David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 1 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scenes 4-5 (Conclusion)

— 5.4 —

At the military camp of the Duke of York at Anjou, the Duke of York and the Earl of Warwick talked. Others were present.

The Duke of York said, “Bring forth that sorceress who is condemned to burn at the stake.”

Some guards brought Joan la Pucelle to him. A shepherd also came.

The shepherd said, “Ah, Joan, this kills your father’s heart outright! I have sought you in every region far and near, and now that it is my fortune to find you, must I behold your untimely and cruel death? Ah, Joan, sweet daughter Joan, I’ll die with you!”

Joan la Pucelle said, “Decrepit and miserable creature! Base, lowly born, ignoble wretch! I am descended from a nobler blood. You are no father and no friend of mine.”

“No! No!” the shepherd said. “My lords, if it pleases you, what she says is not true. I did beget her, as all in the parish know. Her mother is still alive, and she can testify that Joan was the first fruit of my bachelorship.”

In this culture, the word “bachelorship” had two meanings: 1) apprenticeship, and 2) time as a bachelor, aka unmarried man.

The Earl of Warwick said to Joan la Pucelle, “You are without grace. Will you deny your parentage? Will you reject your own father?”

The Duke of York said, “This argues what her kind of life has been. It has been wicked and vile; and so her death concludes her life.”

“Don’t, Joan,” the shepherd said. “Why will you be so stubborn! God knows you are a piece of my flesh, and for your sake I have shed many a tear. Don’t deny that I am your father, I request, gentle Joan.”

“Peasant, avaunt!” Joan la Pucelle said. “Leave! Get lost!”

She then said to the Duke of York, “You have bribed this man for the purpose of obscuring my noble birth.”

Prisoners of noble birth were treated better than other prisoners; often, they would be ransomed and allowed to live.

The shepherd said, “It is true that I gave a noble — a coin — to the priest the morning that I was wedded to her mother.

“Kneel down and take my blessing, my good girl. Will you not stoop for my blessing? Now cursed be the time of your nativity! I wish that the milk your mother gave you when you sucked her breast had been a little rat poison for your sake! Or else, when you shepherded my lambs in the field, I wish that some ravenous wolf had eaten you! Do you deny that I am your father, cursed slut?

“Oh, burn her, burn her! Hanging is too good for her.”

Hanging is a quicker and less painful way of dying than being burned at the stake.

The shepherd exited.

The Duke of York said, “Take her away, for she has lived too long and used that time to fill the world with vicious qualities.”

Joan la Pucelle said, “First, let me tell you whom you have condemned to die. I am not one begotten by a shepherd peasant; instead, I issued from the progeny of Kings. I am virtuous and holy, chosen from above, by inspiration of celestial grace, to do work exceedingly exceptional on Earth. I never had to do with wicked spirits.”

The word “do” has a sexual meaning. The sentence also meant this: “I never had anything to do with wicked spirits.”

She continued, “But you, who are polluted with your lusts, who are stained with the guiltless blood of innocents, who are corrupt and tainted with a thousand vices, because you want the grace that others have, you judge it straightaway a thing impossible to accomplish wonders except by the help of devils.

“No, misconceived!”

By “misconceived,” Joan la Pucelle may have meant that the Duke of York was wrong, or that he was illegitimate, or both.

She continued, “Joan of Arc has been a virgin from her tender infancy, chaste and immaculate in every thought, and her blood, thus cruelly spilled, will cry out for vengeance at the gates of Heaven.”

“Yes, yes,” the Duke of York said, impatiently. “Take her away to be executed!”

The Earl of Warwick said to the men who would burn her at the stake, “Listen, sirs, because she is a maiden, use plenty of wood; let there be enough to burn quickly and hotly. Place barrels of pitch leaning on the fatal stake, so that the torture of her death may be shortened.”

The barrels of pitch would produce a thick smoke, suffocating Joan and killing her. This was a quicker and less painful death than dying from being burned.

“Will nothing change your unrelenting hearts?” Joan la Pucelle said. “Then, Joan, reveal your infirmity that law assures will give you the privilege of not yet being killed. I am with child, you bloodthirsty murderers. I am pregnant. Don’t murder the fruit within my womb, although you eventually drag me to a violent death.”

The Duke of York said, “Now Heaven forbid! The holy maiden is with child! This virgin is pregnant!”

