As Henry VIII was such a notoriously much married monarch, some of the talk about him, his politics, and his reign must focus on his Queen.
Wolf Hall, episode 4, “Anna Regina,” is all about the queen, in fact and in idea. Queen: one outgoing, another incoming, and the next waiting in the wings for her eventual turn. First, the outgoing Queen Katherine, we see again has been summarily kicked to the curb. After 18 years of marriage and birthing a sickly daughter Mary, the first legitimate heir to the throne (ie, if the throne were girl-friendly), Katherine is sent packing without so much as a good bye from the King. From her justifiably elevated perch as the daughter of not one but two reigning monarchs, Katherine sees how far Henry has fallen by sending Cromwell to do his dirty work, how ungentlemanly the King has become, how cowardly. She introduces Cromwell to her daughter as the man who “used to be a money lender, now he writes all the laws.” She tells us of the bill before Parliament now “inducing the King to describe himself as the head of the Church.” As she examines Cromwell so obediently doing the King’s bidding, she mutters “I expected this, but didn’t expect he’d send a man like you to tell me.”
And so the House of Commons, votes on the bill. Those in favor of the King becoming the head of the Church are told to move to one side, those against to the other. Shuffling ensues and the King leans forward. His glare at the men standing on the wrong side leads them to change their opinion and shuffle back across the aisle. The splitting of the House of Commons was apparently Cromwell’s idea so that the King could see clearly who was for him and who was against. All the better for Henry to know to whom he should direct his glare. And, of course, the King has influenced the vote by intimidation. As the vote is inevitably cast in favor of the King, he rises to walk down the aisle and take in the faces of the few men who stood fast to the wrong side of the vote. From this silent gesture we may discern that names were taken and repercussions delivered.
Cromwell is still bedding his sister-in-law and it is from her we hear the name Elizabeth Barton, a nun who has visions of the future. Fun background fact: when Barton’s visions were friendly to the King’s goals of abating the influx of Lutheranism from Germany, he welcomed her into his realm, but now, she speaks of bad tidings to come if he goes thru with his marriage to Anne, Liza Barton is, of course, persona non grata.
Meanwhile back at the Tower, those speaking for the King and against Rome are being charged with heresy and dealt with accordingly by Thomas More. In his duty to save souls, More recites Latin phrases over a man as he is tortured. Mantel’s feeling for the character of Thomas More is very clear here. Yet, so many Catholics still view him as a martyr and a saint. The More
Mantel has written and the More Catholics know are so diametrically opposite as to be irreconcilable. Not sure what to make of that!
As the counterpoint to More, we have Cromwell, who is as adaptable as More is stubborn, as flexible to the tides as More is stuck to his guns. The staunch Reformist Tyndale in a message secreted to Cromwell, has affirmed that he will come back only if the King accepts the New Testament in English. Otherwise, he is not supportive of the King’s taking on the role of head of
the Church. His self-interest to his personal cause and inflexibility, much like More’s, trumps any thoughts of a diplomatic resolution or compromise to power. Both More and Tyndale are martyrs to their cause, and, according to Cromwell, “mules who pose as men.” (but what does that make Henry, then, one has to wonder: a mule who poses as God?)
Cromwell, ever the pragmatist, dismisses all who are not able to make the system work for them. Witness his surreptitious route to obtaining a post in the jewel house. First, he tells ever-friendly Mary Boleyn that he would like a job in the jewel house. Next we see, Anne is offering him said job in the jewel house. And, finally, very much under the impression that it was his idea all along, Henry himself asks Cromwell to work for him as keeper of the jewel house. In the realm of Henry VIII, Cromwell is keeper of the jewel house in more ways than one, it’s clear.
