The Whinging Adonis and the Old Chestnut
After the disastrous meeting with Anne at Rochester, Henry rushes back to Whitehall and calls what could be generously referred to as a crisis meeting, and what could ungenerously be referred to as mandatory attendance at a performative bitching session. He starts with the lesson that poor men are better off than princes when they get married because princes have to marry what is brought to them (Yeah, he third person neuters his potential wives)…
The body language is great, Brandon gets an affectionate sleeve stroke. It’s OK, left hand side of the room, you are the audience today. We all know who this is really aimed at. There’s a lot of actual historical dialogue and closely derived from actual historical dialogue in this scene that comes from Henry’s meeting with Cromwell at Greenwich, where he arrived almost straight from Rochester, several hours after the meeting with Anne. Dialogue like- “I like her not”, and “What remedy?” aimed at Cromwell, statements that Anne was, apparently not at all like her reported beauty, and she should not have come into the Kingdom if Henry had seen her first were all reported later by Cromwell.
Henry walks up the line getting angrier, and shoutier, until he takes the non historical but highly traditional ‘Flanders Mare’ line (coined by Bishop Gilbert Burnet in the late 1600s)(1) and just screams it at ‘I bet this one’ll flinch’ winner, Sir John Hutton.
Cromwell immediately tries to throw Sir John under the moving carriage, which Sir John, diplomatic prophet, saw coming back when he got this commission and he is not going down quietly or alone.
And Sir John really needn’t worry, the blame has been quite carefully calibrated and it’s all for Cromwell. Frustrated with his initial failed sidestep, Cromwell is very lawyerly in his responses, and he’s actively flirting with non-apology apology territory, Hey, he got bad information, too. Henry gets physically assaulty with Cromwell. It’s not quite violence, but it’s heavy, it’s not defensive and not kindly meant, it is meant to intimidate and it’s got enough force to make quite a thud on Cromwell’s many layers of shoulder fabric.
It’s all too much for Brandon when Cromwell says there’s no way out for Henry, and it’s him that calls out that Cromwell has been all about the Cleves agenda from the beginning. Henry’s body language is all “Nah bro, I got this” to Brandon, and far friendlier than the hurricane of blame Henry points towards the far right of the room.
Cromwell also gets to deliver the Actual Historical news that, as of January 1540, Francis I and Charles HRE were making a go of it again.
So offending their German allies now could be a total disaster. Cromwell is sorry that the King is unhappy, and everyone feels the power shift in the room as Henry sits upon his throne and laments that he ‘is not well handled’ (or served).
Once exits have been made (and Cromwell is very suddenly alone in his exit) we cut straight to Anne of Cleves’ official reception.
Look, it got a great reception but this is not what I ordered
Anne of Cleves starts by taking what was just too garish on Anne Boleyn in Season 1 Episode 9 (Part 1).
And making it goddamned work in what might be an even more bejeweled form (at least on the skirt).
I mean, she looks great, and amazingly cohesive for the amount that is going on which is a lot, (Maybe she should have Chaneled the advice about looking in the mirror and taking one thing off) but it’s working.
Henry drops into ‘Formal Royal’ mode and if you didn’t know the guy you wouldn’t know he was seething with indignant rage on the inside. Anne handles all the introductions well, including Mary’s somewhat frosty welcome.
It goes even better with Elizabeth.
And as the reception comes to a close, it seems that the whole court, whether pro or anti or in Cromwell’s case, positively dripping with relief, is thinking that this whole Cleves match might just work.
I mean, who could object to this Anne of Cleves?
Well, it’s going to be OK, Brandorfolk. Get those worry beads back out, Cromwell, where there’s Henry’s will, he’s probably going to make a way.
A Gentle Stabbing at Dinner
Shortly after (Henry’s still in his under outfit from the last scene) Henry is having dinner with Brandorfolk. And I am calling him that because Actual Historical Brandon had not committed genocide at Cromwell’s orders, his marriage was fine, and he was not too involved in Cromwell’s downfall. He’s occupying someone else’s storyline again.
As ever, Brandon’s character creaks a bit as it absorbs the role of the far more belligerent and devious Duke of Norfolk. Henry explains his game plan.
