Henry VIII In Plain and Simple English (Digital Download)
The King Beyond The Crown

Dive deep into the heart of the Tudor dynasty with Shakespeare's compelling take on the life of one of England's most iconic kings: Henry VIII. The Bard had an uncanny ability to bring to life the intrigues, scandals, and human dramas of royal courts, turning historical figures into complex, living characters.

Yet, while Shakespeare's genius is timeless, the language of his day isn't always as accessible to contemporary readers. Ever felt like you're wading through a thicket of Elizabethan English, missing the heart of the story? You're not alone. For many, the beauty and depth of Shakespeare's works can sometimes be overshadowed by the challenge of its prose.

Enter "Henry VIII" in a fresh, revitalized guise. BookCaps presents a modern translation, making the play's intricate political and personal dramas more accessible than ever. Unravel the passions, betrayals, and monumental decisions of King Henry as he navigates a changing world, both in his kingdom and in his personal life. This is not just the story of a king, but of a man—his desires, his dilemmas, and his legacy.

With the original text and its modern counterpart presented side by side, readers have the unique opportunity to appreciate the play in its authentic form, while also engaging with a version tailored for modern sensibilities. Embrace the rich tapestry of history and drama, and rediscover the power of Shakespeare's storytelling with "Henry VIII".






Do you need to understand Shakespeare and want something more interactive? Try our free app, SwipeSpeare!


A play surrounding the theme of power and greed, Cardinal Wolsey becomes close to the king. The Duke of Buckingham, unhappy with this relationship, believes Wolsey to be disloyal. The Duke, however, gets arrested by a guard because Wolsey accuses him of treason. In order to strengthen and unite his power with the king, Wolsey feels he must get rid of the Duke. Henry’s wife Katharine (who was married to Henry’s brother before he passed away), defends the Duke. Katharine  accuses Wolsey of abusing the tax system for his own selfish purposes. 

The Duke is then sentenced to be executed, and the Earl of Surrey, his son-in-law, is sent to Ireland so as not to pose a threat. Now that Wolsey no longer has to worry about the Duke, he sets out on his final mission: Get Queen Katharine out of the picture. Not only does he cause Henry to question his marriage to his wife Katharine by convincing him that his marriage is not legal, but he also has a plan for the King to marry the daughter of the King of France. Wolsey engaged in a truce with France, which is why he wanted to engineer this marriage.

What does Wolsey do from there? He requests the Pope to authorize a royal divorce between Henry and Katharine on the basis that Katharine  did not bear any male heirs for Henry. Expelled from the court, Katharine then withdraws to Kimbolton. 

Finally reaching the power he set out to get (he is even more wealthy than the king at this point), Wolsey is now burdened by greed (his biggest flaw). He desires even MORE control than he already has. Because of this desire and greed, Wolsey ends up digging himself his own hole. Wolsey fears that instead of seeking a royal alliance with France, the king and Anne Bullen will marry, a woman Wolsey introduced the king to at a party (and the king becomes quite infatuated with her). So Wolsey writes to the Pope requesting that the marriage be delayed.

To add to the already dramatic play, the letter was accidentally delivered to Henry rather than the Pope. Henry is obviously outraged by Wolsey’s actions, and Wolsey is left with no choice but to vacate the court. Before facing trial, Wolsey is arrested in New York and dies on the way to London.

Meanwhile, Henry marries Anne and makes Cranmer (the Archbishop of Canterbury) his new adviser. But, of course, the drama has not died with Wolsey. Gardiner (the Bishop of Winchester), sets out to ruin Cranmer by accusing him of heresy. Compassionate towards Cranmer’s circumstances, Henry gives him the royal signet ring. Cranmer is to present this ring in the event that his prosecutors do not accept his position in the argument, and find him guilty. 

The trial then happens, and Henry is listening from behind a curtain. Found guilty, Cranmer presents the ring and finds that the nobles are apologetic for their actions. Henry then enters from behind the curtain, denounces them for their mistake, then proceeds to bless them. 

Henry and Anne have a daughter named Elizabeth, and they name Cranmer as her godfather. Cranmer predicts that she will be strong and wise and that she will be one of England’s greatest rulers. 


King Henry VIII
  • King of England
  • Married to Katharine in the beginning, then to Anne Bullen

Though King Henry’s name is the title of the play, King Henry is coincidentally not a main character throughout the play. He is a main character in the sense that all of the actions took place because of Henry’s existence, but he did not actually play a major role in the character or scene development throughout the play. We learn at the beginning of the play that the king is easily persuaded. We see this when Wolsey effortlessly turns him against the Duke of Buckingham. 

