****SPOILERS FOR THE WHITE QUEEN EPISODE 9****
Seriously, who would ever want to be a king? Or a queen? Or the mother, sibling, child or spouse of either? Horrible jobs, the lot of them, taking the worst parts of working with family and mixing them together with cutthroat Wall Street–style office politics and the constant threat of imminent imprisonment or beheading.
I honestly cannot think of anything worse.
You know, I think Lord Robert Stanley (Rupert Graves) has the right idea here. Oh, not in that anything he does is right at all—he’s a bad, bad, sneaky and duplicitous scoundrel who makes dead serial traitor Lord Warwick look like Pollyanna—but in that he is perfectly happy being the power behind the throne, raking in the titles and the riches and the accolades without aspiring to have his face on the money. Either of his two faces.
(Need to catch up? The White Queen originally aired in the UK and is now airing in the U.S. on Starz. Don't miss Rachel Hyland's recaps of The White Queen episode 1, episode 2, episode 3, episode 4, episode 5, episode 6, episode 7, and episode 8.)
You may perhaps recall that Lady Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale) married Lord Stanley three episodes back, and since then they have been colluding together to bring about an end to the reign of York and usher in another Lancastrian era, with Maggie B’s son Henry Tudor (Michael Marcus) on the throne. Still exiled in Brittany, Henry awaits only his mother’s machinations to set sail across the Channel and defeat the king-in-residence’s army, whether that army be loyal to Richard III (Anuerin Barnard) or the nephew he callously disinherited last time around, Edward V.
Edward’s mother, Queen Elizabeth (Rebecca Ferguson), is still holding fast in Sanctuary with her plentiful girl-children, but she schemes with Lady Margaret to retrieve her son Edward—and, quite incidentally, the brave lad who has taken Prince Richard’s place, from the Tower. We learn that the genuine article has made it safely to Flanders, but the Princes in the Tower, both real and faux, are in the most grievous of danger. Indeed, never has the death of two small boys been so keenly wished by so many different people, one of whom is very closely related to them and two of whom are mothers themselves. (Not that the ties of family mean much in this era—not, at least, this close to the throne.)
The first to wish ill upon the innocent boys’ heads is Lady Margaret Beaufort, who doesn’t quite speak it aloud but hopes vaguely that perhaps Richard and his increasingly-vile consort, Queen Anne (Faye Marsay) might take these potential roadblocks to her son’s eventual reign out of the playing field. Meanwhile, Anne has a not-at-all-oblique chat with the boys’ thuggish jailor, Sir Robert Brackenbury (Shaun Dooley), who wonders if it might not be better for all concerned if the young princelings were taken out of the equation, so that the people would not have a cause to rally around. She says she can’t wish for their deaths, but her eyes say differently—and then, eventually, her words say differently, when Sir Robert warns ominously: “Boys become men.”
But will Sir Robert get the chance to carry out this heinous crime on his Queen’s behalf, when Lady Margaret is also feeling the pressure to order the execution herself? Lord Stanley is none too delicate about it, either, pointing out the necessity of their deaths but giving her the choice. “Save or slaughter?” he demands of her harshly. “Save or slaughter?” She at least has the grace to look pained by the decision—and it is one she would assuredly wish to have left in others’ hands; she wants the boys dead but does not want them on her own conscience, the coward. But “slaughter” she decides, and she even smooth-talks the Duke of Buckingham (Arthur Darvill, late of Doctor Who) into thoroughly foreswearing his fealty to Richard, declaring himself for Henry Tudor, and promising to use his access to the Tower to do the wicked deed himself.
So, let’s recap. As far as Elizabeth is concerned, Maggie B is her ally and will help retrieve her boys from the Tower and set Edward V on the throne, in return for granting Henry Tudor a pardon for past treasons. As far as Richard and Anne are concerned, Lady Margaret and her husband, Lord Stanley, are their staunch supporters. And as far as Maggie B is concerned, her husband is on her side in all of this, as determined as she is to see her son on the throne in return for future royal favor.
All of these people are wrong. Because no matter how little you trust (Elizabeth) nor how many rewards you bestow (Richard) nor how many angles you try to cover (Maggie B), in the end, people are always worse than you can ever imagine them being. Or so History would apparently teach us.
After the attempt to rescue/kill the Princes in the Tower is unsuccessful, Maggie B prays to God for guidance as to why the boys have been saved—are you serious, woman? You’re asking God if he wanted you to assassinate two children in their beds? Indeed, this series has been full of incidents of this power-mad creature asking God for signs that she should do evil in His name, and it never fails to be as infuriating as it is oddly endearing. She’s just so gloriously mad. Her pious devotion is manifested in lots of praying and the use of ecumenical phraseology (my cause is holy; I am an instrument of His Will; my secret treason message-keeping book has been sanctified; blah blah), but in her heart she is much closer to the devil than Elizabeth, whom everyone is still denouncing as a witch. (And with good reason; of which, more anon.)
Pretty soon Maggie B gets her sign, however, and it turns out that the man upstairs totally wanted someone to bust a cap in those little kids, because some mysterious someone does take them out. Whether it was Buckingham or Sir Robert or someone else entirely we know not; we only know that with the former outed as a traitor to his good pal Rich, he musters an army to meet with Henry Tudor’s, due to set sail from France any day now.
But before he goes he sets about a rumor that the Princes have been murdered, and on Richard’s orders.
