Henry is sprawled, unmoving, on the tilt yard. First to get to him is George Boleyn, crying “Is he dead? Is he dead?” before he almost gets lifted up bodily by Brandon, making the reasonable point that George should let others help the King, because he can’t.
He tells Brandon to take the King into the pavilion, where the Doctor will be able to attend him better. His tone is not instilling confidence.
Brandon musters up a carrying party, and followed by a worried and audibly gasping crowd (that includes Jane) they do as the Doctor asked.
This Actual Historical incident is recorded in contemporary documents but without a lot of detail. The accident itself happened pretty much as depicted here, and he was unconscious for around 2 hours. But what a 2 hours they must have been, and we have next to no detail about what everyone did in that time, so it’s a great opportunity for dramatists to figure out what their historically based characters would do in such a situation. Let’s see what Hirst’s The Tudors characters get up to.
To Anne first, even before Henry makes it into the tent. Madge is in shock and is having trouble getting the news out. Anne starts super efficient, actually snapping Madge out of it, but when Anne hears what has happened she is afraid and grief stricken. Anne clearly still loves Henry, and her central concern is for his safety.
We follow Sir Henry Norris (Henry’s unfortunate opponent in The Tudors, in Actual History we’re not told who it was) into the tent, where Doctor Linacre is trying his most advanced techniques.
Doctor Linacre actually tried a treatment there, going all out and wafting some herbs before giving up and handing the King over to the priest. In fairness, if do no harm was something you were serious about then doing anything as a 16th Century physician was a very risky business.
In unfairness, I picture Doctor Linacre at the end of his career, barely letting his patient’s relatives get a word out before telling them there’s nothing to be done and where the priest lives.
Team Pragmatism and Team Prayer
Right at the end of that gif, if you keep an eye on Thomas and George Boleyn, you’ll see Thomas give George a bit of a look, and then they start to back out as everyone else kneels. We catch up with them just outside of the tent. So, a couple of things here. First, is there no stressful situation in which Thomas Boleyn won’t find an excuse to insult his kids? “Don’t you understand anything?” That was a perfectly reasonable question George just asked, given that no-one else is buggering off right now.
Second, that reasoning is quite arrogant and inaccurate. It’s beautifully put, with that 20th Century Yeats influence with the ‘centre has to hold’, but what Thomas actually wants to do is to get back to the centre of power to be ready to take advantage and consolidate power if Henry dies. We about to cut to the guy who is actually holding the centre together, to whom the Boleyns will briefly become a mild distraction. With his clerical army buzzing around him, taking and delivering dispatches all over the Kingdom, it is Cromwell holding the centre of government together. He gets a report that the King still hasn’t regained consciousness after an hour, dismisses the guy and looks worriedly into an hourglass.
As he should, not regaining consciousness an hour after an accident would be causing worry these days, when Doctors can basically look at your brain in real time and supply it with oxygen if they need to. In 1536, with the full range of herb wafting available for your recovery, an hour of unconsciousness is terrifying.
We cut briefly to inside the tent with religious harmonies in the soundtrack as everyone prays for Henry’s recovery. And to Anne, who has gone straight to church.
Giving a time break for the Boleyns to arrive. It wouldn’t have been far, but The Tudors needed a little gap between seeing them leave the joust for and arrive at Cromwell at Whitehall, and these short cuts, checking at various locations, give us an idea of many things happening in a short amount of time. The place with the most happening is Cromwell’s office.
So, I think that while adaptations always go with the Boleyn faction choosing the ‘crowning Elizabeth’ route in this crisis, that they’d probably have found some kind of legal fiction to hold off the succession until the result of Anne’s current pregnancy came about. Female succession to the English throne was not yet secure (We hadn’t had our first crowned Queen in Mary I yet, or the first government attempt at a Queen Regnant with Jane Grey), and I think they probably wouldn’t go ahead and have Elizabeth on the throne with a possible boy in the offing unless they had no other choice.
With the talk about a ‘guard on the Lady Mary’ I wouldn’t have put much money on Mary’s future safety if Henry hadn’t recovered. Indeed, around this time Chapuys was writing coded letters to Charles V, saying that their plan for getting Mary out of England was getting less likely to succeed every day. Aha! So the danger she was in was recognised, and the Imperials had plans to remove her from England (29 January 1536 Chapuys to Charles V) even if they weren’t in a position to act on them at this time.
Next, for all his talk about having to ‘hold the centre’ what Thomas Boleyn came back for was apparently to get a report on everything Cromwell has done, get a lot of swagger on and demonstrate that he was a bit out of touch with how government was now functioning.
