David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY VIII: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scene 4

— 2.4 —

In a hall in Blackfriars, the inquiry regarding the legitimacy of the marriage of King Henry VIII and Queen Catherine was about to begin.

Trumpets and cornets sounded, and then a number of people in a procession entered the hall.

Two vergers, who carried short silver wands, entered the hall first. Vergers carry rods or wands before justices.

Two scribes, aka secretaries, wearing the academic robes of doctors of law, entered next.

The Bishop of Canterbury entered next.

The Bishop of Lincoln, the Bishop of Ely, the Bishop of Rochester, and the Bishop of Saint Asaph entered next.

A gentleman carrying the bag containing the Great Seal, and carrying a Cardinal’s hat, entered next.

Two priests, each carrying a silver cross, entered next.

A bareheaded gentleman-usher, accompanied by a Sergeant-at-Arms bearing a silver mace, entered next.

Two gentlemen bearing two great silver pillars entered next.

Side by side, Cardinal Wolsey and Cardinal Campeius entered next.

Two noblemen with the sword and mace entered next.

King Henry VIII took a seat under the cloth of state — the canopy over the throne, which sat on a dais.

Cardinal Wolsey and Cardinal Campeius took seats at a lower level than the King. The two Cardinals would be judges.

Queen Catherine sat at some distance from King Henry VIII.

The Bishops placed themselves on each side of the court, in the manner of a consistory or ecclesiastical court of judgment.

On a lower level than the Bishops sat the scribes.

The lords sat next to the Bishops.

The rest of the attendants stood in convenient places about the hall.

Cardinal Wolsey said, “While our commission from Rome is read, let silence be commanded.”

“What’s the need for reading the commission out loud?” King Henry VIII said. “It has already publicly been read, and by all sides the authority of the commission has been recognized. You may, then, spare that time.”

“Be it so,” Cardinal Wolsey said. “Proceed.”

A scribe said, “Say, King Henry VIII of England, that you are present in the court.”

A crier repeated more loudly what the scribe had said.

“I am here,” King Henry VIII said.

The scribe said, “Say, Queen Catherine of England, that you are present in the court.”

The crier loudly repeated the words.

Queen Catherine made no answer; instead, she rose out of her chair, walked through the court to King Henry VIII, and knelt at his feet.

Then she said, “Sir, I desire that you do me right and justice, and I desire that you bestow your pity on me. I am a very poor woman, and I am a stranger who was not born in your dominions. I have here no impartial judge, and I have no assurance of equal, fair, and evenhanded friendship and proceeding.

“Sir, in what have I offended you? What cause has my behavior given to make you displeased with me that thus you should proceed to thrust me away from you and take your good grace from me? May Heaven witness that I have been to you a true and humble wife, at all times conformable to your will, always afraid to kindle your dislike. Yes, I have always been the obedient subject of your countenance, glad or sorry as I saw it inclined. When was the hour I ever contradicted your desire, or did not make it mine, too? Or which of your friends have I not striven to love, although I knew that that friend of yours were my enemy? What friend of mine have I had who brought down your anger on him have I continued to regard as my friend? I have not continued in my liking for such a person; instead, I gave notice to him that he was no longer my friend.

“Sir, call to mind that I have been your wife, your obedient wife, upward of twenty years, and I have been blessed with many children by you. If, in the course and process of this time, you can report, and prove it, too, anything against my honor, my bond to wedlock, or my love and duty, against your sacred person, then in God’s name turn me away and let the foulest contemptible person shut the door against me, and so give me up to the sharpest kind of justice.

“If it please you, sir, King Henry VII, your father, was reputed to be a most prudent Prince and sovereign, of an excellent and unmatched intelligence and judgment. Ferdinand II, my father, the King of Spain, was reckoned to be one of the wisest Princes who there had reigned by many years before. It is not to be questioned that they had gathered a wise council to them from every realm, and they debated this business of whether a marriage between you and me would be legitimate. That wise council deemed our marriage lawful.

“Therefore, I humbly beg you, sir, to spare me until I may be advised by my friends in Spain, whose counsel I will ask for. If you will not grant my request, then in the name of God, may your pleasure be fulfilled!”

Cardinal Wolsey said, “You have here, lady, and of your choice, these reverend fathers. They are men of singular integrity and learning. Indeed, they are the best of the land, and they are assembled to plead your cause. It shall be therefore useless for you to wish to delay the work of this ecclesiastical court. Delaying will not make you feel quieter and calmer, and it will not rectify what is unsettling King Henry VIII.”

Cardinal Compeius said, “His grace has spoken well and justly; therefore, madam, it’s fitting that this royal court session proceed, and that, without delay, these reverend fathers’ arguments be now produced and heard.”

“Lord Cardinal Wolsey,” Queen Catherine said, “to you I speak.”

“What is your pleasure, madam?” Cardinal Wolsey replied.

“Sir, I am about to weep, but thinking that we are a Queen, or long have dreamed so, and knowing that I certainly am the daughter of a King, I’ll turn my drops of tears into sparks of fire.”

“Stay patient and calm,” Cardinal Wolsey said.

“I will, when you are humble,” Queen Catherine said. “No, I will be patient and calm before you are humble, or God will punish me.”

She meant that Cardinal Wolsey would never be humble.

Queen Catherine continued, “I do believe, persuaded by potent circumstances, that you are my enemy, and I make my challenge that you shall not be my judge. I make my legal objection to you being my judge because it is you who have blown this coal into fire and caused this dissension between my lord — my husband — and me. May God’s dew quench the fire that you started! Therefore, I say again, I utterly object, yes, from my soul, to you being my judge, and I refuse you as my judge. I say yet once more that I regard you as my most malicious enemy, and I do not think that you are at all a friend to truth.”

Cardinal Wolsey replied, “I do profess that you are not speaking like yourself. You have always so far maintained Christian charity, and you have displayed the effects of a gentle disposition and of wisdom that surpasses what other women are capable of.

“Madam, you do me wrong. I have no anger against you, nor do I want injustice for you or for anyone. How far I have proceeded, or how much further I shall proceed, is warranted by a commission from the consistory, yes, the whole consistory of Rome.

“You charge against me that I have metaphorically blown this coal and caused dissension between the King and you. I deny it. The King is present. If it be known to him that I am denying that I did something that I really did, then he may wound, and worthily, my treachery! Yes, he may wound it as much as you have wounded my truth.

“If the King knows that I am guiltless of what you charge against me, then he knows that I am badly hurt by your false accusation. Therefore in him it lies to cure me, and the cure is to remove these thoughts from you. Before his highness speaks, I beg you, gracious madam, to take back what you said about me and to accuse me no more. Don’t think such bad things about me.”

“My lord, my lord,” Queen Catherine said, “I am a simple woman, and I am much too weak to oppose your cunning. You’re meek and humble-mouthed. You put on a full display of meekness and humility in order to advertise your place and calling, but your heart is crammed with arrogance, anger, and pride.

“You have, by Lady Fortune’s and his highness’ favors, gone lightly over low steps and now you have climbed high where powerful people are your servants, and your words, which are your servants, serve your will as it pleases you to pronounce their office. You order something to be done, and what you order is instantly done.

“I must tell you, you hold your secular reputation dearer than your high, spiritual profession. And I tell you again that I refuse to have you for my judge, and here, before you all, I say that I will appeal to the Pope to allow me to bring my whole case before his holiness so I can be judged by him.”

She curtsied to King Henry VIII and started to exit.

Cardinal Compeius said, “The Queen is obstinate, antagonistic to justice, prompt to accuse it, and disdainful to be tried by it. It is not well. She’s going away.”

King Henry VIII ordered, “Call her again.”

The crier said loudly, “Queen Catherine of England, come into the court.”

Queen Catherine’s gentleman-usher, whose name was Griffith, said to her, “Madam, you are called back to the court.”

“What need have you to pay attention to that?” Queen Catherine said. “Please, keep moving out of the court with me. When youare called, then youreturn. Now, may the Lord help me because they vex me past my patience! Please move on. I will not stay here, no, nor will I ever again upon this business make my appearance in any of their courts.”

Queen Catherine and her attendants exited.

King Henry VIII said, “Go on your way, Kate. Any man in the world who shall report he has a better wife, let him be trusted in nothing because he spoke falsely when saying that. If your splendid qualities, sweet gentleness, saint-like meekness, wife-like self-control, obedience to me while giving commands to others, and your supreme and pious qualities could speak out for you, they would say that you, alone, are the Queen of Earthly Queens.

“She’s nobly born, born noble, and like her true nobility, she has conducted herself nobly towards me.”

Cardinal Wolsey said, “Most gracious sir, in humblest manner I request of your highness that it shall please you to declare, in the hearing of all these ears — for where I am robbed and bound, there I must be unloosed, although there I cannot be immediately and fully compensated for what has been done to me — whether I ever broached this business to your highness, or laid any difficulty or doubt concerning your marriage in your way, which might induce you to question whether your marriage is legitimate. Also say whether I have to you, except with giving thanks to God for such a royal lady, spoken the least word that might be to the prejudice of her present state, or stain of her good person.”

