After the assassination of his ambassador, King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) hungers for war with France, but acquiesces and agrees with a peace plan proffered by Cardinal Wolsey (Sam Neill), who has ulterior motives involving the papacy.
Henry endangers his peace treaty with France by offering an alliance to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain; Henry has the final say with a political rival; Elizabeth gives birth to Henry's illegitimate son.
When Charles V of Spain, the nephew of Queen Katherine of Aragon, visits, Henry tries to hide his lack of affection for his royal wife; Henry meets the beautiful Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer) and becomes smitten with her.
As a reward for his denunciation of Martin Luther, the Pope christens Henry “Defender of the Faith,” but a brush with death causes the king to seek a solution to his lack of an heir. Princess Margaret reluctantly marries the decrepit King of Portugal, but the union is short-lived; Henry's “desire” for Anne Boleyn intensifies.
Henry is shocked when he learns that his ally, Emperor Charles V of Spain, has released France's King Francis I from prison. He's equally surprised when Anne Boleyn turns him down after offering to make her his sole mistress.
Henry becomes increasingly attracted to young Anne Boleyn and, despite his influence with Rome and the Pope, Cardinal Wolsey fails to get Henry a divorce from Katherine of Aragon. Meanwhile, at court, political and personal bonds are both strengthened and realigned.
The “sweating sickness” runs rampant through the kingdom, claiming someone close to Henry and afflicting someone even closer; Henry's lawyer-envoys present “legal arguments” to Pope Clement for the dissolution of his marriage to Katherine; Sir Thomas More burns with a desire to rid England of encroaching Lutheranism.
A papal emissary and Cardinal Wolsey enjoin the king to give up his divorce petition, and when he does not, they try to persuade Katherine to abdicate her marriage and “retreat to a nunnery.” When the Queen refuses, she is brought before a papal court.
Cardinal Wolsey, unsuccessful in securing a divorce for the King, is removed from office, stripped of authority and banished from court, and Sir Thomas More is offered the job as his successor; Margaret takes ill; Anne threatens to leave court.
In the first-season finale, the exiled Cardinal Wolsey plots a return to court; new chancellor Thomas More vows to use his power to go after “newfangled, erroneous [religious] sects”; the King contemplates taking divorce matters into his own hands; Anne rankles ladies of the court with a verbal attack on Queen Katherine.