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Least Historically Accurate TV Shows

Not all historical shows are historically accurate. These shows sure are fun to watch, but they're definitely not sticking to the facts.
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I’ve always really loved historical shows. They are always filled with lavish castles and stunning costumes – or action-packed battles in a time before modern weaponry, where the battlefield is filled with brutal up-close combat. Some tell the stories of infamous rulers, while others dive into the stories of the average people.

Of course, not all of them are all that historically accurate. Hey, they’re supposed to be entertaining TV shows, not educational documentaries! Sometimes, embellishing the facts or inventing new stories altogether is what keeps historical dramas from becoming a snoozefest. And in some cases, there aren’t enough written records to go off of, so these fictional storylines are necessary!

These are some of TV’s least historically accurate series. They might not bring the whole truth, but they are still fun to watch.

Bridgerton

The hit Netflix series Bridgerton is incredibly entertaining, but it isn’t exactly historically accurate. Some things keep with history: the colorful lineage of Queen Charlotte, how involved she was in her subjects’ love lives, and the fact that she and King George III had a loyal and loving marriage. The king’s mental health issues forced his son to act as the regent, which led to the term “the Regency Era.”

However, even the show’s creator said they were “marrying history and fantasy.” There weren’t even any real Bridgertons. In order to make the show feel more relatable and enjoyable to modern audiences, everything is filtered through a modern lens. There are modern-day pop songs (played by a string quartet, though), highly stylized costuming with modern fashion sensibilities, and the show reimagines London’s high society as a lot more diverse than it really would have been.

Related: Bridgerton: How to Wear Regency-Inspired Fashion Looks

Victoria

PBS’s Victoria centers on the life of Britain’s long-ruling Queen Victoria, who reigned for almost 64 years. The series has plenty of romance and intrigue, but you could say it’s more “inspired” by real events rather than an accurate retelling of those events. Like the rest of the historical dramas on this list, the series embellishes facts and also makes up stories entirely to get all that on-screen drama.

Victoria was in love with Prince Albert at first sight and was actually the one to propose marriage. There was never a love affair or proposed marriage with Lord Melbourne. Her half-sister Feodora was definitely not a scheming, jealous sister who refused to return to her home, either. The two actually enjoyed a close relationship growing up, and they maintained a lifelong correspondence. There is no historical evidence that Albert’s father was King Leopold, nor is there any evidence of a forbidden romance between one of the Queen’s ladies and a footman.

Outlander

Although Outlander is a historical drama, the premise does involve time travel. A former WWII military nurse in Scotland finds herself transported back in time to 1743. She falls in love with a Highland warrior and ends up deeply involved in the Jacobite rising of 1745. Funny enough, it’s not just the time travel aspect that makes this show historically inaccurate!

As I said, she’s transported back to 1743. For starters, there were no toothbrushes, toothpaste, or even soap; you can probably imagine how dirty, smelly, and decidedly less attractive everyone would have been. Jamie’s tartans are the wrong colors, and the medical treatments and medicines were more advanced in real life than what we see in the show.

Perhaps the biggest inaccuracy of the show, though, was the witch trial in the first season. The last witch trial in Scotland took place decades before the show was set, and there was a law by the time of the show that made it illegal to accuse someone of witchcraft.

Peaky Blinders

Peaky Blinders has been one of Netflix’s most popular shows. The period crime drama follows the Peaky Blinders crime gang in 1900s England after the First World War. There really was a street gang based in Birmingham, England, called the Peaky Blinders. The gang was made up of working-class criminals from lower- to middle-class backgrounds and existed until a larger gang overtook them.

You’d think the show would be more factual because of that, but it’s not. The real Peaky Blinders operated from the 1880s until the 1910s, which predates the aftermath of WWI. The series is full of embellished events and even fully-fabricated stories. It’s more so “inspired” by real events. While the scenarios could have realistically happened, they didn’t. For starters, Winston Churchill was the Minister for War and Air by the time the show takes place (not Home Secretary) and never interacted with the street gang (which was gone by the ‘20s anyway). Gang members didn’t actually have razor blades in their caps, Tommy Shelby was not a real person, and the gang wasn’t involved in acquiring guns for the IRA.

