We come back in with Henry and Cromwell on the road home from the nursery at Hampton Court.
The carriage looks nice, but The Tudors is set in the age of the cart. Actually Historically this, and really any other conversations you see in a vehicle and set prior to 1750, maybe 1910, should be punctuated by frequent and unpredictable bouncing, an air of seasickness and an occasional bump so big it knocks someone’s head right out of the frame, followed by a slightly discombobulated landing. The roads were also more ‘hardened tracks grudgingly maintained’ than roads as we know them.
The particular historical inconveniences of human travelling almost always get help in filmed adaptations, but this is one of those times when The Tudors is really obvious about it.
Still, it’s a nice and useful (if implausibly even) scene. Henry is finally put off Marie de Guise by the fact that she is actually married now. I’m not sure anything else would have done it. We’ll catch up with Marie after her life’s next dramatic turn.
Christina of Milan is similarly wound up. Basically, she got married to Anne of Cleves’ ex, reasonably happily and the first act of her adult life was as his political advisor and a young mother. When he died, her second act was as Regent to an internationally important piece of land, which she held until, despite her warnings, a French invasion met no Imperial response and rolled into her land in 1552. Then she lost custody of her son and the third act of her adult life was to be an internationally important politician fending off marriage offers, hosting international peace conferences and fighting to get custody of her son back. She would not succeed (at the last part), but they had a great relationship as adults because when he grew up she worked as her son’s political advisor for many years starting at, let’s say, act five, and around about act nine or ten she retires to her town of Tortona and runs it like a boss for many years. Woman deserves her own slightly jazzed history mini series at some point. I think I’d live all my life at once if Lifetime took a shot at it.
In The Tudors the end of the one sided affair is blamed on affinity (She’s related to Katherine of Aragon) and the fact that that means they would need a Papal dispensation. Papal dispensations – Marrying your Uncle? We’ve got you covered. Marrying your first wife’s great niece? Yeah, you’re gonna need one for that, too.
Actually Historically it was a lot of things that brought those negotiations down, mainly time (the changing politics meant that Charles V went from being near desperate to break up the English/French negotiations to being not massively bothered) and a lot of ambitions getting hung on the arrangement (Mary and Dom Luis were a regular variation but sometimes Henry was up for promising Elizabeth to the Duke of Savoy, and Edward to the Emperors daughter, now what would that do to what he would get? Hmmm?).
Also Mary of Hungary, second female Regent of the Netherlands and the Imperial chief negotiator doesn’t appear to have been keen to send her young ward Christina to become Henry’s fourth Queen.
Henry was always grabbing for something and posing hypotheticals, which gave her a lot of excuses to send back for new instructions – and look at that, is it November 1538 already?
The Tudors has the nub of it right, though. It was the inability to get a dispensation that finally killed the negotiations off. When the Pope excommunicated Henry in December 1538, there was no remotely easy way for the Imperials to move forward. And Charles was a pragmatist, and he had France in check by then and Henry VIII as an In-Law had been a bloody unpredictable prize before so that was the end of that.
The other part of this scene is a bit of Henry’s Actual Historical attitude that this episode is going to showcase, and some foreshadowing for Cromwell.
Henry’s obsession with meeting his new wife before he got committed to her was well documented. He even wanted to try it with the Imperials, suggesting that Dom Luis, Christina and Mary the Regent all come to Calais for a meeting at one point.(1)
Sir Francis Bryan and Anne Seymour have been at it again. Edward has apparently decided ‘Better the devil you know, ahistorically sexing up your wife’ and has decided not to kill him. Francis finds Edward intriguingly difficult to predict.
