Study Guide

Henry VIII Act 1, Scene 1

By William Shakespeare

Act 1, Scene 1

Read the full text of Henry VIII Act 1 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.


  • Norfolk, Buckingham, and Abergavenny all greet one another. Buckingham asks Norfolk how he's been since they last saw each other in France.
  • Last time they hung out, Buckingham had a fever and had to stay in his tent while everyone else was partying. The king of England and the king of France put on a show for everyone. It was a-freakin'-mazing.
  • Naturally, Buckingham wants to know the party planner's name. It sounds so cool. Norfolk tells him it was Cardinal Wolsey who planned the whole thing.
  • He did what? Buckingham goes off the handle at this news. He thinks Wolsey is "ambitious" and a "devil," and he wants nothing to do with the guy.
  • Norfolk doesn't agree. He defends Wolsey and thinks the dude was just planning a fun time. But Abergavenny takes Buckingham's side: Wolsey is way too extravagant with money, he says. In fact, his lavish ways have cost a lot of nobles… literally. People have to sell their homes to keep up with Wolsey. It's not fair.
  • Why is Wolsey so hell-bent on burning through the dough? He wants to make sure England stays on par with France, so he's spending money left and right to keep up appearances—and, more importantly, to keep the peace with them. If France thinks they have more money and resources than England, then who knows what could happen?
  • After listening to his two pals, Norfolk agrees that peace with France is coming at a pretty penny… but he also warns them not to go against the Cardinal: he's dangerous and malicious. Don't say they weren't warned.
  • Just then, Wolsey enters and gets right to business. He wants to know if Buckingham's land surveyor is ready to witness against Buckingham. With that, Wolsey leaves as quickly as he arrived.
  • This doesn't sit too well with Buckingham: he thinks Wolsey is up to something. He does have the king's ear, so he's probably off talking smack about Buckingham to the king.
  • Norfolk tells Buckingham to cool it. He doesn't want to act out of anger.
  • When Buckingham calms down, he still thinks Wolsey is bad news. He then goes through a laundry list of Wolsey's mistakes: he's just out to help himself; he deals with Charles V (King of Spain) behind the king's back; he's clumsy and unfair; oh, and did Buckingham mention that Wolsey sells honor to the highest bidder?
  • Norfolk thinks there must be some mistake. How could Wolsey do all those things? Still, Buckingham insists that that's what's going down.
  • Before the men can talk any further, Brandon enters with orders to arrest Buckingham. The change? High treason. Buckingham knows it's a waste of his breath to plead innocent and promises to follow God's will instead.
  • Buckingham says goodbye to Abergavenny, but Brandon arrests Abergavenny, too. And he's only getting started—he's got a list of names to get through by lunch.
  • Buckingham tells Norfolk that this is Wolsey's doing and bids him farewell. He's already his own shadow.