Alllriiight Owain, I’m heeeere. This one is for uuuuu.
The King Approaches
We open on a CG shot of Pontefract Castle.
A voice, presumably from high up in one of the towers yells “The King Approaches” and David Wilmot’s Sir Ralph Ellerker hits the delivery of “His Majesty’s Comin'” with the energy of a man who has been watching this day come up in his diary with mounting dread.
I mean it’s a royal visit that could actually kill him if it goes badly. That’s a high pressure event. He rushes to the front of Pontefract’s welcoming committee,
in time to see all of Henry’s rolling crew (a lot of foot soldiers, some horsemen) arrive, then Brandon and Surrey, before Henry looms up as I imagine he does in Sir Ralph’s dreams quite often.
But it’s alllright. Henry’s in a good mood, and once the introductions are done he hops off his horse and claps Sir Ralph on the shoulder with a big smile.
Henry’s in a great mood. The progress has been going well and he’s almost recovered from his most recent bout of illness with the leg. Well enough that he’s getting the horn and when he’s done with Sir Ralph he swings his arm around Culpeper and says-
Meanwhile, best buddy Brandon catches up with Sir Ralph, and you know, all that lying and betrayal he did while he was being the Duke of Norfolk last time he was here, as they go into the Castle.
Sir Ralph didn’t actually historically hold Pontefract Castle (Known generally as ‘Pomfret Castle’ in that period – that’s a lot of consonants to get through every day if you’re local), but using a survivor character from Season 3 is a good way to bring back the ghosts of the Pilgrimage of Grace.
Pontefract was one of the longest stops on the progress – 12 days (1). It was one of Henry’s own castles and it was massive, and ancient and storied. Edward I had called it “The key to the North”.
It was also, as Lord D’Arcy had pointed out 5 years earlier, as the main force of the Pilgrimage approached him, pretty run down at this time. That was part of the reason the Duke of Norfolk and others had been so keen to get Henry on this progress. When he could see and direct operations Henry was all about fortress building, but out of sight was out of mind for him and a lot of the Northern fortifications had been starved of maintenance money, even after the Pilgrimage.
Henry had been told, and told, and told, that places like Pontefract badly needed investment to stay effective. Thanks to the Auld Alliance, which was looking healthy and ready for action in the early 1540s, if Henry was planning on taking on France, Northern England needed to be ready to repel an inevitable Scottish attack, yet none of the money getting siphoned out of the North had come back for that. Perhaps if Henry saw the buildings and the issues and could feel involved, something might actually get done.
Norfolk, by the way, was a fleeting presence on the tour, visiting and then going away for periods. There’s decent evidence that, once again, he and his niece who was Queen were not getting along. When he hit his own rocks later, he would say that both of his nieces that married the King, Queen Anne and Queen Katherine had shown ‘malice’ towards him, and a few of the witnesses he quoted for the low opinion his two niece Queens had of him were women who had primarily, or only, served Katherine(2). For a guy that History has often cast as the architect of Queen Katherine’s rise he stayed many steps back for most of the time she was Queen.
Back in Pontefract when Brandon brings up religion, Sir Ralph uses the opportunity to try and get the inside track on Henry’s religious intentions from the Henry whisperer. Things have settled down a bit since Cromwell’s death but no one can tell which way things will go from here.
A Full Docket
Upstairs and that evening, Henry is at the official paperwork with Culpeper acting as messenger when a knock signals Queen Catherine’s arrival. First, Culpeper shuts out Lady Rochford.
And then there’s a whole lot of smouldering looks and whispered innuendo. It is Katherine that takes the initiative while waiting to see the King,
to ask Thomas for a very similar kind of audience ‘Later’. He graciously consents and with that promise under her belt Katherine continues in to see Henry. Henry is busy, and explains that he’s just heard that the King of France and the Emperor are on the brink of war. Their next war would break out in 1542, so rumours of this kind in mid to late 1541 wouldn’t have been unreasonable.
Katherine kind of jumps on that a bit, perhaps in an effort to lighten her docket for the evening.
Because Henry has more important matters on his mind.
Henry disagrees saying ‘let them have their war’ and carrying her off to bed for a seeing to.
