It’s 1535. The Act of Supremacy has passed, and Henry VIII is now head of the Church. Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador, still refuses to recognize Anne Boleyn as Queen of England. Cromwell joins the royal progress at the Seymour home, Wolf Hall. Cromwell is keenly interested in Jane Seymour. During dinner, an exhausted Henry VIII falls asleep at the dinner table, and Jane Seymour takes it upon herself to wake him. Jane seems to have made an impression on Henry. Cromwell later sees Henry and Jane in the garden holding hands, and this causes him some concern.
Cromwell approaches the Seymours, and Jane Seymour is forced to tell them that Henry is making overtures toward her and that he has written her poems. Cromwell coaches Jane to pray if the king makes a move on her, which will appeal to Henry VIII’s sense of piety and honor.
— THIRTEEN (@ThirteenWNET) April 27, 2015
Cromwell goes to see Catherine of Aragon in exile at Kimbolton Castle. Catherine is very ill and dying, and she tells Cromwell about the happy days of her marriage to Henry VIII, and she begins to cry. Catherine asks Cromwell to come with her to visit Lady Mary, but Cromwell tells her that Chapuys has made promises to Lady Mary promising to smuggle her out of the country, which sets Henry on edge. Catherine is still very concerned about Henry’s salvation, and it’s clear that she still loves him, and she is also kind enough to ask about Anne’s miscarriage, as she can sympathize with the new queen. Cromwell tells Catherine that Henry VIII and Anne hope for another child, but Catherine knows what that’s about: Henry VIII is discontent that Anne still has not borne him a son and heir.
Later, Cromwell approaches Lady Rochford about whether or not Anne is pregnant, and Lady Rochford confirms this. Lady Rochford is still ready to stir shit up when it comes to Anne. Anne Boleyn is very upset that her dog died from a fall out of the window, and she’s very paranoid about Lady Mary taking precedence over Elizabeth. The French will not negotiate a match for Elizabeth, but they will for Mary, and Anne accuses Cromwell of feigning illness so that her plots were foiled, but Cromwell tells her that the French never intended a match. Anne wants Mary’s hopes of a good marriage quashed by having Cromwell set up a situation in which Mary is seduced by a young man. Cromwell tells Anne to give up her plans and to focus on her pregnancy and to allow the king’s attraction to Jane Seymour to run its course.
— Anna Foote (@BeehiveMom) April 28, 2015
Cromwell later meets with Chapuys, and Chapuys asks Cromwell about the dissolution of the monasteries and convents. Cromwell tells Chapuys that the Catholic Church is corrupt and that he intends on changing things. The Spanish king is not happy with this. Chapuys tells Cromwell that Catherine is on her deathbed, and he beseeches Cromwell to allow him to visit the queen. Anne Boleyn will not hear of it when Cromwell brings it up to the king, and Henry VIII refuses to allow Chapuys to visit Catherine because Chapuys has never accepted Anne Boleyn as queen. Even though Cromwell points out this could be a good way to mend things with the Spanish king, Henry VIII won’t hear of it. Court celebrates when Catherine dies, and Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn are happy about it. Catherine sent Henry VIII a letter, which he will not read and hands off to Cromwell. Cromwell later reads the letter, and Catherine only asked that Henry VIII look after Mary and tells him she forgives him. Henry has also requested that Catherine’s plate be returned to him. Cromwell watches the looks that pass between Jane Seymour and Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s reaction. Anne’s days are numbered.
Wolf Hall on PBS is a marvel and Mark Rylance has shown he's one of the great actors of our age. #cromwellrocks
— Craig D Stronberg (@CDStronberg) May 3, 2015
Later, someone tries to set fire to Anne’s bed curtains, but the fire is promptly extinguished. As Henry VIII and her ladies fuss over Anne, she tells Cromwell, in French so no one else can understand their conversation, about a prophecy she has heard forecasting that an English queen will be burned. Anne thinks that the prophecy might pertain to her, even though the candle was left unattended. Anne thinks someone may have tried to kill her.
Henry VIII participates in a joust the following day. Cromwell’s son Gregor also participates, and Cromwell asks Henry VIII to be gentle with Gregor if he should defeat the boy. Cromwell tells his son the advice that an old Portuguese knight had given him long ago for jousting, to defeat his instincts to survive. As Cromwell and his other son go through false holy relics from the monasteries and expose the corruption they are advised that Henry VIII has been killed in the joust. Cromwell enters the palace, where everything is in chaos. Cromwell makes arrangements for the king’s men to secure Lady Mary before the Catholics can get to her. The king is alive, it turns out, and was only concussed and knocked unconscious. Later, Cromwell reflects that they had been very close to losing everything had the king died. Cromwell could lose more than everything, he could lose his life since times are turbulent and everything hinges on whether or not Anne gives Henry VIII a son.
