Character Directory


King Henry VIII of England (1491-1547) is the title character of Henry VIII. King Henry is nominally the protagonist of the play, but he does not create the action; rather, he is placed in a series of situations and the change in the nature of his responses—as he grows from an easily influenced tool of evil men to a wise and mature ruler—illuminates the play's themes. The play's dominant moral point concerns the importance of humanity's capacity for good, which is represented in Henry's development. On another level, the play is about the establishment of England as a Protestant country, and as such it is a celebration of the Tudor Dynasty. Unlike Shakespeare's other English kings, Henry is not a realistic participant in political or military events, but rather a symbol for the greatness of England. 

King Henry is dramatically subordinate to other figures in each of the play's episodes, though he alone appears throughout. In Acts 1 and 2 he is manipulated by Cardinal Wolsey. First, the cardinal deceives him about the Duke of Buckingham, so that he sends an innocent man to death. However, Shakespeare makes certain that we do not blame Henry. Wolsey's evident villainy and Buckingham's saintly forgiveness indicate that the king's only offence is ignorance. In 1.4 the king meets and falls in love with the virtuous Anne Bullen, who will become the mother of Elizabeth and who, as a Protestant, anticipates the English Reformation. Henry's connection to this righteous woman prepares us to sympathize with his moral qualms about his marriage to Queen Katherine of Aragon. He fears his sin in marrying his brother's widow has prevented him from fathering an heir to the throne of England, and this worry makes him susceptible to Wolsey's machinations. The king is again manipulated, but this time only through his own scrupulous morality. Moreover, because Katherine's fall leads to the ascendancy of Protestantism and the birth of Elizabeth, Shakespeare's audience could be expected to find the result satisfactory. When Henry rejects the 'dilatory sloth and tricks of Rome' (2.4.235) in favor of the 'well-beloved servant Cranmer (2.4.236)—a famous Protestant leader—we see that from the play's point of view. Henry is progressing towards wisdom. 

In 3.2 Wolsey is accidentally exposed as a profiteer and an opponent of Henry's marriage to Anne, and Henry responds forcefully, though he mercifully spares the cardinal's life. Wolsey then finds atonement with God, for which he thanks the king. Henry's actions are now unmistakably a force for good, even if it has taken a providential accident to spur him. 

Act 4 offers a celebration of Anne—and indirectly of the Tudors generally—along with a restatement of the mercy and forgiveness that characterize the stories of Katherine and Wolsey. These themes further free Henry from blame, in a general atmosphere of blessedness. In Act 5 Henry's actions in support of good are taken on his own initiative, as he preserves Cranmer from the wiles of Bishop Gardiner, Wolsey's successor as villain. Here we see the culmination of Henry's development. He is now a wise and masterful ruler, capable of foiling the evil intentions of Catholic sympathizers and preserving the Reformation's most important leader. It is at this pinnacle of maturity that Henry, in the play's finale, can pass on to the infant Elizabeth a virtuous realm and the prospect of prosperity for England. 

The historical Henry VIII was far from the wise, benevolent, and virtuous ruler Shakespeare depicts. Shakespeare de-emphasized Henry's ruthlessness and altered history in order to refocus the play on the themes of forgiveness and mercy. Only a small segment of Henry's reign is dealt with. His expensive, inconclusive wars and his court's wasteful extravagance are not mentioned, and the vicious despotism of his later years is ignored. The future execution of Anne Boleyn (as Anne is known to history) is not so much as hinted at, nor is the existence of Henry's other ill-fated wives.

At the time of his accession in 1509, Henry was an intelligent and well-educated young man who was determined to be a good king. However, his egocentric desire to be a chivalric hero led him to wars and extravagance. He wasted the considerable treasury amassed by his father, the highly competent Henry VII, and left his successors with a serious debt problem. Moreover, he was a brutally tyrannical ruler, inclined to suspect treason without cause and to punish without mercy, especially as he got older. In contrast to the play. Henry probably ordered the trumped-up execution of Buckingham, for he feared that the duke, a distant relative, might try to seize the throne. Similarly, he beheaded the last Plantagenet, 68-year-old Margaret (the Girl of Richard III), simply because she was a theoretical rival. 

The divorce of Katherine of Aragon was also Henry's idea, and he was much less kind to his long-time wife than in the play. Katherine, however, was permitted to live out her life in peace; the king was less considerate of his later wives. Anne soon fell victim to Henry's need for a male heir. Henry was already involved with his next wife-to-be when Anne's second pregnancy ended in stillbirth. The king arranged false charges of adultery, incest (with a brother), and treason, and within weeks—less than three years after her coronation—Anne was beheaded. Henry was to marry five other wives, one of whom was also executed. His viciousness extended to others as well: he often chose execution as a punishment for failure or opposition.  Thomas Cromwell and Sir Thomas More were among his victims.  

The king's behavior in his later years has often been diagnosed as psychotic. Although this diagnosis as hypothetical. Henry VIII was undeniably a violent and arbitrary ruler. Shakespeare and his contemporaries, however, had a very positive image of Elizabeth's father: he was a national hero who had led England to Protestantism and freed the country from the corrupt influence of the Vatican. This view was widely disseminated by the historians of the Tudor dynasty, including Shakespeare's chief source for the play, Holinshed’s Chronicles. From the playwright's point of view, the title character of Henry VIII is a perfectly plausible historical figure.


Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (c. 1475-1530) is the over powerful chief adviser to King Henry VIII. Wolsey is the villain of the first half of the play. He sends his enemy Buckingham to execution by buying the perjured testimony of the Surveyor, and then, to further his foreign policy aims, he encourages the king to divorce Queen Katherine. Moreover, he opposes the king's marriage to the saintly Anne Bullen. His arrogance and pride are vividly presented in such vignettes as his vicious rebuff of Buckingham in 1.1 and his later disdain for a good man he is said to have driven mad: 'He was a fool, / For he would needs be virtuous' (2.2.131-132). However, when his evils are uncovered and he is brought low, Wolsey comes to realize that his life has been wasted in the pursuit of wealth and power.  He reflects that now, removed from politics and its temptations, he can rejoice in a 'still and quiet conscience' (3.2.380). Further, we learn from Griffith’s touching description that on his death-bed, the cardinal has 'found the blessedness of being little' (4.2.66) and made his peace with God. Good has arisen from evil, with right balancing wrong in a spiritual sense—an important theme of the play. 

Wolsey's evils contribute strongly to several of the play's other themes. His victims are good people and offer important images of forgiveness and forbearance. In the play's opposition of justice and injustice, Wolsey exemplifies the latter. He also represents Catholicism, as understood by the Protestant England of Shakespeare's day. Greedy, proud, and corrupt, he is allied with Rome, in the person of Cardinal Campeius, against the virtuous—and Protestant—Anne Bullen.  Perhaps most significant, early in the play the role of King Henry is defined in terms of his response to Wolsey. About Buckingham, the king is completely duped; with respect to Katherine, he finds his own approach—a blameless one, from the play's point of view—and when he finally realises Wolsey's faults, especially his opposition to Anne, he angrily drives him from office. Thus, the king's growth from immaturity to wisdom begins with his increasing awareness of the cardinal's evil influence. 

Wolsey was one of the great villains for the historians inspired by the Tudor Dynasty, including Shakespeare's chief source for the play, Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles, and the playwright's treatment of the cardinal is particularly noteworthy in this light. The dignity the cardinal is permitted in his fall and the virtue the audience is clearly expected to find in his repentance had a great impact in the 17th century because of the contrast with the expected picture of a wholly evil figure. As in his other late plays, the Romances, Shakespeare's emphasis was on the restoration of good, rather than on the evil that had prevailed earlier. His humanly forgivable Wolsey helps him present this theme in Henry VIII.  

The historical Wolsey was the son of a prosperous, middle-class livestock dealer and wool merchant. (Wolsey's enemies habitually labeled his father a butcher—Buckingham calls the cardinal a 'butcher's cur' [1.1.120]—and this became an historical commonplace, but it was not true.) As a bright young  priest, he was a tutor to the sons of the Marquess of Dorset (who appears in Richard III). His intelligence and drive impressed the aristocrats he met, and he was repeatedly advanced until he became Henry VII's chaplain. When Henry VIII became king in 1509, Wolsey was one of his most important advisers. He promoted Henry's invasion of France in 1512, supplied the army, and negotiated the highly advantageous peace of 1514. He was rewarded with the archbishopric of York; then in 1515 the pope made him a cardinal and he became Lord Chancellor of England. At this point he virtually governed England for the king. He became very wealthy by accepting bribes and keeping for himself the feudal incomes from various church properties. This was perfectly normal in the 16th century, but as a non-aristocrat, Wolsey aroused great enmity by displaying his power and wealth with extravagant houses, clothes, and entertainment. He was thought, perhaps rightly, to aspire to the papal throne and to have cultivated foreign alliances to that end. 

Among Wolsey's principal enemies was Buckingham, who was a leader of the aristocratic clique that had been displaced as the king's main source of advice. However, Buckingham's fate was probably ordered by Henry, who feared him as a relative of the Plantagenets and a potential claimant to the throne.  Wolsey doubtless manipulated the surveyor, and he may have been pleased with the outcome, but the motivating force was the king's. Shakespeare, however, followed Holinshed in attributing the deed entirely to Wolsey. 

It was the power of the emperor, which Wolsey vainly sought to harness, that finally brought about his fall. Henry ordered Wolsey to see to his divorce from Katherine—Wolsey almost certainly did not instigate this scheme; the play's intimations to that effect come from Holinshed. However, the opposition of Katherine's nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (ruled 1519-1555), proved insuperable. Charles controlled the papacy—his troops sacked Rome in 1527, just as Henry's divorce effort began—so approval from that quarter was never possible. Wolsey probably realized this, but Henry persisted, and the cardinal's failure to achieve the impossible meant his ruin.  Henry—who knew of and accepted the cardinal's other activities—could not accept frustration, and once the failure was evident, he disposed of his minister quickly in 1529. The cardinal's accidentally revealed inventory in 3.2 is an anecdote from Holinshed, but it happened to a different person, 20 years earlier; it is an excellent demonstration of Shakespeare's inventive use of his sources. In actuality, Henry simply invoked the laws defining papal interference in English affairs as treason. He dismissed Wolsey from office and confiscated most of his possessions but spared his life. The cardinal continued to communicate with Rome and the emperor, in the hope of retrieving his situation; within a year this was discovered and he was again charged with treason. He died while traveling to London for his trial. 

Wolsey's contribution to history was great, though it is generally overshadowed by his role in the story of Henry's divorce. He reformed the English judiciary to establish more control for the central government, thereby contributing to England's growth into a modern nation-state, free from the dominance of feudal lords. In foreign policy he was less successful in the short term, but we see in his strategies the first experiment in balance-of-power politics in Europe, with England providing a potential counterweight to any expansion of either French or Hapsburg power. This arrangement was to characterize European international relations for centuries.


