Don't read unless you don't mind knowing what happens in Season 4. Obviously we all know what happened in history but does the show stick to history?
Thanks to Sheena for sending me this episode guide.
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A long hot summer. Thirty years into his reign, and well into middle age, Henry VIII takes a fifth wife: the stunning teen queen Katherine Howard. The Queen’s ‘low’ background combined with her youth and beauty, arouses a lusty familiarity in certain members of Henry’s court, most notably his handsome young servant Thomas Culpepper.
Whitehall Palace, London 1540. Thirty years into the reign of King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and it’s been a long, hot, summer: London is experiencing intense heat and there has been no rain for two months. But while his subjects wilt, the King’s vigor remains undiminished. The Reformation goes on and Henry has just married the beautiful Katherine Howard (Tamzin Merchant), his fifth Queen, who is a mere seventeen years old. Katherine is different from earlier wives in more ways than age: far from being nobility she was ‘discovered’ by some of the King’s friends in a boarding house for wayward young ladies. Joan Bulmer (Catherine Steadman), the new Queen’s best friend from her youth, is hired as a lady in waiting; aside from her friendship she knows too much scandalous detail about Katherine’s sexual past to be outside the court.
The Queen’s ‘low’ background combined with her youth and beauty, arouses a lusty familiarity in certain members of Henry’s court. Most notably the King’s handsome and ambitious new groom Thomas Culpepper (Torrance Coombs), who makes no secret of his desire for the new Queen during an extended hunting trip visit by the royal entourage. Culpepper unleashes his sexual frustrations on an unfortunate local peasant woman whom he rapes and then murders her aggrieved husband. When the local Sheriff confronts Henry with these charges the King sides with his young courtier; protection he may come to regret.
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Thomas Culpepper – Henry VIII’s newest servant – continues to make eyes at his King’s young bride, Katherine Howard. Her servant suggests seduction. While the King shows his age by going to bed early during the Christmas celebration the young but not so innocent members of his court party on.
Thomas Culpepper (Torrance Coombs) – principle groom to Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) – continues to make eyes at his King’s sexy young bride, Katherine Howard (Tamzin Merchant). He is not alone; the teen Queen inspires many admirers in Henry’s court, not least the King himself who spoils his new wife with an endless supply of extravagant gifts.
Lady Rochford (Joanne King) gets plenty of gossip about her new mistress from Katherine’s old friend and indiscreet lady-in-waiting Joan Bulmer (Catherine Steadman) who hints about their sexual adventures as young ladies. When Rochford sleeps with Culpepper soon after, he doesn’t hide that the Queen is his real desire and she helpfully suggests that she aid him in seducing Katherine.
On a drinking binge with his cronies in one of London’s nastiest neighborhoods, the arrogant Lord Surrey (David O’Hara) persecutes prostitutes, smashes windows and causes general mayhem. Not content with stirring up trouble after dark, Surrey intends to be the scourge of the Seymour brothers – Edward and Thomas (Max Brown and Andrew McNair) – whom he considers mere commoners.
As part of the Christmas festivities Henry invites his previous wife Anne of Cleves (Joss Stone) to the palace. He is pleasantly surprised by her beauty – something he missed when they were married – and delighted by her graciousness. But where once he was the life and soul of such parties, the aging King goes to bed early and the party grows boisterous in his absence. Never before have two of Henry’s wives had such fun together, nor have so many of his male courtiers enjoyed openly ogling their Queen.
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Buoyed by the happiness that a young wife brings an aging man, Henry is noticeably more tolerant and forgiving than he once was. Such goodwill is well appreciated by the peasants of the North who gratefully accept Henry’s forgiveness for the Pilgrimage of Grace revolt, during a Royal visit. But the King’s benevolence may yet be tested by his new Queen: Katherine Howard has submitted to seduction by the young and handsome Thomas Culpepper.
Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is in great spirits. Buoyed by the happiness that a young wife brings an aging man, he is noticeably more tolerant and forgiving than the Henry of old. He pardons a criminal, visits his estranged young daughter Princess Elizabeth (Laoise Murray) and plans a visit to the North of England – his first visit to the territory that hatched the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’ rebellion. Charles Brandon (Henry Cavill) is ordered to go ahead and make preparations.
Scenes of rebellion are now closer to home. Unknown to the doting King, his wife Katherine Howard (Tamzin Merchant) has begun a serious flirtation with the young and handsome Thomas Culpepper (Torrance Coombs) with the assistance of her lady in waiting, Lady Rochford (Joanne King).
Cuckolding the King is a capital offense but Henry, of course, can play by different rules and takes his pleasure in the bed of Anne of Cleves (Joss Stone) – the ex-wife he once thought ugly.
A large and impressive entourage accompanies the King, Queen and Princess Mary (Sarah Bolger) north to the city of Lincoln for the royal visit. In his appreciation for the warm welcome he receives, Henry gives a speech forgiving the city for its earlier revolt. Feeling benevolent and powerful once more, the King longs to be with his young bride but his troublesome leg-wound makes him tired and irritable and confines him to his room. Thomas Culpepper, on the other hand, is young, passionate and fit for a Queen.
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Rejuvenated by his tour of the north of England, Henry feels a new man and longs after his new Queen; unaware that her affections are diverted elsewhere. Katherine’s past begins to catch up as an old liaison comes looking for a job threatening to reveal all about their sexual history. Someone beats him to it when an anonymous letter is sent to the King containing accusations of adultery. Although unconvinced of the rumor, Henry confines Katherine to her apartments pending a thorough investigation.
Pontefract Castle, Yorkshire was the only royal property captured by the rebels during the Catholic uprising known as the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’. In a symbolic gesture it now welcomes Henry (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and his large entourage. Rejuvenated by the affection he has experienced in his tour of the north of England, Henry feels a stirring sexual energy towards his Queen (Tamzin Merchant). Charles Brandon (Henry Cavill) on the other hand, senses death as remembers the hangings and punishment he oversaw as the King’s representative during the Northern rebellion.
In a castle full of ghosts, Queen Katherine sees something like one when a young man arrives at her door. He is Francis Dereham (Allen Leech), one of the men she had sexual liaisons with before she married the King . . . and he wants a job. Threatened with blackmail, she has little choice but to give in.
Katherine Howard’s past begins to catch up with her on another front. The King receives an anonymous letter accusing his wife of sexual relationships with two men including Francis Dereham. Henry thinks the whole thing is a fraud but nonetheless orders an investigation, to be led by Lord Hertford (Max Brown). Katherine is confined to her apartments with no visitors permitted.
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Lord Hertford’s investigation into allegations of the Queen’s infidelities moves with speed. Deeply upset by revelations of his beloved young wife’s sexual past, Henry weeps. But once adultery is uncovered, his response is swift and decisive.
Queen Katherine (Tamzin Merchant) is shocked by the King’s (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) orders that she be confined to her apartments. The investigation into her past moves with speed: Francis Dereham is arrested and interrogated. Joan Bulmer is questioned as is the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk – at whose home Joan and Catherine lived as young women and where their immoral acts are rumored to have taken place. Dereham confesses that he and Katherine Howard had planned to get married and that he knew her carnally before she became Queen. A serious revelation, but not adultery.
Uncharacteristically, Henry weeps when told of these discoveries. But his response is unsentimental and swift: Katherine Howard is removed from court and her title as Queen withdrawn. Her pleas for understanding and forgiveness are coldly ignored but she knows she is lucky to escape with her life.
Francis Derehem is brutally tortured as Lord Hertford (Max Brown) seeks to establish if Katherine Howard committed adultery. Dereham denies the charge but points to Thomas Culpepper (Torrance Coombs) who is promptly arrested. Furious that the betrayal was widely known, Henry isolates himself from his court. Betrayed, bruised but unbowed the King gives a banquet, attended only by 26 beautiful young women.
