Henry VIII’s six wives are getting a modern new spin.
Royal historian Lucy Worsley explores the British monarchy’s most notorious king and the women he loved — and in two cases, executed — on PBS’s new series
In PEOPLE’s exclusive sneak peek, Worsley takes cameras inside the Vatican library, where Henry’s passionate love letters to Anne Bolyen are shown for the first time on TV. (He had her beheaded in 1536 after she failed to produce a male heir).
For the series, premiering on January 22, Worsley sought a new angle on the six women – highlighting “hints of independence” in them, she tells PEOPLE during an interview in Hampton Court Palace’s canteen, which was once Elizabeth I’s kitchen. “Ours is the 2017 version. Each of the drama scenes is rooted in actual documents from the 16
century so I hope it’s believable in a way that a true drama isn’t — it’s emotionally true.”
In the case of Anne Boleyn, “she was sharp and curious and interested in matters of the mind,” says Worsley. “Anne didn’t just flirt with Henry. She also argued with him on everything from politics to religion. And he loved it.”
The show is part of a very royal evening on PBS, airing alongside the new drama
, starring actress Jenna Coleman as the 19th-century monarch. The shows are filling the gap left by
and riding the wave of renewed interest in the British royals spurred by Netflix’s
(Sunday night also marks the second season premiere of
Worsley, who is chief curator of Historic Royal Palaces — the charity that tends to historic buildings associated with the monarchy — both hosts the series and enacts various roles in it. In one scene she appears as a snooping maid as Henry is chaperoned by his “top gentleman” to wife Anne of Cleves’s bedchamber, where courtiers will literally watch to see if the marriage can be consummated.
Hampton Court, the palace that became synonymous with Henry VIII — and the current locale of Worsley’s office — is situated on the banks of the River Thames, about 15 miles southwest of central London. From the roof you can see the woods and fields where monarchs and their court would hunt, the majestic river that would bring them up from London (a far smoother, more genteel ride than by horse power) and the formal and kitchen gardens laid out below.
“You see Henry’s love life unfolding in bricks and mortar,” Worsley says with a smile.
“We have records of words spoken at court because there were lots of ears — spies, ambassadors, courtiers, ladies in waiting and servants — listening.”
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