Lord Chamberlain enters, reading a letter from one of his employees that tells how Cardinal Wolsey's men seized several of Lord Chamberlain's horses, claiming that they must be given to the king. Lord Chamberlain says he thinks Wolsey will end up taking everything from all the nobles.
Norfolk and Suffolk enter, asking after the king. Lord Chamberlain notes that the king is brooding about his marriage to Katharine, perhaps worrying that it was an illegal marriage. Suffolk suggests it is more likely that Henry is thinking about another lady. Norfolk says Wolsey planted the idea that the king's marriage could be annulled. Norfolk is astonished that Wolsey has, thus, managed to engineer a break with the king of Spain and convinced Henry to cast off his loyal wife of 20 years. Lord Chamberlain agrees with these words but hopes that one day the king's eyes may be opened to the machinations of Wolsey.
Lord Chamberlain exits, and Suffolk and Norfolk go to speak to the king. The king is not pleased to see them and ignores them as soon as Wolsey and Cardinal Campeius enter. The king dismisses Suffolk and Norfolk, who mutter on the way out that they do not trust Campeius, this envoy from the Pope.
Wolsey says that no one could be angry with the king for leaving Katharine because the Pope has been asked to arbitrate the king's decision. The Pope's envoy, Campeius, embraces the king and gives him papers elaborating his judgment of the situation. The king sends for his new secretary, Gardiner, to plan for a reading of the decision. Gardiner was formerly Wolsey's secretary, which Wolsey reminds him as he enters, and Gardiner whispers back that his first loyalties are still to Wolsey. The king and Gardiner go off to talk, and the two cardinals discuss the downfall of the previous secretary.
The king announces that they will go to Blackfriars to make the announcement about his decision to leave Katharine. He is grieved to leave such a good wife, but he says his conscience demands it, and he must.
Norfolk, who previously had urged Buckingham to quiet his anger at Wolsey, seems now convinced that Wolsey is untrustworthy. In discussion with the Lord Chamberlain and Suffolk, the three men vent their displeasure at Wolsey for taking the wealth of the nobles and for convincing the King to drop Katharine. The threat of divorcing Katharine has brought about a break in the treaty with the king of Spain, and Katharine's father and the nobles do not approve of such policies. But all they can do is hope that the king will see how he is being led by Wolsey.
The two cardinals arrive in the king's chamber to deliver the decision from Rome, but it is some time before that decision is revealed. It has been suggested that the king has had a crisis of conscience because Katharine was first married to his dead brother, and he now thinks his marriage to her may have been unlawful. Wolsey convinced the king of this possibility because he wants Henry to marry the sister of the king of France--but Henry actually wants to marry Anne Bullen.
We know that Henry was responsible for the religious break with Rome leading to the birth of the Church of England, allegedly spurred on by the Pope's refusal to grant him a divorce from Katharine. Yet little is made of this break in this play. Campeius' judgment is not nearly as important as the decision Henry seems to have already made about leaving Katharine.
We see another small example of Wolsey's actual scheming in this scene, when he reminds Gardiner that Gardiner was Wolsey's secretary first, and Gardiner assures Wolsey that he is still working more for him than for the king. It seems Wolsey does have undue influence over the king--or at least he wants to be sure he has access to all information first. But it is unclear if the placement of Gardiner proves Wolsey's inherent rottenness or not.
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: