Dragon King: the Many Wives, Mistresses and Children of King Henry VIII (1491-1577)

Henry VIII's wives and mistresses
Original posts here.​
Dragon King
The Many Wives, Mistresses and Children of King Henry VIII

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The series’ title Dragon King derived from one of Henry VIII's badges, the Red Dragon of Cadwaladr.

In 2015, History Channel 2 launched Dragon King, an ambitious TV series about the life of England's longest-ruling King Henry VIII, the "Grandfather of Europe". Starring an international cast of both world-famous and little-known or unknown actors, the series met with great success, so much that spin-offs are now being made.

Eight years after the release of the first episode, here is a quick overview of the historical characters who inspired the series.

Henry VIII (1491-1577)​

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A family affair: father and son Ruaidhrí and Conchobhar Ó Seachnasaigh played Henry VIII at the different stages of his life.

Born in 1491, Henry was the second son of King Henry VII Tudor and Elizabeth of York, and the third of four siblings who lived past infancy, the other three being his elder brother and sister Arthur, Prince of Wales, and Margaret, the future Queen of Scotland, and his younger and favourite sister Mary, the future Holy Roman Empress. At the age of two, Henry was created Duke of York.

In 1502, both Arthur and his wife, Catherine of Aragon, fell ill with the sweating sickness. Although Arthur was severely affected, he eventually recovered but died a few months later, leaving a pregnant widow. In February 1503, Catherine of Aragon gave birth to a daughter and King Henry VII decided to betroth the newborn baby to his son. The Pope granted a dispensation and the betrothal took place in August 1503.

Succeeding his father in 1509 as King jure uxoris, Henry would reign for 68 years, becoming England's longest-reigning monarch.

Henry’s many liaisons and marriages, as well as his struggle to have a living son to secure the Tudor dynasty, quickly earned him a reputation as a womaniser, and he is now remembered as the Grandfather of Europe.

Lady Muriel Howard (c.1486-1552)​

Henry’s mistress from 1506 to 1515

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Evangeline Bellefont played Muriel Howard, Henry’s first official mistress.

Muriel Howard was the second daughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, and Elizabeth Tilney. She married John Grey, 2nd Viscount Lisle, by whom she had a daughter, Elizabeth.

While betrothed to his niece, Henry met the older Muriel, whose husband had died less than two years before, and who soon became his mistress. After the birth of their son in 1510, Henry acknowledged Muriel’s children as his own. However, he soon dismissed her after meeting Elizabeth Blount and Muriel returned to her family with her children.​


1 Muriel FitzRoy (1506-1564)
2 Marcella FitzRoy (1508-1582)
3 Henry FitzRoy (1510-1545)
4 Edmund FitzRoy (1511-1587)
5 Jasper FitzRoy (1513-1569)
6 Edward FitzRoy (1514-1556)
7 Frederica FitzRoy (1516-1574)​

Elizabeth Blount (c.1500-1547)​

Henry’s mistress from 1514 to 1517, then from 1520 to 1526

The discovery of the year 2015 was Phyllis Dougherty, cast as Bessie Blount for her first-ever – but certainly not last – role.

Elizabeth “Bessie” Blount met the King in December 1514. They fell in love “at first sight”, as she later wrote in a letter to their daughter, and soon became lovers, until Henry met Mary Boleyn and became infatuated with her. Bessie was wise enough not to protest and stepped back. Henry arranged a marriage with Gilbert Tailboys for her. Soon after Mary Boleyn’s dismissal in 1521 and while Henry’s wife was pregnant, they became lovers again, until another Boleyn girl appeared in the King’s life.​


1 Henry FitzRoy (1516-1571)
2 John FitzRoy (1517-1564)
3 Elizabeth FitzRoy (1521-1587)
4 Katherine FitzRoy (1523-1564)

Elizabeth I, Queen of England (1503-1514)​

Henry’s wife from 1509 to 1514
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Child actresses Winnie and Betsy Hammer played young Elizabeth I, England’s “Queen in name only”.

Born in 1503 as the posthumous daughter of Arthur, Prince of Wales, and Catherine of Aragon, she was betrothed to her uncle as soon as her grandfather got the needed dispensation. As the Duke of York was not very keen on marrying so young a wife, an ailing Henry VII had the wedding be celebrated in March 1509, lest his son would try to break the betrothal after he died. However, Elizabeth, a frail child, died from a bout of influenza in February 1514 before the marriage was consummated.

Although she had been acknowledged as her grandfather’s heiress and designated successor, Elizabeth was never considered a Queen of England in her own right by her contemporaries, who saw Henry VIII as the true King and not a mere sovereign jure uxoris, and thus became known as the “Queen in name only”.​



Catherine of Aragon (1485-1543)​

Henry’s wife from 1514 to 1515
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After much discussion between the producers, Spanish-born Jimena de la Cerda was cast to play Catherine of Aragon, a part that required her to dye her chestnut hair red.

Widowed in 1502, Catherine remained in England after her daughter’s birth. Henry soon became more interested by his widowed sister-in-law than by his young fiancée, and Catherine herself grew very fond of the dashing prince – so much so that soon after Elizabeth’s death Henry decided to marry her. Catherine, despite her feelings toward Henry, was more than hesitant, as technically they were twice related, Catherine having been married to Henry’s brother and Henry to Catherine’s daughter. Henry would not be deterred though, claiming that his first wedding had been null and void as Elizabeth had been under age and he himself unwilling when it had been celebrated, and successfully talked (or more likely threatened) the Archbishop of Canterbury into granting them a dispensation. He married Catherine in April 1514.

The King’s second union caused an uproar: as soon as news of the wedding reached Rome, the Pope insisted that the marriage be annulled. The birth of a son in 1515 only strengthened Henry’s determination to stick to Catherine, until the Queen suffered a miscarriage and the infant Prince of Wales sickened and died only a few months later.

Catherine, devastated by the loss of her three children, and feeling her union to Henry had caused the death of the last two, decided to persuade Henry to have their wedding annulled, even giving him advice as to who he should remarry. By the time Henry agreed however, she was pregnant again and her child, Mary, was considered born out of wedlock at the time, although she would later be legitimised by Henry. Catherine then retired on a quiet estate Henry granted her and raised their daughter.​


1 Henry, Prince of Wales (1515)
2 miscarriage (1515)
3 Mary FitzRoy, Duchess of Pembroke (1516-1584)

Claude, Duchess of Brittany (1499-1520)​

Henry’s wife from 1516 to 1520
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Lily MacGregor had been considered for the part of Catherine of Aragon but was eventually recast as Claude, Duchess of Brittany.

The eldest daughter of King Louis XII of France and Duchess Anne of Brittany, Claude was her mother’s heiress presumptive, even after the birth of her brother François in 1509, although her father hoped to keep Brittany in French hands. Louis’s unexpected death while he and Anne returned from a pilgrimage to thank Saint Anne for giving them their long-awaited son, strengthened Claude’s position.

While Anne, pregnant with a posthumous third child, held the regency for her infant son, François d’Angoulême asked for Claude’s hand in marriage. Anne refused and considered renewing Claude’s betrothal to Charles of Ghent but the young Duke of Burgundy showed more interest in Henry VIII’s beautiful younger sister, Mary.

When the Pope demanded the annulment of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon’s marriage, Anne saw her chance and offered Claude’s hand. Catherine advised Henry to agree: a foothold on the continent was not to be sneezed at. Henry eventually accepted the proposal and the two were married in February 1516. Anne, eager to preserve Brittany’s autonomy at all costs, insisted that a marriage contract similar to her own be established: by it, Claude agreed to bequeath the Duchy to her second surviving son, or, if she had none, to her daughter. It also specified that should Brittany be inherited by Claude’s daughter, the new Duchess would marry a Breton cousin, preferably among the Houses of Rohan or Chalon-Arlay.

Although very different in character, husband and wife seem to have gotten along quite well, Claude being content to be a dutiful wife and mother while her husband jousted, hunted and flirted around during her many pregnancies.

She gave Henry several children. Her eldest son Henry was a delicate child and she and Henry feared he would not survived, especially after his twin brother Edmund died of smallpox, but the baby clung to life. In 1520, shortly after giving birth to her third (but second surviving) son Arthur, she insisted on visiting her recently deceased mother’s tomb and making a pilgrimage to Saint Anne, in order to thank her for giving her another boy. Although Henry asked her to wait till she was completely recovered from the birthing, Claude stood up to him for the first time in her life and returned to her duchy.

The journey proved difficult for the young mother and after resting for a few weeks in Brittany, she decided to sail back to England. However, her ship was caught in a storm on the journey back and sank; the young Queen died of exposure in the craft that was taking her to safety. One of her ladies-in-waiting, Lady Mary Talbot, who survived the shipwreck, later said the Queen’s last words had been: “tell my lord husband the King that I love him dearly and beg him pardon for not listening to his advice; tell my dear Madeleine to take care of my poor children; and tell my children that their Mama loves them and will watch over them from Heaven.”

Her second son Arthur would succeed her as Duke of Brittany but would die a few years later, leaving his eldest sister Elizabeth as his heiress.​


1 Elizabeth I, Duchess of Brittany (1516-1583)
2 Henry, Prince of Wales (1517-1532)
3 Edmund, Duke of York (1517-1518)
4 Anne of England (1518-1548)
5 Claudia of England (1519-1585)
6 Margaret of England (1520-1545)
7 Arthur IV, Duke of Brittany and Richmond (1520-1525)

Mary Boleyn (1499-1543)​

Henry’s mistress from 1517 to 1520
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Oleta Parker-Smith played the eldest of the Boleyn sisters, ancestress of the Anglo-American House of Cambria.

Mary Boleyn had accompanied her father to the Low Countries and later to France, where she had been placed in the household of princess Claude. While in France, her beauty had caused a sensation and she was rumoured to have been the mistress of François d’Angoulême. When Claude married Henry, Mary accompanied her to England as one of her maids of honour.

Henry VIII seems to have noticed her soon after their arrival. He gradually lost interest in his then-mistress Bessie Blount, who was by then heavily pregnant with their second child, and soon wooed the newcomer, who became his new favourite dancing partners in balls.

Their liaison only began in 1517 however, while Queen Claude was pregnant for the second time. Eventually, the King grew tired of this easy conquest: saddened by the loss of his wife, he turned to another for solace, putting an end to their relationship. Mistress Boleyn returned home, dedicating herself to her children’s upbringing. Years later, her eldest son Edmund would leave England for the New World and found the House of Cambria.​


1 Katherine FitzRoy (1518-1572)
2 Edmund FitzRoy, Duke of Cambria (1520-1587)
3 George FitzRoy (1521-1592)

Madeleine de La Tour d’Auvergne, Countess of Auvergne (1498-1530)​

Henry’s wife from 1521 to 1530
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Award-winning French actress Valentine La Roche-Mesnil was cast as Queen Madeleine.

Madeleine had accompanied Claude of Brittany to England and become one of her maids of honour. An accomplished young lady, she caught the King’s eye more than once while the Queen was pregnant but she always demurely refused to become his mistress. Maybe that was why Henry took the much-less reluctant Mary Boleyn as his mistress instead. Madeleine, however, became his confidante and soon after Claude died, the two married and Madeleine became a mother to Claude’s children, just as her dying dear friend had wished.

A strong-willed woman, Madeleine did not object to her husband having mistresses while she was pregnant, but she was adamant that he should be faithful to her the rest of the time and when Henry began to show too marked an interest in Anne Boleyn, she promptly sent her away from court, fearing she would become her rival.

Henry and Madeleine’s wedding was a happy one and they had many children. However, in July 1530, Madeleine was suddenly taken ill during a ball and went into labour about three weeks before she was due. She gave birth to a little girl whom she insisted on naming after her husband and died a few hours later.​


1 Joan, Countess of Auvergne (1521-1546)
2 Alexandra of England (1522-1584)
3 Madeline of England (1524-1528)
4 John, Duke of York and Count of Auvergne (1525-1533)
5 Edward, Duke of Somerset (1526-1528)
6 Claudine of England (1527-1562)
7 Catherine of England (1528-1602)
8 Henrietta of England (1530-1584)

Elizabeth Carew (1500-1546)​

Henry’s mistress from 1526 to 1530
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As discreet as the woman she played, Olga Petrenko won the fans over with her heartfelt impersonation of Elizabeth Carew.

Elisabeth was probably the most discreet of Henry’s mistresses. She had been at court for several years, entertaining good relationships with the King’s successive wives. When Queen Madeleine sent Anne Boleyn away from court, Elizabeth came to Henry’s attention and became his mistress some time during Madeleine’s fifth pregnancy.

She did not like being the centre of attention however, preferring to dedicate herself to literary patronage: she had several Spanish and French pieces of literature translated into English. After Queen Madeleine’s death, she retired from court.​


1 Margaret FitzRoy (1528-1541)
2 Thomas FitzRoy (1529-1612)
3 Francis FitzRoy (1530-1598)

Anne Boleyn (1501/07-1536)​

Henry’s wife from 1531 to 1536
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Actress and opera singer Amalia Schaeffer was cast as Anne Boleyn, a part she had already played in the opera Anna Bollena by Giacomo Pellegrini (1874).

Anne Boleyn was one of the most unlucky of Henry’s wives. Her timing was not the best, to say the least. A maid of honour to Queen Madeleine, she had been noticed by the King while his wife was heavily pregnant with their daughter Claudine. Contrary to her sister Mary, Anne took a leaf from Madeleine’s book and refused to become his mistress. Maybe it was that behaviour that would eventually cause her downfall.

When Madeleine returned to court after her confinement, she demanded that Anne be sent to Catherine of Aragon’s household to become a companion to Henry’s eldest daughter Mary FitzRoy, Duchess of Pembroke. It seems she was afraid Anne would become more than a mere royal mistress if she stayed at court. Henry granted her request and Anne left London. The king made a few trips to the country, officially to see his beloved daughter, but Madeleine was no fool and privately lectured her husband, telling him he could have as many mistresses as he wanted when she was pregnant but that she would not tolerate another woman to dishonour her at any other time. Henry gave in to his wife and ceased to pursue Anne.

However, in July 1530, the young Duchess of Pembroke visited her father. Anne, as her lady-in-waiting, accompanied her, much to the Queen’s dismay, as it became clear Henry had not forgotten her. It was said at the time that the sight of Henry flirtatiously chatting with Anne during a ball caused Madeleine to work herself up into such a state that she fell ill and went into labour, dying a few hours after the birth of her daughter.

Her death was such a shock to Henry that a whole year passed before he remarried. Anne stayed by his side during this year of mourning, a compassionate ear to his grief. In July 1531, Henry married her, which caused quite a scandal at court, as no one had forgotten that Madeleine had disliked her.

Things suddenly took a wrong turn in 1532: the Prince of Wales, Henry’s son by Claude of Brittany, fell from his horse and broke his neck. A few months later, in February 1533, both Anne and her stepson John, Duke of York and Count of Auvergne, fell ill. John died and Anne miscarried the son she was expecting, but survived. Suddenly, King Henry found himself with plenty of daughters but no sons. Doctors were doubtful that Anne would be able to conceive again after her miscarriage but the Queen was determined to give her husband an heir. Their next child was a girl and in early 1536, Anne gave birth to a stillborn son.

By that time, Henry had grown frantic. The courtiers gossiped that Anne had made a pact with the devil and hexed Queen Madeleine to take her place, then bewitched the Prince of Wales’s horse and poisoned the Duke of York so the son she carried at the time would become heir to the throne… Her inability to give the King a living son and her sympathy for the Reformation were proof enough that she was a witch. Henry gave credence to the rumours and after a resounding trial, Queen Anne, now reviled through all of Christendom, was convicted of witchcraft and murder, and beheaded. Her marriage to the King was annulled and her two daughters were declared illegitimate and sent to an isolated convent to be brought up by nuns, in the hope that their souls would thus be saved.​


1 Alice Boleyn (1532-1589)
2 miscarried son (1533)
3 Amy Boleyn (1535-1597)
4 stillborn son (1536)

Maria of Portugal (1521-1538)​

Henry’s wife from 1536 to 1538
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The part of Maria of Portugal, mother of the “Miracle Children”, was played by Welsh actress Rhiannon Powell.

Anne Boleyn had not been dead for a day that the hunt for a new Queen of England began. All girls aged 15 and more were potential candidates. Henry eventually chose the King of Portugal’s half-sister Maria.

The girl was sent to England, conscious of her all-important duty: to give Henry at least two healthy sons – an heir and a spare – to secure the succession. The wedding was celebrated with great pomp in June 1536 and in September, the Queen announced her first pregnancy. The next months were spent in feverish expectation as Maria’s stomach grew rounder and rounder. In the morning of the 25th of April 1537, she went into labour. Everyone held their breath until, at 11 in the evening, news came that the young Queen had birthed a big baby boy. Although exhausted, Maria was brimming with joy – she had given Henry an heir on her first attempt!

In November, the Queen announced another pregnancy. As time passed it became clear that she was expecting twins. She had to spend most of her time lying in her chambers, too tired to walk more than a few paces. In July 1538, the birth was imminent. Maria went into labour in the early afternoon of the 15th. She gave birth to two tiny girls in the wee hours of the morning but another two babies were yet to come: at 10, she eventually delivered two even tinier boys. This incredible birthing earned the four siblings the nickname “Miracle Children”. The loss of blood Maria had suffered was too important, though, and the young Queen died not long after, whispering that she had done her duty to her king and England.​


1 Henry, Prince of Wales (1537-1542)
2 Maria of England (1538-1594)
3 Eleanor of England (1538-1594)
4 Edward, Duke of York (1538-1542)
5 Manuel, Duke of Richmond (1538-1541)

Anne Basset, 1st Marchioness of Exeter (1520-1555)​

Henry’s mistress from 1537 to 1542
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Cambrian actress Sorcha Billingham played Anne Basset, “the King’s Second Queen”. Billingham can actually trace her ancestry back to another of Henry’s mistresses, Mary Boleyn.

Anne Basset came to the King’s notice during Maria of Portugal’s first pregnancy. Their relationship was purely platonic at first but they became lovers about three months before the Prince of Wales’s birth. Soon after Queen Maria gave birth to her first child, Anne found she was pregnant. She delivered a healthy son in January 1538. By now, Queen Maria was pregnant again and it was quite naturally that Henry returned to Anne, flaunting her in front of the whole court. Soon enough, Anne was nicknamed “the King’s Second Queen”. What the “First Queen” thought of it is not known, as she spent most of her time hidden from court, too exhausted to make public appearances.

However, when Maria died in childbirth, everybody expected Anne to step into her shoes, especially as she herself was pregnant. Indeed, Henry went as far as to make her suo jure Marchioness of Exeter. He did not marry her though. It seems that Anne herself was content to be a royal mistress and nothing more. Their affair lasted until 1542, when another woman stole Henry’s fickle heart… Anne then settled on her estates with her children.

In the late 16th century, Anne’s youngest son Arthur Basset and his children would emigrate to Scotland and found the Scottish House Basset. Her son Thomas’s descendants would also emigrate, first to the Low Countries and then to Australia, where their descendants still live nowadays.​


1 John Basset, 2nd Marquess of Exeter (1538-1612)
2 Annette Basset (1539-1598)
3 Honour Basset (1540-1605)
4 Thomas Basset (1542-1611)
5 Arthur Basset (1543-1599)

Christina of Denmark (1521-1545)​

Henry’s wife from 1538 to 1545
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Ingrid Sorensdatter was the first actress to be cast in the series. Her performance as the tormented Christina of Denmark has been critically acclaimed.

Christina of Denmark had been one of the many princesses considered by Henry while he was looking for a sixth wife in 1536. It was her cousin Maria who got the crown however but when she died, Christina’s was the first name that came to Henry’s mind.

The girl was not thrilled at the prospect of marrying the older king. Though he was still dashing and attractive, she was afraid she would suffer the same fate as her cousin and die in the throes of childbirth. Her father coaxed her into reconsidering Henry’s offer. The king already had three sons, after all. True, they were infants but this would put less pressure on her. She would not have to try getting pregnant as soon or as often as her cousin had. That, he said, had been Maria’s mistake but she would not repeat it. Christina eventually gave in and was sent to England, where she was lavishly welcomed by her husband-to-be. Henry and Christina were married in a double ceremony, as Henry’s daughter Alexandra married Christina’s brother Hans, Crown Prince of Denmark by proxy the same day.

Christina was accompanied by her lady-in-waiting and best friend Francesca Paleologa di Monferrato, widow of Costantino Cominato Arianiti, titular Prince of Macedonia, and Francesca’s daughter Deianira.

Henry was still deeply in love with Anne Basset when Christina arrived and the young Queen got along very well with her husband’s mistress, fervently hoping Henry’s infatuation would keep her from becoming pregnant too soon. When she eventually announced her first pregnancy in February 1539, she took all necessary precautions and was safely delivered in September. Alas! the child was a girl. Henry looked glum upon hearing the news but said nothing, finding solace in Anne Basset’s arms.

More disappointment came when in March 1540, Christina, always an avid hunter, fell from her horse and miscarried. Although she was in the early stages of her pregnancy and had not been aware of her state at the time, her husband was furious and flew into a rage, forbidding her to give herself to dangerous pastimes when she was bearing England’s future in her womb. A mortified Christina retired to Hampton Court and did not appear in public for two weeks. Husband and wife eventually reconciled and the following year, Christina was pregnant again.

If the Queen did not mind Henry’s liaison with Anne Basset, she felt cruelly betrayed when she discovered on one October evening that her friend Deianira had yielded to her husband’s courtship and was pregnant as well. The young Duke of Richmond, who had always been a frail and sick child, had died that summer and Henry was worried he would lose his other two sons, especially as the young princes had fallen sick as well. Taking advantage of her husband’s anguish, Christina insisted that Deianira be sent to a nunnery in the countryside until she was delivered of her bastard. Henry, not wanting to upset his pregnant wife, dismissed Deianira, who left London in disgrace. A few weeks later, the Queen gave birth to a son, named Christian after her father. The prince’s birth cemented Henry and Christina’s reconciliation.

In January 1542, Christina received a letter from Deianira, who had just given birth to a daughter and pleaded to return to her side, asking for forgiveness. Christina, in better spirits now that she had a son and whose fondness for her childhood friend had not died, relented and agreed.

Henry, who was doting on his newborn baby, does not seem to have paid too much attention to Deianira’s return, especially as the latter was busy preparing the coming of her recently widowed younger sister Elena, who had always been a favourite of hers. Christina was confident that Deianira and her sister would be too busy making up for lost time and that her rival would not fall into Henry’s arms again.

Christina announced a new pregnancy in the spring of 1542, which coincided with Elena’s arrival in London. The young woman did not make a great impression at the time, as she was still mourning her husband, dressed in austere black garments and more inclined to spend time in seclusion with her mother and sister than to attend revelries. Henry returned to Anne Basset, who had come back from her own confinement. However, when Anne got pregnant too, Henry approached Deianira again and the two resumed their affair, but the King soon noticed Elena’s striking beauty.

Christina immediately guessed what was going on and tried to reconquer her husband’s heart but Henry was quite besotted by his new mistress. He had three sons, after all, even though the eldest was only five and still fragile, and his young wife was expecting another child.

The birth of Dorothea was a disappointment for Christina, who had prayed for another son, hoping it would help her win Henry back. A gnawing rivalry developed between her and the sisters, especially Elena. Things took a turn for the worse when the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York fell ill with a bout influenza and died in December, quickly followed by their baby half-sister Dorothea. Christian was now Henry’s last surviving son. This caused the King to set aside his mistresses for a while and devote himself to his wife, who quickly got pregnant again. For Christina, most of the year of 1543 was spent in prayers and pilgrimages, fervently wishing for a son to be born, and so it was a great disappointment to her when the midwives told her the newborn child was a girl. She refused to hold the infant in her arms, even refused to see her, dismissing the tiny, wailing creature to the wet nurse instead.

Henry looked grim when he heard the news, especially as both Deianira and Elena had birthed sons earlier in the year. For months, he refused to see his wife, flaunting Elena and their first-born son instead, and creating both sisters Baronesses in their own right.

The crisis reached its peak in August 1544. Christina had recently gotten pregnant again, after reconciling with her husband, but so were her rivals. It is now believed that Christina was suffering from major depressive disorder. She would spend days in her apartments, refusing to see anyone or attend the revelries her husband organised, then she would suddenly reappear, often uttering malicious, abusing comments about Deianira and Elena.

Things escalated when both sisters were suddenly taken ill. Elena miscarried her child, while Deianira delivered a premature daughter who lived only a few hours, before succumbing too. Suspicion of poisoning came to Henry’s mind. The Queen had been preparing to leave court in order to visit a convent, when she was glimpsed talking with René de Chalon, Prince of Orange, who had come over to England two months before with his wife, Henry’s daughter Elizabeth, Duchess of Brittany.

Christina and René had been in love before she was betrothed to Henry, and rumours of them being lovers soon spread. To Henry, Christina was no less than a mixture of Eleanor of Aquitaine poisoning Fair Rosamund and Margaret of Burgundy cheating on her husband.

Christina fiercely denied both accusations, of course. Being pregnant and a sovereign’s daughter probably saved her life. Henry could not execute her the way he had Anne Boleyn after all. As for René de Chalon, he swore he had always been faithful to his beloved wife. Elizabeth herself pleaded for her husband, throwing herself at her father’s feet, and Henry eventually cleared both Christina and René of all suspicions, though he did order the young man to leave England at once and never come back.

On 22 March 1545, Christina gave birth to twins, one of them a boy whom she insisted on naming Maximilian, after her ancestor the Emperor, who had been born on that very day 86 years earlier, and Henry did not refuse. A letter written by Elena to her mother states that Henry believed the babies’ father to be René de Chalon and indeed, the time of his conception coincided with René and Elizabeth’s coming to England. Incidentally, Henry was later to arrange for Maximilian to enter the Church, not wanting to be succeeded by another man’s son.

A few weeks after Maximilian’s birth, a hunting party was organised. In the course of the afternoon, Christina’s horse tripped and fell, crushing her under its weight. She was conscious when servants brought her back to the Palace and ask to make her last will and testament. In it, she asked for masses to be said for the departed souls of her daughter Dorothea and her friend Deianira, whom she forgave, as well as Deianira’s daughter Francesca. This was viewed by some as the proof that she had indeed been responsible for her rival’s death. She herself said nothing about it.

The circumstances of Christina’s accident were subject to debate as well, and some have argued that it was a disguised murder, ordered by Henry himself.​


1 Christina of England (1539-1601)
2 miscarriage (1540)
3 Christian, Duke of Somerset (1541-1560)
4 Dorothea of England (1542-1542)
5 Isabella of England (1543-1625)
6 Dorothea of England (1545-1621)
7 Maximilian of England, Archbishop of Canterbury (1545-1610)

Deianira Cominata Arianiti, 1st Baroness Paleologa (c.1515-1544)​

Henry’s mistress from 1540 to 1544
View attachment 835464

Greek tragedian Daphne Laskarina was cast in the role of the loving Deianira.

Fifth daughter of Costantino Cominato Arianiti and Francesca Paleologa di Monferrato, Deianira came to England as one of Christina’s maids of honour. Her Mediterranean charm did not pass unnoticed and Henry often commented on her “dark, mischievous eyes”, finding her “quite pretty”. In April 1540, while Christina was recovering from her miscarriage and Anne Basset was pregnant with her third child, Henry and Deianira became lovers. Their liaison remained secret at first, as Deianira loved her queen dearly, often calling her her “little sister”, and she did not want to hurt her.

When she got pregnant, she tried to hide her state as long as possible, until the truth was discovered by Christina. The Queen had her sent to a convent, and Deianira willingly obeyed to hide her shame.

The convent she had been sent to happened to be the one where Henry’s daughters by Anne Boleyn, Alice and Amy, were being brought up. They had been bastardised following their mother’s disgrace and Deianira was shocked by the harsh strictness the nuns displayed toward the poor girls. She herself did not complain of the way they treated her, as she felt that she deserved to be punished for yielding to her childhood friend’s husband.

Deianira took the orphaned girls under her wing, bringing them comfort and thus finding solace herself. During her stay at the convent, the only visitor she was allowed to receive was her mother. Francesca had been Christina’s friend for so long that the Queen could not bring herself to refuse her anything. It was through her mother that Deianira learnt of her brother-in-law’s death. She had just given birth to a daughter whom she had named after herself and she mustered her courage and wrote a letter to Christina, begging her to forgive her and to allow her to leave the convent.

By now Christina’s anger had subsided, and remembrances of their childhood friendship finally convinced her to relent. Deianira returned to court, determined to stay faithful to her best friend. She asked her for permission to bring her sister Elena over to England and Christina agreed again. When Elena arrived, the two sisters kept to themselves: Elena was still mourning her beloved husband, and Deianira was busy trying to comfort her and raising her daughter.

As for Henry, he spent most of his time with his wife and their youngest son, or visited his discreet mistress Anne Basset. Deianira, though still in love with the King, thought it was all for the best. But as both Christina and Mistress Basset got pregnant again, Henry eventually came back to Deianira. At first she refused to resume their relationship, invoking her friendship for Christina, but Henry would not take no for an answer, and Deianira’s feelings were still too strong to be repressed.

The two of them became lovers again and Deianira decided to take advantage of it to ask for Alice and Amy Boleyn to be released from their convent. She painted such a touching portrait of the poor girls’ plight that Henry agreed to have them brought up along with Deianira’s daughter. She even asked him to relegitimise them, arguing that whatever their mother’s crimes had been, they should not pay for them and that his marriage to Anne Boleyn had been valid, after all. This Henry refused to do however.

Deianira was happy caring for her daughter and her protégées, and enjoying Henry’s love, until Elena caught the King’s eye. From that day on, her life became an ordeal, as she watched both her relationships with Christina and Elena deteriorate. Contrary to them, she was not the kind of woman who would fight tooth and nail for the man she loved. Henry would come back to her whenever he grew tired of Christina and Elena’s constant bickering, finding peace by her side. She for her part found solace in Alice and Amy’s upbringing, watching them grow from frightened kids into blooming children, and hated being flaunted in front of the whole court.

