This review contains spoilers
This week picks up right where we left off at the end of the last episode: Henry, Cromwell, and the rest of the royal court are officially on tour and have stopped off at Wolf Hall, the residence of the Seymour family. Henry appears to be getting wider with each episode. People have started calling the protagonist ‘Crom’. Overall, we’re left with the tangible sense that “the game has changed,” and fortunes are being swiftly made and unmade.
This week sees Henry’s tangle of romantic liaisons officially open up (temporarily) into a love square as he starts courting the notably more virtuous Jane Seymour. Anne is, of course, having none of this, yet as the episode goes on it becomes more and more evident just how dangerous her position is: her dog appears to have been murdered and her bed set alight and her ladies are all too willing to leak her secrets. Even her most triumphant moment – being presented to Eustace Chapuys, quite against his wishes – turns out really to be angled towards her downfall. You can see where all this is heading for the last episode of the season.
Unsurprisingly, Mantel’s depiction of events sees Cromwell distanced from the actual plot to take Anne down – Henry explicitly asks him to pursue an annulment, the beginnings of which were outlined in this episode through the information of Rafe, Cromwell’s spy. Despite his poker face, Cromwell seems genuinely alarmed about the situation at hand (though not alarmed enough to have already started ingratiating himself with the Seymours). His advice to Anne that Jane “is a distraction, that’s all” is misplaced – though perhaps he knows this.
A major event of this episode – and, perhaps, of Henry’s life – is his jousting accident. This was an event that really happened and has frequently been tied to his supposed descent into tyranny and Anne’s subsequent miscarriage. Certainly, in the second half of the episode Henry appears increasingly agitated and driven to violent outbursts – more so than his previously measured temper had allowed for. We come to realise how tenuous Cromwell’s situation really is when this rage is turned on him, though this fall-out between the two men is only temporary, as Henry is soon once again referring to Cromwell as ‘my right hand.’
“How many men can say ‘my only friend is the king of England’? They say I have everything, but take Henry away…..” Cromwell muses to Treasurer Fitzwilliam at the halfway point in this episode. Fitzwilliam predicts that Cromwell’s head would end up on a spike either way. With one episode to go, Cromwell is left in a difficult position. Henry desires an annulment and a new wife. It’s Cromwell’s job to fix that for him. “I didn’t,” Wolsey’s ghost reminds Cromwell in the final scene of the episode, “and I’m dead.”
Scene of the week: Henry’s fall from his horse whilst jousting. The way it played out on screen here though was inevitably amusing, mostly because the reaction of everyone in the room was to save his own skin. Of course, it had to be Cromwell that saved the day, but the scene ultimately has much larger implications for Cromwell’s position in the court.