When the CW announced it was going to do a historical drama in the form of Reign, I knew it was going to be bad. Maybe not Noah bad, but bad. First hint? While the show is clearly about a royal character, the advertisements never said which royal character…as if it really doesn’t matter.
Although, in looking at the way they’ve approached it, it may indeed not actually matter. Just think about the name: Reign. It’s not even Queen. “Reign” is what she does: a queen reigns over her kingdom. It would be like naming a show about me Teaching.
The Historical Version
Reign is theoretically about Mary Queen of Scots, a cousin to the more well-known English Tudors (Henry VIII, subject of Showtime’s The Tudors; Elizabeth I, etc.).
Mary became queen of Scotland when she was 6 days old. She was betrothed very young to Francis, heir to the French throne, and was raised in the French court. Unlike many betrothed children, she did, indeed, go through with the marriage when she was 16 years old. (France dies two years later.)
Meanwhile, England has once again gotten itself into a mess over succession. (The War of the Roses currently has its own TV: Starz’s The White Queen.) Henry VIII had three children, one son and two daughters. On Henry’s death, his son became king, but he died young. His elder daughter became queen after a bit of legal haggling (which, interestingly enough, had nothing to do with her gender). But then she died five years later, leaving only the woman who became Queen Elizabeth.
First problem: Elizabeth was a Protestant when most of Europe is Catholic.
Second (and arguably more pressing) problem: Henry did not divorce his first wife through the Catholic Church before marrying Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth’s mother. Therefore, according to the Catholics, the marriage to Anne wasn’t valid, making Elizabeth a bastard.
Elizabeth’s closest legitimate relative was Mary Queen of Scots, and the throw-down between the two is for what Mary is mostly known. (Blowing up her second husband comes in a close second.)
There is no way the CW is going to properly depict Mary Queen of Scots. None. Zip. Zero. Nada.
The Set Up a.k.a. Why Would I Do This To Myself?
First, the disclaimer: I never would have done this willingly.
I am in the middle of grading essay exams, and the house was getting oppressively quiet, so I flipped on the TV. It happened to be the CW, and it was running Reign. I don’t want to start something terribly engrossing, as it would just distract me from work. Hey! This will work. No higher thinking needed.
Point of note: everything I discuss here comes from one half of one episode, as it was halfway through when I turned it on.
The Time Period
Most material covering Mary address the later trying-to-overthrow-Elizabeth and blowing-up-her-husband years. But not Reign! It is focused on her French teenage years because, seriously, it’s the CW. This allows all characters to fall into one of two groups:
- Hot, 15-25 year-olds
- Boring, trying-to-ruin-the-youngsters’-fun parents
The Love Triangle
I do believe “love triangle” is actually a requirement for CW execs to even consider your script:
- Wikipedia’s summary of The Vampire Diaries: “The series narrative follows the protagonist Elena Gilbert as she falls in love with vampire Stefan Salvatore…As the series progresses, Elena finds herself drawn to Stefan’s brother Damon Salvatore resulting in a love triangle.”
- Arrow, one of its slightly more mature shows (by which I mean the target demographic included both young men and young women, rather than just young women), has more love triangles than I want to count.
- The Tomorrow People (and one of these days I’ll review that hack of a British series) has invented a character (Kara) for no reason other than they needed a love triangle.
Think I’m exaggerating? The moment I turn on the TV, two brothers, Sebastian and Francis, are rolling on the ground fighting for Mary, who loves both of them.
Wait, brothers? Is this Vampire Diaries 1558?
Francis is her betrothed. Ok.
Sebastian is…completely made up.
His mother is Diane de Poitiers, who was real person: Henry II of France’s longtime mistress. But they had no children together, and she had no children named Sebastian. Which is highly problematic since his status as illegitimate child of the king is the entire point of his character (beyond being part of said love triangle).
Worse, the king is trying to get the Church to recognize his favorite son (Sebastian) as legit, something the Church would never do. There can be tricky deliberations if there are questions about when and where marriages happened, but Diane and Henry have never been married. Sebastian is, by anyone and everyone’s definition, a bastard.
And why is Henry doing this? Because Nostradamus said so.
The famed seer has warned that Francis will die if Mary marries him. A few issues here:
- Francis will die no matter who he marries, just like the rest of us.
- The king has several perfectly legitimate sons to become king if Francis dies young. They’re in the show.
Nostradamus is also, historically, 55 years old in 1558, despite his casting.
I can’t find anything on the internet about the exact phrasing of the prophesy, although there are lots of mentions that he has, indeed, prophesied it. That’s not how Nostradamus worked.His visions were not instruction manuals.
Instead, he talked in vague metaphor, such as:
“Volcanic fire from the center of the earth will cause trembling around the new city: Two great rocks will make war for a long time. Then Arethusa will redden a new river.”
That sort of vagueness, plus some fast and loose translations from French into English, lets people today attribute his prophesies to all sorts of modern events. The quote above is supposedly about 9/11, so long as you translate “new city” to “New York City,” not know who the heck Arethusa is, and, well, pretty much just invent meanings for the rest of it.
You can read more Nostradamus silliness here: Top 10 Prophecies of Nostradamus Debunked, complete with the original French as well as an English translation.
My next article: Reign Fashion Disasters, or Dear Gods, Kill Me Now