My entire life has been waiting for this moment when I would get to write about Elizabeth I and share my many, many opinions on her. And via a show that’s not historically shoddy nonsense (I’m looking at you, Philippa Gregory). So WELCOME TO THE TUDOR TEENS. The show where we see what Henry VIII’s legitimate or semi-legitimate children got up to immediately after his death. Okay, Mary was over 30 (Mary: “I was 31!”) and Edward was 9, but Elizabeth was 13, and we’re going with it.
It was a bonkers time. Henry VIII told the pope, “I’m the pope now,” dissolved all the monasteries (for their GOLD), spent most of that gold, disinherited and reinherited his children multiple times. Then he dies and who knows what’s what, especially because the first inheritor of the throne is his son Edward, who, as mentioned, is 9. Who’s looking after him? The SEYMOURS. Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour, former lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth’s mother (look, everyone is going to be related, and everything is going to be weird), died soon after Edward was born, and her provision of a son kept her family popular with Henry. So that’s why the Seymour boys are there.
Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset (a title he created for himself), is going to be called “Somerset” because I’m not calling Edward VI “Boy Edward,” however fun that might be. Thomas Seymour is just going to be “Thomas” so he can continue to be slighted in life. What a dick. There are a lot of people thrown at you in this first episode, but it’s all going to become clear, so just go with not being super sure who any random bearded man is. And now — the show!
JANUARY, 1547. Henry VIII is dead, Catherine Parr immediately gets to banging Thomas Seymour, and Somerset gathers the three royal heirs together so no one gets any funny ideas about Edward not being crowned. At this point in time, Edward and Elizabeth are close. Mary and Edward are also close! But Mary … is Mary. I dunno, maybe if your mom had been tossed aside and left to die in a swampy castle and your asshole of a father nationally trampled on your religion, you would also be a little bitter.
Catherine Parr, the last of Henry’s wives, was in love with Thomas Seymour before marrying Henry. As she wrote to him after Henry’s death, “my mind was fully bent the other time I was at liberty to marry you before any man I knew.” And now it’s just immediate sexy sex times for Catherine and Thomas. As much as Thomas is a human turd, they have excellent chemistry. A queen getting together with anyone immediately after a king dies was frowned on for many reasons, but the most pressing one was that if she were pregnant, it would be impossible to know who the father was. Catherine says there’s no way she can be pregnant, but how is the COUNTRY to know that, Catherine!
Catherine and Thomas here are like the sexy, scheming couple that would have some kind of home renovation show or lifestyle brand today. While this does not seem in character for historical Catherine, I do not care, because it is fun. She gets Elizabeth to live with her as “a pawn in the game,” and now we have the Inappropriate Boundaries household because Catherine and Thomas are going to get married (38-year-old Thomas definitely proposed to 13-year-old Elizabeth before he married Catherine, by the way — he is trash).
Thomas wants power. That’s his whole thing. A complicated man? No. Just an asshole. So when he goes to Edward’s council at court and finds out his brother has had himself elected Lord Protector, he goes off about how they’re both Edward’s uncles, so who put Somerset in charge? Somerset tells him to calm down outside, and when Thomas leaves, Henry Grey asks what the fuck is going on, but no one tells him because Henry Grey sucks (Henry is the father of Lady Jane Grey, who we can all feel sorry for).
Elizabeth comes to the Parr household with her longtime servant Kat Ashley. Elizabeth meets Thomas when he is very drunk, and she’s immediately like, “Who’s this fascinating man who breaks all the rules?” Classic teen response. Now would be a good time to say they’ve aesthetically aged Elizabeth up to 16 or 17, so this is all microscopically less horrifying than it could be. The next morning, he’s asleep on a window seat, whereupon he starts getting ready to vom, and Catherine chases him down the hall shouting, “Don’t you dare” (damnit, I really like them). She tells him to stop flirting with Elizabeth, and they both laugh. Don’t laugh, Catherine; it’s not fake! Why can’t she HEAR me from almost 500 years in the future?
At court, Somerset wants Edward to marry Mary, Queen of Scots (ugh, her), but since Scotland wants Mary to marry the King of France, Somerset will wage war on them. Sure. This does make sense. A Scottish-French alliance would suck for England since France has money and Scotland is right there. Somerset goes and does fighting, but the Scottish sneak Mary out, and she marries the King of France. And that’s the last we ever hear from Mary, Queen of Scots — haha jk, she comes back later to fail at ruling.
While Somerset is gone, Thomas and Catherine get married. Their marriage is done in secret because it’s technically treasonous to get married without royal consent (oopsie!), but Catherine is pretty sure if they don’t do it, she’ll be forced into a politically advantageous match, and she just wants her fourth marriage to be a nice one, y’know? (Oh, Catherine. It will not be.) She bribes the officiant, and they’re married.
Elizabeth doesn’t know of the Secret Wedding, and so she’s over here trying to figure out how to get Thomas to marry her. This is classic early teenage Elizabeth. Before she got WILY. But back at court, Catherine pulls Edward aside to tell him, and Elizabeth realizes what’s happened. She is heartbroken the way you are in your early teens when you don’t realize how truly terrible this thing would have been if you’d gotten it. Also, she’s sad about her father dying! Really sad! So this is all wrapped up in that.
Thomas gets made Lord High Admiral, but that means nothing to him. That title is meaningless garbage, as far as he’s concerned. He and Somerset are FOES. And now Thomas is on a path toward ousting his brother. Those Seymours.
Part of this path involves taking Lady Jane Grey into Catherine and Thomas’s household. Elizabeth sees Jane, and she is furious, partially because Jane very bluntly talks about how Elizabeth and Mary could be found illegitimate. Not in a mean way. Jane just doesn’t have the absolute best social skills. Elizabeth might have been brought there as a pawn, but Jane is the actual pawn here, and that’s how her life will remain. Which is a giant bummer because as brilliant as Elizabeth was with her knowledge of seven languages, Jane Grey was supposed to be an even more brilliant scholar or at least one more dedicated to her studies. Stupid sexism.
When Elizabeth storms into Catherine’s room to complain about Jane’s presence, Thomas is there, which immediately makes her back down. He asks Catherine for a moment, and she goes into the hallway. THEN Thomas basically says he wanted to marry Elizabeth, but he ended up having to choose Catherine. Boooooooooo. Elizabeth almost kisses him, but he dodges at the last moment and asks what they’re going to do.
AGH. This whole situation. Terrible. She’s thirteen! And Edward’s already exhibiting some worrisome behavior of the tyrannical kind. If only we could be assured that one of the greatest monarchs of all time was waiting in the wings, ready to take on the leadership of this country in turmoil, perhaps after being put through some character-molding situations in her early teens. IF ONLY.