We then see Wolsey convince the king that his marriage to Katharine is not legal. It isn’t until the king accidentally receives the letter Wolsey wrote (which was meant to be sent to the Pope) that he realizes Wolsey’s impure intentions. Henry’s presence in the play becomes more prominent when rumors start spreading about Cranmer, causing him to have to go to trial. Henry gives Cranmer his ring with the intention to save him and listens to the trial from behind a curtain. The play ends with Henry becoming a new father to a baby girl, Elizabeth (who will later become Queen Elizabeth). 

Duke of Buckingham

  • Enemy of Wolsey
  • Accused of treason against the King and is executed 

Annoyed by Wolsey’s influence over the king, he quickly harbors resentment toward him. Wolsey has him arrested for treason. He is accused to have been plotting to gain the throne and is therefore executed. 

Queen Katharine 
  • Elegant, distinguished, and honest woman
  • Wife of Henry VIII (married to his brother first)
  • Divorced from Henry VIII 

Queen Katharine  accuses Wolsey of plotting for her failure as he convinces the king to divorce her. Because of this, she would not accept the divorce. Shocked by the accusations made against her, she goes into detail of her 20-year marriage to the king and her loyalty during those 20 years. She is then punished for not providing the king with a male heir. She eventually forgives Wolsey and envisions her own death.

Cardinal Wolsey 
  • Maneuvers his way to becoming the King’s most trusted adviser
  • Expelled from Court and eventually loses King’s trust
  • Dies before going to trial 
Maneuvering his way to becoming the King Henry’s most trusted adviser and having quite a powerful influence over him, Cardinal Wolsey convinces Henry that his marriage to Katharine is illegal. Henry and Katharine end up splitting because of this. Wolsey’s intention is to have the Henry marry the daughter of the King of France because of a truce he entered into with France. But that  plan did not go the way he wanted it to. Wolsey introduced Henry to Anne Bullen, and Henry becomes interested in her and ends up wanting to marry her. 

Wolsey writes a letter that was supposed to be sent to the pope, requesting he delay the marriage. However, Henry got a hold of this letter and, appalled by Wolsey’s disloyal actions, fires him and forces him to leave. Wolsey eventually realizes his wrongdoings and dies before he is even able to attend trial. 

Anne Bullen 
  • Introduced to King Henry by Wolsey
  • Henry falls in love with her and marries her
  • She gives birth to Elizabeth (future Queen Elizabeth) 
Anne and Henry are introduced by Wolsey at a dinner party, and Henry becomes interested in her. Henry and Anne eventually marry, and she gives birth to Elizabeth.


  • Wolsey’s friend/servant
Cromwell is fiercely loyal to Wolsey and is totally devastated to learn of his death. Despite the terms that Wolsey and the King ended on, Wolsey tells Cromwell to go and serve the King. Wolsey also tells him to live in a humble nature and not repeat the mistakes that he made. Cromwell listens. Cromwell ends up defending Cranmer when he is being attacked by Gardiner. 


  • Bishop of Winchester 
  • Attempts to ruin Cranmer 
Gardiner starts out as Wolsey’s secretary, until Wolsey assigns him to Henry. Gardiner eventually becomes a member of the council. He has a strong hatred for Cranmer and plots to bring him down. After attacking Cranmer, the King forces Gardiner to accept Cranmer as a friend and he complies. 


  • Archbishop of Canterbury 
  • Becomes Henry’s closest adviser
Cranmer spends the beginning of the play traveling to various colleges inquiring about the legality of the King’s divorce. During his travels is when Gardiner spreads the rumors about him and planned on bringing him down. Upon learning about this, Henry gives Cranmer his ring to use for protection during trial. It is to be presented in the even that his prosecutors to not accept his position in the argument. Cranmer is an upright, honest character and has done no wrong, and he ends up forgiving Gardiner. At the end, Cranmer baptizes Elizabeth.

Buckingham’s Surveyor

Buckingham’s surveyor holds a grudge against Buckingham because he fired him (he managed Buckingham’s lands). Wolsey brings in the surveyor to the trial to speak against Buckingham.

Earl of Surrey

  • Son-in-law to Duke of Buckingham
  • Sent to Ireland before the Duke is executed
  • Returns to witness Wolsey’s downfall


  • Lord of the court
  • Plots against Wolsey
  • Get promoted after Wolsey’s fall
At first, Norfolk did not take Buckingham’s aversion to Wolsey seriously. In fact, he told Buckingham to keep his mouth shut about it. However, Norfolk ended up plotting against Wolsey. After Wolsey’s fall, Norfolk gets a promotion. He also is part of Cranmer’s trial and intends to take him down, as well.