For his modern biographers, one of the most important aspects of Thomas Cromwell is that he could justifiably be called the ‘Father of Parliament’. There is a line to be drawn between the actions of Thomas Cromwell eventually making possible the reign of his Great-great-great nephew, Oliver Cromwell, with a lot of other Kings, Queens, Parliamentarians, Generals and Ministers of State influencing government and politics in between, of course.
It was Thomas Cromwell that made Parliament indispensable to monarchs in governing England, through the work he got it to do during the Break with Rome. It was parliament that provided the legal means and justification for the Break and the dissolution of the monasteries. Henry VII held only 7 sessions of parliament in total during his reign. The Reformation Parliament(1529-1536) alone of Henry VIII had 9 sessions, and there were 28 sessions of parliament in his reign. And with the church swept out of England, parliament became the sole arbiter of English law outside of the monarchy.
From Henry and Cromwell onwards any King or Queen trying to rule without a regular parliament ran into significant problems. Using parliament gifted many opportunities to the monarchy, but Henry and Cromwell had also made it central to the act of ruling. This was the beginning of the early modern nation state in England. Back in the tent, Team Prayer is really working it. Brandon can’t take his eyes off of Henry, Henry Norris (the unfortunate lance holder) is failing to hold back tears, and Jane Seymour is on her knees, praying in the mud outside.
Meanwhile Team Pragmatism is also getting on with things. The Boleyns are now hanging out in George’s rooms, waiting upon events, as it were. Oh, Thomas has definitely been already thinking about it, but hearing it from someone else, and getting that first gesture of obeisance makes it so much more real for him. He can almost taste the power.
How long would it have lasted? Hard to say, particularly since this version of Thomas Boleyn is based largely on the belligerent and bullying Duke of Norfolk. But likely not for long. But any relative of Elizabeth’s, her mother included, trying to rule in her name would have started with some really hard choices. Kill Mary or no? Yes, and you will trigger an attempted Imperial invasion at some point. That’s if the people and the rest of the aristocracy don’t get you for being massively unpopular and killing the viable, adult heir accepted by the whole of Europe for a child of three and an unborn sibling, that would be completely under your (as previously mentioned) hated control.
Don’t kill Mary and those threats all still exist, but now with a viable alternative ruler. Edward’s reign would show how difficult it was for a regent to keep things under control, even given pretty good circumstances for the handover and a capable regent. The chances of a government in Elizabeth’s name collapsing early would be high, very high.
The guy in the mix that might just be seeing all this coming, Team Pragmatism’s MVP, decides to get into the royal chapel and lend Team Prayer a hand.
The Queen isn’t keen, but even her enemies must be tolerated if they are here to pray for the King. The score, meanwhile has moved to the other side, going from those religious harmonics to winding tension. When about 2 hours after the accident…Team prayer pulls out the victory. As the relieved shouts erupt around him, and people are moved out of the tent, Henry notices he has Jane’s favours.
Well, That’s a Relief
Straight to Thomas Boleyn, unconvincing as heck about his relief that the king is uninjured. His manner isn’t that unconvincing, but the first thing he feels he needs to do is heap a load of very measured, very good, but also very pointed advice upon his daughter – who is utterly distracted.He warns her about the dangers of pre-natal stress in a typically Tudor fashion (with a large side order of blame for the woman), and asks her to imagine that he is the angel Gabriel, come to tell her she is holding the Christ child in her womb, so, you know, chill out and embroider something for the next 5 months, would you?
After seeing Jane and Henry at the joust, he knows about the paramount importance of this pregnancy for all of them, and for once, he’s finding a way of telling her that without overly alarming her.
“Taken no hurt”… really?
In the late aughts there was a popular theory that this jousting accident led to brain damage which affected Henry for the rest of his life. I’m in the camp that it seems an unnecessary complication to explain his subsequent behaviour. Henry was a casually cruel narcissist long before this accident. Because he couldn’t admit he just needed a way out of his first marriage, Katherine of Aragon had to have never been married to him, and what consequences that brought to those around him, he clearly didn’t care. He held to that view long after the Break with Rome, when he could have allowed divorce in the Church of England, but no, it had to be absolute vindication for Henry, so after 20 years of marriage everyone had to agree he had always been a single man.
Thomas More had to stop speaking in public, then stop writing in disagreement with him, and then it wasn’t enough for Thomas to sit in a prison cell just existing, if he couldn’t become Henry’s willing mouthpiece he had to be dead.
Henry didn’t just have to be right all the time, he had to have been right all the time and through all his changes of mind, and if you couldn’t put your reality through the backflips needed for this to be true then you were going to suffer.
If Henry had suddenly started being kind in 1536/7, started being considerate of other human beings and wondering aloud if he had been wrong at any point I would seriously consider brain damage from the accident (Two hours was a long time to be unconscious). As it is, for me, his subsequent behaviour can be adequately explained by that just being who Henry was, and his leg injury which we know happened.