He’s either going to go for her former betrothal to the Duke of Lorraine never having ended, or go for a ‘Yeah, see, you brought the wrong contract. Can’t sign this one. Wish I could. Wish.I..could.’ type of deal breaker. The important thing is that in his estimation, either way, he can get out of this.
Then Brandorfolk takes about 4 levels in Guile, and starts gently and reasonably positing some stuff to a somewhat agitated Henry.
And when you’ve got a name to blame it’s a bit easier to ignore the fact that, no, what’s actually stopping you from walking out of this is not your first minister, he’s just the guy that keeps reminding you of the actual reason. You’re about to marry someone internationally important again, Henry. Ha. Remember how that worked out last time? But seriously, shunning your only ally right now would be a terrible move for you and for England, maybe that long-threatened invasion level mistake. The necessary alliance did not stop being necessary when you decided you didn’t like her, and Charles HRE isn’t irretrievably committed to that war with the Ottomans yet.
Henry closes with an actual historical (or very close to it) expression of self pity (There was a ‘must needs’ in the original).(2)
Steady as she goes
The Tudors has been steering Cromwell in a sympathetic direction since we started closing in on his death. He got up to plenty for the Pilgrimage in the early season, but he wasn’t anywhere near the recent ‘Poles and Associates’ culling, which, actually historically, he basically designed. In The Tudors his part in that gets handed off, mainly to Edward Seymour with a fair bit to Henry, who was solely responsible for the later deaths and sanctioned the earlier ones anyway, so fine, but Cromwell’s character is definitely getting softened.
And now The Tudors‘ Thomas Cromwell gets an amazing scene, it might even be called definitive. It’s his swan song, coming a little early. The Tudors’ interpretation of Thomas Cromwell has always leaned right in to Cromwell the religious reformer. I think the Actual historical guy would (and did) define himself as primarily a Royal Councillor, but religious reform was an undeniably strong part of his life and work.
In The Tudors a young page on a delivery mission spots the miracle of out of season fruit on Cromwell’s desk (While I often decide against November raspberries for a relative pittance because they might get mushy too quickly), and cannot resist taking a pear. He’s spotted by a highly unbothered Cromwell, who explains he was in the corner kneeling because was talking to God. When the page’s answer reveals he just knows nothing about reformed religion, Cromwell decides to be generous and make it a teaching moment.
The scene succeeds because of the smart script. This is a distillation of the character of Cromwell that The Tudors‘ has been drawing for 3 seasons now, and a beautiful expression of the change in religious outlook that Protestantism brought to Western Europe. All helped generously along by Michael Lavery giving good slightly clueless young page, the score stepping up, the coziness of a rather intently candle lit room, and some really great line deliveries from James Frain.
And I have the one scene I’ve just got to show in full this season.
Cromwell the pragmatist realizes the kid is far more likely to remember the lesson if it comes with that pear. I love the look Cromwell has as we leave him, staring intently out into that now empty hall. It’s like he’s wondering, right at the edge of his precipice, looking out into the future and trying to see which, of all the things he has put out into the world, will be the ones to bear fruit.
Because he’s done a lot, and the end is starting to loom.
Surly’s getting married in the morning
Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves were married on 6th January 1540. They were supposed to get married on 4th January 1540, but they were delayed by two days (3) so that the groom and his first minister and every lawyer in government with a shred of ambition could spend some time desperately trying to get him out of it.
They tried sudden and grave doubts that her previous engagement had ever ended, and found that they now needed dispensation paperwork for it, which the Clevians didn’t have because it was just a distance engagement, there had been a public announcement saying it had ended, and no one had mentioned this was a problem before (4). I mean, no one in the arrangement was technically Catholic any more and Henry was suddenly insisting on very old school dispensation rules. By January 5th Anne of Cleves had signed a document saying that she was free to marry and the Clevians were basically saying: This should cover it. If you want paperwork for it, fine, but it’s going to take about three months(5).
All of which left Henry in a worse position than he started with, because now if he wanted Out he wasn’t just insulting the lady and her country, he also would be calling them bare faced liars, too. When the actual problem is “We just took the hand of our only ally in Europe, rejecting it would be crazy” none of the above really helped them solve it, just gave them extra steps.
It is just two days later and Henry is going to have to do this. But he’s going to look fabulous doing it.
