Study Guide

Henry VIII Act 3, Scene 2

By William Shakespeare

Act 3, Scene 2

Read the full text of Henry VIII Act 3 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.


  • Norfolk, Suffolk, Surrey, and Lord Chamberlain have a little meeting about Wolsey: he's become a problem, and they know it. They're just not sure what to do about it.
  • Norfolk wants to present a united front. He thinks that Wolsey can't deny all their complaints if they join up.
  • Lord Chamberlain doesn't know if that will work. Wolsey's got private access to the king, so he can explain away anything he does when he's alone with Henry. They need to get Wolsey away from the king if they want to have a chance.
  • Norfolk isn't so worried about that. Henry is already ticked at Wolsey; the divorce proceedings have shed some light on some of Wolsey's wheeling and dealing.
  • Suffolk fills us in on the deets: Henry found Wolsey's letters to the Pope. In them, Wolsey asked the Pope to deny Henry's right to divorce Katherine until he gets over Anne. Uh oh.
  • This might explain why the Lord Chamberlain heard that Henry had already married Anne; it would mean that Henry had gone ahead with his own plans since Wolsey was double-crossing him.
  • Suffolk thinks this is good news, because Anne is virtuous. He's also heard that Cranmer will be back soon, and then Henry will officially announce his new bride. He'll also give Katherine the title "Princess Dowager." She's the widow of his brother, so it's only fitting.
  • That was a lot of gossip to get through, but now the men are all caught up. They agree that Cranmer is a worthy guy, and that things are looking up.
  • That's when Wolsey and Cromwell enter. Norfolk notices that Wolsey is moody: he's asking Cromwell about his letters, and then he asks to be left alone. He tells us that Henry will marry the French king's sister, and that this Anne business is just a whim.
  • How can Wolsey get rid of Anne? Well, he'll say she's of the wrong religion—she's Lutheran. That ought to work.
  • Wolsey tells us how much he hates that Cranmer has such favor with the king.
  • The other men are still watching Wolsey, and Suffolk thinks that Wolsey is annoyed about something.
  • Henry enters, ticked off at all the wealth Wolsey has. He asks the men if they've seen the Wolsey, and Norfolk says they have… but he's in a really weird mood, so the king should beware.
  • Henry figures that Wolsey is in a bad mood because he's misplaced a bunch of his papers.
  • Henry summons Wolsey and calls him a bad domestic manager: he must be too busy with praying and other spiritual stuff to worry about things here on earth.
  • Don't worry, Wolsey replies. He can do cover both the spiritual and the earthly business.
  • Excellent, says Henry. Then he gives us some backstory: his dad really loved Wolsey, and it was his dad who hired the guy. Since Henry has been king, he's been nice to Wolsey.
  • It's clear that Henry isn't just interested in Wolsey's hiring process, but we're not sure what he's getting at. Neither is Wolsey, who mutters about his confusion to himself.
  • Henry continues, this time trying to get Wolsey to admit that he's the king's number one guy, his right-hand man, and his most trusted adviser.
  • Finally, Wolsey gives in and admits it: he's a loyal subject, and he's been showered with gifts, all of which he's super grateful for.
  • "Okay, then," Henry replies. "So what's the deal with these letters I found?"
  • Henry hands over the letters and asks Wolsey to explain. Afterward, Henry says, they'll have breakfast together. Pancakes, anyone?
  • Henry and the nobles leave Wolsey alone to read through the letters.
  • Wolsey is beyond confused. He wonders how the king can be so mad at him when he's done nothing wrong.
  • Then Wolsey sees the letters and knows he's a goner. He's gone all the way to the top, and now he's gonna plummet so fast. His career is toast.
  • Norfolk, Suffolk, Surrey, and Lord Chamberlain come back in and tell Wolsey that the king has ordered for him to give up his seal of office. Ouch.
  • Never one to take anything lying down, Wolsey refuses. He won't do something just because one of them says he should; they're lower than him on the status scale, and they're just envious of him.
  • Surrey calls Wolsey ambitious and says he's a plague to the country; plus, Wolsey orchestrated his father-in-law's  death. That's not cool, man.
  • But Wolsey just defends himself: he's completely innocent, and as for Buckingham, he got what was coming to him.
  • This just angers Surrey, who starts listing Wolsey's wrongs, starting with taking lands away from nobles. Norfolk chimes in that he's got a whole laundry list of Wolsey's bad deeds. Again, Wolsey defends himself and says the king knows he's loyal.
  • Suffolk, Surrey, and Norfolk read out the following charges against Wolsey: 1) that he's scheming to be the Pope's rep without asking Henry; 2) that he's taking the royal seal to Flanders; 3) that he's starting up an alliance between Ferrara and England without the king's knowledge; 4) that he's putting his holy hat on the king's coin; 5) that he's bribing the Pope… and the list goes on.
  • Chamberlain steps in and says they shouldn't keep pressing on. It's not right to do it when Wolsey is already down.
  • All the men leave except for Wolsey, who delivers a speech about fate. He thought he was on the right path to success, but he stood on pride alone, and that couldn't hold him up. He curses the world and wishes he didn't need the king's favor to do well in life.
  • Cromwell comes in and stands amazed for a while, unable to speak at the sight of the forlorn Wolsey. Wolsey tells him not to worry and not to pity him; he'll be okay. The king's done him favors before, after all.
  • Cromwell fills Wolsey in on the latest news: Henry promoted Sir Thomas More to Wolsey's old job; Cranmer is finally back; and Anne is the new queen.
  • Wolsey thinks it's all somewhat sudden, but he realizes that the king has moved on from him now. He instructs Cromwell to seek the king so he can profit from being close to him; he shouldn't get dragged down with Wolsey.
  • Cromwell is bummed to leave Wolsey, but he'll pray for him.
  • In turn, Wolsey gives a heartfelt goodbye to Cromwell and reminds him not to be dishonest or dishonorable: those are the most important things Wolsey can teach him. Wolsey says Cromwell should serve the king with all his heart.
  • With that, the men part ways.