We had some changes in the titles last episode, after losing Queen Jane and a lot of Pilgrimage of Grace characters in episode 4, but I didn’t mention them because the changes were quite dull. Some random ‘Better Tudors Homes and Gardens” stuff in the flickers, and a borderline uncomfortable amount of eye contact with Van Sprang and Von Sydow was what it amounted to. And it was only for one week, because this week there is news of a very special visitor.
I am thrilled to announce that this episode heralds the arrival of our own AOC (1539 version).
But she’s this episode, next recap. So for now we will just have to make do with the other members of the Historical Squad, Marie de Guise the Euro Solution and Christina “Grand Canyon Mic Drop” of Milan.
Fittingly, it’s a new morning without mourning at Whitehall, and Henry is up and about. Brandon has been invited over and Henry dismisses today’s valet so they can talk about that fighting that happened last week (that had a bit more of an Actual Historical basis than I originally awarded it, BTW) (1).
Henry is very upset at all the violence that occurred when he was away. His solution is to put Brandon in charge. He tells him all will be answerable to Brandon should Henry ever be absent again.
I don’t think Actual Historical Henry trusted anyone that much, but in The Tudors it’s appropriate to give emergency powers to Henry’s super loyal best friend. The thing is, the big idea for the last episode – government and order going to pot without Henry is rubbish.
The undoubted serious problems in the English Government and Court in 1538-40, the factionalism, the frequently fatal infighting, the whole big neurotic mess was not caused by an absence of Henry. Government was, among other issues, suffering from a bit of an excess of a man who was newly single but not rushing towards a new marriage for once, had spent the last couple of decades struggling with Popes, Queens and Emperors and obsessing over progeny, had been encouraged to think of himself as the literal Lord’s Anointed and now had some spare time on his hands.
Woe unto those for whom Henry was their Line Manager.
Henry staggers a bit on his bad leg and has to sit down, and Michael Hirst gets his first whack at an idea he’s going to explore again and make the opener for his incredible series finale. The first time around for this scene, it’s Brandon, looking pale and tired and trying out his late Season 4 voice, with the revelation.
This version has its own merits and a big one is that it includes some truth of the biology of aging, that the other, later, grander version from Henry misses, focusing instead on time seen from near the end of life and in moments even from the vast perspective of History.
There’s an acknowledgement in this version that as a person, from young to old, we change. At a certain point in its evolution humanity required its middle aged to drop the confidence and really start looking into stuff and having a bit of a worry and a chew over things, and our brain chemistry got set up for that.
Some people have a lot of that in their youth anyway, or hold onto more of their confidence and optimism, so for them the change is not so great, and how it changes you is down to you, but like it or not, willing or not, your body gets mechanically insistent about handing you that new perspective, and this is a great dramatic illustration of the day when you realize that that’s a transition you have actually already made.
What Cromwell Did
That older and more concerned perspective can be hard to live with, but it will make you harder to defeat, and more cunning. It can also turn dark if not checked, or if fueled by desperation.
In 1538, Thomas Cromwell was around 53 years old, hugely clever, massively powerful, could feel the tide of power turning away from him, and saw his enemies circling.
His rival, well through his evolution into open enemy, Bishop Stephen Gardiner, was back from unofficial exile and in favour, and ambassadors reports of the time can feature them bad mouthing each other when things go wrong. Gardiner’s ally Bishop Tunstall had been invited on a long progress with a Henry whose views were a lot more divergent with his First Minister than before, (2) and at the time Henry and Tunstall were probably cooking up the Six Articles. That blow was still ahead for Cromwell, but Henry’s desire for religious reforms had died with his desire for Anne Boleyn. The only part of that Henry was still behind was taking the rest of the monasteries, because that part had really paid off for him.
Cromwell’s old enemy Norfolk (Who Brandon is still personifying in part) was back in favour after his impressive performance during the Pilgrimage of Grace, and in early 1538 in the counting houses and the inns it was being noted that Master Cromwell no longer ruled all, and might, in fact, have a fight on his hands.
And Thomas Cromwell looked around to see what he had that he could use, and he found that Henry had a Pole obsession, to the point that he had openly talked about destoying them (q). And somewhere in that year, Cromwell decided that there was a Pole he could use. One that he could turn upon his family.