Actually Historically, Francis Bryan would have had quite a lot more than Edward Seymour on his mind right now. Sir Francis fell from favour around this time, but not fatally. His behaviour always raised some eyebrows, and his sister was married to Sir Nicholas Carew, who would be the last victim of Cromwell’s wave of the Exeter Conspiracy executions. Distrusting his family connections, and his religious affiliation (Francis might have been flexible, but leaned very Catholic) Cromwell had him removed from his post as Chief Gentleman of the Privy Chamber in early 1539 and replaced with Anthony Denny, a known ally(2). Francis got back into court politics after Cromwell’s fall, getting his greatest measure of success in Edward’s regime.
The Tudors’ Francis Bryan does not fall and rise again, as the series has many uses coming up for a dodgy libertine, and the character will be drifting further from his Actual Historical basis. This week his fascination with Edward Seymour is fueled by one of the central skills of court life, figuring out what people actually wanted and believed against what they said they wanted and believed.
It was an essential survival skill for someone like Sir Francis, here, not least because a really fast way to lose Henry’s favour was to demonstrate you might just have some kind of loyalty to something else. Absolute loyalty to Henry was a requirement, so getting a handle on Edward Seymour would be quite the useful tool, but Sir Francis just cannot figure him out.
After a bit of good natured banter about the value of his services, Anne gives Francis her take on what actually motivates her strange husband.
And it’s a solid read, I’ve seen nothing that would counteract the idea of Edward as fully driven (perhaps he even believes destiny driven) by ambition. I also like Anne’s sudden alertness and reticence when Francis tries to bond with her over her secret religious affiliation. As she should, those are damn dangerous inferences. Francis tries to show off his Protestant bona fides –
Yeah, I’m not sure they did. Actually Historically he seems to have been a Catholic, and his Actual Historical nickname was “The Vicar of Hell”. It was Cromwell that gave that to him, back in 1536, just after Francis’ faction swap from Boleyn to Seymour (3). Still, the slightly tweaked confession gets Francis and Anne to some ‘sex and the papacy’ joshing which lightens up the mood again. Enough for Francis to try and glean what Edward thinks about Cromwell. Anne maintains she doesn’t know Edward’s opinion on Cromwell but…
Well, not your husband, Mrs Seymour, we made that clear last episode. The Tudors wraps up that hanging thread in a non historically accurate way, but it keeps things tidy, and it kind of chimes for The Tudors’ version of the character of Edward Seymour.
The first wave of executions in the Exeter conspiracy took Lord Montagu (Henry Pole Snr), the Marquis of Exeter (Henry Courtenay), Sir Edward Neville and three months after them, dying in March 1539, Sir Nicholas Carew.
We only see the Poles in The Tudors. We catch up with Lord Montagu, meeting with Bishop Gardiner and just before his execution he’s making some very good points.
I mean, he’s right. It’s just there wasn’t really any English judicial golden period to harken back to. Henry’s father was a nifty judicial murderer himself, as were an awful lot of his predecessors. Writs or Bills of Attainder (The King declares you guilty = You are guilty, and all your stuff belongs to the Crown. I mean, let’s not even bother with a trial.) had been around and robustly used since 1321, although it should be said that our Henry was already clocking up quite a score of those, comparatively speaking.
But if you’re going to hang blame for the first wave of executions, Cromwell really has to own it.
Unlike Anne Boleyn’s downfall, Cromwell didn’t get handed a problem of Henry’s and get told to solve it. In the Exeter Conspiracy Cromwell had problems of his own and designed his own response. That response involved false imprisonment, manufacturing charges and evidence and quite a lot of deaths of people that were somewhere from comparatively to very innocent. And everyone that died that wasn’t a Pole happened to be an obstacle or an enemy to Cromwell.
As Henry’s personal care team, members of the Privy Chamber could, from time to time, be significantly influential upon him, and this was a purge. Exeter, Neville and Carew were all old school, prominent Catholic members of the Privy Chamber, that Cromwell had been filling whenever he could with new, Protestant men like Ralph Sadler. As an example of the kind of influence they could wield, Nicholas Carew had been the impresario of Queen Jane Seymour’s rise, completing the trick everyone wanted to pull off, that of figuring out what Henry actually wanted (maybe even incepting the idea that a quiet, mild wife could be just the thing) , and managing it, to the short lived jubilation of the Catholic faction.
