Wolf Hall: Episode 2 Recap
***WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!***
Thomas Cromwell is in a bit of a holding pattern. He’s spent days waiting for a moment to plead Cardinal Wolsey’s case to the King, and his time is ticking – even after being forced to vacate his London palace, the Cardinal is being pushed further into isolation, far to the north in York. Being sent as far away as possible from the King seems inevitable for the infirmed Cardinal, but ever-loyal Cromwell refuses to give up his case.
Cromwell’s mere presence at court raises alarms amongst his detractors. Stephen Gardiner, the slimy bishop and former secretary to the Cardinal, seeing that Cromwell has begun to curry favor with the king, sends one of his clerks to attempt to take a position within Cromwell’s business. However, it’s clear he means only to learn Cromwell’s business, and to report it back to his enemies at court. Clearly, espionage and backstabbery are an acceptable part of everyday life in Tudor England.
This whip would have been similar to the Cardinal’s. Image: Wikimedia Commons
Meanwhile, the Cardinal’s mental health also begins to deteriorate. Cromwell finds a whip (known at that time as a “discipline”) with which the Cardinal had been practicing self-flagellation. The practice, though it had been officially condemned by the Church in the 14th century, was still practiced in secret by some reclusive orders. These instruments were brutal – most were cattail whips made of knotted cords or horsehair and thorns.
After days of patience, Cromwell finally manages to speak to the King. Impressed by his frankness and loyalty, the King speaks kindly of the Cardinal and offers the impressive sum of 1000 pounds (along with his blessing) to help move him up to York.
After this small success, Cromwell visits with his friend Bonvisi. They discuss rumors of Anne Boleyn’s unsavory past – and how her family had artfully managed to bury those secrets. It’s at this moment that Bonvisi delivers one of the most telling lines of the episode:
“A world where Anne can be Queen is where Cromwell can be…[anything]”
Cromwell is visibly struck by this realization. The old ways are changing, and in his fight for the Cardinal, he’s put himself in a position that has potential to change his own standing forever – not to mention the future of England.
The next day, Cromwell visits Thomas More at his home, which proves to be a strange place, occupied with all manner of creature – white rabbits, a fool and a monkey. Cromwell later calls it “Utopia,” in a nod to More’s allegorical novel about a fictional island society and their strange customs. More reveals that he’s read Tyndale and Luther and knows where the former is hiding – meant to serve as a semi-veiled threat against Cromwell and his so-called “heretical” beliefs. For sworn enemies, Cromwell and More seem to maintain an air of civility – but as both have learned, keeping one’s foes close is paramount.
Anne Boleyn summons Cromwell to her palace, but before Cromwell can get to her, Mary Boleyn warns him that Anne means to manipulate him into doing her favors, in an attempt to bring Cromwell into her service. She asks him to find out who is a responsible for a cruel cartoon – a juvenile infraction – but Cromwell knows he can use this to his advantage. He accepts this menial task, taking it as an opportunity to win Anne’s trust, and to seed her inner circle with his spy – one Jane Seymour.
Later that day, in the palace gardens, Cromwell further ingratiates himself to the king with a friendly archery match, which leads the two to a conversation about the church, taxes, the king’s relationship with France – allowing Cromwell to show his stripes as a shrewd statesman. The King takes notice, and offers Cromwell a seat at the negotiating table. Cromwell finally seems to have a foot in the door.
Much later that night, there is a knock on the door of the Cromwell family home, waking the entire household. It’s a contingent sent to bring Cromwell back to the Palace, with no explanation. Turns out the King had an upsetting dream about his dead brother (who had once been married to Katherine). He thinks his brother has come back in anger due to Henry usurping the throne and taking his wife. Cromwell interprets the dream otherwise, though – painting Arthur’s ghostly return as encouragement for Henry to “become the king he should be,” and that any visits from the King’s past are only meant to strengthen Henry’s resolve. The King looks favorably on this interpretation – however fishy it might seem to the viewer. The late-night disturbance was worth it – Cromwell has proved himself trustworthy enough to become a close advisor.
Perhaps spurred on by the intensity of moment shared in the King’s chambers, (or relief that he wasn’t thrown in the Tower of London), we see a rare moment where Cromwell’s emotions get the better of him, as he gives in to temptation and begins an affair with his sister-in-law, Joan.
The next morning, Cromwell’s morning-after euphoria is quickly dashed by upsetting news from the North. The Boleyns had sent their men to arrest the Cardinal for High Treason. On the way to the Tower of London, the fragile Cardinal falls gravely ill, and passes away before Cromwell could make his way to the Cardinal’s bedside.
The Court celebrates the death of Wolsey with a crude play – as they felt he was responsible for the delay in Henry’s divorce – which disgusts Cromwell. He silently swears revenge on each and every cold-blooded cast member – mostly members of the Boleyn clan. And after being officially sworn in as a member of the Kings’ cabinet, Cromwell is poised to take down his enemies from the inside.
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