Setting: Winter 1546/1547
Opening scene – A white horse runs towards the camera, as Henry VIII speaks “When we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through a banqueting hall on a winter’s day. After a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for a little while, but of what went before this life, or what will follow, we know nothing.”
Henry speaks to Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, he tells him that he has been thinking about loss. He asks Brandon what loss is unrecoverable to a man, Brandon answers “virtue”, but Henry says that virtue can be redeemed by a man’s actions. Brandon says “honour”, but Henry says that honour can also be recovered. Henry says that the answer is “time”, it can never be redeemed. He looks sad.
Bishop Gardiner signs the warrant for the arrest of Queen Catherine Parr and asks his porter to take it to Wriothesley.
The Lord High Admiral of France arrives at court, with the Seymour brothers, and is greeted in Latin by Prince Edward. Queen Catherine Parr introduces him to Henry’s daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. Mary talks to Bishop Gardiner, commenting that Lord Hertford seems to be in the King’s favour. Gardiner says that the Earl grows more powerful every day because of the King’s “infirmity” and his power over Prince Edward. Mary replies “God help us then if the King should die”. Gardiner tells her that he has heard that many would rather see her anointed as queen. Mary asks what news Gardiner has on the queen, he tells her that she will hear soon. Mary is not looking very well, she has bags under her eyes and is clearly worried about things.
The King arrives and greets Edward. He announces that he is pleased to announce a treaty with France and says that he will have no further business with the Emperor, who has betrayed him. He pushes Edward further on to the throne and then sits with him. Henry tells the Admiral of the way that he has reformed the church and dealt with corruption and proved that the Pope is not the voice of God. Henry tells him that he proposes that Mass should be abolished in both their realms and replaced with a simple communion service. The Admiral bows down and says that he has no authority to concede the terms of the treaty, particularly as his king is dying. Henry says to send Francis his love, but to tell him that his disease is a reminder of his own mortality.
The porter reads Catherine Parr’s arrest warrant. Instead of taking it directly to Wriothesley, he gives it to a maid to show to the Queen and then to give it back to him. She takes it to the Queen who is with her sister, Anne Parr. The Queen is shocked.
The King hears Catherine crying. He goes to see her. He asks her what is wrong. She tells him that she fears that he has grown displeased with her and that he has “utterly forsaken” her. He does not understand. He asks her why he should be displeased with her, if there is a reason he should be. She says “no”. Catherine commands her ladies to clear their coffers of all books and tells them they must no longer talk of religious or controversial matters.
Hertford visits Suffolk. Brigitte, Suffolk’s mistress, tells him that Suffolk is ill in bed but Suffolk hears and comes down to see him. Suffolk tells Hertford that he thinks Hertford’s faction are engaged in a fight to the death with Gardiner and his faction. Hertford tells him how the King’s illness and the youth of Prince Edward make the succession question urgent. He wants to know which side Suffolk is on. He comments that their wives are close on matters of religion, but Suffolk comments that he and his wife are estranged and that her affinities are not necessarily his own. Suffolk comments on how Hertford hounded Surrey to his death, but that he forgives him for that and for his boldness in coming to him. He explains that he has never read the Gospels and prefers them to remain “mysterious”. He goes on to say that “England was merry before” and that things were best as they used to be. Hertford asks that although he does not have Suffolk’s support, will Suffolk act against him. Suffolk replies with a French peasant phrase, “Praise the God of all, drink the wine, let the world be the world.”
Lady Hertford visits Gardiner who has summoned her. He asks her for the truth about her friendship with Anne Askew. He accuses her of sending her money. Lady Hertford says that she was acting out of Christian charity. Gardiner accuses Lady Hertford of being guilty of heresy “by association”. He shows her the warrant for her arrest and she comments “you will never serve that warrant”. She reminds him that she knows his secret, that he embezzled the contents and titles of two monasteries in Cornwall, instead of giving the goods to the King. She tells him to tear up the warrant and leaves.
