King Henry VIII, the young and ambitious monarch of England, prepares for war with France but is dissuaded by the diplomatic manipulation of his powerful Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, who proposes that the King sponsor a “Treaty of Universal Peace.” The harmony of the King's domestic affairs is threatened, however, when he discovers that Elizabeth Blount, the young and beautiful lady-in-waiting to his Queen, Catherine of Aragon, is pregnant with his child.
Allegiances shift at home and abroad. Despite extravagant claims of loyalty to France during the “Field of Cloth of Gold” ceremonies, Henry contemplates an alliance with Charles V, King of Spain, who was recently named Holy Roman Emperor. Because he is dependent on the support of the French cardinals, Wolsey’s chance to become Pope is threatened. A gift of Machiavelli’s The Prince makes Henry wonder if it is better for a king to be loved or feared. For now, he sets about achieving both. He executes the scheming Duke of Buckingham for treason and celebrates the birth, by Lady Elizabeth Blount, of a first healthy baby son, whom he names Henry Fitzroy.
A new and important ally sweeps into Henry’s court in the form of Charles V, the most powerful man in Europe and nephew to Henry’s wife, Catherine of Aragon. To protect the very significant alliance he hopes will aid in his bid for an English role in European affairs, the King is careful not to reveal to Charles the growing distance between himself and the Queen. However, affairs of the heart are more likely to unsettle Henry’s resolve as he comes face-to-face for the first time with the beautiful Anne Boleyn. Unbeknownst to the King, he is being seduced by forces more calculating than any young woman.
Henry is named “Defender of the Faith” by the Pope who is grateful for his spiritual and political loyalty although fidelity is scarce in Henry’s court. His sister, Princess Margaret, marries the decrepit King of Portugal, only to murder him soon after and return to the lustful arms of Charles Brandon. The Duke of Norfolk and Sir Thomas Boleyn continue to conspire against Cardinal Wolsey and the King grows ever more enamored of Anne Boleyn. His increasing disinterest in his Queen, and the realization that he still hasn’t produced a legitimate heir to the Tudor dynasty, conjure an urgent desire for radical action.
Henry is a king of passion and perseverance. Efforts at alliances – both personal and political – face setback, but the King remains undeterred. When his ally, Emperor Charles V, releases Francis I, their mutual enemy from prison, he is stunned but resolves to redirect his European ambitions. And when Anne Boleyn is insulted by his offer to make her his sole and unique mistress, it merely doubles his passion and resolve to one day marry her. However, his separation from the most powerful political figure in Europe may prove easier to affect than an annulment from his wife.
Personal and political allegiances continue to change in Henry’s court. The King grows ever more confident in his role as monarch and more enamored of the young Anne Boleyn. Despite Cardinal Wolsey’s influence and efforts -- and much to the frustration of the King -- the Catholic Church seems unable to make progress in Henry’s petition for a divorce. This adds to the growing discomfort of the increasingly vulnerable Wolsey.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers
King Henry VIII
Anne of Cleves
Princess Mary Tudor
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