David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HENRY VIII: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scenes 2-3

— 5.2 —

Before the Council Chamber in which the Privy Council were about to meet, a number of pursuivants and pages and footboys and so on were standing. Pursuivants are junior officers of the state.

Cranmer entered the Council Chamber and said, “I hope I am not too late, and yet the gentleman who was sent to me from the council asked me to make great haste.”

He tried to open the door and said, “All locked and bolted? What is the meaning of this? Ho! Who is the doorkeeper here?”

The doorkeeper walked over to Cranmer, who said, “Surely, you know who I am.”

“Yes, my lord,” the doorkeeper said, “but still I cannot help you.”

“Why?” Cranmer asked.

Doctor Butts entered the room and observed what was happening.

The doorkeeper said, “Your grace must wait until you are called for.”

“I see,” Cranmer said.

Doctor Butts thought, This is done out of malice. I am glad I came this way so providentially. I shall immediately inform the King what is happening here.

He exited to find the King.

Cranmer saw him leaving and thought, It is Doctor Butts, the King’s physician. As he passed along, how earnestly he looked at me! I pray to Heaven that he doesn’t spread gossip about my disgrace! For certainly some who hate me have done this on purpose to quench my honor — may God change their hearts! I never sought their malice. They would be ashamed otherwise to make me wait at the door, a fellow-counselor on the Privy Council, a person of high rank who is forced to wait here among boys, servants, and lackeys. But their pleasures must be fulfilled, and I will wait patiently.

King Henry VIII and Doctor Butts looked out of a high window, unnoticed by Cranmer.

Doctor Butts said, “I’ll show your grace the strangest sight —”

“What’s that, Butts?” King Henry VIII asked.

“— the strangest sight I think your highness has seen in many days.”

“Where is it?” King Henry VIII asked.

“There it is, my lord,” Doctor Butts said, adding sarcastically, “See the high promotion of his grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, who holds his state at door, amongst pursuivants, pages, and footboys.”

Cranmer was waiting with dignity among people of much lower social status at the door.

“It is he, indeed,” King Henry VIII said. “Is this the honor the members of the Privy Council do one another? It is well there’s one — or One — above them yet.”

The one — or One — above them was either the King or God or both.

King Henry VIII said, “I had thought they had shared so much honesty among them — at least, so much good manners — as not thus to plague a man of his high office, and so near our favor, to make him dance attendance on their lordships’ pleasures, and at the door, too, like a post-messenger with packets of letters. By holy Mary, Butts, there’s knavery.

“Let them alone, and draw the curtain closed. We shall hear more soon.”

— 5.3 —

In the Council Chamber, members of the Privy Council were about to meet. The Chancellor entered the room and placed himself at the upper end of the table on the left hand; a seat was left empty above him — Cranmer’s seat.

The Duke of Suffolk, the Duke of Norfolk, the Earl of Surrey, Lord Chamberlain, and Gardiner sat themselves in order on each side. Cromwell sat at the lower end of the table; he was the secretary. The doorkeeper stood at the door.

The Chancellor said, “Announce the topic of our business, Master Secretary. For what reason are we met in council?”

Cromwell replied, “If it pleases your honors, the chief reason for our meeting in Council concerns Cranmer, his grace the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

“Has he been informed about this?” Gardiner asked.

“Yes,” Cromwell replied.

“Who is waiting there?” the Duke of Norfolk asked.

“Outside the door, my noble lords?” the doorkeeper asked.

“Yes,” Gardiner replied.

“He is my lord the Archbishop of Canterbury,” the doorkeeper said. “He has been waiting for half an hour to know what are your pleasures.”

The Chancellor ordered, “Let him come in.”

The doorkeeper opened the door and said to Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, “Your grace may enter now.”

Cranmer entered the Council Chamber and approached the Council table.

The Chancellor said, “My good lord Archbishop of Canterbury, I’m very sorry to sit here at this present time, and behold that chair in which you normally sit stand empty, but we all are only men, and in our own natures we are frail and susceptible to our flesh. Few men are angels, and out of this human frailty and lack of wisdom, you, who best should teach us how to act, have behaved improperly yourself, and not a little, toward the King first and then toward his laws, by filling the whole realm, through your teaching and your chaplains, for so we are informed, with new opinions that are diverse and dangerous. These new opinions are heresies, and if they are not reformed, they may prove pernicious and destructive.”

Gardiner said, “This reformation must be swift and rapid, too, my noble lords, for those who tame wild horses do not lead them by the hand as they go through their paces to make them gentle, but stop their mouths with hard bits, and spur them, until they obey the orders they are given.

“If we endure and suffer, out of our easiness and childish pity for one man’s honor, this contagious sickness, then farewell to all medicine, and what follows then?

“Commotions, uproars, with a general corruption of the whole state, as recently our neighbors in upper Germany can dearly witness. The Peasants’ War fought there in 1524-1525 is still freshly pitied in our memories.”

Cranmer said, “My good lords, hitherto, in all the journey of both my life and position, I have labored, and with no little effort, so that my teaching and the strong course of my authority might safely go one way. The goal of this effort was always to do well, nor is there living — I say this with a heart free from duplicity, my lords — any man who more detests, who more stirs against, both in his private conscience and his position, destroyers of a public peace, than I do.

“I pray to Heaven that the King may never find a heart with less allegiance in it than mine! Men who make evil and crooked malice their nourishment dare to bite the best men.

“I beg your lordship that in this case in which justice must reign, my accusers, whoever they are, will stand forth and face me, and freely speak out against me.”

The Duke of Suffolk said, “No, my lord, that cannot be. You are a member of the Privy Council, and as such you are a powerful man, and because of that, no man will dare to accuse you.”

Gardiner said to Cranmer, “My lord, because we have business of more importance, we will be short with you. It is his highness’ pleasure, and we have given our consent to it, in order to have a better trial of you, that you be taken from here and committed to the Tower of London.

“There you will be only a private man again, and you shall know the many who will then dare accuse you boldly. They are more numerous than, I fear, you are provided for.”

A person imprisoned in the Tower of London lost all power and privileges; he was a private man.

Cranmer said sarcastically, “Ah, Gardiner, my good Lord Bishop of Winchester, I thank you. You are always my good friend; if you get what you want, I shall find that your lordship is both my judge and my juror. You are so merciful. I see what you want — it is my ruin.

“Love and meekness, lord, become a churchman better than ambition. Win back straying souls with moderation, and cast none away.

“I have as little doubt that I shall clear myself — no matter how much pressure you put on me to vex my patience — as you have scruples in doing daily wrongs. I could say more, but reverence for your religious position makes me modest.”

Gardiner replied, “My lord, my lord, you are a sectary — a member of a heretical sect. That’s the plain truth. Your painted gloss — your specious rhetoric — reveals, to men who understand you, mere words and weakness.”

Cromwell said, “My Lord of Winchester, you are a little, I beg your pardon, too sharp. Men who are as noble as Cranmer, however faulty, should still get respect for what they have been. It is a cruelty to oppress a falling man.”

Gardiner said sarcastically, “Good Master Secretary, I beg your honor’s mercy, you may with the least justification of anyone sitting at this table say so.”

“Why, my lord?” Cromwell asked.

“Don’t I know that you favor this new sect? You are not sound.”

The word “sound” meant 1) theologically correct and 2) loyal.

“Not sound?” Cromwell asked.

“Not sound, I say,” Gardiner replied.

“I wish that you were half as honest as I am!” Cromwell said. “Men’s prayers then would seek you, not their fears.”

“I shall remember this bold language,” Gardiner said.

“Do,” Cromwell said. “Remember your bold life, too.”

“This is too much,” the Chancellor said. “Stop this. You should be ashamed, my lords.”

“I have finished,” Gardiner said.

“So have I,” Cromwell said.

“Now I say this to you, my lord,” the Chancellor said to Cranmer, “It stands agreed, I take it, by all voices of the Privy Council, that immediately you shall be taken to the Tower of London as a prisoner, there to remain until the King’s further pleasure is known to us. Are you all agreed, lords?”

“We are,” all the members of the Privy Chamber said.

“Is there no other course of action — one that involves mercy?” Cranmer asked. “Must I necessarily go to the Tower of London, my lords?”

“What else would you expect?” Gardiner said. “You are extraordinarily troublesome.

“Let some of the guards be ready there.”

A guard entered the Privy Council.

“Is the guard for me?” Cranmer asked. “Must I go like a traitor away from here?”

“Take him into your custody,” Gardiner ordered the guard, “and see him safely in the Tower of London.”

“Wait, my good lords,” Cranmer said. “I have a little yet to say.”

He showed them the King’s ring and said, “Look there, my lords. By virtue of that ring, I take my case out of the clutches of cruel men, and I give it to a very noble judge: the King my master.”

Lord Chamberlain said, “This is the King’s ring.”

“It is no counterfeit,” the Earl of Surrey said.

“It is the right ring, by Heaven,” the Duke of Suffolk said. “I told you all, when you first put this dangerous stone a-rolling, it would fall upon ourselves.”

Proverbs 26:27 states, “He that diggeth a pit shall fall therein, and he that rolleth a stone, it shall return unto him” (1599 Geneva Bible).

The Duke of Norfolk said, “Do you think, my lords, the King will allow even the little finger of this man to be vexed?”

The Chancellor said, “It is now all too certain just how much Cranmer’s life is valued by the King — much more than we thought! I wish that I were fully out of this mess — this mistreatment of Cranmer!”

Cromwell said, “My mind told me that in seeking tales and information against this man, whose honesty the Devil and his disciples only fight against and try to overcome, you blew the fire that burns you.”

Ecclesiasticus 28:12 states, “If thou blow the spark, it shall burn: if thou spit upon it, it shall be quenched: and both these come out of thy mouth” (1611 King James Bible).

Cromwell continued, “Now prepare yourself for the attack that you know is coming!”

King Henry VIII had been eavesdropping outside the door. Frowning, he entered the Council Chamber and took a seat.

Gardiner said, “Revered sovereign, how much are we bound in our daily thanks to Heaven — Heaven that gave us such a Prince. You are not only good and wise, but also very religious. You are one who, in all obedience, makes the church the chief aim of his honor — you do your best to do what is best for the church — and to strengthen that holy duty, out of dear, heartfelt respect, his royal self in judgment comes to hear the case between the church and this great offender Cranmer.”

“You were always good at impromptu compliments, Bishop Gardiner of Winchester,” King Henry VIII said. “But know that I have not now come to hear such flattery spoken in my presence. Your impromptu compliments are too thin and bare to hide your offences. Your flattery cannot reach me. You play the role of a fawning Cocker Spaniel and think to win me to your side with the wagging of your tongue, but whatever you take me for, I’m sure that you have a cruel and bloodthirsty nature.”

The King then said to Cranmer, “Good man, sit down. Now let me see the proudest man, who dares to do the most, merely wag his finger at you. By all that’s holy, he would be better off dying slowly than to think even once that you do not deserve your place in the Privy Chamber.”

“May it please your grace —” the Earl of Surrey began to say.

King Henry VIII interrupted, “No, sir, it does not please me. I thought that I had men of some understanding and wisdom on my Privy Council, but I find I have none. Was it discretion, lords, to let this man, this good man — few of you deserve to be called good men — this honest man, wait like a lousy, lice-infested footboy at the chamber door? This man is as great as you are!

“Why, what a shame was this! Did my warrant tell you to forget yourselves to such an extent? I gave you power to try — put on trial — him as a counselor, not as a servant. There’s some of you, I see, who more out of malice than integrity, would try — vex — him to the utmost, if you had means and opportunity, which you shall never have while I live.”

The Chancellor said, “Thus far, my most dread sovereign, may it like your grace to let my tongue excuse all. What was purposed concerning his imprisonment in the Tower of London, was rather, if there be faith in men, meant for his trial, and fair acquittal of any supposed crimes to the world, than malice, I’m sure, in me. For him to receive a trial in which people felt safe to accuse him, he had to be imprisoned as a private man in the Tower. Otherwise, no one would dare to accuse him and so there could be no trial.”

“Well, well, my lords, respect him,” King Henry VIII said. “Take Cranmer, and treat him well — he’s worthy of it. I will say thus much for him: If a Prince may be indebted to a subject, I am, for his love and service, indebted to him.

“Make for me no more trouble, but everyone embrace him. Be friends, for shame, my lords!”

They did so.

King Henry VIII then said, “Cranmer, my Lord of Canterbury, I have a request that you must not deny me. That is, I have a fair young maiden — my daughter — who still lacks baptism. You must be her godfather, and answer for her.”

A typical question the godparents at a Catholic infant baptism are asked is this: “Are you ready to help the parents of this child in their duty as Christian parents?” Of course, the godparents reply, “We are.”

Cranmer replied modestly, “The greatest monarch now alive may glory in such an honor as to be the godparent of your child. How may I, who am only a poor and humble subject to you, deserve it?”

King Henry VIII said, “Come, come, my lord, you want to spare your spoons.”

He was joking that Cramer was parsimonious and did not want to be the child’s godfather because he would have to give the traditional christening gift of spoons — often one for each of the twelve apostles, each of whom was represented on a spoon handle.

He continued, “You shall have two noble partners to be godparents with you: the old Duchess of Norfolk and Lady Marquess Dorset. Will these please you?”

The infant being baptized would have two godparents of the infant’s sex and one godparent of the opposite sex.

King Henry VIII then said to Gardiner, “Once more, my Lord of Winchester, I order you to embrace and love this man.”

Gardiner said, “With a true heart and brotherly love, I do it.”

He hugged Cranmer.

Cranmer said, “And let Heaven witness how dear I hold this confirmation.”

The events that had taken place since King Henry VIII had entered the Council Chamber had shown Cranmer to be once again a member in good standing of the Privy Council and to have an extraordinarily good relationship with the King.

King Henry VIII said to Cranmer, using — in this context — the friendly pronouns “thy” and “thee,” “Good man, those joyful tears show thy true heart. The common opinion of thee, I see, is verified. The common opinion says this: ‘Do my Lord of Canterbury a malicious turn, and he is your friend forever.’”

The King then said, “Come, lords, we trifle time away. I long to have my young daughter made a Christian.

“I have made you one united group, lords, and I want you to one united group remain.

“As I grow stronger, you all the more honor gain.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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