Geoffrey Pole, youngest of the Pole brothers, was always a bit unstable. A slightly loud malcontent in his earlier years, the extent of his actual treason was probably having disloyal dinner conversations with Chapuys and others and staying close to Princess Mary while periodically doing enough lip service to just about stay in favour. That favour disappeared when Reginald’s blistering attack on Henry came out, and Geoffrey was already fearful when Cromwell had him arrested in August 1538 and sent to the Tower of London.
He had been in jail for months when his interrogations started on October 26th (3). So the Pole family were not as carefree as this, just before their arrest. They would have known something was coming. More surprised would probably have been the other people arrested, that The Tudors misses out. The Marquis of Exeter, his wife Gertrude and young son Edward, Edward Neville (a cousin of the Poles) and, caught up near the end, Sir Nicholas Carew, who had been such a key player in the sudden rise of Jane Seymour.
In The Tudors, Sir Francis Bryan gets the job of making clear that the 8 year old is also getting arrested.
Because when the actual crime you’re being arrested for is being too closely related to the King, well then everyone in the family gets to be guilty.
And Geoffrey Pole? Well, there’s no evidence that he was physically tortured, but he was in the Tower for months and the psycholocigal torture to get him to testify against his family must have been brutal, because somewhere in that period Geoffery Pole tried to commit suicide twice(q2).
There’s Something About Marie
Meanwhile, in the following scene, Henry is all about one thing. He’d like Marie De Guise, please. The erstwhile French Ambassador gets a prime time private dinner meeting with Henry, at a remarkably rich table, and they share a decent amount of Actual historical dialogue in this scene. The Ambassador (Jonathan Ryan‘s long running character is an amalgam of Montmorency and Castillon, two French Ambassadors) thoroughly enjoys this meeting which was clearly designed to cater right to his preferences, while Henry just drinks, and is as much ‘all business’ as politeness permits. Henry is utterly into marrying Marie, and getting very near to those candles in his enthusiasm to get Francis’ Ambassador to agreement on this.
While, when her two sisters are mentioned Henry basically checks out of the room. He’s not even interested when the Ambassador makes an Actual Historical racy joke(4), saying that as Louise is a virgin, Henry would have the advantage…
It’s an interesting, subtle bit from Meyers that also manages to take on board Henry’s subtext, up to and including being completely over hearing Frenchmen describe their wine. But he’s very clear, he wants one thing from the French and one only – he wants Marie De Guise.
Which begs the question: What was it about Marie De Guise?
Because Marie shouldn’t have been a marriage in the International Treaty Closing League. She was a cousin of Francis but a second cousin once removed, and not related on the royal side. It would be like a future Edward VI trying to arrange a treaty using a very distant female Seymour relative.
But a really well politically connected one. Because Louise of Savoy, Francis’ mother had been a huge power broker in France until her death and was related to Marie on her maternal side (imagine if the Seymours had been in and around power for 40 years), and Marie’s father was the most successful French General of his generation, a Duke, and in the French peerage (In France the peerage was like a ‘super nobility’, usually only occupied by Royals).
But the big reason, eclipsing even the danger to his sleeves for Henry, is that James V of Scotland had agreed to marry her.
Because for France and Scotland the Auld Alliance really was the thing. It was the name given to the Franco-Scottish mutual defence treaty against England that had been around and functional since 1295. James V of Scotland and Francis I of France had tried to seal it for this generation with a marriage before. Francis had been very reluctant for James to marry his daughter, Princess Madeleine, mainly because Madeleine was already ill, so the idea of a not quite as royal bride had come up before, but at first they were thinking of someone more royal than Marie.
Arrangements for such a marriage had been sketched out, but then James and Princess Madeleine met, apparently fell in love, and Francis couldn’t say no. Madeleine died five months into what appeared to be a very happy marriage to James. And then James, who had met Marie at his wedding, said to Francis that he’d take Marie De Guise.