The Earl of Warwick said to Joan, “This is the greatest miracle that you ever wrought. Has all your strict morality come to this?”

“She and the Dauphin have been juggling,” the Duke of York said. “I wondered what would be her last defense, her last attempt to escape death.”

“Juggling” meant “playing tricks.” In this context, it also had a sexual meaning.

The Earl of Warwick said, “Bah, we’ll allow no bastards to live, especially since Charles must be the father of it.”

Joan la Pucelle said, “You are deceived; my child is not his. It was the Duke of Alençon who enjoyed my love.”

“The Duke of Alençon!” the Duke of York said. “That notorious Machiavel!”

A Machiavel is a schemer. The word comes from Niccolo Machiavelli, author of The Prince, a pragmatic book that acknowledges that many Princes use immoral means to achieve their purposes.

The Duke of York added, “The bastard dies, and it would die even if it had a thousand lives.”

“Oh, pardon me!” Joan la Pucelle said. “I have deceived and deluded you: It was neither Charles nor the Duke I named. Instead, it was Reignier, King of Naples, who prevailed.”

“A married man!” the Earl of Warwick said. “That’s most intolerable.”

“Why, what a girl is here!” the Duke of York said. “I think she doesn’t know well whom she may accuse of making her pregnant because she has had sex with so many men.”

The Earl of Warwick said, “It’s a sign she has been promiscuous and free.”

“And yet, truly, she is a ‘pure virgin,’” the Duke of York said sarcastically, adding, “Strumpet, your words condemn your brat and you. Don’t beg for mercy, for it is in vain.”

“Then lead me away,” Joan la Pucelle said. “With all of you I leave my curse. May the glorious Sun never cast its beams upon the country — England — where you make your abode; instead, may darkness and the gloomy shade of death surround you, until catastrophe and despair drive you to break your necks or hang yourselves!”

The Duke of York said to her as the guards took her away, “May you break into pieces and be consumed by fire until you are ashes, you foul accursed minister of Hell!”

The Cardinal of Winchester arrived; with him were some attendants.

He said to the Duke of York, “Lord Regent, I greet your excellence with letters of commission from the King. For you should know, my lords, that the rulers of Christendom, moved with regret and sorrow for these outrageous, violent battles, have earnestly implored that a general peace be made between our nation of England and the aspiring French, and here at hand the Dauphin and his retinue are approaching in order to confer about some business.”

“Is all our travail turned to this effect?” the Duke of York said. “Is this the result of all our effort and trouble? After the slaughter of so many peers, and so many Captains, gentlemen, and soldiers who in this quarrel have been overthrown and sold their bodies for their country’s benefit, shall we at last conclude with an effeminate, unmanly peace? Haven’t we lost because of treason, falsehood, and treachery the greater part of all the towns that our great progenitors such as King Henry V had conquered?

“Oh, Warwick, Earl of Warwick! I foresee with grief the utter loss of all the realm of France.”

“Be patient, Duke of York,” the Earl of Warwick said. “If we arrange a peace treaty with France, it shall be with such strict and severe conditions that the Frenchmen shall gain little thereby.”

Charles the Dauphin, the Duke of Alençon, the Bastard of Orleans, Reignier, and others arrived.

Charles the Dauphin said, “Since, lords of England, it is thus agreed that a peaceful truce shall be proclaimed in France, we have come to be informed by you what the conditions of that peace treaty must be.”

The Duke of York said, “Speak, Cardinal of Winchester; for boiling anger chokes the hollow passage of my poisoned voice because I see these our mortal enemies.”

The Cardinal of Winchester said, “Charles, and the rest, this is what has been decreed. King Henry VI gives his consent, in pure compassion and mercifulness to ease your country of distressful war and allow you to breathe in fruitful peace, as long as you shall become true and loyal liegemen to his crown — and Charles, upon the condition you will swear to pay him tribute and be submissive to him, you shall be placed as Viceroy under him and you will continue to enjoy your regal dignity.”

A Viceroy rules a country on behalf of another ruler to whom the Viceroy is subordinate.

The Duke of Alençon said, “Must he be then simply a shadow of himself? He will adorn his temples with a coronet, and yet, in substance and authority, retain only the privilege of a private man? This offer is absurd and reasonless.”

Nobles, but not Kings, wore coronets. Kings wore crowns.

King Charles VI died two months after King Henry V of England had died. Now the citizens of France regarded Charles the Dauphin as King Charles VII of France. The English believed that King Henry VI of England was also the King of France.

Charles the Dauphin said, “It is known already that I possess more than half the Gallian — French — territories, and in those territories I am shown reverence as their lawful King. Shall I, for the gain of the territories I have not yet vanquished, take away so much from that prerogative of being acknowledged as King as to be called only the Viceroy of the whole?

“No, lord ambassador, I’d rather keep that which I have than, coveting more, be excluded from the possibility of being King of all France.”

“Insulting Charles!” the Duke of York said. “Have you by secret means used intercession to obtain a league and a treaty, and now the matter draws toward a settlement, you stand aloof and quibble?

“Either accept the title you are usurping, which is a gift that comes from our King and is not anything you deserve, or we will plague you with incessant wars.”

Reignier said quietly to Charles the Dauphin so that the English could not hear, “My lord, you don’t do well by being obstinate and disputing details in the course of making this peace treaty. If once it is neglected, ten to one we shall not find the like opportunity to make another such treaty.”

The Duke of Alençon said quietly to Charles the Dauphin so that the English could not hear, “To say the truth, it is your policy to save your subjects from such massacres and ruthless slaughters as are daily seen by our proceeding in hostility. Therefore make this peace treaty now, although you can break it later when you want to.”

The Earl of Warwick asked, “What do you say, Charles? Shall our peace treaty stand?”

“It shall,” Charles said, “with this condition. You will claim no interest in any of our French towns that are fortified with garrisons.”

The Duke of York said, “Then swear allegiance to his majesty, King Henry VI, as you are a knight, never to disobey nor be rebellious to the crown of England. You and your nobles will swear never to disobey or be rebellious to the crown of England.”

The Frenchmen knelt and swore.

The Duke of York said, “So, now dismiss your army when you please. Hang up your battle flags and let your drums be still and quiet, for here we enter upon a solemn peace.”

— 5.5 —

In the royal palace in London, King Henry VI, the Earl of Suffolk, the Duke of Gloucester, and the Duke of Exeter met. Some attendants were present.

King Henry VI said to the Earl of Suffolk, “Your wondrous and splendid description, noble Earl,of beauteous Margaret has astonished me and filled me with wonder.Her virtues graced with external giftsbreed love’s deeply rooted passions in my heart, and just as the strength of tempestuous gusts of windimpels the mightiest ship against the tide,so I am driven by the report of her renowneither to suffer shipwreck or arrivewhere I may have fruition of her love.”

The Earl of Suffolk said, “Tush, my good lord, this superficial tale of her good qualities merely mentions those good qualities that are most apparent.It is only a preface of the praise that she deserves. The chief perfections of that lovely dame, had I sufficient skill to utter them,would make a whole book of enticing lines of praise that would be able to ravish and entrance any dull imagination, and which is more, she is not so divine,so fully replete with all choice delights,that she lackshumbleness of mind. She is content to be at your command. By command, I mean the command of virtuous and chaste intentions,to love and honor you, Henry VI, as her lord and husband.”

King Henry VI said, “And otherwise I, Henry, will never presume. My intentions toward her are honorable.

“Therefore, my Lord Protector, give consent that Margaret may become England’s royal Queen.”

The Duke of Gloucester replied, “If I would give consent to that, I would be giving consent to glossing over and extenuating sin. You know, my lord, that your highness is betrothed to another lady of esteem: You are engaged to marry the daughter of the Earl of Armagnac. How shall we then dispense with that contract of marriage, and not disfigure your honor with reproach?”

The Earl of Suffolk said, “As does a ruler with unlawful oaths.”

King Henry VI’s oath, however, to marry the daughter of the Earl of Armagnac was not unlawful.

The Earl of Suffolk continued, “Or as does one who, at a tournament having vowed to test his strength, yet does not engage in a joust because of his adversary’s odds. A poor Earl’s daughter is unequal odds, and therefore the marriage contract may be broken without offence.”

Dukes outranked Earls, and Kings outranked Dukes. The Earl of Suffolk was saying that a King could do much better than to marry the daughter of an Earl.

