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ACT TWO, SCENE TWO
The scene is at Sir Thomas More’s home in Chelsea. Sir Thomas, who is seated, watches Will Roper, who is now More’s son-in-law, pace back and forth. Roper is now a Catholic. Roper’s clothing is black and he wears a cross. More questions the meaning of what he is wearing. It shows that he is a Catholic. More says that he looks like a Spaniard, but it is a good thing that he is not in Spain because, during the period when he was not a Catholic, he would have been viewed as a heretic and burned at the stake.
Roper then comments on More’s chain of office, which he is wearing. It is degradation. More repeats what Roper has already been told. If the bishops, in their convocation, submit to the wishes of the king, he will remove the chain of office. Presently there is no reason to speak against it. Great men have worn the chain of office.
Roper and More debate the current state of affairs in England. To Roper it appears that what the king wants has already come to pass. More reminds him of the part of the Act of Supremacy that states, “so far as the law of God allows.” That is enough to give More a way around the Act.
Roper wants to know how far More thinks that the law of God allows the king to be the supreme head of the Church of England. More will keep his opinion to himself.
Roper is willing to give his opinion, but More does not want to hear it. He fears that it is a treasonous opinion. Roper now has a wife who is of concern to More because she is More’s daughter, Margaret. He must not speak out on this subject. Margaret joins the conversation, saying that she does not want Will to be discreet. Sir Thomas thinks that they are behaving foolishly.
Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador, enters. He sees nothing foolish about speaking out against the Act of Supremacy. More, not pleased by the ambassador’s remarks, wants to know why he is there. He has come to see the “English Socrates,” he says. More shoots back that he has no interest in hemlock. What does the ambassador want? Chapuys calls them “brothers in Christ.” Sir Thomas reminds him that can be said to anyone. He then requests that Roper give them privacy because Chapuys is there on business. Roper and Chapuys exchange Latin good-byes. Then Chapuys asks More how much longer he thinks Latin will be spoken in England. More tells him that it isn’t really holy, just old.
Chapuys is ready to discuss the business at hand. He tries to make More feel guilty for not separating himself from King Henry. Sir Thomas is not an ordinary person. He is the Lord Chancellor. What he does has influence. So, he has responsibility. More reminds him that the situation might be even worse with a different chancellor. What exactly does Chapuys want? Chapuys has heard rumor that, if the bishops submit, More will resign his post. Would Chapuys like that? Why would he like it? Because it would be a “signal.” It would be a signal to whom? According to Chapuys, half of the English are waiting for such a signal. Chapuys has recently been to Yorkshire and Northumberland and heard the discontented grumbling. Those in the north are ready. They are ready for what? They are ready to resist. How would they resist? They would resist with weapons. Roper enters, followed by the Duke of Norfolk along with Alice and Margaret. Roper tries to tell More the latest, but Norfolk insists that he be the one to give him the news.
At this point, Chapuys heads for the exit. Norfolk tells Sir Thomas that the bishops have submitted. More wants to remove the chain of office, as planned. Norfolk will not assist him. Alice won’t either. He turns to Margaret and she does help. She does not understand, but she knows how important it is to him. Norfolk tries to call the action cowardice. More, to explain, says that the king has declared war on the pope. Norfolk wants to know how More feels about the marriage of Henry and Catherine. More will only share his thoughts on that subject with King Henry in private. The duke does not think that Sir Thomas is being sensible. Too much is at stake. More tries to explain himself in an obscure manner. Right now, what is needed is obscurity. More goes on, asking Norfolk if he will keep a secret. Will he keep a secret from the king? Then, when Norfolk promises to do so, More accuses him of disloyalty to the king. Norfolk claims that More trapped him. But, More is just illustrating for him the political climate in which they live. Sir Thomas admits to being fearful. Norfolk assures him that Henry will continue to be his good lord. More is grateful. Norfolk starts to leave. More stops him. He has news of Chapuys trip to the North Country. The people there are unhappy with what has transpired. The Catholic Church there is still very strong. Next spring there may be problems there. Perhaps even France will become involved. Norfolk is aware of the situation. One of Cromwell’s men made the journey with Chapuys. Norfolk is surprised by More’s patriotic spirit. More is offended by his surprise. Norfolk leaves.
Alice wonders what Sir Thomas will do now that he is no longer acting as chancellor. More is sure that he will keep busy. Perhaps he could teach Alice to read. She is not interested in learning.
More hopes for a good word from his son-in-law. Will calls his act a “noble gesture.” Sir Thomas tells him that it was not a gesture. He is not making a gesture. He is being practical. Roper disagrees. Alice and Margaret agree with Roper. More calls the rest of his family cruel and Alice says that he is the cruel one. When Margaret disagrees with her harsh assessment, Alice tells Margaret that she would follow her father anywhere. And Will would lead him to the Tower. Alice does not believe that the king and his men will leave More alone. More stresses the importance of everyone keeping quiet. Alice complains that she knows so little. More tells her that makes it easier for her to keep quiet. To Alice, the lack of communication shows a lack of trust on his part. More explains that, if she truly does not know things, she will not need to lie when questioned.
Matthew tells More that the staff is waiting for word about their future. More says that, while he won’t be able to continue to employ them, he will find places for as many of them as he can. He turns to Matthew, wanting to know if he will accept a lower wage. Matthew feels that he cannot do that. More tells him that he will miss him. Matthew, while not saying so to More, doubts that he will be missed. More leaves.
When alone, Matthew talks to himself. He feels badly about Sir Thomas’ bad luck, but he doesn’t have any good luck to share with him. He nearly fell for More’s show of concern, but he didn’t.
The northern resistance that the Spanish Ambassador, Chapuys, speaks of seems to be the start of what historians refer to as the Pilgrimage of Grace. The people who lived in the North Country were unhappy about the Act of Supremacy. They were also unhappy about the dissolution of the monasteries. They did not want the increases in government control that they saw. They did not want to see their pastures enclosed. Thomas Howard, who we know as the Duke of Norfolk, played an important role in the confrontation that resulted.
The Apostolic Succession of the Pope is a theory in which Sir Thomas believes. Put simply, it means that the popes are successors of the apostles. This gives the popes an authority that they would otherwise not have. That is why it is so very important to those who believe in the Catholic Church.
The “Old Alliance” that Sir Thomas speaks of was between the Yorkists, who were on the opposite side of the Tudors in the thirty year long War of the Roses that preceded the reign of Henry VIII’s father, and Burgundy, which is now part of France.