Part The First
We are in Whitehall and a pageant is being prepared. The guy who hired Humbleflow is in charge and his name is Mr Cornish. We get a cute little ‘failing at rehearsal’ bit, elevated by a tall dumb guard with a loaded musket and real dedication to character.
We won’t be seeing them again until performance day so you’ll just have to imagine their training montage, ideally while humming that song from Team America:World Police.
Outside there’s a conversation between Henry and Brandon, where we’re going to settle back a little before we look at that conversation, and get some Tudor context.
Actual Historical Henry and Cardinal Wolsey (and I think we can infer it to The Tudors’ Henry and Wolsey) were particularly close due to what happened in Henry’s youth. Henry acceded to the throne very young (just 17) and it was Wolsey that figured out that siding with the young King against some of the most powerful councilors of the time was the winning option.
Wolsey helped Henry get what he wanted and they consolidated their hold on power together. Last week’s disposal of Buckingham was significant for their relationship because for the first time we saw Henry be dissatisfied with Wolsey’s approach and reach out to find another option. What he found he had that he could use was Charles Brandon, and Henry’s best friend really nailed it. Brandon delivered a death threat from Henry to Norfolk with precision, manners and discretion, ensuring a guilty verdict that surprised everyone.
Brandon may be of low birth, openly admitting to being the ‘son of a whore’ to Buckingham in episode 1, but he has iron loyalty to Henry, and he’s about to be rewarded for his capable work with a very prestigious job. And typically for Henry, it’s also another test. Well, Brandon aced the last one so I’m sure he’ll do fine.
All he has to do is accompany Henry’s young, beautiful, clever, confident and sexually demanding sister Princess Margaret to her marriage to the King of Portugal.
Dear God Henry, that’s not a test. That’s trying to get a bus to show jump.
Anyway, Henry gives Brandon another reward. He makes him a duke, which is a BFD. English titles of nobility go –
Sir Thomas Boleyn’s family by working hard and making large amounts of money for several generations just managed to score a claim on an earldom (3rd from the bottom) in Ireland through Thomas’s mother. Often in these adaptations (but not The Tudors, which skips Anne Boleyn’s romance with Harry Percy entirely) you hear that Anne is supposed to get married to someone in Ireland in the early stages of the story. This was the original plan her family had for Actual Historical Anne Boleyn- to secure that earldom for her children/Sir Thomas Boleyn’s grandchildren to inherit. That is how much trouble multiple generations of a well founded family could go through to get on this ladder, and Brandon just went from ‘some guy’ to a man that outranks every single person at court except the Royal family, the Duke of Norfolk and Cardinal Wolsey.
He’s also going to get really significant estates to go with that title. Damn, in one stroke, Brandon’s life is secured.
Henry’s Ally-swap is underway and the imperial ambassadors from the Holy Roman Emperor have arrived. Thomas More is sent to greet them, and they look fabulous. Mendoza, with the beard on the right will be with us throughout most of Season 1. Chapuys on the left will be around regularly and is with us for the long haul.
Thomas More being Thomas More, he tries his hand at bonding through a discussion about the spread of heresy, and manages to name drop his most famous friend, Erasmus. He decides to impress them with Henry’s literary achievements in defence of the church, and Chapuys is suitably surprised that Henry is writing something himself. As am I. Of course, if it were at least 2000 words a week with gifs and stills, I’d be more impressed. But then I have no kingdom to rule, only this sofa.
They get to Hampton Court and Wolsey makes his first appearance this episode. He’s delighted to see the ambassadors –
It’s a full 30 seconds into the conversation before Princess Mary has her engagement to the Dauphin broken off and is re-engaged to Charles, Holy Roman Emperor. Then something happens which clearly indicates that the professional diplomats have arrived. Chapuys promptly offers Wolsey two things – a generous pension, and the help of the Emperor in becoming Pope.
Someone has clearly made a study of the cardinal, and identified the areas of his ambition where the French either weren’t serving him well or the Imperials could maybe serve him better. Chapuys makes the offer while Mendoza looks on, carefully gauging the cardinal’s reaction as Chapuys speaks. Oh, the Imperials have their diplomatic shit together.
It all seems to be pretty positive (offering people money is a great ice breaker) , and they drink to their success.
