From Stories of Shakespeare’s English History Plays by Helene Adeline Guerber. New York: Dodd, Mead and company.
In the prologue the actor plainly states he has not come to make the audience laugh, but to show how ‘mightiness meets misery,’ adding that if spectators succeed in indulging in merriment under such circumstances, he is willing to concede ‘a man may weep upon his wedding day.’
The first act opens in the antechamber of the palace at London, where sundry noblemen meet and exchange greetings. When Buckingham asks Norfolk how he has thriven since they last met in France, the latter responds by describing the famous interview of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, which Buckingham missed, owing to illness. Norfolk vividly pictures for his benefit this wonderful pageant, the monarchs meeting and saluting on horseback, the tender embraces exchanged, and expatiates on the display of wealth made by both suites. When Buckingham inquires who arranged this august meeting, Norfolk attributes all the glory of it to Wolsey, whom his companion evidently does not like, since he testily exclaims, ‘no man’s pie is freed from his ambitious finger.’
Because Buckingham expresses great wonder that Wolsey should take part in such a pageant, Norfolk explains that the minister did so to maintain his influence over the vain King, whose adviser he is. Buckingham’s son-in-law, — who has come with him, — now joins in the conversation, stating Norfolk’s description of the lavish expenditure made at the Field of the Cloth of Gold interview is only too true, for a number of his kinsmen mortgaged their estates to appear there with credit. All this expense, however, has not had the desired result, since the peace with France has already been broken by the seizure of goods at Bordeaux. When Buckingham further insists upon knowing why Wolsey has acted so strangely, Norfolk asserts it was purely out of spite.
Just then Cardinal Wolsey passes through the room, attended by guards and secretaries as usual, and his purse solemnly borne before him. While striding through the antechamber, he turns a baleful glance upon Buckingham, who returns it with disdain. Then, turning to his secretary, Wolsey demands the paper supplied by Buckingham’s surveyor, intimating he intends to interview this man, and thus discover means to ‘lessen this big look,’ which he resents. Wolsey having gone, Buckingham angrily wishes he could muzzle the ‘butcher’s cur’ who has gone to the King to complain of him, and truculently proposes to follow him into the royal presence, and there ‘outstare him.’ Although Norfolk warns him this is a risky performance, Buckingham refuses to heed him, even when advised to restrain his anger, lest he singe himself in the furnace he is heating for his foe.
Almost beside himself with rage, Buckingham insists he has proof that Wolsey is intriguing with the King’s foes, and swears he will ‘unmask this holy fox or wolf,’ who is as ravenous as he is subtle. Not only does he again accuse Wolsey of trying to show his importance at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, but declares he plotted in another interview to break off with France and conclude an alliance with Charles V. He is further convinced the emperor and Wolsey have made secret arrangements, and thinks the King should be warned that the Cardinal is considering mainly his own advantage.
While Buckingham is still talking thus, the Sargeant-at-arms enters and suddenly arrests him on the charge of high treason. Turning to Norfolk, this lord tragically exclaims, ‘the net has fall’n upon me! I shall perish under device and practice,’ while the officer expresses regret at having to proceed against him, yet adds he must immediately convey him to the Tower. Knowing it vain to plead innocence, Buckingham resignedly exclaims ‘the will of heaven be done in this and all things,’ and is about to bid his son-in-law farewell, when the officer states this gentleman, too, is to be led to the Tower, and detained there until his majesty decides what will be done with him. After repeating his father-in-law’s pious phrase, Abergavenny yields, while the officer reads aloud warrants to arrest the Duke’s confessor, his chancellor and a monk. It is thus Buckingham discovers his surveyor has been bribed by Wolsey to denounce him, and he leaves the antechamber despairingly crying, ‘my life is spann’d already,’ for he realises he can never free himself from this stigma.
The curtain next rises on the council chamber, just as the King comes in, leaning confidentially on Wolsey’s shoulder. While the cardinal humbly seats himself at his Majesty’s feet, Henry expresses his gratitude for all his prime minister has done, averring had he not discovered Buckingham’s conspiracy, the realm would have been exposed to great dangers. Next he orders that lord’s surveyor brought before him, because he wishes to hear him confess ‘point by point the treason of his master.’
Before this order can be executed, some commotion occurs, and after sundry loud calls of ‘room for the Queen,’ Katharine sweeps in with her train. Coming forward, she gracefully kneels at Henry’s feet, whereupon he graciously raises her to a seat beside him. When she objects that having come as suitor, it behooves her to kneel, he gallantly rejoins she already owns half his power, and that the other half is at her disposal even before she asks. Thus invited to make her wishes known, Queen Katharine explains a number of his Majesty’s subjects have implored her to intercede in their behalf against the Cardinal, whom they accuse of grievous exactions. This statement becomes more intelligible when Norfolk sets forth that the complainants are clothiers and other artisans, out of work owing to the excessive taxes. As even then the need of protest does not seem quite clear, the King asks an explanation from Wolsey, who claims he is not aware of any shortcomings. Hearing this, Katharine indignantly rejoins the objectionable exactions are of his devising, and that much of his great wealth is derived from such sources, for he is levying a sixth part of each man’s substance under pretext money is required for war against France. When Katharine further insists upon her husband’s investigating this matter, Wolsey, perceiving the impression she has produced, defends himself in an able speech, humbly declaring that although ‘traduced by ignorant tongues’ he will have to be resigned. Indignant that a sixth of his subjects’ wealth should be exacted in his name, the King vehemently refuses to countenance such an exhorbitant tax, and orders it immediately repealed. So, turning to his secretary, Wolsey blandly bids him write to the different shires that his gracious Majesty remits part of the taxes, and suggests In a whisper that it be rumored abroad it was through the minister’s ‘intercession this revokement and pardon’ was obtained.
