The Tudors: The Horse is Symbolic! Get it?

The series ends on a typically subtle note, with Henry being hounded by his dead wives and chased around by Death on a horse. Sadly, Death only manages to catch up with Charles Brandon.

Previously on The Tudors: Henry married and got rid of a lot of women, had three kids, changed England’s religion (kind of), and got old. Bishop Gardiner tried to nail Queen Katherine for heresy, and Henry had Surrey tried and found guilty of treason.

Hey, Natalie Dormer, Maria Doyle Kennedy, and Annabelle Wallis are back in the opening credits! Welcome back, dead wives! I guess we’re pretending Katherine Howard didn’t exist.

In super slow-mo, we see a white horse galloping towards us in a shot gorgeously framed by arching tree branches, as Henry VOs about how fleeting life is.

We switch to Henry’s study, where we see he’s making these observations to Charles, who’s looking a bit tired. Henry asks Charles what, once lost, can never be recovered. Charles guesses virtue and honor, but Henry says he’s wrong, the answer is time.

A rather fancy looking arrest warrant has been drawn up for Katherine. It’s signed by Gardiner, who manages not to add a smiley face to the signature before handing it off to a messenger, who is to take it to Risley.

In the throne room, the entire court, aside from Henry, and Henry’s whole family (Edward’s finally aged past four!) are gathered to greet the Lord High Admiral of France. In walks a rather diminutive man, who’s greeted in Latin by the young prince. I have to give the kid kudos for managing to memorize and recite all that Latin. I wonder how many takes this took. Everyone applauds his effort, and the Admiral bows elaborately. Katherine greets him and presents Mary and Elizabeth. Seymour pours on the praise for the Admiral and promises Henry will be in shortly.

The ladies break apart, and Mary goes to Gardiner and observes that Seymour seems to be very much in Henry’s good graces. Gardiner confirms it, and also notes Seymour’s control of his young nephew. Mary worries about Henry dying, but Gardiner tells her that many of the people would rather see her on the throne than a child. Mary steers the conversation to Katherine, and Gardiner promises she’ll hear more about that soon.

Henry finally shows up and comes stumping in. He toussels Edward’s hair affectionately and tells the Admiral that he’s pleased to make a new treaty with France. He’s repudiated the Emperor. Again. Henry makes sure the Admiral’s aware that he’s swept the English church clean of the Roman corruption, which is kind of a rude thing to say to a Frenchman, who’s almost certainly Catholic. The Admiral’s response is appropriately diplomatic. Henry suggests abolishing mass in both England and France and replacing it with a simple communion service. Mary, Gardiner, and the Admiral all look horrified. I’m not religious, but even I’m horrified that Henry would have the gall to try and make that kind of change in another country he doesn’t even run. Where does he get off? The Admiral tells Henry he has no authority to agree to such a thing, and adds that King Francis is dying. Henry tells the Admiral to tell Francis that this disease is a reminder of his own mortality, which he’s forgotten about in years past. As has Henry.

Gardiner’s messenger waits in a corridor, still holding the warrant and looking nervous. He’s joined by a maid he evidently knows, and he hands over the warrant and tells her to show it to the queen, and then give it back to him.

The maid promptly goes to Katherine’s room and hands over the warrant. Katherine rightfully starts to freak out.

She begins to sob so loudly Henry can hear it all the way in his study, disturbing his reading. He goes to her room, where her ladies are trying to comfort her, and asks her what the problem is. Katherine pulls herself together and tells him she’s afraid he’s displeased with her. He asks why she thinks that and asks why he should be displeased with her. He seems genuinely confused, which she picks up on. It calms her somewhat, and tells him there’s no reason he should be displeased with her, so Henry bids her good day and withdraws. Once he’s gone, she gathers her ladies and tells them to get rid of any books they have, whether they’re religious or not, and that in future they won’t be having cozy chats about religion or anything controversial.

