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Series: The Tudors

Showtime's Emmy-nominated retelling of the life of King Henry VIII, which devotes most of its time to the dissolution of his marriage to the older Catherine of Aragon and his deepening relationship with the saucy Anne Boleyn, who was to become his second wife. Gone from this series is the traditional vision of Henry as the bearded, bloated, jewel-encrusted, aging monarch who gleefully sent his wives to the chopping block. Instead, Jonathan Rhys Meyers' portrayal is that of a young, dynamic king determined to use his position to squeeze as much pleasure as he can out of life whilst balancing atop the ruthless world of Renaissance politics.

(He does get a beard as of the second season, however.)

In the third season the story continues with Henry's third and fourth wife, and introduces the fifth. Season four covers wives five and six.

Despite this series' claim to tell the real story, this production is mostly a cut down version of history, playing fast and loose with the facts to tell a dramatic tale of intrigue, sex, disease, sex, tragedy, sex, death and sex. Despite the constant sex, the show is very good at showing a lot of the intrigue and events that went on between Henry and his aides, and the reformation is handled reasonably accurately, with a great emphasis on the rebellions and difficulties it made.

The series formally debuted on Showtime on April 1, 2007, and the fourth and final season ended June 20, 2010.

A Spiritual Successor to The Tudors called The Borgias based on the life of Rodrigo Borgia (aka Pope Alexander the Sixth) and his family began airing April 2011.

A character page has been created.

This show provides examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: The departure from the series of Henry Czerny, who played the Duke of Norfolk, caused endless problems for the show given how very important the real Norfolk was to the story. Some of his actions were reassigned to Suffolk and Edward Seymour (in reality Norfolk was the one who orchestrated the affair between Catherine Howard and Henry).
    • For Season 4, Norfolk's son, the Earl of Surrey, became Katherine Howard's uncle. Historically, Norfolk was her uncle and Surrey was a man in his twenties or thirties at this point. Since Katherine was seventeen, that would have worked, but they made Surrey at least in his forties if not older.
    • One also has to mention Thomas Cranmer, who disappears from the show but in real life played an important role in the downfall of Katherine Howard. A letter detailing Katherine's indiscretions, which historically Cranmer presented to Henry personally, is instead given anonymously.
  • Acceptable Breaks from Reality: As a trim young ruler, Henry was considered world-beatingly handsome; famously, though, over the course of his reign he became morbidly obese. To reflect this, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers could have worn a fat suit, gained weight deliberately, or subjected himself to CGI tricks, but virtually any such measures risked becoming the focus of the audience's attention, at the expense of his performance. In the end, Rhys-Meyers wore minimal aging makeup, communicated Henry's increasing ungainliness and ill health mainly through body language and bulky clothes, and let Willing Suspension of Disbelief do the rest. Yet by avoiding his obesity and the health issues that accompanied it, many character motivations are altered by perception - his mood swings began as his health declined, rather than being a part of his base character as the show implies, and Kathryn Howard's dalliance with Culpepper is more understandable as a teenager married to a old man who could not rise without help of mechanical instruments, had to be carried around, and stank from the suppurating ulcers in his leg.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job:
    • Henry VIII was a redhead in real life, but he's a brunet in the show.
    • Similarly, Catherine of Aragon had reddish-blonde hair in real life, but she has black hair in the show.
    • Very nearly happened with Anne Boleyn, but Natalie Dormer, a blonde in real life, stood firm about playing her as a brunette.
    • Mary had her father's red hair, not dark brown - not surprising as her mother also had reddish hair.
    • Kathryn Howard's hair was described as auburn, whereas in the show she's a blonde.
  • Anti-Villain: Suffolk, to the northern rebels. He elects to execute only the leaders of the rebellion (74 out of 40,000) after they had disbanded. Henry, through Cromwell, demands that he slaughter hundreds more to teach the rebels a lesson. Charles isn't happy about what he must do to retain the favor of the king.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Wolsey's prayer in the last episode of season one.
    • Thomas Cromwell's monologue and prayer prior to being executed in the season 3 finale.
    • Any bad guy who is executed, in general. Especially those who are hanged, drawn and quarted.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Sir Francis Bryan.
    • Later Thomas Seymour with Catherine Parr.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: While the series has a deserved reputation for playing fast and loose with history, some of the more outrageous events depicted are historically accurate. An example would be the Field of Cloth of Gold summit in the second episode of the first series, where Francis really did beat Henry in an impromptu wrestling match, spoiling the English king's mood for the rest of the conference.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "But tell me first, how is your beautiful wife?" Queen of France to Charles Brandon
  • Arranged Marriage: Tons of them. Hardly any actually work out. If it does work out, it doesn't last long. Interestingly, however, five out of six of Henry's wives were chosen by him personally. They still don't end happily.
  • Artistic License - History: Too much to catalogue here!
    • The show has Thomas More being drawn on a hurdle to his execution. In real life this only happened if you were being hung, drawn and quartered; More's sentence had been reduced to simple beheading.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: The Spanish lines spoken by Maria Doyle Kennedy and other actors are correct, but delivered in such an awful accent that a native speaker finds them nearly unintelligible.
    • Imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys actually did speak Spanish with an awful accent in real life, as he was a Savoyard whose first language was a dialect of French. It still doesn't make sense for Catherine of Aragon to not speak Spanish with a Spanish accent, though.
    • The Portuguese lines delivered in the scene with Margaret's husband are spoken fairly accurately, in the proper European Portuguese accent. They fail to take into account the archaic Portuguese of the time (which sounds more like Brazilian Portuguese), but then again the English spoken is hardly "period". The entire scene, incidentally, depicts events that never actually happened; Margaret was married off to the King of Scotland, while Henry's other sister - Mary, the one who actually married the Duke of Suffolk - was married off to an elderly French king, father-in-law of Francis I.
  • Ass in Ambassador: Henry wants to meet a couple of French ladies so he can inspect them before he decides to marry them. The French ambassador then jokes to Henry that he tries them all out before making a choice. Clearly he was unaware about what kind of man Henry was because hilarity does not ensue.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Averted, most of the people don't want to have Anne Boleyn as queen. Few come to cheer and one even tries to shoot her.
  • Balance of Power: The Emperor's lands is A, France is B and England is sometimes C and sometimes D. It becomes scary for England when A and B temporarily ally, so it then tries to ally with E (the Protestant League).
    • England became known for doing this in the centuries to come. Ironically, Henry is not good at maintaining this at his own court, allowing new favourites to cause the downfall of former (and sometimes very useful) favourites.
  • The Beard/No Bisexuals: both members of the series' resident gay couple were married to women— naturally, this was before the days when gay couples could be open about their real attractions.
    • Thomas Tallis seems to be played more as a subversion as he's played as genuinely attracted to both his lovers. George Boleyn and Mark Smeaton are The Beard played straight.
    • Mark Smeaton definitely is. George is an open question because in season 1 he definitely seemed to enjoy sex with women in at least one instance - funnily enough, with the sisters who later were caught up with Thomas Tallis. It's quite possible he just didn't like his wife.
  • The Bechdel Test: Featuring a very large cast of female characters and a lot of political intrigue, there are many instances in which two women will speak about something other than a man.
  • Beta Couple: Charles and Catherine Brandon, until they are separated in Season 4.
  • Betty and Veronica: Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour fit this down to the color-coding.
  • Bilingual Bonus: All of the prayers and religious ceremonies are conducted in historically-accurate Latin.
    • Although with such horrible pronunciation that it's barely understandable.
  • Binding Ancient Treaty: Averted. In season 1 a treaty of universal and perpetual peace is concluded. It does not last long.
    • Lampshaded by Mary's slight eyeroll when the French ambassador raises the possibility of yet another betrothal to a French prince.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: In episode two, while Buckingham is sentenced and executed, Lady Blount gives birth and Henry finds to his joy she has given him a son.
  • Blame Game
  • Blatant Lies: "I am a man of faith, Your Eminence." No, Henry, you're not. You're a man who's using theological loopholes to an end that will tear the country asunder because your girlfriend won't give it up.
  • Brainless Beauty: Katherine Howard is a giggly teenage airhead totally out of her depth in court.
    • Mary Boleyn also fits this category.
  • Bring It: "And what if he does not?"
  • British Accent: A lot of very, very poor ones.
  • British Series: At least partly. Wikipedia has a full list of companies involved with it.
    • It would be better to call it an Irish-Canadian series with British actors and American buyers.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Never shown or even hinted at in the programme; no suggestion that it was anything more than slander in history.
  • Brother-Sister Team: Anne and George Boleyn.
  • California Doubling: Ireland for England.
  • Call Forward: The show ended before getting into Mary's reign, possibly because there wasn't as much sexy time involved, but her loathing of Protestants, her comments about wanting to burn Cromwell, and her promises when on tours with her father that "all will be well" are Calls Forward to her attempt at a Counter-Reformation after she becomes queen.
    • Similarly, several characters prophetically murmur about how Elizabeth will become a great woman; Mary even curtseys to her and calls her 'Queen Elizabeth'.
  • Cardinal Wolsey: Wolsey himself is a non-example because he is a main character. A more straight example would be the Pope (played by Peter O'Toole).
  • The Casanova: Charles Brandon in the first season.
  • Chewing the Scenery: The Pope excommunicating Henry. And oh boy, did they give him a LOT of scenery to munch on!
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Francis Bryan.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Henry, the King of France, and the Holy Roman Emperor are constantly signing treaties with one another, then breaking them the very second they stop being in their short-term interest.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: The Duke of Norfolk, Anthony Knivert and Thomas Tallis after season 1, though Norfolk is mentioned once in season 2.
    • Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury is similarly given a single mention in season 3, although as noted above, historically he should have played a huge role in season 4.
      • His letter to Henry about Katherine Howard's adultery is given anonymously, so it can easily be assumed to be from him.
    • Pope Paul III actually outlived Henry, but he is not seen after season 2, since Peter O'Toole did not return to the cast.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: the favorite way of extracting a confession in the Renaissance era. Many real life torture methods of the era are shown rather graphically on screen.