The Queen visits the King. He wants her to “resolve” him of “certain doubts”. When he asks her what she can learn from reading the Gospels and religious books she is submissive and says it his from him that she will learn, He accuses her of being a “doctor” and of trying to instruct him. She says that she has always thought it “preposterous for a woman to instruct her lord” and that it only appeared that she had different views because she needed the King to correct her. She asks for forgiveness and comments on how she was trying to take his mind off his pain and illness, while also profiting from his “learned discourse”. She goes on to say that she is “only a woman” with the imperfection and weakness of her sex, and that she must always refer herself to his better judgement, as her Lord and Head. Henry replies that they are “perfect friends again”. He promises that he will never doubt her again. His groom asks if he should rescind the King’s order to arrest the Queen the next day, Henry is horrified and asks “Why?”.
It is night, Brigitte mops Suffolk’s brow. He dreamed that they were back in Boulogne and that he let her go. She reassures him that she is there with him. He tells her how happy he is.
Henry and Catherine are out in the gardens. Wriothesley and the guards come to arrest Catherine. The King acts surprised. He shouts at Wriothesley, calling him an “arrant knave” and telling him to “get out and take your bastards with you!” Wriothesley tells Gardiner what happened.
Council meeting in the King’s absence – Wriothesley asks council to show their agreement to the peace treaty with France. They all agree. He then goes on to say that they need to discuss the safety and security of Prince Edward and provisions for his “temporal and spiritual welfare”. Hertford is angry, he says that the prince is safe at Windsor “on His Majesty’s orders” but Wriothesley says that the council is “constituted to examine such matters”, especially given the King’s illness which makes them think about the future. Hertford reminds him that it is treason to envisage the King’s death. Gardiner comments that they’re just concerned about the Prince’s welfare and that as he is of the King’s blood the council have to examine those who are put in charge of him, and his tutors are suspected heretics. Hertford blows up and calls Gardiner ” a puffed up porkling of the Pope’s”. Gardiner replies that the real truth behind his intentions towards the Prince and the Crown should be placed before the King. Hertford punches him.
The King’s groom tells the King that Bishop Gardiner is requesting an audience with him, the King refuses it because of his “troublesome nature” and says that he doesn’t want to see him ever again and that he wants Gardiner to leave his court. The groom tells Gardiner. Gardiner is shocked. He leaves. Hertford enters. Wriothesley asks his forgiveness for his “past associations” and pledges his loyalty to Hertford.
Hans Holbein visits the King who has a commission for him. The King comments that Holbein once painted his father and now he wants Holbein to paint him.
Brigitte wakes Suffolk, there is a messenger from the King. The King’s groom explains that the King wants to see him. Brigitte says no, because of Suffolk’s illness, but Suffolk agrees, “How can I lie in bed, my love, when the King of England has summoned me”.
The King is seated, dressed in his finery, and Holbein is sketching him. He looks over at Holbein and sees Catherine of Aragon, dressed in black, in the room behind. She says that she has come to see her daughter. Mary, also dressed in black, walks over to Catherine’s side. Catherine accuses Henry of not always being kind to Mary, of abandoning her. She goes on to say that Mary should have been married a long time ago and should have her own children. Henry tells her to go away. She tells him “you sent me away before, though I loved you, but I was still your wife in God’s eyes and still am”. She disappears.
Suffolk arrives, he can hardly walk but enters with as much dignity as he can. Suffolk tells him what he can remember from the past, when the King made him a duke, “God knows why”. The King tells him that he was his general in York and in France because he couldn’t trust anyone else. He asks Suffolk to trust him now and tells him that he has the power to make him well again. He forbids him to die and asks him to kneel. He puts his hands on Suffolk’s head and commands him to be healed. We see the white horse running and then we see Charles dead in bed and Brigitte closing his eyes. She and his son are crying as the priest reads. Then we see Charles laid out, surrounded by candles. His wife, the Duchess of Suffolk arrives. Brigitte curtseys to her and is ignored, she looks over at the chief of staff and he looks away. Brigitte leaves. There is nothing for her there anymore.
The King tells Hertford that Suffolk should be buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, at his expense. He goes on to say, “As long as Charles Brandon served me, he never betrayed a friend, nor ever took unfair advantage of an enemy, which is more than I can say for anyone else at my court.” He tells Hertford that they need to talk sometime about arrangements for the Prince’s minority. Hertford leaves.
Holbein arrives with his portrait. The King does not like it. He comments that Holbein made the likeness of his father when he was old, sickly and ill and he looked “nothing like a King of England” but like a “poor wretch” and a dying man. He goes on to say that Holbein has done the same to him. He shouts at Holbein saying that the portrait is a lie and orders him to do it again.
