They say war is horrible, but continue fighting anyway

Gods and Generals

One time period of American history that I know well is the Civil War, certainly influenced by the number of books my mother has on the subject and her own well developed interest in the topic. When I took a history course solely on the Civil War in college, and needed books for a project, I simply called her up and said I needed books on Robert E. Lee. That weekend, I was delivered about a dozen of the books she could readily find (we have more, somewhere). I also realize this topic has gotten more heated in recent years due to…we’ll say politics and recent events and I have no desire to tackle that. Thus, this run down may end a bit shorter than I originally envisioned.

Gods and Generals is the first book in a trilogy of historical novels about the Civil War. The first written was the middle book, Killer Angels, written by Michael Shaara; it focuses on the four days of the Battle of Gettysburg, eventually turned into the movie, Gettysburg. Gods and Generals was written about a decade later by his son, Jeff, as a prequel, dealing with the major battles of the beginning of the war and again, about a decade after the first film was made, the prequel was filmed. There is a third book, The Last Full Measure, which was originally supposed to have a film made of it as well, but the poor box office performance of Gods and Generals scrapped that idea. Jeff Shaara has also written numerous other novels dealing with other time periods of American history (and we have some of them scattered in the house). These are not movies to take viewing lightly; they’re four hours a piece (Endgame was only three).

During my sophomore year of high school, our curriculum focused a great deal on the American Civil War. We read Killer Angels in English class (and I got laughed at for reading in an Irish accent for an Irish character). We watched Gettysburg in history class and took a trip to the battlefield. I was already familiar with the place; my parents took my brother and I there a couple times for summer vacations. Pictures exist of the two of us climbing all over Devil’s Den. Our final project was a joint paper for English and History on the subject of the Civil War. (I chose Southern women on the home front). And me, being the little nerd that I am, after reading Killer Angels, I proceeded to read Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure…well, I can’t recall if I actually finished Last Full Measure, or if I gave up. The first two books are excellent, the third one was weird.

A bit like another trilogy of novels written on the Civil War that was turned into a mini-series, North and South. (Written by John Jakes, who has written other novels on American history, and not to be confused with the British show of a series of books written by Elizabeth Gaskell, which Richard Armitage stars in…if you’re still confused, let me know, and I will endeavor to clear up the confusion). After finishing the Shaara books, I read North and South, Love and War, and Heaven and Hell. The third book in that series was really weird. The premise of this series features two young men, Orry Main of South Carolina, and George Hazard [no, not the Dukes…and yes, I’m a fan {the original, not the stupid remake with Jessica Simpson, I refuse to watch that}] of Pennsylvania. They become friends at West Point and then all hell breaks loose in the country. The mini-series stars Patrick Swayze (of Dirty Dancing and Ghost fame) as Orry Main and James Read (the father from Charmed) as George Hazard. Kristie Alley also shows up.

Back to this movie: Stephen Lang stars as General “Stonewall” Jackson (he was Major General George Pickett in Gettysburg, was a bit weird watching them in reverse order and sitting there, thinking, “Pickett looks familiar….oh.”) Robert Duvall is General Robert E. Lee, Jeff Daniels is Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain [I do not remember how military ranks fall, though if you have a question, I will find out], and Kevin Conway is Sergeant “Buster” Kilrain. The film opens in April of 1861; Robert Lee is offered the command of the continental army, to quell the rebellion of the southern states, by force, for challenge the central government. Lee refuses; his home is in Virginia, his loyalty is to Virginia, he has no greater duty than that to his home, Virginia. He views, as a lot of people at that time, Lincoln as invading the country of Virginia and the South. We’ll get this argument out of the way early: the Civil War was fought for states’ rights; the South’s argument was they were sovereign states that should be ruled by their state governments, not a federal government. They did not want influenced by politicians in the North. This argument actually goes back to the creation of the United States (we’ll cover it in the musical 1776). Yes, many of the leading politicians of the South wanted the ability to keep slavery; which is horrible and morally and ethically wrong and should have never been started to begin with. However, most southerners did not own slaves. And honestly, the North didn’t have a lot of room to talk; their ports participated in the slave trade (pops up in 1776) and many factory workers were treated worse than slaves. Factory workers were expendable; there’s always more in line waiting for a job. Smart plantation owners treated their workers decently in order to retain good workers. Again, not arguing that slavery is right; it’s not. But, the view that the South was doomed from the start, the “Lost Cause,” is northern propaganda due to winning the war. Winners write the history.

Carrying on: the film turns next to the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), where Jackson is teaching. Historically, not the best teacher. He even remarks that his method is to lecture. If the concept is not grasped, he repeats the lecture word-for-word the next day. As a college-educated individual, not the best method. Outside, the youngsters are rebelling against the northern call to arms and take down the American flag. Next, the delegates of Virginia have decided to officially secede from the United States (again, feeling that Lincoln and the North are invaders and wish to impose their will through coercion) and have appointed Robert E. Lee as general of the Army of Virginia, following in the steps of his grandfather, Lighthorse Henry Lee (a general for George Washington in the American Revolution) [also related to signer of the Declaration, Richard Henry Lee; we’ll see him in 1776]. We stop briefly in Fredericksburg to see a family sending its men off to war. We also see several instances where “Stonewall” Jackson is a devout Christian, believing that anything that happens is God’s plan, and openly praying for help in the coming war.

They cover the march to Manassas, in July of 1861, one of the first battles of the Civil War. It appears here that Jackson earns his nickname “Stonewall:” “there is Jackson standing like a stone wall,” amidst canon fire. This is still the European style of fighting, where each side lines up and fires at each other. They do advance towards one another at times and the goal always is to gain the high ground (better firing position). Some of Jackson’s VMI cadets are over eager and charge the Union lines before ordered, their commander is forced to follow, breaking Jackson’s plans. He insists to his First Brigade that discipline will win the day; indeed it does. He unfortunately finds those cadets after the battle, dead, but does not cry. Again, God’s plan will out.

We pop up to Maine, where Lawrence Chamberlain is teaching at Bowdoin College. He decides to join the war effort and meets up with his younger brother, Thomas at training with the 20th Maine volunteers. He also gains his right hand man, Kilrain at training. Kilrain (not a true historical character) points out there are friends from Ireland on the southern side; he feels they are trading one tyranny for another.

December of 1862 rolls around and the Confederate and Union forces are circling Fredericksburg. The family we met earlier is trying to get out. The slave maid finally persuades her owner to flee with her children; she’ll stay behind and keep looters out of the house (she dresses her and her own children up in fancy clothes and claim the house as hers). The Union finally takes over the town and they indeed come to the house. She lets them use it as a hospital and tells them she hopes the Union wins; but her family are good folks. And they do seem to treat her well; but slavery is still morally wrong. You want a maid, fine, you pay them and don’t consider them property.

Hancock wants to cross the river sooner rather than later, but Burnside is in command and decides to hold for the pontoons to arrive. Hancock mentions the “wily Grey Fox [meaning General Lee] has outmaneuvered us again.” Hancock’s plan would have put the Union in a much better position. This is why the Union went through so many generals; they had Washington breathing down their necks and every time they made a mistake, they were simply replaced. Many of the better trained generals fought for the Confederacy, due to where their homes lay. The Union meets the Confederates on the field of battle head on, under heavy artillery fire. There is a stirring scene where the Northern Irish Brigade (a real thing; I’ve got a book about them) faces off against the Southern Irish Regiment. The South is well protected for the most part behind a stone wall and the North keeps taking hits. We hear uilleann pipes over top the scene and when the South has beaten the North back and a few of the men are crying for having to shoot kinsmen, they shout “Haroo!” (this is where the saying comes from). Even the Fredericksburg family mentions the Irish Brigade; they had sent help during the famine and some of the ones they helped save may have just died on the field. But Hancock sends another brigade to try to take the ground.

conf generals
Jackson is on the left and Lee is in the middle

Three days later, the Union finally retreats. Lee mentions “it is well that war is so terrible, for should we grow too fond of it.” At one point, the 20th Maine was forced to use dead soldiers as shields when they got stuck on the battlefield overnight. Lincoln sends word to the Union soldiers that though Fredericksburg was not a victory, neither was it an accident. And the casualties were not bad compared to what they could have been. Kilrain mutters, “compared to what? The Scots at Culloden? The English as Bunker Hill? The French at Waterloo?” Later, he listens as Chamberlain discusses he views on the war. Chamberlain cannot understand how a group of people can claim they are fighting for their freedom, when they hold another race in bondage.

Christmas of 1862 finds the Southern commanders at an estate not too far from Fredericksburg, hosted by the wealthy family. Jackson strikes up a darling relationship with the young daughter, practicing for when he finally sees his own daughter, born after the war started and whom he has not met yet. Billy Yank and Johnny Reb (slang nicknames for Union and Confederate soldiers, respectively; there is also a song entitled Johnny Reb by Johnny Horton, about the Confederate soldiers. Horton has done other historical songs, most notably The Battle of New Orleans.) meet in the middle of the river to trade coffee for a smoke; a modicum of peace. The Confederates are also entertained with a show from Texas.

A few months have passed and the southern army has not moved far. Jackson sadly gets word that the little girl he befriended has died of scarlet fever. At this time, he allows himself to mourn for all of those he has lost. But his wife and baby girl meet him shortly afterwards and his spirit is lifted. We have come to the Battle of the Wilderness in the beginning of May of 1863. Calvary leader, J.E.B. Stuart (whom my brother did his report on and dressed as a Confederate officer) informs Jackson and Lee that they have found the Union flank. Jackson wants a surprise attack and to keep pushing them. That night, he rides out beyond the Confederate line. When he tries to return, he is fired upon by his own men, who do not stop firing. He’s hit several times and ultimately loses his left arm. While he recovers, he develops pneumonia. The Union army has moved on and secured Chancellorsville. Lee feels while Jackson has lost his left arm, “I have lost my right.” Lee pleads to God to not take Jackson, for he still needs him. But Jackson does not recover. His funeral is held at VMI; he is buried in Lexington.

The film ends stating that Lee decides to take the fight to the North after the loss of Jackson. This directly leads to the Battle of Gettysburg. It is also noted that the movie was filmed on location in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.  I also discovered some, not-so-cheerful trivia: it is well known that a lot of the extras for both Gods and Generals and Gettysburg were re-enactors.  Well, due to when this movie was filmed, they lost some of the extras when they got recalled to the military after Spetember 11th.  And Martin Sheen originally wanted to reprise his role as Robert E. Lee, but he was currently filming The West Wing; if his contract had been approved, he would have been on a flight to LA on September 11th.

I’ve never been a battle historian. I have taken a military history course, as an overview course; but I do not understand tactics. Upon re-watching this film, I find that I enjoyed the book much more; I was able to connect with the characters better (even with a four hour runtime, things always get cut when transforming a book to film). For me, this movie drags. It’s good that they decided to frame it mainly around “Stonewall” Jackson, and focus on only a few other main characters; though they still forgot a lot. But, if you like the Civil War, this is definitely a film to watch. I’d love to go visit Virginia and tour some of the battlefields and study more of that specific history.

Next Time: Gettysburg

“Through many dangers, toils, and snares”

Amazing Grace

As the opening of the film states, this is based on the true story of William Wilberforce, a man who changed history, ending the slave trade in Britain. Which, being American, we don’t tend to consider slavery elsewhere.

“By the late 18th century, over 11 million African men, women, and children had been taken from Africa to be used as slaves in the West Indies and the American colonies. Great Britain was the mightiest superpower on earth and its empire was built on the backs of claves. The slave trade was considered acceptable by all by a few. Of these, even fewer were brave to enough to speak against it.”

The film features Ioan Gruffudd (he appeared as a minor character in James Cameron’s Titanic, was the titular Horatio Hornblower in the miniseries, Lancelot in the 2004 King Arthur movie, and Reed Richards in the first two Fantastic Four movies) as William Wilberforce, Benedict Cumberbatch, before he landed his hit roles, as William Pitt, Michael Gambon (Dumbledore after Richard Harris passed away) is Lord Charles Fox, Rufus Sewell (Tristan and Isolde and Knight’s Tale) is Thomas Clarkson, Ciarán Hinds (Mance Rayder in Game of Thrones) is Lord Tarleton, and Toby Jones (Dr. Zola in the MCU, the voice of Dobby in Harry Potter, the Dream Lord in an episode of the Eleventh Doctor’s run in Doctor Who, he also appeared in Ever After) is the Duke of Clarence.

The movie jumps back and forth between “present time” while William is trying to rest and heal from colitis, and recounting how he’s gotten to where he is. William’s cousins take him to Bath to take the mineral water; and set him up on a date with Barbara Spooner. She’s intrigued to meet him; she supports his abolitionist work, but he doesn’t want to talk about it. He begins his tale fifteen year prior where he is playing cards at a club after a day in the Parliament. His opponent, the Duke of Clarence tries to offer his slave as payment during a game. Wilberforce [of Wilber as he is referred to during the movie, to avoid confusion with William Pitt] refuses. Wilber and Pitt discuss how, as young politicians they want to change the world. Wilber is reminded of a song his old preacher wrote, a former slave captain, he found God and wrote Amazing Grace. Wilber enters the room again, Pitt silences the men, and Wilber sings [behind the scenes note: that was Ioan actually singing (I am not surprised, he is Welsh, and Wales is filled with wonderful singers)].

Wilber debates at that time whether he should enter the political field, or devote his life to God. Pitt wants him by his side when he plans to become Prime Minister; the youngest in history. “We’re too young to realize certain things are impossible,” and we do them anyway. Pitt arranges for Wilber to meet other abolitionists and Equiano. Wilber even visits his old preacher for advice. The preacher supports Wilber entering politics (as someone at the dinner suggested, Wilber should do both). He has work to do, taken on the other members of Parliament. We jump back to Wilber fighting his illness. He takes opium to counter the symptoms. Barbara returns for a meal and they are sent outside to talk. Wilber feels like he failed his task. Every year, he presented a bill, and every year it failed.

wilberforceHe continues to speak of the early years. He gave a tour of the docks to shock the aristocrats with the horrors of slavery. Equiano published his account. They had a petition signed by 390,000 of the common people, and Lord Charles Fox of Parliament. This is after Lord Tarleton states there is “no evidence the Africans themselves have any objections to the trade.” (Yeah, I doubt that evidence). Wilber shouts back “no matter how loud you shout, you will not drown out the voice of the people!” Tarleton scoffs at the notion of the people. The bill failed the first year. Five years in, there is talk of revolution in Europe, spurred by the American colonies. And opposition, in the form of abolition teeters dangerously close to sedition in those times. Barbara argues that now is the time to regroup, the war with France is being won and when people stop being afraid, they remember their compassion.

Barbara and Wilber find they are both prone to impatience and rash decisions. They get married. Wilber gets his voice back, and his friend. As Wilber’s Prime Minister, Pitt urges caution. He is friend, to hell with caution. Wilber’s preacher has finally published his account of his years slave trading. He urges Wilber to use it, and damn the people with it. Wilber gathers the team back together. A lawyer amongst them suggests they cheat. First, they take away slave ship’s protection of a neutral flag, tying it in with the war effort and it is brought up by someone not part of their inner circle. And the opposition has been given free tickets to the races, so the bill is sure to pass. Pitt, who is gravely ill himself two years later, makes sure his successors will back Wilberforce.

Everyone is in attendance when the final vote is taken. The “Home and Foreign Slave Trade Act, the unamended bill calling for the abolishen of the slave trade throughout the entire British Empire,” 283 to 16, passes. Cheers erupt. The Duke of Clarence tells his friend Lord Tarleton of noblis oblige; his “nobility obliges me to recognize the virtue of an exceptional commoner.” Everyone stands and applauds Wilberforce. “William Wilberforce continued to battle injustice for the rest of his life. He transformed the hearts and minds of his countrymen on education, healthcare, and prison reform to accomplish his second great dream – making a better world.” Bagpipes play the tune Amazing Grace as the film finishes. “William Wilberforce continued campaigning until his death in 1833…he is buried in Westminster Abbey next to his friend, William Pitt.”

I find this film uplifting. I cheer for Wilberforce through all the setbacks. It also reminds me why I hate politics, whatever the form. There are several points I want to cry; when William Pitt dies, as Wilber’s best friend. When the bagpipes play Amazing Grace. When Wilberforce finally wins. It’s a great cast, full of wonderful actors. Ioan was stupendous; I prefer him in this sort of role rather than Mr. Fantastic (though he’s not bad there; we’ll cover that once I get into the superhero movies). Overall, a good movie. Just not one to put on if you’re not in the mood for a little heartache.

Up Next: The American Civil War, starting with Gods and Generals

Fashion and Politics

The Duchess

“When she arrives, all eyes are upon her. When absent, she is the subject of universal conversation. And what we see her wearing tonight, I look forward to seeing on the rest of you tomorrow! The Empress of fashion – the Duchess of Devonshire!”

Keira Knightley continues to play period roles (Pirates of the Caribbean, the 2005 film Pride and Prejudice, 2012 Anna Karenia [that’s three hours of my life I’ll never get back and I still don’t understand what the story was]) stars as Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort from Harry Potter and the new M in James Bond, amongst other roles) is the Duke of Devonshire, Hayley Atwell (she would go on to be Peggy Carter in the MCU, the mother, Evelyn Robin in 2018’s Christopher Robin, a brief role in Testament of Youth and Disney’s live action Cinderella) is Lady Bess [Elizabeth] Foster, and Dominic Cooper (younger Howard Stark in the MCU and Sky in the Mamma Mia movies) is the politician, Charles Grey. I watched the film because of the lead actors; it’s not a time period that I study closely.

The film starts in April of 1774, Georgiana and her friends are outside, watching young men, including Charles Grey race each other, while her mother settles her engagement to the Duke of Devonshire. Georgiana is seventeen and believes that the Duke truly loves her. On their wedding night, the Duke remarks “I never understand why women’s clothes must be do damn complicated.” Georgiana replies that they are one of the few ways women have to express themselves. She’s very nervous for their wedding night, but the Duke gets right to business. Her mother points out that a wife’s duty is to provide her husband with a male heir; she shouldn’t be concerned with talking with her husband.

The Duke is the primary sponsor of the Whig party and thus hosts dinners where the party members give speeches. He’s quickly bored of the speeches and leaves, but Georgiana stays and becomes involved in politics and gains favor of the primary members. But in private, the Duke has many affairs, which shocks Georgiana at first. Then one of his illegitimate daughters is brought to the house when her mother dies and the Duke expects Georgiana to raise young Charlotte without a fuss. “Consider it practice for our son,” he tells his pregnant wife. Later, at a party, Georgiana goes into labor (and modern audiences wince at her drinking wine while pregnant). The Duke expects it to be a boy. It’s a girl. When Georgiana’s mother visits, he barely speaks to her, frustrated that it is not the promised son (sound like some other historical guy we all know?) They jump to six years later, Georgiana content with her three girls, Charlotte, HarryO, and Little G.

duchess

While visiting Bath and taking the waters “for her health,” Georgiana and the Duke both meet Bess Foster. Georgiana quickly befriends the woman. Bess’s husband is enjoying his mistress at home and Bess wished for diversion. Her husband also is keeping her three sons away from her (now we know why the Duke is interested in her) and has a habit of beating her, which is not illegal. Georgiana manages to convince the Duke to invite Bess to stay with them. They attend a play that is a satire of the Devonshire’s marriage. In attendance of the play is Charles Grey. Bess speaks to him and remarks that it is well known the Duke is the only man in England not in love with his wife. Bess later remarks to Georgiana that Charles is clearly in love with G. She demonstrates that intercourse can be pleasurable and instructs Georgiana to close her eyes and imagine it’s Charles Grey.

Georgiana continues to help draw attention for the Whig party and gets to visit Charles Grey who seeks to work his way up the political ladder. She’s delightfully happy, until she returns home to hear moans coming from Bess’s rooms and the servants refuse to answer if it’s the Duke in there. Georgiana confronts the Duke. She has never objected to the Duke’s many affairs, she has accepted whatever arrangements have been made. But Bess is her one single thing of her own; she is her sole comfort in their marriage. Her husband has “robbed me of my only friend!” The Duke comes back with he has upheld his end of the marriage, but his wife has not (by not giving him a son). Georgiana wants Bess out. The Duke refuses. Georgiana runs to her mother’s home. Her mother advises she give up her gambling and politics and set to the duty of providing her husband with a male heir (I’m guessing people of this time have still not figured out that it’s the man who determines the sex of the baby, like the woman has any control).

Bess explains to Georgiana that the Duke of Devonshire is the most powerful peer of the realm; he is her only hope of getting to see her sons again. Georgiana orders her out of her room. She understandably feels betrayed by her dear friend. The three boys arrive at their home and Georgiana witnesses the attention that the Duke readily bestows upon the boys (which he has never shown for his daughters). Georgiana visits Charles and gives in to their feelings. Charles points out that Georgiana likes to “please other all the time.” “It’s what I’ve been brought up to do. It’s a difficult lesson to unlearn.” At home, Georgiana tries to make a deal with the Duke. She will give him and Bess her blessing if he will accept her feelings for Charles Grey. Bess tries to rescue her friend and points out that G is only asking for what the Duke and Bess have. The Duke silences her. He will not make a deal; he is not the one to ever make deals, he has everything. He can’t make any of Bess’s sons his heirs. Georgiana leaves the table. The Duke thunders after her and forces himself on her in her rooms. Screams echo through the large house and Bess takes Charlotte away from the door. “Give me a son,” the Duke orders Georgiana, “until then, stay here. And do as I say.” [I hate this man for that.]

During another party, Georgiana is quite drunk. Her Whig friends try to help her, but her wig ends up catching fire. The doctor determines that she is pregnant. Next scene: bells are ringing. The baby is a boy. The Duke pays Georgiana as part of their arrangement. While the Duke is away celebrating his heir, Charles calls upon the house. It was Bess’s idea. After another party, they sneak away. Georgiana decides to go to Bath on her own and gets to spend more time with Charles. Until her husband and mother show up. Here again we see the double standard imposed upon women: it’s fine for the Duke to have his mistress live in the same house as his wife, but it’s not fine for Georgiana to spend time with a man who actually loves her. They leave letters from the children for Georgiana; the Duke has set an ultimatum: give up Charles, or he will destroy the man’s career and never let Georgiana see her children again. Georgiana gives in and reads the letters, then rushes home.

At dinner, Charles shows up shouting for Georgiana. She tries to calm him; she still loves him, but she cannot give up her children. Charles insists he wants to marry her and he doesn’t care if their children are boys or girls. Georgiana goes back to dinner. And tells the Duke that she is carrying Charles’s child. The Duke has Bess tell Georgiana that she is to go to the country to give birth and the child will be given to the Grey family. Bess also stands up to the Duke and informs him that she will accompany her friend. She comforts Georgiana when she breaks down after giving up her daughter, Eliza to the Grey family.

When Georgina returns, the Duke attempts to comfort her; he wishes for their lives to find a calm normalcy. He asks her to show unity by showing up at a party together. The trio arrives and Georgiana reenters society. She has a brief conversation with Charles Grey, who tells her that he is engaged and that he has a new niece, Eliza, that Georgiana should meet someday. The film shows a few statements over the ending scenes of Georgiana playing with all the children: “Georgiana continued to be one of the most celebrated and influential women of her day. Charles Grey became Prime Minister. Georgiana, Bess, and the Duke lived together [for twenty-five years] until Georgiana’s death. With Georgiana’s blessing, Bess went on to marry the Duke and become the next Duchess of Devonshire. Georgiana frequently visited Eliza in secret. Eliza named her daughter Georgiana.”

While not a favorite movie of mine, I find it interesting. The scene of the Duke raping Georgiana is one that has stuck with me since first seeing the movie. I don’t quite drool over these gowns, but I do recognize that they are stunning. The movie also demonstrates that arranged matches rarely go well.

Up Next: We actually go back in time a little to Amazing Grace

Honour is a gift to yourself

Rob Roy

Another Scottish hero story, though adapted for Hollywood; it came out the same year as Braveheart and followed in the wake of Prince of Thieves. Bears no connection to Walter Scott’s novel.

“Rob Roy MacGregor has become the quintessential Highlander – a curious blend of patriot, freebooter, outlaw, and frontiersman; a man of honour who was also a bandit, a cattle-rustler and the chief of the protection racket….Rob Roy MacGregor was a frontiersman of his times, in that he and his clansmen lived in the frontier lands between Highlands and Lowlands – the Trossachs at Loch Lomond [Lomond is mentioned once or twice in the film]…the third son of the fifth chief of his clan…grew up to be immensely strong, with exceptionally long arms, and became renowned for his skill with the broadsword….Like so many Highlanders he was a Jacobite (Scotland: The Story of a Nation, Mangus Mangusson, pgs. 568-9).”

The Clan MacGregor had been outlawed by King James I (of England, VI of Scotland…a bit confusing) in 1603, so Rob actually used his mother’s clan name of Campbell. “To some he was nothing but highwayman and a gangster; to others he was a latter-day Robin Hood, robbing the rich to give to the poor, ambushing government troops and freeing their prisoners. He was captured on several occasions, but always managed to escape. His exploits became legendary for their audacity (pg. 570).” But the main plot points of the story are correct in the film. They made up one of the villains, Archibald Cunningham. Rob Roy was eventually pardoned and when he died, he was considered a hero. “In a treacherous age he had never betrayed a trust nor broken his word. He had always been his own man (pg. 571).”

Ironically, Irishman Liam Neeson was cast as the titular Scottish hero, Rob Roy (most famous as Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn in Phantom Menace, the voice of Aslan in the recent Narnia movies, an action star in the Taken films, and the titular Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List [which I have not seen, not sure I want to, due to subject matter]. He played an famous Irishman in Michael Collins [I have seen, but it’s more political and confusing], Hannibal in the rebooted A-Team film, and Ducard in Batman Begins [and another funny note; years ago Disney had cast Scotsman Sean Connery to play an Irishman in Darby O’Gill and the Little People]). John Hurt (the War Doctor, Ollivander from Harry Potter, and the Great Dragon from Merlin) is the Marquis Montrose, Tim Roth (Emil Blonksy in The Incredible Hulk, which is part of the MCU and the villainous Febre in The Musketeer) is Archibald Cunningham – he wears foppish clothes, but you know he really wants to be wearing black. Andrew Keir (who has a filmography going back to the fifties, including the epic Cleopatra) is the Duke of Argyll and Brian Cox (we just saw him in Braveheart amongst his other movies) is Killearn.

The opening of the film tells of the hard times in Scotland; “this story symbolises the attempt of the individual…to retain respect and honour.” Rob Roy and his kilted men are chasing other Highlanders who stole cattle from the Marquis of Montrose. Rob kills their leader to prevent further bloodshed. He also has it in his mind to ask the Marquis for a loan, in order to turn a profit on another herd of cattle. The Marquis has already butted heads with the Duke of Argyll (Duke outranks Marquis). Montrose’s ward (maybe nephew?), Archibald Cunningham bests the Dukes champion…because English nobility like to wager on two Scotsmen fighting each other for sport. Montrose’s right hand man, Killearn, has an idea involving Archibald and Rob’s money. Instead of the promised creditor note, Killearn gives Rob’s chosen man a bag of coin (making it easier to steal and more dangerous to transport). Then Archibald lies in wait and ends up killing the poor man; Archibald in place due to Killearn’s scheme. When Rob does not receive the money, he has to go before the Marquis again. Montrose will waive the debt, if Rob agrees to swear that the Duke of Argyll is a Jacobite.

rob-roy

Historical note: Jacobites supported the Stuart claim to the throne of Scotland and England, meaning James Stuart and his descendants. In 1603, when Elizabeth I died without an heir, the line of succession picked up with the offspring of Henry VIII’s sister, Margaret, who had married James IV of Scotland. They had a son, James V, who had a daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots [a contemporary of Elizabeth and there’s a whole story there], who had a son, James VI. Thus, he ascended the throne, joining the two crowns. This began the reign of the Stuarts in England. His son, Charles I, ascended at James’ death. Charles was executed for treason and Oliver Cromwell stepped in (hated by many…there are murals of the Irish hatred of him). His son, Charles II was eventually restored to the throne. After him was his son, James II, but he was deposed in the Glorious Revolution. This is when the famous Jacobite uprisings occurred, sporadically from 1689 to 1759 [the film states it takes place in 1713], again, think Outlander. The Jacobites wanted James II, or his son back on the throne. Instead, English parliament awarded his Protestant daughters, Mary and Anne joint rule. Mary died and her husband ruled for a while until his death, then Anne took the throne. Though Anne had seventeen pregnancies, none of her children survived, which is when this story takes place. If we continue on, since England wished to remain Protestant, despising Catholics (thank you, Henry VIII), none of Anne’s Catholics relatives (like those in Scotland) could claim the throne, thus picking up the line of Charles I’s sister, Elizabeth and through her picked up the Hanover title, leading to George I (of many George’s) and thus the House of Hanover. Yes, it’s all quite complicated and I barely understand it since it was never properly covered in my undergraduate history courses. I obviously know of the Jacobite rebellions and support them (thank you, Scottish romances) and England needs to keep its nose out of Scotland’s business. To sum it up, political tensions are bubbling and the English and Scottish don’t like each other.

Carrying on: Rob refuses to bear false witness as it would be dishonorable for him; he doesn’t care about the Duke. Montrose shouldn’t be so shocked; it would be breaking a commandment, but he calls for Rob’s arrest. Rob escapes and takes to the hills. Cunningham is given permission to hunt him down and starts at Rob’s home. His wife, Mary, sends their boys for help, while Cunningham (and Killearn watches) burns the land, shoots the cattle, and rapes Mary. Killearn has the gall to tell her as she proudly holds her head high amongst English soldiers, “they say it’s not a sin if you don’t take pleasure in it.” Rob’s younger brother finally runs in to try to pick a fight once the soldiers leave. Mary tries to wash Archibald off her and the brother is horrified. She insists that Rob is not to be told; it’s what they want, it will only get her husband killed. “If I can bear it to be done, you can bear to be silent!”

In retaliation, Rob and his men steal Montrose’s cattle and rent and hurt him in his purse. Honestly, Montrose has suspicions of what Cunningham and Killearn cooked up, but he does not want his name mocked. A serving girl that Cunningham got pregnant reveals what she knows to Mary when Cunningham does nothing about the baby. Rob takes Killearn and plans to hold his own trial, with the serving girl as a witness. But she’s desperately in love with Cunningham and kills herself. Mary tries to reason with the man and he attempts to turn the tables on her. She cuts his neck, terribly wounding him. The brother aids Killearn in drowning. Retributions escalate. The brother fires on soldiers who are plundering the Highlands. He’s shot for his trouble and reveals Mary’s secret to Rob before he dies. Rob tries to escape, but is ultimately captured by Cunningham. He’s taken, bleeding and worn to Montrose. Montrose, who really does know what kind of man Cunningham is, orders Rob to be hung. Rob tries to hang Cunningham instead and escapes into the river.

In the meantime, Mary has gone to the Duke of Argyll for help. Since Rob won’t stand against the Duke for Montrose, Argyll will help. He offers protection to the outlaw and when Rob returns home, he arranges a meeting between Rob and Cunningham. Mary admits to Rob about the baby; she can’t know who the father is (she and Rob are shown in a very loving (cough cough) relationship. Rob seems alright with the baby, even telling his children that an addition is on its way. Argyll makes an agreement with Montrose, if Rob wins, the debt is called off, if he loses, Argyll will pay the amount and the matter will be settled. Cunningham holds the advantage most of the duel, staying out of reach of Rob and landing damaging hits. But he allows Rob the chance to grab his sword when Cunningham has him at his mercy and lands a deep blow to Cunningham, killing him. Rob returns home.

My feelings on Rob Roy; I found it long after I was already in love with Scottish history. It fits right in the time period I am used to reading but since it deals more with Rob’s grievances against Montrose and Cunningham, I just don’t get into it. Admittedly, the duel at the end is very cool. It’s well done and has a good cast; I just don’t swoon (unlike certain parts of Outlander; but it’s against probably due to the difference in genre).  Another interesting note; at several points in the film, they use O’Sullivan’s March, an Irish tune.  Aye, Scottish and Irish music do share many similarities, but why could they not find a Scottish tune to use for a film about a Scottish hero?

Next Time: Carrying on to the latter 18th century with The Duchess

The First Queen Henry Beheaded

The Other Boleyn Girl

The title of this blog is taken from the rhyme to remember Henry VIII’s wives: “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.”  Henry divorced Catherine of Aragon, beheaded Anne Bolyen, Jane Seymour died, he divorced Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard was beheaded as well, and Katherine Parr survived Henry.  Based on the popular 2002 novel (emphasis novel, meaning fictional) by Philippa Gregory. A lot of familiar faces in this film (and ironically, a bunch of them show up in the MCU). Natalie Portman (most famous as Jane in the Thor movies and Padmé in the Star Wars prequels) stars as Anne Boleyn while Scarlett Johansson (now known as Black Widow) is her elder sister, Mary (not younger as they state early in the film). Eric Bana (who we saw as Hector in Troy, also plays the villain Nero in the rebooted Star Trek films, he was Bruce Banner in the 2003 Hulk movie which is not part of the MCU, and I had forgotten he was Uther in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. I forgot because I’ve seen the movie once and dislike it), is Henry VIII. Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, Hobbit, Amazing Grace, War Horse, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Imitation Game, Richard III in The Hollow Crown, and now Dr. Strange) has a relatively small role as William Carey. Eddie Redmayne (before he was Marius in Les Misérables, Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, and Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts) also had a relatively small role as William Stafford. Jane Parker may look familiar; she’s played by Juno Temple (she’s the queen in the 2011 The Three Musketeers and one of the fairies in the Maleficent movies). The Duke of Norfolk sounded familiar; he’s played by David Morrissey, who was in an episode of Doctor Who. Oh yes, and say hello to Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy from Game of Thrones) who briefly appears as one of the king’s messengers.

I have read the book (it may have been after I watched the movie), and I had issues with its historical inaccuracy, because Tudor England is a period of history that I have done a fair bit of reading on; and one that my mother (also holds a Bachelor’s in History, like my brother…well, he now has a Master’s) has done even more reading on. Unfortunately, most of those books are packed away somewhere. Already mentioned that Mary was the elder sister, not Anne as stated in the film. Anyways…the movie opens with three small children playing; their futures already being discussed. The father remarks that the family can improve their standings with their daughters, but to truly get ahead, one needs more than a fair look and a kind heart.

Time jump ahead to Mary Boleyn marrying William Carey, as discussed at the beginning. At the castle in London, Catherine of Aragon delivers a stillborn son; she apologizes to her daughter, the princess Mary, that there is no brother to make the country safe. There is a fear that if Henry does not have a legitimate son to pass the throne onto (he does have an illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy), England will descend into civil war, which it already went through when he father took the throne (War of the Roses). A man, the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Howard, rides away from court and to his sister’s estate (if the surname Howard rings a bell in regard to the Tudor dynasty; Henry’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard was a relation of the Boleyns’). He plans for his family to aid the king in a delicate matter; Henry will be looking for a mistress and Howard plans to put Anne boleyn sistersin his path. Anne accepts the challenge. Preparations are made for a royal visit. But when Anne is too daring on a hunt, the king is injured, so the Duke sends Mary to tend to the king. Once Henry returns to court, he calls for Mary, her husband, and family. Mary and Anne become ladies in waiting to Queen Catherine, and William Carey is made a member of Henry’s privy council (a high honor). Catherine suspects why the Boleyn sisters are now in her household and Anne becomes jealous of Mary’s attention from Henry. She tells her sister “I will make my own way.”

Henry trusts Mary; he understands what it’s like to be the second child. (Okay, on the one hand, yes. Henry was the second son of Henry VII, he had an older brother, Arthur. Catherine of Aragon was originally married to him before he died young. Then Henry was faced with becoming king. And we’ve already covered that Mary was not the second child). In the wee hours of the morning after, Mary has to report to her family; this is no longer a private matter. Their uncle openly states he hopes Mary will give Henry a son. Excuse me, Mr. Duke of Norfolk…Henry isn’t married to Mary, so the son won’t be legitimate, just like Henry Fitzroy (historically, “Fitz” as part of a surname signified that the child was a bastard; thus “Fitzroy” meant “son of the king.” But not legitimate). Henry gives William Carey an assignment away from court. What is not mentioned is that Carey dies at some point. Meanwhile, Anne runs off and secretly marries Henry Percy, the heir to the richest land owner in England. However, as a peer of the realm, Percy’s marriage has to be decided by the king. And he’s already engaged. In the movie, Anne is banished for France for a few months to prevent scandal. In actuality, both Mary and Anne spent several years in France as part of their education. And Mary possibly had a reputation she gained there, which is why Henry may have been interested in her. There is only one historical recording of her by Henry and no actual evidence that she was a long term mistress, nor that she bore any children to Henry. Anne’s mother gives her the advice that women can better achieve what they want by allowing men to believe they are in charge; it is the art of being a woman.

In this movie, Mary does become pregnant by the king and is seen openly walking with him (not likely. Henry was devoutly Catholic at this point. It’s one thing to take a mistress, and expected of royal men [but frowned upon by women…double standard]. It’s another to set aside your lawful wife…whose nephew is the Holy Roman Emperor). Her family becomes highly favored and gains new titles and lands. The mother is quick to point out to the father that this all can disappear as quick as it comes. But when Mary is confined for the health of her child, the king’s head can turn and another family can pull the same stunt that the Howards and Boleyns have and put their daughters’ in the king’s eye. They fear the Seymours. So they recall Anne. She takes the opportunity to flirt with Henry. Mary knows that Anne will not act in Mary’s interests; she will act with her own. And Anne beguiles the king. But she holds out against his sexual advances; she knows she cannot fully trust him. He’s already been unfaithful to his wife and has taken her own sister as mistress. There will be no difference in Anne. I cannot remember from my reading if it was truly Anne’s idea for Henry to break from the Catholic church in order to annul his marriage, or if it was Henry’s idea so he was not bound to Rome. Anne allows Henry to have hope when her sister bears a son, knowing she’ll lose the king if not.

