Blackadder II: Truth Vs Fiction

The second series takes us into the Elizabethan era, where heads will roll if Edmund’s not too careful. But how much of this reflects real history?

Blackadder II: Truth Vs Fiction

ELIZABETH I

IN THE SHOW:

As portrayed by Miranda Richardson, "Queenie" is a dim-witted brat with the attention span of a gnat.

IN REALITY:

Queenie is a monstrous but adorable comic creation. The likes of Blackadder and Lord Melchett must continuously struggle to entertain and amuse her, or face her wrath. But this is rather unfair to the real Elizabeth I, who was known for her deep intellect. Consider the fact that "Good Queen Bess" could actually speak French, Italian, Spanish and Greek, and was also a dab hand when it came to Latin. Indeed, there's a popular story of the time a Polish ambassador dared to rebuke Elizabeth for interfering in trade negotiations with Spain. The Queen responded in fluent Latin, humiliating him in front of her court, and earning the awe of all who watched.

THE ATMOSPHERE IN THE COURT

IN THE SHOW:

Life in Elizabeth's court is generally nerve-jangling, thanks to Queenie's jealous mood swings and fondness for punishing her underlings.

IN REALITY:

This isn't too far off the truth. Elizabeth had a very volatile relationship with those closest to her. Courtiers, ladies-in-waiting and handsome men would be regarded fondly one moment, and then cast aside the next. She was certainly a fearsome taskmaster, always expecting her servants to place her needs above everything else. There's even an account of how Elizabeth broke a courtier's finger by smacking it with a hairbrush.

The queen was also prone to terrifying jealous rages. Vain, obsessed with her own appearance, and increasingly defensive about her looks as she aged, Elizabeth was a dangerous woman to fall in love with. Her beloved Dudley fell foul of Elizabeth's fury when he married Lettice Knollys. Elizabeth dubbed her a "wench" and had her exiled from court. She later had a passionate attachment to Dudley's stepson, who also fell from favour and was eventually executed for his part in an uprising.

SIR WALTER RALEIGH

IN THE SHOW:

Sir Walter Raleigh is portrayed as a famous, swaggering adventurer, and a firm favourite of the Queen (before she gets bored of him, that is).

IN REALITY:

Sir Walter was indeed a major celebrity of the Elizabethan era. He ticked all the boxes of the time, being a writer, politician, spy and daredevil explorer of the high seas. Did he really introduce the potato to England, as Blackadder suggests? Probably not - it's more likely that Spanish Conquistadors were responsible for bringing back the future staple food of the nation.

Like the Blackadder version, the real Raleigh did fall from Elizabeth's good graces. The reason? He married one of her ladies-in-waiting without permission, and was consigned to the Tower of London for punishment. However, it wasn't Elizabeth who sentenced him to death, but her successor James I. This was down to a foreign misadventure that had gone badly wrong, when men under Raleigh's command got into a skirmish with Spaniards. Raleigh was thus beheaded to placate the outraged Spanish authorities. On seeing the axe that would kill him, Raleigh apparently said "This is a sharp Medicine, but it is a Physician for all diseases and miseries."

NURSIE

IN THE SHOW:

Sitting by Queenie's side at all times is her faithful childhood guardian, Nursie - a giggly, good-hearted and utterly batty lady.

IN REALITY:

While there was no historical figure comparable to the delightfully bonkers Nursie, the adult Elizabeth really did have her former governess by her side. The lady's name was Kat Ashley, and the queen counted her among her closest friends and confidantes. It was Kat Ashley who had taught the young princess everything from astronomy to mathematics, as well as needlework and riding.

When Elizabeth was an adult, Kat remained a source of wisdom and learning for the queen, and was also a valuable "go-between" for those wanting a word in Elizabeth's ear. After she died, Elizabeth is said to have said, "Anne Boleyn gave me life, but Kat Ashley gave me love."

ALCHEMY

IN THE SHOW:

In a desperate bid to make some cash, Percy turns to alchemy. But instead of creating gold, he comes up with a nugget of purest... green.

IN REALITY:

Believe it or not, many really did believe in alchemy during the Elizabethan era, and they weren't all as dim as Percy. In fact, one of the most fascinating and mysterious figures of the age was John Dee, a brilliant mathematician and astronomer, who also happened to be something of an occultist, magician and alchemist. He was an advisor to Elizabeth I, and deeply embroiled in the dark intrigues of court, counting the spymaster Francis Walsingham as an associate.