David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY VIII: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scene 1

— 5.1 —

Gardiner, who was the Bishop of Winchester, was in a gallery in the palace in London. A page held a torch before him. A gallery is a long room in which the King and others could take indoor walks.

Gardiner said, “It’s one o’clock, boy, isn’t it?”

The page replied, “The clock has struck one.”

“These should be hours for necessities, not for delights,” Gardiner said. “These should be times to repair our nature with comforting repose, and not for us to waste these times.”

Sir Thomas Lovell entered the room, and Gardiner said, “This is a good hour of the night, Sir Thomas! Where are you going so late?”

“Did you come from the King, my lord?” Sir Thomas Lovell asked.

“I did, Sir Thomas, and I left him as he was playing the card game primero with the Duke of Suffolk.”

“I must go to him, too, before he goes to bed,” Sir Thomas Lovell said. “I’ll take my leave of you. Good night.”

“Not yet, Sir Thomas Lovell,” Gardiner said. “What’s the matter? It seems you are in haste. If you can do so without causing great offence, give your friend some taste of your late business. Affairs that walk, as they say spirits do, in the middle of the night, have in them a wilder nature than the business that seeks dispatch by day. Your business must be something important.”

Sir Thomas Lovell replied, “My lord, I respect you, and I would dare to entrust to your ears a secret much weightier than this one. Queen Anne’s in labor, they say, and in great extremity, and it is feared she’ll die in childbirth.”

“The fruit she goes with I pray for heartily, hoping that it may find this a good time to be born and live, but as for the trunk of the tree, Sir Thomas, I wish it were uprooted now. I hope that the child lives and the mother dies.”

“I think I could cry ‘amen’ and agree with you, and yet my conscience says that Queen Anne is a good creature and a sweet lady, and that she deserves our better wishes,” Sir Thomas Lovell said.

“But, sir, sir, listen to me, Sir Thomas. You’re a gentleman of my own way. We believe in the same form of religion. I know that you are wise and religious, and let me tell you that it will never be well, it will not, Sir Thomas Lovell, take it from me, until Cranmer and Cromwell, who are Queen Anne’s two hands, aka two main supporters, and she, Queen Anne herself, sleep in their graves.”

“Now, sir, you are speaking about two of the most talked-about men in the kingdom. As for Cromwell, besides being Master of the Jewel House, he has been made Master of the Rolls, and the King’s secretary.”

The Master of the Rolls is in charge of the records of the Court of Chancery and of documents bearing the Great Seal.

Sir Thomas Lovell continued, “Further, sir, Cromwell stands in the entrance and path of more promotions, with which the time will load him.

“Cranmer — the Archbishop of Canterbury — is the King’s hand and tongue, and so who dares to speak even one syllable against him?”

Gardiner replied, “Yes, yes, Sir Thomas, there are those who dare to speak against him, and I myself have ventured to speak my mind about him, and indeed this day, Sir, I may say to you, I think I have incensed and angered the lords of the Privy Council by informing them that he is — for if I know he is, then they know he is — a most arch heretic, a pestilence that infects the land.”

Cranmer supported Protestant ideas, and Gardiner supported Catholic ideas.

Gardiner continued, “Moved by my information, they have given this information to the King, who has so far listened to our complaint. Because of his great grace and Princely care foreseeing those deadly evils our arguments made clear lay before him, the King has commanded that Cranmer be summoned to appear tomorrow morning before the Council Board. He’s a rank weed, Sir Thomas, and we must root him out.

“I have kept you from your affairs too long. Good night, Sir Thomas.”

“Many good nights to you, my lord,” Sir Thomas Lovell replied. “I remain your servant.”

Gardiner and the page exited.

King Henry VIII and the Duke of Suffolk, whose name was Charles Brandon, entered the room.

King Henry VIII said, “Charles, I will play no more tonight. My mind’s not on it; you are too hard for me to beat.”

“Sir, I never have won anything from you before,” the Duke of Suffolk said.

“You have won only a little, Charles, and you shall not win anything when I can keep my mind on my play,” King Henry VIII said. His wife’s giving birth was distracting his mind.

Seeing Sir Thomas Lovell, the King asked, “Now, Lovell, what is the news from the Queen?”

“I could not personally deliver to her the message that you commanded me to give her, but by her woman servant I sent your message. She returned the Queen’s thanks with the greatest humbleness, and she desired your highness most heartily to pray for her.”

“What are you saying?” King Henry VIII said. “To pray for her? Is she crying out in pain?”

“So said her woman servant, who also said that her suffering almost made each pang a death,” Sir Thomas Lovell said.

“Alas, good lady!” King Henry VIII said.

“May God safely deliver her of her burden, her baby, and with little travail, to the gladdening of your highness with an heir!” the Duke of Suffolk said.

“It is the middle of the night, Charles,” King Henry VIII said. “Please, go to bed and in your prayers remember the condition of my poor Queen. Leave me alone; for I must think about that which company would not be friendly to. I want to be alone right now.”

“I wish your highness a quiet night,” the Duke of Suffolk said, “and I will remember my good mistress in my prayers.”

“Charles, good night,” the King said.

Sir Anthony Denny entered the gallery.

“Well, sir, what is your news?” King Henry VIII asked.

“Sir, I have brought my lord the Archbishop, as you commanded me.”

“The Archbishop of Canterbury?” the King asked.

“Yes, my good lord,” Sir Anthony Denny replied.

“Good,” the King said. “Where is he, Denny?”

“He is awaiting your highness’ pleasure to see him.”

Sir Anthony Denny exited to get Cranmer.

Sir Thomas Lovell, who wanted to eavesdrop on the conversation, thought, This concerns that which Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester, spoke to me about. It is fortunate that I came here tonight.

Sir Anthony Denny returned with Cranmer.

King Henry VIII ordered, “Leave the gallery.”

Sir Thomas Lovell loitered, hoping the King was referring only to Sir Anthony Denny.

King Henry VIII looked directly at Sir Thomas Lovell and said, “I gave you an order. Leave the gallery.”

Sir Anthony Denny and Sir Thomas Lovell left the gallery.

The King frowned.

Cranmer thought, I am afraid. Why is the King frowning like this? This is a terrifying expression. Not all is well.

“How are you now, my lord?” King Henry VIII said. “You must want to know why I sent for you.”

Cranmer knelt and said, “It is my duty to attend your highness’ pleasure.”

“Please, arise, my good and gracious Lord of Canterbury,” the King said.

Cranmer stood again.

The King continued, “Come, you and I must take a walk together in the gallery. I have news to tell you. Come, come, give me your hand. Ah, my good lord, I grieve at what I will speak to you, and I am very sorry to repeat what follows.

“I have, and most unwillingly, recently heard many grievous — I do say, my lord, grievous — complaints about you. Having considered these grievances, we and our Privy Council have decided to summon you to come before us this morning.

“I know that you cannot easily clear yourself there of these accusations, so until there is a further trial in those charges that will require you to make your defense, you must gather your patience and be well contented to make your house our Tower of London. That will be your residence for a while. You are a metaphorical brother to us, and you are a member of the powerful Privy Council. It is fitting that we thus proceed like this, or else no witness would come against you. If you were to continue to be a member of the powerful Privy Council, no one would be brave enough to give any testimony against you.”

Cranmer knelt again and said, “I humbly thank your highness, and I am very glad to catch this good occasion for me very thoroughly to be winnowed, in which my chaff and my wholesome grains shall fly apart, for I know that there’s no one who is exposed to more calumnious and defamatory tongues than I myself, poor man, do.”

“Stand up, good Archbishop of Canterbury,” King Henry VIII said.

The King now used the informal pronouns “thy” and thou” that in this context were a sign of affection between friends: “Thy truth and thy integrity are rooted in us, thy friend. We know that thou are loyal and have integrity. Give me thy hand; stand up.”

Cranmer stood up, and the King said to him, “Please, let’s walk. Now, by my sanctity, I ask you, what manner of man are you? My lord, I expected you to petition me to take some pains to bring together yourself and your accusers so you could face them, and for me to hear your case completely and quickly without a distressing delay.”

“Most dread-inspiring liege,” Cranmer said, “The good I stand on is my truth and honesty: If they shall fail, I, with my enemies, will triumph over my personal self, which I regard as being worth nothing, if I lack those virtues of truth and honesty. I fear nothing that can be said against me.”

Touched by Cranmer’s innocence, King Henry VIII said, “Don’t you know how you stand in the world, with the whole world? Your enemies are many, and not small in rank or in power. Their schemes and plots must bear the same proportion — they will not be small. And not always do the justice and the truth of the question carry the due of the verdict with them. A just and true person can unjustly and falsely be found guilty.

“How easily might corrupt minds procure knaves as corrupt as they to swear falsely and commit perjury against you? Such things have been done. Your enemies are powerful, and their malice is of as great size as their power.

“Do you think you will have better luck, I mean when it comes to perjured testimony, than your Master, Jesus, whose minister you are, while He lived here upon this evil, wicked Earth?

“Come on! Don’t be naïve! With no good reason, you are walking along a precipice and putting yourself in danger of falling to your own destruction.”

Cranmer replied, “May God and your majesty protect my innocence, or I will fall into the trap that is laid for me!”

“Be of good cheer,” King Henry VIII said. “Your enemies shall no more prevail than we will allow them to.

“Be of good comfort, and this morning see that you appear before them. If they should happen, in charging you with these matters, to commit you to the Tower of London, do not fail to make the best and most persuasive arguments to the contrary, and be sure to make them with what vehemence is necessary for the occasion.

“If your entreaties will render you no remedy, and your enemies insist that you go to the Tower of London, give them this ring that they will know is mine, and there make your appeal to us before them. Let them know that you want me to be your judge.”

The King handed him a ring and said, “Look, the good man — Cranmer — weeps! He’s honest, on my honor. God’s blessed mother! I swear he is true- and loyal-hearted, and no soul is better in my Kingdom.

“Leave now, and do as I told you to do.”

Cranmer exited.

King Henry VIII said, “He has strangled his language in his tears. He cannot speak because of his tears.”

The Old Lady entered the gallery.

A man yelled at her, “Come back. What are you doing?”

The Old Lady said, “I’ll not come back; the news that I bring will make my boldness good manners.”

She said to the King, “Now, may good angels fly over thy royal head, and shade thy person under their blessed wings!”

King Henry VIII said, “Now, by thy looks, I guess thy message. Has the Queen delivered her baby? Say, yes; and say that the Queen has given birth to a boy: a male heir who will become King after me.”

The Old Lady said, “Yes, yes, my liege. And it’s a lovely boy. May the God of Heaven both now and forever bless her! It is a girl, and a girl is a promise of boys hereafter.

“Sir, your Queen wants you to come and visit her, and to be acquainted with this stranger who is as like you as a cherry is to a cherry.”

“Lovell!” King Henry VIII shouted.

Sir Thomas Lovell entered the room and said, “Sir?”

“Give her a hundred marks,” the King said. “I’ll go to the Queen.”

The King exited.

A mark is a unit of money, and a hundred marks is a generous amount, but the Old Lady wanted more. If the Queen had delivered a boy, the Old Lady knew that she would have gotten more. The better the news, the better the tip, and the King wanted a male heir.

The Old Lady said, “A hundred marks! By this light, I swear I’ll have more. An ordinary servant can receive such payment. I will have more, or I will scold it out of him. Did I say for this that the girl resembled him? I will have more, or else I will unsay it and say that the daughter does not resemble her presumed father, and now, while it is hot, I’ll put it to the issue.”

Presumably, she said this for Sir Thomas Lovell’s hearing, hoping that he would give her a bigger tip.

The daughter of King Henry VIII and Queen Anne would be named Elizabeth, and she would become the great Queen Elizabeth I.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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