Richard is so horrified at the suggestion that he can barely contain himself—Aneurin Barnard already has the prominent eyes of a grown-up Frodo Baggins; when he is acting shocked he’s positively Gollum-like—and he loses it big time when he belatedly discovers that the Princes have disappeared from the Tower entirely, never to be seen again. He even goes to Elizabeth to check if she has them secreted away somewhere. “If you have,” he says sincerely, almost pleadingly, “I swear to God I won’t hunt them. Just tell me that they are safe.” She can’t because she doesn’t, and he pretty much goes into a decline as a result.
See, Shakespeare, Richard’s not a bad guy! Just easily-led and a little too eager to take his brother’s throne—but he’d never order the deaths of his young nephews! Never! Not the Richard we’ve come to know these past nine episodes or so, even if he did kill our dearest Anthony (Ben Lamb) for no good reason. We’ve seen him with his own son, and he seems to be a pretty good dad; enough so that when the young Edward is about to be invested as Prince of Wales and realizes he will someday be King, he says simply: “I don’t want to be King if you’ll die.” (Aw, little Simba! It’s the circle of life!) So for all that Richard may have gone Dark Side in the past episode or two, he’s not entirely in the kill-all-the-padawans proto-Vader stage yet, which makes him pretty much the only person at Court who isn’t, and possibly mightily misjudged by the Bard.
Because you know who totally did kind of order their deaths? Anne, via Sir Robert. And she fears he made good on her idle chatter, the guilt of which she can’t quite keep off her face when her beloved husband makes it clear he’d consider such an act thoroughly despicable. She almost gives it away, too, when Richard tells her that Elizabeth had promised to put a curse on whomever killed her son(s). “She cursed us?” Anne recoils in alarm, her terror of Lizzie’s magical powers a very real thing. (Again, with good reason.) Or might it be Maggie B and her line who are due the curse? Or maybe even both of them? Yes, a pox on both their houses!
That curse, by the way, was enacted with the aid of her eldest daughter, the Princess Elizabeth (Freya Mavor), and it curses the firstborn son of the murderer, and all of their descendants’ firstborn sons, all the way down the line until their bloodline should be no more. (You’re welcome, Elizabeth I.) But wait: how exactly was Prince Edward our Lizzie’s “firstborn son”? Is she not counting the now deceased Richard Grey and the still-living, sporadically useful Thomas (Ashley Charles)? Then again, Lizzie has lost two kids in as many episodes, and in the last four has also lost her mother and a newborn as well as her husband and her two remaining brothers—uh… we presume the Lord of the Admiralty brother accused of treason was executed? – so she can perhaps be forgiven for being a little shaky on the details. This bit is good, though: “And we will know the murderer by the workings of our curse.” So, basically anyone whose eldest son dies any time soon is a suspect! In the Middle Ages! That’s like me performing a curse on the guy who stole my bike and saying “And I will know the thief by his ironic facial hair and skinny jeans.”
(By the way? That was three royal Elizabeths I just referred to in that preceding paragraph. Oh, how I miss proper Historical Romance, where no two characters are allowed the same name!)
Meanwhile, Princess Elizabeth was a weird one in this episode: it was hard to like her, and then hard not to. On the one hand she was very much the scowling, sulking teenage girl – if she’d had a door to her room in Sanctuary, she’d have slammed it several times, and if she’d been born five centuries later, there’d be cryptic Facebook status updates along the lines of “OMG she is TEH WURST” and the blasting of some Disney Channel cover of Billy Joel’s “My Life” from her iPod dock. But then, when it is borne in upon both Lizzies that Lady Margaret was very possibly responsible for the death of young Edward, they work their weather witching to make it rain so hard that Buckingham’s army can receive no help from Henry Tudor’s, which ends in him being captured and killed, Maggie B’s plan utterly thwarted. Young Lizzie is positively chilling here as she looks out the window to the storm she has called, and she is quietly, terribly beautiful as she declares with relish: “Lady Margaret will know that her son cannot set sail in this. Not if it’s this bad across the Channel. And it will be.”
It would please her no end to learn that Maggie B is getting her comeuppance in more ways than just that, though. Lord Stanley, fine manipulator of all that he is, has gotten her declared a traitor (again) and placed in his care under house arrest, with all of her lands and fortune forfeit unto him. (Interesting that it wasn’t before, isn’t it? Evidently some women were able to be financially independent of their husbands back then. Don’t know what the feminists are all complaining about.) “You’re robbing me? You betrayed me to get my fortune?” she is incredulous, and to be fair, it does seem rather prosaic of him. But regardless: haha! Take that, you villainous Maggie B! You hypocrite, you liar, you would-be murderer of hapless infants! We could not be happier to see you so downtrodden and downcast.
Here’s a weird thing, though. I kind of feel sorry for her here. I know she deserves this, and it’s clear to everyone but her that Lord Stanley is only doing his play-both-sides-till-there’s-a-clear-winner thing, and will definitely treat her carefully in case her son becomes the next King. But there is a look of such dumbfounded astonishment on her face that such a thing could have come to pass, and such horror that she is now to be kept under the thumb of this man, that it’s difficult not to feel some pity for her situation.
Speaking of those I feel sorry for in this episode: Cecily! Oh, poor Princess Cecily (Elinor Crawley), how must you have felt when your estranged Uncle, the King, sees you and your sister for the first time in ages and doesn’t even acknowledge your existence? And, moreover, says to your sister “You have grown very beautiful, Elizabeth” and you are standing right there? Damn, Richard, and just when we were starting to like you again. Don’t you know how easy it is to give a teenage girl a complex? (I mean, you should; you married one.)
Perhaps things will be brighter for Cecily the next time out, with Richard declaring that both older girls be called to Court? Just one episode to go now, folks, and Princess Elizabeth, still betrothed to Henry Tudor, has been having these visions of being Queen…
Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.