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Abusive Parents: He dotes on Mary and Elizabeth...until his marriages to their mothers dissolve, at which point he strips them of their legitimacy, banishes them from his court, and occasionally toys with the idea of having them killed. His extreme protectiveness is also a form of abuse to Edward, as Jane Seymour points out in her season 4 cameo. Granted, this time Henry really tried to do what he thought was best for him.
Adaptational Attractiveness: Not at first, since Henry actually was considered very attractive in his youth. Trouble is, he stays that way even through the period when Henry became obese.
Ass in Ambassador: The man is a walking diplomatic incident, constantly either insulting foreign dignitaries to their faces or capriciously deciding to renegotiate treaties at the drop of a hat.
Career-Ending Injury: A crippling leg injury, and an ulcerated leg wound, prevent him from being as physically active in Season 3 and 4. He spends the rest of the series walking with a cane.
Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: On both a micro scale (the best way to tell that you're about to be executed is to have Henry come to you and reassure you of your position in his court) and a macro one (he constantly breaks his treaties with France and the Holy Roman Empire).
Control Freak: Oh, my, yes. As Cromwell realizes (too late) in Season 3, this is the true reason why he began the Reformation: he has no particular theological disagreements with the Catholic Church, he simply won't countenance the idea that someone, somewhere in England might ultimately be under the authority of someone who isn't him.
General Failure: He's every soldier's nightmare general. His army barely held together at Boulogne because of his erratic leadership.
Glory Seeker: In the first episode, he's shown willing to impoverish his country going to war with France simply so he can one-up Henry V.
Hypocrite: He is outraged at the idea that one of his wives might have been unfaithful to him. Meanwhile, he usually can't stay faithful to them for more than one episode after the wedding.
Kill 'em All: If you rebel against him, you will pay dearly for it...
Ladykiller in Love: Subverted. The closest he comes is with Jane Seymour, if only because she both gave him a son and died when their marriage was at its apex. It didn't stop him from having affairs. The series implies, especially in the series finale, that Anne Boleyn was his great passion (particularly in that he doesn't want her ghost to leave him). But to say that he truly loved any of his wives is really... dubious.
His failed marriages are always someone else's fault, usually the unlucky wife's.
He convinces himself that the apparent deformity of Anne Boleyn's last child is ironclad proof of her (nonexistent) adultery, since obviously the kid must be someone else's.
After the deaths of Wolsey and Cromwell (and the discovery that they were pretty much his only competent advisors), he lays all the blame for their departures on the rest of his Privy Council. While it's true they had a hand in Wolsey and Cromwell's downfalls, it's also true that they would not have occurred if Henry hadn't decided to get rid of them for his own reasons.
Zizagged. His last meeting with Suffolk might seem like a Kick the Dog, because he's basically dragging a dying man out of bed to go see him, but it's still a nice moment between him and his Only Friend. He even offers to use his "powers as king" to cure him of his fever. Sadly, it doesn't work.
He's also occasionally affectionate to his daughters and wives, but he gradually discards most of them.
Villain with Good Publicity: Within England, certainly. No matter what bastardly things he does, his people are always willing and even eager to blame his advisors (Wolsey, Cromwell, Cranmer, and Anne Boleyn being favorite patsies). Meanwhile, it's a different story outside England - France in particular calls him 'a monster' and 'the English Nero'.
Foil: To Henry, in so many ways. Henry starts off as a promising, dynamic monarch, but quickly becomes Drunk with Power and becomes a tyrant. Charles starts off a wastrel who ignores the duties of his office, but undergoes Character Development and becomes the king's most loyal, capable, and reasonable servant, and a powerful magnate. They start off being very similar personalities, but end up being very different.
Four-Star Badass: He commands Henry's army in York and in France. During the latter, he personally assisted his soldiers in running off some French scouts.
Genre Savvy: He lasts the longest in Henry's court, and is one of the very few characters to die a peaceful death. Henry notices, after a while, that Charles surreptitiously disappears from court when Henry is particularly enraged, like after Katherine Howard's execution.
