Henry VIII minimized

The play has two major themes. One is the enormous influence of Cardinal Wolsey during the first half of Henry VIII’s reign. The second is Cardinal Wolsey’s lack of appreciation of the power of personal passion.  Cardinal Wolsey lost his life when he made the mistake of suggesting in writing to the pope that the pope delay Henry VIII’s request for a divorce, the king having famously fallen for his wife’s young and attractive lady-in-waiting, Anne Bullen.

1. Cardinal Wolsey has provided the public with an unpopular tax increase, which surprises the king, who demands Wolsey rescind the new tax; Wolsey letting the public know that the rescission is his idea. Cardinal Wolsey holds an extravagant dinner party, attended by Anne Bullen and “a sweet society of fair ones.”  In disguise, Henry VIII attends the party, dances with Anne, falls for her, telling her “sweet partner, I must not yet forsake you.”

2. Campeius is an aide to the pope.  He visits Cardinal Wolsey in London. The two of them try to persuade Queen Katherine to accept an inevitable divorce.  She puts up a good fight, but an unwinnable one. Anne is named the Marchioness of Pembroke along with “a thousand pounds a year annual support,” not knowing quite what to make of the attention. 

3. Henry VIII wants a divorce but needs the pope’s blessing.  He claims he needs a divorce because he needs a son, because his kingdom is “well worthy to the best heir ‘o th’ world.”  Wolsey writes to the pope suggesting he delay the king’s divorce request. However, his letter is intercepted, turned over the king, marking his end, he saying “my hopes in heaven do dwell.” The politically astute Cardinal Cranmer says that “he supports the king’s quick divorce.”

4. Anne Bullen is crowned queen, receiving Edward the Confessor’s crown, he being king at the time England was conquered in 1066 by William of Normandy, William the Conqueror.  One nobleman says to another when describing Anne “believe me, she is the goodliest woman.”  Ex-queen Katherine responds to Wolsey’s death with “he gave the clergy ill example.”

5.  Cardinal Cranmer is now Lord Archbishop of Canterbury.  Following a difficult labor, Anne delivers a daughter. Henry VIII turns to Cranmer saying “There is a fair young maid that yet wants baptism.”  Cranmer offers an eloquent tribute to the baby monarch-to-be. The daughter’s name is Elizabeth, in time becoming Elizabeth I, a Shakespeare benefactor.