At the 2DOR Questioning facility
We are straight to a dark room where Anne’s ladies in waiting are being questioned by Cromwell and Rich. It’s a great demonstration of manufacturing a whole cloth of evidence from a strand of truth, as at first everyone denies any wrong doing. No, they haven’t seen the Queen doing anything inappropriate.
Are you sure about that? Well you should know that concealing the truth is considered treason, and the penalty is hanging. Shall we go through that again? Have you really seen nothing at all worthy of any suspicion?
While the ladies consider that we cut briefly to Henry, who has sent for Jane. He wants her to go away from the palace for a while. He says its ‘for very good reasons’ (Yes, the judicial murder of his current wife may well become unsightly) and she says that she will, of course do anything he asks.
It’s Actual Historical. As soon as the investigation got going, Henry sent Jane to live with the family of Sir Nicholas Carew, one of the Old Nobility faction members, in a house just outside of London.
Back at the interrogations, and Madge has apparently been there a while.
Madge’s hair is disheveled, Cromwell is now yelling, and Madge has had to admit that, Yes, sometimes men were in the Queen’s chambers at undue hours and sometimes she flirted with them, but…Cromwell’s not interested in actual explanations, he gets her to that point and then he wants names. So Madge says Anne’s father, of course, and Henry Norris (she gets a little steadier on Sir Henry Norris), and Brereton, the King’s groom (Well, he is Anne’s stalker, hard to do that from far away at reasonable hours), Mark Smeaton the musician and Cromwell still wants more, he just keeps smacking the table and saying “And” louder and louder…I kind of like Rich’s expression, it’s like he’s saying to Cromwell – down to you if you want to go there.
Why with the Incest?
Why did they go there? Because their shit was weak, and they needed distractions. Some of Henry’s self justification for getting rid of Anne might have been witchcraft, but that was a devil to prove. That kind of superstition and innuendo might do to get rid of the strange woman that lives alone up the lane but not a Queen. So, no point Cromwell and Rich spending time on that.
Adultery, then, with a possible side order of conspiracy and some spicy incest allegations to take everyone’s attention off the fact that Queen Anne lived her life in public and would have been very hard pressed to cover up one affair. Covering up the multiple ones she was accused of carrying on simultaneously? Impossible. The Tudors even skips one of the accused- Francis Weston, to keep her supposed harem down to a manageable four.
According to the accusations she was having sex with her men soon after giving birth, when she was pregnant, and when she could be proved, if anyone stopped a minute, to be staying with Henry in a completely different palace to the one she was supposed to be shagging a boyfriend in. So better make sure no one stops a minute. Better throw those accusations like confetti so there’s too many to disprove and spice it up with the dirtiest tales you can think of.
Never mind that this was a woman who had always been pretty calculating in her affections, and who held off a courting King for years before giving way. In the public mind of the time she was The Harlot or The Concubine, so this was workable in that moment of history.
Wolf Hall: Cocking up history for a narrative just like everyone else
The rest of history has not been kind to those accusations of adultery and incest and in the centuries since they have been roundly rebuked as utterly false by the vast majority of historians and most historical adaptations whether literary or dramatic. And the incest always puts it over the top – into the realm of ‘Yeah, didn’t happen’.
Then Philippa Gregory floated a scenario in The Other Boleyn Girl (published 2001, adapted 2003 and 2008), about Anne needing a son and persuading her brother to incest in order to get one (with varying answers as to whether or not they actually do it in each adaptation).
The Tudors went with a narrative of the accusations being made up in 2008.
Then Cromwell got his Hero Edit, Wolf Hall, also in 2008, and in the 2015 adaptation Jane Boleyn shows up with her usual accusation but with the addition of Gregory’s 2001 slant all washed and brushed up to scandalize Cromwell. When it’s brought up after George’s arrest, George does not actually manage to deny it at any point. Shit, no one outright denies it, or is even particularly shocked (apart from Cromwell) to hear it spoken. And it looks like incest’s back on the menu, boys.
Anyway, back to what The Tudors gets wrong.
