A fascinating part of history has always been the inner lives of the monarchy. Royal families bestowed with power and control have influenced history over the centuries, and have always captured our attention to see these figures as real people. Not just portrait paintings we see in our galleries or names in our history books. Even in the modern age, the monarchies continue to fascinate us, with countries going into a frenzy whenever a royal wedding, birth or drama hits. These television shows may not always be historically correct, but watching the politics of their time and their inner personalities come to life on the small screen with action, romance, lavish costumes and extraordinary sets is non stop entertainment.
Costing Netflix over $100 million to make, the narrative of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign (played by Clair Foy and Olivia Colman) has captured a lot of attention and love over the past few years. We know the stories of Henry VII and Queen Victoria, but our current queen’s history hasn’t always been so well known until this show shed its light on the obstacles Queen Elizabeth has had to face over the years. Beginning just before Elizabeth’s marriage to Prince Philip (Matt Smith and Tobias Menzies), Elizabeth is suddenly forced to take the throne after the unexpected death of her father, King George VI in 1952. Foy as Elizabeth is extraordinary, carrying the legacy of Queen Elizabeth II with grace, poise, and rich emotions. As each season continues with the next stage of her, ageing the characters and bringing new historical stories, it examines the power of the monarchy and the difficulties Elizabeth faced throughout her reign. With fans eagerly awaiting the fourth season, with the inclusion of Margaret Thatcher and Lady Diana, we cannot wait to see what’s next in store for us with this magnificent series.
2. The Tudors
The Tudors was a four-season show, airing back in 2007, following Henry VII’s 40-year reign (1509-1547) of England. We all remember in school learning about the overweight, lustful, arrogant king and his six wives, but played by Jonathan Rhys Meryes, this character is far more than his renowned portraits. The performance is deep, invigorating and showcases the many turmoils the real Henry faced over his years as King. The show is enriched with power, conflict, heated emotions, war and love affairs that kept us glued to our seats, long before Game of Thrones came along. Speaking of Game of Thrones, actress Natalie Dormer is a stand out performance in the first two seasons of The Tudors playing Anne Boleyn, the infamous beautiful and cunning second wife of Henry VII and mother to Elizabeth I. The entire show is thrilling to watch and worth seeing to the end as this historic period of the Tudors is given the in-depth small screen adaptation it deserves.
Alongside the Tudors, another period in history we were thoroughly taught in our school years is the Victorians, led of course by Queen Victoria. A former companion of Doctor Who, Jenna Coleman, radiates as the young Queen, similarly to the Crown with Queen Elizabeth, Victoria is all about watching a young woman rise to the occasion as Queen of a mighty Empire. The show is tailored as a romantic drama, with most of the show dedicated to the growing passion and marriage Queen Victoria has with her husband Prince Albert (Tom Hughes) and the obstacles they face together. Though there is plenty of room for internal and external conflict the Queen faces with her own government, neighbouring countries, and life as a sovereign and mother. The show may not be as flashy as The Tudors, or high budget as the Crown, but Victoria is an insight into the woman who ruled Britain for 64 years. An underrated series, but a must-watch for sure.
It’s easy to get so wrapped up in the royal drama of the British monarchy, we forget what else is happening elsewhere in the world. While the English monarchy was facing its own problems in the 1660s, France was developing rapidly, with the Sun King Louis XIV (George Blagden) at the helm. The BBC series follows the young King at 28 years old when he decides to take his royal hunting lodge and turn it into the grand palace known as Versailles. He’s faced with hurdles, one after the other as many nobles and government officials try to stop his project for their own personal gain.
This is a show filled with noble disputes, everyone is backstabbing each other to get ahead and gain favour from the King. With endless poisoning, corrupt rumours and enemies are hidden in the palace, the show keeps you on its toes. With the majority of the show based in the future palace itself, the show’s setting is always full of dazzling ornate interior designs, beautiful baroque architecture, grand gardens, the show is always visually appealing. With the cast as well dressed in detailed, rich clothing and opulent jewels, everything about the show feels immersed in its setting. With three seasons, you’ll easily be hooked into the drama of the French court and notice the ever-looming foreshadowing of the French Revolution, coming just around the corner.
5. The Great
Sailing across Europe, we now reach the Russian Royal Family. The Great is a satirical comedy about the rise of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, longest-reigning female ruler of Russian history. The series focuses on Catherine in her youth, played by angelic Ella Fanning, and her plot to kill her husband Emperor Peter III, played by Nicholas Hoult.
The show is littered with comedic moments, one after another in ways that don’t take itself too seriously and explore unexpected laugh out loud moments, such as beards are banned under pain of death, dogs with parachutes thrown off balconies and every glass you see is smashed after being used. The overall look of the show is fashion-centric, with characters dressed in beautiful gowns and detailed embroidered jackets. The sets are equally gorgeous, with gold-covered rooms, ornate architecture and stunning chandeliers.
This show is one where you can laugh, be entertained and root for it’s leading character to murder her husband, take over his Kingdom and exceed everyone’s expectations.
6. The White Princess
Before she played the psychopathic assassin Villanelle in the hit show Killing Eve, Jodie Comer played Elizabeth of York in The White Princess. Taking place after the aftermath of Bosworth Field, where Richard III was defeated by Henry Tudor (Jacob Collins-Levy), the series follows Elizabeth, struggling with her new married life to Henry, though being in love with the late Richard III.
Based on the novels by Philippa Gregory. Elizabeth of York is a Queen that is not often remembered, though her role as Queen to the first Tudor King, and mother to the future infamous King Henry VIII, she was a strong-headed woman who found happiness in her otherwise horrific situation, as being married to her enemy. With its strong performances and rampant production, the show is an exploration into the ways royal women navigate through protocol and politics while balancing their desires, family obligations and the demands of palace regulations.
7. The White Queen
The predecessor of White Princess, the White Queen focuses on the reign of Elizabeth of York’s mother, Elizabeth Woodville, and her marriage to King Edward IV. The White Queen is set during the War of Roses, a historical feud between the Yorks and Lancasters for the throne of England, a feud that began the main inspiration for George R R Martin’s legendary series A Song of Ice and Fire.
Once again based on the novels by Philippa Gregory, the show follows three powerful women as they attempt manoeuvring through a violent war to get power on the throne. Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson), as Queen Consort to Edward IV of England, Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale) of the House of Lancaster and Anne Neville (Faye Marsay), queen consort of Richard III. The story of this show, along with the White Princess, is a sort of prequel for the Tudors, with Elizabeth Woodville as Henry VII’s grandmother, and Elizabeth of York as his mother.
8. The Spanish Princess
A lot of the shows on this list tell one greater story of the English monarchy, with the White Princess, White Queen and The Tudors all running along the same timeline. The same can be said for the Spanish Princess, which is a sequel to the White Queen, and White Princess. Once again based on Philippa Gregory’s growing novels on period fiction, the show follows a teenage Catherine of Aragon, an iron-willed princess of Spain.
The show has some dazzling costumes and gorgeous sets, accompanying great performances by Charlotte Hope as Catherine, and Alicia Borrachero as Queen Isabella of Castile. Catherine throughout the show ends up tangled in all kinds of Tudor affairs, as she tries to win the love of Henry VIII.
Reign is also based on the stories written by Philippa Gregory, a Queen herself of period fiction. Set during the 1500s in England, after the War of Roses and after the Tudors. Reign tells us the story of Mary, Queen of Scots, (Adelaide Kane) a Scottish monarch who was widely considered to be the legitimate heir to the Queen of England by Catholics, over her cousin, the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I of England. The show takes us into Queen Mary’s sovereign, and the challenges she faced to maintain her reign. The show concluded on its fourth season and had a lot of emphasis on fashion, love affairs and drama. Reign feels more like a teenage love story than a powerful drama, but it is still an entertaining show with a lot of historical references, an immersive setting and royal feuds.