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The Royal Court
King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers)
- 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.
- Boisterous Bruiser: He loved to joust.
- The Bluebeard: Had two wives put to death.
- 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.
- Heir Club for Men: Alas, his motivation
- 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.
- Never My Fault:
- 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.
- No Sense of Personal Space: When Henry wants to intimidate someone and doesn't go for the Large Ham No Indoor Voice route which is also his custom, he'll usually talk really, uncomfortably close to them. He probably does it deliberately.
- Pet the Dog:
- 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.
- Again in the finale he professed his love for all his children, gives them each a place in the succession, and sets his final wife up with a pension and permission to marry whom ever she wants.
- Serial Romeo: A very dark example
- 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'.
Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk (Henry Cavill)
- Beta Couple: He and his wife Catherine, to Henry and his assorted wives and mistresses.
- The Casanova: His first scene is romancing the Duke of Buckingham's daughter, and he's probably second to only King Henry in the number of dalliances he's shown having.
- Character Development: From a womanizing rake to a reliable courtier to a jaded old man.
- 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.
- Historical Beauty Update: This ◊ is a portrait of the real Charles Brandon. In the series, he is played by a clean-shaven Henry Cavill.
- Historical Hero Upgrade and Historical Villain Upgrade: The real Brandon was a pretty unremarkable figure, and as far as history goes, he was basically a Lighter and Softer Henry 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.
- My Sister Is Off-Limits!: Marrying Margaret did not please the king.
- 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.
Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor (Jeremy Northam)
- Burn the Witch!: The show gives rather more attention to his vehement hatred of Protestantism than is typically portrayed.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: He's one of the most level-headed members of Henry's court.
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (Sam Neill)
- 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.
- Face Death with Dignity: His final prayer.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Although not as bad as most other examples.
- Hypercompetent Sidekick: As Henry soon discovers to his chagrin after dismissing him from his post.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: His mistress, Joan Larke, as well as his children.
- 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.
- Nouveau Riche: Surrey thinks he's this.
- Strange Bedfellows: With the Duke of Suffolk. They end up collaborating with each other more and more, and neither backstabs the other.
Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury (Hans Mathieson)
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: He keeps his wife in a box.
- 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.
- Manipulative Bastard
Sir Francis Bryan (Alan van Sprang)
- Blasphemous Boast: At one point, he declares himself to be "the Black Pope." (The real Bryan's reputation was such that he was actually nicknamed "the Vicar of Hell.")
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Disappears after the end of Season 3.
- Dark Is Evil: He seems to always dress in black.
- Kick the Dog: His treatment of Princess Mary and his sabotage of Cromwell's execution.
- Nice Hat: It looks kind of like a Stetson.
- 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.
- You Can't Thwart Stage One: No, Sir Francis, you will never manage to kill Reginald Pole.
Thomas Culpepper (Torrance Coombs)
- Dirty Coward: When confronted by Edward Seymour, he instantly confesses everything (but blames his actions on the Queen).
- Establishing Character Moment: Leading the gang-rape of a peasant, then murdering her outraged husband.
- Karmic Death: Subverted. He gets executed, but he receives a much more humane death than the far less deserving Dereham.
Sir Richard Rich (Rod Hallett)
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: He always knows which way the wind is blowing.
- The Dragon: To Cromwell in Seasons 2 and 3 and to Bishop Gardiner in Season 4.
- Karma Houdini: In both the show and real life (he went on to hold high positions of authority during the reigns of both Mary and Elizabeth).
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Reveals himself to be a raging misogynist while torturing Anne Askew.
- The Stool Pigeon: Snitches on Thomas More to curry favor with Cromwell.
Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester (Simon Ward)
- Arc Villain: For the second half of Season 4.
- Burn the Witch!: Much like Thomas More before him.
- 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.
- Straw Hypocrite: As revealed by Lady Hertford in the series finale.
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (David O'Hara)
- 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.
- Big Bad Wannabe: Much like the Duke of Buckingham in Season 1.
- 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.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: His daddy is the Duke of Norfolk and his niece is (at least temporarily) Queen of England, so he can do what he likes...right?
King Henry's Six Wives
Katherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy)
- 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.
- Phenotype Stereotype: In real life she had fair skin, red hair, and blue eyes. In this series she has black hair because she's ya know, Spanish. She does have blue eyes though and pale-ish skin which is an improvement over most depictions of her. Ironically, her actress is Irish - who are usually thought of as fair-skinned and red-haired!
- 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.
Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer)
- Becoming the Mask: Is sent in to seduce Henry for her family's ambitions, but falls genuinely in love with him—which makes her story all the more heartbreaking.