Cardinal Campeius is the pope’s ambassador to the court of King Henry VIII.  Campeius comes to England to consider the legality of Henry’s proposed divorce of Queen Katherine; Cardinal Wolsey has assured the king that Campeius will rule in his favor, but in 2.4 the Roman cardinal merely postpones a decision. Irritated, Henry complains, 'These cardinals trine with me: I abhor /This dilatory sloth and tricks of Rome' (2.4.234-235). Here—as throughout—Campeius embodies the untrustworthiness of Catholicism from the play's point of view. The episode also demonstrates Henry's growing mistrust of Wolsey, as he moves from gullibility to wisdom, a principal theme of the play. In 3.2 Campeius is said to have 'stolen away to Rome . . . / [having] left the cause o'th'king unhandled' (3.2.57-58).  The historical Campeggio—Shakespeare uses the Latin form of his name—was responsible for English affairs at the Vatican and had visited England before he arrived to adjudicate Henry's divorce in 1528. In fact, Henry had appointed him absentee Bishop of Salisbury in 1524. Unknown to Wolsey, he was under instructions to delay Henry's divorce as long as possible, for the pope did not want to offend the Holy Roman Emperor, Queen Katherine's nephew. He succeeded in postponing the trial for nine months and then, when it seemed likely that Henry would win his case, he declared an adjournment and left for Rome. Henry eventually declared himself divorced when he assumed papal powers in England as part of the Reformation, and at that time Campeggio lost his English bishopric.


Lord Capuchius (Eustace Chapuys, active 1530s) is a visitor to Queen Katherine. In 4.2 Capuchius bears a message from King Henry VIII wishing good health to the dying Katherine. She observes mildly that the gesture comes too late. She asks Capuchius to take the king a letter, in which she requests that he look after their daughter—and remember her to the child—and treat her followers and servants well. She then retires to die. The episode, which Shakespeare knew from his source, Holinshed’s Chronicles, offers a final demonstration of Katherine's virtue. Following Holinshed, Shakespeare used the Latin form of the ambassador's name. Chapuys' surviving official correspondence casts light on the intrigues of the period. One letter declares that Cardinal Wolsey had written to him recommending that the pope excommunicate King Henry and use arms to enforce Catholicism in England. In an unrelated treason trial of 1533, it was alleged that Chapuys had planned an invasion of England in support of Katherine, but that the emperor had vetoed the idea. This may not have been taken seriously, because Chapuys continued in his post and, as we have seen, was permitted to visit Katherine.


Cranmer, Thomas (1489-1556) is an adviser to King Henry VIII and later Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer is the central figure in 5.1-2, as Bishop Gardiner and the Lord Chancellor attempt to charge him with heresy at a meeting of the royal council, only to be thwarted by the king's intervention. The episode demonstrates the king's mastery of the situation—Henry's increasing wisdom is an important theme of the play. It also illustrates the triumph of the Protestant leaders—Cranmer and the king—over the pro-Catholic conspirators. 

Cranmer is sometimes confused with another Archbishop of Canterbury in the play, whom the king addresses in 2.4.215-217. However, this figure—who remains mute—is Cranmer's predecessor, Archbishop William Warham (d. 1532), for Cranmer is abroad at this point. Henry wishes Cranmer were present in 2.4. 236-237; his return and his appointment as Archbishop are reported in 3.2.64, 74. 

At the close of the play, Cranmer's prediction of glory for the infant Elizabeth even includes praise other successor, James I, and thus extends Henry VIII into Shakespeare's own time. In this, the play differs from all the other History Plays. Cranmer, well known to 17th-century audiences as a martyred religious hero, is a suitable vehicle for such a spiritual evocation of 'the happiness of England' (5.4.56). 

The historical Cranmer was a professor at Cambridge University in the 1520s who was influenced by continental Protestant doctrines, especially on papal authority. He proposed that King Henry did not need the pope's permission to divorce Queen Katherine if he had the approval of other authoritative clerics. Henry sent Cranmer and others to solicit opinions, some of them approving, from religious thinkers throughout England and Europe. When Cranmer was appointed archbishop in 1533, he declared the king's marriage invalid. Cranmer's greatest historical importance, however, lies in his work as the chief creator of a liturgy for the new Protestant Church of England. He supervised the production of the first two editions (1549, 1552) of a prayer book and promulgated a formal statement of doctrine in 42 articles (1552), later reduced to 39. An oath of adherence to the 39 Articles, as they were known, was required of all Anglican clergymen and became a bone of contention in English politics for generations. Cranmer also edited and wrote parts of the first book of Homilies (1547), intended to be used for sermons in Anglican churches.  For these works and his leadership as archbishop, Cranmer is regarded as the principal founder of the Church of England. Under the Catholic Queen Mary (ruled 1553-1558), he was ousted from his archbishopric and charged with heresy. He formally recanted but was condemned anyway and burned at the stake.


Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk (1443-1524) is a nobleman at the court of King Henry VIII. Through the first three acts, Norfolk is an enemy of Cardinal Wolsey. In 1.1 he warns the Duke of Buckingham against Wolsey's power, and in 1.2 he supports Queen Katherine’s complaint against Wolsey's illicit taxes. In 2.2 he leads a group of noblemen in railing against the cardinal, and in 3.2 he delightedly levels formal treason charges against Wolsey, whose downfall has finally come to pass. Finally, in 5.2, he takes a small part in resisting the attack on Archbishop Cranmer by Bishop Gardiner. Though he is no longer prominent, he remains on the side of right in the play's scheme of the things. 

The historical Norfolk—one of the great English military heroes of his day—died in 1524, before most of the events in the play took place. He was succeeded as Duke of Norfolk by his son, the play's Earl of Surrey. Shakespeare ignores Norfolk's death, perhaps through error or perhaps to keep this dignified hero as a fitting opponent of Wolsey and Gardiner.

