Travel Through Time with These Female-Driven Historical Dramas

Believe it or not, History was one of my least favorite classes in school. I hated learning about wars and conquerors and men who made boring tax laws. Yet, without history, we wouldn't have princesses to weave into the fairy tales we tell today. Due to being home a lot lately, I spent the last few weeks binging historical dramas that focused on important female figures. I found that they were far more interesting than the things I learned about in school. These shows have gorgeous eye candy. The character dress in extravagant gowns that you would never see in modern culture. As a companion piece to my "Princess Shows to Binge in Your Tower" post, I thought it would be interesting to put all the historical dramas I've watched into chronological order to create a clearer picture of how women in power have evolved over time. Some of these are a bit of a stretch since the educational value doesn't always trump the entertainment value. Time travel shows are a lot of fun but often less realistic. Below are ten series and one very famous musical that cover various points throughout history from the perspective of regal women. You can click on the name of a show to find either a detailed review or an official place to watch it.

1464: The White Queen

The White Queen poster

Where to watch: This is the first in a trilogy of miniseries from the Starz network.

Things I learned: The Wars of the Roses were a turbulent time in England's history when the noble houses of York and Lancaster fought over the crown despite King Edward of Lancaster's marriage to Lady Elizabeth of York, which should have united the two houses.

Entertainment value: The White Queen has gorgeous costumes and visuals. It starts out interesting enough when the king elopes with a lady from his enemy house. After that, things get convoluted regarding who is next in line for the crown and who causes whose death to get it. Several characters have the same names, which only adds to the confusion. There are virtually no redeeming qualities to any of the characters once you get to know them. The trilogy is based on a series of novels called The Cousins' War by Philippa Gregory and might be more enjoyable to fans of the books.

1485: The White Princess

The White Princess poster

Where to watch: This is the second miniseries in The White Queen trilogy on the Starz network.

Things I learned: Political alliances in the middle ages were rarely formed with love in mind.

Entertainment value: I would not recommend watching this eight-part miniseries unless you have already seen its prequel, The White Queen. It takes place a few years later and tells the story of the daughter of Queen Elizabeth (as in the White Queen, not the sovereign one), who was forced into an unwanted marriage with Henry Tudor. Even though she grew to care for him years later, it was hard to root for the couple after a questionable rape scene, similar to her mother before her.

1501: The Spanish Princess

The Spanish Princess poster

Where to watch: This the third and final miniseries from The White Queen trilogy on the Starz network.

Things I learned: Spain was one of the richest and most influential kingdoms in the middle ages.

Entertainment value: It's best to watch this miniseries after The White Queen and The White Princess, but less of a requirement since the protagonist is only seen once as a child in The White Princess. It is about Princess Catherine of Aragon's arranged marriage with King Henry and Queen Elizabeth's daughter, Prince Arthur. I found it easier to follow than The White Queen because it seemed to have fewer characters to keep up with. There were some interesting twists and turns, but it was difficult to care about Catherine, who comes off as incredibly full of herself. I particularly loved the costumes in this series. The Spanish nobles had fancy sleeves on their gowns that split in various places to reveal layers of puffy and flowing fabrics tied in a fancy configuration by their handmaidens.

1557: Reign

Reign poster

Where to watch: All four seasons are available on Netflix.

Things I learned: Mary, Queen of Scots, spent most of her ruling years in France when she married the crown prince, Francis. She had a fierce rivalry with her cousin, Queen Elizabeth (the sovereign one, not the White Queen), and eventually fell from grace when Elizabeth claimed the Scottish for herself as part of England.

Entertainment value: I loved this show when it was on the CW and followed it religiously. It did a terrific job of appealing to its target audience of teenage girls even if it meant sacrificing historical accuracy. I loved how it fleshed out all four of Mary's ladies-in-waiting even though their actual lives may have not been as interesting. Unlike The White Queen, which kept all the names from history, Reign gave all of Mary's ladies new names and identities even though they were all named Mary in real life. All four of Mary's ladies suffered some kind of downfall that foreshadowed her own at the end of the series. My favorite was Lady Lola.

1646: Always a Witch

Always a Witch poster

Where to watch: Both seasons are available on Netflix.

Things I learned: Like many other countries during the 17th century, Colombia burned women at the stake if they were accused of witchcraft.

Entertainment value: This is one of three time travel shows on this list, giving it more entertainment value than historical value. It is also the only one with a black woman in the lead, which means it gets into some uncomfortable parts of history. Though Carmen is a slave, the show never portrays her responsibilities toward the family she serves. Most of it is spent in present-day after she uses a spell to time travel to the future to escape being burned at the stake. Most scenes that do take place in 1646 focus on her romance with Cristobal, the son of her master, who exchanges letters from the future with him through a magic hole in the wall. Carmen quickly discovers that life for black women in the 21st century is much better than it was in the 17th century. It's a captivating love story and exploration of the benefits of living in our time that we might take for granted.

