For example, I 100% had to look up, “Wait, is it the War of the Roses or the Wars of the Roses?” (It’s Wars, apparently.) At any rate, I was recently at my beloved Nicole’s house, where, as is our custom, we spent a lot of time companionably scrolling through our respective phones while some period drama played on endless loop in the background, and this time, that period drama was The White Princess. Both Nicole and I have, between the two of us, probably actively consumed a cumulative 40 hours of Wars-of-the-Roses-themed television adaptations, and if you factor in the passive informational osmosis one averages just from walking past a Philippa Gregory novel, we probably both clock in somewhere around 100+ man-hours of Plantagenetian content.
And yet I don’t know that either of us could write a sensible flowchart outlining the main players and high points of the thing if our lives depended on it. The number of times I’ve cracked open a book or started an eight-episode television event that starts with a bunch of drawings of the Lancaster and York family trees is – I don’t know, a lot – but somehow I’ve managed to retain exactly zero of that information. It’s a fucked-up word problem, the Wars of the Roses, because everyone decided to rename cadet branches of the same family into different family names, so it’s like, if Plantagenets represent Y quantity, and Lancaster and York are both constants, demonstrate how we end up with Tudors? Solve for Elizabeth Woodville.
You could make me read Richard III once a day, every day, for the next thirty years, and at the end you could say something like, “Hey Mallory, please name a single character from Richard III who is not Richard III, and tell me how they are related to Richard III,” and I would fail. I just can’t retain the information. It passes by me as th’idle wind, which I respect not! (OH, BUT SOMEHOW I CAN REMEMBER THAT SCENE WHERE BRUTUS AND CASSIUS BITCH EACH OTHER OUT IN JULIUS CAESAR, LIKE THAT’S GOING TO BE USEFUL INFORMATION TO ME SOMEDAY.)
This is, to the best of my recollection, English history:
ROME —> MERCIA —> VIKINGS —> AETHELRED IS SOMEWHERE IN HERE? ALSO BEDE, WHICH I USED TO THINK WAS THE NAME OF HIS JOB BUT IT TURNS OUT WAS JUST HIS NAME, LIKE YOU COULD BE A BEDE AND IF YOU ESPECIALLY GOOD AT IT YOU COULD BECOME A VENERABLE BEDE —> UHHHH —> MATHILDA? —> “THE LANCASTERS” —> WAS THE WAR OF THE ROSES CONCURRENT WITH THE HUNDRED YEARS’ WAR OR WAS IT AFTERWARDS —> SOME TUDORS WHO WERE NOT HENRY THE EIGHTH —> HENRY THE EIGHTH —> STUARTS —> THEN I DON’T KNOW IF IT WAS JACOBITES FIRST OR CROMWELL —> GERMANY DEFINITELY DID SOMETHING AT SOME POINT —> THE VICTORIANS.
I still have no idea what the hell a Regency is, it’s all just a bunch of words I can’t anchor to anything. Someone something Hanover, someone something electorate, the Glorious Revolution and the Restoration either definitely are or definitely aren’t the same thing. And a Jacobite is a whole different thing from a Jacobin, and only one of them is a magazine now, I’m pretty sure.
Anyhow, one of the great things about watching a period drama, even if you are a dumb person like me, is feeling vastly superior to everyone on screen for knowing shit like “Arthur Tudor never became king of England, I am a genius and master of foreshadowing.” (“Fine, name one of the Princes in the Tower, then.” “They were…obviously, um, Tower wasn’t either one of their names, of course…”)
In about three days, I will have forgotten completely every new detail about the early Tudors/late Yorkists I’ve absorbed from The White Princess, but if I know one thing, it’s this: Regardless of what period in English royal history you are adapting (and let’s be honest, it’s probably between the House of Anjou up until whomever the last George was, and even there it’s probably not a Stuart, nobody is out here going, “We really need a visual representation of the sexy and alienating life and times of Harold Godwinson,” LEAST OF ALL ME, because I had to look up which guy came after Edward the Confessor but before Edgar the Ætheling in order to make this very joke), you need to keep to a bare minimum the number of scenes you set in Burgundy focused on some disgruntled cousins who never make their way across the Channel to get in on the main action.
I’LL SAY IT AGAIN: MINIMIZE YOUR BURGUNDIAN INTERLUDES, MAKERS OF PERIOD DRAMAS. We all know the one time sailing over from France to invade England worked, and it was in 1066, and we do not care about whatever ambassador from the Low Countries almost-married Duchess Margaret or whomever, we want to get back to tumultuous London and try to remember which Henry we’re on. I do not want to spend fifteen minutes an episode watching a bunch of people whose names I know I do not have to remember reclining on long, low sofas in front of oranges and palm trees to remind me of how different the French climate is from cold and hostile England.
Also, please make a television adaptation of The Visions of Tondal right away, just look at these title descriptions:
Tondal Suffers a Seizure at Dinner
Tondal Appears Dead
The Valley of Murderers
The Mountain of Unbelievers and Heretics
The Valley of the Perversely Proud and Presumptuous
The Beast Acheron, Devourer of the Avaricious
The Nail-Studded Bridge for Thieves and Robbers
The House of Phristinus; Punishment for Gluttons and Fornicators
The Beast that Eats Unchaste Priests and Nuns
The Forge of Vulcan; Punishment for Those who Commit Evil upon Evil
Demons Dragging Tondal into the Infernal Cistern
The Gates of Hell and Lucifer
The Wall of Heaven Where the Bad but Not Very Bad Are in Temporary Discomfort
The Good but Not Very Good Are Nourished by a Fountain
Two Kings of Ireland, Former Enemies, Who Made Peace before Death
The Happy Crowds of the Faithfully Married
The Martyrs and the Pure Sing Praises to God
The Glory of Good Monks and Nuns
The Wall of Metals and Jewels surrounding Angels and Saints
If you need me, I’ll be spending the rest of the afternoon contemplating “The Wall of Heaven Where the Bad but Not Very Bad Are in Temporary Discomfort,” and trying to see if I can remember whether Queen Anne was a Stuart or something else.