Last time we ended with Thomas Wyatt discussing his new job working for Cromwell, both to be rising stars in the coming years. This week we start with the falling star, or a meteorite at least, falling inexorably towards Wolsey’s head.
Wolsey’s Breaking My Heart
He’s doing that thing that some people do when they are so worried they can’t sleep – he’s picking at the bedspread, and he’s damn near making me cry. He looks older than he did, and as Sam Neill gives him a very open, expressionistic face now, Wolsey’s suddenly a vulnerable guy.
He starts up with that expression because Anne Boleyn wrote back. He has to break it to Joan that she has refused to help them. But Wolsey has a new plan. He appears to be about to appeal to Katherine.
Well, on the surface it doesn’t seem that realistic an option. Wolsey’s (ironic spoiler alert) reaching the end, here, but that great mind just can’t stop turning, looking for one more way out. Even in the most unlikely places. He’s still trying to get out from under the shadow of that meteorite, and in doing so, he is about to draw it towards him.
When love is gone, life may take the light out your eyes but it replaces it with grit and a smouldering fire. And Katherine’s a gritty flamer this evening.
Katherine positively yearned for Henry’s company during this season. There was a time where the news that Henry had arrived would have sent her running to meet him with outstretched arms and a delighted smile. Tonight she is told that he has come to see her and she appears nonplussed. It is possible she sighs. Katherine’s approach to Henry could best be described as a dutiful march, and she greets him with a dangerously raised eyebrow.
Everything remains surface polite and somewhat formal, Henry says he is here because he has heard that she had been ill. Katherine says she is better. The discussion moves to Princess Mary. When Henry says he is proud of her, Katherine’s eyebrow has another moment. And then this happens.
First, Henry’s quietly surprised concern at the quality of the intel Katherine is getting is very satisfying. And it’s not like she’ll never be sad, or never miss him again, but this altogether spikier and iron willed Katherine has slowly been emerging this season and has become a substantial part of her, too. It will be good not to forget that, because Henry certainly won’t.
Since the Tyrant’s been overthrown, no-one’s been taking out the trash*
In Whitehall the Council suddenly look like schoolchildren all waiting for a rollicking as Henry’s discovers he has no money and mo’ problems. England is out of cash, and apparently no one used a comparison site before getting the country’s loan out so the interest rates are bloody awful.
In fact, since Wolsey got fired and prosecuted the general admin of the country has just about had time to go entirely to shit. Henry keeps hearing complaints – things delayed, things done wrong, confusion and disorder.
And it’s time for the conspirators and Henry to face a truth. Wolsey was the crutch the state apparatus leaned on. He had been so powerful for so long the administration had practically grown up around him, and you can’t just remove him from that and hope everything will still work. Henry decided to split Wolsey’s powers between two dilettantes (Norfolk and Brandon) and two zealots (More and Cromwell). It hasn’t worked out.
Henry is finally appreciating the sheer amount of work Wolsey got through, and is saying so when Norfolk points out to Henry that Wolsey was also ripping off a lot of money from the state and had a strong French favoritism, but he does it quite delicately for Norfolk. So Henry keeps his temper and goes to Thomas More for his opinion. More’s opinion of Wolsey is coloured by a religious view of sin. He focuses on Wolsey’s pride and ambition being his downfall – It’s a satisfying vindication of Wolsey. Wolsey the pragmatist, Wolsey the thoughtful, Wolsey who was actually far more restrained in his dealings with the aristocracy then they ever gave him an ounce of credit for. It’s also a big chunk of what’s going to kill him.
Wolsey’s meteorite is approaching. He is under its shadow and it will hit his head. A decent amount of its mass is made up of this – Henry is starting to regret what he has lost, and as Norfolk predicted last week, a living Wolsey is a dangerous Wolsey. He could come back, and everyone that worked to get him out knows it, and how much danger that will put them in. It’s like, 40% that.
