Royal History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley – Episode 1: The Reformation Review

Lucy Worsley appears often on our TV screens nowadays and is always a delight to watch, with her two previous Fibs series (British History’s Biggest Fibs and American History’s Biggest Fibs) being very popular. Her latest addition to this aired on Tuesday 18th February on BBC Four and looked at the biggest fibs surrounding the royals, starting with the Reformation.

Worsley starts by suggesting that the Reformation has been seen in recent years as a sideshow to Henry VIII’s love life, which is probably true, at least in regards to the way the public view it. She quickly looks at Martin Luther and his theses, before moving on to what the audience is perhaps most interested in, that being Henry VIII himself.

Henry was not a Protestant, Worsley wants to stress, but was a Catholic until he died. I personally beg to differ, he may not have been a full Protestant but, as one of my tutors once drilled into my class, you cannot be a Catholic without the Pope.

As with most of these documentaries, a variety of other historians make an appearance throughout this episode. The most recognisable is Suzannah Lipscomb, who suggests that Henry’s ideas about the Pope and him not having authority in England probably wouldn’t have come about without Anne presenting these new ideas to him.


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Suzannah Lipscomb discussing Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn


We also see Diarmaid MacCulloch, who has fairly recently released a biography on Thomas Cromwell and admits to admiring him. He explains that this is due to how he was able to do what the King wanted and yet take it a step further and further his own ideas at the same time.


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Diarmaid MacCulloch discussing Thomas Cromwell


Jessie Childs is another historian who makes an appearance, mostly known for her excellent book God’s Traitors. She talks about religion in Elizabeth I’s reign and how she was forced to act against the Catholics in her country.


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Jessie Childs discussing Elizabeth I and religion


She talks about the idea of kings being emperors and England being an empire, with Thomas Cromwell using The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth as his inspiration for this. There is quite an in-depth discussion about this, as well as the Act in Restraint of Appeals, the Act of Supremacy and Act of the Six Articles. Due to this, I am not sure who this documentary is really aimed at, as it seems more intellectual than some of Worsley’s other shows, but still interesting none the less.

Of course, Worsley cannot resist dressing up, first dressing as Martin Luther and later as Nicholas Sander’s version of Anne Boleyn (six fingers and all). Thankfully, she does inform us that this is unlikely to be true, especially as he was writing years after her death and was a firm Catholic.


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Worsley as Nicholas Sander’s version of Anne Boleyn


One part that particularly interested me, partly perhaps because I am going to see it next month, was when Worsley went to see Six the Musical and talked about its influence and how it may be making history more accessible to the general public. Unsurprisingly, Anne Boleyn has been found to be the most popular wife there.


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Six the Musical


I wish there had been less on Brexit, as it seems to be everywhere right now. Worsley cannot help but mention Brexit in connection with Henry also being isolated in Europe and pointing out the similarities between the two situations.

All in all, it was an interesting episode and I will be watching the next one on the Spanish Armada, however, it seems a little confused in its audience. At first glance, it seems to be geared towards the general public and those new to history, yet some of the terms and religious concepts used beg to differ. As usual, Lucy Worsley was engaging and did her best, even with a cold and losing her voice (as it sounded in one of the segments), but this topic was perhaps better suited to someone else.

Rating: 3/5 stars

(All pictures taken from BBC iPlayer)


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