Part the Second
Well, if you don’t have 3 minutes to spare waiting for the next one to load you could always pre-load it in a new window, while reading this one.
Did you need the beginning? This way, please.
Where were we? Oh Yes.
“Wolsey, forget Francis, and that summit we were at all last week– We are all about Charles now. I’m married to his aunt for God’s Sake, and he’s really young, negotiations should be way easier this time. “
Wolsey agrees with a slight but noticeable flicker of reluctance, and plans are made to send Wolsey over to the continent for a meeting.
Then we’re in Buckingham’s rooms and he’s clearly been holding court regarding Henry’s meltdown at the Big French Summit. It’s Thomas Boleyn’s turn for a meet and plot so he gets summoned. He says that yes, a stronger man, a greater man could have brought the French to heel.
And Buckingham, who has been openly parading his discontent with people who have really just been nodding when he talks, leaps into ‘Great, So we’re clearly killing the King’ level plotting. And his closer is this –
Back to Henry and Wolsey’s conversation and we get to see Wolsey’s spymaster technique (or ‘Varys level’) and we find he has form. Apart from Boleyn’s information Wolsey knows that Buckingham has been raising troops, what Buckingham’s cover story is for needing those troops, and how much money he has suddenly started borrowing.
And it’s tense because for both Wolsey and Henry, this is a tricky time. Mess this up badly, and they are both dead. The equation is this – you have to catch Buckingham far enough ahead in his plans that you can definitely nail him for it, but you absolutely do not want him to get to actually raising his troops because at that point everything becomes very unpredictable. Maybe you look weak, maybe others join in, maybe you and all your family die within a fortnight.
The decision is made to ‘Godfather’ it. Say nothing, keep everything close and invite Buckingham to the Christmas party.
Barge time! Oh Yeah.
Henry is speaking to ‘Conscience of this Administration’ Thomas More (Still not a Sir, yet), idealist and believer in the education of women. They talk about Machiavelli’s The Prince, because they have to. They’re renaissance politicians and it’s their equivalent to ‘Yeezus‘ getting dropped. Throughout the conversation Henry is just slightly needling More about his idealism, he brings it up more than once, and he seems to be a lot less pleased with his description of More as an idealist than More is. Henry raises the whole ‘Is it better to be feared than loved?’ Machiavellian trope, gives More just enough time to answer it in his own head, and then drops this bombshell-
We are whisked away to a Buckingham’s main home, a CGI Penshurst in Kent, which is fine.
Where all is innocence, quiet and modesty. And absolutely no one is sat on an ornate chair, on a raised dais, beneath a cloth of estate, wearing their finest robes, taking loyalty oaths, promising ‘rich rewards’ and having people kiss his ring. We don’t want to be dog food do we? No? Great. So no one is doing that.
We cut to More and Wolsey in the first of a series of two handed scenes which advance a few plots and show us their dynamic. They are like two professional people, both advanced and respected in their fields, who don’t really share philosophies and who would never have normally gravitated together. But then there was this amazing new start-up and the young CEO really liked both of them. It worked out, they love the company, and it now pays incredibly well so they’re both making the best of it they can, but it’s always going to be an ‘odd couple’ dynamic that really wants to graduate to passive aggression.
Then it’s Christmas, and there’s a very special traitor, I mean visitor.
The palace, and everyone in it look fabulous…
But it’s really too tense to be a good time. There’s a ceremonial gift giving, in which a lot of people appear to have brought ornate gold cups. That’s more of a feature than a bug, the Actual Historical Tudors were very keen on what they called ‘Plate’ – ornamental precious metal cups, plates, bowls etc. that were never really meant to touch food. ‘Plate’ was mobile wealth for display purposes and a very nice example would be a standard gift for a king. Norfolk’s example of Plate is apparently particularly fine, and there are approving looks and gracious prepared thanks all around.
Ever the maverick, Buckingham has brought the King something that is not Display Only Precious Metal Crockery –
Oooh, he got him a gadget. It has the words ‘ With Humble, True Heart’ engraved on it. Because an engraver never says ‘Don’t you think that’s a little much?’ to a duke. Henry would very much like to see it. Closer.