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Unmarried once more Henry reflects on his dynasty and orders a new Act of Parliament which restores the succession rights of his two daughters, the Princesses Elizabeth and Mary. His roving eye undaunted by age or experience, he notices the attractive soon-to-be widow Catherine Parr. After the disastrous mismatch of his last marriage a mature woman is just what he needs.
In a surprise decision, the King (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) orders a new Act of Parliament which restores the succession rights of his two daughters, the Princesses Elizabeth and Mary. Although they are next in line after their youngest brother Edward, it is a powerful gesture of his love which will have historical consequences.
The King dispatches Hertford (Max Brown) and his arch enemy the Earl of Surrey (David O’Hara) north to warn the King of Scotland that any further acts of aggression will be responded to with the might of England’s armies. But Surrey is no man for issuing warnings and the body count is high at the Battle of Solway Moss.
Meanwhile both the ambassador of France and the ambassador of the Holy Roman Empire seek the support of Henry in attacking each other. To the surprise of his court Henry sides with the Catholic Emperor; for the first time since he was married to his aunt Catherine of Aragon.
The Catholic alliance signals a weakening of the Reformation’s influence in English politics. Realizing that the tide is turning, Bishop Stephen Gardiner (Simon Ward) goes on the hunt for suspected Calvinists.
Single once again, Henry takes an interest in the twice married Catherine Parr (Joely Richardson), a woman closer in age than his usual fancies. She has it mind to marry Thomas Seymour but within hours of her husband’s death, Seymour is hastily transferred to Brussels as permanent Ambassador and the King proposes marriage.
Henry marries Catherine Parr – his sixth and final wife. A loving step-mother and compassionate companion, Catherine is liked and respected by all at court save the Catholic Bishop Gardiner who suspects her to be a heretic. Henry prepares to invade France.
Henry (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) marries Catherine Parr (Joely Richarson), his sixth and final wife. The wedding is notable for the presence of Henry’s daughters, Princesses Mary (Sarah Bolger) and Elizabeth (Laoise Murray). Catherine is determined to be a loving stepmother to the King’s children who are fond of her in return.
Plans are made for the invasion of France and Charles Brandon (Henry Cavill) is named commander of the English armies. The emissaries of the Emperor Charles – with whom Henry has formed an alliance – are entertained in great style at the English court where to their surprise and delight, Princess Mary addresses them in Spanish.
As the Catholic influence increases, Bishop Gardiner (Simon Ward) begins to investigate the new Queen’s religious beliefs. She is rumored to be a secret Protestant and he intends to expose her. But any such suspicions are excused by the courage and commitment she shows in nursing the King when he is once again struck down by his ulcerous leg. There has never been so attentive a Queen to Henry at his most vulnerable.
The war effort is elaborate and costly. Three hundred ships have been requisitioned to bring guns, wagons, horses and the army to France. The King may not be in peak condition but he is determined to lead his armies into battle – to recapture lands he once held as well as a glimmer of his youth. In his absence, he appoints Catherine regent and protector of the realm and guardian of his children. The new Queen rises to the opportunity with ease and is well liked and respected by all.
The siege of Boulogne is a long, expensive and difficult military campaign that is finally won by Henry’s troops at great financial and human cost. Rejuvenated, Henry rejects the idea of marching on to further conquests, preferring to return to England in triumph.
The year is 1544. Under the supervision of the Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), the Earl of Surrey (David O’Hara) and his men attempt to tunnel their way into the French castle at Boulogne. Clearly pleased to be once again in the field of battle, the King dines and entertains in style at his tent some distance from the action. But progress is slow and conditions are appalling for his soldiers. Over two thousand men die of disease and starvation and another three thousand fall ill as ‘the flux’ sweeps the King’s camp. When hope of success seems all but lost, Treviso (Daniel Caltagirone), the King’s engineer, creates a spectacular explosion in the tunnel that finally breaches the castle. The French surrender to a gloating Henry who returns to England in triumph and commands festivities and celebrations throughout the land.
