Wow, this post is literally three days late – my apologies to Christine! The last two days have been insane with travel! It was supposed to be up yesterday, but naturally I was having internet problems!
The Spanish Princess
Episode 2 “Fever Dream”
By: Christine Morgan
This post contains spoilers for Episode 2 of The Spanish Princess. Read with caution.
It feels good to finally move into a second episode where we have all the backstory we need and can focus on the ways this story and its characters are growing. This episode was visually stunning and brought in the richness of Spanish décor and fashion that really lets the designers like Phoebe de Gaye (Costumer) shine. This is a series that feels special for many reasons but, primarily, viewers (myself included) are letting Starz know that they LOVE the diversity of cultures, religions, and race. Adding Katherine of Aragon into the Tudor show canon may be a major turning point for these programs and I am here for it.
Let’s jump right in to some of the best moments, the biggest events, and the juiciest court gossip-makers of the episode. While we’re at it, I’ll throw in a few fact-checks, you know me.
The Ferocity of the Princess
Katherine is officially a married woman and with the uncertainty of her future now gone, she is making waves. I loved the moment when she burned the love letters from Harry because it shows her commitment to Arthur and that feels like a very real, decisive moment for her. There’s some clever foreshadowing in this episode as well. Katherine finally weighs in on the threat from Scotland telling Arthur she would “butcher them.” For those of you familiar with Katherine’s biography, we know she comes from a warrior mother (Queen Isabella) and will eventually have the chance to meet Scotland on a battlefield. Her training to be Queen of England is really coming through now. The show is setting us up quite nicely for this moment- I hope we get enough episodes to see it! (Petition Starz for Season 2 here) Katherine also describes how she was prepared to live in England by telling Princess Margaret that she was raised to love England and she feels at home- a nice sentiment after her initial shock in last week’s episode.
The BIG Question: Did They or Didn’t They?
We all knew the show would have to address the question of whether or not Arthur and Katherine consummated their marriage. After all, Katherine’s status as Queen of England was later challenged based on this question. While the wedding night is likely not to have been their moment, I think the episode makes a reasonable assumption that the couple is likely to have made good use out of their isolated months at Ludlow Castle. This young couple is a joy to watch onscreen and the actors (Charlotte Hope and Angus Imrie) have skillfully navigated this delicate time of getting to know each other and relaxing into their new lives.
The one assumption that I would like to infuse some reality back into has to do with Katherine’s aggressive approach to intimacy. While she certainly knew her duty, the court at Spain was incredibly conservative. In fact, Spanish court often segregated and men and women and the two sexes rarely ate together, socialized together, or slept in close quarters. Katherine and her sisters were known to have shared a room with their mother quite frequently. State affairs and ambassador visits would have been the times Katherine interacted with men the most. I think it is more likely that her young age (15), the culture shock of a male/female court, and the pressure of procreation would have been more intimidating than anything. We even know that during the two weeks of wedding festivities that followed the royal wedding (yes, TWO weeks), Katherine and Arthur did not even sit at the same dining table some days. Again, as author Giles Tremlett points out in his biography of Katherine, that doesn’t mean that the couple didn’t grow more comfortable once they were alone at Ludlow.
Introducing Princess Margaret
Oh this is going to be good. I’ve been waiting for a show to finally give Margaret Tudor the spotlight she deserves and, I have to say, Georgie Henley is nailing it. I get serious Ever After/Drew Barrymore vibes from this young actress and she’s been given some great lines too. We see a teenage Tudor princess fighting with her parents and her grandmother over her marriage treaty to King James IV of Scotland. After all, Scotland had been attacking England for years, costing England dearly in resources and lives. As the princess also points out, James IV is getting old- what would happen to her if he died and another man claimed the throne?
Photo Cred; IMDB
What I love about this portrayal of Meg Tudor is that when she is frustrated, we don’t get a cliché teenage girl crying on her bed, we get strength and attitude. There is also a sweet sisterly admiration forming between her and Katherine, which comes out when Meg tells her grandmother, in no uncertain terms, that she loathes her marriage match saying, “Katherine would kill them with her bare hands,” another allusion to Katherine’s future with the Scots. Can we please get a show about Margaret Tudor next?
Prince Arthur and his love of Camelot
In the quiet moments between Arthur and Katherine we get glimpses into the prince’s love of literature. He quotes Socrates at the beginning of the episode and then we see him reading the story of King Arthur to his new bride. This is rooted in reality for several reasons. There was some cultural excitement around Prince Arthur being compared to the mythical King Arthur and we find evidence of that in the documents about the royal wedding. Famously, there were pageants stationed all through the streets of London, which Arthur and Katherine would have stopped to watch as they processed to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Many of those pageants were based on the stories of Camelot, as well as astrology, with some pageants and symbols at the wedding celebrating Katherine and Arthur’s astrological signs, etc. The use of King Arthur in this show is still pretty scandalous though because we know that where there is an Arthur, there must be a Lancelot…
The looming plot line has arrived. The sweating sickness hits Ludlow with a force and just as we are getting to know our prince, he is gone. On top of losing her husband and her secure future, Katherine’s lady-in-waiting, Lina is also affected by the disease. With some quick thinking by Moorish soldier, Oviedo, he is able to save Lina’s life, a task that had a very low success rate in the real world. The big question is, was his technique right? Well, maybe. In trying to rid the body of the disease, people tried all sorts of remedies including either lowering or raising body temperature. The show depicts Oviedo (Aaron Cobham) laying wet, cool cloths across Catalina’s head and chest, but historically, those who could stand the heat would have worn layers to encourage their bodies to sweat out the sickness. The sweating sickness often took its victims within 48 hours so swift action really was crucial.
(Photo Cred: Jason Bell, The Times)
It is often assumed that Prince Arthur died in 1502 because of the sweating sickness, though in recent years some historians have also suggested he may have caught a terrible strain of influenza or he may have even died of cancer. We also know that Katherine became ill at the same time, but she survived. So why didn’t Arthur? Well, it is also possible that Arthur had suffered from a chest cold, maybe bronchitis, just before catching this disease, so his immunity may have already been low. While there are some really interesting options to consider here, ultimately, Prince Arthur died on April 2, 1502 and was buried at Worcester Cathedral. A 16-year-old Katherine was now a widow in a foreign land. After weeks of grieving, Katherine and her ladies decided it was time to make a new plan…
One Final Foreshadow
The series is giving Margaret Beaufort a softer side than we’ve seen in some previous series and I’m really enjoying her relationship with her grandchildren. Not only does she advocate for Princess Margaret in the Scottish matter but, after the death of Arthur, she has an interaction with Prince Harry who is feeling the weight of responsibility shift to his shoulders. She tells him “you have the heart of a lion.” In a series concerned with the theme of “destiny” this may be another phrase to keep our eyes on. I am also so pleased to see her scene where she is excited about her translations being published. This show is addressing her intellect and her heart, which is a refreshing perspective.
What Needs to Grow
Now that we’re in episode two, there are a few things I know I’m ready to move on from. In a show with such strong women, Rosa de Vargas is getting lost in a story line that doesn’t seem to be contributing to the big picture, at least not yet. Also, Catalina/Lina continues to roam the palace walls searching for rosemary- a script device used to increase her interactions with Oviedo, I assume. Regardless, maybe Princess Katherine could have some herbs shipped to Ludlow next week so her ladies can stop wandering around in the dark? After all, being a lady-in-waiting for the Princess of Wales is a fiercely demanding job…
Let us know what you think about the episode! Sound off in the comments ☺
Christine Morgan is a historian and Tudor scholar based in the US. You can connect with her on Twitter using the handle @mschristinemo.