Cardinal Wolsey is a powerful figure in Henry VIII’s court. He levies taxes, takes property from the nobles, and orchestrates charges of treason against any lords who might stand in his way. After the Duke of Buckingham is executed by Wolsey’s charges, the court begins to recognize that they must do something to stop this ambitious and dangerous man. At the same time, King Henry is seeking a divorce from Queen Katharine, claiming that he is unsure of the propriety of this marriage to his brother’s widow, while most understand his motivations are for a male heir. Behind the scenes, Wolsey is seeking to create a political alliance with France (depending on Henry’s divorce and wedding to a French princess).
However, at a banquet, Henry meets the beautiful Anne Bullen, and determines to marry her. Even though Anne complies, she is also sympathetic to Katharine’s plight--and even claimed at one point that she would never want to be a queen. The nobles conspire to bring down Wolsey and show their support and deference to the king’s wishes, whether they agree or not. Wolsey leaves in disgrace, newly finding humility, and begs that others not follow his example of pride and ambition. Katharine has visions of her own death, and just as the court seems to be falling into despair, Queen Anne gives birth to Elizabeth. Shakespeare’s final history play, Henry VIII offers visions of both historical events as well as touches of romance that offer hope for the future of England.
Henry VIII guide sections