Wolf Hall: Episode 6 Recap

May 11, 2015


Cromwell’s mind is racing. The King has told him in no uncertain terms that the time has come for Anne to be dealt with – and Cromwell knows that it will be difficult to square this request with the sense of propriety and dignity that he’s prided himself on maintaining.

The mood at court is tense, even with the baby princess Elizabeth bouncing about. Although Anne maintains an air of happiness in front of her husband, she knows her life hangs in the balance and her power is evaporating. She berates Cromwell for his behavior after the King’s accident – sending for the Princess Mary to be rescued – saying that she should be thanked for his ascent, not betrayed. She tells him, “Those who have been made, can be un-made.” – and Cromwell agrees.

Later that evening, Cromwell is approached by a representative from a group of Plantaganet-supporting Boleyn-haters. They support Anne’s deposition and Jane Seymour being installed as her replacement. They believe Jane to be faithful to the Catholic Church and hope that she might sway Henry back towards Rome with her piety.

Anne’s troubles have cast a black cloud over her court. Feeling the ebb of power, she tortures her servants and picks fights with her ladies and the gentlemen at court. One confrontation goes as far as physical violence when Anne strikes Lady Rochford. Lady Rochford, about to leave, stops in her tracks when Anne makes a comment that hints at her love affair with Harry Norris. Rochford, tired of the constant abuse, knows exactly to whom this information might be useful.

Rochford takes this news right to Cromwell. She reveals all of Anne’s alleged dalliances to him, saying – in scandalous detail – that Anne and Harry Norris have slept together. And, even more outrageously, that Anne has been sleeping with her brother George – hoping to conceive a boy who resembled a Boleyn and whose paternity would thus not be questioned. Rochford tells Cromwell also to speak to Mark Smeaton. Cromwell knows that if these accusations prove true, this could be all the justification he needs to force Anne from the throne.

Cromwell calls Mark Smeaton to his chambers. Mark claims that the Queen is in love with him, and that they have been carrying on an affair. Mark claims not to know whether the Queen has other lovers, but suggests that Weston and Norris might be jealous of his conquest. Cromwell demands a written confession that also indicts the other gentlemen at court. After a little psychological warfare, Mark Smeaton writes it down.

The Duke of Norfolk draws up a warrant for the allegedly guilty parties, including Anne herself. Cromwell, accompanied by a group of the King’s advisors, goes to arrest Anne personally and take her to the Tower of London.

Cromwell begins questioning the suspects – coincidentally, the same men who participated in the grotesque play after Wolsey’s death. None of them admit to the charges, but Cromwell batters them with a line of questioning that leaves them stunned and Cromwell armed with just enough evidence to make his case. This might seem crass for our righteous Cromwell – be he reveals his line of self-justification with a simple statement: “I needed guilty men. So I found men who are guilty, though not necessarily as charged.”

Anne is imprisoned under the watchful eyes of her Aunts. Cromwell goes to her quarters to tell her the state of affairs. The confessions have been signed, and her fate is all but sealed.

The “trial” begins, and just as Thomas More’s was before, it is a sham. Anne denies all charges – except the fact that she had given money to Francis Weston. The men on trial flounder as well – Cromwell is finally getting the revenge he swore to so long ago.

The verdict comes back for Anne: “To have thy head smitten off, as the King’s pleasure shall be further known of this matter.”

The following day, Cromwell inspects the scaffold where Anne will serve out her sentence. It’s a simple stage in the courtyard, with a plain, pine box off to the side, awaiting its contents. The executioner is a Frenchman – trained in the dubious art of executing nobility. In France, a death by sword was considered more dignified than the usual blunt axe. The executioner tells Cromwell that if Anne stays steady, he’s able to strike between heartbeats, and she’ll feel nothing.

Anne is led to the scaffold, giving alms on her way in an attempt to save her mortal soul. She makes her final remarks. She is blindfolded and made to kneel on the floorboards. In one swift motion, her head tumbles to the floor.

Anne’s aunts lift her body into the pine box, place her head alongside, and carry her to the graveyard, blood on their hands.

Cromwell is tasked with delivering the news to the king that the deed has been done. He approaches slowly, soberly, and is met with Henry’s perverse joy in his Queen’s demise. The King is happy. Cromwell has done his job.

…But at what cost to his soul?

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

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