- Brainy Brunette: Although her intelligence is aimed at more ambitious goals than Katherine's, Anne is another educated and clever queen.
- Clingy Jealous Girl: Once married to the king, Anne is not nearly as patient or willing to turn a blind eye to the his affairs as Katherine was. It's especially notable when she complains (rather, rambles about it, and to a side character who barely had any idea how to respond) about the king's disappearances in a very teenager way ("Can you believe that?!"), as well as imagining him with an harem of his own. However, this is Henry we're talking about, so it's not like her jealousy is not justified.
- Dark Mistress: Before she married Henry.
- 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.
- Properly Paranoid: After her marriage she gets increasingly paranoid about the king's new affairs, her enemies at court, Catherine and Lady Mary's possible attempts to plot against her (the look on her face when she hears that Mary will be the one attending to her infant daughter Elizabeth has "uh oh" written all over it) and even the king himself once his powers become absolute. Then again, she does have plenty of enemies trying to put her down, and she's not wrong when saying that the king can do whatever he pleases and then take it back, including putting her daughter on the line of succession and then taking her out again.
- 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.
Jane Seymour (Anita Briem; Annabelle Wallis)
- Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: The blonde Jane is by far the sweetest and gentlest of the queens.
- Nice Girl: Sweet, kind, and gentle, Jane is the polar opposite of her predecessor, the witty and ambitious Anne Boleyn.
- The Other Darrin: The only time the show lost an actor whose character could not simply be written around.
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Dies in childbirth, though not before giving birth to Henry's only living son, Prince Edward.
Anne of Cleves (Joss Stone)
- 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."
Katherine Howard (Tamzin Merchant)
- Bring My Brown Pants: She wets herself while watching Lady Rochford's execution.
- Dissonant Serenity: After an initial Freak Out following her arrest, she settles into this instead.
- Dumb Blonde: Speaks with a girlish, ditzy voice, lacks queenly dignity, and is a sharp contrast to the well-educated, intelligent queens before her.
- May-December Romance: The real Katherine was somewhere between 14 and 17 when she married 49-year-old Henry.
- 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.
- Your Cheating Heart: Her affair with Thomas Culpepper would be her downfall.
Katherine Parr (Joely Richardson)
- Bookworm: Was personally invested in the education of Elizabeth and Edward, and was a proponent of allowing citizens to read and interpret the bible for themselves.
- Guile Hero: Manages to talk her way out of a heresy charge and execution. Truth in Television, too.
- Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Much like his other blonde wives, she's not scheming or nefarious and contains a recurring golden theme in her wardrobe
- The High Queen: She actually rules as Queen Regent while Henry is fighting in France.
- Last Girl Wins: And by "wins" we mean "survives."
- Younger Than They Look: Katherine Parr was around 32 when she married Henry, but was played by a woman close to 50.
The House of Tudor
Princess/Lady Mary (Sarah Bolger)
- Break the Cutie: She has a pretty tough life after her parents split up.
- Horrible Judge of Character: In Season 4, she becomes alienated from Katherine Parr, while becoming friendly with Bishop Gardiner and Sir Richard Rich. Katherine Parr is a strong Protestant and therefore (to Mary's eyes) an Affably Evil heretic at best.
- 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.
- Someone To Remember Her By: As in real life, his mother doesn't last long after his birth.
- 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.
- Ass in Ambassador: In Season 2, he briefly plots the assassination of Anne Boleyn.
- Determinator: Nothing will stop him trying to help Katherine of Aragon, and later Mary.
- Fake Guest Star: One of only three characters/actors who appears in all four seasons, yet he never made it to the opening credits.
- Parental Substitute: To Mary.
King Francis I (Emmanuel Leconte)
- Ass in Ambassador: He spends the entire Field of the Cloth of Gold conference denigrating the English to their king's face.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: As with Henry and Charles, any treaty he signs isn't worth the paper it's written on.
- He Who Must Not Be Seen: For the last two seasons, he communicates with Henry entirely through letters and intermediaries.
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (Sebastian Armesto)
- Big Brother Instinct: He interferes in Henry's divorce from Katherine of Aragon because he doesn't want to see his favorite aunt jilted.
- The Chessmaster: Repeatedly manages to outfox Henry, particularly in Seasons 1 and 4.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: As with Henry and Francis, his word is never to be trusted.
- He Who Must Not Be Seen: He only appears in person once, and thereafter communicates solely through Chapuys and other emissaries.
Pope Paul III (Peter O'Toole)
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Apparently, they couldn't get Peter O'Toole back for Season 3, so the Pope never quite shows up and relays all his orders to his minions via a Suspiciously Similar Substitute, Cardinal von Waldburg.
- Deadpan Snarker: Peter O'Toole is brilliant at this.
- 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.