A Short Digression For Richard II
Meanwhile we pop back down stairs for a wooden trough full of roast chickens and a meal of simmering resentment for Surrey and the Seymours.
Surrey, who is being about as subtle as Surrey ever manages, is trying to get Brandon on board for his anti-Seymour faction. This time introducing the subject with a short (and decently accurate, but heavily spun) history lesson.
He starts by asking Brandon if he knows what men have died in Pontefract Castle. Brandon says “Plenty, I suspect” and Surrey points out that he was really only taking about important people.
And then gives an accurate potted history of Richard II with Surrey’s spin of what he did wrong.
The fault is always giving power to commoners for Surrey. For me, that was more of a symptom in the story of Richard II.
Our Henry VIII had few male competitors for the crown and he spent part of his long reign judicially killing off what was left, possibly taking a lesson from the problematic reign and downfall of Richard II.
On the other hand Richard II succeeded his grandfather, Edward III at age 10, with 4 powerful royal uncles, and his grandfather’s noble councilors all squabbling over power. Remaining childless throughout his reign and not being the warlike leader his grandfather, uncles and many of his cousins were didn’t help.
Richard had banished his cousin Henry Bolingbrooke mainly for being too powerful and popular, and the rest of the royal family and nobility grumbled, but kind of wore it. But when Henry’s father and Richard’s uncle John of Gaunt died Richard decided to take Henry’s inheritance, including Pontefract Castle. A lot of John of Gaunt’s property got shared out to supporters (presumably Surrey’s ‘lesser men’) and this royal seizure freaked out the rest of the nobility enough that young Henry found a lot of support on his return.
Some really terrible decisions by Richard on Henry’s return (deciding to be in Ireland, for one) made Richard the first officially usurped King of England, and Henry Bolingbrooke Henry IV. When Henry needed somewhere to store Richard, the old family castle of Pontefract was used, and Richard was probably starved to death there in 1400.
When Henry IV’s line hit a weak king in his grandson (Henry VI) the Wars of the Roses broke out, and the rest of Edward III’s descendants scrapped over the throne for the next 30 years.
Surrey warms to his story, and as he has done before, goes from trying to persuade Brandon to lecturing him a bit. Brandon’s nods toward moderation provoking more extreme reactions from Surrey until Brandon has to finally go “You’re over the treason line. Have you noticed that?”
All the Lovers
Back upstairs, Queen Katherine has been dismissed and Henry returns to his true mistress, the paperwork of the Kingdom of England.
While Lady Rochford sneaks around the servant’s corridors, presumably trying to find a way around for Culpeper.
She’s successful, and Queen Katherine gets her second intercourse round of the evening.
In The Tudors the relationship is, like their version of Katherine, basically and urgently physical.
As for actual history, I’m increasingly of the opinion that it’s very possible that Katherine and Culpeper maybe never did get to actual penetrative sex. I mean it’s possible, even probable that at some point they did, but it’s by no means proved. As wildly irresponsible as they were, they seem to have both had their eyes on the future. As a royal widow Katherine would be a rich and powerful woman, even if she never became pregnant by Henry. And Culpeper wasn’t starved of sex in that period, he was keeping a mistress at the time. In Lincoln he and Katherine discussed Culpeper’s mistress, Bess Harvey, one night and then the next day Katherine sent Bess a damask dress. Then she sent Lady Rochford to Culpeper with a joke, that she had done it to save Thomas’ honour, becasue he had ‘allowed his tenement to become so ill repaired.'(q)
His ‘tenement’ was a word with some implications – a rented, impermanent dwelling… perhaps compared to the future freehold on a far grander house he could permanently occupy.
But even those hopes, that may well have kept them from dangerous possibly procreative sex, could be their undoing. As Brandon has just reminded us, to even consider the King’s death was treason. How much more so when you were eyeing up his wife for her widowhood.
And it was getting beyond looks and jokes and talk. Was there kissing and a significant degree of foreplay? By the end of the stay at Pontefract signs increasingly pointed to ‘Hell, yes’.
They were together alone for long stretches of time in the early hours. Lady Rochford would later reckon she had been asleep for much of it, and Katherine had already figured out the value of a compliant chaperone when she was seeing Francis Dereham.
