Whitehall Palace, London 1540. Thirty years into the reign of King Henry VIII and it’s been a long, hot, summer: London is experiencing intense heat and there has been no rain for two months. But while his subjects wilt, the King’s vigor remains undiminished. The Reformation goes on and Henry has just married the beautiful Katherine Howard, his fifth Queen, who is a mere seventeen years old. Katherine is different from earlier wives in more ways than age: far from being nobility she was ‘discovered’ by some of the King’s friends in a boarding house for wayward young ladies. Joan Bulmer, the new Queen’s best friend from her youth, is hired as a lady in waiting; aside from her friendship she knows too much scandalous detail about Katherine’s sexual past to be outside the court. The Queen’s ‘low’ background combined with her youth and beauty, arouses a lusty familiarity in certain members of Henry’s court. Most notably the King’s handsome and ambitious new groom Thomas Culpepper, who makes no secret of his desire for the new Queen during an extended hunting trip visit by the royal entourage. Culpepper unleashes his sexual frustrations on an unfortunate local peasant woman whom he rapes and then murders her aggrieved husband. When the local Sheriff confronts Henry with these charges the King sides with his young courtier; protection he may come to regret.