King Henry VIII said, “My Lord Cardinal Wolsey, I excuse you; yes, upon my honor, I free you from that accusation. You already know that you have many enemies who don’t know why they are your enemies, but who, similar to village curs, bark when their fellows do. By some of these the Queen has been made angry. You are excused.”

King Henry VIII turned to the other people in the court and said, “But do you want to hear more exoneration for Cardinal Wolsey than those few words? Let me say more.

“Cardinal Wolsey, you have always wished the sleeping of this business; you have never desired it to be stirred up, but often you have hindered — often, I say — the passages made toward it.

“People in the court, on my honor, I speak for my good Lord Cardinal Wolsey on this point, and thus far clear him.

“Now, to tell you what moved me to hold this court to determine whether my marriage to Catherine is legitimate, I will be bold with your time and your attention: Pay attention as I describe what induced me to do this. Thus it came; give heed to it.

“My conscience first received a tenderness, misgiving, and prick, upon hearing certain speeches uttered by the Bishop of Bayonne, who was then the French ambassador. He had been sent here while we were discussing a marriage between the Duke of Orleans and our daughter, Mary.

“In the discussion of this business, before we made a decision, he — I mean the Bishop — required a respite during which he might inform the King his lord whether our daughter, Mary, was legitimate. He needed to do this because Mary was the child of my marriage with the dowager who was formerly my brother’s wife.

“This respite shook the heart of my conscience and entered me — yes, with a power as if I had been impaled with a spit — and made my chest tremble. This respite forced its way into my conscience, resulting in bewildered considerations thronging against me and pressing me to exercise caution.

“First, I thought I stood not in the smile of Heaven, which had commanded Nature that my lady’s womb, if it conceived a male child by me, should do no more offices of life to it than the grave does to the dead. I thought this because my lady’s male children were either stillborn or died shortly after being born and coming into the air of this world.

“Therefore, I took thought and concluded that this was a judgment on me, that my Kingdom, which was very worthy to have the best heir of the world, would not be made glad by me because Heaven and Nature were against me producing such an heir.

“Then I weighed the danger that my realms stood in because of my failure to produce a living male heir, and that gave to me many a groaning pain. Thus hulling in the wild sea of my conscience, I steered towards this remedy.”

“Hulling” means for a ship to have furled sails while on the sea; in this culture, a ship that is hulling cannot be steered.

King Henry VIII continued, “The remedy I mean is this for which we are now present here together. That’s to say, I meant to rectify my conscience. Previously, I felt very sick, and even now I don’t feel well. All the reverend fathers of the land and learned doctors of law will give me my remedy by determining whether my marriage to Queen Catherine is legitimate.

“First I began in private with you, my Lord Bishop of Lincoln. You remember how under my oppression I sweat, when I first raised this issue with you.”

“I remember very well, my liege,” the Bishop of Lincoln replied.

“I have spoken for a long time,” King Henry VIII said. “Please say yourself to what extent you satisfied me.”

“So please your highness,” the Bishop of Lincoln said, “the question at first so staggered me — because it was a question of such mighty moment and its outcome was something to be feared — that I made myself doubt the most daring counsel that I had and I entreated your highness to take this course of action that you are taking here.”

The most daring counsel was perhaps a recommendation of a divorce between the King and the Queen.

King Henry VIII said, “I then raised this issue with you, my Lord Bishop of Canterbury, and I got your permission to make this present summons of the Queen to this court.

“I left no reverend person unsolicited in this court, but by individual and particular consent I proceeded under your hands and seals. I got your written permission to hold this ecclesiastical court.

“Therefore, let us go on. Not because of any dislike in the world against the person of the good Queen, but only because of the sharp, thorny points of the reasons I have told you, I have taken this action.

“If you prove that the marriage of my Queen and me is lawful, then by my life and Kingly dignity, I say that I am contented to spend the rest of my mortal existence with her, Catherine our Queen, rather than with even the most excellent woman who is considered to be the paragon of the world.”

Cardinal Compeius said, “So please your highness, the Queen being absent, it is necessary and fitting that we adjourn this court until a later day.

“Meanwhile, an earnest attempt must be made to the Queen to persuade her to call back the appeal she intends to make to his holiness the Pope.”

King Henry VIII thought, I can perceive that these Cardinals are trifling with me. I abhor this dilatory sloth and these tricks of Rome.

My learned and well-beloved servant, Thomas Cranmer, please return. I know that when you arrive here, my comfort comes with you.

He said out loud, “Dissolve and break up the court. I say, let us move on.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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