David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY VIII: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 1

— 1.1 —

In an antechamber — a small room leading to a large room — in the palace in London, the Duke of Norfolk met the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Abergavenny. Lord Abergavenny was one of the Duke of Buckingham’s sons-in-law.

The Duke of Buckingham said to the Duke of Norfolk, “Good morning; we have met at a good time. How have you beensince we saw each other last in France?”

“I thank your grace,” the Duke of Norfolk said. “I am healthy, and ever since I left France I continue to be an enthusiastic admirerof what I saw there.”

“An untimely bout of fever made me a prisoner in my chamber whenthose Suns of glory, those two lights of men — King Henry VIII of England and King Francis I of France — met in the valley of Andren,” the Duke of Buckingham said.

They were talking about a summit held between the two Kings from 7 to 24 June 1520 in the Field of the Cloth of Gold.

The Duke of Norfolk said, “It was held between the English-held town of Guynes and the French-held town of Ardres.I was present and saw the two Kings salute on horseback. I also saw, when they dismounted, how they clungin their embracement, as if they grew together.And if they had grown together and formed one compounded King, what four enthroned Kings could have equaledsuch a compounded one?”

The Duke of Buckingham said, “The entire timeI was a prisoner of illness in my chamber.”

The Duke of Norfolk said, “Then you lostthe view of Earthly glory. Men might say that until this time of the meeting of the two Kings pomp was single, but now pomp is marriedto one above itself. With the meeting of the two Kings, pomp moved to a higher level, as if it had married into a higher social class.

“Each following daybecame the next day’s master, until the last daymade all former wonders its own. Each day was more splendid than the previous day.

“One day the French,all glittering, all in gold, like heathen gods made of precious metals,outshoneand out-glittered the English. But the next day, the English made Britain appear to be wealthy India. Every English man who stoodlooked like a gold mine. Their dwarfish pages weresimilar to cherubim, all in gold. The ladies of rank, too,not used to toil, almost sweat to bearthe proud and splendid attire upon them, so that their labormade their faces red as if they were wearing blush.

“This masquewas cried incomparable, but the ensuing nightmade it in comparison seem to be a fool and beggar.

“The two Kings,equal in luster, were now best, now worst, according to which one was present. Whoever was in the public eyewas always the one receiving praise, and when both Kings were present, people said they saw only one King because the two Kings were equal in splendor. No discerning viewer dared to waghis tongue in censure and rate one King higher than the other.

“When these Suns — for that is what people called the two Kings — had their heralds challengethe noble spirits to arms, the two Suns performed beyond what was thought possible, so that stories that were formerly thought to be fabulous fabrications were now seen to be possible enough, and so the old stories got credit and even the improbable stories about the hero Bevis, the protagonist of the verse romance Bevis of Hamptonwho battled giants, dragons, and other mythological creatures, were believed.”

“Oh, you go too far,” the Duke of Buckingham said.

“As a noble of high rank who loves and seekshonesty in matters of honor, I say that the relation of everythingthat happened would lose some life even when told by a good raconteur. The actions spoke for themselves far better than even a good storyteller could.

“All was royal. Nothing rebelled against its management. Everything was arranged so that each sight was clearly visible, and each official performed his duty perfectly and with distinction.”

The Duke of Buckingham asked, “Who guided — I mean, who set the body and the limbs of this great entertainment together, do you guess?”

“One, certainly, who does not lead one to expect him to be a part of such a business,” the Duke of Norfolk said.

“Please tell me whom you mean, my lord,” the Duke of Buckingham said.

“All this was arranged by the good discretion of the right reverend Cardinal Wolsey of York.”

“May the Devil — not God! — make him prosper!” the Duke of Buckingham said. “No man’s pie is freed from his ambitious finger — he has a finger in every pie. What business had he with these fierce vanities? I wonder that such a keech can with his very bulk take up the rays of the beneficial Sun and keep them from the Earth.”

A keech is the fat of a slaughtered animal, fat that has been rolled up into a ball. Cardinal Wolsey was both fat and the son of a butcher.

The Duke of Buckingham knew, of course, that Cardinal Wolsey was a powerful man who had the ear of King Henry VIII. He felt that Cardinal Wolsey was preventing King Henry VIII from doing good things for England. Cardinal Wolsey was using his fat bulk to keep the Sun’s — Henry VIII’s — beneficial rays from reaching England.

The Duke of Norfolk said, “Surely, sir, there’s in him stuff and qualities that cause him to do such things. For, since he is the son of a butcher, he is not propped up by a noble ancestry, whose grace shows successors their way to success, nor is he acclaimed for high feats done on behalf of the crown. Neither is he allied with eminent assistants; he has no important connections. Instead, like a spider, out of his self-made web, he let us know that the force of his own merit makes for him a passageway to success — his merit is a gift that Heaven bestows on him, and his merit buys for him a place next to the King. He lacks a good family, notable deeds of service, and good connections, but nevertheless he has other qualities that Heaven gave him that enable him to make for himself a position next to King Henry VIII.”

Lord Abergavenny said, “I cannot tell what Heaven has given Cardinal Wolsey — let some graver eye than mine pierce into that, but I can see his pride peep through each part of him. Where did he get that pride? If he didn’t get it from Hell, then the Devil is niggardly and keeps all the pride or has already given it all away. If Cardinal Wolsey didn’t get his pride from Hell, then he begins a new Hell in himself.”

A proud person regards himself as the center of the universe. Out of pride, Lucifer rebelled against God. Lucifer was thrown out of Heaven and fell to Earth, where he hit with such impact that he reached the center of the Earth. His fall created the nine circles of Hell that Dante writes about in his Inferno. Dante believed that the Earth was the center of the universe, and since Lucifer is at the center of the Earth, Lucifer is at the center of the universe. Pride created Hell, and if Cardinal Wolsey did not get his pride from the previously existing Hell, then he is creating a new Hell with his pride.

The Duke of Buckingham said, “Why the Devil, upon this expedition to France, did Cardinal Wolsey take upon him, without the participation and knowledge of the King, to appoint who should attend on him?

“Cardinal Wolsey makes up the list of all the gentry who attend on the King. For the most part those on the list are those whom Cardinal Wolsey means to extract as much money and give as little honor as he can in return. Without consulting the honorable Board of Council, aka the Privy Council, he sends his letter to the nobles and they accompany the King and pay great expenses.”

The Duke of Buckingham objected to the great expense of such an expedition to France. He believed that the whole Board of Council, and not just Cardinal Wolsey, should decide which nobles would accompany King Henry VIII on such a foreign expedition.

Lord Abergavenny said, “I know of at least three kinsmen of mine who have by this action of Cardinal Wolsey so sickened their estates that they will never again be as wealthy as they were previously.”

The Duke of Buckingham said, “Oh, many have broken their backs with laying manors on them for this great journey.”

Nobles would sell manors in order to buy fabulously expensive clothing for such an expedition.

The Duke of Buckingham continued, “What good did this expensive vanity accomplish? The two Kings met and conferred, but the result of their conference was very poor, and it impoverished the children of the nobles forced to accompany our King.”

“I grieve when I say that the peace treaty made between the French and us was not worth the cost that it took to make it,” the Duke of Norfolk said.

“After the peace between England and France was made, a hideous storm followed, and every man became an inspired prophet. Without previously consulting each other, they all made the same prophecy — they said that this tempest, destroying the garment of this peace, foretold the sudden breach of the treaty.”

“And the prophecy turned out to be true,” the Duke of Norfolk said, “for France has broken the peace treaty and has confiscated the goods of our merchants at Bordeaux.”

Lord Abergavenny asked, “Is that the reason Cardinal Wolsey has silenced the French ambassador and has placed him under house arrest?”

“Yes, it is,” the Duke of Norfolk replied.

Lord Abergavenny said sarcastically, “What a ‘good’ peace treaty, and purchased at such a highly wasteful rate!”

The Duke of Buckingham said, “Our reverend Cardinal Wolsey has managed all this business. He is the one responsible.”

The Duke of Norfolk said, “May it please your grace, the government is aware of the private quarrel between you and the Cardinal. I advise you — and take it from a heart that wishes towards you honor and much safety — that you take into account both Cardinal Wolsey’s malice and his power. He is a formidable enemy. Consider further that he does not lack the power and agents to do to you whatever his great hatred of you wants to do. You know his nature; you know that he’s revengeful. And I know that his sword has a sharp edge. His sword is long and it reaches far, and where it will not extend, there he shoots an arrow. Take my advice to heart — you’ll find it wholesome.”

He then said, “Look, that rock that I advise you to shun and avoid is coming. Unless you steer clear of that rock, you will shipwreck.”

Cardinal Wolsey, who was also Lord Chancellor, walked into the anteroom. A bag containing the Great Seal, an emblem of the Lord Chancellor, was carried before him. Some members of the guard and two secretaries holding papers accompanied him.

Cardinal Wolsey and the Duke of Buckingham stared at each other with hatred. They were far enough apart that they could not hear what the other said.

Cardinal Wolsey said to the first secretary, “Where’s the deposition of the Duke of Buckingham’s surveyor?”

The Duke of Buckingham’s surveyor was actually his former surveyor. He had been recently fired as the overseer of the Duke of Buckingham’s estates.

The first secretary replied, “Here it is, if it please you.”

“Is he here in person and ready to give evidence?” Cardinal Wolsey asked.

“Yes, if it please your grace,” the first secretary replied.

“Well, we shall then know more, and Buckingham shall not look at me with such a haughty look.”

Cardinal Wolsey and his train of attendants exited.

Referring to Cardinal Wolsey’s parentage, the Lord of Buckingham said, “This butcher’s cur — mean dog — is venom-mouthed, and I don’t have the power to muzzle him; therefore, it is best that I not wake him from his slumber. Let sleeping dogs lie.”

He added, “A beggar’s book learning is regarded more highly than a noble’s blood.”

“What, are you angry?” the Duke of Norfolk said. “Ask God for temperance; that’s the only remedy that your disease requires.”

The Duke of Buckingham said, “I read in his looks that he intends business against me, and his eye reviled me as if I were an object of contempt to him. At this instant, he is wounding me with some trick. He has gone to the King. I’ll follow and outstare the Cardinal.”

“Stay here, my lord,” the Duke of Norfolk said, “and reason with your anger. Question what you are thinking about doing. To climb a steep hill requires a slow pace at first because hasty climbers have sudden falls. Anger is like a high-spirited horse, which being allowed its way, its high spirits soon tire it.

“Not a man in England can advise me like you do. Be to yourself as you would be to your friend. Take for yourself the advice you would give to your friend.”

“I’ll go to the King,” the Duke of Buckingham said, “and from a mouth of honor quite cry down this Ipswich fellow’s insolence, or else I will proclaim there’s no distinction of rank or quality among people and a butcher’s son is as good as a Duke.”

Ipswich was the provincial town from which Cardinal Wolsey came.

“Be advised and take thought,” the Duke of Norfolk said. “Don’t heat a furnace for your foe so hot that it singes yourself.”

He was alluding to the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Chapter 3 of the Book of Daniel. They were thrown into a fiery furnace, but God protected them; however, the men who threw them into the fiery furnace died from the fire. While Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were in the fiery furnace, a fourth figure who resembled the Son of God was seen with them.

Daniel 3:19-22 states this:

19Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of rage, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: therefore he charged and commanded that they should heat the furnace at once seven times more than it was wont to be heated.

20 And he charged the most valiant men of war that were in his army, to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the hot fiery furnace.

21 So these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their cloaks, with their other garments, and cast into the midst of the hot fiery furnace.

22 Therefore, because the king’s commandment was strait, that the furnace should be exceeding hot, the flame of the fire slew those men that brought forth Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.(1599 Geneva Bible)

The Duke of Norfolk continued, “We may outrun, by violent swiftness, that which we run at, and lose by over-running.

“Don’t you know that the fire that heats the liquid and makes it rise until it run over the pot, although it seems to augment the liquid, actually wastes it?

“Be advised: I say again that there exists no English soul better to direct your course of action than yourself — if with the sap of reason you would quench, or at least lessen, the fire of passion.”

The Duke of Buckingham said, “Sir, I am thankful to you; and I’ll go along with your advice to me, but this proud-to-the-top fellow, about whom I say not from the flow of anger but from sincere motives, from reliable information, and from evidence and proofs as clear as streams in July when we see each grain of gravel, that I know him to be corrupt and treasonous.”

Streams get muddy when dirt is washed into them; in the Duke of Buckingham’s experience, streams in July tend to be clear.

The Duke of Norfolk said, “Don’t say the word ‘treasonous.’”

The Duke of Buckingham said, “To the King I’ll say it, and I’ll make my accusation as strong as a shore made of rock. Listen to me. Cardinal Wolsey is a holy fox, or wolf, or both — for he is equally as ravenous as he is subtle, and as prone to mischief as he is able to perform it; his mind and place infecting one another, yes, reciprocally.”

He was referring to two sayings about animals: as subtle — sly — as a fox, and as ravenous as a wolf.

He continued, “Cardinal Wolsey, only to show his pomp as well in France as here at home, persuaded the King our master to accept this recent costly treaty and the meeting of the two Kings that has swallowed so much treasure, and the treaty is like a glass that broke as it was being rinsed.”

In this culture, drinking glasses were expensive.

The Duke of Norfolk said, “Truly, the peace treaty broke as easily as a drinking glass.”

“Please, let me continue to speak, sir,” the Duke of Buckingham said. “This cunning Cardinal Wolsey drew up the terms of the peace treaty as he himself pleased, and they were ratified as he cried ‘Thus let it be,’ to as much purpose as giving a crutch to a dead man, but our Count-Cardinal — our upstart Cardinal who tries to act like a Count — has done this, and it is well, for worthy Wolsey, who cannot err, did it. I am being sarcastic, of course.

“Now this follows — which, as I take it, is a kind of puppy to the old dam, treason — Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, under the pretense to see Queen Catherine, his aunt — for it was indeed his stratagem, but he really came to whisper to Cardinal Wolsey — came here and visited.

“Holy Roman Emperor Charles V’s fears were that the meeting between the King of England and the King of France might, through their amity, breed him some misfortune, for from this peace league peeped harms that menaced him. He privately dealt with our Cardinal Wolsey, and I know well — I am sure about it — that Holy Roman Emperor Charles V paid before Cardinal Wolsey promised to do as the Emperor wished, and so the Emperor’s suit was granted before it was asked.

“In short, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V got what he wanted from Cardinal Wolsey because before asking for what he wanted, he had already paved the way with gold. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V asked that Cardinal Wolsey would break the aforesaid peace treaty with France to alter the King’s planned course of peaceful action.

“Let the King know, as soon he shall learn from me, that thus Cardinal Wolsey buys and sells King Henry VIII’s honor as he pleases, and for his own advantage. Cardinal Wolsey accepts bribes to do the bidding of people other than his King.”

The Duke of Norfolk said, “I am sorry to hear this of him, and I could wish that he were somewhat misjudged in it.”

“No, he has not been misjudged,” the Duke of Buckingham said. “Not a syllable of what I have said about him is incorrect. My report about him describes him exactly as he shall be proved to be.”

Brandon entered the antechamber, along with a Sergeant-at-Arms and two or three members of the Guard.

Brandon said to the Sergeant-at-Arms, “Your duty, Sergeant; execute it.”

The Sergeant-at-Arms said, using all the titles of the Duke of Buckingham, “Sir, my lord the Duke of Buckingham, and Earl of Hereford, Stafford, and Northampton, I arrest you for high treason, in the name of our most sovereign King.”

The Duke of Buckingham said to the Duke of Norfolk, “Look, my lord, the net has fallen upon me! I shall perish because of a plot and trickery.”

Brandon said, “I am sorry to see your liberty taken from you, and I am sorry to look on this present business, but it is his highness’ pleasure that you shall be taken to the Tower of London.”

The Duke of Buckingham said, “It won’t help me at all to plead my innocence, for a dye has been placed on me that makes my whitest part black. May the will of Heaven be done in this and all things!

“Brandon, I will do as you say.

“Oh, my Lord Abergavenny, fare you well!”

Brandon said, “No, he must bear you company in the Tower of London.”

Brandon said to Lord Abergavenny, “The King wishes you to be taken to the Tower of London until you know what he decides to further do.”

Lord Abergavenny replied, “As the Duke of Buckingham said, may the will of Heaven be done, and may I obey the King’s pleasure!”

Brandon said, “Here is a warrant from the King to arrest Lord Montacute and to arrest the bodies of the Duke’s confessor, who is named John de la Car, and one Gilbert Peck, his Chancellor —”

“I see,” the Duke of Buckingham said. “These are the parts that make up the plot. No more will be arrested, I hope.”

Brandon replied, “A monk of the Chartreux.”

“Oh, Nicholas Hopkins?” the Duke of Buckingham asked.

“Yes, him,” Brandon replied.

“My surveyor is false,” the Duke of Buckingham said. “He lies and commits perjury. The over-great Cardinal Wolsey has shown him gold and bribed him to tell lies about me. My life is spanned already. The extent of my life has been measured, and its string is about to be cut.

“I am the shadow of poor Buckingham, whose figure even this instant cloud puts on, by darkening my clear Sun.

“I, poor Buckingham, am now only a shadow of what I was. This instant cloud — this immediate accusation — darkens my blameless life and takes my character and even my body away from me.”

He then said to the Duke of Norfolk, “My lord, farewell.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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