At his country house, Compton’s in bed and not looking too good. He’s writhing and moaning and flinching at the light. Servants scurry to fetch a physician, who arrives looking grim. The doctor scolds the servants for letting Compton fall asleep, since sleep is fatal in these cases (and how did he think they would know that? It’s not like they have a copy of Ye Olde Guide to Plague First Aid hanging around). Compton has the sweating sickness. The servants flee from the room in fear. The physician gets to work, cutting into Compton’s back because he’s heard that it sometimes works. Horribly, he starts hammering a small spike into the guy’s back. Yay, 16th century medicine!
Thankfully, we cut to Hampton Court, where Wolsey’s waiting for Henry. Wosley’s idiotic mistress comes in, dressed in bright red, just in case Henry wouldn’t already know she was a scarlet woman, and a horrified Wolsey shoos her out just as Henry and Anne are announced. Henry seems to be quite friendly, considering Wolsey failed to get the divorce he promised. God knows what kind of ass-kissing and politicking Wolsey had to do.
Wolsey and his guests sit down to a sumptuous feast, where Anne thanks Wolsey for the magnificent brooch he sent her. Ahh, so that’s how he got out of the doghouse. Wolsey goes on and on about the brooch’s craftsmanship before reminding Henry that the French king has recently sent him some pretty nice gifts. England and France are now allies, and both at war against the emperor, who’s just become a father to a son. Henry relates that last bit of news rather bitterly, as you can imagine. Anne mouths to Henry that he’ll have a son too, one day, and Henry smiles happily at the thought.
Henry then asks Wolsey how things are progressing with the divorce, and Wolsey reports that he’s sending some trusted lawyers to meet with the pope and see what can be done. Anne asks what the lawyers will do, and Wolsey tells her they’ll be putting the screws to the pope to declare the marriage invalid. Henry says he’s read countless texts on the matter, sometimes even reading well into the night and giving himself headaches. He says this with a smirk and Anne and Wolsey laugh, although I don’t see why they find that funny in the least. At any rate, Henry’s more certain now than ever that he’s in the right here. Wolsey promises the lawyers won’t leave off until the pope gives them what they want.
Katherine’s strolling in the gardens with Mendoza, asking him how things are going. He hasn’t been able to see the king lately because Wolsey’s standing in the way. He has, however, gotten a letter from the emperor, in which the emperor promises that he’ll support Katherine against Henry. The emperor’s already reached out to the pope and asked him to reject Henry’s case, and since the pope is still technically the emperor’s prisoner, I’m pretty sure he’ll do it.
A young, weepy brunette is shown into Compton’s bedroom and greets the doctor as Dr. Linacre. This is not the doctor we saw earlier—this is one of Henry’s physicians, whom he sent as soon as he heard Compton was sick. Considering how fast the sweating sickness killed people, either Compton’s place is next door to Henry’s, or they used carrier pigeons to spread the news. Linacre tells her he did all he could, but Compton couldn’t be saved. He calls her “Mistress Hastings” and says he knows she was Compton’s common-law wife, and that throws me for a total loop. What? In all the discussions between Compton and Tallis about Compton’s wife, I got the impression that Compton was in some kind of arranged marriage that he couldn’t get out of in order to be with whomever he really wanted. The dismissive and slightly contemptuous way he talked about her sort of backed that up, but a common-law husband or wife is basically a boyfriend or girlfriend you live with for a really long time. If he didn’t like her, why keep her around? Why not just break up with her and send her on her way? If he wanted to keep up the smokescreen of being straight, sleeping with or even just flirting with a bunch of ladies at court would have done the trick. This makes very little sense to me.
Anyway, the poor girl asks to see Compton, and although Linacre warns her there’s quite a risk, she persists and he steps aside. Compton lays on bloodstained sheets, pale and very dead. She weeps over him and embraces his body, even as Linacre tells her all of Compton’s bedding and clothing must be burned, and he must be buried immediately.
Wolsey meets with his papal delegation and hands over a personal letter from the king to the pope, thanking him in advance for his cooperation. One of the lawyers (Gardiner) asks how Wolsey thinks the pope’s going to respond to this, and Wolsey really isn’t sure. On the one hand, the pope was a prisoner of the emperor, which pisses him off, and he’s still somewhat a prisoner, not being able to get out of Italy or back to his plush palace in Rome, but on the other hand, Henry wants to divorce and disgrace the emperor’s aunt, which could be a problem. The other lawyer points out that Henry’s pretty far away from Italy, whereas the Emperor’s right in the pope’s back yard, using the pool without permission and trashing the place with his fratboy buddies. That proximity and fear of further violence might make the pope reluctant to annoy his unwelcome houseguests. Wolsey tells the lawyers to threaten the pope by promising Henry will use other means to rid himself of Katherine, if necessary. He sends the lawyers on their way.
Tallis rides up the lane towards Compton’s place, meeting a cart on the road loaded with expensive-looking furniture and some of Compton’s servants. At the house, Mistress Hastings lets him know that, almost immediately after Compton died, the servants began stealing his things. Did they not have a sheriff in this area that she could go to? Or the king? Compton had a will, so there must have been some rightful heirs.
Mistress Hastings tells Tallis that Compton had left a gift for the king in his will, and she pulls it out from behind a hidden panel in the wall. It looks like a large, ornately decorated jewelry box. She weeps over it as she informs Tallis that Compton has been buried in the churchyard, along with the servants who died of the sweating sickness in the last day.
Tallis makes his way to the churchyard, where people wearing crude face masks are busily digging graves. He finds Compton’s grave, marked with a simple thrown-together wooden cross, and he cries as he takes a handful of dirt. As he turns to leave, he comes back and brutally smashes his lute over the cross. Um, ok. This doesn’t fit at all with how this relationship has been portrayed to us, or, at least, to me. Tallis never seemed that into Compton at all, it appeared more like he felt like he had no other choice but to go along with what Compton wanted, because Compton was a gentleman and a friend of the king who could have Tallis squashed like a bug if he wanted. For Tallis to go and destroy his instrument (his livelihood) seems like a rather emo overreaction here.
At court, Wolsey finds Norfolk and asks him for a word in private. Norfolk reluctantly leaves his card game and joins Wolsey in a nearby room, where Wolsey tells him Henry’s ordering Norfolk to clear out and return to his estates in East Anglia for a while. Henry wants Norfolk to supervise North Sea trade and grain production. Wolsey’s sharing this unwelcome news with a total shit-eating grin, so we know he’s somehow behind all this. Norfolk asks Wolsey what he takes him for, a butcher’s son (which is a jab at Wolsey’s own heritage)? Wolsey just tells him to get lost.
With Brandon and Knivert, Henry opens the box Compton left him. Inside are some letters and jewelry, which Henry says should be sent back to Mistress Hastings (so he does know about her—why didn’t she report the thieving servants to him, again?). Henry goes on to say that Compton died up in Warwickshire, which is a long way from court (I guess Linacre Apparated there, then), and he hopes the disease won’t spread. But if it does, Henry’s got himself a hypochondriac’s home kit that includes all sorts of unguents and lotions, including one that basically seems to be lube. Hilariously, Brandon grabs that one and eagerly reads the label. Heh. Henry’s also got some pills and an infusion of just about everything under the sun that are supposed to be good protection against the sickness. The show actually got this part right—Henry was terrified of sickness and death, to the point where, immediately after Jane Seymour died, he cleared right out of the palace and raced elsewhere, leaving others to deal with the body. Nice.
Knivert tries the infusion and is told by Henry that it’ll make him feel sick. Thanks for the head’s up, Hal. Judging from Knivert’s expression, Henry was totally right, but, as Henry says, it’s better than the sickness it prevents.
Guess it doesn’t matter who gets Compton’s furniture now—we cut to poor Mistress Hastings, being wrapped for burial as a few female servants weep in the background.
Tallis is back at the organ, playing away when the Slut Sisters come in to bother him. For once, they’re not dressed alike, which is refreshing but doesn’t make them any less interchangeable. One of them compliments his music, and he tells them he can’t compose unless he’s alone. They politely take their leave, but he asks them to wait, goes up to one of them, and asks her name. She tells him it’s Joan, and he asks her to stay, all the while completely ignoring the other one. What a rude jerk. The jilted sister looks hurt and leaves. Joan asks why he wants her to stay, and he asks her if she thinks the world judges them both the same. She answers that it seems to. Maybe because you two don’t exhibit any distinguishing characteristics, Joan. He tells her he doesn’t, he sees the differences between them. Then he starts to veer a little into creepy territory by telling her that, when he first looked at her, he saw a light around her head. Considering the first time you looked at her, she was baldly inviting you to go bang her and her sister, I seriously doubt that, Thomas. She takes a minute to understand what he’s saying, and then asks if he means a circle of light, like a halo? So, she’s not only bland, she’s also kind of stupid. She calls him weird, like a thirteen-year-old, and he asks if he can kiss her. Of course you can, Thomas. Everyone at court can. Wait until she tells you all about George Boleyn. And Thomas Tallis enters into yet another subplot romance I couldn’t care less about.
Out in the lush countryside, Henry’s servants are setting up a picnic I really want to go on. The food looks delicious. Henry and Anne are approaching after a hunting trip, and as he dismounts, Henry is introduced to the new French ambassador, Jean de Ballay, who bows deeply and presents his credentials. Henry asks how the war against the emperor is going and is told that the emperor is besieged at Napoli and will have to surrender soon. Henry’s pleased to hear it, of course, and he turns to introduce de Ballay to Anne, who’s just dismounted. It seems the ambassador already knows her, which would make sense, since she was at the French court for a while, but he says he heard about her through Wolsey. She presents the ambassador with a gift of an Irish wolfhound. Henry tells her the good news about the emperor’s impending defeat and kisses her on the cheek as, off camera, someone yells:
“Go back to your wife!” Two guards run in the direction of the yeller as Henry and the ambassador try to cover.
After their picnic, Henry, the ambassador, and Anne and George Boleyn ride back towards the palace, but there’s a large crowd of shouting people blocking the gate, and the ambassador wonders aloud what the smell in the air is. Henry overacts that it’s vinegar. Vinegar! Good God, man! Henry hops off his horse and asks what’s going on. He’s told that there’s been an outbreak of sweating sickness in the city, and that there are 300 dead that day alone. Servants and advisors bundle Henry off as he frantically asks after Katherine. I’m not sure if it’s because we’re supposed to believe he’s concerned about Katherine’s welfare or if he’s hoping she’ll die and make his life easier. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Henry turns and yells for Anne not to worry, and tells her brother to take her to her rooms, like they’ll protect her from germs.
Henry runs right to his hypochondriac’s closet and takes a few of his pills and a healthy swig of the infusion. Meanwhile, servants spread incense around the halls and Linacre meets with Henry to tell him more about the illness. He tells Henry that most sufferers exhibit a sense of fear and foreboding right before they fall ill (which was actually true), and then he suggests that it’s fear that causes the sickness, which I guess kind of fits with how primitive medical knowledge was back then. Linacre prescribes a good, wholesome diet rather than Henry’s crappy infusions. He’s also heard from a friend that you can stave off the disease by working yourself into a natural sweat through exercise. I think we all know what kind of sweat-inducing exercise Henry prefers.
Across London, churchbells ring, bonfires are lit, and people wail as the dead are brought out and carted away. It’s unfortunate that the writers actually had the corpse bearers call “bring out your dead,” which just cracked me up because I immediately thought of Monty Python. I’m pretty sure I was not supposed to find that funny.
Henry, looking scared out of his mind, joins Katherine in her chapel, where she’s praying hard. He kneels beside her and she looks over at him as he joins her in prayer.
Elsewhere, More’s family is also kneeling to pray. More, of course, preaches that this plague is a punishment from God, and they need to pray away their sins to stave it off.
Looks like Brandon’s taken that exercise advice—he’s enthusiastically and athletically having sex with some court lady. Guess his honeymoon’s over.
Anne’s going about her business, having her hair brushed by a servant, and looking at herself in the mirror when another servant at the other end of the room suddenly grips her head. Anne asks her what the problem is, and the girl tells her she just felt a little dizzy. Anne smiles kindly and invites her over for a hug, but the servant starts to freak out, suddenly guessing that she’s caught the sweat. Anne tries to comfort her, rising and going to her and telling the girl it’s just a headache, but she won’t be appeased. She has pains in her stomach and everything. The other servant backs away while Anne unwisely gets up close to the servant girl and hugs her. The servant falls to the floor, screaming and getting hysterical, and Anne starts to look annoyed and a little scared. I can’t blame her for either one of those reactions.
I guess Anne was at Hever when that happened, because she had to send Henry a letter to tell him that her maid caught the sweat and died. Henry tells Wolsey he wants to see Anne, which doesn’t fit with his extreme fear of this disease at all, and of course Wolsey tells him that’s a pretty poor idea. Henry’s worried Anne might come down with the disease and die, but he realizes there’s not much he can do about it if she does. He tells Wolsey Anne will have to leave the palace (is Henry under house arrest? She’s writing him a letter when they’re in the same building? Did she pass it to him before study hall?) and head back to Hever with her family. Henry promises to send her infusions to fortify herself, along with letters. How sweet. Wolsey asks what Henry plans to do with Katherine, and Henry says she’ll join their daughter, Mary, at Ludlow Castle. Henry plans to shut himself up at Whitehall. Wolsey advises Henry to keep as few people around him as possible until the sweat passes.
In Katherine’s rooms, she and her ladies are packing when Henry arrives to say goodbye. Katherine picks a bad time to pick a fight, accusing Henry of sending her away so he can spend time with Anne. Katherine, I like you, but now is really not the time. Henry denies it, filling Katherine in on Anne’s travel plans. Katherine refers to Anne as Henry’s mistress, which he also denies, because he’s not sleeping with her. Katherine calls bullshit on that, because we all know there are other ways to have an affair. Henry tells Katherine that their marriage is a lie, but he still cares about her enough to want to save her life, so off to Ludlow she goes, after a chilly goodbye and message of love for Mary from the king.
Anne and her father are on the road, and her father asks her how she’s feeling. She says she’s fine, but he doesn’t look so sure. She guesses he thinks she’s contaminated, since it was her maid who died, and although he says he doesn’t think that, it’s pretty plain he really doesn’t want to be in an enclosed space with her. Anne, by the way, isn’t looking so great. She’s a little flushed, her eyes look a tiny bit red, and is that a thin sheen of sweat I see? She begins to wriggle and fidget and says she can’t breathe. Considering how tightly she’s strapped into that dress, I’m not surprised. She stops the coach, hops out, and starts to walk, crying in fear and dread.
Man, Tallis has the kiss of death! Now Joan’s body is being carted out as her sister weeps and Tallis looks on. I guess she won’t have to worry about always being considered a package deal with Joan, now. Maybe she’ll even get a name! And you know what? I’m starting to think that Tallis is causing the sickness. He’s like a 16th century Typhoid Mary—wherever he goes, the Sweat follows. It turned up first at Compton’s place, and then Tallis came back to court and it started up there. Way to go, Tom.
The people of London are starting to gather at the gates of Henry’s palace, while inside he paces large, empty chambers, alone. He’s dressed in black with his collar undone, looking very Byronic.
When life gives you lemons, I guess it’s a good time to have a nice feast. Henry tucks into yet another sumptuous repast while a lute player serenades him. But as Henry peels back the skin on the fish he’s eating, he reveals a stash of maggots. Ewww!
It was a dream sequence, thankfully, and Henry wakes with a start in bed, vowing never to eat salmon again. He gets up and immediately starts doing pushups in his boxers (seriously, he’s wearing boxers) as the servant sleeping at the foot of his bed looks on, confused.
Henry then goes to his priest for confession and asks him what England’s done to piss God off so bad. He wonders if it’s his fault, and asks for forgiveness for his sins. The priest is unresponsive, so Henry steps out of the confessional and opens the curtains on the priest’s side. A horrible plague-stricken face looks up at him, and we cut away to Henry’s horrified face, and then back to see an empty confessional. Ok, I’m not entirely sure what just happened there. Was that another nightmare? Is Henry going crazy and talking to the air?
Before we can think too long about it,, we cut to Orvieto, Italy, where the pope’s currently holed up. The church where he’s staying is a craphole—there’s a giant hole in the roof, two men are playing cards, and the amount of livestock living there makes it more barn than church. I find it very hard to believe that the people of Orvieto wouldn’t have at least removed the animals and cardsharks from the church when the pope showed up to take up residence, especially during such a religiously devout era.
Wolsey’s lawyers arrive, looking shocked by their surroundings, and are greeted by a priest, who leads them into the pope’s presence, introducing them as Gardiner and Fox. They respectfully greet the pope and let him bitch about the surroundings for a moment before presenting him with Henry’s letter and the papers relating to the king’s suit. The pope hedges and says he wants to please Henry, but he’s been advised that the reason for this whole matter is the king’s passion for Anne Boleyn, who’s far below him in both rank and virtue. The pope goes on to gossip that he hears Anne is already pregnant, and the lawyers reassure him that Anne’s totally virtuous, and awesome all around. They go on to tell the pope that they hope he’ll read their arguments and, once he rules on the matter, he’ll write to the queen himself with his decision. The pope says he’ll read the papers and see how things go.
At this point, the guys play their trump card and tell the pope that if he doesn’t give them the answer they want, they’ll throw off the Catholic Church, essentially. I think they should have kept that one in reserve, but what do I know? The pope just chuckles when he hears that.
Henry’s passing the time back at home by writing to Anne, advising her to drink vinegar. He’s momentarily distracted by the sound of something being dropped in the corridor, and a moment later a manservant enters, ricocheting off the furniture in a manner we now know means Bad News. The poor kid makes it all the way to Henry before collapsing. Henry flees the palace as fast as his horse will go, pulling a mask over his face as he goes and urging his servants and guards to keep a look out, presumably for infected subjects. They finally reach their destination: a forbidding looking mountaintop fortress.
Far from the horrors of the Sweat, the pope once again greets the lawyers, and delivers the disappointing news that he’s unable, here and today, to render a judgment in the case. He’ll resolve it soon, but not there. He’s sending Cardinal Campeggio to England to act as the pope’s voice in the matter, to hear the evidence and pass judgment on the pope’s behalf. The lawyers have no choice but to agree.
In the Fortress of Solitude, Henry’s servants sterilize letters by holding them over smoking incense burners before taking them into the room where Henry’s laying low from the Big Bad Sweat. Henry tells the servant to leave the letters by the door and to leave. The servant obeys, and once he’s gone, Henry fetches the letters and reads one from Wolsey, who reports that Norfolk has caught the sweating sickness and is asking to return to London, ostensibly to see a doctor. Why else would he want to return to London? The only thing there right now are a bunch of sick and dying people. Also: this is another one of those moments where the writers had a clear research fail.
The sweating sickness was, undoubtedly, a bizarre disease. It sprang out of nowhere around 1485, came back a few times in the early 16th century (probably killing Henry’s older brother, Arthur, at Ludlow Castle in 1502) and disappeared just as suddenly as it appeared around 1551. It was mostly found in England, although it spread to the continent in 1528 (presumably the outbreak this episode refers to), and it never appeared in either Italy or France. In all cases, it was a very quick-moving disease—you went from feeling fine to being dead in a matter of hours, so all these letters flying back and forth in enough time to fetch doctors from one end of the country to another are absurd. As is the notion that Norfolk would survive long enough to get to London, which took days, if not weeks, back then, depending on where you were coming from. So, unless this is some kind of gambit on his end to get back to court, or he’s got some other sickness that he’s mistaken for the sweat, this is a classic History Fail.
Anyway, Wolsey refused permission for Norfolk to go to London, and he also reports that several of Henry’s servants are dead, London’s a mess with 40,000 victims, and Anne’s sick too, although she’s managed to survive so far. So, the writers did get that part right.
Henry calls for Dr. Linacre and tells him to go to Hever to treat Anne. Linacre, no doubt remembering how little success he had with Compton, swallows hard but obeys.
In London, Wolsey’s fallen victim too, and he lies on the floor, writhing.
The Boleyn men are praying as Linacre descends from Anne’s room and delivers a grim prognosis: In his opinion, Anne’s doomed. George looks devastated, but Thomas just looks slightly pissed that all his plans are coming to nothing. George throws himself into his father’s arms, but Thomas can barely bring himself to embrace his son.
More, meanwhile, is peacefully reading in his home in the company of one of his daughters, who asks him if he’s scared. He isn’t, of course, because he’s a saint, or will be someday, and he knows what waits for him in heaven will be way better than anything he finds on earth. What he does fear is a far worse sickness than the sweat—he’s worried about Lutherismitis, which is infecting thousands, mostly poor people who see the church as corrupt, rich and decadent, which it kind of was. The daughter doesn’t think it’ll come to England, but More knows it’s already there. He asks his daughter what one does with a house plagued with sickness. She offers that you purge it with fire, which seems like kind of an overreaction, but that’s just the answer More was going for. He wants Luther and his followers to be burned, every last one. His daughter, rightfully, looks kind of terrified.
At the Fortress, Henry’s gazing at the locket picture of Anne late at night when a servant comes in to bring him some food, scaring him to death. The strain’s starting to show on Henry, and he wipes his hand compulsively across his face, feeling for sweat. Much later, he wakes from an unsound sleep as someone slips a note under his door. It’s a letter from More, reporting more bad news—just about everyone seems to be sick or dead, there’s essentially no government in the country, and there have been riots in the city. Henry looks up at his own reflection in the window, and the face morphs into a wrinkled corpse’s. It’s actually a really well done and pretty freaky effect, and I actually buy that Henry’s wild imagination, fear, and probable sleep deprivation would actually start to bring on these types of hallucinations.
Henry wakes the next morning and turns over in bed to find Anne’s cold corpse beside him. He vaults out of bed and hides in a corner, completely unable to deal anymore.
There’s good news around the corner, though—a servant comes running out of Anne’s room, finds George, and tells him to go see her. George tells her to fetch his father and runs into the room, where Anne’s sitting up in bed, looking exhausted but alive. Thomas kisses her hands, praises God, and happily tells her she’s risen from the dead and now she can see the king again. She doesn’t look like that’s exactly the first thing on her agenda.
Henry joyfully writes Anne a letter, congratulating her on not dying, and tells her Campeggio’s arrived in France and will hopefully soon be in England. As he reads the letter in VO, Henry flees the fortress, happy to be free now the plague has abated.
Wolsey’s recovering too, so it looks like both he and Anne will live to be killed another day. His mistress comes into his room with a letter from Anne, congratulating him on not dying and proclaiming herself his friend forever and ever. Wolsey sees through it and asks his mistress to arrange for a pilgrimage to Walsingham so he can give thanks at a shrine there.
The court’s been pretty well devastated by the Sweat, it seems. As the courtiers gather for a service in the chapel, pillows with spurs on them mark the spots where people once sat, beside their now-weeping relatives. Compton’s pillow is in between Knivert and Brandon, who are immediately behind Henry, Katherine, and Mary. Tallis is leading the boys’ choir, and Henry silently weeps as he reaches for Katherine’s hand. Henry, you really need to lay off the mixed signals with this poor woman.
After the service, Henry hops a horse and gallops off to Hever, where he finds Anne out on the lawn, relaxing and recovering. She walks over to him, arms outstretched, and they embrace tightly. Henry kisses her hard, thankful she’s not a corpse in his bed, no doubt. The future’s looking bright.