Historical Hero UpgradeandHistorical Villain Upgrade: The real Brandon was a pretty unremarkable figure, and as far as history goes, he was basically a Lighter and SofterHenry VIII his whole life. The copious Character Development he undergoes is fictionalized wholecloth, he directly profited from the appropriation of monastic lands, and his wife was one of the most prominent women in early English Protestantism. That said, his marriage with Mary Tudor (Margaret on the show) was happy and produced several children — Lady Jane Grey was his granddaughter. Lastly, he played no part in suppressing the Pilgrimage of Grace; that was Norfolk, who was written out after Season 1 and his part and Brandon's were combined.
A Match Made in Stockholm: In Season 4, he falls in love with a Frenchwoman who was his prisoner during the Boulogne campaign.
My Greatest Failure: Putting down the Pilgrimage of Grace. He considers it a grievous moral failure on his part after he sees thousands of people killed, and Thomas Darcy brutally executed, all because Cromwell threatened him with censure. He's much more subdued afterward, his marriage is destroyed, and his friendship with the King is not as close as it was before. When he returns to Pontefract Castle, he's visibly affected, and starts glimpsing Darcy's spirit wandering the halls.
My Master, Right or Wrong: He angsts about what this entails. In Season 3, his oath to Henry drives him to commit actions against his better nature.
Noble Top Enforcer: None of Henry's other advisers would be satisfied with executing only the leaders of a rebellion, while sparing the thousands of ordinary rebels.
Not So Different: Infidelity is a constant problem with both him and Henry. Charles makes a conscious effort to be faithful to his second wife, until Catherine makes it clear the two of them will never reconcile. Henry does who he wants, when he wants, and doesn't give a damn what any of his wives think.
Older Than They Look: Cavill's Brandon looks perpetually boyish, whereas the historical Brandon was actually seven years older than Henry VIII. During the Boulogne arc in season 4, Brandon looks forty at most when he would have been nearing sixty.
Reasonable Authority Figure: Eventually. Case in point, contrast his leadership of the English army at Boulogne, with Henry's. Also, at Surrey's tribunal following his military blunders in France, Charles is the only one who actually addresses the charges at hand. Thomas Seymour and Bishop Gardiner are more interested in slandering Surrey with false charges of corruption. Later, when the two are speaking privately, Charles assures him that his punishment is not damning, and that if he keeps his nose clean, he might one day regain his glory on the battlefield.
The Rival: He eventually becomes a second center of power on the Privy Council. When his rivalry with the Boleyns becomes public, his retainers and Thomas Boleyn's retainers start fights on the streets of London. When Thomas Cromwell tries to assume leadership of the Privy Council while the grieving Henry is incommunicado, Charles leads the other lords in walking out and shutting down the government, forcing Henry to return and neutering Cromwell's influence.
Undying Loyalty: Deconstructed. His loyalty to Henry costs him a lot, including his marriage.
Butt Monkey: Everyone except Henry hates his guts and plots against him, and Henry slowly becomes convinced that he is deliberately blocking his divorce from Catherine (even though the exact opposite is, in fact, true).
Dangerously Genre Savvy: When it came to the politics of Europe and the court, Cardinal Wolsey could play the game like no other.
Sycophantic Servant: He turns into this whenever he fails Henry. At one point, he literally gets down on his knees and begs for forgiveness.
Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex (James Frain)
0% Approval Rating: With the exception of Richard Rich, who stays silent, everyone on the Privy Council denounces him immediately once he loses the king's favor.
Can't Get Away with Nuthin' : The one time he lets his personal feelings override his Yes-Man tendencies (when he pushes Henry to marry Anne of Cleves in order to cement an alliance with the Protestant League), it ends up getting him executed.
Freak Out: When Brandon has him arrested and the king charges him with treason.
