What Reginald Did
In Whitehall only Henry knows the struggle of a man trying to recreate an awesome Venetian power cruiser. He’s trying to get a really good study of the model in when the business of state keeps interrupting. First Cromwell spins the hell out of his conversation with Brandon.
There’s a lot more patriotic exhortations and a lot less life threatening in Cromwell’s version of that conversation to Henry, but let’s not kid ourselves that Henry would clutch his pearls for anything other than show if he were forced to find out how that conversation really went. Henry was pretty sharp about Brandon not doing the impossible during the first phase of the Pilgrimage and he wants this distasteful job done more than he cares about his friend’s well being, if not, he would not have given the job of sending him to Cromwell.
While Henry is in his whole ‘I should build a boat’ subplot, he breezes right on by the news that there is a possible betrothal in the air for Mary.
And we find out that, as with all his wives’ pregnancies, there was a gender reveal, it happened right after the Queen said she was pregnant, and everyone who matters agreed it’s going to be a boy. Well, huzzah.
Henry did make a lot of plans for Jane’s coronation which were always called off because of plague, or rumours of plague, or rebellion, or pregnancy. Quite a lot of store was set by the legitimacy a coronation gave you, and well, Henry had crowned two Queens at this point and neither had given him an heir that counted. This time he was delaying payment until proof of delivery, it seems.
Henry finally notices the pamphlet Cromwell has, and asks about it. Cromwell says it’s widely available and that’s not quite true. Reginald Pole wrote De Unitate Ecclesiastica (which at 280 pages is bit thicker than a pamphlet) as a letter, specifically to Henry. A few of his friends would have had copies, but Pole and the Papacy never published it in his lifetime (1)
Because it was far too spicy for the public.
Basically Henry had been prodding and prodding at the officially silent Pole for over a year. Cromwell had set up a friend from Reginald’s student days, Thomas Starkey as one of Henry’s chaplains, and Starkey suddenly in early 1535 entered back into correspondence with his old friend with pointedly political questions about religion and with suggested pro-Henry answers conveniently ready and suggested. (2)
De Unitate was Pole’s long delayed response. It cannot be explained politically, and most biographers or essays about Pole don’t look at it that way, because from a political point of view what Reginald did was insane. In De Unitate 35 year old, quiet boy Reginald took Henry VIII and called him to repentance: The ‘See me walk down the mountain with my finger pointed at you, Sinner’ brand of repentance, and he did it mainly for the audience of Henry. Pole didn’t publish it. Henry, for once in his life, got called out in a document that did not give a good Goddamn what politics or anyone else thought.
Pole started with ridiculing one of Henry’s apologists who spoke about corrupt Popes and wondering why they thought a corrupt King was somehow any better? (3) Before throwing out the rhetoric altogether and flat out saying, direct to Henry:
“You have squandered a huge treasure; you have made a laughing stock of the nobility; you have never loved the people; you have pestered and robbed the clergy in every possible way; and lately you have destroyed the best men of your kingdom, not like a human being but like a wild beast. “(3)
Here he was talking about the execution Fisher and More, and he sent off the letter to Henry in May 1536 (4).
During De Unitate Pole calls Henry a robber, a murderer and a greater enemy to Christianity than ‘the Turk’ (‘The Turk’ being the otherish bogeyman of the time – Francis I, always thinking outside the box, would ally with them in the same year).
Then Pole went after Henry in the legacy. That list above was all of Henry’s real achievements, nothing else needed to be inscribed on Henry’s tombstone, unless someone wanted to add that:
“He has spent enormous sums to make all universities declare him incestuous”(3)
After that mic drop he traveled to Rome in October 1536, and became a Cardinal in December. As in The Tudors, Pole resisted becoming a Cardinal, mainly due to fears for his families’ safety and he thought he had persuaded the Pope against it. However wily Pope Paul said nothing until the day of nomination came, then sent his chamberlain to Pole to say that the Pope had changed his mind, along with a barber to shave Pole’s tonsure. After some grumbling, Pole submitted.(5)
The final part of the treason stew was Pole’s mission to find support for the Pilgrimage. He wasn’t sent out until February, when it was nearly over. War had broken out again between Francis I and Charles HRE, and neither of them could afford to alienate Henry right then, and Reginald was not sent with a War chest. He was sent, late, and without anything that would get him taken seriously.