Cardinal Campeius 

Cardinal Campeius is the one who had to analyze Henry’s divorce to Katharine and determine whether or not it is legal. He actually came from Rome with the divorce papers, because he knew that Henry was planning on doing it. He, along with Wolsey, try to convince Katharine to go ahead with the divorce. They try to convince her that Henry still loves her and has every intention of watching after her. She, of course, does not buy it. It is not quite clear whether or not Carinal Campeius agrees or disagrees with the divorce. 

Suffolk, Lord Chamberlain, Lovell, & Lord Chancellor

  • Members of the Council that tries Cranmer
  • Active in many of the court scenes


SCENE I. London. An ante-chamber in the palace. 
 Enter NORFOLK at one door; at the other, BUCKINGHAM and ABERGAVENNY


Good morrow, and well met. How have ye done

Since last we saw in France?

Good day, and welcome. How have you been

since we last met in France?


I thank your grace,

Healthful; and ever since a fresh admirer

Of what I saw there.

Very well, thank you

your Grace; and I have not lost my admiration

for what I saw there.


An untimely ague

Stay'd me a prisoner in my chamber when

Those suns of glory, those two lights of men,

Met in the vale of Andren.

An inconvenient fever

kept me a prisoner in my room when

those two glorious suns, those examples to mankind,

met in the Vale of Andren.


'Twixt Guynes and Arde:

I was then present, saw them salute on horseback;

Beheld them, when they lighted, how they clung

In their embracement, as they grew together;

Which had they, what four throned ones could have weigh'd

Such a compounded one?

Between Guynes and Arde:

I was there at the time, and saw them greet each other on horseback;

I saw how when they dismounted they hugged

each other, as if they were a single being;

if they were, what four Kings could have matched

one such combination?


All the whole time

I was my chamber's prisoner.

I was confined to my room

the whole time.


Then you lost

The view of earthly glory: men might say,

Till this time pomp was single, but now married

To one above itself. Each following day

Became the next day's master, till the last

Made former wonders its. To-day the French,

All clinquant, all in gold, like heathen gods,

Shone down the English; and, to-morrow, they

Made Britain India: every man that stood

Show'd like a mine. Their dwarfish pages were

As cherubins, all guilt: the madams too,

Not used to toil, did almost sweat to bear

The pride upon them, that their very labour

Was to them as a painting: now this masque

Was cried incomparable; and the ensuing night

Made it a fool and beggar. The two kings,

Equal in lustre, were now best, now worst,

As presence did present them; him in eye,

Still him in praise: and, being present both

'Twas said they saw but one; and no discerner

Durst wag his tongue in censure. When these suns--

For so they phrase 'em--by their heralds challenged

The noble spirits to arms, they did perform

Beyond thought's compass; that former fabulous story,

Being now seen possible enough, got credit,

That Bevis was believed.

Then you missed

a sight of glory on earth: men might say

that grandeur was single up to now, before it married

one even greater. Every successive day

showed greater pageantry than the rest, until the last one

combined everything that had gone before. One day the French,

all glittering with gold, outshone the English

like heathen gods; and the next day

the English would display the riches of India; every man

look like a goldmine. Their little pages looked

like cherubim, all gilded: the ladies too,

unused to labour, were almost sweating to carry

the riches upon them, so that their work

brought colour to their cheeks. So this show

would be called unbeatable; and the next night

it looks like the work of a foolish beggar. The two kings,

equal in glory, were now the best, then the worst,

depending whose turn it was: with them

both there to be seen they were praised equally,

men said they could only see one king, and no

observer dared to voice any criticism. When these suns

(for that's what they call them) were challenged by their heralds

to joust with each other, they did it

better than one could imagine, they were so good

that it was now seen how former feats of arms,

previously thought legendary, could have been true.


O, you go far.

Oh, you're being very effusive.


As I belong to worship and affect

In honour honesty, the tract of every thing

Would by a good discourser lose some life,

Which action's self was tongue to. All was royal;

To the disposing of it nought rebell'd.

Order gave each thing view; the office did

Distinctly his full function.

As God is my witness and as I

worship honesty, I tell you that

there are not words good enough to describe

the things that went on. Everything was royal;

nothing was spared in showing it,

everything was in its place: the officials did

their tasks perfectly.


Who did guide,

I mean, who set the body and the limbs

Of this great sport together, as you guess?

Who ran the show,

I mean, who ordered all the elements

of this great business, do you think?



One, certes, that promises no element

In such a business.

One who you most certainly wouldn't imagine

would have the skills for such a business.


I pray you, who, my lord?

Tell me, who, my lord?


All this was order'd by the good discretion

Of the right reverend Cardinal of York.

Everything was done under the orders

of the right reverend Cardinal of York.



The devil speed him! no man's pie is freed

From his ambitious finger. What had he

To do in these fierce vanities? I wonder

That such a keech can with his very bulk

Take up the rays o' the beneficial sun

And keep it from the earth.

