Who's Who in Shakespeare's Henry VIII

A Guide to the Personalities in the Play

Chapter 5 : Howard, T - More

Howard, Thomas, Earl of Surrey, later 3rd Duke of Norfolk 1473 - 1554 Buckingham’s son-in-law, married to his daughter, Lady Elizabeth Stafford.

Surrey/Norfolk, uncle of Anne Boleyn, was a prominent member of Henry’s court, although he was never fully trusted by the King. He had played an important role in the victory over Scotland and the Battle of Flodden, and had been a successful Lord Deputy in Ireland. Like his father-in-law, he was relentlessly opposed to the new ministers favoured by Henry, whom he saw as upstarts, encroaching on noble prerogatives.Thus, he was an enemy first of Wolsey, then, to an even greater degree, of Cromwell.

Norfolk hoped to be promoted to Henry’s closest minister after his successful management of the military campaign against the Pilgrimage of Grace, but Cromwell continued as Henry’s chief minister. During the 1530s he and Cromwell jockeyed for position, and Norfolk eventually gained the upper hand when Henry failed to consummate his marriage with Anne of Cleves, which marriage had been heavily promoted by Cromwell. Henry preferred Norfolk’s niece, Katheryn Howard, and Norfolk took advantage of the situation to organise a coup against Cromwell. Norfolk came to grief himself, when his son, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey was accused of treason, and Norfolk spent the whole of the reign of Edward VI in the Tower, before being released on Mary’s accession, aged eighty.

Katharine of Aragon 1485 – 1536 The vision created in the play is of a noble and tragic figure – a picture of the Queen that has stood the test of time. In the play, Henry is shown as sincerely attached to her, but troubled by his conscience – as well as with an eye on her maid of honour, Anne Boleyn.

Her first appearance in the play is as a supplicant – she has heard that Henry’s subjects are unhappy at the heavy taxes being levied. It transpires that they were all Wolsey’s idea, and Henry, sorry his people are being troubled, immediately remits them – an action for which Wolsey tries to take the credit.

Daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, Katharine came to England in 1501 to marry Arthur, Prince of Wales. On Arthur’s death, it was agreed she would marry his brother, Henry, and a dispensation for the marriage was granted by the Pope, allowing for either the case of consummation or non-consummation of the first marriage. In fact, the match did not take place until Henry succeeded to the throne in 1509.

Katharine was exceptionally well educated and intelligent, a patron of learning and a woman who inspired great personal loyalty. She and Henry lived happily together for some sixteen years, although only one child, Mary, survived more than a few weeks. By 1525, with Katharine past child-bearing, Henry was looking elsewhere for an heir. Simultaneously, he became enamoured of Anne Boleyn. Henry requested the Pope to grant an annulment of his marriage to Katharine, on the basis that the dispensation was not valid, as the Pope could not dispense in the particular case.

Katharine argued that as her first marriage had not been consummated, her second marriage was valid. Initially, Henry tried to persuade Katharine by gentle means, but she was adamant that she would not back down. Supported by her powerful nephew, Emperor Charles V, Katharine fought the annulment to the bitter end, refusing to accept the verdict given by Archbishop Cranmer in 1533 that the marriage was invalid, and that she was not Queen, but merely Princess Dowager of Wales. She was sent to increasingly isolated castles and parted from her daughter. She died in 1536, signing herself Katharine the Queen.

In both the play, and, it seems initially at the time, Katharine believed that Wolsey was behind the annulment plan – a natural inclination to look for someone to blame, other than Henry as it would not have occurred to Katharine initially that Henry could be planning to marry Anne, who was not of particularly distinguished birth. In fact, Henry made it clear that Wolsey had tried to dissuade him from the matter – a fact which did not endear him to Anne.

Longland, John Bishop of Lincoln d. 1547 Longland was Henry VIII’s confessor. In the play, Henry claims that he had first shared his scruples of conscience over his marriage to his brother’s widow with Lincoln, who affirms the King’s statement.

He was at the opening of the Legatine Court on 31 May 1529, when he read aloud the commission from the Pope to the two presiding Cardinals – Campeggio and Wolsey. He and the Bishop of Bath and Wells were then sworn to summon the King and Queen to attend the court. In later life, he remained one of the more conservative bishops.

Lovell, Sir Thomas, d. 1524 The appearance of Lovell as at the centre of affairs is a little anachronistic. Lovell joined Henry Tudor in Brittany, after the death of Edward IV. Following the Battle of Bosworth he received a number of positions in the new King’s household. He was Speaker of the House of Commons in Henry VII’s first Parliament and on 10 December 1485 conveyed Parliament’s desire that Henry VII should marry ‘that illustrious Lady Elizabeth, daughter of King Edward IV’. Lovell remained one of Henry VII’s most important advisers and also served under Henry VIII until he retired from public affairs in around 1515. He was one of the men with whom Wolsey was associated during his early career under Henry VII.

More, Sir Thomas 1478 – 1535 EXECUTED He is not named in the play, but held the position of Lord Chancellor, one of the roles. In the late fifteenth century, Thomas More, son of a London lawyer and judge, was a page to John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury. Although contemplating entering a monastery, More opted for a secular life and became a lawyer. He married twice, fathering four children. Unusually, he educated his daughters to a high standard, as well as his son.

More was MP for various seats, and was elected as Speaker of the Commons in 1525. He became a Privy Councillor to Henry VIII in 1514 and undertook numerous political and diplomatic roles. He was a close friend of the Humanist, Erasmus, and wrote a number of books, including the famous ‘Utopia’. More was renowned throughout Europe for his brilliance and wit.

On Wolsey’s fall, he became Lord Chancellor, but he could not accept the growing rift between the King and the Pope over the annulment of Henry’s marriage. During his period as Chancellor, he took an increasingly oppressive attitude to religious dissent, but strenuously denied allegations that he tortured heretics personally. More resigned the Chancellorship in 1532, and, although he acknowledged Anne Boleyn as queen did not attend her coronation.

In April 1534 he refused to sign the Acts of Supremacy, without making any statement as to his reasons for refusal. Eventually, he was tried, following testimony by Sir Richard Rich, the Solicitor General, that he had impugned Henry VIII’s supremacy. He denied having done so, pointing out the unlikelihood of him telling Rich (whom he detested) his personal opinion, after refusing to tell anyone else what he thought. He was convicted and executed on 6th June 1535.