In 1543, Henry officially made Deianira and Elena Baroness Paleologa and Baroness Di Monferrato respectively. He had two small manors built in the Italian Renaissance style for them. In August 1544, Deianira was in the seventh month of her third pregnancy when she and her sister were suddenly struck by violent nausea and cramps. She went into premature labour and gave birth to a daughter whom she named Francesca after her mother and who died two hours later. Feeling she would not live much longer, she made her will, asking to be buried in the chapel of Paleologa Manor and for a mass to be said for her soul and that of her daughter. She once more begged Henry to relegitimise the Boleyn sisters, claiming she could not die in peace otherwise, and this time was successful: Henry promised to annul their bastardisation in front of several witnesses and Deianira breathed her last.

After she died, her mother Francesca went to live to Paleologa Manor, where she raised her grandchildren and the Boleyn sisters.

A tragic figure, Deianira inspired many works of art in the following centuries and is often depicted as the most loving and selfless of Henry’s mistresses.​


1 Deianira Paleologa (1542-1589)
2 Constantine, 2nd Baron Paleologa (1543-1601)
3 Francesca Paleologa (1544-1544)

Elena Cominata Arianiti, 1st Marchioness Di Monferrato (c.1518-1558)​

Henry’s mistress from 1542 to 1558
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Charlotte Di Monferrato was cast in the role of her own ancestress Elena Cominata Arianiti, 1st Marchioness Di Monferrato

The sixth and last daughter of Costantino Cominato Arianiti and Francesca Paleologa di Monferrato, Elena had been married to Juan de Luna, a Spanish nobleman and castellan of Milan. When her husband died, her sister Deianira requested permission from Queen Christina to invite her to join them in England. Christina, who had fond memories of her childhood friend and also remembered her as the “ugly duckling” of the Arianiti family, agreed, confident that Elena would not become another rival. Christina had not expected for the plain, awkward youth she remembered to have become an outright beauty.

Although Elena was very discreet upon her arrival from Italy, staying with her sister and not going out very much, she eventually met the King in person when he visited her sister. As soon as he saw her, Henry was struck by her beauty. He may have found Deianira “quite pretty”, but he was swept over by Elena’s near perfect looks and it was not long before he made advances to her.

Contrary to her sister, Elena readily accepted Henry’s courtship. The sincerity of her feelings towards the King has always been the subject of endless debates among historians. She was hated in her lifetime and depicted as a courtesan who had seduced the King away from his wife and plotted to become England’s next Queen, although many courtiers also despised Christina of Denmark for her inability to give her husband a spare. Later, she was portrayed as Henry’s true love. Some say she did not love the King but was delighted to enjoy all the advantages of her position as his chief mistress.

Whatever her true feelings were, Elena quickly gave Henry a son and a few months later was made suo jure Baroness Di Monferrato. Her fiery temper caused her to often clash with Christina privately, and on one or two occasions, she publicly mocked the Queen. In those moments, Henry would desert her for a few weeks and go back to the patient Deianira.

In the summer of 1544, both sisters were taken ill. Elena, then in the early stages of her second pregnancy, miscarried. In her distress, she swore she had been poisoned, prompting Henry to suspect Christina. She also seems to have encouraged Henry’s suspicions regarding Christina’s faithfulness and the legitimacy of her last son.

She retired to Monferrato Manor after her miscarriage and slowly recovered from the effects of her illness or poisoning – the exact nature of this incident never having been determined with certainty. Soon after Christina’s death, it was whispered that Elena would marry Henry, despite her unpopularity. This may have been Henry’s intent, especially as he called her his “beloved Queen” and his “wife in God’s eyes” in several letters written at the time. In June 1545, the Baroness Di Monferrato was created Marchioness Di Monferrato, which was seen as a first step toward a wedding with the King.

A famous half-burnt letter supposedly written by Elena, although its authenticity is still debated, reads thus: “How could a mere Baroness, the daughter of a bastard and a princeling, ever hope to be Queen?” Indeed, Elena’s mother had been an illegitimate child. As for the “princeling” mention, it might be a reference to Elena’s father, self-proclaimed Prince of Macedonia, although he never had any claim to this title. If the letter was indeed written by Elena, it could have inspired Henry to elevate her to the title of Marchioness.

Decades later, Elena’s grandson Henry-Maximilian, Marquess Di Monferrato, claimed that his grandparents had indeed been secretly married in 1546 and that he was the rightful heir to England. The marriage contract he showed as evidence was dismissed as forgery but his only daughter married the heir to the throne, which has been interpreted by some as an unofficial acknowledgment of the veracity of his claims.

Whether they were secretly married or not, Henry and Elena’s relationship became less stormy after Christina’s death and the Marchioness welcomed her sister’s children into her household. In the last years of their relationship, Henry became more and more influenced by his then-wife, a sympathiser of the Reformation. Although Elena, a devout Catholic, did not approve of this change, she wisely abstained from showing her true feelings on the matter and Henry’s love for her never wavered.

She died giving birth to twin daughters in 1558 and was survived by her ten healthy children.​


1 Enrico, 2nd Marquess Di Monferrato (1543-1579)
2 miscarriage (1544)
3 Elena Di Monferrato (1546-1631)
4 Francesca Di Monferrato (1548-1617)
5 Bonifacio, 3rd Marquess Di Monferrato (1550-1602)
6 Constantine Di Monferrato (1551-1600)
7 George Di Monferrato (1553-1641)
8 Edward Di Monferrato (1555-1632)
9 Deianira Di Monferrato (1556-1602)
10 Ippolitta Di Monferrato (1558-1634)
11 Polissena Di Monferrato (1558-1641)

Katheryn Howard (born c.1524; married 1545; died 1549)​

Henry’s wife from 1545 to 1549
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Rebecca Manigold’s performance as Katheryn Howard has brought her critical acclaim: she was praised for the ambiguity of her character, oscillating between the “vivacious but ingenuous youth” and the “self-serving, saucy minx”.

Katheryn Howard had been sent to Paleologa Manor by her mother. There, she assisted the Baroness in the upbringing of her children and wards. As a cousin of the late Anne Boleyn, she was quite naturally entrusted with the care of the Queen’s daughters Alice and Amy.

During her stay at Paleologa Manor, she met Edmund FitzRoy, one of Henry’s many illegitimate sons, who had come with his sister to visit their younger half-siblings, and the two soon became very close, often meeting in the gardens when Katheryn went out with her young cousins. They may have intended to marry but Edmund left England for the New World, where he would become the first Duke of Cambria.

Katheryn made her first appearance at court in April 1545, during the revelries that celebrated the birth of the king’s last child Maximilian. It was on this occasion that Henry officially relegitimised Alice and Amy; he also legitimised his eldest daughter Mary, who had officially been a bastard since birth as she had been born after the annulment of her parents’ wedding.

As the Boleyn sisters were presented to the court, Henry immediately noticed their young companion. Three months after Queen Christina’s death, he married Katheryn, to everybody’s great surprise, as many had expected him to choose his mistress Elena as his next wife.

The king was charmed by his young wife’s vivacity and showered her with gifts. Within weeks of their wedding, the new Queen announced her first pregnancy. The child was born on the last day of May 1546 but it was a girl. Katheryn, however, was determined to give her husband at least one son but in the next three years, she had three more children, all of them girls.

Katheryn’s “useless pregnancies”, as a French ambassador would later maliciously write, displeased the King, who gradually turned his back on her. In December 1548, she attended the Christmas Ball and renewed contact with Thomas Seymour, whose sisters Jane and Elizabeth had married two of the King’s illegitimate sons, “the Two Henrys”, born from his relationships with Lady Muriel Howard and Bessie Blount.

Katheryn had met Seymour once or twice while staying at Paleologa Manor and in the following months, they engaged on an epistolary relationship.

In June 1549, Katheryn gave birth to her fourth daughter and in early July, rumours that she and Seymour were having an affair started to spread. At the King’s request, investigations were made and several witnesses – mostly people who envied the Norfolk family’s position and who saw Katheryn as a scheming girl who had married Henry to bring more power to her family – testified that she had had lovers while living in Paleologa Manor; letters from both Katheryn and Thomas came to light and, in spite of the fact that some are believed to be forgery, one of them, dated January 1549, had indeed been written by Katheryn, although its content shows that she seemed to consider Seymour a friend more than a lover.

Following the discovery of the letters, both Seymour and Katheryn were imprisoned. Seymour confessed under torture that he and Katheryn had been lovers, claiming that the Queen herself had seduced him. Katheryn, for her part, admitted to having had sexual relationships with Henry’s illegitimate son Edmund while living at Paleologa Manor, but insisted that she had had no relationship whatsoever with Seymour at the time. She explained that he had come to her at the 1548 Christmas Ball and become a mere confidant at first, but that he had later raped her.

Years later, Alice Boleyn would record in her memoirs that she, for her part, had never doubted her cousin’s sincerity on the subject, that Seymour had behaved in “the most abhorrent way” with her only weeks before she was brought to court with her sister to be relegitimised, and that she owned her “unsullied honour” to Francesca Paleologa’s intervention only, following which Seymour had not been welcomed at Paleologa Manor any more.

Thomas Seymour was hanged, drawn and quartered on 14 October 1549. The next day, Katheryn was beheaded. As no evidence had been found that she had ever been unfaithful to the King before she met Seymour, her daughters’ legitimacy was not questioned.​


1 Katheryn of England (1546-1623)
2 Joyce of England (1547-1631)
3 Margery of England (1548-1615)
4 Isobel of England (1549-1613)

Renata of Navarre (1528-1607)​

Henry’s wife from 1549 to 1560
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The producers of the series noticed Mina Le Bras quite by accident after she decided to do an improvised performance of the tragedy “Elena and Deianira, or The Tragic Life of Queen Christina” in front of their hotel in Rennes. Although she had been performing one of Elena’s speeches at the time, she was eventually cast as the determined Renata of Navarre.

News of the execution of Queen Catherine were soon known in all of Europe. Henry was looking for another wife, for Catherine’s adultery reminded him of the doubts that lingered on the conception of his second son. Although the Prince of Wales thrived, accidents happened and Henry was afraid of being succeeded by a boy who was no son of his.

Few women were willing to marry the King, though. True, he was still hale and hearty, and looked younger than his 58 years of age. But the execution of two of his wives, as well as the circumstances of Christina of Denmark’s accident, disheartened most candidates he considered.

One princess, however, saw the King’s offer of marriage as a challenge she would fain accept. This was Renata of Navarre, the second eldest of the King of Navarre’s many children. Her mother had been Renée of France, Anne of Brittany’s third child, born eight months after her father’s death, and Claude of Brittany’s younger sister. This technically made Renata Henry’s niece but she shrugged the problem away: she had been born in 1528, eight years after Claude’s death and she hoped this would make her marriage to Henry acceptable.

Renata accordingly agreed to Henry’s proposal and the two were married in December 1549. Their union proved fruitful and on 29 September 1550, the young Queen delivered two healthy sons, named Henry and Francis, after their father and uncle. They were the first of three sets of twins born to Henry and Renata, the other ones being Louise and Louis in 1553 and René and Frances in 1557.

With four more unquestionably legitimate sons, Henry was the happiest of men and in 1558, he sent 13-year-old Maximilian to the Church. Whether the boy was his or René de Chalon’s, it would not matter any more, as the boy forfeited his rights to the succession upon entering the Church.

Henry and Renata’s marriage was the longest of all: it lasted for nearly eleven years. But Renata, although she had never officially converted, was a supporter of the Reformation, like most of her relatives. As time passed, Henry’s religious policy became more and more influenced by his wife’s opinion on the subject.

This would not sit well with the Church, especially when in 1559, Renata gave birth to a son whom she named after Gaspard II de Coligny, Admiral of France and Ambassador to England. Gaspard was suspected of having converted to Calvinism and when he agreed to stand as the prince’s godfather, many saw it as a confession.

Soon after, Coligny was recalled to France and replaced by a staunch Catholic as Ambassador. He later took part to the Amboise Conspiracy and was executed. Meanwhile in England, the Archbishop of Canterbury had used the kinship between the long-deceased Claude of Brittany and Renata to challenge the validity of the wedding, as no dispensation had been granted. In truth, the ecclesiastical authorities had not deemed it necessary to grant one at the time, just as Renata had surmised. But now, the lack of a dispensation could work in Rome’s favour, and the Pope proclaimed that Henry and Renata’s marriage was illegal and their children illegitimate.

In March 1560, the Pope ordered Henry to repudiate his wife, which the King refused to do. Tragedy then struck again: the Prince of Wales was preparing to meet his fiancée, Archduchess Barbara of Austria, whose arrival in London was impending, but as he was stepping onto the barge that would take him to Whitehall, he slipped and fell, crushing his head against the pavement.

Upon hearing the news of the Prince’s death, the Pope immediately placed the Kingdom of England under interdict. The whole situation was getting out of control. If the Pope persisted in declaring Renata’s children illegitimate, Henry would have to repudiate her and find another wife and who knew if he would sire any sons? He had many daughters, most of whom had been married abroad or to powerful English noblemen, and the ghost of another war of succession was looming on the horizon.

Renata eventually came up with a bittersweet solution: she suggested that Henry write to the Pope that he would repudiate her on condition that their children would be declared legitimate. The Pope agreed, adding another condition: that the children be raised by Catholic tutors. Henry and Renata accepted and the wedding was dissolved on 10 August 1560.

Renata remained in England, retiring to Eltham Palace, and officially converted soon after. She kept advising her former husband toward a pro-Protestant policy, to the point that Henry himself converted in October, although he kept his word regarding his children’s tutors. She advised him in the choice of his next wife and later became a renowned patroness of artists and scientists.​


1 Henry, Duke of York (1550-1562)
2 Francis, Duke of Richmond (1550-1609)
3 Renée of England (1552-1581)
4 Louise of England (1553-1623)
5 Louis, Duke of Bedford (1553-1631)
6 Anne of England (1555-1647)
7 Valentina of England (1556-1591)
8 René, Duke of Clarence (1557-1598)
9 Frances of England (1557-1609)
10 Gaspard, Duke of Monmouth (1559-1600)
11 Blanche of England (1560-1638)

Lady Lucy Somerset (1524-1583)​

Henry’s mistress from 1559 to 1566
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Dutch actress Mieke van Hoensbroeck had played Lady Lucy in the little-known 1854 play The King and Lady Lucy, one of the few literary works about the King’s mistress. Good critics of her performance convinced the producers to cast her in the role.

Lady Lucy Somerset, daughter of the 2nd Earl of Worcester and wife of the 4th Baron Latimer, succeeded the very Catholic Elena as Henry’s mistress. She had become one of Renata of Navarre’s ladies-in-waiting and she and her husband converted sometime around 1556.

Seven months after Elena died, Lucy became Henry’s mistress. Just like Queen Renata and Henry’s next wife, she was instrumental in the evolution of Henry’s religious policy, and Catholic circles used to call the three women the Unholy Trinity.

Henry had first intended to make her the governess of his children by Elena and Deianira but her relationship with the older ones, who were just as staunch Catholics as their mothers had been, was fraught with tension and the King did not insist. The young Marquess Di Monferrato chose Mary Howard, a sister of the late Queen Katheryn, instead. This was seen by many as an act of defiance toward his father, both because Katheryn, despite her eventual disgrace, had always been well-loved by the Paleologa and Di Monferrato children, and because her family was one of the most influential in the Catholic circles of England.

