Two Gentlemen lament for the Duke of Buckingham who has been sentenced to death. Gentleman 1, who was present at the Duke’s trial, describes to Gentleman 2 of how Buckingham’s guilty verdict was sealed on account of the testimonies of some of Buckingham’s closest associates and servants. They agree that Cardinal Wolsey was the mastermind behind Buckingham’s condemnation and that the Cardinal is a villain.
Presently, the Gentlemen espy the Duke of Buckingham being led to his place of execution; they observe from a distance as Buckingham speaks of his willingness to forgive his perjurers but that his soul will not rest if his perjurers profit on account of their perjury. Sir Thomas Lovell asks Buckingham for forgiveness if there are any hard feelings between them. Arguing that he will not go to his grave in a state of bitterness, Buckingham forgives Lovell and states his continued loyalty to King Henry VIII. Indeed, Buckingham speaks of his gratefulness to King Henry VII for reinstating his family’s noble status, and of his gratefulness to King Henry VIII for granting Buckingham due process which was denied Buckingham’s father.
As Buckingham is led away, the two Gentlemen speak of a rumor, which if true, will only add to the injustice being done to Buckingham. On the basis of trumped up charges discrediting the Queen, Queen Katherine’s marriage to King Henry VII will be annulled. Again, the Gentlemen believe that Cardinal Wolsey is the mastermind of the dastardly deed.
The Lord Chamberlain reads a letter describing how the horses he sent a friend had been confiscated by Cardinal Wolsey. He wonders if the Cardinal’s greed has a limit when the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk greet him and ask him about the King. Chamberlain tells them that the King is alone and is in a sad, pensive mood on account of the impending divorce with Queen Katherine. They agree that the Cardinal is the cause of this latest turn of events, denouncing him in the process.
Presently, Norfolk and Suffolk present themselves before the King only to be reproached for disturbing the King’s peace. Norfolk and Suffolk explain that they have pressing matters to discuss, but they are, nonetheless, dismissed as Cardinal Wolsey, who is attended by Cardinal Campeius, appears on the scene. The King heartily welcomes the Cardinal. Meanwhile, Norfolk and Suffolk leave, promising one day to have it out with the Cardinal.
The Cardinal informs the King that Campeius has arrived from Rome to help the King resolve his doubts concerning his divorce with Queen Katherine. Grateful, the King welcomes Campeius and has Wolsey fetch the King’s secretary Gardiner. By and by, as the King confides in Gardiner, Campeius tells Wolsey of Gardiner’s predecessor Doctor Pace who Wolsey had dismissed and who had only recently died of madness. Wolsey is unapologetic, however, arguing that Gardiner is the better man for the job.
Presently, the King dispatches Gardiner with a letter for the Queen, and then informing the Cardinals that the divorce proceedings will commence at Black Friar, the King expresses his misgivings of the business at hand.
Though the Old Lady, Anne Bullen’s friend, shares Anne’s pity for Queen Katherine’s undeserved fate, she is nonetheless incredulous at Anne’s assertion that Anne would refuse to be the Queen of England if she were offered it. Indeed, the Old Lady argues that Anne is somewhat of a hypocrite to say so and urges Anne to at least admit that she would accept the title of Duchess. They are thus arguing when the Lord Chamberlain arrives to tell Anne of her new found fortune courtesy of the King: She has been made the Marchioness of Pembroke. When Anne informs Chamberlain that she could give the King everything that she could possibly give and that that would still not be enough to express her thanks, Chamberlain bethinks that if Anne were to become Queen that it might actually be a good thing for England. By and by, as Chamberlain leaves to tell the King of her gracious response, the Old Lady congratulates Anne, and speaks of life’s injustice that would reward Anne with a wealth which she doesn’t crave while depriving the Old Lady of the wealth which she has craved all her life.
Rather than meekly going along, Queen Katherine pleads the King to think again before going ahead with the proceedings which would question the Queen’s fidelity to the King. Then, arguing that she has no confidence in her counsel Cardinal Wolsey who she believes is the very man responsible for the divorce proceedings, and arguing that she will seek counsel elsewhere (with the Pope or her Spanish countrymen) before submitting herself to English law, Queen Katherine peremptorily leaves, deaf to the King’s persuasion.
Citing Queen Katherine’s royal pedigree, King Henry VIII forgives her when Cardinal Wolsely implores the King to vindicate his innocence and address the Queen’s accusation. The King does so, telling the assembled audience of how he—the King—arrived at the divorce proceedings; of how the King’s suspicion of his daughter Mary’s legitimacy, which was suggested by a French bishop when Mary was slated to wed the Duke of Orleans, had the King wonder about the legitimacy of his sons and of the possibility of putting an illegitimate heir on the throne; and of how this fear compelled the King to confide in the Bishop of Lincoln and Cranmer, the Bishop of Canterbury, upon whose advice they are where they are today.
Presently, arguing that the proceedings cannot proceed without the Queen, and urging the King to do all he can to dissuade the Queen from seeking Rome’s counsel, Cranmer advises the King to adjourn the assembly. The King obliges but not without annoyance at his Bishops whom the King suspects of trifling with him.