Gateway to the Classics: The World's Story: England by Eva March Tappan
The World's Story: England by  Eva March Tappan

The Fall of Cardinal Wolsey


[WHEN Henry VIII became bent upon annulling his marriage with Catherine and taking Anne Boleyn for his queen, he demanded that his minister, Cardinal Wolsey, should win permission from the Pope. This was impossible, and the great minister fell into disgrace. He was deprived of wealth and office, and only his death prevented his being executed as a traitor.
The Editor. ]

Wol.  Farewell! a long farewell, to all my greatness!

This is the state of man: to-day he puts forth

The tender leaves of hopes; to-morrow blossoms,

And bears his blushing honours thick upon him;

The third day comes a frost, a killing frost,

And, when he thinks, good easy man, full surely

His greatness is a-ripening, nips his root,

And then he falls, as I do. I have ventured,

Like little wanton boys that swim on bladders,

This many summers in a sea of glory,

But far beyond my depth: my high-blown pride

At length broke under me, and now has left me,

Weary and old with service, to the mercy

Of a rude stream that must for ever hide me.

Vain pomp and glory of this world, I hate ye:

I feel my heart new open'd. O, how wretched

Is that poor man that hangs on princes' favours!

There is, betwixt that smile we would aspire to,

That sweet aspect of princes, and their ruin,

More pangs and fears than wars or women have.

And when he falls, he falls like Lucifer,

Never to hope again.

Enter Cromwell, and stands amazed.

    Why, how now, Cromwell!

Crom.  I have no power to speak, sir.

Wol.                                               What, amazed

At my misfortunes? can thy spirit wonder

A great man should decline? Nay, an you weep,

I am fall'n indeed.

Crom.               How does your grace?

Wol.                                                 Why, well;

Never so truly happy, my good Cromwell.

I know myself now; and I feel within me

A peace above all earthly dignities,

A still and quiet conscience. The king has cured me,

I humbly thank his grace; and from these shoulders,

These ruin'd pillars, out of pity, taken

A load would sink a navy, too much honour.

O, 't is a burden, Cromwell, 't is a burden

Too heavy for a man that hopes for heaven!

Crom.  I am glad your grace has made that right use of it.

Wol.  I hope I have: I am able now, methinks,

Out of a fortitude of soul I feel,

To endure more miseries and greater far

Than my weak-hearted enemies dare offer.

What news abroad?

Crom.                 The heaviest and the worst

Is your displeasure with the king.

Wol.                                      God bless him!

Crom.  The next is, that Sir Thomas More is chosen

Lord chancellor in your place.

Wol.                                 That's somewhat sudden:

But he's a learned man. May he continue

Long in his highness' favour, and do justice

For truth's sake and his conscience; that his bones,

When he has run his course and sleeps in blessings,

May have a tomb of orphans' tears wept on 'em!

What more?

Crom.       That Cranmer is return'd with welcome,

Install'd lord archbishop of Canterbury.

Wol.  That's news indeed.

Crom.                            Last, that the Lady Anne,

Whom the king hath in secrecy long married,

This day was view'd in open as his queen,

Going to chapel; and the voice is now

Only about her coronation.

Wol.  There was the weight that pull'd me down. O Cromwell,

The king has gone beyond me: all my glories

In that one woman I have lost for ever:

No sun shall ever usher forth mine honours,

Or gild again the noble troops that waited

Upon my smiles. Go, get thee from me, Cromwell;

I am a poor fall'n man, unworthy now

To be thy lord and master: seek the king;

That sun, I pray, may never set! I have told him

What and how true thou art: he will advance thee;

Some little memory of me will stir him—

I know his noble nature—not to let

Thy hopeful service perish too: good Cromwell,

Neglect him not; make use now, and provide

For thine own future safety.

Crom.                            O my lord,

Must I then leave you? must I needs forgo

So good, so noble and so true a master?

Bear witness, all that have not hearts of iron,

With what a sorrow Cromwell leaves his lord.

The king shall have my service, but my prayers

For ever and for ever shall be yours.

Wol.  Cromwell, I did not think to shed a tear

In all my miseries; but thou hast forced me,

Out of thy honest truth, to play the woman.

Let's dry our eyes: and thus far hear me, Cromwell;

And, when I am forgotten, as I shall be,

And sleep in dull cold marble, where no mention

Of me more must be heard of, say, I taught thee;

Say, Wolsey, that once trod the ways of glory,

And sounded all the depths and shoals of honour,

Found thee a way, out of his wreck, to rise in;

A sure and safe one, though thy master miss'd it.

Mark but my fall and that that ruin'd me.

Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition:

By that sin fell the angels; how can man then,

The image of his Maker, hope to win by it?

Love thyself last: cherish those hearts that hate thee;

Corruption wins not more than honesty.

Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace,

To silence envious tongues. Be just, and fear not:

Let all the ends thou aim'st at be thy country's,

Thy God's, and truth's; then if thou fall'st, O Cromwell,

Thou fall'st a blessed martyr! Serve the king;

And prithee, lead me in:

There take an inventory of all I have,

To the last penny; 't is the king's: my robe,

And my integrity to heaven, is all

I dare now call mine own. O Cromwell, Cromwell!

Had I but served my God with half the zeal

I served my king, he would not in mine age

Have left me naked to mine enemies.

by William Shakespeare

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