Henry 8 Synopsis
Period written: 1612-1613
Known first performance: June 29, 1613 (Globe Theatre, London)
Buckingham, suspicious of Wolsey’s actions, is about to arraign him before the King, when Wolsey has Buckingham arrested for treason. Witnesses are called, and Buckingham is proved guilty. Despite Queen Katherine’s protestations, he is sentenced to death, much to the dismay of two gentlemen who observe the proceedings. The King then hears the Queen accuse Wolsey of certain crimes, which he denies, and his claims of innocence are accepted.
Wolsey holds a party for some court friends, at which a group of masquers arrive. One of them is the King, who notices Anne Bullen. Her protestations to an aged lady companion of hers that she would not wish to be queen are treated with cynical realism, especially when Anne is created Marchioness of Pembroke.
The King makes his intentions to divorce Katherine known. At a public trial, the Queen accuses Wolsey of encouraging the King to divorce her, but the King excuses him. Wolsey and Cardinal Campeius visit the Queen to persuade her to comply with Henry’s wishes.
The nobles discuss their causes for complaint against Wolsey. They learn that letters from Wolsey to the Pope have been discovered which show Wolsey’s personal wealth, and that Wolsey has been trying to get the King’s divorce delayed in the hope of arranging a political marriage between England and France. The King challenges Wolsey with the letters, and Surrey and Norfolk read out a list of charges against him. Wolsey’s servant Cromwell reports that Thomas More has been made Lord Chancellor, that Cranmer has been made Archbishop of Canterbury, and that the King has secretly married Anne.
A group of gentlemen watch the procession of the Queen’s coronation pass by and discuss the ceremony. Griffith comes to visit the sick Katherine, and tells her that the repentant Wolsey has died. Katherine has a vision as she sleeps. When she wakes she is visited by Capuchius, who has brought greetings from her nephew, King Charles V. She sends Henry a letter with her last requests. Lovell arrives with news that Queen Anne is in labour, and hears Gardiner complaining about Cranmer. King Henry calls for Cranmer, and tells him he has heard of these complaints. He gives Cranmer a ring that will save him if he is accused before the Council The next morning, Henry notices Cranmer being kept waiting outside the Council, and later observes while he is accused of heresy. Gardiner and Cranmer quarrel, and it is decided Cranmer must be sent to the Tower. But Cranmer then shows the King’s ring, and Henry, having watched all that has happened, enters and gives Cranmer his support, making him his daughter’s godfather. Crowds of people gather for the christening. Cranmer predicts at Elizabeth’s baptism that her future as Queen will be glorious.
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