1743: Outlander

Outlander poster

Where to watch: The first three seasons are on Netflix, and the other two are on the Starz Network.

Things I learned: The Jacobites were a group of Scottish rebels who fought to restore the throne of Scotland to the successors of Mary, Queen of Scots after her downfall. Later seasons of the show cover other places and time periods, such as King Louis XV in France and the forming of the American colonies with a cameo from a young General George Washington.

Entertainment value: This is the second time travel show on this list, and one of the most addictive. It follows a World War 2 nurse named Claire on her journey to 18th century Scotland through some magic time-traveling rocks. She falls in love with a Scottish clansman named Jamie, and their hot steamy romance keeps the show interesting for five seasons and counting. Eventually, Claire and Jamie have a daughter named Briana who goes on her own romantic time travel adventures.

1762: The Great

The Great poster

Where to watch: All ten episodes are on Hulu.

Things I learned: Catherine the Great came to power in Russia by overthrowing her abhorrent husband, King Peter III.

Entertainment value: This is a snappy fast-paced dark comedy that is made for modern audiences even though it covers issues from its own time period with historically accurate visuals. Catherine is played by a grown-up Elle Fanning, who takes the role in a very different direction from her previous royal role as Princess Aurora in the Maleficent movies. Her enedearing performance makes the show truly great to watch.

1776: Hamilton

Schuyler Sisters Hamilton poster

Where to watch: This groundbreaking musical is available in its entirety on Disney+.

Things I learned: America's founding fathers were a group of ragtag young rebels who didn't always get along but understood that they were creating something that would last well beyond their years. Alexander Hamilton was the most rambunctious of the group. His wife, Eliza Schuyler, had the patience of a saint and was an extremely warm-hearted person.

Entertainment value: This is the only show on this list that is not a series. I had to include it because of its massive worldwide popularity and the fact that Disney+ made it available to watch for free. In some ways, it isn't your average musical, but it does follow all of the standard story beats of a Broadway show. The beginning of this play is difficult to get into. There's a lot of hip hop and general chaos happening on stage. Once the Schuyler sisters are introduced, the story becomes more interesting and easier for there women in the audience to relate to. The second act has several heart-wrenchingly emotional moments that will bring tears to your eyes.

1837: Victoria

Victoria poster

Where to watch: All three seasons are on Amazon Prime and PBS Masterpiece.

Things I learned: During the extremely rare occasion that the English crown was passed to a queen, her husband did not receive the power of monarch through marriage.

Entertainment value: Queen Victoria is one of the most famous queens in history, so it's great that there's a show covering her reign. However, it is not very fun to watch. Since it's a British show, I think the BBC was more concerned about historical accuracy than they were about entertainment value. In other words, it's the exact opposite of Reign. Most of the episodes were slow and bland with very little levity. The first season had such dim candlelight during the palace scenes that you could barely even make out what was happening. That said, if you're able to sit through the boring parts, it does reveal a lot about who Queen Victoria was as a person. Another bonus she is played by the same actress who portrayed Clara in Doctor Who.

1905: Find Me in Paris

Find Me in Paris poster

Where to watch: All three seasons are available on Hulu.

Things I learned: Diddly squat. This show is pure entertainment and made mostly for younger audiences.

Entertainment value: This is the third and final time travel show on this list. I couldn't include Always a Witch and leave out this one because the two have so much in common that I think one of the creators may have "borrowed" ideas from the other. Both protagonists travel to the future and decide they prefer its modern conveniences but still miss their boyfriends from the past. Like Carmen, Lena communicates with her boyfriend, Henri, by placing letters in a magical hiding space that sends the message through time. Find Me in Paris has lots of twists and turns and is incredibly addictive, but in a more juvenile way than Outlander. 

1912: Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey poster

Where to watch: All six seasons are on Amazon Prime.

Things I learned: It would be nice to be fabulously wealthy.

Entertainment value: This show is the second BBC series on this list and focuses on the British aristocracy in the early 1900s. The three noble daughters of Downton Abbey live in a mansion where they are waited upon hand and foot and dressed in fabulous historically accurate fashions. What was great about this show is that it focused on the servants' lives just as much as the nobles, giving a potentially accurate picture of what life might have been like for a servant in a noble house. I couldn't get through all six seasons because it felt like they ran out of ideas at some point. My favorite character, Lady Sybil, leaves the show around the third season, which was when I lost interest entirely. Her secret romance with her footman was what carried the first couple of seasons for me.


Anonymous said…
I love the Starz Trilogy with the White Queen I wish they would come up with more like that even if they are fairy tales I love them

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