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The Tudors: In Cold Blood

“Good. Then it is settled. We are to war with France... Now, I can go play.”

It seems to be common wisdom that pilot episodes shouldn’t have too much going on in them. Introduce the central characters and the premise; that is all. The Tudors didn’t get this memo, clearly. In the first episode of the series we get character introductions (complete with some character development!) and a lot of plot. An ambassador is murdered. Preparations are made for war and then for a peace summit with France. Henry cheats on his wife with two different women. On top of all this is a jousting tournament, a treasonous plot, and numerous political intrigues. Phew! That’s an action packed 55 minutes.

The Twenty-Something Tyrant

Henry VIII is established as a spoiled medieval frat boy. He wants what he wants when he wants it, damn it. What he wants seems to vary between jousting, hunting, and a new woman in his bed. He wants his councils kept short so he can “go play,” offers his best friend, Charles Brandon, money if he succeeds in seducing the daughter of his political rival, and is willing to go to war with France for what amounts to a pissing contest.

Henry could easily have been portrayed as the evil king, a seducer of women and beheader of men. Instead, he is shown to be a selfish, spoiled brat who rarely thinks of the consequences of his actions until after they have been carried out. He is not cruel; he is just selfish and used to getting his way. All he has to do is wink at one of his servants and the girl he wants turns up in his room minutes later.

Despite all this, he remains incredibly insecure. This episode shows him beginning to doubt whether or not his wife was a virgin on their wedding night. Whatever conclusion he comes to later, here, at least, his doubts seem genuine. He pesters Thomas Boleyn, his ambassador to France, with questions about the French king, pushing him for trivial details and asking for comparisons and constant reassurances that he is taller, more handsome, more muscular, etc. Reassurances that, of course, Boleyn is happy to give. He’s not an idiot, as we are to learn later this season.

Henry’s persistent desire for war is based on two things. He wants to one up England’s perennial rival, France, true, but he also seeks military glory for it’s own sake. He longs to be remembered as a great king, but thinks that greatness can only come through battle. His reasoning for this is Henry V, who was then most known for The Battle of Agincourt. I hate to break it to our young monarch, but Henry V is best known now as a Shakespearean play. (“We few, we happy few...”)

The Babysitters

We are also introduced to Henry’s two most important advisors, Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas More. Their characters are brilliantly and succinctly summed up in their responses to Henry’s lust for war. Both oppose war (Wolsey for political reasons, More for philosophical ones), but they have dramatically different reactions to Henry’s war mongering. Wolsey publicly supports his king, but works to undermine him in secret. More refuses to speak out against him in public, but will not lie to him and tells him honestly of his reservations about going to war. The dichotomy between the two is really quite elegant.

More’s greatest political desire seems to be to make Henry a good and just king. I have to say, I think he’s fighting a losing battle. Poor Thomas More. I really would feel bad for him if he wasn’t so relentlessly boring moral.

Wolsey, on the other hand, is out for all he can get for himself. He takes money from the French to support their interests and then uses the threat of war to get their votes for pope. Wolsey is a man of common birth with uncommon ambition. He is hated by many members of the court (Norfolk, Boleyn, Buckingham) for his humble origins. He is also feared by many because of his extreme power over the king and thus the kingdom. It is his manipulation of Henry, and not More’s reasoned arguments, that gets the war-happy king to calm down and warm to peace. Upon discovering her pregnancy, Bessie Blount goes to Wolsey and not Henry. She, like everyone in court (with the exception of Henry himself), knows who is really in charge.

The Old Ball and Chain

Catherine, wife one of six, is nobody’s fool. She sees what is going on, but knows she has no power to stop it. While Henry’s cheating is a strain on their marriage, the main reason for domestic discord is that Catherine has been unable to produce a son, a prince capable of carrying on the Tudor dynasty. Henry, naturally, blames Catherine for this. This is his named reason for believing she lied about her virginity, for his screwing around, and for his neglect and mistreatment of her. He’s a great guy, isn’t he?

Random Historical Fact:

Anna Buckingham is based on Anne Hastings née Stafford, sister (not daughter) of Edward Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham. In history, Anne did not have an affair with Charles Brandon, but with Henry VIII himself. William Compton acted as a go-between.

Costumes of the Episode:

Anna Buckingham
Catherine of Aragon

Elizabeth Blount
Mary Boleyn


Was it just me or was Henry’s introduction terribly underwhelming? He just strolls into a room, wearing a crown. I was expecting a little spectacle.

The picture that I paired with this post is actually from the second episode, "Simply Henry". I couldn't find any spectacular pictures from this ep, and I thought this shot introduced him much better than the show did.

Awkward servants wait awkwardly for Henry and Bessie Blount.

Who wants to bet that, as Buckingham was complaining to Henry about Brandon screwing his daughter, all Henry could think was ‘damn, I have to pay him now.’

Did it ever occur to Catherine to stop hiring hot blonde ladies in waiting?

How cute is little Mary? Sure she grows up to kill a whole bunch of people over religious differences, but look at her tiny little hood! Awww.

The scene where Buckingham pretends to stab his servant freaks me out every time I see it.

Most Illustrious Quotations:

Wolsey: “King Henry is a young man. He has an appetite for war and on this occasion, he will not be easy to appease.”
French Ambassador: “Well then, by all means, let us have war.”

Henry: “Why won’t you come live at court?”
More: “You know perfectly well why. I don’t like it.”

More: “As a humanist, I have an abhorrence of war. It is an activity fit only for beasts yet practiced by no kind of beast so constantly as by man.”
Henry: “As a humanist, I share your opinion. As a king, I’m forced to disagree.”
Forget Henry’s witty comeback. Doesn’t it seem like More is saying animals do have wars, just fewer wars than humans? What animal wars is he talking about?

More: “Spoken like a lawyer.”
Henry: “You should know, you taught me.”
More: “Not well enough, it seems.”
Is there a medieval term for oh snap? Seems like it would be appropriate here.

Buckingham: “You violated my daughter.”
Charles: “No, no, she begged.”
Buckingham: “You’ve taken her honor.”
Charles: “I swear to Your Grace, someone else was there before me.”
I love his smug smile as he says this. And the fact that he’s naked. Henry Cavill is at his best when naked.

Henry: “What about his legs? Are his calves strong, like mine?”
Boleyn: “Majesty, no one has calves like yours.”
Henry: “Is he handsome?”
Boleyn: “Some people might think so. He certainly thinks so himself.”
Henry: “He is vain?”
Boleyn: “Your Majesty, he is French.”

excellent beginning
three out of four murdered ambassadors


  1. "Doesn’t it seem like More is saying animals do have wars, just fewer wars than humans? What animal wars is he talking about?"

    What are they teaching the kids in schools these days? As everyone knows, The First War of the Animals (1403-1417) was one of the most important conflicts during this period in continental history.

    The so-called "Second Animal War" (1423-24), of course, was nothing more than a border skirmish fought by animals unable to realize they'd lost the first war. Their descendents moved to the New World and later fought the Battle of New Orleans, dying bravely and senselessly for a war already won.

    And don't even get me started on the Third Animal War, in which both the Pope and the Anti-Pope tried to make animals go on crusade...

    The First War of the Animals, though, is a story worth knowing. Lions, tigers, and bears all fought valiantly and brutally for the right to....

    Okay, someone else needs to finish that. I'm too sleepy.

  2. Lions, tigers and bears all fought valiantly and brutally for the right to be called King of the Animals... and as we all know the Lions won that battle. Thereafter though they had to constantly be watching their backs as eternal enemies tigers and bears reached a truce and joined forces to oppose the tyrannical lions.

    It is known!

  3. Great review Sunbunny!

    "Who wants to bet that, as Buckingham was complaining to Henry about Brandon screwing his daughter, all Henry could think was ‘damn, I have to pay him now.’"
    I was just thinking that when I watched it! :o)

    As for Buckingham complaining about Henry's irregular claim to the throne (through his father's right of conquest, his father being descended from a "bastard line" i.e. the Beauforts who were in fact legitimized)... everyone seems to be forgetting Henry also has a claim through his mother Elizabeth!!! Daughter of a King of England (Edward IV? V? father of the "princes in the tower", I don't feel like looking it up). Henry VII's marriage of Elizabeth (and yes his defeat of Richard III) is what helped to end the "War of the Roses"!

    Poor Catherine, there really is nothing she can do about having a child if her husband doesn't visit her bed!!! As for her taking on lovely ladies in waiting, I'm not sure she has much of a say in that. The position of a Queen's Lady-in-waiting was often a political one. Nobles wanted their daughters int he Queen's care. Plus she already said that Wolsey got rid of her Spanish ladies.

    I've started rewatching this with you. So far in the first two episodes Catherine doesn't speak any Spanish so I can't comment on what I said in your first post about her accent. I will say that she has a believable accent when speaking English (unlike say, Iñigo Montoya).

    Speaking of accents, bravo on the French!

  4. "Lions, tigers and bears"

    I thought this was in Oz. Aw crap, don't tell me that I'm reading Billie Doux in a (red?) parallel Universe ? Aw SOB !

    Be seeing you !

    Great review BTW; it gives me the envy to rewatch the show...

  5. Oh my gosh, you guys! I feel so dumb. I had no idea the animal kingdom had such a violent history! I way overpaid for college. ;)

  6. Not to worry Sunbunny. I have a degree in Biology. We had a whole month dedicated to the Animal Wars in my Zoology class! ;o)

  7. Sunbunny, don't feel bad! My cats are Animal War reenactors (although they prefer the more accurate term "re-enactacats"), and they're always blabbing about this battle and that battle, alliance blah blah blah.

  8. Huh...people ! I'm confused !

    I thought the 2 legged creatures on this planet WERE the animals and the 4 legged ones the INTELLIGENT ones ??!!??

    Check my face of disappointment the next time I cross a cat while walking...

  9. As this is one of my favorite periods of history, I'm not entirely sure why I never watched this series. I know that I have seen pieces of it, but never the whole.

    The first scene with Henry seemed positively Shakespearean to me, which does not preclude its being underwhelming. Bill can be that occasionally. But, the language ("We are to war with France."), the names (Norfolk, Buckingham) and the blocking of the scene (King on his own with all his councilors looking at him) reminded me of more than one of the history plays.

    Great review, and like Cris, your comment about Henry realizing he was going to have to pay Charles made me laugh out loud.

  10. not to fuss, but as this is the XVI century, it would no longer be a "medieval frat boy", more like "early renaissance frat boy" :)

    great review, though!

  11. I'm just starting a re-watch in 2023.


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