But the BBC’s new flagship drama about the Wars of the Roses has been filmed entirely overseas because, producers claim, England lacks unspoiled medieval buildings.
So the film crew moved to Belgium, where the architecture is as enticing as the tax breaks. The country was on a list of possible locations for filming because the financial deals were not available in Britain at the time.
The White Queen tells the story of the women caught up in the conflict between the houses of York and Lancaster, with scenes set in Westminster Abbey, the Palace of Westminster and Bosworth Field.
Each will be represented by locations in Belgium.
The producers said that too many of England’s medieval buildings have been covered in satellite dishes, CCTV cameras and television aerials.
Many other 15th century buildings were now in ruins, while the Belgians have maintained and restored theirs.
Max Irons, who plays King Edward IV, said: “The great thing about Belgium is that they really take care of their architecture, whereas, we in England have a tendency to stick CCTV cameras on classic buildings and paint the streets with white and yellow lines.”
John Griffin, the executive producer, said: “I would not like to say Britain does not look after its historical buildings, its just they do not tend to put stuff all over them in Belgium.”
Among the locations used are St Martin’s Cathedral in Ypres, which doubled as Westminster Abbey and Bruges town hall which served as the interior of the Palace of Westminster. The original palace was destroyed by fire in the 19th century, with only Westminster Hall left.
The 10-pat series stating next Sunday is based Philippa Gregory’s bestselling historical novel series, The Cousins’ War.
It stars actress Rebecca Ferguson as Elizabeth Woodville, a beautiful young widow who falls in love with and marries King Edward IV, and Amanda Hale as Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor and Elizabeth’s fiercest adversary.
Scenes of Grafton Manor, the childhood home of Elizabeth Woodville, were filmed at Kasteel van Rumbeke, in West Flanders, one of the oldest Renaissance castles in the country, while the Battle of Bosworth was shot in woodland in Damme, three miles north of Bruges.
Mr Griffin said that when it was first mooted as a location he “raised an eyebrow” fearing the landscape was too flat and there would be too many distinctly Flemish buildings.
But he said he changed his opinion when he visited and was “blown away” by the opportunities for filming.
He said Belgians chose to repair their historical buildings – rather than leaving them as ruins – meaning most look like they have been recently constructed.
“There is a fantastic wealth of buildings from the period,” Mr Griffin said.
Janet McTeer, who plays Jacquetta Woodville, Elizabeth’s mother, said filming in Bruges was “extraordinary”.
She said: “They have immense medieval architecture that hasn’t been destroyed, hasn’t been surrounded by modern buildings and is staggeringly beautiful and well preserved.”
Filming in Belgium started in September and lasted six months. In total, 250 sets were made to depict three weddings, two coronations and 12 state banquets over 20 years.
The decision to film in Belgium comes after ITV’s successful period drama Downton Abbey was criticised by eagle-eyed viewers who spotted television aerials, street signs and yellow lines in scenes supposedly depicting the early part of the last century.
Historical groups and residents have also long complained about growing “street clutter” and in 2010, ministers worried about the damage to the character of urban spaces urged members of the public to report unnecessary items.
Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary and Philip Hammond, then transport secretary, wrote to council leaders calling on them to reduce the number of signs, railings, bollards and advertising hoardings.