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Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

King Henry VIII gives his last speech in Parliament to try and reconcile its warring factions. From his deathbed, surrounded by his family and advisors, he recalls events from his life.

With his wife, Catherine of Aragon, the young Henry celebrates the birth of his son at a banquet and arranges for Thomas More to tutor the boy when he comes of age. The celebration is interrupted when news arrives that the boy has died. Shattered, Henry and Catherine console themselves by saying that this must be God's plan. Catherine's father, the Emperor of Spain, asks Henry to support his war against France. Henry is furious and feels betrayed when, after only three months, France and Spain make peace and leave him with nothing to show for his considerable efforts and expenses. Henry and Catherine argue about the fact that he still doesn't have a male heir. Their next child is Mary.

Cardinal Wolsey suggests to Henry that he divorce Catherine on the grounds that she was his brother's widow, but his good friend Thomas More, now Lord Chancellor, refuses to support such a manoeuvre. Henry falls in love with Anne Boleyn, but she refuses to give herself to him unless they are married. Henry divorces Catherine and splits from the Catholic Church in Rome. Henry marries Anne Boleyn and she gives birth to a daughter, Elizabeth. More opposes Henry's religious policies and is executed. Henry is deeply troubled about the controversy over More's death and its possible repercussions, but Anne advises him to be ever bolder.

News reaches Henry that Catherine has died just as Anne Boleyn storms into his quarters, furious at the attention that he is paying to Jane Seymour, a lady-in-waiting at the court. After a riding accident in which he almost dies, Anne's next pregnancy miscarries. Anne embarrasses Henry at her masque in which she mocks Cardinal Wolsey. While taking a greater interest in Jane Seymour, Henry becomes obsessed with the idea that Anne is being unfaithful and that the congenital defects on her hand and neck, which she tries to hide, are signs of witchcraft. Thomas Cromwell presents evidence of Anne's adulteries and she is executed. Henry briefly considers the possibility that Anne's many affairs may have been as a result of the pressure he placed on her to generate a male heir. Henry marries Jane as he becomes involved in fighting a rebellion in the north and continues the dissolution of the monasteries, to her great distress. Jane prevails upon Henry to bring Mary back to Court. Jane dies giving birth to a sickly child, Edward. Henry is devastated by her death.

Cromwell arranges a marriage between Henry and Anne of Cleves, but the King is furious when he discovers that her face is scarred. Henry cannot bring himself to consummate the marriage, as he finds her physically unattractive, and eventually has it dissolved. The Duke of Norfolk arranges for the King to marry his religious young niece Catherine Howard, as a means of reintroducing Catholicism to the court and to weaken Cromwell's position. Accused of having taken a bribe to arrange the marriage to Anne of Cleves, Cromwell is arrested and executed.

Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, informs Henry that Catherine Howard has been having an affair with Thomas Culpeper, a distant cousin of hers and that her private secretary Derham was her lover before she married the King. Henry weeps openly in front of his court at the news of this betrayal. When Cranmer confronts her with these accusations, she suffers a breakdown. She is executed.

France attacks Spain, but Henry is very wary of entering into the conflict. He asks Catherine Parr to marry him, even though she holds progressive opinions in religious matters and won't be able to give him any children. He believes that she will be a good mother to his son Edward. When Henry dies, he asks that he be laid to rest in Windsor, next to Jane Seymour.