Hidden Depths: Was once a soldier-for-hire and is still a good archer. He's also not a particularly nasty man at heart, which is more than can be said about most of Henry's court.
Yes-Man: Best exemplified in a scene in which Henry presses him to explain his religious views.
"I believe what Your Majesty believes."
Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford (Max Brown)
Cool Uncle: The only moments of genuine warmth he shows are with his nephew, Prince Edward. But still, he's a pretty evil guy.
Evil Chancellor: Played with. Evil without a doubt, but an effective administrator regardless.
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Disappears without a trace after Season 2. Following history, he was pivotal in Katherine Howard's fall, and thus should have been an important character in Season 4.
Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire (Nick Dunning)
Karma Houdini: Subverted if you know your history, as he would die just two years after the events of his final episode, having been made bankrupt and lost everything he and his daughters had fought for throughout the series.
Kick the Dog: In his final episode he is informed of Anne Boleyn's impending execution. His response? To ask whether he can keep his earldom.
Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk (Henry Czerny)
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Disappears after Season 1. The Duke of Suffolk ends up doing a lot of things in Season 3 which the historical Norfolk did.
Composite Character: A mix of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk and his son Thomas Howard 3rd Duke of Norfolk.
Dragon Ascendant: Starts Season 1 as The Dragon to the Duke of Buckingham (who plots to overthrow Henry), but ends it as co-president of the King's Privy Council.
Overt Operative: While on assignment to abduct or assassinate Cardinal Pole.
Remember the New Guy: The real Bryan was actually a major player in Henry's court throughout his reign, but the character never appeared in the first two seasons. When he finally shows up in Season 3 as Henry's closest aide, everyone just acts like he was always there.
Those Two Guys: He and Thomas Seymour travel across Europe trying to kill Cardinal Pole.
Church Police: Takes it upon himself to lead an informal inquisition against Lutherans and other "heretics" in Season 4.
Fake Guest Star: He appears in most episodes in Season 3 and every episode in Season 4, but never makes it into the opening credits.
Full-Circle Revolution: Under his leadership, the Reformation in England grinds to a halt and the reformers that enjoyed widespread patronage under the Boleyns and Cromwell found themselves targeted for investigation, torture, and execution.
Karma Houdini: Not only does he not get his comeuppance on the show, but history buffs know that he eventually became Lord Chancellor to Queen Mary.
Age Lift: The real Earl of Surrey was in his late twenties during the events of Season 4. David O'Hara was 44 at the time of filming.
Anti-Villain: He's entirely right about Hertford, Gardiner, and Richard Rich being schemers, and his friendship with Suffolk shows he's not a bad guy. But after he tried to kidnap Prince Edward, there was only one way it could end.
Hypocrite: He's extremely dismissive of the "new men" populating Henry's court, but his only friend at court is Suffolk, who was made Duke without an ancient or celebrated lineage. Charles looks uncomfortable every time Surrey rants about the importance of lineage, and tries to gently remind him of the worthwhile service people like the Seymours have rendered the King, Blue Blood or not.
Never My Fault: He makes a mess of the situation in Calais as soon as the King returns to England, and then blames the Privy Council for not sending him good enough soldiers.
Warrior Poet: Literally. And admittedly, his poetry is actually pretty good.
King Henry's Six Wives
Katherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy)
Adaptation Dye-Job: In real life she had fair skin, red hair, and blue eyes. In this series she has more stereotypical "Spanish" features, e.g. black hair, olive skin, and brown eyes. Ironically, her actress is Irish - who are usually thought of as fair-skinned and red-haired!
Brainy Brunette: As a Spanish princess and the long-standing Queen of England, Katherine is highly educated, aware and even involved in diplomacy, and intelligent in matters both secular and religious
Mama Bear: Very protective and loving of her only surviving child, the Princess Mary. Katherine tries to prevent Henry from betrothing young Mary to potential husbands who might prove wrong, and continues to fight for her daughter's rights even as her own are stripped away.
