In this play, Calderón dramatises the historical events of King Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn. The adaptation of this period in English history is influenced by the Spanish figures in power at the time the play was written, namely King Philip IV and his powerful advisor Olivares reflected in the characters of Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey.
The play opens with King Henry VIII being visited in dreams by Anne Boleyn, whom he has not yet met. Henry mixes up a letter from the Pope with one from Martin Luther and views this as a bad omen. His advisor Cardinal Wolsey reassures him, then reveals his growing ambition to be Pope to the audience. An astrologer has predicted that a woman will stand in the way of his success. Thomas Boleyn comes to visit Wolsey and wishes that Charles, the Ambassador to France, be given an audience with the King, but Wolsey makes him wait. Charles explains to his servant that he fell in love with Anne when she came to Paris with her father, but since they have returned to England he doubts his prospects with her. Anne meets Queen Catherine and the noble ladies of the court. The Queen wishes to visit the King, but Wolsey stands in her way. The Queen is angry with Wolsey for blocking her; he fears she may be the woman in the prophesy and he vows to undermine her. Anne promises to marry Charles, but then she meets the King, who is troubled at seeing her, for she was the woman who had been haunting his dreams. The Queen and noble ladies react with fear at the King’s obvious attraction to Anne.
In act 2, Henry is tortured by lust for Anne. Wolsey comforts the King while securing his support in his quest to be Pope. The Queen brings her ladies in to cheer up the King from his melancholy; Jane Seymour sings, the Queen gives a poetic commentary upon the song, and Anne Boleyn dances, but falls upon the King, inflaming his desire. The French Ambassador, Charles, finally gets his audience with the King, and delivers the message that the King of France wants his son, the Prince of Orleans, to marry the Princess Mary. The match would unite France and England and bring strength to both nations. This threatens Wolsey’s chance at the papacy because the French have their own favourite for the role. Wolsey and the Queen continue to be in conflict and Wolsey vows to use Anne as a pawn to take revenge on the Queen for standing in his way.
Wolsey manipulates Anne, who makes an oath of loyalty and support to him. The King makes advances, but as Wolsey advised her to do, Anne tells Henry she will not be his mistress, and will only yield to him as his wife. Wolsey offers the King a way to marry Anne and divorce Catherine, positing that his marriage to Catherine was never valid because she was his brother’s wife first. Although the Pope had granted a dispensation that allowed her to marry Henry, Wolsey says he must tell Parliament that he disagrees with the ruling and that he means to leave Catherine and send her to a convent. Henry decides to pursue the plan although he knows there is no crime in having married his brother’s wife, citing Biblical examples of this practice. He knows of Catherine’s goodness and holiness, but because his lust for Anne is so strong, he decides to pursue his course of making her his Queen.
Henry assembles his men and prepares to dispossess Catherine of her crown. He speaks well of her, also recognising the Princess Mary who will remain his heir to the throne despite his dissolution of the royal marriage. He tells Catherine to go either to a convent or to her homeland in Spain. She appeals to the King in a heartbreaking speech, saying she will go to petition her cause to the Pope rather than seek protection in Spain; she fears that her nephew Charles V would seek vengeance and attack Henry, and her love prevents her from allowing Henry to be harmed. The King turns his back on her and walks out with Wolsey. Charles says he will hurry back to France, as he suspects the French Prince will no longer wish to marry the Princess Mary, now that her parents’ marriage is dissolving. Charles hopes to come back and marry Anne Boleyn, as she has promised, once the trouble has dissipated. Wolsey takes the Princess Mary away from the Queen. The Queen sends Anne to speak kindly of her to the King, then seeks to know whether any of her people will remain loyal. She is joined only by the noblewoman Margaret Pole.
Time passes in between acts 2 and 3. Charles has been to France and returns with news that the engagement of the French Prince and Princess Mary is to be called off. Before leaving, Charles had been given permission by the King to marry Anne, but on return to England he finds that the King has himself married Anne. The Queen has moved to a castle on the outskirts of London. Wolsey refuses to hear petitions from poor soldiers, who rail at his cruelty. Anne meets with Wolsey who asks for her intercession with the King on his behalf, as he wants to be made President of the Kingdom, but she has already bestowed this honour on her own father. He threatens her, claiming he can bring her down as easily as he built her up, but once he storms off she vows to destroy him.
The King decides to banish the Princess Mary and let her languish with Catherine in the provinces. Anne asks not only for Mary to be banished, but also Wolsey, who has taken against her, and the King says it shall be so. The King hears the petitions of the soldiers and says they may take their due from the estate of Wolsey, dispersing all Wolsey’s property to the soldiers. Wolsey now realises the woman prophesised to bring his downfall was not Catherine, but Anne Boleyn.
