This is the last episode in season one. Hasn’t time flown by? Not only in real life, but in the show. The official guide says that this episode takes place in 1530, meaning the first season has covered roughly 12 years of Henry’s life already. What a whirlwind.
The Death of Wolsey
Wolsey, now acting solely as the Archbishop of York and living in relative poverty, is repudiated by Anne Boleyn and writes to Queen Katherine instead, trying to gain her support. Thomas More uses his new powers as Chancellor and starts actively persecuting prominent Lutherans- including burning six of them at the stake, to the anger of Thomas Cromwell. King Henry finds his new Privy Counsellors less proficient than Wolsey was in running the country; he threatens to reinstate the Cardinal, spurring Norfolk and Suffolk to find a way to ‘end’ Wolsey. Henry has also found elements much to his liking in the teachings of Luther, and dispatches Cromwell to canvass various European faculties of theology, hopefully to obtain favourable opinions regarding his intended divorce. Wolsey’s secret communication with the Queen is uncovered by Cromwell, and he is arrested by Charles Brandon and charged with high treason. His fall from grace now complete, Wolsey laments his decadent lifestyle and commits suicide in a jail cell en route to London. Anne Boleyn engages Henry in a sexual encounter, but forces him to perform coitus interruptus after which a furious Henry storms off.
As a season premiere, I found it to be a bit disappointing. There’s a lot of tension with the characters that aren’t Henry/Katherine/Anne, and for them it’s built up to a point where it feels dramatic and that it’s going somewhere, but it doesn’t feel like the end of the series for Henry. That storyline sort of ends like a damp fart.
When Can We Get Married?
The episode starts on a classy note: Henry masturbating while thinking of Anne. This is not something I ever wanted to think about Henry doing, and this ignores the fact that onanism is a sin. Naughty naughty, Henry.
He also makes it seem really, really difficult to do? Like, man, if it’s that hard to do, you might have a problem.
Henry is now being seduced by the wicked ideas of Lutheranism – even though, Lutheranism doesn’t exist as a solid ideal yet, and it’s used more as just an insult for those who follow the ideas of Luther. Henry is surprised to discover that the Pope is not in scripture and that the King is a representative of God on Earth.
Okay. Those two ideas shouldn’t be brand new to Henry. These were very common and well-known political thoughts, the big deal is that now Henry is changing his political and religious outlook to incorporate and champion them.
The return to the original scripture and the removal of the Pope as the head of the Church as it’s not in the original texts of the Bible? An idea kicked around by reforming Humanists. It’s also an idea that gained popularity in England prior to this point during the development of English nationalism. The idea of ‘England’ as a political entity and thing to be patriotic in starts gaining traction in the late fifteenth century and that ties into developing ideas of removing all foreign input in England.
That the King is a representative of God on Earth? Well, duh, that’s part of the Great Chain of Being. The Great Chain is the societal system put in place by God to rule Earth. Like there is a hierarchy in Heaven, there is a hierarchy on Earth. And the King is firmly at the top. The coronation is the symbol of that; a King or Queen is anointed to symbolise their role as given to them by God. They are chosen by God as his representative to the peoples of their kingdom; their rule is a sacred duty as given to them directly by God. There is no way that Henry would not be aware of this – it’s the system that dictates his whole life. The new idea is that he has power over the spiritual lives of his subjects, not just the temporal lives.
Look at Anne being all evil. Yeah, Henry, get off on that philosophy.
Henry showers Thomas Boleyn with honours – he’s now Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde – but he tasks him with arguing to the Emperor and the Pope on their behalf. Him and Anne then proceed to suck face copiously in public. How classy.
It’s clear that the pressure of not being physically together is getting to Henry.
After humping for a bit in the woods, Anne reminds him that they can’t really have full sex just yet. Henry runs off and screams at Anne. And this is how the episode ends, FYI. Kind of a damp squib.
