Who's Who in Shakespeare's Henry VIII

A Guide to the Personalities in the Play

Chapter 3 : Campeius - Fisher

Campeius, Cardinal – real name, Campeggio 1474 – 1539 Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio was Cardinal-Protector of England – that is, the Cardinal based in Rome with responsibility for taking care of English affairs with the Pope as England’s own Cardinal, Wolsey, remained at home. Campeggio had visited England on a mission to persuade the monarchs of Europe to unite in the threat of the Ottoman menace, but, despite a good deal of talk, no crusade had been forthcoming. On that occasion he had been granted the Bishopric of Salisbury.

When it became obvious that Henry VIII was determined to have his annulment request taken seriously, Campeggio was sent to London to preside over the Legatine Court. His instructions were to try to affect a reconciliation between Henry and Katharine, or, failing that, to persuade her to enter a convent. He was unsuccessful on both counts. The court opened at Blackfriars in the spring of 1529 and heard the evidence both for and against the validity of the marriage. Constrained by politics, Campeggio revoked the case to Rome.

Caputius - real name - Chapuys, Eustace c. 1490 – 1556 Capucius appears only at the death-bed of Katharine, bearing ‘princely commendations’ from Henry, which Katharine tells him are too late to save her.

Chapuys was the ambassador to Henry VIII from Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. He was resident in England from 1529 to 1545. Much of our knowledge of the court of Henry VIII is based on his letters to Charles V and Charles’ sister, Mary of Hungary, who was his Regent in the Low Countries. Chapuys was a strong supporter of Katharine of Aragon and Princess Mary, both personally, and on behalf of his master. Often portrayed as Spanish, he was, in fact, from Savoy, in the Franco-Italian border.

Cranmer, Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury 1489 – 1556EXECUTED Cranmer was educated at Cambridge and became a Fellow of Jesus College. He was obliged to resign the fellowship when he married. After the death of his wife, Cranmer was ordained as a priest in 1520. Initially a Humanist, Cranmer became more radical in his religion over time. He was consulted on the matter of the King’s annulment in 1527, and argued for the marriage being unlawful, putting forward the suggestion that University theologians be consulted across Europe, rather than leaving the matter to the Pope.

In 1533, Cranmer was appointed as Archbishop of Canterbury, and declared the King’s first marriage null. Over the remaining years of Henry’s reign, although his private inclinations were more reformist than King Henry’s, he developed a moderately reformed, but essentially Catholic, Church. He worked closely with Cromwell throughout the 1530s. Under Henry’s successor, Edward VI, Cranmer travelled further along the road towards Protestantism and wrote the Liturgy and Book of Common Prayer which are still the foundation of the Church of England. He supported the usurpation of the Protestant Lady Jane Grey and was imprisoned by Mary I. He was burned for heresy in 1556.

Cromwell, Thomas c. 1485 – 28th July 1540 EXECUTED Son of a small trader in Putney, details of Cromwell’s early life remain obscure. He travelled to Europe, fought as a mercenary and worked for an Italian merchant before returning to England, taking up the law, specialising in conveyancing. He found a place in the household of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, being appointed to Wolsey’s Council in 1519. He served Wolsey faithfully, then transferred to service of King Henry VIII, becoming a Privy Councillor in 1531.

Cromwell was instrumental in finding a solution to the vexed problem of the annulment of the King’s marriage to Katharine of Aragon. Cromwell steered the Acts of Supremacy and Succession through Parliament. Initially a supporter of the new Queen, Anne Boleyn, he was involved in her downfall, whether acting on his own initiative or directly under orders of the King is disputed.

Cromwell, as Vicegerent (ie the King’s deputy as Supreme Head of the Church in England) took a leading role in the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and the suppression of the Pilgrimage of Grace. His own religious beliefs appear to have been favourable to the Reformation of the Church. Cromwell lost the King’s support in 1540 after promoting a disastrous marriage between Henry and Anne of Cleves. Despite being promoted to the Earldom of Essex in April 1540, his enemies (who were legion) took advantage of the King’s unhappiness over the marriage to accuse him of treason. He was beheaded on Tower Hill in a botched execution. Henry later appears to have regretted the loss of his chief minister.

Denny, Sir Anthony 1501 – 1549 Although having only one line in the play, Denny was an important member of Henry’s circle, and was the man who eventually warned him of his impending death. He was a religious reformer, close to Queen Katherine Parr, and his wife Joan was either the sister, the niece or the cousin of Katherine Ashley, Elizabeth’s governess.

Elizabeth, later Elizabeth I 1533 – 1603 Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Her gender was a terrible disappointment to her parents, who had expected a son, but as Elizabeth grew up she proved to be exceptionally clever and charismatic. There is certainly no sign of disappointment in the play and the closing scene is one of rejoicing at the promise of glory to come. After Anne’s death, Elizabeth was in limbo, with little notice taken of her. Her Governess was constrained to write to Cromwell to ask for instructions on how to manage the household, and for new clothes. Never as close to her father as her siblings were, she nevertheless had a warm relationship with her last step-mother, Katherine Parr, who strongly influenced her, particularly in matters of religion. Elizabeth’s reign of 45 years, although it was not all plain sailing, is seen as a golden era of exploration, relative (by sixteenth century standards) religious tolerance and the flowering of English literature.

Fisher, John, Bishop of Rochester 1469 – 1535 EXECUTED The Bishop of Rochester is an unnamed individual in the play, attending the Legatine Court, but not speaking. The Bishop of the time was John Fisher.

Fisher studied at Cambridge and was ordained in 1491. He became Chaplain and Confessor to Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby, the very influential mother of Henry VII. Under his influence, Lady Margaret founded Colleges and Professorships at both Oxford and Cambridge. His personal piety, dedication to service and to fulfilling his mission as a priest were famous. According to Erasmus ‘He is the one man at this time who is incomparable for uprightness of life, for learning and for greatness of soul.’

On Henry VIII’s accession, he continued as a Privy Councillor, but was never as favoured by him as by Henry VII. Fisher had preached against abuses in the Church and was keen for reform, but he was firmly opposed to Lutheranism, and any encroachment on Papal authority. When Henry VIII’s annulment suit began, Fisher was appointed as one of Queen Katharine’s legal counsel, and he defended the validity of the marriage to the uttermost, being one of only a handful who stood against the King. He preached against the annulment in 1532, and in 1534 was imprisoned for involvement in the Elizabeth Barton affair.

He refused to sign the Oath of Succession that conferred the Crown on the children of Anne Boleyn and was again imprisoned, without the benefit of a priest.The Pope, hoping to alleviate his treatment, appointed him a Cardinal, an act which infuriated the King. Fisher was tried for treason, condemned and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Fearing popular discontent at such a brutal end for a much respected man, Henry commuted the sentence to beheading.