By Maureen Lee Lenker
October 25, 2020 at 09:00 PM EDT
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This week’s episode “Grief,” follows Henry and Catherine as they reel from the loss of their child. Henry responds by leaning into his man-child tendencies, blaming Catherine for all of his pain. #toxicmasculinity

Catherine, in turn, struggles to find her footing. She wants her husband and her power back, but she’s at a loss as she feels the weight of her grief alone. Her period of mourning is compounded by Lina’s gain. Lina and Oviedo are happy with their twins, but Lina is struggling to produce milk, necessitating a wet nurse. Catherine happily sends two along (one for each twin), but she cannot bring herself to visit. It’s too difficult to watch her friend have the one thing she wants (and honestly needs) most.

But yearning is the name of the game this week, whether it’s after a love that can never be, a political alliance cast aside, or the validation of one’s love and power. Let’s dive into the historical truths of this week’s episode.

Wolsey’s rise

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Thomas Wolsey is on a roll in this week’s episode, convincing Henry to abandon their alliance with Spain and the Holy Roman Empire to forge an advantageous marriage with France (after just fighting a war there!). He’s definitely weaved a spell over Henry, as the young king even buys into Wolsey’s claims that the loss of their child is all Catherine’s fault. He parrots Wolsey’s suggestions that she lost the child because she tried to be a man on the battlefield (oh, Henry, don't you know who you married by now?).

Wolsey even rubs Henry’s ministers the wrong way, with Stafford balking at his influence. But it’s for naught — Wolsey is invited to sup with the king and queen in their private chamber, where he continues his campaign to win Henry over by reminding him how blessed he is by God (how to stroke a Tudor monarch’s ego 101). It results in Henry naming him the Archbishop of York.

The show’s timeline is certainly accelerated, but it more or less mirrors the realities of Chaplain Wolsey’s ascension to power. He did, indeed, first endear himself to Henry by supporting his campaign for war in France, before then changing course and recommending a marital alliance through Princess Mary. In 1514, which tracks with the show’s timeline thus far, he was appointed Archbishop of York, the second most powerful role in the English church after the Archbishop of Canterbury. Wolsey goes on to become the most influential and powerful chancellor in English history, so I expect his power over Henry has only just begun. But by episode’s end, Catherine does win Henry back to her with some lusty bed-sport and they stand united once more, with her determined to edge Wolsey out.

Mary, Mary quite contrary…

Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Henry’s sister, Mary, who’s peripherally figured in the action until now, comes to the forefront this week. At Wolsey’s behest, Henry breaks her betrothal to Holy Roman Emperor Charles and instead pairs her off with King Louis of France. She initially balks at the request, refusing to go through with a betrothal ceremony. At Catherine’s suggestion though, she gives in, agreeing to marry Louis if she can choose her next husband when he dies (dude is old). Henry agrees after Catherine suggests a prolonged argument could cause Louis to lose interest altogether. So Mary goes to France to marry her doddering husband who falls asleep after a pillow fight before they even can fulfill the duties of their wedding night. But first, she flirtatiously bids goodbye to Henry’s best bud, Charles Brandon.

First off, let me just say that Sai Bennett is perfect casting in this role. Mary was regarded as one of the most beautiful princesses in Europe, and she really sells the character’s innate beauty, fiery personality, and sense of mischief.

In October 1514, Mary was sent to France to marry the 52-year-old King Louis XII, as part of a peace treaty Wolsey negotiated. She was only 18. Letters to Henry from Mary dated 1515 seem to indicate the promise she extracts from him here: that if she survived Louis, she could marry whomever she liked.

In reality, Henry and Catherine did not accompany Mary to France for her wedding, but she was sent with four English ladies-in-waiting. Keen fans of Tudor history will note in the episode that one of Henry’s advisors, Thomas, sends his young daughters, Anne and Mary, off to France to serve her. In case you forgot, Thomas’ last name is Boleyn. Dun dun dun.

Oh, and pay attention to Mary's flirty exchange with Charles Brandon. I promise it’s historically relevant (and accurate). 

#PoorMaggie

Last year, I joked that Laura Carmichael could replace the Downton Abbey hashtag #PoorEdith with #PoorMaggie for all the misfortune that befalls Maggie Pole. It’s time for that to come roaring back, at least when it comes to her love life.

From episode 1 of this season, it was clear that Maggie and Sir Thomas More had a spark of chemistry. He took her son Reggie under his wing, and we see him continue to tutor the boy here. But as they travel together to France for Mary’s wedding to Louis, they exchange a conversation that makes their mutual affection clear without ever coming out and saying it. It’s already an impossible match because More is married, but it gets even worse when Maggie asks Henry for her land and titles back and he stipulates that she’ll have to marry his friend (and basically royal butt-wiper), William Compton. Maggie’s request is not so much at her own behest as it is for her daughter Ursula, who wishes to be given a marriage match. Henry at least accedes to that and names Henry Stafford, son of his pal Edward, as his choice.

The vast majority of this narrative is speculation. But it’s beautiful and full of noble love and yearning, so I wholeheartedly endorse it. It makes sense when you consider the facts. Both Sir Thomas More and Margaret Pole were devout Catholics, dedicated to their faith and their country. Ultimately, they would both become martyrs of their faith (though this show is not likely to go that far timeline-wise).

We don’t know if More’s marriage to his second wife Alice was a cold one (A Man For All Seasons suggests somewhat otherwise but it's also fiction), but we do know he valued women’s education, as did Maggie. And that though both he and Alice had children from previous relationships, they never had children together — which could suggest a lack of intimacy. So, I’m all for this interpretation of their emotional affair. Let’s give them a couple name: Magmas? Magmore? MorePole? I don’t know we’re workshopping it.

Lastly, Henry did restore Maggie’s lands and title, the Countess of Salisbury, in 1512. She didn’t have to marry for it, though she did pay a fee — and interestingly, she became only one of two women in 16th-century England to be a peeress without a titled husband. And Ursula did marry Henry Stafford in 1518 or so; she was only 15.

Regent of Scotland 

While The Spanish Princess is centrally Catherine’s story, it ultimately is about female power in Tudor England — and that extends to women like Maggie Pole, Princess Mary, and Meg, who gets the other third of this episode.

Following the death of King James, Meg is now regent of Scotland, ruling in stead for her son, who is still only a toddler. The lords are not happy about having a woman, an English woman at that, in power, but it stands for now. Meg struggles to be a good queen for her people, seeking advice via letters from Catherine and from Archibald Douglas, the sixth Earl of Angus, who encourages Meg to really meet and spend time with the Scottish people. His advice works, and Meg earns some brownie points by singing a Scottish tune she heard in a pub (really going to try this as a conflict resolution tactic going forward). But she also can’t help but fall for the ginger gentleman, eventually kissing him in the chapel. So that’s another forbidden romance this week (not that I can ever get enough)!

Meg was indeed really confirmed regent after the Battle of Flodden for her two-year-old son, an unpopular decision. Just as the show suggests, there was a faction of Scots who favored the claim of Albany, a duke currently living in France. Seeking advice and support, Meg really did increasingly turn to the House of Douglas and the young Earl, whom she genuinely was deeply attracted to. Look for this to cause more drama in the weeks to come, bonny lads and lasses!

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The Spanish Princess

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