I was away in Northumberland so this episode was also delayed. I’ll try to be more diligent in the future, but each of these posts does take a fair few hours of my time. Stupid garbage series.
‘Message to the Emperor’
William Compton dies of the “sweating sickness” at Compton Wynates, his house in Warwickshire. As King Henry VIII receives positive news of his war against Emperor Charles, the sickness spreads like a wildfire. Henry flees the palace and London, and starts having doubts about the future and his ability to rule the country. Both Anne Boleyn and Cardinal Wolsey are stricken with the disease, but recover. Wolsey sends agents to the exiled Pope asking for him to make a favorable decision on Henry’s ‘Great Matter’ but Clement instead sends his legate, Cardinal Campeggio, to make a final decision in England.
Sickness! Everyone is scared and dying! Plague imagery!
Straight Out of Warwickshire
This episode is focusing mainly on the 1528 outbreak of the Sweating Sickness. This is an unusual illness in that it occurred mainly in England from 1485 to 1551 and then vanished. No one is quite sure what it was (although there are researchers who think that it may be an unknown species of hantavirus) but it was pretty serious as sufferers did not gain immunity – you could catch it again and again until you sweated yourself to death. It was not a pleasant illness.
Anyway, William Compton is being punished for the GAY by being the first to catch the disease. In the middle of rural Warwickshire. Even though epicentres for outbreaks for the Sweat were in busy city centres.
Yeah, disease works that way.
The doctor cuts open William Compton’s back in a display of ‘Wow, medicine was so backwards and disgusting five hundred years ago! It was so stupid and people were so stupid because they believed in the theory of the four humours!’. Well, to that I say, you’re stupid actually. Medicine and doctors did not aim to cure sickness in the sixteenth century. That’s a modern perspective. A doctor is there to make a patient feel better – but the ultimate cure is dependant on the will of God. A Tudor doctor will make you feel better and comfortable, but if you’re trying to get him to prepare an actual cure to combat disease, you’re not asking the right guy.
Not surprisingly, seeing as he died in real life, Compton cops it. This random woman is his ‘common-law wife’ Mary Hastings.
That would actually be his second wife, Elizabeth Stonor, who was pregnant at the time of Compton’s death. He had been married before to Werburga Bereton and had three children. I guess they’re cutting out Peter Compton – his son – out of this to avoid pissing off the real Compton family.
William Compton’s family does still exist, by the way. They’re the Marquesses of Northampton, and they still live in the same home used by William Compton.
But Thomas Tallis has come to see what has happened to his lover. He passes by this ALREADY EXISTING MASS GRAVE BECAUSE LOOK IT’S ALREADY FULL OF SKELETONS –
And William’s body has just been thrown into a quick grave. Even though it wasn’t, and he was buried in the chapel. Which you can still go see.
Thomas is sad for about ten seconds while he writes a sad song for this lost beloved. Then he sleeps with one of the Fucking Sisters.
So much for the gay agenda, I suppose.
But she dies, so I guess that this epidemic is purely spread by Thomas Tallis sleeping with people. Either way, this whole subplot was meant to have some sort of emotional resonance but it merely annoys me for being needlessly designed to promote controversy and ‘naughtiness’.
I’m Henry VIII and I’m Mortally Terrified of Death
Henry doesn’t take news of this epidemic very well. That’s very much based on real life, as the real Henners was terrified of disease and illness. His brother had died young, and with Henry having no real male heirs, there was a high chance that the Tudor dynasty would come to a complete end or would result in another highly devastating English civil war.
A lot of Henry’s actions make much more sense when you realise he was on a constant knife edge of fear pretty much all the time.
Henry did really create and mix his own herbal remedies for conditions and to ward off illness. I have no idea whether they were effective or not (I’m saying probably not) but he didn’t die of the Sweat, so kudos.
Henry and Anne decide to frolic in the countryside with the new French ambassador, only to come back to London to find a rampaging zombie mob of sick people. Henry leaves Anne to the mob (what a guy) to make her own way home, orders Katherine to travel to Wales, and that he will stay in Whitehall by himself for… reasons.
In actuality, Henry left London. Like he did every summer, because he wasn’t stupid and knew that disease spreads in city centres and that it was most prevalent in the summer months. He may not have known about viruses and bacterium but IRL Henry knew enough to realise that staying in London in the middle of a really serious disease outbreak is just the worst thing you could do.
The pain on Maria Doyle Kennedy’s face as Henry says he still loves her enough to save her and offers her a kiss is both beautiful and heart-breaking. Stop searching for emotional moments with ridiculous subplots, writers. This should be the emotional heart of the show.
Anne’s maid, however, catches and dies of the Sweat within a day and Anne catches the disease while nursing her. It’s said that’s how she actually got the Sweat, and it would make sense. The modern world’s view of the employer/servant dynamic is very much shaped by the Victorian ideals, with master being far, far, far above the lowly servant. It was different in the sixteenth century, with the boundaries being far more blurred and not as distant. Your servant was a reflection and part of you, in a way, and not subject to the whole ‘must be invisible and never seen around the house’. Servants were an integral part of the household, and in a society that did not hold individualisation as the philosophical ideal, it was pretty likely you’d be close with your personal servants. Most would even sleep in the same room as you, on a trunkle bed from beneath your own. They would be there to serve you and your body for nearly all of the day, and so, it makes sense why Anne should care so much for someone who should matter not at all to her personally.
There’s a lot of changes to our society that the Enlightenment made and we presume that they apply to all of history. How we treat those in service is one.
Henry sits down and eats a whole plate of salmon to himself, because he’s a big fat pig who can’t control himself. Or some other such clever observation. But it turns out that being on your own in a palace full of sick people is scary…
Even Cardinal Wolsey is sick so Henry must escape!
Are you in Northumberland? How the fuck did you get there?
Henry freaks out because he’s convinced he’s going to die, but he’s fine.
Anne gets better (although her brother-in-law, Mary’s husband, died in the outbreak, as well as countless others, including the wife and daughters of Thomas Cromwell), so it’s all fine.
Squishy, reunited true love.
This Isn’t a Great Matter, It’s Merely an Okay One
Despite all of this, Henry’s quest for an annulment continues on. England and France are now allied against the Emperor, all that war stuff behind them.
Henry’s annoyed that the Emperor hasn’t impregnated his underage daughter, but Wolsey is sending lawyers to the Pope that will smooth all this matter over shortly. After all, why should the Pope, a virtual prisoner to the Emperor, support the Emperor?
I have no idea.
Katherine, meanwhile, has been communicating secretly with the Emperor and is assured that he won’t let the annulment happen.
In all honesty, the only real reason (in my opinion) why the annulment couldn’t happen is that of the influence of the Emperor Charles. There have been other kings who have received annulments in far worse circumstances – for instance, Louis XII of France annulled his marriage to his wife Joan in far seamier circumstances, alleging that her body was deformed and it was impossible to have sex with her. The timing of Henry’s annulment just sucked. If only he’d tried earlier, I’m fairly sure that the Pope would have granted it.
The Pope (Clement VII, to be clear, as his name is never actually said in show thus far) is not particularly warm to Henry’s case. He doesn’t think that Henry’s drive to marry Anne is a particularly good reason – and he’s not exactly in a position to piss off the Holy Roman Emperor. So he’s sending a Cardinal to hold a court with Wolsey to decide on the marriage.
I kind of low-key love Cardinal Campeggio. He is the definition of ‘over it’. He doesn’t want to go to England, he doesn’t want to be involved, he wants none of it. It’s going to go well, you can tell.
You Simply Must – Oh Holy God, Thomas
Thomas More gets pretty creepy in this episode. Firstly, he starts to act like an apocalypse cult leader towards his family when the Sweat is rampaging around London.
He then starts talking about the real disease that’s killing people. Do you know what the real disease is, family? Protestantism.
Thomas, people are dying.
Thomas is against violence, but the only way to cure a disease is to kill all those with criticisms of the Catholic Church by burning them alive.
Thomas, you’ve got some issues.
Walk, Walk, Passion, Baby, Work It, Move that Bitch Crazy
That’s Da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronière. It’s from the 1490s. I am fed up of these shitty cheap pseduo-medieval gowns that have nothing to do with the 1520s but look like continental gowns from thirty years before. It shouldn’t be difficult to get it right! It would surely take more effort to get these specifically continental designs of medieval outfit than just asking for Tudor gowns from costumiers!
This! This is what your ladies need to be wearing! There’s such a huge difference and it makes me very angry and frustrated. The shapes, styles, fabrics, weights, and flow of fabric are so completely different!
And the characters don’t wear enough jewellery. There should be more jewellery.
Is that… is that an over-gown with padded shoulders? In the heraldic Tudor colours? I’m shocked. It’s almost great, apart from the long trousers.
Thomas More wants to burn people alive because you’re all dressed so badly.
This is actually Thomas More with his family. Who are dressed correctly and not in a cheap approximation of ‘YE OLDE ENGLANDE’.
An eighteenth century shawl on a cheap Primark medieval wench dress. Poor.
Okay, for a start, this lady is wearing a corset on the outside. Uh uh. But you know what I want to wear when I’m someone who spends my time cleaning and picking up after people? Flimsy, transparent, white sleeves that will instantly get dirty, damaged, and ruined when I do the slightest amount of work.
YAS Thomas Boleyn, YAS. Good outfit! And something halfway decent for Anne, for once.
No one cares about your cleavage, Henners, And don’t wear your leather jacket to the table.
Monogrammed royal boxer shorts. Uh, nope. Put on a nightshirt, love, no one wants to see that.
And that’s the end of the sweating sickness. Do you feel good that you survived? Come back next time for more bad history, questionable writing, and terrible clothes.