In The Tudors, Henry gets all three evidences of Reginald’s disloyalty at once: The letter, becoming a Cardinal and the mission all laid out by Cromwell. He says something pinched about ‘gratitude’, and saves the pamphlet to read later, and tries to pull Cromwell back into this ‘Grand Designs‘ boat edition episode he has going on.
It’s a trick.
The main hall set is cleverly disguised as a courtroom for Robert Aske with a really large and elevated wooden set dressing.
Aske is accused of many things and while some of them might have been true, the accusation that he continued to make war after the pardon was granted was fake, and that was what he was convicted upon. No response from him is required and Rich and the other judges declare him guilty, and Aske gets to reflect on how all those offers of mercy and his life have evaporated.
Meanwhile, back at the home of the Duke of Suffolk.
Brandon is saying goodbye to his son, who is then sent along to check on the horses.
And Brandon and his wife have maybe one of their best moments as a couple. He asks her not to curse him, and she has to point out that that would be poor form. So of course she’s not doing it. She’s a lady. You watch them go through this difficult, intimate moment and it’s quite the step for them. And she’s like “Maybe if you go into this with mercy as a priority, then maybe this can work when you come back”. And he is ready to cling to that idea, too.
In actual history right now, Brandon was back home and Norfolk was riding around the north country, rounding up rebels and pricing up roofs (apparently the ones on Bridlington Priory and its main barn were pure lead and would fetch thousands – he was already planning how to ship them out)(6) .
Back at the Tower, the wheel of authority rolls on. But for once not arbitrarily, because this is the trial of Sir Ralph Ellerker, and no matter how much The Tudors is going try and convince you this was maybe kind of random, we know it was not.
Actual Historical Sir Ralph had everything and did everything he needed to get that pardon. His father had been reliably on the King’s side throughout the rebellion, so he had a prime piece for a second pardon, a relative on the right side. Then he moved quickly and decisively over to the King’s side early, not just working as a bailiff after Carlisle, but becoming a star witness for pay twice. Don’t underestimate the ‘for pay’ part, either. The other side really wants to see you buy in and get committed during a take over, particularly if you’ve swapped sides. Finally, he and Robert Bowes (The other pilgrim representative that October/November) both came out pretty well, so they probably both made a good impression on Henry when they visited. (7)
Because anyone that had caught Henry’s eye in a negative way was dead. If Cromwell thought you were a significant threat, likewise. And then there was everyone else, waiting, hoping, jockeying, campaigning, offering, waiting in cells, or waiting at home for the knock on the door.
Somewhere, a man called Lord Latimer was quietly hoping that a bribe to Cromwell (8) and the steadfast loyalty to the Crown of his somewhat new and somewhat neuveau riche in-laws, the Parrs, (Brought to him by his young wife Catherine) might just be enough to pull him free of the fact that had been quite prominently involved on the rebels’ side during the Pontefract meeting. It was.
Best figure for total executions, including Lincolnshire, is from 200-220 (some people get arrested and then that’s all the record knows, sometimes they lied about what they were executing them for) (9). What happened afterwards wasn’t justice, it was a purge by a winning faction, but it wasn’t.. this insanity.
There was no rounding up of random people on hillsides, OK?
And this was not the victim profile. One woman got executed after the new risings, and children were not executed after the Pilgrimage. Henry had a tonne of implicated prisoners and potential prisoners with land and money, he didn’t need to kill random commoners without assets.
