Who's Who in Shakespeare's Henry VIII

A Guide to the Personalities in the Play

Chapter 2 : Audley - Butts

Audley, Thomas, Lord c. 1488 – 1544 Although the part in the play is named as Lord Chancellor, following Wolsey’s fall, the character’s name is not given. The position during the years 1529 – 1536 was held first by Sir Thomas More, and then by Thomas, Lord Audley. Thomas Audley was the brother-in-law of Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, Henry VIII’s cousin. He studied law at Middle Temple and entered Parliament as MP for Essex. He held minor Court posts and was associated with Thomas Wolsey in the late 1520s before being appointed Speaker of the House of Commons for the Reformation Parliament. Audley was closely associated with Henry VIII and Cromwell in the passing of the acts which detached the English Church from Rome.

As Lord Chancellor from 1533, he presided over the trials of More and Fisher and witnessed the execution of Anne Boleyn, having been one of the panel trying her. Further treason trials for the Pilgrimage of Grace and the Exeter Conspiracy were presided over by Audley. Despite his previous close association with Cromwell, he managed the Parliamentary business required to condemn Cromwell without trial. By inclination a reformer in religion, he nevertheless worked to implement the conservative Act of Six Articles.

Boleyn, Anne, Queen of England c. 1503 – 1536 EXECUTED In the play, Anne is first met with at a party at Cardinal Wolsey’s where the King dances with her and rapidly becomes enamoured of her beauty. She is next seen talking to an unnamed character, just given the title Old Lady, lamenting the cause of Katharine, describing her as noble and much to be pitied. She exclaims that she is glad she is of low birth, and that she would not like to be a queen. The Old Lady takes a rather cynical view of Anne’s protestations.

Anne: By my troth and maidenhead,
I would not be a queen.

Old Lady: Beshrew me, I would,
And venture maidenhead for't; and so would you,
For all this spice of your hypocrisy:
You, that have so fair parts of woman on you,
Have too a woman's heart; which ever yet
Affected eminence, wealth, sovereignty;

Act II. Sc.III

Anne, daughter of one of Henry VIII’s courtiers, spent her formative years in France, before joining the English court as one of Queen Katharine’s maids-of-honour in 1521. She fell foul of Cardinal Wolsey when she became engaged to Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland without parental consent. Wolsey broke off the match – possibly, although not certainly, at Henry VIII’s command. Anne nursed a grudge against Wolsey thereafter, in which she was supported by many others at Henry’s court, including her father, Sir Thomas Boleyn, her uncle, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk and the King’s brother-in-law, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk.

It is not known for certain when Anne caught Henry’s eye, but sometime during the period 1525-6 he fell violently in love with her. This passion coincided with his fears for the succession as Queen Katharine was past childbearing and they had only a daughter. Henry decided, contrary to all custom, that he wanted to marry Anne Boleyn, she having refused to be his mistress.

Anne’s experience at the French court had introduced her to modern religious thought, and she was seen as a reformer in Church matters (although the distinction between Catholic and Protestant was not made in the 1520s). Wolsey was unable to arrange for Henry’s marriage to be annulled and Anne, working with Cromwell and Cranmer, was certainly involved in the steps taken to divide the English Church from Rome. Anne was crowned in 1533, but the fact that she failed to produce the son whom Henry so much desired led him to question the marriage. Anne was charged with adultery and incest, tried, convicted and executed within a month.

Brandon, Charles, Duke of Suffolk c. 1484 - 1545 Brandon’s father was Henry VII’s Standard Bearer at the Battle of Bosworth, and died defending him. Charles was brought up at court and became a good friend of Prince Henry, later Henry VIII, despite being seven years older. Brandon had a reputation as a fine jouster and sportsman, often, in later years, acting with Henry VIII as the chief defender in tournaments. He was appointed Master of the Horse in 1513, an important role which kept him close to the King, who granted him the Dukedom of Suffolk. Brandon had a complicated private life – he was betrothed to Anne Browne, then repudiated her to marry her wealthy aunt, Margaret Neville, but that marriage was annulled and he married Anne Browne, having two daughters with her.

He was granted the wardship of Elizabeth Grey, Viscountess Lisle, and, planning to marry her, was permitted to use her title. He did not relinquish the title for nearly ten years, although Elizabeth had refused to marry him, and in fact died in 1513. Brandon’s real matrimonial coup was his secret marriage to Mary, sister of Henry VIII and widowed Queen of France. Pleaded for by Wolsey, Brandon and Mary paid a swingeing fine and were forgiven. Despite Suffolk’s dislike of Anne Boleyn, he never lost Henry’s favour, remaining his closest friend until his death.

Suffolk’s interchange with a Chamberlain in Act 2, sums up the whole of the argument about Henry VIII’s motives in the annulment:

Chamberlain: It seems the marriage with his brother's wife
Has crept too near his conscience.

Suffolk: No, his conscience
Has crept too near another lady.

Act II Sc. ii

Brandon a separate character in the play, who leads the soldiers who arrest Buckingham and Abergavenny in the opening scene, set in 1521. It has been suggested that the real individual was Sir Henry Marney (1447 – 1523), who was Captain of the King’s Guard, but he would have been rather old for executing his office so personally.

Buckingham’s Surveyor the character in the play who is Buckingham’s chief accuser, although Queen Katharine advises Henry that he has an ulterior motive for calumniating his master.

It appears that the chief evidence given at the Duke’s trial, presided over by Norfolk, with another sixteen or so peers, was from members of his household.

Butts, Dr William c. 1485 - 1545 One of Henry VIII’s most trusted physicians, he treated Anne Boleyn for the sweating sickness in 1528. He was also dispatched by Henry to treat Cardinal Wolsey in the period when Henry was vacillating between dismissing the Cardinal and restoring him to favour. Dr Butts was the recipient of Henry's confidences in 1539 when the King confessed that, although he could not consummate his marriage to Anne of Cleves, he had ‘nocturnal emissions’ that proved his virility. This evidence was key in the annulment case. Butts was a reformer, and may have been the man who warned Katherine Parr that the King was contemplating her arrest, allowing her to mend fences with Henry before she was arrested.