Lady Rochford, Husband Accuser
Yeah, we’ve been through this. For a couple of great essays establishing why Jane almost certainly wasn’t the source for the incest allegation see here and here. There is, in fact, very little to link her to this whole affair from the contemporary evidence, basically just three things.
First, a letter to her husband after he was imprisoned, in which she was, apparently, reasonably comforting and in which she said she’d attempt to petition the King for him. Second that she would probably have been a source for much of the biographical detail about her husband (where he was at what times etc.) later used to frame charges against George (quite poorly, he was also supposed to have bi-located at one point). And finally that she was either the source or could have confirmed that stunning outburst of Anne’s that we saw last week, which, according to Chapuys’ report (Chapuys to the Emperor 19th May 1536) was the statement that turned George’s trial.
George’s trial was going well for him until he was asked if Anne had said this to Jane. He was handed the statement on paper and specifically told not to read it. He read the statement out loud, and changed the whole course of the trial, according to spectators. No one was going to defend a man saying that about the King. Cromwell might well have got the info from Jane, but it was George that hanged himself with it.
Back in The Tudors, Cromwell brings in Jane Rochford to see if he can get anything from her regarding the incest inspiration they got from interrogating Madge until she free associated. He is surprised at her reaction, although we, knowing what Jane has gone through at the hands of The Tudors bullying wife raper George, are not.
For this Jane, it’s a moment to grasp for her freedom, ruthlessly if she really wants it. And she does.
Two Ways to approach the Smeaton Carborundum
So, the life of Mark Smeaton, and his relationship to the Boleyns is pretty close to Actual History in Wolf Hall. Not so much in The Tudors, where he is George’s lover, Wyatt’s friend and Anne’s Good Judy far more than a slightly elevated servant. In The Tudors he works really well as a character, as does Jane Boleyn, frankly. We’ve been slowly led to like him a lot, which is going to make what comes pretty damn horrific.
Actual Historical Mark Smeaton got arrested probably due to a conversation Anne had with him on the Saturday before May Day, 1536. Anne asked him why he looked so sad, and he gave her a non committal answer. She said “You may not look to have me speak to you as I should do to a nobleman, because you are an inferior person.” Smeaton replied “No, no, Madam. A look sufficeth, thus fare you well.”
This is a long way from the close relationship they are portrayed as having in The Tudors, and hardly a passionate conversation. It’s kind of incredible to a modern ear, which translates this conversation as “You’re too inferior for me to talk to, don’t expect it”and “Wasn’t even doing that, I assume looking’s still OK, Good bye.” as evidence of an improper closeness but at the time it was enough.
It was enough because Smeaton was of low birth with few connections and could be pressured (including possible torture) in a way members of the nobility could not. It was enough because he lived very well compared to his wages, and they were all going to forget that the Queen was a source of patronage for artists and courtiers and claim she paid him and others for ‘services rendered’. It was enough because if they forgot about courtly love where looking and sighing over someone was standard behaviour at court that conversation could just about be mis-interpreted if you tried hard enough and it happened at a very opportune time. It was enough because Mark Smeaton was just what Cromwell was looking for.
Cromwell arrested Smeaton on 30th April 1536.
And then held him at his house for two days, before sending him to the Tower on May 1st.
At his house, where no records would be kept, where no one would enter except by Cromwell’s express invitation, where everything was under Cromwell’s control for the two day interrogation Cromwell’s career and possibly his life might turn on. And as a strategy it worked, because we don’t know, and never will know what happened in those two days, only that Mark Smeaton had confessed at the end of them.
Wolf Hall and The Tudors go to the extremes at either end in their interpretations.
In Wolf Hall, Mark gets invited over, offered a drink, an apparently sympathetic ear and one leading question and then he confesses his socks off to a Cromwell who was apparently just continuously shocked that fortnight. Smeaton goes further, implying that he had sex with the Queen before the change in atmosphere causes him to realise what he’s doing, and stop talking. So they very promptly stop questioning him and Richard Cromwell takes him to the room he’ll be staying in. And an irrational fear of cupboards gets a full confession out of him.
It is treated as a false confession, this is Smeaton dying for recognition and spinning a few tales to get it. And then, after realising his horrific error, I don’t know, he’s really terrified of cupboards and a ghost someone made up, and with some intimidation from Richard Cromwell that’s enough for him to manufacture the rest.
I think I’ll go out on a limb and say there’s no fucking way that’s how it happened.
In The Tudors things are a lot more grisly. Mark Smeaton gets invited round to Cromwell’s house, and he’s brought his violin so he clearly thinks he’s playing today. But he’s confused and gradually more alarmed as two heavies appear around him. They are down to business very quick. Yeah, we’ll leave it a the head nod. That rope gets tightened and by the end of this very short scene Mark is screaming. Now that’s horrific. And almost certainly untrue. The story comes from the Spanish Chronicle -which is a rollicking work of basically fiction, but contemporary so it’s a great source of what the gossip was at that time. The story goes, and it’s been repeated in a lot of adaptations since, that this is exactly how he was tortured, a knotted rope around his head, pressing into his eyes.
In The Tudors Mark doesn’t confess by the time he leaves Cromwell’s house (best evidence currently says he had) and he is sent to the Tower to be brutally racked until he does. We’ll see these scenes inter cut with what going on at court until Cromwell rides up to Henry to tell him about the confession.The problem with this is that by all accounts, Mark Smeaton was not seriously banged up or having difficulty walking or standing during his trial on the 12th May or at his execution on the 17th May. Which pretty much rules out this kind of torture, and if people were to weak or too injured to get to their own scaffold unaided that did get noticed by the crowd as it did in the cases of Bishop Fisher and Anne Askew.
If Cromwell did have him tortured (and it’s not like he’d never had that done before) he made sure it was something that left no lasting evidence. Maybe he didn’t, maybe it was as simple as not wanting anyone to hear him offer Mark his life if he confessed. Whatever it was, the decision to keep it all out of the official channels worked, and is working still.
I’ll bet all the money in my pockets it wasn’t a sodding fake haunted cupboard, though.
The News Moves
Back at court we briefly get to see an Anne we haven’t really seen before. She’s choreographing a new court dance, relaxed, and having fun with her ladies in waiting. She’s just adding some new steps when George comes in nervous and quiet, but looking for her attention. Everyone carries on practicing while Anne and George go into the shadows to talk. He says that the King and her planned trip to France has been cancelled and no one knows why and there is something else:And no one knows what for. George leaves and we see Mark Smeaton getting dragged toward the rack.
The attention comes back to the Queen’s rooms and Anne is going through the goblets looking for any full ones. That momentary good mood has broken, and she spots Sir Henry Norris. This is a terribly serious accusation, flung out when she was feeling vulnerable, and with worrying implications if he was one of her admirers (It is also possible Norris was holding off on marrying Madge because Boleyn fortunes were looking shaky and he wasn’t sure if the Queen’s cousin was a truly good alliance).
Norris denies it absolutely and says if he ever entertained such a thought he would wish that his head would be struck off, and Anne says “Oh, that could be arranged” before Norris hurries away.
This conversation is mostly Actual Historical (The last two sentences aren’t) and one of the sources for this, and the conversation she had with Smeaton, and numerous others that were used against her, is Anne herself. Once arrested she talked a lot and went over and over what could possibly have brought her here. Some she reported to Cromwell herself, some the ladies that served and watched her reported but she gave them an awful lot of thread to weave into a case against her, and confirmed a lot of what they already had. If she had had a lawyer, they would have strenuously disapproved.
Having blown up at Norris, you see the air go our of her and her eyes start to tear up. She asks for Nan, And stops Nan as she goes to leave, and asks her to care for Elizabeth should anything happen to her.
She doesn’t know the shape of it yet, but Anne knows something is coming.
Down in the Dungeon
Cromwell and Rich are supervising Smeaton’s torture on the rack. He is still denying it, Rich is finding it hard to watch and David Alpay just sells the hell out of it, to the point I made a careful note of the timestamp so I don’t go back over it too much.
Not Actual Historical but horrifically well done.