Norfolk gained heroic stature by leading the English army to a decisive victory over Scotland at the battle of Flodden Field in 1513. Earlier, however, he was an enemy of the Tudor Dynasty, for he fought for Richard III in 1485 at Bosworth Field, where Henry VII established the Tudors as English monarchs. Norfolk appears in Richard III as the Earl of Surrey; his father, Richard Ill's Norfolk, was killed at Bosworth Field. Henry VII deprived the family of its ducal rank, but at the age of 70, this Norfolk won it back at Flodden.


Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham (1478-1521) is a nobleman falsely convicted of treason and sentenced to death, a victim of Cardinal Wolsey’s intrigues. In 1.1 Buckingham's anger at Wolsey's duplicitous misuse of power establishes the cardinal as a villain. His own contrasting goodness is demonstrated as he calmly accepts his arrest for treason, even though it becomes apparent that Wolsey has bribed the duke's former Surveyor to commit perjury. In 2.1, on his way to be executed, Buckingham furthers the contrast by forgiving his enemies, wishing King Henry VIII well, and humbly preparing for death. Buckingham's victimisation marks one end of the play's most important development—the growth of King Henry—for the ease with which the king is deceived by Wolseyand the Surveyor is soon replaced by increasing maturity and wisdom.  In 2.1.106-123 Buckingham compares himself to his father, also falsely executed for treason. That Duke of Buckingham appears in Richard III, and his father, this duke's grandfather, is the Buckingham of 2 Henry VI.


Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk (c. 1485-1545) is a nobleman at the court of King Henry VIIII Suffolk is among the enemies of Cardinal Wolsey In 2 2 he joins the Duke of Norfolk and the Lord Chamberlain in hoping for the cardinal's downfall, and in 3.2 he takes part in the formal recitation of Wolsey's crimes and punishments. Suffolk is also present but unimportant in Act 5.  The historical Suffolk was the son of Henry VII’s devoted follower, Sir William Brandon who dies at Bosworth Field in Richard II L From childhood on Suffolk was a close friend of Henry VIII, as their friendly card game in 5.2 suggests. He married Henry s younger sister Mary, widow of the King of France, in 1515; their grand-daughter was the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey, executed in 1554 after the failure of a conspiracy to place her on the throne.


Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey,(1473-1554) is a nobleman at the court of King Henry VIII. In 3.2 Surrey joins his father, the Duke of Norfolk, in bringing down Cardinal Wolsey; he thus avenges the death of his father-in-law, the Duke of Buckingham, who was earlier framed and sent to execution by Wolsey. In 2.1 the First Gentleman asserts that Wolsey has had Surrey assigned to a post in Ireland 'lest he should help his father[-in-law]' (2.1.44); this circumstance makes him a doubly appropriate addition to the play's roster of Wolsey's enemies. Surrey is present but inconspicuous in 5.2. 

The historical Surrey was indeed sent to Ireland by Wolsey, almost certainly because the cardinal wanted an enemy out of England, but this occurred some time before Buckingham's treason trial and may not have been directly related to it. Shakespeare took Wolsey's motive from Holinshed’s Chronicles and certainly believed it was true. However, the playwright gave Surrey a wrong name and rank, for by the time he appears in the play his father had died and he had become the Duke of Norfolk. However, since Norfolk remains alive in the play, Surrey must remain an earl. Surrey was an uncle of Anne Boleyn, whose mother was his sister. He was the father of the famed poet Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey.


Lord Chamberlain is an official of King Henry VIII’s household, overseer of the king's travel, entertainment, and wardrobe. In 1.4 he assists Sir Henry Guilford with Cardinal Wolsey’s banquet, where he introduces the king to Anne Bullen. In 2.2 and 3.2 he appears briefly as a plotter against Wolsey with the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, and in 5.2 he is a member of the royal council, though he speaks only a few lines. In 5.3 he helps prepare for the christening of Princess Elizabeth. throughout he is representative of the elaborate world of courtly entertainment. Historically, the Chamberlain was Sir William Sands, but Shakespeare mistakenly gave that nobleman another part in the play.


Chancellor is the highest-ranking official of King Henry VIII government and keeper of the Great Seal of England, used to signify royal approval of any document. In 5.2 the Chancellor chairs the meeting of the royal council at which Bishop Gardiner attacks Archbishop Cranmer. He sides with Gardiner, but when the king intervenes for Cranmer, the Chancellor declares that their intention was simply to provide the archbishop with a chance to clear his name. He typifies the malevolence that the king overcomes in the final political episode of the play. 

We hear in 3.2.393-394 that Sir Thomas More has succeeded Cardinal Wolsey as Chancellor, but Shakespeare's Chancellor is nameless. In fact, More held the office for only three years, and the Chancellor at the time of 4.1 and 5.2 was Sir Thomas Audley (1488-1544). However, the specific identification is immaterial; the Chancellor is present simply as a representative of the highest levels of government.


Stephen Gardiner (d. 1555) is a follower of Cardinal Wolsey and later his successor as the play's principal villain. In 2.2 Gardiner appears as King Henry VIII's new secretary; in an aside he assures Wolsey of his personal loyalty, and the cardinal tells Campeius that Gardiner will do as he tells him. When we next see Gardiner, in the coronation parade in 4.1, he has become a bishop, and a Gentleman remarks that he is the powerful enemy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. In 5.1 and 5.2 Gardiner leads an effort to convict Cranmer of heresy, but the king intervenes and he is stymied. In Act 5 Gardiner is the unscrupulous, pro-Catholic schemer that Wolsey was before his fall, but here the king is more than a match for the villain. This indicates Henry's growth from gullibility to wisdom, an important theme of the play. 

