The White Queen 1.10: The Final Battle

Men go to battle. Women wage war.

While I imagine the producers of The White Queen had hoped for more than a single-season run of episodes, I think this story was best served in a mini-series format. Confined to a limited number of episodes meant that the parameters of the narrative arc needed to be firmly defined. Firm bookended seemed to have provided the writers with clearer goals for the end of the season as the show itself seemed to establish its points of emphases around episode seven. While overall it did seem to loose Queen Elizabeth as a focal point, flattening her with age, but the show never lost its sense of gendered investments about the way the late-medieval English aristocracy marshaled power.

Richard’s sigil, the Warthog, flies for the last time at the Battle of Bosworth Field.

And the show did divide down gender lines to the bitter end. There were certainly fewer men left at the end of the day than women. The Stanleys, in their willingness to sacrifice honor and virtue for power, continued to find success in their strategy to refuse to pick sides. In the end, they become the new Kingmakers and replacing the vacuum Warwick had left behind. Even infamous Richard seemed to have been cured of his chivalry by the end of the series. In fact, the show makes him out to be merely a bad politician (rather than the smooth operator Shakespeare depicts), wherein the deaths of all the sons of York and its heirs were somehow influenced by his presence. And Henry Tudor is not much to be invested in as the hapless puppet of a vain, extremist mother. While a noble, stoic child, it is unclear what this version of Henry has grown up into as a man.

Henry Tudor lands ashore, finally returning to English soil.

The survival rate of the noble women as the political centerpieces wasn’t all that better than there counterparts. Queen Anne died a sad and desperate death shortly after the passing of her son and the disintegration of hers and Richard’s great love when it had little to do with political gain. At the heart of the episode is Anne’s rival, Princess Elizabeth, daughter of the once Queen Elizabeth. Beloved by Richard and betrothed to Henry, she only stands to gain here. But if you know your English history (and catch the cursing hints dropped by her sister Cecily), the future is a barren one for Elizabeth and Henry. She is a disturbing figure in how little she cares or understand the larger implications of her marriage (such as the death of thousands). In Lady Margaret we are given the barest glimmer of hope that she might in fact feel the true full weight of her political wrangling all these years when the lives of her beloved and her son hung in the balance. Alas, in her sons’ victory we see the dissolution of any real piety in Margaret.

Struck by the sight of God’s work before here in the success of her son, Margaret Regina revels unawares amongst the dead masses.

On March 16, 1485, there really was a total solar eclipse that was widely interpreted to mark the fall of the House of York and the beginning of something entirely new in England. As the show would suggest, a violent and male-dominated medieval period moves aside for the beginnings of something more progressive in the Renaissance, whose high watermark was the long and stable reign of Queen Elizabeth I of the House of Tudor. But of of course this is as much mythology as the rumors spread about Richard’s hunchback. The White Queen is a show that substitutes history for its close kin, nostalgia. It wistfully longs for any idyllic past that was sumptuousness, love, offspring, and a bit of intrigue in the upper crust, completely ignoring the brown bread-and-butters dying in battle at the feet of Margaret of Anjou and Lady Margaret Beauford. How might a show trace the place of the English feudal peasant through the motions of the War of the Roses? The civil strife at the lowest strata of English society was often made reference to in the show, this episode included, but little was seen and less heard about the actual position of those conscripted to fight. It may be an intersting thought experiment to envision a program that rather than arguing that “Men go to battle. Women go to war.” was based on the liminal proposition that “Kings go to battle. Peasants go to war.”

  • CITATION: “The Final Battle.” The White Queen. Television. Directed by Colin Teague. Written by Emma Frost. 19 October 2013. London: BBC One, 2013. STARz cable channel.
  • Check out the BBC One promo video for this episode below:

The White Queen 1.9: The Princes in the Tower

BRACKENBURY: You are too tender-hearted then. Because boys become men. And even boys can be a cause that men will kill for.

The question posed by the penultimate episode in The White Queen miniseries: to save or slaughter? That the heirs of the dead King Edward II survive pose a threat to the aspirations of both Queen Anne and Lady Margaret Beaufort. They both have sons that might gain the throne. But is the death of innocent boys aged nine and twelve to high a cost to pay for personal gain? Is it really personal gain or are these children the solution these women see to the chaos in England? Again and again the security of the people are linked with the boys by Anne, Margaret, and the recently-widowed Elizabeth. But for Richard, now monarch, their mere existence has a power and mythos all their own:

ANNE: How does she still have men that she can command?
RICHARD: The boys command them by their very living.

For Anne and Margaret, their slaughter is a necessary means to a commonly desired end. Obviously for Elizabeth she would have her sons saved by whatever means necessary. Consider that both Anne and Margaret have expressed their disdain for the commoners as such, not to mention the barbary of killing children, their motives are suspect.

The prince and the doppelgänger of his brother are whisked away in the night. By whom we still do not know.

For the first time in this series that I can recall, Margaret is made to make a real choice that pits her aspirations against her conscience. Her marriage to Lord Stanley has seemed a match made in heaven in its pairing of equally vain and plotting minds together. Stanley in fact pushes Margaret to express her real desires, perhaps forcing her to say that the boys must be killed for the sake of her own son—although her previous actions lead us to believe that this is her will in her heart of hearts. It is the ultimate expression of Margaret’s hypocrisy: she is guarded from repudiation for her piety, and yet her religiosity is not in the service of a common good, but a personal good. When rains thwart her son’s arrival in England to take the throne, her husband rats on her to Richard and gives up his wife to house arrest in the country. Stanley, always playing both sides and having all been sure to never get emotionally tangled with his wife, still wins by demonstrating a heroic deal of loyalty and bringing his entire wife’s fortune under his own personal management. Her widower fortune is half of Margaret’s power (the other half being the mother to the Lancastrian heir), and this unexpected blow rings with a certain poetic justice her late husband Stafford seemed to have foreseen.

Lady Margaret meets an unforeseen challenge and choice.

Anne is equally distressed and made to bear the results of expressing a similar desire for the boys to be killed to Brackenbury, the constable of the Tower. If the boys were gone, her sons legitimacy to the throne of England would be unquestionable—or at least of equal weight as that of Henry Tudor. She has the ear of her husband without a doubt, but his virtue and chivalry keeps him from sacrificing his morality for gains in power:

RICHARD: London is against me still.
ANNE: They will come around. The north is loyal and soon the south with follow. And when the time is right, we will invest our boy as the Prince of Wales, and England will blossom in your York son again.

The toll of the boys’ death for Richard is complicated. For him, he has failed to keep his nephews save, demonstrate his ability to rule and maintain the loyalty of the men who serve him. This is destructive enough to render him unable to face Parliament and demonstrate the kind of leadership he hopes to produce for England. Anne feels that this is all her fault for intimating her desires to Brackenbury, although we may never know what happened to those two boys, or if the child bodies found in the tower some time ago were theres. Like Margaret she too goes to confession thinking the sin is hers, but neither are able to admit to their spouses their possible involvement. As a result, the most compelling romance of the series between Richard and Anne is fraying at an alarming rate.

The remaining Rivers women make their last stand.

While more have died this week, including perhaps a deserving Buckingham, the real victim here is Richard’s reputation. The show has received must negative criticism for its (lack of) historicity. The most revision has been in the character of Richard III. He is not the crippled villain of Shakespeare’s plays here, but rather an antiquated and emotive servant of the crown: “I will execute Buckingham for ruining my good name and my peace.” That Henry Tudor will take over seems inevitable as the last of the old guard of Edward’s reign pass into oblivion. The Rivers women make their last ecological stand by humming to the rivers for rain to impede his march. But as Elizabeth’s gifts fade and her daughter’s grow stronger, the Tudor alternative seems inevitable.

  • CITATION: “The Princes in the Tower.” The White Queen. Television. Directed by Colin Teague. Written by Emma Frost. 12 October 2013. London: BBC One, 2013. STARz cable channel.
  • Check out the BBC One promo video for this episode below: