Inaccuracies in Wolf Hall that Drive Historians Mad

The BBC’s television series adaptation of Wolf Hall, based on the Hilary Mantel book series of the same name, was met with mixed critical and viewer reactions. Some critics praised the serious atmosphere of the show, which seemed to match the very descriptive world featured in Mantel’s writing; while others criticized the show for being too long, too boring and—in some cases—just to inaccurate. Many Tudor historians and viewers with knowledge of the era were particularly frustrated with some of the inaccuracies in the show, including the inaccuracies listed below.

Thomas Moore is depicted as a “stereotypical” Tudor family man

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In the show, Thomas More is characterized as the stereotypical male head of a Tudor household, who held his son (John) above his three daughters, Cecily, Elizabeth and Margaret. In the show, he treats them with less friendliness and consideration than he does his son, and on several occasions reminds them that they are females and there found bound by “God’s law” to be lower than men.

In reality, however, Thomas More was an incredibly forward thinker when it came to the treatment of his daughters and his wife. For example, more ensured that his daughters received the same type of education as his son—meaning they were taught in Greek and Latin (considered political and therefore “male” languages) as well as science and mathematics. He was also well known as a loving and affectionate father, particularly to his three daughters.

The tapestries and other decorative objects are faded and dull

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In the show, the magnificent tapestries, paintings and other decorative objects filling the homes and castles of the elite are all fairly drab and faded. This adds to the overall dark and even bleak look to the show. Some of the decorative objects in the show are contemporary—meaning from Tudor times—while others are modern reproductions; all, however, have the same dull look.

In reality, these decorations would have been vibrantly colored. The court of Henry VIII in particular was well known for being bright and colorful, as the king had the means to order the very best in tapestries and other decorations. The show’s frontrunner admitted that the dull decorations were a deliberate choice because “audiences would be used to seeing them faded.”

Cromwell frequently extracted confessions under torture

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The show’s version of Thomas Cromwell is perhaps its most criticized element, since the show takes great pains to depict Cromwell as a misunderstood, somewhat soft-hearted and even modern man who is pushed into doing things on occasion. In the show, for example, Cromwell is shown to be horrified at the idea of a confession being gotten under torture—but in reality, torture was commonly used to get confessions and Cromwell himself ordered it employed during his “investigation” of the supposed misdeeds of Anne Boleyn. This is just one example of the show choosing to gloss over the actions of the real Cromwell in order to make him more “good” on the show.

 

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