Showtime's steamy historical soap opera The Tudors is one of the network's more memorable forays into original television, and although the show did have a historical basis it was pretty notorious for taking a lot of liberties with real historical fact for the sake of creating a more entertaining show. The writers weren't shy about their fickle commitment to history, but throughout the course of the show, there were a lot of interesting storylines that strayed completely from reality, as well as a lot of surprising storylines that were totally based on fact.
So which parts of The Tudors reflected what really happened, even though you'd totally think that they were just creative flourishes on the part of the writers? And which elements of the show were completely different from the true history of Henry VIII and his many wives and companions? Here are five fascinating facts and five surprising fictions featured on The Tudors.
10 Fact: Henry's Sister Secretly Married His Best Friend
This storyline on The Tudors definitely seems like a soap-opera-style liberty that the writers decided to take to spice things up, but nope, it's actually true! And in yet another surprise, the story that they portray on the show is actually shockingly close to what really happened. In reality, Charles Brandon secretly married Henry's sister, Mary Tudor (not Margaret), after she was widowed by her husband, King Louis XII of France (not the king of Portugal). The couple married in secret without the permission of Henry, which initially enraged Henry but, eventually, he forgave the pair (because he really did have a lot of affection for both of them).
9 Fiction: Henry Had Two Sisters, Not One
Although King Henry VIII did have a sister named Margaret Tudor, he had another sister named Mary as well. It's unclear why the writers of The Tudors decided to omit Mary completely from the series, however many of Margaret's storylines in the show are actually reflective of the real history of Mary Tudor. It seems likely (and understandable) that the writers may have wanted to combine both sisters into one person and use the most interesting parts of their lives to form the story of the character of Margaret Tudor, but considering how important both sisters were to Henry as well as how many minor historical figures they included in the show it's still surprising that only one of Henry's sisters made the cut.
8 Fact: Henry Had An Illegitimate Son With Elizabeth Blount
Most of the details of King Henry VIII's life are forgotten, and as a historical figure, there are just a few major aspects of his life that most people will remember. One of those things is that Henry's desperation for a son and legitimate heir literally changed the course of history. However, Henry VIII DID have a son, he was just an acknowledged but illegitimate child.
Henry Fitzroy was a child that did actually exist, and he was a product of Henry's long term affair with Lady Elizabeth Blount. And although Fitzroy was an illegitimate child Henry definitely showed him much favor, eventually making him the Duke of Richmond and Somerset.
7 Fiction: Henry Fitzroy Died Young, But Not That Young
One unfortunate truth of King Henry's history is that his only son, Henry Fitzroy, did die of an illness (the specific illness is unknown, but many historians have speculated it may have been tuberculosis), however, his death didn't come nearly as early as The Tudors portrayed it. In the show, the younger Henry dies when he was still a small child, but the real Henry Fitzroy died at the age of seventeen, already a married man and considered an adult at the time. Sadly his father did outlive him by many years though, and Henry VIII's small glimmer of hope for a male heir was snuffed out too early.
6 Fact: Henry Really Was That Womanizing
Once some time has passed and people get some perspective on history that history can show historical figures in an unfavorable light, and the way we now look back on Henry VIII is definitely pretty unfavorably. And if you were to ask most people today to describe Henry VIII, it's pretty much guaranteed that "smokin' hot" is not the way they would describe him. But in his early life Henry was considered to be quite a looker, and he was actually just as womanizing as he is portrayed to be on The Tudors. We all know that he burned through wives faster than most people would think possible, but he had no problem finding an endless supply of willing lovers as well.
5 Fiction: Mary And Elizabeth Weren't Princesses
King Henry refers to both of his daughters as "princess" multiple times throughout the run of The Tudors, but in reality, both Mary and Elizabeth were not legally princesses. Henry VIII was absolutely obsessed with the idea of siring a male heir, and unfortunately for Mary and Elizabeth that meant that their father chose to de-legitimize them for the sake of his imaginary future heir. Both Mary and Elizabeth would go on to become queens, and as we all know now Elizabeth went on to become one of the most beloved queens who ever lived, but neither held the title of princess.
4 Fact: Henry's Desperation For A Legitimate Son Was Real
The Tudors definitely took a lot of creative license with historical facts to make a more interesting fictional story, but there is a reason that there was a show about Henry VIII to begin with. In many instances, his life was just as dramatic as a television soap opera, if not even more dramatic.
One instance where the story of The Tudors matches reality is when it comes to Henry's intense desire for a son and intense fear that he would leave this world without a boy to become king, and Henry really did essentially change the world and course of history just because he really, really wanted a son.
3 Fiction: Henry Was Much Older When He Married Catherine Howard
One of the more dramatic storylines in The Tudors, as well as one of the more dramatic events in the history of Henry VIII, is Henry's marriage with, and subsequent execution of, Catherine Howard. It's true that Catherine was just a teenager when she married Henry, and it's true that she committed treason by having an affair with Thomas Culpeper, but when Catherine married Henry he was already much older and heavier than he is portrayed as in The Tudors. Unsurprisingly, many historians speculate that Catherine's unhappiness in her marriage and her willingness to risk her life to be with another man may have been influenced by the fact that she was married to someone that would be very unappealing to the average teenage girl.
2 Fact: Henry Left The Catholic Church So He Could Remarry
King Henry's split from the Catholic church and his creation of the Church of England is certainly one of the most important (and dramatic) events in European history, and it's true that Henry did all of that simply so he could divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. Henry actually did try every avenue to end his marriage with Catherine through the Catholic church before resorting to leaving the church completely. Henry's infatuation with Anne Boleyn certainly pushed him even further towards his need for an end to his first marriage, but ultimately it was his desire for a legitimate heir that ended the relationship between England and the Catholic church.
1 Fiction: Catherine Parr Was Much Younger When She Married Henry
In The Tudors Henry's last wife, Catherine Parr, is portrayed as a nearly middle-aged woman when she marries Henry, and their marriage is portrayed as somewhat brief. In reality, Catherine's marriage to Henry lasted about four years, and she wasn't even 30 when she married the 52-year-old king. And although the real Catherine was a bit younger, her marriage to Henry was surprisingly calm and uneventful, the pair seemed to get along fine throughout their relationship, a marriage that lasted until Henry's death. That is presumably why their marriage takes up so little of the screen time of The Tudors, because it simply wasn't very dramatic.