Alright, so you were a fucking virgin! That’s not the point!

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as King Henry VIII, in The Tudors

The Tudors is a brilliant television show about King Henry VIII, who reigned England from 1509 to 1547. King Henry VIII was a vibrant and scandalous figure, with many wives, many vices, and a personality as grandiose as that of any monarch. A great subject for both biography and fiction.

As you might expect, the television show gets many things correct, indulges many simplifications and embellishments for the purposes of drama, and of course makes a handful of outright mistakes. These are easy to find on the web, so I won’t belabor going through an extensive list of them here.

However, there is one particular issue that stood out for me that I haven’t seen mentioned by anyone else. Maybe I only noticed it because of my own peculiar intersection of interests: my fascinations with history, linguistics and popular culture.

So, in the middle of Season 1, Episode 9 (“Look To God First”), when King Henry is arguing passionately with Catherine, and yells,

“Alright, so you were a fucking virgin! That’s not the point!”

….my ears perked up just a little bit.

A fucking virgin?

A fucking virgin?

Were people really using the word “fucking” this way in the year 1529?

The word “fuck”, of course, has been around for a very long time, as a verb that refers to the act of copulation. Sir David Lyndesay, in “Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaits” (1535) note that “Bischops … may fuck thair fill and be vnmaryit.” The word “fucker” in the literal sense (a person who fucks) has been seen in print since about the same time.

This is already after the time of the supposed exclamation of Henry VIII in question, but use of the word “fuck” in this sense was probably much older in actual oral tradition….  It just wasn’t one of those words that was often thought to put into print.

But remember that King Henry, in the television show, was not using the word as a verb for copulation. He was using the term as an intensifier:  a fucking virgin!  He was using it the same way you might say “I lost my fucking keys!” or “What did that fucking cat do now?”

This type of usage really wasn’t seen until much later, probably the late 1800’s or even early 1900’s. We do see it used as an expression during World War I: “Get your fucking rifles!” was remarked to be a common expression by John Brophy, in “Songs and Slang of the British Soldier: 1914-1918,” published in 1930. There isn’t much written evidence of this type of usage before then.

Of course, it’s hard to know for sure. Because it’s a “naughty word”, it was deliberately censored from most written works for a very long time. Fuck wasn’t in a single English language dictionary from 1795 to 1965: it was The Penguin Dictionary that finally broke the taboo.

But nonetheless, as far as we have any real evidence, King Henry VIII was probably about 400 years too early to be calling Catherine “a fucking virgin.”

Not that anyone else watching the show probably noticed.



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  1. Joy says:

    I noticed it right away and wondered about it. I think it was a very funny bit of dark humor on the part of the writers, with the work “fuck” used not only as an intensifier, but an oxymoron as well, with a straight on serious delivery by Rhys Meyers.

    That wacky Tudor humor….

  2. This show “The Tudors” has never been my favorite depicting Henry VIII and the Tudor period; loved “Anne of a Thousand Days”; “A Man for All Seasons”; and PBS “The Six Wives of Henry VIII; I totally agree with you on the show using modern day slang which was so far out of character….otherwise the show was pretty accurate historically. I understand in an interview that Jonathan Rhys Meyers said he used adjectives like “fucking” on purpose rather than words they would have used like “gosh darn” to reach a younger audience.

    Happy Birthday by the way….please update your Amazon wishlist…when you get a chance; your blog is great and you know I’m a fan.

    Also, hope recent Supreme Court decisions will allow you and your partner to marry…in Texas.

    Take Care, Guy

  3. Joy Walker Hall says:

    About The Tudors. Wasn’t all of the dialog in modern English? I don’t remember noticing anything much that sounded like 16th century language so the work fucking didn’t seem out of place in relation to the rest of it.

    • Greg Stevens says:

      That’s a good point; I guess issues of idioms and slang expressions stand out more to me than what would be considered a normal “gloss” of the language. A modernization of certain words or certain habits of sentence structure is one thing, but to me something like this is more anachronistic. It would be like King Henry saying something like, “Ooops, I made a Freudian slip!” LOL

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