It’s another day of dancing at court when Margret More arrives. Chapuys notices, realises she’s a long way out of her normal environment and stops her for a supportive chat.
Margaret says she’s here to petition Cromwell, as the Act of Attainder (basically a way of declaring someone guilty and therefore they forfeit a lot of rights, including property rights) means that most of her families’ property is forfeit. In her words – They are gradually reduced to poverty. Dame Alice is, apparently, finding things particularly hard.
Actually Historically, well their fortunes were on a large and significant downturn, even from where they were before Thomas More became chancellor, but actual poverty? Nope.
When Thomas More married Alice she was a wealthy widow, with at least one estate, in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. No one was touching that. Alice and Thomas More had no children between them, but both had several of their own when they married, and they were enthusiastic adopters as well, so it was a large family to maintain. But the children were a lot older than pictured here and most of them had grown up and made good marriages. And while Thomas More’s house in Chelsea was quite bare, that was because they had moved anything mobile and valuable out of it when trouble had really started to loom.
But they are in a really rough spot, and living under a despot barely constrained by law who was very displeased with their husband/father, so if they wanted to hang onto anything, they had better let it be known how very, very little they had left.
Chapuys sympathises about the state of the world right now.
Leaving aside the dreadful item on Queen Anne’s head (sitting there and forcing a blatantly unflattering hairstyle in order to accommodate its ridiculous width) it looks like Anne is having a great time today. Suddenly, her words turn quite melancholy and introspective as she talks to Mark Smeaton, who she is dancing with. She says she is constrained, she is not understood. Mark, a free spirit, is essential to her and must never leave. Mark is curious about her mood change and she gets his full attention. What she’s up to becomes clear as Papa Boleyn comes in for an assessment lurk.She’s been working on Henry’s jealousy bone. I love Mark Smeaton’s “Oh…crap” moment as he notices Henry staring at them. Papa Boleyn approves and sweeps off to intrigue somewhere else. Clever Anne, she knows her husband, knows the tricks she has left and used one that stood a great chance of working. Not altogether kind to Smeaton, though.
Later that night, or another night, Anne got drunk drunk. Not entirely coherent, “Summon my brother”, and using red wine as lip balm drunk.
Her remaining non drunk brain cell has tried to tell her to sleep it off. But Anne can’t sleep. So she summons her brother (Looking for some family support without blame, so her father is right out) and tells him she’s been thinking about ‘her’, apparently. George is curious about who that could be. Katherine is old and ill and defeated and in exile so, ‘her’ is now…
It’s displacement activity, of course. Mary is a genuine threat, but one currently held in check by Henry. Anne’s central problem, the cause of her anxiety and the root of her relationship problems is the fact that she has not fulfilled the central part of her job. No son for Henry, yet, just a daughter and a pregnancy that failed mid term.
The same powers Henry assumed to raise her, now start to threaten her, and she sees them clearly in the dark watches of the night. George wonders why he would do that. Oh, George, because one of them is an adult and of impeccable lineage, recognised as heir by every major power in Europe and still the most eligible Princess in the world, and the other one is Elizabeth.
Henry started a European Cold War for Anne and a son, displaced a wife he still respected and a daughter he was fond of for Anne and a son, lost friends and allies and hammered a wedge into his country where it was already starting to split over religion for Anne and a son. What drew her up, and raised her high and kept her safe no matter who or how many wanted her thrown down evaporates a little every day.
Well, Henry still desperately wants a son. And at least for the moment and a while going forward Anne’s the only realistic way he has of getting that.
So she returns to the problem that at least looks solvable. And, like Henry, she’s been practicing her Pope Hand gestures. I mean, we’ve all drunk-pronouced stuff “I tell you this…” and so on, but we’re not all sitting Queens talking in front of a brother who has already been involved in one assassination attempt. The show still gives us no reason to believe she’s actively up to something but it looks like suspicious Catholic Europe is reading Anne’s direction – her intent and desire, quite correctly.
I think that Princess Mary is secure right now, but No, I don’t think that Princess Mary is safe from Anne, long term.
The Only Way Out is Through
We cut to Sir Thomas More, praying before he gets his final message from Fisher. We must remember that for these profound believers that their last days on Earth were the final part of their personal trial, the last thing they had to get through before heaven.
Sir Thomas More is praying intently when Bishop Fisher’s servant knocks at the door. More rushes to the door and he is ungainly, on legs that aren’t used to moving this fast anymore. He and Fisher are, in effect, two men drowning in the same sea and these whispered conversations through another person are the only contact they have. He is even more intent on the conversation that last time, his ear jammed against the door.
