David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 1 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 4

— 1.4 —

A French Master Gunner and his son stood on the wall of Orleans beside a cannon.

The Master Gunner said to his son, “Sirrah, you know how Orleans is besieged by the English, and how the English have won the suburbs surrounding the city.”

Fathers called their sons “sirrah,” a form of address that people of high status used to address males of lower status.

“Father, I know,” the boy said, “and I often have shot at them; however, unfortunately I have always missed my target.”

The Master Gunner said, “But now you shall not miss.”

He meant that the boy would not now fire the cannon; however, the boy, as will be seen, would disobey that order.

The Master Gunner continued, “Do what I tell you to do. I am the Chief Master Gunner of this town, and I must do something that will bring me honor. The ruler’s spies have informed me that the English, who are closely entrenched in the suburbs, are accustomed, through a secret grate of iron bars in yonder tower, to look out over the city, and from there discover how with most advantage they may vex us with shot, or with assault.”

The English had captured a high tower that had been built at the end of a bridge crossing the Loire River. The Master Gunner and his son were in the high tower at the end of the bridge closest to Orleans.

The Master Gunner continued, “To prevent this inconvenience, I have placed opposing that tower this piece of ordnance, and for the past three days I have watched to see if the English lords would appear there. Now I want you to watch because I can stay here no longer. If you see any English lords, run and bring the information to me; you shall find me at the governor’s.”

“Don’t worry, father,” the boy said.

The Master Gunner exited.

His son said to himself, “Father, I promise you that you don’t need to worry that I will bother you with any news. I’ll never trouble you, if I may see any English lords.”

He meant that he would fire the cannon and get the glory for himself.

On the tower, some English lords now arrived: the Earl of Salisbury, as well as Lord Talbot, Sir Thomas Gargrave, and Sir William Glansdale, and others. From the tower, they were able to look down on Orleans and plan where to attack next. But first they talked together and got news from Lord Talbot, who had recently been a prisoner.

The Earl of Salisbury said, “Lord Talbot, my life, my joy, returned again to us! How were you treated when you were prisoner? By what means were you released? Tell us, please, while we are here on this tower’s top.”

Lord Talbot replied, “The Duke of Bedford had a prisoner called the brave Lord Ponton de Santrailles. I was exchanged and ransomed for him. But to show contempt for me, my captors would once have bartered me for a baser man of arms by far. This I, disdaining, scorned. I craved death rather than be so vilely esteemed as to be exchanged for such a base, lowly born man. To conclude, I was redeemed as I desired.

“But the treacherous Fastolfe wounds my heart. I would execute and kill him with my bare fists, if I now had him brought within my power.”

The Earl of Salisbury said, “You haven’t yet said how you were treated when you were a prisoner.”

Lord Talbot replied, “I was treated with scoffs and scorns and contumelious taunts. They displayed me in the open marketplace and made me a public spectacle to all. Here, they said, is the terror of the French, the scarecrow that frightens our children so. Then I broke away from the officers who led me, and I dug with my fingernails stones out of the ground to hurl at the beholders of my shame. My menacing countenance made others flee. None dared come near me for fear of sudden death.

“Even within iron walls they deemed me not safely secured. Such great fear of my name had spread among them that they supposed I could break bars of steel, and kick into pieces posts made of the hardest material. Therefore I had as guards their best marksmen, who walked around me at intervals, and if I only moved out of my bed, they were ready to shoot me in the heart.”

The Master Gunner’s son lit a gunner’s match and placed it in a linstock, a piece of wood with a fork at one end into which the match was placed. That way, the cannon could be fired from a short, but safer, distance.

The Earl of Salisbury said, “I grieve to hear what torments you endured, but we will be revenged sufficiently. Now it is suppertime in Orleans. Here, through this grate, I can count each Frenchman and view how the Frenchmen fortify the city. Let us look at the city; the sight will much delight you.

“Sir Thomas Gargrave, and Sir William Glansdale, let me have your carefully considered opinions about the best place to make our next attack.”

Sir Thomas Gargrave said, “I think we should make our attack at the north gate because lords are standing there.”

Sir William Glansdale said, “And I think we should make our attack here, at the bulwark of the bridge.”

Lord Talbot said, “From what I can see, we must starve the citizens of this city as a military strategy, or weaken it with light skirmishes.”

The Master Gunner’s son shot the cannon.

The Earl of Salisbury and Sir Thomas Gargrave both fell, mortally wounded.

The Earl of Salisbury said, “Oh, Lord, have mercy on us wretched sinners!”

Sir Thomas Gargrave said, “Oh, Lord, have mercy on me, a woeful man!”

“What mischance is this that has suddenly crossed us?” Lord Talbot said. “Speak, Earl of Salisbury; at least, if you can speak, tell us how you are, you mirror and paragon of all martial men? One of your eyes and your cheek’s side have been struck off! Accursed tower! Accursed fatal hand that has contrived this woeful tragedy!

“The Earl of Salisbury conquered in thirteen battles. He was the first who trained King Henry V in warfare. While any trumpeter sounded, or any drummer struck, his sword never stopped striking in the battlefield.

“Are you still living, Earl of Salisbury? Though your speech fails, you still have one eye to look to Heaven for grace and mercy. The Sun with its one eye views the entire world.

“Heaven, be gracious to no one who is alive, if the Earl of Salisbury lacks mercy at your hands!

“Sir Thomas Gargrave, do you have any life left? Speak to me, or look up at me.”

Sir Thomas Gargrave was dead.

Lord Talbot ordered, “Carry his body away; I will help to bury it.”

He then said, “Earl of Salisbury, cheer your spirit with this comfort. You shall not die while —.”

He did not finish his sentence, but instead said about the Earl of Salisbury, “He beckons with his hand and smiles at me like a man who would say, ‘When I am dead and gone, remember to avenge me on the French.’ Plantagenet, I will.”

The Earl of Salisbury’s family name was not Plantagenet, but he was related to the Plantagenets.

Lord Talbot continued, “And I will, like you, Roman Emperor Nero, play on the lute as I watch the towns burn. Wretched and fearful shall the French be if they only hear my name.”

The Roman Emperor Nero was said to have played music while watching Rome burn.

A battle call sounded, and lightning flashed and thunder rumbled.

Lord Talbot asked, “What commotion is this? What tumult is in the Heavens? From where comes this call to battle and this noise?”

A messenger arrived and said, “My lord, my lord, the French have gathered a fighting force. The Dauphin, who has joined with one Joan la Pucelle, a newly risen holy prophetess, has come with a great army to raise the siege.”

The Earl of Salisbury raised himself up on one arm and groaned.

Lord Talbot said, “Hear, hear how the dying Salisbury groans! It irks his heart that he cannot be revenged. Frenchmen, I’ll be a Salisbury to you. Pucelle or puzel, dolphin or dogfish, your hearts I’ll stamp out with my horse’s heels, and I’ll make a quagmire of your mingled brains.”

A “puzel” was a whore. The dolphin was a highly regarded creature of the sea, while a dogfish — a species of small shark — was a lowly regarded creature of the sea.

Lord Talbot ordered, “Convey the Earl of Salisbury for me into his tent, and then we’ll try what these dastardly Frenchmen dare. We will fight these cowardly French soldiers.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


David Bruce’s Lulu Bookstore (Paperbacks)


David Bruce’s Amazon Author Bookstore


David Bruce’s Smashwords Bookstore


David Bruce’s Apple iBookstore


David Bruce’s Barnes and Noble Books


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: