Previously on Wolf Hall: Henry VIII decided the best way to get a son and heir was to ditch his wife and marry someone younger. He set Cardinal Wolsey the impossible task of dissolving an ironclad marriage, and when the Cardinal failed, he was sent off in disgrace. This is all witnessed by the Cardinal’s lawyer, Thomas Cromwell, a man who dragged himself out of the gutter and is definitely on his way up.
It’s December 1529. Wolsey’s still at Esher, but Anne and Norfolk want him sent further north, further away from Henry. Cromwell’s still in London, fighting on the Cardinal’s behalf.
Cromwell waits in a hallway at one of Henry’s palaces until the king and his entourage pass. Henry pauses and waves Cromwell over. Cromwell hands over some documents and Henry tells him that he can’t talk about the Cardinal before continuing on his way. He leaves Gardiner in his wake, and Gardiner acts his usual smug self. Cromwell admits he was under the impression he had an audience with the king and Gardiner practically laughs in his face.
Cromwell heads up to Esher, where Wolsey tells him a cat had a litter under his bed. Cromwell delightedly retrieves a black kitten. They talk a bit about Wolsey’s impending trip north, which Cromwell thinks he shouldn’t take. Cromwell tells Wolsey he’ll hate York, despite being its archbishop. He says the weather sucks. But Henry wants Wolsey gone, so he’ll be humiliated, sending a message to the pope. Wolsey admits he feels like Katherine, cast off, but still in love with the man who treats him so badly. Cromwell suggests Wolsey bribe people and play whatever cards he has left. Wolsey worries about being charged with treason, but Cromwell says if Henry planned that, Wolsey would already be in the Tower. He knows Henry misses Wolsey and thinks the Cardinal will be restored to favour soon.
Back home at Austin Friars, Cromwell comes upon the household welcoming his son, Gregory, home for Christmas. Gregory’s brought a pair of greyhounds with him. Black ones. The young man comes forward to greet his father and Cromwell welcomes him home. Later, in Cromwell’s study, Gregory messes about with something until his father tells him he’s messing up some careful calculations. Gregory apologises and returns the counters to where they were. These two are clearly not close—the boy’s intimidated by his father, it seems. Uncertain of his place here. Considering his own past, Cromwell probably finds being father to a son rather difficult. They sit by the fire together and talk about the annual Epiphany feast, which is cancelled that year because Cromwell doubts anybody would come because of the cardinal’s disgrace. Gregory says that others at Cambridge are laughing at his greyhounds, because only felons have dogs you can’t see at night. He should have white ones, apparently. Cromwell goes to fetch the little black kitten and decides to call it Marlinspike after a giant they had in one of their Christmas plays. He’s trying to be playful with his kid, but Gregory just looks a little concerned and says that the dogs will kill it. Well, keep your dogs away, then, Gregory. Geez. So much for a family reunion.
That night, Cromwell asks Johane, his sister-in-law, if she thinks Gregory’s afraid of him. He’s a bit sad that Gregory is lively around others and rather withdrawn around him. Johane says that Cromwell’s a kind and perhaps overly indulgent father. Liz used to say the same thing. Cromwell turns to other family matters, musing that it’s been a very long time since there was a baby in the house. Johane tells him not to look in her direction, and Cromwell asks if her husband isn’t getting the job done. She basically says she has no interest in having sex with her husband, and leaves the room. ‘There’s a conversation I shouldn’t have had,’ he says. No kidding.
A young man named Wriothesley (pronounced ‘Risley’ and since he’s playfully referred to as Call-Me-Risley in the book, I’m going to go with that. CMR he is) is presented to Cromwell and a possible addition to his household. He used to work for Wolsey but now works for Gardiner as a clerk. It doesn’t fill all his time, so he wants to work for Cromwell too. As he leaves, Rafe figures he’s being sent by Gardiner to spy on them. Cromwell shrugs that, as CMR seems obliging, maybe they can get him to spy on Gardiner.
Cromwell goes back to Esher and checks on the Cardinal, asleep in bed. He goes downstairs to sit with George and get the latest. The Cardinal, apparently, has taken to self-flagellating. Cromwell is appalled by the sight of the horrible whip he’s using and decides they need to get him out of there. George begs Cromwell to go see the king again.
So, back Cromwell goes to try petitioning again. He waits, and when Henry appears he’s called over again. Henry asks him to take a message to Wolsey: there’s a Breton merchant complaining that his ship was seized 8 years ago and he hasn’t been paid for it yet. The Cardinal will have handled the case and might remember it. ‘I’m sure he will. That’ll be the one with powdered pearls for ballast and unicorns horns in its hull?’ Cromwell replies. Man, the balls on this guy. He asks to look into the case personally and Sussex urges Henry to let him. Henry waves the gentlemen off, pulls Cromwell close, and observes that he sure stands by his man. Cromwell says the Cardinal’s only ever been kind to him. Henry asks if he has any other master and Cromwell’s face says, ‘why do you ask?’ Henry whispers an offer of £1000, saying that’s all that can be spared. He warns Cromwell not to tell anyone. It does look like Henry feels pretty badly about all this, and before he goes, he admits he misses Wolsey every day. That’s Henry for you: he’ll get rid of inconvenient people at a whim, and feel badly about it for ages afterwards.
During a visit with Bonvisi, Cromwell says the king owes Wolsey way more than £1000, and Bonvisi points out that it’s not much money when you have a Cardinal to move north, but still, it’s something. He wonders where the rest of the necessary cash will come from, and off of Cromwell’s silence asks how much of his own money he’s willing to put towards Wolsey. ‘Some debts are not to be reckoned,’ says Cromwell, adding that he’s heard a rumour that Thomas Wyatt has a history with Anne Boleyn. Bonvisi laughs it off and warns Cromwell to ignore these stories. He goes on to say that Anne interests Cromwell, because a world where she can be queen is a world where Cromwell could be anything.
Back to Esher, where things are being packed up. Wolsey tells Cromwell that Anne is the key to winning back Henry, like he doesn’t know, and urges Cromwell to get into her confidence. Cromwell promises to come north to fetch Wolsey once Henry summons him back. Wolsey calls him over for a blessing and gives him a gift in a monogrammed box, telling him not to open it until after Wolsey is dead. The old man looks sad, as if he realizes this is really it.
At Austin Friars, Cromwell reels off instructions about Wolsey’s travels to Rafe and Richard. They finally interject that maybe it’s time to let the Cardinal go.
Alone, Cromwell takes out the box the Cardinal gave him, looks at it, and then tucks it back into its little velvet pouch, which he places in a box filled with some mementos of Liz. Through the window, he watches Gregory cuddle his new white greyhounds. Yeah, you do spoil him, Cromwell.
Cromwell then goes to see More, who’s snuggling a white rabbit, for some reason. What’s with all the pets this episode? Also, that makes him look kind of like a Bond villain. The two of them walk in the garden and Cromwell reminisces about the first time they met: his uncle worked in the kitchens at Lambeth Palace and Cromwell helped out and served More once, back when he was a student. More doubts it. He hands off the rabbit and goes to tell his fool to leave Gardiner alone. As he guides the man back to the house, Gardiner asks Cromwell what the deal is with CMR always being at Austin Friars. Cromwell says the man could leave whenever he wants. Gardiner sighs that he’s probably looking to make his fortune, since Cromwell attracts money the way Wolsey attracts trouble. Cromwell asks about the fool and Gardiner says the man allegedly fell off a church roof and landed on his head.
Over an apparently rather unsatisfying lunch, More mentions that Tyndale has been sighted in Hamburg and says he hopes to get the means to proceed against him for seditious writing. Cromwell asks if he’s actually written anything seditious. More says he’s acquainted himself with the writings of all the dissidents. His wife, Alice, breaks in, asking Cromwell why he doesn’t marry again, since he’s a decent enough catch. More snaps at her to stop drinking.
After lunch, Gardiner and Cromwell take a barge to Westminster. Cromwell makes it clear he knows CMR was sent to spy, and Gardiner doesn’t deny it. Gardiner gossips that More goes to bed super early, and not with his wife. Cromwell asks Gardiner about his own love life, and Gardiner practically clutches his pearls.
Cromwell waits at Westminster to see Anne, but it’s her sister, Mary, who comes hurrying out. She’s upset, and distracts herself by focusing on and complimenting his grey velvet doublet before warning him her sister’s in a temper. She says that Henry once thought Anne would be willing to be the official royal mistress, but Anne told her sister she wasn’t a fool, like Mary, who gave it up to Henry too easily. Mary says that Anne has vowed to marry Henry, and what Anne wants, she’ll get. And Mary needs to find a husband, to get away from her family. Cromwell suggests she ask for someone young and handsome. ‘Don’t ask, don’t get,’ he tells her. Mary says she wants a husband who upsets them and who won’t die. She looks hard at Cromwell, whose face goes, ‘is this really happening?’ She once again brushes his velvet doublet and he warns her that her family would kill her. She agrees, then warns him that Anne will flatter him and make him hers, and before she does, he should turn around and walk the other way. She kisses her finger and presses it to his lips before leaving.
He goes into Anne’s room, flicking Mark Smeaton on the head as he goes, distracting him from the song he’s playing on the lute. Anne asks where he’s been. ‘Utopia,’ he answers. Heh. He notices a cleric hovering to the side and Anne introduces her chaplain, Cranmer, who’s just returned from Rome with no good news. Rome has issued a decree ordering Henry to leave Anne, which Cranmer says is foolish. Anne agrees, because nothing makes Henry dig in his heels faster than being told he must do something. Anne goes on to say that she’s read Tyndale, which says the subject must obey his king as he would God. She says the pope will have to learn his place. Cromwell asks why he’s been sent for and Anne shows him a drawing that the ‘sickly milk-faced creeper’ who cries all the time found. It depicts Henry, Katherine, and Anne with her head cut off. She wants him to look into the matter and see if he can find out who’s responsible. She tells Cromwell that, no matter what anyone else thinks, she means to have Henry. He takes the drawing.
On his way out, he and Cranmer run into Jane Seymour, the crier, and Cromwell asks where she’s been, asking a little playfully if she’s been spying. She says she’s no good at it, since she doesn’t speak French. Cromwell introduces Cranmer, whom she really should know since they’re both in attendance on Anne. She leaves, and Cromwell asks Cranmer how Norfolk’s doing. He’s upset because Wolsey’s attracting crowds on his progress north. Cranmer suggests Wolsey be a bit more cautious, because Henry’s not going to be happy about any of that.
That night, Johane pumps Cromwell for info on Anne, but Cromwell gives her nothing. Throw the woman a bone, Cromwell! Things suddenly get rather tense between them and she wonders why God tests them, before swooping in to kiss him on the cheek before rushing out.
George reports to Cromwell that things north are ok, though Wolsey asks if they could send him some quails. George says that people flock to see Wolsey wherever he goes, and he’s called a convocation of the northern church.
Cromwell: Without asking Henry? Great plan, how could that go wrong?
He goes on to say that he knows people are saying he’s abandoned the Cardinal, but he has to stay in London to persuade Henry, who seems to like him. He’s sure that once he has the king’s ear, Wolsey will be recalled.
He goes to court, where Henry’s practicing archery while Norfolk stresses about what would happen if Henry were to die. He’s already come close a couple of times. Norfolk dismisses Princess Mary, saying a woman can’t lead an army, so she’s useless. Cromwell pipes up that Mary’s grandmother (Queen Isabella, presumably) led an army, and Norfolk sneers at him for listening in, although they’re having this conversation out in the open with Cromwell not three feet away, so he’d have no choice but to listen, unless he were deaf.
Cromwell takes his turn with the bow and outshoots Henry, who compliments his eye and arm. Cromwell says his household has a little match every week. Henry suggests sneaking down to join them, in disguise, someday, for fun! Cromwell doesn’t seem to think that’s a very good idea. After the match, Henry talks to Cromwell about the inspections he carried out of several monasteries. Cromwell says he’s seen lots of corruption and waste in these supposedly holy places. Henry sighs that he could really use the money those houses send to Rome every year. Cromwell suggests that such a thing might be possible and Henry invites him to sit down with the royal lawyers to discuss it. They duck into a little room off the garden and Henry says that some say his marriage is already dissolved and that he should remarry soon. He wonders just how long he’s supposed to wait, especially since Anne is threatening to leave him. Oh, Henry, can you not see that’s a gambit? Like she’d really leave the king.
In the middle of the night, Cromwell and his household are roused by someone hammering on the door. Johane wonders if he’s to be arrested. He’s not: he’s just been summoned to Greenwich. Cromwell calmly tells everyone to go back to bed.
Cromwell, Rafe, Gregory, and Richard head to Greenwich, where Cromwell is taken into Henry’s bedroom. Henry’s had a bad dream. Yes, seriously. And he yanked Cromwell out of bed so he could talk it out. In the dream, his dead brother, Arthur, came to him, looking pale and thin, with a white fire around him. Cranmer, who’s there as well, says that the dead don’t come back to complain of their burial. But that’s not what he was complaining about: he’s upset with Henry for taking his kingdom and his wife. Cranmer says that was just God’s will. Henry panics, thinking Arthur will plead against him on the Day of Judgment. Cromwell asks if Arthur spoke. He did not. Cromwell points out that, in that case, Henry’s putting his own spin on this whole dream. He thinks Arthur is coming to Henry to urge him to be the king Arthur would have been, had he lived. Henry wonders why Arthur’s coming back now, 20 years into Henry’s reign, and Cromwell, really warming to his theme, says it’s because now is the time for Henry to become the king he’s meant to be, the sole and supreme head of the kingdom. He urges Henry to ask Anne, who will say the same. Apparently she already has. Cromwell adds that, if Henry’s father comes to him in a dream, it means the same thing. Henry VII and Arthur are both strengthening Henry’s hand. It works. Henry’s happy again. I can’t help but wonder why it occurred to him to send for Cromwell in the middle of the night for some dream analysis, but I guess it’s a good thing he did.
Cromwell tells his boys that the king had a dream. He thought it was a bad one, but it isn’t now. Cromwell also tells Cranmer to tell Anne that Cranmer did a good night’s work for her that night.
Back home, Cromwell sends the boys off to bed and goes into the hall, where Johane is waiting up to make sure he got home safe. She thought there was going to be a reckoning. Cromwell drinks some wine, strokes her cheek, shares a lingering look with her, and kisses her. Wow, Cromwell, when I told you to throw her a bone, I didn’t mean…
The next morning, he wakes in a supremely good mood, singing to himself and everything. He goes outside, where the boys are hanging around and CMR is lurking. CMR asks about the tune Cromwell’s humming. It’s from his days in Italy. He tells a story about how, back then, he and two friends had a statue made, beat it with chains, and then sold it to a Cardinal as an antique from the days of Augustus. Still singing, he goes back inside, where he finds George waiting for him. And the sight of George wipes the song right off his lips.
George tells the sad tale of how Harry Percy was sent to arrest Wolsey, as revenge for Wolsey’s meddling in Percy’s romance with Anne.
Percy bursts into Wolsey’s dining room, where Wolsey apologises for not waiting dinner, since they weren’t expected. Percy announces that Wolsey is to be arrested for high treason, but when Percy refuses to show a warrant, Wolsey refuses to surrender. He and George instead retire and Percy looks confused for a moment, then follows them. George locks the door behind them, but Wolsey says he’s not afraid of any man alive.
George tearfully tells Cromwell that Wolsey was taken from the house, and there were crowds gathered all along the road. Wolsey stopped eating, and then the constable of the Tower came to fetch him. Wolsey became seriously ill, so seriously that George thought he’d been poisoned. But he was just a sick old man.
On his deathbed, Wolsey gasps for Cromwell. George lies that he’s on his way. Wolsey receives last rites.
George tells Cromwell that Wolsey died the next day and was only given a coffin of plain boards. Furthermore, the city officials came to certify he really was dead, and made jokes about his low birth, because apparently these people are complete assholes.
At court, a masque is held, showing Wolsey as the new cardinal supreme in hell. Henry and Anne laugh like this is the funniest thing they’ve ever seen. Mark Rylance does this amazing thing where his face remains impassive but somehow (I think it’s something in the eyes) still manages to convey ‘WTF is wrong with you people?’ I mean, seriously, who the hell celebrates an old man’s death in this manner? An old man who served you loyally and well for years.
Cromwell is sworn into the privy council, presided over by More. At home, he opens Wolsey’s gift. It’s a turquoise ring the cardinal always wore.
Back to George, crying, saying that he prayed to God to send vengeance on everyone who wronged the Cardinal.
‘No need to trouble God, George,’ Cromwell quietly tells him. ‘I’ll take it in hand.’