Lucy Worsley and spotlighting myths

On PBS, a delightful British show is aired called “Lucy Worsley’s Royal Myths and Secrets.” It is fascinating for two primary reasons – Worsley focuses on exposing the real truths beneath the myths and she exudes a passion as she invests in each episode.

Each show includes actors portraying smalls skits in the show, in which Worsley will play a sidebar role, as well as scholars who share context and researched observations. The skits add the human side to the scholar’s research and context.

Yesterday, Worsley focused on the French revolution and Marie Antoinette’s role, which is overstated, but still present. A few vignettes that offer context are truly enlightening.

– Antoinette is used as a scapegoat for the financial problems of the country, but the real cause is the French spent 1.5 billion francs to support the American independence effort, which is 2 1/2 times their annual budget of 600 million francs.

– Antoinette liked very extravagat things, but there is no record of her saying “let them eat cake,” which was referenced 50 years later. The saying may have come from an earlier queen.

– Antoinette was Austrian, so the French people did not like her to begin with; she also was more politically shrewd than her husband, Louis XVI and saw the danger of the revolution. This runs counter to the noted saying above which implies ignorance.

– Robespierre is scapegoated for the violence of the revolution, but while he was an idealist, he initially did not favor capital punishment. He argued it did not stop crime. He later said for France to change, the King must be executed, but this was after a power sharing agreement seemed to not be working. Robespierre was executed about two years after Louis XVI.

– While Bastille Day is celebrated for freeing political prisoners, it freed only seven prisoners, all common criminals. Four of these criminals were even rearrested. Yet, the storming of the bastille is an iconic event.

– What should not be forgotten, the first revolution did not free France from autocratic rule. War hero Napolean was made emperor about ten years later. And, after Napolean, a Bourbon king was reinstalled for fifteen more years. So, later change was needed.

This show was particular fascinating. It also showed fake news was alive and well back then. Antoinette cartoons were particulary viscious. And, the revolutionaries downplayed the executions, while loyalists played that up.

A fascinating sidebar is the French revolution inspired others. It was noted Lenin had a statue raised in Russia for Robespierre and, of course, violently ended the lives of the tsar and his family. This was over 120 years later.

We have seen a few shows and, if you love history, you will find these interesting. Even if you don’t, Worsley will make you wish she was your teacher with her enthusiasm.

16 thoughts on “Lucy Worsley and spotlighting myths

  1. Note to Readers: The savagery of the executions likely did not help the cause. In Britain, with the “Tale of two cities” and “Scarlett Pimpernel,” the horror caused concern. It is said the lessons to be learned from the revolution are both positive and negative.

  2. I had never heard of this series, but after reading your post, I MUST see it! I have long been fascinated by this period (and others), the French Revolution and the years both before and after. Thanks for the enlightenment about this PBS series, Keith! I am debating my cheapest option, but will be watching it soon!

    • Jill, you can also find it on the BBC, if you have access. It is a charming show. Hugh and I both speak of liking the British shows better than American ones – more dialogue. My wife and I have also enjoyed several Australian and Canadian shows. Keith


      • Thanks, Keith!!! I did find it there and have begun watching it, hopefully will finish it a bit later today. You’ve saved me a few bucks, for both PBS and Amazon wanted me to pay! Like you, we mostly only watch British shows and very few at that, though daughter Chris did get me hooked on “Coronation Street” last year! Oh yeah, and “Gavin and Stacey”, though I believe it’s off the air now except for holiday specials. Anyway, to the point … I am a history buff and am enjoying this show … thank you!!!

      • Jill, thanks. I am glad you are. See my conversation below, where we discuss British and Australian shows. I have not seen the one you mentioned. Keith

    • David, I understand. As for Australian shows, we watched with regularity, Dr. Blake, Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries, A Place to csll Home and 800 Words. Miss Fisher has the best theme song.

      The British ones we watch include Grantchester, Endeavour, Midsommer Murders, Father Brown, Poldark, World on Fire, Call the Midwife and Shakespeare and Hathaway. The best thing about watching on PBS is no commercials or political ads.


      • David, well said. Poldark is the definition of the imperfect, idealistic hero. We often questioned the TV “why did you do that?” Of course, that was a key part of the story, overcoming rash decisions. Keith

      • PS – David, there a couple of Canadian shows we like. One is called “Burden of Proof” about two lawyers fighting uphill battles against corporate interests. The other is “Frankie Drake Mysteries” which is not dissimilar from the Australian “Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries.” It is set during the prohibition.

  3. The Bastille was a “state-prison”, even if empty of state-prisoners then, and by attacking, capturing, and then destroying it, the Revolution had crossed a Rubicon. Doesn’t justify inaccuracy about it, much like Washington’s integrity doesn’t justify fake stories about cherry trees and roan horses.

    • So true. America has many false narratives that continue to this day. The Civil War was sold by southern landowners to poor whites as a battle over states’ rights vs the real reason of allowing them to keep slaves, eg.

      • I propose that the “lost cause” had to wait to appear because so many veterans were around in the decades after the end of that war and would have made it plain what they were witness to. “Twenty Negro Law” and everything else.

      • Plus, after a deal did away with the reconstruction era, Jim Crow retaliation began. What happened in Tulsa to blacks also happened in Wilmington, NC when a white coup occurred to oust elected black leaders.

      • I am quite sure there are more than a few take-downs of black leaders in the Jim Crow era. I was unaware of Elaine, AK and will need to Google it.

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