Brief Domestic Bliss
Hey look! The slo-mo is back but this time it’s not sinister. There’s a scene between Jane and Henry and no one’s getting bullied or in a precarious situation. We get a brief glimpse into their happy domesticity as Henry happens upon Jane looking kind of amazing while washing her hair in a house dress.
So, what do we know about their domestic life? well, Queen Jane was very interested in gardening, and had a celebrated gardener at Hampton Court called Chapman (10). How famous was this gardener? Well he was a Tudor gardener and we know his name from two centuries before Capability Brown made ‘Landscape Architect’ a thing, so, pretty famous.
Henry got into paintings to memorialize his family and Jane got her Holbein portrait around this time.
The way her bodice is pinned on the outside indicates she was probably pregnant when it was painted (It made the outfit more easily adjustable). And Henry’s commissioning of the great Whitehall mural could well be attributed to his excitement about the impending heir. (11)
There’s this enchanting story, about one of Jane’s chief interests that could have brought their home life into charming focus far more than a hair washing. Queen Jane was a renowned needlewoman, and the story goes that after she died, Henry was discovered to be an embroiderer, too.
What could be better than a moment where Henry is curious about his wife’s pastime, and might even end up being instructed in this incredibly feminine pursuit by his otherwise meek wife? To see him continue it, after her death, would be a touching testament to their life together.
Well, it would be lovely, but sadly it would also be bullshit. Sorry.
“The King, who in some former years has been solitary and pensive, now gives himself up to amusement, going to play every night upon the Thames, with harps, chanters, and all kinds of music and pastime. He evidently delights now in painting and embroidery, [having sent men to France, Flanders, Italy, and elsewhere for masters of this art, and also for musicians and other ministers of pastime]”(12)
That sentence in the brackets was apparently lost from some later versions, which explains why everyone was desperate to declare him an embroiderer for a while. Although no one ever claimed him as a painter, which given it has exactly the same evidence as this supposed embroidery kick someone should have, surely? And from the other paragraph it’s clear it’s saying that he’s buying in paintings and painters and embroidered fabrics etc. It’s a hell of a leap to turn Henry the King into the craftsmen he’s hiring, or whose work he is buying, and this is the only source I’ve ever found for Henry the embroiderer.
So, No. It would have been lovely, and if they’d put it in, like that suspect Holbein joint, I think I’d probably have have swung with with it, but Actually Historically this tale just isn’t there.
A Shadow on the Wall.
Meanwhile, in Yorkshire.
Brandon walks up to what really looks like the tree he used to hang the prisoners last week (it still has ropes dangling, and they were definitely just stabbing this morning), but he is curretly screams and pleas. He might just be hallucinating them, those voices are far away and he is halfway through his Random Death tour.
He tries to say the Lord’s prayer but gets stuck at ‘On Earth as it is in Heaven’, and has to stop.
As well he might. He can be as angsty as he likes, but his wife is not going to be delighted to hear that, far from making mercy his priority, he’s been going Atilla on this whole area.
Meanwhile, Aske walks his green mile. It’s the day before his execution and he gets a visit from a priest loyal to the cause. Robert Aske’s death is a little fought over. Starkey maintains it was the whole town ‘ hood ornament’ hanging in chains that took several days, Moorhouse maintains that Henry accepted Aske’s final request “Let me be dead ere I am dismembered” and that he was hanged from the walls and then butchered on his execution day, but was dead before the second part began.
The Tudors kind of drives it through the middle, with Aske getting a fairly merciful (and visually stunning) hanging at the end, but having him suffer by being kept in chains in a cell for some time while waiting for his death. And all in all it’s a great illusion sold by makeup, costume, the actor and everyone else, that you can feel the discomfort Aske is in. The dirt, bruises and raw flesh are all there in these final scenes.
The visit from the priest is not Actual Historical, a priest called Coren did attend him, but he was more interested in getting a confession out of Aske than anything else (13). This is a little kinder and it gives us a goodbye to Aske that is going to be less stage managed than what is to come. Aske will need to be a little careful during his visit with his family.
