Counterfactual Gender Studies
When I wrote the intro to this season’s recaps I said that Elizabeth’s birth happened-
“…somewhere in the mid-section, to general disappointment (but not pointed or dangerous disappointment, not yet)”
And that’s not really true. At the time I was just thinking about danger and focus only in relation to Anne. But the fact of Elizabeth’s gender, and the effect it had on policy going forward is going to be damn dangerous and pointed towards the catholic conservatives in the country and at least three of our major characters – Bishop Fisher, Sir Thomas More and Mary Tudor. The administration is going to have to double down on a far weaker hand than they thought they were going to have at this point, which is going to make Henry and therefore also Cromwell and the Boleyns far more aggressive and intolerant of backsliding than if she had been the boy everyone was waiting for.
As the episode opens on Elizabeth’s christening the Boleyn/Reformer side, and especially Anne and Henry, are reeling from the surprise. In Actual History the planned jousts were getting cancelled, and Henry was ranting against the physicians and astrologers that had assured them it would be a boy. They were a safe target for his rage and disappointment, and a joust would be a bit much for just another daughter.
She was, however, his first living child in 17 years (He was 42 when she was born), so she was a hopeful sign from whatever deity it was that Henry pictured guiding his life. Although with only a daughter, perhaps he needed to go further to get his God’s full blessing.
The christening itself is pretty accurately rendered. The parents not being present was standard, as royal christenings of this time happened very quickly after birth. They occurred in a chapel either within or next to the palace where the Prince or Princess was born (Greenwich for Mary and Elizabeth, Hampton Court for Edward), the baby was taken straight back to its parents afterwards and they were simple, quick ceremonies of which the procession into and out of the chapel was normally the most notable element.
Oh the titles are long, and there’s pomp enough, but everyone in power feels like they just missed a step on the stairs, and now they have to figure out how to deal with that. Henry and Cromwell are about it straight away.
And they’re going to have to be hard nosed about it. Henry makes hints about people that have not accepted his marriage to Queen Anne, and says that everyone will get an opportunity to demonstrate their loyalty.
We go to Ludlow Castle,
to visit, along with Chapuys, the most difficult to handle and potentially the most dangerous individual in the country right now, Princess Mary.
Oh sure, she’s officially Mary Tudor and a bastard, and everyone in the administration is desperate to remind everyone else of that, but to the common people she’s Princess Mary. To the great powers of Europe and particularly to her cousin, Charles V Holy Roman Emperor, the most powerful man in Europe, she is Princess Mary. To the Pope and faithful members of the Roman Catholic Church (including probably the majority of English Nobles, while they wouldn’t say it openly) she is Princess Mary. To all of these she is also currently the true heir to the throne. And with time, she will become their best hope for a Catholic reclamation of England.
She gets the news about her sister’s birth from the Imperial Ambassador, Chapuys. They get the momentary satisfaction that ‘Checkmate’ was actually just ‘Check’, and she asks if he has any news of her mother, the Queen. She gets the third hand news he has obtained from managing to speak with her ladies, and she believes that the King will one day relent (either from not letting her see her mother or from disinheriting her is not clear).
Chapuys is very reassuring on that point, but I wonder how much is truth and how much is kindness.
At Sir Thomas More’s home, look who’s dropped by for a totally innocent chat and catch up.
Why it’s Bishop Tunstall, Henry’s Neocon ecclesiatial enforcer (Actually Historically a remarkably reasonable guy for the period – but The Tudors version is great to watch). Sir Thomas More is sceptical, and rightly so. He tosses up a test statement – his concern that Bishop Fisher is still under house arrest, and gets back, that “The outcome is regrettable” – coded talk for “He had it coming, basically”.
More then sees right through the light subterfuge and asks if the King sent the Bishop to see him. The answer is yes, and Henry had a question.
The ‘Poor mind’ line, and the entire story/allegory about Tiberius come direct from Actual Historical More, and are taken from letters he wrote during this period to a group of Bishops he was friends with (including Tunstall).
The allegory is that the Emperor Tiberius decreed that a certain crime was punishable by death, unless the offender was a virgin. When a virgin came up on the charge the judgement was ‘Let her first be deflowered so she then can be devoured’. Now my mind went straight to rape, as in that situation no one is going to voluntarily have sex, but for the purposes of this allegory it certainly seems like Sir Thomas had a seduction in mind, a removal of virtue through degrees of ill-advised surrender.Jeremy Northam is just amazing here. His Sir Thomas goes from fake jollity with a teensy bit of a snarl in it as he ends his story, during ‘No, I won’t name them’ I swear there’s a subtext of ‘Including you, you bastard’ aimed at Tunstall, to full on immovable granite that is completely holding Tunstall in his eye as he rounds out with something that’s more akin to certainty than defiance. I’m starting to think he was right about the goalposts always moving backwards, too. I don’t think there’s any way that Henry was going to settle for one silent appearance, he’d always be trying to get more out of More.
But if Elizabeth had been a boy, if More had managed to just appear at the coronation, maybe the pressure would not get applied until later, maybe it would have stopped at life imprisonment. Maybe.
What do you think?
Enthusiastic Consent All Around
Mark Smeaton is hanging out in his chambers, playing the violin semi nude. With the door open, which George Boleyn gets to lean against seductively.
George is appropriately appreciative of the music, and when Mark asks him if he plays, gets to answer “All the time” in a way that makes his intent very clear.
As we leave, Mark starts to playfully take George’s shirt off, but over at Eleanor Luke’s rooms this has happened before so there’s a lot less ceremony about it.
Lady Eleanor seems fine with that, though.
A Friendlier Nudge
Yay! The Tudors gets to go outside for a bit. It has been a while.
Brandon gets treated a bit more delicately than Sir Thomas More. Brandon, after all, is not only Henry’s best friend but has been more compliant, serving as High Constable for the coronation and even attending the wedding, despite not hiding his misgivings well the rest of the time.
He is teaching his son archery today. His son is having difficulty so Brandon demonstrates. His son says He’ll never be able to do that.
When Cromwell rolls up they both manage small talk, until Brandon asks Cromwell if he shoots, and Cromwell answers that yes, he does. Brandon invites him to try with what looks like anticipation of superiority. It’s not his normal reaction, but Brandon always had the martial bit of nobility down, and he does not get on with Cromwell. So, surely he can feel good about his performance at archery, Cromwell’s a clerk and a commoner, how much archery practice can he have had?
A whole lot, actually, Cromwell used to be a mercenary.
On their walk Cromwell explains that Henry wants Brandon back at court. Henry also wants to know how far his friend’s troubling sympathies extend.
Cromwell informs Brandon of the Act of Succession. It’s not law yet, but the Bill is going before Parliament. As a member of the council, will Brandon support it?
And as a side note, Cromwell may still be dressed in Protestant black but the fabrics are so much richer now.
From ‘Protestant Modesty’ to ‘Work Ethic Chic’.
Cold Milk In the Nursery
Back in the Nursery, Anne is bonding with Elizabeth. But Actual Historical Anne would not have made the mistake The Tudors Anne does.
She certainly looks regretful but doesn’t object to Elizabeth getting her own household, but she is surprised that Henry is sending his other daughter Mary to become a Lady in Waiting to Elizabeth.
Her place in the new order is going to be severely underlined for Mary. In the meantime Anne plays the classics.
Anne’s got the same ‘adultery antenna’ that Katherine of Aragon had. She sure as hell noticed that.
The Morelight Zone
In Chelsea, Sir Thomas More is breaking some hard news to his family, over dinner.
He says that as his income has reduced so he must reduce his household, and that everyone who can must ‘Live in their own houses and eat at their own tables’, and turns it into a lesson about the harshness of life.
This scene is taken to the brink of comedy by the fact that his children are all so damn young. Margaret, his oldest child, is shown here as no more than 16, while she was, in fact, in her late twenties and had been married for over a decade at this point. The father of a young family getting arrested is going to really pull on the heartstrings when it comes, but the decision to portray his family like this makes this particular scene scene quite weird.
Nowhere near as weird as…well I’m not sure I’m confident enough to call it Actual History, but there’s a story told by Stapleton and then quoted by Ackroyd in their biographies of More that Sir Thomas More sat down with his family for dinner one night during this period. There was a knock at the door and, my God, a representative of the King had come to take him for questioning. Shock, dismay, hubbub ensued. Some of his family were stoic, some were deeply upset. Then Sir Thomas More turned around, said that he had faked the entire thing to see their reactions and he was really disappointed in everyone that had cried.
The Tudors were their own kind of crazy, and Sir Thomas More was a special version of that.
Let’s Play Master and Servant
Mary arrives at Hatfield House, and we are introduced to Lady Margaret Bryan, mother of Sir Francis (Who we’ll meet in Season 3) and governess (a role that at the time meant super posh nanny) to all of Henry’s children. Judge for yourself, but I think Lady Bryan finds this part of her job distasteful. She is the person in the chain of command that finally has to enforce Mary’s change of status and have her wait upon her sister, and I think we see a woman going through the motions and doing what she has to do for her job. Lady Bryan gets a speech about the bad fate for most women in society near the end of this season, and when she and Mary meet up again in Season 3 they are formal but appear quite friendly within the bounds of that. There’s a lot of things Lady Bryan could have done to be cruel to Mary here, (enforce a curtsey to Elizabeth, go on about Mary’s reduced status) she doesn’t do any of them.
Actually Historically the household was larger than this, and run mainly by women, including some relations of Anne. Lady Anne Shelton (Madge’s mother) got letters from Anne detailing Mary’s failings, and was more harsh in her treatment of Mary than Lady Bryan is here.
Mary gets a tiny little room, clearly designed for a servant. She sits on the small bed, fighting back tears, not just for her treatment, but that her father has clearly ordered it.
Would Mary still be here had Elizabeth been a boy? I think we have to say no. This cruel enforcement of the new order, and the complete stripping of Mary’s position is necessary because they are trying to replace her with a politically weaker heir. It’s another girl, and an infant. Infant mortality was rampant in this era (Katherine of Aragon’s son, the New Years Prince, lived nearly two months but still died). By the standards of her era, Mary is an adult at this point, and far more viable than Elizabeth.
A brother wouldn’t have needed a lady in waiting, and the enforcement would not have been as necessary. She’s still have gone through a lot, (as primary Catholic candidate would always have been a threat) but this particular from of humiliation would not have been required.
Christmas at Court
But hey! No expense has been spared for the Christmas celebrations at Whitehall. It gives us a great reason to bounce around and see how everyone is doing.
Wyatt’s really throwing himself into observational comedy this year, even with an unreceptive audience like George Boleyn. Wyatt starts edging into his satirist role, pointing out the ridiculousness of George’s new titles, when George snaps back. George is touchy, but he has just started having a gay affair with Mark in an age of aggressive, nasty and legally required intolerance of being gay, probably involving some torture. That’s not a time when you want someone looking closely at your life and making jokes about it.
He’s not a fan of Wyatt’s move into satire, and advises/lightly threatens him to give it up.
Henry and Anne are a warmer couple again, enjoying the evening and each other, when Anne announces she has a gift for Henry and takes him over to see it.
It’s that ‘Plate’ concept again – really ornate precious metal display only crockery. This piece was designed by Holbein. I’m sure any Tudor walking into our 21st century homes would ask why we all have these big black rectangles in our rooms we’re obsessed with. In order to demonstrate our era’s obsession we’d stream “Dune”, and in order to demonstrate theirs they could say ‘Look – it can support a small amount of fruit’.
Over in assassin’s corner Chapuys and Brereton are taking the opportunity to plot in plain sight. Chapuys is rolling back the assassination attempts – The Holy Roman and Ottoman Empires are fighting again and Charles HRE getting implicated on in an attempt on the life of the new English Queen could destabilise Europe. Charles can’t fight on two fronts. Brereton still wants to go forward (the difficulty of working with zealots) and my favorite bit of this exchange is Chapuys’ expression when Brereton says he would totally not break under torture if caught and would die a martyr’s death.
Brandon shows up to see Henry and he also has a gift for him (It’s good to be the king). It’s his vote for The Act of Succession.
It’s a reminder that Brandon is an important and influential guy. Moving him over to supporter isn’t just symbolic. Most of the court knows Brandon’s sympathies are with Katherine and that he leans Catholic. If Brandon stayed opposed, he’d a faction leader, staying silent he’d be a source of quiet support and confidence for the Imperialist side, but Brandon on side with Henry is a blow to the Remainers. Nice gift, Brandon.
Back on the dance floor and Henry’s never really felt the need to hide his affairs much. He’s kind of trying to keep the thing with Eleanor Luke on the down low, but he’s never had enough practice to get good at it. OK, she and Henry have had a good evening, but with how quickly he’s cooling with his new Queen I wonder how Anne thinks she has the room to manouvre a new mistress out of the way quite so blatant…
The Proper Progression
The camera comes down slowly from the ceiling, to show us the Privy Council and Henry. They are getting briefed by Cromwell on the contents of the Act of Succession. Now Henry is awaiting what must surely, finally, be ‘The Boy‘ he’s going to bring the whole country with him, ready or not.
Cromwell says that the act makes Henry and Anne’s children the first heirs to the throne. It obliquely refers to the Wars of the Roses (A tumultuous and really dangerous period nearly out of living memory for the subjects of Henry VIII, but it would have loomed large in their family histories) as justification for this ‘clarification’.
It makes it High Treason to say anything or write anything to the prejudice of or slander against the Kings marriage to Anne, or against Henry’s heirs. It is explicitly an anti free speech bill.
We cut over to Sir Thomas More’s house, where he is reading a copy aloud, and finding his doom within it, when he learns it everyone, if commended, must take an oath defending it.
The Council is stacked with Brexiters – Wyatt, George and Thomas Boleyn, Cranmer and Cromwell. And I like Thomas Boleyn’s little eye flick at Brandon, the only one with Remainer sympathies still in the power circle, as Cromwell points out that the act requires recognition of the King’s supremacy over the church. Part of Henry’s reason to speak at the end is to make sure that no one resisting this can point to it as Cromwell’s idea. He wants them to know this has his full weight behind it.
Because it has to be boy on the way. And everything must be right when he arrives.
Paul III is praying when Campeggio arrives to give him his own brief recap (probably also useful for any viewer that drifted off during the legal exposition).
Paul compares Henry to a Wolf that has got into the fold and is threatening the sheep. He says he cannot stand idly by. The problem is that no European power large enough to have a prospect of taking England is going to try it (Francis has already indicated he’s going to let it go, Charles HRE is busy fighting the Ottoman Empire, also Charles has a tendency to tell the Pope what to do rather than the other way around). Pope Paul has no army, all he has are symbols (and the odd assassin).
He decides to make Bishop Fisher a Cardinal. He wants to know if Henry is still prepared to imprison and torture a Prince of the Church.
Fast Beat Dad
Back at Hatfield Henry comes cantering down the driveway to do his fatherly royal duty and dote on one of his daughters for a very short time. He walks in the door saying he has no time, keeps walking until he gets to Elizabeth’s room and gets handed Elizabeth along with Lady Bryan’s encouraging reports.
And then he’s off. He doesn’t even ask about Mary, let alone ask to see her. But as he goes to leave, surprise, there she is on a distractingly bad CGI Balcony, just looking after her father for a scrap of affection. He finally notices the ‘Pearl of his world’ and gives her a formal bow. She returns it with a curtsey… …which is kind of difficult with a dagger through your heart.
Notes- Yeah I think this one will take an edit. Next recap up by Monday 13th May.
Took an edit 04/05/2019
Edit 20/11/2021 Total Fashion Edit ‘we’d stick on a “Game of Thornes” Blu ray'(original misspelled) to ‘we’d stream “Dune”. I was passing and this looks better.
I am just now watching the Tudors and am wondering if you will be posting any more recaps. They are very helpful and I have really enjoyed them but it looks like this is the last one.
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Hi and thanks, I’m glad you enjoy the recaps. Yep, I’ll be writing more but also yep, this is currently the last one. I post somewhere between once every week and a half to once a fortnight depending on how busy my work is, and how much of a sod the recap has been to write.
Thank you so much for replying – I look forward to the next one!
love your scene by scene recaps ! its great to also read your actual histories along with comments about each scene .
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