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Henry VIII | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VIII | Act 5, Scene 1 | Summary



It is past one in the morning, and Gardiner, who is the Bishop of Winchester, runs into Lovell in a gallery in the palace. Gardiner has just seen the king, and Lovell says he must also see the king before bed. When Gardiner questions the reason for his haste, Lovell confesses the queen is in a difficult labor, and may die. Gardiner says he wishes the child would live, but he can't say the same about Anne. Lovell almost agrees, but feels Anne does not deserve bad wishes. Gardiner says nothing will be right until Cranmer, Cromwell, and Anne are dead. Lovell doubts anyone would speak against them, but Gardiner assures him there are some people who would speak against them, including himself. In fact, he has convinced the lords of the council that Cranmer is a heretic and must be stopped.

Henry VIII and Suffolk enter, but when Lovell reports Anne is at risk, Henry dismisses Suffolk. Denny enters with Cranmer. Lovell realizes Cranmer's presence is related to what Gardiner was just talking about. Lovell is reluctant to leave even after Henry dismisses him.

As Henry and Cranmer walk together, Henry reveals there are complaints about Cranmer, and Cranmer must appear before the council in the morning. There will be a trial, and Cranmer must be patient. Cranmer says he understands many speak ill of him. Henry calls Cranmer a man of integrity, and says he is surprised Cranmer did not ask for an immediate confrontation with his accusers, but Cranmer says he has nothing to fear, as he has put himself in the hands of God and the king. Henry gives Cranmer a ring as a show of his support, and says as a last resort he should show the council the ring. Cranmer weeps, and Henry dismisses him, convinced of his honesty.

An old lady and Lovell enter abruptly. The old lady delivers the news that a daughter has been born, and the queen has asked for the king to visit her. Henry asks Lovell to give the old lady money, and leaves to see the queen. The old lady is disappointed by so little money, and says she intends to get more out of him.


The actions of Gardiner are reminiscent of the way Wolsey worked behind the scenes for the downfall of Buckingham and the divorce of Katherine. As a result the audience may suspect Cranmer, too, will follow the pattern established by Buckingham, Katherine, and Wolsey. Yet one thing is significantly different: For the first time Henry VIII seems to take an interest in the manipulations and intrigue among members of the court. Introducing a new symbol of the king's favor, Henry VIII gives Cranmer his ring. Cranmer weeps because the king's favor, here, is a matter of life and death and Cranmer knows he will survive the accusations against him. Henry VIII's sudden interest may be explained by the king's greater affection for Cranmer, or Cranmer's general upstanding nature (although Katherine was similarly virtuous). But it may also be explained by the fact that the plot requires Cranmer to christen Elizabeth I at the end of the play.

Henry VIII has not dwelt much on his desire for a male heir, but it is clearly in his mind and part of why he is so willing to set Katherine aside, as she had borne him only a daughter. Yet in this scene his desire for a son is evident in his words to the old lady: "'Say 'Ay, and of a boy.'" She, hilariously, responds, "Ay, ay, my liege,/And of a lovely boy. The God of heaven/Both now and ever bless her! 'Tis a girl."

In a moment of comic relief the old lady (presumably the same old lady who told Anne she'd consent to be queen for a bent penny) reprises this topic when she is given money for her trouble, complaining about the small amount.

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