Concertante opera in two acts by Gaetano Donizetti In Italian with German surtitles
Hall in Windsor Castle
1st scene: King Henry (Enrico) VIII. has surprisingly left Windsor Castle. The courtiers are awaiting his return and complaining about Queen Anne's lot: Enrico has fallen in love with another woman and it is to be feared that he will reject his wife as brutally as her predecessor Catherine of Aragon.
Anne's lady in waiting and confidante Giovanna Seymour, the King's new lover, fluctuates between ambition and regret: she has her eye on the throne but is plagued by remorse at the same time. The Queen, unsettled by her husband's changed behaviour, asks the page boy Smenton to cheer her up with a song. However his singing brings back memories of her first love and she interrupts his performance. As the King is no longer expected to return, she dismisses her entourage and retires.
Giovanna is alone. Enrico surprisingly returns and once again affirms his love; she explains that she wants to end the relationship if the King does not take her as his wife. Enrico declares himself willing and indicates that he already knows a way to get rid of Anne.
Park in Windsor Castle
2nd scene: Riccardo Percy, Anna's former lover, returns to England from exile and meets Lord Rochefort, the Queen's brother in Windsor Park. Percy confesses that he still loves Anne.
The royal couple appear with a hunting party. Enrico warmly welcomes Percy and explains that he only pardoned him on Anne's word. He notices the confusion of both of them with satisfaction when Percy kneels before the Queen; he orders his officer Hervey to keep both of them under surveillance so that he can find proof to convict his wife of adultery.
Cabinet in Windsor Castle
3rd scene: In the Queen's chambers, the page boy Smenton is looking at Anne's picture in a locket, who he secretly loves; he hides when Anne appears with Rochefort, who in turn persuades his sister to secretly receive Percy.
Percy enters and affirms his love for Anne but the Queen reminds him of her position and refuses to see him ever again. Percy draws his sword and threatens to kill himself; Smenton believes the Queen is in danger and lunges forwards out of his hiding place, when Enrico enters and pretends to have seen proof of Anne's infidelity in the presence of the page boy and Percy.
Smenton protests the Queen's innocence but Enrico finds the locket on him and has him, Rochefort and Percy arrested and declares that the protesting Queen must also answer to the courts.
In the Tower of London. Antechamber of the Queen's chambers
1st scene: In the antechamber of her chambers, the ladies-in-waiting are comforting their mistress. Anne is then on her own, when Hervey also invites the women before the judges; as Giovanna approaches her and advises her to plead guilty, then the marriage would be dissolved and she would escape the executioner. Anne refuses to buy her life with lies and shame and curses the rival that has put her in this position, who is still unknown to her. Giovanna confesses that she herself is the King's lover. Anne, who only sees Enrico as the guilty party, forgives her.
Vestibule in the Tower
2nd scene: In the hall's anteroom, where court is being held, Hervey's courtiers find out that Smenton has made a confession. Enrico is triumphant: they had persuaded the page boy that in this way he could save the Queen's life. Anna and Percy are led before the judges and meet the King at the door. To save the Queen, Percy declares he had married her earlier and that the marriage to Enrico was thus invalid; the King sees through his plan and swears that he will take even crueller revenge.
Giovanna begs Enrico to spare Anne, as she does not want her death on her conscience. Hervey pronounces the death penalty, which only the King can revoke and Giovanna again urges Enrico for leniency.
Prison in the Tower
3rd scene: The condemned have returned to the Tower of London and are being prepared for execution. Percy and Rochefort find out from Hervey, that they have been acquitted: only Anne and Smenton are to die. Both men contemptuously reject the royal pardon and want to voluntarily go to their death.
Anne's mind is confused and she thinks her marriage to the King is being celebrated; then she remembers Percy, who she gave up for her ambition and she longs to go back to the castle where she spent a happy childhood. The other victims are fetched from their dungeons and Smenton, who was misled by the King, desperately accepts all the guilt.
The people are celebrating Enrico's wedding with his new Queen; Anne shakes off her madness and forgives her murderers in advance. She faints when the guards come to lead her to the scaffold.