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ACT TWO, SCENE FIVE
The scene is now Hampton Court. More is there as Cromwell enters. Cromwell draws back a curtain to reveal Richard Rich, who will make a record of what is said. Cromwell tells Sir Thomas that he admires him. Rich begins to write that down and Cromwell stops him.
More wants to hear the charges. Cromwell denies that there are charges. There are simply some things that need to be straightened out. More asks Rich to make a note of Cromwell’s statement that there are no charges.
Cromwell tells More that the king is upset with him. More says that he is unhappy to hear that. Cromwell reminds him that it is not too late yet. If he were to agree with the other wise men, he would be rewarded accordingly.
Cromwell brings up the subject of the Holy Maid of Kent who was accused of foretelling the future of the king. Is More acquainted with her? Yes, he is. Why did he not warn the king about her? They did not speak of political things. More has witnesses. He also wrote to her. He has a copy of the letter, which was also witnessed.
Cromwell says that there is another charge. More questions the word “charge.” This is about the book the king published in May of 1526. The title was “A Defence of the Seven Sacraments.” More remembers. Because of the book, the pope gave the king the title of “Defender of the Faith.” Cromwell takes issue with the term “pope.” More will accept the use of the title “Bishop of Rome” instead. The title does not alter his authority. Cromwell is in pursuit. He asks what the pope’s authority actually is. More refers him to the aforementioned book written by the king. But, More is the one who actually wrote the book, Cromwell says. More corrects him. He only answered questions asked by the king as he was writing it. More also denies that the idea of writing the book was his. Cromwell warns More against thinking that. More says that the king would not testify against him in the matter and the king and himself are the only ones who know what exactly happened. Testimony is given under oath and the king would not lie under oath. Doesn’t Cromwell know that?
Cromwell jumps to questions about More’s opinion of the marriage of the king and Queen Anne. More counters with a reminder that he is not to be asked questions on the subject. The aim of these charges is to terrify him, More says. He is not so easily terrified.
Cromwell reads from a paper saying that the king charges More with ingratitude. In return for all the king has given him, More is treasonous. That is the king’s belief.
Then, Cromwell tells More that he can leave “for now.”
After More leaves, Rich asks Cromwell if he is still sure that he can frighten More. Cromwell is sure that they will be able to do that. Once More is destroyed; obtaining his blessing will not be necessary. They are deeply into this project. The king’s conscience demands action.
The Holy Maid of Kent, whose name was Elizabeth Barton, was a servant for a steward on an estate of William Warham, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury. She had trances in which she foresaw the future and made political statements. She claimed that she talked to Mary, Jesus’ mother. Her parish priest reported all this to Archbishop Warham. Arrangements were made for her to enter a convent. While in a trance, Barton urged King Henry not to divorce Queen Katherine. She prophesied that, if he proceeded with the divorce, he would not remain king. Some say that she confronted the king himself on one occasion. After the king’s marriage to Anne Boleyn, Archbishop Cranmer, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, investigated Barton. She confessed publicly that the trances and visions were an act. In April of 1534, Barton was hanged.
King Henry VIII wrote “A Defence of the Seven Sacraments Against Martin Luther” in 1521. This was at a time when he was happy in his marriage to Queen Katherine and at a time when, it is said, he attended Mass six times in one day.
When More compliments Rich’s costume, we are reminded of the earlier time when Rich was unhappy with his station in life. He wanted to better his position and to become rich. He may have succeeded in gaining what he wanted, but what has he lost in the transition?