Setting 1545-1546

Whitehall Palace, London 1545 – A groom gets the ageing Henry VIII an eye glass to help him read. Lord Hertford arrives with news from France – Surrey has lost over 600 men, including his captains and gentlemen. The King does not comment. The King meets with his council to discuss Surrey’s defeat. He speaks of how he has commanded Lord Surrey, who disobeyed orders, to be examined by the council. He appoints Hertford as Surrey’s replacement. Henry VIII also appoints Lord Wriothesley as his Lord Chancellor and Baron Wriothesley. Suffolk says that there are rumours of a French fleet being assembled and made ready for war and that the Emperor has ordered that all English ships in the Low Countries be seized. The King is saddened by the Emperor’s betrayal.

Marillac, the French ambassador speaks to Hertford in private. Marillac comments on how many things are amiss in England – bad harvest, bad debts, the plague etc. – and that the “poisoning” of the realm is due to the King’s rash decisions. He tells Hertford to persuade the King “of his folly hanging on to Boulogne”, to promote peace.

Gardiner congratulates Wriothesley on his appointment. Gardiner talks of how the King is showing himself to be pro Catholic and against Reform. Wriothesley comments on how changeable the King is and whether he even knows his own mind.

Suffolk and his mistress, Brigitte, see Suffolk’s son, Henry, who has come to court. Suffolk announces to his son that Brigitte is now his official mistress. Henry is shocked but accepts it because he wants his father to be happy.

Queen Catherine Parr dines with the King. He is fed up of the way that everyone at court interprets the facts to suit themselves. He is surrounded by guile, dishonesty and hypocrisy. Catherine tells him about her book, Lamentations of a Sinner, which she has dedicated to him. The King is happy with the dedication which likens him to Moses delivering his people from the Pharaoh (the Pope). Bishop Gardiner enters, he wants his permission to arrest and interrogate Anne Askew, a known heretic, who he thinks has friends at court. Catherine and her sister, Lady Herbert, exchange worried glances. The King gives his permission and then stares at Catherine.

Anne Askew preaches, speaking about how people should be free to read the Bible themselves and speaking against transubstantiation. Men turn up to arrest her and she prays. Guards take her out of the pulpit and out of the church.

Lord Surrey is examined by the King’s council. The council believes that his defeat at St Etienne was not due to the unwillingness of his soldiers, as claimed by him, but to his own folly. Surrey argues that it was not a defeat as there were losses and victories on both sides and that the French suffered more losses than the English. Gardiner comments that the English losses were worse as they lost all their captains, who Surrey sent out on the Front Line. Surrey argued that they wanted to be there and that they were brave and courageous and that problems were caused by the men sent by the council who panicked and bolted. Brandon accuses him of taking too big a risk by attacking an enemy with far greater numbers. Brandon goes on to say that Surrey was forced to personally fly the battlefield which was reprehensible and one of only three ways by which a man could be “degraded” from the Order of the Garter. Thomas Seymour speaks up on how Hertford had already accused Surrey of corruption in his office of Lieutenant General at Boulogne. Hertford has announced an immediate purge on those who Surrey had appointed. Surrey denies corruption and bribery. Suffolk announces that Surrey is to be removed from his office of Lieutenant General and his former title of Captain of Boulogne is revoked. He is ordered not to return to France. Surrey believes that the King will countermand the council’s orders but he is told that the King will not see him, he is shocked.

Sir Richard Rich visits Mary. He informs her that Eustace Chapuys, former Imperial ambassador, has died. Mary is shocked and very upset. She feels that she has nobody now but Rich assures her that she still has many true friends at court, such as Bishop Gardiner, and others like Bishop Bonner, who believes in the Catholic faith as she does. Mary asks Rich if he is one and he says he is. Mary is concerned that her brother is being brought up as a Protestant and Rich assures her that “there is work afoot to stop it”. He says that Gardiner needs to know that he has Mary’s support even if his works will touch people who are close to her. Mary says that she will pray for Gardiner’s success.

Tower of London – Anne Askew is questioned regarding preaching heresy. Rich and Gardiner believe that Anne has friends in the Queen’s household, e.g. the Duchess of Suffolk and Lady Herbert. Anne tells of how Lady Hertford sent her some money while she was in prison but she will not say that she receives support from the Queen. Gardiner threatens her with torture. Anne is led down to the torture chambers by the Constable of the Towe, Sir Edmund Knyvet, who does not agree with what is happening. She is taken into the racking room.

