The Tudors presents the rarely dramatized, tumultuous early years of King Henry VIII's nearly 40-year omnipotent reign (1509-1547) of England. In addition to his famous female consorts, a 20+ year marriage to Catherine of Aragon and the infamous dalliance with Anne Boleyn, the series delves into Henry's most notable political relationship and the deconstruction of the Roman Catholic Church in England.
Divorce, Tudor style. As the Catholic Church struggles in vain to control Henry VIII's demands for an annulment, the King appoints himself head of the Church of England. A cook is blackmailed into poisoning a high-ranking bishop; then boiled alive for his crime. When Anne Boleyn insists Henry break all contacts with Katherine, the noble Queen is banished from court. The Reformation has begun.
Christmas at the Tudor court is a time for ringing in the new. Mistress Anne Boleyn has replaced the banished Queen Katherine. The King's chaplin, Thomas Cranmer, makes a fact-finding visit to Lutheran Germany while Henry withdraws both the authority and taxes of the Catholic Church at home. And a royal visit to France finally convinces Anne to consummate her relationship with Henry, even as his best friend Charles Brandon suggests that she is no virgin.
Henry destroys all ties with authority and the past. After many failed attempts to have his marriage to Katherine annulled by the Catholic Church, Henry runs out of patience and marries Anne Boleyn in secret. He appoints the young Lutheran Thomas Cranmer to the head of the Church of England and strips Queen Katherine of her title and status.
Questions of faith dominate the court. As the infant Princess Elizabeth is baptised, the 'Act of Succession' is unveiled declaring that only children of Henry and Anne are legitimate successors to the English throne. A law is passed where every Royal subject must take an oath, on pain of death, recognising the validity of the King's new marriage and the supremacy of Henry VIII in all matters.
Attempts to legitimise the King's marriage and increase his power hit unmovable obstacles as Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher insist that only God can be head of the church. Imprisoned in the Tower of London they face likely execution unless they take the Oath of Allegiance. Meanwhile Henry's wandering eye continues to roam.
As the Reformation gathers pace Sir Thomas Cromwell becomes ever more powerful as propagandist-in-chief of a new moral order. Royal confidence has given way to doubt. Henry is haunted by the memory of the executed Thomas More while Queen Anne Boleyn's insecurities border on paranoia. Her husband's affairs continue and an effort to have her daughter Elizabeth betrothed to a French royal is disappointed when the French King refuses to recognise that the infant Princess is of legitimate birth.
As Thomas Cromwell's increasingly ruthless 'reforms' spread terror through an ever more vulnerable Catholic Church, Anne Boleyn has nightmares that her position at the King's side is under threat from the continued existence of former Queen Katherine and her daughter Mary. Meanwhile Henry is occupied by sad news and a happy encounter.
At Henry's command Jane Seymour is made a lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn, to the discomfort and suspicion of the Queen. When Henry is seriously injured in a jousting match all thoughts turn to who might succeed him. There will be far-reaching consequences if Anne's pregnancy does not deliver a healthy son.
Anne has lost a son and with it her last chance at a lasting marriage with Henry. The King's affections are shifting anyway: the Seymour family are awarded rooms at court and seem likely to replace the Boleyns as royal favourites. Several in the court begin to move against Anne who is accused of adultery. Arrests are made of suspected lovers and of Anne herself. All, including the Queen, are sentenced to death.
Henry proposes marriage to Jane Seymour and removes baby Elizabeth from the line of succession, even as Anne awaits her execution in the Tower of London.