Exeter is a tricky one. Maybe Cromwell actually managed to convince Henry of his guilt because Exeter was one of Henry’s oldest friends, who Cromwell had tried and failed to oust before. Maybe this was faction change from Cromwell meets dynastic imperative from Henry. Exeter was even more closely related to Henry than the Poles, and like the Poles and Carew, Exeter had shown that he had another loyalty, a strong loyalty, to Mary.
They might not have been an active threat to Henry but what if Henry died tomorrow? Well then all of baby Edward’s Yorkist relatives would probably side with Mary, making Henry’s son very vulnerable. Reginald and Mary’s possible marriage would have made it certain.
The executions in the Exeter Conspiracy went through because this all worked for Henry, but it was Cromwell providing all the momentum up to Carew’s death.
In The Tudors Montagu goes to the one sympathetic face in the room, Bishop Gardiner, and asks him to look after his mother, who is still in the Tower.
Gardiner promises sincerely to look out for her (not that it will do much good) and it’s a shame The Tudors didn’t bring this up again, because resentment over the treatment of the Poles would have been some great added motivation for Gardiner, if he’d been given a moment to express it.
Montagu walks over to Seymour, and delivers a line based in the words he is supposed to have said. One of the lines from the evidence says he stated that
“The King never made a man but he destroyed him again, with displeasure or the sword.”(4)
Which The Tudors turns into this resonant threat, delivered by Montagu to Seymour, who has been standing in for Actual Historical Cromwell, just before Montagu walks out to his undeserved death.
Henry the Photophile and the Case of John Lambert
Back in Whitehall.
And Henry is skimming through the Facebook Holbein has constructed for him after the French leg of his portraiture tour.
He’s pushing for a meeting, again. He wants Cromwell to talk to Castillon about it, but the report of an ambassador and portraiture was how international match making was done.
Henry had not just met, he had known all of his wives pretty damn well, not just before he married them, but often before he formed an affection for them, too. Anyone trying to set up Henry had better be taking notes, but Cromwell is interested in taking the opportunity of Henry’s reticence for a second attempt at getting Cleves on the table.
Henry is still not biting, and when Bishop Gardiner arrives for an audience, Henry’s happy for Cromwell and his half expressed Cleves idea to be ushered out.
Gardiner stays down at the bottom of the table as he describes a heretic he wants judgement on, John Lambert. John Lambert had denied transubstantiation, which was in contradiction to the Six Articles Henry had just had published, and that was enough to get you killed. But then Gardiner seems unable to quite contain himself and comes on up the table as he gets to the reason why he had such an particular interest in Mr Lambert’s preaching activities.
The Tudors also has Cromwell getting Lambert off of an earlier charge, and while there’s no evidence Cromwell did this for Lambert, he did do it for others. His sending so many Protestant exiles to Calais was part of the reason he and Lord Lisle (the Catholic governor of Calais) fell out. Henry is non committal, but certainly takes all the information in. Gardiner will just have to wait and see if the idea takes root, and he’s smart enough to do just that.
Off to Hunsdon House,
Where Mary and Chapuys are talking. The breakdown of the Imperial marriage negotiations is discussed, along with its consequences on Mary.
She and Chapuys are adorable, particularly her confusion at his contentment with French proposals for her hand.
She sits down and we go a bit ahistorical here, Actually Historically Cromwell and Mary got along pretty damn well, but that’s a wrinkle that takes a bit of time to explain and sell and The Tudors isn’t going there. Instead, Mary and Chapuys discuss the Poles’ imprisonment, and Mary blames it all on Cromwell. In return, we get an early sight of Mary’s burning zeal.
Sarah Bolger really sells the hard edges coming out in Mary, and that torch hand is coming right along.
