Stop and Think About What You Did
Titles first – with Jeremy Northam’s Sir Thomas More departing the series the Crown in Autumnal Leaves and the Ghost of Reproductive Angst get semi permanent spots in the titles.
And then we go straight to Rome where a huge crowd has been gathered so Pope Paul can give them a recap. The crowd is well CG’ed considering the age of The Tudors, movements and positions in the crowd are carefully mixed around, but apparently an orange hat seller somewhere in Rome had an implausibly great day.
The Pope would like to offer, to the faithful of England the hand of condolence, his tears of grief…
and a montage, which starts with a retrospective of Thomas More’s exit from court after being found guilty, with the crowd bubbling up and bumping the guards. Then, as Pope Paul goes on to talk about ‘Those in England living under tyranny” we get what could well be some recycled footage from the sweating sickness episode, with a crowd jostling Beefeaters outside the main gate in Whitehall. Then we get some new footage of agitators entering a church, disrupting mass and throwing down the religious statues. And as Pope Paul winds up his damning proclamation we get to see some bits from the titles.
Thomas More’s death is really the end point for the first half of Season 2. The passing of the last real resistance leader in England will create shock waves right the way from international politics down to inside Henry, himself. The Protestant reformation gathers apace, but is only close to a majority in London and the home counties (the counties that surround London) the rest of the country remaining pretty damn Catholic and getting increasingly riled.
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and appears to have forgotten that he has summoned Cromwell. Cromwell has to clear his throat. Henry finally notices him and explains that a daughter of Lord Morley is marrying George Boleyn, but Lord Morley can’t afford the dowry Thomas Boleyn has demanded. Henry has promised to make up the shortfall.
Cromwell relates the sorry state he has found some religious houses in. He then starts in with what is going to be a favorite device of his – regaling whoever will listen with the latest anecdotes of monastery misbehavior. In this case he’s going after a well known and early target of the reformers – The Holy Blood of Hailes. This famous relic was denounced as being regularly renewed duck’s blood. Henry is suitably scandalised by the news.
Cromwell then goes to the positive. They should find ways to promote the new monarchy, and he thinks producing some plays could be very effective.
This is all pre-Shakespeare and proper drama as we would know it. Plays at this point meant mystery plays for the common people- ‘What part of ye Holy Bible shall the village dramatise this year?’. There were also a few, a very few, groups of traveling players. And then there were the fancy allegorical pageants held at court, which at this time were far more about the costumes and the dancing and being seen than the few lines of dialogue they contained.
Theatre might still be in its infancy but it’s a great plan. The mystery plays were very popular, and in certain places getting increasingly professional. You didn’t have to be literate to understand a play. They were colourful, mobile, and could create a huge impression on great numbers of people, in an age with almost no entertainment for the working people, as later generations would discover. It’s a super bright idea, and Henry goes for it.
Cromwell gets the go ahead to diversify into theatrical productions (and maybe synergise some scripts), and once he’s left, Henry takes a moment. We get another flashback to Sir Thomas More, and it’s not Anne’s locket that Henry carries around with him that demands his attention, it’s More’s crucifix. He can admit it to no one, but Henry is really struggling with what he did.
And Pressing Ahead
Meanwhile, Cromwell has called a meeting of Cranmer, George Boleyn and himself in the cellars below Whitehall. An unusual location, perhaps, but all will become clear and it gives them an opportunity for a Sorkinesque Walk and Talk. They are delighted with a new Protestant appointment to Canterbury Cathedral, which is something the agree they need to build on. Cromwell has an exiting new initiative that if anyone hears a friend, neighbour or relative criticising the King, or his marriage or the reforms…
Cranmer says that the new monarchy is about liberty and freedom, from superstition and fear (Centered around the freedom not to be Catholic, which for committed Catholics isn’t a great deal – but for anyone that wasn’t happy it is pretty great).
Cromwell agrees and wants to introduce them to a new weapon in this fight.
Correction Cromwell, it has been changing the world. Martin Luther wasn’t the spearhead of Protestantism because he was Mr Awesome Sauce who thought of things in a way no one else ever did. Erudite, brilliant and disaffected churchmen cropped up all the goddamned time, often briefly. He was that guy because he wrote his issues down and he lived after the invention of the printing press in Europe, about 300 miles away from where it was invented, in Germany. At the time Germany had, by far, the greatest printing capacity in Europe. It was the Silicon Valley of that technological revolution, and he and his ideas sprouted up in the middle of all of it.
But while in 1535 that revolution must have looked huge, it was still barely getting started. This was the beginning of the eras of Mass Communication, and the importance and reach of print would grow and grow unchecked and with no rival, really until moving pictures showed up at the end of the 19th Century.
In about another 3 years Cromwell will have masterminded the printing of the Great Bible, Henry VIII’s approved religious text. The humble people at the bottom all get to say”Long Live The King” in Latin (Apart from one ‘God Save the King’), Royal coats of arms are everywhere and there is Henry, enthroned, and handing out the literally labelled word of God to his grateful subjects, while spouting a good paragraph.
Can you spot Jesus? I’ll always remember David Starkey pointing out in Monarchy – he might be at the top of the page but he’s incredibly small, less than a quarter of the size of Henry who utterly dominates the front page of what is definitely his Bible (That Cromwell actually got done). And I wouldn’t be surprised if Jesus’s lines translated to ‘Henry is awesome’.
Can You Feel The Passive Aggression Tonight?
Back to the man himself, who is having dinner with current Queen and blame receptacle Anne Boleyn.
He’s not just disengaged, he’s actively making an effort to be disengaged, he’s grey rocking like he’s granite. She wants to know what he’s thinking about, and he’s thinking about nothing, Anne, OK? Could the blankest stare in the world help you drop this subject? Great.
It’s a shame because Anne looks fabulous tonight, and she’s got a pretty good idea. Maybe a very good idea. First, given Henry’s mood, she wisely asks for permission to bring something up. Then she says she wants to cement Elizabeth’s legitimacy by betrothing her to the Duke of Angouleme, King Francis’ youngest son. She’s putting a lot of faith in it being a plan “That could change everything” on that front. But it is time for the French to come across with something for the alliance, and this is moderate and achievable. As Elizabeth is still a baby it’s going to be at least a decade and a half before either the French or the English need to deliver on it, and Charles is the youngest son of three that Francis has. Henry agrees.
Anne is really pleased. So pleased she goes for a double advance.Wow. That stare is ice cold, and he might be enjoying disappointing her. Henry and Anne are falling apart, and if Thomas More’s death isn’t all her fault yet, despite not a single scene that showed her agitating for it, Oh, it is getting there.
Maybe Jeremy Northam should have got a credit this episode, because while Henry sleeps alone we get to see his dreams. Which are flashbacks of Thomas More, apparently, but they’re out of order, blurred and echoey so, sure, dreamlike enough. It has glimpses of most of their major scenes together and ends with a word that, like when memories of Anne (and possibly the ghost of Anne herself) woke Thomas Wyatt, sounds as immediate and real as if Thomas More were in the room.
Henry starts up and, like all of us have at some point between waking and sleeping, his mind turns the shadows in the room into something familiar. In his case a very familiar figure.
It comes together briefly, causing Henry to say “Thomas?” but then disintegrates as he gets closer, disappears entirely as he tries to touch it, leaving Henry to stare out the window and mournfully mutter the name again.
Through a Marriage Darkly
We cut to George Boleyn’s marriage to Jane Parker. And no-one’s happy to be here.
Her father marches her up the aisle and suddenly Jane stops. As Jane takes a moment (that really should have lasted a lifetime) let’s take our own moment to consider the character of Jane Boleyn.
What shall we do with Jane Boleyn? Her appearance in every adaptation is coloured by the need to square the circle of a woman who caused her own husband’s death by accusing him of incest with his sister, and then facilitated a later Queen’s adultery.
In early adaptations, dramatic or novels, she was first shown as an out and out villain. As we started to require motivation, even for our historical villains, she became a figure jealous of Anne and her brother, vindictive, sometimes stupid and often showing the first signs of madness that would claim her later. The most sympathetic adaptations showed her being used as a tool against the Boleyns by the Duke of Norfolk.
The abused wife angle first appears (as far as I’m aware) in adaptation in The Tudors, and is a deeper level of humanization. Wolf Hall takes the same tack, and although Jessica Raine’s Jane Boleyn is altogether sharper and more vicious than Joanne King’s in The Tudors, they are both seen as women that have been profoundly victimised, using the opportunity to finally be rid of their abuser(s).