And Francis basically snapped his hand off, threw in a heavy dowry, and cheered. Because the Auld Alliance (and excuse my English self, here) seems to have worked out generally more favorably to France. It wasn’t deliberately lopsided, and both sides found it somewhere between useful and vital, but it happened to work out in France’s favour a lot of the time. Scotland had lost its last King to the Auld Alliance action prompted by Henry’s first French campaign. This made Henry’s older sister Margaret Tudor regent and when she lost that she was still the King’s mother and that subdued Scotland as England’s enemy for 20 years while James the son grew up.
Francis would have been aware that a royal bride with a claim to something was a real requirement for France to provide. But in those circumstances James, keen to throw off his mother’s pro English policies, had basically said – No, the treaty is useful enough in itself, and I’ll take that lady over there. She’s French, right?
Because there was something about Marie, something that turned all heads, that had her uncle and aunt take her from the convent she was being raised in at 14 and aim her straight for court and spectacular marriage. Something that left men, conditioned by their society to be obsessed with a certain kind of healthy, strong and male legacy, kneeless piles in her wake. The Tudors gets the word, and therefore the concept wrong. Because it wasn’t Marie De Guise the ‘voluptuous’, it was the Marie De Guise Massif, babay.
In an age where 5 feet 7 inches was reasonably tall for a guy, Marie De Guise was 5 feet 11 inches tall.
She towered over the French court and caught men straight in the legacy, as they looked at her in wonderment and imagined the sons she could produce, that would surely just, like, rule the world or something.
It didn’t do Marie that much good romantically, after her first happy marriage. She was by all accounts not that keen to marry anyone in 1538, having just lost her first husband (probably the love of her life) and her youngest son, and now being forced to leave her eldest.
Francis I did not care, though. It was just too good an opportunity. Marie was sent to Scotland, and Henry’s obsession with Marie was in trying to cock up really all of the above.
Confusion In the Cells
Two youths went into the Tower as a result of what is known as the ‘Exeter Conspiracy’, neither of them quite as young as the Henry Pole shown in The Tudors.
Most sources put Henry Pole at around 17 when he was arrested with his father. Edward Courtenay was 11 when he got arrested with his, the Marquis of Exeter. They were both basically arrested for being too closely related to the Crown. The Courtenays were Henry’s closest male relatives, descending from Elizabeth of York‘s youngest sister, Catherine.
In The Tudors young Henry Pole finds the world no longer works anywhere near the one he knew as orders, and escape attempts and fighting all come to naught and the guard just finds him funny in an unkind way.
Stand Up Christina
Henry is learning about the Imperial offer from Cromwell and Brandon.
The Imperial offer is Christina of Milan. She was Danish and Norwegian royalty, exiled as a toddler after her father King Christian‘s fall, and spending most of her early life in the same court Anne Boleyn first flourished in, with the female Imperial Regents of the Netherlands. She had a strong claim to the Danish Crown if anyone could get her great uncle off of it, and was ruler of the town of Tortona in her own right after becoming a widow. She would eventually retire there and run it successfully for many years. She still had symbolic value for Milan, and on her mother’s side she was the Emperor’s niece.
Cromwell makes the intro but Brandon is definitely representing for the Imperials, it is interesting that this has not been handed off to Chapuys. Brandon does a great job, emphasising Christina’s youth, attractiveness, hopefully continuing virginity and common interests with Henry. The pitch is well received and Cromwell is sent out with instructions to send John Hutton.
John Hutton is Roger Ashton-Griffiths and he works this small role well. There were, in fact, an awful lot of courtiers involved in the back and forths, and it was Philip Hoby that went with Holbein (5), Hutton was already in Brussels, but making it one guy and making that guy Roger Ashton Griffiths are all good decisions.
John Hutton is Sir Does Not Want To Go On This Mission. He sees the trouble way on the horizon and he would really like a way out. He explains, with a degree of insistence and desperation why he’s just not the right tool for the job. But Cromwell does the thing managers with no choice sometimes do: listens to all the reasons you shouldn’t be the one asked to do this – takes a beat, and then carries right along with what he was saying, basically ejecting Sir John’s objection. Hutton knows exactly what that means and the way he deflates when he hears it is precious.
Also, Cromwell has apparently gone through the options and this is his first attempt to nudge Cleves into the discussion. So Henry’s not the only one with expectations for this mission.
