Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1011
King Henry VIII
Writing an essay?
Get a custom outline
Our Essay Lab can help you tackle any essay assignment within seconds, whether you’re studying Macbeth or the American Revolution. Try it today!
King Henry VIII, the king of England. Possibly because he may be a composite portrait by two authors and possibly because of the difficulty of writing about a controversial political figure so nearly contemporary, King Henry is not one of the more successful creations in the playwright’s gallery. At times, he seems to be an allegorical figure of Royalty, like Magnificence in John Skelton’s morality play of that title. The injustice of his treatment of Queen Katharine is partly offset by his generous protection of Cranmer against the council’s attack.
Thomas Cardinal Wolsey
Thomas Cardinal Wolsey, the cardinal of York and Lord Chancellor of England. A far better dramatic creation than the king, he is drawn as arrogant and stubborn when he is in power and ruthless in hounding the duke of Buckingham to his death and in attempting to force Queen Katharine to submit the decision on her divorce to Henry and Wolsey. He falls through pride but accepts his fall with dignity. His death is reported to Queen Katharine as a good death, and she speaks of him with forgiveness.
Queen Katharine, called Katharine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII. Characterized by dignity, firmness, and compassion, she never allows her adversity and her material losses to shake her integrity or reduce her to bitterness. Even her successful rival for the king’s affections, Anne Bullen, speaks of her with pity and admiration. The king himself has nothing to say in dispraise of her character or conduct, either before or after the divorce.
Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury, a loyal friend and supporter of King Henry. He is considered a heretic by Wolsey. Saved from the plots of the council by the king, then chosen as godfather for the infant Elizabeth, he delivers a glowing prophecy of the future of his tiny goddaughter. This supposed prophecy and actual eulogy of the late queen is the true end of the play, followed only by the concluding speech of King Henry, in keeping with the contemporary convention of giving royalty the last word on stage.
Anne Bullen (also spelled Anne Boleyn), Queen Katharine’s maid of honor. She becomes the king’s second wife and the mother of Elizabeth. Although she has sympathy for the queen and says that she would not be a queen for all the riches under heaven, she readily consents to be Queen Katharine’s successor.
The duke of Buckingham
The duke of Buckingham, Edward Bohun, the son of the duke of Buckingham beheaded under Richard III. He is the bitter enemy and victim of Cardinal Wolsey. His role in act 1 is a large one, but it ends early in act 2 as he goes to his death with great dignity and nobility.
The duke of Norfolk
The duke of Norfolk, Thomas Howard, the son of “Jockey of Norfolk,” who appears in William Shakespeare’s Richard III. A moderate nobleman, an admirer of Queen Katharine, and a supporter of her plea for relief of the hardship of the commons, he has no love for Cardinal Wolsey. He bears the king’s command that Wolsey give up the seal of the Lord Chancellor.
The earl of Surrey
The earl of Surrey, the son of Norfolk and son-in-law of Buckingham. He shares in Wolsey’s downfall and heaps recriminations on him.
The duke of Suffolk
The duke of Suffolk, Charles Brandon, another enemy of Wolsey. He also shares in the overthrow of the cardinal and taunts him in his adversity.
The Lord Chamberlain
The Lord Chamberlain, Charles Somerset, earl of Worcester. He is present at the cardinal’s party, which is attended by the king and Anne Bullen. He informs the king who Anne is.
Lord Sands, a coltish old gentleman given to flirting. He also attends the cardinal’s party.
Sir Thomas Lovell
Sir Thomas Lovell, another guest at the cardinal’s party. He is in charge of Buckingham’s execution and asks forgiveness from the duke, which is granted.
Cardinal Campeius, an emissary sent from Rome to hear the case for the divorce between King Henry and Queen Katharine. He endeavors in vain to persuade the queen to submit to the judgment of the king and Wolsey in the matter of her divorce.
Capucius, the ambassador from Charles V (Queen Katharine’s nephew) to Henry VIII. He visits Queen Katharine just before her death and tries to console her.
The Lord Chancellor
The Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas More, the successor to Cardinal Wolsey. He presides at Cranmer’s hearing before the council.
Stephen Gardiner, the bishop of Winchester, a follower of Wolsey and an enemy of Cranmer. He becomes reconciled with Cranmer on the king’s command.
An old lady
An old lady, a friend of Anne Bullen. She and Anne discuss Queen Katharine’s case. She may be the officious old lady who announces to the king the birth of his daughter Elizabeth.
Griffith, the gentleman usher to Queen Katharine. He remains faithful to her in her retirement and ill health to her death.
Doctor Butts, Sir William Butts, the king’s physician. He is friendly to Cranmer and informs the king of the council’s hostility toward him.
The surveyor to the duke of Buckingham
The surveyor to the duke of Buckingham, who sells out his master to the cardinal and aids in bringing about the execution.
Thomas Cromwell, Wolsey’s loyal servant, to whom he speaks the famous and much-quoted passage on ambition.
Sir Henry Guildford
Sir Henry Guildford, who welcomes the guests at the cardinal’s party.
The duchess of Norfolk
The duchess of Norfolk, the godmother of Elizabeth. She carries the infant in the ceremonial procession.
The marchioness of Dorset
The marchioness of Dorset, the second godmother of Elizabeth.
Sir Nicholas Vaux
Sir Nicholas Vaux, who is responsible for conducting the duke of Buckingham to execution.
Lord Abergavenny (ab-ur-GEHN-ih), a friend of Buckingham and Norfolk.