Reign

I debated whether I should even include Reign on this list because it’s so far from accuracy that I’m not sure it qualifies as a historical drama! It does concern real-life figures, centering on Queen of Scotland Mary Stuart and Dauphin Francis II. But that’s about where the historical accuracy ends.

It’s inaccurate with even the silliest things, like how Mary doesn’t even have her famous red hair. In real life, she was raised in the French Court from age 5, not in a convent. Francis was short and in fragile health, unlike the hunky, very healthy actor cast to play the role, and he only reigned for a short 17 months before dying from an ear infection. Tons of characters are completely made up, entire plotlines are fictional, and the fashion is straight out of a teenager’s fanfiction. They even botched the reason for Mary’s beheading. Basically, if you see it on Reign, it’s not accurate.

Marco Polo

Marco Polo isn’t just something you yell with your eyes closed in a game. He was also a real person, a Venetian merchant and explorer who lived from 1254 to 1324. He traveled through Asia along the Silk Road and spent time serving as Kublai Khan’s foreign emissary. Polo became the first European to leave a detailed chronicle of his years in China.

The whole thing is fascinating, which is probably why it made for such a great premise for a TV series. And while the series is definitely based on historical events, it takes more than a few liberties to create a compelling show. Mongolian historians were pretty disappointed at how inaccurate the series was. The show wasn’t even filmed in China because they couldn’t get permission. It was instead filmed in other locations, like Italy, Kazakhstan, and Malaysia.

Well, at least they cast a Mongolian actor to play the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan.

The Great

For anyone who loves a good historical fiction, the Hulu series The Great is an entertaining black comedy-drama. The title comes from the name given to the Empress of Russia, Catherine II, and is based on her rise to power. However, I wouldn’t suggest The Great to anyone looking for historical facts about the monarch, her court, or Russian historical events. I mean, the title card of every episode even forewarns that it’s “an occasionally true story.” It definitely fudges history plenty of times for dramatic and comedic effects.

Key characters are purely fictional, like Catherine’s maid Marial and Leo Voronsky. Big changes were also made to the timeline, like how Peter didn’t become Emperor in real life until 17 years after he married Catherine, and the coup didn’t take place the same year as their marriage. And the real Peter was not a devotee of Russia, and instead, the German-born leader actually despised anything Russian in real life.

Versailles

First of all, Versailles is one of my favorite historical dramas. It revolves around a young King Louis XIV as he commissions Versailles to be the greatest palace in the world. Of course, moving the court here is all in an effort to control the French nobility, who have started defying the monarchy following a series of civil wars.

The series was filmed in and around the real-life Palace of Versailles, along with other palaces and chateaux. That’s mostly where the historical accuracy ends, though. It is grounded in some broader historical truths, but key characters are fictional, the chronology has been manipulated, and entire storylines were made up. Versailles wasn’t even the main royal residence during the time the show is set in and was only occupied for a couple of months at a time.

The Tudors

I loved The Tudors, and I still do. Sometimes I randomly come back to it and watch a couple of episodes, like it’s my comfort show or emotional support series or something. It’s compelling and full of drama, the costuming is beautiful, and all the actors are swoon-worthy. However, it stands as one of the more historically inaccurate shows out there.

For starters, King Henry VIII was not a fit, conventionally attractive guy while he was getting divorced and having wives beheaded. You’ve probably seen pictures of the rotund fella in history class. Once you realize how dramatically different that aspect of the show is, you can imagine how inaccurate the rest of the show is. Some of the storylines are surprisingly real, like Henry’s sister secretly marrying his best friend. A lot of other things, though, are works of fiction. Most of the show was crafted for steamy drama, not for a historical retelling.