Oh, it’s definitely a step forward for the character. And a decent attempt to humanise her fatal decision to accuse George and Anne of incest, effectively killing George, and sealing Anne’s fate with the dirtiest of the mud to get flung at her.
Except, Actual Historical Jane Boleyn never did any of that. She didn’t accuse her husband of incest with his sister. That wasn’t her. If there is a finger to be pointed for the first bringing up of that charge, beyond Cromwell, History is currently pointing that finger at another lady in waiting- Elizabeth Somerset (Countess of Worcester),or maybe Lady Wingfield.
Jane Boleyn the intriguing husband accuser was invented after her death. It was first speculated about in a marginal note in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1576 version), which was worded as a 16th Century version of “Some people say…” that she might have forged a letter supposed to be between her husband and Anne and if she did…etc. It was first stated as a certainty, with no other known foundation, by George Wyatt, Anne Boleyn’s first biographer (and grandson of Thomas). In his determination to exonerate Anne, a lot of blame got thrown around and Jane was someone it could stick to. And it got repeated and repeated as fact for centuries.
Probably the great achievement of Jane’s life, the fact that she rebuilt her career and managed to get back into royal service after the Boleyns fell, lent credibility to the lie. As did the irresistible irony of her fall from grace in the Catherine Howard affair, also her subsequent mental breakdown during her imprisonment. What actually happened to Jane, and what she did during Anne’s fall we’ll get to as the story moves along, but The Tudors’ version of this part of her life is definitely fiction.
Actually Historically Jane was Lady in Waiting to five of Henry’s six wives, starting with Katherine of Aragon and including Anne. She and George had married in late 1524 or early 1525, ten years before this point. They had no children but that could well have been down to infertility, and their marriage was not noted as being particularly happy or unhappy.
The Tudors’ Jane Boleyn is heading for a really unhappy marriage. Her father starts with persuasion, and then reverts to angry orders to get her up the aisle very quickly. She’s pulled towards the altar to meet her bridegroom, who can’t stop messing about with his gay lover for more than a minute, getting him a scolding from his own father as the ceremony begins.
Henry’s not at the wedding, he’s got a Thing. He’s waiting to attend to some audiences and staring into himself while he waits.
Sir Henry Norris gets announced. He’s old friend of Henry’s, he’s looking to get married again, and he rather likes the look of Lady Margaret Sheldon.
Henry seems pleased at the prospect of losing Madge. She’s been his mistress for a while, I think we can assume the shine has worn off. He’s also sublimating his guilt about More into anger with Anne right now, so casting off the wife-approved mistress would both free him up to look for a new one, and give him another excuse to be irritated at Anne. Double win for Henry.
Sir Henry Norris gets sent off with some warm compliments referring to the age of their friendship and the next guy up is the French ambassador.
Henry makes the proposal to betroth Charles and Elizabeth, and the French Ambassador makes the appropriate “Oooh, something of great import” face and leaves to deliver the message to Francis. Henry’s momentary expressions of irritation (he makes another one as the ambassador leaves) although they should be about outfit envy, I think are about the fact that he and Francis really don’t get along. Invading France and forcing Francis’ surrender would be the relationship Henry really wants to have with France, and asking Francis for anything, even a reasonable request for an alliance partner, galls him terribly.
Back at the wedding reception, the bride and her parents look on from a corner while the bridegroom continues to spend a lot of time with his friend.
Jane gets the courage together to approach the guy she just married, and asks him the big question.
It’s all so perfectly awful. The long walk she has to make, the last bit of hope dying in her eyes as he gives his blatantly false answer, followed by a crude sexual reference before walking off to talk to Mark again. It’s dreadful, and it’s only going to get worse.
Meanwhile, Queen Anne’s potential adultery antenna is twitching. We focus in on Anne through the window, and are then assailed by images of Henry with a whole lot of prostitutes.
I think we can safely imply that this debauchery is all in Anne’s mind. Sure, Henry’s had and is going to have sex with other women, but he’s not neck deep in gauzy prostitutes with poorly maintained eyeliner. He’s barely had time to get out the gates for one thing.
What we can take from this is that he’s getting distant, unfaithful and occasionally cruel, and she’s getting jealous and paranoid.
