David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY VIII: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scene 1

— 2.1 —

Two gentlemen met on a street in Westminster.

The first gentleman asked, “Where are you going so quickly?”

“Oh, may God save you!” the second gentleman said, recognizing the first gentleman. “I am going to Westminster Hall to hear what shall become of the great Duke of Buckingham.”

“I’ll save you that labor, sir. All’s now done, except for the ceremony of bringing back the prisoner.”

“Were you there?”

“Yes, indeed, I was.”

“Please, tell me what has happened,” the second gentleman said.

“You may guess quickly what happened.”

“Was he found guilty?”

“Yes, truly he was, and then he was condemned to die.”

“I am sorry for it,” the second gentleman said.

“So are a number of other people.”

“But, please, tell me what happened during the trial.”

“I’ll tell you briefly,” the first gentleman said. “The great Duke of Buckingham came to the bar, where to the accusations made against him he pleaded always not guilty and brought forth many acute arguments to refute the accusations. The King’s attorney, who argued against the Duke, emphasized the depositions, testimony, and confessions of several witnesses, whom the Duke desired to have brought viva voce— with living voice; that is, in person — before him.

“At this, a number of people appeared against him: his surveyor; Sir Gilbert Peck, who is his Chancellor; John Car, his confessor; and that Devil-monk, Hopkins, who made this wickedness.”

“Is Hopkins the man who fed the Duke with prophecies?” the second gentleman asked.

“The same. All these accused the Duke of Buckingham strongly, accusations that he gladly would have flung from him, but indeed he could not. And so his peers, upon this evidence, have found him guilty of high treason. Much he spoke, and learnedly, to save his life, but everything he said either created ineffectual pity for him or was instantly disregarded.”

“After all this, how did he bear himself? How did he act?”

“When he was brought again to the bar, to hear his knell rung out, his sentence, he was stirred with such an agony that he sweat extremely and spoke some things in anger that were ill and hasty. But he recovered his self-control, and sweetly in all the rest showed a most noble patience and calmness.”

“I do not think he fears death,” the second gentleman said.

“Surely, he does not. He never was so womanish as to fear death, but he may a little grieve because of the reason he will die.”

“Certainly Cardinal Wolsey is the root cause of this.”

“That is likely,” the first gentleman said. “All surmises lead to that conclusion. First, Kildare, who was then the King’s governor of Ireland, was condemned and lost his office and estate. After he was removed from office, the Earl of Surrey was sent to Ireland, and hastily, too, lest he should help his father-in-law: the Duke of Buckingham.”

The second gentleman said, “That political trick was a deeply malicious one.”

“Once the Earl of Surrey returns from Ireland, no doubt he will get payback for that political trick. It has been noted by everyone that for whomever the King favors, Cardinal Wolsey will immediately find employment elsewhere, and far enough from court, too, that he will not interfere with the Cardinal’s influence over the King.”

“All the commoners hate Cardinal Wolsey with deep loathing, and, I swear by my conscience, they would like to see him ten fathoms deep and drowned. In contrast, they love and dote on this Duke as much as they hate the Cardinal. They call the Duke bounteous Buckingham, the paragon of all courtly behavior —”

“Stop there, sir,” the first gentleman said, “and see the noble ruined man you speak of.”

The Duke of Buckingham entered, having left the court. Guards carrying staves tipped with metal walked before him. On each side of him were guards carrying halberds, weapons that are a combination of a battleax and a spear. The edge of each battleax was pointed toward the Duke of Buckingham, indicating that he had been sentenced to death by beheading. Accompanying the Duke of Buckingham were Sir Thomas Lovell, Sir Nicholas Vaux, Lord Sands, and several commoners.

The second gentleman said, “Let’s stand quietly close by, and behold him.”

The Duke of Buckingham, making a mighty effort to behave like a Christian despite the resentment he felt, said, “All good people, you who thus far have come to pity me, hear what I say, and then go home and forget me, know that I have this day received a traitor’s sentence, and I must die with the name of traitor, yet I ask Heaven to bear witness that I am faithful and loyal to King Henry VIII, and I say that if I am not faithful and loyal to King Henry VIII, then if I have a conscience, let it sink me down to Hell, even as the axe falls!

“I bear the law no malice for my death. It has done, given the evidence and testimony presented to it, only justice.

“But those who sought this judgment against me I could wish were more Christian.

“Be they what they will, I heartily forgive them. Yet let them take care that they don’t glory in evil deeds, nor build their evils on the graves of great men, for then my innocent, guiltless blood must cry out against them.

“I can never hope for further life in this world, nor will I plead for mercy, although the King has more mercies than I dare make faults. The King could, if he wished, pardon me, no matter what he thought I did.

“You few who have loved and respected me, and who dare to be bold enough to weep for me, Buckingham, are my noble friends and fellows, whom to leave is the only bitterness to me, the only dying.

“Go with me, like good angels, to my end, and as the long steel blade falls on me and divorces my soul from my body, make of your prayers one sweet sacrifice, and lift my soul to Heaven.”

He then said to his guards, “Lead on, in God’s name.”

Sir Thomas Lovell said, “I beg your grace for charity. If ever any hidden malice in your heart were against me, now please forgive me frankly and freely.”

The surveyor had testified that the Duke of Buckingham wanted to behead both Cardinal Wolsey and Sir Thomas Lovell.

The Duke of Buckingham replied, “Sir Thomas Lovell, I as freely forgive you as I would be forgiven. I forgive everyone. Out of all those numberless offences against me, there is none that I cannot make peace with: There is none that I cannot forgive. No black malice shall go with me to my grave.

“Commend me to his grace the King, and if he speaks of the Duke of Buckingham, please tell him that you met him when he was half in Heaven. My vows and prayers still are for the benefit of the King, and, until my soul forsakes and leaves my body, I shall cry for blessings upon him. May he live longer than I have time to count his years! May his rule be always beloved and loving! And when old Time shall lead him to his death, may goodness and he fill up one tomb!”

Sir Thomas Lovell said, “To the shore of the river, I must conduct your grace. Then I give my charge up to Sir Nicholas Vaux, who will take you to your place of death.”

Sir Nicholas Vaux ordered some attendants, “Prepare everything. The Duke is coming. Make everything ready on the barge, and see that it is fitted with such things as suit the greatness of his person.”

“No, Sir Nicholas,” the Duke of Buckingham said, “let it alone. Recognition of my former great state now will but mock me. When I came here, I was the lord high constable and the Duke of Buckingham. Now, with my titles taken from me, I am only poor Edward Bohun. Yet I am richer than my base accusers, who never knew what truth and loyalty meant. I now seal my truth and loyalty with my blood as if I were sealing an official document, and with that blood I will make them one day groan for what they have done to me.

“My noble father, Henry of Buckingham, who first raised an army against the usurping Richard III, fled for aid to Banister, one of his servants. My father, who was distressed, was by that wretch betrayed, and he was executed without a trial. May God’s peace be with him!

“King Henry VII succeeded Richard III. Truly pitying my father’s loss, Henry VII, who was a most royal Prince and sovereign, restored me to my honors, and, out of ruins, made my name once more noble.

“Now his son, King Henry VIII, at one stroke has taken my life, honor, name, and all that made me happy forever from the world.

“I had my trial, and I have to say that it was a noble one, which makes me a little happier than my wretched father.

“Yet thus far my father and I are one in our fortunes. Both of us fell because of our servants, by those men we loved most — our servants gave us a most unnatural and faithless service!

“Heaven has a purpose in everything, yet you who hear me, regard as certainly true what I, a dying man, tell you: Where you are liberal and generous in your loves and counsels, be sure you are not loose and casual, for those loose and casual people you make friends and give your hearts to, when they once perceive the least obstacle in your fortunes, will fall away like water from you and never be found again except where they mean to sink you.

“May all good people pray for me! I must now leave you. The last hour of my long weary life has come upon me.

“Farewell. And when you would say something that is sad, talk about how I fell. I have finished, and may God forgive me!”

The Duke of Buckingham, his guards, and the other people accompanying him exited.

The first gentleman said, “Oh, this scene is full of pity! Sir, it calls, I fear, too many curses upon the heads of those who were the originators of the plot against the Duke of Buckingham.”

“If the Duke is guiltless, then this scene is full of woe,” the second gentleman said, “yet I can give you an inkling of an ensuing evil that if it happens it will be greater than this evil.”

“May good angels keep it from occurring! What may it be? You do not doubt my trustworthiness, do you, sir?”

“This secret is so weighty that it will require a strong faith to conceal it.”

“Tell it to me,” the first gentleman said. “I do not talk much.”

“I am confident that you are trustworthy, and I will tell it to you, I shall, sir. Didn’t you recently hear gossip of a separation between the King and Catherine?”

“Yes, but the rumor didn’t last, for when the King once heard it, out of anger he immediately sent a command to the Lord Mayor to stop the rumor, and quell those tongues that dared to disperse it.”

“But that slander, sir,” the second gentleman said, “is found to be a truth now, for it grows again fresher than it ever was, and people regard as certain that the King will venture to be separated from his wife. Either Cardinal Wolsey, or some person or people close to the King, have, out of malice to the good Queen, possessed him with a misgiving that will ruin her. In confirmation of this, too, Cardinal Campeius has recently arrived, and everyone thinks that he is here for this business.”

“Cardinal Wolsey is behind this,” the first gentleman said, “and his purpose is only to get revenge on the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V for not bestowing on him the Archbishopric of Toledo in Spain that he asked for.”

“I think you have hit the mark. You are correct, but isn’t it cruel that Queen Catherine should feel the pain of this? Cardinal Wolsey will get his revenge, and Queen Catherine must fall.”

“It is woeful,” the first gentleman said. “We are too open and exposed to talk about this matter here. Let’s think and talk in private some more about this.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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