An actual historical incident, here, as Henry summons the French Ambassador, Jonathan Ryans‘ Castillon, for their final scene together to explain why the rules of early modern royal courtship should not apply to him. It would all be so much easier if Francis just assembled eight or so of these women at Calais so Henry could review them.
Castillon has to break it that, while the women don’t really get a choice, treating them like it’s actual horse trading was generally an issue, even then.
In the actual historical incident Henry, at this point, apparently blushed and laughed (5), but The Tudors’ Henry threatens the shit out of Castillon, sends him from his court, and looks after him with a very dark stare.
Having been disappointed by the French, Henry literally turns to Cromwell. He’s going to use the info he got from Gardiner to test Cromwell’s loyalty to his cause against his loyalty to Henry. Henry asks Cromwell about Lambert, and Cromwell treads a very careful route. He knew Lambert at Cambridge but hasn’t really known him since. He roundly condemns the heresy, while still leaving a way out for his friend if he recants.
He passes Henry’s deep loyalty test, and there’s not just a stick, there was a carrot this time, Cromwell’s reward is that the daughters of Cleves are back on the table.
Where our slightly smug ambassadors meet with Duke William of Cleves, canny negotiator and Anne’s brother. Cleves had risen to prominence through the inheritances and good sense of his father. William had inherited not long before this and was ambitious.
In The Tudors he is a Duke that refuses to get pushed around, and extracts all he can get from England’s sudden interest. Mary’s possible marriage is thrown on the table again (this time for Willliam’s oldest son) as well as an introduction to the Protestant league, but when the conversation turns to meeting his sisters, Duke William proves that the German states are even more reticent about displaying their women for approval than the Empire or France.
They are going far too fast for Duke William, but a portrait might be possible…at the right time. The ambassadors walk away frustrated.
To Be or Not to Be
We meet John Lambert, old friend of Cromwell in his prison, when Cromwell comes to visit.
Lambert is played by Ben Price, who has had two long term roles on British TV institutions, Coronation Street and Casualty as well as making some highly regarded short films. In John Lambert he plays a man who is very much like Sir Thomas More, but coming at it from the Protestant direction.
For almost the whole scene, Cromwell is trying to persuade him to use the door Cromwell carefully made sure was left open for him, to recant, and save his life.
But Lambert sees all these questions as a religious test and the resulting conversation between them is a great dispute between the zealous and the pragmatic.
Cromwell seems to be washing his hands of him, there, but he goes to his execution all the same.
It’s rough. It takes a while. The crowd are sympathetic but Lambert gets burned. His Actual Historical final words are changed from “None but Christ” to “All for Christ”.
Which keeps things clearer for a modern audience. He dies, in a lot of pain, and we see all the effect this has on Cromwell.
Back at Don’t Care Ranch
Cromwell walks heavily away from his friend’s execution and returns to Henry, who is not Captain Empathy right now.
That letter Cromwell is carrying is a Hail Mary pass from Princess Mary, trying to save Margaret Pole. She was her guardian for a time, and Mary says she was like a mother to her. Henry’s response is that Margaret was also mother to Reginald Pole,
Cromwell is not himself today, he’s normally so polished in all his interactions, but he’s raw and visibly having to mentally reach for data, as he informs Henry that the Cleves court painter is ill. Henry is not put off, deciding to send Holbein.
Back in Cleves, John Hutton and the other English Ambassador now have permission to look upon Duke William’s sisters.
And the ambassadors are as frustrated as we might be to get promised so much, yet get so little Anne of Cleves this episode. It’s a little more extreme scene than the Actual Historical, but it’s got a basis. The Ambassadors sent to Cleves complained that they could not get a good look at the sisters because the fashions, particularly for headdresses, were very restrictive.
In The Tudors, Duke William is given the line that was Actually Historically spoken by his indignant chancellor when the ambassadors raised the problem (6).
In the Tower, Margaret Pole is involved in some serious displacement activity prior to her execution.
