Oracle of History

Guiding you through the ages

Archive for the tag “Period Dramas”

Thoughts on Women in History

In the U.K., 2018 has been a year of celebration for women. Why might you ask? Well, 2018 is the centenary since women were granted the right to vote in the U.K.

As a side note, it is important to preface that not all women were granted the right to vote at this time, it was mostly wealthy (and let’s face it – white) women, but it was a major step towards universal suffrage.

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Now with all these events happening to celebrate this momentous occasion. I started thinking about women in history and how our perception is really dictated by how books, movies, and TV shows depict them.

I came to this realisation while watching the Netflix Original Series, The Alienist. One of the main characters – Sara Howard, played by Dakota Fanning, is the first woman to be hired by the police department in late 19th century New York. She is an heiress who went to university and has managed to get a job as a secretary for the police commissioner – who just so happens to be Theodore Roosevelt (future President of the United States!).

Although the show isn’t really about her, she allows the plot to address several issues of sexism and misogyny that would have been present during that period. She is unmarried, childless, and makes her job a priority. This alienates (ha!) her from her peers and makes her vulnerable in a male dominated world. The American Suffragettes even make a cameo!

While I was watching her subplot, I came to realise that we don’t really know 100% how women actually lived throughout history. Sure, we have documents and pictures, but most account of daily lives were written by men. This is a common theme due to more men getting educated and having the resources to publish material.

The most prevalent writer of history, the Catholic Church, has a definite spin on the events of history and women’s place in it.

So how do we rectify this? More research needs to be made, of course, but also bringing the stories of women into the media. Real women who take their rightful place in history. Not just as the wives and daughters of men, but their own realised personas. It’s funny how entertainment echoes this problem.

I’d like to participate and help with this problem by telling stories about the women in history, but I don’t know where to start. This is where you come in. Let me know who your favourite women are in history!

And we’ll never be royals (rooooyals!)

I have a thing for historical dramas – it’s an open guilty pleasure. I’m talking more than just Downton Abbey though.

I’ve watched some bad ones in my time…really bad ones…

I actually had a professor at University who was famous for his rant against the movie Troy with Brad Pitt and its historical inaccuracies. I always thought it was funny, as a history student, that anybody would take that movie as fact, but there are some gullible people in this world…

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to have a “Let’s be honest talk” about one such drama.

I’m looking at you, Reign 

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The premise (shamelessly taken from Wikipedia):

Set in 1557 France, the highly fictionalized series follows the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, at French court while she awaits her marriage to the future Francis II of France, to whom she has been engaged since they were six. At court, Mary has to contend with the changing politics and power plays, as well as her burgeoning feelings for Francis and the romantic attentions from Francis’ bastard half-brother, Bash. Francis’ mother, Catherine de’ Medici, is secretly trying to prevent the marriage due to Nostradamus’s prediction that the marriage will lead to Francis’ death. The series also follows the affairs of Mary’s Scottish handmaidens Kenna, Aylee, Lola and Greer, who are searching for husbands of their own at court.

The problem: 

It’s a product of the CW, which means attractive 20-something-year-old actors playing horny teenagers. It’s great if you’re a 14-year-old girl, but not so much if you’re a historian.

The solution:

I will selflessly sacrifice my afternoon to bring you the real story of Mary Queen of Scots and her motley crew.

So let’s begin…

Mary Queen of Scots

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  • She was original promised to the English King (Henry VIII)’s son, the future Edward VI
  • Catholics opposed the plan, taking her back to Scotland where they arranged an alliance with France instead (France was a Catholic country)
  • She moved to the courts of France in 1548 (at the age of 5) when she was engaged to the French Dauphin, Francis. She never lived in a convent!
  • She didn’t marry him until 1558, but was only Queen of France for a year. Francis died of an ear infection in 1560
  • Returned to Scotland, married twice and was finally executed in 1587  for suspicion of involvement in an assassination plot against Queen Elizabeth I
  • She was a red head

Sidenote: All the suspicion against Mary was based on the fact that she was Catholic. Ah, religious upheaval…

Francis II 

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  • Son of King Henry II of France and Catherine de Medici
  • He was sickly and weak
  • Took over the throne, at the age of 15, after the accidental death of his father
  • He was only King for 18 months – died at the age of 16 from an infection

Nostradamus 

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  • He wasn’t a young hunk in the court of France
  • He would have been middle aged by the time Mary was in France
  • He was, however, a French apothecary and a seer
  • Famous for his book of prophecies
  • Real name is Michel de Nostredame
  • He did not predict the early death of Francis

Catherine de’ Medici

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  • Her father was the famous Lorenzo de Medici of Florence
  • Nostradamus was not her confidant
  • The King did have an affair, leaving her sidelined until she started producing children
  • Acted as regent for her second son, Charles, who took the throne after Francis died

Ladies in waiting

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  • Yes they most likely existed…
  • ….but their names were most certainly not Lola or Kenna

This is only a fraction of what is wrong, historically, with this show. I just don’t want to bore you will all the details. However, if you’re looking for Pretty Little Liars set in a historical time period then this is the show for you!

Happy viewing 🙂

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