The following is the transcript of a broadcast from March, 1539.
Accompanied by raucous applause, the lute and tambour band break into “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am” while the camera pans out over a live audience of peasants, cattle, ducks, and armed soldiers.
WILL SOMERS: Live from the Adulation Hall at Greenwich, it’s Late Night With Henry Tudor! We’re featuring the music of Ned Sackbutt and the Poxy Seven. Everybody in the crowd! Get to your feet and sing for your king!
The crowd, both two-footed and four-footed, jump up and sing along with Sackbutt:
I’m Henry the Eighth, I am,
Henry the Eighth I am, I am!
I got married to the widow next door,
She’d been married seven times before.
And every one was an Henry
It wouldn’t be a Willie or a Sam
I’m her eighth old man named Henry
Henery the Eighth, I am!
WILL SOMERS: And now…the star of our show! The guy on the coins…the man God calls for help and advice… that jolly fellow who can feast you today and eviscerate you tomorrow…give it up for your sovereign lord, Henry the Eighth!
Wearing a bold red tunic encrusted with gold and jewels and white hose that would have looked much better on younger legs, Henry sprints onto center stage, the cries and applause of the crowd carrying him to the bonfire-powered spotlight. Inspired by the soldiers bearing pikes who stand at each end of every row, the crowd continues to cheer for the king. Henry blows kisses, randomly points at people in the audience, and wallows in the orchestrated merriment. This goes on for a full ten minutes before Henry decides he is bored. A curt wave of the arm advises the crowd to settle down and the band to stop playing.
HENRY: Let’s hear it for Ned and his boys!
The crowd applauds once more. Ned Sackbutt turns around and waves his lute in the air.
HENRY: I’m God’s anointed representative on earth, and this is my show. Welcome!
HENRY: Well folks, I’m afraid it’s finally happened. (pause) I have been importuned to marry for a fourth time. Again. Yeah, I’m not so wild about it myself, which normally would mean a few executions.
The audience laughs.
HENRY: Apparently my counselors don’t have the same degree of faith in me that I have. One son just isn’t enough. I need at least one more son, which means taking one more wife.
God’s troth, I will admit it. My track record and my Parliament have two things in common. They both stink and neither is my fault. Look at my situation here. I have three kids. One kid hates me, one kid will hate me when she’s old enough to understand, and the third kid is more like a fat dressed capon in royal swaddling. So all right, I need another son. But clearly I’m more likely to become a hermit with Francois of France!
Yet again, the audience laughs. Everyone knows Henry would tap dance in hell before going anywhere with Francois.
HENRY: The bad thing is that getting another legitimate child means surrendering myself to the bonds of marriage, and I don’t mean the fun kind. Marriage has swived me like a poxy Scot too. My first wife slept with my late but lamentable older brother, and by that she was never really my wife at all. My second wife, well, you heard the tabloids. She was a succubus, an incestuous witch woman who was no less a threat to my kingdom than a united Holy Roman Empire. Hey, I’ve always been the premier knight in all of England, and so I slew that dragon. My third wife, God assoil her, was an amenable and pleasant lump of suet pudding, which was exactly the diet I needed. I lost her, but I did gain a son.
So here I am, going bride shopping.
Henry turns towards Will Somers.
HENRY: What think you of the matter, Will? You always have a clever riposte.
WILL: Sire, it seems to me a better thing to burn rather than marry!
All action pauses as the audience laughs, driving home that the remark is witty.
HENRY: All hellish matrimony aside, I have a great show for you tonight. We’re going to be playing everyone’s favorite game, Treason or Not Treason.
More cheers from the audience
HENRY: After all, folks, what is treason?
AUDIENCE: Whatever you say it is, Henry!
HENRY: Damn straight. We’ll get into the game in a few moments. First we’ll have some messages from Tudor-certified businesses that have paid an obscene amount into the royal coffers. And I just can never say no to money. Here’s Ned Sackbutt to take us to our first break. Hit it, guys!
Henry the Eighth I am again
ANNOUNCER 1: Enjoy all the eel you can eat for a steal of a deal! Bring the whole family on down to Pieworthy’s, which has been serving up the best eel in the London area for three centuries. And now we’re outdoing ourselves with our all you can eat eel buffet during Eel Fest. Smoked eel, fresh eel, eel and chips, eel in cream sauce, broiled eel, eel pie, eel nuggets, eel pudding, eel stuffed eel, dried eel, and many other eel dishes are available on the buffet. Remember that it’s nothing but eel for a steal at Pieworthy’s!
ANNOUNCER 2: Like dresses? Like meat? Come to the shop that brings both together—Sally’s Sleeves and Beeves! Give any garment a fashionable overhaul while munching on a fine boiled beef. Not hungry? All of Sally’s meats are available in convenient take-out packages—your family will adore you for it. At Sally’s Sleeves and Beeves, we know what really matters!
ANNOUNCER 1: You stink! You know it. Maybe you can’t tell your own stench from the smells of the people around you, but it’s there. Stop smelling like an aging corpse and get on over to It Makes Scents, London’s own heaven for the nostrils. Smell great! We offer pomanders for people from every walk of life, from a studded orange to a gold sphere holding special oils. We also distill essential oils from fresh herbs and flowers. Visit It Makes Scents today for a better smelling future!
As the band continues to play, we see King Henry sitting behind a desk and holding a turkey leg. He looks up and smiles.
HENRY: So Will…
WILL: So Your Majesty…
HENRY: Methinks it would be meet to go right to tonight’s main entertainment. It’s time for—
AUDIENCE: Treason or Not Treason!
HENRY: Ah, Treason or not Treason. (pauses to take a hefty bite out of the turkey leg) And once again, good folks of my audience, what is treason?