At Hatfield Chase, the stop on the Yorkshire border Margaret Morton (One of the chamberers kept waiting in alcoves while Katherine stole out the other side of Lady Rochford’s rooms) noticed some very intense looks from Queen Katherine (at a window) and Culpeper going to or fro in the courtyard below. She made mental note, which she would recall later, and now thought she might have an explanation for the Queen’s odd habits(3). For the moment, she kept it to herself.
It was also there that the Queen gave an order almost unthinkable for a Tudor Queen, that no one was to come into her bedchamber unless they were summoned, or unless they were Lady Rochford. (3) That included her own sister, Isabella (4), who was also one of her ladies in waiting, but the humiliation of being kept out in favour of Lady Rochford would pay off by going a long way to saving Isabella in a few months. The Queen suddenly wanted a lot of night time privacy and she was seeing Culpeper most nights of their stay at Pontefract.
One of those excluded once ended up being the King, as one night Anthony Denny, Henry’s Groom of the Stool, got sent with a message for the Queen by the King. He found her door locked and bolted from the inside(q2).
Katherine was being incredibly reckless, but perhaps the bigger mystery is how the slightly older and far more experienced Culpeper didn’t pull himself together enough to say “Yes, my dear this is completely what I want but if we don’t put a bit of a lid on it we’re so going to get caught and die.”
A Feather in her Cap
The next morning the Yorkshire people (and a bit of a cross section according to The Tudors) are called in by a bell to make their submission.
This was quite a feature of the progress, which had included apology stops in Lincolnshire as well. These often featured gifts of money to Henry along with fulsome apologies for losing that rebellion Henry won by a bad faith surrender and then lying for several months before turning on everyone after their army collapsed.
Needs must, I suppose.
Henry comes up to his little dais, and then the people of Pontefract and thereabouts get a really grovelling apology delivered, on their behalf, by guy who played the Spice King of Qarth.
And if all those piles of adjectives saying how terrible they are seem a bit much, well that’s a pretty much actual historical apology. The parts about ‘relics of indignation’ are taken from Ambassador Marrilac’s report (5) and the rest is very, very close (if not quite word for word) from the written submissions of apology the Yorkshire people handed over at the time (6).
There is a long ass pause, followed by Henry’s forgiveness and tumultuous applause, and then the crowd get a treat, they are going to be addressed by the hugely popular Mary.
In her amazingly massively feathered hat, thanks, James The Reviewest, what has been seen can now no longer be unseen.
Mary’s arrival is inter cut with Katherine being woken up, slightly urgently, by Joan Bulmer.
I mean, it’s Joan’s job to wake her up, but if they’re all staying up to 3 or 4am most nights I guess this was going to happen eventually. Katherine looks worried but she’s going to be fine. Henry’s going to assume his lovemaking skills exhausted her (if he’s even bothered by her non arrival) he has no idea she was on a double feature last night.
Also, not actual historical, Queen Katherine took her public duties very seriously and was never mentioned as skipping out on them.
Still The Tudors‘ Queen Katherine looks concerned as she looks out onto the courtyard and the crowd going wild for Mary.
Hirst, when he wrote The Tudors, put a lot of depth where it wasn’t expected (and he got no credit for) and was a believer in a payoff too, and I’m a fan of both.
While Mary’s speech is not historical it’s got a lot of historical depth to it. She’s here to lead everyone in a prayer, and that prayer has more Catholicism per square inch than a Papal Encyclical written on a Virgin Mary statuette.
Let’s start at the end and what the subtitle writers missed out. She ends with the phrase ‘Benedictus Deus’ which is Latin, means something like ‘Blessed be God’ and is also the title of a Papal Bull from 1336 and one of the few the church stuck a pin in and called an infallible declaration, named as one of the things they based their faith on. It was a pretty big Catholic deal. She also leads everyone in genuflecting, gets the Virgin Mary in, and the bit about Jesus dying in agony is heavy Catholic guilt trip fodder. And then there’s this:
“All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.”
