A long hot summer, thirty years into the reign of King Henry VIII, and well into middle age, Henry takes his fifth wife, Katherine Howard. The Queen's "low background" combined with her youth and beauty, arouses a lusty familiarity in certain members of King Henry's court most notably his handsome young servant Thomas Culpepper.
Thomas Culpepper - Henry VIII’s newest servant - continues to make eyes at his King’s young bride, Katherine Howard. Her servant suggests seduction. While the King shows his age by going to bed early during the Christmas celebration the young but not so innocent members of his court party on.
Buoyed by the happiness that a young wife brings an aging man, Henry is noticeably more tolerant and forgiving than he once was. Such goodwill is well appreciated by the peasants of the North who gratefully accept Henry’s forgiveness for the Pilgrimage of Grace revolt, during a Royal visit. But the King’s benevolence may yet be tested by his new Queen: Katherine Howard has submitted to seduction by the young and handsome Thomas Culpepper.
Rejuvenated by his tour of the north of England, Henry feels a new man and longs after his new Queen; unaware that her affections are diverted elsewhere. Katherine’s past begins to catch up as an old liaison comes looking for a job threatening to reveal all about their sexual history. Someone beats him to it when an anonymous letter is sent to the King containing accusations of adultery. Although unconvinced of the rumor, Henry confines Katherine to her apartments pending a thorough investigation.
Lord Hertford’s investigation into allegations of the Queen’s infidelities moves with speed. Deeply upset by revelations of his beloved young wife’s sexual past, Henry weeps. But once adultery is uncovered, his response is swift and decisive.
Unmarried once more Henry reflects on his dynasty and orders a new Act of Parliament which restores the succession rights of his two daughters, the Princesses Elizabeth and Mary. His roving eye undaunted by age or experience, he notices the attractive soon-to-be widow Catherine Parr. After the disastrous mismatch of his last marriage a mature woman is just what he needs.
Henry marries Catherine Parr - his sixth and final wife. A loving step-mother and compassionate companion, Catherine is liked and respected by all at court save the Catholic Bishop Gardiner who suspects her to be a heretic. Henry prepares to invade France.
The siege of Boulogne is a long, expensive and difficult military campaign that is finally won by Henry’s troops at great financial and human cost. Rejuvenated, Henry rejects the idea of marching on to further conquests, preferring to return to England in triumph.
Henry VIII’s health is on the slide: the recent siege of Boulogne has taken its toll on his aging body and his ulcerous leg is constantly in pain. Bishop Gardiner and the Catholic Church are once again in the ascendant at court but, tired of conflict, Henry demonstrates little enthusiasm for the ambitious Bishop’s accusation that Catherine Parr is a heretic.
Finale - Henry’s thoughts turn to his own mortality with the news that his long-time friend and sometimes foe King Francis, and his unshakable soldier Charles Brandon, are each dying. As he faces death, Henry encounters the ghosts of his former wives who each get a chance to confront him. Hans Holbein paints a last, iconic portrait of the Tudor King.