And we’re back for season two! There’s going to be a lot more questionable fashion choices, strange writing conundrums, and more political and theological theories of the sixteenth century! The course of this season represents some of the most monumental changes in the political makeup of England and how royal and spiritual power is implemented and received. Henry’s actions pretty much led the way to not only the English Civil War but the modern iteration of parliament and the role of government and the church in today’s world.
And there might be stuff that I miss. This is a huge, huge, huge topic, and I might not be able to get into everything or have the space to do it. I highly recommend picking up a copy of the Routledge historical biography ‘Henry VIII’ by Lucy Wooding if you want to know more. It’s a very good overview of Henry’s life and the period, and what I like about it is that it’s a very neutral look at Henry. Most of the major works on Henry were done in the sixties (Scarisbrick’s seminal autobiography is one of the most defining works on Henry) , and were influenced by a Cold War interpretations of Henry – i.e as Stalin-esque tyrant. That’s not even getting into ‘factional’ interpretations of the period, which I generally consider to be a little bit pants. Wooding’s is a brief factual overview that gives the right information as a starting point for further research, and it shows a much more nuanced look than some of the older historiography.
Right, let’s look at some nonsense.
“Everything Is Beautiful”
As he seeks the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, King Henry VIII seeks to appoint himself the head of the Church of England. Anne Boleyn insists that Henry remove Queen Catherine from the picture – and Court. The new Pope Paul III, not wanting to displease either the king or the Emperor, practically suggests that Anne Boleyn be assassinated instead. Lutheran clergyman Thomas Cranmer, newly arrived at Court, receives a promotion as the king’s chaplain at the behest of Cromwell and the Boleyns. Thomas and George Boleyn bribe a cook to poison the food of Catherine’s strongest supporter, Bishop of Rochester John Fisher; however, the bishop survives and the cook, Richard Roose, is boiled alive. King Henry banishes the Queen from court. At the end of this episode the Spanish ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, is seen discussing the assassination of Anne with an unknown, hooded man.
It’s true that not a lot of progression occurred from 1530 to 1532 in the annulment case – progressed stalled after the death of Wolsey – and 1532 is when a lot of major stuff starts to take place. And it allows for a budget increase and a few other changes here and there, including new characters and new opening titles.
And I laughed and laughed and laughed.
So I guess Thomas Wyatt is a major character now? He didn’t really add much to the show last season, but I guess he’s important now.
Thomas Cranmer (hey look another Thomas who can go by his given name) is now in the show! He’s introduced in the official synopsis as a ‘Lutheran’ but that’s not quite true. He was an evangelical reformer, but he was opposed to the radical changes of Luther and often rejected calls for the Anglican Church to be more Protestant. But the show likes to use ‘Lutheran’ as a simple catch-all for reformers, probably because evangelical has a different religious meaning in the modern world than it did five hundred years ago.
YES MATE. Peter O’Toole is just what this show needed, and has the correct amount of campy gravitas to really shine in this role. He’s the new Pope, Paul III, although he wasn’t Pope until 1534. Clement’s still alive, guys. Paul III oversaw a lot of actions of the Counter Reformation, but I don’t think he’s going to go past this season. They can’t pay those O’Toole bucks for too long.
Supreme Head of the Church of England
The show is opening with Henry and Anne at prayer. I like this because it’s something that’s often lied about or flat out ignored – Henry, despite what you might thing, was a Catholic. He was a reformed Catholic, but do not call him a Protestant. He is really not.
But he’s still too radical for a guy like Thomas More, who’s still fighting as much as he can against Henry’s political changes and changes in religion. More is against sola fide entirely, and that’s a pretty big thing.
One of the founding lynchpins of the new evangelical faiths is the idea of justification through faith alone. The Catholic idea lies in God judging you upon death, using your faith and good actions in life to decide your fate – hence, the good deeds, the penances, acts of charity, and so on. In Luther’s eyes, faith alone is the decider, and you don’t need to do anything else. God’s judgement is already decided upon your birth, and your faith should be enough. Your faith is not a cooperation with God, it’s inside you all along. It’s a private, scholarly way of worship, much more fitting for the world of the sixteenth century than, say, the thirteenth. A lot of the new faith relies on the ability to read, study, and self-reflect, a set of skills that people before the print revolution didn’t have.
Henry’s new ideas include a lot of reforms that commentators like More were interested in, but the idea of private faith is completely against what More stands for. And that’s going to be a huge problem.
The House of Commons has brought a petition to charge the clergy with supporting a foreign power, but Henry has the perfect solution: make me head of the church, and there’s no conflict!
The idea of royal supremacy isn’t a new one. Here’s something that Henry said in 1515 that he constantly used as his justification for making himself head of the church;
By the ordinance and sufferance of God we are king of England, and the kings of England in time past have never had any superior but God alone. Wherefore know you well that we shall maintain the right of our crown and of our temporal jurisdiction as well in this point as in all others
Henry’s use of biblical arguments is linked into the idea of humanist truth; there is nothing truer than the Word of God itself, and the examples given in British law means that Henry can and should be an independent ruler with no input from outside forces like the Pope.
It’s true that Henry is using royal supremacy to get what he wants, but it’s also through a conscious care for his subjects. As king, he’s responsible for not only their physical care but their spiritual care. England needs reform, and if he’s got to create his own church to do it, he’s going to do it.
There’s more to this royal supremacy business than just wanting to get his leg over.
The idea of English nationalism clashes with the idea of the unity of Christendom, as well as the fact that a lot of the English church is really not cool with evangelical ideas. They are not down with this if it means accepting Henry as a head of their church.
The clergy accepts Henry as the head of the church by default. No one votes for it, but no one votes against it either.
