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

— 4.2 —

In a room of the Dowager Princess’ residence in Kimbolton, several people met: Catherine, the Princess Dowager; Griffith, her gentleman-usher; and Patience, her serving woman. Catherine was sick; in fact, she was dying.

Griffith asked Catherine, “How is your grace?”

She replied, “Oh, Griffith, I am sick to death! My legs, like heavily laden branches, bow to the earth, wanting to be relieved of their burden. Bring me a chair.”

He did, and she sat down.

“Good,” she said. “Now, I think, I feel a little relief. Didn’t you tell me, Griffith, as you helped me walk here, that the great child of honor, Cardinal Wolsey, is dead?”

“Yes, madam,” Griffith said, “but I thought your grace, out of the pain you were suffering, did not hear me.”

“Please, good Griffith,” Catherine said, “tell me how he died. If he died well, then he stepped ahead of me, perhaps to be my happy, fortunate example.”

“He died well — that is how the talk goes, madam,” Griffith said. “For after the brave Earl Northumberland arrested him at York, and brought him forward, as a man severely disgraced, to answer the charges against him, Cardinal Wolsey fell sick suddenly, and he grew so ill that he could not sit on his mule.”

“Alas, poor man!” Catherine said. “That’s a pity.”

“At last, with easy stages of his journey, he came to Leicester, where he lodged in the abbey,” Griffith said. “There the reverend abbot, with all the members of his religious community, honorably received him.

“Cardinal Wolsey said to the reverend abbot, ‘Oh, father abbot, I am an old man, broken with the storms of state, and I have come to lay my weary bones among you. Give me a little earth for charity! Give me a grave when I die!’

“He then went to bed, where his sickness eagerly and continually pursued him, and three nights after this, about the hour of eight, which he himself had foretold should be his last hour, full of repentance, continual meditations, tears, and lamentations, he gave his honors to the world again and he gave his blessed part — his soul — to Heaven, and he slept in peace.”

“So may he rest in peace,” Catherine said. “May his faults lie gently on him! Yet thus far, Griffith, give me permission to speak about and describe him — with charity, I mean.”

She believed that she ought to speak with Christian charity and love about the dead, but doing so was difficult despite her good intentions.

She said, “He was a man of an unbounded stomach for power and wealth and pride, forever ranking himself as the equal of Princes. He was a man who, by underhanded dealing and incitement to evil, put all the Kingdom of England into bondage. To him, Simony — the buying and selling of ecclesiastical offices — was fair play. His own opinion was his law. In the presence of the King, he would say untruths, and he was always duplicitous both in his words and meaning. He was never seemingly compassionate except where he meant to ruin. His promises were, as he then was, mighty, but his performance was, as he is now, nothing: He promised more than he gave. In his sexual morality, he was reprehensible, and he gave the clergy a bad example.”

“Noble madam,” Griffith said, “men’s evil deeds are recorded and live on in brass; their virtues we write in water. May it please your highness to hear me speak about his good deeds and good qualities now?”

“Yes, good Griffith,” Catherine said. “I would be malicious if I did not.”

“Cardinal Wolsey, although he came from humble stock, undoubtedly was fashioned to much honor. From his cradle he was a scholar, and a ripe and good one. He was exceedingly wise, fair-spoken, and persuasive. He was haughty and sour to them who were not his friends, but to those men who sought him he was as sweet as summer. And although he was never satisfied with all the wealth he accumulated, and he wanted more and more, which was a sin, yet in bestowing, madam, he was most Princely. For example, take those twin schools of learning that he raised in Ipswich and Oxford! The school of learning in Ipswich fell with him, unwilling to outlive the good man who had founded it. The school of learning in Oxford, though unfinished, is yet so famous, so excellent in scholarship, and still so rising, that Christendom shall always speak about its virtue.

“Cardinal Wolsey’s overthrow and fall from power heaped happiness upon him because then, and not until then, he found and knew himself, and he found the blessedness of being little powerful. And, to add greater honors to his age than man could give him, he died fearing — revering — God.”

Catherine said, “After my death I wish no other herald, no other speaker of my actions that I performed while I was alive, to keep my honor from corruption, except such an honest chronicler as you, Griffith.

“You have made me, with your scrupulous truth and moderation, honor in his ashes now Cardinal Wolsey, the man whom I most hated while he was living. May peace be with him!

“Patience, be near me still, and set me lower on this chair so that I can recline. I have not much time left alive in which to trouble you.

“Good Griffith, tell the musicians to play me that sad music I named my knell — music to announce my death — while I sit meditating on that celestial harmony I go to.”

The musicians played sad, solemn music.

Griffith said, “She is asleep. Patience, good girl, let’s sit down quietly, for fear we will awaken her. Gently, gentle Patience.”

While asleep, Catherine had a vision.

She saw, solemnly dancing one after another, six personages, clad in white robes, wearing garlands of bay leaves on their heads and golden masks on their faces, and holding bay or palm branches in their hands.

The six personages first curtsied to her, then danced. At certain rounds of the dance, the first two personages held a spare garland over her head, at which the other four made reverent curtsies to Catherine. Then the two personages who had held the garland gave it to the next two, who danced the same rounds, and then held the garland over her head while the other personages curtsied. This done, they gave the garland to the last two personages, and all the personages did the same things that had been done before.

Catherine, as if she were inspired, made in her sleep signs of rejoicing, and she held up her hands to Heaven.

The personages danced away and vanished, carrying the spare garland with them.

The music continued to play.

Catherine woke up and said, “Spirits of peace, where are you? Have you all gone and left me here in wretchedness behind you?”

Griffith said, “Madam, we are here.”

“It is not you I am calling for,” Catherine said. “Did you see anyone enter the room since I fell asleep?”

“No one, madam,” Griffith said.

“No?” Catherine said. “Didn’t you see, just now, a blessed troop invite me to a banquet — a blessed troop of good spirits whose bright faces cast a thousand beams upon me, like the Sun? They promised me eternal happiness, and they brought me garlands, Griffith, which I feel I am not worthy yet to wear. I shall, assuredly, be worthy to wear them in Heaven.”

“I am very joyful, madam, that such good dreams have come to you,” Griffith said.

“Order the musicians to stop playing,” Catherine said. “Their notes are harsh and heavy to me.”

The musicians stopped playing.

Patience said quietly to Griffith, “Do you see how much her grace has suddenly changed? How long her face is drawn? How pale she looks? She is of an earthy coldness — a sign of death! Look at her eyes!”

According to Aristotle, four elements exist: earth, air, fire, and water. Earth is a cold, dry element.

Ecclesiastes 12-7 states, “And dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit return to God that gave it” (1599 Geneva Bible).

“She is going, girl,” Griffith said. “She is dying. Pray, pray for her.”

“May Heaven comfort her!” Patience said.

A messenger entered the room and said to Catherine, without kneeling, “If it like your grace —”

These words were too informal for a mere messenger to use when addressing a Queen, who should be knelt to and spoken formally and respectfully to.

“You are a saucy, insolent fellow,” Catherine said to the messenger.

Using the royal plural, she added, “Don’t we deserve more reverence than that?”

Griffith said to the messenger, “You are to blame for using such rude behavior. You know that she will not let go of her accustomed greatness. Go on! Kneel!”

The messenger knelt and apologized, “I humbly entreat your highness’ pardon. My haste made me act rudely and without manners. A gentleman, sent from the King, is waiting to see you.”

“Bring the gentleman here, Griffith,” Catherine ordered, “but this fellow, this messenger, I never want to see again.”

Griffith and the messenger exited, and Griffith quickly returned with the gentleman, whose name was Capucius.

Catherine said to him, “If my sight has not failed me, you are the lord ambassador from the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who is my royal nephew, and your name is Capucius.”

“Yes, madam,” Capucius said. “I am he, and I am your servant.”

“Oh, my lord,” Catherine said, “the times and my titles now are strangely altered since first you knew me, but please tell me what you want.”

“Noble lady,” Capucius said, “first I want to offer my own service to your grace. Next I want to say that King Henry VIII requested that I would visit you. He grieves much for you because of your weakness, and by me he sends you his Princely commendations and greetings, and heartily entreats you to take good comfort.”

“Oh, my good lord, that comfort comes too late,” Catherine said. “It is like a pardon after an execution. That gentle medicine, given in time, would have cured me, but now I am past all comforts here on Earth, except prayers.

“How is his highness?”

“Madam, he is in good health,” Capucius replied.

“So may he always be!” Catherine said. “And may he always flourish, while I shall dwell with worms, and my poor name has been banished from the Kingdom!

“Patience, has that letter I caused you to write been sent away yet?”

“No, madam,” Patience replied.

She gave the letter to Catherine, who gave it to Capucius and said, “Sir, I most humbly ask you to deliver this letter to my lord the King.”

“I will do so most willingly, madam,” Capucius replied.

Catherine said, “In this letter I have entrusted to the King’s goodness the model of our chaste loves, his young daughter: Mary. May the dews of Heaven fall thickly in blessings on her!

“I ask him to give her a virtuous upbringing. She is young, and she has a noble and modest nature. I hope she will deserve well. I also ask him to love her a little for the sake of her mother, who loved him, Heaven knows how dearly.

“My next poor petition to the King is that his noble grace would have some pity upon my wretched ladies-of-waiting, who for so long have followed both my fortunes — my good fortune and my bad fortune — faithfully. I dare to avow — since I am a dying person, I will not lie — that of all my ladies-of-waiting, all of them deserve on account of their virtue and true beauty of the soul and their honesty and decent behavior a very good husband. Let their husbands be noble; I am sure that those men who shall marry my ladies-of-waiting will be happy.

“My last request is for my men who serve me. They are the poorest in money, but poverty could never draw them away from me. I request from the King that they may have their wages duly paid them, and something in excess to remember me by.

“If Heaven had been pleased to give me longer life and suitable means, we would not have parted like this.

“These are the whole contents of my letter to the King.

“My good lord, by all that you love the dearest in this world, and as you wish Christian peace to departed souls, I ask you to be these poor people’s friend, and urge the King to do me this last right and rite.”

“By Heaven, I will,” Capucius said, “or let me not be known as a man!”

“I thank you, honest lord,” Catherine said. “Remember me in all humility to his highness. Say that the person who caused his long trouble is now passing out of this world. Tell him that while dying I blessed him, for so I will. My eyes grow dim. Farewell, my lord.

“Griffith, farewell.

“Patience, you must not leave me yet. I must go to bed. Call in more women to help you put me to bed. When I am dead, good girl, let me be treated with honor. Strew over me flowers that are appropriate for a maiden, so that all the world may know that I was a chaste wife all the way to my grave. Embalm me, then lay me out. Although I have been un-Queened, yet inter me like a Queen and like the daughter to a King. I can do and say no more.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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