An Impression of Evidence
It’s time for a Tower visit.
Henry Pole, Lord Montagu, Reginald’s older brother is in the Tower, not so much being questioned as being confronted with evidence by Edward Seymour.
Edward is definitely being presented in The Tudors as the administration’s new hatchet man, here taking a role that in Actual History was actually much closer to Cromwell’s.
Lord Montagu starts out damn near indignant.
But that soon collapses as Seymour reads out a letter to him with real indignation and venom. The letter is more subversion than treason, being generally disloyal rather than implying an actual plot. The letter is presented as a single genuine document in The Tudors (Montagu certainly acts like it’s genuine) but while it consists of a lot of lines taken from the Actual Historical evidence, it’s an amalgam. It’s made up from things supposedly said by Geoffery Pole as well as Henry Pole, and the Exeters, and from a lot of different sources, from letters to interrogations. Of varying ages, too, some of those alleged conversations were many years old.
In fact, it just like the Actual Historical evidence, it sounds right, but there’s nothing concrete there.
Generally speaking, The Poles and the Exeters were not amazingly loyal to Henry. The Exeters had come very close to danger in the Elizabeth Barton – Holy Maid of Kent affair (Exeter’s wife was a supporter to nearly the bitter end), and both branches of the remaining York claimants disapproved of Henry’s divorce and everything that came after. They were prominently Catholic and close enough to Mary that they clearly had a side bet on her eventual succession, and they were close to the Imperials. And then there was Reginald, of course.
If there had ever been an ‘in progress’ Imperial invasion that was for Mary that looked like it would work, I think they would have been ‘in’, for the most part. But there little to no evidence that they were actively pursuing rebellion.
An Evening at Court
Off to court where the good times are rolling.
But they roll on with less and less input from Henry, who is increasingly isolated,
up there, on his dais with no company. Dancing provided many, if not most of the opportunities to form a romantic connection at court, and Henry, a keen dancer in his youth, just can’t anymore. The Tudors is not convincing on Henry’s physical shape, but it has convinced me of the severity of his leg condition.
He sits there, watching other people have a good time, and then notices Sir Francis Bryan and beckons him up. He starts by setting Sir Francis on to Margaret Pole, apparently determined she should be arrested too.And from his look right at the end of that exchange, I think if Sir Francis could afford an opinion about this mission, then he wouldn’t be delighted. Still he’s going to lose that moral authority immediately. Henry, 47 in 1538, spots a woman in the dancing group and Sir Francis puts him off her by pointing out that she is, in fact, over 40. He then jumps in the mire by suggesting Henry make the acquaintance of a 14 year old he’s presumably grooming somewhere, with the reasoning that as she’s physically quite developed, it’s fine.
That’s a reasoning that had credence far more recently than is comfortable, and still holds, in some places. And it’s an example of the dodgy ground you head into when the consent of whoever it is you’re ogling doesn’t need to be considered. Henry, in the most terribly patriarchal way he can, gives Sir Francis some mild social disagreement.Yes, it’s not much, but I think I’m just going to be grateful he made it over that low moral bar.
The ladies are Actual Historical, the 14 year old of a ‘goodly stature’ and the widow that was over 40 and did not look it, and come from the same letter describing potential marriage prospects for Henry and where the initial assessment of Anne of Cleves was “there is not great praise either of her personage or her beauty”(6), although in fairness to Anne she didn’t live publicly and the courts of Europe were all far too busy swooning over Christina.
Cromwell makes his way to Henry, and it’s always worth noting who doesn’t have time for pleasantries. Also Henry’s not delighted to see him. We can presume Cromwell almost always means “work”, and Henry’s barely enjoying his leisure time right now.
Still Cromwell gets Henry’s attention with some “Christina of Milan” news. And Cromwell reads from an Actual Historical description (7) which spoke about her dimples, which were apparently quite attractive. Remember Henry the dimple inspector? Back in season 2 with his mistress Madge Shelton? The report that came back emphasised two other things, as well as the dimples (8). First that Christina was tall, and Henry was just getting over not getting Marie De Guise, so they leaned on that a bit, but it also explicitly said that she looked very much like Madge.
