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Have you ever wondered what the bygone European royals really looked like? I watch tons of shows based on the history of Europe. Heck, who doesn’t? Shows ranging from Da Vinci’s Demons to Tudors have become so popular that they are popping them out left and right! Even the CW has created their own historical fiction of Mary Queen of Scots and her marriage to King Francis II of France with Reign. And of course, there is an enormous number of films inspired by the likes of Marie Antoinette, Georgiana of Devonshire, and the Tudor family tree. What I wanted to do was create a side by side comparison of these TV and film characters with their real-life counterparts. Some were pretty close, others not so much.

What Did the Tudors Really Look Like?

Let’s start with one of the most infamous royal families. The Tudor Kings and Queens are some of the most talked about royals in history due in part to King Henry the 8th and his notorious string of wives. The Tudor family tree didn’t last long after King Henry the 8th of course. When Elizabeth I, his daughter, died without an heir the Scottish House of Stuart then became England’s royal family. Want to rehash that part of history? You can watch the Tudors online thru Netflix.

What Did the Tudors Really Look Like

King Henry the 8th

Previously, I thought they had made King Henry the 8th in the show more handsome than he really was. However, the portrait of Henry VIII above, the one we all know, is from his later years. He was actually mentioned as being handsome in historical records. So, this Jonathan Rhys Meyers portrayal from The Tudors may be more correct than I formerly thought. If you’re a fan of the series, you may want to check out some of their filming locations in Dublin.

What Did the Tudors Really Look Like

Anne Boleyn

Over the centuries, Anne has inspired and been mentioned in numerous artistic and cultural works. Noted for her meteoric rise as one of King Henry VIII’s wives. I think The Tudors did a fairly good job in casting and with the wardrobe. They even included Anne’s ‘B’ necklace which she often wore. In my humble opinion, Natalie Dormer did a fabulous job creating a fascinating character for The Tudors. She was critically praised for her performance and won two Gemini Awards. If you want to learn more about Anne Boleyn, you can visit her childhood home in England. It also houses some of the love letters between her and King Henry the 8th.

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Elizabeth the 1st

Elizabeth the 1st

Anne’s and King Henry’s daughter Elizabeth is very well-known for her look, so I don’t think they could have steered too far with it without some repercussions. Her death and lack of heirs ended Henry the 8th’s family tree. I can’t imagine it was a very happy life for her as a Tudor child with her own Mother being sentenced to death by her Father. The 1998 film, The Virgin Queen, starring Cate Blanchett is pictured above. It was also written by Michael Hirst who wrote The Tudors.

What Did the Other European Royals Really Look Like?

Though the Tudor Family Tree is well known, I wanted to touch on what some other European royals really looked like as well. How do these real-life images compare to the historical fiction films and tv shows we know and love? Some, like King Francis II of France, had their lives cut too short by disease, others lost their head to the guillotine. None the less, we watch and enjoy them all!

Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette

Kirsten Dunst just doesn’t have a timeless look in my opinion. Even the fantastic Marie Antoinette fashion couldn’t save this film. It was more like watching Kirsten playing dress up in a Marie Antoinette costume, not her actually being Marie Antoinette. Winning the Academy Award for Best Costume Design as it should, as it was the best part of the film. I visited the fabulous Palace of Versailles, unfortunately, none of her gowns or dresses were there when I visited, but I have heard they have some on display now!

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cw reign

Mary Queen of Scots

Another one way off, though Mary is pretty in the real picture as well as the CW Reign TV show she appears to have reddish hair and is a lot more conservative than the CW incarnation. I do have to say Adelaide Kane does a good job of playing her. She added a lot of depth to an otherwise light show. One of the most incredible castles in Scotland you can visit is Stirling Castle where Mary Queen of Scots resided.

King Francis II of France

King Francis II of France

Sorry King Francis II of France, but the CW Reign’s Francis is more handsome. TV Francis never looks like the real Francis on the show. Though, poor real-life Francis’ health was never great. King Francis II of France died after only 17 months on the throne from an ear condition. Leaving no children between him and Mary Queen of Scots. A reviewer of The A.V. Club described the show as “an alternate-universe fan fiction than anything pretending to approach history.”

White Queen TV show

Edward IV of England and Elizabeth Woodville

Honestly, I didn’t know much about the story of Edward IV of England and Elizabeth Woodville until the White Queen TV show. The show was pretty good, but the similarities fall short. Neither one really looks anything like their real-life counterpart. Historical inaccuracies within the series received attention, especially in the costumes and locations used. In response to criticisms, Philippa Gregory whose historical novel the series was based on said “What [BBC One and Starz] wanted was not a historical series based on the documents from the War of the Roses. They wanted my take on it, so that’s what they got.” So I’m willing to give this one a break.

Georgiana of Devonshire

Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire

Georgiana of Devonshire was known as an English socialite, political organizer, style icon, author, and activist. In my opinion, one of the best for our what did European royals really look like comparison. The costume department was spot on with this! So it’s no surprise the film received the Academy Award for Best Costume Design in 2009. The 2008 film The Duchess was made based on Amanda Foreman’s biography of the late 18th-century English aristocrat Georgiana of Devonshire.

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King George VI

King George VI

Colin Firth did a splendid job of playing King George, so with that, I don’t care if he doesn’t totally look like him, he embodied him. The King’s Speech received widespread critical acclaim, with Firth’s performance receiving universal praise.

Other Historically Famous Faces

da vinci's demons

Leonardo Da Vinci

Okay, Da Vinci’s not royalty, but he might as well be. His work is more well-known than most of the history of Europe itself. I couldn’t find a young picture of Da Vinci, but I think they got the facial features right. Course, Leonardo Da Vinci in the TV show has to be handsome. Guess we’ll never know if real Da Vinci looked like that at 20 something. As there are no historical records of his time as a youth, the show was basically guessing on what he did during those years.

shakespeare in love

William Shakespeare

This movie was so far off that I can’t even call it historical fiction. The life and works of Shakespeare are so well known it would hard to get this one past anyone. The movie Shakespeare in Love was entertaining, but I don’t think it reflected anything true about Shakespeare. The film is “not constrained by worries about literary or historical accuracy” and includes inaccuracies such as a reference to the Virginia tobacco plantations, at a time before the Colony of Virginia even existed. However, I do believe Joseph Fiennes did the best he could with the role.

the borgias

Pope Alexander VI

Another far out representation. Jeremy Irons, father of Max Irons (who portrayed Edward IV of England) is a handsome guy. Pope Alexander VI, however, is older, heavy-set, and can’t do Jeremy’s scowl nearly as well…LOL. Robert Bianco of USA Today said, “…captured by a sterling cast led in marvelous high style by Jeremy Irons, and presented with all the brio, flair and sumptuous design TV can muster, the infamous family is almost addictively entertaining.” And I have to agree, 2011 The Borgias series was phenomenal.

Is this what you thought European royals really looked like? Let me know in the comments below.

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Michelle Jensen is a twenty-something traveler, occasionally solo, you’ll find road tripping across the U.S. or hostel-hopping in Europe. Currently residing in Los Angeles, CA with a day job in Television.

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