AUDIENCE: Whatever you say it is, Harry!
HENRY: Indeed. (drops the turkey leg on the floor) Ho, Will! Have we got a villainous trio of potential traitors tonight?
WILL: They look like real scum, Your Majesty—the wasted tears of cursed mothers!
HENRY: Some business before we begin. (Henry leans over to pick up a trencher bowl and starts to chew on one of a number of small birds in the trencher. He eats for a while and then, remembering the audience, he puts the trencher down in front of him.) Your sovereign lord is being fed tonight by Kensington Fried Quail. A secret blend of three herbs and spices! Freshly-killed quail! These are some damn good birds, ladies and gentlemen. Run out after the show and pick up a trencher of Kentucky Fried Quail! That’s law!
Thomas Timely and the Tower Torturers wheel out three battered and filthy prisoners. Each prisoner is chained to his own wooden backboard which is styled to resemble the rack. All three squint in the candlelight of the stage. The man on the far right manages to mouth “Hi mom!”
HENRY: Thomas Timely, how are you sir?
THOMAS: I’m well, Your Majesty. But as you know, what happens in the Tower stays in the Tower!
Everyone bursts into patronizing laughter.
HENRY: I like that. I may take it as my new motto. But let’s start with Wretch #1. Thomas, please tell us the charge leveled at our fettered fiend here.
THOMAS: Your Majesty, this is Arkel Slopsmith. He is accused of saying, and I quote, “I like sheep.”
A unified gasp issues from the audience. Henry turns to the shocked audience.
HENRY: Ladies and gentlemen, what is treason?
AUDIENCE: Whatever you say it is, Harry!
HENRY: Darn tootin’. So let’s think on this cryptic utterance. “I like sheep.” Sheep are fundamentally opposed to everything royal, which makes sheep my own enemy. Sheep are weak. Sheep only follow. Sheep give us wool, but I’d gladly trade my wool codpiece for a good slab of mutton. I find that sheep are shifty, dishonest, deceptive, manipulative, and untrustworthy. Therefore, when Arkel Slopsmith declared his admiration for sheep, he was also indicating his approval of these traits while implying his disapproval of me. Treason or not treason? I declare this to be treason!
A roar of applause rises from the audience. Ned Sackbutt leads his band into the Late Night standard “Condemned for Treason.”
WILL: Arkle Slopsmith, thank you for playing Treason or Not Treason! You’ve won a one-way trip to exciting Tyburn and an appearance in the mass executions of Tyburn Tuesdays!
Slopsmith is left to his sorrows while the onstage focus shifts.
THOMAS: Your Majesty, have a look at Wretch #2. Grover Stinkinbishop is an apprentice in a Thames barge transportation company. He is said to have stated, and I quote, “The Thames used to be cleaner.”
Henry shakes his head, clucking in distaste.
HENRY: You foul knave, you did not even bother to conceal your contempt for your sovereign. You have dared to suggest that what has come before me was somehow better than the conditions of my England. I have dirtied God’s own water of the Thames as surely as I have polluted the spiritual streams of my beloved England. We’ll continue after these messages. Watch them.
ANNOUNCER 1: Have you paid good coin to be bled or leeched? Was the treatment worse than the ailment? Did the treatment cause pain, blood loss, demonic possession, allergic reactions, or loss of limbs? Are you buried in debt and looking at a long stint in debtor’s prison? Stop wasting your time and hire me! I’m Will Bill, master of law, and I’ve been fighting for people like you for almost a full year. Together we can bring quack physics and soiled surgeons to their knees. Don’t delay! Send a messenger today! And remember I get paid whether we win or not.
ANNOUNCER 2: Now let’s hear about a tasty new snack!
It’s a banquet! It’s a munch it!
Try Blackmanger in a Biscuit!
You can pop it! You can chew it!
It’s Blackmanger in a Biscuit!
Get the taste of that special treat
Why steal bread when you could eat
Blackmanger in a Biscuit?
New Blackmanger in a biscuit is available at your nearest Hal8 convenience market!
HENRY: We are back with the loathsome Grover Stinkinbishop and I am about to declare my conviction. Treason or not treason? I declare this to be treason!
Again a roar of applause rises from the audience, and Ned Sackbutt leads his band again into “Condemned for Treason.”
WILL: Grover Stinkinbishop, thank you for playing Treason or Not Treason! You’ve won a one-way trip to exciting Tyburn and an appearance in the mass executions of Tyburn Tuesdays!
Attention turns to the third prisoner.
HENRY: Thomas, what about your third prisoner here?
THOMAS: As you wish, Your Majesty. This is Rhys Wynwyn, the Welsh wit who coined the phrase “a win-win situation.” But things have soured for Rhys. He is reported to have said, and I quote, “King Henry is an overblown goofball.”
The crowd swarms into a sea of angry voices, but Henry only laughs, and gestures to the audience to take their seats.
HENRY: Methinks you will all be most surprised at my decision. This man obviously understood that his statement was ludicrous, for what fault can any man find in me? I answer only to God. He could not have believed that anyone would think him serious. Twas but a jest, everyone. I know it. And therefore I declare that Rhys Wynwyn is not guilty of treason against me.
The band launches into “Henry the Eighth” yet again as Thomas frees the prisoner. Henry takes center stage again.
HENRY: Well, that’s our show for tonight. We’ll be back right here tomorrow night, when I’ll be interviewing the minds behind Misrule Instant Frumenty. I’ll also be playing my newest song, a ballad to my unknown Wife #4. My gratitude for the loyal subjects that help me put this show together night after night—Will Somers, Ned Sackbutt, Thomas Timely, and the Poxy Seven! Have a wonderful night, and remember how luck you are to live in the England of Henry the Eighth!