And about 30% self manufactured
Chapuys goes to see Katherine. That decision Wolsey made in bed has come to fruition, he sent the letter and he’s not begging Katherine for anything, either. He’s planning a coup to force Henry back to his marriage. With the help of foreign governments.
Actually Historically? Nope. No evidence of this move by Wolsey. It’s an interesting way to go though. Katherine’s reaction is telling. Her first question?
It appears, at least on the surface, to be a non-violent coup Wolsey is suggesting. But for anyone looking to bring him down, Wolsey’s been manufacturing ammunition.
Unsteady As She Goes
Henry and Thomas More take a walk outside and discuss matters of state, and apparently the good ship England has some issues. “No Taxation without Representation” is one of those originally British things that the Americans picked up and gave a new significance on one of the multiple occasions through history when we forgot to extend to others that which we had demanded for ourselves.
The primary mechanical difference between the English monarchy and others in Europe was produced by Magna Carta in the 13th Century- and a central part of that was any English King must call a Parliament and get them to agree before they could raise taxes.
Parliament was completely unrepresentative and totally unelected in Henry’s period, it was also basically supine. Parliament was almost always going to say “Yes, Your Majesty…” to the ultimate power in society that had lucrative jobs, huge tracts of land and more money than you’d ever seen in its gift, and could also kill you for treason. However, if the times were riled, if there were enough big questions not being addressed – then Parliament would often include a “But…” in its agreement to get the King some money. “But…we need to clarify the national religion/ deal with piracy/ the fact that we think your most powerful favorite is a raging asshole first your Majesty. Then of course we’ll say yes to your money.”.
More advises that it’s those fighting over religion this time around that want to attach a rider to Henry’s money. He defends the current government position of burning more heretics than we used to, and Henry is the unlikely voice of concern about the current policy.
Let’s do a Conspiracy Lunch
Meanwhile, at a light conspiracy lunch where no one is eating, Brandon, Anne and George get an update of the King’s thinking from Norfolk. I love the way Norfolk goes very still when questioned impertinently by Anne. It’s the tension between “I cannot believe my lackey’s daughter is interrogating me.” against “My lackey’s daughter is the only reason we have any power and will soon outrank me.”, and apparently that all tastes quite bitter.
Brandon looks glum as shit, Anne gets angry, and Norfolk, from his perspective, has a quite reasonable attitude. He is the one with the most to lose from a return to favour for Wolsey, (He doesn’t have the personal insurance from the King that Brandon and Anne have) and he has to prepare for that eventuality. Anne, on the other hand, has had quite enough of this, is very aware of Wolsey’s capacity for vengeance and ends the scene preparing to take action to prevent her family getting caught in that.
Of course, from Anne’s perspective, Norfolk dragged the Boleyns into his feud against Wolsey, finally got what he wanted due to their considerable and extensive assistance, and now he hasn’t been able to manage the country and hold onto his position he’s backing way off and preparing for Wolsey’s return.
He did the Math
Thomas Boleyn and Cromwell have returned from their respective European missions, and apparently they dusted off the old teleporter because they’re both back within 10 episode minutes of being sent.
Cromwell’s a bit chirpier than Boleyn because his ‘go to the universities’ plan is the only one bearing any fruit. Looks like a majority of university cities are pro-divorce so the Emperor’s troops rampaging through Italy for a couple of years, and central Europe going Protestant had considerable weight. Spain is against, of course, and Henry points out their clear bias while ignoring how he got his majority.
Boleyn is glum because he got the shit tasks, stuff that had to be done but had no chance of success. He got turned away from the door of the Emperor, and the Pope wouldn’t discuss anything, just handed him an edict to give to Henry. Cromwell tries to pass it along, but Henry stops him with a hand gesture, and asks him to read it instead.
The Pope demands that Henry sends Anne away from court, and tells him that he cannot remarry while the Papal Curia (Council) is still considering the case. Henry greets this with a heavy exhale, eye twitch and a thousand yard stare.
