8. North’s Journal, “Henry VIII,” a Cardinal-Parade, and a Consistory

While Thomas North’s 1555 Travel Journal examines all the extensive borrowings connecting the journal to Henry VIII and The Winter’s Tale, just the first example described here should be sufficient to prove the diary’s use by the original playwright. As shown in the feature pic above, both North’s journal and Henry VIII juxtapose eerily similar descriptions of two distinctive events: cardinals in a procession, with crosses and pillars borne before them, and the very specific seating arrangements of a consistory, with His Holiness or Majesty seated in a high chair in the center and the cardinals and bishops sitting below and on either side. The following table isolates the correspondences:

North’s JournalShakespeare’s Henry VIII
after them
next them with
after them
after them
next them with
after them
two officers … with silver rodstwo vergers, with short silver wands
followed two, carrying each of them afollows two priests, bearing each a
carrying a miter [bishop’s hat]bearinga cardinal’s hat
Then the cardinals, having a cross borne before them, and every cardinal his several pillar borne then two Priests, bearing each a silver cross then two Gentlemen bearing two great silver pillars;after them the two cardinals
The lords … the court consistory The cardinals sat the bishops underneaththe court consistory the lords The two cardinals sit under the bishops
The cardinals, having a cross borne before themCardinal Wolsey, the purse borne before him. (different passage: 1.1.114.s.d.)

The opening lines of North’s journal-entry and the stage direction for Henry VIII both describe two men, whether officers or vergers, with silver rods (or wands) in their hands and men carrying a cardinal’s hat or a bishop’s hat (i.e., a miter). After them and next them with are the introductory adverbial phrases used in these lines. In both journal and play, then is the word that begins the next row, which notes crosses and pillars borne before the cardinals. The next row then in each passage begins with after them. So both passages are not only describing the same remarkably peculiar scenes, they are using the same phrases, in the same order, to introduce each row: after them…next them with…then… after them.

Both texts also include similar descriptions of a consistory, stressing the precise seating arrangements with the high chair in the center, and the bishops and cardinals sitting on either side and below. They both juxtapose the lords, the court, and consistory. This extended series of parallels is, of course, unique.

In Henry VIII, the juxtaposition of this coronation-like religious procession with similar descriptions of a consistory was ahistorical, an apparent invention of the playwright: there was no such parade into Katherine’s consistory-like courtroom. So, not surprisingly, both an EEBO and a Google search for other similar descriptions…produces no other results.

Thomas North’s 1555 Travel Journal:

As an illustration, a Google search for cardinals AROUND(50) pillars AND consistory AROUND(50) “the court” AROUND(50) “the Lords” yields only Henry VIII (or works quoting Henry VIII) and our book on North’s Journal.

Perhaps even more astoundingly, even the identical use of the peculiar introductory adverbial phrases to introduce the rows of marchers in both journal and stage directions—after them, next them with, then, after them—represents a unique verbal fingerprint. Indeed, we can’t even find any others works that juxtapose just the first two phrases! Specifically, searches of both EEBO and the many trillions of webpages on Google confirm that North’s entry and Shakespeare’s play are the only two known passages that place after them within 30 words of next them with. Again, on the first page of Google results, we find “Thomas North’s 1555 Travel Journal” listed among various editions or quotes of Henry VIII. But this search also helps us to locate the first known work to publish entries from North’s Journal — a 1778 London publication of Miscellaneous State Papers.

As shown, one of the few results other than Henry VIII is Miscellaneous State Papers, which is quoting North’s journal. Google also reveals that a 1910 issue of the Catholic journal, The Month, reproduced these same entries from North’s journal too. But it appears that no one else other than North and Shakespeare has ever used that language.

This is quite remarkable as these adverbial phrases — after them, next them with, then, after them (even used in that order in both journal and play) — could have occurred in descriptions of anything at all: flowers, school students, animals at a zoo, etc. Instead, they appear together only in two passages in the searchable history of the English language –and both are describing the same eye-catching and distinctive events: cardinals in a procession and the seating arrangements of a consistory.

Well, is it possible that Shakespeare (or John Fletcher, Shakespeare’s co-author on the play) could have obtained a copy of North’s journal and for some reason wanted to recreate this visual? No, the journal provides additional evidence that allows us to reject that as an explanation. For as Thomas North’s 1555 Travel Journal confirms, North frequently relied on two historical texts—an unpublished manuscript version of George Cavendish’s Life of Wolsey (1555-56) and chapters on Henry VIII in Edward Hall’s Union (1548)—in order to help add knowing details to his journal entries. He even borrowed from Cavendish’s Life of Wolsey when crafting the entries describing the cardinal’s procession and consistory. North then took these very same source-passages that he used for his journal and reused them in Henry VIII, all the while echoing the language of his journal and modifying the actual historical events so that they more closely resembled his experiences in Italy. He does this at least three times. Quoting Thomas North’s 1555 Travel Journal:

The result is that reading various entries throughout the journal gives the surreal impression that North, in 1555, somehow managed to experience the most spectacular events of Shakespeare and Fletcher’s Henry VIII.

Even assuming Shakespeare and Fletcher somehow got hold of the unpublished travelogue—and for some reason wanted to reproduce its visuals—we are stuck with the even more important question of “How?” How, without the use of digital technologies, would either have been able to determine what source passages the young journalist had used for his entries—some of which include a mix of widely separated elements—so that they could then make sure to conflate these same passages in their play? They couldn’t. It was North who had carefully studied these scenes in Cavendish’s Life of Wolsey and Hall’s Union. It was North who, when writing about the fall of Wolsey in the play, conflated the language and visuals of his own journal with the historical events he was staging. And it is North’s play, now lost, that is the missing link between his journal and the Henry VIII play that Shakespeare and Fletcher co-authored in 1613.

Thomas North’s 1555 Travel Journal

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