Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Cardinal Wolsey is the most powerful figure at court during the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII. During Henry VIII’s reign, however, Wolsey becomes too aggressive in his dealings with the nobility. He is of humble stock and lacks the advantages of family and ancestral office, causing the nobility to resent him deeply. Apart from his own innate abilities, he owes much to the king, who is willing—up to a point—to allow him to handle many affairs of state. Unscrupulous in seeking his own ends, Wolsey ruthlessly removes all obstacles in his climb to power.
One such hindrance to Wolsey’s ambitious designs is the duke of Buckingham. Accused of high treason through the cardinal’s machinations, Buckingham is brought before king and court for trial. Queen Katharine, speaking in Buckingham’s defense, protests to his innocence. Moreover, she argues against the cardinal’s unjust taxes and informs the king of growing animosity among his people caused by Wolsey’s continued position as his adviser. Wolsey, in his turn, produces witnesses—among them Buckingham’s discharged surveyor—who testify to Buckingham’s disloyalty. The surveyor swears that, at the time of the king’s journey to France, the duke sought priestly confirmation for his belief that he could, by gaining favor with the common people, rise to govern England. In his long and persistent testimony, the surveyor plays upon earlier minor offenses committed by Buckingham, and he...
(The entire section is 1259 words.)
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After the Prologue foretells that mightiness will meet misery, the scene opens in London, 1520, shortly after a sumptuous meeting of state in France. Buckingham asks an account from Norfolk, who describes an incredible display of riches, and credits Cardinal Wolsey for the spectacle. Buckingham expresses vehement dislike of Wolsey. Norfolk warns him against arousing Wolsey's anger. Buckingham continues, and Norfolk tries to calm him. Buckingham is arrested, and realizes he has been framed by Wolsey. At court, King Henry prepares to hear Buckingham's case, but is interrupted by Queen Katherine, who pleads on behalf of the commoners against a new tax. Ignorant of the tax, Henry questions Wolsey, who claims the Council approved it. Henry pardons the commoners. Buckingham's servant testifies against him. Despite Katherine's mistrust of the servant, Henry pronounces Buckingham a traitor. Later, the nobles eagerly anticipate Wolsey's banquet. At the banquet Anne Bullen flirts with the nobles. Henry and his men arrive, disguised, and Henry is struck by Anne's beauty.
Outside Westminster, two gentlemen blame Wolsey for Buckingham's condemnation. Buckingham goes calmly to his execution, avowing his innocence and loyalty, and forgiving his accusers. The gentlemen discuss rumors that Henry is divorcing Katherine, and again blame Wolsey. Henry welcomes Cardinal Campeius, who arrives from Rome to examine the divorce. In the...
(The entire section is 765 words.)