The scene shifts to the provinces where Catherine speaks with Margaret. Wolsey, now ruined, comes to the women to ask for help, and they receive him veiled to protect their identities. Moved by his poverty, Catherine gives Wolsey a chain given to her by her uncle, one of her last possessions, and unveils herself. Mary is brought to the country castle and is happy to be there with her mother, even if they will be poor.
Back in the palace, the King is paranoid about the loyalty of his men, and eavesdrops on their conversations. Anne’s jilted lover, Charles, returns her love letters and storms off. Henry has overheard their exchange and fumes with jealousy. He finds one of Anne’s old letters to Charles and reads it aloud. Enraged, he orders Anne and Charles to be arrested and imprisoned in the Tower.
Princess Mary and the noblewoman Margaret come in dressed in mourning clothes and reveal that Catherine has died, and Mary demands justice. Repentant, Henry formally recognises Mary’s right to inherit the throne, and proposes her marriage with Philip, the son of Charles V of Spain. Henry stages a ceremony in which all his men will take a vow of allegiance to Mary as the heir, and the body of Anne Boleyn is revealed at the foot of the throne (it has been laid out horizontally, as a cushion at the foot of the throne). Mary is recognised under the condition that she will follow her father’s choices in the state relationship with Rome. Mary refuses, but Henry pushes the allegiance ceremony through, saying she is young and foolish, and offers his people the power to depose her if they disagree with her policies once she becomes Queen. The play ends with this tentative resolution that threatens to come undone even as it is proclaimed.
The play is based on the English King Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and his marriage to Anne Boleyn. However there is a particularly Spanish angle to the dramaturgy, as the King of Spain at the time of the play, King Philip IV, and his advisor, the Duke of Olivares, bear strong resemblance to the figures of Henry and Cardinal Wolsey in the play. Muir and MacKenzie give Calderón’s source material for the historical aspects of Henry’s life and rule as the version written by a Jesuit, Pedro de Ribadeneyra, in his Historia eclesiástica del cisma del reino de Inglaterra (Ecclesiastical History of the Schism in the Kingdom of England) (Calderón de la Barca 1990: 14).
For other Spanish plays written about England, see Antonio Coello’s El conde de Sex (The Count of Essex) (performed in Spain around 1661), and Juan Bautista Diamante’s La reina María Estuarda, about the life and execution of Mary Stuart. The latter play was probably influenced by La cisma de Inglaterra (Calderón de la Barca 1990: 25).
There is no manuscript edition and editors argue about the date this play was written, as it was not published until 1684. However a reference found by Shergold and Varey indicates that a play by the name of La cisma de Inglaterra was performed in 1627, and its attribution to Calderón is increasingly accepted (Calderón de la Barca 1990: 1). Its first performance date is thus possibly 1627, but it has not been proven that this performance was Calderón’s version of the play.
Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1684. La cisma de Inglaterra. In Octava parte de comedias. Don Juan de Vera Tassis y Villaroel
Available in facsimile: Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1973. Comedias, eds. D. W. Cruickshank and J. E. Varey. London, Gregg and Tamesis
Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1981. La cisma de Inglaterra, ed. Francisco Ruiz Ramón. Madrid, Castalia
Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1990. La cisma de Inglaterra / The Schism in England (dual-language text in Spanish and English), trans. Kenneth Muir and Ann L. Mackenzie. Warminster, Aris & Phillips (in Spanish and English)
Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 2001. La cisma de Ingalaterra, ed. Juan Manuel Escudero Baztán. Kassel, Reichenberger
Fischer, Susan L. 2006. ‘Reinventing Texts in a New (Historical) Context: Spanish Comedia and Shakespeare’. In Approaches to Teaching Early Modern Spanish Drama, ed. Laura R. Bass and Margaret R. Greer, pp. 125-33. New York, The Modern Language Association of America
Loftis, John. 1982. ‘Henry VIII and Calderón’s La cisma de Inglaterra’, Comparative Literature, 34, 208-22
Mackenzie, Ann L. 1989. ‘La cisma de Inglaterra: dos versiones inglesas del monólogo de Carlos sobre Ana Bolena’, Cuadernos de Teatro Clásico, 4, 53-77 (in Spanish)
Muir, Kenneth. 1991. ‘The Advantages and Disadvantages of Secularity’. In Parallel Lives: Spanish and English National Drama 1580-1680, eds. Louise and Peter Fothergill-Payne vol. I., pp. 211-23. Lewisburg, Bucknell University Press
Parker, A. A. 1988. The Mind and Art of Calderón. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press
Parker, Alexander A. 1948. ‘Henry VIII in Shakespeare and Calderón: An Appreciation of La cisma de Inglaterra’, Modern Language Review, 43, 327-52
Reichenberger, Kurt and Roswitha. 1979. Bibliographisches Handbuch der Calderón-Forschung, vol. I. Kassel, Thiele and Schwartz
See pp. 182-3 for a note on German, French and Italian translations of La cisma de Inglaterra
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Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 14 March 2011.