Which is another famous Catholic quote, this time from Julian of Norwich, an Anchoress Nun from the 1400’s and one of the premier figures in English Catholic mysticism.
It’s certainly going to be read as a signal that Catholicism is more accepted again, and to a certainty starved populace, it’s no wonder the prayer and Mary are such a hit with the heavily Catholic crowd.
Henry isn’t upset by it, because while he found Protestantism useful for breaking the Pope’s hold on the Church of England, he was never that Protestant himself. But it also might have another association for him, from back in Season 1, Episode 3.
Mary gets a rapturous reception, and has done incredibly well in her first public speaking appearance for the dynasty, and Henry finds sharing the spotlight not so bad when he can be proud of his daughter’s achievement, and it was all for the House of Tudor.
Francis Dereham Returns
Queen Katherine is walking the grounds of Pontefract with her ladies and talking with Joan Bulmer when the past comes crashing in to the new life she’s made.
Joan is worried, Lady Rochford has an angry satisfaction to her expression, and we’ll see how Katherine deals with this in a moment, but this is clearly not a happy surprise.
Back in the first episode of the Season, when Joan Bulmer showed up (non-historically but the history books that The Tudors used for sources didn’t know that at the time) I mentioned there was a small group of Howards that acted like a clearing house for all these people from her past that started popping up. The central group was 4 of them: the Dowager Duchess herself, her daughter the Countess of Bridgwater, her son Sir William Howard and his wife, Margaret, who was in Katherine’s retinue at court (7).
They didn’t know what to do about Francis but various approaches and plans had already been tried. Francis had returned from Ireland in the autumn of 1540, and met with his former employer. The Dowager seems to have come to some sort of compromise with Francis. There were papers that he had, some written proofs (perhaps the letter to Culpeper wasn’t the first love letter Katherine wrote) that were kept at Norfolk House in a secure chest – but it seems that Francis kept the keys to his own lockboxes that were placed in it (8).
He wanted a job at Katherine’s court, but that seemed like a terrible idea. The Dowager and her daughter decided a formal audience might work, giving Francis enough contact to let him know he wasn’t being left behind, without taking the insane risk of actually having him work for Katherine.
Sir William, who was friendly with Francis and his wife who was conveniently on the spot would make it work.
Just before Halloween that year, Katherine suddenly and loudly asked her aunt where Francis Dereham was. And wouldn’t you know it, he happened to be at court that day, in the entourage of Sir William.
“My Lady of Norfolk hath desired me to be good unto him, and so I will.” said the Queen, before summoning him. (9)
While there are no records, we can assume that a public, formal and completely staged meeting followed, designed to firmly establish Katherine’s relationship to Francis Dereham should anyone hear anything and think to question it.
It wasn’t a bad plan. But it had only just met with Francis Dereham.
And He’s a Fucking Problem
By the summer of 1541, Dereham had slipped out of the Howard pocket. I mean, I hope the Howards had also been paying him off in the interim, and these massively rich people hadn’t just expected the most damaging individual from Katherine’s past, who had actual evidence, to just hang out surviving on hope for years.
But Francis was an idiot so maybe he was being paid off and just figured he could get more. Whatever Dereham was getting he plainly thought it wasn’t enough and he and the Dowager Duchess argued so hard she had thrown him out.
So Dereham was pretty damn unexpected by Katherine when he showed up at Pontefract on August 25th 1541 (10).
From the get go Francis of The Tudors is unacceptably forward and cocky for someone who is supposed to be applying for a job as a servant. He can’t even maintain the pretense properly for two minutes.
Oh, Francis. Let’s start at the beginning shall we? Your hat was still on your head as you walked in, the mocking tone of ‘Your Majesty’ made it plain you’re not buying into it, and you don’t tell a Queen how she is to address you.
Particularly not when cold calling to apply for a job as her servant. Still, she calls him Francis in her initial refusal and now I want to slap them both. He’s been employed by the Dowager Duchess in a number of responsible posts (maybe that’s been the payoff?), and then he gets to why he’s applying like he already has the job.
Katherine sticks with not offering him a job, and the blackmail becomes more explicit.
I also had my eyebrows raised at it being a private meeting, but apparently it actually historically was. The met in private, and then she came out an announced he had joined her team of Ushers. (11) He did not, as The Tudors has it, become her secretary.
To be a Queen’s Private Secretary was a prestigious post, and time would shortly tell that Francis didn’t have the etiquette skills to pass as a royal court usher. He never became her Secretary. Still, this was a mistake at least two of the sources used by The Tudors made – Weir (Henry VIII King and Court) said he did, Fraser’s Six Wives said he did, but Starkey (once again avoiding the traps the others fell into) just called him her usher.
Gareth Russell finally put the work in to lay it out, proving in his 2017 book Young & Damned & Fair that Katherine inherited her first secretary William Paget from Anne of Cleves, and when he got promoted he was replaced by Thomas Derby, when Derby left he was replaced by John Huttoft, who was her Secretary until she was arrested. No Francis Dereham in the list. (12)
The story probably started because of Katherine’s tendency, in her desperation, to make up little jobs Francis had done for her, errands she had sent him on, or letters he had supposedly written for her as an excuse to press money at him and tell him to “take heed what words you speak”, which is an actual historical quote from her, got from Dereham after they started torturing him(13).
Throughout this scene, Merchant is great as the ‘trying to put on a authoritative face but actually trapped and scared’ Queen. She just sees no way out.
And that’s terrible because there was nothing, simply nothing, that damned her more or cemented her guilt than the discovery that her recently revealed lover from the past had been employed by her in her household that summer. The moment anything came out, Francis Dereham being in her household would be the ironic smoking gun of her infidelity, because the only thing he gave her after they met again was extreme stress and worry.
She didn’t see a way out, no one around her saw a way out, and many historians since have emphasised that she needed to keep Dereham onside.
But I say, what would Anne Boleyn do?
I think The Tudors‘ Anne would have early seasons Game of Thrones’d him. If he wouldn’t come to heel, Dereham would have become a stalker from her early years. Of course they’d have never gone beyond kissing, but he could be so forceful and inappropriate. He’d ripped her bodice once and she’d gone to her Grandmother who had packed him off to Ireland in disgrace, but not before he’d spread some terrible rumours about her, that some of the simpler minded servants had believed.
And now he was here, her people had just let him in, he’d refused to go, been almost aggressive during their audience and she was terrified. Could you just…execute him in the courtyard, right now, Dear?
There might have been a middle way too. Stand up, inflate your chest, remember you’re the Queen and ask Francis Dereham what the hell he thinks is going to happen. He has no idea how to behave, he doesn’t know how any of this works and he’s going to get a lot of people killed, including himself in a deeply terrible way. Out that door, back to Ireland and there’s a good payoff (it would have to be an estate) waiting. Here, he’s got a minor job working as your servant under the threat of terrible encroaching death. What did he think he deserved?
It would be much safer for you if he died right now, has he considered that? And then, like, a long stare until the jackass stops giggling. And if he doesn’t, there’s no saving him. Scream, and hope his fate scares the crap out of everyone else that remembers it.
But Katherine was never going to do that. At this stage in his life Henry was utterly uninterested in being challenged. He married her because she patently wasn’t an Anne. Katherine was a people pleaser, ‘No’ and “Are you kidding me?” weren’t familiar concepts in her dealings with the men in her life.
She was who she was, and she was trapped.
An Evening at Court at Pontefract
Ambassador Marillac is announced and taken up to the top table where the royal family and guests are dining.
Henry manages to turn a basic ‘Look how well my progress is going’ into a ‘So don’t try any invasions’ to Marillac, because he’s seriously considering that with France and he’s projecting a bit. This gives Marillac the opportunity to drop the titular line.
Then Henry turns to Brandon and asks about the preparations for his visit to York and the visit of the King of Scots (James V), and asks Katherine how she is. She, with a bit of trepidation, tells him she’s appointed a new secretary and usher to her chambers and Henry is tickled to bits that his foolish young wife could be writing letters, now.
Katherine is relieved Henry doesn’t mind, and gets her goblet refilled by Surrey, and then because she cannot keep her eyes off her boyfriend for half a damn hour, gets her blatant gaze noticed by Brandon.