Thanks, I Hate It
Oh great, it’s time for the Marital Rape Scene. One of The Tudors’ great advantages for me has always been that, in comparison to a lot of other historical dramas, it’s not very rapey. There is one other rape in the series, in the first half of Season 4. For which you see the lead up and some of the aftermath, which is distressing enough, but not the act itself. Here the rape is direct, intimate and brutal and this may be the first time I’ve watched it on something other than fast forward since I first saw it.
Let’s distract ourselves as long as possible, and then get this over with shall we? Jane is walking around George’s bedroom and finds a small painting that perplexes her.
As well it might. To begin with, it’s not going to get painted for another 165 years. It’s Anton Domenico Gabbiani’s The Abduction of Ganymede, but works on this subject could be found at the time, if you dared to put them on your wall. There’s certainly a (circa 1560) sketch by Michaelangelo that makes the subtext very clear. This is a painting of Zeus in the form of an eagle picking up his new cup bearer and his new twink. So finding this kind of Art being enjoyed in a gentleman’s bedroom might lead one to believe that his sexual interests were not exclusively toward females.
So was Actual Historical George Boleyn gay? No. Was he having an affair with Mark Smeaton? Again no. I mean, it’s possible, all the gaps in History leave a lot of things that are possible (There are gaps between possible, plausible and probable things in History you could drive another history of a decent sized nation state through) but there’s just no evidence for it. Only one historian, Retha Warnicke has been out there arguing for it. And when Michael Hirst was writing The Tudors, it would have been the young, fashionable theory about town, which he clearly latched onto for some great dramatic possibilities.
But, once the hype died down, it was pretty clear this theory had next to nothing to support it. George Boleyn and Mark Smeaton were known to be friends, even leaving some direct evidence behind (there’s a book George gave Mark that still exists, I believe). And anyone that was gay or bi, or a variation thereupon in the period would have had a lot of motivation to keep it quiet and would have made easy targets, as Henry and Cromwell passed some pretty brutal laws against gay sex . The highest punishment on the books (although clearly not always used) was death, and if you’re looking for the gay history heroics that repealed that law, well surprisingly enough it wasn’t Elizabeth or Edward’s reputedly liberal administrations, this time it was Mary’s administration that did that.
Oh crap, back in The Tudors he’s in the room, and super drunk.
He calls her pretty, and you can see her hope that, despite everything, she might just get a decent introduction to sex. Oh God.
So, Anyway, Actual Historical George Boleyns’ reputation got trashed right after his death, and, unlike his sister, he didn’t give birth to a Queen Regnant, so no political group was in a hurry to restore it in the following century. ‘Arrogant’ and ‘Womaniser’ with a grudging ‘good looking’ and ‘pretty clever’ thrown in, was the general assessment. No gay rumours in his lifetime, and not after his death when they were chucking everything they had at him.
Back in The Tudors, there’s some kissing that starts out OK, and then turns not OK very quickly.
Yep, that’s the last image you’ll get of this scene. I still have to sit through it. Well, there will be no “Was it a rape?” controversy here. He slams her into a side table and rapes her from behind. We get to see it from in front of the table and get all of her incredibly distressed reactions. Although for some reason one of the worst things for me is the way he kicks one of her legs to the side. The casual nature of it just gets to me. Once he’s done, without saying a word, he takes his shoes off and collapses on the bed.
George Boleyns’ reputation gets a new and different kind of trashing, The Tudors finally gets its depraved bisexual, and it’s provided Jane with a motivation for something she didn’t actually historically do.
Thanks, The Tudors, I Hate it.
Theatre’s Getting Invented, Let’s Take in a Show
Excellent, just what we needed. We’re outside, the weather is good, there’s a show, and this scene will be treated like a bop around court to catch up with all the intrigue. Let’s go. We’re about 15 seconds in. The cardinals’ red nose marks him out as a drinker, the Pope spouts a lot of nonsense and ends it with a mighty fart. There’s a bit of second wall breaking comedy where a bell isn’t rung on time, and then they won’t stop ringing it. Oh, it’s a thigh slapper, everyone is laughing, even Brandon can’t help a little smirk. And then he farts again and this time the cardinal faints.