We are at Framlington Castle, the ‘Country Cottage’ of the Duke of Norfolk’s estates.
And I find that the compelling character in this scene is Thomas Boleyn. Norfolk and Boleyn are plotting, and they’ve found a way to get Anne into the pageant. I think the plan is to use the pageant to throw her across Henry’s centre of attention and see if she can get anything to stick. The greater plan is to then use this to bring down Wolsey.
Norfolk and Boleyn are welded together by marriage (Thomas married Norfolk’s sister, who was living at this point in actual history, seemingly dead in the series). The Boleyns were permitted to attach themselves to the mighty Howards (Norfolk’s family name) due to their resourcefulness, so they are now being used as a resource. Norfolk has the personality skills of someone who has never had to rely on them in his life, and is just really crass about the whole thing.
And while you can’t see it at this resolution, that’s a very heavy sigh that Boleyn gives as he walks away. Thomas Boleyn is going to be a monster by the end of season 2, warped by ambition and fear, and these are the first steps on that turn. On a rewatch he’s quite the compelling side character.
The judges have arrived, although I was hoping for more variety in the silhouette.
And the stage looks amazing.
So let’s do this thing.
First the drama challenge, and you have to remember this is their IMAX. Tudor, poor and living outside of London? You could spend your whole life seeing nothing but earth tones. That said, the drama is weak. Good ladies in white in the back row are called:
And they are being held captive by Nasty Ladies in black in the front row. Unkindness, Scorn etc., Young men in nice costumes with stunning tights arrive and are named exactly the kind of bullshit you would expect. Henry, Brandon, Compton and Knivert are in there.
I see Mr Cornish has given himself the lead, well, no one else can really hit a line delivery except Lady Unkindness, and casting her as Ardent Desire would require a far more progressive production than the one we’re going to see here. The metaphor, approaching us in the manner that a whale and a bowl of petunias at terminal velocity approach a planet (Happy Birthday, Mr Adams) is that ‘Desire Overcomes All’.
Ahem. Right. Yes… well while that’s really not an ideal theme for the #Metoo era I think here we have to appreciate that there are eras of history in which the image above would read more like ‘Oh look, gallant young men have come to set me free’ and less like ‘Oh shit, that’s a lot of rapists.’ and I’m going to say I’m thinking particularly of front row, second from left who is just striding in there,..back row, furthest left is really giving it some thought..then there’s the ‘we’re carrying something heavy’ twins back right..Oh sod it. They all look like rapists to me. And Ardent Desire is clearly here for Purge night.
They storm the castle and act like it’s a victory despite the ladies in black only being armed with confetti. And then there is a hinge moment, one that changes the future.
It gets its own sting of a theme and it deserves it. Really well done.
As ever, the good girls are required to say nothing so Lady Unkindness wins the acting challenge and it’s on to the dancing section.
And for the dance we have two competitors with very different challenges.
Anne Boleyn needs to get the attention of the King without asking for it. And she nails the hell out of that. Princess Margaret, opposite Henry, has a more complicated task. She wants to get out of compulsory marriage to an old man, arranged by her brother for strategic advantage. A task you would think was perhaps beyond the interaction offered by small talk while dancing, but maybe this is all the time she can get with him. Just how regimented access to the King is will be underlined soon in the episode.
Anne does a lot better in her challenge than Margaret does in hers, no one lip syncs for their life:( and we get a little peek into the mechanisms that make the court run.
Then Brandon and Margaret meet each other to discuss arrangements for the voyage and it’s a level of sexual tension really best described as eye-fuckin while feigning disinterest.
Back in Whitehall the Imperial ambassadors have arrived for the only official time they’re going to get with the King. First, though, they get to meet Queen Catherine. It’s hard to describe just how much of a rock star Catherine of Aragon was to the Spanish. The youngest daughter of not one but two reigning monarchs, of which her mother was the determined war leader and her father the able diplomat, her parents’ marriage cemented Spain together as a country, and she is a walking connection with a glorious chapter of their national past.
The ambassadors are suitably impressed to meet her just before going in to their audience.
She spikes a bit of intrigue onto the pitch, by telling them (quietly) to beware of Wolsey. Then they get their audience with Henry.