And I think we can pin Margaret Pole and anyone else that died after Nicholas Carew as a result of the Exeter conspiracy firmly on Henry. If only because this event has been scooted backwards in time a long way- When Margaret Pole got executed Cromwell had been dead for nearly a year (May 1541).
Maybe Henry had a lot of trouble bringing himself to do it, and was hoping she’d die of something while in prison, but she didn’t. He had plenty of time to decide he was wrong without Cromwell’s influence but he still went ahead. Maragret Pole, great survivor of the Wars of the Roses got a botched execution and died pretty bloodily in May 1541.
In The Tudors she is heart rendingly afraid, even Edward Seymour’s mask slips a bit, and after his rough order to “For God’s sake have some dignity” (It’s just so much easier on your executors) you see on his face that even this bastard is having some trouble with this one.
We go, with the news, straight to Rome,
Where Cardinal Von Sydow Von Waldburg, in his last appearance in The Tudors, has been called in to mentor Reginald through his dark night of the soul.
Reginald is in bits, and really not ready to Hear Von Sydow Von Waldburg’s rallying cry that he really needs to go to the Netherlands and help the new efforts to get rid of Henry.
Now, I was kind of delighted, at the beginning of the season, to find that Max Von Sydow’s character was not that historically based and to give him that really long nickname to make a point. I was relieved because I had been hoping that the story that Von Waldburg tells here, about the rape and murder of his sister at the hands of Lutheran mercenaries, was fictional. And it certainly didn’t happen to Otto Von Waldburg, who was also just 22 at this point.
I wanted this mainly because I remembered the story as more violence against women, gratuitously told. But I was quite wrong about that second part.
Von Sydow Von Waldburg’s first exhortations to Reginald to get back in the fight ring a bit hollow, but Reginald than says that he’s sorry. And that apology, from a young man whose family has just been murdered, knocks Von Sydow Von Waldburg back. He stutters a bit, he’s suddenly a little hesitant, like Cromwell earlier. And then he starts telling this story like he knows it’s going to hurt.
This is something the old man is pulling out of himself, in hi sneed to connect to the young man whose world just collapsed. The description of his sister’s death wasn’t gratuitous, it was three lines long, and by the time he walks out of that door it doesn’t actually matter that this isn’t the Actual Historical story of Otto Von Waldburg, I completely believe that for this character, that event happened.
For his last appearance in the series, Von Sydow knocked it out of the park.
True, and it could be worse
At The Tower, we’ve finally got the the most innocent of those arrested, as Edward Seymour comes in to fetch young Henry Pole for his allotted fate.
Henry Pole was around 17 when he was arrested. He didn’t survive, but wasn’t executed. He died in jail of unknown causes (his cause of death could have been as innocent as a disease, as guilty as starvation) probably around late 1542.
There were three survivors. Geoffrey Pole got a pardon, and traveled to Rome to try for his brother’s forgiveness. He got it, and they both got absolution from the Pope.
Exeter’s wife got freed, and stayed very close to Mary for the rest of her life.
The youngest of them all, Henry Courtenay, just 11 when he was arrested, made it out. He would be kept in jail even into Edward’s reign, when he acquired his own mentor in Bishop Gardiner who was in jail himself at that point. Finally freed by Mary in 1553, he lived it up quite a bit, and was constantly being shipped as a convenient husband for either Mary or Elizabeth.
In the end, if it had to be one, I’m glad the one that walked out and had a life was the little boy that walked in.
The Tudors, though, does like to underline things. In the final moments a lame but increasingly capable on his leg Henry walks in to a room in Whitehall and looks out on the new day. Then he steals Cromwell’s Actual Historical line and says “Go on, Cardinal Pole. Eat your heart.” while aiming this stare into the middle distance.
Thank you for such interesting factual recaps. This is my second watching of the series, and it is of great interest for me to read your recaps right after each episode. Impressive.
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