And I’m not sure that there has ever been a better time for Buckingham to stop his mind revolving around how low rent Henry’s father was and remember who Henry’s mother was because through her the man right in front of him is the great-nephew of King Richard ‘Ruthless Bastard’ III.
And from that stare, quite a bit of Great Uncle Richard seems to be living on in Henry, and that is really worth keeping an eye on. Buckingham leaves court, somehow not sprinting, somehow still a free man (Henry and Wolsey taking it right down to the wire, here).
Bessie Blount’s been giving birth and she gives us a nice full reaction at the end – a sobbing laugh of incredibly sore radiant joy, and we see the living and healthy baby, but we do not yet know its gender. That’s fine, we can wait.
Compton (fantastic red cape), Knivert and a group of soldiers intercept Buckingham…I’m going to assume on his way back to his estates from court. That journey could take a few days so it fits with what we’re seeing, and is the smart play – Buckingham is away both from his troops, and anyone he had stationed in London in case of trouble at court. He and the group he’s traveling with are relaxed because he has just been allowed to leave.
So the numbers of men are about even and Buckingham backs down. We’re told why Buckingham is not horrified by the prospect of arrest. It is his right to be judged by his equals and for him that means his jury must consist of members of the nobility (Peers of the realm prosecuted for a crime could still request a trial in the House of Lords instead of a Crown Court up until 1948).
He is confident that with his own group judging him, he will walk away from this. So, stopping briefly to call Compton and Knivert ‘Butcher’s dogs’ (a reference to Wolsey, whose father was supposed to be a butcher), he surrenders to the arrest.
And from Wolsey’s firm suggestions in the next scene it looks like Buckingham has a point. Wolsey is worried about Buckingham’s allies in the nobility and he really thinks that banishment to his estates (essentially a lenient kind of house arrest)and a heavy fine will curb Buckingham without infuriating his friends.
Henry reluctantly agrees, or at least appears to, but there is a definite edge to his tone and then you notice what Henry is doing while they talk.
Henry has another method in mind for keeping Buckingham’s friends quiet, and it has nothing to do with keeping them content. Henry sends his friend Brandon to see the Duke of Norfolk, who will preside at the trial.
Brandon is a great messenger, really. He delivers a really polite and sensitive, jewellery and lineage based death threat from Henry to Norfolk. Norfolk heeds said death threat and at the trial, with some reluctance, pronounces Buckingham guilty of treason and sentences him to death.
Buckingham,who was utterly unprepared for this, just explodes, screaming at Wolsey that this is all his doing.
Wolsey is as surprised as Buckingham, and the true architect of the Duke’s demise just cannot resist signing his work. Buckingham is dragged off to a cell, gets thrown into it and the door slammed and locked, he finally gets some quiet to gather his thoughts and then he hears… tick…tick…tick
Oh shit, Henry. That is hardcore.
Buckingham’s execution is beautifully handled but hard to watch. I love the theme that’s been curling around since Brandon handed Norfolk that ring, and how it gets picked up by a choir now to become a kind of requiem. I’m impressed with how you’re alongside Buckingham for the beginning of the scene, getting rushed out the door and how when the camera picks up on his feet skittering across the flagstones it tells you how fast everything is going for him and that his knees are weak.
I’m mildly amused by the way the the ‘Do You Forgive Me?’ question from the executioner turns out to be a form question. If you don’t forgive him…he really doesn’t care that much. It seems to be more a last opportunity for you to show some grace and to passively acquiesce to your own execution. It’s like a ‘going for points’ option and no one is going for any points today.
It’s bad. Once you get to it there is just this terrified, confused man, all of his bluster gone, frozen by the prospect of his own imminent death. His 21st Century watchers might be doubled over with empathy, but his in universe watchers find it all to be very poor form. It’s great work from Stephen Waddington that I hope not to see over again for a while, and Buckingham dies.
The execution has been intercut with Henry meeting his newborn bastard son. The whole new life/death montage had to be a fresher concept in 2007.