As this secretary passes out, Buckingham’s surveyor is ushered in, and the Queen, turning to her husband, expresses kindly regret that the Duke should have incurred his displeasure. In reply Henry states his former favourite, — to whom he had always listened with pleasure, — has suddenly become ‘as black as if besmear’d in hell,’ and invites his consort to sit beside him and hear the surveyor’s report. When summoned to speak, this man testifies Buckingham frequently stated should the King die without male Issue, he would himself assume the sceptre and wreak his revenge upon the Cardinal. Because Wolsey pointedly calls the King’s attention to this threat, the Queen coldly reminds him churchmen should speak for charitable purposes only, while the King, turning to the surveyor, inquires how Buckingham based his claim to the crown. He then learns it was on the strength of a prophesy made by his confessor, for the surveyor circumstantially describes how the Duke, before the King’s journey to France, visited a monk, who predicted ‘neither the King nor’s heirs shall prosper,’ and that Buckingham should ultimately govern England.
Queen Katharine, who has been listening intently, now recognises In the surveyor a man who lost his position at the complaint of some of the Duke’s tenants, so she shrewdly suggests he may be actuated by hopes of revenge. The King, however, seems so eager to hear more, that the surveyor goes on to repeat an imaginary conversation, wherein Buckingham claimed had the King died during his recent Illness, the heads of Wolsey and Sir Thomas Lovell would have been promptly removed. Such presumption so enrages Henry, that after listening to a few more accusations, he hotly pronounces Buckingham a ‘giant traitor,’ while Wolsey inquires of the Queen how it would be possible for her husband to live in freedom as long as such a man was out of prison? Only half convinced by what she has heard, Katharine prays ‘God mend all,’ while Henry, — seeing the surveyor has further statements to make, — eagerly bids him continue, only to learn how the Duke swore in case he were ‘evil used’ to have his revenge. Furiously exclaiming ‘there’s his period,’ Henry now orders Buckingham attached and tried, declaring should the law show him mercy, it will be well, but grimly adding that should it condemn him, the traitor need not apply to his sovereign for pardon.
The curtain next rises on an antechamber in the palace, where the lord chamberlain and Lord Sands discuss the new fashions, until joined by Lovell of whom they inquire the news. The newcomer then describes the changes the recent journey to France has effected, and while talking about fashions, states he has been invited to supper at the Cardinal’s, whither the others propose to accompany him in hopes of meeting people of importance, including the latest beauty. All three sally forth, therefore, in quest of a barge to convey them to York Place, where they hope to have a fine time, as well as dispatch sundry matters of business.
In Wolsey’s palace, a state table is decked for him and his chief guests, another one, lower down, being destined for less important persons. Music heralds the entrance of a number of ladies and gentlemen, among whom we soon descry Anne Bullen. Sir Henry Guilford, master of ceremonies, greets all who arrive, saying the Cardinal wishes them to be merry as ‘good company, good wine, and good welcome, can make good people.’ His speech is scarcely finished when the three courtiers enter, with whom the master of ceremonies exchanges complimentary remarks. He then arranges that ladies and gentlemen shall sit alternately, and while some of the courtiers address gallant speeches to the fair guests beside them, the chamberlain and Sands hasten to secure seats on either side of Anne Bullen. It is just after the former has audaciously kissed this lady, that Cardinal Wolsey enters, and after welcoming his guests pledges them cordially. This toast is answered by Sands, whom Wolsey invites to cheer his neighbours, declaring the gentlemen present will be held responsible for the ladies’ amusement.
While healths are drunk, a noise of drums and trumpets, accompanied by a discharge of cannon, causes Wolsey to send a servant out to inquire what it means. This man soon reports that strangers — ambassadors from a foreign prince — have just landed at the palace. After bidding the chamberlain welcome the newcomers, Wolsey orders the tables removed, informing his guests that they will entertain the noble company by a dance. The strangers prove to be the King and his courtiers, masquerading as shepherds, and while they file past the Cardinal, the chamberlain explains they cannot speak English, but have come here to do homage to beauty, knowing this assembly boasts the fairest women in the realm. Entering into the spirit of the masquerade, Wolsey bids his chamberlain welcome the strangers in their own language, and inform them he will be honoured if they will share in the festivities. Thereupon, each masquer invites a lady to dance, the King selecting Anne Bullen, to whom he amourously whispers hers is the fairest hand he ever touched, and that he never knew beauty till now! While they are dancing, Wolsey tells the chamberlain that should there be among the dancers one more worthy to occupy the place of honour than himself, he will gladly surrender it.
