The Tudors Recap – Season 2 Episode 3: Checkmate (Part 1)

Thanks for the encouragement and the most gentle and polite of chidings, Marta. This one is for you.

The Actual Historical Sword fight and the Hero Edit

Everyone swaggers into The Tudors today, draped in overly casual capes, yelling across a backstreet and looking for trouble.

And can anyone do the finger-clicks from West Side Story?

Sir William Pennington (White shirt, casual caper, beard) and friend get stopped in the street by Richard Southwell and his brother. The scene establishes that Pennington works for Charles Brandon and Southwell for Thomas Boleyn. Pennington’s keeping it light but Southwell’s having none of it, being relentlessly aggressive, and dragging the conversation to what Brandon supposedly said about Anne Boleyn. Richard Southwell goads him until Pennington says something actually offensive about said lady, and then Richard Southwell and his brother draw their swords and Richard demands satisfaction. swordplay.gifPennington gallantly sends his friend off to get Brandon, and takes on both Southwells alone. There’s a nifty cape flick, the chicken cart gets bumped and one of the stall roofs is brought down, although the vegetables do remain disappointingly in situ, and my favorite part is an angry stallholder’s cry of “You’ll pay for those goods.” as Pennington makes it into the church to claim Sanctuary. It is a proper sword fight.

Richard Southwell continues villainous, and he and his brother pursue Pennington into a side chapel, and Richard stabs Pennington while Pennington’s sword is down. vlcsnap-2019-04-03-10h31m37s497

And then they rush off to pray at the altar. So I think we can safely say that from this Actual Historical Incident that Richard Southwell got the villain’s edit and Pennington the hero’s in its depiction in The Tudors. On the other hand the killing of Pennington (on 20th April 1532 – The Tudors puts it into the narrative months later around January 1533) is an obscure and small part of history, with few academic historical references, almost no popular historical references, and certainly only ever one depiction in drama, which is right here.

Pennington’s patron (Brandon) comes rushing in and, stunned by the death of his noble retainer, is restrained from killing the murderer Richard Southwell only by the pleas of the priest and Southwell’s brother. vlcsnap-2019-04-03-10h57m19s927.png

Brandon is re discovering his Catholicism right now so of course he does what the priest asks him. He restrains his righteous fury but when he meets his enemy Boleyn at the door, accuses him of setting the whole thing up.vlcsnap-2019-04-03-11h15m19s007.png

And both from Southwell’s determination to stab Pennington whatever happened today, and Boleyn’s neutral but slightly satisfied expressions I think Brandon’s right about that.

Well, he’s right in The Tudors, but Actually Historically Thomas Boleyn had nothing to do with it.

In 2011 an academic journal (Florilegium) published Shannon McSheffrey’s The Slaying of Sir William Pennington: Legal Narrative and the Late Medieval English Archive. It’s available online, pretty accessible and well worth a read, if you have the time. It’s an academic essay (capital ‘H’ History) entirely about this swordfight, and how it was treated legally. Here’s the gen of what Shannon McSheffery found in comparison with The Tudors’ depiction.

The Southwells were allied with the Duke of Norfolk, not Boleyn, but with a side order of being personal friends with Thomas Cromwell. In The Tudors Season 2 Boleyn inherits a lot of Norfolk’s historical role, and here he’s being placed as the Southwell’s patron to kick his and Brandon’s feud up a notch. In Actual History it’s a tale that reveals a lot about the extent of Cromwell’s power in London at the time, especially if you were straying onto the wrong side of Henry.

There were a lot more people involved and two groups (the Southwell’s appear to have had the larger party – at least 6 people), and while the contemporary reports of the crime involve a lot more calling people ‘Knave’ and oath shouting, going away and regrouping and coming back, and lines sounding like people were declaiming their position on the fight entirely reasonably right up until the point where someone, somehow, got chest-stabbed, it looks like it may well have been Richard’s brother Anthony that actually stabbed Pennington, allegedly in defence of Richard. It happened outside on the street, but Pennington was still killed within the bounds of the Westminster Sanctuary, and then his attackers immediately claimed Sanctuary themselves.

Other than that, Thomas Cromwell’s hands were all over the crime reporting. He got in there quick, and he fixed it before the reports ever hit paper. Richard Southwell definitely got the ‘clearly basically innocent’ edit at the time (he would eventually get away with a fine) and details about the crime were suppressed, or overwritten.

According to the Coroner’s report (at least the one that got released once Cromwell had attended to it), this was all about some legal suit and it was Pennington the started the violence. According to everyone else that reported on it independently before Cromwell’s version got out (Including at least one reasonably neutral foreign ambassador), it was about Pennington publicly saying some nasty shit about Anne Boleyn, and who the hell knew who struck first.

The mentions of Anne explain how Cromwell got a free hand to deal with it, and the Actual Historical Brandon’s reaction, which was a very long way from the noble rage and indignation of  The Tudors character. He started by defending Pennington pretty loudly, but then dropping his dead friend like a hot rock and immediately capitulating to the approved version, once the true nature of the quarrel became clear.

You did not want to be supporting anyone implying anything against The Lady Anne Boleyn at that time. And I think a candidate for The Hero’s Edit in The Tudors is starting to edge ahead of the pack.

Random, unrelated, but suspiciously pretty photograph.

The Men in Velveteen

Meanwhile, in Whitehall, Thomas Wyatt and Mark Smeaton are hanging out and personifying the artistic side of the Rennaissance, when they notice just how many people are trying to get an audience to speak to Anne. Mark asks Thomas why this should be. vlcsnap-2019-04-06-13h07m03s263.png

And Wyatt gets to drop a line that, while entirely appropriate here, is more often associated with Anne’s daughter Elizabeth and the ‘Pilgrimage to Hatfield’ that happened as Mary I was dying. An interesting nod, considering what Anne is about to quasi-announce.

Wyatt and Smeaton go back to discussing what they’re working on, and apparently Wyatt’s going into satire. They’re discussing the futile and ridiculous nature of their currently-modern existence, which Wyatt demonstrates with the fact that he’s about to  become a Privy Councillor, a supposedly serious role in government. However it’s Smeaton the musician that gets the mic-drop line, and while they both ‘hmmm’ appreciatively at it, Anne sweeps in with a carefully aimed and hinted at bombshell.

Sometimes you can’t quite believe the ways in which your gay friend can be oblivious to hetero-context, and sometimes it’s a profound relief.

Actual Historical, and according to the sources, The Tudors’ Anne is word for word correct. And she said this loudly and particularly to Wyatt, publicly enough that it was widely reported, right down to what kind of fruit she was craving.

Why this way? Why do this like a Kardashian pregnancy pre-announcement tweet? Well she and Henry aren’t married yet. In fact, Henry’s still not divorced, so official announcements are out, but they do need to let people know the situation has changed. What better way to unofficially announce your pregnancy than publicly to your compliant ex-boyfriend, to just underline your totally platonic relationship to everyone at the same time.

She didn’t get here without some hustle, people.

Start the Clock

In Henry’s study, Cromwell is reporting how King Francis might have been a shade less helpful internationally than he promised to be at the last summit (I’m just shocked it took him this long). Henry takes it pretty well.vlcsnap-2019-04-07-14h31m05s048.png

He explains that he now has a very good reason (eyebrow) to no longer wait for the Pope. Anne’s pregnancy has put a timer on everything, so from now on it will be move after move after move until the divorce and re-marriage is done (although, strangely enough not in that order) . vlcsnap-2019-04-07-14h34m36s184.png

But he still wants it done by the church, at least the highest branch of the church he recognizes and that is the Archbishop of Canterbury. And there happens to be a vacancy for that position.

The prime candidate for which is currently taking delivery of his wife.

Starting with trying to distract the Amazon delivery driver from the fact that there’s a contraband heretical real-woman in that suspiciously large box.

Once the delivery driver is safely gone, Cranmer opens the huge crate to find his wife has been successfully Tyrion Lannistered across the channel. Although she was not pleased at the travel arrangements.

OK, but that’s more room than you’d get long haul coach. Quite a bit dirtier, though.

She starts off annoyed, but soon melts as she sees her new husband. He’s forgiven incredibly quickly, but then they are young, and married, and in love, and he is significantly hot.

Cranmer will be a definite change of pace for the Archbishopric of Canterbury.

Which is the matter under discussion at what looks to be an after supper gathering of core ‘Remainers’: More, Fisher and Chapuys, with More’s wife hostessing. More’s wife is interesting in the background, clearly uncomfortable at times with the direction of the conversation. Chapuys wonders if the church is aware of Cranmer’s reputation in England, vlcsnap-2019-04-07-16h56m28s364.png

Fisher thinks Cranmer should take an oath ‘not to meddle’ in the divorce, leading More to have to point out that that’s kind of the point of promoting Cranmer. He’s the most volatile of the group tonight, and drinking quite a bit. He gets on to threats allegedly made by Anne Boleyn, that at this point we have no reason to believe. ‘People Say’ she’s made threats against Katherine of Aragon and Princess Mary. And then his wife steps in, to remind him of the danger in such talk.

They’re not hegemonic anymore and it is now the Catholics that are the ‘Brethren in secret rooms’, worrying about the future and their safety.

Some Guy to Archbishop. Check.

To Rome, where appointing the married, young, hot and Lutheran Thomas Cranmer is being discussed at the highest levels. And the reason that is happening is that The Tudors really does not have the time to introduce you to new and extraneous characters. This Actual Historical decision likely never got as high as the actual Pope, and the reasons are all about perspective.

Archbishop of Canterbury might have been the biggest deal in the Anglican church for nearly half a millennium, but back then it was just the highest ranked Bishop in England. A Super Bishop, sure,  but nowhere near the top of the Catholic hierarchy tree. Cardinals based in England ranked above that post regularly. Not at that moment of course, the last English Cardinal being Wolsey, but Archbishop did happen to be the highest rank of the Church in England recognised by Henry under the new laws he had passed, and according to Henry, answerable to him. The bureaucracy of the Catholic Church wasn’t really attuned to that fact.

They had orders to appease the English King as much as they possibly could without divorcing him so Cranmer’s appointment got ratified by the Catholic Church itself, and pretty promptly. The reasoning for that decision would basically be the reasoning Peter O’Toole’s Pope Paul III gives us here.

But first, the original version of what I’m now planning to pull whenever someone brings me a problem with my work I don’t remember doing yet.

With exactly that expression, whether or not I can swing it.

Turns out it’s an order that the people of the new world are human whether or not they are heathen so stop enslaving them. It’s going to get pretty roundly ignored by the Empire, but it was a good idea.

Papa Paul happily agrees to sign it and they move on to Cranmer’s possible appointment. Campeggio has indeed heard the rumours of his Lutheranism, but Cranmer’s relative obscurity helps out, because there is very little information available about him.

Well, the God of Irony has just changed their status from ‘Available Always’ to ‘Working on a Big Project’. Don’t know what that could portend.

We cut to Cranmer walking into an audience with Henry, where he’s gone from being pants-wettingly terrified to really nervous but functioning this time. The kind of apology he makes for receiving the title from the Pope is damn near deft.

Cranmer accepts.gif
Don’t forget that last bit, now.

And Henry sends Cranmer off to pronounce judgement of whether his first (and it may be the first time he calls it that) marriage was valid. And Cranmer is right off to do that, with a determination and verve that gives Henry a tiny smile.

2DOR Launches

Before he lets Cromwell go, Henry has an exiting new venture to discuss. England has been without a Lord Chancellor since Sir Thomas More resigned, and Henry wants Cromwell for the job. He will officially be in charge of government in England.

Cromwell and Power, sitting in a tree, doing things we should not see.

Marriage, Check.

Henry and Anne married relatively secretly in January 1533. They might also have gone through a more secret ceremony on their return from Calais. Royal weddings were private occasions then, and doubly so when the groom was already married. The cellar chapel location seems quite reasonable, though. There are surviving cellar chapels from this period and earlier with strong royal history like St Mary Undercroft in the Palace of Westminster.

St Mary Undercroft, Royal Peculiar Chapel at the Palace of Westminster, ancient site but Victorian refurbished.

We start off focused on Henry, wearing the gaudiest neck medallion you’ve ever seen. He’s clearly agitated, because apparently Brandon is late. As the camera draws out we see Anne beside Henry in a crown, and we get an idea why Henry is so wound up. Brandon arrives in a rush, gets a chest smack from Henry (Yeah, but he still waited for Brandon to get there, and Brandon, despite fundamentally disagreeing with the marriage, showed up – it’s a nice moment for their bond.).

The priest gets a nod to start from Henry. The priest is kind of bricking it, Brandon is resigned, Henry is quietly happy and the Boleyns are really intense as this particular Rubicon gets crossed. married.gif

The Undercard Regroups

On some backstairs in the palace (Another group has already booked the cellar space this week) Chapuys has an assassination assignation.

/u/NanBullenisaWitch34! You’ve finally been cast!

/u/NanBullenisaWitch34 is revealed to be William Brereton, a groom of the Privy Chamber (That’s a pretty high up personal servant to the King, normally a job filled by minor nobility with good connections).  He reports his failure to Chapuys and that he can no longer bear to be there. I think the actor (James Gilbert) really gets across Brereton’s low level but constant disgust, right from the off.

Chapuys listens to his asset lament his failure to kill Anne and ask to go into safety in exile. Chapuys nods, and agrees. vlcsnap-2019-04-09-00h17m12s025.png

He’s not going to keep Brereton in the field when he doesn’t want to be there and the moment of opportunity has passed. Brereton gets his endorsement to go, and it’s time for Chapuys to try something else.

Divorce Declaration


To The More, for a bit of a downer. Part of the divorce procedure in any culture (And Henry and Cromwell are basically re-writing ecclesiastical and marriage law for England right now) has always been telling your now former other half that that’s what they are, and while Henry’s been telling Katherine that they are not married for a few years now, the job of the final, official statement is given to Brandon.

Henry has married Anne and Katherine’s not Queen any more so she must stop using that title, she is Dowager Princess of Wales. That was her title as Arthur’s widow – the title that she was always supposed to have because this isn’t divorce, this is annulment and they were never married. Everyone is going to have to make a lot of accommodations so Henry can always have been right and Katherine will have to make the most of all.

She gets to keep her personal property. Let’s assume there isn’t much of it – Henry is a man who was left a massive inheritance and had almost unlimited funds most of his life, and who has recently found that he has spent damn near all of it. Most of his actions since the death of Wolsey have involved a side action of financial extortion or penny pinching, which helps explain the next bit – he’s going to stop paying Katherine’s household expenses and she needs to cut her number of servants, which would not appear to be many anyway, as he has her living in an old manor in the middle of nowhere. He’s probably charging her rent for it.

Brandon is clearly very uncomfortable with this duty from the beginning, he’s respectful towards Katherine and has a couple of false starts before he manages to tell her what he’s there for, and once he gets into it has trouble meeting her gaze. Katherine accepts indignity after indignity with composure but evident sorrow and when her first question is to ask plaintively whether she can now see her daughter, he can only manage to ask for forgiveness, which Katherine grants with truly remarkable grace. Katherinesorrowandjoy.gif

I’m reminded of that conversation she had with Wolsey when he was trying to persuade her to go into a nunnery, saying what a great example she could continue to make for the world as she went into middle age. And she is doing that, but on her own terms.

That look at the end that Brandon gives her, that’s reverence, that is.

After he goes she invites Mistress Darrell to sit. Her lady in waiting is trying to hide her distress at Katherine’s treatment, and not succeeding. We’ve been getting a different Katherine since the end of the trial, the fires of rebellion we saw emerge in her at the three quarter point of Season 1 have died right down, but the iron remains.

Well, she’s not going to Break Bad, but say her name…you’re Goddamn right.

Holy Exposition, Bishop. And Check…

More meets Fisher immediately after a service so they can forward the plot. It’s definitely covert as More approaches Fisher and gets subtly acknowledged like they’re both in some kind of resistance operation in World War II. morefisherthirdman.gif

They discuss The Act of Restraint of Appeals which is Cromwell getting Brexit through Parliament while they’ve been out of power. The Act established England as “An Empire, governed by one Supreme Head and King, and owing no allegiance except to God.”So all appeals against decisions made by the English church now go to Henry, not the Pope.

OK, that’s a painful couple of lines to deliver but if they were talking about 2019 Brexit this conversation would last about a week and still have no fucking conclusion.

More and Fisher fret about rumours that the King has married Anne, and that she is already pregnant. Fisher is still mid-gasp as we cut to Cranmer’s decision.


The camera comes in a long, low push all the way up a massive oak table of Bishops,  robed and sagely nodding as Cranmer pronounces his judgement.

Bam. Brexit. Done. Let’s reanimate Thomas Cromwell, get the Queen a side-piece and get this over with. Who’s with me?

A Call, No Booty

There follows a cute little scene where Thomas Wyatt and Elizabeth Darrell continue their slightly rocky

and (inhale) DOOOOOOOOOMED

romance. She drops by late at night,  and Wyatt is disappointed that it’s not a booty call. She says she has come to ask him to request some leniency towards Katherine of Aragon, to ask the council for it himself or to ask Cromwell. Wyatt points out that that’s just never going to happen. Then she goes into – “But I thought…if you cared for me…”

And perhaps Mistress Darrell has a little more about her than I gave her credit for. The surface request is unrealistic, but I think what she really came round for was to get around to dropping the bombshell that Henry and Anne are married in person to help her figure out if Wyatt’s over Anne yet, or perhaps, is likely to be over her any time soon.

Yeah. Not great news on that, Elizabeth.

He’s clearly not, and they both kind of stumble through the rest of the conversation. Once she leaves he goes back to his desk and picks up something on a chain that was out on his desk while he worked. Wow. It’s a miniature of Anne.vlcsnap-2019-04-10-14h55m07s596.png

It’s a little older, a little more crudely done than the one she gave to Henry but it’s interesting that she had done it before. This moment is going to have a twisted echo near the end of Season 2.

As for Actual Historical, well it’s time I addressed it. It’s very unlikely that there was any physical relationship between Anne and Wyatt, and it was probably a pretty hard crush by Wyatt that was never requited that much. They might have met before she went abroad to finish her education (Their families did live near each other and were of similar social and economic standing) but Anne was noted to be young for that, somewhere from 9 to 11 when she left.

Her first time at the English court it was Anne and Harry Percy, heir to the Earldom of Northumberland that seemed to be headed towards marriage before Wolsey stopped it, and Anne went into a mini exile.

Wyatt’s interest in her happened around the same time as Henry’s and Anne went for Henry. Wyatt certainly wrote poetry about her, most notably ‘Noli Me Tangere’ and ‘Brunette that set our country in a roar’ (He wrote a lot of poetry about a lot of women).  And in Actual History as in The Tudors at this point he was required to play the part of former admirer, now platonic servant (hence the pregnancy pre-announcement) which he did well. He was also working as a diplomat, and close (or his father was close) to Cromwell.

So he’s a reasonable portrayal, and may well have been crushing this hard at this point, but he was very unlikely to have been a former lover.

Low Level/High Level Renaissance Poping

Pope Paul will be going for the hammer and the scalpel today. First, Hammertime. He declares, from on high in a Pope Throne to a group of Ambassadors especially summoned that Henry’s new marriage is Null and Void, that he needs to return to Katherine of Aragon. That the validity of his marriage is still being judged by the Curia (The Papacy is fudging it again) which hasn’t come to a conclusion yet, and

Jesus, Paul it’s done, they’ve Brexited. Do it now or shut up.

or he will excommunicate him. Oh, he delivers it grandly and deliberately and all the ambassadors are impressed, but unless there either is or is likely to be an army backing that up, Henry doesn’t have a damn left to work on.

But he does far better with the scalpel, and his audience with Master Brereton. He turns Brereton back into an asset by sheer force of personality and knowing how to use the hell out of his office. He sees a man, clearly floored by the prospect of kissing the Pope’s ring, and pops an arm around his shoulder and talks about founding the Jesuit order. vlcsnap-2019-04-10-15h48m24s692.pngHe holds out the prospect of actual possible Martyrdom as a job benefit, gives they young man the whole ‘Voice from the Mountain’ bit and Brereton is sold. vlcsnap-2019-04-10-15h51m26s038.png

And England has a sleeper agent headed back to the heart of the Court.

Now Solve This

Henry busts up a meeting of administrators and clerks to talk to Cromwell, who looks as confident as a guy that just handled Brexit pretty well. Henry wants the people to love Anne just as he does, and he’d probably like that by the coronation, OK?   Crowelldotheimpossible.gif

I think, that for a study in the behaviour of an Autocrat this scene is a fun look at how expectations can go way out of wack for the insanely powerful. Henry gets a milquetoast kind of answer from Cromwell and suddenly realises he just asked Cromwell to do the absolutely sodding impossible. Then he gets a bit embarrassed and walks out while his right hand dude is left there wondering how the hell he would even start fixing that.

Camp IV on Everest

It must be the last weeks before her coronation (Master Holbein is still designing stuff so not everything has been made, but Anne is heavily pregnant so it can’t be too far away) and Anne is overseeing preparations when her sister comes to visit. Anne is at her apogee, having recently met an astrologer who told them what they wanted to hear. Anneastrologer.gifShe’s delighted and brings her sister over to see Holbein’s work. But while they’re looking, and Mary makes smalltalk, something happens. Anne’s face falls. Mary asks her what is wrong and while Anne starts with the “The hell? Nothing is wrong” face, she can’t keep it up. She also can’t articulate what is wrong.


Could be pregnancy hormones, could be nerves about a huge event. Could be that she’s suddenly found herself at Camp IV on Everest and dizzied by the height something inside her is yelling “What if we don’t make it back?”

Next recap: The Summit in Checkmate Part 2

Notes – Sorry I haven’t been posting. That’s a heavier workload and not having a deadline does to me. Next one by Monday 22nd April. Cool? Cool.

Edit 13/03/2020 : Noticed I hadn’t established the Victorian refurbishment of St Mary Undercroft, in what I choose to say is a totally coincidental re read today. Corrected that.







  1. Thank you for these recaps. They are well researched and I am enjoying them as I am re-watching/binging The Tudors. I like reading these after watching each one. Happy Holidays!

    Liked by 1 person

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