A fire and a brush with death are only two of the high-stakes incidents in Wolf Hall, Episode 5. Get details on them all—from the public beratings of an increasingly impotent Henry to the wily maneuvers of the now vulnerable Cromwell—in our 14 Essentials of Episode 5.
1. September, 1535: Wolf Hall
Jane Seymour: He asked me if I would look kindly on him. If he wrote me a poem, for instance. I said I would.
Cromwell realizes his desire is hopeless when he observes the king wooing Jane. Meanwhile, the demure Jane Seymour must manifest some guile in handling Henry’s affections. Her relatives are only too happy to stage manage them. For her family, the game has truly changed.
2. Winter, 1535: Kimbolton Castle, Residence of Katherine of Aragon in Exile
Thomas Cromwell: Chapuys has written to the lady Mary saying that he can get her out of the country.
Katherine of Aragon:
Never! I answer for it with my life. What does Henry imagine? Mary returning with an army, turning him out of his kingdom? It’s laughable. I answer for her intentions with my own person.
Like so many of the court’s women, Princess Mary is a political pawn. The Emperor’s envoy, Chapuys, wants her poised in a powerful position, while Katherine, near death, wishes only for her daughter to be allowed to visit her. Cromwell can grant neither; the king—and Anne—want her close and powerless.
3. Winter, 1535: Whitehall Palace
Thomas Cromwell: There was a time madam, that you would listen to my advice. Let me advise you now. Drop your plans and schemes. Put down the burden of them. Keep yourself in quietness until your child is born. As for Jane, she is a distraction, that’s all. Let it run its course, pretend that you don’t even see her…
Anne Boleyn: He’ll never abandon me. Never. Since my coronation there is a new England and it can’t subsist without me. I’m warning you—make terms with me, Cremuel, before my child is born.
Cromwell has done the unthinkable: told Anne “No.” Her power is uncertain, reliant on the birth of an heir to the throne. But Cromwell is just as vulnerable as Anne.
4. Christmas, 1535: Austin Friars
Eustache Chapuys: I won’t tell my master lies if I tell him what I see. I see discontent, I see famine, before the spring. You’re buying corn from the territories of the Emperor. This trade could be stopped.
Thomas Cromwell: What could your master possibly gain by starving my countrymen?
Eustache Chapuys: He would gain this! He would see how evilly they are governed! Henry begins by mocking the Pope and he will end up embracing the devil!
Powerless to visit and console the dying Katherine, Chapuys is desperate, and even goes so far as to threaten to recommend to the Emperor that trade be cut off. Cromwell must devise a solution to reconcile Henry and Chapuys.
5. Winter, 1535: Windsor Great Park
King Henry: Ambassador Chapuys has never acknowledged my wife as Queen. Until he is prepared to bow before her publicly, there will be no diplomacy with that man.
Even with Katherine’s imminent death, even with a threat of war, Henry will not accept overtures from the Emperor’s ambassador until he has acknowledged Anne as queen. It will take a bow.
6. January, 1536: Greenwich Palace
Anne Boleyn: At last God! Not before time!
Receiving news that Katherine has died, Anne rejoices in triumph. The exiled queen left a letter commending Henry “unto you our daughter Mary. Beseeching you to be a good father to her. And lastly, I make this vow that mine eyes desire you above all things.”
7. January, 1536: Windsor Castle
Thomas Cromwell: Lady Rochford. Jane, when the time comes to unburden your conscience, don’t go to a priest. He’ll give you penance. I’ll give you a reward.
Cromwell cultivates the vicious Lady Jane, who intimates that Anne might or might not receive visitors other than Henry.
8. January, 1536: Greenwich Palace
Thomas Cromwell: The King’s breathing. The King’s breathing. Long live the King!
…And as long as the king breathes, Cromwell has a better chance of breathing, too. At the news of Henry’s “death,” Cromwell’s enemies pressed in, descending like crows.
Thomas Cromwell: How many men can say “My only friend is the King of England? You’d think I have everything. But take Henry away…”
Henry’s brush with death was Cromwell’s, too, revealing his tentative position in the court and how quickly his enemies, the Boleyns, will strike. He must finesse his alliances and strategies to survive.
9. January, 1536: Greenwich Palace
King Henry: I see that God will not give me male children. If a king cannot have a son, if he cannot give stability to his realm, then it doesn’t matter what else he can do. The victories, the just laws, the famous courts… nothing. It seems to me that I was dishonestly led into this marriage.
Anne lost her baby, which “had the appearance of a male,” at 15 weeks. Henry is finished with her, and begins the process of convincing himself he is justified.
10. 1536: Austin Friars
Thomas Cromwell: I have influence on King Henry, Eustache, but I do not claim to govern him. To succeed with Henry you have to anticipate his desires. But then, if he changes his mind… you stand out there… exposé, no?
Cromwell plays Chapuys, suggesting a future union between Henry and the French, he advises him on handling Henry. But he articulates his own vulnerability only too well.
11. February, 1536: Windsor Castle Great Hall
King Henry: You would train me up, like one of your boys? Have me touch my cap when you come down of a morning and say “How do you, sir?” I really believe you think you are the King, and I am the blacksmith’s boy! Don’t you? DON’T YOU?
Spitting with rage, Henry reveals that for all his schemes and successes, Cromwell is no safer than Wolsey was. He’s entirely at the mercy of his capricious king.
12. February, 1536: Greenwich Palace grounds
King Henry: It’s because you are my right hand, sir.
Henry is contrite about his public attack on Cromwell. But he then conveniently tasks him to dissolve his marriage with Anne.
King Henry: I cannot live as I have lived, Cromwell. You must free me from this… from Anne. Perhaps she and Harry Percy… they were good as married weren’t they? And if that won’t run… You know I was, I was on occasion with Anne’s sister Mary? Perhaps having been with kin so near… Anyway, I trust in your discretion and your skill. Be very secret.
13. February, 1536: Austin Friars
Rafe: The Queen needs to conceive another child quickly. And they say that Henry cannot be trusted to do the deed, so one of them has to step in and do him a favor.
Francis Weston, William Brereton and Harry Norris are flippant in their suggestions that they could do with Anne what Henry cannot. They should be more prudent.
14. February, 1536: Austin Friars
Cardinal Wolsey: Trouble is, Thomas. The King wants a new wife. Fix him one. I didn’t. And now I’m dead.
With mounting dread, Cromwell understands that he’s now in the same thorny position Wolsey occupied. Can he survive what his patron couldn’t?