David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY VIII: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 1

— 3.1 —

Queen Catherine and her female attendants were sewing in a room of her apartment.

Queen Catherine said to one of her female attendants, “Take up your lute, girl. My soul grows sad with troubles. Sing, and disperse them, if you can. Stop working.”

The female attendant sang this song:

Orpheus with his lute made trees,

And the mountain tops that freeze,

Bow themselves when he did sing:

To his music plants and flowers

Ever sprung; as if Sun and showers

There had made a lasting spring.

Every thing that heard him play,

Even the billows of the sea,

Hung their heads, and then lay by and rested.

In sweet music is such art,

Mortal worry and grief of heart

Fall asleep, or hearing, die.

A gentleman entered the room.

Queen Catherine asked, “What is it?”

The gentleman replied, “If it pleases your grace, the two great Cardinals are waiting for you in the reception chamber.”

“Do they wish to speak with me?” Queen Catherine asked.

“They wanted me to say so, madam,” the gentleman replied.

“Ask their graces to come here,” Queen Catherine ordered.

The gentleman exited.

Queen Catherine said, “What can their business be with me, a poor weak woman, who has fallen from favor? I do not like their coming. Now I think about it, the Cardinals should be good men, and their business should be as righteous as the Cardinals are good, but not all hoods make monks.”

Cardinal Wolsey and Cardinal Campeius entered the room.

“Peace to your highness!” Cardinal Wolsey said.

“Your graces find me here doing a part of the work of a housewife,” Queen Catherine said. “I should learn to do all the work of a housewife as preparation for the worst that may happen. Perhaps I will be cast out of the palace with nothing and will have to work to make my living.

“What is your business with me, reverend lords?”

Cardinal Wolsey said, “If it would please you, noble madam, to withdraw into your private chamber, we shall tell you the full reason for our coming to visit you.”

“Tell me here,” Queen Catherine said. “There’s nothing I have done yet, on my conscience, that deserves a corner in which it can hide.”

A proverb stated, “Truth seeks no corners.”

She continued, “I wish that all other women could say this with as free and innocent a soul as I do!

“My lords, I am so much happier than many others that I don’t care if my actions were to be tried by every tongue, if every eye saw them, and if malice and base gossip were set against them. I know that my life is constantly upright.

“If your business concerns me and my situation as wife to King Henry VIII, then say so — out with it boldly. Truth loves open dealing.”

Cardinal Woolsey, who did not want the female attendants to know what he, Cardinal Campeius, and Queen Catherine would be discussing, said, “Tanta est erga te mentis integritas, regina serenissima—”

This Latin meant, “So great is the integrity of my purpose towards you, most serene Queen —”

Queen Catherine, who was not serene, objected, “Oh, my good lord, no Latin. I am not such a truant since my coming to England from Spain as not to know the language of the country I have lived in so long. A strange — foreign — tongue makes my matter of concern seem stranger — more suspicious.

“Please, speak in English. Here among us are some who will thank you, if you speak the truth, for their poor mistress’ sake. Believe me, she has suffered much wrong done to her, Lord Cardinal.

“The most deliberate sin I have ever yet committed may be absolved in English.”

“Noble lady,” Cardinal Wolsey said, “I am sorry my integrity — and my service to his majesty and, um, to you — should breed such deep suspicion, where only loyalty was meant.

“We come not to accuse you of anything. We don’t want to taint that honor of yours that every good tongue blesses, nor do we want to betray you in any manner to sorrow — you already have too much sorrow, good lady. Instead, we have come to find out what you think about the weighty difference between the King and you, and we have come to declare, like magnanimous and honorable men, our just opinions about your court case. We hope to comfort you.”

Cardinal Campeius said, “Most honored madam, my Lord Cardinal Wolsey of York, out of his noble nature, zeal, and obedience he always has borne your grace, forgetting like a good man your recent condemnation both of his truth and himself, a condemnation that went too far, offers, as I do, as a sign of peace, his service and his counsel.”

Queen Catherine thought, Yes, they offer their service and counsel in order to betray me.

She said out loud, “My lords, I thank you both for your good wills. You speak like honest men; I pray to God that you prove to be honest men!

“But I truly don’t know how to make you an impromptu answer in such a serious matter that is so near my honor — and even nearer to my life, I fear — with my weak intelligence, and to such men of gravity and learning.”

This culture regarded men as being more intelligent than women.

Queen Catherine continued, “I was seated and at work among my ladies-in-waiting, and I was very little, God knows, expecting either such men as you or such business as this. For the sake of the woman whom I have been — for I feel that these are the final hours and the death spasm of my greatness as Queen — I ask your good graces to let me have time and counsel for my case. Alas, I am a woman who is friendless and hopeless!”

Cardinal Wolsey said, “Madam, you wrong the King’s love with these fears. Your hopes and friends are infinite.”

Queen Catherine said, “In England I have few hopes and few friends for my benefit. Can you think and believe, lords, that any Englishman would dare to give me counsel or be a known friend to me, against his highness’ pleasure, even if he has grown so desperate as to be honest and truthful, and yet still live as a subject to the King?

“No, truly, my friends — those who must compensate for my afflictions, and those whom I have grown to trust — do not live here in England. They are, as are all my other comforts, far from here and in my own country of Spain, lords.”

Cardinal Campeius said, “I wish that your grace would set aside your griefs, and take my counsel.”

“How can I do that, sir?” Queen Catherine asked.

He replied, “You can put yourself under the King’s protection. He’s loving and very gracious, and it will be much better both for your honor and yourself, for if the trial of the law overtakes you, you’ll depart from here disgraced.”

“He tells you rightly,” Cardinal Wolsey said.

This was a threat. If she agreed to a divorce, she would retain some honor and be treated well as the dowager of King Henry VIII’s older brother — her marriage to Arthur, the older brother, was regarded by all as legitimate. But if she did not agree to the divorce and a trial was held with acrimonious judges, she could end up severely disgraced. In addition, her enemies were powerful, and one possible outcome if she continued to resist could be being accused of adultery and treason, followed by a beheading.

Queen Catherine replied, “You tell me what both of you wish for — my ruin. Is this your Christian counsel to me? Get out! Heaven is still above all of us; in Heaven a Judge sits Whom no King can corrupt.”

“Your rage misjudges us,” Cardinal Campeius said.

“Your actions shower all the more shame on you,” Queen Catherine said. “Upon my soul, I thought that you were holy men. I thought that you were two reverend personifications of the cardinal virtues.

“But I fear that you are two personifications of cardinal sins — and of hollow hearts.”

The cardinal sins are the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, envy, wrath, sloth, gluttony, and lechery. The cardinal virtues are justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude. In addition, there are three Heavenly graces, aka virtues: faith, hope, and love/charity.

Queen Catherine continued, “Mend your hollow hearts, for shame, my lords. Is this your Christian comfort for me? Is this the cordial — the medicinal drink — that you bring a wretched lady, a woman lost among you, laughed at, scorned?

“I will not wish you half my miseries because I have more charity than that, but say that I warned you. Take heed, for Heaven’s sake, take heed, lest one day the burden of my sorrows suddenly falls upon you.”

Cardinal Wolsey said, “Madam, this is purely a frenzy of yours. The good we offer to you, you misconstrue as malice.”

“You turn me into nothing,” Queen Catherine said. “Woe upon you and all such false professors of the Christian faith! Would you have me — if you have any justice, any pity; if you are anything but the mere appearance of churchmen — put my sick self into the hands of one who hates me?

“Alas, the King has already banished me from his bed. His love was too long ago! I am old, my lords, and all the fellowship I hold now with the King my husband is only my obedience. What can happen to me above this wretchedness? All your efforts have made me accursed like this.”

“Your fears are worse than the reality,” Cardinal Campeius said.

Queen Catherine replied, “Have I lived thus long — let me speak for myself, since virtue finds no friends — as a wife, a true and loyal and faithful wife? I dare say without vainglory that I am a woman who never has been branded with suspicion of adultery. Haven’t I with all my full affections always met the King’s wishes? Haven’t I always loved him second only to Heaven? Haven’t I always obeyed him? Haven’t I always, out of fondness and love for him, almost idolized him? Haven’t I almost forgot my prayers in my attempt to make him happy? And am I thus rewarded?

“This treatment of me is not good, lords. Bring me a woman who has been constantly loyal to her husband, one who never dreamed of a joy beyond his pleasure, and compared to that woman, when she has done the most and the best she can do, yet I will add an honor: a great patience.”

“Madam, you wander from the good we aim at,” Cardinal Wolsey said.

“My lord, I dare not make myself so guilty as to give up willingly that noble title your master — the King — wed me to. Nothing but death shall ever divorce my dignities.”

“Please, listen to me,” Cardinal Wolsey said.

Queen Catherine said, “I wish that I had never trod on this English earth, or felt the flatteries that grow upon it! You have angels’ faces, but Heaven knows your hearts.”

A proverb stated, “Fair face, foul heart.”

She continued, “What will become of me, a wretched lady, now! I am the unhappiest woman living.”

She said to her ladies-in-waiting, whose fortunes were connected to hers, “Alas, poor women, where are now your fortunes! I am shipwrecked upon a Kingdom where I have no pity, no friend, no hope, and no kindred to weep for me, and where almost no grave is allowed me. Like the lily that once was mistress of the field and flourished, I’ll hang my head and perish.”

Psalm 103:15-16 states, “The days of man are as grass: as a flower of the field, so flourisheth he. For the wind goeth over it, and it is gone, and the place thereof shall know it no more” (1599 Geneva Bible).

Cardinal Wolsey said, “If your grace could but be brought to know our ends are honest, you would feel more comfort. Why should we, good lady, for what reason should we wrong you? Alas, our positions and the way of our religious calling are against it. We are to cure such sorrows, not to sow them.

“For goodness’ sake, consider what you are doing, how you may hurt yourself, yes, utterly grow away from the King’s acquaintance, by this behavior.

“The hearts of Princes kiss obedience, so much they love it, but to stubborn spirits the hearts of Princes swell, and grow as terrible as storms.”

Again, this was a threat. Bad things could happen to Queen Catherine if she continued to resist agreeing to a divorce.

Cardinal Wolsey continued, “I know you have a gentle, noble temperament, a soul as calm as a sea with no wind and waves. Please, think that we are what we profess to be: peacemakers, friends, and servants.”

Cardinal Campeius said, “Madam, you’ll find that this is true. You wrong your virtues with these weak women’s fears. A noble spirit, like yours that was put into you when you were conceived, always casts such doubts, as if they were false coin, from it.

“The King loves you. Be careful that you don’t lose his love. As for us, if you please to trust us in your business, we are ready to use our utmost efforts in your service.”

Queen Catherine said, “Do what you will, my lords, and please forgive me if I have behaved without good manners. You know I am a woman who lacks the intelligence to make a seemly, decorous answer to such persons as yourselves.

“Please, pay my respects to his majesty. He has my heart still, and he shall have my prayers as long as I live. Come, reverend fathers, bestow your counsels on me. She — I — now begs, who little thought, when she set foot on England here, she should have bought her dignities at such an expensive price.”

This sounds as if she capitulated, yet history records that she continued to refuse to appear in any court that discussed the legality of her marriage to King Henry VIII.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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