The historical Gardiner, a bright young priest, was employed by Wolsey to represent him in Rome before becoming the cardinal's secretary. Wolsey promoted his protege into the king's service, presumably for the reasons given in the play, and Gardiner prospered. He became the king's secretary in 1529 and Bishop of Winchester in 1531. A conservative cleric, his opposition to Cranmer centered on the archbishop's prominent role in the Reformation in England. Henry balanced one against the other, but after the king's death, Cranmer gained power and Gardiner was imprisoned. However, under the Catholic Queen Mary (ruled 1553-1558), Garinder was restored to power and Cranmer was executed, though Gardiner died before his enemy went to the stake.


Bishop of Lincoln (John Longland, 1473-1547) is a confessor to King Henry VIII. In 2.4.209-214 Lincoln confirms the king's statement that as his confessor, he, Lincoln, advised Henry to pursue a divorce of Queen Katherine. His small part helps justify the king's action.  Longland, Bishop of Lincoln and Henry's long-time confessor, was later to record that the king hounded him at length about the divorce, insisting on his con sent. Although Longland did consent—and was on one occasion stoned by a disapproving public—he later declared a change of mind. After the establishment of the Church of England, Longland became known for his religious intolerance and his support of the king's supremacy in matters of religious doctrine.


Abergavenny, George Neville, Lord (d. 1535) is the son-in-law of the Duke of Buckingham. As the play opens, Abergavenny joins Buckingham and the Duke of Norfolk in their complaints about Cardinal Wolsey’s abuse of power. At the end of 1.1 Abervagenny and Buckingham are arrested for treason, the victims of a plot by Wolsey. Like his father-in-law, Abergavenny calmly accepts his fate, 'The will of Heaven be done, and the king's pleasure / By me obey'd' (1.1.215-216), offering a strong contrast with Wolsey's villainy. Shakespeare took Abergavenny's involvement from Holinshed’s Chronicles, and the lord is merely an echo of Buckingham. At 1.1.211 of the First Folio edition of the play, Abergavenny's name is spelled 'Aburgany', indicating its ordinary pronunciation.


Lord Sands(William Sands [Sandys], d. 1540) is a nobleman at the court of King Henry VIII. Sands jests with the Lord Chamberlain in 1.3 and attends Cardinal Wolsey’s banquet in 1.4, where he flirts with Anne Bullen. He helps establish the cheerfully decadent tone that characterises the king's court while still under the influence of Wolsey in the early part of the play.  Shakespeare was confused about the status of the historical Sands. At the time of the play's events, Sands was the Lord Chamberlain, though Shakespeare adds an anonymous holder of that office.  Though he is designated as 'Sir Walter Sands' in the stage direction at 2.1.53, this nobleman's name was William, as Shakespeare knew from his source, Holinshed’s Chronicles; the error probably resulted from a printer's misreading of an abbreviation for the name.


Guilford (Guildford), Sir Henry (1489-1532) is a steward to Cardinal Wolsey. In 1.4 Guilford, welcoming the guests to the cardinal's banquet, cheerfully delights in the -good company, good wine, good welcome' (1 4.6). He speaks briefly as the scene opens and then disappears from the play, having served to establish the mood of this occasion when King Henry VIII meets his future bride Anne Bullen. The historical Guilford later became a steward to King Henry and functioned as his Master of the Revels, before that office was formally created.


Sir Thomas Lovell (d. 1524) is a follower of Cardinal Wolsey and later Bishop Gardiner. Lovell appears as a member of Cardinal Wolsey's entourage in Acts 1 and 3. In 1.3-4 his bawdy banter helps establish the decadent flavor of King Henry VIII’s court while it is under the influence of Wolsey. In 2.1 he appears briefly to escort Buckingham to his execution, a fate arranged by Wolsey. Here, however, he expresses sympathy for the Duke, in an incident that provides evidence of Buckingham's virtues, in contrast to Wolsey's vices. In 5.1 Bishop Gardiner has become Wolsey's successor as villain, and Lovell's support signifies as much; a pawn of the plot, he also provides the audience with information on the new political situation. The historical Lovell was a distant cousin of Sir Francis Lovell, who appears in Richard III.


Sir Anthony Denny (1501-1549) is a member of King Henry VIII’s court. In 5.1.80-81 Denny reports that he has brought Archbishop Cranmer to a midnight meeting with the king, as Henry has instructed. After escorting Cranmer to the king, he disappears from the play. Shakespeare took Denny's tiny role from a source, Foxe’s Actes and Monumentes, and used it to intensify the air of intrigue surrounding the meeting, which begins the major episode of Act 5. The historical Denny was a close friend of the king.


Sir Nicholas Vaux (d. 1523) is a member of the court of King Henry VIII. In 2.1 Vaux, with Sir Thomas Lovell, escorts the Duke of Buckingham to the Tower of London. He speaks only three lines, suggesting that the prisoner should be treated in accordance with his rank, but Buckingham contradicts him humbly accepting the loss of his duchy as his fate! Vaux's tiny part helps point up the virtues of Buckingham, which contrast with the evil of his enemy, Cardinal Wolsey.


An aide to Cardinal Wolsey.  In 1.1, the secretary informs the carina that the Surveyor who is to testify against the Duke of Buckingham is ready to be interrogated.