If she looked like a favoured mistress from the good old days? Oh… that could really work. Henry’s intrigue is real, and Cromwell takes the opportunity of his interest to try and get Anne of Cleves on the table. He gets the “No great praise” rebuff from Henry and Cromwell decides to give Henry a little unasked for advice in foreign policy opportunities he might not be seeing.
That’s a bold move into a royal prerogative, Cotton, let’s see how it works out for him. Cromwell makes some excellent points, so Henry takes this very light tread on the Royal toes quite well, but is clear that it is his wishes that take priority and he is swiping right on Christina, and left on Anne of Cleves. Cromwell is checked, but lightly.
The One that Got Away
For someone who just brushed by Tudor history, Christina of Milan and Denmark and Norway left a lot of stories behind. And some of them have self defence mechanisms.
Henry kept this painting until the end of his life. It was part of his private collection, and he didn’t keep many personal paintings. This video about the painting is great, and a pretty good way to spend half an hour, but I do disagree with the speaker about one thing. Mainly that she interprets Christina’s answers that she was “at the Emperor’s commandment” as abnegation, a denial of her importance, even of her own will. Given that she only said it when asked for her opinion of the marriage to Henry, it seems to me that was the closest option she had available to a ‘No, thanks’.
And then there’s the context, Christina gave that answer to Wriothesley in February 1539 in what I like to call the Incident with the Impudence(9).
This happened at the nearly the end of a year long negociating process that was, by then, apparently headed nowhere. The 1538 Truce of Nice between Charles and Francis was unexpectedly holding, English negotiations with Cleves were warming up and it looked like Christina would either get her love match, (She and the current Prince of Orange had fallen in love) or get married off in a French direction to solidify that peace. She would have been pretty confident by then that she wasn’t going to England, but here we get all we’re going to get of Christina almost a year beforehand in the timeline with the March 1538 (10) portrait session with Holbein.
The score turns into one high, resonant note as we are whisked to a beautiful and imperiously grand room in Brussels, and Christina, played briefly but brilliantly by Sonya Cassidy.
There’s some historically accurate Holbein action – he only had 3 hours with Christina, so he made drawings in the live session which he worked up into the painting later.
Sir John starts with Wriothesley’s question from a year later and gets the actual historical response.
A small invention here, but her “Shall I? Why?” is delivered as “Really? This should be good”, and I love it.
Then Hutton goes in with Wriothesley’s 1539 statement about Henry, which stretched diplomatic credibility way past breaking point and Hutton tries to share a subtle nod with Holbein over it. Christina’s response is not the one she Actually Historically gave. Here she is given a quote from the Chronicle of George Constantine (11) where he was supposedly repeating words from her representatives. Although he tried to distance himself from that comment pretty quickly. Just as well, it was a scorching take and far beyond anything Christina had the freedom to say. But it does show us that opinions outside the English court circle could be pretty damning.
Which brings us to the big one. Oh, how I wish I could tell you it were true.
There’s no evidence for it, any more than Marie De Guise’s supposed comeback (I may be a large woman but I have a little neck). Start looking into it and it’s a sodding Mexican standoff of attribution, with everyone saying it’s ‘oft quoted’ but nowhere saying where it’s ‘oft quoted’ from. Except Fraser, who sends you to a footnote in Hume, where it just says it’s ‘oft quoted’.
I’ve been through the Letters and Papers for the negotiation period and there’s nothing like it. There’s no there, there, I’m afraid.
But if anyone would have said it, it would have been Christina, or someone close to her. Writhoseley’s mission in 1539 had a sub mission to find out about something that Christina or those around her had been saying about the marriage. Because he asked Mary the Regent about it, then when he got a chance asked Christina about what had been said and ended with assuring those at home that those around her:
“Will beware how they speak; some of them who have not altogether been without fault, promise to punish any inferior who shall prate otherwise than convenient” (12)
So someone had been talking and hadn’t been good. But Christina certainly never said that killer line to an Ambassador, royal women up for trade to a King just didn’t have that kind of freedom. The thing she did do, her Actual Historical response to Wriothesley’s description of Henry as the ‘Most gentle gentlemen that liveth’ that had never said an angry word in 1539, pushed the line to its limit.
