Henry VIII: Novel Summary: Act 5 Scene 1
It is one o'clock at night. Bishop Gardiner enters with his Page. Lovell rushes in. Gardiner asks why he is in haste, and Lovell reveals that Queen Anne is in labor, and it is feared that she may not survive. Gardiner says that he prays for the baby, but believes that Anne is not of good enough stock to provide the heir to the throne. He says that things will not go well for England until Anne and her two allies, Cranmer and Cromwell, are dead. Lovell points out that Cranmer and Cromwell are the two men most favored by the king. But Gardiner says that he has already told the council that Cranmer is a heretic, and the king has ordered the council to convene tomorrow morning to examine him. Gardiner says that Cranmer is a "rank weed," "And we must root him out" (lines 52-3).
The king and Suffolk enter. The king asks Lovell how Anne's labor is progressing. Lovell delivers a message from Anne asking the king to pray for her. The king is concerned and asks to be left alone. Suffolk leaves.
Sir Anthony Denny brings in Cranmer, who is worried by the king's frown. The king tells Cranmer that he has heard some serious complaints about him, and that he must come before the council tomorrow morning to answer them. The king warns Cranmer that he will not be able to prove his innocence instantly, and so while the complaints are being investigated he may have to be patient and accept imprisonment in the Tower of London. Cranmer thanks the king for the warning, and says he knows he is subject to many malicious rumors. He says he does not fear anything that can be said against him, and will rely upon his truth and honesty. But the king warns him that he has powerful enemies and it is possible that corrupt witnesses will be brought to testify against him. Cranmer hopes that God and the king will protect him, or he will certainly fall into the trap that is laid for him.
The king advises Cranmer to use his persuasive powers to avoid imprisonment. He gives Cranmer a ring and tells him to show it to the council if they try to imprison him. The council will then have to allow Cranmer's appeal to be heard by the king himself. Cranmer is overcome with gratitude, and weeps. The king swears he is honest and says there is not a better soul in his kingdom. Cranmer leaves.
An Old Lady enters with the news that Anne has given birth. He demands to be told that it is a boy, so the Old Lady agrees that it is a boy. She quickly adds that it is, in fact, a girl who "promises boys hereafter" (line 166), and who looks exactly like him. The king rushes off to see the baby, who is the future Queen Elizabeth I.
At the first murmurings of discontent about Cranmer from Gardiner, we know that it is Cranmer's turn to fall. Gardiner seems to have no real reason for denouncing Cranmer, and we can only surmise that he does so out of loyalty to his old master, Wolsey. Cranmer's sudden fall from the court's favor seems even more arbitrary than the falls of his predecessors - Buckingham, Katherine, and Wolsey.
One difference between Cranmer's fall and that of the others is that the king forms an independent opinion of him and decides to actively help him. We are not told why this is, but it could be that the king genuinely believes Cranmer to be innocent and thus wants him to keep his position. Another factor which certainly plays a part is that the king is at last free from the "witchcraft" (Act 3, scene 2, line 18) of Wolsey's influence, and has taken full control of his realm.
The Old Lady's statement that Anne has given birth to a boy, which she rapidly amends to a girl who "promises boys hereafter," would have raised a laugh among all those who remembered Queen Elizabeth I. In fact, Henry's only son, Edward VI, died young, leaving Henry's and Katherine's daughter Mary to inherit the throne. When Mary died childless, Elizabeth was proclaimed queen. It took time and determination for Elizabeth to convince her advisors and subjects that a woman could rule England, and without a husband at her side, and do it well - but she still felt that she had to apologise for being a mere "weak and feeble woman."
Henry VIII Study GuideChoose to Continue
- Henry VIII
- The Prologue
- The Prologue
- Act 1 Scene 1
- Act 1 Scene 2
- Act 1 Scene 3 & 4
- Act 2 Scene 1
- Act 2 Scene 2
- Act 2 Scene 3
- Act 2 Scene 4
- Act 3 Scene 1
- Act 3 Scene 2
- Act 4 Scenes 1 & 2
- Act 5 Scene 1
- Act 5 Scene 2
- Act 5 Scenes 3 & 4, and Epilogue
- Character Profiles
- Metaphor Analysis
- Theme Analysis
- Top Ten Quotes
- William Shakespeare
- Essay Q&A