I have been struggling with the idea of writing this for almost two months now, almost to the point that I was glad when my computer broke in early May and I had a little more time to gather my thoughts on many things. The White Princess ended up being everything I thought it would be and in some ways worse. But what made it more significant to me is that it’s airing has coincided with a growing shift in my world view. Well not exactly, my world views has been making this shift for a very long time now but I am only now beginning to very slowly develop the confidence to be more open about them.
At its core, The White Princess was bad, very bad. The writing was bad, none of the characters were likable save for Maggie Pole and the whole plot was as far removed from historical accuracy as
I wish I could just say that the series was shit and leave it at that but I can’t because of the two really important things. One is the fact that these were real people and their stories are being further and further tarnished by populist historical sentiments and writers who think juicing up history will make it more interesting. And two, and probably most important, the implications that The White Princess was somehow a feminist show and that the female characters, through their (frankly) fucked up actions are somehow empowered.
Before beginning to write this in earnest I came across thisawesome article that I feel sums up my feelings on the current state of populist women’s history perfect ally. There is a quote in the beginning of the film Braveheart that I really like: “History is often written by those who have hanged heroes”. And it is true. Too often the stories of women have been overlooked, ignored, and even rewritten at the behest of the agenda of those who do not want their truths known. Marie Antoinette, Anne Boleyn, Empress Dowager Cixi. These women continue to be much maligned in the study of history as well as in some media. Sometimes I also wonder how kindly or cruelly posterity will know Hillary Clinton.
But at the same time, we women have a responsibility to understand and acknowledge that in the past, for a woman to be strong and to have her own agency independent of a man was a difficult feat to pull off. Not impossible but difficult, and more often than not they did not or could not have it. Are we really any better than the men who try to silence these women through history if all we do is just undermine them in another way by disregarding their truths for the sake of some sort of feminist agenda? Many of my fellow Anne Boleyn fans talk a lot of shit about Jane Seymour for her meekness and submissive nature in comparison to Anne. I have no opinions on her bad or otherwise but I feel like it’s unfair to malign Jane for doing what, at the end of the day, kept her neck off of the block.
Dominated by men legally and judged by a backward and misogynistic church, society was harsh on women back then. Yes, there was strength in all of these women, but that strength had to be channeled to work for these women in the circumstances they faced. I’ve said it once and I will say it once more: history has no safe spaces. If you have an issue with the fact that many of these women were in one way or another victims of their times, then don’t study history. Go back to your safe space and return to the big girl classroom once you have earned your big girl panties.
You women are not empowered, you are just horrible.
Which brings me back to The White Princess. There was nothing empowering about it in the slightest and the very idea is not only asinine but dangerous. Nowhere else does this come off more clear than in the rape/incest subplot of episode one.
First off, how the damn hell is Lizzie being in a previous incestuous relationship with Richard III empowering to her? Not only would it be fucking stupid (because of the legal ramifications) but it also diminishes any potential sympathy I can have for her when Henry and his horrible mother constantly slut shame her. Also, why does it seem like the only way to empower a female character is through making her sexually aggressive? There are other ways to give a female character agency but I guess those would not be interesting or sexy for a premium cable television show. I won’t even get into how this also completely sacrifices her own real agency that she had in real life because, well I’ve already written a whole post about that.
And second, I want all those reading this to understand something: despite what some bullshit feminist writers would have you believe, what happened between Henry and Lizzie was RAPE! Plain and simple, it was not an empowering moment; no it was not a moment of reclaimed agency for Lizzie. IT WAS RAPE! The fact that she knew it was going to happen or made a few jabs at Henry does not take away the fact that it was still rape and she was clearly hurt and humiliated by the encounter. And do you want to know a little secret? The kind of rape displayed in The White Princess is actually a lot more common in real life than the more violent screaming rape seen in Outlander or Game of Thrones. Do you think the survivors of those attacks feel empowered? How far gone must feminism be if we must now equate a fucking rape scene as empowering or somehow feminist? FUCKING HOW?!
With that said, while Henry and Lizzie did eventually come to love each other as the show progressed, I frankly could not get that scene and his previous treating her like shit out of my head. And I really did want to believe in their love, but I just could not reconcile in my mind the idea that first Lizzie was in love with her uncle (who in real life may or may not have ordered the murder of her brothers) and then fell in love with her rapist. It made the episodes after that very jarring.
None of this was made any more bearable where the other characters were concerned. The only other characters that I managed to take a liking to in the show were Elizabeth Woodville and Maggie Pole, the latter in particular. For a show that made such a fuss about how empowering it was, Maggie was literally the only character that I saw that was empowered and naturally grew to have her own sense of agency. She begins the show as a frightened little girl very much at the mercy of the new king and always in the control of others. She becomes a child bride (though her husband is decent enough not to commit marital rape right off the bat), and struggles constantly with whether to be loyal to her brother and her house, or to her husband and to Lizzie. By the end of the show, broken by the injustices dealt to her brother, she has grown from being submissive and scared and comes into her own. Maggie’s sense of empowerment is the only one that comes off as natural and not the result of being cruel or manipulative like most of the other characters in this damn show.
Probably the person who received the most violent character assassination was Margret Beaufort. One of the few good things that has resulted from me watching The White Princess is that it has further piqued my interest in learning more about who Margret was truly and not the fanatical demon cunt shown in this show. Considering that my love for Anne Boleyn began with me reading a terrible populist pandering teen novel, I can’t be too upset at that. But it is quite frustrating to see that Margret’s legacy may very well be going down the same path that Anne Boleyn’s went for so long. Again, I guess her natural agency, her intelligence, her piety and charity, were not juicy enough for Philippa Gregory or Emma Frost. Clearly only through manipulative scheming, murder, and ordering her son to rape someone, can she be empowered.
I am almost to the point with my disdain for this show that I am being hyperbolic. So, to wrap this up, I did not like this show at all. Maybe if these were not real people I could maybe like it a little more, but that is not the case. I have heard rumors that this show may be picked up for a second season. Considering how the books go from this point I don’t know how they will manage to do a season two without further assassinating these characters all the more. But either way, I do not plan to watch it even if it does occur. I am just so tired. Tired of history being butchered like this. Tired of these women being demonized and sacrificed for populist historical agenda. Tired of their truths being undermined for feminist agenda because some women can’t stomach the realities of what history truly was. And if this show is an indication of what history and feminism in the media has become, well, for someone like me who loves history, who at one point considered herself a true feminist, this is just frustrating and heartbreaking.