Cranmer is brought to court by Cromwell (even though I think his connection was through Anne, for whom he was chaplain for a while) and is elevated to chaplain instantly. He’s of a mind to work with Henry, as he created the petition that drew on the minds of the universities of Europe to support Henry. He’s key to a lot of the formation of the early Anglican church, and he’s Henry’s most long-lasting servant. Henry will even die holding onto his hand.
But it’s still early days. There’s a lot more law and debate and religion to come!
A Three-Person Marriage
Of course, while all this is going on, Henry and Katherine are still married. There’s no movement on that.
They can live as a couple, but not as a couple while Katherine still lives in the same palace. Henry can act as if progress is being made, but Anne’s position is still tenuous; after all, he could go back to Katherine or opt for a foreign princess who would probably be less contentious. After all, Margaret Tudor got her annulment that bastardised her children in 1527, why shouldn’t Henry? If his proposed marriage wasn’t to Anne, would things go quicker?
Anne is trying to live as a queen-in-waiting, which is kind of hard when the queen you’re replacing is still in residence. Thomas Wyatt, who is tormented with the knowledge that he’s Anne’s former lover, introduces Mark Smeaton to Anne. They’re flirty and do a lesson in fingering (ahahaha) and I guess Thomas is jealous? Who cares tbh.
Also you look pure Elizabethan Mark get rid of that earring
Meanwhile, Wes Bentley from American Horror Story: Freak Show, is interrupted in his delivery of linen to Katherine. It would appear that Katherine is still making Henry’s shirts. This forces things to a head – it is unacceptable for Henry to have his cake and eat it. He needs to make a clear choice between which wife is the one he wants.
Henry presents an ultimatum to Katherine that she should leave the palace and live pretty much in retirement. She refuses, for as long as they’re married she will never leave his side.
So Henry takes affirmative action and leaves Katherine behind. Henry has now officially left Katherine, and there’s no going back.
Also, Anne, why aren’t you sitting side-saddle? There’s no way you can comfortably sit astride in that floor length skirt.
Katherine tries to communicate with Henry but her servant is physically attacked by Henry. There’s really, really no hope for her now.
Poor Unfortunate Souls!
Pope O’Toole is going to be more proactive with Henry’s Great Matter. He wants to restore peace in Christendom, but giving Henry what he wants will just set one power above another. But what to do to solve this problem… how about we just kill Anne Boleyn?
Well, I guess that’s a solution.
Alongside this, Thomas Boleyn is hiring the cook of Bishop Fisher to poison him. Bishop Fisher is the main opponent against the king’s new marriage, so if he were to just die, things would be better and simpler.
Yeah, because the sudden death of Anne’s most powerful critic won’t be suspicious at all. Isn’t the Duke of Norfolk going to talk you out of this? Well, no, because he’s suddenly disappeared from the show completely.
It’s super suspicious seeing as everyone but Fisher and Thomas More dies frothing at the table.
Richard Roose, the chef for Bishop Fisher, was executed for the crime of attempted poisoning of Bishop Fisher and the apparent deaths of Mr Bennet Curwen and a widow. Whether or not it was a deliberate act of poisoning I’m not entirely sure; trying to get rid of a political enemy by poisoning a pot of broth that he may or may not eat is a really inefficient way to kill someone. A lot of people still to this day say that the Boleyns or the King were behind it, but surely if Henry wanted Fisher out the way he could charge him with praemunuire like he had with Wolsey?
Just saying, there’s a lot of shit that can poison you horribly that can end up in food by accident, and that it may seem to be a deliberate act purely by timing.
Anyway, Roose is killed by a Mel Brooks film, and that’s the end of that.
And Eustace Chapuys is secretly plotting to kill Anne. All sorts of plots are going on, presumably to liven up the more dense governmental and legal stuff that’s going on.
I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking. And I plan on finding out what that is.
The first thing I notice about this episode is that the budget has increased. Look! Instead of that same ugly brick corridor endlessly, here’s a scene with a background and like, stuff going on! Nice.
What’s with that nun couture, Anne? We’ll be having nun of that, thanks.
I guess this is what they’re going for, but it doesn’t look quite right. This is also to the latter end of the decade, so these more English inspired styles aren’t quite in vogue at court yet.
JRM appears to have dyed his hair, I think. There’s a bit more of a dark redish tint to it, but he’s still not full on ginge. Beards appear to be in these season, so it’s a sign of a more mature, serious, anti-Katherine Henry. I guess.
Those sleeves. I can’t even. That’s pure Anglo-Saxon inspired Rohan style sleeves, nothing Tudor at all about them.
That is some Evil Disney Queen Realness, Thomas, and I love it.
Henry, you’re looking like Edmund Blackadder because your doublet is clearly from the 1570s. This is far too fashion forward, man!
Oh, Anne, honey, can’t you afford to repair your sleeves? Also, what’s with your ladies-in-waiting having matching uniforms? You weren’t handed a dress to wear at court, you wore your own clothing. Those dresses are shoddily constructed, too. They’re so ugly and chunky around the middle, not flattering at all.
Those are bad puffed sleeves, gurl. You are Anne Boleyn, not Anne of Green Gables. You don’t want Leg of Mutton sleeves, although the colour of that dress is beautiful.
GENERIC HISTORICAL COSTUMES! No hoods, no trumpet sleeves, loose and flowy robes – nothing about this says ‘Tudor’.
What is with this dress? Why is made from corseted orange curtains from a grandma’s house in the nineties? What’s with the weird bastard combination of a 1490s headpiece and Italian jewelled hairstyles? And the weird ruff on the sleeve? The sofa people are not going to rest until they take over us all!
Nice bejewelled earmuffs, Katherine. Make you look like a sillier version of Princess Leia.
So that’s the first episode of season two. Come back next week, costume fiends!