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

— 2.2 —

Lord Chamberlain read a letter out loud in an antechamber in the palace:

My lord, concerning the horses your lordship sent for, with all the care I had I made sure that they were well chosen, broken in and trained, and equipped. They were young and handsome, and of the best breed in the north. When they were ready to set out for London, a man of Cardinal Wolsey’s, by commission and brute force, took them from me, giving this reason: His master would be served before a subject, if not before the King. This stopped our mouths, sir.

“I fear Cardinal Wolsey will be served before a subject, if not before the King, indeed. Well, let him have them. He will have everything, I think.”

The Duke of Norfolk and the Duke of Suffolk entered the antechamber.

The Duke of Norfolk said, “We are well met, my Lord Chamberlain.”

“Good day to both your graces,” Lord Chamberlain replied.

“How is the King employed?” the Duke of Suffolk asked. “What is he doing?”

“I left him in private,” Lord Chamberlain said. “He was full of sad, serious thoughts and troubles.”

“What’s the cause?” the Duke of Norfolk asked. “What’s the reason?”

“It seems the marriage with his brother’s wife has crept too near his conscience,” Lord Chamberlain said.

Before marrying King Henry VIII, Catherine had been married to his older brother. A Papal dispensation had allowed Henry VIII and Catherine to marry. King Henry VIII was now supposedly wondering whether his marriage was legitimate.

The Duke of Suffolk thought, No, his conscience has crept too near another lady.

The Duke of Norfolk replied to Lord Chamberlain, “That is true. This is Cardinal Wolsey’s doing. He is the King-Cardinal. That blind priest, like the eldest son of Lady Fortune, turns the Wheel of Fortune just as he wishes.”

Lady Fortune is often depicted as blind as she turns the Wheel of Fortune, improving some people’s fortune in life, while worsening other people’s fortune. Cardinal Wolsey was able to promote or demote people as he wished because King Henry VIII allowed him to have so much influence and power.

The Duke of Norfolk said, “The King will know what kind of man Cardinal Wolsey really is one day.”

“I pray to God he does!” the Duke of Suffolk said. “King Henry VIII will never know himself otherwise. He will never act with the power of a King if Cardinal Wolsey continues to have so much influence over him and to wield so much of the King’s power.”

“How holily he works in all his business!” the Duke of Norfolk said sarcastically. “And with what zeal! Now that he has cracked the league between us and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, the Queen’s great nephew, he dives into the King’s soul, and there he scatters dangers, doubts, torturing of the conscience, fears, and despairs, and all these concerns and worries are all about his marriage. And to restore the King and do away with all of the King’s concerns and worries, Cardinal Wolsey advises that the King divorce Queen Catherine. This would be a loss to the King of a woman who, like a jewel, has hung twenty years about his neck, yet never lost her luster. It would be a loss of a woman who loves him with that excellence that angels love good men with, even of her who, when the greatest blow of fortune falls, will bless the King. Isn’t this advice of divorce ‘pious’?”

“May Heaven keep me from such ‘pious’ counsel!” Lord Chamberlain said. “It is very true that this news is everywhere. Every tongue is speaking about a divorce, and every true heart weeps because of it. All who dare look into these affairs see this main outcome: Cardinal Wolsey wants King Henry VIII to marry the French King’s sister. Heaven will one day open King Henry VIII’s eyes that for so long have slept and not seen what a bold bad man Cardinal Wolsey really is.”

“When that happens, King Henry VIII will free us from Cardinal Wolsey’s slavery,” the Duke of Suffolk said.

“We had better pray, and heartily, for our deliverance,” the Duke of Norfolk said, “or this imperious man will work us all from Princes into pages. All men’s honors lie like one lump of clay before him, to be fashioned into whatever rank — high or low — the Cardinal pleases.”

“As for me, my lords,” the Duke of Suffolk said, “I neither love the Cardinal nor fear him. There’s my creed: As I am made without him, so I’ll stand firm without him if the King will allow me to. Cardinal Wolsey’s curses and his blessings affect me alike; they’re breath I don’t believe in — they are nothing but air. I knew him and I know him, and so I leave him to the man who made him proud: the Pope.”

“Let’s go in,” the Duke of Norfolk said, “and with some other business distract the King from these sad thoughts that work too much upon him.

“My Lord Chamberlain, will you bear us company?”

“Excuse me,” Lord Chamberlain said. “The King has sent me somewhere else. Besides, you’ll find this a very bad time to disturb him. I wish health to your lordships.”

“Thanks, my good Lord Chamberlain,” the Duke of Norfolk said.

Lord Chamberlain exited, and the Duke of Norfolk and the Duke of Suffolk went to visit the King, who was reading.

The Duke of Suffolk said quietly about the King, “How sad he looks! Surely, he is much afflicted with worries.”

King Henry VIII asked loudly, “Who’s there?”

“I pray to God that the King is not angry at us,” the Duke of Norfolk said.

“Who’s there, I say?” King Henry VIII asked. “How dare you disturb my private meditations? Who do you think I am?”

The Duke of Norfolk replied, “We think you are a gracious King who pardons all offences in which malice was never intended. Our breach of duty here is business of state, in which we come to know your royal pleasure.”

“You are too bold,” King Henry VIII said. “I’ll make you know the correct time for state business. Is this an hour for temporal affairs?”

Cardinal Wolsey and Cardinal Campeius entered the room. Cardinal Campeius held a commission from the Pope that allowed Cardinal Wolsey and himself to act in the matter of determining whether King Henry VIII’s marriage to Queen Catherine was valid.

King Henry VIII said, “Who’s there? My good Lord Cardinal? Oh, my Wolsey, you quiet my wounded conscience. You are a cure fit for a King.”

He then said to Cardinal Campeius, “You’re welcome, most learned reverend sir, in our Kingdom. Make use of us and it.”

He then said to Cardinal Wolsey, “My good lord, take great care that I am not found to be just a talker.”

In other words, he wanted Cardinal Wolsey to make sure that he, Henry VIII, carried out his welcome to Cardinal Campeius. A proverb of the time stated, “The greatest talkers are the least doers.”

Cardinal Wolsey replied, “Sir, you cannot be found to be merely a talker; you are not capable of it. I wish that your grace would give us but an hour in private conversation.”

King Henry VIII said to the Duke of Norfolk and the Duke of Suffolk, “We are busy; go.”

The Duke of Norfolk whispered sarcastically to the Duke of Suffolk, “This priest has no pride in him.”

The Duke of Suffolk whispered sarcastically to the Duke of Norfolk, “Not to speak of.”

He added, without sarcasm, “I would not be so sick with pride even though it would get me Cardinal Wolsey’s position. But this state of affairs cannot continue.”

Norfolk whispered to Suffolk, “If it does, I’ll venture one punch at the Cardinal.”

Suffolk whispered to Norfolk, “And I will venture another.”

The Duke of Norfolk and the Duke of Suffolk exited.

Cardinal Wolsey said to King Henry VIII, “Your grace has given a precedent of wisdom above all Princes in committing freely your scruple concerning the legitimacy of your marriage to the judgment of Christendom.

“Who can be angry now? What malice can reach you?

“Queen Catherine is the aunt of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who is also the King of Spain. The Spaniards, tied blood and favor to her, must now confess, if they have any goodness, that the trial judging the legitimacy of your marriage is just and noble.

“All the clerics, I mean the learned ones, in Christian Kingdoms will have their free votes. Rome, the nurse of judgment, invited by your noble self, has sent one general tongue to us — one man to speak for all as spokesman. He is this good man, this just and learned priest, Cardinal Campeius, whom once more I present to your highness.”

King Henry VIII said, “And once more in my arms I bid him welcome, and I thank the holy conclave for their loves for me. They have sent me such a man as I would have wished for.”

Cardinal Campeius replied, “Your grace must necessarily deserve all foreigners’ loves because you are so noble. To your highness’ hand I tender my commission, by whose virtue, under the order of the court of Rome, you, my Lord Cardinal Wolsey of York, are joined with me as Rome’s servant in the impartial judging of this business.”

“You are two fair and just men,” King Henry VIII said. “The Queen shall be informed immediately why you have come.

“Where’s Gardiner, my secretary?”

Cardinal Wolsey said, “I know your majesty has always loved Queen Catherine so dearly in your heart that you will not deny her what a woman of less position might ask for by law: scholars allowed freely to argue on her behalf.”

“That is true,” King Henry VIII said, “and she shall have the best, and I will give my favor to the scholar who represents her best. God forbid that I do otherwise. Cardinal, please call Gardiner, my new secretary, to come to me. I find that he is a fit fellow.”

Cardinal Wolsey exited and quickly returned with Gardiner.

Cardinal Wolsey said quietly to Gardiner, “Give me your hand. I wish much joy and favor to you. You are the King’s man now.”

Gardiner said quietly to Cardinal Wolsey, “But I will always obey your commands because it is your hand that has raised me so high.”

King Henry VIII said, “Come here, Gardiner.”

The two talked quietly together.

Cardinal Campeius said quietly, “My Lord of York, wasn’t there a Doctor Pace in this man’s place as the King’s secretary before him?”

“Yes, he was,” Cardinal Wolsey said.

“Wasn’t he regarded as a learned man?”

“Yes, certainly.”

“Believe me, there’s an ill opinion spread then about yourself, Lord Cardinal.”

“What! About me?” Cardinal Wolsey said.

“They will not hesitate to say you envied Doctor Pace, and fearing that he would rise because he was so virtuous, you always kept him away from England on foreign business, which so grieved him that he became insane and died.”

“May Heaven’s peace be with him!” Cardinal Wolsey said. “That’s enough Christian charity. Let’s talk seriously. For living murmurers of gossip, there are places of rebuke where they can be punished. Doctor Pace was a fool, for he insisted on being virtuous.

“See Gardiner there? He’s a good fellow and does whatever I command him to do. If he didn’t, I would not allow him to be near either the King or me. Learn this, brother, we do not live to be touched in a familiar way by persons of low status.”

King Henry VIII said to Gardiner, “Tell this with mildness to the Queen.”

Gardiner exited.

King Henry VIII said, “The most convenient place that I can think of for such discussion of scholarly learning regarding my marriage is Blackfriars, where the Dominicans have a great hall. There you shall meet about this weighty business.

“My Wolsey, see that it is properly equipped.

“Oh, my lord, would it not grieve an able, sexually mature man to leave so sweet a bedfellow?”

The bedfellow may have been Queen Catherine, but it may have been Anne Boleyn.

The King continued, “But, conscience, conscience! Oh, it is a tender place; and I must leave her.”

His conscience may have been the tender place, or the tender place may have been Queen Catherine’s vagina.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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