WARNING: This contains spoilers.
This episode picks up a year later, in 1473. We see many things that are the same. Edward IV is still whoring around. Elizabeth Woodville is pregnant again. Margaret Beaufort is a maid in her household. Thomas Stanley seems to be filling the void we have without William Hastings, as a courtier who encourages Edward’s excessive pleasures and takes part in them as well. Both Richard of Gloucester and George of Clarence are not happy with Edward’s behavior but are still participating with him.
Elizabeth gave birth to Prince Richard, Duke of York, on August 17th, 1473. The scene where Margaret brings his dead body to life is fictional. Earlier when Margaret had been kicked out of the birthing chamber by an angry, laboring Elizabeth, she utters one of the worst lines in the entire series: “She loves only her own vanity!” Firstly, as the Elizabeth in the show has no vanity, the line becomes even odder. Secondly, this is telling of her character in Philippa Gregory’s book, The Red Queen– a woman who is slightly insane and thinks that everyone else is evil, but she’s perfect and good. She does or says the exact same thing as Elizabeth, but Elizabeth’s a “whore” and a “sinner,” while Margaret thinks she should be a saint. It makes her into the perfect antagonist, but this personality is completely an invention of the author.
This “do as I say, not as I do” description also applies to Richard of Gloucester. He is very self-righteous, and in this episode steals the Countess of Warwick so that George can’t steal her. His wife, Anne Neville, points out this hypocrisy to him, but he doesn’t get it. He says that he marries Anne for love, but he works very hard for her money. He even tells Anne that he doesn’t care about having children; he just wants her and his “honor.” I still believe that most of this is an attempt to make him more likeable, but he is so condescending, disingenuous and scheming that you just can’t like him at all.
Clarence descends into madness as the episode goes on, from paranoia to hiring his own magician to combat Elizabeth’s “dark arts,” to fighting with the king in public. In 1478 he was found guilty of treason and executed. I agree with David Starkey that George being the “2nd person” to Edward was the source of his downfall. Starkey says that because he was next in line to the throne, he was the center of so many plots. If Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth was invalid because he was already married to another woman, his children would be bastards and could not inherit the throne, leaving it instead to George (this is the story that got him executed, not that the queen is a witch). George was rich, he had men, and his title was the one traditionally given to the king’s second son. The only thing standing in his way was Edward and his sons. Plots to put George on the throne wouldn’t stop as long as there were people who wanted Edward gone. He is doomed from the start to eventually be executed because he is just in a place of extreme risk.
A side note on the actor who plays Clarence, David Oakes. He was on the Showtime show “The Borgias,” as Juan Borgia, the second son of Pope Alexander VI. In the show and in the history, there was a bull on the Borgia crest. In the scene where they are celebrating Edward’s 15-years on the throne, the mask George is wearing is a bull. It’s an interesting coincidence.
Clarence’s execution sets up one of the best performances in the show. Duchess Cecily of York, played by Caroline Goodall, is so devastated by the execution of her “favorite” son that she screams, cries, demands, and threatens Edward to pardon George. She lays face down, begging him with her arms out in supplication. When he tries to get away from her, she grabs onto his legs and he can’t get her off. It’s wonderfully done. You pity her in her desperation to save him.
Clarence’s death in the keg of wine may be true, but it’s up to debate. When he was sentenced, Edward gave him the choice of to pick the method of his execution. The story is that he chose the malmsey wine both because he was a drunkard, but also because it was so ridiculous that he did not think Edward would approve pardon him instead. It didn’t work. He was still executed, but if he was actually drowned in wine or was killed in a different way is still open to debate. Dramatically it is far more interesting than the standard beheading, because the red wine becomes very visual. There is no blood, but parts of his shirt become dyed red and the red liquid sloshing around looks amazing.
Clarence’s children’s come to sad fates. His son, Edward, became Earl of Warwick after his grandfather. He was kept in prison by Henry VII, being the last legitimately born male of the house of York. He was found guilty of treason after attempting to support Perkin Warbeck, and was executed in 1499. Clarence’s daughter Margaret married Richard Pole, had children, and became Countess of Salisbury after her father. Under Henry VIII she was found guilty of treason, as was her family. Her son Henry was executed in 1538, and she followed in 1541. Her grandson Henry was imprisoned for the rest of his life, until he died in 1542. Being so close to the throne was deadly.
After George has died, Edward promises that if Henry Tudor comes back from Brittany, his land and title will be restored. Edward dangled this promise to Henry many times while he was in exile. Some of his letters to Duke Francis of Brittany and some of Margaret’s letters have survived, so we know that this was offered to Henry. Not only was he being promised restitution and safe passage to Wales, but he was offered one of Edward’s daughters in marriage, so he could become part of the royal family. There is no reason to doubt Edward’s sincerity in this offer, since he was very secure on the throne, and Henry had such a dubious claim to it. In the end Henry did not accept the offer, and his reasons for staying in exile are more complex. I believe that he was heavily influenced by his uncle Jasper, who could not return to Wales. Jasper had already been attainted, and he had no love for or trust in Edward. Henry may have been influenced by Jasper, which is why he chose to remain in exile instead of returning home, even with all of the effort Margaret had been putting into his cause.
Thomas Stanley points out to Margaret that her son has to walk past five coffins to get to the throne. The show hints at Margaret figuring out how this can be achieved, by praying about it and putting a candle out with her tears. This should only serve as a reminder of how amazing it was that he could have a chance at the throne. It was not a goal until Richard III’s usurpation of the throne. This early and with so many in line before him, it was not even a hope. All the real Margaret wanted was for him to be allowed to return to his lands in Wales and live there safely with his title returned.
The next episode is going to set up the events that push Henry toward the throne. See you then!