After whispering with the masquers, the chamberlain discovers a personage is really among them, and, called to pick him out from the rest, Wolsey unerringly designates Henry VIII, who, removing his mask, sententiously declares the Cardinal has a sharp eye, and is holding a fair assembly. In return for this compliment, Wolsey rejoices to see the King so pleasant. Meanwhile Henry beseeches the chamberlain to tell him the name of his recent partner, and thus learns he has been dancing with Anne Bullen, one of the Queen’s attendants. Not only does Henry again reiterate ‘she is a dainty one,’ but, adding it would be unmannerly to take her out and not kiss her, he gallantly proceeds to do so. Then he calls for a health, which is noisily drunk, before Wolsey invites His Majesty and his fair partner into an adjoining chamber, where a special banquet has been prepared for their delectation. Henry therefore passes out with the Cardinal and Anne Bullen, vowing he is so thirsty he has a half dozen healths to drink.
The second act opens in a street near Westminster, where two gentlemen stop to converse, the first revealing he is on his way to the hall to learn what is to become of the Duke of Buckingham, while the other assures him this matter is already settled and the Duke condemned to death. Because his companion begs for particulars, this interlocutor relates so many accusations were brought against the Duke by his surveyor, that he had no chance of escaping condemnation. He adds that the Duke behaved with great dignity and noble patience and showed no fear of death. Both gentlemen conclude ‘the Cardinal is the end of this,’ and that he manoeuvred to send the Duke’s son to Ireland and keep him there so he could not interfere in his father’s trial. They further shrewdly foresee he will be kept occupied away from court a long while, for Wolsey ‘s plan consists in getting rid of all who seem to win royal favour.
While they are talking, Buckingham draws near under military escort, and the gentlemen watch him pass. Addressing the spectators, Buckingham declares that although adjudged a traitor, his conscience is quite clear, and bespeaks their prayers since he must die. Touched by this speech, his keeper Sir Thomas Lovell begs his forgiveness should he cherish any grudge against him, and Buckingham not only generously assures him of his pardon, but sends his blessing to the King. Then Lovell announces he must escort Buckingham down to the water, and there hand him over to Sir Nicholas Vaux, who, in taking charge of the prisoner, declares he assumes such a task with regret. To this Buckingham rejoins that just as his father lost his life on the block, he too must now lose his, but that Henry VIII, by removing him from the world, makes him happy ‘at one stroke.’ He further adds that he was granted the satisfaction of a trial, — a boon not vouchsafed his father, — and again proclaims his innocence although condemned as traitor.
When he has gone, the gentlemen regret so worthy a nobleman should be thus removed, and predict great woes will result from such wrongs. Then, one of them mentions rumours of a separation between the King and Queen, which gossip, brought to His Majesty’s notice, called forth his sudden anger. But, although silenced by Henry himself, the courtiers are aware Wolsey supplied the King with a list of reasons why he should never have married Katharine, and that an emissary has arrived from Rome to investigate the case. It is further suggested that the Cardinal is doing this merely to punish the emperor — Katharine’s great-nephew — for not giving him the bishopric of Toledo, and both gentlemen feel sure Henry will finally have his way; but, fearing to be overheard, they retire to discuss this matter in private.
The curtain next rises on an antechamber in the palace, where the chamberlain reads a letter, stating the horses he sent for have been seized by order of the Cardinal. Just then the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk join him, inquiring how His Majesty is employed, and express surprise to hear he is ‘full of sad thoughts and trouble.’ When they wonder what can have caused the royal dejection, the chamberlain declares the crime of having married his brother’s wife has crept too near the royal conscience, a statement Suffolk slily alters into ‘his conscience has crept too near another lady.’ Besides, Norfolk ascribes this dissatisfaction to the Cardinal’s influence, adding that His Majesty will ultimately discover his minister’s slyness, which day Suffolk fervently prays may soon dawn.
Then Norfolk informs all present how Wolsey has broken the league between England and the Empire, and is even now suggesting that the King be divorced from the lady to whom he has been married for twenty years, and who has ever been a model wife. The chamberlain feels sure Wolsey is doing this for the sake of concluding an alliance between their monarch and a French Princess, artful machinations Henry must discover ere long. All ardently hope Wolsey’s plans will miscarry so they can be freed from his tyranny, and all decide to approach the King in hopes of undermining the minister, save the chamberlain, who deems the moment inauspicious.
Henry VIII is reading and musing as the courtiers draw near and comment upon his sad looks. Becoming aware of their presence, he irritably demands how they dare interrupt his meditations, and when Norfolk urges they come on state affairs, rejoins this is not the hour for temporal matters, as the entrance of Wolsey with the papal legate, Campeius, proves. After emphatically addressing Wolsey as ‘the quiet of my wounded conscience,’ Henry gravedly welcome the Legate, too. Then Wolsey informs his master they have private matters to discuss with him, if he can grant them an hour’s conversation, and the monarch dismisses Norfolk and Suffolk, who exchange angry whispers in regard to Wolsey’s pride and his unbounded influence over Henry, ere leaving the room.
Addressing his Majesty, Wolsey now assures him he has set the world a good example by freely committing his ‘scruple to the voice of Christendom,’ and adds the Legate has come to decide the marriage question which has so troubled him. Invited to speak, Campeius, in his turn, praises Henry for awaiting Rome’s decision, adding that he and Cardinal Wolsey have been delegated to settle the matter in the Pope’s name. After flatteringly terming them ‘two equal men,’ the King informs them the Queen shall be apprised of the purpose of their visit; but when he eagerly asks for Gardiner, Wolsey feigns deafness, and states they realise how dearly he loves Katharine. In reply Henry tries to prove his deep affection for her by pompously stating, whoever does his best for her will deserve most from him. Then, as he again asks for Gardiner, his new secretary, whom he styles an excellent fellow, Wolsey hastens out to summon this man, whom he soon ushers in, congratulating him in an aside for having won the King’s favour. In low tones, Gardiner assures the Cardinal that although his Majesty commands his service, he will ever be mindful that he was raised to his present station by Wolsey’s hand.
