The Spanish Princess: Season One (2019) 

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

Based on the novel The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory, the first season of the Starz series poses the question, what if Catherine of Aragon lied about everything?

King Henry VII (Elliot Cowan) is desperate to secure his throne, so he arranges a marriage between his dutiful but bland son Arthur (Angus Imrie) with the fiery Spanish princess, Catherine of Aragon (Charlotte Hope). Upon her arrival, the idealistic young maiden discovers the love letters she has been mulling over from Arthur all these years actually were written by his passionate younger brother, Harry (Ruari O'Connor). Furious at this turn of events, she enters into her marriage full of determination to make this work and quickly bear an heir.

Disaster, however, soon strikes -- Arthur dies of the sweating sickness, leaving her without purpose in England. She has not won friends with her forward, aggressive behavior, either. The king's mother, the formidable Margaret Beaufort (Harriet Walter), believes her a "schemer in a skirt." Refusing to return to Spain and marry someone else, Catherine sets her sights on Prince Harry. She will marry him, re-forge the alliance between their two nations, and fulfill her desire to be the future Queen of England. But to do that, she has to lie about what happened with Prince Arthur in those long, cold nights in his bed. And, she must convince others to lie on her behalf, as well.

By now, readers of this website should know that I'm a Tudor fanatic. I write novels about them, I read history books about them, I blog about them, and I view any new series about them with skepticism. But, I am objective enough to realize not everyone holds the same views as I do, so I will say The Spanish Princess is beautifully acted, quite pretty to look at (even if the costumes aren't really accurate), and does have moving moments. The show almost completely rests on the shoulders of Harriet Walters, whose fierce Margaret Beaufort is both enjoyable to watch and amusing in her overall cynicism and hypocrisy. It's also nice to see representation for the Moors in England at the time. Catalina (Stephanie Levi-John) is a fabulous character in her own right, even if her storyline isn't exactly plausible... and that's where the flaws start.

Putting aside the raging historical inaccuracies (of which there are many), the series suffers from whiplash. Characters change their minds and flounder around for no real reason, all to motivate the plot, rather than the plot carrying them with it. They make ridiculous, irrational decisions. Kings, queens, princesses, and their maids wander around unescorted through London streets. There's talk of sending Prince Harry to Spain to marry a princess. The writers fail to understand the mindset of the time, both in terms of agency (believing you needed to fall in love, and had a choice of whom you marry is a very modern approach) and in religious beliefs (Catherine repeatedly lies about the consummation, Catalina lectures another girl on premarital sex only to engage in fondling a Muslim man; there is even a tolerant, multi-religious wedding ceremony, which never would have happened in the 1500s).

It's enjoyable to see a young, beautiful, and auburn-haired Catherine on-screen for once, and I appreciate the story is not all about Anne Boleyn (although a child version of her does appear at one point), but the irrational motivations behind a lot of the characters' decisions, the downright unlikable behaviors of most of the characters, and the continued maligning of Margaret Beaufort (an incredible woman in her own right, but whom always winds up the villain in the Gregory-based series) make it hard to enjoy.

Sexual Content
Several sex scenes that include backside nudity (one of them in a brothel, a woman sees a couple against a wall); several scenes of female breast nudity (Catherine is shown naked in a bath twice; Arthur removes her nightdress, they lay in bed and chat naked to the waist the next morning). Implications of a man and woman seducing each other (off-screen); a woman falls pregnant outside of wedlock; a couple fondle / pleasure each other twice (the camera lingers on their pleasured faces and heavy breathing).
 
Language:
During a boxed execution, the man on the block screams the f-word several times.
 
Violence:
A man is almost hanged; people die of the sweat; a man is crushed beneath a wagon; a man coughs up blood and dies in the bath; a man is beheaded, but the ax-man buries the ax in his back instead -- another man grabs up the ax and quickly finishes him.

Other:
Drinking. Tons of inaccuracies. Religious hypocrisy.