Look, they’ve only just invented comedy, this shit is genius to them. Cromwell sidles over to Thomas Boleyn and they talk about the author John Bale, he’s actual historical and so is the play, King Johan. Which was an anti-catholic play produced for the court of Henry VIII and may be the first transition play between morality plays and historical drama. There’s even a copy of the script still in existence and available online, which sadly appears to be far more serious and dense than shown here. It’s also bloody hard to decipher, I tried, reader, I tried, but bottom line, I prefer the farting version.
Boleyn compliments Cromwell, saying his family never ‘did anything better’ than facilitating Cromwells’ rise, and he trusts that Cromwell will never forget that they did so. Is Boleyn condescending because he feels the families’ weaker position and is shoring up allies? Is it a veiled threat? Quizzical look indeed, Cromwell, quizzical look indeed. Back onstage a chap that may well be the devil (forked tail moustache) comes out with a friend and talks about how much he likes the Pope. He doesn’t really get a punchline but he gets around that by the time honoured comedic device of playing it all as camp as custard. He’s a big hit. And then out comes the hero, King John, with a herald with a painted face and a guy in a priest’s robe with actual demon horns on his head. His name turns out to be Treason.
Meanwhile up on the dais Henry has some good news for Anne. Francis is sending the Admiral of France to negotiate Elizabeth’s betrothal to Charles. Anne is happy, and then Henry signals Brandon to come up on the dais. Henry would like Brandon to host and entertain the Admiral in preparation for the negotiations. It’s a great honour and responsibility and Brandon is very pleased. And then Anne, without even looking at Brandon says “Why him?” with, like, a lot of tone. Henry leans back and takes a good look at Anne, who just publicly questioned him. She relents a bit, and wheedles that surely her father would be a better choice. Henry looks her in the eye and then tells Brandon that he trusts him to carry out his commands. Brandon does the worst job ever of hiding his anger but accepts the job and retreats.
Just 4 episodes ago (and about 18 months in show time) Henry and Anne were a completely united front.
Back down in the crowd, Brandon’s wife wants to know what is wrong. He says that Anne is a whore that treats him worse that he treats his dogs. OK. 1) Treat your dogs better, Brandon. 2) What happened to ‘Store up your anger, don’t act impulsively, it’s always a mistake.” Duchess?
Chapuys, who has emphatically not been having a good time in the audience happens to wander over for a word with the Brandons, just as, on stage, King John says what a good idea it would be to banish the Catholic Church from England (He just stops short of saying that that will have to wait for an even braver and better looking King). Brandon asks about Queen Katherine. Chapuys reports that she is very unwell, sinking in fact, and not only has her household been severely reduced,
The Duchess says that the treatment is very cruel. But Chapuys maintains that Katherine’s courage and faith remains incredible. When Brandon asks about the Lady Mary, then Chapuys says:
“While the concubine has power, I fear for her life.”
I’m sure Chapuys believes it, so he’s doing it for the best of reasons. But he just saw and took the opportunity to put that thought in the head of one of the Kingdom’s most powerful men who he has just seen still stands in high favour with Henry despite feuding with Anne.
Chapuys is a clever fox.
The play finishes and we head over to Hatfield, to see Lady Mary and the infant Elizabeth.
Mary is praying, when she hears the laughter of the other ladies in waiting. They’ve wandered off and Elizabeth is crying. She gets up and as she stands at the door her expression is pretty inscrutable. As Elizabeth’s cries become wails we find ourselves wondering (helped along by the score), what is Mary about to do?
We see all the action through that mirror over Mary’s shoulder, too. That also increases our tension as we are kept physically away from the action. She picks up her sister, cuddles and sings to her, and Elizabeth stops crying almost at once. Then Lady Bryan appears and we see her thinking exactly what we were thinking about 5 seconds ago. She demands to know what Lady Mary is doing, and Mary explains that Elizabeth was left alone, so she looked after her. Lady Bryan wants Elizabeth back and Mary gives her up, and Elizabeth starts crying again.
Mary’s not really here to look after Elizabeth, she’s here to be humiliated. Welcome to the upper echelons of Tudor England, where assassination attempts are plenty and with so much on the line you need to ask yourself: Am I doing my part to prevent sibling murders today?
Notes: OK, deadline for the next one is the 24th June, but I’m thinking I should do better than that. Oh, and D Versailles?
Update – Pic added 16/06/2019