England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the King dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years and marry Anne Boleyn. The Pope and most of Europe oppose him. Into this impass steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer, and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?
Thomas Cromwell's patron Cardinal Wolsey is dismissed as Lord Chancellor & forced to flee his palace. The old noble families of England, jealous of their own right to advise the king, have long waited for this moment. Lacking a male heir, the King is desperate to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon.
Cardinal Wolsey has been forced out of court to travel north to his archdiocese in York. As Wolsey retreats north, he urges Cromwell to get close to Anne Boleyn. For Thomas Cromwell, this is only a tactical retreat; in time the cardinal will regain the King's favour.
Although he has no official title, Cromwell is relied on more in the running of the king's affairs. Cromwell manoeuvres a bill through Parliament acknowledging Henry rather than the pope as head of the Church of England.
Anne gives birth to a baby girl, Elizabeth. Henry does little to hide his disappointment. Anne is aware that her power in court rests on producing a male heir and in her paranoia, cracks appear in her relationship with Cromwell.
The Act of Supremacy has declared Henry supreme head of the church in England. But the Holy Roman Emperor and his ambassador, Eustache Chapuys, have refused to recognise either his new title or his marriage to Anne Boleyn.
After uncovering treasonable offences, Cromwell exacts the ultimate revenge.