Henry rides outside to yell his victory at God,with an actual literal Ha Ha! in there. And then it’s at least a few days later (maybe weeks?) and we’re at the party to celebrate his son’s birth.
Rewatch Interest – Hard to see here, but Thomas More weaves through the background of this scene and is clearly really uncomfortable with being asked to celebrate the King’s infidelity.
The key to this scene comes when Brandon congratulates Henry, and Henry says –
“Thank you Charles. I knew it wasn’t my fault.”
So we’re not just celebrating a baby, it’s also Henry’s assured virility, and the apparent favour of God. The person to whom the fault now seems magnetically attracted walks in, drinks a toast to her husband’s new son, and walks out. Because Catherine of Aragon has almost total dignity, and riding this out with her pride intact is as near as she can get to a win at this point.
Henry’s not made Lady Bessie Blount happy either, but I think she at least knows it’s the end of their relationship now, given that he doesn’t want to see her at their son’s christening party, and she’s crying. Yep. she knows.
The future’s looking pretty bright for her son,though. No title yet, but he’s been recognised as the King’s son and gets the royal bastard surname – Fitzroy, an estate and staff.
We are at St Peter’s Basilica, in Rome and I don’t think this is CG.
And to just get our mood right back up we get a comedy pope death. Cardinal Campeggio (who will be back) and Bishop Bonnivet (from episode 1, weird accent, killed by hound) are at the Pope’s sickbed where the basic fact that the English have, diplomatically speaking, completely humped the French will mean that Wolsey loses their support to become the new pope. An inability to swallow combined with a serious insistence on proper communion wafer protocol kill the current Pope. The Pope is dead, let’s elect a new pope, let’s make him an Italian.
We go from the profane and practical centre of faith to a geniune personal spiritual plea. The supplicant is Queen Catherine and she’s showing her commitment to penitence by walking barefoot through mud and gravel to get to the church. It’s not a show, there’s no one here to impress and like More’s whipping (or scourging) it’s part of the idea of ‘mortification of the flesh’ That survives in some Catholic circles today, in which one voluntarily exchanges physical discomfort for spiritual credit. How genuine her faith is, and her profound emotional pain are all on display here. And it’s an important moment for us to get a good look at the heart of a character who has remarkable self control in front of others.
There’s an embarrassing run in with Lady Blount at court, (where Catherine apparently has a guy that just walks in front of her saying – “The Queen.” which is awesome.) but Catherine gets to sweep majestically by. The court is about to move to Wolsey’s estate at Hampton Court. Tudor courts were often on the move in the summer, which can be explained in two words – No Plumbing.
Anne is summoned home where she finds her uncle Norfolk and father plotting. She gets an update on the ‘No more Mary and the King’ situation, and picks up that the family would like the reserve to come on the pitch.
Practical, astute and wary Anne points out that Mary’s not the only girl the King got over in a hurry, and wonders why they think she would do any better. Her father points out that that they’re looking for someone to keep him interested for some time before she gives up the goods, and they think she’s got what it takes to do that.
Thomas Boleyn describes Anne’s eyes as ‘Dark hooks for the soul’ as a sidestep for the fact that the notoriously dark eyed Anne Boleyn is here being played by a blue eyed actress. And ultimately, like Rhys Meyers’ total failure to be 6’1″ and ginger, it’s up to every viewer to decide if they’re going to roll with it. And of course you’re going to roll with Dormer, she’s an amazing Anne Boleyn.
We are then heading toward Hampton Court with Henry and Wolsey. And Wolsey has taken advantage of an unspecified time frame between his scenes to just sodding teleport to Aachen and back. His meeting with the Emperor went well (although I assume the Emperor was confused when there was a whooshing sound and then Wolsey was in his kitchen) and the political weathercock points towards War with France… again.
The King points out that Hampton Court is the most beautiful house in England.
And Wolsey gets to take his own earlier advice (to give your prince what you value most)and give Henry his massive house. Wolsey actually seems pleased to be able to make the gesture, and we leave the episode with the two the closest of friends.