Last Updated on August 29, 2022

The new three-part series “The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family” follows the rise and fall of a Tudor family dynasty whose hunger for power proved to be their undoing.  

The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family, courtesy BBC Studios

To help keep this site running: Willow and Thatch may receive a commission when you click on any of the links on our site and make a purchase after doing so. 

A riveting story of love, sex, betrayal and obsession, the docu-drama premieres Sundays, August 28 – September 11 on PBS (check local listings).

Read on for details about the series, and our Q&A with the show’s historian Dr. Estelle Paranque. Then, keep reading for episode descriptions and airtimes for “The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family” (2021), a BBC Studios Production for PBS and BBC, along with a preview.

For a limited time after each episode premieres on PBS, watch online for free here. After that, episodes can still be watched here

The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family on PBS

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, led from her rooms at the Tower of London to her death 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. Based on 16th-century sources, including rare original letters and documents, this new three-part docu-drama series 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.

Below, we talk with Tudor royal historian and author Dr. Estelle Paranque, about “The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family” (2021).

Q&A with Dr. Estelle Paranque

The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family, courtesy BBC Studios

Willow and Thatch: Hi Dr. Estelle Paranque, thank you for taking the time to talk with us. I’m curious as to how you became so passionate about early modern history and queens.

Dr. Estelle Paranque: As long as I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated with strong and powerful women. When I was growing up, my mother shared her love for early modern history with me. We visited the castles de la Loire as well as Versailles and I learnt about the Valois and Bourbon dynasties. I was drawn by these past figures, especially queens, and the roles they played in shaping our country. This interest developed into love and passion later on and I then became fascinated with English queens, particularly Elizabeth I, who had such a unique queenship as she remained single.

WAT: What was your role in the new series? Can you talk a bit about what it was like for you to work on the project?

DEP: I was a contributor (as a Royal historian) and asked to discuss the relations between England and France and how it influenced the Boleyns themselves, particularly Anne. I met with the producers and writers of the series and we discussed my involvement and how it fit with the other contributors’. The whole process was very collegial and I really enjoyed working with everyone.

WAT: When viewers tune in to “The Boleyns,” what should they expect?

DEP: They should be prepared to throw out their preconceptions about the Boleyns, and Tudor history in general. I think what this show does so well is that it sheds new light on the games of power and how dangerous it was to be at court–even if you had the king’s favour, maybe even more if you had his favour.

WAT: Do you watch Tudor period costume dramas?

DEP: I do but I prefer reading a good Tudor or Stuart history book. My latest love is without a doubt Jessie Child’s The Siege of the Loyalty House.

WAT: Thanks for the recommendation! How would you say the narrated docu-drama style brings the Boleyn family story to life in a way that a historical or period drama might not?

DEP: I think having a balance between interviews with experts, and drama, is spot on. It means the viewer can still be entertained while learning from the period’s experts, who know the materials and sources best.

WAT: In the final episode of “The Boleyns,” Anne Boleyn gives birth to Elizabeth, the future Tudor Queen, someone you’ve written about in your new book Blood, Fire & Gold: The Story of Elizabeth I & Catherine de Medici. Do you muse on what would have happened if Anne had lived?

DEP: Of course, I do. As a historian, I stay clear from the “what if history.” But as a history lover, I always like to play these scenarios in my head about “what would have happened if…” If Anne Boleyn hadn’t been executed and if her marriage to Henry VIII hadn’t been ruined by different factors, I think that they would have had more children together. And this is where it gets interesting. Can you imagine a male version of Elizabeth I? Would have Elizabeth ruled at all if she had had a brother as healthy, witty, and smart as her?

WAT: Interesting indeed! Thanks so much for getting our readers ready for “The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family” on PBS.

Episode Descriptions & Airtimes

The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family, courtesy BBC Studios

For a limited time after each episode premieres on PBS, watch online for free here. After that, episodes can still be watched here

Episode 1: “Ambition” – Premieres Sunday, August 28, 2022

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 sets her cap for 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.

The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family, courtesy BBC Studios

Episode 2: “Desire” – Premieres Sunday, September 4, 2022

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.

The Boleyns: A Scandalous Family, courtesy BBC Studios

Episode 3: “The Fall” – Premieres Sunday, September 11, 2022

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 1000 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.

Narrated by Shelley Conn, the docu-drama 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.

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to see The Period Films List. You’ll especially like the Best Period Dramas: Tudor and Stuart Era List. Also see Fact & Fiction: Creating Anne Boleyn, and Historical Inaccuracy in Anne Boleyn (2021).