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.

Verdict:
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.

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