Not a Tournament
Now Actually Historically this moment happened at the May Day Joust. Henry got some news (almost certainly including the news that Smeaton had confessed and Norris was involved) got up from his seat at the tournament he and Anne were attending, and rode away, never to see Anne again, and taking Norris with him. Wolf Hall goes with this historical scenario, but The Tudors doesn’t and it’s a super dramatic historical moment. Maybe there had been a few too many tournaments in the plot recently, but in The Tudors, Henry has ridden out into the countryside, Thomas and George Boleyn with him. He probably didn’t want to bring them, but apparently it’s part of the Boleyn plan. There’s been an emergency council meeting called that neither of them were told about and they are jumpy. And then Cromwell rides in at speed. And that’s the moment Henry’s paths are down to one branch. He’s committed, the touchpaper is alight and he’s going forward to marriage with Jane, and it no longer matters what the Boleyn plan was. As he rides away with Norris, they are left standing.
All Fall Down
Norris was certainly the accused courtier Henry was closest to. He questioned him all the way back to London, apparently offering him his life for a confession, Norris refused, and he was arrested when they arrived.
In The Tudors, Henry rounds on Norris quickly and aggressively. Henry accuses Norris of adultery with Anne and takes the man’s shock and incredulity in stride. Brereton is butt naked and praying when they come for him, and his reaction is really restrained for a guy that planned a lot of assassination attempts.
Thomas Boleyn is taken in the audience chamber.
And then one of the most memorable moments for me in the whole of The Tudors, as George meets a languid, fatalistic Wyatt in the corridor set as they are both arrested.
And then it’s Anne’s turn. She’s not arrested yet, but it’s her last frantic attempt to plead with Henry, and it is really well done. We start by alternating views of Henry viewed serenely from a distance walking around a tower, to a close up of Anne’s legs, and the sight and sound of dragging her silk skirt through the damp, slightly muddy paths. When she appears we see she is holding Elizabeth. And as she pleads, when he finally turns around and confronts her, the first thing out of his mouth? Henry really was fanatical about virginity in his wives, and this certainly appears to be the starting point for The Tudors’ Henry in justifying what he’s doing. She pleads that she loves him and after all they have been to each other, for just one more chance. This moment would have come a day or so before this. It is reasonably Actual Historical and all it is missing is a Scotsman about 50 yards away in the bushes. His name was Alexander Ales, and he was a theologian who was passing through the court at the time of Anne’s downfall, and who later wrote down his memories of that time to give to Elizabeth I. One of these was an incident where he saw Anne pleading with Henry with Elizabeth in her arms. Henry was angry and seemed unmoved, but Ales was too far away to hear anything they said.
The Tudors gives us a great re imagining of this moment, and a fitting final scene for Anne and Henry.
Making It Happen
The Tudors’ Cromwell, it has to be said, is not just hanging out while people confess at him. He is working it. He is making it happen. He is intimidating and terrifying George Boleyn somewhere in the Tower.
He speaks lowly, insidiously, not only of incest but of plots to kill the King so Anne could marry one of her lovers and rule as a regent. George is just collapsed, snot and tears and a juddering voice. George blames his enemies for lying about him. And then he does something I forgot he did. He tries to abandon Anne. He was always kinder to her than their father but in this moment the only difference between them is that there is no chance he’s going to get away from this. His father can always be retained as a willing puppet and an example of restraint, but Cromwell has George right in the middle of all of this. And when George falls back on protests and oaths of innocence, he pats him on the shoulder and says “Of course you are”.
But Cromwell is about to be confounded. The Tudors’ basically fictional William Brereton, Papal Assassin with a repulsed fixation on Anne is about to have the goddamned moment of his life. He gets to help cause her death. He gets to be a martyr. There’s a hint of angelic voices at the end there as he stares at Cromwell contemplating the expressway to Heaven he just got granted. Cromwell just made Brereton’s decade. Actual Historical William Brereton maintained his innocence.
Thomas Boleyn folds like laundry. I mean, he is distressed, stuttering, having to repeat phrases , but he pulls the ripcord to separate himself from both his children, condemning all the men that deceived the King and slipped between the sheets with his lawful wife. And with his words he really distances himself from the implications of what he’s saying. it’s an amazing bit of work from Nick Dunning.And a deft bit of direction, as the camera starts out straight and slowly tilts as it moves in, forcing Boleyn to the top right of the frame. That look, right at the end there, Boleyn is a terrified, trapped animal, almost out of his mind and desperate for survival.