We learn from Anne a bit about Jane Seymour, her (spoiler!) erstwhile successor in the King’s good graces. Some family drama has happened between Jane’s brother Edward’s wife and her father. Anne takes a petulant glee in retelling the scandals of the “sinners at Wolf Hall.” That Mantel named her first book in the series after the family home of the Seymours foretells
Cromwell has another run-in with More with More wondering why Cromwell is so recalcitrant towards his faith, why he doesn’t value the goal of keeping Christendom in tact in defense against the still-strong tide of the Turks. Cromwell laughs and says “the King is not an infidel, nor am I.” And More responds astutely, “I think your faith is for purchase…I think you’d serve the Sultan if the price were right.” Why doesn’t More take Cromwell to the Tower for some soul saving? Does More actually recognize that Cromwell is now a favorite of the King and under his protection, and, is therefore, untouchable? Yes, Cromwell is now a made guy, so to speak.
Next, the fixer Cromwell is called to sooth the tension of some trouble brewing in the House of Boleyn. Anne’s old paramour Thomas Percy has confessed that he was contracted to Anne in marriage.
As any good thug, Cromwell goes to Percy to convince him out of his confession. He basically tells him he won’t get away with it. Neither the King nor the world care about titles and contracts that may or may not have been made in good faith. In a speech that may as well have been paired with Hollywood crescendo background music (but happily wasn’t), Cromwell preaches some truth to sad sack Percy: “The world is not run from where you think it is..fortresses…nor even from Whitehall. The world is sun from Antwerp, from Florence, from Lisbon, from wherever the merchant ships sail off into the West…not from castle walls, but from counting houses, from the pens that scrib out your promissory notes.” Forget the Catholic vs. Protestant debate, Cromwell has moved the world on wards and upwards to full blown capitalism.
Now, we have Anne looking down to her King in his courtyard accepting the resignation of Thomas More as Lord Chancellor. Cromwell stands at her side watching down below and watching her. In a scene that speaks volumes to Cromwell’s deep-seating aspirations, he fantasizes running his hand across Anne’s throat down to her breast. Arguably, Mantel has been largely sympathetic to Cromwell so far. So, to me, this scene flipped the script somewhat. Cromwell’s fantasy implied that he envies the King greatly in every way, his genetics, his women, his power, and perhaps does want to usurp some of that power for himself, through hook or crook. Pride, envy, coveting another man’s wife: all mortal sins. Mantel is so beautifully subtle in this switch though, and that one scene seems a very large wrench thrown in the rest of her characterization of Cromwell and our seeing her unequivocally as a Cromwell apologist.
As More resigns, Anne and Cromwell share a laugh as they both acknowledge that the path has been further cleared to Anne getting her “heart’s desire.” The scene of Cromwell escorting Anne down to the courtyard to the King reads as a father escorting a bride to her new husband.
Good news abounding leads the King to drink. He sloppily confesses all kinds of neat tidbits to his best buddy: “I hunt only one hind and she takes me from the path into the woods.” Rylance’s expression as the King talks about his love life is a priceless version of “TMI, bro!”
So Anne and Henry are married. And visited outside their marriage hall by Eliza Barton, speaking of prophesies she’s seen of the King’s mother appearing in “pale fire.” The King is not immune to omens as Cromwell himself has witnessed and so he ushers them all away from Miss Barton.
Later some part of the omen seems to be coming true as Anne and Henry are quarreling on their wedding night, their shouting at each other loud enough to be heard by everyone. Cromwell is playing chess with Jane Seymour’s brother, Edward. Are we to believe that Cromwell anticipates 20 year old Jane’s rise among the ranks? Or that he somehow mediated that rise? Whatever the case, Cromwell is definitely interested in Jane.
First comes marriage, next comes coronation. And so, Anne, her dress already let out more than a teeny bit with pregnancy, is awarded the scepter and the crown by newly bearded Archibishop Cranmer while her loving husband looks on.
It seems pregnant Anne is still fearful of losing her position. She is vexed by what she has heard of Katherine and Mary plotting against her, “want[ing] her dead.”
Finally, as she enters her confinement with a gentle kiss on the hand by a gloriously happy King, Queen Anne expresses to Cromwell what her change in status means to her: “I was always desired, but now I am valued.”
NEXT POST: “Devil’s Spit”