The servant, John, tells More that Fisher has been found guilty and is ‘called forth’ (will be executed) tomorrow. He hopes they will meet in heaven. More’s main thought is to give comfort and support to his friend.
The servant says ‘God bless you, sir’, and More returns to the one rock he has left, and prays.
Next morning it’s a great day for an execution.
And Fisher (a lovely performance from Bosco Hogan) is going to die very well. In Actual History he had to be carried to his execution, being ill and wasted from his long imprisonment. Here he manages to walk, slowly, but the marks of his confinement are all over him. Set to a rising score he blesses the executioner, and the crowd. And makes an Actual Historical reference to wearing his finest clothes…
He makes a fairly standard speech, but at the end of it, takes the unusual step of confessing his fear and weakness and asking the crowd for their help. Well, that’s a bold move, Cotton. You normally can’t get much more sociopathic than a crowd of medieval Londoners out for an execution day, so let’s see how it works out for him.
They use his Papal title (He’s a Cardinal to them), starting with the newly single William Webbe. Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s the same guy but not a deliberate choice, maybe these two scenes used to be further apart and they hired a guy to be an extra that turned out to be able to deliver lines pretty well (Damien Kearney, by the way). Anyway, dragging ourselves away from that coincidence, Fisher takes his courage from the crowd and gets ready for the big chop. Wow. Nice death, there The Tudors. At the last minute the score changes from the rising strings it’s been using to some drums, marking the time like a countdown. We close in (and in, and in) on Fisher’s face, getting us right into the heart of the action, and then we view the chop by seeing a wave of horror crash over the crowd.
That’s a quality execution.
Over to Rome
For a meet-cute with Michaelangelo, who actually historically started his “Last Judgement” for the Sistine Chapel the next year, 1536. But we got Pope Paul (under whom the Judgement was completed) a little early so why not?
It seems Pope Paul is determined to get a look at what Michaelangelo is working on. He’s making another attempt to part those curtains when Campeggio comes up and tells him about Fisher. Pope Pauls calls it an outrage and describes Henry as ‘Mired in vice and lust’, but (fittingly) that’s a little behind the times. For Henry it hasn’t been about desire for a while now, but about his absolutism.
Then Paul and Campeggio finally get their sneak peak, and become like two boys again at a sacred sight created by the unrepentantly profane.
Henry is working late at night with Cromwell, who delicately raises the question of what to do with Thomas More now that Fisher is dead.
In the Tower Margaret is visiting her father. Margaret’s visits got stopped about 7 months in to More’s imprisonment, but she was allowed a final one. And this confrontation (which it is, albeit a loving confrontation) Actually Historically happened before she was allowed to visit, happened in written form, and was part of the reason they let her in. By putting it here, at nearly the end of his journey, and making it an in person conversation it becomes more dramatically significant and thematically useful, becoming the last part of his shedding of the ‘things of the world’.
Margaret (Gemma Reeves doing really great work) mentions that he appears to be being treated worse than before and he is. His stove and most of his stored clothing has been removed. They are feeding him less. Trying to address his daughter’s concern More says that he’s not afraid of death, just torture, as he is not sure how brave he would be.
And then we come to the crux of it. Desperate to save her father Margaret says she does not believe the central tenet that the is dying for. And you see the realisation that he is now utterly alone in this, that his last temptation will come from his own family, and that just as they cannot save him, he cannot spare them the pain, hit him like hammer blows. This little two handed scene here is an incredible moment. As commenter Sir George pointed out last recap, one of the great strengths of The Tudors is the middle road they take with their characters. Between the living saint in A Man for All Seasons, and the personally unpleasant sinner in Wolf Hall, lies Jeremy Northam’s Sir Thomas More in The Tudors. A brave religious zealot, a lawful rebel, loving family man and persecutor of heretics, a living demonstration of his era’s moral absolutism and yet somehow completely sympathetic and human. It’s a sodding travesty how this performance keeps getting overlooked in the conversation about Sir Thomas More in historical drama, because it’s by far the most nuanced representation with the most commitment to historical truth we’ve ever had.
Meanwhile, Cromwell is pressing ahead. In London he meets with Richard Rich, and tells him he has a job for him.
A ‘job’ you can do for Thomas Cromwell, right hand man of the King, can make or break a career, so he has Richard’s full attention straight away. Also, he’s not a central character but Richard is going to last a good, long time as a secondary character in The Tudors, surviving a lot of changes of the administration so hello, welcome, and pull up a chain of office to Rod Hallett.
We don’t see what they discuss, but we are invited to imply it, while we cut to Henry who is winding up for a rant at God. It’s a true confession, for once, and we get to the root of Henry’s persecution of Moore.
I swear a lightning strike could have happened right outside that window, and he’d be saying “Any sign I should stop, God, just let me know”. In some nice work from Meyers we see the full Autocrat at work. Henry will not be gainsaid, especially by someone he truly knows, and who knows him. More’s value to Henry demands his obedience and yet Henry cannot have it. Everyone else bends over backwards to accept reality as Henry decrees it to be, but More does not, cannot, will not. So More must be removed.
As The King Wills It
It’s left to the smaller people to actually get the job done. Richard Rich enters Sir Thomas’ cell. Sir Thomas recognises and greets him, and manages to show that for all he’s gone through, he still has his sense of humour.
Rich, regretfully says that he’s come to collect More’s books and writing materials. This is a blow to More, but he takes it with dignity, and tells Rich, politely, that he should get on with it. As a side note, Actually Historically the two men that collected the books were questioned about this conversation during the trial (They both said they didn’t really hear it, being busy with the books) and were a Mr Palmer and Sir Richard Southwell.
Yes that Richard Southwell, Pennington stabber, who by this time had paid a hefty fine, got his freedom and was back in Royal service again. The Tudor Court was a very small town. It was invitation only, but the rewards were huge and for many offences (Except actual Treason or getting caught in the wrong faction when the music stopped), you could be, to a degree, above the law. Your children would be safe from the very real threats of poverty and starvation that were present for any working person in this era, and if you do well enough and they might never even have to work.
Richard Rich, son and grandson of tradesmen, the first lawyer in his family, let alone the first gentleman, has been offered a conditional invitation to this club by Thomas Cromwell, second most powerful man in the country.
I wonder what he and Sir Thomas More will talk about.
Actually Historically there is really only one record, a partially destroyed note that Rich and Cromwell wrote as soon as Rich came back. This depiction is consistent with the remains of the note.
More walks over to the window while they pack up his books and Rich starts to engage him. it a moment which other adaptations prefer not to show, but The Tudors decides to engage with. They start putting hypotheticals to each other, and Cromwell’s reasoning for getting another lawyer to visit starts to emerge.
Hypotheticals were a widely used teaching device for lawyers in training. They tested the individual’s knowledge, and winkled out the subtleties of the law by testing impossible and improbable cases on it. It would have been the kind of conversation they would have both had many times in chambers. And here, they have it about the supremacy. Rich starts pretty obliquely by talking about what would happen if Parliament made him King, would Thomas More accept it?That swallow Rich does at the end, and his quiet, regretful tone tells you that he’s got whatever it was Cromwell told him to get on this visit.
Nan Saville arrives in Anne’s room late at night, and with the same kind of surprise that Katherine’s maids showed, not too long ago, announced that the King is there. He is full of sweet words and promises to Anne’s tearful Queen.All the same, those eyes are a bit chilly and that first “Don’t Weep” has always sounded a little sharp to me. Although she probably should believe it all, not least because that’s really the only option she’s got.
The Trial of Sir Thomas More
Thomas More’s trial started on 1st July 1535. It did not take long. There were three charges – that he acted and spoke against the King’s marriage to Anne, that he conspired with Bishop Fisher in prison, and that he had maliciously denied the Royal Supremacy.
More successfully bats away the first charge, he had, in fact strenuously avoided talking about the King’s second marriage. He is surprised by the second, or perhaps by the fact that Cromwell clearly knew he and Fisher had been talking, possibly the whole time. And then we get to the third, his denial of the Royal Supremacy.
More points out that he hasn’t spoken, he hasn’t denied it, he’s been silent on the Supremacy. The head juror says that this silence could be construed an action, but More is ready for that. The legal precept “Qui tacit consentire videtur”, which Henry benefited from in his strong arming of the English Church, means “He who is silent is assumed to agree”. If his silence implies a viewpoint, that viewpoint is consent.
Then they go in for the conspiracy charges with Bishop fisher, and find they don’t have the horses for that either. the two were old friends, never spoke directly and there’s no evidence of any conspiracy.
Checked again, his jury go in for the kill. Call Mr Richard Rich.
Here we see The Tudors once again go for the middle line in historical interpretation. On this deeply contested historical point, Rich’s testimony is not portrayed as perjury, unlike A Man For All Seasons in which Rich’s every appearance in the film is building an argument that Rich was lying through his teeth at the end. Nor is it truthful and the result of arrogance, where More said it because he held Rich in too low esteem to see him as a threat, as we are strongly invited to imply in Wolf Hall.
Here it’s selective quotation (Rich misses out the first line where he brings up the topic, and all of More’s answer to that), and it’s lying by omission (at no point does he include that this was a conversation strictly about hypotheticals, which if mentioned should have cleared it of the ‘malicious’ test and coloured More’s words very differently). He does, however, truthfully answer the questions he is given to answer (no doubt carefully worded by Cromwell) even if he is very uncomfortable and cannot look Sir Thomas in the face.
