Episode Summary: We begin this week’s episode at Sir William Compton’s home where he is very sick and in pain. The doctor is summoned and diagnoses him with the sweating sickness. The house staff is terrified at the news. The doctor has two men help him bleed William which he said, “sometimes works.” (Did bleeding someone ever work? I’m always amazed that we once truly believed in this method!)
Cardinal Wolsey has invited King Henry and Lady Anne Boleyn to a meal. Henry is pleased that England and France are allies against Spain once more. They talk more about the annulment of Henry and Queen Catherine’s marriage. Wolsey is sending two lawyers to the Pope to discuss the matter. (The three of them are such friends in this scene. Quite a contrast to the last scene in last week’s episode…)
Queen Catherine is walking in the garden with the Spanish Ambassador. He has received a message from the Emperor of Spain who declares his support for Catherine. The Emperor has already written to the Pope asking him to deny Wolsey’s petitions.
Unfortunately William has not made it through the night. His wife says goodbye as the doctor urges her to bury the body immediately and burn the bedding. The musician, Thomas Tallis, arrives at William’s home to find he’s already buried. Overcome with grief, Thomas smashes his guitar on the headstone.
At court, Wolsey informs the Duke of Norfolk that he is to be sent back to his estates by the king to overlook grain production. Norfolk is furious and knows that Wolsey is behind it. (In the last episode it may have seemed like Wolsey was on his way out, but he still has some tricks up his sleeve. It will be interesting to see what Wolsey does as his situation gets more desperate.)
Henry talks to his lords about William’s death and the sweating sickness that killed him. Henry suggests that they take some of his pills and infusions to help protect them against the sickness. (One of the things Henry VIII is known for is his absolute fear of sicknesses. For a man who is so powerful and has so much influence, he really is one of the most vulnerable characters I know.)
Thomas is playing a new piece he’s written in memory of William. The twins show up and distract him. He pulls one of the girls, Joan, aside and they flirt. He tells her that he sees a halo around her head.
Henry meets with the new French Ambassador. They discuss the ongoing war against Spain. He introduces the ambassador to Anne, who gives the ambassador a gift of a fast and formidable dog named Wolsey. As they laugh, someone in the distance yells, “Go back to your wife!” (This may be my favorite part of this episode. No one at court has the guts to say it, but some poor countryman does!)
On the way back to the castle, panic breaks out. There has been an outbreak of sweating sickness in the city. 300 people have already died. Henry begs for information about his wife, the Queen Catherine. As an afterthought he yells to Anne to take care. (Aha! Henry says it himself, “Where is my wife, the Queen?” When reality sets in, Henry knows Catherine is the true Queen of England.) In his rooms, Henry takes all of his medicine and has his things disinfected. He meets with his doctor who informs him that one of the symptoms of the sweating sickness is panic. He says that this panic can cause thousands to catch it and die. The doctor tells Henry the best prevention is a healthy diet and exercise.
The sickness is affecting everyone in England. Thomas More is at home with his family. He informs them that the sickness that has struck England is punishment from God. They pray for forgiveness. Charles Brandon is getting his exercise by having sex with a random woman. In Anne’s rooms, one of her maids starts to panic that she’s caught the sweat. Anne cannot console her. The girl dies. She writes to the king asking for advice. He wants to see her, but is advised by Wolsey to stay away from anyone who has been in contact with the illness. Henry takes his advice and sends Anne to Hever to be safe. He is worried Anne will die.
Henry says goodbye to Catherine, who is going to Ludlow to escape the sickness. They argue about Anne. Catherine points out that his fear of the sickness is greater than his love for his mistress.
On her way to Hever, Anne starts to feel ill. She cannot breathe and gets out of the coach to walk.
Joan, the twin Tallis flirted with, is dead. (Maybe the halo he saw earlier was a sign.)
Henry walks through an almost deserted castle. He begins to have nightmares and visions about the sickness, and continues to do whatever he can to keep from getting it. He goes to confession and begs for God’s forgiveness, but it seems that only death is listening.
The lawyers have arrived in Italy to meet the Pope. He is living in a broken down castle in an odd, makeshift village. The Pope tells the lawyers he believes Henry wants the divorce not because he believes the marriage is a sin, but because he wants to marry his mistress. The lawyers inform the Pope that if he does not grant Henry his wishes, Henry will live outside his authority. The Pope laughs. (The Pope believes Henry is under his control. Although I don’t admire his motives, I have to admit that Henry accomplishes something no one believes is possible, which is pretty amazing.) The Pope will not make a decision. He sends Cardinal Compeggio to England with the lawyers where he will make a court with Wolsey to decide on the matter.
One of Henry’s servants dies at his feet, causing Henry to flee in terror. He moves his household to another castle. Wolsey writes to Henry about all of the sickness and death. Wolsey himself seems to have caught the illness. When Henry finds out Anne is ill, he sends his own doctor to save her. The doctor informs Thomas and George Boleyn that there is no hope for Anne.
Thomas More tells his daughter that the true sickness in Europe is Lutheranism. He believes that just as the sickness is cleansed by fire, so should the Lutherans be burnt. He claims to be nonviolent but wishes to see Martin Luther and his followers burned. (Whoah! More is one of my favorite characters in The Tudors because he’s one of the few who has morals and sticks to them. Here, however, we see how cut-throat he can be. A few episodes ago he was burning books. Now he wants to burn the people who wrote them. For me, one of the most frightening things about this scene is how he’s describing all this to his young daughter.)
Anne has miraculously recovered from the sickness. Her father is overjoyed that she can now go back to pursuing the king. (Thomas Boleyn never fails to focus on what’s important.)
The court is back and attending mass together. There are many empty spaces to show respect for those who have died. Henry is overcome by the music and holds Catherine’s hand.
Sometime after mass, Henry reunites with Anne. They are both overwhelmed with happiness. (Again, here is one of the rare moments they have together when we see they are truly happy.)
Jen Says: I took the liberty of renaming this episode. It’s original title, Message to the Emperor, didn’t seem to fit. Yes, we see Catherine meeting with the Spanish Ambassador about a message to her nephew, but the majority of the episode focuses on the sweating sickness and Henry’s fear of it. Henry’s fear of sickness may seem a little over the top to us, but in his day death from illness was much more common. In fact, his older brother Arthur, Catherine’s first husband, may have died from the sweating sickness. Once a person became infected with the disease they usually died within 24 hours. It is believed the disease spread due to the poor sanitation of the time. A lot about the disease is still unknown. I’m glad the writers put so much focus on the sickness in this episode. While the life of a royal was very different than the life of a common man, the court was not safe from all of the dangers of Tudor England. You could get sick and die at anytime… of course Henry could have you killed at anytime as well!