Unwanted Spouse: One of the most famous in history. After years of marriage without a living male heir and with growing philosophical differences, Henry grew tired of Katherine and went so far as to break with the Catholic Church so that he could divorce her. Historically speaking, she originally meant to marry Henry's older brother, Arthur Tudor. However, because he passed away some time later, Katherine later became Henry's wife instead.
Hot-Blooded: Anne's fiery passion attracts Henry early on, but eventually is used against her when Henry wants to be free of their marriage.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Anne can be manipulative, selfish, and ambitious (and influences Henry to increase these traits in himself), but she is also loyal to her family, grows to love Henry, and adores her daughter Elizabeth.
Small Name, Big Ego: Once she starts actually throwing her weight around at court, it becomes glaringly obvious that she has little intrinsic political worth. Henry's advisers, for example, bristle whenever she voices her objection to the king's policies, and when she can't bear Henry a son, Henry tires of her and has her executed.
The Vamp: Has a decidedly more sensual, powerful air that makes her stand out.
Amicably Divorced: So amicably, in fact, that Henry actually grows attracted to her and sleeps with her! Cromwell must be rolling in his grave...
Better as Friends: She and Henry realize quickly that they are this. And because she's clever enough to accept this and not fight the divorce, they actually do remain friends. The real Henry VIII referred to his ex-queen as "his beloved sister."
Genre Savvy: After the lesson of what happened to Henry's first two wives, she's sure to immediately agree when he asks for a divorce, enabling her to make out quite nicely on the deal and even retain his favor afterward (the real Anne even attended the coronation of Mary).
Parenting the Husband: Gender inverted. Katherine is even younger than Henry's daughter. This shows as he witnesses her giddy exuberance with all the energy of a teenager's father, and spoils her rotten.
Too Dumb to Live: When your husband once executed a pretty wife on false adultery charges, it's probably not a good idea to have a real affair right under his nose.
Jumping Off the Slippery Slope/Knight Templar: Toward the end of Season 4, she lets her hatred of the "heretics" consume her, vowing to restore England to the "true faith" no matter how many people she has to burn to do it.
Too Good for This Sinful Earth: The series finale foreshadows that despite Henry pinning all his hopes for the Tudor dynasty on him, he will die young like his mother.
Princess Margaret (Gabrielle Anwar)
Composite Character: Henry VIII had two sisters, Margaret and Mary. The show keeps the name that would lead to less confusion with his daughter Mary.
Continuity Snarl: Henry's only having one sister in the show, who dies childless, makes Henry calling the King of Scotland his nephew in season 3 rather inexplicable. In real life, of course, this is because he was the son of Margaret, whose own story was removed (the show's Margaret has the rough biography of the sister named Mary). It's also fortunate the show didn't extend to Elizabeth's reign, as it would have had quite the pickle in explaining why Mary, Queen of Scots was advocated as a claimant to the English throne.
Eustace Chapuys (Anthony Brophy)
Agony of the Feet: He suffers increasingly from gout during season 4, until he's finally forced to go back home, where he dies shortly afterward.
Sinister Minister: Downplayed, but definitely there, as when he not-so-subtly encourages the assassination attempts against Anne Boleyn.
The Spymaster: He founds the Jesuits to act as his operatives abroad.
Tempting Fate: He allows Henry's appointment of Thomas Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury because, as he puts it, "What harm could a nobody do to our Holy Church?"
Charles de Marillac (Lothaire Bluteau)
Advertised Extra: He gets billing in the opening titles, despite only appearing in five out of ten episodes and only appearing for a scene or two in each. (This is probably because the show was an Irish/Canadian co-production, and Lothaire Bluteau is a fairly big star in Canada.)
Ass in Ambassador: Played with. He is scrupulously polite and servile to Henry, but the claws come out whenever he and Chapuys are alone together.
The Generic Guy: Doesn't really get enough screentime to develop a personality of his own.
Catherine Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk (Rebekah Wainwright)