The King is in his bedchamber. He senses Anne Boleyn’s presence and asks why she is there. She says to see her daughter, “the only pure thing” in her life. She explains that she neglected Elizabeth because she was only a girl and she wanted to give Henry as son, but now she is proud of Elizabeth. Elizabeth stands at her side and Anne comments on how clever she is, how she is like Anne in so many ways but is not “intemperate” like Anne was. Anne says that Henry must be proud of her too. He says that he is very proud of Elizabeth and he knows how clever she is. He wishes that he could love her more, but sometimes she reminds him of Anne and what she did to him. Anne strides towards him angrily, “I did nothing to you, I was innocent. All of the accusations against me were false. I thought you knew…” She then goes on to talk of poor Catherine Howard and how she lies in the cold ground next to her, “Poor child, it was not her fault either. But we were like two moths drawn to the flame and burned.” She smiles at the distraught Henry and turns her back on him. He swings round crying out “Anne, please don’t… ” but she’s gone.
The court has gathered. The King enters. He calls Catherine, Mary and Elizabeth to him. He tells him that he is sending them away to Greenwich as he will not be spending Christmastide with them again. This is their farewell. He tells Mary to be a kind and loving mother to her brother. She begs him not to leave her an orphan so soon. He strokes her cheek lovingly. He moves on to Elizabeth. He tells her that although she is young she too can look after her brother. She promises and he replies, “Bless you, my child, bless you”. He moves on to Catherine and tells her that it is time to bid farewell and that it is God’s will. He also tells her he is ordering the Council to treat her as if she was living still and that she should be able to marry. He is leaving her £7000 a year as long as she lives, for her service. She will also be able to keep her jewels and ornaments. Mary and Catherine are sobbing, Elizabeth is not. They hold hands as he leaves the room. Elizabeth walks out while Catherine and Mary comfort each other.
Henry hears Jane Seymour, she asks after her son. He turns to see her, she is dressed in black. He tells her that Edward is well and that he has taken all care of him. He calls her “sweet Jane” and tells her that Edward will be King. Jane shakes her head sadly, “my poor boy, my poor child”. Henry can’t believe what she is saying, he tells her that Edward is the most beloved. Edward appears at his mother’s side and goes to walk to his father who calls him his “special boy”. Jane puts her hand on Edward’s shoulder to stop him and tells Henry that Edward will die young and that Henry expected too much of him. She tells him that Edward is only a boy and that “Kings too are made of clay”. She accuses Henry of locking him away from the world like his father did with him. She accuses him of killing Edward. Henry breaks down and Jane and Edward leave.
In the garden, the wind blows the canopy bearing Henry’s arms. We then see Henry explaining his last will and testament to his council. He appoints Hertford as Lord Protector during Edward’s minority, to be supported by Lord Chancellor Wriothesley and Archbishop Cranmer. He says that he desires to be buried next to Jane Seymour, his “true and loving wife” at Windsor, and that there should be a tomb with their effigies on it, fashioned as if they are sleeping.
We see Henry asleep in his chair. He is dreaming. Leaves are falling, he sees himself as a young man looking through trees at clouds racing across the sky. The sun starts moving quickly and the music changes as if there is impending doom. As he looks at the sky, a rider on a white horse rides towards him from behind. The rider has a skull for a face, it is death. We see the rider brandish the sword as Henry looks at a sky full of stars.
The King’s groom wakes him up. He tells him that Mr Holbein is waiting for him in the Great Chapel. Henry enters the chapel. He stands in front of a huge painting covered with velvet. Holbein orders the fabric to be removed so that the King can view the painting. As Henry looks at the painting, images from the past fill his head – him kissing baby Henry Fitzroy, playing tennis with Suffolk, kissing his daughter, Mary, riding, talking to Thomas More, meeting Anne Boleyn at the Chateau Vert pageant, More’s execution, kissing Anne Boleyn in the wood, talking to Wolsey, talking to Brandon, hugging friends, picking up Elizabeth, arguing with Anne Boleyn, hitting Cromwell, seeing Jane Seymour wash her hair, seeing Jane’s body, playing cards with Anne of Cleves, seeing Catherine Howard dance, Boulogne, hugging little Edward etc. He looks up at the iconic portrait, depicting him as a majestic, strong King, and then turns round and walks away, telling Holbein that “it is well done”. A sparrow flies around the chapel looking for a way out.