Thomas Cromwell(c. 1485-1540) is secretary to Cardinal Wolsey and later to King Henry VIII'scouncil. In 3.2, as Wolsey's downfall becomes clear, Cromwell's demonstration of loyalty improves our image of Wolsey. He seems genuinely grieved, crying out, '0 my lord, /Must I then leave you? must I needs forgo / So good, so noble and so true a master?' (3.2.421-423). The episode also offers an opportunity for the fallen cardinal to display magnanimity—concerning himself with r Cromwell's welfare amid the debacle of his own affairs | and thereby demonstrating his capacity for moral regeneration in adversity, an important theme of the play. Cromwell's subsequent political rise is mentioned by the Third Gentleman, who calls him 'A man in much esteem with th'king' (4.1.109). In 5.2 Cromwell defends Archbishop Cranmer against heresy charges and is himself accused of Protestant leanings by the orthodox Bishop Gardiner. The episode points up the political importance of religious rivalries in the play's world. Also, that the one-time aide to Wolsey should become the king's ally demonstrates the progress from evil to good so central to Henry VIII. 

The historical Cromwell served as Wolsey's secretary, but Shakespeare invented his sympathetic response to the cardinal's plight. Cromwell eventually succeeded Wolsey as the king's chief minister, A vigorous administrator, he devised and oversaw the dissolution of English monasteries to enrich the crown and set an intensive domestic intelligence service, sometimes called the first prototype of a secret police force. Eventually, however, Cromwell shared Wolsey's fate. He tried to ally England with the Protestant powers of northern Europe, and to that end arranged Henry's fourth marriage, in 1540, to the German princess, Anne of Cleves (1515-1557). The rapid failure of the marriage was the minister's downfall. He was convicted of treason and executed. (His fate is obscurely alluded to in 3.2.449.) His career was the subject of the play Thomas Lord Cromwell, at one time attributed to Shakespeare.


Griffith is an attendant to Queen Katherine. Griffith is the Gentleman Usher to the Queen in 2.4, but in 4.2 he has a more intimate function, as a faithful servant who continues to attend the now-deposed queen in exile at Kimbolton. Griffith tells Katherine that Cardinal Wolsey repented of his evil deeds before dying. As Wolsey's victim, Katherine speaks harshly of him, but Griffith suggests a more charitable view of the cardinal, emphasizing his good works. Katherine thanks Griffith for reminding her of the proper Christian attitude towards her enemy, since she is near death herself. Griffith is tender with the dying queen; along with the waiting-woman Patience, he helps surround the queen's death with an atmosphere of virtuous mildness. Griffith is named in Shakespeare's sources, but only in connection with his duties as the queen's gentleman usher; the playwright invented his role in 4.2, as part of his association of Katherine with the themes of forgiveness and patience in adversity.


Any of three minor characters in Henry VIII, members of the court of King Henry VIII. In 2.1 two of the Gentlemen discuss the trial and conviction of the Duke of Buckingham. They attribute the duke's fall to Cardinal Wolsey, who they say is hated by the common people as much as Buckingham is loved. After witnessing Buckingham's moving farewell, they discuss Wolsey's effort to bring down Queen Katherine and mention the arrival of Cardinal Campeius as part of that story. Thus, they convey much important information about the plot, while stirring the audience's responses to the villain and his victims. 

In 4.1 the Gentlemen reappear, this time at the coronation of Queen Anne. They speak of the deposed Katherine's exile to Kimbolton, and as the royal procession passes by, they identify and remark on its participants. They are then joined by a Third Gentleman, who describes the actual coronation ceremony in exalted terms that foster the play's depiction of Anne as a saintly queen, rejoiced in by the country. They go on to discuss the advancement of Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell in the wake of Wolsey's fall, and they mention the rivalry between Cranmer, now Archbishop of Canterbury, and Bishop Gardiner. This foreshadows the political developments of Act 5. Once again, the Gentlemen convey information while also suggesting the play's point of view. 

Also an attendant to Queen Katherine. In 3.1 the Gentleman announces the arrival of' two great cardinals' (3.1.16),  Wolsey and Campeius, thus introducing the main business of the scene.


Doctor Butts (William Butts, d. 1545) is King Henry VIII’s physician. In 5.2 Doctor Butts leads Henry to an upper room where he can secretly view his council's meeting below, in order to thwart the councilors' attempt to imprison Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. Butts informs the king that the archbishop has been humiliated by having to wait with the servants outside the meeting room, and this adds to the king's anger. Shakespeare took Butts' role in this incident from his source, Foxe’s Actes and Monumentes.  Butts was King Henry's personal physician for many years, and his death is said to have distressed the king greatly. His personal appearance has been preserved in a fine portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger (c.1497-1543).


Garter (Garter is an official of the court of Henry VIII. The Garter whose duties include making formal proclamations at official ceremonies, is present, though mute at the coronation of Anne, and he recites a brief prayer after the christening of the future Queen Elizabeth in 5.4.1-3. His small role adds pomp and circumstance to the picture of the court.


Surveyor is a treacherous steward to the Duke of Buckingham. The Surveyor, bribed by Cardinal Wolsey, gives false testimony that convicts Buckingham of treason and leads to his execution. After performing his task in 1.2, the Surveyor disappears from the play. The episode emphasizes the atmosphere of duplicity that surrounds Wolsey in the first half of the play. Historically, the Surveyor was one William Knyvet or Knevet, otherwise unknown, who had been fired by Buckingham in response to his tenants' complaints that he mistreated them.


Brandon is an officer who arrests the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Abergavenny. Brandon appears in 1.1 and instructs a Sergeant at arms to arrest the two noblemen.  Brandon is sorry to have this duty and civilly explains that they are alleged to be part of a conspiracy against the king. His apologetic attitude helps convey the play's point of view, that Buckingham's enemy Cardinal Wolsey is in the wrong. Brandon may be the same person as the Duke of Suffolk, who appears later in the play and whose name was Charles Brandon. The designation of one character by two names might indicate joint authorship of the play, or it might simply be an instance of Shakespeare's carelessness in such matters, evident throughout his plays.