And of course, executions were quite formal affairs. So you get to hear a bit of his true mind in this scene. And Aske is still not openly blaming Henry, and putting it mostly onto Cromwell. It also contains two lines about Cromwell that Aske would choose to say at his execution (13), so it’s nice they found a way to use that.The most moving is when the priest asks if there is anything he can do for him. But just when he gets to utter hopelessness, he remembers there is something the priest can do. There’s this jewel, sewn into his collar, that will help his wife considerably. He asks the priest to deliver it. And that big diamond that went from Jane to Mary, and from Mary to Aske, now goes from Aske to his wife and fulfills its original purpose from the Queen, to bring comfort to those that deserve, but would not otherwise get it. His wife gets a better chance at her families’ survival, and Aske gets a reprieve from his hopelessness.
No such reprieve for Brandon. You can sit on your horse near a pretty beck all you like, Brandon. If you can still hear slaughter all you’ve done is sour the view.
And viewing Brandon riding through his own valley of torment, looking up to stare into the face of that kid he just inexplicably ordered killed, I can’t help but think – Brandon, this is all kinds of messed up. I mean look at it. You know what’s wrong here, right? I mean you see the problem, yeah?Yeah. Your socio-economic victim mix is all messed up. Also, you killed them all at once, on a fell, in the middle of sodding nowhere. Who are you intimidating, right now, Brandon? Oh, I’m sure the local badger population is crapping itself, but everyone in the towns is wondering why people are missing, and what’s been going on.
So, Actually Historically there were 200-220 executed in total.Total number of dead is harder to say, some people were killed in action, including Carlisle.
But of the executed the largest number were monks, preists and others in holy orders. That priest that, a few scenes ago, comforted Aske in his final days was actually historically trying very hard to get more confessions out of him, right up to the end (13). Because no priest less loyal then Penultimo was getting anywhere near Robert Aske. Their former protection from links to nobility had been broken by fear of Henry, they may well be sat on valuable land. If you were in holy orders and had been anywhere near the rebellion you were probably at greatest risk right now.
Next came the Gentry and Middle class, bartered and bargained for. How involved were you? What do you have that might be worth your life?
Then it was members of the Commons, and the nobility just lost Lord Darcy and Lord Hussey.
Of course, the Nobility were few enough that Henry could keep an eye on them as individuals or groups. He made an example of Darcy and then he could pick off anyone else he needed to. Noble families lost people, but they were outliers in the Gentry.
What The Tudors gets wrong here is the Commons dying en masse, when they were one of two groups Henry somewhat stepped around. The Commons and Nobility were expected to basically observe and take the lesson while he crushed the remaining religious orders and gave the northern gentry and middle class a light but ferocious decimating.
An Evening at Court
I think the slo-mo camera was hired, or the director wanted some test scenes before the execution shot it was clearly brought in for, because slo-mo happens again for a couple of moments as Queen Jane enters the court for her uterus occupation applause.
Henry doesn’t even make the official pregnancy announcement and is in a side room, having a bit of a plot.
Henry sets Sir Francis onto Cardinal Pole, starting with asking King Francis to give up the guy (Pole is apparently in France right now). And when the conversation turns to what will happen when King Francis, inevitably, sidesteps this really presumptuous request, Sir Francis makes sure to get his whole CV taken into consideration.