At this point Henry was already having difficulties with his legs: old injuries and varicose veins. This ulcerated one became a recurrent and periodically dangerous problem. The leading theory, and the one used in The Tudors,was a fracture resulting in small bone splinters that Henry’s body started trying to expel through the mass of his leg. We don’t even need to go to Fat Embolism Syndrome (Bone Marrow in your blood is normally dealt with by your body, but if it isn’t it can be very very bad) to explain the mood changes brought about by this recurring, debilitating and painful injury. Also, and it is time to start bringing it up, this was the Actual Historical physical shape that 44 year old Henry was in in 1536.
Doctor Linacre is all enthused by having a patient not die after treatment and goes to make up a dressing for Henry’s leg. As he walks away he’s talking to Henry about not being as young as he was, and how, after a certain point, the body just cannot take the same kind of treatment as it used to. But Henry isn’t listening, he’s staring at Jane’s favours, a young man in love, who has just been injured right now, that’s all.
We cut to Brandon, cantering towards a sun bathed Wolfhall, where he has a proposition by proxy for Jane Seymour.
Anne’s endless suspicion about Brandon enabling Henry’s infidelities looks entirely justified. He gives Jane a letter and a purse, saying that the King asks that she accepts these gifts in the spirit that they are offered.
We don’t get to hear her reaction, which will be reported on his return by Brandon, but go straight to…
An Evening at Court
Mark Smeaton is playing, there’s quaffing and eating. Henry and Anne (who is making the necklace on the head thing work, damnit) are getting on really well. He sounds like he’s taking the advice of Doctor Linacre, she talks about Elizabeth and Henry uses the opportunity to give Anne a compliment. It’s all going great, but the real underbelly is exposed when Anne tries yet again to push the French betrothal plan.
It’s the third time she’s tried this. First time he claimed the idea as his own. Second time, he pointed out that he’d been humiliated by Francis’ refusal, and she should stop bringing it up. This time he makes the point that there’s no reason to be talking about betrothal for Elizabeth when Mary isn’t betrothed yet. Which is entirely reasonable if you have a near 20 year old daughter and a 3 year old daughter that have the same legal standing. But Henry and Anne’s marriage and the current administration is based on the fact that they don’t. Henry and Anne put a lot of people through hell on the basis that they don’t and now…he’s not so bothered about that.
He goes to meet Brandon, who has just arrived. Brandon reports that Jane…
has refused the gifts, saying she has no greater treasure on earth that her honour. Henry’s reaction is Actual Historical. And he is pleased, as much as he was when it was Anne holding out on him, 10 years ago.
Cromwell and Chapuys get a brief scene to demonstrate the continued thaw in Imperial relations. Cromwell is working late at night when Chapuys comes round to see if Cromwell’s managed to put the Emperor’s condition (Legitimising Mary) for alliance to Henry.
Cromwell does a “Yeah, not yet.”, and they both identify the problem as Anne. I mean sure, she would throw everything she has against Mary getting re-legitimised, and she does not trust the Emperor, but I’m not sure Anne even knows about his victory at Tunis, let alone got upset by it. It’s not always about the Empire, Chapuys.
Also, as furious as Anne would be made by this move, time will show that the real brake on it is Henry. He’s not going to make Mary’s legal status any more solid until he’s got a son between her Catholic ass and the throne. That argument he just side stepped with Anne? That’s because he’s thinking about Elizabeth’s status going down, not Mary’s going up. He might not be admitting it to anyone yet, but his mind is skipping ahead to a third marriage already. But these guys don’t know that yet, so they are focusing on Anne, who has recently and unadvisedly made Cromwell an enemy too.
OK, first thing, this incident is not Actually Historical. It doesn’t fit with everything else we know about the character of the historical Jane, and it only has one really dubious source, which came up with it early in the 17th century (Henry Clifford’s The Life of Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria), with no reference to a contemporary source at all. It’s a good tale though.
Henry is in his study, supposedly reading a letter, but he has Jane’s favours still wrapped around his hand, and keeps looking up at the door. When Jane arrives, his leg means he cannot rise, and he asks her to come over, and sit on his knee. He says he respects her honour, and they get in an Actual Historical promise Henry made during their courtship.
Although all such promises came a little after this point. Henry then indulges in some wishful thinking. He says that Jane’s favours saved his life, that a vision of her came to him and he ‘awoke with its promise’. What actually happened there Henry was you woke up, looked confused, said “Charles” as you noticed Brandon, and then you started feeling around with a “What the hell is this uncomfortable thing in my breastplate” expression and then you noticed it was Jane’s favours and then you got to a smile and I’m pretty sure it was at that point you were having a lovely vision of Jane, and deciding her favours had saved you. Had they been Anne’s they would no doubt have caused the accident, you dangerous romantic.
He persuades Jane to a kiss, and then one more, and his version of respecting Jane’s honour is starting to look like Thomas Wyatt’s “Let’s just hang out and kiss by this tree, what could happen?” When…First, that was a door that needed a guard on it. Second, Natalie Dormer’s Anne is amazing. She goes from shock (perhaps too shocked, as seeing this coming has been her main source of tension for this episode), to just resplendent rage with that door slam and approaching Henry like a vengeful fury, then using her pregnancy for emotional leverage with the holding of her bump, and backing away from Henry while making noises approximate to distress, essentially saying you have threatened this pregnancy to Henry. Amazing.
In this way Anne both produces an equivalent distress in Henry to the one he has produced in her, and demands his comfort, of course gets it, as he desperately tries to talk her down. He keeps repeating “Peace, peace” and they end up stood still in the room, both their hands over the fetus.
End of the line
Except that the threat is real. Anne is in her rooms that night, while her ladies play cards distractedly.Anne is almost animalistic in these scenes. Her cries are primal, her expressions unguarded. While one of the ladies is sent to get a physician, the others look on in mounting horror as Anne, grunting in pain and in utter desperation tries to prevent the fetus from coming out of her body. She knows. She knows in this moment, though hope and survival instinct will make her forget some of it later, that this is her life ending, too.
Henry marches in, clearly some time later, but not much. Last time he came in after a miscarriage they had made her comfortable and the rooms were ordered. Now he walks into a room where the bloody sheets are still being removed and Anne, while she might be in a fresh gown, is not settled, but crying and on her hands and knees at the top of the bed.
The words Henry’s given are very close to the ones he was reported to have said Actually Historically, and about as comforting. Anne is said to have blamed the stress of the news of the jousting accident. Both actors nail it. Anne’s desperation is palpable, and Rhys Meyers crushes Henry’s reaction. He goes from distress and unbearable guilt to Henry remembering that Henry doesn’t do guilt, that this has to be someone else’s fault, and the cold rage he’s going to use in the next scene is all in his face as he leaves.
Anne’s cries follow him down the hallway, past Cromwell and Chapuys’ curious faces. After what would appear to be a short amount of time Cromwell enters Henry’s room to find Henry looking out of the window.
There are theories from recent scholarship that apportions more blame to Cromwell than there used to be for Anne’s fall (ironic, considering he just got his hero edit this decade). But for all that he bears plenty of the blame, and it is absolutely true that he was the architect of her fall, I still don’t think he was the client. He and Anne were enemies, and longer standing and more serious enemies than The Tudors portrays. But Anne had enemies before, and Cromwell put plenty aside to get things done. There might well have been plots, interrupted by her pregnancy, and re ignited by her miscarriage, but without Henry’s tacit approval they’d have gone nowhere.
When Anne miscarried, Henry must have thought he was in a loop. Another near fatal accident (remember the pole vault gone wrong his servant saved him from in 1525?), another near succession crisis and here he was another 10 years later after completely convulsing the body politic with a different wife and another daughter to show for it. Anne was either 29 or 35 by now (her birth date is agreed to be in that range and the most evidence is for the dates at either end), if 29 then fine, she was just a year or two older than Jane Seymour, if 35 she was two years older than Katherine of Aragon was when she conceived for the last time. Either way with two miscarriages she was looking far less of a fertility bet than she used to be.
But if Henry was in a loop it was massively accelerated this time around, because he wasn’t getting rid of one of the most politically important women in Europe, he was getting rid of a woman from minor nobility that he had made Queen. That outside of a small group of evangelical Protestants and her family didn’t have a power base, that most of the nobility hated on principle and who was so secure in her early reign that she practically made enemies for a hobby.
Henry had also trained everyone in how to deal with him now. You didn’t just need to do what he said, to gain favour you often had to go beyond it. Fail or disagree and you now had the fates of Wolsey, Katherine, Fisher and More to provide examples the fall that awaited you. That increasing fear of Henry had been protecting Anne for the whole of her reign. His accusation of witchcraft against Anne was Actual Historical, reported at the time. And anyone that heard of it would know the significance.
Witchcraft was a crime that carried the death penalty. Either he was deliberately calling open season (basically saying ‘by any means necessary’ guys) or his pathological need to be utterly blameless (and this was just about the only way to make him blameless for his behaviour both getting and during his second marriage if he now ended it) would once again call down terrible consequences for others that he really didn’t care about compared to his own self image.
Either way, what Henry did in that moment was to look down at the woman he had raised to be his Queen, and drop her, like chum, into the roiling water of her enemies.
After that the only real question was what shape her end was going to take.
Notes: Next recap by 8th August. I bet this needs a lot of edits.