12. A Warning for Those Who Creep Into the Bosom of the King

As we note in Thomas North’s 1555 Travel Journal: From Italy to Shakespeare, at one point, in Cardinal Wolsey’s final scene in Henry VIII, he recites a lesson from North’s Dial of Princes about those who compete for power. His first focus is on two other ambitious court-climbers: Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cranmer:

… that she should lie i’th’ bosom of

Our hard-ruled king. Again, there is sprung up

An heretic, an arch one, Cranmer, one

Hath crawled into the favor of the King

Henry VIII (3.2.101-104)

Wolsey’s warning for those who seek the “favor of the King” would not have been lost on Tudor audiences, for both Boleyn and Cranmer would eventually be executed. Later, he would offer this advice to another one of Henry VIII’s doomed counselors: Thomas Cromwell: “I charge thee, fling away ambition Corruption wins not more than honesty.”

While, as we shall see, this lesson first appears in North’s Dial of Princes, North would also use this language in another warning about court-climbers in his Moral Philosophy of Doni: “as one whose judgment with ambition was corrupted, he took his heels, and on his way to court he flingeth to this princely king and … even forthwith he crept into his bosom and got into his favor.” Notice the use of the same metaphors–creeping or crawling into the bosom and favor of a king–and the echoes: flingeth, ambition, corrupted. As with Boleyn, Cranmer, and Cromwell, this character in North’s Doni would also be executed.

In this same scene of Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey also realizes he himself had been similarly greedy for power, seeking preference from the king, and he partly blames that for his own downfall:

I feel my heart new opened. Oh, how wretched

Is that poor man that hangs on princes’ favors!

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….

Henry VIII (3.2.367-71)

    This passage on the poor man who does aspire to get into the favor of the ruler and then must live constantly in fear, clearly derives from a passage in North’s Dial (see below).

North’s Dial and DoniHenry VIII
Now in the palaces of princes, it is a natural thing for each man to desire to aspire and to creep into the prince’s favor… The more they are rich, noble, and of great power, that are beloved and accepted of princes: so much the more ought they to be circumspect and to live in fear and doubt of such disgraces and misfortunes that may happen to them … (Dial 645)

as one whose judgment with ambition was corrupted, he took his heels, and on his way to the court he flingeth to this Princely King and … even forthwith he crept into his bosom and got into his favor … (Doni 33r-33v) 
that she should lie i’th’ bosom of
Our hard-ruled king. Again, there is sprung up
An heretic, an arch one, Cranmer, one
Hath crawled into the favor of the King
I feel my heart new opened. Oh, how wretched
Is that poor man that hangs on princes’ favors!
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.
Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition
Corruption wins not more than honesty.
(3.2.101-4, 367-71, 440, 444)
Creep into the prince’s favorcrawled into the favor of the king
man, to aspire, prince’s favorman, aspire to, princes’ favors
accepted of princesmorefearaspect of princes…more…fears
This princely king…he crept into his bosom and got into his favorlie i’th’ bosom of / Our hard-ruled king … Hath crawled into the favor
ambition was corrupted …he flingeth to this princely kingfling away ambition, corruption, king

The context for both passages in Henry VIII and The Dial is the same. Both passages serve as warnings for the poor man who does aspire to creep (or crawl) into the prince’s favor, for they fail to realize that the more they are favored the more they have to fear. Both passages use the word prince in “prince’s/princes’ favor(s)” and “aspect/accepted of princes” in the same way:not to refer to any specific prince but as a general term for rulers, whether kings, queens, emperors, or dukes. That is also how the word is used in North’s title, The Dial of Princes. Both EEBO and Google confirm that the connection is unique and that North’s translation is the inspiration.[1]


[1] An EEBO search just for man NEAR/20 aspire NEAR/20 princes PRE/0 favor yields only North’s Dial and Wolsey’s speech in Henry VIII. A Google search for man AROUND(20) aspire AROUND(20) “princes favor” also yields only Henry VIII or works quoting Henry VIII.

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