New Show Recap: Wolf Hall 1×04, “The Devil’s Spit”

It’s currently September 1533, and Anne Boleyn returns to Whitehall not with the son and heir she promised Henry, but with a daughter. Henry is disappointed at this, and he requests that his daughter be named Elizabeth, most likely after his own mother, Elizabeth of York. He also orders that the joust planned in anticipation of the newborn prince be canceled. The Boleyns remark that Cromwell didn’t ask about the queen.

Cromwell goes to visit Anne and the new princess. Elizabeth is to have her own household at Hatfield, and Anne requests that Cromwell break up Lady Mary’s household and have Mary act as a servant in Elizabeth’s household, since Mary is now a bastard. Anne orders Cromwell to travel to France to seek a marriage to the French prince for Elizabeth so that they might build an alliance with the French, or to even speak with Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador, to see what can be secured with the Spanish emperor. Anne, shrewd and clever as always, sees the advantages in having a daughter, and she wishes to act in Elizabeth’s best interests. Despite this, Anne seems to be hiding some anxiety about where she stands with Henry.

Cromwell exits Anne’s chambers and sees Jane Seymour playing with a dog. Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, George Boleyn’s wife and Anne’s sister-in-law, who is part of Anne’s household, notices Cromwell’s interest in Jane Seymour. She teasingly tells him to ask about marrying Jane, whom the Seymours would practically sell to him because they are so poor. Cromwell tells her she is mistaken, but Jane Boleyn tells him that she notices things, especially about Anne flirting with other men. Cromwell tells Lady Rochford to be careful. I really don’t need to spoiler alert what eventually happens to Lady Rochford. It just doesn’t happen in this season of the series.

Anne Boleyn is especially paranoid about her standing as queen. She believes that she has enemies among the old English aristocratic families and that her place will not be solidified until she gives Henry a son. Meanwhile, the Holy Maid has been uttering prophecies again, and she also claims that Mary Magdalene sent her a letter, illuminated in gold. When Cromwell sees the list of the Holy Maid’s visitors, he requests that she brought in for interrogation.

During the interrogation, the Holy Maid claims that not only can she travel through heaven, but that she also rejected Satan’s advances, after which he spit at her. She claims to have wiped off the spittle with a napkin and that the priest of her convent has it. The priest shows it to donors to the convent in exchange for their money. The Holy Maid is also called out on the falsehood of her prophecy that Henry VII would not reign one month after his marriage to Anne Boleyn. The Holy Maid replies that Henry isn’t the real king in the eyes of God. The Holy Maid is accused of inciting a rebellion and that she favors the Plantagenet claimants for the throne. She tells Cromwell that a plague has come to England. Cromwell, whose niece has been the Holy Maid’s custodian, has told her uncle that the Holy Maid is a fraud. Cromwell orders the king’s council to bring in the nobles who have supported the Holy Maid, namely Bishop Fisher, Exeter, the Courtenays, and the Poles. As the questioning proceeds, we see that the Holy Maid is a carefully orchestrated fraud. Cromwell was right to be skeptical of her, and he accuses her of threatening the king’s death. Lady Mary is linked to it, as well, though Cromwell can’t determine the nature of her role in it.

Henry VIII is surprised at Cromwell’s findings, since he knew some of the members of these families. Cromwell urges Henry to pardon all parties involved, but Henry sentences the principals in the conspiracy to death and the accessories to life imprisonment. Cromwell tells More that a Bill of Succession is being passed through Parliament declaring Anne as Henry VIII’s lawful wife and their children as the true heirs to the English throne. Cromwell urges More to sign the oath when it is presented to him. More wants nothing to do with the oath.

Anne is not happy with the verbiage of the Act of Succession, as it mentions what might happen in case of her death and Henry VIII’s and does not include language officially excluding Mary from the line of succession to the throne. Henry VIII reminds Anne that Cromwell has done nothing but help them, and that she ought to really be angry with Thomas More and Stephen Gardiner, who have turned against them. Anne’s ruthless streak comes out and she demands that Cromwell add More to the list of those accused of plotting with the Holy Maid when More really had nothing to do with it. Anne only wishes to frighten More and she sees this as the only way. Cromwell grudgingly agrees to this. Arrogant as always, Anne tells Cromwell that she will not die and that she will give the king a son. We all know what happens with that.

Cromwell goes to Norfolk and asks that Norfolk intervene on More’s behalf. Norfolk contemplates it as More’s son-in-law comes to plead for him. Cranmer tells Norfolk is between a rock and a hard place, as More was once his friend and he has to keep Anne happy. Norfolk, Cranmer, Richard Rich (Henry VIII’s Solicitor General), and Cromwell beseech the king to remove More’s name from the list of the accused. Henry VIII agrees to do so, only if More will sign the oath for the Act of Succession. Henry calls Cromwell to him later, and it seems that Anne is pregnant again. Henry is excited, as this means that she might give Henry the son he so desperately needs.

More receives the oath, and after reading it over, he refuses to sign it. He offers to not speak out against the king or the new line of succession, but Cromwell insists that More sign the oath. More will face prison and worse if he does not sign the oath, and Cromwell reminds him of this. More states that it’s against his conscience, even though he swore an oath to the king. More is taken away to prison. Cromwell knows that More is playing the victim in all of this, as he will write an account of what occurred for all of Europe to read so that he might gain sympathy.

Lady Rochford and Jane Seymour talk about Anne’s pregnancy, and Jane mentions she would like a baby someday. Their conversation is interrupted when they see a trail of blood on the floor. They follow it to Anne’s chamber, where they see her crying. Anne has lost the baby.

In prison, More asks Cromwell about the queen. More is determined to be a martyr for the Catholic Church and for his beliefs. Cromwell can’t do anything to persuade More otherwise. More insists that he does no one harm with his stance, but Cromwell reminds him that he has harmed those who spoke out against the Catholic faith with torture, and that he’s lucky not to be tortured. The crown will move forward with the indictment. Henry VIII warns Cromwell that it’s one thing if he acts like a snake in his presence, but it’s quite another to act like a viper.

Cromwell remembers meeting More when he was very young and working as a servant. More had already shown promise as a scholar at that time, and Cromwell had admired him. More airily replies that he does not remember such an encounter.

Cromwell goes to the king and queen and tells them about what is going on with More. Anne insists that she wants More and Fisher dead because they will not bow to her queenship. Their refusal to acknowledge her position as queen threatens England’s peace, according to her. Henry VIII tries to comfort her and reminds her that More was his friend. Anne insists that More’s silence conceals treason and that he ought to be tortured, but Cromwell draws the line at that. Anne angrily runs out of the room. Henry VIII excuses Anne’s anger as grief, and he blames Catherine of Aragon’s ill wishes toward him for the miscarriage. Henry VIII is convinced the baby was a boy. Cromwell presses forward regarding More, since he believes that More’s allegiance is with Rome and not with Henry VIII as head of the Church of England. He orders Cromwell to go forward with the indictment of More.

Cromwell sits for a painting for Hans Holbein, and we learn that Cromwell had been romantically involved with a woman in Antwerp years ago, and that he is in love with another woman. Alice More comes to Cromwell to beg for More’s life. Cromwell can do nothing to help them at this point. The only thing that could save More is to sign the Act of Succession, which he won’t do.

Cromwell visits More in prison with the order to take away More’s pens, papers, and books. Cromwell also produces the oath for the Act of Succession and urges More to sign it for his family’s sake. More’s daughter, Meg Roper, even signed it, but More still refuses to sign it. He’s convinced he’s going to the scaffold as a martyr. Cromwell urges More to throw himself upon the king’s mercy, since Henry VIII is not a cruel man. More laughingly says that this is false, as Anne Boleyn and her family have brought out that quality in the king. Before he leave, Cromwell tells More that were he king, he would have shown More mercy.

More is tried for treason, found guilty, and sentenced to death. During his trial, he makes a speech confirming his allegiance to Rome. He is later beheaded. While at More’s execution, Cromwell has a flashback to his childhood as a servant to More. More had been practicing the flute. Young Cromwell had waved to him, but More haughtily refused to acknowledge him.

Later, Cromwell falls deathly ill with a fever and asks that his son Gregory come to his bedside. While delirious, he sees visions of his dead children and wife. His fever breaks, and he makes plans to join the royal court on summer progress. He requests that they stay for five days at Wolf Hall, the Seymour home. When the royal retinue arrives, we see Jane Seymour’s and Cromwell’s eyes meet. They are very interested in one another.

Links of Interest:

If any of you have followed social media during a live broadcast of an episode of Wolf Hall, you’ve probably noticed that Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook are on fire with posts from bloggers, Tudor history fans, and Tudor historians. Throughout the rest of the series, I will be posting a few links of interest for anyone who would like to learn more. PBS is also running some Tudor-related documentaries throughout the series broadcast, and of course PBS Masterpiece itself has some fabulous supplemental material on its site. Go check that — and the links below — out!

  • Tudor Times — Who’s Who in Wolf Hall. This post gives a complete listing of the cast of characters in the series, along with a brief summary of who they were and what happened to the after the events in the series took place. It’s especially helpful because so many of the characters have the same first names and there are cases in which we’re dealing with entire families, like the Boleyns and the Seymours.
  • “Wolf Hall: Who Was the Real Thomas Cromwell?” from The Telegraph. This gives some background information not only on Cromwell himself, but on his different depictions in books, film, and television.
  • The Anne Boleyn Files. Everything you ever wanted to know about Anne Boleyn and the world she lived in. The blogger also has several ebooks available on Amazon, which are links the site. If you’re as much of an Anne Boleyn fangirl as I am, this is one you need to visit.

Leave a Reply