“Reign” Disaster Train

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.

YOU MAY LIKE:  Supernatural and Dick-Angels

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
Most honest promotional image ever.  Young hot actors in a love triangle.  Also theoretically historical.  And...we're done.

Most honest promotional image ever. Young, hot actors in a love triangle. Also, theoretically historical. And…we’re done.

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.
YOU MAY LIKE:  "Wolf Hall" Gives New Spin to Tudor Drama

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.

Nostradamus in Reign

What IS your secret to looking young? Moisturizer? Blood of the Innocent? I need to know.

Nostradamus

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.

YOU MAY LIKE:  Snow (Almost) Always Looks More Fun in Pictures

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

29 comments

  • Brilliantly blogged! Every time I watch Supernatural (which plays fast and loose with ALL mythology, but in a loveable, pure camp way) and see an ad for ‘Reign’, I cringe and fear for the future of our nation. However . . . I am embarrassed to admit I might one day find myself lured into a Vampire Diaries marathon. Regardless, It’s upsetting to see this need for history to be turned into a twenty-something sex romp, with bad lines and worse story lines. It’s embarrassing, considering the historical entertainment you see in the U.K. Like I said, Cringe-worthy. Thanks for writing what I’d been thinking!

  • Corné Human

    You are so negative. Even though it is not historically accurate, it is a good story. Start learning to enjoy fiction.

    • Genesis

      Exactly, it’s a great show, with a lot of history in it but also fiction and non fiction telling of this historical event into a show makes it much more intresting. Great drama, action seeking, and romantic, show

    • Genesis

      Exactly, it’s a great show, with a lot of history in it but also fiction and non fiction telling of this historical event into a show makes it much more intresting. Great drama, action seeking, and romantic, show

    • Genesis

      Exactly, it’s a great show, with a lot of history in it but also fiction and non fiction telling of this historical event into a show makes it much more intresting. Great drama, action seeking, and romantic, show

    • Humza Sohail

      Good point.

  • TRK

    I agree with you Corne it is TV and was never portrayed to be an accurate historical show and it is CW so hello blogger I’ve always loved history there is actually much in here that is historically correct. Though Sebastian is not his role lends to the maki of the show. No TV show series will ever be 100% accurate. But the idea is to sit back, relax and just enjoy.

  • Roi

    To be fair on the whole legitimizing Sebastian crap, If Francois II and his brothers die without heirs, the throne would go to the Huguenot Henri of Navarre. Francois II and his brothers all had weak depositions and were very weak kings, and the proximity of a heretic to the throne would cause civil war, especially when you add the ambitions of the House of Guise, of which Mary is actually relate by her mother. That may seem far-fetched, except its exactly what happened, and likely millions died in the wars of religion.

    Then again, the entire Valois claim to the throne was based on the illegitimacy of a potentially bastard born child, so even if Sebastian was a real person, he would never have a claim and could never be a “Prince du Sang”

    I can honestly live with historical inaccuracies, but i cant deal with a french court full of English accents.

    • rae

      “would cause civil war”? Catherine’s three sons’ reigned in an age of almost constant civil and religious war in France. The French Wars of Religion (1562–98) is the name of a period of military operations and civil infighting, primarily fought between French Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots). The exact number of wars and their respective dates are the subject of continued debate by historians. Some to believe the Peace of Alais in 1629 is the actual conclusion.

    • Inga

      THANK YOU!!! I was wondering why the hell they all have “English” accents. They should, have accents related to where they’re from. Scotland, France, England, Portugal….geez

    • Inga

      THANK YOU!!! I was wondering why the hell they all have “English” accents. They should, have accents related to where they’re from. Scotland, France, England, Portugal….geez

    • Inga

      THANK YOU!!! I was wondering why the hell they all have “English” accents. They should, have accents related to where they’re from. Scotland, France, England, Portugal….geez

    • Inga

      THANK YOU!!! I was wondering why the hell they all have “English” accents. They should, have accents related to where they’re from. Scotland, France, England, Portugal….geez

  • Sabrina

    Although you blog is well written and has some great points, some of it is incorrect.
    When the Pope did not allow Henry to divorce Catherine of Aragon, he seperated himself from the Church of England so that a divorce would be possible. After Anne’s beheading, Elizabeth was thereafter known as illegitimate, but not for long as Jane Seymour ensured that both Mary and Elizabeth were legitimised in the Tudor name, hence why they were both able to rule.
    Henry II of France had 3 illegitimate children however none by a Diane.
    Despite that though, the show is excellent in the many other aspects of history and fiction, whilst understandably adding a few extra details to capture the viewers in the plot.
    The show itself is excellent but of course that is subjective. Ifyou are looking for a more historically accurate show, perhaps The Tudors is the show for you.

  • Andy Addams

    Actually, the main “problem” is the plot, which has been almost completely fictionalized, with the exception of a few historical key-points (the marriage with Francis II, for instance).

    But, the character “Mary Stuart” is actually pretty acurate: Mary has been historically depicted as the tragic romantic heroin. In almost every adaptation, Mary is always represented as a gentle, kind-hearted, beautiful young lady who’s a victim of circumstances. Rather than being evil, she’s seen as “misguided” or simply “naively irresponsible”. In this sense, she was well depicted. Plus, historians argue Mary and Francis were indeed in love and had a short but happy marriage.

  • Lee

    Not to mention Mary and Francis were 14 when they were married, not “hot 20-somethings.”

    The Tudors is historically f-ed up, too. Henry VIII was a fat, bloated boil-covered blob when he died.

    BUT…I think the main thing here is people need to read about these people, if they are interested, and not use these types of Hollywood-ed stories as historical reference or fact. Read legitimate histories, don’t rely on TV histo-dramas for real education.

  • Henry

    I’m watching and somewhat enjoying the show. But this Sebastian character was getting to me. Something didn’t seem right. Now I know why. Oh well, thanks for this write-up.

  • Sarah

    I finished binging The Tudors and came across this show. What a stark contrast! HOWEVER, if you know the REAL history, Reign can be fun TV even if it’s not accurate whatsoever.

  • julie

    Reign is more than inaccurate. It is mega fantasy. That Francis drives away the Vatican because he wished to help the Protestants? And all because, like an American average joe in 2016, he wishes to do what his wife says, or she won’t let him have a roll in the hay???

  • April

    In all honesty I never knew who Mary, Queen of Scots was before this show. I was so interested in it I started reading and watching biographies over her, then Queen Elizabeth, and even Catherine de Medici. So just because this fictional show is mostly all made up, doesn’t mean it’s terrible. It made me more interested in the REAL history behind it.

    • Annette Walker

      I agree 100percent. The show has made me so aware of how interesting these times are.I couldn’t wait till Reign came on and now I watch Victoria and Henry viii wives. Even watching Mercy Street. Keep it up the CW and WFYI.

    • Allison Mercy

      U just spoke my mind. I was never a fan of history until I started seeing the series, reign. After d second season and intrigued by the plot, I had to find out what really happened. From the materials I read, the character of Queen Mary was properly depicted and even though some of the storyline was embellished ( especially where Henry killed his father during the competition in place of Montgomery), I still find it intriguing cos it piques ones intrest in history.

  • Sonja

    I have only recently discovered the series Reign and enjoy it very much. Watching the tv series has made me more interested in the history of both France and England. While I understand that the tv series is fictional, it has enough intrigue and history to cause someone, like me, to investigate further into history.

    I am enjoying all the comments and the research they are causing me to do.

  • Rachel Kane

    Ok so you’re talking about Anne Boleyn but she married Henry the 8th not Henry the 2nd before you go judging a show make sure you judge it accurately. I agree with everything else though.

  • Mellow

    I look at it more as a historical fiction (which I love.) Basically historical fiction take real history and weave fiction into it. It’s lovely. I love the show despite the inaccuracies. It’s a story, that is all.

    • Koi

      Very true, it is definately historical fiction.

      I keep needing to look up which details are real and which are not. I despise their treatment of the pagans, not the very accurate way the ruling class dealt with them, but rather how the writers handled their beliefs.

      But even so that wasnt my gripe here. My gripe is this blogger objecting to Nostrodomus. He did indeed advise the court. And sure he was older, but his wording was always as vague as they believe. In the case of his time at the french court his prophecy that springs to mind is rather about the death of a king.
      I cannot recall the exact wording, but it was not really all that vague nor did it require a lot of reaching to understand.

      The young lion shall meet the old on feild of battle and in cage of gold the old lion is slain.

      The prince and the king met on the jousting feild. Though the joust was not serious the lance of the prince broke and a splinter flew into the visor, the golden cage, and pierced the king through his eye. He died.

      Admittedly its been a long time since I studied him, but this one always stuck out. It was fulfilled in about a week, and dismissed as the king and his son had no reason to fight.

  • Vivian H. Schrijver

    Loved this entry! But not for the reasons you think I do.
    I love history! Yet, I really like this show and enjoy binge watching it.
    Yes.. the story stirrs from true facts but get tangled in fantasy. Why not enjoying it? Its still a good story.

    What I like of these shows? Some people (like me), will actually have their curiosity awaken and will try to Google the actual historical facts!
    You say you’re a teacher? Why not using these type of shows to your advantage? Make your students watch it, research and write essays comparing fiction with truth. I’m sure some might actually enjoy that way of learning 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *