After last week’s Katherine of Aragon centred episode of Lucy Worsley’s new Six Wives series, I was both excited and nervous about watching the second episode. As I mentioned in the first review, my concerns were for how Lucy would be able to go through the remaining five wives in just two episodes and, unfortunately, these problems came through in this episode.
This episode starts with Anne Boleyn moving in to the royal palace at Greenwich, so now Katherine and Anne are essentially living together. Worsley does not dwell on this for long and once again she goes travelling with Katherine’s portrait (which doesn’t get any less weird no matter how many times I see it), giving us a quick run down of events in the early 1530s. She skips a lot of the information due to time problems, yet still manages to cover the personal events, such as Katherine and Mary being separated and unable to see each other.
After Henry and Anne’s wedding, we see their first argument onscreen. Worsley picks a notorious one, which was documented by the likes of Chapuys, in which Anne is not happy with Henry having mistresses. He then tells her to “shut your eyes and endure, as more worthy persons have done” as he could “lower her as much as he had raised her” or, as it is shortened in this series, to “look away”.
The Princess Elizabeth is born not long after and Worsley makes a point of saying how besotted Anne is with her, despite her not being the son Henry wished for and Anne needed. Time passes very quickly in this series as, despite it in reality being two years later, we fast forward to Katherine of Aragon on her deathbed. It is a very moving scene in which Maria de Salinas (one of Katherine’s original Spanish ladies) writes Katherine’s letter to Henry for her, despite her objections to her giving the king her forgiveness. I am glad to see Maria mentioned, as most just mention Katherine’s main supporter being Eustace Chapuys and ignore the fact that Maria went against Henry’s wishes to visit her in 1536.
Jane Seymour comes onto the scene soon after and for once in a documentary she is acknowledged as being Katherine of Aragon’s lady in waiting as well as Anne Boleyn’s. We are shown Henry flirting with Jane with her on his lap and Anne seeing them two together, as shown in several shows, and have Worsley tell us about Anne’s second miscarriage (not mentioning the first). She puts it down to Anne’s heart breaking after seeing Jane and Henry together, which some sources do state, yet does not mention the other possible reason, the 1536 jousting accident. Several sources and historians state that this was the actual reason, the news given by the Duke of Norfolk having shocked her. Either way, Worsley does not give the alternative explanation.
The infamous ‘dead men’s shoes’ scene is shown next, with Worsley spying on Henry Norris and Anne Boleyn during a pageant and explaining the implications of her words. She had imagined the king’s death, which was treason, yet was just trying to play the game of courtly love and, perhaps in her distress over recent events with her miscarriage and the rise of the Seymours, took it a step too far.
She is shown trying to explain away these words and begging the king to understand that she did not mean it, yet the damage is done. Henry no longer trusts her and her fall is swift and brutal.
Jane Seymour’s time as queen in this series is very short, perhaps only a maximum of 15 minutes in total. Worsley does briefly mention her relationship with Princess/Lady Mary and how she tried to persuade Henry to have mercy on those involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace, resulting in a harsh warning from the king to “remember what happened to my last wife and queen”.
Jane then gives birth to Prince Edward and, after a brief visit to the Chapel Royal in Hampton Court Palace, we learn that she is dying. There is a scene in which Henry is tending to Jane and showing them their newborn son, it is one of the few affectionate scenes shown of the couple, with the king lamenting what he did to deserve this.
There are two main problems with this episode, although one is more down to the structure of the series overall. The problems are lack of time to cover the queens properly and the fact that Worsley focuses on the personal side of the six wives, cutting out as much of the political side as possible, which ultimately makes the story feel rushed and disjointed. The first episode had the perfect balance as it included events such as the Battle of Flodden and Katherine’s reaction, yet this one cuts out major figures such as Thomas Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. Cranmer does have a brief mention as he is Anne Boleyn’s confessor in the Tower, but that is his only appearance so far. This means that Worsley struggles when she explains the Pilgrimage of Grace and its importance to Jane Seymour, she talks about the Dissolution of the Monasteries but with no mention of Cromwell.
Overall I did enjoy the episode, yet the amount of details that had to be left out entirely due to the timing issue distracted away from the engaging narrative of Lucy Worsley and the brilliant acting throughout. Worsley seems to have had to pick just the famous events to show and the ones that are absolutely vital to the story, such as the ‘dead men’s shoes’ incident and Henry warning Jane about what happened to Anne Boleyn. Due to the fact that it did feel rushed, I do have to knock a star off of what was a solid four stars last week. If this was a four episode series, I am certain Worsley would have been able to go at a comfortable pace and include the likes of Thomas Wolsey, Cromwell etc.
Rating: 3/5 stars
(All pictures taken from BBC iPlayer)