Drawing his secretary aside, Henry now begins a whispered conversation with him, while the two cardinals discuss his predecessors. All at once, the King hands Gardiner a paper, bidding him transmit it to the Queen, and then turning to the clergymen once more, announces the hall of Black Friars shall be furnished for this weighty business. Wolsey, to whom the necessary orders are given, is further asked in sentimental tones whether it would not ‘grieve an able man to leave so sweet a bedfellow?’ ere the King adds with affected sadness, ‘but, conscience, conscience! O, ’tis a tender place; and I must leave her.”
In an antechamber of the Queen’s apartment, Anne Bullen, talking to an old lady, states she cannot understand how His Highness, having lived so long with a blameless wife, can now set her aside. The old lady agrees that even the hardest-hearted would now pity Katharine, and Anne declares if a separation be God’s will, it would have been better never to have known such pomp, for divorce seems to her as painful as the severing of soul, and body. When the old lady states Katharine is already a stranger to His Majesty, Anne Bullen expresses compassion for her, and avers nothing would ever induce her to become Queen. Thereupon the old lady assures her every woman necessarily covets such a position, a statement Anne combats, although her interlocutor asserts she would change her mind were she asked to be a royal consort.
Then she twits Anne with having already found favour in His Majesty’s sight, a fact which Anne disputes, but which is confirmed by the entrance of a chamberlain, announcing the King has created her Marchioness of Pembroke, and grants her a pension to uphold the title. Overcome by such a mark of royal favour, Anne stammers, ‘I do not know what kind of my obedience I should tender; more than my all is nothing;’ and begs the chamberlain to express her gratitude to His Royal Highness. Not only does this official undertake to do so, but murmurs in an aside he plainly sees what has caught the eye of the King, and that this lady may soon grace the throne. He has barely gone, when the old lady teases Anne upon her conqust, and although the damsel protests innocence, her new title scarcely bears out this protest in her companion’s judgment. Finally Anne breaks off the conversation under plea that Katharine is comfortless and they should go and cheer her.
Deprecatingly remarking Her Majesty is not speaking like herself, Wolsey denies having stirred up trouble between her and the King, and implores Henry himself to confirm his words. As Henry does not reply, Katharine suddenly decides to appeal to the Pope instead of allowing the Cardinals to judge in this matter. Then, courtesying to the King, she leaves the hall, although the Legate objects. His Majesty tries to detain her, and the crier frantically calls her back. Without paying heed to any of them, Katharine sweeps out, vowing she will never appear again, in any court, on this business!
After she has vanished, the King pronounces a moved eulogy of her rare qualities. Seeing the impression this produces, Wolsey reminds Henry that unless he publicly acquits him of making trouble between him and the Queen, every one will deem him at fault. Thereupon Henry fully exonerates Wolsey in a lengthy speech, asserting the divorce question arose when he tried to conclude an alliance between his daughter Mary and the Duke of Orleans, and the French questioned the legitimacy of the Princess’ birth. This was the first intimation Henry had had that he was sinning against the laws of the church. All present seem deeply impressed by this statement, and when the King adds he started proceedings for that reason only, the Legate regrets the case cannot immediately be tried, but avers that, owing to the Queen’s absence, it will have to be adjourned. He also suggests that an earnest attempt be made to restrain Katharine from making an appeal to the Pope. Hearing the two Cardinals temporise thus, Henry mutters in a wrathful aside that they are trifling with him, and that he abhors the ‘dilatory sloth and tricks of Rome.’ In his quandary he longs for his ‘learn’d and well-be-loved servant, Cranmer’ whose approach he feels will bring him comfort, and ordering the court dissolved, passes out with due pomp.
The rising curtain reveals Queen Katharine sewing, while one of her women sings a charming song about Orpheus’ magic music. As it ends, an usher announces that the two Cardinals wish to speak to the Queen. Although Katharine betrays surprise, remarks she does not like their coming thus, and that ‘all hoods make not monks’; she orders the visitors admitted. After greeting Her Majesty, Wolsey and Campelus crave a private audience, which Katharine refuses, declaring they will have to discuss all questions openly as she has done nothing yet that ‘deserves a corner.’ Because the Legate addresses her In Latin, she claims to have lived too long in England to find any tongue save English familiar, and when Wolsey reiterates he has no share in the King’s attempt to divorce her, refuses to believe or trust either him or his companion, pitifully moaning she is a woman, a stranger and friendless!
Although Wolsey immediately avers with indignation such is not the case, Katharine ably demonstrates that no one in England will dare side with her, for fear of forfeiting the King’s favour. The Legate is still trying to induce her to listen to their advice, when she suddenly turns upon him, declaring they are plotting her ruin, and that she trusts her cause to heaven where sits a judge no King can corrupt. As her interlocutors protest, she bitterly adds that instead of the cardinal virtues they possess the cardinal sins, and hotly bids them beware lest the burden of her sorrows fall upon them. Although by subtle arguments they endeavour to persuade her to grant them the audience as they wish, the Queen long refuses, but, yielding at last, goes out with them, saying she regrets if she has proved unmannerly, but feels every one’s hand is against her.