The couple get a very decisive style note for the ceremony – grey and white metallics from platinum to pewter. Everyone else seems to get to roll up in whatever, just get reasonably fancy because Henry clearly doesn’t care much about this one.
Henry gets the news that the attempts at holding off the wedding have failed from Cromwell. He is singularly displeased , and this next bit is Actual Historical, shortly before his wedding ceremony Henry said to Cromwell:
“My Lord, if it were not to satisfy the world and my realm, I would not do that I must do this day for none earthly thing” (6)
But The Tudors serves it with an awful lot of curve.
I did mention it once in Season 2, but this account of a physically abusive side to the relationship of Henry and Cromwell really only comes from one guy, George Paulet, who had a decent size axe to grind, but would have been in a position to know if this kind of thing had happened(7). The evidence is thin and unrelated to these events (Paulet was saying it around the time of the Pilgrimage), but a drama really has to pick a side on questions like this and The Tudors has decided that it was a physically abusive relationship and so it’s showing a physically abusive relationship that is now escalating in intensity and frequency.
Welcome to wedding number 4 – “The Mulligan”
What The Tudors misses out is the other wedding day drama that occurred that morning. The elderly Earl of Essex was supposed to be walking Anne of Cleves up the aisle but the Earl of Essex could not be found. Henry leapt at the moment and said that none other than Cromwell should give the bride away. It was a way to pin it on him (8). Essex showed up in time, so Henry missed out on the visual he wanted. Truly, nothing was going his way.
Well, the groom is in a state of ill concealed rage, the four guests are plotting against each other and it’s a horror off between Cromwell and Anne of Cleves for ‘The most terrified at this event”.
Anne looks pretty good. The head arrangement is very questionable, and I don’t know how to feel about the little panel/ jointed skirt, but Anne of Cleves is working the heck out of the modest bodice this season. Apparently the ornamental rope arrangement is a signature for her, but I’m not sure it’s doing the level of work she believes it is. The Tudors includes the historical tidbit that Anne curtsied to Henry three times at the start of their wedding ceremony (9), and the bride and groom have the energy of a guinea pig and a reticulated python on hunger strike being forced to occupy the same small space.
We go straight to the evening, they are playing cards and it is bad. It’s just an awful mirror image of the lovely cards lesson at Calais with Brandon. There’s no conversation bar Henry’s petulant sighs, all the fun and joy had been sucked right out of the room,
and they are going through all of this in front of a crowd so large it’s standing room only at the back. Strangely enough, the only other person in the room experiencing similar levels of shame and humiliation to Anne is Henry. They might be inadvertently on common ground, but that doesn’t mean they’ll find any. The game is rambling on to no real purpose when, seemingly just to get this over with, Henry suggests going to bed.
And it turns out that a marriage bed where absolutely no one wants to be there is kind of interesting, if just for the sheer atmospheric weight of the awkwardness in the room.
After a moment or two. Henry looks around, figures ‘Well, I had better do something‘, and feels up Anne in such a lackluster and perfunctory way that if that happened to me in an airport security line I’m not even sure I’d feel violated.
This unsurprisingly heads nowhere and they both retreat to their side of the bed. Anne is quiet but very distressed and Henry almost gives her a comforting gesture before deciding not to.
2/10 From breast feel clearly not virginal, didn’t try the rest.
It was a brutal review, contained in his actual historical morning after conversation with Cromwell (11). A lot of the Henry’s complaints from this and the subsequent scene with his doctor are taken from historical accounts. There are a lot of these, because Henry liked his tyranny official and footnoted, and he needed an internationally important marriage overturned. A lot of that would hinge on the fact he never consummated it, so everyone was encouraged to testify about how they heard him say that he and that woman, Miss OfCleves had never had sex. (10)
Whether he was saying it to Cromwell:
“I have felt her belly and her breasts and thereby, as I can judge, she should be no maid.”(11)
Or to his groom of the stool, Thomas Heneage
“…he mistrusted her to be no maid, by reason of the looseness of her breasts and other tokens”(12)
He was apparently convinced that she wasn’t a virgin. Henry would not have doubted for a micro second that he was anything other than an A1 supremo assessor of virginity.
And apparently, detecting virginity was all in the breast texture.
