Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Tudors: Season One, Episode 2

"I have a son!"

The Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520, in land belonging to English Calais (writing those last two words felt weird), is often said to be the first time two European monarchs met for diplomatic purposes, and for that reason is often called the first international summit by those fond of meaningless sweeping statements. It's fascinating to see how the event is dealt with here, with Henry and Francis I circling each other warily but being outwardly nice to each other. Mary and the Dauphin, both toddlers, are betrothed, there is a pie from which birds fly out and there is much lechery, much of it from Charles Brandon, with much of it focusing on one Mary Boleyn. But, as Sir Thomas More warns Mary, King Henry has "noticed" her...

There is something of a rivalry for the position of alpha male between the two kings, in which their competition for Mary's favours is but one aspect. The fact that Francis wins the royal wrestling match, then, enrages Henry. But he calms down as he wants the treaty, this making him the supplicant.

There is what seems to be a slight historical inaccuracy regarding the nature of how Mary Boleyn used to pleasure King Francis at the French court. I would not be so indelicate as to what it is, but I would perhaps point my readers to Christopher Hitchens' history of a certain sex act...

The treaty is signed, but Henry is none too pleased, particularly not with the suspiciously pro-French Cardinal Wolsey. But, back in CGI Whitehall, he finds himself being pleasured by Mary Boleyn. Thing is, there's also Charles V, only 20, who is yet another candidate for alpha male, and one with a far bigger, er, empire. It's enough to make a young King of England feel quite emasculated. Wolsey is ordered to treat with him at Aachen; our little Francophile won't like that.

Henry and Thomas More, bond over the treachery of the Duke of Buckingham and the education of their respective daughters, a rather progressive idea for the time- although not so progressive, of course, as to threaten Henry's power. They also discuss Machiavelli's The Prince, so different from More's Utopia (which I read back in Uni and of which I remember nothing) yet so appropriate to The Tudors. The King, naturally, is veering towards Macchiavelli, and hardening in his views. We are observing a change in character from the young, athletic, cheerful stud to the more cynical player of games of power.

Lady Blount, meanwhile, is well up the duff with her little Fitzroy and her husband, naturally, is paid off. This is proof of Henry's virility and manliness but, on the other hand, doesn't say much for the Queen's fertility.

Buckingham, meanwhile, is deep into plotting his treason and that, and receives the allegiance of his underlings. This can't end well. We see that Wolsey is worldly and More is not, interesting in the light of later events, and Christmas and New Year come and go. 

Buckingham, the lady gasp of the "old" aristocracy, is arrested by the King's "new men". He stands for the old, the mediaeval, a survivor of the old aristocracy that was much reduced in numbers in the Wars of the Roses. They are now gone, to be replaced by new families of social climbers, not least by a certain Welsh family known as the Ap Twdyrs. He must die, as did his father under Henry VII, and the scenes of his execution are nicely juxtaposed with scenes of the King going hunting.

Of course, it goes without saying, the Duke is beheaded, not hung, drawn and quartered. He's far too posh for that.

Wolsey's ambitions on the old Pope's death; he went to see Charles V, and thus will no longer have the French votes at the conclave. So it goes. His ambitions, as the King's soon will be, are shaped by events on the continent. If that isn't foreshadowing then I don't know what is.

Catherine, meanwhile, her fertility and raison d'ĂȘtre as begetter of heirs in doubt, is humiliated and alone as the King celebrates the birth of his bastard. There is a new air of unease as the sweating sickness- that most Tudor of illnesses- sweeps the land, and the newly  elected Pope offers more foreshadowing as he denounces the influence of "that heretic Luther"...

We end with a triptych of Machiavellian acts; Anne Boleyn is groomed by her father and uncle to become the king's lover, Henry gangs up with Charles V against Francis, and Henry sinisterly "persuades" Wolsey to give him the magnificent Hampton Court. The King has noticeably become darker and darker as the episode has progressed, and it won't end here...

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