Actually Historically Henry did send agents after Pole, did express a preference for alive rather than dead, and set up a bounty on him. That’s why Reginald spent the next few years living largely in hiding, getting back to Rome across country and only arriving there at the end of 1539. (14)
Kidnapping and transportation across Europe is a big ask, but if anyone can pull it off it’s Sir Francis, and this kind of thing was right in his actual historical wheelhouse (If he wasn’t actually historically involved in some way in the hunting of Pole, then I presume he was ill at the time). I salute a nice hand off of a plot point to an appropriate historical character. Back in the main hall, the difference between Queen Jane and Queens Katherine and Anne is underlined again. Katherine regularly carpeted Wolsey, Anne scrapped with Cromwell, Jane notices Cromwell and some nobles and some corruption happening across the room and her questions get handled by her brother. Who has to explain to her that one of the ideas that made this changeover in politics run was allowing nobles and gentry (basically from the South, young Richard Cromwell, for example, would do very well out of it, and wealth would get siphoned from the North in the coming years) to buy in for profit, via the lands and property that used to be owned by the Northern church.
We and Jane get that useful Tudor Politics 1.1 course from Edward. And there is something just a little bit wolfish about Edward Seymour as he gets onto the subject of just how powerful Cromwell is now. If Cromwell is ever foolish enough to stray into Edward’s jaws, I think they’ll snap shut very quickly.
Meanwhile, Edward’s wife Anne was looking for distraction earlier and gets plucked away from the dancefloor by her part time lover, Sir Francis. She checks to see that her husband isn’t looking and is pleased to see he is not. Francis bribes a Beefeater and secretes them both away behind a curtain, and is intent on getting right up there, while Anne is maintaining her light tone, but clearly saying ‘No’. In a lot of different ways. I mean it is all quite exiting and breathless, and my goodness, stockings are out and about, but I am reminded of a podcast conversation from a few years ago (Game of thrones season 4, and a Cast of Kings) where Joanna Robinson pointed out you just can’t rape your way to consent, and portraying that is not optimal.
Anne’s definitely exited but Francis is not getting to consent until she gives up and Nikes it. So, thanks for saving me from the rest of that conversation, madame, but they are barely fifteen feet away from…
And a very small man can cast a very large shadow.
It’s the end of the road for Robert Aske.
He gets a final meeting with his fictional family, which is very sad as he needs to stick to agreed talking points and his wife is just not ready to hear about how he’s a dreadful traitor.
He is clearly in dreadful pain as he stumbles to his execution.
Brandon is there, standing in for Norfolk, who was actually there. (13)
And, despite lying to everyone, killing a lot of people and stealing everything within reach, Norfolk did kind of get off lightly against Cromwell in the minds of the northern people, and was still reasonably regarded in the North.
Confessions concluded, Robert Aske finally takes his last step out of the blue and into the black. And it is stunning, another one of The Tudors’ most striking visual images and an unusual and inspired choice. The score is a religious chorus with deep ominous undertones and has some great soundscaping. And the slo-mo really shows up for its momentThe Pilgrimage and its failure gave Henry and Cromwell licence to raid the Northern Church and wipe out any other resistance. But it weakened Cromwell, and gave Henry a line on the sand for how far religious changes could actually go.
We go immediately to another scene where Cromwell is writing, probably to one of his allies, expressing his satisfaction. He says that this realm goes to ‘better and better’ and all the ‘cankered hearts are weeded away’. He looks content, and settled, and the crisis is finally over, but he is weakened, and Protestantism has reached its high water mark of power under Henry. From now on, brakes are going to start getting applied to it.
Henry liked to think of himself as a Sir Galahad, when in truth he had not one shred of honour. I don’t think he understood what it was, really. The definition was different, then, of course. An awful lot of chivalry was based on what class you were.
But if your solution to the rule “Don’t assassinate” is “What if I get other people do it for me?” If you’re supposed to respect people raised to positions of honour, but then you betray them because you’ve decided they weren’t worthy so it doesn’t count, then again, you have misunderstood the assignment of ‘maintaining your honour’.
Henry might possibly have known he wasn’t really a Galahad (in his more lucid moments) but he oh, so much wanted to be a new Henry V. Should have been more achievable, I mean he was missing the massive foreign victory with a tangible benefit, but both their dads claimed the Crown on the battlefield, and Henry V had some serious issues as a king that Shakespeare never approached.