The best records available indicate that More did accuse Rich of perjury at the trial, and that he also included the statement “If I said it, I did not say it maliciously” (Something 21st century listeners can’t hear without echoes of OJ Simpson), and gave Rich some personal insults. Both A Man For All Seasons and Wolf Hall emphasise different ends of that speech. The Tudors removes it and drives through the middle. Rich told the truth, but nowhere near the whole truth, and the trial was conducted to strenuously avoid the whole truth coming out.
The head juror says that if you accept the testimony of Richard Rich then you must find the prisoner guilty, driving them towards the verdict, which they give without hesitation.
The head juror is about to pronounce sentence, when Sir Thomas points out that the tradition was to ask if the prisoner had anything to say before the sentence was passed. And Oh Yes, now that it doesn’t matter any more the conspicuously silent, delicately careful for several years now Sir Thomas More has a just few words. And one of the first out of the gate is ‘repugnant’. He once again denies maliciousness, saying that he hopes that they will all meet in heaven. And he hopes that God will send the King “Good Counsel” while having a look at Cromwell. Cromwell takes it pretty calmly, well, he has just arranged the guy’s death for Henry. Sir Thomas More, longtime friend of the King is sentenced to the worst death – hanging, drawing and quartering – the full body horror show.
He is taken from the court into a yelling, jostling crowd, where two of his children, Margaret and a son, call out to him, and Margaret breaks through the crowd and guard to give him a kiss. And then he’s taken out through a crowd of Londoners, who have been shocked by the recent death of Fisher, widely regarded as a martyr, and now their government is going to make another one.
A Small Change of Heart
It’s a very different atmosphere in Henry’s rooms. They are dark, and very quiet, as if a death has already happened. The clock can be heard ticking.
Henry asks for basic details. When is the execution, what time will it be? And Cromwell answers, July 6th and 10am. There is a lot of silence and then Henry crosses to the window. To see, through the black strips that could be bars right now, Anne and her family out in the sunshine and laughing. He tells Cromwell to tell the officials, that the sentence has been commuted to beheading. There is to be no horror show, but More will be gone. And in his face we see the first flicker of resentment towards Anne, the position she has put him in. In a few episodes this will be all her fault.
To Die, Incredibly
We briefly go to the tower that night, where more is bathed in purest moonlight, and praying with a level of serenity we haven’t seen before. Before there was always some part of him battling, but that is all past now.
Many people are going to get executed in this series, a few already have. Some die well, some die poorly, a few, like Bishop Fisher die very well. But only Sir Thomas More is going to completely crush getting executed.
His execution is inter cut with moments with Henry, sat in an involuntary vigil at Whitehall.
After being dragged on a hurdle, More walks to his execution, squinting a little at the unaccustomed light. It is, once again, an unusually reverent crowd. This doesn’t stop Sir Thomas from making a last joke, as he trips on his way up the steps. Everyone is there (except his family – Actually Historically the only family member there was his adopted daughter, another Margaret, Margaret Clement. He asked that she be given his body to bury. His eldest daughter Margaret would later take down his head from Tower Bridge and have that buried) friends and enemies. Thomas Boleyn, increasingly aggressive, can’t keep down a tiny snarl. And he looks out on them all, his final words to the world being a message to Henry. It was traditional to pile more fulsome praise on the King from your execution, along with loyalty declarations, and Sir Thomas’ words were quite sparse on that subject (He had been warned to be brief). And in The Tudors his last sentence is both a bold statement and a pointed personal reference to a promise made.The executioner kneels down and asks for forgiveness, as is tradition. Do you remember when Buckingham couldn’t manage to say anything to that at his execution? Well Sir Thomas More gives him a goddamned pep talk. He tells the executioner that he will give him a greater benefit than any other mortal man could give him, and the physically raises him up and says “Pluck up your spirits, man, and be not afraid to do your office”. Then he pats him on the shoulder.
The crowd goes silent when More prays and crosses themselves when he does. It’s More that dies, but Henry that screams, and The Tudors leaves on one of it’s iconic pieces of imagery.
Notes: Well, it’s amazing what a bank Holiday Weekend can do for a deadline. Sir George, I am going to reply to your comment but I wanted to finish this first and right now I have lunch to cook.
I’ve barely proof read it so it’s going to need an edit. Also I’m unlikely to be this early again. I work Saturdays in the summer and that starts next week and doesn’t end until October. With that in mind I’m going to say Monday 10th June for the next one.