Wolf Hall: Episode 4 Recap

April 27, 2015


Less-than-joyous news has arrived in the King’s household: Anne Boleyn has delivered a daughter. Henry, clearly perturbed, cancels all planned festivities.

Undaunted, Anne demands that her daughter is to be treated as heir, despite there being no precedent for a woman on the throne. She demands that Katherine of Aragon’s household be broken up, and Princess Mary (from the King’s first marriage) be demoted to the post of servant to newborn Elizabeth. She also orders Cromwell to secure Elizabeth a marriage contract with the French prince.

Jane Rochford approaches Cromwell with the proposition of espionage, dangling an interesting bit of a story about Anne’s alleged continued indiscretions, but Cromwell brushes her off. She’s well known as a two-faced gossip, and Cromwell knows that she’d be a liability.

In the meantime, Cromwell takes on a more immediate threat – the so-called holy maid. If More isn’t responsible for her nonsense, Cromwell knows that someone else must be. Cromwell sends his man to do a bit of reconnaissance – writing down all the noble visitors that seek her “counsel.” Interestingly enough, they all seem to be allies of the Plantagenet family – the former occupants of the throne, before Richard III was killed and Henry II took his place as king in 1485.

One by one, Cromwell brings all the suspected offenders to his office to interrogate them. He reveals that he has spies everywhere, that their conspiracy has been uncovered, and the charges are indisputable. He recommends that all of them write the King to grovel, apologize and claim dementia (which they euphemistically call “second childhood.”).

The nobility might be able to escape the wrath of the King, but someone still has to take the fall. The Holy Maid is pilloried in the town square, and a list of charges for those not protected by status begins to take shape. In spite of More’s innocence of the conspiracy plot, the Queen is adamant that his name be added to the list. Cromwell, surprisingly, enlists the Duke of Norfolk to appeal on his behalf, and the King agrees to drop the charges — but only if More takes an oath that he supports the passage of the bill which will secure the line of succession for Princess Elizabeth.

An aside — thanks to some particularly uncouth over-sharing from the Duke of Norfolk, we can all finally agree on exactly how the word “person” is meant in Tudor England.

Cromwell and the other courtiers confront More with this ultimatum – sign the paper, save your life. More, ever stubborn, sticks to his guns – seeing himself as the sole moral man in a room full of opportunists. He sums up his position thusly, “If I say no to your oath, I put my body in peril. If I say yes, my soul. So I say nothing.” More is locked in the Tower of London, and his trial proceeds.

While Cromwell and More wrestle over the oath, the Queen suffers a miscarriage, which sends her further into a rage. She interprets More’s conviction as a personal vendetta against her reign, and she wants him dead. Although Cromwell warns the king that their case against More is thin, the King insists that his wife’s wishes are carried out.

Hans Holbein the Younger's portrait of Thomas Cromwell.

Hans Holbein the Younger’s portrait of Thomas Cromwell.

Amidst all the political jostling, we see Cromwell sitting for his very famous portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger. Holbein asks Cromwell who is the woman in his life – a question that comes at a particularly awkward moment as Joan, his dead wife’s sister and the woman with whom Cromwell had been having an affair, enters the room. But we know that it’s not Joan who is occupying Cromwell’s thoughts. It’s Anne Boleyn – the catalyst that brought him power, the thorn in his side, and the point on which his political future turns.

More’s trial begins, and although he is indignant, he neither confirms nor denies that he has spoken the words alleged. Clearly the trial is a farce – the judge begins to deliver the verdict before More even has a chance to argue on his own behalf. But when he does, he seizes the opportunity to truly earn the treason charge that he knows will be impossible to escape.

More’s sentence is carried out, and the day after his execution, Cromwell comes down with a fever. He sees a vision of his wife, weaving. He asks her to slow down, so he can see how she’s doing it. She responds that she can’t slow down – if she thinks about it, she won’t be able to continue. Cromwell can sympathize – he himself is a weaver of sorts, and undoubtedly would be unable to continue if he confronted the sins he has had to commit to make his way.

Wolf Hall airs Sundays at 10pm on THIRTEEN in April and May 2017.

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