Part the Second
Yeah, instead of waiting for 5 minutes for the next one to load, how about I load it up now while I’m reading this one? Sure.
Need the beginning? Part the First is here
The Tudors is outside and it’s a beautiful day. So let’s soak up a little context, shall we?
Jousting started as part of tournaments. And those tournaments came from insane martial stunts like this one , The Combat of the Thirty from 1351, that broke at half time when 4 were dead on one side and 2 were dead on the other for refreshments and bandaging. And then everyone that still had enough limbs came back and finished it.
Jousting was the spin off that became really popular, and survived the death of its genre. It did so by becoming attached to ideas like courtly love and romanticism. In making this adaptation it became an event that not only required great physical bravery and skill, but an event where lots of women could see you having all of that. Stupider things than sitting on a horse with a ten foot pole and galloping at each other have been done for less.
But not that many, because it was still insanely dangerous – a French king died with wood in his eye from competing. As real as the sport was, it was the fabric of tradition around it that gave Henry the elevation he craved. It’s about the favours and tokens of courtly love, where you could pretend that this was more about the elevation of a warrior by a demi goddess than an excuse to get a woman to tie a ribbon around your symbolic penis.
The sun shines, Compton points out that there are stakes (Buckingham might have a faction, now), our villain has the black studded armour of a foe, and Henry is in beautiful light grey steel, highlighted with gilding.He looks just like a hero, and still reads visually as a prince in these early episodes, rather than a king.
But this is all only surface. His victory on this field will accelerate the true confrontation with Buckingham, the relationship of Henry and Catherine is actually rapidly deteriorating, the succession is a national time bomb, the medieval period is over and real renaissance power is busy working inside, plotting in the warm with the old men, as Wolsey uses power and influence to position himself to become Pope.
So then it’s off to Chelsea to consult with the better angels of our nature in the person of Thomas More. First things first though, get an eyeful of the Royal barge. Barges are like catnip to directors of Tudor period pieces and this one is how our Henry rolls.
Henry and More talk about their contrasting ideals of kingship and we get to see their relationship. How the teacher/former pupil nature of it makes More presumptuous enough to grab Henry’s sleeve, call him Harry and (reasonably respectfully) lecture him a bit. Henry is continuing to tolerate these interactions, but majesty is starting to bristle at them.
We cut to here –
Where I find myself seriously wondering what pie they are serving, and where the closest free space to the fire is. You should grab a seat for the show because it turns out that Henry’s first enemy sucks at plotting. Check it:
Buckingham is into a litany of complaints about how Henry is not really worthy of the crown, but Buckingham is. You get the impression it’s a regular topic. He gets this reaction from Norfolk:
And his reaction is :”Clearly Norfolk is completely onside with my ‘become king’ plan, I should plot with him immediately, and loudly from a balcony is just my speed. Huzzah.”
Buckingham goes back to his rooms to find that Brandon has been up a Buckingham for Buckingham’s daughter is allowing Brandon to strongly and vigorously imply a penis from behind. Brandon is unrepentant when caught, causing Buckingham to draw a sword and Brandon to take ‘Doesn’t matter, had sex’ to truly heroic levels.
Bessie Blount comes to see Wolsey, who is too Proto Tywin Lannister for all your petty shit right now.
But then a rogue bastard appears! Bessie Blount is carrying the king’s baby, and suddenly it’s a problem worthy of Wolsey’s attention. Bessie Blount isn’t, though. She gets lightly threatened about not spreading this about and:
“When you can no longer hide your condition you will be…removed to a private place for your lying in.”
Well, Great. As she works for and lives with the wife of the man she’s fuckin, just how long will she be undeniably pregnant before she’s ‘removed’? How about she gets to move before that time, huh?
And that’s how it goes. Because the weather is changing but no one knows it yet. Not Wolsey, and not poor, love struck Lady Bessie. A mistress carrying a bastard can go from ‘problem’ to ‘asset’ for a monarchy in dodgy circumstances. Catherine of Aragon’s biological clock sets the tempo for this monarchy and she, and more importantly Henry, can hear it ticking.
I suppose an exploration of how much more power could be got in this situation will have to wait for a woman of more ambition, and a more ripe time. In the meantime, Bessie gets a ‘promise’ that she’ll be hidden away to birth her child and all that shame she should be also be carrying.
We cut to Wolsey arriving at Whitehall, on a donkey so small I’m relieved it did not have to walk further. That was to show how humble he was. How humble he was while pope waving and wearing this:
Those are vestments and I think they are for, like, raising the Eucharist or something, not draping as your heavily embroidered gold pimp cape when you’re out tooling round the neighbourhood on your donkey and dealing with your shit.
We’re also introduced to actual historical composer Thomas Tallis.
Pace sends him to the main music guy, and it’s not entirely unlike that scene in a musical biopic where the currently unknown/huge one day rapper arrives at the studio he’s going to be famous for, if it were also religiously uncool and the rolling crew were all white, in early puberty and faintly bored.
Young Humbleflow here passes the audition, and is hugely impressed with the way the sky is covered over, but rough times with the crew might lie ahead.
And we’re back to the centre of power and firmly in r/cozytudorplaces, as Henry wants to know how war prep is going. Wolsey points out all the work that has gone in to getting ready for this war and just how totally ready he’s got everything and he needs to start watching More, because More’s poker face is just olympic level bad.
And they’re saying that maybe instead of a war we should have a treaty. A huge treaty, starting with the English and French and then moving out to a lot of other countries, the creation of Pan European Institutions and…wait…what?
