Who's Who in Shakespeare's Henry VIII

A Guide to the Personalities in the Play

Chapter 6 : Nevill - Vaux

Nevill, George, 5th Baron (A)bergavenny c. 1469 – c. 1536 The title was usually rendered as Bergavenny in the sixteenth century, although the play has ‘Abergavenny’. He joins with Buckingham in seeking the downfall of Wolsey.

Lord Bergavenny was married to the Duke of Buckingham’s daughter, Lady Mary Stafford, who was some thirty years younger than he. He was from a Yorkist family, but served under Henry VII as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, and also commanded royalist troops at the Battle of Blackheath in 1497. Bergavenny and Buckingham were close allies, and, on Buckingham’s fall and execution in 1521, Bergavenny was sent to the Tower. He was pardoned, and officiated at Anne Boleyn’s coronation. His brother, Sir Edward Nevill, was a close friend of Henry VIII’s during the King’s youth, but was executed as part of the Exeter Conspiracy.

Sandys, William, 1st Baron Sandys of the Vine c. 1470 – 1540 Lord Chamberlain from 1526.Sandys held a number of posts in Henry’s government.He first appears in the play chatting to Sir Thomas Lovell, laughing at the ridiculous fashions in male dress that are appearing at court. He and Lovell are on their way to a reception at Wolsey’s York Palace – a fateful evening, as it is where Henry meets Anne Boleyn for the first time and immediately falls for her saying:.

The fairest hand I ever touch'd! O beauty,

Till now I never knew thee!

Standish, Henry, Bishop of St Asaph, c. 1475 – 1535 Another attendee of the Legatine Court, he does not speak. He was one of the men appointed to act as Counsellor for Queen Katharine. He was a Franciscan friar of traditional doctrine, opposed to Humanism whilst condemning clerical abuses. During the hearing, he echoed Rochester’s ringing endorsement of the marriage, although apparently with considerably less eloquence.

Stafford, Edward, 3rd Duke of Buckingham 1478 – 1521 EXECUTED The opening scenes of the play show Buckingham angry at the pretensions of Cardinal Wolsey, whom he sees as abusing his position – failing in respect to the nobility and manipulating the King. His arrest is portrayed as a plot by Wolsey to get rid of his enemies, and despite Queen Katharine pointing out that his chief accuser is biased, he is tried, found guilty and executed.

Buckingham’s great-grandfather and grandfather both died fighting for Lancaster, but his father, the 2nd Duke, a child at the time of Towton, was reconciled to Edward IV, and married to his sister-in-law Katherine Woodville. The 2nd Duke was initially a close supporter of Richard III, but rebelled in 1483 – possibly on his own account, or less likely, in favour of Henry Tudor, Duke of Richmond. The 2nd Duke was betrayed by one of his vassals and executed.

When Henry became King, Buckingham’s mother was married to the King’s uncle, Jasper, and he himself was made a ward of Lady Margaret Beaufort, and was permitted to inherit the dukedom. Buckingham seems to have lived as almost the last of the great feudal magnates, taking a large retinue of retainers everywhere with him, and concluding complex marital and property negotiations. Married to the daughter of the Earl of Northumberland, his sons-in-law were the Earl of Surrey (later Duke of Norfolk), the Earl of Westmoreland, and Lord Montague (son of Margaret, Countess of Salisbury).

The evidence given against him was that he had said, in the event of Henry’s death, he had a right to succeed to the throne. In the play, he is accused of planning to assassinate the King. It is possible that Henry resented Buckingham’s actions in 1510 when he whisked his sister, Anne, Lady Hastings away from court. Lady Hastings was apparently having an affair with Sir William Compton, Henry’s friend, but it has been suggested that this was a cover for an affair with Henry himself.

In the play, his final speech is elegant – praying for the King, forgiving those who have wronged him, and warning people to beware of false friends:

for those you make friends
And give your hearts to, when they once perceive
The least rub in your fortunes, fall away
Like water from ye, never found again

Act II Sc. I

Tilney, Agnes, Duchess of Norfolk. c. 1477 – 1545. In the play, as in life, Agnes, although she has no speaking part, carries Anne Boleyn’s train at her coronation, and is godmother to Elizabeth.

Agnes, daughter of a Norfolk gentleman, Hugh Tilney, was the second wife of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, marrying him after the death of his first wife, her cousin, Elizabeth Tilney. Agnes was step-mother to at least eight children, and had a further nine or so of her own who lived to adulthood. Chief amongst these step-children were the Earl of Surrey, Lady Elizabeth Howard who was the mother of Anne Boleyn, and Lord Edmund Howard, father of Katheryn Howard. Agnes was a supporter of Anne’s (perhaps to distance herself from Surrey’s wife, who became Duchess in 1524 and was a supporter of Katharine’s). During the annulment suit she deposed that she had seen Arthur and Katharine in bed together, although not specifically that she knew the marriage had been consummated.

In her later years, she was disgraced for hiding the details of Katheryn Howard’s early life from the King.

Vaux, Sir Nicholas, 1st Baron Vaux of Harrowden c. 1460 – 1523 In the play, Vaux is in charge of the arrangements for Buckingham’s execution. He shows his humanity and respect for the Duke by ordering that the barge to convey him to his death be properly decorated to reflect the Duke’s status.

The Vaux family were committed Lancastrians. Sir Nicholas’ mother, Katherine, who was from Provence, had followed Queen Marguerite of Anjou into exile and attended her until her death. Sir Nicholas was the ward of Lady Margaret Beaufort and a prominent member of her affinity after Henry VII became King. He married, as his first wife, Lady Elizabeth FitzHugh, niece of Warwick the Kingmaker, and widow of Sir William Parr. This was probably part of Henry VII’s plan to marry women of Yorkist families to loyal Lancastrians. Sir Henry Guilford q.v. was his brother-in-law. Vaux continued in loyal service, fighting in France in 1513 and undertaking numerous diplomatic missions. Vaux’ grandson, Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, was a committed Protestant, and served on many diplomatic missions under Elizabeth, whilst his great-grandaughter, Anne Vaux, was prominent in Catholic Recusant circles and involved in the Gun Powder plot – such were the divisions of family and faith in the sixteenth century.