Cardinal Von Walthburg is a German Cardinal living in Rome. A friend and mentor of the English priest Reginald Pole- a Catholic exile of the English Reformation- Von Walthburg is a recurring character in Season Three of The Tudors and vehemently opposes the spread of Protestantism in England, encouraging Pole to thwart King Henry on behalf of Pope Paul III. He is played by guest star and veteran Swedish actor Max von Sydow.
Cardinal Von Walthburg meets with Reginald Pole in Rome in episode 3.02; both are interested in the pro-Catholic rebellion known as the Pilgrimage of Grace ocurring in northern England. Pole has previously pledged to the Emperor's agents that if the rebellion overthrows the King and the people will not accept Henry's Catholic daughter Mary as Queen, he- as a descendant of the Plantagenent dynasty- will step forward as a claimant to the throne and restore Catholicism in England. Von Walthburg, however, initially believes the Pilgrimage forshadows reconcilliation between Henry and the Catholic Church, blaming the rise of Protestantism on those nearest to Henry such as Thomas Cromwell and "the whore" Anne Boleyn (the latter having recently been beheaded). Von Walthburg later tells Pole that, for his dedication in trying to return England to the Catholic fold, the Pope intends to make Pole a Cardinal. Pole initially tries to refuse the honor, but Von Walthburg slyly remarks that he is comitting the sin of pride, and should not doubt the wisdom of the Holy Father when he is needed for greater things. They later speak with regreat when the Pilgrimage is brutally crushed.
In episode 3.05, Von Walthburg plays chess with Pole, who remarks he has had a letter from his brother Lord Montague- urging him to return to England and renounce his loyalties to the Papacy. Pole is astounded- since his family are, in secret, devout Catholics- but Von Walthburg calmly burns the letter, claiming it was dictated by Cromwell to lure Pole back to England (Pole having previously been targeted for capture or assasination by Henry's agent Sir Francis Bryan). Von Walthburg admonishes Pole: "The price of your immortal Soul is eternal vigillance. If you ever, for one second, let down your guard, the Devil will slip like a serpent into your mouth."
In episode 3.06, Von Walthburg finds Pole sobbing on learning that his entire family have been brutally executed in England on fabricated accusations of treason. After comforting his grieving protege, Von Walthburg shares his experiences of the Peasant's War in the German States (brought on by the divisions of the Reformation) and describes the brutal murder of his beloved sister by Lutheran soldiers. He tells Pole that the Pope is preparing a final bill of excommunication against Henry, and that Spain and France are preparing to make peace, in order to invade England and overthrow Henry (whom Von Walthburg describes as a heretic and "the most cruel and abominable tyrant"). He asks if Pole will be willing to take the throne in Henry's place for the sake of Catholicism, and Pole replies yes.
Ultimately, however, the invasion of England by France and Spain never occurs; Von Walthburg would spend the rest of his career in Rome, though Pole returned to England during the reign of the pro-Catholic Mary I.
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