How did Thomas More come to be convicted of treason? Who are Elizabeth Barton’s associates, and why is Cromwell strong-arming them? With these 13 Essentials of Wolf Hall, Episode 4: The Devil’s Spit, revisit the important plot points covering 1533-1535, and the events that brought King Henry to the doors of Wolf Hall.
1. Autumn, 1533: Greenwich Palace
Henry: Call her Elizabeth. Cancel the jousts.
The King cast off his first wife and, over the objections of the Pope and the rest of Christendom, crowned Anne Boleyn Queen over his promise of a son. Henry has received a terrible blow: his child is a girl.
2. Autumn, 1533: Greenwich Palace
Jane Rochford: I see things. You and me, we keep our eyes open. I could keep my eyes open in places you cannot go. In Anne’s rooms for example.
Jane Rochford, bitter wife to Anne’s brother George, feels no loyalty to the family of her detested husband. She makes her first overture to Cromwell as a spy.
3. Early 1534: Lambeth Palace
Elizabeth Barton: Oh, no need of a war. God is sending a plague to England. Henry will be dead in six months and so will his whore.
Those questioning the Holy Maid of Kent are Lord Chancellor Audley, Cranmer, Cromwell, and Solicitor General Richard Richie. They accuse her of fomenting a rebellion with Plantagenet claimants to the throne.
4. Early 1534: Austin Friars
Thomas Cromwell: Holy simplicity was all very well in its day. But its day is over. We’re at war. Just because the Emperor’s soldiers aren’t running down the street, don’t deceive yourself—this is a war. And you’re in the enemy camp.
Bishop Fisher: I see why Wolsey retained you. You are a ruffian and so was he.
Thomas Cromwell: Fall ill. Take to your bed. That’s what I recommend.
There’s no ambiguity in Cromwell’s threat as he shuts down Bishop Fisher and similarly, Margaret Pole, who both look to exploit the insecurity created by Elizabeth Barton’s prophecies, in their hopes to undermine Henry for religious reasons (Fisher) and political aspirations (Pole).
5. 1534: Paul’s Cross, London
Thomas Cromwell: D’you remember how you used to compare the King to a tamed lion? You can pet him, you can pull at his ears if you wish. But all the time you’re thinking to yourself – those claws, look at those claws.
Cromwell, a master of manipulation, reminds Thomas More of Henry’s immense and dangerous power before informing him that the King will want him to sign an oath in support of his Bill of Succession, which recognizes Anne and Henry’s marriage and offspring as legitimate.
6. 1534: Windsor Castle
Anne Boleyn: Your bill against Elizabeth Barton. You should add More to the list of the guilty.
Thomas Cromwell: Thomas More is not involved your Majesty. He came to me even before Barton was arrested.
Anne Boleyn: Do it anyway. I want him frightened. Fright can unmake a man. I’ve seen it happen.
It galls Anne that Thomas More won’t recognize her marriage. She will enact her revenge on More while exerting her power over Cromwell.
7. 1534: Windsor Castle
King Henry: Very well. Remove his name from the bill. But tell him he will take the oath.
In spite of their antagonistic relationship, Thomas Cromwell has successfully advocated for More’s name to be removed from the Bill of Succession’s list of the guilty. He justified it by saying that More’s inclusion would upset the House of Commons, but his true motives are unclear.
8. 1534: Windsor Castle
King Henry: The queen has, uh…missed her…This time for sure. England is ours!
Henry has renewed hope for an heir; Anne is once again pregnant.
9. Christmas, 1534: Whitehall Palace
Anne has miscarried.
King Henry: It’s Katherine I blame. All those years she couldn’t hold a son. Now she ill-wishes me. She lies in between me and the woman I love, with her cold heart…
10. Early 1535: The Tower of London
Thomas More: If I say no to your oath I put my body in peril. If I say yes, my soul. So I say nothing.
Imprisoned, More refuses to take Henry’s oath, but refuses to speak against it. Cromwell is convinced that More wants to be a martyr.
11. Early 1535: Whitehall
King Henry: Do I keep you for what’s easy? Do you think I’ve promoted you for the charm of your presence? I keep you because you’re a serpent. But do not be a viper in my bosom. You know my decision. Execute it.
As Cromwell tries to talk Henry out of condemning More to death, the King, in his grief, reveals his lion’s claws.
12. July, 1535: Westminster Hall
Thomas More: My conscience stands with the majority. Against Henry’s kingdom I have all the kingdoms of Christendom! Against each one of your bishops I have a hundred saints! Against your parliament, I have all the general councils of the church, stretching back for a thousand years!
After his long silence, on trial for his life, More finally speaks out: Henry is against him, but God is on his side.
13. Winter, 1535: Austin Friars
Thomas More: Early September. Five days. Wolf Hall.
As Cromwell makes the King’s summer schedule, he hesitates before adding Wolf Hall. Both the design of Cromwell’s final destination, and what’s to come as a result, are chilling.