We next behold the antechamber to the royal apartment where many noblemen have collected, and where Norfolk Insists that If they unite complaints and show sufficient persistence, the Cardinal will not be able to stand against their efforts. Surrey, — delighted to have a chance to avenge Buckingham’s murder, — ardently supports Suffolk when he avers none of the peers are in favour of Wolsey; but the chamberlain warns all present that unless they can prevent Wolsey from gaining access to the King, their efforts will prove vain, for ‘he hath a witchcraft over the King in ‘s tongue.’ Norfolk, however, asserts that while such was formerly the case, the King Is now sorely displeased with the Cardinal, whereupon all seem eager to learn how such a state of affairs came about. In explanation Suffolk reveals that a letter from the Cardinal to the Pope fell beneath His Majesty’s eyes, who thus learned Wolsey was opposing his marriage to Anne Bullen. Although Wolsey objects to this marriage solely because he has a royal alliance in view, Henry is furious because he has already secretly married his fair charmer.
Out of opposition to Wolsey, the courtiers now warmly approve this alliance, Suffolk pronouncing Anne Bullen ‘a gallant creature,’ while Surrey sagely predicts the King will hardly ‘digest the letter of the Cardinal.’ Some lords further report that the papal legate has stolen away to Rome as Wolsey ‘s emissary, and that Henry resents his secret departure. Hearing Norfolk Inquire how soon Cranmer will return, Suffolk assures him this learned man’s opinion fully concurs with that of the Catholic clergy in pronouncing Katharine’s marriage Invalid, and that he has already decreed she shall henceforth bear only the title of ‘Princess Dowager,’ to which she Is entitled as Prince Arthur’s widow. In return for these signal services, Cranmer, it is rumored, will shortly be named archbishop.
They are still discussing this matter when Wolsey enters with his secretary, Cromwell, paying no heed to the bystanders, but inquiring whether his packet of papers was delivered to the King. Not only does Cromwell assure him he delivered the papers in person, but reports how, after unsealing the packet, Henry stared fixedly at one document and finally ordered Wolsey should attend him on the morrow. While the secretary goes to ascertain whether Henry will now grant his minister audience, the Cardinal, still ignoring the courtiers, muses upon the advantages of a royal alliance between England and France. Watching his frowning countenance, the courtiers conclude he must be troubled about weighty matters, which proves a fact, because in his soliloquy Wolsey declares that although Anne Bullen is virtuous and well-deserving, she is ‘a spleeny Lutheran,’ and that he mistrusts the influence she and Cranmer may exert upon the King.
The nobles have just decided Wolsey is sorely out of humour, when Henry VIII comes in conning a paper. Muttering something about great wealth accumulated, and mad expense indulged in, the King looks up suddenly and inquires for the Cardinal, who does not stand within his range of vision. Obsequiously, Norfolk now assures His Majesty they have been marvelling at Wolsey’s looks and expression, which he maliciously describes. Dryly commenting ‘there’s mutiny in’s mind,’ Henry adds he discovered among the papers Wolsey sent him an exact inventory of the wealth the Cardinal has amassed, wealth too great for any subject. While Norfolk piously ejaculates Providence directed the misplacing of this paper, the King mutters that were his minister’s mind solely engaged in spiritual matters he would not disturb him, but that evidently it dwells upon temporal affairs also.
After taking his seat, Henry whispers to an attendant, who immediately approaches the Cardinal. The latter, sunk in revery, has not noticed the entrance of his master. When thus summoned, he humbly begs forgiveness, and although evidently surprised at receiving a sarcastic rejoinder to his apology, returns a gentle answer, stating that as His Majesty is pleased to imply, part of his time is indeed devoted to holy matters, part to business, and a trifle to pleasure by way of recreation. Because the King remarks Wolsey was high in his father’s favour, and that he himself has spared nothing to show appreciation of his services, the Cardinal becomes uneasy, while his enemies, listening with all their ears, betray malicious satisfaction. When Henry grimly inquires whether Wolsey does not owe him all he possesses, the Cardinal humbly professes deep gratitude, and vows his prayers will ever follow his master. After Wolsey has thus admitted his indebtedness, Henry thrusts a paper at him, curtly bidding him read it, ‘and then to breakfast with what appetite you have.’ Saying this, and still frowning portentously, Henry passes out of the room, leaving Wolsey to ponder upon this sudden exhibition of anger, before he opens the papers, which he discovers to be the inventory of his wealth and his letter to the Pope!
The fact that the King has perused these documents, convinces Wolsey at a glance that all is over, that he has indeed ‘touch’d the highest point’ of all his greatness, and that from that full meridian of his glory, he hastens now to his setting. He realises that he shall fall like a ‘bright exhalation in the evening,’ and no man see him more, and is musing on the greatness of his fall, when the lords return, to summon him in the King’s name to surrender the great seal, and retire to Asher House until further notice. Instead of tamely complying, Wolsey demands the nobles’ authority, and when they become insolent, haughtily explains that the seal having been entrusted to him by Henry for life, he cannot surender it to any one else.
Happy at being able to defy their former foe, the nobles now treat Wolsey with such contempt, that they goad him into exclaiming they would never have dared address him so a few hours ago. Heedless of these words, Surrey rejoins Wolsey’s ambition brought these woes upon him, ere he taunts him with slaying Buckingham, and with banishing his son-in-law to Ireland, so he could not lend aid. When Wolsey Insists that the Duke was tried and found guilty, Surrey hotly reviles him, declaring were the sum of his sins collected, the world would be startled by them. All the nobles, one after another, now enumerate the wrongs they lay at Wolsey’s door, accusing him of all manner of Illegal acts, and reminding him they will report to the King his refusal to surrender the seal!
Left finally alone on the stage, Wolsey bids farewell to his greatness in a magnificent speech, wherein he compares his past glory to the rapid growth of some luxuriant plant, and his present downfall to the effect a killing frost would have upon it. He declares his high born pride has given way beneath him, and that in old age he is forsaken by all, a state of affairs only too likely to befall those who depend upon the favour of princes. As he ends this wonderful soliloquy, Cromwell enters, speechless with grief at what has occurred, and when Wolsey inquires the cause of his tears, he touchingly tries to show sympathy. In return, Wolsey assures the secretary His Majesty has removed from his shoulders a burden ‘too heavy for a man that hopes for heaven!’ When Cromwell loyally opines Wolsey ever made good use of his power, the Cardinal fervently hopes he did, and prays for fortitude to support him in adversity. In reply to an inquiry for news, he then learns how Sir Thomas More has already been chosen as chancellor, Cranmer appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, and Anne Bullen — to whom the King has been secretly married, — publicly recognised as Queen, her corona- tion being evidently near at hand.
Hearing this, Wolsey recognises ‘there was the weight that pull’d me down,’ and charges Cromwell to seek the favour of his Majesty, whom he can ably serve, and before whom Wolsey has often praised his talents. When Cromwell expresses keen regret at leaving Wolsey, the latter assures him his sympathy is the only thmg which has brought tears to his eyes in the course of this day. He also bids Cromwell, after he is forgotten, remind people that Wolsey taught him all he knows, and adds some good advice, urging him to fling away ambition. He also charges him to ‘be just and fear not,’ and above all to aim only at the good of his country, his God and truth. Then delivering the inventory of his possessions, which are all to be transferred to the King, Wolsey utters his memorable speech, ‘0 Cromwell, Cromwell! Had I but served my God with half the zeal I served my King, he would not in mine age, have left me naked to mine enemies.’ Then, solemnly declaring his hopes now dwell it heaven, Wolsey, the disgraced minister, leaves the English court forever.
The fourth act opens in a street in Westminster, where two gentlemen pause to converse, one of them stating he has come to see Anne Bullen return from her coronation, while the other remembers when they last met it was to see Buckingham led to execution. They comment on the changes since then, on the titles and offices bestowed in honour of this new coronation, and on the fact that Queen Katharine, although she refused to appear before the commission, has nevertheless been divorced and removed to Kimbolton, where she now lies mortally ill.
It is at this point trumpets herald the appearance of the coronation procession, which advances with great pomp, Anne Bullen in royal robes marching beneath a canopy supported by four lords. She is, besides, escorted by bishops and followed by ladles, each bearing the insignia of her rank, and the spectators comment upon the pageant as it sweeps past, exclaiming the Queen has ‘the sweetest face’ they ever looked upon, and averring that the King ‘has all the Indies In his arms’ when he embraces her. While these remarks are made, the procession passes out of sight, and a third gentleman, joining the other two, vouchsafes a lively account of the coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey, where Anne Bullen was anointed with holy oil, and invested with the Confessor’s crown. He adds, that after the Te Deum, she will proceed to Wolsey’s former palace, of which the King has taken possession, and which is henceforth to bear the name of Whitehall. When the two gentlemen inquire who were the bishops on either side of the Queen, they learn their names are Stokesley and Gardiner, that the latter is no friend of ‘the virtuous Cranmer,’ and that Thomas Cromwell has been appointed treasurer and member of the Privy Council. Then they go off, to dine together, and further discuss the mo- mentous happenings of the day.
We now behold a room in Kimbolton which Katharine enters, supported by attendants who solicitously inquire how she feels? Feebly rejoining she is sick unto death, she sinks into a seat and asks whether her gentleman did not just mention Cardinal Wolsey’s death? Then she wishes to hear the particulars of his end, declaring ‘if well, he stepp’d before me, happily for my example.’ The gentleman therefore graphically describes Wolsey’s arrest at York, his illness on his way back to London, and the fact that he was finally obliged to beg hospitality of the Abbot of Leicester, whom he addressed saying, ‘O father abbot, an old man, broken with the storms of state, is come to lay his weary bones among ye; give him a little earth for charity!’ Already mortally ill, he was then put to bed, and three days after breathed his last, ‘full of repentance, continual meditations, tears and sorrows, he gave his honours to the world again, his blessed part to heaven, and slept in peace.’
Queen Katharine charitably hopes Wolsey may rest in peace, his faults lying gently on him, although she still deems him guilty of great misdeeds. Hearing this, her gentleman reminds her that ‘men’s evil manners live in brass; their virtues we write in water,’ and begs permission to pronounce the eulogy of Wolsey. In an eloquent speech he then mentions the Cardinal’s benefactions, amongst which the founding of the universities of Ipswich and Oxford, and concludes saying, ‘he died fearing God.’ Hearing so charitable an estimate, the Queen trusts she may have as kindly an eulogiser when she dies, and declares her servant has shamed her by showing her how short-sighted were her views. Then, feeling very weary, she calls for music, and bids her attendants leave her to rest.
While her eyes are closed, she is favoured by a vision, wherein six white robed figures, garlanded with bay and holding palms, move in the mazes of a mystic dance, and place a garland on her head. Queen Katharine opens her eyes only as they vanish, and faintly wonders where they have gone. Hearing her speak, her attendants return, but although they have seen nothing, the Queen assures them heavenly visitors have invited her to a banquet and promised her eternal happiness. The attendants pronounce this a ‘good dream,’ before one of them notices that Her Majesty’s countenance has changed and perceives she is failing rapidly.
Just then a messenger comes in, and the Queen noticing he does not kneel before her, terms him a ‘saucy fellow.’ Bidding her attendants never allow this man, — who has failed in respect to her, — to appear before her again, Katharine curtly dimisses him, before giving audience to the emissary from the Emperor of Germany. After remarking to this nobleman how sorely times have changed. Queen Katharine receives his message, and, calling for a letter she has penned, entrusts it to him to place in Henry’s hands. She reveals that it contains an entreaty to the King to bring up well their daughter Mary, and to provide for her women and other servants. Since it is evidently a species of last will and testament, the ambassador solemnly promises to deliver it, and Katharine, after a last loving message for Henry, turns to her maid with explicit directions for her funeral, begging that none but white flowers be used on her coffin, since she died ‘a chaste wife.’
The fifth act opens in London, in a gallery of the palace, where Gardiner meets Sir Thomas Lovell, who reports the King at cards with Suffolk. Because Lovell declares he must see His Majesty before night, Suffolk inquires the nature of his business, only to learn Anne Bullen’s life is in grave danger. Although not sorry to hear she is about to die, Gardiner hopes her child may live, for he is very anxious his master should have a male heir. Hearing Lovell term Anne a good creature, Gardiner darkly intimates they will have no peace until she, Cranmer, and Cromwell, sleep in their graves. Although related to the Queen, Lovell does not resent these strictures, because he, too, considers these men have too great influence at court. Noticing this, Gardiner confides to him a plan made to circumvent Cranmer on the morrow, for his enemies have arranged that he be called before a council, where he will be charged with heresy, and rooted out like ‘a rank weed.’
Gardiner and the page having gone, Lovell lingers in the gallery until the King and Suffolk enter, His Majesty declining to play any more because he is losing. Perceiving Lovell, Henry now eagerly inquires what news has been received of the Queen, only to learn Anne Bullen begs him to pray for her. Thus made aware of her peril, Henry pities her, while his companion expresses hopes there may soon be an heir.
Unable to sleep under such circumstances, the King dismisses his attendants, saying he wishes to remain alone. He has barely enjoyed a few seconds of solitude, when he is informed the Archbishop awaits his pleasure. A moment later Cranmer, — now Archbishop of Canterbury — is ushered in, and the King, noticing Lovell lurking in the background sternly bids him begone. His countenance is so forbidding when Cranmer approaches, that, fearing he has Incurred royal displeasure, he humbly kneels before His Majesty, stating he has come to learn his wishes. After inviting him to rise and pace the gallery with him, Henry begins a lengthy speech, which fills Cranmer’s heart with apprehension, because he is told in it so many grievous complaints have been made against him of late, that His Majesty is going to have him taken to the Tower until he can answer them. Still, the King adds he personally warns Cranmer of this fact, mainly because he wishes his enemies to have full play before he interferes publicly in the affair.
Kneeling before his Majesty, Cranmer avers he gladly seizes ‘this good occasion most thoroughly to be winnow’d,’ where his ‘chaff and corn shall fly asunder,’ and, seeing how well he has stood the test, Henry bids him rise, exclaiming anyone else would have petitioned for mercy. When Cranmer claims that, standing upon his truth and honesty he fears nothing that can be said against him, the King reminds him he has many foes and hence is wooing destruction. As, secure in his innocence, Cranmer remains steadfast, Henry gives him a ring, telling him should the council prove unjust, he need but produce this jewel and appeal to his sovereign for aid. Because Cranmer’s tears freely flow at so signal a mark of favour, the King, with emotion, bids him begone, and Cranmer obeys, after speechlessly showing his gratitude.
It is while Henry is still alone that an old lady forces her way in, notwithstanding Lovell’s frantic attempts to prevent her approach. She is the bearer of good tidings, and from her opening speech the King joyfully concludes he has a son, until the old lady Informs him ”tis a girl, promises boys here- after,’ assuring him the new-comer is as like him ‘as cherry is to cherry.’ Turning to Lovell, Henry orders a reward of one hundred marks bestowed upon the bringer of these good tidings, and hurries out to join the Queen, while the old woman grumbles such a guerdon is inadequate, and that she will yet ‘scold’ more out of His Majesty.
We next see the council chamber, where pages and attendants crowd around a fast closed door. On arriving thither, Cranmer is denied admittance, and wonders why a message was sent to hasten his coming. Even though he summons the keeper to admit him, he is rudely bidden wait, an indignity witnessed by the King’s physician, who promptly determines this piece of malice shall become known to His Majesty. Noting him hurry past, Cranmer nervously hopes he has not fathomed the depths of his disgrace, and seen a church dignitary waiting among grooms and pages!