Seymour goes to see Charles and is greeted by Brigitte, who informs him Charles is in bed with a chill. But Charles apparently heard him and emerges from his room for a meeting. Brigitte excuses herself and the men sit down. Charles observes that Seymour and his friends seem to be in a quiet battle with Gardiner and his buddies. Seymour says that Henry’s bad health and Edward’s age (he was only about 9 when Henry died) make the question of succession urgent and the stakes super high. Charles realizes Seymour wants to know whose side he’s on. Seymour reminds Charles that Duchess Kate, Katherine, and Anne Seymour are all super close on the matter of religion, so surely the gentlemen want to see the reform continue as well? Probably not the best idea to bring up Charles’s wife, when he’s clearly given up on her and has been living with another woman for years. Charles reminds Seymour that he and Duchess Kate are estranged, so her beliefs are not necessarily his. Seymour apologizes for his presumption and Charles accepts the apology, remembering, a little sadly, a time when England was a fun country, before it got torn apart by religious problems.

Anne Seymour appears before Gardiner, who asks her about her friendship with Anne Askew. Anne says she was merely acquainted with her and brings up Askew’s illegal torture. Gardiner tells Anne she’s guilty by association, having known a confessed heretic, and Anne asks him if there’s a warrant for her arrest. There is, and he shows it to her. She calmly informs him he’ll never serve it, because she knows some dirty little secrets about Gardiner—he took possession of a couple of rich monasteries a while back that were supposed to go to Henry, so essentially he’s guilty of embezzling from the king. She advises him to tear up his warrant and sweeps out. Ha! I hate Gardiner, so I love seeing him get slapped around a little.

At night, Henry’s having a little party with some of his friends when Katherine arrives. Henry calls her in to the middle of his circle of friends and starts to quiz her on her beliefs, starting out by asking her how much she expects to learn from the gospels. Katherine goes full on Stepford Wife and tells Henry that, of course, she can only learn from him. Henry counters that she’s seen proper to instruct him on several occasions, but she’s never been instructed by him. Katherine desperately tries to keep her cool as she reassures him her meaning has been misunderstood, and she’s always thought it absurd for a lady to instruct her husband. If she brought up arguments, it was only so Henry could correct her, and she thought that talking with her and having these little debates helped ease the pain and weariness Henry felt. She says she’s only a frail, imperfect woman and will always submit to Henry’s better judgment. Henry, amazingly, believes her (and this actually did happen, historically. This woman talked her way out of being arrested. I can’t help but imagine Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard doing a slow clap somewhere in heaven.) Henry declares them once again friends and promises never again to doubt her. Katherine withdraws and a groom steps forward to ask if he should rescind Henry’s order to arrest Katherine the following day. “Why?” asks Henry before calling for more music. Dick. It’s scenes like this that make me not at all sad that he died in terrible pain. Talk about karma kicking you in the ass.

Charles wakes from a restless, feverish sleep and is comforted by Brigitte, who’s bathing his face with a sponge. Charles dwells a bit on mortality and makes it clear he’s afraid of dying. She reassures him again and he tells her he’s very happy. Aww.

The next day, Katherine and Henry are out in the gardens, having a nice time relaxing together when Risley shows up with a contingent of guards. Henry asks him what he’s doing and Risley says he’s there to arrest Katherine. Katherine panics a bit, but it turns out this whole thing was just an opportunity for Henry to swing his crown jewels around. He shouts at Risley, calling him a knave, and tells him to leave. Again, karma. Once Risley, rightfully confused, leaves, Katherine gasps that she’s sorry Risley should have made such a mistake. Henry tells her Risley doesn’t deserve her sympathy, since he wasn’t Katherine’s friend. She gives him a pointed look that clearly says: “Neither are you, my dear.”

Risley reports what happened to Gardiner, who can’t believe Henry wouldn’t want to lock up yet another wife. Gardiner wonders if this is yet another ruse on Henry’s part, but Risley doesn’t think so. The two men head into council, where Henry’s absent but business goes on. They all vote to ratify the peace treaty with France. Risley then goes on to call for a discussion of Edward’s security and arrangements for his spiritual education. Seymour’s clearly caught off guard by this and asks why this discussion’s necessary, since the prince’s security’s already settled. Risley says they need to talk about these things now, in case Henry should suddenly pass away. Seymour reminds him it’s treason to envision the king’s death. Gardiner chimes in that they’re just concerned about the prince, and as heir to the throne the council has the right to examine those put in charge of him, like his tutors, some of whom are suspected of heresy. Seymour gets personal, calling Gardiner a puffed-up papist, which is about right, in the universe of this show. Gardiner says he plans to bring up Seymour’s fitness to have command over the prince to Henry, and Seymour loses his temper and punches Gardiner in the face before stalking off.