Well, people will just make shit like that up if you give them enough power and never doubt and if you don’t believe me then women whose breasts feel like brioche have almost always had ankle surgery. A thorough debunking of the Henry VIII virginity tiddy feel test once science got going was never actually needed as the test would go 0 for 2 in its early trials. Anne of Cleves was a pretty much certified virgin.
The second failure of the test, by the way, had almost certainly Actually Historically met Henry by this point. Even if Henry had managed to keep himself away from the lady in waiting selection process, Catherine Howard was serving Anne of Cleves now. They would have been occupying the same rooms (with a lot of other people). It is possible they still hadn’t spoken yet.
But they certainly could’ve done.
A Bit of a Plot
In the stony yet cozy maze that is Whitehall at night, Catherine Brandon catches her husband illicitly plotting with Edward Seymour.
The subtitle writers are clearly Cromwell supporters, because while I’ve never been able to make out any of what they’re saying, the subtitles lay out the whole incredibly vague conversation. I think perhaps it was not meant to be heard in full.
Seymour really only joined up very near Cromwell’s end, when things were getting pretty inevitable. Brandon was nowhere near this. The Duke of Norfolk was Actually Historically either in or on his way back from France, where (whether or not he’d actually had any part in it) Henry was giving him full credit for some rocky moments in negotiations between Francis and Charles in their New Year’s summit, and Norfolk wasn’t going to refuse that(13).
Brandorfolk takes his wife aside as soon as he notices she is there. They are reaching the end now, as Charles tells her to mind her own business with the plotting he’s up to and tries to score an invitation to sexy times, Catherine comes right back with passive aggression “If you could still be my sweet Charles” and Charles has had enough. He’s as good as he may be, he’s changed as much as he’s going to change, morally he’s kind of doing well for a 16th Century Nobleman and right now he’s busy taking down the asshole that ruined your marriage, so deal with it dear.
He loves you.
We open the next scene with the news that while shirtless Henry being examined by his doctor might be looking very good,
but his chronic leg wound is active right now, because the doctor announces with a pleased kind of voice that has drained the pus from it.
Henry’s repeated sighing causes the Doctor to ask if perhaps something else might be wrong and wander in to a real conversational minefield. Henry confides that he has been unable to consummate his marriage.
One day soon, the explanation for all this is going to get reconciled with Henry’s ego, so he can be a guy that physically cannot have sex with his wife, but is also the super virile dude he knows himself to be.
That explanation on the horizon is that the Anne’s engagement to the future Duke of Lorraine remained valid, and Henry’s royal penis, more blessed and observant than a mere run of the mill penis, divined that it was being directed toward a vagina to which it was not lawfully bound. Faced with such a dilemma, the royal penis piously refused to work. Henry, of course, is a man who has never had an affair, and certainly wasn’t married to two different women for a couple of years back there, so that is why this had, obviously, never come up before.
Everyone got that?
And, hey, the guy has been blaming Anne for this and claiming to detect virginity by breast feel so lets throw in that his claims of wet dreams, such a convenient signifier that he’s still virile, and two in quite a short time frame (almost like you’re underlining it, Your Majesty) are statistically quite improbable for a 48 year old man and therefore suspiciously convenient.
The good news for the ‘The Royal Penis as Lawful Vagina Detector’ Theory of Sexuality is that it’s a theory that is going to let everyone off the hook, and proper, wide ranging science is still a good century or two away. Henry gets to be a super piously virile man (it’s a tricky combo to pull off), and Anne gets some dignity, Henry’s thoughts of ‘loathsomeness’ were all the royal penis ensuring he would not commit an impure act. Everyone gets to have suffered an honest bamboozle caused by just not knowing God’s will as well as Henry’s dick did, and there’s really no blame if you just commit to the idea that God has worked through an unusual vessel, his wonders to perform.
That’s where the line is going to be, and why Yes, the line of what you’re being asked to believe and declaim as true has moved a long way in just one season, hasn’t it?
We’re not there yet, no one has quite divined exactly what Henry needs them to think, and before we get to the sunny uplands of that explanation where everyone can be happy, we have to walk through the mire, and there will be blood again.
Did Actual Historical Anne of Cleves know something was wrong? Oh, Actual Historical Anne of Cleves was trying to get face time with Cromwell to get some advice very early on. (14)
In actual history, the conversation was just too uncomfortable, and Cromwell handed it off to Anne’s Lord Chamberlain (ran her household and some official stuff), The Earl of Rutland.