Meanwhile the physician has decoyed the King to a window overlooking the council hall, under pretext of showing him the strangest sight he ever witnessed. Curiously peering forth, Henry beholds ‘his grace of Canterbury, who holds his state at door,’ and waxes indignant to think his council should treat an Archbishop so cavalierly.
The curtain next rises on the interior of the council chamber, as the Lord Chancellor opens the meeting. Then the secretary, — Cromwell, — solemnly announces that they have come hither to try his grace of Canterbury, who is charged by the Chancellor with filling the realm with new and dangerous opinions. To this statement Gardiner adds that such opinions have already worked such dire havoc in Germany, that it behooves them to check betimes their spread in England. Although Cranmer insists he has not undermined the public peace, and implores his lordship to confront him with his accusers, all the noblemen present declare no one will publicly appear against a counsellor. Hearing this, Gardiner spitefully suggests Cranmer be deprived of his office and sent to the Tower, for when he is thus reduced to the rank of a common citizen, people will freely voice their complaints.
Protesting against such a degradation, Cranmer avers he served his country faithfully, but Gardiner reviles him until Cromwell remarks it is cruel to taunt a fallen man. This interference causes Gardiner to inquire tartly whether Cromwell favours the new sect also, only to be told were he half as honest as those he accuses, all would be well! The quarrel between Gardiner and Cranmer waxes so virulent that the council finally ad- vises both to forbear, and decides that Cranmer shall be conveyed to the Tower, in spite of his protests. The Chancellor has just summoned the guards, and is about to consign the prisoner to their keeping, when Cranmer exclaims he has something more to say, and producing the royal ring solemnly appeals to the King. Surprised at the sight of a pledge which Suffolk pronounces genuine, and before which Norfolk quails, the Chancellor stammers they have evidently gone too far, and that he wishes they ‘were fairly out on ‘t! Cromwell adds he mistrusted they had been misinformed in regard to Cranmer, and apprehensively hints his companions have blown a fire which may yet consume them.
It is at this juncture Henry appears, frowning angrily. When Gardiner tries to placate him by a fulsome address, he cuttingly retorts he has not come here to listen to flattery. Then, bidding Cranmer sit down, the King grimly vows should anyone present dare wag a finger at him, that person ‘had better starve.’ When Surrey timidly tries to exculpate himself, the King wrathfully silences him, and declares his courtiers went too far when they forced a great and honest man to wait at the gate like a vile commoner. He adds that even a royal commission did not entitle them to behave thus, and that it is plain they have proceeded ‘more out of malice than integrity.’ Because the Chancellor tries to mitigate the royal displeasure, the King sternly orders him and the rest to ‘use’ Cranmer well, in return for all he has done for the state. Then, to show all present how highly he prizes his faithful servant, Henry VHI. informs Cranmer he wishes him to serve as godfather to a ‘fair young maid’ who now awaits baptism. This new honour is positively overwhelming to Cranmer, but when he ventures to pretext utter unworthiness, His Majesty jocosely twits him with trying to save his spoons, — the usual christening present. After exacting that the former foes, Gardiner and Cranmer, embrace in his presence, Henry VHI. departs, inviting all present to the christening of his and Anne Bullen’s daughter.
The next scene is played in the palace-yard, where the porter becomes angry because so many people crowd round the gate to obtain a share of the christening largesses. It soon becomes impossible to restrain them, for they burst in whenever the doors are opened. The dialogue between the porter and his man, gives an idea of the language, manners, and views, of men of that class, at that day, and it continues until the old chamberlain appears, commenting upon the crowd, and congratulating the porter and his man upon their efforts to keep order. This official further announces that the christening party is even now on its way back to the palace, and bids both men drive back the crowd on either side, and thus open a passage for the procession, which files past in full splendour, headed by the Lord Mayor, and by the nobles bearing the christening gifts.
Next, we perceive the small heroine of the day, pompously borne by the Duchess of Norfolk, and escorted by her other sponsors. As the procession sweeps past, a Knight of the Garter loudly proclaims, ‘Heaven, from thy endless goodness, send prosperous life, long and ever happy, to the high and mighty Princess of England, Elizabeth !’ Then, after a flourish of trumpets the royal father himself appears, and Cranmer, bowing low before him, wishes him and his wife comfort and joy in the little lady just admitted to the bosom of the church. After thanking Cranmer for his good offices and congratulations, the King inquires what name was bestowed at the font upon his daughter, and kisses her, giving her his fatherly blessing. Then, turning to the godfathers and godmothers, he gently chides them for bestowing such lavish gifts, adding that Elizabeth herself shall thank them ‘when she has so much English.’
After obtaining permission to speak, Cranmer predicts, — in a wonderful speech, — all that Elizabeth will ultimately mean in England, which under her sway will become greater than ever. His eloquent prophesy in regard to ‘Queen Bess’ and to her successor, causes the King to marvel aloud, and when Cranmer concludes his peroration with the remark ‘a most unspotted lily she shall pass to the ground, and all the world shall mourn her,’ Henry prays devoutly he may look down from heaven to behold these wonders. Then, turning to the people present, he invites them all to the christening festivities, and proclaims a national holiday in honour of hi? child. This play concludes with an epilogue, stating it will probably fail to please the audience, because those who have come to theatre to seek their ease have not been able to sleep in peace owing to the trumpets, and those in quest of wit will have been sorely disappointed; still, the playwright feels confident if good women will only praise his play, the men for their sakes will applaud it.