She laughed, reader. She Lol’d ,or made it very clear it was hard for her not to. Wriothesley wrote down her response:
“…she seemed much tickled.”
In The Tudors she gets a newly appreciative look from Holbien, as Sir John walks away, somewhat defeated. And then they go back to their work.
Much to do about Tapestry
There really wasn’t much evidence against Margaret Pole. It’s worth knowing that the search Sir Francis Bryan is on happened several months after her arrest and all it turned up (if it actually did turn anything up) was a dubiously embroidered armour coat(13). In The Tudors it’s two tapestries, which Seymour produces and spins like it’s real evidence of something.
Actaully Historically Lady Maragret was impressively stoic in her interrogations, leading her questioners to call her
“More a strong and constant man than a woman”(14)
The highest honour the patriarchy can bestow. Seymour is pretty viscous, spinning her decision to keep writing to keep writing to her son as grievous treachery.
And denying pleas for mercy. He leaves and she can hear her grandson call out, leaving her very distressed at the end of the scene, covering her mouth so that he will not hear her sobs. She would end up being attainted, where she was just declared guilty rather than getting a trial, not least because the evidence against her was so thin.
The drawings of Christina have arrived and Henry is delighted. Chapuys reported that he had been very pleased with the drawings and had been put into a ‘much better humour than previously’ (15). He’s discussing them with Brandon, and Brandon’s a bit pandery, aiming his comments to what he knows of Henry’s needs right now. And conversation with Henry starts taking a sudden and strange turn. He suddenly tells Charles to ‘keep his hands off her’ and then goes ‘JK’, but Brandon is still missing a step. He doesn’t quite understand what’s going on with his friend. Henry’s paranoia is raging and after going into other subjects Henry’s mind swings back around to accuse Charles of a pro-imperial agenda (not a million miles off but it’s not like he’s disloyal about it). And then he starts in on why he’s having to do this thing to the Poles. And you notice the teeny tiny steps Henry is taking. ..Aaand now Henry has a serious illness that affects his mental stability when acute.
We’re into a Actual Historical life threatening bout of illness for Henry that lasted for around a fortnight and started in early May 1538 (16).
A few days after Henry’s collapse Seymour walks through a muttering and jumpy Court. When he gets into Henry’s room he sees the apothecaries are at work. We get a nice bit of politics from him and Brandon. Seymour wants to see Henry and has to negotiate his way around Brandon’s mistrust. It’s good, Seymour uses a bit of pragmatism (Edward succeeding now is not in his interest) and politeness to gain access to see the King. Brandon, the reasonable man of The Tudors, lets him in. And we, along with Seymour get a historically accurate diagnosis and Seymour’s urgent reaction to the news. Henry’s life was in the balance for a time. And, as depicted in The Tudors, there was some doubt, a split over which heir to go for if the worst should happen. Edward was the boy, but Mary was a very well connected adult, and of the majority religion. In The Tudors, Brandon sees this coming, and sends guards for Mary (his intention is for her protection) before kneeling to pray and figure out his duty, because that’s who Brandon is.
More time passes, it is night time and Henry is shaking with fever, when Brandon tells Cromwell his decision. The surgeons arrive, use the flame of the candle to sterilize the blade, and get to work in front of what looks like most of the Privy Council. If you’re wondering, it’s not the time with the pus.
Morning in England
We’re off to Hampton Court.
For a Henry making a post-recovery visit to Prince Edward.
Of course it’s not entirely about private feelings, most of the point of this visit is to be seen by his people, alive, and healthy and with his heir.
But you see how his walk changes when he comes back in and it’s a bit worse again when he leaves with Cromwell and just how much that small performance took out of him. His ‘Soft, now’ to Edward’s nanny as he hands him back betrays the fragile preciousness of Edward, as does Henry’s intense “Keep him safe” to Lady Bryan as he leaves.
Henry is a little intense in his nodded goodbye to the nursery, the few stairs out are close to being an issue, and Cromwell’s hand gesture is half deferential, half protective as he makes his way out.
Henry has lost his youth, and nothing in the world can give it back to him.
Edit: 05/09/2020 Added final gif and previous paragraph.