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King Henry VIII has fallen passionately in love with Anne Boleyn and on June 22, 1527, the king bluntly informed his wife, Queen Katherine, that they must separate. The king has sent off to Rome asking the pope for an annulment. Thus begins the cause celebre that becomes known as “the king’s great matter.” Polarizing opinions among the elite has led to a vicious struggle for power and three distinct factions emerge: Cardinal Wolsey (Catholic Church), the Boleyns and the queen. Someone will even be desperate enough to murder…
King Henry VIII of England: From the Royal House of Tudor, the 3rd child and 2nd son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York (daughter of King Edward from the Royal House of Stuart). The first English monarch to be educated under the influence of the Renaissance, he is an excellent poet, scholar, linguist – fluent in French, English and Latin, athlete and musician. He is witty and gregarious but also narcissistic, vain and proud. Until the death of his older brother, he was intended for service to the church and has been educated accordingly. He ascended to the throne upon the death of Henry VII in 1509, in a double coronation with Katherine of Aragon, his brother Arthur’s widow. His court is the most magnificent in English history, the hub of all things political and cultural in the nation.
Anne Boleyn: A glamorous young woman of minor nobility. Known for her intelligence, lively personality and keen wit she was once banished from Court by Cardinal Wolsey over an affair with one of his pages. She has recently been allowed back to London and as a skilled musician and dancer, has attracted the attention of many of the men at Court; not the very least King Henry himself.
Cardinal Campeggio: an emissary from the Pope, he has come to assess the situation of King Henry’s divorce and give his decision about its legality.
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Papal Legate and Lord Chancellor: Son of an Ipswich merchant, he graduated from Oxford at 15 and due to a brilliant mind, rose meteorically through the Church. Through flattery, charm, wit and very hard work, he has gained the appointment of “Lord Chancellor, Keeper of the Great Seal.” Holding high offices in both church and state, he commands the power and wealth to live like a king – a fact that greatly disturbs his enemies.
Sir Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk: Son of the standard-bearer to Henry the VII, killed in the battle of Bosworth. As repayment for his father’s loyalty, Brandon was educated with the king’s own children and has been a devoted friend of King Henry VIII since childhood. In 1514, Henry created Charles as the Duke of Suffolk, a title once held by Yorkists, and transferred to him the majority of the confiscated estates. This made Charles one of only three dukes in the kingdom. The other two, Norfolk and Buckingham, were not pleased. Charles is married to the king’s sister, Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk, Dowager Queen of France.
Elizabeth “Bessie” Blount: Previously a lady in waiting to Queen Katherine and a mistress of King Henry. She is also the mother of the King’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, and is referred to as “mother of the king’s son.”
Elizabeth Stafford, Duchess of Norfolk: A woman scorned, she has arrived at court to wreak havoc in the life of her estranged husband, Sir Thomas Howard. The daughter of Sir Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham and godmother to the daughter of Queen Katherine, the Princess Mary, she were stripped of her title and inheritance when he was beheaded for treason, leaving her at the complete mercy of her brutish, philandering husband.
Henry Percy, 6th Earl of Northumberland: Once the ward and page of Cardinal Wolsey, he was sent from court when Wolsey became aware of his unsatisfactory attachment to a young woman in court. Having been married off immediately, he returns a married man and as a peer in the king’s court.
Katherine of Aragon, Queen of England: Pretty, intelligent, well educated, pious, charming and of high royal blood. She is the fourth daughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile (of Christopher Columbus fame) and the first queen consort of Henry VIII of England. Only one of Katharine’s children will live to adulthood, Princess Mary. Henry’s growing concern over the lack of a male heir has led to His Majesty’s asking for an annulment of their marriage. The Queen steadfastly refuses to allow her marriage to be declared “invalid” and her daughter labeled a “bastard.” She IS the King’s true wife and nothing will make her say otherwise.
Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France, Duchess of Suffolk: One of the most beautiful women in Europe and the younger sister of King Henry VIII. At the age of 18, she was married off to the much older French King Louis XII as a political pawn and was widowed within a few months. She is now married to Charles Brandon, a secret marriage that was performed without King Henry’s permission. As punishment, she and Charles had to surrender Mary’s dowry from France and make financially crippling annual payments to the crown.
Sir Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk: A skilled courtier with a talent for survival. Distinguished in battle, he is respected as an able soldier, though viewed by most as insensitive, brutal and overly ambitious. At the age of 40, he married the 19 year old Elizabeth Stafford, daughter of the Duke of Buckingham, whom he has recently separated from to live with his mistress, Elizabeth Holland. His sister is the mother of Anne Boleyn.