Gardiner, like all good tattletales, tries to go running to Henry, but Henry’s sick of Gardiner and banishes him from court instead, for his troublesome nature. I would have loved to know how that came about. Did Seymour get to Henry first? Gardiner gets the news in the crowded great hall, and then has to endure a humiliating walk of shame past the staring courtiers.

Seymour comes striding into the room next, and Risley hurries to grovel to him. Seymour relishes his triumph for a little while before continuing on his way.

Henry’s in his study, examining a large globe, when Holbein’s ushered in to see him. Henry wants a new portrait. He tells Holbein that he once painted Henry’s father, and now he’ll paint Henry. Judging from the age the actor playing Holbein appears to be, there’s absolutely no way that’s possible, unless Holbein painted Henry VII when he was a fetus. What a totally bizarre mistake for this show to make.

Oh, man, Charles is in a bad way. Brigitte gently wakes him and tells him there’s a messenger come from the king. The poor messenger tells Charles that Henry’s heard how sick he is, and now he’s asking Charles to come see him. What a DICK move! Hey, I heard you’re sick, so drag yourself out of bed and come see me. Who does that? Brigitte protests this stupid and completely selfish request but Charles manages to croak that he’ll go. The servants and physicians help him to his feet and Brigitte drapes a fur robe over his shoulders.

Henry’s sitting for his portrait, dressed in one of the outfits most people associate with Henry VIII—big puffy sleeves, feathered hat, codpiece, the works. And JRM looks completely absurd in it. Sorry, but he just can’t pull this off.

His sitting’s interrupted by the sudden appearance of Katherine of Aragon, who tells him she’s there to see her daughter. She tells him he’s often been cruel to Mary, as Mary joins her, and Katherine’s often wept to see Mary abandoned by her father. She tells Henry Mary should have been married long ago. Henry tells her to get lost, and she reminds him he’s said that before, even though she loved him, but she was still his wife in God’s eyes.

Katherine and Mary disappear, and Henry’s back in his chair, sitting quietly, the whole thing, naturally, having been a fantasy.

Later, Charles finally manages to make it to Henry’s study. “They told me you were ill, so I had to see you,” Henry says. ASS! Why didn’t you go see him, then? Charles manages not to kick him in the ‘nads and says he just had a slight fever. It looks like a bit more than that. The guy’s clearly struggling just to stay upright. He and Henry start to reminisce, going all the way back to Margaret. Henry says he trusts Charles more than anyone, and then tells Charles he has the power to make him well again. He puts his hands on Charles’s shoulders and tells him he won’t die, because Henry forbids it. Oooookaaaaay.

The horse is back, still galloping slowly towards the camera.

And Charles is dead. Brigitte, weeping, carefully closes his eyes and starts to sob, as his son cries beside her. Awww, I’m tearing up now too. Not Charles! I actually liked him!

Charles is laid out, surrounded by lilies and attended by Brigitte when a heavily veiled Duchess Kate sweeps in, accompanied by her son. Charles’s steward, I guess, steps forward and tells Kate that all the servants are very sorry for her loss, because they all loved Charles as much as she did. Duchess Kate thanks him, and then Brigitte comes forward and curtsies to her, but Duchess Kate sweeps right past her and goes to her husband’s side. Brigitte turns and leaves. I really hope Charles made some provision for her, otherwise, what is she supposed to do now?

Henry tells Seymour that Charles will be buried in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor (where Jane Seymour and Henry himself are buried). Henry sadly says that as long as he had Charles around, he knew he had a good and loyal friend. He never thought Charles would die, and now that he has, Henry’s reminded that he, too, will die someday, probably soon. He tells Seymour they need to start talking about arrangements for Edward’s minority, when Henry’s dead.

Holbein shows up to unveil his new portrait, which does not seem to meet with royal approval. Henry tells him that he’s painted him as an old man, not a king of England. He calls the portrait a lie and orders him to do it again. Holbein kind of shakes his head, not being as acquainted with Henry’s particular type of crazy as we are.

Late at night, Henry mixes up a potion to drink, his hand shaky. He’s soon joined by Anne Boleyn, who mirrors Katherine by saying she’s there to see her daughter, whom she neglected in her life. I think that’s a bit unfair—Anne clearly loved her daughter and spent as much time with her as she was allowed to. Anne says she’s proud of her clever girl, who’s now joined her. Henry says he’s very proud of her too and knows how smart she is, and he wishes he could love her more, but there are times she reminds him of Anne and what she did to him. Anne tells him she did nothing, that all the accusations against her were totally false (as Henry well knows). She brings up Katherine Howard and says what happened wasn’t young Kate’s fault, because like Anne, she was like a moth drawn to the flame and burned. As with Katherine of Aragon, Anne and Elizabeth vanish.

