Late at night, Gardiner and Lovell meet. Lovell is in a rush, and Gardiner asks why. Lovell reports that the queen (Anne) is in labor. Gardiner says he wishes her well, but he thinks she may not be of the best stock to be the mother of the heir to the throne. Gardiner thinks the kingdom will not be safe until she is dead, along with Cranmer and Cromwell. Lovell reminds him that those two men are in the highest favor with the king. But Gardiner says that he has already denounced Cranmer as a heretic, and Cranmer will be called before a Council in the morning to be examined. They must root out bad weeds, Gardiner declares, and departs.
Henry and Suffolk enter and ask Lovell for his report of the queen's labor. Henry says he has to think and sends Suffolk away. Denny enters, with the Archbishop Cranmer. The king sends away Lovell and Denny. The king strolls with Cranmer, while the king tells how he has heard many bad complaints about Cranmer, which shall bring him before the Council the next morning. The king knows that Cranmer cannot be freed after that without proof in his favor, so he may be temporarily imprisoned while the complaints are investigated, and the king asks him to be patient. Cranmer thanks the king for his warning, saying he knows how he is subject to many bad rumors. Cranmer says he fears nothing that can be said against him, but the king reminds Cranmer that he has many enemies. He asks if corrupt men may be convinced to testify against Cranmer, which would ruin his case for innocence. Cranmer thinks he will inevitably fall into a trap set for him.
The king promises Cranmer that if the council decides to imprison Cranmer, he should use his best persuasions against such action. The king gives Cranmer his ring and tells him to show it to the council should they try to cart him away, and then the king himself will be authorized to hear Cranmer's appeal. Cranmer weeps in thanks, and the king says Cranmer is the best soul in his kingdom. Cranmer departs.
The Old Lady and Lovell enter to tell Henry of the birth of his child. He demands that she tell him it is a boy, so she tells him it is indeed a boy--though it is actually a girl. The Old Lady says how the much the baby resembles him, and Lovell and the king rush out to see it.
At the beginning of the scene, we see how swiftly public opinion can be swayed, as Gardiner denounces Cranmer for no particular reason except Gardiner's remaining loyalties to the dead Cardinal Wolsey. Cranmer is set up to be the character to fall in this act.
Yet for the first time we see an active king. Never before has the king seemed to understand the plots churning behind the scenes that place people in and out of his favor. But this time he knows that Gardiner wants Cranmer out, and he will not merely sit by and let it happen. He warns Cranmer and gives him his ring, putting him under the king's protection during the next day's hearings.
Why has the king chosen to protect Cranmer, while he let Buckingham, his wife, Katharine, and his right-hand man Wolsey go to their ends? Perhaps Cranmer's apparent innocence that people are plotting against him is a sign that Cranmer really is a good man, not a player in the royal power game. The king may be finally energized to save one of his men from the mysterious ups and downs of the court for the simple reason that this time that man is genuinely good.
Elizabeth is born in this scene--yet another female born to one of Henry's wives. The Old Lady says that the baby is a boy at first merely because the king demands it. But saying Elizabeth is a boy child also refers historically to her eventual role of leader of England, which she held as firmly and wisely as any man.
In reading all of Shakespeare by his 450th birthday, I just finished Henry VIII. It was my least favorite of the Bard's plays, seeming to be more a platform to praise Elizabeth I than entertain audiences. In case you're interested in my take, I've blogged about it at: