least recognized by Hastings as his own.  She did not die of the sweating sickness--she died long afterward in 1544.

Did William Compton die of the sweating sickness?
In the series, William Compton is found one morning in his bed clearly extremely ill.  Within hours, he dies, regardless of the efforts made by the physician to save him.  Tallis, who had been abroad in France, returns to find Compton's gravesite and smashes his lute on the marker.

Yes, William Compton did die of the sweating sickness, as did several of Henry's close friends at court, in 1528.  According to the state papers, he had been allowed to sleep at a pivotal time during the infection, and this was supposed to have killed him.  His will, dated 1523, left his wealth to Anne Hastings as he had no children and no wife, and some of his personal affects were sent to Henry VIII, probably as a token of friendship.

Although William Compton's story, as portrayed in The Tudors, is a good one, it incorporates some truth and a lot of fiction.  I am unaware of any biographies of Compton, Tallis, or Anne Hastings, but Compton is regularly mentioned in any, and all, biographies of Henry VIII and descriptions of court life during Henry's reign.  Tallis is known more generally for his music, but he was seemingly a shadowy figure in his own time, so it is unusual to see him mentioned anywhere.  Anne's presumed affair with Henry is often mentioned in the same sources in which Compton appears, and, in addition, in biographies of Katherine of Aragon.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Sisters of Henry VIII

Author: Maria Perry
Publication Date: 1998
Number of Pages: 224
Cost: This book doesn't seem to have been very popular, but I picked this up at a used bookstore in hardcover form for $5.00.  I suspect you can find used copies if you look online.  There isn't a Kindle edition available.
Where did I hear about it: I more or less just found this book.  I hadn't heard anything about it before I purchased it, and I haven't seen it referenced since.

The Backstory

Increasingly over the last decade, Henry VIII's two sisters (the two who lived to adulthood) have garnered an increasing amount of attention.  In the television series, The Tudors, Margaret Tudor was played by Gabrielle Anwar.  The details of her story are some of the most memorable in the series.  
Margaret was betrothed, against her will, to the aging king of Portugal.  Henry appointed Charles Brandon, who he creates Duke of Suffolk, to escort her to her new home.  On the way, Margaret becomes enamored of Charles and they begin an (extremely forbidden) affair.  Regardless, Margaret is married to the Portuguese king, but, when she realizes her English entourage is to return home, she smothers her husband.  On the way back, she insists that Charles marry her, which he does, incurring Henry's wrath.  Their marriage is portrayed as unfortunate--Charles engages in a number of affairs and leaves Margaret essentially alone in Suffolk where she develops consumption and unceremoniously dies on the floor in front of a set of servants.

Is any of this true?  Well, maybe some of it.

In reality, Henry VIII had two sisters: Margaret Tudor (1489-1541) and Mary Tudor (1496-1533).  The details portrayed in The Tudors are primarily from Mary's life, although Mary married the aging King of France, not the King of Portugal, and fully intended to remain in France as Queen for as long as he lived (from October 9, 1514 to January 1, 1515). 

Margaret Tudor, the elder sister, was married to James IV of Scotland in 1503 in an attempt at establishing peace between the two kingdoms.  Although he was infamous for his extramarital affairs, he seems to have truly cared for Margaret, and they had six children together in their ten years of marriage.  Unfortunately, only one of them survived to adulthood--the future James V.  His father, James IV, died in battle in 1513 leaving Margaret as regent, but infighting between the heads of various Scottish nobility made this task particularly difficult.  Scottish politics were dominated by competition between clans, and, to combat this (and probably because she was attracted to him), she married Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl Angus the following year.  This only exacerbated divisions between factions, and the earl further offended Margaret by living openly with his mistress on one of Margaret's properties.  Her enemies invited James Stuart, the Duke of Albany, back from France to claim the regency, which he did in 1515.  Margaret escaped into England and spent a year living in Henry VIII's court.  She later returned to Scotland, even working with Albany for a time, but Albany was completely removed from power by Margaret and her allies in 1524.  In the meantime, James V was almost fully controlled by his step-father, much to his dismay.  In 1527, Margaret was granted a divorce from Angus.  In 1528, she married her lover, Henry Stewart, but this marriage also proved disastrous.  However, James V came into his own throughout this process, and Margaret remained on the political stage until her death, probably from a stroke, in 1541.

Mary Tudor was destined for an equally brilliant future at the start.  Of his siblings, Henry VIII was closest to Mary, although his attempt to divorce Katherine of Aragon forced a wedge between them.  At first, her intended husband was the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, but, when an alliance with France proved more desirable, Henry VIII arranged a marriage between Mary and aging King Louis XII.  It was at the prospect of this match that Mary supposedly exacted from her brother the fateful promise that she should be allowed to marry whom she pleased in the event of Louis's death.  She was well-received, and well-liked in France, although her tenure as Queen only lasted from her marriage on October 9, 1514 to Louis's death, possibly from over-exertion in the marriage bed, on January 1, 1515.  Then, she entered into a period of 40 days of mourning in seclusion in France.  Henry VIII sent Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk to France to bring his sister home.  Quite unexpectedly, perhaps to everyone other than Mary and Charles, Mary demanded that Charles marry her right away--which he did.  It dawned on Charles rather quickly that Henry would be livid, so he wrote to Cardinal Wolsey to ask him to intervene on their behalf.  As a result, Henry welcomed Charles and Mary, exacting a rather heavy fine on them for their marriage without his consent.  They had four children, but only two girls survived long into adulthood.  Frances Brandon, the elder, married Henry Grey and would become the mother of Jane Grey, the "nine days queen" who was executed at 17.  Mary disliked Anne Boleyn and often pled ill-health to absent herself from events at court.  Mary died in 1533, and her husband remarried within two months.

What about the book?

I'm not sure I read this book.  I think I "waded through it."

Honestly, there is a really good reason why this book isn't particularly widely known--it isn't very good.  The book is primarily comprised of well-known stories about these women interspersed between lengthy descriptions of events in Henry VIII's life.  The reader doesn't get a good sense of either Margaret or Mary, although it can be argued that Margaret is a bit better covered and described.  The author doesn't seem to know the difference between research worth including in a book like this and research that doesn't add anything to the theme of the book.

On the bright side, Margaret's life is fairly well described, even if many details are left unrecorded.  Her life in Scotland, her problems with her second and third marriages, Scottish politics, and Margaret's general movements while Queen of Scotland are described as is her correspondence with Henry VIII.  The only part of Mary's life that is covered as well is her marriage to Louis XII and her subsequent marriage to Charles Brandon.  Margaret's character does come out in the narrative, but Mary's character is not very well described, regardless of the abundance of information about her available.  Margaret's marriages and their results are also covered fairly well, but Mary's marriage to Brandon is almost completely absent from the work. 

There are a lot of negatives to this book.  First, the author has a very difficult time sticking to the topic at hand.  Probably as much as 40% of the book is really about Henry VIII and the political events of the day without any attempt to fix Margaret or Mary into these events.  I found myself skipping through parts that didn't seem to have any relevance to the topic.  I think that, for a careful researcher, there is plenty of information out there on both Margaret and Mary, and it wouldn't be a stretch to write a 200 page book just about them and nothing else.  In addition, Perry includes details that quickly grow tiresome to the reader--for example, she meticulously covers what anyone, at any time, was wearing at any state event.  If you digitized this text and entered "cloth of gold" into a text search, it would come up more times than any other phrase.  There may be a few people out there who are really interested in what everyone was wearing, but, most readers are more interested in who the subjects are rather than what was on them.  And, there are many biographies of Henry VIII--there was no need to include so much information about him unless the subjects of the book were directly related to the events in question. 

The epilogue is unforgivably short.  The author expected to sum up Margaret's and Mary's story in a mere two pages.  What happened to their families is particularly significant, but the mention is brief, if it isn't completely absent.  Margaret's descendants eventually assumed the English throne after Henry VIII's daughter, Elizabeth, died childless in 1603.  Mary's granddaughter, Jane Grey, was thrust into the national spotlight after Edward VI's death when someone--or someones--attempted to disinherit Mary, Henry VIII's Catholic eldest daughter.  Jane was a very temporary Queen of England, if she could actually be called that, and was executed.  If anything, the epilogue discussing the significance of these women and their families should have been somewhat extensive.

Rating: A 4 for the few parts of the book that actually covered the topic.
Buy it or Borrow it: Don't do either.  I'm not aware of a biography of Margaret Tudor, but there is a new biography about Mary Tudor entitled: The Tudor Rose: Princess Mary, Henry VIII's Sister by Jennifer Draskau due out on September 1 that may be worthwhile.