It was a shock to Lucy when she found that she was with child: her last daughter had been born in 1550 and she and her husband had thought she would never conceive again. Henry acknowledged their son, as well as their next three children, to Baron Latimer’s relief, as he had had mixed feelings at the prospect of being succeeded by another man’s son in his barony.

Lucy’s last pregnancy was very difficult and she eventually retired to her husband’s estates, ending her relationship with the King.


1 Anthony FitzRoy (1560-1652)
2 Lucy FitzRoy (1562-1589)
3 William FitzRoy (1563-1641)
4 Jane FitzRoy (1566-1613)

Charlotte de Laval (1530-1569)​

Henry’s wife from 1560 to 1569
View attachment 836471

Erzsébet Arany had often been told she looked like Queen Charlotte de Laval, so when she heard that a series about Henry VIII was in preparation, she read no less than three biographies of the Queen and applied for the role, which she got immediately.

The youngest daughter of Guy XVI de Laval, a powerful Franco-Breton lord, and his third wife Antoinette d’Aillon, Charlotte had married Admiral Gaspard II de Coligny and they both secretly converted to Calvinism.

Charlotte met Henry VIII and Renata while her husband was Ambassador to England. Renata’s Protestant sympathies earned her Charlotte’s friendship and when Gaspard was executed for his involvement in the Amboise Conspiracy, his widow fled to England. She reached London to find her friend in the middle of a diplomatic and religious crisis: Rome had declared her children illegitimate and the Prince of Wales had just died, leaving Henry with no legitimate male heir of his body. The sovereigns’ marriage was eventually annulled but Renata advised her husband to marry again, not trusting the Pope to keep his word as far as her children’s legitimacy was concerned. Henry, who had recently converted, married the Protestant Charlotte. There could be no possible cause for annulment: he and Charlotte were not related within the prohibited degree of kinship and their children, if they had any, could not be declared illegitimate.

The marriage caused great scandal among the Catholic circles and when Charlotte’s first-born son was christened in the Protestant faith, many saw it as an answer to the Pope’s meddling and a way to ensure that no one would contest the legitimacy of Renata’s Catholic-raised children again. This time, the succession was secure.

Although committed to the Protestant cause, Charlotte strove to appease the tensions between the religious factions at court, which eventually earned her some respect even from some of the most fiercely anti-Protestant partisans.

A few days before giving birth to her last child in December 1568, Charlotte caught a cold. She thought nothing of it at first, but the bad cough lingered for weeks and settled on her lungs until she was too exhausted to appear in public. She died on 28 February 1569, surrounded by her grieving husband and children.​


1 Guy, Duke of Lancaster (1561-1598)
2 Charlotte of England (1563-1600)
3 Antonia of England (1564-1659)
4 Magdalena of England (1565-1665)
5 Charles, Duke of Buckingham (1567-1654)
6 Nicole of England (1568-1615)

Lady Margaret Seymour (1540-1574)​

Henry’s wife from 1569 to 1574
View attachment 836751

Slam poet Hannelise Schwartz was chosen to play Lady Margaret Seymour, one of the first female poets of England

Lady Margaret Seymour was one of the many daughters – and children – of Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford, and Anne Stanhope. She and her sisters had been maids of honour to Queen Renata and it was under the latter’s tutelage that the Seymour sisters took to writing, mostly poetry.

Like many members of her family, Lady Margaret converted to Protestantism. After the annulment of Henry and Renata’s marriage, she remained in the former Queen’s inner circle and wrote one of her most famous poem, With Great Fortitude Endureth Thy Torment, Thou Gentle Queene, celebrating Renata’s selflessness and determination to keep the peace in England.

The repudiated Queen had considered her for Henry’s next marriage before opting for Charlotte de Laval, who she thought was more mature and capable of dealing with the thorny situation of England than twenty-year-old Margaret.

After Charlotte married Henry, Lady Margaret often visited the Court, delighting the sovereigns with her poetry and it was no wonder when, two months after Charlotte died, Henry took the young writer as his next wife.

Contrary to Renata and Charlotte, Margaret did not take part in her husband’s religious policy, preferring to sponsor artists, from writers to painters and composers.

Margaret died on a sunny morning in March 1574: she and Henry had been staying for a few days in Hatfield, enjoying the return of spring, when Margaret and two of her ladies-in-waiting decided to spend the day on the pond. Their rowboat capsized and the Queen drowned, leaving a grief-stricken husband.


1 Edward, Duke of York (1570-1659)
2 John, Duke of Somerset (1571-1642)
3 Margaret of England (1571-1630)
4 Jane of England (1573-1641)
5 Henry, Duke of Hereford (1574-1599)

Joan Knollys (c.1520-1576)

Henry’s wife from 1574 to 1576
View attachment 836762

Deserting action film for historical saga, Vivien Carstairs offered a very convincing performance as the gentle and dedicated “Good Queen Jane”.

Joan (or Jane) Knollys was the second daughter of Sir Robert Knollys and a companion to Queen Renata. As Henry and his repudiated wife maintained an excellent relationship, she often met him when he came to Eltham. In the months that followed Queen Margaret’s death, Henry grew closer to Joan. She however, refused to be a royal mistress, out of respect for Renata. Henry then offered to marry her and after much hesitation, she accepted, having had Renata’s blessing. The two were married in November.

“Good Queen Jane”, as she became known, did not leave her mark in the political or artistic history of England but she was fondly remembered by the people for her generosity and good heart. She had an orphanage built for girls from the nobility whose fathers had died in the King’s service “regardless of their religious background”, on Chelsea Manor, one of the estates Henry had granted her, which later became the famous Joan Knollys Royal Boarding School for Girls, the first high-ranking school to accept non-Christian boarders. She died there on 9 November 1576.​



Lady Mary Talbot (c.1502-1581)​

Henry’s wife in 1577
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The many times awarded actress Rowena Guilford was cast to play Henry’s last wife, the religious Lady Mary Talbot. Diana Vermont played a younger Mary in the early episodes of the series.

Henry VIII’s last wife was Lady Mary Talbot, who had been maid of honour to his third wife Claude, Duchess of Brittany. After Claude’s death, she became maid of honour to the new Queen, Madeleine de La Tour d’Auvergne, until she married Henry Percy, 6th Earl of Northumberland.

A devout Catholic, Lady Mary had been close to Henry’s mistresses Deianira and Elena Cominata Arianiti and to his wife Katheryn Howard, and she remained in good terms with their children.

When Henry married Joan Knollys, Lady Mary approached her, hoping to get some influence over the King through her. Joan, however, showed no interest in politics and intrigue, but her natural generosity, which appealed to Henry so much, inspired Lady Mary to follow her example. She helped her establish the Chelsea Orphanage, offering to supervise the religious education of Catholic boarders.

After Joan’s death, she remained by Henry’s side as his confidante, hoping to bring him back into the bosom of the Roman Catholic Church. Memories of his gentle wife Claude probably drew Henry closer to Lady Mary and the two were married in February 1577, although Henry never returned to the Catholic faith. After he died on 17 July 1577, succeeded by his son Francis, Mary retired to the Chelsea Orphanage, where she lived for the last four years of her life, dying on 4 June 1581.


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Henry VIII's most famous children

Mary Tudor, Duchess of Pembroke (1516-1569), and Henry Grey, 3rd Marquess of Dorset (1517-1565)

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Henry VIII’s eldest surviving legitimate child was portrayed by Irish actress Máire Ní Bhriain. Her husband Henry Grey was played by Scottish actor Sawney Mac Lachlan.

Mary was the only surviving child born from Henry and Catherine of Aragon’s marriage. Born a few months after the annulment of their union, she was considered illegitimate at the time. As a result, Henry decided to create her Duchess of Pembroke in her own right. In 1545, when Henry kept the promise he had made to his mistress Deianira and relegitimised his daughters Alice and Amy Boleyn, he decided to legitimise Mary at the same time.

The Duchess of Pembroke had been married in 1534 to Henry Grey, 3rd Marquess of Dorset, who was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1537. She and her husband then settled in Ireland, although she regularly returned to England to visit her family. Three of her illegitimate half-sisters – Lady Muriel Howard’s daughter Marcella and Bessie Blount’s daughters Elizabeth and Katherine – accompanied her and married Irish lords: Edward St Lawrence, 6th Baron Haworth, James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormond, and James FitzGerald, 13th Earl of Desmond. Because of their abundant issue, Mary and her half-sisters are now known as the “Grandmothers of Ireland”.


1 Catherine Grey (1536-1589)
2 Henry Grey (1537-1558)
3 Edmund Grey, 2nd Duke of Pembroke and 4th Marquess of Dorset (1539-1602)
4 Mary Grey (1541-1587)
5 Marcella Grey (1542-1614)
6 James Grey (1543-1603)
7 Deianira Grey (1545-1620)
8 Elizabeth Grey (1547-1585)
9 Edward Grey (1548-1599)

Arthur IV, Duke of Brittany and Richmond (1520-1525)​

View attachment 837075

Meriadec Atkins played both young Henry VIII in the first episode of the series and Arthur IV of Brittany. His hair had been dyed red for the part of Henry.

Arthur was Claude of Brittany’s second surviving son and as such, he became heir apparent to the Duchy of Brittany from birth. It was the reason why his father created him Earl of Richmond, a tribute to his Breton ancestors who had held this title. He and his twin sister Margaret were born on 9 September 1520 and their mother died two months later in a shipwreck.

Following his mother’s death, Arthur became Duke of Brittany, the fourth of his name. He never ruled in his own right however, as he succumbed to croup on 18 November 1525 at the age of five.

Elizabeth I, Duchess of Brittany (1516-1583) and René I de Chalon, Prince of Orange (1519-1557)​

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Breton actress Guenola Pierzou played Elizabeth of Brittany in most of the series. An older Elizabeth was played by Armorican actress Loeiza Rozec.

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German actor Heinrich Fraunberg zu Fraunberg was chosen to play René de Chalon, Christina of Denmark’s alleged lover.

His eldest legitimate child until Mary, Duchess of Pembroke, was legitimised, Elizabeth was Henry’s heir apparent from 1533 to 1537. In accordance with her mother’s marriage contract, she married firstly her cousin René de Rohan in 1531 but had only daughters. As a result, when her husband died in early 1542, leaving her pregnant with their fifth surviving daughter, she married secondly another cousin, René I de Chalon, Prince of Orange.

A distant cousin to Anne of Brittany, René had met Christina of Denmark while she resided in Brussels and the two had fallen in love but Christina’s father pressed her to marry the recently widowed Henry VIII instead.

However, when René’s cousin René de Rohan died and Elizabeth sent him a delegation, offering to marry him, René did not hesitate long: the Princess had inherited her paternal grandmother’s beautiful features and despite having some of her father’s volatile temper, she was also quick-witted and charming, which convinced René to marry her.

In 1544, René and his wife visited England. There, René and Christina were suspected of having become lovers. To this date, the exact nature of their relationship is still debated. Although Henry’s suspicions were strong – probably encouraged by his mistress Elena, 1st Marchioness Di Monferrato – Elizabeth refused to believe that her husband had been unfaithful and her determination eventually convinced her father to drop all charges against him and Christina.

René and Elizabeth left England soon after and never came back in Henry’s lifetime. They had seven surviving children, five boys and two girls. Their eldest surviving son René II succeeded as Prince of Orange, while their second one, Arthur V, became Duke of Brittany. Their third surviving son, François, was sent to the Breton colony of Armorica, which he ruled in his mother’s and later brother’s names.

René died in 1557. He had joined the Emperor in the Last Italian War the year before and was killed in battle. When Elizabeth was told of her husband’s death, she went into mourning until her own death twenty-six years later.

In her later years, Elizabeth welcomed Protestant refugees from France in Brittany. Being a devout Catholic herself, just like her husband had been, she encouraged them to settle in the Marquisate of Armorica, a Breton colony in the New World.

The French persecutions against the Protestants caused several rebellions to break out in the 1570s however, mostly in Normandy. These were subtly encouraged by England and Brittany and resulted in the annexation in 1579 of Western Normandy, as well as Maine and Anjou, by Brittany, which would become a Grand-Principality in 1598, fifteen years after Elizabeth’s death.
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The partition of Normandy (1579). Western Normandy (in green) was annexed to Brittany. Eastern Normandy (in red) remained into French hands.

Duchess Elizabeth was survived by twelve of her children – five with René de Rohan and seven with René de Chalon – all born on a different month of the year, which earned them the nickname “Monthly Siblings”.


1 Claude de Rohan (1532-1591)
2 Anne de Rohan (1535-1587)
3 Renée de Rohan (1537-1564)
4 Henriette de Rohan (1539-1602)
5 Isabelle de Rohan (1542-1598)
6 Jeanne de Chalon (1543-1613)
7 René II de Chalon, Prince of Orange (1544-1597)
8 Arthur V, Duke of Brittany (1546-1596)
9 François de Chalon, Marquess of Armorica (1547-1615)
10 Philiberte de Chalon (1549-1621)
11 Henri de Chalon (1551-1603)
12 Guillaume de Chalon (1553-1622)

The Breton Clause​

The Breton Clause is a joking allusion to the hereditary Breton Duchesses and Grand-Princesses’ habit of inserting a clause in their marriage contract specifying that in the case their husband was a foreign ruler, Brittany would pass to a younger child in order to prevent the annexation of the Duchy to another state.

The first Duchess to insert such a clause was Anne of Brittany (1477-1519) upon her marriage to Louis XII, King of France. A similar clause was made when Anne’s daughter and heiress Claude (1499-1520) married Henry VIII, King of England. Years later, Claude’s daughter Elizabeth I (1516-1583) re-used the Breton clause when her own eldest daughters married, to secure Brittany’s independence should her young sons die without issue.

Similar precautions would be taken in the following centuries when the Duke (later Grand-Prince) of Brittany’s heir apparent was a woman.

Joan, Countess of Auvergne (1521-1546)​

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Marie Allan played both Joan, Henry’s eldest daughter by Madeleine de La Tour d’Auvergne, and her daughter Jeanne.

Joan was the first-born child of Henry VIII and his fourth wife Madeleine de La Tour d’Auvergne. She had a younger brother, John who was created Duke of York and succeeded their mother as Count of Auvergne. In early 1533, John fell ill and died. His death was attributed to natural causes at the time but a few years later, his stepmother Anne Boleyn was later suspected of having poisoned him, although this theory has now been discredited by historians.

When her brother died, Joan became Countess of Auvergne in her own right. As such, it was quite naturally that Henry and the French king decided that she would marry the Dauphin. In 1538, the princess travelled to France and met her betrothed.

Joan, however, had not inherited her father’s health. Although she became pregnant soon after her wedding, the birth of her son François was very difficult and left her so weak, that many feared she would not be able to live through another pregnancy. Three years later, Joan and her husband decided to try and have another child and in 1543, she gave birth to a daughter, named Madeleine after her grandmother. The Dauphine was a little disappointed, as she had hoped to give her husband a spare. This time again, she was exhausted by the birthing and another two years passed before she became pregnant again. When her third child, another girl, was born, Joan did not survive. The Dauphin named their last child Jeanne in memory of his beloved wife and coincidentally, the little girl grew up to be her mother’s spitting image.


1 François, Duke of Anjou (1539-1546)
2 Madeleine de Valois (1543-1597)
3 Jeanne de Valois (1546-1604)

Alice (1532-1589) and Amy Boleyn (1535-1597)​

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Canadian actresses Melanie Pullman and Geraldine Levasseur played Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s daughters Alice and Amy.

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Theo FitzFoulk and Pierre Marchand were cast as Thomas Percy and Louis I de Bourbon-Condé, the Boleyn sisters’ husbands.

Alice and Amy Boleyn were the two surviving children of the ill-fated Queen Anne Boleyn. Bastardised following the annulment of their parents’ wedding and their mother’s execution, they were sent to Romsey Abbey to be brought up by the nuns. Alice was four years old at the time, and Amy a mere one-year-old infant.

Their first years in the convent were, to say the least, the worst of their life. Alice would later record in her memoirs that the nuns showed them no compassion, often calling them the spawn of the Devil and a witch, and subjected them to the harshest treatment, making them fast or wear hairshirt cilice “in the hope that it would redeem [their] wretched souls”.

Although they were taught to read the Bible, the sisters received no education, teaching themselves to write English. Amy, who was able to read by the age of four, even started to translate her Bible into English, incurring the nuns’ wrath.

A change came with the arrival of Deianira Cominata Arianiti in the nunnery in late 1541. The King’s pregnant mistress was the first person to show them kindness and the girls clung to her, eventually coming to see her as a mother. The nuns treated Deianira with less animosity, knowing that she had not fallen from the King’s grace and was there on Queen Christina’s request only, and they reluctantly let the young woman care for the girls.

When Deianira was allowed to leave the nunnery, she promised Alice and Amy to take them away as soon as she could. The girls waiting anxiously for her return and after six long months, they were released from Romsey and welcomed to Deianira’s newly-built house, Paleologa Manor.

There, they were brought up by the woman they called their mother along with their half-siblings Deianira and Constantine. They also met their first cousin once removed Katheryn Howard, who would later marry the King.

The nunnery had left scars that would never fade however but, just like both sisters were very different in their looks – one a “fair-haired angel”, the other a “dark-haired imp” – their trauma expressed itself in different ways: Alice was a quiet, reclusive girl and spent most of her time reading and studying, even learning several foreign languages, as well as Latin and Ancient Greek. She trusted few people but formed lasting bonds with them.

Amy, although a gifted student, would rather roam in the gardens and ride the pony her father had offered her when she first came to Paleologa Manor than learn her lessons. She had very little patience and her fits of temper often echoed between the walls of the house, so much that she was often called the “wild child” of the family.

Among the visitors admitted to Paleologa Manor were the Seymour siblings, Anne Boleyn and Katheryn Howard’s distant cousins. Jane and Elizabeth Seymour had married two of Henry VIII’s elder illegitimate sons and regularly visited their cousin Katheryn. They were usually accompanied by their brother Thomas.

Although the young man seems to have shown a discreet interest in Katheryn, he did not try to woo her, especially as she was in a relationship with one of Henry’s favourite illegitimate sons, Edmund, who would later be Duke of Cambria.

He however approached Alice and, to judge from a passage in her memoirs, tried to rape her. Deianira had been dead for a few months at the time and it was her mother Francesca Paleologa di Monferrato’s intervention that saved Alice from Seymour’s clutches. Although Jane and Elizabeth Seymour’s visits to Paleologa Manor continued after that, Thomas was forbidden to come back.

A few weeks later, Alice and Amy were officially relegitimised, although they kept being referred to as the “Boleyn sisters” by both contemporary and later writers. If Amy enjoyed living at her father’s court, taking parts to balls, revelries and hunting parties with great joy, Alice would often keep to herself, regularly making long stays at Paleologa and Di Monferrato Manors.

As time passed, many thought the eldest of the Boleyn sisters would remain single and indeed, she remained so until the age of thirty-four, when she eventually married Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland. They had met as early as 1545, when she had first been introduced to court and Thomas had proposed to her in 1550, but she had rejected him at the time. He, however, did not seem to be interested in anyone else, as he is not known to have fathered illegitimate children, and although he did not pursue her, he eventually proposed again in 1566 and this time, Alice agreed.

Thomas and Alice left court soon after their wedding, retiring on his estates to live the quiet life in the countryside Alice had always loved and paying regular visits to the Paleologa and Di Monferrato families. They only returned to London to attend the ceremonies of Henry VIII’s subsequent weddings and his funeral, as well as the coronation of her half-brother Francis I.

Amy, on the contrary, lived up to her reputation as a wild child. In 1551, she travelled to Brittany at her half-sister Elizabeth’s request and was her nephew Henri de Chalon’s godmother. She spent several months on the continent, travelling to the French court to meet her nieces Madeleine and Jeanne de Valois.

It was during her stay in Paris that she met the dashing Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Condé, who had recently returned from Piedmont. The two fell in love at first sight and eloped, marrying in Rouen Cathedral, where her ancestor Rollo had been buried. Although Amy and Louis’s marriage caused great scandal in France and England, they did not seem to care.

As years passed, Amy showed marked interest in Calvinism. Her traumatic childhood years at Romsey Abbey had left her with conflicted feelings as far as religion was concerned: she had loathed the nuns at Ramsey but Deianira’s devotion had made a lasting impression on her mind. She secretly converted in 1555 and encouraged her husband to follow suit. Louis himself had been a sympathiser of the Reformation and he converted soon after. However, he was killed in 1571 in one of the French Religion Wars. His eldest son would also die a few years later, leaving an underage son whom Amy raised.

Alice’s children

1 Lady Anne Percy (1567-1615)
2 Henry Percy, 8th Earl of Northumberland (1568-1620)
3 Thomas Percy (1570-1575)

Amy’s children

1 Aimée de Bourbon (1552-1603)
2 Henri de Bourbon, Prince of Condé (1555-1579)
3 Louis de Bouron, Prince of Conti (1557-1610)
4 Alice de Bourbon (1558-1561)
5 Déjanire de Bourbon (1559-1602)
6 Charles de Bourbon, Count of Soissons (1563-1601)
7 Françoise de Bourbon (1565-1567)
8 Louise de Bourbon (1570-1621)

Maximilian “the Roman” Tudor, Archbishop of Canterbury (1545-1610)​

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Although he was considered for the role of King Francis I Tudor, Manx actor Ewan Maddrell eventually played the Archibishop of Canterbury Maximilian Tudor, who happens to be his ancestor.

Maximilian Tudor was Christina of Denmark’s second son but the only one to outlive his father. René I de Chalon’s presence in England at the time of his conception and Christina’s alleged infidelity led Henry to believe that he was not his son. The older the boy grew, the less he looked like his father, to Henry’s bitter disappointment.

When Maximilian was thirteen, his father decided to send him to the Church. Although Maximilian’s legitimacy had never been put in doubt publicly, the boy was aware of the suspicions that surrounded his birth, and he saw Henry’s decision as sheer betrayal. He had hoped that the King, at least, would take his side against scandalmongers, only to find that his father believed them.

From this day on, and although he always remained respectful to Henry in public, Maximilian considered himself an orphan, as he would write in a letter years later.

When Maximilian’s elder brother Christian died on his way to meet his betrothed, Archduchess Barbara of Austria, their younger half-brother Henry, Duke of York, became heir apparent and was created Prince of Wales. Henry died two years later, however, and was succeeded by his twin brother Francis, the future King Francis I Tudor.

Maximilian had a very strained relationship with his younger half-siblings, especially Renata’s and Charlotte’s sons, as he felt he should have taken precedence over them in the line of succession. He mostly ignored Lady Margaret Seymour’s sons, whom he seldom saw, but he probably felt the same toward them.

After Henry VIII converted to Calvinism, Maximilian became the man disgruntled Catholics gathered around and he took this new role very seriously, advocating the Catholic cause and earning the moniker “the Roman” because of his impassioned speeches.

If Maximilian had a strained relationship with his legitimate half-brothers, he held the Di Monferrato siblings in high esteem, especially Bonifacio. It was through him that Maximilian met Lady Elizabeth Hastings, a daughter of Francis Hastings, 2nd Earl of Huntingdon, as Elizabeth’s youngest sister Lady Mary had married Bonifacio.

Maximilian and Elizabeth became lovers and had five children. After King Francis’s death in 1609, Maximilian supported the rebels who tried to replace his successor by another claimant – in vain. He was deprived of his Archbishopric and briefly imprisoned as a result but owned his release to the new Queen’s intercession.


1 Boniface Tudor (1572-1609)
2 Maximilian Tudor (1575-1632)
3 Elizabeth Tudor (1579-1643)
4 Helen Tudor (1580-1638)
5 Christian Tudor (1583-1648)

The Howard Princesses​

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The casting of the Howard princesses required much brainstorming from the producers, who eventually chose Russian tragedian Vasilisa Dostatni, Armorican actresses Morgana Kerampuilh and Lena Porzic, and English actress Mia Longfellow.

Kathryn, Joyce, Margery and Isobel of England, better known as the “Howard Princesses”, were the four daughters born from Henry VIII and Kathryn Howard’s union. They did not make a good start in life, their mother having been convicted of adultery and beheaded, but as years passed, their resemblance to their father, whose red hair and fiery temper they had inherited, was obvious and any suspicion of illegitimacy was soon dismissed.

The sisters spent most of their time in the Di Monferrato family, who cherished them dearly and whose governess was none other than their aunt Mary Howard, and it was their half-brother Enrico who was indirectly responsible for their astounding weddings.

Elena Cominata Arianiti’s father had claimed descent from the old Byzantine House of Comnene and her own mother, although she was an illegitimate child, could trace her ancestry back to the Palaiologos Byzantine Emperors. Even Elena’s eldest sister Andronica had married Leonardo IV Tocco, titular Despot of Epirus, a descendant of the last Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos’s younger brother Thomas.

Such connections were proudly boasted about by the Di Monferrato siblings and Enrico often said he would be the happiest brother should one of his Howard half-sisters marry a descendant of the old Emperors. His words did not fall on deaf ears and Henry VIII started looking for a suitable match for his daughters.

It soon appeared that the senior-most relatives to Emperor Constantine XI were the descendants of Princesses Helena (1431-1473) and Zoe Palaiologina (c.1449-1503). Helena’s eldest daughter had died without issue; her second daughter had been the grandmother of Leonardo IV Tocco, whose eldest surviving son Francesco was just the right age for one of Henry’s daughters. Helena’s third daughter also had issue and her great-grandson Niccolò Bernardino Sanseverino was of suitable age too.

Henry was now seriously considering the prospect of marrying off his daughters to descendants of the Emperors and, why not, try and restore the Byzantine Emperors. The idea of having one of his descendants rule Constantinople was very appealing, and he decided that all four sisters would marry potential claimants.

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Italian stage actor Vincenzo Mazzia played Francesco Tocco, while Albanian actor Pjetri Begaj was cast as Niccolò Bernardino Sanseverino.

Helena Palaiologina’s line had no more candidates to offer. Zoe Palaiologina had married the Grand-Prince of Moscow Ivan III and their grandson Ivan IV was a widower, his beloved wife Anastasia Romanovna having died a few months before. Ivan was trying to negotiate a marriage to the King of Poland’s sister Catherine Jagiellon when Henry sent an envoy to offer one of his daughters instead. As the Polish princess seemed unwilling to marry him and he found the portrait of Kathryn of England beautiful, Ivan agreed to the proposal.

Kathryn’s marriage being settled, Henry sent envoys to the Tocco and Sanseverino families, and soon Margery and Isobel were betrothed too. Only Joyce remained single but she pleaded to accompany Kathryn to Moscow, so her elder sister would not feel so lonely in her faraway new country, and Henry agreed.

The elder Howard sisters left England in March 1561. Kathryn converted to Orthodox Christianity and married Ivan in November. In 1566, Joyce would marry her brother-in-law’s first cousin once removed Ivan Fedorovich Mstislavsky.

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Lithuanian actor Ansas Radvila was cast as Ivan the Terrible. The part of Ivan Mstislavsky was played by Russian actor Pyotr Scriabin.

In the meantime, Margery and Isobel had been sent to their new families in Italy. They were married in 1562 and 1563 respectively. Soon after their wedding, Margery’s husband Francesco proclaimed himself the new Byzantine Emperor, confident that he would soon reconquer his ancestors’ lands with his father-in-law’s support. Isobel’s husband Niccolò Bernardino Sanseverino was more poised and was content to have a King’s daughter as his wife.

Kathryn’s marriage was not the happiest. Her husband’s mental health deteriorated: he had never really recovered from his first wife’s death, which he attributed to poison, and descended into paranoia. During this period, the Tsardom had to face severe droughts and famines and war always loomed on the horizon. Ivan seemed to care for his wife, though, finding her cultivated and pious. Katheryn, for her part, tried to appease him whenever his fits of temper became too violent but she was her father’s daughter and she often found herself struggling to stay calm, knowing Ivan would never forgive her if she did not.

In early 1572, following the defeat of the Ottoman forces at the Battle of Lepanto, a Crusade was called for by Pope Paul V [1]. Francesco Tocco, as “the Heir of the Old Emperors”, was one of the first to take the Cross, determined to reconquer his ancestors’ Empire. He was soon joined by his brother-in-law and most of the members of the Holy League.

The Howard Princesses were not idle: Margery wrote to her father to ask him for his support, although she knew he had converted years before, and Isobel sent a letter to Kathryn, hoping to persuade Eastern Christians to join them. Their initiatives were rewarded when Henry VIII agreed to support his son-in-law. For the first time in years, he and his son Maximilian found themselves agreeing on one subject and the Archbishop called upon English Catholics to join the Crusade.

Meanwhile in Moscow, Kathryn tried to convince her husband to ally himself with the Crusaders, invoking the recent Tatar and Ottoman raids. Ivan was unwilling to enter such an alliance at first, as Russia was caught between the Ottomans and their allies, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The death of King Sigismund II brought about a major change. Another Ottoman ally, France, came forward and offered their candidate to the throne: Louis, Duke of Angoulême, promising their support against any Russian invasion. Louis was elected as a result but forced to sign the pacta conventa and the Ludovician Articles [2].

King Charles IX of France had refused to join the Holy League, respecting his alliance to the Ottomans. However, as Brittany and the Holy Roman Empire joined the Crusade, which was also tacitly supported by England, the French’s position became precarious. Fearing attacks from his neighbours, especially Calvinist England and his Catholic ally Brittany, the King decided to forsake the Franco-Ottoman alliance and joined the Holy League.

In Kraków, King Louis received the news with mixed feelings. The pledge he had taken forbade him to declare war without the General Sejm’s consent. As a result, negotiations between France and Poland started again: France renewed its promise to assist Poland should war with Russia break out, while Poland asserted his neutrality in the Crusade, tacitly renewing the Polish-Ottoman alliance but refusing to take arms against a Crusader state.

Back in Moscow, Ivan and Kathryn, who had been observing the developments of the Franco-Polish negotiations, welcomed the news and a truce was agreed upon between the Commonwealth and the Tsardom, each country pledging not to attack the other, following which Ivan joined the Crusade.

The “Last Crusade”, was not a complete success: although the Crusaders managed to reconquer the Eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire – Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria and the Despotate of Epirus, as well as Thessalonica and Achaea – their hold on Constantinople was still fragile and they would have to fight many more battles to fend the Ottomans off in the following decades.

In January 1577, Francesco Tocco and his wife Margery were crowned as the new Byzantine Emperor and Empress, to old King Henry’s delight when he heard the news. Although a Catholic Crusade had allowed him to recover his family’s lands, Francesco would convert to Eastern Christianity in 1579, as he feared the influential magnate Michael Kantakouzenos would give his religion as a pretext to try and depose him. After their conversion, Francesco and Margery took the regnal names Andronikos V – after his grandmother Andronica Cominata Arianiti – and Irene.

Andronikos V had a policy of religious tolerance, especially in the former Ottoman provinces of Bosnia and Albania, whose population had converted to Islam, and made his brother-in-law Niccolò Bernardino Sanseverino Prince of Albania. Niccolò was a descendant of the famous Skanderberg, who had led the Albanian rebellion against the Ottomans in the 15th century, and Andronikos thought it natural to grant him lordship of his ancestors’ native land. Niccolò later divided his Italian and Albanian estates between his two sons.

Kathryn’s marriage to Ivan the Terrible kept deteriorating as time passed. War against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had resumed following a conflict between Ivan and the Principalities of Transylvania and Moldavia. Ivan officially suspected Poland of having formed an alliance with his enemies and launched a series of attacks on the Polish-Lithuanian borders. Whether this alliance was real of mere pretext to attack his old enemy is not known.

Ivan’s paranoia was becoming worse, so much that he started to suspect his wife of wanting to get rid of him and in 1579, Kathryn fled with her only surviving daughter Ekaterina, finding refuge with her sister Joyce and her brother-in-law Ivan Mstislavsky. When the Tsar heard of his wife’s escape, he suspected his cousin of betrayal, although Mstislavsky had always been faithful to him, and tried to have them executed.

Mstislavsky arranged for his wife and sister-in-law to escape with their children through Lithuania and Hungary, and the sisters eventually reached the Empire. Kathryn spent the rest of her life in exile, marrying her daughter to Andronikos and Irene’s second son, but Joyce returned to Russia with her children after Ivan’s death and was reunited with her husband.

Children of Kathryn of England (1546-1623) and Ivan IV of Russia (1530-1584)

1 miscarriage (1563)
2 Tsarevich Feodor Ivanovich (1564-1565)
3 Tsarevna Elena Ivanovna (1566-1569)
4 Tsarevna Ekaterina Ivanovna (1569-1610), took the name Eudoxia upon her marriage to her first cousin Thomas Tocco

Children of Joyce of England (1547-1631) and Ivan Fedorovich Mstislavsky (c. 1532-1586)

1 Vasili Ivanovich Mstislavsky (1569-1571)
2 Ivan Ivanovich Mstislavsky (1570-1624)
3 Anastasia Ivanovna Mstislavsky (1572-1599)
4 Feodora Ivanovna Mstislavsky (1577-1579)
5 Vasilisa Ivanovna Mstislavsky (1585-1647)

Children of Margery of England (1548-1615) and Francesco Tocco (c.1540-1598), later Empress Irene and Emperor Andronikos V

1 Helena Tocco (1564-1615)
2 Manuel III Palaiologos (1565-1621) [4]
3 Thomas Tocco (1568-1612)
4 Anna Tocco (1570-1584)

Children of Isobel of England (1549-1613) and Niccolò Bernardino Sanseverino, Prince di Bisignano, Duke di San Pietro in Galatina and Prince of Albania (1542-1608)

1 Bernardo Sanseverino, Prince di Bisignano, Duke di San Pietro in Galatina (1566-1620)
2 Erina Sanseverino (1569-1604)
3 Pietro Sanseverino, Prince of Albania (1570-1625)

[1] Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, who was elected Pope in 1572 ITTL.
[2] ITTL version of the OTL Henrician Articles.
[3] ITTL the oprichnina is not disbanded in 1572.
[4] He took his ancestors’ surname when he was crowned Emperor.

Francis I Tudor (1550-1609)​

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Alun Trefusis had auditioned for the role of Edmund FitzRoy, Duke of Cambria, but was eventually cast Henry’s successor Francis I Tudor. Aulikki Kivelä played his wife Eleanor of Scotland.

Francis was the second son of King Henry VIII and Renata of Navarre. His twin brother Henry had been born a few minutes before him and in 1551, they were created Dukes of York and Richmond respectively.

Francis was fourth in the line of succession – third after his half-brother Maximilian was sent to the Church – and as such was not expected to ascend England’s throne. As a result, his childhood was happy and free of worries, especially as his eldest son Christian, the Prince of Wales, was thriving.

In 1560 however, Christian prepared to meet his betrothed, Archduchess Barbara of Austria, when he slipped on the wet stones of the bank and crushed his head on the pavement, dying hours later without having regained consciousness.

The Prince of Wales’s death was a blow to King Henry. He and his wife were in conflict with the Pope, who had declared their children illegitimate only months earlier. After a five-month-long diplomatic struggle, Francis’s mother Queen Renata persuaded her husband to agree to an annulment. The legitimacy of her children was recognised and Francis’s twin Henry was created Prince of Wales.

Although their parents both converted to Calvinism, Henry, Francis and their siblings were raised by Catholic tutors, as the Pope had demanded. This did not stop Francis from developing an interest in the Reformation, although he did not show it. His father, who had not forgiven the Pope’s interference in his previous marriage, was becoming more and more anti-Catholic, leading to many private clashes with his son Maximilian. Francis’s stepmother Charlotte, on the contrary, tried to be a peacemaker, gently talking her husband into renouncing the most radical of the measures he had contemplated taking.

The Duke of Richmond enjoyed an excellent relationship with his stepmother, the only person – outside his mother – he confided his Calvinist sympathies to: he had not uncovered them to his father, fearing Henry might proudly boast about them and incur the Pope’s wrath again. He also got on well with most of his half-siblings, with the exception of Maximilian, the future Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Di Monferratos.

Francis and his twin brother Henry had always been great lovers of sports, especially jeu de paume, their mother’s favourite game which she had introduced to the Court soon after her wedding, and their father regularly organised games for them.

On a warm morning in July 1562, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Richmond started playing. The game lasted several hours when Henry, tired by the heat and the efforts he had made, suddenly collapsed after drinking several cups of cold water. He was taken to the Palace and died the next morning. Francis, who had drunk from the same cup, showed no symptoms at the time but at the minute his brother died, he fell into a faint. Suspicions of poisoning arose, as young Henry had always been a healthy child. However, his brother had shown no suspicious symptoms despite drinking from the same cup and his fainting fit could be attributed to the bond that he had shared with his twin, and the poisoning theory was soon dismissed.

Francis never recovered from his brother’s death and spent the next four years wearing mourning clothes, only agreeing to leave them when he married Eleanor of Scotland in 1566. Eleanor was the third daughter – but the only one to reach adulthood – of King James V and his wife Éléonore de Valois, and the younger sister of the future King Alexander IV.

Although he had been a lively, even loud boy in his childhood, often playing truant with young Henry whenever he could, his twin’s death had left scars that would never heal. Francis grew from a turbulent child into a wistful adolescent.

When his father died, he publicly converted to Calvinism and pursued Henry VIII’s pro-Protestant policy. He had not forgotten his stepmother’s wise advice and did his best to appease tensions between Protestants and Catholics, even mending his relationship with Maximilian a little – although the latter never really got over the animosity he felt toward his younger half-brothers.

Contrary to his father, Francis is not known to have taken any mistresses but although he loved his wife dearly, they only had seven children in their forty years of marriage. Eleanor had suffered a miscarriage in 1570 and her following pregnancies were difficult. Of their seven living children, four died in infancy and the other three all predeceased their father.

His daughters Renata and Eleanor both died childless and his son Henry died three months before the birth of his only child, the future Henry IX (1607-1681). Francis’s death two years later would spark a succession crisis.


1 miscarriage (1570)
2 Henry, Prince of Wales (1572-1577)
3 Alexander, Duke of York (1573-1574)
4 Francis, Duke of Richmond (1576-1578)
5 Renata of England (1579-1608)
6 Henry, Prince of Wales (1582-1607)
7 Eleanor of England (1585-1609)
8 Charlotte of England (1588-1592)

Edmund FitzRoy, Duke of Cambria (1520-1587)​

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Because of the strong resemblance between Edmund, Duke of Cambria, and his father King Henry VIII, it was eventually decided that Conchobhar Ó Seachnasaigh would play both characters. Edmund’s wife Agnes ferch Rhys was portrayed by Fenella Cadwaladr.

The eldest illegitimate son of Henry VIII and Mary Boleyn, Edmund was Katheryn Howard’s secret lover in the early 1540s. His father appointed him Governor of the newly founded English colony of Cambria in the New World in November 1543 and he was created Duke of Cambria – the first Anglo-American title ever created. Edmund was accompanied by several half-siblings and many Anglo-Americans can trace their ancestry back to the FitzRoys of America.

When news of Katheryn Howard’s death reached Cambria, Edmund refused to believe the accusations made against her and went into mourning, ordering his household to do the same. The day the news were delivered, 28 December, coincided with the Holy Innocents’ Day and later became known as Queen Katheryn’s Day in Cambria, where it is still celebrated.

Edmund of Cambria had married Agnes, a daughter of the Welsh landowner Rhys ap Gruffudd and Lady Catherine Howard. Through her mother, Agnes was both Katheryn Howard’s first cousin and Edmund’s first cousin once removed. Rhys ap Gruffudd had been suspected of wanting to overthrow Henry in Wales and executed in 1531, and his estates were forfeit. His children, Gruffudd, Thomas and Agnes, had first been sent to England as wards of their cousin George Boleyn, and were given the Anglicised surname Rice.

When Edmund was sent to the New World, young Gruffudd and Thomas left England as well, probably so they would not claim their father’s confiscated possessions, and Agnes accompanied them. There, they took their Welsh patronymic again.

Agnes married Edmund in 1550 and gave him ten children, most of whom survived infancy.


1 Catrin FitzRoy of Cambria (1551-1587)
2 Agnes FitzRoy of Cambria (1553-1578)
3 Edmund FitzRoy of Cambria (1556-1584)
4 Mary FitzRoy of Cambria (1557-1579)
5 George FitzRoy of Cambria (1559-1561)
6 Griffith FitzRoy of Cambria (1560-1598)
7 Elizabeth FitzRoy of Cambria (1562-1601)
8 Thomas FitzRoy of Cambria (1564-1567)
9 Anne FitzRoy of Cambria (1565-1623)
10 Thomas FitzRoy of Cambria (1569-1612)

Bonifacio, 3rd Marquess Di Monferrato (1550-1602)​

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Elena’s son Bonifacio Di Monferrato was played by Italian actor Domenico Parini.

Bonifacio, also known as Boniface, was Henry VIII and Elena Cominata Arianiti’s second son. He succeeded his elder brother Enrico, who had never married and died without issue. Over the years, especially after his father’s death, he showed marked antipathy toward the sons born to Queens Renata, Charlotte and Margaret. This was at first put down to the fact that the three women had been Protestant but it later transpired that Bonifacio deemed his father’s marriage to Renata as null and void.

Bonifacio nevertheless prudently abstained from challenging the legitimacy of his half-brother, King Francis I, keeping to himself on his estates and living quietly with his wife, Lady Mary Hastings, and their children.

However, when Francis died, leaving his underage grandson Henry IX as his successor, rumours of a secret marriage between Henry VIII and Elena started to spread.

Bonifacio himself had been dead for a few years by that time, but his own son Henry-Maximilian claimed the throne. To prove the legitimacy of his claim, he produced several documents: the first ones were letters Henry had written to Elena, in which he called her his wife and his Queen. One letter especially made great impression, as it mentioned Elena as Henry’s “wife in God’s eyes”. The authenticity of this letter was never contested but it was not enough to challenge the validity of Renata’s marriage. Henry-Maximilian’s other piece of evidence was a marriage contract, dated 15 May 1545, which, if genuine, meant that Henry’s marriages to both Katheryn Howard (18 July 1545) and Renata of Navarre (10 December 1549) were invalid.

Many wondered why Henry would have kept his marriage to Elena a secret, especially given his love for her. Henry-Maximilian answered by showing a half-burnt letter which, he claimed, had been written by Elena, in which she called herself “the daughter of a bastard and a princeling”. According to him, Elena had felt she was too low-born to be a Queen, and accordingly her marriage was kept a secret.

England was divided between Henry-Maximilian’s supporters, mostly Catholics, led by his half-uncle Maximilian, Archbishop of Canterbury, his aunt Helen Di Monferrato “the Elder” (1577-1623) and one of Mary Tudor’s grandsons Edmund Grey (1563-1610), while the infant King Henry IX’s interests were defended by his uncles Louis, Duke of Bedford and Charles, Duke of Buckingham.

The marriage contract was eventually dismissed as forgery and the authenticity of Elena’s letter was never clearly established. As a result, Henry-Maximilian and his supporters were convicted of treason and incurred death penalty. However, only Edmund Grey was beheaded. It is said that Henry-Maximilian, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Helen the Elder owned their lives to the intercession of Henry-Maximilian’s eleven-year-old daughter, Helen Di Monferrato “the Younger” (1599-1670), who threw herself at the Duke of Bedford’s feet, begging him to spare her father’s life as well as those of her aunt and her great-uncle, who was also her godfather.

Bedford was moved by the girl’s prayers and the rebels escaped death. The Archbishop of Canterbury was deprived of his position and spent the last few months of his life in retirement. Henry-Maximilian was imprisoned in the Tower of London for the rest of his life. Young Helen, who happened to be his only child, was betrothed to her cousin Henry IX, which many whispered was an unofficial acknowledgment of the validity of the Di Monferrato claim.

Helen the Elder was forgiven and allowed to stay in her niece’s household to prepare her for her role of Queen consort, a task she performed admirably, since she saw her niece as the rightful Queen of England.

The Marquessate Di Monferrato had been declared forfeit when Henry-Maximilian was convicted of treason but it was later revived at Queen Helen’s request for his nephew Boniface.


1 Henry-Maximilian, 4th Marquess Di Monferrato (1574-1617)
2 Helen Di Monferrato (1577-1623)
3 Boniface Di Monferrato (1578-1631)
4 Edward Di Monferrato (1583-1645)
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Other monarchs

Francis I, King of France (1509-1522)

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Roland La Roche-Mesnil, a cousin of the talented Valentine La Roche-Mesnil (Madeleine de La Tour d’Auvergne), made his debut as Francis I the Young, King of France.

Born on 31 March 1509, Francis was the second surviving child and only son of Louis XII, King of France, and his second wife Anne, Duchess of Brittany. His father died two months later while returning from a pilgrimage. Anne, who had just gotten pregnant again, assumed the regency along with her late husband’s cousin François d’Angoulême. Following the French victory at Marignano, the little King also became Duke of Milan.

