Henry VIII

by: William Shakespeare

Act II, Scene iv

The king then relates how he came to doubt his marriage to Katharine. He tells how an ambassador from France came to negotiate for the hand of the king's daughter and asked if she were legitimate, which set the king thinking. He thought he must not be doing right in the eyes of heaven, since every child born to Katharine was either born dead or died soon thereafter or was a girl. Believing this was a sign that Katharine was unfit to be queen, he started the divorce process, despite his feelings for her. The king says he first spoke to some of his nobles about his plans, later asking the opinion of all his men. Therefore, it was not out of dislike for the queen that he chose to divorce her but out of a universal belief that the marriage had been unlawful.

Campeius says they must adjourn until another day when the queen is present to complete the divorce. Henry notes to himself that he does not like the tricks of these cardinals, and he has no respect for Rome. He looks forward to the return of Cranmer, his trustworthy religious advisor.


Like Buckingham's day in court, the queen must be tried before she can be cast off. But the "trial" seems a mere formality, since Henry is not concerned with the words from Rome so much as his own decision that he must be done with Katharine. Katharine begs him to have pity on her, but he does not reply to her. Rather, the cardinals respond. So, Katharine speaks of her clear-headed suspicions about Wolsey, presented first in the hearing of Buckingham's Surveyor--suspicions that the king still does not have. Wolsey claims that he did not influence the king against Katharine, and the king assents--but only after Katharine has left the scene. He seems unable to speak directly to his cast-off queen, though he speaks of her good nature as soon as she leaves the room.

The king explains at length how he came to decide he must divorce Katharine. He claims that he began to wonder if it was lawful for him to have married his brother's widow, and the fact that she never gave birth to live male children made a case for the unlawfulness of their union. While it is true that Henry would have wanted a male heir, Henry's explanation sounds like a weak excuse. If Wolsey planted the idea of divorce in the king's mind, he did it to forge new alliances through a marriage between Henry and the sister of the king of France. But Henry seems to have another woman in mind. The divorce from Katharine conveniently is explained as a response to a flare-up of Henry's conscience about the lawfulness of the marriage and a desire for male heirs, but perhaps the real goal is merely another liaison with a different woman--i.e., Anne Bullen.

Wolsey has continued to wield strong influence over the king through both the fall of Buckingham and that of Katharine, but he will not last much longer. It is remarkable that the king has so far not become aware of prevailing opinions against Wolsey, but now is the end of Wolsey's run of power; Wolsey is the next to fall.