The Tudors: Off With Her Head!

Previously on The Tudors: Henry fell for Jane Seymour and decided to jettison Anne. Anne, her brother, and several other men were arrested and charged with treason. All but Wyatt were sentenced to death, and the men all lost their heads.

Someone is polishing a very impressive sword by candlelight. Once the job is done, he blows out the candle, and we learn it’s May 15, 1536.

In England, we get a montage set to some lovely churchy choir music. A rider gallops through a misty field. In the fog-shrouded Tower, Anne prays. Henry lies awake in bed in the palace. At the Brandon house, Charles and Duchess Kate are fast asleep as a little boy squirms up between them. Charles wakes up for a moment, then rolls over and throws his arm over his wife and son. Aww. Back at the palace, Henry stands at the window, looking out at two swans on the lake. Then, he’s in the chapel, kneeling, as a women’s choir carrying candles stands behind him, singing the music we’ve been listening to this whole time. Leave it to Henry to have a women’s choir. And to be an asshole for no reason at all. He suddenly turns, looks at the choir for a moment, turns back to the alter, and then screams for them to be quiet before turning around and hurrying out of the chapel.

Breakfast time for little Elizabeth. The tiny girl is escorted to the dining room with much pomp and seated at the head of a long table.

Meanwhile, her mother’s meager, uneaten meal gets scraped into the trash. Anne is sitting on the bed, staring at nothing but seeming calm, while her servants clean up. When the door opens, they scramble to line up respectfully. Kingston enters, and Anne goes to him. He tells her that Henry has kindly agreed to behead her instead of burning her at the stake, and also that he’s sent for the executioner of Calais at her request. What a nice guy. Anne takes all this in calmly and asks when her execution will take place. Nine a.m. (presumably the next day). She tells him she’s content and asks him to send for Cranmer so she can make her last confession. Kingston bows and goes to do her bidding.

At Whitehall, Henry’s dictating a letter to the Emperor to Cromwell, seeking friendship and an alliance against the French. He goes to the window again and looks out at the swans, then mentions how much he likes the prospect of change.

Cranmer arrives at the Tower and asks Kingston how Anne’s holding up. Kingston admits she was fairly hysterical when she first arrived, but she’s calmed down a lot since then and has reconciled herself to her fate. Cranmer’s glad to hear it, but sad that he’ll have to cause her further pain. Kingston lets him into Anne’s rooms, where Cranmer regretfully informs her that her marriage to Henry has been declared null and void. She asks on what grounds and he tells her it’s due to the fact that Henry slept with Anne’s sister, which I guess was some kind of bizarre biblical no-no. Anne realizes that this means Elizabeth will be called a bastard, just as Mary was, and will be excluded from the succession. Anne closes her eyes in pain and Cranmer hurries to her side to promise to always defend Elizabeth and keep her in Henry’s good graces. She thanks him, then gets started on her confession, after asking Kingston to remain. Anne kneels next to Cranmer and proclaims her innocence, under pain of hellfire. She admits to having been a bit of a nag at times, but that was really her worst sin. Cranmer seems very affected by what she says, and once she’s done, he makes the sign of the cross on her forehead and tells Kingston to report Anne’s last confession. Once he’s gone, Anne grabs Cranmer’s sleeve and asks if, even at this late hour, the bishops might intervene on her behalf. It’s a no go, and she realizes it fairly quickly. Poor Anne. Not that she was a saint by any means, but she definitely didn’t deserve this.

Mary’s in church, praying before a statue of Jesus on the cross. She finishes up, rises, and turns to see Chapuys. He bows and she asks if “the harlot” is dead. Chapuys says no, but she will be soon. Mary crosses herself in thanks and asks for info on the case. Chapuys is only too happy to tell her that Elizabeth is alleged to be the child of Anne and one of Anne’s lovers, not the king, and that Anne is reported to have had over 100 lovers. Mary’s horrified and crosses herself again. Chapuys goes on to say that Anne blames him for her misfortune, which he takes as a compliment.

Mary moves on to the subject of Jane Seymour, asking him what he knows about her. Chapuys tells her that Jane is rumored to have Catholic leanings and that Henry means to marry her, and also that Jane hopes to restore Mary to the succession. He adds that Elizabeth has been declared illegitimate. Mary’s happy to hear it.

Henry lazes around on his bed, seeming to be at a loss as to what to do with himself. He comes to a decision, gets up, and tells one of his servants to get some horses ready, but don’t tell anyone where they’re going. Should be easy, since Henry didn’t mention where they were going to the servant.

At the Tower, Anne readies herself, washing her hands and examining her reflection in a lousy mirror being held up by a shaky, upset-looking maid. A clergyman, meanwhile, reads aloud from Ecclesiastes 3:1, which is appropriate. While this is going on, Jane Seymour’s being dressed at Wolf Hall, her family’s home. The scenes of her smilingly getting dolled up and playing in anticipation of Henry’s arrival are intercut with the somber scenes of Anne dressing in a dark gray gown, solemnly listening to the clergyman.

Anne’s preparations are interrupted by the door opening and Kingston coming in. Anne’s startled, thinking he’s come early for her, but Kingston’s only there to tell her that the executioner’s been delayed, and so the execution has been postponed three hours. Anne is sorry to hear that, as she’d hoped to be past her pain by noon. Kingston hurriedly reassures her there will be no pain (who tested that theory?) since the executioner is excellent and will be using a sword instead of the more unwieldy axe. Anne adds, in another bit of dialogue stolen from Anne of the Thousand Days, that she has such a little neck, too. Then, she starts to giggle hysterically, her nerves stretched far past the breaking point.

At the Brandon home, Charles lingers in a doorway, watching his young son playing with a small sword. At first, the kid’s just swinging at the air, but then he starts to get destructive, knocking over candlesticks and the like, so Charles calls a halt by yelling the kid’s name (Edward, which, for some reason, I think is inconsistent. Wasn’t the boy’s name given as Charles earlier? Eh, whatever.) The boy pauses as his father enters the room, and then, out of nowhere, he gut-stabs Brandon. Wow, that kid’s a moron. Or he really hated his father. Brandon bends over in pain, then collapses onto the bed in a fairly good approximation of being dead. It’s good enough for the kid, who starts to get worried, but then Charles springs up, having not been stabbed at all. He was only faking! Ha ha! No, no lingering trauma here at all!

Charles uses this as a teachable moment, telling the kid that the sword is not a toy. Edward asks his father if he’s ever killed anyone, and Charles is honest in his answer (yes, in battle). The boy asks what it felt like, and Charles tells him that the men were his enemies, so he didn’t care. The kid swerves into creepy territory and says he’d really like to see someone die. He asks to go to Anne’s execution. Charles looks troubled, maybe because his kid’s starting to seem a little sociopathic.

Cromwell’s working in his office with a flunky and bitching about the exorbitant cost of the execution, like he has to pay for it himself. Just in case anyone’s interested, the executioner’s to be paid 15 pounds. I tried to find out what that would be worth in today’s money but came up emptyhanded. Sorry. Virtual cheers to anyone who knows, though!

The executioner of which they speak is still on the road, examining his horse’s bandaged hoof. Looks like the mount’s still out of commission, so the executioner resumes his journey on foot.

At court, the delay’s been noticed. Henry’s restlessly moving around his study when Cromwell comes in and regretfully informs Henry that the executioner’s been held up and they have to postpone the execution again. This actually did happen, historically, and it must have been excruciating for Anne, who kept getting herself all prepped and psyched up to meet her death bravely, only to be told she’d have to wait again.

Henry, of course, is pissed and tells Cromwell to just get someone else to do the execution—get the axe man who offed Anne’s alleged lovers. Cromwell reminds Henry that he made a promise to Anne, and Henry flies off the handle, wondering why he should bother with his promises to “that whore.” Considering how much he’s bought into this whole absurd story of Anne being unfaithful, one wonders why he made that promise in the first place. I’ve heard it said, amongst historians, that it indicated that Henry never believed the stories at all, that deep down, he realized this was all a bunch of nonsense and he felt a little guilty about it, but the show doesn’t seem to have gone in that direction so, ok, whatever. Henry’s insane.

Cromwell pauses to let Henry calm down a little, then says that Henry’s promise is public knowledge, so backing down would be lousy PR. Henry throws him against a wall and puts a knife to his throat (and, rather amusingly, Cromwell’s so used to this he doesn’t even bat an eye). Henry shouts that he wants the job finished, so go get someone else to do it, or Cromwell will be on the chopping block. He releases Cromwell, who leaves, but about a second later, Henry goes to the doorway and yells after the departing Cromwell: “I said postpone it!” Yeah, crazy all right.

Kingston, who I’m sure is starting to feel like an absolute dick, once again goes in to see Anne, who is, once again, dressed up for her execution. She tells him she’s ready, and he says she might be, but nobody else is. The execution’s been put off until 9 a.m. the next day. Anne’s upset and admits she’s afraid that further delay will weaken her resolve. She goes to Kingston and asks if there’s anything at all he can do, but there isn’t, because now it’s Henry’s express command. Her face crumples, but then she starts to take a glass-half-full view and wonders if all the postponements mean she’s not meant to die at all. Perhaps Henry’s testing her and she’ll be dispatched to a nunnery or something. I seriously doubt that, Anne. She clearly doubts it too, but she’ll cling to anything at this point. Kingston just gives her a hopeless look, and she begins to cry, looking like a scared, lonely little girl.

Henry’s galloping through the countryside, and this is one of those unfortunate moments where the time of year they were filming didn’t match up at all with the time of year being depicted, because the horse’s breath fogs in the air, and it looks like it might be snowing a little, even though it’s supposed to be May. Maybe it was a cold May that year. Henry, a few guards, a couple of courtiers, and two random ladies gallop up to Wolf Hall, where they’re soon seated at a merry dinner table with Jane, the Seymours, and some associated well-dressed hangers on we’ve never seen before. Henry confides to Seymour, who’s seated at his right, that his marriage has been declared null and void, and that he plans to fill that void with Seymour’s daughter. Seymour’s pleased to hear it, and not at all surprised. I will say, it’s kind of nice to see the contrast between Seymour and Boleyn. Seymour just seems like a nice guy who really cares about his daughter, and it just so happened that she caught Henry’s eye. He’s happy about it, but he has none of the pushiness of Boleyn (that’s more his son’s department). It must be kind of a relief to Henry to deal with these people after the chilling, grasping Thomas Boleyn.

Henry raises his goblet and informs the table that the following day they’ll all travel by barge to Hampton Court, where his and Jane’s engagement will be announced. Jane smiles happily, looking every inch the excited, girlish bride. With her attitude, blonde hair, and wholesome girl-next-door good looks, she’s the opposite of her Boleyn predecessor as well. Henry promises that after the following day, everything will be different, and they’ll be young and merry as they used to be. He raises a toast to Jane, and everyone joins in.

Little Elizabeth, proving she is, indeed, her father’s daughter, is throwing a right royal tantrum as a lady-in-waiting tries to coax her into a jacket. Servants are busy packing up the house (hey, is that a portrait of Elizabeth of York on the wall? Nice touch, production people, although it would have been funnier and more spot on if it was Elizabeth Woodville). Lady Bryan observes Elizabeth’s histrionics for a moment, then puts a stop to it by threatening to hit her, which I’m guessing is a first for little Lizzy. She shuts right up.

A nearby lady-in-waiting looks surprised by the threat, but Lady Bryan blows it off and tells her (and us) that they’ve been ordered to move Elizabeth elsewhere so she can be kept out of Henry’s sight. She’s not sufficiently out of sight at this place in the country? Where are they going to take her, Scotland? The lady-in-waiting refers to Elizabeth (who’s standing right there and taking all this in, by the way) as a “little princess”. Lady B brutally says she’s not a princess, she’s a bastard, and she’s expected to pay for Anne’s necessities as long as Anne’s imprisoned through her own household’s income. The younger lady rightly expresses disbelief that the child should have to pay for her own mother’s imprisonment, and Lady B shows some sign of unbending, implicitly agreeing that this is a crappy deal. Then she gets all heavy-handed and tells the younger woman to marry a rich, stupid man who knows nothing about politics. Then, maybe, if she manages not to die in childbirth or from the plague, she might be able to be happy. What a cheery nanny this woman is! Elizabeth, being a super-precocious child (which she was in real life), takes all this in with a solemn look on her cute little face.

Henry and Jane, trailed by many of her relatives, take a stroll through the ruthlessly manicured gardens at Wolf Hall. Henry asks her what she wants to talk about, and she moves right into touchy territory by saying she wants to talk about Henry’s daughter, Mary. She says she hopes to see Mary reinstated as heir to the throne. Henry laughs right in her face and calls her a fool, saying she should be more concerned about the advancement of their own children, not some kid he had with a previous wife he discarded for no reason at all. Jane proves to be a canny little thing by making this all about Henry, which should appeal to him. She insists she’s not asking for such a thing for the good of others, but to give him some peace of mind. Oh, and also to bring some tranquility to the kingdom. As I suspected, Henry’s appeased by this, but says he’d hoped to just have a clean slate now, uncluttered by his previous wives and his own damn children.

He draws her behind a nearby tree and tells her that she’s so marvelously pure he doesn’t want her affected by the things that have gone before. He asks to kiss her, and once he receives permission, does so. Her father, watching the kiss, rather obviously says that everything will change for her. “That kiss is her destiny and her fortune,” he predicts. And her death, but we’ll get to that. Edward, the promoter of his family, observes that it’ll be their destiny and fortune as well.

Back at the Tower, Anne is sitting quietly with the three maids attending her, just waiting for time to pass. She reminisces for a little while about serving at the court of Margaret of Austria when she was younger. The maids are enjoying the colorful aspects of the story, such as Anne’s detail about appearing in a pageant as the Queen of the Amazons, with a sword in her hand and a giant headdress. The story winds up a little sad, though, with Margaret having warned her maids and ladies that they may someday find themselves in the ranks of those who have been deceived.

Charles is paying a visit to the Tower; he eyes the scaffold being built and scrubbed down as he passes it, and is then ushered into Thomas Boleyn’s cell. This is all total BS by the way. Boleyn was never arrested, and although he kind of washed his hands of his children and said that, if the accusations were true, everyone deserved to be punished, he fled to the countryside a broken man and died within a couple of years. Anyway, Charles has come to tell Boleyn that he won’t be going to trial, he’s going to be released. Boleyn grins when he hears the news, but claps a hand over his mouth, like he actually realizes he shouldn’t be quite so gleeful. Charles continues: Boleyn will be stripped of his official post and titles and he’ll be kicked off the Council. He’s also been banished from court permanently. Horrifyingly, Boleyn happily notes that he’ll get to keep his earldom. Come on, you jackass!

Apparently Charles is as over this guy as I am, because he roughly shoves him against a wall (see, when Henry does it, it looks stupid, but when this guy does it, it’s kinda scary). Charles brutally asks Boleyn if he watched his son die, and if he plans to watch Anne’s execution. Was it all worth it? Disgusted, he releases Boleyn and leaves. Boleyn just looks pissed. Some people never learn.

But, at least his release was quick. We next see him walking past the scaffold, which is set up right near Anne’s window. She’s standing there, looking out, and she raises a hand in greeting to her father, who looks up at her for a moment, then turns away and continues toward the exit, a total cold fish.

Henry’s on his way back to court, accompanied by the same little party that went with him to Wolf Hall. He pulls up his horse next to a reedy pond that has a completely random fountain in the middle of it, dismounts on the wrong side and in the most awkward manner possible, and walks to the edge of the pond. He turns to his attendants and tells them this is the fountain of youth. Yeah, crazy. He wades in, then ducks under completely. Some of the guards look nervous, maybe because they remember what happened the last time Henry stupidly wandered into a body of water. Henry reemerges unscathed and tells everyone he’s reborn. Whatever.

The executioner has finally made it to London, where he meets with Kingston. Kingston asks to see the sword and admires it for a moment before handing it back. Then, he gives the executioner a full itinerary for the following day: wake up at 7, eat breakfast, chop head at 9. The executioner asks that Anne not be restrained in any way, and also that she not look back at him while he’s trying to deliver the final blow, presumably because that might cause him to mess up. The executioner will hide his sword and have an assistant distract her while he chops her head off. Kingston seems a little disturbed by the easy way the executioner talks about this. But, you know, this guy does this all the time, it’s his job, so I’m not all that shocked that he’s become immune to the violence and horror of it.

At the Tower, the maids are all fast asleep, but Anne is still up, praying and having flashbacks to her nice, sunny childhood, when she played in the garden with her brother and was surprised by her then-loving pre-douchebag father, who picked her up and spun her around as she laughed. Oh, were they ever so sweet and innocent, these Boleyns?

It’s now May 19th, 1536. At Whitehall, Henry wakes, then wanders out to the gardens shirtless, wearing a robe, and observes the swans in the pond again.

At the Tower, Kingston’s come for Anne at last. He hands over a purse of money from Henry, to pay the headsman and distribute alms to the poor. Anne takes it, thanks him, and she and her ladies fall into step behind him. Anne is admirably calm, clearly relieved to have all this over with at last.

Back at Whitehall, Cromwell strides into the chapel, where he kneels before the altar, shaking, and begins to pray. After a moment, he sags and looks up at the cross, anguished. Looks like someone’s conscience is taking a beating.

Kingston leads Anne outside, where a huge crowd has gathered. Unlike the crowds at her accused accomplices’ executions, this one is fairly welcoming, which is strange. If the guys were guilty, wouldn’t she be too? Why should those crowds have been so ugly? Anyway, people reach out to touch her as she walks past, and shout encouragement as she ascends the scaffold. Wyatt, looking like a total wreck, takes up a position on a staircase, partially obscured by a piece of stone wall. I’m going to miss him. Even though I feel like they kind of wasted this character, I liked the actor, and I’m pretty sure this is the last we’ll see of him, since historically Wyatt washed his hands of the court after the whole Boleyn debacle and went back to the country to live out his days in peace. With Lady Elizabeth and their kids, but whatever. Maybe the show will surprise me.

Also in the crowd are Brandon and his kid, so I guess he let the little boy come to the execution after all. Get them used to horrible violence young! Cranmer’s out there too.

Once on the scaffold, Anne gives a speech in which she apologizes for ever having offended the king and beseeches everyone to pray for Henry’s life. She lays it on pretty thick, calling Henry one of the best princes on earth, and claiming he always treated her well. I can think of plenty of times that wasn’t true, but whatever, she’s playing to the crowd, and they’re responding pretty well. She ends with a hope that history will judge her kindly (don’t worry, Anne, it will). Then, her ladies step forward, remove her cloak, and tie a cap over her hair. Anne hands them her necklace and earrings, thanks them all sincerely, and they step back, crying. Anne hands over the payment to the executioner, who kneels and asks her forgiveness, which she readily gives. She asks the crowd to pray for her, then kneels. Even Kingston’s looking touched now. Anne’s lip trembles slightly as she prays, but then she manages to regain control. Out in the crowd, Cranmer kneels, and soon everyone else is following suit, even Brandon (though not until after everyone else around him already has). The executioner puts his distraction into play, and Anne looks away, as expected. Then, she looks up to see a murder of crows or ravens fly away, just as the executioner strikes. We get one last shot of little Anne happily hugging her father in those more innocent times, then fade to black.

Now that would have been the perfect place to end this episode. It was sad, and moving, and quite beautiful, really. An excellent end to both the season and to the whole Anne Boleyn story arc. But did they end it there? No, of course not.

We go back to Whitehall, where a bunch of servants are toting something covered by some kind of brocade tent. For a second, I actually thought, horribly, it might be Anne’s head. The servants march into Henry’s dining room, where he’s sitting all alone at a long table, set the tent in front of him, and lift it to reveal a dead swan decorating a pie. Oh, ugh! The hell? From Henry’s wistful expressions while watching the swans paddling around in his pond, I thought that, to him, they represented a gentler, freer, more beautiful life, which his future with Jane promised. Or something along those lines. So what’s up with this? He was smiling at them because he saw them as dinner? I know that elaborate food preparations like this were common at the time (remember the bird pie?) but I think this was some seriously mucked-up symbolism. I’m just confused now.

Henry’s delighted, laughing and clapping his hands like a child, but when a servant moves forward to cut the enormous pie the swan’s decorating, Henry stops him with a strangely murderous look, then digs his hand right into the pie, pulls out a drippy handful of filling, and shoves it disgustingly in his mouth like a complete barbarian, sauce dripping down his face. And that’s the last we see of the season: Henry repulsively gorging. Which is there—why? At this point, the powers that be had already told everyone that we wouldn’t be getting a fat Henry (because history be damned, we won’t spoil the pretty!) So what was this? Henry dipping his hand in and feeding his desires? I think we already got that, thanks, writers. This was just gross, and a terrible way to end the season. Sigh. Maybe season three was better, I honestly don’t remember it very clearly. We’ll have to see.

Previous Episode: These Bloody Days

8 thoughts on “The Tudors: Off With Her Head!

  1. The line about her little neck was not stolen from Anne of the Thousand Days. It is documented that the real Anne Boleyn said those words when she learned that the executioner was delayed. And that she laughed when she did.

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