Surrey talks to Suffolk, saying that the council refused to send him reinforcements, yet it is his command being revoked. Suffolk tries to encourage him. Surrey believes that he was undermined from the start and that “Hertford will smart for usurping my place”. Suffolk warns Surrey not to act against Hertford but Surrey is concerned that the King will die before Prince Edward comes of age and that he and England will be governed by Hertford.

Anne Askew is put on the rack. The Constable orders the torturer just “to pinch her, nothing more”. She is stretched then Wriothesley asks her which of the Queen’s ladies supported her, Rich asks her which ladies share her beliefs or if the Queen herself does. Anne stays silent so Wriothesley orders her to be stretched further. Knyvet steps in and reminds them that it is against the King’s law to rack a woman. He and the torturer leave as he doubts that they have the King’s permission to torture Anne. Wriothesley asks Anne about her beliefs and she answers courageously. He and Rich turn the rack handle, Anne screams.

The Constable visits the King to tell him that Anne is being tortured in violation of the King’s laws. Henry explains that in cases of heresy, the laws make no distinction between a man or a woman because the Devil takes many forms.

Anne is woken with cold water being thrown over her face. She is questioned again about the Queen but does not answer.

Parliament, December 24, 1545 – Henry VIII’s final speech to Parliament. He speaks of how “there should be perfect love and concord” in the realm but that there is “discord and dissension” and religious divisions. He talks of how the reading of the scripture is only to inform a person’s conscience, not to dispute. He is saddened that “the precious jewel”, the word of God, has been disputed and not treated with reverence. He wants to make the divisions extinct. He asks them to be charitable and like brothers to each other, to love and serve God. Parliament gives him a round of applause.

Thomas Seymour reports on the King’s speech to Catherine Parr, Lady Herbert and Lady Hertford. Catherine likens the King to a man who throws another man off a high tower and then asks him to stop when he is halfway down. Lady Hertford says that the King has opened a Pandora’s box and that he cannot close it now.

Suffolk walks arm in arm with his mistress, Brigitte Rousselot. He tells her of how there are plots he doesn’t know about and that nobody, not even the King, confides in him. He goes on to say that there are men conspiring to secure the future, by controlling the prince. Brigitte asks him if he still loves the King, Suffolk doesn’t answer.

The King receives Lord Hertford. Hertford tells him that there will be peace in France if he accepts the terms. The terms are that in 8 years time the King must hand back Boulogne in return for 2 million crowns. The King tells Hertford he’s done well. Wriothesley enters and asks, on behalf, of Bishop Gardiner, for permission to arrest three of the Queen’s ladies as a result of his examination of Anne Askew. The ladies include Catherine’s sister, Lady Herbert. Gardiner wants to question them about their possession of forbidden materials.

Surrey meets with 4 men. They are planning to go to Windsor, overcome the guards and remove the prince, because “he who possesses the heir to the throne will very soon possess the throne itself”.

Queen Catherine Parr enters the room where dancing is taking place. She is with Mary and Elizabeth. She greets Wriothesley and Gardiner. She goes on to greet Lord Hertford and tells him that Gardiner has arrested her sister and two of her ladies on suspicion of heresy. Mary talks to Gardiner and asks him about his investigations. He tells her of how certain books were found in the Queen’s ladies’ closets. He also tells her that Anne Askew has been condemned to burn at Smithfield.

Guards surround Surrey. He is arrested for treason.

Lady Hertford goes to Smithfield, she sees the man building the pyre and asks him to tie a ball of gunpowder around Anne Askew’s neck to “end her suffering quickly”. Tearfully she begs him to take it and pays him. He agrees. Anne has been racked so badly that she is carried out on a chair. She is tied to the stake. Wriothesley greets Lady Hertford. He tells her that Bishop Gardiner wants to see her. The man puts the gunpowder ball around Anne’s neck, telling her it’s a gift from a friend, she looks over at Lady Hertford who is crying. The pyre is lit. Anne screams and then there is an explosion.

The Tower – Surrey is questioned by Sir Richard Rich and Sir Edmund Knyvet. He is asked if he bears the royal arms of Edward the Confessor and claims to be his next heir or kin. Surrey replies that he only puts in his coat of arms what he is entitled to put there. Sir Edmund says that if Surrey got power in England that he would go abroad to avoid his malice, Surrey replies that his malice is not as low as Knivert and that his malice goes much higher.

Hertford reports to the King on Surrey’s examination. Hertford reports that he has heard that Surrey was going to take power by murdering all members of the council and the control of the Prince.

The Tower – Surrey is visited by his friend, Martin, who has brought him a dagger. He prises his privy open with the dagger. He is planning to escape down it and into the river. He asks Martin to sort out a boat to meet him.