A curse on him! There is no pie in which

he doesn't have his ambitious fingers. What was his

business with these extravagances? I'm amazed

that such a lump is able to occupy

the King so much and keep him from

the general public.


Surely, sir,

There's in him stuff that puts him to these ends;

For, being not propp'd by ancestry, whose grace

Chalks successors their way, nor call'd upon

For high feats done to the crown; neither allied

For eminent assistants; but, spider-like,

Out of his self-drawing web, he gives us note,

The force of his own merit makes his way

A gift that heaven gives for him, which buys

A place next to the king.

Surely, Sir,

there's a reason that he's like this;

he is not supported by great ancestry,

which gives descendants examples to follow, nor is he

valued for great acts done on behalf of the Crown;

nor is he related to great ministers; but, like a spider,

he gets his position from his own self-made web,

he makes his way by his own merits,

the gift that heaven has given him, which buys him

a place next to the King.


I cannot tell

What heaven hath given him,--let some graver eye

Pierce into that; but I can see his pride

Peep through each part of him: whence has he that?

If not from hell the devil is a niggard,

Or has given all before, and he begins

A new hell in himself.

I don't know

what heaven has given him–let someone more

experienced look into that; but I can see his pride

shining out of every part of him: where has he got that from?

If not from hell then the devil is miserly,

or has given away all his pride, and Wolsey begins

a new hell himself.


Why the devil,

Upon this French going out, took he upon him,

Without the privity o' the king, to appoint

Who should attend on him? He makes up the file

Of all the gentry; for the most part such

To whom as great a charge as little honour

He meant to lay upon: and his own letter,

The honourable board of council out,

Must fetch him in the papers.

Why the devil did he,

at the start of this French expedition, assume,

without the King's knowledge, the responsibility of choosing

who should go with him? He chose which

gentlemen should go; mostly those on whom

he intended to impose a great tax without

giving them any honour: they were ordered to come

by his own letter, he didn't bother consulting with

the honourable board of Council.


I do know

Kinsmen of mine, three at the least, that have

By this so sickened their estates, that never

They shall abound as formerly.

I know

at least three relatives of mine who have

had to spend so much on this business that

their estates will never recover.



O, many

Have broke their backs with laying manors on 'em

For this great journey. What did this vanity

But minister communication of

A most poor issue?

O, many

have acquired a great deal of property

through this expedition. What use was this extravagance

apart from stealing away the

inheritance of children?



Grievingly I think,

The peace between the French and us not values

The cost that did conclude it.

I'm sorry to say,

the peace concluded between the French and us is not worth

the price we paid for it.


Every man,

After the hideous storm that follow'd, was

A thing inspired; and, not consulting, broke

Into a general prophecy; That this tempest,

Dashing the garment of this peace, aboded

The sudden breach on't.

After the hideous storm that followed the

signing of the peace every man became inspired,

and spontaneously everyone began to prophesy

that the storm, raging against the peace, showed

that it would be broken.


Which is budded out;

For France hath flaw'd the league, and hath attach'd

Our merchants' goods at Bourdeaux.

And this has come to fruition;

for France has broken the deal, and has seized

our merchants' goods at Bordeaux.



Is it therefore

The ambassador is silenced?

Does that mean

the ambassador has been prevented from speaking?


Marry, is't.

It certainly does.


A proper title of a peace; and purchased

At a superfluous rate!

A fine thing to call peace; and bought

at such a high price!


Why, all this business

Our reverend cardinal carried.

Why, all this business

was down to our reverend cardinal.


Like it your grace,

The state takes notice of the private difference

Betwixt you and the cardinal. I advise you--

And take it from a heart that wishes towards you

Honour and plenteous safety--that you read

The cardinal's malice and his potency

Together; to consider further that

What his high hatred would effect wants not

A minister in his power. You know his nature,

That he's revengeful, and I know his sword

Hath a sharp edge: it's long and, 't may be said,

It reaches far, and where 'twill not extend,

Thither he darts it. Bosom up my counsel,

You'll find it wholesome. Lo, where comes that rock

That I advise your shunning.

If I may say so your Grace,

everyone has noticed the private disagreement

between you and the Cardinal. I advise you–

and accept it from a heart who wishes you

honour and all safety–that you consider

the cardinal's malice and his power

together; and think further that

he's not lacking ministers to carry out

his hatred. You know what he's like,

that he holds a grudge,

and I know his sword

is sharp: it's long, and one may say

it can reach far places, and where it won't reach,

he throws it. Remember my advice,

you will find it beneficial. Look, here comes the rock

that I advise you to steer clear of.
Translation missing: en.general.search.loading