In The Tudors, Cromwell initiates the contact and comes to Queen Anne’s rooms. She’s a little confused by his request to talk ‘alone’ then figures it out and dismisses her ladies. Actually Historically Anne was a quick study and picked up English rapidly, but ‘alone’ is a good example of a word she might not have had down at this point.
When they get to it, his advice is, as it was actually historically, almost insultingly general (14).
Yeah, ‘We very much need you to be nice to the king and please him’ was about as deep as it got. In The Tudors the reason for this is pretty simple.
This Anne of Cleves is outrageously pretty, and apart from the odd questionable sartorial choice (I’m pleased to see more restraint in the day wear than the formal wear: this rich brown outfit is lovely) there’s not a damn thing wrong with her.
When asked for specifics, Cromwell just reiterates how important it is for this to work and asks if maybe, she could possibly just be pregnant? Because that always used to make a huge amount of difference, being pregnant. And for the first time we get to see under the polished surface of Anne of Cleves, and under the surface, there’s a bit of an edge.
She lapses into German when describing Henry’s leg, and The Tudors does something interesting. It makes the ‘Displeasant airs’ Henry actually historically complained about (15)come from him.
Henry is not a man to let even a little bit of blame touch him – that he projected that the smell actually coming from his leg was coming from the woman he decided he couldn’t stand makes a neat wrinkle.
She closes the conversation by telling Cromwell she will go on doing everything she can to please the King.
But she’s not your Obi Won Kenobi, OK Cromwell? She needs to get her own mask on, right now.
A Royal Court was a small community that lived around a power centre. The Actual Historical encounter this next scene is based on probably came about because Anne’s Lord Chamberlain (The Earl of Rutland) having failed to figure out what was happening, had a word with his wife, who was one of Anne’s senior ladies in waiting, who could go where he could not, ask questions he could not, who could, perhaps, enlist the help of other ladies from their faction to assist(16).
This didn’t quite happen as The Tudors has it. It wasn’t a cozy private conversation with Lady Bryan, household matriarch of The Tudors, and the conversation happened near the end of the marriage, in June 1540 (17).
Lady Rutland, Lady Edgecomb, and Lady Rochford (Jane Boleyn) simultaneously dragged the conversation round to babies and wishing that the Queen was pregnant. In there, you’ll find most of the dialogue from this scene, but not in the same order,and Anne wasn’t really volunteering information so much as they were mean girling it out of her (17), like the little monologue about their nightly routine.
Which actually came about while she was trying to avoid a lot of other questions and comments coming her way, and has always been used by historians to ask the question was Anne of Cleves truly this naive? And my response is no, she wasn’t, but this wasn’t an innocent conversation, this was a faction trying to dig for information and a woman who really didn’t want to be anywhere near this conversation, what with being married to Royal Bluebeard who loathed her and everything.
Seems like it was a lot of dodging, to me. The conversation itself betrays a lack of discipline in the Queen’s chambers which could be interesting, with what lies ahead. And it was Jane Boleyn, apparently, that took Anne aside afterwards, and got the detail of what had happened the first few nights of her marriage (17). Jane Boleyn, back in the thick of it and about to lose her patron and protector in, oh, about an episode.
In The Tudors, Lady Bryan is the “Tell it like it is, make sure she’s got the basics down” kind of matriarch, and The Tudors adds a physically specific line to the historical dialogue.
As uncomfortable as Lady Bryan has just made Queen Anne, she’s about to get it back with interest, by Queen Anne just straight up asking the forbidden question.
Henry and Anne try again that night. Henry is almost throwing himself at her, like he’s entirely forgotten how foreplay and human bodies work. It unsurprisingly doesn’t work, they break apart, and Henry furiously masturbates on his side of the bed while Anne cries in hers.
Notes: Why Yes, Pea13, yes I am carrying on, thank you very much for your support. DWhatever Your Heart Desires, there was nothing shameful about your first comment. It was delightful, as was your second, Thank you BRK and J, and Sir George remains beautifully correct.
Thanks to all for stopping by, and keeping me going. The plan is to get the first part of episode 8 out before December. There will be an edit of this one.
11/11/20 added footnote links, tidied up a bit. Found a rogue date.