Charles Brandon (Henry Cavill), who has been separated from his wife for sometime finds happiness with a young Frenchwoman Brigitte, who returns with him from France. While Henry too has been rejuvenated by the siege of Boulogne, given a taste once more of the vigor and vitality of his youth, he may have pushed his already weakened body too far.
Henry VIII’s health is on the slide: the recent siege of Boulogne has taken its toll on his aging body and his ulcerous leg is constantly in pain. Bishop Gardiner and the Catholic Church are once again in the ascendant at court but, tired of conflict, Henry demonstrates little enthusiasm for the ambitious Bishop’s accusation that Catherine Parr is a heretic.
King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is aging rapidly: the recent siege of Boulogne has taken its toll, his ulcerous leg is constantly in pain and he now requires glasses to read.
Political events continue to be tumultuous and exhausting. The profligate Earl of Surrey (David O’Hara), a noble not known for his sense of judgment, loses 600 men in an unprovoked battle in France, endangering Henry’s recent success in Boulogne. News arrives that the King of France is preparing for war and worse, the Emperor Charles – England’s recent ally – has seized English ships and properties.
The rising influence of Bishop Gardiner (Simon Ward) is signaled by the appointment of a Catholic, Risley (Frank McCusker), to the important position of Lord Chancellor. Nonetheless the Lutherans continue with their radical reforms; the latest of which is women preachers. One such preacher, Anne Askew is imprisoned and tortured by Risley and then burnt at the stake for her perceived heresies. Sensing their rise in authority, Gardiner and his allies are determined to trap Queen Catherine. Brazenly, the Bishop suggests to the King that he has proof of her heresy. Henry confuses the Bishop with the reply that even if this were true – and he likely knows it is – he would spare her life.
The Earl of Surrey is not so fortunate. Defiant on his return to court, Henry’s Privy Council is unconvinced by his explanations about how so many men were lost under his command in France. His rank is withdrawn and the King refuses to see him. Surrey’s wild antics and attitude have won him no friends among Henry’s closest advisors and he is arrested on charges of treason. After a quick and one-sided trial he is sentenced to death.
Henry’s thoughts turn to his own mortality with the news that his long-time friend and sometimes foe King Francis, and his unshakable soldier Charles Brandon, are each dying. As he faces death, Henry encounters the ghosts of his former wives who each get a chance to confront him. Hans Holbein paints a last, iconic portrait of the Tudor King.
Henry (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is forced to surrender Boulogne, his great prize, as part of a peace treaty with France. But where, in the past he might have felt anger, his feelings now turn melancholic with the news that King Francis, his long-time friend and sometimes foe, is dying.
There is a slow, quiet and nonetheless inevitable shifting of allegiances as Henry’s own health begins to fade. Factions are forming at court as thoughts turn towards a successor. Some see Prince Edward (Edward Murtagh), Henry’s son by Anne Seymour as his natural heir while others, notably Bishop Gardner, are determined to restore a Catholic to the throne in the person of Princess Mary (Sarah Bolger).
Under orders of Gardiner, an arrest warrant for Queen Catherine (Joely Richardson) is issued on grounds of heresy. However, when Risley (Frank McCusker) and his men come to arrest the Queen – believing that they are carrying out the King’s orders – they are brutally rebuffed by Henry in a complex psychological game that leaves everyone uncertain of his allegiances and beliefs. For his overreaching ambition, Bishop Gardiner (Simon Ward) is expelled from court.
Hearing that Charles Brandon is very ill, the King summons his old friend to court. It is to be their last encounter: Brandon dies soon after and Henry is greatly shaken; his longest and most loyal ally now gone.
Realizing that his own death is now immanent, Henry retreats more and more into himself. He sees the ghosts of his past wives, then sends Queen Catherine and his beloved daughters Elizabeth and Mary away from Whitehall Palace. Alone, Henry VIII prepares for the end of his magnificent, momentous monarchy.
Debunking the myths about Anne Boleyn