King Henry VIII is the young and virile king of England, one of the most powerful nations in the world, and seems to have it all. However, he is troubled by religious unrest in his own kingdom, as well as political struggles and changing allegiances with other countries. And weighing most on his mind is his failure thus far to produce a male heir with his Queen, Katherine of Aragon; so far their only child (who survived beyond birth) is the young Princess Mary, on whom he dotes. The aunt of the powerful Spanish Charles, Katherine is all that a Queen should be, and popular, but the difficult pursuit of a divorce approved by the Pope becomes a seductive option.
disc one episode one
"In Cold Blood"
Henry's uncle, Ambassador to Italy, is assassinated by the French and Henry seizes upon this event to plan a war with France to establish his immortal reputation and seize back the title of King of France. More interested in his own ambitions, the Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, manipulates the young king to propose a "Treaty of Universal Peace" with France instead. Thomas More, Henry's teacher and a humanist, is in favour of the treaty which further convinces a reluctant Henry to abandon his war plans. A summit is to take place in France, and — against Katherine's express wishes — their daughter Mary is to be betrothed to the Dauphin of France, also still a child. Meanwhile, Henry has a rival to the throne in the Duke of Buckingham, a blood relative to earlier Kings. Buckingham plots to murder Henry and thus grab the throne for himself, letting Thomas Boleyn and the Duke of Norfolk in on his plan. Boleyn's beautiful daughters Mary and Anne prepare to meet King Henry; meanwhile, Henry discovers that Lady Elizabeth Blount, his mistress and one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting, is pregnant with his child.
With Thomas More's encouragement, King Henry prepares to meet King Francis of France and sign Cardinal Wolsey's peace treaty. Henry had promised the hand of his daughter, Princess Mary, to the Dauphin of France, which caused strife between Henry and his queen, Katherine of Aragon. In France, Thomas Boleyn maneuvers his elder daughter Mary into Henry's bed in an effort to secure favor for the family. The Duke of Buckingham plots against the King, claiming a better right to the throne than Henry Tudor; but his purpose is betrayed by Thomas Boleyn. Katherine of Aragon continues to pray for Henry to give her a live, healthy son, but Henry wrestles with the theological problem of having married his brother's wife, and questions whether his lack of sons could be God's punishment. There is much celebration as Lady Elizabeth Blount gives birth to Henry's illegitimate son, to Katherine's pain.
"Wolsey, Wolsey, Wolsey!"
As Cardinal Wolsey has lost his chance to be Pope with King Henry's decision to go to war against France, a new accord with Spain and Queen Katherine's nephew Charles, Holy Roman Emperor, offers him fresh hope. Thomas More is knighted by Henry, and charged with destroying any copies of the Lutheran "heresy" he can seize, obviously paining More (although he, too, considers it heretical). Princess Mary's engagement to the Dauphin of France is broken off in favour of a marriage
to Charles of Spain; and Henry's elder sister, Princess Margaret, is to marry the King of Portugal. Charles Brandon, Henry's friend, is made Duke of Suffolk in order to be able to escort her to Portugal.
"His Majesty, The King"
As a reward for his denunciation of Martin Luther in his book, the Defence of the Seven Sacraments, the Pope christens Henry "Defender of the Faith", but a brush with death causes the King to seek a solution to his lack of an heir. Princess Margaret reluctantly marries the decrepit King of Portugal, but the union is short-lived; Henry's desire for Anne Boleyn intensifies.