The lights come up on Hampton Court with Cromwell sitting on the stairs and Richard Rich entering. Rich explains he came with the Duke of Norfolk. Cromwell asks if he is the Duke’s secretary, and Rich, embarrassed, says that he does secretarial work, looking after the Duke’s library. Cromwell points out their ironic and differing fortunes. Rich is stuck in a backwater, though the new Chancellor is his friend, while Cromwell is now in the King’s service, though his old master was the disgraced Wolsey. Rich says that More is not his friend, though he did set him up with the Duke of Norfolk. Cromwell tempts Rich with the possibility of a position. Rich asks what he does for the King, and just then, Ambassador Chapuys enters and repeats the question. Cromwell introduces Chapuys and Rich, and when Chapuys wants to know Cromwell’s title, he says he is “The King’s Ear” (38). He does whatever the King tells him to do. Chapuys teases him about why the King should bother with Justices, Chancellors, and Admirals. Cromwell answers, “Oh they are the constitution” (38). Cromwell brags to Chapuys that he just helped launch the Great Harry, a warship with sixty-six guns. The King himself will be the pilot guiding her down the river. Chapuys corrects him and says the ship has fifty-six guns. He knows the King is going to Chelsea. Cromwell seems surprised he knows this, but admits Henry is going to Chelsea to talk to More about the divorce. Chapuys says that More is a good son of the Church.
More’s steward, Matthew, arrives. Chapuys leaves, and Cromwell beckons to Matthew. Matthew tells Cromwell that More won’t speak of the divorce to his family but that he goes white if anyone mentions it; More is worried about it. Cromwell pays him for the information. Cromwell leaves and then Chapuys pays Matthew for other information. Matthew tells Chapuys about More’s devout religious habits, for which the Ambassador pays him. Then Rich enters and asks Matthew what he told Chapuys and gives him a coin. Matthew tells him and when they have all gone, Matthew turns to the audience and explains that the information he gave was common knowledge, but since these men paid for it, they will make it into some dangerous secret.
Act One, Scene Six: Commentary
Although the news of More’s promotion to Chancellor would seem to be fortunate, in terms of honor paid to him and the country’s welfare, this scene brings tension as we sense what he is up against. Even Wolsey fell trying to please the King, and More is not out to please the King but rather, his own conscience. Rich has an ax to grind with More in that he didn’t get a high position from him. Cromwell and Chapuys are already haggling over More and what direction he might go on the divorce. They bribe Matthew to find out if More is going to cave in to the King’s desire. Cromwell and Chapuys represent the demands of the King of England and the King of Spain, in between whom is sandwiched Sir Thomas More, who insists he must represent the law, the Church, and his conscience. The odds against More are piling up, especially when we learn the dreaded Henry is sailing a battle ship down the river to Chelsea to confront More in person. More has been good at dodging things so far, but sooner or later, it seems that he is going to have to take a stand.