Henry is reading when Cromwell announces that Archbishop Cranmer would like a word. And when that word is “Success” Henry is suddenly ready for all your news.
They have had a great success in the swearing of the oaths (Yes, it’s amazing what the threat of prison and possible execution can do). But Fisher and More won’t be persuaded. Cranmer then, commendably, tries to sell More’s acceptance of the Act of Succession as a possible compromise but Henry is really not having it.
He makes the not unreasonable point that if these two prominent persons were allowed to have the oath modified for them, it opens the door to everyone else doing that. It would also be a tiny admission of failure for Henry, a teeny step beck from his current position. So that’s not happening.
Cromwell comes forward with a letter from Dame Alice More.
When Henry is not interested in accepting it, Cromwell gives him a recap of the contents. It basically says that More was a loyal royal servant for a long time, and is now motivated only by conscience. Henry’s not won over.
He says that when More resigned he promised to live quietly and attend his soul – but he hasn’t. He has agitated for Katherine, visited her and continued to write and publish about the King’s matter.
Actually Historically – One out of three ain’t great? More did not visit Katherine during either of their exiles, that part is made up. As for agitating, well there were visits to and from old friends, most of whom were Remainers but no reports of actual agitation. Though at this time Henry certainly believed More was a leader in the resistance, particularly with the Nun of Kent situation, there’s no evidence More was actually doing that. But, and it’s a big but, boy, did Thomas More write in exile. Hell, he never stopped, and those writings were definitely and defiantly in support of the Roman Catholic Church, and against Henry’s Supremacy over the Church of England.
He avoided actually discussing the divorce but he had a lot to say about the importance of unity in the church, and by implication, the Royal Supremacy. He also never attacked Henry directly but he wrote in response to Tyndale, John Frith and Christopher St Germain with polemical arguments which were pretty savage. Thomas More’s works in his self imposed exile were published, and left no doubt where he stood.
For a long time Henry’s persecution of More was about the dream of trying to get this internationally renowned and revered Catholic scholar to support him. But as time passed and More just refused to bend, Henry continued in his ‘All or Nothing’ stance and it started to trip the switch towards the sinister.
The Tower Open Mic Champion 1534-5
In the Tower Sir Thomas More is both heart warming and heart breaking as we see his reaction to a family visit.
He starts reluctantly putting down his book, probably anticipating another long and dangerous conversation with Cromwell only to look up and find…
There’s no evidence that Thomas More was allowed group visits, like this one. Here, and in a Man for All Seasons his visits are portrayed this way to save time, and in film or on stage he only ever gets the one. In Actual History, More was imprisoned for over a year while they tried to drag him to agreement, and while his family visited singly they visited quite a lot. Margaret was his first and most regular visitor, and became the smuggler of letters in and works out of the Tower for her father.
A lot of the dialogue’s pretty authentic too, particularly for Dame Alice, where it’s taken directly from the reported conversations in William Roper’s (Margaret’s husband) biography of More.
Their visit has clearly lightened his spirits, and he tries out a joke or two.
His family have only just seen him in prison, and they’re still in a bit of shock whereas for him it’s the new normal. So they’re not entirely in a mood for a laugh, while he’s having an awesome day. Also, they were sent in with a mission they’re not proud of, and they’re not sure how to broach it. Here, as in Actual History they were allowed in to see him on condition that they were supposed to persuade him to take the oath. His family did take the oath, and Margaret wrote to her father trying to persuade him to do so, so they started letting them visit.
Here, as in Actual History, he won’t be persuaded, not for their love of him, not to save their property, not even to just go home. Although you know that wouldn’t happen, Henry and Cromwell had already been planning when and where to announce it for maximum effect if More did capitulate. If he had taken the oath More would be getting called out all the time for Catholic Europe to see the newest supporter of the ‘Henry was right all along’ group. So he will not swear, but he will do anything else he can.
He reminds them about Henry’s promise, when he offered More the Chancellorship that More should:
“Look first unto God, and only afterward unto me.”
More is setting quite a lot of store by that. While for Henry time is running out for More to realise that Henry knows God’s will better than him.
More wants to hear his family say they are not angry at him, and Alice (Catherine Byrne) says she is not, but she is so very, very frightened. He embraces her and we cut to Whitehall.
The Beginning of the Beginning of the End
Anne is power walking through Whitehall, head to toe in purple, and it’s like she has her own cheat code now. Everyone bends 90 degrees, echoes of “Your Majesty” follow her around and old supporters barely get a glance. And then disaster falls, a ripping pain through her abdomen. Anne fishes around in her skirt desperately, her first thought to check on the health of the fetus. She brings her hand back out to screams and cries of ‘Get the physician’.
Then it’s evening and her rooms are very quiet. Anne has miscarried. Henry enters and Anne cannot engage. She responds to questions but she doesn’t look at him, or have any emotion in her voice, she is beaten down, barely in the room. Henry does his best to be sympathetic, and her tiny, distant ‘Thank you, Your Majesty” pulls at him as he leaves.
The Tower Again
In the Tower, Bishop Fisher is getting the freshest of beverages dripping from his cell roof when Cromwell enters and delivers Good News/Bad News like a proper asshole.
So, First the Pope has made Fisher a Cardinal. Fisher seems appropriately whelmed and crosses himself. Second Parliament has decided that to maliciously deny the supremacy is treason. So it’s not looking good for him. And Third, he’s been caught committing actual fucking treason.
From this point on Cromwell calls him Mr Fisher, and the source of his earlier lack of sympathy becomes clear. Fisher is going to trial. Fisher thanks him for the news about his promotion and once Cromwell has left whispers wonderingly “Cardinal Fisher” and shakes his head a little, perhaps astounded by how far he came.
Neither of Henry’s wives are doing well at the moment. First we’re off to The More, in the middle of goddamn nowhere to see Katherine of Aragon.
Chapuys has finally got in to see Katherine, and she is increasingly ill and tormented. She’s had visits from people threatening her (Thomas Boleyn, the Earl of Wiltshire, for one) and trying to get her to take the oath. Boleyn going so far as to say that she should go to the scaffold.
She has, of course, refused despite increasing infirmity and levels of threat. At this point Katherine would have been feeling significant symptoms of the (almost certainly) cancer that would kill her, and her failing health is shown very convincingly here. She asks after Bishop Fisher, her stalwart defender at her trial, and is upset by the news that he is almost certainly to die.
We go back to Whitehall where Boleyn has arrived back at court, doubtless to comfort his daughter and rally her spirits, reminding her that she’s had one healthy baby and while upsetting this was surely just…
When he gets afraid, The Tudors’ Thomas Boleyn’s reaction is to get angry, and bully someone if he can. When afraid, assert dominance. He reveals the source of his fear, warning Anne to be particularly careful not to lose the King’s love (something that’s already slipping away). He sees how very precarious their position is and by the end of the scene he’s underlined it for Anne, as well.
Of course what he doesn’t see, and she doesn’t see, and Katherine doesn’t see and perhaps only those with the advantage of a few hundred years of hindsight and scholarship to rely on can see is that the lives of these two women are bound and now rely upon each other.
Henry can’t divorce, or otherwise get rid of Anne because he cannot remarry right now. If he gets rid of Anne he’s going to have to go straight back to Katherine. Even he can’t have three Queens living, and supposing he could, look how long it took to get rid of the first one. The solidity of Anne’s position is increasingly going to rely on the continued existence of Katherine. And Katherine is not looking well.
Anne is just starting to recover from a miscarriage, and for her and her family to be safe she needs to be pregnant again, like, right now. Tick Tock, and get ovulating.
Whipping Away Webbe’s Wench
Henry and Brandon are out riding in the woods when Henry has a question. Have any of the women Charles has bedded ever lied about their virginity?
Brandon wants to know why Henry asked and in the silence Henry leaves, he gets it. He apologises immediately. After all, the last time he blundered into the topic of Anne’s virginity he got a tongue lashing from Henry and a temporary banishment. But Henry says “It does not matter…”
That conversation appears to inform his attitude when a rider is spotted approaching. The rider and his girlfriend get down from his horse when ordered. The rider is called William Webbe, and is keen to let the King see his permission to ride through the Royal forest, but the King is uninterested. He is far more interested in Webbe’s girlfriend, Bess, who he kisses and then whisks away. It’s a neat story. Too neat, as it turns out.
It’s not Actual Historical, but Michael Hirst certainly thought it was when he wrote this scene. The alteration he made from his source was to move it in time, from the period of Jane Seymour’s reign as Queen to Anne’s. Clearly in Anne’s reign it’s a useful demonstration of his falling out of love with her. In mid 1537 and with Queen Jane it would have been a dramatically inappropriate complication. Hirst got it from the normally reliable popular historian Alison Weir. She used the story both in her Henry VIII King and Court, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII. But she got bamboozled by using a summary of papers in The Letters and Papers of Henry VIII which was unusually inaccurate.
This was some contemporary rumour mongering. The person that got to the bottom of this was Medievalist Professor Shannon McSheffrey (The one that also researched the Pennington incident) and she details what she found (along with her thoughts on The Tudors) in her chapter of a book called The Middle Ages on Television – William Webbe’s Wench (Her chapter is now available online).
Basically, this rumour popped up in September 1537 and was investigated by Cromwell. It was apparently started by one Robert Sharpe in an attempt to get William Webbe’s job (Keeper of the Westminster Sanctuary), by saying he was accusing the King of adultery. Cromwell investigated and decided not only did the incident not happen, but William Webbe never said it did.
So this incident gets British Eurovision points for accuracy (It’s a bad score, but at least we all know how we got here), but it is great for demonstrating Henry’s character arc. Brandon might as well whistle “The times they are a changing” as they ride away.
Bess is keen, in fact she’s still keen when Henry tells her he isn’t really the King, so that sidesteps any worrying issues of consent, then.
16th Century YouTube Drama
where Master Brereton (/u/NanBullenisaWitch34) has written to Pope Paul with a report of the latest gossip in England. He knows that Anne is no longer pregnant, and that Henry has been unfaithful, but…
And celibacy probably was a kind of relief when you only had to enter into it in middle to old age once your church career really got going. Both of the men talking here had had children.
Campeggio raises once again concerns about Queen Katherine and Princess Mary, identifying Anne as the primary threat to their safety. Paul says he will pray for them, as well as for Cardinal Fisher, who is almost certain to die now. Paul then starts waxing poetic about the early Christian martyrs.
We Stand Alone Together
More is writing at night in his cell when someone calls him through the door. He says he is called John and he is a servant to Bishop Fisher. More eagerly goes to the door and asks how his old friend is. It’s nice to see how heartening just a little bit of news is to Thomas More. Actually Historically he and Fisher did communicate in the Tower, but by means of notes, which were burned afterwards. One of Fisher’s servants got threatened with hanging for it.
2DOR Faith and Legal Operations Merger
In Whitehall,Henry and Cromwell are meeting. Henry asks if Sir Thomas More is still being stubborn and says Cromwell must get the reasons he will not take the oath from him. The whole ‘malicious/not malicious’ concept keeps coming up and will be a key concept at Thomas More’s trial. A decent interpretation would be “with the intent of depriving, or trying to deprive the King of the rights he has claimed”.
Henry gives Cromwell another job title.
Saying that he could not trust any churchman in this role. Protestantism is surging, and will surge more now that the man who is second in charge of religion is a man determined to destroy Roman Catholicism. Finally, once Cromwell has left, Henry takes out that miniature Anne gave him. Back when she gave it to him, he couldn’t keep his eyes off it, couldn’t bear to have it out of his sight. Now, there’s still strong affection there, but the portrait also comes with a prick of irritation and guilt. It won’t take him long to turn that into something that can’t possibly be his fault.
Politician First, Father Fourty Seventh?
OK. If you thought Thomas Boleyn was insensitive with his daughter that had suffered a miscarriage then get ready. Queen Anne and her father are reviewing paperwork when Madge Shelton announces that Her Majesty’s sister has arrived.
And through the door walks Mary, heavily pregnant. Sure, it’s not massively sensitive to come through the door like that when your sister’s just suffered a politically and personally devastating miscarriage. But Mary can’t help being pregnant, and Anne and Thomas Boleyn both avoid saying ‘Congratulations’ by conspicuously pointing out how surprised they are. She has married William Stafford, a commoner (who would eventually make it to being a Knight, and an MP). Anne is shocked and and their father is furious. There is a fair point to be made – the Boleyns are seen as new money (Mary, George and Anne were seen as a little more blue blood as their mother was the sister of the Duke of Norfolk), gauche and lacking in awareness of the proper behaviour for their now exalted rank.
And now Mary has married a commoner, and added to their currently precarious position is the fact that the King of England can now look forward to a serving soldier for a brother in law. Henry will not be pleased, Anne goes chilly and Thomas Boleyn is furious, and nasty with it. It’s quite a family reception for a young woman that got tossed in front of two Kings and presumably several other men that could further Boleyn ambitions. Who her family were delighted to ride on the coattails of as long as her relationship with Henry lasted, and who never did get much help or see much advantage from her sister’s elevation to Queen.
Anne cannot forgive her (she really didn’t need another problem right now) and banishes her and her husband from court, albeit with far more kindness and more reluctantly then their father drives her away.
Actually Historically Mary would petition her family and Henry through Cromwell, and got nothing from any of them, except Anne. Who never lifted the banishment, but did at least send her sister some money.
The first International Women’s Day is still 375 years off, although with how things have gone for the women in this episode it really feels like it could have been more.
Refusing a Drink at the Last Chance Saloon
Back to the Tower, and to Thomas More, the man having a worse episode than the women this week.
Cromwell, for once, appears straightforward in this conversation. He walks up, kind of resignedly, Thomas More asks him what he wants, kind of resignedly. They re-hash their earlier conversations, and No, More will not take the oath and he will not say why. He won’t take the oath and cross his fingers. He won’t take the oath assuming that if he does it while not believing in it that will somehow be OK. He will not take the oath.
Notes: Hey, a little early again – this one will definitely take an edit and I’m going to say the deadline is 3rd June for the next one. I’ve got some reading to do and the next fortnight could well be busy, but if it’s not I’ll see if I can’t get it out for 30th May.