Review: The Spanish Princess Episode 3: “An Audacious Plan”

“An Audacious Plan” begins with a familiar sight – Prince Henry escorting the Infanta into a church. This time it’s a somber affair. Prince Arthur has died, and our protagonist must don the grim black of a widow.

Or, well, it’s supposed to be a somber affair – the English are quite proud of their “stiff upper lips,” after all – but here the dignified silence is broken by the sound of Catherine’s Spanish ladies-in-waiting, Lina and Rosa, wailing – ululating even – in what is, apparently, the Spanish fashion. The Queen Mother is horrified. Everyone else is bemused.

If there is some historical record saying this happened, it’s a super cool little detail. If, as I suspect, this is a creation of our showrunners, I really do wonder what they were thinking. The outburst served no narrative purpose, didn’t develop our characters, and was generally distracting. Rosa may be a bit naive, but Lina has shown herself to be a shrewd operator who knows what’s happening and where she stands. Perhaps she inherited this pragmatism from her parents who (as she reveals to Oviedo), were Moors who converted to Christianity in the waning days of the Reconquista.

So why did she decide to make a fool out of herself? It’s out of character. We know she thinks Spain is better. We know she thinks England is a damp dump. But doesn’t she also have a pretty good read on the English by now? The Lina we’ve been introduced to in Episodes 1 and 2 would not be so tone deaf as to think that the Tudor clan wants to hear her yipping like a coyote. Oviedo observes that the English “don’t know how to grieve.”

Personally, I find it a little off-putting that the Spaniards are such classic transplants. As far as I know, they’re planning to be in England for the long haul, but nary a single Spaniard has had a nice thing to say about England and the English way of life. I get that England in 1503 might be a backwater compared to the city-states of Italy and the other metropolitan cities of Renaissance Europe, but certainly there’s something to like? Isn’t there some latent exoticism at work here? Do the showrunners really believe Spain is that much better? If this was a Spanish show about an English princess in Spain – and those showrunners had the same mindset – I suspect that far-off England would be portrayed as the land of Magna Carta, the common law, and independence, while Spain would be receiving the less generous treatment. I think I’m saying that the showrunners seem to have the idea that different is always better, familiar is always vulgar.

After the funeral, Catherine wastes no time plotting a course into Henry’s marital bed. The young man is already predisposed to it. This is, after all, the two lovebirds who traded love letters across the seas. Personally, I think the future couple has a lot of chemistry, so credit to the showrunners on that.

Everyone is waiting around to find out in Catherine has had her “courses” – i.e., her period, but, when it does come, Catherine tosses the evidence into the fire and deflects the Queen Mother’s questions about her status. Instead, she hatches a scheme to sell herself as a virgin widow. Not a “born-again” virgin, but a genuine “we-never-consumated” widow – i.e., not really a widow at all. Lina and Lady Pole are the two witnesses who heard the sounds of consummation coming from the royal bedchamber.

Lina is dubious that such a madcap scheme has any chance of success. “You were heard,” she says. But Catherine presses on, telling herself – and the rest of us – that she was sent by God to marry the future King of England. If at first you don’t marry a king, try, try again. It’s important to remember, in the context of the show, we have absolutely no doubt that the Infanta is lying. In real life? Who knows. Granted, the idea that a young, ostensibly healthy couple, cognizant to their duties as noble scions, would not consummate their marriage is hard to believe. We’ll never know for sure what happened in real life, but the show’s version of events is as probable as any.

It’s easy to get Lina on board with the “like-a-virgin” scheme to marry Henry, but Lady Pole is a tougher nut to crack. She knows what she’s heard – and she’s right – but a little gaslighting ought to do the trick. Catherine explains that, yes, you heard sounds of pleasure, but Arthur was…unable…to seal the deal. She was trying to be a dutiful wife but, without the act, she was never married at all, the eyes of the Catholic Church and God.

Lady Pole doesn’t really buy the yarn the Infanta is spinning, but she doesn’t care much either. Arthur was like a son to her. It can’t be easy to bear false witness against your favorite nephew, especially when you’re being asked to support the lie that was impotent. Arthur told her he’d consummated his new marriage, after all. Her main concern is the safety of her family. At the funeral, her husband clearly fears some Tudor agent poisoning their children, and they watch with horror as the children are offered a treat by a Tudor retainer. As Lady Pole says, she’ll say whatever she must in order survive. How else would she have survived in the Tudor viper’s next, a land in which questions are not asked, but where information is extracted.

To be fair, it’s a tough time for the Tudors. Losing a son to the sweating sickness. Losing (soon) a daughter to the gnarled old Scottish monarch. There are also political threats. Not just Scottish thuggery at the porous northern border. Speaking of vipers, the duplicitous French are reportedly gathering an army with which to threaten Henry VII’s fledgling dynasty.

To top it off, the Queen is pregnant. She’s getting ready to go into her confinement, but it’s a doomed pregnancy. With her family by her side, she dies, but not before seeing specters of her executed brother and others. She insists to Henry VII that Catherine cannot be allowed to marry Catherine. She whispers something horrifying into the king’s ear as she dies.

As for Henry and Catherine, they both know they must obtain a papal dispensation. Catherine also knows she has to make sure to “set the hook” of Henry’s affections. To that end, she goads him into sword fighting where she holds her own, thanks to Queen Isabella’s training.

This all felt a bit silly to me. Not because a woman can’t wield a sword. Not because I share Prince Henry’s views on the role of women. But because we’ve never seen anything at all to suggest this is a skill Catherine would have learnt, let alone something she’d be passably competent with. Where did this come from?

Here’s one unabashedly positive thing I can say about this show: it has some very good cinematography – there are some beautiful shots through the episode, playing with light and vantage point. Many of them were so good they jumped out at me as they slid onto the screen.

Bottom-line: 5/10 – this show is beautiful at times, and reasonably well-acted, but there’s just something forced and hokey about the writing that takes me right out of 1503.

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