We then go straight out to the main hall, as Cromwell and Boleyn leave the King. The score picked up Henry’s mood and there’s definite tension in the music for the next few minutes. Cromwell and Boleyn are both waylaid on their way out. Cromwell by Thomas Wyatt who is not going to be put off by Cromwell’s “Not Now Mr Wyatt” – he has important information about Wolsey, and Cromwell changes his mind. Boleyn is waylaid by Chapuys who appears to be sounding out Boleyn’s attitude to Catholicism.
Why Chapuys would do this is pretty clear. The weather is changing in England – and if he knows where Thomas Boleyn stands then Chapuys will have a good idea of what the new weather will be like. Chapuys is the ambassador from the Empire which pretty much defines itself through its ostentatious Catholicism, and he puts his points in a paternalistic way. He thinks England is now in the same state as ‘we discovered in Germany’ this will mean ‘catastrophe and ruin’ – how could it not? He finishes up with an appeal “For the love we all bear for Christ and his apostles…”, and he’s chasing Boleyn through the hall and yelling that last part.
And Thomas Boleyn, who has just come from being repeatedly insulted at the courts of the Emperor and the Pope, and who we were already pretty sure is Protestant from the very Protestant educations he arranged for his children, comes out the closet like an atheist after compulsory attendance at a 10 hour sermon competition and just lets Chapuys Have. It.
It’s 15% Team Cromwell
Because you have to give Wyatt credit for the assist. One of the advantages of employing a bit of a rake like Wyatt is that he knows a lot of people in the second and third ranks of court life. Untitled, but deriving from noble families they get professional support jobs that give them an income and still rank above, say, being a merchant or a tradesman. But they have little chance of further advancement without also showing serious talent and hard work and must mix with and compete against the tiny sliver of the population that was middle class and educated enough to get those jobs too.
Augustus De’Augustini became a physician and he ended up working for Wolsey. He’s played by Ned Dennehy (who is everywhere at the moment – Versailles, Mandy, Good Omens next year) and Augustus has one hell of a speech impediment. He found out that Wolsey was conspiring with the Pope and the Emperor. And his deference to Cromwell is a reminder – Cromwell might not be imposing to Dukes and Earls, but the next rankers have noticed he’s a man with considerable power and on the rise.
And 10% Anne
And that’s a very different proportion than other adaptations or actual history. In everything but The Tudors Anne is a central driving force in Wolsey’s downfall, even signing her work – The man sent to arrest him in actual history was Harry Percy – the ex boyfriend Wolsey prevented Anne from marrying, all those years ago.
But, having skipped that romance, The Tudors’ Anne Boleyn doesn’t have the same level of rancor towards Wolsey. It’s her war with her female rivals (Katherine and later Mary) that’s going to have the scent of blood in it. For now, her motivation is to keep her family safe against Wolsey’s return.
Still, she does her job and does it well, assuring Wolsey’s fate. And I say assuring, because I think Henry was already there. He says nothing during this short scene but his iron expression indicates this most recent news about Wolsey has sealed it. He’s done.
It’s Brandon (stoic faced, doing his job) sent to arrest Wolsey, and Wolsey is dragged out of bed early in the morning, with Joan desperately trying to keep hold of him.
He is told he is being taken to London to be tried, and as he is shackled he gets to deliver his classic historical line – “If I had served God as diligently as I have served the King…
He is driven away, shackled in a cart, and calls Joan’s name twice as she sinks to the ground shaking with tears.
Chapuys is super dramatic
Chapuys is going to have to leave his post as Ambassador, because he heard someone say something he considers heresy. Like, right in front of him, openly. And they weren’t cowering or admitting they were wrong immediately or anything. So he obviously has to leave.
Katherine, as ever when someone has to leave her service when she clearly still needs them, absolves him of his commitments to her, and commends him for the good work he has done.
While Chapuys talks about her treatment by Henry, Katherine gets to the point of this scene and tells Chapuys to also report that the Emperor…
And she shows us the other face of renaissance Catholicism – actual piety against self interest -that she believes for the Emperor to invade England would be a sin against God and her conscience. Chapuys is clearly impressed, and might be already re thinking his decision as he takes his leave.
The Death of Wolsey
And so we are here, the raggedy end. There’s always been speculation about Wolsey’s death, and adaptations throughout the 20th and 21st Century have sided heavily with leaving it open, or implying either Wolsey’s suicide or covert murder.
He was a healthy (albeit older) man, right up until he was arrested the second time, and then he suddenly got very ill and died within days of starting the journey to London. There’s no direct evidence, but the circumstantial points in the direction of an intervention by someone.
And Wolsey is in one of the few circumstances where he can do this with some justification. It doesn’t matter who you are – those that love you are always, always going to want and need you around for longer, and the people that love you is always a wider net that you thought.
But Wolsey is going to die anyway. He’s got no ‘outs’ left, having nearly come back once his enemies will never let him go alive, and trying to conspire with Katherine he lost the bond with Henry that was saving him until that moment. All he has left is a show trial, execution and degradation supplied by his enemies. So as he sits on a narrow bed in a dark cell, he comes to a decision that he’s going to die before the meteorite hits him. The final 5% never gets added, because Wolsey cuts the accretion short.
Set to this beautiful piece of music, Wolsey’s death is inter cut with the notorious pageant that shows him as greedy, lustful and damned, while his truly elegant prayer shows him as a wise, pragmatic, clear sighted man who even found some humility, in the end.
He cuts the apple, testing the knife. Then kneels before the crucifix in his cell.
“Lord, we have not spoken as long, or as often as we should. I’ve often been about other business. If I wanted forgiveness…I should ask for it, but for all that I have done, for all that I am yet to do, there can be no forgiveness.
And yet I think I am not an evil man. For evil men pray louder, seek penance, and think themselves closer to heaven than I am. I shall not see its gates Lord, nor hear your sweet words of salvation.
I have seen eternity, I swear. But it was in a dream and in the morning it was gone.
I know myself for what I am. And I throw my poor soul upon your forgiveness, in the full knowledge that I deserve none at your loving hands.”
Wolsey commits suicide, and with a final stunning performance the legend Sam Neill leaves The Tudors.
Henry gets the news
Henry gets the news as reported in Actual History (in the middle of an archery game) and reacts with the same words (“I’ll finish my game.”). But the Tudors gives him a few more whispered lines with Cromwell that make it very clear that the “I’ll finish my game” is bluster for those present to cover up Henry’s real grief.
Away with the Old
In a darkened side room, communicating in whispers, More and Bishop Fisher (Katherine’s advocate during the trial) find themselves on the down swing of the Catholic/Protestant see saw.
15 clergymen have been arrested just for recognising Wolsey’s authority, and a bill making the King head of the church in England is being prepared for Parliament. It’s a strange new world for devout and heavily invested Catholics.
A theme too good to be used once, Wolsey’s death theme gets a reprise as Henry and Anne go riding in the woods. Their progression seems deliberate, almost ceremonial as they slow down through the trees and as they get off their horses it becomes very clear what this is all about.
And they go alll the way. As in ‘very little of this can be giffed’. Anne’s chest gets out to take the air, and Henry’s shaft finally gets to complete the character arc it started in episode 1. It ends ‘highly frustrated’ as they are practicing a form of coitus interruptus. And I get the impression that this is a new step for them. Perhaps this is what the ‘kind of wedding feast’ and all the generous gifts there were about, getting Anne secure enough to allow another advance from where they were, sexually.
And with Henry’s frustrated ‘Guuuaaargh’, and unwillingly raised pants, Season 1 is the only thing that comes to a conclusion.
The Tudors Season 1 Recap
February -July 2018
Actual Historical Checks – The Six Wives of Henry VIII A.Fraser 1998
Henry VIII King and Court A. Weir 2002
Here you can skip straight to the next Tudors Recap – Season 2 Episode 1: Everything is Beautiful (Part 1)
I stumbled across your blog today by sheer accident. I am rewatching The Tudors on Netflix and was looking for some clarification of Wolsey’s downfall and found your recaps. Utterly hilarious and so well written. I’m going to read them all! Thank you for this unexpected gift that I don’t deserve.