We know that Henry breaks from Rome and establishes his own Church of England and brings about the Reformation. His marriage to Catherine is annulled based upon her being married to his elder brother before him (there is historical contention whether their marriage was actually consummated). Henry marries Anne. She eventually bears him a healthy daughter, Elizabeth. Henry remarks “if we can have a healthy daughter, we can have a healthy son.” The movie shows one miscarriage (historically, she miscarried when Henry was grievously injured in a joust). She also had a stillborn child. Research has come out that Henry had a condition that affected his wives that they had difficulty carrying multiple pregnancies, particularly later in their lives. The film shows Anne, desperate, asks her own brother George for help. His wife, whom he has a strained relationship, witnesses the plea and reports both to the Duke of Norfolk and the king himself. Anne and George are subsequently arrested; Anne charged with adultery and incest. In truth, most of the charges are believed to have been the work of Thomas Cromwell, a former ally until they clashed politically (though not completely proven). (Cromwell is not even shown in this film). And she was charged with adultery with seven men, including some members of court. She was found guilty, even by her own uncle (this was all political for him). Being queen, she was executed by a skilled swordsman. The film shows Mary pleading with Henry on her sister’s behalf and expecting Henry to spare Anne. He does not. She’s shown picking Elizabeth up from her mother and leaving with the child (she was already at Hever Castle with her own household at this point, including the former princess Mary).

The film finishes summing up what happened to several of the characters. Mary did indeed marry William Stafford. But it was done in secret and angered both King Henry and Anne and she was banished from court, mainly due to his inferior prospects. She had four children (though at the closing of the film, they show three, one of them being little Elizabeth). Her first child was actually a girl, then a son, both by William Carey. She may had had two further children by William Stafford. On the bright side, the film is correct in stating “Henry’s fear of leaving England without a strong successor turned out to be unfounded. He did leave an heir, who was to rule over England for forty-five years. It was not the boy he yearned for, but the strong red-haired girl Anne gave him – Elizabeth.”

I will admit, the costumes in the movie are gorgeous, though they seem to dress Eric Bana in wide coats to give the impression of the girth Henry displayed later in life. At that age, Henry was still young and athletic. I don’t think it does a well of a job displaying the intrigues that The Tudors does, but they’re trying to compress a lot of events into a two hour film. It does show that a lot of what occurred were older men using young women as pawns to gain power and wealth. And if you want an author to read who has done a lot of research into the Tudors, read Alison Weir.

Next: Slight change in plans (due to me not being able to find the movies I wanted, but I think it will be okay), we’ll jump to Rob Roy.

But, a quick note on Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth.  I remember reading the Royal Diaries book on her as a girl.  I actually read several of them and the Dear America books, and that’s a contributing factor to me later becoming a history major.  Elizabeth I was my first favorite queen and partly led me to British history (I already liked Robin Hood at that point, but this was a queen, a woman I could admire).  Of course, actually studying history gives a lot more insight to what was simplified for a children’s book.  I remember it painting Mary in very bad light, yet I eventually learned there are parts of her tale that are sympathetic as well.  I believe that Elizabeth I was a great queen, but she had her downfalls as well.  And the Tudors lead into the Stuarts, which became another favorite time period of mine to study.  When I graduated college with my history degree, I considered for a while finding a job near Jamestown and the other early colonies so I could tie in my interest of British history with American history (did not work out, decent paying jobs in the field with the experience that I had are hard to come by; I’ll spare you my rant on the viscous circle that exists.)

Just thought I’d give a little insight.  If you have any further questions, let me know!

The Nine Day Queen

Lady Jane

Stars a very young Helena Bonham Carter and Cary Elwes. Sir Patrick Stewart portrays Jane’s father, Henry Grey, the Duke of Suffolk. Joss Ackland, who is the wise and loveable Hans from The Mighty Ducks (along with the scheming Victor Landbergh in 1994’s Miracle on 34th Street, and was Andrei Lysenko in The Hunt for Red October) briefly appears here as Sir John Bridges. Lady Jane Grey, rarely referred to as Queen Jane, appears as a footnote in English history; she ruled for only nine days.

When Henry VIII died in 1547, his young son, Edward VI, aged nine, ascended to the throne. His uncle, Edward Seymour, ruled as Lord Protector and named himself the Duke of Somerset. But he was replaced in 1552 by John Dudley, the Earl of Warwick, who became the Duke of Northumberland and the new Lord Protector (Duke is a higher rank than Earl). This is where the movie picks up. Dudley, like many others advising the young king, want to keep England Protestant after Henry’s split from the Catholic church. Henry VIII’s will laid out that if Edward died without children, the crown would pass to his eldest daughter Mary, a staunch Catholic, then to his younger daughter, Elizabeth. But, if Dudley and his cronies pass over both Mary and Elizabeth as bastards, as they were declared when Edward was born, they can pick up the Tudor line with Henry’s youngest sister, Mary, who had married Charles, the Duke of Suffolk and had a daughter, Frances, who married Henry Grey and they had Lady Jane. (Henry’s other sister, Margaret, was married to James IV of Scotland, and in this movie is declared not a valid to pass the crown, though not explained why. This familial line will come into play after Elizabeth I passes). Most importantly, Lady Jane was a devout Protestant.

Dudley wonders about marrying Jane to Edward, but it is clear that Edward will not live long enough to bear children. Edward is shown hunting with her father, but when her father rebukes her for her interest in books, rather than things useful to a husband, Edward shows her kindness. Jane is shown visiting the princess Mary in 1553, where Mary warns her to take care. Dudley decides to marry Jane to his youngest son, Guilford. Neither child is pleased about the arrangement. Guilford is shown drinking in taverns and was dragged out of a brothel. Jane fights the engagement, declaring she doesn’t want to marry anyone (though I don’t think she would have opposed a marriage to Edward; they got along very well). Her mother beats her, repeatedly. Still Jane refuses, not believing that the king wishes this for her. Dudley retrieves Edward to talk to Jane. He tells her it is her duty to obey her parents, and her king. Edward trusts Dudley (wise modern adults do not) She finally relents.

Edward collapses after his visits and the doctor tells Dudley the young king has only a week left to live. Dudley commands the doctor to keep Edward alive, using arsenic, to give him more time. I don’t believe this is been completely proven, but it is one theory some historians have. The marriage between Jane and Guilford does not start well. Jane has no desire to live has husband and wife, instead, she wishes to devote herself to her studies. And Guildford gets drunk at their feast and passes out in the marriage bed. They are to live at the old monastery of Hertfordshire, until their parents have need of them. Peasants greet the couple on the road and want their land back. When Henry VIII dissolved the Catholic monasteries, the lands were stripped from the peasants who worked it and the treasures inside were distributed to loyal courtiers. Guildford explains this to Jane, who has studied philosophy and theology, but doesn’t quite understand the world around her. He also explains that a shilling is no longer worth a shilling since it’s not made out of silver (similar to our penny. Used to be made out of copper, now it’s made out of zinc). When Jane demands why doesn’t he do anything if he sees this problem, he shouts back that it never works. He later apologizes to Jane and asks her to explain her beliefs. They start getting to know one another and their passions. Which leads to them consummating their marriage and turns everything around.

jane and guildford

They spend several happy days together, a true honeymoon. They share their wishes; Jane wishes for the country to be true to the Protestant faith. Guildford wishes that men wouldn’t be branded for beggary when they have no land to farm. They wish that children would be loved, for a better world. Meanwhile, Dudley convinces Edward to change the succession and make Jane his heir. Once he has that, he allows Edward to die. The Privy Council argues the new succession; both Mary and Elizabeth are threats. But Dudley has his way and the couple, already fearing their parents’ scheme, plan to run, but are given word of Edward’s death and taken to…possibly Westminster, they never say. Jane is declared Queen and she tries to say it’s not right. She would be aware that Mary would be next in line. But everyone kneels and her mother leads her to the throne. She’s crowned and they urge her to name Guildford king. She cries out for her husband and he breaks away from his brothers to comfort his wife. The people are ordered out so they can speak. Guildford explains that together, they are like a coin, two parts of a whole. They can work together. Guildford wants her to be queen; she lets him crown her.

The people aren’t too keen on Jane being Queen; they want Mary. They want a return to the familiar. Mary sends a letter declaring herself as queen. Jane’s first command is that she wants a real shilling; one actually made of silver. She dismisses the Spanish Ambassador, stating that her people and their suffering comes first. He’s insulted when she mentions “wardrobe” to Guildford, not realizing that she is donating the royal wardrobe to the poor. Jane and Guildford also want a school for the poor children, the monastery land returned to the poor. Jane argues with their fathers on who should lead the army against Mary. Jane wants her father close, though Dudley had arranged for Henry to lead. Guildford suggests Dudley lead. Frances recalls that Dudley claimed he could control his son, and shouts that her daughter is stupid.

Only nine days have passed and her Council is gone. Guildford looks on it that now they are really ruling England. Jane just wants it to be over. Henry comes in; it is. Mary is pronounced queen. Henry tries to apologize and makes amends to Jane, but Frances insist they flee. Guards separate Guildford and Jane and take them to separate cells in the Tower of London. Dudley failed at leading the army and is imprisoned as well. I don’t understand his confrontation with Guildford, though he seems to be switching sides, to save his own skin.

Mary has Jane brought to her. She understands that this was not Jane’s fault. They will be tried and condemned, but Mary has the power of reprieve, which she will use. But Mary also loves Philip of Spain, who is to be her husband. The Spanish Ambassador, on word from Charles V, the King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor (her mother’s nephew, making him Mary’s cousin), insists that all discord must be gone before Philip will marry her. Then Henry joins the rebel forces to put his daughter back on the throne, insisting to his wife “I owe it to my daughter! She has need of me!” The rebellion ultimately fails and forces Mary’s hand. The couple may be saved, if they renounce Protestantism. They are allowed to see each other, but cannot speak. Mary’s confessor, whom Jane met two years prior, tries to convert Jane. But her will is strong and he cannot condemn a belief so pure. He allows them one last night. The couple can keep their ideas untarnished and will be alive together in the afterlife. “We’ll fly, away, beyond their reach. So far that their touch cannot tarnish us. And at last we will be – nothing – nobody – each other’s – only this time, forever.” Guildford is led away first. The confessor describes to Jane what happened to her husband as she is led to the private gallows. The shilling survives all this and Mary shows grief for just a moment, then goes to greet her husband. Lady Suffolk curtsies to Mary and the closing narration echoes a passage from Plato that Jane translated for the confessor at the beginning of the movie: “Soul takes flight to a world that is invisible. But there arriving, she is sure of bliss. And forever dwells in Paradise.”

I feel this is an underappreciated film. While there were dramatic scenes added I’m sure, this did follow history much better than other movies. No, Lady Suffolk most likely would not have been part of Mary’s court that soon after her husband’s failed rebellion (and he most likely would have rebelled more so he could control his daughter on the throne – but we want to believe the best from Patrick Stewart) and on the day of her daughter’s execution. But it does show that parents controlled their children’s destinies and those children didn’t often have a choice. Jane didn’t want to be queen; she was never trained to be queen because the likelihood of her becoming queen had been slim. Jane and Guildford were not instantly in love. It took compromise and swallowing their own pride and a willingness to hear other ideas. But they were so cute together; wonderful performances from Helena and Cary. I appreciate that they made Mary appear human and not completely mad or crazy, as she is often depicted in Tudor stories.

Next Time: We go back to Henry VIII proper with The Other Boleyn Girl

Hollywood History Sometimes Gets On My Nerves

Braveheart

Just about the least historically accurate movie ever filmed. While there is not a lot of written history about William Wallace from that time period, there is in regards to other elements of the film. Mel Gibson and writer, Randall Wallace (no relation) have stated that they did not intend for the story to be accurate, just a good, cinematic story. I came to this movie several years after getting interested in Scottish history; and no, this movie had no influence on that. I actually got into Scottish history due to historical romances, many of which take place during Robert the Bruce’s campaigns against the English. So my loyalty is to the Bruce (another national hero in Scotland). There is a Wallace Monument near Stirling in Scotland, a statue on the Bermersyde estate, near Melrose in the Scottish borders (where William Wallace really was from, not the highlands), and there is a statue of him alongside Robert the Bruce at the gates to Edinburgh castle. There is a Robert the Bruce statue erected at Bannockburn, which is near Stirling, and was refurbished in time for the 700th anniversary of the significant battle.

Before I delve into the history portion of the movie, let’s cover cast real quick. Obviously, Mel Gibson stars as William Wallace (Braveheart was actually an moniker for Robert the Bruce). Hello James Cosmo as the elder Campbell. Brian Cox (Agamemnon in Troy and William Styker in the X-Men trilogy) is William’s uncle Argyle Wallace. And playing another red-head, Brendan Gleeson is Hamish (Reynald from Kingdom of Heaven).

The film begins in 1280 and the opening narration claims the king of Scotland had just died without an heir. Not true: Alexander III ruled until 1286 and had an infant granddaughter, Margaret. She ruled for four years (bringing us to 1290), never having set foot in Scotland and there was a succession crisis upon her death; there were thirteen rival claimants for the throne. The two strongest contestants were John Balliol and Robert Bruce, both descendants of King David I’s daughters (Royal Britain by Charles Phillips, pgs 69-70).

The narration continues that the king of England was Edward I, known as Longshanks, and referred to him as a pagan. Yeah, Edward was not pagan. There were no true pagans in Britain since the Vikings. Edward I even fought in the Crusades. Maybe they were hoping to pass this off as “creative license,” that the Scots would consider Edward pagan. Though, it’s hypocritical to make the comment that history is written by those who hang heroes as a way to pass off this as correct Scottish history. Because Britain as a whole was Christian. And Catholic. And England was Christianized before Scotland.

“Edward brought a ferocious martial vigor to his reign, forcefully imposing his authority on his realm, ending Welsh independence and waging a series of brutal wars in the north that later earned him the nickname ‘Hammer of the Scots’ (Royal Britain, pg. 50). He erected a ring of castles in Wales and borderlands to control the Welsh. He annexed the land and made it a principality of England. Hence why the crown prince is known as the Prince of Wales (remember the Black Prince from Knight’s Tale? This is how he had that title. Even though he died before becoming king). This is when the Welsh hero Llywelyn ap Gruffudd comes in to play. When the succession crisis arose in Scotland, the Scottish nobles asked Edward to arbitrate. Well, that just opened the door for Edward to take control through choosing John Balliol, who would swear fealty to Edward. When Balliol was captured and put in the Tower of London, the Scottish nobles revolted. And that’s when the Stone of Scone (ancient coronation stone of Scotland) was taken and put in Westminster Abbey. It was finally returned, 700 years later in 1996 (British Kings and Queens by Sandra Forty, pgs. 60-61).

