David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 2 HENRY VI: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 3

— 1.3 —

Three or four petitioners stood in front of the palace in London. One of the petitioners was Peter, an apprentice to an armorer. The petitioners had grievances that they hoped the Lord Protector — the Duke of Gloucester — would redress.

The first petitioner said, “My masters, let’s stand close together and quietly. My Lord Protector will come this way by and by, and then we may deliver our supplications that are written with a quill.”

The second petitioner said, “By the Virgin Mary, may the Lord protect him, for he’s a good man! May Jesus bless him!”

The Duke of Suffolk and Queen Margaret came walking toward them.

Peter said, “Here the Lord Protector comes, I think, and the Queen is with him. I’ll be the first to present my petition, I am sure.”

“Come back, fool,” the second petitioner said. “This man is the Duke of Suffolk, and not my Lord Protector.”

Hearing them speak, the Duke of Suffolk asked, “How are you, fellow? Do you have any business with me?”

The first petitioner said, “Please, my lord, pardon me. I mistook you for my Lord Protector.”

Queen Margaret looked at the petition he was holding and read out loud, “To my Lord Protector.

 She then asked, “Are your supplications to his lordship? Let me see them.”

She asked the first petitioner, “What is your petition?”

He replied, “Mine is, if it please your grace, against John Goodman, my lord Cardinal Beaufort’s man, for keeping my house, and lands, and wife and all, from me.”

“Your wife, too!” the Duke of Suffolk said. “That’s some wrong, indeed.”

He asked the second petitioner, “What’s your petition? What’s here!”

He read out loud, “Against the Duke of Suffolk, for enclosing the commons of Melford.”

Long Melford was a town in Suffolk. The Duke of Suffolk was being accused of fencing in land intended for the use of all the citizens. By fencing in the land, the Duke of Suffolk was keeping it for his own use.

The Duke of Suffolk said, “What is this, Sir Knave!”

The second petitioner said, “Alas, sir, I am but a poor petitioner who is representing our whole township.”

Peter handed over his petition, saying, “This is against my master, Thomas Horner, for saying that the Duke of York was rightful heir to the crown.”

“What did you say?” Queen Margaret asked. “Did the Duke of York say that he was rightful heir to the crown?”

Peter replied, “Did the Duke of York say that my master was rightful heir to the crown? No, indeed. My master said that he — the Duke of York — was, and that King Henry VI was an usurper.”

The Duke of Suffolk called for a servant and then ordered, “Take this fellow in — arrest him — and send an officer to bring his master here immediately.”

He said to Peter, “We’ll hear more about this petition of yours in the presence of the King.”

The servant exited with Peter.

Queen Margaret said to the petitioners, “And as for you petitioners who love to be protected under the wings of our Lord Protector’s grace, begin your suits anew, and sue to him.”

She tore up the petition she was holding and ordered, “Away, base cullions! Suffolk, let them go.”

The word “cullions,” which was an insult, literally meant “testicles.”

The petitioners all said, “Come, let’s go.”

They exited.

Queen Margaret said, “My Lord of Suffolk, tell me, is this the custom, is this the fashion in the court of England? Is this the government of Britain’s isle, and is this the royalty of Albion’s King?”

Britain has had many names; the oldest known name for it is Albion.

She continued, “Shall King Henry VI always be a pupil under the governance of the surly Duke of Gloucester? Am I a Queen in title and in mode of address, and yet must I be made a subject to a Duke?

“I tell you, de la Pole, my Lord of Suffolk, when in the city of Tours you jousted in honor of my love and stole away the French ladies’ hearts, I thought King Henry VI resembled you in courage, courtship, and physical shape.”

The word “courtship” meant both “wooing” and “courtly manners.”

She continued, “But all his mind is bent to holiness, to number Ave-Maria prayers on his beads. His champions are the prophets and apostles. His weapons are the holy sayings of sacred writ. His study is his jousting yard, and his loves are the bronze statues of canonized saints.

“I wish the College of the Cardinals would choose him to be Pope, and carry him away to Rome, and set the triple crown of the Pope upon his head. That would be a position fit for his holiness.”

The Pope wears a triple tiara, a crown with three circlets.

The Duke of Suffolk said, “Madam, be calm. As I was the cause of your highness coming to England, so I will work to make your grace fully content in England.”