  • Compliment Backfire: Henry thinks he's paying Anne Boleyn a great compliment by offering her to become his one and only mistress. She does not.
  • Composite Character: Henry VIII actually had two sisters, Mary and Margaret. The character portrayed in the show is given the biography of Mary, but the name of Margaret, because they feared that the audience could have her mistaken with the daughter of Henry and Catherine.
    • It gets worse. In Season 3, he refers to the King of Scotland as his nephew, even though as far as anyone knows, he did not have another sister to be the Scots King's mother.
      • Margaret Tudor, Henry's sister, married James IV of Scotland and was mother to James the V of the Scotland. But if the viewer doesn't know that, the show doesn't make sense.
    • However, the issue of name confusion was apparently more about potential problems on set, or so Michael Hurst said.
    • Not sure if this is exactly a composite, but Anne Stanhope's character storyline, especially in season 4, sounds like a rewrite of what happened with Edward Seymour's first wife, only with his second wife's name attached.
  • The Conscience: Catherine Brandon to her husband.
    • When Jane lies dying, Henry begs God not to take her, and calls her his "light in this dark world".
  • Costume Porn
  • Corrupt Church: Sort of subverted with Cardinal Wolsey. While he openly has a long-term, live-in lover despite being a Cardinal of the Catholic Church, and is said to have used his position to enrich himself, he is also a very capable administrator as Henry's Chancellor whose Machiavellian schemes all are towards the ultimate goal of lasting peace between the kingdoms of Europe.
  • Culture Clash: Cleves and England.
  • Dances and Balls: A lot of them.
  • Death by Adaptation: The real Henry FitzRoy died when he was seventeen, not when he was a small child.
  • Death by Childbirth: Jane Seymour passed away from Childbed Fever shortly after the birth of Prince Edward. A tragic case of Truth in Television.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Charles Brandon with Thomas Darcy in Pontefract Castle. Also Henry with Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour in the last episode.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The plotting courtiers against Cromwell. Brandon blamed him for his harsh policies against the rebels, which basically forced Brandon into an impossible position. Gardner is his religious enemy. But what did he ever do to the others that they want him to suffer extra and be humiliated on the scaffold?
  • The Ditz: Katherine Howard, in addition to being Too Dumb to Live.
  • Domestic Abuser: Henry emotionally and verbally abuses Catherine of Aragon.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: Thomas Moore. Katherine of Aragon. The peasant revolutionaries, just to name a few based on their portrayals in the show.
  • Double Standard: It's okay for Henry to stray, but that one of his wives might be doing the same does not please him. As he is king he tends to have this reaction about a lot of things, such that behavior that would in others be unacceptable is fine for him.
  • The Dragon: Sir Francis Bryan
  • Driven to Suicide: Wolsey and Elizabeth, the lady in waiting of Katherine d'Aragon.
  • Drunk with Power: Henry. Thomas More has been worried about this for a long time.
    More: If the lion knew his own strength, hard were it for any man to rule him.
  • Dumb Blonde: Katherine Howard is portrayed as such.
  • Dying Alone: After he dies, it is mentioned that the only attendees at Thomas Boleyn's funeral were "the ghosts of his children."
  • Enemy Mine: In European politics at that time, the emperor (who also had scores of other lands in Spain, the Low Countries etc) and the king of France were the most powerful. Henry was third. France and the emperor often sought Henry's alliance, while once binding against him as a heretic. In season three the German States also get involved.
    • Done on a smaller scale in court, where especially Charles Brandon allies with others against his enemy of the season. Only to make his former allies his new enemies the next.
    • Also Cromwell teaming up with the Seymours against the Boleyns.
  • Extreme Doormat: Anne of Cleves, which allowed her to get out of the marriage while at the first opportunity, and in appreciation, King Henry gave her everything she wanted. Which allows Anne to end the series with her own manor, retinue, freedom, and not to mention life, unlike wives one, two and five.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Francis Bryan, whose many talents include assassination, politics, seduction and poetry.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Anne Boleyn, Thomas More and Bishop Fisher. And Katherine Howard, who actually asks that the executioner's block be brought to her so that she may practice laying her head upon it.
    • Kitty's request is Truth in Television, which makes it deeply unsettling. Although you do have to wonder if she really decided to try it out while totally naked...
    • Subverted with Thomas Cromwell — not only is he reduced to a sobbing wreck, faced with a jeering crowd, but it takes five shots to actually kill him.
      • In Cromwell's case, two of the conspirators against him (Sir Francis Bryan and Thomas Seymour) got the headsman drunk so Cromwell's execution would be as painful as possible. It's only made worse by the fact Cromwell sees the headsman staggering, so he knows what's coming. By the third stroke - which lands in his shoulder blades, even Sir Francis is disgusted. As is fellow conspirator and cold fish Edward Seymour, who wasn't involved in getting the headsman drunk. Thomas Seymour, on the other hand, seems unfazed.
  • Fake Guest Star: There were only three actors that featured in all four seasons: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Henry Cavill and Anthony Brophy. Anthony who? Yes, even though ambassador Chapuys continued to play a big part in the story, he was never even in the opening credits. This in contrast to Lothaire Bluteau, who had only a few minutes here and there in the last season as the French ambassador, but was a regular during that time.
  • Fanservice: The show is built on it. It goes out of its way to show the sex lives of secondary and tertiary characters in great detail, and everyone is quite beautiful.
  • Five-Man Band: Henry's wives.
  • Foil: Charles Brandon to Henry. Both grew up together as friends with similar interests and personalities. Over the years as Henry's vices increased Charles matured and became increasingly disturbed by Henry's actions.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Obviously this is the case with a historical drama, although enhanced by the facts that a lot of it has to do with the deaths of various characters.
  • Foreshadowing: Henry to Anne Boleyn: "Your neck... I love your neck." Three guesses what happens to her neck in season two!
    • Henry to Thomas More, after offering him a knighthood: "You're not a saint, Thomas". (St. Thomas More was canonized in 1935.)
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Henry's wives could all fit the bill.
  • Gambit Pileup: The royal court in action.
  • Genre Blind: Robert Aske underestimates just how devious the court of Henry VIII is. It leads to his imprisonment and execution.
  • Genre Savvy: Katherine Parr is understandably horrified when Henry starts to send gifts to her, since every woman at court knows what happens to his wives.
    • Princess Elizabeth sees her father's treatment of his wives and swears that she will never marry.
    • Christina of Milan is also not very keen on marrying Henry, as she points out frankly. Perhaps Henry should have thought twice before courting any relatives of Katherine of Aragon.
    • Anne of Cleves can count as this — everyone also knows what happened to Henry's unwanted wives when they did not cooperate. She cooperated and made out quite well.
    • Mary Boleyn, surprisingly. Not exactly the smartest tool in the shed - and that is the understatement of the century! - Mary is still intelligent enough to know not to come back to court when her brother and sister face the chop.
  • Girl Posse: Catherine Howard's ladies behave more like her giggling best friends than her courtly servants, and are often seen gossiping, playing, and trying on her royal accessories.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Averted. Mary and Anne Boleyn get along well until Mary's secret marriage, even though Anne is after Mary's former lover.
    • Averted also with Mary and Elizabeth. Mary takes care of her and even helps her get back into the king's family circle. Of course the series is set well before Mary became queen.
    • Catherine and Anne Parr are also very close, partly because of their shared religious sympathies.
    • Edward and Thomas Seymour, despite being male, follow the personality types well. Edward is the serious one and Thomas the popular, unintellectual one. Even though this rivalry would turn deadly in Edward VI's reign, it is only shown in the series when Thomas sleeps with his wife and states how much he hates him.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Everyone, all the time, but especially Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour.
  • The Heretic: Thomas Cromwell, Anne Boleyn and quite a few others, not helped by the fact that the definition of heresy changes at least once per season.
    • By season 4 there are loads of them. Henry's last queen, many of her ladies, the Seymours and Anne Askew all had reason to fear being branded as such. Not to mention, Edward and Elizabeth are being raised as heretics, or so Mary complains.
  • Heir Club for Men: The whole reason why Henry had six wives. Extremely ironic when you know that both his daughters not only got to be queens regnant but also were both competent rulers and are remembered to this day.
  • Heroic BSOD: Henry, when his wife Jane Seymour dies of childbed fever after giving birth to Prince Edward.
  • Historical Beauty Update: A parade of pouty-lipped sexpots of both genders in Gorgeous Period Dress? The Tudors is god of this trope. After all, we can't have all that hot and sexy sex being had by ugly actors, can we?
    • Not to mention that the women are all very thin. When someone comments on Katherine Howard's round bum, well... it isn't (historically, she was described as 'pleasingly plump' as having some extra weight was desirable in those times).
    • Noted in this Kate Beaton comic. "The Sexy Tudors" has become a Fan Nickname for the show in some quarters.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Just about anyone in the cast of note.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Thomas Cromwell and above all, Anne Boleyn. Traditionally (before the 1960's at least) portrayed as the ruthless, evil villains in depictions of Henry's life. The show breaks away from that by simply making them human. Cromwell does some pretty bad things, but James Frain plays him in a way that makes it clear that he doesn't like everything he does. He just turns loyalty into a vice. Anne meanwhile is portrayed as a spirited young woman who falls in love with the king and is driven by that love, rather than greed. She is also shown to be a very loving mother, which she was in real life.
    • Mary Tudor, who is almost always portrayed as the evil side in the Glorious Warof Sisterly Rivalry with Elizabeth. Here there's some foreshadowing of her future retaliation against Protestant supporters, but she's still portrayed in a very sympathetic light.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Edward Seymour, for one. While he probably wasn't a great guy - he was a major force at court for a good amount of time, you didn't do that and be nice - he was definitely not the bastard shown in the series. When he was Lord Protector (read: de facto King) during Edward VI's minority, he was pretty well-liked by the common people because his policies were helpful to them. When he fell from power and was executed, they actually needed extra guards to make sure there wasn't a riot over it.
    • George Boleyn. Nothing is actually known, good or bad, about his marriage to Jane Parker; to depict him as a rapist without even one person he knew ever even hinting at such a thing in their writing is harsh.
    • For that matter, Jane herself. There's no historical evidence that she testified against her husband, or any evidence that she was a schemer. Even earlier beliefs that she somehow arranged Katherine Howard's affair with Thomas Culpeper (incidentally, a real villain and about as bad as the show portrays him) have recently been challenged.
  • Hollywood Costuming
  • Hollywood History
  • Honor Before Reason: The Earl of Surrey.
  • Honorary Uncle: Ambassador Chapuys to the Lady Mary.
  • Hotter and Sexier
  • Ignored Expert: In the fourth season episode "As It Should Be", Henry refuses to believe his doctor when said doctor tells him that "the bloody flux" is sweeping through the camp, devastating their army. Henry orders him to get the "cowards" out of their sickbeds to fight, with predictable results. Incredibly, despite this, Henry's troops eventually succeed in taking Boulogne.
  • 100% Adoration Rating: Catherine of Aragon. Not just the great majority of the English people, but also Rome and her powerful nephew were on her side. Even the French King remained half-hearted in his support of Anne, not wanting to fiance his son to her daughter but Catherine's. This showed that even in France people believed Catherine to be Henry's legitimate wife.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Henry's sister. Also, several people came down with the "Slight Dizziness of Death" when the Sweating Sickness rolled into town...
    • Historically, the sweating sickness did actually kill a lot of people at the time and then vanished with nary a trace. To this day people aren't quite sure what it was, although the prime suspect is some variety of hantavirus. At the time, pretty much any cough - especially coughing blood, a symptom of tuberculosis - was a potential Incurable Cough of Death.
  • In the Back: If Henry reassures you of your importance to him while your position is already unstable, you should really beware.
    • Thomas Cromwell and the Boleyns.
      • Don't forget Wolsey & Thomas More.
  • Idiot Ball: Katherine Howard and Thomas Culpeper practically had Idiot Balls superglued to their hands. Joan Bulmer, Francis Dereham and Lady Rochford each had their moments carrying one too.
  • Ill Girl: Jane Seymour.
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: There's a few here and there, Lady Elizabeth Darrell being among them.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: Six wives altogether, and which two are the ones that get the most nude and sex scenes? The two that eventually get their heads cut off. Coincidence?
    • Arguably yes, it is coincidence. The spark has gone out of the relationship with Wife #1 before the show starts. He never consummates his relationship with Wife #4 or #6. So that leaves #3, Jane Seymour, as the only one who might have gotten naked but didn't.
  • Irony:
    • Strictly fictional but: Henry refused to have Jane crowned until she gave birth to a son. She died after giving birth to a son but before being crowned. As a result, some people are questioning Edward's place in the succession. In Real Life, Jane wasn't crowned because there was an outbreak of plague in the planned spot for the coronation and, obviously, she as the king's wife wasn't going to go anywhere near there until the threat was over. Also, Edward's place was never threatened by her not being crowned. Coronation or not, with Catherine and Anne dead, Jane was religiously and legally Henry's wife, and therefore, he was the legitimate male heir of a king. Still, that's a pretty sweet bit of irony the show's throwing at Henry.
  • Jerkass: Henry VIII, a man of fiery passions, quick to anger and swift to act like a complete ass at all times and condemn at the drop of a hat, albeit likely to show some regret afterward (after the executions are done that is) once he's calmed down.
    • Specifically, Henry laments killing off Thomas More to Brandon (and, rather inexplicably since they were never shown talking about it, blames Anne for urging him to do so) in the second season. In the first episode of season 4, he makes a reference to Cromwell, and in the second episode flat-out says he grieves for him, calling him "the most faithful servant I ever had". Brandon and the Seymours squirm.
    • Thomas Boleyn. He cares only about his children as political pawns and is ready and willing to denounce them and send them to the executioner in order to save his own life.
  • The Jester: The only one who dares to tell Henry off.
  • Kangaroo Court: Anyone who Henry thinks is against him but is too prominent to simply destroy (such as Thomas More, Anne Boleyn, Thomas Cromwell and the Earl of Surrey) are subjected to such trials, Cromwell and Anne Boleyn are not even allowed to speak in their own defence.
  • Karma Houdini: Thomas Boleyn is an absolutely infuriating example. He escapes the executioner's axe only because he wholeheartedly denounces his son and daughter to the King's investigators, and while they are put to death he only cares about whether he keeps his title and estate as Earl of Wiltshire or not. What a dick.
    • It's better if you know your history, as he would die just two years later, having lost everything he and his daughters worked for. Of course, if you *really* know your history you'll know that he was never imprisoned or blamed up in real life, even by Henry.
    • Sir Richard Rich and Thomas Wriothesley definitely count, too. What about two of the most self-serving and treacherous bastards in this show, persecuting their former fellow Protestants and torturing Anne Askew, in a most vile and inhumane manner? The punishment for both of them is...let's see...Uh, right, getting promoted to even higher ranks. (According to Henry's testament, Wriothesley will be, next to Cranmer, the highest minister under the Procterate of Somerset. That he will be Seymour's underdog and under his constant watch helps a bit, at least. Well, and Rich will also not only keep his head, but prosper, making it even into the reign of Queen Elizabeth, being considered to be a respectable and trustworthy person by all.)
      • Oh, Francis Bryan. So much.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: Quite a bunch of people did this to Thomas Cromwell.
  • Lady of War: What Henry imagined Isabella of Spain to be, and therefore also suspected her daughter Catherine to become if he gave her half the chance. Averted in that Catherine would never wage war against her husband or England.
  • Large Ham: Peter O'Toole as THE POPE!
  • Licensed Game: For the PC.
  • Love Ruins the Realm: Henry goes too far to be able to marry Anne Boleyn. The result is political and religious chaos.
  • Marital Rape License: George Boleyn uses this in his arranged marriage to Jane Rochford.
  • Mating Dance: Anne and Henry in Season 2.
  • May-December Romance: Katherine Howard is only 17 and a little younger than Henry's daughter Mary. This is Truth in Television for the Tudor age, but we don't know exactly how old Katherine really was; 17 is about the upper limit for modern educated guesses, but many historians suspect she was only 15.
  • Meaningful Echo: In a manner of speaking. Henry pressures More to write a pamphlet attacking Martin Luther and praising the Pope as the true ruler of Christendom (and then publishes it in Henry's name). When Henry splits from the church, More throws the words of the pamphlet back at him. The pamphlet comes back again when the Archbishop accuses More of pressuring Henry to write it.
  • Meaningful Funeral: Jane Seymour's.
  • Mentor Archetype: Thomas More.
  • The Mistress: Charles Brandon has an official one! And besides the ones he married, Henry has a couple other girls on the side, like Mary Boleyn and Bessie Blount.
  • Moral Myopia: Really, Henry? You're upending the Catholic Church and trying to get an annulment on spurious grounds because your latest fling won't give it up to you, never mind who or what you're hurting in the process, and you're calling Katherine of Aragon heartless? That's more than a bit rich!
  • Ms. Fanservice: Brandon's French mistress was a fairly obvious device to introduce some more sex into the plot after Henry VIII was getting old and infirm and not catting around anymore.
    • Most if not all of the women on this show get naked at one point or another.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Henry, of all people, seems to get one (shocking, I know) when Cromwell tells him that Wolsey committed suicide. He makes haste to cover up by ordering that no one must ever know, then shouts for everyone around him to leave before he starts to sniffle...
    • Kinda of a repeating pattern for Henry; he mourns Cromwell. in the similiar fashion after he allows to execute him.
  • Mythology Gag: A Real Life example - in a scene in series one, Henry is seen composing 'Greensleeves' for Anne Boleyn, though it is now believed that the tune was composed in the Elizabethan era.
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits!: Averted. Even though Mary Boleyn has been Henry's mistress, she cheers Anne on as she marries him and becomes his queen.
    • Played straight with Charles Brandon and Princess Margaret.
  • Naked People Trapped Outside: Multiple examples.
  • Nice Hat: Anne of Cleves. Henry has his moments too. As does Katherine of Aragon.
    • And Mary Tudor in the season 4 trailer.
  • No Pregger Sex: Anne Boleyn turns away Henry when she's pregnant.
  • Noble Top Enforcer: Suffolk, despite having some less than noble moments surrounding Anne Boleyn's fall, comes off as this for the rest of the series, especially during the Pilgrimage of Grace, where he negotiates with the rebels, and later is disturbed when Henry intends to renege on all the promises he made to Aske. His punishment of the rebels amounts to executing a handful of the leaders while leaving the multitudes following them unharmed. Unfortunately, under the threat of censure (and probably more) from Cromwell and Henry, Charles eventually goes through with putting down the rebels violently.
  • Off with His Head!: Lots of people.
  • Oh, Crap: Surrey, when he is told the king refuses him an audience. Before that he still has the confidence he can set matters right by talking to him
    • Cardinal Wolsey suffers a series of Oh, Crap moments, starting with his learning of the King's love for Anne Boleyn (whom he'd just treated with withering contempt) and ending with his arrest.
  • One-Liner: Christina of Milan.
  • One Steve Limit: The popularity of the name Mary at the time caused some issues, including the writers compositing Henry's sisters Mary and Margaret into one character called Margaret to reduce the number of Marys to keep track of.
    • Averted with other common names of the period, with two Annes, two Janes, four Catherines/Katherines, and ten Thomases. Thankfully the latter are usually referred to by last name and/or title.
  • One-Woman Wail: Especially heard upon the execution of Anne Boleyn.
  • Only Friend: Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk is Henry's oldest friend and trusted confidante. He retained the King's favor for forty years and died peacefully, unlike pretty much everyone else of note in the royal court at the time. Fittingly, Henry Cavill is the only actor besides Jonathan Rhys Meyers to appear in every episode.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Jonathan Rhys Meyers starts to slip in season three, and it seems the strain of doing an 'old man' voice makes it more difficult to hold the English accent as his Irish comes through even more in season four. That being said, the way the English spoke in his time would not have been the same as modern times, so it's perhaps more of a consistency issue.
  • Oop North: The Pilgrimage of Grace.
  • Opinion Flipflop: After Bishop Gardiner is dismissed from court. He's barely left the room, before everyone starts fawning over and switching their allegiance to Edward Seymour.
  • Parental Favoritism: Mary might think it okay that their father is more fond of Edward, but Elizabeth does not.
  • Pet the Dog: In spite of the fact that Henry could be a real asshole of a ruler, he did have his moments with Jane Seymour in that he truly did love her. Towards the end of his life, he also had this with Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, and to a lesser extent Catherine Parr.
    • A quiet, beautiful scene of him laying hands on sick people to cure them is also this. Made especially poignant, since his own body is declining as well.
    • George Boleyn presents a cruel twist on this. He is an arrogant prick who rapes his own wife on their wedding night, but his one sympathetic quality is that he seems to genuinely care about his sister Anne's well-being, as opposed to their father who very clearly sees her as nothing more than a political pawn. Yet his one sympathetic quality results directly in his downfall and death, when his close relationship with his sister is twisted into an accusation of incest for which he is tried and executed.
  • Pimped-Out Dress
  • Playing Gertrude: The adult Mary is 20 when we see her first, but the actress who played her was only 16. In her last appearance she's 18, while Mary is 31.
  • Pretty in Mink: Although fake fur is used, either for budget or to avoid offending viewers.
  • Rags to Royalty: Cinderella style, but subverted. Anne Boleyn gets there mostly by pretending to be pure-hearted.
  • Really Gets Around: Henry VIII wins, although Charles Brandon and others also qualify.
  • Refusal of the Call: Robert Aske
  • Renaissance Man: Henry composed music, knew his languages, wrote a rebuttal to Luther and proclaimed himself a humanist.
    • His children, especially Elizabeth, also grew up to be this.
    • Thomas Moore: Politician, writer of Utopia, friend of Erasmus and diplomat. His daughter Margaret, who was one of the greatest Latin experts in England, too.
    • Lots in the aristocracy were this actually. It had become fashionable for first boys (Henry's generation) and then also girls (his children's generation) to become exceptionally learned.
    • Anne Boleyn to an extent as well, mostly because she grew up at the courts of Margaret of Austria and the French court.
    • And let's not forget Catherine Parr
  • Revolving Door Revolution: Henry's constant religious changes left people very unsure of what he really wanted them to believe.
    • Cromwell became a victim of this. Protestants and catholics did too, as Chapuys highlights in a letter to the emperor.
  • Requisite Royal Regalia
  • The Renaissance
  • Revenge by Proxy: Since Reginald Pole is out of Henry's reach in continental Europe, Henry has both his mother and brother killed.
    • And perhaps his nephew, a child we last see being led away by the power-grubbing Edward Seymour.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Henry produces a fine example when he designs Nonsuch Palace in solitude after Jane Seymour's death.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Henry was a patron of the arts and humanism, composed music and led troops into battle.
    • Katherine of Aragon personally gave alms to the poor after Easter mass.
    • Anne Boleyn worked hard to promote her religious ideals.
    • Catherine Parr published two books (including the first to be published by an English queen under her own name) and served as regent.
    • Averted with Catherine Howard, who is portrayed as being solely interested in having fun, presents and men.
    • Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward were all intellectual prodigies who studied a vast array of subjects and were renowned for their learning. The King's daughters were both accomplished musicians, and all three of them spoke a variety of languages.
  • Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome: Where the adult actors show the passing years via changing hairstyles, the youngest characters (Elizabeth, Mary and Edward especially) frequently get new actors several years older than the previous ones.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Anne of Cleves, after getting released from being queen and not having to worry about being executed for failing to give Henry a son, cheered up considerably. Ironically, this new side of her might have made Henry start to wish he'd consummated their marriage after all.
    • In season four, Henry finally does sleep with her. Yes, he's married again by that time.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Macbeth: Brandon seeing Lord Darcy's ghost during a feast at Pontefract Castle.
    • American Beauty: Catherine Howard's fondness for rose petals.
  • Smug Snake: Thomas Cromwell.
  • Standard Royal Court
    • In season 2 this has definitely turned into Deadly Decadent Court.
    • As in real life, the Queen sets the tone for the court. The decadence is emphasized under Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard; Jane Seymour's efforts at reining things in are less obvious.
  • Stealth Insult: Edward Seymour to Henry VIII when talking about Catherine Parr's regency: She has great clarity of mind, and a woman's touch which soothes and cures where a man would usually rush into anger and complaint.
    • Ambassador Chapuys delivers one to Henry himself in Season 2. "I want my reign to be remembered eternally." "I have no doubt that your Majesty's reign will always be remembered."
  • Strange Bedfellows: Every season Charles Brandon teams up with people he will try to bring down in the next season. Edward Seymour will be his enemy in the next season?
    • Edward Seymour and Francis Bryan, while Edward knows Francis sleeps with his wife.
