The Rise and Fall of a Family Dynasty: The Boleyns in Three Parts

August 23, 2022


The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family, a three-part series, premieres August 28 at 8 p.m. on THIRTEEN (see entire Schedule). Beloved, betrayed and beheaded, Anne Boleyn is England’s most infamous queen. The second wife of Henry VIII, she was tried on his orders for crimes of adultery and treason. Her death sentence was meted out by an executioner’s sword. But to fully understand Anne’s rise and fall, it’s important to know more about her tight-knit, cunning and power-hungry family. If you’re a fan of Lucy Worsley’s English Royalty-themed series, Wolf Hall or Secrets of the Six Wives on PBS, we’ve got a spicy true period drama for you!

Based on 16th-century sources, including rare original letters and documents, the new three-part series The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family uses insights from leading Tudor scholars and dramatic re-enactments to bring this story to life from the family’s own perspective. Rising from obscurity to the apex of power, the Boleyns played a dangerous game and paid the ultimate price. But they changed the course of British history and left a remarkable legacy in the form of two magnificent monarchs: Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Anne, and Queen Elizabeth II, a direct descendant of Mary Boleyn. A riveting story of love, sex, betrayal and obsession, The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family episodes will also stream on Thirteen.org, on PBS.org and the THIRTEEN Explore and PBS Video apps.

Narrated by Shelley Conn, the series features Elizabeth McCafferty as Mary Boleyn, Max Dowler as Thomas Boleyn, Philip Brodie as Thomas Howard, Rafaelle Cohen as Anne Boleyn, Roger Evans as Thomas Wolsey and Sam Retford as George Boleyn.

Episode 1: “Ambition” – Sunday, August 28

A man with long hair stands in a hallway with his mouth set with determination

Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father (Max Dowler).

Patriarch Thomas Boleyn is determined to elevate the family name. But it is his ambitions for his three children — Mary, George and Anne — that will take them to the heart of the Tudor court. Recognizing that Anne is extraordinary, he places her in the most influential courts in Europe from the age of 12. Along with other noble families, Thomas jostles for position in a court rife with gossip, backstabbing rivalries and intrigue. He realizes that the powerful Cardinal Wolsey is the gatekeeper to the king’s inner circle. Anne returns from France, having grown into a sophisticated beauty admired as exotic, stylish and fashionable. She hopes to marry a nobleman far above her station, but Cardinal Wolsey ends the match, something Anne will not forget. But it is Mary who attracts the king’s eye, and he demands that she become his mistress. Although married, Mary is powerless to resist the will of the king. After their affair begins, Henry promotes Thomas Boleyn to Viscount Rochford, accelerating his rise through the Tudor Court. But Anne’s ambition will soon outstrip even that of her father.

Episode 2: “Desire” – Sunday, September 4
Henry casts Mary Boleyn aside and turns his attention to her sister. A calculating courtier, Anne adeptly dazzles with her beauty, wit and seductive charm. Henry falls under her spell, and Anne does what all Boleyns do: makes good use of an opportunity. She positions herself as a woman of power and refuses to become his mistress, skillfully leveraging his desire for her to negotiate a marriage proposal. In succeeding, she turns the role of Tudor women and royal mistresses upside down. But one obstacle stands in the couple’s way: Katherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, who failed to deliver an heir to the throne. Anne directs Henry to enlist Cardinal Wolsey to obtain an annulment from the Pope. But Wolsey drags his feet, and the impatient Henry removes him from his position. The Boleyns are now the most powerful family in Henry’s court. Above them all is Anne herself, pushing the king to get on with the divorce. But holding the reins of power makes the family acutely vulnerable. Now that Wolsey is gone, there is no one standing between them and the unpredictable king.

Episode 3: “The Fall” – Sunday, September 11
In a high-stakes gamble, Anne makes her play for — and wins — the biggest prize in the kingdom. The Boleyns and their allies push Henry to break with the Catholic Church in Rome and claim his destiny as Supreme Head of the Church of England, overturning 1,000 years of history. With the power to grant his own divorce, Henry makes Anne his queen. She does her best to please the king and provide him with a male heir. But when she fails — giving birth to first a daughter and then miscarrying — the knives are out. Henry’s roving eye has already turned to her replacement, the young Jane Seymour. Anne is arrested and tried on charges of treason, adultery and incest with her brother George. Both are executed. But the Boleyn legacy lives on through Anne’s daughter Elizabeth, the greatest Tudor Queen, and through Elizabeth II, a descendant of Mary Boleyn.


The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family is a BBC Studios Production for PBS and BBC. The series is produced and directed by Richard Curson Smith.