But Henry wasn’t a new Henry V either. King Henry didn’t win the Pilgrimage of Grace on the battlefield. Don Henry won the Pilgrimage of Grace with cunning and plans and lies and faced down an army of 40,000 and basically turned the thing on his name. It’s not a set of skills to be sniffed at, but Henry wasn’t the new Henry V. Henry was the new Richard III, and he was amazing at it, that ‘Bluff King Hal’ protective colouration was really deceptive, even if you’d known him for years. He was just nowhere near who he thought he was, and people got killed for that blind spot.
Do you remember Thomas Miller? Lancaster Herald, took all those messages from Henry to the rebels, right back to when Henry was going to lose this thing. Thomas Miller was the last man to be executed for his role in the Pilgrimage of Grace. Henry shame killed him.
At some point, Henry did a brutal performance review on Miller and decided that in those early, desperate days Miller had misrepresented the King’s position, he had encouraged the rebels too much and too far in what they could expect from Henry, that his estimate of enemy troop numbers was deliberately discouraging to the Kings army, and slowly but surely by re-write and editing faithful messenger Thomas Miller became a traitor.(15)
Miller had also got some political rivalry going on in his sphere, Thomas Hawley, the Clarencieux Herald of the time, was in Miller’s shadow a bit and was keen to add to the charges. Henry was content to let this happen, and Miller was executed in August 1538, nearly a year after Aske. (15)
Moorhouse says we’ll never know why it took Henry so long. But as for me, I believe it’s because Miller was a shame kill. Henry just didn’t want to think any more about what he’d done to survive (a bad faith surrender, plot vengeance and then lie vigorously for 3 months before you kill everyone that looked at you funny). And when things had got a bit quieter he got rid of that faithful servant pretty damn quietly for knowing and hearing and saying what Henry’s orders actually were.
And I’d like to tell you that it was all down to Henry being that kind of bastard, and that this was basically a result of his kingship.
But the Great Elizabeth was her father’s daughter and she tried the same thing, once. The man she nearly killed out of shame and fear was Sir William Davison. Who handled the warrant for Mary Queen of Scots execution. It took an awful long time to get her to the point where she would execute Mary, and once it had been carried out she turned, hard and fast.(16)It was her advisors that told her ‘No.’ to executing Davison. Davison was put on trial but found innocent of having guilty intent. He was sentenced to prison at the Queen’s pleasure and a fine which was less than the hanging she had originally wanted. His imprisonment was not long and that fine was probably never paid. He did effectively lose his job. Her advisors talked her down, by degrees and over time.
The difference between Elizabeth in her moment of crisis, and Henry in his, did not really come from within them. It came from the fact that when her crisis arrived she had spent nearly 30 years building an administration that couldn’t really tell her what to do, but could tell her ‘No’ if she became unreasonable. 30 years of managing your advisors rather than executing them, 30 years building a structure that could delineate your power even when you didn’t want it to, 30 years of work.
Honour is often about self discipline, and in those 30 years she built something, (Burley and Walsingham and Robert Dudley and Raleigh and Bacon and Hatton and Paulet, and her Earl of Sussex) a permanent cabinet of sorts, that gave her that self discipline, and it worked on the day when she didn’t have it in her.
So Elizabeth (who had her own honour issues – allowing a sadist in her security team, abandoning a group of people that saved her throne and making her female relatives lives bloody awful among them) retired from History without this particular kind of stain upon her.
But Henry? Henry really wanted to believe he had honour and if a faithful servant remembered when he didn’t, he’d have them killed, and wash those memories away, while never quite understanding that honour is about maintaining a code that makes you strive to be better, not covering up what you did when you lacked it.
Notes: This one has probably had the heaviest editing I’ve done in a while. Wasn’t happy with how I expressed a lot of things. I published it late at night and I think this one has benefited quite a lot from taking 2 days out to reassess. Also phrasing and cleanup and added audio for Aske’s execution. 08/05/2020