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

— 4.1 —

In a hall of state in Paris, the coronation of King Henry VI as King of France was being held. Present 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, Lord Talbot, the Duke of Exeter, the Governor of Paris, and others.

The Duke of Gloucester said, “Lord Bishop of Winchester, set the crown upon his head.”

The Bishop of Winchester set the crown on Henry VI’s head and said, “God save King Henry, of that name the sixth!”

“Now, governor of Paris, take your oath,” the Duke of Gloucester said. “Swear that you acknowledge no other King but him. Esteem as your friends none but such as are his friends, and esteem as your foes but none such as shall intend malicious intrigues against his state: Swear that this shall you do, so help you righteous God!”

Sir John Fastolfe entered the room and interrupted the ceremony, saying to King Henry VI, “My gracious sovereign, as I rode from Calais to hasten to your coronation, a letter was delivered to my hands. It was written to your grace by the Duke of Burgundy.”

Lord Talbot recognized Sir John Fastolfe — the cowardly knight who had fled from battle earlier. Upset by that and by the interruption of the ceremony, he said, “Shame to the Duke of Burgundy and to you! I vowed, base knight, that when I next met you, I would tear the garter from your coward’s leg.”

Sir John Fastolfe was a member of the Order of the Garter, the highest order of knights. They wore a garter just below the left knee. Of course, Lord Talbot did not think that such a cowardly knight should be a member of the Order of the Garter.

Lord Talbot removed Sir John’s garter and said, “Now I have done that because you were unworthily installed in that high degree.

“Pardon me, King Henry VI, and the rest of you. This coward, at the battle of Patay, when my army was in all only six thousand strong and we were outnumbered by the French almost ten to one, even before we met or a single stroke of the sword was given, like a ‘trusty’ contemptible fellow this man ran away. In that battle we lost twelve hundred men. I myself and several other gentlemen besides me were there surprised and taken prisoner.

“So then judge, great lords, if I have done anything amiss in tearing away this fellow’s garter. Decide whether such cowards ought to wear this ornament of knighthood — yes or no.”

The Duke of Gloucester said, “To say the truth, this fellow’s deed was infamous and ill beseeming any common man; this deed is even more ill beseeming a knight, a Captain, and a leader.”

Lord Talbot said, “When this order was first ordained, my lords, knights of the garter were of noble birth, valiant and virtuous, and full of high-minded courage. They were such as earned good reputations in the wars; they did not fear death, nor recoil because of distress, but instead they were always resolute in the direst situations.

“A man who lacks those honorable virtues yet calls himself a knight does nothing but usurp the sacred name of knight; he profanes this most honorable order of knighthood, and he should, if I were worthy enough to be his judge, be quite degraded, like a hedge-born swain who presumes to boast that he has noble blood.”

A “hedge-born swain” is a peasant born under a hedge.

King Henry VI believed everything that Lord Talbot had said, so he said to Sir John Fastolfe, “Stain and disgrace to your countrymen, you hear your judgment! Be off, therefore, you who were a knight. From this time on we banish you, on pain of death.”

Disgraced, John Fastolfe, who had previously been Sir John Fastolfe, exited.

King Henry VI then said, “And now, Duke of Gloucester, my Lord Protector, view the letter sent from our uncle the Duke of Burgundy.”

One of King Henry VI’s uncles was the Duke of Bedford, who had married Anne, the sister of the Duke of Burgundy, and so King Henry VI and the Duke of Burgundy were related by marriage.

The Duke of Gloucester first looked at how the letter was addressed. Normally it would acknowledge Henry VI as King of France as well as of England and Wales, and it would include an acknowledgement that Henry VI was the writer’s sovereign.

The Duke of Gloucester said, “What does his grace mean, that he has changed his style? Nothing more but, plainly and bluntly, ‘To the King!’ Has he forgotten that Henry VI is his sovereign? Or does this churlish address portend some alteration in good will?

“What’s written here in the letter?”

He then read the letter out loud:

“I have, upon special cause, moved with compassion for my country’s destruction, together with the pitiful complaints of such people as your oppression feeds upon, forsaken your pernicious faction and joined with Charles, the rightful King of France.”

The Duke of Gloucester then said, “Oh, monstrous treachery! Can this be true? Can it be that in alliance, amity, and oaths, there should be found such false dissembling and deceitful guile?”

“What!” King Henry VI said. “Is my uncle Burgundy rebelling against me?”

“He is, my lord,” the Duke of Gloucester said. “He has become your foe.”

“Is that the worst of the news that this letter contains?” King Henry VI asked.

“It is the worst, and it is all, my lord, that he writes,” the Duke of Gloucester replied.

“Why, then, Lord Talbot there shall talk with him and chastise him for this abuse,” King Henry VI said.

He then asked Lord Talbot, “What do you say, my lord? Are you willing to do this?”

“Willing, my liege!” Lord Talbot said. “Yes, I am. If you had not already given me this duty, I would have begged you to give it to me.”

King Henry VI ordered, “Then gather strength and march against him immediately. Let him perceive how ill we endure his treason and what an offence it is to flout and abuse his friends.”

“I go now, my lord,” Lord Talbot said. “In my heart I desire always that you may see the destruction of your foes.”

Lord Talbot exited.

Vernon and Basset entered the room. Vernon was wearing a white rose, and Basset was wearing a red rose.

Vernon asked King Henry VI, “Grant me the right of combat, gracious sovereign. Grant me the right of trial by duel.”

Basset said, “And, my lord, grant me the combat, too.”

The Duke of York said about Vernon, “This is my retainer. Hear what he has to say, noble King.”

The Duke of Somerset said about Basset, “And this is my retainer. Sweet Henry, show him favor. Give him what he wants.”

“Be patient, lords,” King Henry VI said, “and allow them to speak.

“Say, gentlemen, what makes you thus exclaim? And why do you crave combat? And with whom?”

Vernon pointed to Basset and said, “With him, my lord; for he has done me wrong.”

Basset said about Vernon, “And I with him, for he has done me wrong.”

“What is that wrong whereof you both complain?” King Henry VI said. “First let me know, and then I’ll give you your answer to your request.”

Basset said, “Crossing the sea from England into France, this fellow here, with a malicious, carping tongue, upbraided me about the red rose I wear, saying that the blood-red color of the leaves represented my master’s blushing cheeks when my master stubbornly rejected the truth about a certain question in the law argued between the Duke of York and him. Vernon also used other vile and ignominious terms. In rebuttal of that rude and ignorant reproach and in defense of my lord’s worthiness, I beg the benefit and legal privilege of fighting a duel.”

“And that is also my petition, noble lord,” Vernon said. “For although he seems with counterfeit and cunning ingenuity to give an attractive appearance to his bold intention, yet you should know, my lord, I was provoked by him, and he first took exceptions at this badge, this white rose, saying that the paleness of this flower revealed the faintness of my master’s heart.”

The Duke of York asked, “Won’t this malice, Somerset, cease?”

The Duke of Somerset replied, “Your private grudge, my Lord of York, will out and be known, no matter how cunningly you try to cover it up.”

King Henry VI said, “Good Lord, what madness rules in brainsick men, when for so slight and frivolous a cause such factious conflicts shall arise! York and Somerset, you are good kinsmen both to yourselves and to me, so quiet yourselves, please, and be at peace.”

The Duke of York said, “Let this dissension first be tried by fight, and then your highness shall command a peace.”

The Duke of Somerset said, “The quarrel concerns none but us alone. Between ourselves let us decide it then.”

The Duke of York threw down his white rose and said, “There is my pledge; accept it, Somerset. Pick it up, and let’s duel.”

Vernon said, “Nay, let the fight rest where it began at first.”

He meant that only Basset and he should fight; the Duke of York and the Duke of Somerset ought not to duel each other.

Basset said, “Confirm it so, my honorable lord. Let Vernon and I fight a duel.”

“Confirm it so!” the Duke of Gloucester said. “Confounded be your strife! And may you two perish, with your audacious prattle! Presumptuous vassals, aren’t you ashamed with this immodest clamorous outrage of yours to trouble and disturb the King and us?

“And you, my lords York and Somerset, I think you aren’t doing well to allow them to make their perverse accusations, much less for you two to take the opportunity from their mouths to raise a civil disturbance between yourselves. Let me persuade you to take a better course of action.”

The Duke of Exeter said, “This quarrel grieves his highness. My good lords, be friends.”

King Henry VI said, “Come here, Vernon and Basset, you who would be combatants. From henceforth I order you, as you love our favor, entirely to forget this quarrel and its cause.

“And you, my lords York and Somerset, remember where we are. We are in France, in the midst of a fickle and wavering nation. If they perceive dissension in our looks and if they perceive that among ourselves we disagree, how will their resentful feelings be provoked to willful disobedience and rebellion!

“Besides, what infamy will there arise when foreign Princes shall be informed that for a toy, a thing of no regard, King Henry VI’s peers and chief nobility have destroyed themselves and lost the realm of France!

“Think upon the conquest of my father and think upon my tender years, and let us not forego for a trifle that which was bought with blood. Let me be the umpire in this disquieting dispute.”

He got a red rose, the emblem of the Lancastrians,and wore it and said, “I see no reason, if I wear this rose, that any one should therefore be suspicious I incline more to Somerset than to York. Both are my kinsmen, and I love them both. People may as well upbraid me for wearing my crown because, in fact, the King of Scots also wears a crown.”

King Henry VI and the Duke of Somerset were both members of the House of Lancaster. Henry VI’s father, Henry V, held the title of Duke of Lancaster. Once he became King Henry V, the title of Duke of Lancaster and his other titles became merged in the crown.

King Henry VI continued, “But your discretions can better persuade than I am able to instruct or teach. And therefore, as we came here in peace, so let us always continue to co-exist in peace and love.

“Kinsman of York, we appoint your grace to be our Regent in these parts of France.

“And, my good Lord of Somerset, unite your troops of horsemen with the Duke of York’s bands of soldiers.

“York and Somerset, like true subjects, sons of your progenitors, go cheerfully together and expend your angry choler on your enemies.

“We ourself, my Lord Protector, and the rest of us after some respite will return to Calais. From thence we will go to England, where I hope before long to be presented, as a result of your victories, with Charles the Dauphin, the Duke of Alençon, and that traitorous rabble.”

Everyone exited except for the Duke of York, the Earl of Warwick, the Duke of Exeter, and Vernon.

The Earl of Warwick said, “My Lord of York, I assure you I thought that the King prettily played the orator.”

“And so he did,” the Duke of York said, “but yet I don’t like his wearing the badge — the red rose — of Somerset.”

“Tush, that was but his fancy, so don’t blame him; I dare presume, sweet Prince, that he thought no harm,” the Earl of Warwick said.

“If I knew for sure that he did — but let it rest,” the Duke of York said. “Other affairs must now be managed.”

Everyone exited except for the Duke of Exeter, who said to himself, “You did well, Richard, the Duke of York, to suppress your voice and opinion because if the passions of your heart had burst out, I am afraid that we should have seen there more rancorous spite and more furious raging quarrels than yet can be imagined or supposed. Nevertheless, no common man who sees this jarring discord of nobility, this jostling of each other in the court, this partisan verbal strife of their supporters, can think other than that it presages some ill event.

“It is a serious matter when scepters are in children’s hands, but it is a much more serious matter when malice breeds unnatural separation and division among members of the same family. When that happens, there comes the rain — there begins confusion and destruction.”

A proverb stated, “Woe to the land whose King is a child.”

Despite their hatred of each other, the Duke of York and the Duke of Somerset were both descended from King Edward III.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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