Sergeant is a soldier who formally arrests the Duke of Buckingham. In 1.1.198-202 the Sergeant follows the orders of Brandon and reads a formal charge of treason against Buckingham. He then disappears from the play. His small role adds a note of pomp and ceremony that stresses the great power underlying Buckingham's downfall.


Porter is a doorman at a royal palace in London.  In 5.3, on the day when Princess Elizabeth is to be christened, the Porter and his Man are unable to prevent a crowd of celebrating commoners from invading the palace courtyard. They make comical remarks about the riotous celebrants, until the Lord Chamberlain announces the arrival of the royal party, and they return to their efforts to control the crowd. The incident demonstrates the enthusiasm of the common people for Elizabeth and the Tudor Dynasty, an important theme of the play, and it offers comic relief that separates the intrigue of 5.1-2 from the grand ceremony of 5.4, with which the play closes.


Man is an assistant to a porter. In 5.3, on the day of^ the christening of Princess Elizabeth, the Man defends his inability to prevent a crowd of celebrating commoners from entering the courtyard of the royal palace. He comically exaggerates, in military terms, the combats he has undergone.


Boy is an attendant of Bishop Garadiner. Identified in the stage directions opening 5.1 as the bishop's page, the Boy carries a torch for his master and in his three words confirms that it is one o'clock. He thus establishes the time of night, while also indicating by his presence the high rank of Gardiner, once the king's secretary.


Crier is a petty official at the divorce trial of Queen Katherine. In 2.4.7 and 10, upon the orders of the Scribe, the Crier formally demands the presence of King Henry VIII and the queen. In this he emphasizes the pomp and ceremony with which the king is proceeding against Katherine, thereby increasing our sense of her vulnerability.


Katherine (Katharine) of Aragon, Queen of England (1485-1536) is the rejected wife of King Henry VIII. The focus of most of Acts 2 and 3 is on Henry's finally successful effort to divorce Katherine and marry Anne Bullen. Katherine appears first in 1.2, where she opposes the unjust taxes introduced by Cardinal Wolsey. The episode establishes the queen as a good person and Wolsey, already designated a villain, as her enemy—and it is Wolsey's influence that leads the king to divorce her. In 2.4, at her divorce trial, Katherine spiritedly defies Wolsey, refusing to submit to his judgement and demanding an appeal to the pope. In 3.1, when she is visited by Wolsey and Cardinal Campeius, she concedes her helplessness, but refuses to co-operate in her own downfall. Finally, in 4.2, she is seen dying in exile at Kimbolton, after the king has married Anne and crowned her as queen. She hears of Wolsey's death, and though bitter, she accepts Griffith’s advice and forgives the cardinal. Throughout she is a spirited woman, insisting on the respect due a queen. Her virtues are stressed in the enactment of her dream, in which supernatural beings crown her with garlands. 

Katherine's role in the play is largely symbolic. As a paragon of goodness, she makes a suitable victim for Wolsey, whose villainy dominates the first half of the play. Henry is susceptible to Wolsey's influence, but his evident affection for Katherine makes it clear that he is not himself a villain, despite the divorce. The loss of Katherine is seen as a misfortune that is compensated for by the king's later wisdom and maturity, and by the birth of Elizabeth at the play's close. 

For dramatic purposes, Shakespeare places Katherine's death immediately after Wolsey's death and Anne's coronation, though she in fact lived for six years after the first event and three after the second, almost long enough to see Anne's downfall. Aside from chronology, Shakespeare's presentation of Katherine's story is fairly accurate. The daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain (ruled 1479-1516), Katherine was married to Henry's elder brother, Prince Arthur (1486-1502), the heir apparent to King Henry VII, in 1501. Prince Arthur died shortly after marrying Katherine, and she declared, then and later, that the marriage had not been sexually consummated. Henry disputed this later, when he sought an annulment and cited Katherine's marriage to his brother as having disqualified her for marriage to him. (Though traditionally called a divorce, what Henry actually obtained was a declaration that he had never been married in theological terms.) Yet when Henry had acceded to the throne in 1509, he had actually received papal approval to marry Katherine. 

In marrying Katherine, Henry had wished to maintain the Spanish alliance that she represented, but he apparently loved her as well. However, when she did not produce a suitable heir to the throne—their only child was a daughter, not considered acceptable at the time—Henry considered a new marriage. Thus, on falling in love with Anne, he proceeded to dispose of his wife of 20 years. Though Katherine was badly humiliated by Henry before and after the divorce, he allowed her to live out her life in some comfort, and it was thought by contemporaries—and most modern historians agree that his affection and respect for her never completely disappeared. 


Anne Bullen (Boleyn) (c. 1507-1536) is the lover and later the wife of King Henry VIII, and the mother of Elizabeth. At Cardinal Wolsey’s banquet in 1.4, Anne chats pleasantly with Lord Sands, before meeting Henry. The king is charmed by Anne when he dances with her, though she does not speak. In 2.3 Anne tolerantly accepts the Old Lady’s bawdy jesting about her potential relationship with the king, but her own mind is on the suffering of the rejected Queen Katherine Thus, Shakespeare disassociates Anne's rise from Katherine's fall, which is blamed on Cardinal Wolsey. Anne appears but does not speak at her own coronation in 4.1, and she is not present at the christening ot her daughter Elizabeth in 5.4. She is depicted as a saintly woman, whose Protestantism is said to be a healthy influence on the king and the country. Her role in the play's events, however, is very understated probably in order to avoid reminding the audience of her well-known fate: only three years later, after failing to produce sons, she was divorced and executed on trumped-up charges of adultery and treason. Any allusion to this would undermine the play's emphasis on King Henry's growth to wisdom and on the general virtues of the Tudor Dynasty, of which Elizabeth was a prominent a member. 

