By Danielle Breton
As a lover of medieval television shows and movies as well as history, I have watched a good amount of shows set in this time period and wondered how historically accurate they are. Being a lover of history as well, I have been able to recognize some inaccuracies in the shows I watch. The reason a lot of shows seem to add inaccurate details is because it adds drama. Audiences loves drama and adding drama to shows makes them stay on the air.
One show that I have watched recently is called “Reign” and it takes place during the reign of Mary Queen of Scots in mid-1500s. This is overall an excellent show in my opinion, but there are a quite a few historical details that are off. The first major detail I noticed after doing some research is about Mary’s husband, Francis. In the show, he is a handsome, strong young man who is healthy. According to historical accounts, Francis was described as being abnormally short and having a stutter. He was believed to have a disease called cryptorchidism that caused him to have these abnormalities.
In the show when Francis dies, it’s because of head trauma when he was trying to save Mary from assassins. In December of 1650, the real Francis died at only the age of 16 due to a severe ear infection.
Another example of how this show is historically inaccurate is the reason for when Catherine (the queen of France) murdered Diane de Poitiers for killing her infant twin daughters. “Historically this is not true: Diane died in 1566 after living comfortably in a château because she was banished from French Court by Catherine. It is thought that she died by accident due to an unintentional poisoning because she regularly ingested drinkable gold which she thought would preserve her youth.”
There’s no better way to accurately talk about the show’s accuracy and inaccuracies than the characters themselves actually talking about it. The way that Anna Popplewell describes the show and its accuracy is very interesting. “I’ve found that it’s very easy to cling to research and get caught up in the accuracy of things. With Reign, it’s about exploring these wild characters in hypothetical situations.” It’s true that people get caught up in the accuracy of shows today versus how life actually was back then. Some accuracy does line up with real life, however. The majority of the show and the main parts of the show are true, but it’s certain situations and characters that get expanded and twisted to make the show more dramatic and enjoyable. For instance, Mary does marry Francis in the show and in real life to become queen and king.
Another show that I have watched but not as much as “Reign” is “Game of Thrones”. “Game of Thrones” is one of the most popular shows on television. While “Game of Thrones” isn’t all about being history, it takes place in England in the Fifteenth or Sixteenth century so that should mean all the historical elements should line up with the show. This is not the case, as there are several things that are different in the show from the real 1400’s and 1500’s in England. In the show, England is full of drab stone that is bare. In reality at this time in England, the stone walls were deemed “fabulous”. This was because most stone walls were painted like murals. Another example is that in the show the animals are huge. This was not the case in England at this time. Animals as a whole used to be a lot smaller because humans were not educated on what to feed animals or how to help them grow. Due to steroids and selective breeding, over the past three-hundred years or so, animals have gotten significantly larger. “Horses, which are a staple of the show, were considerably smaller back then compared to their contemporary counterparts. Experts analyzing horse armor have concluded that even the largest horses from history would only be considered average by today’s standards.”
A big part of “Game of Thrones” is all the sexual scenes, innuendos, and even violence. There is so much sex in the show, the word “sexposition” was created from this show. While sex and sexual violence did happen back then, women were treated fairly. In “Game of Thrones”, women are helpless. Criticism about this part of the show has been rampant because of the women being helpless. This is not historically accurate either. In “Game of Thrones”, if a rape occurs nothing happens. Back in this time period, rape could be punished by castration, whipping, or even death.
One more example that I actually found a little humorous is that in the show the characters are always filthy. This was not the case in real life back then. A way that the producers make it seem like this show takes place long ago is by making the characters dirty because modern day showers and baths were not invented yet. Realistically, hygiene was much more advanced than it is in “Game of Thrones”. People in England had access to soap and even forms of toothpaste. “A rotten tooth meant you’d need to have it pulled out without anaesthetic, which we’re guessing was a pretty good motivator to keep them clean.” Yikes!
It’s easy to get caught up in researching how historically accurate medieval television shows are, but it’s important to keep it in perspective. If shows were one hundred percent accurate, they wouldn’t be as entertaining. Drama and entertainment have to be added in order for viewers to enjoy it and continue to watch. Therefore, inaccuracies should generally be overlooked. Don’t get it twisted, medieval shows are accurate for the most part. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be deemed medieval shows. However, there are many things that are added to make the shows better. Clearly it works, as “Game of Thrones” garnered 25.1 MILLION viewers in its sixth season. That’s what you call success.