Katherine, Mary, Elizabeth, and most of the court gather to meet with Henry, who’s basically come to bid them all farewell. He calls Katherine and the girls forth and tells them he’s sending them to Greenwich and won’t be spending Christmas with them. Mary starts to cry, so he goes to her and asks her to be a kind and loving mother to Edward. She begs him not to orphan her, but some things just can’t be helped.

Henry goes to Elizabeth next and asks her to help look after her brother as well. She promises, seeming totally unaffected by her father’s impending death. Finally, Henry goes to Katherine and says that after he’s dead, she’ll have £7,000 a year, as well as her jewels. That’s quite generous, actually. He also gives her leave to remarry. Katherine, too, starts to cry, and Henry leaves them as the music swells. Once he’s out of the room, Elizabeth leaves too, seeming bored.

Henry makes his way to his study, but he’s intercepted by Jane Seymour, who asks how Edward’s doing. Henry swears he’s taken very good care of him, and he’ll be king soon. She shakes her head and calls Edward a poor boy. Edward now joins her, and she tells Henry the boy will die young, which is true. He was 16 when he died, really, really horribly. She accuses Henry of having expected too much of Edward and says that he’s responsible for Edward’s future demise. That seems unfair. TB was responsible for Edward’s demise.

Henry gathers the council and tells them that, when he’s dead, Seymour will act as Lord Protector during Edward’s minority, assisted by Risley and Cranmer. He asks to be buried beside Jane at Windsor, with effigies over the tomb of the two of them sleeping. Unless I’m misremembering the tomb, I don’t think those effigies ever came to be.

Later, Henry sleeps and dreams of his younger self stepping into the tree-lined avenue that horse loves. As fallen leaves swirl around him, he looks down the avenue at fast-moving clouds passing over the sun, which sets, plunging the avenue into darkness. The horse returns, still in slow-mo, but now ridden by Death, who bears down on Henry with an unsheathed sword in its hand.

Thought it was over, didn’t you? It’s not. Henry’s roused and told Holbein’s waiting for him in the chapel. Heh. I like that someone is making Henry come to them. Serves him right. Henry makes his way to the chapel, where Holbein unveils a gigantic, full-length portrait of Henry. It’s so big it’s almost comical. As the curtain falls, Henry flashes back to a series of scenes from earlier in the series: kissing his son by Bessie Blount, playing tennis with Charles, playing with little Mary, hunting with his friends, meeting Anne, talking to More, More getting his head chopped off, having sex in the woods with Anne, confronting Wolsey, hugging some friends, playing with little Elizabeth, fighting with Anne, eating that swan, reuniting with Mary, watching Jane wash her hair, waiting for word of Edward’s birth, playing cards with Anne of Cleves, watching Kate dance, besieging Boulogne, hugging Edward. Whew!

So, the portrait. It’s obviously supposed to look like this one. Henry approves and tells Holbein it’s just what he wanted. The camera focuses in on its as the end titles tell us Henry died in January, 1547, leaving his nine-year-old son, Edward, king. Edward died six years later and was almost replaced by Jane Grey, but Mary made it to the throne and went down in history as Bloody Mary. Elizabeth finally got the crown and ruled for forty-four years, her reign becoming known as “The Golden Age.” With her and Henry, the Tudor Dynasty produced two of England’s most famous monarchs. For those interested, Katherine Parr married Tom Seymour and died in childbirth in September, 1508. Tom Seymour stupidly tried to take control of his nephew by kidnapping him and was tried and found guilty of treason. His own brother had to (reluctantly) sign the death warrant, and Tom was executed in March 1549. Seymour served as Lord Protector but was deposed in 1549 and executed in 1552. His wife, Anne, remarried a lesser noble and lived until 1587. Bishop Gardiner was restored to power when Mary ascended the throne. She named him Lord Chancellor.

That’s all she wrote, folks. Thanks to everyone who’s read, enjoyed, hated, and commented on the recaps. I’ll be back soon with The Borgias!

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