Props to this show for its refusal to bow to invented history for the sake of a salacious story — it knows that Tudor history is salacious enough on its own. I am sick of historical fiction leaning into rumors like Anne Boleyn committing (or nearly committing) incest when lies like that were spread to satisfy the wants of an asshole king. We’re not dependent on Henry VIII for patronage! We owe him nothing! He is two trunkless legs of stone in the desert! I continue in my delight with how this series fills in historical gaps using clever conjecture but refrains from the ridiculous.
That being said, if I get some really angsty “We cannot but be together, however much we may want to” between Mary and Pedro, I will be so happy.
Elizabeth is at Kat Ashley’s sister’s house, having been exiled from Catherine Parr’s home. Kat’s sister’s husband is Sir Anthony Denny, who was Henry VIII’s Groom of the Stool, and yes, he was in charge of “assisting the king in excretion and hygiene.” Anthony’s wife Joan was also good friends with Catherine Parr, so while this looks like a “scrambling around for somewhere to stay” situation, it was still someone connected to Catherine.
As we all feared, Elizabeth’s period is late. Kat realizes what happened at the house and says that they will both lose their heads if people find out. But we also learn that Elizabeth is prone to irregular menstruation, so. This could just be stress from the immensely stressful situation in which she finds herself. While we don’t have definitive proof that Elizabeth and Thomas had sex IRL, it’s not outside the realm of possibility. If she did, and she witnessed these consequences, as well as the extremely dangerous fate marriage and sex brought her mother, three of her subsequent stepmothers, sister, and basically all women living at that time, it would make sense that she would later avoid both things like hell. Except for that time in her twenties when she maybe fooled around with Robert Dudley, but we don’t have to go there right now.
Back at the Seymour house, Catherine is very close to her due date, and Jane Grey is still staying with them. Catherine and Thomas are sticking close to the king, proclaiming him “the new Josiah.” Edward is celebrating the publication of the Book of Common Prayer, which further shifted the country towards Protestantism. Edward reads a prayer and everyone applauds him, which is pretty funny in the context of formal sixteenth-century Protestants. Edward looks like a teeny Henry VIII. (This is not a good thing.)
Catherine loses it at Thomas because Elizabeth writes her every week, begging for forgiveness, and Catherine can’t bring herself to write back. She rightfully blames Thomas for causing her to lose compassion for a child. “A CHILD, Thomas!” Yes! Exactly this. Catherine might not be able to respond to Elizabeth’s letters, but (1) that would truly display Herculean strength, and (2) she is aware that this adolescent girl whom Thomas preyed on is, indeed, a child. Thomas, who then moves right into charming Jane Grey? Leave the children of your house alone, Thomas!
Meanwhile, men are sacking Catholic churches for their gold because of Edward’s growing Protestant fanaticism and Somerset’s need for war funding. A priest loses an eye and is called a “filthy fucking Catholic” as men steal his candelabras. When the priest later reports this to Mary, he tells her the men stole the gold from the chantry, and she seems horrified. Being a Presbyterian, I did not know what this meant, but apparently, a chantry used to function as a “trust fund” for the individual church. There’s more to it, but we mainly need to know this act was impoverishing the churches and also stealing prayers from the dead. If, y’know, you believe in that, which the Catholics of the time certainly did.
Mary visits Elizabeth at Cheshunt Manor, and I continue to love this portrayal of Mary as someone other than a half-crazed and paranoid religious fanatic. She and Elizabeth walk the grounds, and when Elizabeth thinks Mary is angry about her letter, Mary clarifies that she’s angry at Elizabeth for leaving herself open to the exact thing Mary told her would happen. This is such a sibling or close friend argument! I know that I’m a sucker for sibling dynamics, but it’s also just so great to see this brief time period where they all at least kind of liked each other, especially since Mary’s and Elizabeth’s reigns feel so solitary in comparison. Here, Mary is the older sister who is trying to help, and Elizabeth thinks she knows better. Mary admits that Elizabeth is probably cleverer than she is but that Mary has more experience (legit). Mary has seen so much more than Elizabeth, mainly what has happened at the whim of their incredibly mercurial father.
Elizabeth tries to tell Mary what happened at the Seymours’, and Mary tells her not to give her the power of knowing this story. WHAT, I LOVE IT. It’s very Galadriel with the One Ring. Mary does not want Elizabeth to hand her the ability to destroy her and then ask her not to use it. This is prescient given what happens later, so great job, Mary. Also, wow, self-awareness. I am such a fan.
Mary bonds with Edward at court by watching a cockfight. Thanks, I hate it. At the end, a bird is dead. This is still used for entertainment around the world, but I am glad to report that it is a felony in almost all U.S. states, because, y’know, it’s a “sport” where animals murder each other. Anyway, Edward is psyched because his murder bird is the winner. During the fight, we discover Pedro is a spy (nooo!) for Somerset. Pedro is upset, though, because he thought his spying would help end the divide between Catholics and Protestants. Disillusioned, he confesses his spy status to Mary. He says he became a mercenary because she is “the only player in this game worrying about the rules.” He has waited his whole life for men to prove themselves honorable, and now he has met her. Omg. I love them.
This is a Mary-heavy episode (yay!) because, amidst all this, she has a conversation with Catherine. When Mary asks what happened at the house, Catherine tells her that in the villages, when women gossip, they bind their mouths, and maybe Catherine should suggest that to the king. Damn, Catherine, you come right out of the gate with that one? Mary derides Thomas (fair), and Catherine says at least she chose him instead of someone choosing for her (yeah, but … him?).
Oh, also, amidst all the cockfights and gossip hallway chats, Robert Dudley almost punches Henry Grey right in the face for saying Elizabeth is the daughter of a whore. His father pulls him away and basically says, so, you’re in love with Elizabeth. That’s not good. Robin does a very unconvincing, “We’re friends, dad.” He rides out to visit her, though, and after some cute bonding time, he gets on his horse, looks back at her, and says, “Shit.” See, this is the real love story of the show. Well, that and Mary/Pedro.
Elizabeth got her period! No terrifying pregnancy that she’d be forced to carry to term because there were no safe abortions back then, which was almost five hundred years ago. (Wow, I’m sure glad things have changed for the better in that regard, and we don’t have to deal with the horrifying results of forced pregnancy.) Catherine, however, has the baby she was scared would kill her, and it does. (Side note: did you know that in 2020, the maternal mortality rate for Black women was almost three times that for white women? And that the rates have increased for both? Wow, sure glad these facts are being considered now, in our more enlightened age.)
Goddamnit, I’m going to miss Catherine Parr. She and Elizabeth could have thrown Thomas in a ditch and lived together! Catherine could have advised Elizabeth on court politics since she survived Henry VIII’s perilous orbit. Instead, we have to deal with Thomas bemoaning how uniquely tortured he is and how much better it would have been if his sister and wife had just died immediately, instead of seeming like they were going to be all right.
Elizabeth is given Catherine Parr’s home, and she returns to find her letters to Catherine with the seals broken. She knows Catherine read them! Elizabeth goes to court to beg Edward’s forgiveness for her absence and to prove that the rumors that she was pregnant are false. As she kneels, we concurrently see Mary holding a Mass for Catherine Parr. Bishop Gardiner tells her this will stoke the fires at court, and Mary replies, “Let them burn.” Foreshadowing! Edward forgives Elizabeth. When Robin commends her for her rehabilitation, she tells him the girl she once was a fool and that that girl is dead. BOOM. No one sing “I’m Not That Girl” from Wicked — it is inappropriate for this moment and I don’t know why you’d even think of it.
Just to cap off Elizabeth’s stress for this episode, Thomas leans in at the last moment and whispers, “Marry me.”
Fuck off, Thomas!