David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 1 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 4

— 3.4 —

At the palace in Paris were King Henry VI, the Duke of Gloucester, the Bishop of Winchester, the Duke of York, the Earl of Suffolk, the Duke of Somerset, the Earl of Warwick, the Duke of Exeter, Vernon, Basset, and others. Lord Talbot was also present, with some soldiers.

Lord Talbot said, “My gracious King, and honorable peers, hearing of your arrival in this realm, I have for awhile given truce to my wars, so that I may express my homage to my sovereign. In sign of that duty, this arm, which has reclaimed to your obedience fifty fortresses, twelve cities, and seven walled towns of strength, besides five hundred prisoners of high rank, lowers the sword it is holding before your highness’ feet, and with submissive loyalty of heart I ascribe the glory of the conquests I have gotten first to my God and next unto your grace.”

Lord Talbot knelt.

King Henry VI asked, “Uncle Duke of Gloucester, is this the Lord Talbot who has been so long resident in France?”

The Duke of Gloucester replied, “Yes, it is, my liege.”

“Welcome, brave Captain and victorious lord!” King Henry VI said to Lord Talbot. “When I was young — I still am not old — I remember how my father said that a braver champion than you never handled a sword. For a long time, we have been aware and completely convinced of your loyalty, your faithful service, and your toil in war, yet never have you tasted our reward, or been recompensed with so much as thanks, because until now we never saw your face. Therefore, stand up, and for these good and worthy deeds of yours, we here make you Earl of Shrewsbury, and in our coronation you will take a place.”

Everyone exited except for Vernon and Basset. Vernon was wearing a white rose in support of Richard Plantagenet, the Duke of York; Basset was wearing a red rose in support of the Duke of Somerset. The two men were enemies.

Vernon said to Basset, “Now, sir, to you, who were so hot and angry at sea, insulting this white rose that I wear in honor of my noble Lord of York, do you dare to maintain the former words you spoke?”

“Yes, sir,” Basset replied, “as well as you dare to defend the envious barking of your saucy tongue against my lord the Duke of Somerset.”

“Sirrah, I honor your lord as he is,” Vernon said.

In this context, the word “sirrah” was an insult.

“Why, what is he?” Basset said. “He is as good a man as the Duke of York.”

“Listen carefully,” Vernon said. “He is not as good a man as the Duke of York.”

He struck Basset and said, “As testimony thereof, take that.”

Basset said, “Villain, you know the law of arms is such that the penalty is immediate death for whoever draws a sword here, or else this blow should set to flowing your dearest blood.”

The law of arms referred to two things: 1) Drawing a sword in the residence of the King was a mortal offense, and 2) For two soldiers in the English army to draw swords and fight each other in wartime was a mortal offense.

Basset continued, “But I’ll go to his majesty, and request that I may have the liberty to avenge this wrong. When you shall see me next time, I’ll meet you to your cost.”

“Well, miscreant, I’ll be there before the King as soon as you,” Vernon said, “and after the King grants us permission to fight, I will meet you sooner than you wish.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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