The Fourth Season of the Tudors picks up some time after the Third Season ended. It promises to be just as explosive as has come to be expected of the Tudors, with the last two of Henry’s six wives, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. The Third Season ended with the dissolution of the loveless marriage between Henry VIII and his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, and the death of Lord Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII’s minister. Anne of Cleves was suggested by Cromwell as a suitable consort for Henry because of the financial and military support she would bring with her. Henry agreed to marry her based on a portrait painted by Hans Holbein the younger. However, after seeing her in person at Rochester, Henry felt deceived by his ambassadors and Cromwell especially. He voiced his indignance and displeasure often and loudly, as depicted in the show, but was forced to marry her anyways for various diplomatic and political reasons. The marriage between Henry and Anne, doomed before it even began, was the beginning of the end for Cromwell.
Even though Cromwell’s political and outward appearance of power was still solid, his fall from Henry’s favor was swift. Having overreached himself so egregiously by pairing Henry with such an objectionable bride, Cromwell was not long for the world. Henry kept him alive long enough to obtain Cromwell’s testimony for his annulment from Anne, after which he was sentenced to death. In the show, Sir Francis Bryan, a longtime enemy of Cromwell, compromises the Executioner with alcohol the night before Cromwell is to be beheaded. As a result, the next morning at Cromwell’s execution, the still-drunk Executioner takes four swings at the unfortunate ex-Minister, and misses his neck all four times. After the fourth swing, one of Henry’s guards takes the axe from him, and finishes the job himself. While there is no evidence that the Executioner was drunk, or even severely hung-over, a historian from the time does note that the Executioner was not worthy of his office.
The Season premiere of the Tudors opens with the introduction of Catherine Howard as Henry VIII’s fifth wife. She was a member of the Howard family, and a first cousin to Anne Boleyn. She was also related by marriage to Lady Jane Rochford, George Boleyn’s widow. Lady Rochford was a trusted advisor to Queen Catherine, and served as her primary Lady-in-waiting. She was much older than the teenage Howard Queen, and was thus eventually able to influence her greatly. Their fates were eventually tied together by their close familial ties and Jane’s loyalty to Catherine.
The character of Thomas Culpeper is also introduced in the season premiere. He was another member of the Howard clan, and a gentleman of the Privy Chamber. Although he is not introduced until the Fourth season, Culpeper was, in reality, a member of Henry’s Court since the reign of his distant relation, Anne Boleyn. He quickly became one of Henry’s favorite attendants, because of his youth, vigor, and handsomeness. He also was close with Queen Catherine, often coming to her chambers at night, and visiting with her alone. Their relationship came under great scrutiny later, and would provide the source of Catherine’s downfall.
This season promises to uphold the epic and action-packed plots that have made the Tudors famous. The swan song of the Renaissance prince will hopefully be in keeping with the stature of Henry VIII himself.