Which is very formal and correct. Henry does tell them that he would be delighted if the Emperor would visit, and that Cardinal Wolsey is absolutely trusted and speaks for him in all things so it’s a good job the imperial ambassadors have skills, because the intrigue web in this court is getting more complicated by the episode.
Also, being able to do this when you’re done talking to someone would be fantastic.
Well, I suppose I could do it, but I’m far more likely to get slapped then have people walk backwards out of the room.
Then we’re outside with Wolsey talking to Henry while Henry does musket target practice.
Wolsey tells Henry that Charles HRE (Holy roman Emperor) is coming to visit at the end of the month and they both agree that if he’s coming that soon then the war is imminent. Wolsey says that the main theatre of the war will be Italy, with Charles HRE pressing his claim to Milan. Henry wants warships, so that the English disadvantage of fewer men is made up for by the best Navy in Europe.
Wolsey points out the expense and Henry points out that his father left the Kingdom wealthy. For future reference that money is going to last until near the end of season 1. Then Henry will have to hustle for it like everyone else.
Hey! Want to see a man’s soul get crushed?
Once Wolsey’s done and leaves to go about his day, Henry calls up Sir Thomas Boleyn for a word. He points out Boleyn’s efforts during the Big French Summit, and that he feels he hasn’t rewarded him enough.
He makes him a Knight of the Garter and comptroller (modern equivalent: accountant) of the royal household. These are rich rewards, and Henry’s praise is high and I swear for a moment, just a moment, Thomas Boleyn thinks he might just have got something on merit, without being asked to pimp out his family.
And then Henry mentions Anne.
Then we’re at the Boleyn family home in Hever, Kent.
With a young Thomas Wyatt quoting one of his actual historical poems to Anne. They are clearly in a relationship of some kind and this is break-up day. And I certainly get the impression that while this is being done for family advantage, and she does still have feelings for Wyatt, that Anne is also kind of over her poet phase.
Wyatt loses a lot of sympathy when she points out that he’s married, but then again marriage was different then. The children of nobility in this time period get thoroughly indoctrinated and sometimes flat out bullied and threatened to get them into a church at 14 or so, where they must agree to marry someone or cause terrible harm to their family and presto, they’re married. Everyone goes back to their respective homes and in a few years either you go to live with them or they come to live with you, or it turns out to have not been such a great idea and gets annulled. It’s not like they’re in any position to give or deny consent when their parents say they are marrying.
He could definitely have phrased this better though:
Yeah, Anne. Anne isn’t married yet, dipshit. Incidentally, from how young they’ve sheared him, Sir Thomas Wyatt should be around for a while. He gets the final goodbye from Anne (The ‘Don’t.Fucking.Gossip.’ talk), and off she walks.
We have a brief but enjoyable interlude with Compton and Knivert.
Where they lament that Brandon has suddenly risen so far beyond them, and start their own ‘power and riches’ side quest while quite drunk. Good luck, boys.
Henry and Catherine have eaten dinner, and getting along very well now that the Imperial alliance is in the ascendant.
They chat politics for a bit and then Catherine turns it personal. She talks about a dream she had in which Henry had come to her and said:
“That all would be well and all manner of things would be well.” Remember that, because those exact words are going to pop up again, spoken by Catherine’s daughter Mary in Season 4.
She goes on to say that she never ‘knew’ Henry’s brother, who was very young and ill when she was married to him. She tells Henry she loves him. He comes over and kisses her, in a way that could very well be misinterpreted, but that I think future events show is a loving ‘Goodbye’.
He marches out the room and straight into a young lady with no time for subtlety.
And we get to follow Catherine around her evening. Her spirits are lifted by a visit from her daughter, Princess Mary. She goes to her chamber and heart breakingly asks if the King has made any sign that he would visit her tonight, when the answer is clearly ‘no’.
The music does great work here again, bringing in the strings to become a lament for love and hope and all the things that she and Henry shared together. It is the functional end of her marriage, the part of her life that defined her. And at this point it is incredible to believe that this poor, lonely woman will be transmuted by events and her own sheer will into a great Fortress Europa – the Immovable Object to counter Henry’s Irresistable Force.
But I cannot wait to see it.