The historical Anne Boleyn was very different from Shakespeare's Anne, and the course other affair with the king is only sketchily presented in the play We are not informed that the king had already had an affair with Anne's older sister, Mary, nor that Anne was pregnant with Elizabeth when the king married her Anne's personality is hard to discern today, after centuries of accusation and defense, but she was certainly not the high-minded virgin of the play. She appears to have had other affairs before Henry—with the poet Thomas Wyatt, at least—and her upbringing was notoriously scandalous. Anne's father, Thomas Boleyn (1477-1539), an ambitious merchant who had married a daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, was a determined participant in the power politics of the king's court. His power and influence increased greatly as a result of his daughters' sexual relationships, and it seems likely that both girls were brought up with such possibilities in mind. Boleyn served Henry as ambassador to France, and from the age of about 12, Anne was a lady-in-waiting at the licentious court of King Francis I, where sexual intrigue was a way of life. King Francis later described Mary Boleyn as 'a great prostitute, infamous above all—and though Anne is not implicated in such accounts she was certainly close to the participants.

Henry knew Anne slightly at this time: he considered having her marry an Irish nobleman as part of a diplomatic settlement, apparently at her father's suggestion. Anne returned to England around 1522, when her older sister became Henry's mistress. Anne was soon banished from court for a romantic entanglement that interfered with a proposed political marriage, and it was only after her return in 1526 that Henry fell in love with her. She seems to have resisted his desire for sex for several years, probably in the hope of becoming a wife rather than a mistress, but once sure other eventual legitimacy, she surrendered. In the meantime she and the king scandalized the court and humiliated Queen Katherine with such behavior as public caresses and mocking remarks. In marked contrast to Shakespeare's portrait, Anne seems to have taken pains to show her disrespect for the older woman Such behavior made Anne widely unpopular with both courtiers and commoners, and her ultimate destiny was welcomed by many.

Old Lady

Old Lady is a waiting woman to Anne Bullen. In 2.3 the Old Lady jests bawdily with Anne, who insists that she would not trade her virginity for a throne. The Old Lady contradicts her, declaring that for 'England / You'ld venture an emballing: I myself / Would for Carnarvonshire' (2.3.46-48). The episode exploits the spicy aspects of a courtly romance while not sullying the play's presentation of Anne as a saintly woman. Anne's tolerance of the Old Lady's sharp tongue also keeps her saintliness from seeming stiff-necked and inhumane. 

In 5.1, where Anne is the wife of King Henry VIII the Old Lady informs the king of the birth of his and Anne's daughter. Confronted with the king's demand for news of a son, she fudges her announcement:'. . . a lovely boy: the God of heaven / Both now and ever bless her: 'tis a girl / Promises boys hereafter' (5.1.164-166). As she had anticipated, the traditional tip for the bearer of news is a small one, and she complains vigorously, 'I will have more, or scold it out of him' (5.1.173). The Old Lady gives a light and comic touch to the introduction of the play's final motif, the auspicious birth of the future Queen Elizabeth.


Patience is an attendant to Queen Katherine. In 4.2 Patience faithfully attends the deposed and dying queen in her exile at Kimbolton. Patience speaks very little, remarking on Katherine's ghastly appearance as she approaches death and saying 'Heaven comfort her' (4.2.99); her mere presence—with that of Griffith—tells us of the loyalty the good Katherine inspires. Her name is so striking that ?t is often thought Shakespeare created her for its sake. Griffith addresses her, 'Softly, gentle Patience as they watch their mistress sleep, and Katherine, approaching death, says, 'Patience, / You must not leave me yet' (4.2.165-166). The quality her name evokes is Katherine's signal trait and an important theme in the play: the virtue of patience in adversity. In gentle Patience, Shakespeare created an embodiment of the virtue itself, an allegorical figure like those of the medieval Morality Play. This technique is characteristic of Henry VIII, which is filled with tableaus, Masque, and other emblematic episodes.

Scribe The scribe is a petty official at the divorce proceedings of Katharine and King Henry.  The scribe orders the Crier to formally demand the presence of King Henry VIII and the queen, thus opening the proceedings.  His role reflects the scale of the pomp nature of the ceremony.
Keeper Keeper is the doorman at a meeting of the king's council. In 5.2 the Keeper, following his orders, prevents Cranmer the Archbishop of Canterbury, from entering the meeting to which he has been summoned. This is plainly an insult to a person of his rank, as King Henry VIII realms angrily then he is informed of it by Doctor Butts. The incident demonstrates the enmity of Bishop Gardiner and the councilors towards Cranmer, whose support by the king is the theme of 5.1-2.

Servant is a worker in the household of Cardinal Wolsey. At the cardinal's banquet, the Servant announces the arrival of'a noble troop of strangers' (1.4.53), who prove to be the masquers led by King Henry VIII. The Servant lends an air of opulence to the occasion.


Messenger is a servant of Queen Katherine. In 4.2 the Messenger, announcing the arrival of Lord Capuchius, addresses the now-deposed queen as if she were a mere duchess.  She instantly rebukes him and orders Griffith to see that he is never sent to her again. The episode, which derives from an historical incident, offers a last demonstration of strength in the victimized and dying Katherine.

Gentleman Usher

Gentleman Usher is an attendant to Queen Katherine and her official escort at her divorce trial. The Gentleman Usher, accompanied by a lesser servant carrying a silver mace, walks before the Queen with great ceremony, in the stage direction opening 2.4. Later in the scene, he speaks one line, following King Henry VIII’s order that the departing queen be called back. He serves merely to emphasize the pomp of the proceedings. The same figure reappears under his proper name, Griffith, in " 4.2.


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