David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY VIII: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scene 1

— 4.1 —

Two gentlemen met each other on a street. The coronation of Queen Anne Boleyn at Westminster Abbey was taking place that day, and she and a procession would pass along this street after she left Westminster Abbey.

“You’re well met once again,” the first gentleman said.

“So are you,” the second gentleman replied.

“Have you come to take your stand here, and see the Lady Anne pass from her coronation?”

“Yes, that is why I am here today. The last time we met, the Duke of Buckingham came this way from his trial.”

“That is very true, but that time offered sorrow. This time offers general joy.”

“That is good,” the second gentleman said. “The citizens, I am sure, have shown fully their devotion to royalty — as, to give them their due, they are always ready to do — in celebration of this day with shows, pageants, and sights of honor.”

“These shows, pageants, and sights of honor have never been greater, nor, I assure you, better appreciated, sir.”

“May I be bold and ask what that paper in your hand contains?”

“Of course,” the first gentleman said. “It is the list of those who claim their offices and duties this day by custom of the coronation.

“The Duke of Suffolk is the first, and his claim is to be the High Steward.”

The High Steward presides over the coronation.

The first gentleman continued, “Next is the Duke of Norfolk, and his claim is to be the Earl Marshal.”

The Earl Marshal arranges great ceremonies.

The first gentleman continued, “You may read the rest.”

“I thank you, sir,” the second gentleman said. “If I had not known those customs, I should have been indebted to your paper.

“But, I ask you, what’s become of Catherine, the Princess Dowager? How goes her business — the matter concerning her?”

The first gentleman said, “That I can tell you, too. The Archbishop of Canterbury, accompanied with other learned and reverend fathers of his order, held a recent court at Dunstable, six miles off from Ampthill, where the Dowager Princess resided. She was often summoned by them to appear at the court, but she did not appear. And, to be short, because of her non-appearance and the King’s recent worry that he may not be legally married to her, by the majority assent of all these learned men she was divorced from the King. After that judgment was made, she moved to Kimbolton, where she remains now. She is sick.”

“I pity the good lady,” the second gentleman said.

Trumpets sounded.

The second gentlemen said, “Listen! The trumpets sound. Stand close by because the Queen is coming.”

This is the order in which the procession of the coronation passed by the two gentlemen:

  1. Trumpeters appeared first and blew a lively flourish.
  2. Two judges appeared.
  3. The Lord Chancellor appeared, with his mace of office and the bag containing the Great Seal carried before him.
  4. Singing choristers appeared with playing musicians.
  5. The Mayor of London appeared, bearing the mace. Just behind him was the Garter King of Arms, in his coat of arms, and on his head a gilt copper crown.
  6. The Marquess Dorset appeared, bearing a scepter of gold and wearing on his head a demi-coronal of gold. With him appeared the Earl of Surrey, carrying a rod of silver with a dove and crowned with an Earl’s coronet. They were wearing collars made of S’s joined together.
  7. The Duke of Suffolk appeared, wearing his robe of state, with his coronet on his head, bearing a long white wand, in his office as High Steward. With him appeared the Duke of Norfolk, carrying the rod of a Marshal and wearing a coronet on his head. They were wearing collars made of S’s joined together.
  8. Four people representing the Cinque-ports — ports on the southeast coast of England — appeared, holding a canopy. Under the canopy was Queen Anne, wearing her robe and with her hair richly adorned with pearls and crowned. At her sides walked the Bishops of London and Winchester.
  9. The old Duchess of Norfolk appeared, wearing a coronal of gold, wrought with flowers, carrying Queen Anne’s train.
  10. Certain ladies or Countesses, wearing plain circlets of gold without flowers, appeared.

The two gentlemen talked about the members of the procession as they passed by them.

The second gentleman said, “This is a royal procession, believe me. These people I know, but who is that man who is carrying the scepter?”

“He is the Marquess Dorset,” the first gentleman said, “and the man carrying the rod is the Earl of Surrey.”

“He is a bold, brave gentleman. I suppose that this man is the Duke of Suffolk?”

“Yes, that is he. He is acting as the High Steward today.”

“And is that man my Lord of Norfolk?” the second gentleman asked.

“Yes,” the second gentleman replied.

He then looked at Queen Anne and said, “May Heaven bless you! You have the sweetest face I ever looked on.”

He then said to the first gentleman, “Sir, as I have a soul, she is an angel. Our King has all the riches of the Indies in his arms, and more and richer, when he embraces that lady. I cannot blame his conscience.”

The second gentleman thought that King Henry VIII’s conscience might be bothering him because he had had to divorce his first wife, Catherine, in order to marry Anne Boleyn, but Queen Anne was so beautiful that the second gentleman could not blame the King for divorcing Catherine.

The first gentleman said, “Those who carry the cloth of honor — the canopy — over her are four barons of the Cinque-ports.”

“Those men are happy; and so are all men who are near her,” the second gentleman said. “I take it that the woman who carries the train of the Queen’s robe is that old noble lady, the Duchess of Norfolk.”

“It is; and all the rest are countesses.”

“Their coronets say so,” the second gentleman said. “These are stars indeed, and sometimes falling ones.”

He was punning. One meaning of “falling” was “yielding her virginity.”

The first gentleman said, “No more of that.”

The procession exited. Trumpets sounded, and a third gentleman joined the first two gentlemen. The third gentleman was obviously hot; he was sweating.

The first gentleman said, “May God save you, sir! Where have you been broiling?”

“Among the crowd in Westminster Abbey, where not even one more finger could be wedged in because it was so crowded,” the third gentleman said. “I am stifled with the complete rankness of their joy.”

The word “rankness” meant both “excess” and “bad odor.”

The second gentleman asked him, “Did you see the coronation ceremony?”

“Yes, I did.”

“How was it?” the first gentleman asked.

“Well worth the seeing.”

“Good sir, describe it to us,” the second gentleman said.

“I will as well as I am able to,” the third gentleman said. “The rich stream of lords and ladies, having brought the Queen to a prepared place in the choir, withdrew a distance away from her while her grace sat down to rest awhile, some half an hour or so, in a rich chair of state, displaying freely the beauty of her person to the people.

“Believe me, sir, she is the most beautiful woman who ever lay by a man. When the people had a full view of her, such a noise arose as the mast ropes make at sea in a stiff tempest, as loud, and to as many tunes. Hats, cloaks — and doublets, I think — flew up, and if their faces had been loose, this day the people would have lost their faces.

“Such joy I never saw before. Great-bellied women who had not half a week to go before giving birth, like battering rams in the old time of war, would shake the crowd of people and make them reel before them.

“No man living could say, ‘This is my wife,’ there; all were woven together so strangely into one piece.”

“What happened next?” the second gentleman said.

“At length her grace rose,” the third gentleman said, “and with modest, moderate steps, she came to the altar, where she kneeled and saint-like cast her fair eyes toward Heaven and prayed devoutly.

“Then she rose again and bowed to the people. The Archbishop of Canterbury then laid all the royal accouterments of a Queen — namely, holy oil, Edward the Confessor’s crown, the rod, and the bird of peace, and all such emblems — nobly on her.

“After that was performed, the choir, accompanied by all the choicest musicians of the kingdom, sang the ‘Te Deum.’”

The song began, “Te deum laudamus.” This meant, “You, God, we praise.”

The third gentleman continued, “So then she departed, and with the same full state walked back again to York Place, where the feast is to be held.”

“Sir, you must no longer call it York Place,” the first gentleman said. “That’s past, for since Cardinal Wolsey fell, that title’s lost. That place is now the King’s, and it is now called Whitehall.”

“That’s true,” the third gentleman said. “I knew that, but the name is so recently altered that the old name is still foremost in my mind.”

The second gentleman asked, “Who are the two reverend Bishops who were on each side of the Queen?”

“They are Stokesley and Gardiner,” the third gentleman said. “Gardiner is the Bishop of Winchester; he was recently promoted from being the King’s secretary. Stokesley is the Bishop of London.”

The second gentleman said, “The Bishop of Winchester is thought to be no great good friend to the Archbishop of Canterbury: the virtuous Cranmer.”

“All the land knows that,” the third gentleman said. “However, as of now there is no great breach between them. When it comes, Cranmer will find that he has a friend who will not shrink from him.”

“Who may that be, I ask you?” the second gentleman said.

“Thomas Cromwell,” the third gentleman said. “He is a man whom the King holds in much esteem, and truly he is a worthy friend. The King has made him Master of the Jewel House, and he is already a member of the Privy Council.”

The Master of the King’s Jewel House had charge of the crown jewels and other valuable items.

“He will deserve more,” the second gentleman said.

“Yes, without all doubt,” the third gentleman said. “Come, gentlemen, you shall go with me on my way, which is to the court, and there you shall be my guests: That is something I can arrange. As we walk there, I’ll tell you more.”

“You may command us, sir,” the first and second gentlemen said.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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