The Duke of Gloucester asked, “Why, what, I earnestly ask, is Margaret more than that? Her father is no better than an Earl, although he excels in glorious titles.”

He meant that some of the glorious titles were titular, in name only; for example, they brought no money to Margaret’s father, who was poor for a person of his rank.

“Yes, lord, her father is better than an Earl. He is a King, the King of Naples and Jerusalem, and he has such great authority in France that this alliance — our King married to his daughter — will confirm our peace and keep the Frenchmen in allegiance.”

The Duke of Gloucester objected, “And so the Earl of Armagnac may do because he is a close relative of Charles the Dauphin.”

“Besides,” the Duke of Exeter said, “the wealth of the Earl of Armagnac guarantees a liberal and generous dowry, where Reignier will sooner receive than give. Reignier is poor.”

“A dowry, my lords!” the Earl of Suffolk said. “Don’t disgrace your King like this. Don’t say that he is so abject, base, and poor that he must choose a wife on the basis of wealth and not on that of perfect love. Henry is able to enrich his Queen and does not need to seek a Queen who will make him rich. That is the way worthless peasants bargain for their wives; they are market men who buy and sell oxen, sheep, and horses. Marriage is a matter of more worth than to be dealt in by attorneys and the drawing up of contracts.

“Not whom we want, but whom his grace the King wants, must be the companion of his nuptial bed. And therefore, lords, since he loves her most, this is the reason that must be most binding on us out of all these reasons, and so in our opinions Margaret should be preferred as King Henry VI’s wife.

“For what is forced wedlock but a Hell, a lifetime of discord and continual strife? In contrast, the contrary — a marriage that is chosen, not forced — brings bliss, and is a pattern of celestial, Heavenly peace.

“Whom should we match with Henry, who is a King, but Margaret, who is daughter to a King? Her peerless features, joined with her noble birth, proves her fit for none but a King.

“Her valiant courage and undaunted spirit, more than is commonly seen in women, will give us what we hope for in the children of a King because Henry VI, the son of a conqueror, is likely to beget more conquerors, if he is linked in love with a lady of as high resolve as is fair Margaret.

“So then yield, my lords; and here conclude with me that Margaret shall be Queen of England, and none but she.”

King Henry VI said, “Whether it be through the forcefulness of your report of her, my noble Lord of Suffolk, or because my tender youth was never yet touched with any passion of inflaming love, I cannot tell, but of this I am assured, I feel such sharp dissension in my breast, such fierce alarums both of hope and fear, that the working of my thoughts is making me sick.

“Take, therefore, a voyage on a ship; hurry, my lord, to France. Agree to any legal contracts, and take measures to ensure that Lady Margaret will agree to cross the seas to England and be crowned King Henry VI’s faithful and anointed Queen.

“For your expenses and sufficient outlay of money, from among the people gather up a tenth of their income as a tax.”

English citizens hated such taxes.

King Henry VI continued, “Be gone, I say, for until you return I remain bewildered with a thousand worries.

“And you, good uncle of Gloucester, take no offence at my decision to marry Margaret. If you judge me by what you were when you were younger, not by what you are now, I know it will excuse this swift execution of my will.”

The Duke of Gloucester’s first “marriage” was controversial and illegal. He “married” the Lady Jaquet, the legal wife of John, Duke of Brabant.

King Henry VI continued, “And so conduct me where, away from company, alone, I may consider and meditate on my grief.”

His grief was his not being with Margaret.

King Henry VI and his attendants exited.

The Duke of Gloucester said, “Yes, grief, I am afraid, both at first and last, both at the beginning and the end.”

This kind of grief was trouble. He believed that King Henry VI’s marrying Margaret would bring bitter trouble to England.

The Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Exeter exited.

Alone, the Earl of Suffolk said to himself, “Thus I, Suffolk, have prevailed; and thus I go, as the youthful Paris went once to Greece, with hope to find the like event in love, but prosper better than the Trojan did.”

The Trojan Prince Paris caused the Trojan War by going to Sparta, Greece, and running off with Helen, the wife of Menelaus, the King of Sparta.

The Earl of Suffolk was saying that he hoped to sleep with Margaret, but that he hoped to do so without having to suffer such bad consequences as a war.

He continued, “Margaret shall now be Queen of England, and rule the King. But I will rule her, the King, and the realm of England.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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