The Sending of Cardinal Wolsey to Hell
The real interesting dynamic of the episode is what’s happening to Wolsey.
Wolsey might be down, but he’s not out. He’s not one to stop scheming, and he’s now trying to use a vague promise made by Anne to get back to court.
Meanwhile, Thomas Cromwell is working to push out Wolsey entirely. He suggests that rather than take a legal route (as the main thrust of the Great Matter was based on the legality of a dispensation given to permit Henry and Katherine to marry), Henry ought to present theological arguments instead. Universities and theologians across Europe could present the strongest arguments possible and prove that there is widespread support for the annulment of Henry’s marriage.
Meanwhile, the new Privy council is not doing so well. In fact, they’re doing so badly that Henry is threatening to reinstate Wolsey. After all, he managed to deal with it all and never complain about how hard it all was!
But unfortunately for Henry, there’s a scheme a-brewing. Wolsey is now declaring for Katherine, and is sneaking around writing letters to the Pope and the Emperor. If the Pope demands that Henry return to Katherine, the Emperor threaten action, and then Wolsey can be back as Chancellor!
The edict arrives at court, but it’s unlikely to change Henry’s mind. A huge majority of universities across Europe (aside from Spain) have declared for Henry and written their arguments down and sent them on over.
And the plot is revealed. Wolsey was charged with treason on the basis of letters to the Pope, but it’s more of a sign of Henry’s anger with the Church and his need to send a message.
Wolsey quotes about his ‘greyhairs’ which is reputedly what he actually said about his arrest. What happens next is not what happened. (Well, one chronicler implies it, but it didn’t happen.)
The image is a bit NSFW so watch out! It’s a bit grisly, so skip over the image if it’s too much.
Wolsey didn’t commit suicide. He was an old, broken man. Faced with the prospect of being executed for treason when all you’ve ever done is served your king? No wonder he got ill and died.
This scene is beautifully contrasted with scenes depicting the famous masque ‘The Sending of Cardinal Wolsey to Hell’.
This really happened, and was quite notable for people thinking it was very shameless and in poor taste.
Henry is told of the Cardinal’s demise, and seems genuinely hurt and upset. He orders the matter to be hushed up, and Wolsey buried honourably. Well, as honourably as he can be in the circumstances.
The Reformation Begins
Henry orders his new privy council to start looking at matters concerning the church and things that need a generalised reform. This is about as much we’re getting on the matter of parliament, which is a shame. There’ll be more on it next season, and I’ll get to talk about the foundation of parliamentary power.
However, things can’t really happen with More as chancellor. He is stridently against all reforms of any kind (which is not really what he stood for in real life, but there are no shades of grey in this show) and he’s going to do what he can to ensure that nothing at all changes in England.
He rounds up Simon Fish – the author of the work that so inspired Henry earlier – and is very happy to watch the poor guy get burned alive.
Thomas More is a saint in the Anglican Church. I have no idea why when he took such personal interest and apparent joy in punishing reformers whose ideas led to the foundation of the Anglican Church.
I don’t like Thomas More.
Henry is now starting to purge the clergy of those who stood with Wolsey and Katherine, and there’s a Bill before Parliament proposing that the King is above the law. The times, they are a-changin’.
There wasn’t a lot of bad fashion this episode, which was nice. The only two things I questioned were both worn by Anne, who continues to wear awful, awful clothes.
The dress is another example of one that’s been made to be just ‘generally historical’ rather than actually belonging to any particular time or style. The little medieval-ly rolls on the shoulders are particularly obnoxious. The hoods on the maids are actually rather accurate.
The hoods are very similar to this Hans Holbein sketch (which has been later labelled as Anne Boleyn, but it’s doubtful that it’s her).
There’s no point in looking so proud, Anne, that dress is wrong and gross.
That’s the first season, costume fiends. Hopefully I’ll start looking at season two next week and we’ll start talking about even more political theory and bad fashion.