Shit. It’s a UN. They’re looking delighted but they’re suggesting a UN. In 1518. They are so humped and they don’t even know it.
Wolsey makes sure Henry knows he’ll get all the fame due for it and War with France is out and Renaissance UN is in. Then Buckingham demands an audience, and it’s about Brandon’s affair with his daughter. Buckingham has already beaten Ms. Buckingham for unauthorised fuckin, and now would like to argue that he is the aggrieved party because this was a property crime.
So please, keep all limbs out of the gangway as HENRY VIII OF ENGLAND, FEMINIST ALLY hoves into view to argue for the importance of a woman’s consent.
Yeah, I’m pretty sure that was a unicorn sighting caused by the Bro Code (He didn’t want Brandon to get punished). I would not look for Minimally Woke Henry VIII to become a regular thing, but it was fun for the literal moment it lasted.
And Brandon is right back at it with Ms. Buckingham.
Then we cut to the unbelievably wholesome life of Thomas More.
Where all his children are asked if they have finished their reading and it turns out their reward for finishing is prayer and sleep. How about that?And for his treat Thomas gets to go upstairs, pray really intensely and whip the crap out of himself.
Queen Catherine would like a word with Lady Blount.
“Oh, no Lady Blount. It’s not anything in particular, I just thought that we should sit down this evening…
…and discuss my incredibly tragic reproductive history. Because I trust you Lady Blount and am so very lonely. “
Oh, she knows exactly what she’s doing, and if you can’t lightly torment your adulterous lady in waiting then what really is the point of being Queen?
Henry goes to confession, and slides delicately from confessing doubts about his marriage to arguing his case against it. It feels like the first time he’s trying out his arguments, the priest is suitably terrified and it’s a neat little scene showing us one of the first shifts in the political weather.
There’s a new guy at court and we get to follow him around for a bit. He is Sir Thomas Boleyn, Ambassador to France (Authenticity approved! He was Ambassador to France in 1518 and was involved in the arrangements for The Field of the Cloth of Gold). First, he gets waylaid by Buckingham –
Because when you are Sir Thomas Boleyn, and a Duke wants a word with you first, he gets a word with you first, you do not say to him: “Cash me ousside”. And Buckingham has either taken several levels in intrigue or was quite hammered the last time we saw him because he is very nearly deft today.
He starts with the”I think you are one of us.” approach by pointing out that Sir Thomas comes from an old family. Yep, Thomas can trace his lineage back some way – his family tree can be found here. But you’ll notice ‘Yeoman’ and ‘Builder of’ in there and not so far back, and the women don’t get surnames in several branches, if they are mentioned at all. All good indicators that the Boleyns at this stage are a rising house, coming from trade and the professions, not an ancient and established one, coming from long term land ownership and well worn (often marital) relationships to power. They’ve started that process, but they have a long way to go.
And sadly for Buckingham (because ‘I accept you and invite you to be part of the in-group’ is a powerful psychological lever, tailored right to Boleyn’s ambition) Thomas Boleyn has two very solid attributes. He is very clever, and has very few illusions about the world or himself. He sees the bait and the hook, and the second Buckingham mentions the king, Boleyn is on his way out the door. He stops only to point out his opposition, but Buckingham manages to save the situation by swapping the target to Wolsey. It is actually clever.
For an ambitious courtier it’s not Henry blocking the way to rising in the new order – it’s Wolsey, the guy running things. There’s also the criminal (or maybe crime drama) maxim – If he’s in for A he’s in for B which can work practically as well as psychologically; if a guy compromises himself enough while helping you do A, there comes a point when he’s going to have to help you with B. Except Buckingham has skipped consent again and does not appear to have noticed that all he actually got out of Boleyn wasn’t a ‘yes’ or a ‘maybe’ it was an ‘It is true. I am not keen on Wolsey.’.
Boleyn then goes to play chess with Henry and brief him about (and lightly diss) the French king, Francis. There’s quite a lot of calves talk (As in calf muscles – men wore tights a lot, so strong calves were the muscular abdomen of the age), and Sir Thomas points out that the French court has a whole lot of fuckin going on. Henry wants to know how he keeps his two daughters ‘protected’ and Sir Thomas heroically avoids the truth-
-flatters with delicacy, and diplomatically loses the game – extra points if you can see where he decided he was going to lose the game…
Henry meets his daughter, Princess Mary, in the corridor and is affectionate but perfunctory. Queen Catherine’s passive aggression about the French treaty can apparently piss right off too. Daddy’s pursuing ambition again, and today it’s in a French direction, so it’s time for the royal family to remember their place.
We’ve followed Boleyn to France and we see what is probably some kind of composite with CGI elements and it’s fine.
And then we get a very special introduction:
Back in England, Henry is getting changed and experiencing outfit insecurity.
His erstwhile wingman Wolsey assures him that he looks great, that he should wear this jewelry set with that outfit, and that King Francis could not possibly afford things this fine.
They go into the next room where Buckingham can clearly barely get behind being ‘Chief Rosewater Holder’ for the king, he sure as shit is not doing it for Wolsey. He pours the water over Wolsey’s feet, and is ordered to apologise.
He takes this just super well.
And then walks straight into a meeting with his conspiracy group. Where he is utterly oblivious that his wild, unreasoning rage is not a prime conspiratorial attribute. He pantomimes out (Has anyone even checked to see if the door is shut?) an assassination plan with so much commitment that everyone else really thinks for a moment that he might have just killed his servant, including his servant.
But it turns out he hasn’t, he’s just horrified everyone in the room.
Oh yeah, this is going to go great.
Season 1 Episode 2 starts here.