So, right off the bat, we know this movie has messed with the timeline “for dramatic purposes.” You can’t just put things together, “hey, these happened in this place at some point,” and mash them together. That’s Hollywood for you. Carrying on with the story they are telling, young William Wallace witnesses the massacre at the first gathering, called by Edward. The men left for another meeting and William’s father and older brother are killed off screen. William’s uncle Argyle fetches William and remarks the evening after the funeral, that the men are playing “outlawed tunes on outlawed pipes.” Another time period inaccuracy: bagpipes and that music weren’t outlawed by the English until the 1700s, after the Battle of Culloden (think Outlander). So they’re a good 500 years off.

Another historical note: tartans as we know them today and are represented in the movie, are not referred to in written form until 1471. “References to tartan in Gaelic literature date from the early sixteenth century, and descriptions of the multicolored clot appear in Lowland Scots by the 1570s (Clans and Tartans of Scotland and Ireland by James Mackay, pg. 15). The big craze for tartan was brought by English King George IV when he visited Scotland in 1822, wearing a kilt. “Although tartan features prominently (an anachronistically) in the film, it bears no resemblance to an identifiable sett (pg. 36).”

Edward marries his son to Isabella, princess of France, though I don’t believe she is actually named on screen in the entire movie. Though prince Edward has a favorite amongst the court, Piers Gaveston (again, never named), and quite possibly closer than that. That bit is historically accurate. However, Edward II didn’t marry Princess Isabella until after his father’s death (Royal Britain, pg. 52). They’re just mucking up the whole timeline, aren’t they! Longshanks has the brilliant idea to breed the Scots out of Scotland. “The trouble with Scotland is that it’s full of Scots!” Edward declares (not sure if he actually said that), and declares ‘prima noctis,’ that any English noble has sexual rights to any common Scottish woman the first night of her wedding. That was not actually a thing, pretty sure the Catholic church would frown upon that.

This kicks off the trouble. William has returned home after being educated by Argyle. He rides through a wedding and witnesses this fictional right being enforced. All the while, a young woman is making eyes with him. It’s his old flame, Murrin (she had given William a thistle at his father’s funeral. And that is all the back story they are shown, but they’re supposed to be desperately in love with each other, after having no contact with each other for at least a decade). Then William takes her riding and immediately wants to court her. You haven’t seen each other for over ten years, how do you know you’re compatible? Her father refuses until William proves he’s only interested in peace. They still meet secretly and marry secretly. A creepy old English guard notices them being friendly with each other and tries to force himself on Murrin. William attempts to rescue her, but she’s still captured and her throat is slit by the English magistrate, who claims he has shown leniency to the Scots and they’ve lived in relative peace. William rides in, seemingly surrendering, then pulls out what looks like nun chucks and attacks the English. The other Scots join in and William soon slits the throat of the magistrate.

Men start gathering to Wallace’s cause. They next attack a Scottish castle. Edward starts worrying about the rebellion, but leaves his son to take care of it while he journeys to France (um, if the French king’s daughter is married to the English king’s son, why does England still have to go fight France? Probably because England was fighting France at that time, because Edward II hadn’t married Isabella yet). That solves nothing. The Scots just attack another castle. Robert the Bruce is discussing Wallace’s rebellion with his father. His father urges him to retain ties to England, as many other Scottish nobles do. Robert wants to side with William. The Irish join the Scots, eager to fight the English  historically, at this time, the Scottish and Irish did fight each other).

braveheart

And we come to the battle of Stirling. Which is supposed to have a bridge, conveniently missing in the film, since it was too difficult to film. That’s why the English had problems; they got bottlenecked. Really, this movie isn’t too great with geography. Edinburgh looks nothing like what it should. There’s a big hill in Edinburgh, that is not shown at all. Continuing with the movie version, the common Scots don’t want to fight for the nobles and start to leave before Wallace rides in with anachronistic blue face paint. He gives a rousing speech “they make take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom.” He rides with the nobles to pick a fight, demanding that the English “beg forgiveness for a hundred years of theft, rape, and murder.” The battle begins, with England eventually retreating. I always feel bad for the horses in battle scenes. I know they’re not actually harmed, but in history they were.

William is knighted and tries to persuade Robert the Bruce to join him. The people and the nobles respect the Bruce; if he leads, they will follow, including Will. William and his men proceed to attack York and behead the king’s nephew. Outraged, Edward decides to send Isabella to negotiate peace, sensing that William will not harm a woman. Alone in the English court and distant from her husband, Isabella falls for William Wallace and sends him warnings when she can. Wallace will not yield to England. Edward tries to trap William, but is secretly foiled by Isabella. William once again approaches the nobles to unite Scotland. Robert gives his word to William, but his father has other ideas.
Come the battle of Falkirk, the Scots face the English again. But Edward has bribed the Scottish nobles and they leave the battle. Edward has more men in reserves and crushes the Scottish army. A helmeted knight faces Wallace and unhorses him. Underneath the helmet, it’s Robert the Bruce. Wallace is shocked and Robert feels bad. He sends William to safety and yells at his father later. Once he’s healed, William kills the nobles who betrayed him. He runs to the hills and tall tales about him spread. He sees the princess again and they sleep together. There is montage of the princess in love while both elderly fathers grow ill.

The nobles betray William again; William trusts Robert who does try to save him, but is not successful. William is taken to trial in England and will not confess to treason; he never swore allegiance to Edward I. He is found guilty and will be punished. Isabella tries to talk William into confessing, but he won’t. She goes to the king to beg mercy, but he won’t yield. She remarks to a guard that the king will be dead in a month and his son is weak, so who will truly rule? To Edward, she murmurs that “a child not of your line grows in my belly; your son will not sit long on the throne, I swear.” Not true.

As already stated, Isabella and Edward II aren’t married yet at the time of Wallace’s rebellion. And their son isn’t born until 1312. Edward II wasn’t a good king either and even had another favorite, Hugh Despenser after Gaveston is beheaded by his barons (not thrown out a window by Edward I as shown in the movie). And Isabella indeed became powerful when her husband took up with Despenser. She plotted Edward II’s downfall with Roger Mortimer; in 1326 they captured Edward and in 1327 forced him to abdicate for his fourteen-year-old son, also named Edward. Later that year, he was murdered in Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire. A few years later, Mortimer is sent to the Tower and Isabella is exiled (Royal Britain, pgs. 53-54).

The film shows William’s drawn-out torture. First, he is hung. Then released and urged to confess. Then he is racked, and released, and urged to confess. By the time he is laid out, the crowd is pleading for mercy. But William shouts “Freedom!” as his entrails are removed (mercifully not shown on camera). He is beheaded (not shown, thankfully), drawn and quartered. Longshanks dies as William shouts. The closing narration hits on Bannockburn in 1314, where the Scots won their freedom. Robert the Bruce leads them to victory. That event just celebrated its 700th anniversary and I know my British magazines all featured articles that year.

I beg your pardon on the amount of history I wove in; I have a passion for Scottish history, as I mentioned, born of historical romances. I also was teased for my interest in Scottish history in high school, which just makes me stubbornly hold on to it (bit like a Viking, lol).  This is the type of writing I like to do, mixing in history.  I enjoyed it in college, and being the little nerd that I am, I miss is.  So I did enjoy diving into this film and examining the true history of the time period.  And now I want to carry on reading some of my Scottish romance series I have been neglecting.  We’ll see if I actually get to them (I’m to the point that I have started some books I’ll have to re-start because it’s been so long.  This was so much easier in college!)  A decent note for the movie; yes, we cheer for Scottish independence, I’ll never argue against that. And it does keep me more awake that the previous few historical movies. And the musical theme is just beautiful.  I am interested in watching Netflix’s film with Chris Pine on Robert the Bruce, Outlaw King.

Next Time: We start delving into the Tudor dynasty (another time period I am familiar with), starting with Lady Jane