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Oh you absolutely deserve it. I mean, you have excellent taste in recaps for a start.
Would you mind, by chance, telling me the primary source for Henry’s reaction to Wolsey’s death and historical quote? Who reported it? Hall, Holinshed, Cavendish? I want to include that bit in my Anne supercut but I can’t seem to find the exact chronicle/account. Please, I’ve looked everywhere. Thanks in advance autocrat
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Hi, Sir George,
Welp, here I am with some egg on my face. That story is from Alison Weir’s Henry VIII King and Court, p313 in my version, right near the end of the chapter “Squire Harry will be God, and Do as He Pleases!” covered by footnotes 28-30. All those footnotes Weir attributes to George Cavendish – she has several of his texts in her bibliography and she doesn’t specify which one(s) she’s going from here. This is her paragraph I used for my ‘Actual historical’ justification:
“George Cavendish rode south to Hampton Court to inform the King of Wolsey’s death and found Henry shooting at the butts. Noticing Cavendish leaning against a tree looking pensive, the King came up and clapped a hand on his shoulder. ‘I will make an end of my game, and then I will talk with you.’ He said.”
So I kind of assumed that that was when Henry heard the news.
But the actual text of Cavendish’s ‘Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey’ is online, I thought that was a good bet for the source, so I just went to have a look at it, and it’s not great news for my reckon. The story Cavendish actually tells is that (on page 151) William Kingston sent a message to Henry directly after the death, via a guard that had been present at Wolsey’s death and heard his last words, and then Kingston and Cavendish arranged and attended the funeral, and it’s then that Cavendish rode to Hampton Court (p152), stayed there the night, and the following morning was summoned to see the King. He didn’t ‘find’ the King, The King summoned him while he was already at archery practice and the rest is pretty much as Weir had it.
If this is days, maybe a week or more after the death, a message had already been sent, and Cavendish was stopping overnight at the Palace and got summoned by Henry next morning then there’s no way that this was when Henry heard about Wolsey’s death for the first time. So this incident isn’t from when Henry heard the news, but it was when Cavendish made his report and got questioned, by Henry, for over an hour about Wolsey’s money and where he had stashed what he had. Cavendish gave up a lot of info and got a year’s wages out of it according to his own account. (P 152-153). If this could really be said to be ‘notifying’ Henry of the death it was far more of a ‘meeting the financial executor’ notification than an ‘actually getting the news’ notification.
So, it’s getting late, thanks for the question, TL;DR I was wrong, but I’m pretty sure I can blame Alison Weir for most of it. She said Cavendish, Cavendish’s “The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey” disagrees in key areas.
Yup, it was pretty much as you say. He doesn’t mention specifically that the king found out during archery practice, but Michael Hirst incorporated his historical quote in the script and showed us his reaction. Clever. I reread Cavendish’s account yesterday, hours before seeing your reply, I wanted to corroborate how Henry found out
Would you know by chance the historical source for Anne’s reaction to Catherine making Henry’s shirts in season 2? Again, the exact report/account eludes me. Thanks in advance
I got it from Antonia Fraser’s Six Wives, and according to the footnotes she got it from E W Ives’ Anne Boleyn, page 175 of the 1986 version.
OMG this was hilarious and soooo accurate! The conspiracy lunch!!!!
and as they get off their horses it becomes very clear what this is all about. DEAD!
Thanks so much! I’ve read so much about this period and the wives…always kind of wondered if this last scene was a dream or a scene that the writers backpedaled on after completely fleshing out season 2.
Thx for your interpretation!
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I just came across this blog while searching for something about the Tudors season 1 episode 10. This is so wonderfully written. I feel like going back and reading all the recaps about all the episodes from Tudors. It feels like I haven’t watched the episode entirely unless I have read your recap about it. It is so informative and also so funny. Thank you so much for this!!
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