Francis “the Young”, as he would later be known, had the making of a great monarch. His mother had made sure he would receive the best education and by the age of thirteen, Francis was fluent in several languages, had developed an interest in arts and sciences, and showed a natural talent for weapons handling.

Unfortunately, the young King did not rule long: in December 1522, he was suddenly taken ill with a high fever and died within a few hours. Although there were some rumours of poisoning, he was succeeded smoothly by the Count of Angoulême.

Francis II, King of France (1494-1547)​

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Léandre Guillotte had auditioned for the part of Bonifacio, 3rd Marques Di Monferrato, but was eventually cast as the French King Francis II.

François d’Angoulême was King Louis XII’s cousin and heir apparent from 1498 to 1509. Following the birth of Louis’s son, he became second in line to the succession and after Louis’s unexpected death, he was one of the infant king’s regents along with the Dowager Queen, Anne of Brittany.

In 1515, François and his brother-in-law Charles IV d’Alençon led the French forces at the Battle of Marignano. Although Charles was killed, the French were victorious and a peace treaty was signed by both sides. Young king Francis was acknowledged as Duke of Milan, while the previous Duke Massimiliano Sforza was imprisoned and taken to France.

Upon young Francis I’s death, François succeeded him as Francis II. Massimiliano Sforza’s brother Francesco tried to invade Milan but was defeated by the French; a compromise was found in the form of a wedding between Massimiliano and the King’s sister Marguerite d’Angoulême, who became joint Duke and Duchess of Milan.

Soon after his accession, Francis II married the widowed Eleanor of Austria, Dowager Queen of Portugal, whose daughter Maria was to marry Henry VIII years later.

Francis’s reign mas marked by his conflict with his brother-in-law Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and Henry VIII of England. Although he gradually strengthened his control over Milan as years passed, he had to quench several rebellions supported by Charles.

In 1538, he tried to ally himself with Henry against the Emperor and the English King agreed to marry his daughter Joan to Dauphin Charles. The marriage was short-lived, though, and Joan died in childbirth eight years later, leaving only two daughters. An ageing Francis then renewed the Auld Alliance in a double wedding between his children Charles and Éléonore and King James IV’s children Margaret [1] and James, Duke of Rothesay.


1 Charles IX, King of France (1522-1579)
2 François, Duke of Orléans and Milan (1524-1582)
3 Éléonore of Valois, Queen of Scots (1525-1574)
4 Louise of Valois (1526-1528)
5 Louis, Duke of Angoulême, later King of Poland and Grand-Duke of Lithuania (1529-1582)
6 Charlotte of Valois, Queen of Navarre (1530-1601)
7 Isabelle of Valois, Duchess of Savoy (1533-1597)

[1] ITTL James IV’s children Margaret (b.1512) and Alexander, Duke of Ross (b.1515) survive.

Charles IX, King of France (1525-1579)

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Swiss actor Alexandre Neuville played Charles IX of France.

Charles IX was Francis II’s eldest son. Born in 1525, he was married to Henry VIII’s daughter Joan, Countess of Auvergne. His father had sought an English alliance against Emperor Charles V during the Italian War of 1536-1538 and had asked for Henry’s daughter Joan’s hand for his son. Joan was of the right age and suo jure Countess of Auvergne, which made her the best possible match in Francis’s eyes. Charles and Joan were betrothed in 1537 and married in February 1538.

Although their marriage was happy, it did not last long, as Joan’s health was frail. Their first child, a boy, died young and their next two children were girls. Joan died in childbirth, like her own mother before her.

Following Joan’s death, Francis decided to find a new bride for his son. Although the Dauphin had two healthy brothers, Francis wanted to secure his succession. News that Mary of Bourbon, who had married James IV’s eldest son years before, had just died reached Paris and Francis immediately offered to renew the Auld Alliance by marrying his daughter Éléonore to the widowed Duke of Rothesay. James IV also had a daughter, Margaret, who had married one of the Emperor’s sons. She had had two daughters but her husband had died in 1542 and she had not married again.

Margaret was thirty-four and Francis did not consider her a potential candidate for his son. However, Charles, not wanting his ailing father to spend the last months of his life moving heaven and earth to find a wife for him, declared his intention to marry Margaret. The Scottish king agreed to the double proposal and in 1547, Margaret was sent to France, while Éléonore sailed to Scotland.

Charles held his new wife in high regard, although he could not bring himself to love her as he had loved Joan. Nevertheless, they had three children, two boys and a girl, and ruled together after Francis’s death.

The spread of Protestantism worried them however, and Charles took several measures to try and stop the Reformation in France, to no avail. The conflict between Catholics and Protestants had been gaining in intensity when Pope Paul V called for the Crusade. At first, Charles refused to take part, tacitly renewing his father’s alliance with the Ottoman Empire, and kept dealing with the French Protestants.

A few months later, the King of Poland died. Poland had been an Ottoman ally as well, and with the Crusade on everybody’s mind, Charles immediately sent an embassy to negotiate his brother Louis’s election to the throne and in the summer of 1573, Louis left for Kraków.

While France had been negotiating Louis’s election, the Holy Roman Empire had joined the Crusade, followed by the Duchy of Brittany – led by Duchess Elizabeth Tudor herself – as well as England’s Catholics, with Henry’s approval.

Charles IX was all too aware of his delicate position. Many French Protestants had found shelter in Brittany and, although most had then left for the New World, many had stayed in the Old one, forging ties with Norman and Angevin Protestant communities and sparking rebellions in those provinces. Although Duchess Elizabeth was sailing east with her contingent of Crusaders, her son ruled Brittany and Charles suspected him and Henry of being behind the revolts.

Maintaining the Ottoman alliance when all his neighbours were supporting the Crusade was too dangerous for Charles IX’s liking and he eventually forsook it. He joined the Crusade a few weeks later, although he did not take part to it himself, as he preferred to deal with the Protestant rebellions. It was Queen Margaret who led the French Crusader army with her husband’s blessing, accompanied by her second son Jacques, Duke of Anjou, who died in battle in 1576, only weeks before the Treaty of Constantinople was signed, putting an end to the Crusade.

In 1578, the Protestant conflict reached its height and after months of bloodshed and negotiation, the Treaty of Rouen was signed in March 1579, resulting in the annexation of Anjou and Western Normandy by Brittany.

Charles died six months later and was succeeded by his son François III, who died childless four years later. The French throne then passed to Charles’s nephew, the powerful Duke of Milan.

Children by Joan, Countess of Auvergne

1 François, Duke of Anjou (1539-1546)
2 Madeleine de Valois (1543-1597)
3 Jeanne de Valois (1546-1604)

Children by Margaret of Scotland

1 François, Dauphin of France (1549-1583)
2 Jacques, Duke of Anjou (1551-1576)
3 Marguerite de Valois (1554-1611)

The Dukes and Duchesses of Milan​

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Sardinian actor Ànghelu Murtas was cast as Massimiliano Sforza, Duke of Milan. The part of Marguerite d’Angoulême was attributed to Andorran actress Esther Vila Cassany.

The dispute between the Sforza and Valois dynasty over the Duchy of Milan lasted for most of the first half of the 16th century. When Louis XII died in 1509, leaving an infant son as his successor, Massimiliano Sforza successfully claimed the Duchy. In 1515 however, the French won the Battle of Marignano, making Massimiliano a prisoner, and young Francis I became Duke of Milan.

War broke out again upon Francis’s death in 1522 and Francesco Sforza, Massimiliano’s brother, tried to conquer Milan. He was soon defeated however, and Francis II decided to release Massimiliano on one condition: the Duke of Milan would marry his widowed sister Marguerite and both would rule the Duchy jointly. Massimiliano agreed and returned to Milan with his bride in October 1522. The marriage contract specified that whichever of the spouses died first would be succeeded, not by their children or closest blood relative, but by their surviving spouse.

Massimiliano and Marguerite were not the best-suited couple but they managed to be happy enough. Although they had four children, one only survived infancy, a daughter named Bianca Margherita Sforza, born in 1528. Massimiliano died two years later on 25 May 1530.

Despite the marriage treaty that stipulated that Massimiliano and Marguerite were joint Duke and Duchess of Milan and that Marguerite, now a widow, should rule the Duchy until her own death, Massimiliano’s brother Francesco invaded Milan, claiming the regency of the Duchy in little Bianca Margherita’s name.

Marguerite fled to France, taking her daughter with her, and Francesco became Duke of Milan. In 1534, he married Christina of Denmark but died the following year. King Francis II attacked Milan on his sister’s behalf and in 1536, Milan returned into French hands after a resounding victory, which saw France annex Savoy and Piedmont.

Eight-year-old Bianca Margherita was betrothed to her twelve-year-old cousin, King Francis II’s second son François, Duke of Orléans, and the two married in 1540. Marguerite d’Angoulême, having been restored to her lands, ruled Milan wisely, developing a court of poets and scientists and taking an interest in the Reformation. When she died in 1549, she was succeeded smoothly by her daughter and son-in-law.

The new Duke of Milan, François d’Orléans, became known as Francesco the French Duke in Italy. He had already earned himself a reputation as a talented military leader and in 1551, he allied with his brother Charles IX and the Duke of Parma, Ottavio Farnese, against Emperor Charles V, who had occupied the Duchy after the murder of the former Duke. In 1553, Ottavio died in battle, leaving a daughter, Girolama Farnese, as his sole surviving child by Claudine of England, one of the daughters of King Henry VIII and Madeleine de La Tour d’Auvergne.

Francesco’s army successfully invaded Parma after Ottavio’s death and the Duke became guardian to young Girolama, as Ottavio himself had wished on his deathbed. He betrothed the infant to his second son Massimiliano Ludovico and ruled Parma in their name.

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Raoul Chastelin and Elena Ventimiglia were cast as Massimiliano Ludovico di Valois, Duke of Parma jure uxoris, and Henry VIII’s granddaughter Girolama Farnese, Duchess of Parma.

Francesco died in 1582 and was succeeded by his eldest son Francesco Massimiliano in Milan and by his second son Massimiliano Ludovico in Parma. Massimiliano Ludovico and Girolama Farnese had only one surviving daughter, Ottavia, who married her first cousin Filiberto Carlo, Francesco Massimiliano’s eldest child and only son.

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Lucca Guicciardini played Francesco Massimiliano di Valois, the first King of France of the Valois-Milan family.

After the extinction of the eldest branch of the Valois-Angoulême family with King Francis III’s death in 1583, Francesco Massimiliano, Duke of Milan became King Francis IV “the Italian” of France. Francesco Massimiliano had married firstly his cousin Beatrice of Savoy, only surviving daughter and heiress to Emmanuele Filiberto, Duke of Savoy, and Francis II’s daughter Isabelle of Valois (1533-1597). They had two children, Filiberto Carlo and Beatrice Francesca.

After Beatrice died in 1571, he married Renée of England (1552-1581), daughter of Henry VIII of England and Renata of Navarre, who gave him five daughters.

King Francis IV died in 1605 and his son Filiberto Carlo succeeded him as King Philibert I, with Ottavia as Queen consort, thus uniting Milan, Savoy and Parma to France.

Genealogy of the Dukes and Duchesses of Milan

Massimiliano Sforza, Duke of Milan (1493-1530) m. Marguerite d’Angoulême, Duchess of Milan (1492-1549)
1) Ludovico Francesco Sforza (1523-1524)​
2) Beatrice Margherita Sforza (1524-1526)​
3) Luisa Beatrice Sforza (1525-1526)​
4) Bianca Margherita Sforza, Duchess of Milan (1528-1581) m. François, Duke of Orléans (1524-1582)​
1) Francesco Massimiliano di Valois, Duke of Milan, Regent of Parma and King of France as François IV (1546-1605) m. a) Beatrice, Duchess of Savoy (1548-1571) b) Renée of England (1552-1581)​
1a) Filiberto Carlo di Valois, Duke of Milan and Savoy, and King of France as Philibert I (1567-1634) m. Ottavia, Duchess of Parma (1569-1621)​
2a) Beatrice Francesca di Valois (1570-1575)​
3b) Bianca Renata di Valois (1575-1602)​
4b) Massimiliana Beatrice di Valois (1577-1578)​
5b) Carlotta di Valois (1578-1647)​
6b) Enrica Francesca di Valois (1581-1634)​
7b) Renata di Valois (1581-1638)​
2) Massimiliano Ludovico di Valois, Duke of Parma (1549-1587) m. Girolama Farnese, Duchess of Parma (1551-1595)​
1) Ottavia di Valois, Duchess of Parma (1569-1621) m. Filiberto Carlo, Duke of Milan and Savoy, and King of France as Philibert I (1567-1634)​
2) Alessandro di Valois (1571-1573)​
3) Ottavio Massimiliano di Valois (1574-1575)​

Dukes and Duchesses of Milan (from 1499 onwards):
1499-1509: Louis XII, King of France, as Luigi I
1509-1515: Massimiliano Sforza, as Massimiliano I
1515-1522: Francis I, King of France, as Francesco I
1522-1523: Francesco Sforza, as Francesco II
1523-1530: Massimiliano Sforza and Marguerite d’Angoulême, as Massimiliano I (restored) and Margherita I
1530-1535: Francesco Sforza, as Francesco II (restored)
1536-1549: Marguerite d’Angoulême, as Margherita I (restored)
1549-1581: Bianca Margherita Sforza and François d’Orléans (Duke jure uxoris), as Bianca I and Francesco III
1581-1605: Francesco Massimiliano di Orléans, as Francesco IV, also King of France as François IV from 1583 onwards
1605-1634: Filiberto Carlo di Orléans, as Filiberto I, also King of France as Philibert I

Renée of France, Queen of Navarre (1510-1584)​

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Navarrese actress Chuanna Etchegaray was cast as Renée of France, Queen consort of Navarre.

Renée was the third and last surviving child of King Louis XII and Anne of Brittany. Born posthumously in Nantes in 1510, she grew up in Brittany until her mother died in 1519. She was then sent into the household of Marguerite d’Angoulême, who had significant influence on her, especially on her religious beliefs.

Renée had been betrothed to Henry II, King of Navarre, in 1518 and the two married in 1524. They had no less than fifteen children, twelve of whom survived infancy. She and her husband soon showed strong sympathy toward the Reformation, and most of their children later converted – either officially or secretly. Their eldest daughter Renata married Henry VIII in 1549.

During her reign as Queen consort of Navarre, Renée became a patroness of arts and sciences, just as her daughter would later be in England. In 1555, Renée’s son King Francisco Phebus II [1], with military support from both France and England, successfully recovered Upper Navarre from Spain.


1 Enrique of Navarre, Prince of Viana (1527-1530)
2 Renata of Navarre (1528-1607)
3 Francisco of Navarre, Prince of Viana (1530-1587)
4 Francisca of Navarre (1531-1532)
5 Margarita of Navarre (1532-1560)
6 Lois of Navarre (1534-1594)
7 Enrique of Navarre (1535)
8 Catarina of Navarre (1538-1601)
9 Enriqueta of Navarre (1539-1600)
10 Anna of Navarre (1541-1584)
11 Maria of Navarre (1542-1579)
12 Loisa of Navarre (1544-1592)
13 Carlos of Navarre (1545-1586)
14 Francisca of Navarre (1546-1587)
15 Enrique of Navarre (1548-1589)

[1] Born Francisco of Navarre, he took the name Francisco Phebus when he was crowned King of Navarre in 1555, in memory of the young King Francisco Phebus I (1467-1483), whose death had sparked the civil war that would lead to the annexation of Upper Navarre by Spain.

Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (1500-1557) and Mary Tudor (1496-1531)​

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Austrian actor Maximilian Metternicht and Cambrian actress Vera Rossini played Emperor Charles V and his wife Mary Tudor.

Charles of Ghent had first been betrothed to Louis XII and Anne of Brittany’s daughter Claude but Louis later annulled the betrothal and promised his young daughter to his cousin and heir apparent François d’Angoulême. By the time Louis died and Anne approached Charles to renew his previous engagement, the young man had asked for the hand of the beautiful Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s younger and favourite sister.

They were married in 1515 and had eight children, five of whom lived to adulthood. Mary died in 1531, two months after giving birth to her last child, and Charles refused to marry again. Toward the end of his life, Charles divided his many possessions between his only surviving son Philip and his younger brother Ferdinand. Philip succeeded him as King of Spain, Duke of Burgundy and Lord of the Netherlands, while Ferdinand became Archduke of Austria and Holy Roman Emperor.

Charles’s last years were clouded by several military setbacks in Milan (1553) and Navarre (1555). He died in 1557 and was buried next to his beloved wife.


1 Philip II, King of Spain (1516-1574)
2 Charles of Austria (1519-1541)
3 Maria of Austria (1521-1565)
4 Isabella of Austria (1523-1548)
5 Ferdinand of Austria (1525-1527)
6 Margaret of Austria (1528-1601)
7 Joanna of Austria (1530-1539)
8 Henry of Austria (1531-1535)
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List of Henry VIII’s wives and legitimate descendants​

Elizabeth I, Queen of England (1503-1514), married 11 March 1509
no children

Catherine of Aragon (1485-1543), married 3 April 1514, annulled 12 November 1515
1 Henry, Prince of Wales (1515)
2 miscarriage (1515)
3 Mary FitzRoy, 1st Duchess of Pembroke (1516-1584) m. Henry Grey, 3rd Marquess of Dorset
1 Catherine Grey (1536-1589)​
2 Henry Grey (1537-1558)​
3 Edmund Grey, 2nd Duke of Pembroke and 4th Marquess of Dorset (1539-1602)​
4 Mary Grey (1541-1587)​
5 Marcella Grey (1542-1614)​
6 James Grey (1543-1603)​
7 Deianira Grey (1545-1620)​
8 Elizabeth Grey (1547-1585)​
9 Edward Grey (1548-1599)​

Claude, Duchess of Brittany (1499-1520), married 7 February 1516
1 Elizabeth I, Duchess of Brittany (1516-1583) m. a) René Ier de Rohan, Viscount of Rohan b) René de Chalon-Arlay, Prince of Orange
1a Claude de Rohan (1532-1591)​
2a Anne de Rohan (1535-1587)​
3a Renée de Rohan (1537-1564)​
4a Henriette de Rohan (1539-1602)​
5a Isabelle de Rohan (1542-1598)​
6b Jeanne de Chalon (1543-1613)​
7b René II de Chalon, Prince of Orange (1544-1597)​
8b Arthur V, Duke of Brittany (1546-1596)​
9b François de Chalon, Marquess of Armorica (1547-1615)​
10b Philiberte de Chalon (1549-1621)​
11b Henri de Chalon (1551-1603)​
12b Guillaume de Chalon (1553-1622)​
2 Henry, Prince of Wales (1517-1532)
3 Edmund, Duke of York (1517-1518)
4 Anne of England (1518-1548) m. Luis, Duke of Beja
5 Claudia of England (1519-1585) m. Alexander, Duke of Ross
6 Margaret of England (1520-1545) m. Philip II, King of Spain
7 Arthur IV, Duke of Brittany and Richmond (1520-1525)

Madeleine de La Tour d’Auvergne (1498-1530), married 3 January 1521
1 Joan, Countess of Auvergne (1521-1546) m. Charles IX, King of France
1 François, Duke of Anjou (1539-1543)​
2 Madeleine de Valois (1543-1597)​
3 Jeanne de Valois (1546-1604)​
2 Alexandra of England (1522-1584) m. Hans of Denmark (1518-1543)
1 Christina of Denmark (1539-1578) m. Frederick II, King of Denmark and Norway​
2 Alexandra of Denmark (1542-1581)​
3 Madeline of England (1524-1528)
4 John, Duke of York and Count of Auvergne (1525-1533)
5 Edward, Duke of Somerset (1526-1528)
6 Claudine of England (1527-1562) m. Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma
1 Girolama Farnese, Duchess of Parma (1551-1595) m. Massimiliano Ludovico di Valois, Duke of Parma (1549-1587)​
1 Ottavia di Valois, Duchess of Parma (1569-1621) m. Filiberto Carlo, Duke of Milan and Savoy, later Philibert I, King of France (1567-1634)​
2 Alessandro di Valois (1571-1573)​
3 Ottavio Massimiliano di Valois (1574-1575)​
7 Catherine of England (1528-1602) m. Edward Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon
8 Henrietta of England (1530-1584) m. Albert V, Duke of Bavaria

Anne Boleyn (c.1501/07-1536), married 5 July 1531, annulled 17 May 1536
1 Alice Boleyn (1532-1589) m. Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland
1 Lady Anne Percy (1567-1615)​
2 Henry Percy, 8th Earl of Northumberland (1568-1620)​
3 Thomas Percy (1570-1575)​
2 miscarried son (1533)
3 Amy Boleyn (1535-1597) m. Louis I, Prince of Condé
1 Aimée de Bourbon (1552-1603)​
2 Henri de Bourbon, Prince of Condé (1555-1579)​
3 Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Conti (1557-1610)​
4 Alice de Bourbon (1558-1561)​
5 Déjanire de Bourbon (1559-1602)​
6 Charles de Bourbon, Count of Soissons (1563-1601)​
7 Françoise de Bourbon (1565-1567)​
8 Louise de Bourbon (1570-1621)​
4 stillborn son (1536)

Maria of Portugal (1521-1538), married 4 June 1536
1 Henry, Prince of Wales (1537-1542)
2 Maria of England (1538-1594)
3 Eleanor of England (1538-1594)
4 Edward, Duke of York (1538-1542)
5 Manuel, Duke of Richmond (1538-1541)

Christina of Denmark (1521-1545), married 11 October 1538
1 Christina of England (1539-1601)
2 miscarriage (1540)
3 Christian, Duke of Somerset (1541-1560) b. Archduchess Barbara of Austria
4 Dorothea of England (1542-1542)
5 Isabella of England (1543-1625)
6 Dorothea of England (1545-1621)
7 Maximilian of England, Archbishop of Canterbury (1545-1610) p. Lady Catherine Hastings (1546-1621)
1 Boniface Tudor (1572-1609)​
2 Maximilian Tudor (1575-1632)​
3 Elizabeth Tudor (1579-1643)​
4 Helen Tudor (1580-1638)​
5 Christian Tudor (1583-1648)​

Katheryn Howard (c.1524-1549), married 18 July 1545
1 Katheryn of England (1546-1623) m. Ivan IV, Tsar of Russia
1 miscarriage (1563)​
2 Tsarevich Feodor Ivanovich (1564-1565)​
3 Tsarevna Elena Ivanovna (1566-1569)​
4 Tsarevna Ekaterina Ivanovna, later Eudoxia (1569-1610) m. Thomas Tocco​
2 Joyce of England (1547-1631) m. Ivan Fedorovich Mstislavsky (c. 1532-1586)
1 Vasili Ivanovich Mstislavsky (1569-1571)​
2 Ivan Ivanovich Mstislavsky (1570-1624)​
3 Anastasia Ivanovna Mstislavsky (1572-1599)​
4 Feodora Ivanovna Mstislavsky (1577-1579)​
5 Vasilisa Ivanovna Mstislavsky (1585-1647)​
3 Margery of England, later Empress Irene (1548-1615) m. Francesco Tocco, later Emperor Andronikos V (c.1540-1598)
1 Helena Tocco (1564-1615)​
2 Manuel III Palaiologos (1565-1621)​
3 Thomas Tocco (1568-1612) m. Tsarevna Ekaterina Ivanovna, later Eudoxia (1569-1610)​
4 Anna Tocco (1570-1584)​
4 Isobel of England (1549-1613) m. Niccolò Bernardino Sanseverino (1542-1608)
1 Bernardo Sanseverino, Prince di Bisignano, Duke di San Pietro in Galatina (1566-1620)​
2 Erina Sanseverino (1569-1604)​
3 Pietro Sanseverino, Prince of Albania (1570-1625)​

Renata of Navarre (1528-1607), married 10 December 1549, annulled 10 August 1560
1 Henry, Duke of York (1550-1562)
2 Francis, Duke of Richmond, later Francis I, King of England (1550-1609) m. Eleanor of Scotland (1552-1606)
1 miscarriage (1570)​
2 Henry, Prince of Wales (1572-1577)​
3 Alexander, Duke of York (1573-1574)​
4 Francis, Duke of Richmond (1576-1578)​
5 Renata of England (1579-1608)​
6 Henry, Prince of Wales (1582-1607)​
1 Henry, Prince of Wales, later Henry IX, King of England (1607-1681) m. Helen “the Younger” Di Monferrato​
7 Eleanor of England (1585-1609)​
8 Charlotte of England (1588-1592)​
3 Renée of England (1552-1581) m. Francesco Massimiliano di Valois, Duke of Milan
1 Bianca Renata di Valois (1575-1602)​
2 Massimiliana Beatrice di Valois (1577-1578)​
3 Carlotta di Valois (1578-1647)​
4 Enrica Francesca di Valois (1581-1634)​
5 Renata di Valois (1581-1638)​
4 Louise of England (1553-1623)
5 Louis, Duke of Bedford (1553-1631)
6 Anne of England (1555-1647)
7 Valentina of England (1556-1591)
8 René, Duke of Clarence (1557-1598)
9 Frances of England (1557-1609)
10 Gaspard, Duke of Monmouth (1559-1600)
11 Blanche of England (1560-1638)

Charlotte de Laval (1530-1569), married 11 October 1560
1 Guy, Duke of Lancaster (1561-1598)​
2 Charlotte of England (1563-1600)
3 Antonia of England (1564-1659)
4 Magdalena of England (1565-1665)
5 Charles, Duke of Buckingham (1567-1654)
6 Nicole of England (1568-1615)

Lady Margaret Seymour (1540-1574), married 3 May 1569
1 Edward, Duke of York (1570-1659)
2 John, Duke of Somerset (1571-1642)
3 Margaret of England (1571-1630)
4 Jane of England (1573-1641)​
5 Henry, Duke of Hereford (1574-1599)

Joan Knollys (c.1516-1572), married 7 November 1574
no children

Lady Mary Talbot (c.1502-1581), married 12 February 1577
no children

List of Henry VIII’s mistresses and illegitimate descendants​

Muriel Howard (c.1486-1552), relationship 1505-1515
1 Muriel FitzRoy (1506-1564)
2 Marcella FitzRoy (1508-1582) m. Edward St Lawrence, 6th Baron Howth
3 Henry FitzRoy (1510-1545) m. Jane Seymour
4 Edmund FitzRoy (1511-1587) m. Catherine Parr
5 Jasper FitzRoy (1513-1569) m. Mary Brandon
6 Edward FitzRoy (1514-1556)
7 Frederica FitzRoy (1516-1574) m. Alessandro de’ Medici, Duke of Florence​

Elizabeth Blount (c.1500-1547), relationships 1514-1517 and 1520-1526
1 Henry FitzRoy (1516-1571) m. Elizabeth Seymour
2 John FitzRoy (1517-1564)
3 Elizabeth FitzRoy (1521-1587) m. James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormond
4 Katherine FitzRoy (1523-1564) m. James FitzGerald, 13th Earl of Desmond​

Mary Boleyn (1499-1543), relationship 1517-1520
1 Katherine FitzRoy (1518-1572) m. Henry Clifford, 2nd Earl of Cumberland
2 Edmund FitzRoy, Duke of Cambria (1520-1587) m. Agnes ferch Rhys (Agnes Rice)​
1 Catrin FitzRoy of Cambria (1551-1587)​
2 Agnes FitzRoy of Cambria (1553-1578)​
3 Edmund FitzRoy of Cambria (1556-1584)​
4 Mary FitzRoy of Cambria (1557-1579)​
5 George FitzRoy of Cambria (1559-1561)​
6 Griffith FitzRoy of Cambria (1560-1598)​
7 Elizabeth FitzRoy of Cambria (1562-1601)​
8 Thomas FitzRoy of Cambria (1564-1567)​
9 Anne FitzRoy of Cambria (1565-1623)​
10 Thomas FitzRoy of Cambria (1569-1612)​
3 George FitzRoy (1521-1592)​

Elizabeth Carew (1500-1546), relationship 1526-1530
1 Margaret FitzRoy (1528-1541) m. Sir George Howard (c.1525-1580)
2 Thomas FitzRoy (1529-1612)
3 Francis FitzRoy (1530-1598)​

Anne Basset, Marchioness of Exeter (1520-1555), relationship 1537-1542
1 John Basset, 2nd Marquess of Exeter (1538-1612) m. Lady Anne Somerset (1536-1596)
2 Annette Basset (1539-1598)
3 Honour Basset (1540-1605) m. Henry Clinton, 2nd Earl of Lincoln
4 Thomas Basset (1542-1611)
5 Arthur Basset (1543-1599)​

Deianira Cominata Arianiti, Baroness Paleologa (c.1515-1544), relationship 1540-1544
1 Deianira Paleologa (1542-1589)
2 Constantine, Baron Paleologa (1543-1601)
3 Francesca Paleologa (1544-1544)​

Elena Cominata Arianiti, Marchioness Di Monferrato (c.1518-1558), relationship 1542-1558
1 Enrico, 2nd Marquess Di Monferrato (1543-1579)
2 miscarriage (1544)
3 Elena Di Monferrato (1546-1631)
4 Francesca Di Monferrato (1548-1617)
5 Bonifacio, 3rd Marquess Di Monferrato (1550-1602) m. Lady Mary Hastings (1552-1587)​
1 Henry-Maximilian, 4th Marquess Di Monferrato (1574-1617)​
1 Helen “the Younger” Di Monferrato (1599-1670) m. Henry IX, King of England​
2 Helen “the Elder” Di Monferrato (1577-1623)​
3 Boniface Di Monferrato (1578-1631)​
4 Edward Di Monferrato (1583-1645)​
6 Constantine Di Monferrato (1551-1600)
7 George Di Monferrato (1553-1641)
8 Edward Di Monferrato (1555-1632)
9 Deianira Di Monferrato (1556-1602)
10 Ippolitta Di Monferrato (1558-1634)
11 Polissena Di Monferrato (1558-1641)​

Lady Lucy Somerset (1524-1583), relationship 1559-1566
1 Anthony FitzRoy (1560-1652)
2 Lucy FitzRoy (1562-1589)
3 William FitzRoy (1563-1641)​
4 Jane FitzRoy (1566-1613)

Henry VIII’s Infobox​