Lucy Worsley’s Six Wives series has finished as quickly as it started, confusing quite a few who have asked me on social media “how is it the last episode if there are six wives?”. Due to the lack of information we have on these wives and how brief their times as queen were, this episode somehow seems less rushed than the one before it (Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour), despite the fact she now has to cover three wives.
Worsley starts with Henry’s surprise visit to Anne of Cleves in Rochester before going back to explain how the decision to marry her came about. The scene contrasts well with the first scene in episode one, in which a young Henry VIII surprises Katherine of Aragon by dressing up as Robin Hood. However, Henry has become very old and overweight by this time, which is shown by how he struggles to get up the stairs to meet her, and Anne does not know this English game of courtly love, so it very quickly heads for disaster.
The fact that she didn’t recognise him and act accordingly, as well as her rejection of him, immediately puts Henry off his new bride and, as Lucy explains, is the reason why he does not want to marry her, not because of how she looked. Most historians believe that that is the reason why now and that Henry only said she was ugly because his pride was wounded. He would have said anything to soothe his embarrassed male ego. It was only Henry who said she was ugly, which is more evidence for this theory.
After an awkward bed scene with many courtiers watching, Worsley quickly moves on to show Anne watching Henry VIII with his new love, the fifteen year old Katherine Howard. She is prepared to let her marriage go, much to the ambassador’s dismay, but will get what she is owed from it. I have never seen this depiction of Anne before and I am not sure as to how true it was, from what I read she did put up a bit of a fight (at least more than what is shown in this series), but settled with what Henry offered eventually. She knew from the experiences of the previous wives that Henry would get his own way.
Henry is soon married to Katherine Howard, a 15 year old in this series, although Worsley does say we do not know for certain how old she was, just that she was the youngest of his wives and a teenager (not that they thought of them as teenagers back then, they were adults). Worsley does seem to contradict herself with Katherine, stating that she believes she was a victim of child abuse, which I personally am inclined to believe with Mannox and Dereham but not with Culpepper. Katherine’s guardian, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, should have protected her from her music teacher and then the likes of Dereham. Worsley states how Katherine could just be telling Culpepper what he wanted to hear in her letter to him, yet the scene with Katherine and Culpepper clearly show that Katherine was in love with him. She backs this up by saying that Culpepper raped a farmer’s wife and only got let off because he was one of Henry’s favourites, which is true, but this very easily could have been more like a crush on Katherine’s part, even perhaps starting before her marriage to the king. What Worsleg says and what the drama shows doesn’t quite add up.Katherine’s past relationships with Dereham and Mannox are soon found out and she is interrogated by Thomas Cranmer (in yet another of his very brief appearances). She is visibly distraught, but complies, and the actress does a great job of portraying Katherine’s fear and borderline hysteria at what could happen to her, especially as Anne Boleyn was her cousin. After a few words from Worsley about how her affair with Culpepper was soon found out too, we are cut to the scene of her practicing on the block. I am disappointed that Jane Boleyn, who was also beheaded with Katherine, didn’t make an appearance in this, however she is often portrayed particularly badly in anything she appears in, so maybe that is a good thing. We also don’t see Katherine’s execution, which I found a little strange as it is often shown, but again I put this down to time constraints. Katherine Parr’s time then comes, with Worsley focusing on her relationship with Elizabeth and her religious views, although unfortunately there is a brief hint at her being a nurse to Henry, which is a bad stereotype, as well as no mention of her being regent during his time in France. There is a touching Christmas scene at first, in which Elizabeth presents Henry a book of translations she did of Katherine’s own work. This sends Henry into a rage at the heretical nature of this work, breaking the atmosphere, but he is quick to reassure Elizabeth that he does not blame her, making it clear that it is Katherine he blames. Katherine Parr’s enemies then swarm and convince Henry to arrest her for heresy. Before the arrest is carried out, Katherine gets word of this and, in a stroke of genius, manages to convince Henry that she is not going against him and that she only engages in debate so that she can learn from him, not because she believes in these heretical views. Just as she manages to convince Henry, the guards with the warrant for arrest arrive and the king quickly (and angrily) dismisses them. Not long after, Henry VIII dies, yet Worsley’s story does not end with him, it ends with Katherine. She describes how Katherine finally married the man she loved, Thomas Seymour, and was allowed to look after Elizabeth (cleverly omitting her involvement in Seymour’s harassment of the Princess) and fell pregnant. Sadly, like many Tudor women, she died in childbirth. This episode was better than the last, mainly because Anne Boleyn’s story had so much more to tell in the last, however it was still odd Worsley explaining events such as Anne of Cleves’ marriage without the likes of Cromwell. As I have said in each review, I would have preferred four episodes, as then it would have been perfect and closer to five stars. Saying that, the actors and of course Lucy Worsley herself still did an excellent job with what they had to work with. The first episode is still the best one as it only really focuses on one wife, which allowed the actress time to shine as Katherine of Aragon and Worsley to really explain things.