Lady Herbert has been released. Catherine Parr comforts her.

Surrey removes stones from around the privy but he is caught before he can escape.

Surrey’s trial – He is accused of usurping the Royal arms, showing that he hoped to become King, and also of trying to escape from his prison. Surrey denies it. Surrey claims that he never usurped the King’s arms “for everyone knows that my ancestors bore them” and that they have been in his family for 500 years. The crowd applaud him. Rich accuses him of intending to commit treason and become king. Surrey tells him that the kingdom has not been well since the King put mean men, like him, into his government. When Wriothesley asks him why he tried to escape if he was innocent, Surrey replies that they always find the fallen man guilty. He accuses an old friend, Suffolk, of entrapping him. He pleads not guilty. The foreman of the jury, Christopher Haydn, tells Hertford that the jury are not impressed with the evidence against Surrey. They do not believe that Surrey should be condemned for “such trifles”. Hertford warns Haydn not to provoke His Majesty and that the jury must do the King’s will.

Catherine Parr asks Mary what is wrong. Mary says that she has heard rumours that the King is looking for a new wife. She says, spitefully, that it is because Catherine has still not presented the King with a child. Catherine is shocked. She says that she and Mary used to be such good friends and for her nothing has changed and that she loves Mary. She accuses Mary of not loving her anymore and asks why. Mary does not answer.

The jury find Surrey guilty. He is sentenced to death, to be dragged to Tyburn to be hanged, drawn and quartered. The guards have to control the crowd who feel that the trial is a sham and a travesty.

The King is sitting reading a document with his spectacles while we see Surrey and hear words from one of his poems.

The King plays cards with Catherine. He comments on how Catherine has been busying herself with her books. She talks of how she has been translating the works of men like Erasmus. She says that she is doing it because the English people thirst for knowledge, but Henry tells her to be cautious and that she should be aware of the consequences of helping people to understand the gospels when they have no hope of understanding them. She says that no-one should be afraid of the gospels. She gets all passionate and tells him that he can continue his good work by purging the Church of its “dregs”. He puts his cards down. Catherine is worried that she has gone too far. He says he is tired and she leaves. The King talks to Gardiner about Catherine, about the way she lectures him. Gardiner takes his opportunity. He flatters the King and says that the Queen should not lecture to the King and subtly accuses the Queen of heresy. He then says that he has proof that she is a heretic but needs the King’s permission to draw up articles against her so that she can be tried. The King agrees but says that he is resolved to spare her life.


  • Eustace Chapuys did not die until 1556
  • The Constable of the Tower of London in 1546 was Sir Anthony Kingston, not a Sir Edmund Knyvet.
  • Suffolk’s mistress, Brigitte Rousselot is a fictional character.
  • There is no evidence that Surrey actually plotted to kidnap Prince Edward, although he foolishly declared that his father, the Duke of Norfolk, should become Lord Protector in the future.
  • Henry VIII’s appearance – Although Henry is definitely looking older in this episode, by the end of his reign he was obese, having a waist measurement of 52 inches and had been suffering from hair loss for some time.
  • Thomas Wriothesley actually became Lord Chancellor in 1544.
  • Charles Brandon’s wife is missing from court, yet she was one of Catherine Parr’s ladies and was one of the ladies suspected of heresy.
  • Anne Parr was not arrested. Arrest warrants for Anne, two more of Catherine Parr’s ladies and the Queen herself were made but the Queen managed to talk the King around and they were not arrested.


  • The Constable of the Tower, Sir Anthony Kingston, did refuse to carry on torturing Anne Askew so Wriothesley and Rich carried on without him.
  • Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ rendition of Henry VIII’s final speech to Parliament is actually very accurate – see the transcript at
  • The poem we hear as Surrey is led out of the court room is from his poem “The Means to Attain a Happy Life”.
  • Spectacles and spectacle cases were listed in the inventory taken of the King’s possessions after his death in January 1547.
  • Surrey was replaced in his post of Commander of the garrison of Boulogne in 1546 by Hertford after the defeat at St Etienne.
  • Someone did pay the executioner to put gunpowder around Anne Askew’s neck, although it is not known who did this.
  • Lady Hertford was a contact of Anne Askew’s and was one of Catherine Parr’s inner circle who were suspected of heresy.
  • The terms of the Treaty of Ardres or Treaty of Camp signed between France and England on the 7 June 1546 stated that Henry VIII would retain ownership of Boulogne until 1554, when he would return it to France in exchange for two million écus.

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