Actually Historically? Thomas Boleyn wasn’t arrested.
And finally we get to Anne, who looks as serene as she can on the surface, but cannot thread the needle she is trying to sew with. She decides to lay her hands on the embroidery while she waits, and she does not have to wait long. Richard Rich and Brandon come to arrest her.
She’s told that there’s no time to pack and that money will be provided for her needs at the tower, which is a bit of a kick on her way down. Brandon, despite disliking her has the decency to be stoic about it all. And then she’s straight to the Tower.
Natalie Dormer gets Anne’s mood whips incredibly well as she enters the Tower. Her breath is a little ragged then she steadies it. She’s doing fine and then she sees the vast stone expanse of the Tower complex and you see her fear. Little trip on the stairs, followed by a solemn protestation of innocence. Then a shriller one. Then she tries the playful, fun Anne for a moment, perhaps to try and charm this man whose only response is a solemn, polite “This Way”. Finally, they get to the door. Her enemies would make a lot of hay out of that “It’s too good for me”. But they were listening to every word and ready to make hay out of anything.
Cranmer stands, for a moment
Cranmer marches in to see Cromwell.
He actually wrote this in a letter direct to Henry, rather than bringing it to Cromwell, but the points he makes are the same. And yeah, he backs away from those points as fast as he makes them, but the equivalent of an “Are you sure? I thought she was good.” to Henry was more than anyone else did for Anne, including her family.
Why he managed this becomes clear as he and Cromwell settle to conversation outside of the clerks’ hearing. Yeah, well Cromwell explains that Anne has gone from greatest advocate for Protestantism to it’s greatest liability, and tells Cranmer, with some feeling, that in order to defeat evil one must learn to consort with the devil.
So that’s how Cromwell is getting his sleep. He then picks up a piece of paper and explains to Cranmer that King Henry awaits Cranmer’s discovery of a reason why Henry’s marriage to Anne was null and void. An answer is expected soon.
Henry Wallows in the Mire
We cut to after the trials, with Brandon in a private discussion with Henry in his rooms. Brandon tells him about all the men found guilty, and to be executed tomorrow.
Meanwhile Henry is in his own, self constructed Hell. He tearfully tells Charles that Cromwell has told him that Anne had ‘to-do’ with over hundred men. He repeats it, and not in a ‘Isn’t that ridiculous’ way. In this moment he actually believes it. Henry’s capacity for self delusion is reaching new heights. He is winding himself up, throwing himself into it, and Brandon keeps his face in the carefully neutral position of someone whose massively powerful friend is upset, emotionally vulnerable and talking preposterous bullshit like it’s somehow credible.
Henry goes on that Mary owes God a great deal for being saved from the ‘poisonous whore’ (Actually Historically Henry said this to his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy, who didn’t die as a child and was still alive at this point, but who would die of tuberculosis in a couple of months and Henry said Anne had planned to poison both Fitzroy and Mary).
Henry says she poisoned Catherine, at which point Brandon rolls his head a little, he’s really not buying this, bu tit’s not like he can say anything. And then Henry gets to the root of his pain. The thing that has to be denied because it cannot be allowed to connect with him.
The One that Got Away
Somewhere in the Tower Thomas Wyatt stares into his wash bucket, and when Cromwell clears his throat, raises his head. His are the eyes of a man who has not been sleeping, but for all that he is still the most serene of the accused. We’ve skipped forward again, a day or so, because Cromwell is here to tell Wyatt about the result of the Queen’s trial. She pled not guilty but with the large amount of (circumstantial and made up) evidence was found guilty.Wyatt doesn’t take this well, he has to take several moments to compose himself. But when he turns back around to Cromwell, to ask about his own fate, then the reasoning for Wyatt actually having an earlier physical relationship with Anne in this adaptation becomes apparent. It’s so we can all get a big heaping side portion of irony to this whole damned process.