— Klem Johansen (@klemjohansen) May 4, 2015
That evening, a very pregnant Anne Boleyn emerges from her confinement to see her husband. Anne begs him in front of the court not to joust again, and Henry VIII beckons her to him. Henry is angry at her reaction and scolds her in front of the court, and it’s clear all is not well in the marriage. The next day, Anne loses the baby. Lady Rochford tells Cromwell and Henry VIII that the child looked like a boy. Henry VIII is very upset at what has just occurred, as he sees that God will not give him male children. Henry VIII is now concerned about the stability of his realm. Everything pales in comparison to Henry VIII having an heir. Henry VIII comes to the conclusion that he was seduced dishonestly into the marriage, and that Anne Boleyn was a witch. If that were so, the marriage would be null. Henry VIII that he wants Cromwell to assist him in getting rid of Anne. Henry VIII gives Jane Seymour a letter and a sack of jewels, but she returns both of them, kissing the seal of the letter before doing so. Henry VIII is impressed by this, and even though he is urged by the Seymours to change his loyalties, Cromwell remains loyal to the king’s best interests, some of which include the queen’s as well.
— Jonathan Boyd (@bigboid) April 27, 2015
Stephen Gardiner is leaving for France, and in their final confrontation, it’s revealed that Cromwell killed a man when he was very young. The family had wanted to see Cromwell hang, but Cromwell’s father bought them off. Cromwell later speaks with Chapuys, and Chapuys asks Cromwell about Jane Seymour and the gossip about her. Chapuys tells Cromwell that it’s Anne he needs to fear, not Henry VIII, and he ought to strike before Anne does. Cromwell invites Chapuys to Mass at court, and Chapuys meets Anne Boleyn. Chapuys is forced to bow to her and accept her as queen. Chapuys accuses Cromwell of setting up the situation, but Cromwell only advises Chapuys that his acknowledgement of Anne Boleyn can help him politically. There is a public display between Chapuys and Henry VIII, and Henry is incensed at Cromwell’s actions. Cromwell remains calm as Henry berates him, then takes his leave. George Boleyn comes to Cromwell and tells him to remember his place. Henry VIII later decides to let Chapuys make diplomatic overtures to him, especially concerning Lady Mary. Henry VIII believes that Mary is defiant in her Catholic faith and in her refusal to sign the Act of Succession, and he declares that there will be no foreign marriage for Mary until she does as he wishes. Cromwell reminds Henry VIII that Catherine of Aragon just died and that he ought to be more understanding.
Later, Henry VIII and Cromwell go walking in the garden, and Henry VIII tries to strike up a conversation with Cromwell in hopes of patching things up. Cromwell doesn’t answer him at first, and Henry VIII tells him that he’s his right hand man and that he trusts him. Henry VIII begs Cromwell to help him end the marriage to Anne Boleyn, on the grounds of Anne’s betrothal to Harry Percy and consanguinity, since Anne Boleyn is Mary’s sister. Henry VIII is very interested in Jane Seymour, and he’s not hiding it from anyone now. Cromwell’s son reports to him that there are three men in court making jokes about how Anne Boleyn is desperate for a child, and, since the king seems unable to conceive a son with her, that one of the three of them ought to step in and sleep with Anne on the king’s behalf. These three men are Norris, Weston, and Raryton. Even though it’s a terrible joke, Cromwell sees this as a chance to help Henry VIII in his quest to get rid of Anne Boleyn, should it be needed. When his son leaves, Cromwell sees a vision of Wolsey, who counsels him: “The trouble is, Thomas, the king wants a new wife. Fix him one. I didn’t, and now I’m dead.” Cromwell chuckles at the thought as he sits at his desk, starting to plant the seeds of Anne Boleyn’s undoing.
I’m very surprised at some of the criticism of Wolf Hall from more religiously devout people, including some Catholics who denounce the series as “anti-Catholic.” Like this guy. And yeah, I set him straight.
— William Newton ن (@wbdnewton) April 26, 2015
Some feel that the portrayal of Thomas More is overly negative and that the movie and Hilary Mantel hate the Catholic Church. Others have written articles declaring that Thomas More was an example of religious freedom and have used this to hammer home a point about governments trying to restrict “religious freedoms” and how it’s “religious persecution.” Like this guy. I’m sure some of you saw my little Facebook rant. And the British members of a history Facebook group I belong to are astonished and amused at the reactions about Wolf Hall from our country’s religious right.
Is Wolf Hall a celebration of secularism and the bureaucratic state? http://t.co/rHgn7p5Lkw
— John O. McGinnis (@joldmcginn) April 21, 2015
All in all, let’s just remember that this is a character-driven drama about the political and religious consequences of Henry VIII deciding that he needed to father an heir for the sake of his country and that he could do so if he married Anne Boleyn. There are enough productions in which More has been portrayed sympathetically as a man of God and Cromwell has been portrayed as a sneaky, ruthless, conniving little shit. It’s nice to see someone normally thought of as a villainous figure in history shown as a protagonist for a change.