Which would probably give Brandon some low key concern if it weren’t for the fact that it gets followed up immediately by his sudden casting in Tudor Horror Story Season 1.
The Ghost of Lord Darcy is clearly furious at the rebellion’s victors feasting and enjoying themselves in his halls, but kind of supernaturally stoked to find that that bugger Brandon can see him. Time to find a local inn, Brandon.
Dereham starts his employment with an inexcusable breach of protocol that should have got him severely censured by sauntering into the maiden’s chambers of an evening, and standing there like the long lost sailor home again.
Joan is annoyed by his arrival, and he says hello without getting one back. Then he sits himself down without invitation while an annoyed Joan tries to explain to him what time it is.
She’s right, and every time he tries to revert back to ‘Like old times’ she corrects him, and she’s sharper than Katherine, but like Katherine she’s still kind of pleading with him. And I don’t think you get anywhere with a Francis Dereham by pleading with him. I’d say he was dismissive of women, but the men of the household won’t be able to get him to listen either.
Francis’ dismissive smirk and laugh when Joan calls this “The highest living you or I could dream of”, is a good sign that he does still have those ideas, and he’s got plans for Katherine’s widowhood, too. Maybe before that, he is a complete idiot.
It’s not entirely apparent in The Tudors, where we really only see 6 ladies in waiting, and only 2 of them are fully fleshed out characters, but waiting on royalty was a small community. This version of Francis Dereham, brash, forward, and utterly failing to recognize he wasn’t in the Dowager Duchesses’ household anymore where he had been remorselessly indulged for someone in service, is pretty damn accurate.
The Queen’s household was already on edge and simmering with resentment because of the Queen’s strange behaviour on the progress, Lady Rochford’s meteoric, disproportionate, and largely unexplained rise and into this swaggered Francis Dereham, who thought he was still the King of Lambeth.
His behaviour as he leaves shows two things. First that The Tudors’ has probably constructed a version of the characters that includes the historical evidence of Henry Manox: that Dereham and Bulmer had had a fling before he started seeing Katherine (14).
And Second that despite his slightly chastened attitude at one point, Dereham wasn’t really listening to a goddamned thing Joan was telling him there.
Down in the cellar, (why did you decide to go to the cellar, Brandon?) Brandon does what I think all of us have done at some point. Which is, when confronted with an unexpected sound effect and what might be an illogical shadow, to have a good yell at an empty house.
He gets to his room and goes to the sideboard, I thought it might be to pray, but it is, in fact to get some wine (Good man Brandon, no need to Thomas More this.) to fortify him for the visitor he has actually already noticed.
There have been supernatural visions and apparitions throughout the series, and Brandon has shown himself to be prone to them, particularly after the betrayal and community genocide he had to do in the North mid Season 3, when he was being the Duke of Norfolk (except for the community genocide – no one did that).
Lord Darcy’s Ghost is the first one to explain these apparitions, to give some metaphysical underpinnings to what’s been happening these 4 seasons.
The way Darcy explains it, this rushing around is uncomfortable and the dead just want it to end, but then he was an angry man, executed after being betrayed by the guy he’s speaking to (who was ordered to betray him by Henry). Certainly when Mary visited her mother or Joan visited her sister Jane in Season 1 it did not seem uncomfortable or upsetting for them (although on her last supernatural visit Joan looked depressed and like she needed to move on).
Darcy has no time for forgiveness for Brandon (understandably, frankly, but perhaps that’s one of the reasons he finds the experience torturous).
And I’ve said it before, but it’s time to say it again, I just love how The Tudors handles this.
Brandon’s had a pretty bad case of PTSD and he’s hallucinated before. If you want to dismiss this as his own guilty conscience you can, and not upset your enjoyment of the rest of the series. But if you go with it, it gives a structure for a supernatural world that was very real to earlier generations of humanity, which we’ve been given glimpses of throughout the series, while not being intrusive or expecting too much suspension of disbelief from a modern secular audience.
In many ways, Lord Darcy is the final foreshadower. And maybe all of these supernatural glimpses, as interesting as they were, were introduced to create a structure that the three barnstorming ghostly appearances of the finale could stand upon.
If so, it was a job very well done.