As we look at the portrait we are given the following facts:-
“Henry VIII died on January 28, 1547”
“His sole legitimate son became King Edward VI at the age of nine, only to die of illness six years later.”
“An attempt was made to prevent the King’s eldest daughter, Princess Mary, from becoming Queen because of her Catholic beliefs.”
“She was crowned in 1553. Her reign was short and turbulent. She burned many Protestant martyrs, and became known as
- Charles Brandon – Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, actually died on the 22nd August 1545, not in late 1546. There is no evidence that he and his wife were estranged or that he had a French mistress.
- Holbein did not come to England until 1526 so he did not paint a portrait of King Henry VII, although he did paint him and Elizabeth of York in the Whitehall Mural for Henry VIII.
- Hans Holbein died in 1543 so he was not around in 1546/1547!
- The plot against Catherine Parr – It was not a porter who alerted Catherine Parr to the plot against her, it was actually the King’s physician, Dr Wendy. The King had told his physician of the plot and sworn him to secrecy, but when the Queen became hysterical after a member of her household saw a copy of the articles against her, which had been accidentally dropped or left lying around, the King sent Dr Wendy to her. Dr Wendy told her everything and so the Queen submitted herself to the King and saved herself. Both Linda Porter and Elizabeth Norton believe that Henry purposely let Catherine know what was going on so that she could save herself. He did, however, forget to tell Wriothesley that the arrest had been cancelled and did attack the man quite violently when he dared to try and arrest the Queen.
- Henry’s farewell – As far as we know, Henry VIII did not say farewell to his family, but Catherine and Mary did spend Christmas and New Year at Greenwich without him and Henry spent his time with his trusted advisers.
- Henry VIII’s will – He did not appoint Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, as Protector, instead, he appointed a group of executors, including Hertford, Wriothesley and Cranmer. All of the executors were to be members of Edward’s Privy Council and Henry VIII instructed that “none of them shall do anything appointed by this Will alone, but only with the written consent of the majority.” To Catherine Parr he left “3,000l. in plate, jewels and stuff, besides what she shall please to take of what she has already, and further receive in money l,000l. besides the enjoyment of her jointure.”
- Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who plays Henry VIII, is actually quoting advice given to King Edwin of Northumbria by one of his councillors at a council meeting in 627 AD to decide on religion. It is recorded in “The Ecclesiastical History of the English” by Venerable Bede c700AD:-“When we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like a swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your thanes and counsellors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside, the storms of winter rain and snow are raging. The sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for a little while; but of what went before this life or what follows, we know nothing.”
- Hertford’s words to Gardiner, “a puffed up porkling” – Bishop John Bale, a 16th century clergyman and Bishop of Ossory, referred to Bishops Gardiner and Bonner as “puffed up porklings of the Pope” (see “Select works of John Bale, D.D. : Bishop of Ossory. containing the examinations of Lord Cobham, William Thorpe, and Anne Askew, and the Image of both churches”) when writing of the torture of Anne Askew:-
“Swift ear gave Wrisley and Rich, with their wicked affinity, to the puffed up porklings of the pope, Gardiner, Bonner, and such other. They followed their cruel counsel, they imprisoned her, judged her, condemned her, and racked her, at the last, with their own polluted, bloody tormentors’ hands, till the veins and sinews burst.”
- The White Horse – There have been various discussions online about the white horse in this episode. Some point out that a white horse in a dream is an omen of death, some point out that the white horse, in Christianity, is a symbol of courage, others say that it is a sacred horse and that virgins, saints and Christ were often depicted on white horses, and others see it as one of the four horses of the Apocalypse. What is clear is that when it gains a skull-faced rider it symbolises death.
- Falling Leaves – The leaves falling in Henry’s last dream could be to show the passage of time, that time is running out. This ties in with what Henry said to Brandon about time being unrecoverable.
- Bishop Gardiner – Stephen Gardiner was omitted from the King’s will and was not chosen as an executor or adviser, so it may well be that there was an estrangement between him and the King in late 1546.
- Francis I of France outlived Henry VIII by two months, dying on the 31st March 1547.