The Six Wives of Henry VIII (TV series)

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (TV series)

:"Not to be confused with "The Six Wives of Henry VIII (documentary)", a more recent Channel 4 documentary series on the subject by David Starkey."

"The Six Wives of Henry VIII" was a series of six teleplays produced by the BBC and first transmitted between 1 January and 5 February 1970. One of the first major British television series to be videotaped in colour, it was a huge success, propelling its previously little-known star, Keith Michell, into the limelight.

Each of the series of plays was devoted to one of the wives of King Henry VIII of England, and all were of equal length, regardless of the enormous variation in the length of their respective marriages. Each episode was written by a different dramatist. The series was produced by Mark Shivas and Ronald Travers.

The wives were::Catherine of Aragon played by Annette Crosbie:Anne Boleyn played by Dorothy Tutin:Jane Seymour played by Anne Stallybrass:Anne of Cleves played by Elvi Hale:Catherine Howard played by Angela Pleasence:Catherine Parr played by Rosalie Crutchley

eries summary

Catherine of Aragon

The episode starts with Catherine being married to Arthur who dies, (both are quite young). Then, as the next few years pass, Catherine faces trouble as she is poor now, and arrangements to marry Prince Henry are not clear. When Henry VII dies, Henry VIII chooses Catherine, as his wife, as the deathwish of his father and they marry. After a short scene of Catherine's son's death (her second pregnancy, after a previously stillborn one), and her weeping in Henry's arms, the programme goes to her older days where Henry falls in love with Anne Boleyn. Henry wants a son to succeed him; and after several pregnancies only one child of Catherine's and Henry's has survived. This is the princess Mary, the future queen Mary I. Catherine is heartbroken when Henry tells her he wants to divorce her. There are several court scenes discussing the annulment. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey does all he can to accomplish Henry's desire for a divorce from Catherine, but ultimately fails (and later dies enroute to the Tower of London). Henry attempts to have a Papal Trial in England, to call into question the validity of his marriage to Catherine. But when Rome and the Pope revoke this attempt; Henry begins his break with the Catholic Church and starts to sow the seeds of the eventual Protestant Reformation in England. Catherine is eventually told her marriage to Henry has been annulled, and that Henry has married Anne. Catherine is moved to Wolsey's house until she dies, while Maria de Salinas (her most faithful servant) is by her side. While there, they receive the news that Anne has had her child, the future queen Elizabeth I. And the episode ends with Catherine lying in her bed, Maria de Salinas sitting beside her, and Catherine's face fading away. Then you see Henry reading a loving, final letter written by Catherine to him (she is the voiceover reading it). Then it shows Henry crushing the letter callously, and walking dominatingly towards the camera; resembling the Hans Holbein portrait.

Anne Boleyn

The episode focuses primarily on Anne's downfall, documenting the disintegration of her marriage in the face of frequent miscarriages and the king's infidelities. Anne's brother, Sir George Boleyn (with whom she was accused of having incest with), is shown anxiously trying to advise and councel her to be more prudent and cautious in her conduct with the King. But Anne continues to berate Henry for his infidelities, which elicits not-so-veiled threats from him in return. Anne's final failure to give Henry a son seals her doom. The storyline was heavily influenced by academic theories which believed Anne was the victim of a factional and political plot, concocted by her many enemies (among them, Thomas Cromwell and Lady Rochford - Anne's treacherous sister-in-law), who capitalised on the king's disillusionment with her. As with most media treatments of Anne's destruction, the episode followed the historical research which has all but proved her innocence. The scriptwriter used Anne's final confession (a burden that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer would have to bear to the end of his days), to suggest her total innocence on charges of adultery, incest, treason and witchcraft. A notable exception to this general rule was the later BBC adaptation of the "The Other Boleyn Girl".

Jane Seymour

This episode starts with Jane giving birth to Prince Edward, (the future Edward VI). When she is taken to her child's christening, she is in pain and is near death; while lying in her sickbed, the events of her life flash before her in a fever dream. She remembers how Henry fell in love with her, and how her relatives (and certain of Henry's councillors like Thomas Cromwell, Bishop Stephen Gardiner, and others), schemed to bring about the downfall of Anne Boleyn and the subsequent rise of Jane. Directly after Anne is executed, Henry and Jane are married. During her short time as queen, Jane tries with some success to reconcile the princess Mary, with Henry. Her pregnancy is a guilt-filled one. She is tormented by the fact that her predecessor was innocent; the victim of false witness. After Jane gives birth to the prince, she falls ill; this brings the episode full circle. Jane dies, and the last images we see here are her body lying in state, arrayed like a queen and Henry being consoled by Mary.

Anne of Cleves

Henry is confronted by Thomas Cromwell, who tells him that an alliance with Germany is imperative so he should marry one of the Duke of Cleves' sisters, Anne or Amelia. He sends artist Hans Holbein, who paints both girls, and chooses Anne because of her flattering portrait. Anne is sent to marry Henry. When she reaches England, Henry wishes to surprise her, so he goes to see her for the first time in disguise, but when he arrives, Anne is not properly dressed and is shocked when she finds out who he really is. Henry, meanwhile, is disappointed that she is not as beautiful as her portrait. They are married, but the marriage is never consummated. Politics then take center stage as Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, plans Cromwell's downfall by playing on Henry's infatuation with his young niece, Catherine Howard. Soon, Cromwell knows he is doomed and Anne realizes her marriage will soon be ended. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer offers Anne advice and sympathy, they both regret Cromwell's and Robert Barnes' downfall. Anne tells Henry that she understands his demands as to the annulment of their marriage, but that he won't be ungenerous to her. He will give her a household of her own, and she will be able to see Henry's children, of whom she's fond (in the film, she seems to be particularly close to little Elizabeth). She also suggests that she should be called "the King's Sister"; and points out that since they both agree that the marriage was never consummated, it should be easy to have it annulled. Henry is delighted by this idea, saying "Good night, my dear sister," and the episode ends showing Anne's saddened, but resigned face. This is probably the least accurate episode due to the lack of information on Anne of Cleves. She is shown to be able to speak English and to understand her surroundings, when in reality, she knew nothing on such matters.

Catherine Howard

The episode begins with The Duke of Norfolk visiting his elderly mother to see if one of his nieces would be an eligible suit for the king. His ambition is clear. He wants a Howard on the throne of England. We meet Catherine Howard, a vain, cruel and egotistical teenager, who confides in her cousin Anne Carey that she has had sexual relations with a young man named Francis Dereham the previous summer. She is taken by her governess, Lady Rochford (the former sister-in-law of the late queen Anne Boleyn), to her uncle who informs her that she is to be the next Queen of England. She states her worries because of what happened to her cousin, Anne Boleyn, but Norfolk assures her if she listens to him, all will be well. Norfolk is unaware of his nieces unchaste past, Catherine lies that she is untouched. She is taken to meet the king. King Henry, already ill with an ulcer on his leg, is immediately taken with the pretty, young girl. She nurses and flirts with him and Norfolk's dream seems closer. The king decides to take her as his wife but on their wedding night, Henry's impotence is an obstacle. Another obstacle comes when the young Dereham comes to visit the Queen, and blackmails her regarding their prior romance. She gives him the job of Private Secretary to her, to keep him quiet. To secure her future, Norfolk insists she produce a male heir, in any way possible. Catherine, (with the help of Lady Rochford as a go-between), begins a torrid affair with Thomas Culpepper, Henry's young and dashing personal aide, who is already overwhelmingly smitten with her. But months pass with no sign of a child, and the court begins to know about the affair; as well the rampant rumors concerning Catherine's unchaste past, with both Dereham and a music teacher named Henry Mannox. Norfolk then decides to betray his niece to the king before his enemies can. Culpepper and Dereham are taken to the Tower, tortured, and later executed. There is then a dramatic scene where Norfolk and the king's guards come to arrest Catherine and the Lady Rochford. Catherine demands to see the king, but is denied. She is taken to the Tower where she rehearses the speech she will give at her execution. The episode ends with the king banishing Norfolk, who is now very violently out of favor. Henry tells him that if he ever looks on him again, it will be only on his head.

Catherine Parr

The episode begins with Catherine Parr, the recently widowed Lady Latimer, about to receive an audience with the king. Henry, old, corpulent, sick and lonely, takes to the mature twice-widowed lady; and her honesty and beauty entice him. She turns down his offer of marriage, however - only to be persuaded by the ambitious Seymour brothers Edward and Thomas (brothers of the late queen Jane Seymour), to accept Henry's proposal. Thomas, even though he and Catherine have romantic feelings for each other, is especially eager to have Catherine marry Henry. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer also wishes Catherine to marry the king. Catherine soon becomes Queen of England, and her natural maternal instinct is put into practice with the king's children: Mary, Elizabeth and Edward. However, Bishop Gardiner takes a dislike to Catherine's religious views as he is a staunch Catholic. He plots her downfall, and questions her ladies. Gardiner even has one woman, Anne Askew (not one of Catherine's ladies, but a notable religious writer and speaker who's works Catherine had read), on the rack. Catherine is horrified by Askew's story, and confronts her husband and Gardiner. Henry becomes frustrated by her constant want for debate, and angrily rejects her. Soon, a warrant for the queen to be arrested and "examined" (which is practically a death sentence), is made-out. Catherine is terrified; but Archbishop Cranmer advises her to assume a modest, humble, apologetic pose to the king, and Henry forgives her. Soon after, Henry suddenly collapses, obviously near death. After a long wait, the king dies, and Thomas Seymour asks Catherine to marry him. Still in her mourning clothes, Catherine accepts, and the episode ends.


The series was so successful that it was adapted into the 1973 film The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and spawned a successful sequel, "Elizabeth R", starring Glenda Jackson, and a prequel Shadow of the Tower starring James Maxwell, and Norma West as Henry's Parents.

Awards and honors

BAFTA Awards, 1971

*Best Actor, Keith Michell
*Best Actress, Annette Crosbie (for the episode, "Catherine of Aragon")
*Best Production Design, Peter Seddon
*Best Costume Design, John Bloomfield
*Special Award, Ronald Travers & Mark Shivas

Also nominated for:
*Best Drama Production, Ronald Travers & Mark Shivas
*Best Drama Production, (Single Program), John Glenister (for the episode, "Catherine of Aragon")
*Best Actress, Dorothy Tutin (for the episode, "Anne Boleyn")

Emmy Awards, 1972

*Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a leading role, Keith Michell (for the episode "Catherine Howard")

Also nominated for:
*Outstanindg Drama Series, Ronald Travers & Mark Shivas, producers
*Outstanding New Series, Ronald Travers & Mark Shivas, producers
*Outstanding Contined Performance by an Actor in a leading role in a dramatic series, Keith Michell
*Outstanding Single Program, drama or comedy, Ronald Travers & Mark Shivas, producers (for the episode, "Jane Seymour")

External links

* [ Encyclopedia of Television]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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