For me, this is the hardest Tudors execution scene to watch (Oh, wait Cromwell’s is pretty bad, no wait, still this one) and there might be enough of those for a top 10. The crowd is rowdy and boistrous today. The sociopathic crowd I was anticipating at Fishers execution have finally shown up and are in full roar. It’s going to be a charnel house, a butcher’s pit.
And Anne is going to have to watch it. That’s something they’ve swapped from actual History. It was Wyatt that saw his friends die from a window, Anne was in another part of the Tower, but she probably heard it. And Dormer’s reactions in this scene are heart breaking. They choke me up every time.
Let’s get this over with. Anne moves boxes to the window that she can stand on to see as we get glimpses of the crowd. That’s George, first out and he is suddenly the George we met in season one again, young and a little inexperienced, something of the boy still about him. He looks towards William Kingston to see if there is some way to quieten down the crowd, but although Kingston clearly is displeased by their behaviour he’s very: Look it’s a Saturday crowd, this is what they’re like. He tries to get out a simple message of “Trust in God and not in the vanities of the world, because if I had done that I might have longer to live”. If anyone is listening it doesn’t show. As he lays down, the crowd near the scaffold in his eyeline jeer, yell and gesture at him, to give him no peace even in the moments before death and his body judders subtly beneath his shirt as he cannot control the adrenaline coursing through him.
The executioner does his job, and at least its cleanly done. But, Oh God, Anne’s reaction.
She makes a noise like a wounded animal, and is torn between having to look away and having to look. When her cries finally come down to the level of sobbing it’s those gasping sobs that come from way down deep. I’m crying right now and I’ve already seen this four times in under an hour. The effect of this performance does not dissipate for me, it is gut wrenching. It is the sound and look of immediate grief.
Her father hears it and decides to continue not looking around to the execution happening right behind him, and to continue looking at his book.
Next up is Henry Norris. He gets the same reception from the crowd, a similar adrenaline surge, but this time a bloody block. The last of which is something I never thought about before The Tudors but yes, they wouldn’t get a new one out, or probably clean it for each execution and the thought of a block already covered in someone else’s blood is horrific.
We directed to notice a small red haired girl watching from near the block with mild curiosity before the strike. It happens, and it’s a clean strike again, but this time with some unexpected spray.
A single violin starts up, loud on the soundtrack, thankfully muffling the crowd considerably. We also hear Wyatt’s voice, and it’s a combination of the two poems he wrote about the executions with a few added lines to tailor it towards Anne. His voiceover covers the rest of the scene.
These Bloody Days have broken my heart,
My lust, my youth, did then depart
For your wit alone, many men would bemoan
And since it is so, many still cry aloud:
‘It is a great loss, that you are dead and cold.’
Next up is Brereton who looks tired but is ready for this. He prays quickly, pulls his shirt back and plonks his head upon the block in about fifteen seconds. Turns out he was more ready than the executioner, who completely Theon Greyjoy’s it. Three strokes of the axe and a kick before Brereton’s head is all the way off.Even parts of the crowd look a bit sick.
The time you had above your poor degree
The fall, whereof your friends may well bemoan
A rotten twig, upon so high a tree
Has slipped your hold, and you are dead and gone.
And then it’s poor Mark Smeaton’s turn. This version of mark having been dreadfully racked, he has to be carried out to the block. But they lay his head down gently on it, and the look out of his good eye seems like relief, no adrenaline left for Mark. It’s done in one stroke.
These Bloody Days have broken my heart,
My lust, my youth, did then depart
And blind desire of ambitious souls
Who haste to climb, seeks to revert
And about the throne, the thunder rolls.
Anne starts to pull herself together, and Wyatt finishes his poem.
Notes: Well, that was bloody depressing. Hope its easier to read than it was to write, knew I couldn’t mine much humour so I went in on Actual Historical. I might re write a whole section, i just don’t know how I feel about this one yet. So let’s say the deadline for the next one is Monday 26th August, but the plan is to get it done by Thursday 22nd.
16/08/2019 did an edit, minor stuff. Mainly phrasing and cleanup.