      • Historically, Anne Stanhope was his second wife - the first slept with his father. Perhaps Bryan is an improvement? Although in season 4, Anne sleeps with his brother, and perhaps even has a son by him—she insists on naming him after the brother, anyway—so maybe not so much.
    • Wolsey and Catherine of Aragon.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Brandon's latest squeeze.
  • Those Two Guys: Richard and Harry in the season four battle in France scenes.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Katherine Howard. Francis Dereham and Lady Rochford also deserve honorable mentions. Despite being equally stupid, Joan Bulmer somehow manages to emerge unscathed.
    • Francis Dereham seems to be the worst, actually. While all the others at least try to conceal what they are doing, Dereham goes out of his way to spread it far and wide.
    • Also, the Duke of Buckingham, who told way too many unreliable people he's planning treason and also can't control his temper in front of the king.
  • The Tourney
  • Unfinished Business: In the last episode Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour all come back to give Henry a piece of their mind.
    • Which also classifies as three Crowning Moments of Awesome.
    • Although it was curious in Jane's case, since she really didn't have much to complain about.
      • She was upset at Henry's treatment of Edward rather than of her. It seems to be based on the modern theory that keeping a child's environment "too" clean is dangerous. In this specific case it's pure nonsense, since the risk of over-cleanliness is supposedly allergies, while Edward died of an infectious disease that would have killed him as surely at three as it did at 15.
  • Unwanted Spouse: Anne of Cleves
  • Unwitting Pawn: Sir Thomas More. The man is an effective administrator, intelligent, virtuous within the boundaries of his religion, and a close friend of the King's, but this doesn't stop him from being taken apart by the Boleyns.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Thomas Cromwell got his former friends beheaded and ordered the hanging of hundreds of those who wanted to stick to the old religion. He will have his reformation for the good of the realm.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story
    • The worst example is probably the treatment Marguerite de Navarre received. In reality, she was a very intellectual and brave woman, who was a gifted writer and also travelled tirelessly to get her brother Francis freed when he had been taken captive at Pavia. Anne Boleyn was greatly influenced by her, and would as queen write that seeing her again was her greatest wish next to having a son. In the series, Marguerite is portrayed as The Ditz, who sleeps with Henry right after meeting him.
    • As noted above, the show collapsed Henry's two sisters into one woman and then killed her off after just one son. It might have been fortunate that the show did not run into Elizabeth's reign, as it would have been hard-pressed to explain where Mary, Queen of Scots came from and why she had a claim to the English throne. Not to mention Edward's reign, explaining why Lady Jane Grey - Mary's granddaughter through her daughter - would be included in the succession, when they only show Brandon having one son.
  • Villain Protagonist: Henry VIII
  • Wacky Cravings: Henry figures out Jane Seymour is pregnant when she starts eating quail eggs with every meal.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Thomas More on the Catholic side of the religous dispute, Thomas Cromwell and Archbishop Cranmer on the Protestant side.
  • When She Smiles: Joss Stone as Anne of Cleves.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Henry is very scared of getting sick.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Anne Boleyn would have liked to see Mary killed. Averted with Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves, who are both very nice to her.
    • Katherine Howard doesn't get along with Mary either. In all fairness, she did try, but Mary rebuffed her, and she responded by getting nasty, so this could be more of a subverted example.
    • Again, to be fair, Mary didn't like Anne of Cleves much at the start either, even going so far as to hope her ship would sink while she was coming to England. She grows to like her enough that she disapproves of her father's second divorce, which can only add to her hatred of Katherine Howard.
    • Inverted with Catherine Parr. She is very kind to her, but Mary has turned into a wicked stepdaughter. She does have a good relationship with her two other stepchildren, though.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Or rather 'Did they or didn't they?' Henry ends up in Anne of Cleves' bed after he's divorced her, both of them in their nightgowns and snuggling, and she seems to enjoy it. Was there sex, or was it just for comfort and security?
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Elizabeth.
  • The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask: Subverted in that she was not supreme ruler. Otherwise fitting with Catherine Parr, who was married to a king who thought nothing of sending her sister and ladies to the Tower. While also agreeing to a warrant for her arrest. She still managed to greet her most bitter enemies with a smile and then get the king on her side in the end.
  • Your Cheating Heart:
    • Henry, Brandon, Katherine Howard and Anne Stanhope all cheat on their spouses, with varying results.
    • George Boleyn was cheating on his wife with Mark Smeaton.
    • William Compton cheated with Thomas Tallis.
    • Technically, Ursula Misseldon is cheating on her fiance (though it's unclear if she's ever even met him) when she has affairs with Bryan and Henry.
    • Inverted with Anne Boleyn who was executed for adultery and was innocent.
  • 0% Approval Rating: Anne Boleyn and infant Elizabeth: "Because the pope, and he, and the emperor all AGREE. She is a bastard and you are not my wife." Sadly for Anne, this also went for most of the English people at that time.
    • North of London, Cromwell and his policies were hated to the point that thousands rebelled.
    • In the first season, Wolsey was never loved by many, but even those who owed him a lot drop him as he falls.

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