New Show Recap: Wolf Hall 1×06, “Master of Phantoms”

It’s now 1536. Anne Boleyn has lost the child she was carrying and her marriage to the king is falling apart. The members of the court see this, and it’s only a matter of time before, and it’s common knowledge that the king is very interested in Jane Seymour. Following Henry VIII’s instructions, Cromwell begins to plot Anne Boleyn’s downfall.

Cromwell dreams that Anne Boleyn is tied to the table and presented to him at an elaborate feast, in her coronation gown. He picks up a dagger and stabs Anne through the heart. Cromwell knows that he must engineer Anne Boleyn’s death.

Cromwell goes to visit Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, who are having lunch together. Anne is playing with Elizabeth and tries to capture Henry VIII’s attention, but Henry VIII is indifferent to her. After Henry VIII leaves and Elizabeth is taken away, Anne Boleyn questions Cromwell about his actions after Henry VIII was injured in the joust. Cromwell insists he was acting in the best interest of the government, but Anne sees it otherwise. She accuses Cromwell of forgetting that she was instrumental in his rise, and she tells him that he ought to remember that.

Anne Boleyn’s enemies who remain faithful to the Catholic church are beginning to approach Cromwell for an alliance. They seek Cromwell’s help in removing “the concubine,” as they call Anne Boleyn, and in ensuring that Henry VIII marries Jane Seymour, who will then gently convince Henry to return to the Catholic church. They are reluctant to approach Cromwell because he is a Protestant, but he tells them that he is pragmatic about the whole matter of religion.

Anne Boleyn flirts with Mark Smeaton, her court minstrel, and a few other gentlemen in front of her ladies. Lady Rochford, whom we know has no love for Anne Boleyn, is disgusted with the whole interplay of courtly love between Anne Boleyn and the men who come to visit her. Anne mocks Lady Rochford as being too old for such flirtation. Lady Rochford’s claws come out; she brings up the incident in which Anne’s dog fell to his death from the window, and she tells Anne that she deserves the same fate. This angers Anne, who springs up from her chair and strikes Lady Rochford across the face. There is an exchange between Norris and Anne Boleyn in which she implies that he loves her and that he would marry her if Henry VIII died, but Lady Rochford sees the opportunity for Anne’s undoing.

Lady Rochford tells Cromwell about the incident and Henry VIII’s anger with Anne because of it. Lady Rochford implies that George Boleyn and Anne are engaging in an incestuous relationship so that Anne might become pregnant again. She lets Cromwell know that Anne and Henry VIII engaged in some sexual relations before their marriage, and that these were tricks Anne supposedly learned in the French court. She tells Cromwell that Anne is engaging in other adulterous affairs with Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, Francis Weston, and William Brereton. Cromwell decides to question Smeaton about Lady Rochford’s allegations.

Cromwell invites Mark Smeaton to dinner at his home. He questions Smeaton about Anne’s unhappiness, and Smeaton tells Cromwell that Anne Boleyn is in love with him and that Weston and Norris are jealous of her attraction to him. When Mark refuses to speak further, Cromwell reluctantly has him tortured. Smeaton confesses to sexual relations with Anne Boleyn. Cromwell informs the king of this discovery.

Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, George Boleyn, Francis Weston, and William Brereton are arrested. The gossip quickly makes its way around court. Soon a warrant is issued for Anne Boleyn’s arrest, and Cromwell and Norfolk are both present when Anne is arrested. Anne is taken to the Tower of London to stay in the Queen’s Rooms, where she had stayed the night before her coronation.

Cromwell goes to visit Henry VIII that evening, and Henry VIII seems surprised at Anne’s adultery. Henry VIII looks back on the things he has done to raise Anne Boleyn high, and he blames her for the things that he had to do and the people who died as a result, like Wolsey. Henry VIII is unwilling to take responsibility for his part in the whole affair.

Cromwell confronts all of the young men who have been arrested and accused of adultery with Anne Boleyn. All of them deny their guilt. Cromwell acts ruthlessly, playing all of the men against each other, preying on their respective weaknesses, and getting them to speak so that their words might be used against them in trial. They all confess to adultery with the queen. Cromwell goes to visit Anne, and she has been hysterical. She is unsure what to make of the entire situation, but she knows deep down that Henry VIII has had Cromwell engineer this whole charade so that Henry might be rid of her. Anne asks Cromwell if he thinks she is guilty of the charges, but Cromwell remains silent. Anne tells Cromwell that she has a little neck, so her execution will not take long at all.

The four young men accused of adultery with Anne are executed. Anne and George Boleyn are tried for adultery, incest, and treason. The charges are based on flimsy evidence. Cromwell has twisted Anne and George’s words and actions so that they might fit the narrative of the accusations. Anne and George are found guilty and are to be executed.

Cromwell and his son attend Anne’s execution. She still seems to hold a tiny bit of hope that she might be spared. Cromwell speaks with the Frenchman from Calais who is to execute Anne, and the Frenchman will hide his sword so that Anne will not be frightened before her death. Anne gives her famous speech before kneeling in front of the executioner, who decapitates her with a clean sweep of his sword. Anne has been granted the mercy of a quick death. Anne’s body and head are placed in a wooden arrow box so that she might be buried. Cromwell silently watches the entire scene play out. Later, he returns to Henry VIII, who welcomes him with a large grin and open arms. We see Cromwell’s face at the end. It seems he has some remorse for what he has done, and that he knows that he’s now in over his head.

This was a very well-done series and I thought it was wonderful. All of the characters are very compelling, but I was especially intrigued by the transformation of Cromwell’s character. He was capable of being ruthless, and, at first, he didn’t mind it, but the political machinations and intrigues forced Cromwell’s hand. He was ruthless when he might not want to be. True, at the end, it seems he was resolving some personal vendettas, especially with Anne. But when all is said and done, he sees the results of his actions and feels some remorse for it, though there is no going back now. It almost makes you wonder who the true villain is in this story: the events in which Cromwell became embroiled, or Cromwell himself.

I hope you enjoyed the recaps of Wolf Hall, series one. The second series will be back next year, and that will cover the events in the second novel, Bring Up the Bodies. Hope to see you then!

One thought on “New Show Recap: Wolf Hall 1×06, “Master of Phantoms””

  1. I’m not sure if Cromwell regretted his actions for personal reasons or if he just realized that he could (and would!) fall by the same sword. (No pun intended.) The way that last scene was shot, with the juxtaposition of first Henry’s jubilant face and then Cromwell’s WTF? expression was masterful.

    I absolutely loved every minute of this series. It’s one I’ve saved on my DVR, pending release of the DVDs. It almost makes me want to read the books again, although I didn’t care much for them and don’t particularly like Mantel’s dry style of writing.

    Just a wonderful, wonderful piece of television. Thanks for recapping!

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