She replied, “Besides the haughty Lord Protector, we have Cardinal Beaufort, the imperious churchman; Somerset, Buckingham, and grumbling York, and even the least of these can do more in England than the King can.”

The Duke of Suffolk said, “And he of these who can do most of all cannot do more in England than can the Nevilles: The Earl of Salisbury and the Earl of Warwick are no simple, ordinary, common peers.”

Queen Margaret said, “None of these lords vexes me half as much as that proud dame, the Lord Protector’s wife, the Duchess of Gloucester. She struts through the court with troops of ladies, more like an empress than Duke Humphrey of Gloucester’s wife.

“Foreigners in the court mistake her for the Queen. She wears clothing worth a Duke’s revenues on her back, and in her heart she scorns our poverty. Shall I not live to be avenged on her? She is contemptuous — of me! Base-born callet — whore! — that she is, she boasted among her minions the other day that just the train of the worst gown she wears was worth more than all of my father’s lands until you, Duke of Suffolk, gave two Dukedoms — Anjou and Maine — in exchange for his daughter.”

The Duke of Suffolk replied, “Madam, I myself have limed a bush for her, and placed a choir of such enticing birds, that she will alight to listen to their lays, and never mount to trouble you again.”

He was saying that he had set a trap for the Duchess of Gloucester. Birdlime was a sticky substance used to catch birds, and “enticing birds” were decoys. Literally, the “lays” of the birds were their songs. Metaphorically, the lays were words that would be spoken to the Duchess of Gloucester by the witch and conjuror she had hired.

The Duke of Suffolk continued, “So, let her rest, don’t worry about her, and madam, listen to me, for I am bold enough to give you counsel in this business.

“Although we don’t like Cardinal Beaufort, yet we must join with him and with the lords until we have brought Duke Humphrey of Gloucester into disgrace. As for the Duke of York, this recent complaint made by the petitioner Peter will do little for the Duke’s benefit.

“So, one by one, we’ll weed them all at last, and you yourself shall steer the happy helm of state.”

A trumpet sounded, and several people walked over to the Duke of Suffolk and Queen Margaret. They were King Henry VI, the Duke of Gloucester, the Duke of Buckingham, the Duke of York, the Duke of Somerset, the Earl of Salisbury, the Earl of Warwick, and the Duchess of Gloucester. The Duke of York and the Duke of Somerset were on either side of the King, whispering to him and trying to influence him.

King Henry VI said, “For my part, noble lords, I don’t care which person becomes Regent of France: Somerset or York. It’s all the same to me.”

The Duke of York said, “If I have badly behaved in France, then let me be denied the Regentship.”

The Duke of Somerset said, “If I am unworthy of the position, then let the Duke of York be Regent; I will yield the position to him.”

The Earl of Warwick said to the Duke of Somerset, “Don’t argue about whether your grace is worthy, yes or no. The Duke of York is worthier to become Regent of France.”

Cardinal Beaufort said, “Ambitious Warwick, let your betters speak.”

The Earl of Warwick replied, “Cardinal Beaufort is not my better in the battlefield.”

The Duke of Buckingham said, “All present are your betters, Warwick.”

“Warwick may live to be the best of all,” the Earl of Warwick replied, referring to himself in the third person.

“Peace, son!” the Earl of Salisbury said to the Earl of Warwick. He added, “And give us some reasons, Buckingham, why Somerset should be preferred in this.”

Queen Margaret interrupted, “Because the King, indeed, will have it so.”

Actually, the King had said that he had no preference.

The Duke of Gloucester said, “Madam, the King is old enough himself to give his opinion. These are no matters for women.”

“If the King is old enough, why does your grace need to be Protector of his excellence the King?” Queen Margaret asked.

“Madam, I am Protector of the Realm,” the Duke of Gloucester said. “And, at the King’s pleasure, I will resign my place.”

The Duke of Suffolk said, “Resign it then and leave your insolence. Since you have been King — as who is King but you? — the commonwealth has daily run to wrack and ruin, the Dauphin has prevailed beyond the seas, and all the peers and nobles of the realm have been as bondsmen to your sovereignty.”

The Dauphin was King Charles VII of France, but since the English regarded King Henry VI as the true King of France, they referred to Charles VII as the Dauphin.

Cardinal Beaufort said, “You have racked the common citizens, torturing them with excessive taxation — it is as if they have been tortured on the rack. The clergy’s moneybags are lank and lean and empty as a result of your extortions.”

The Duke of Somerset said, “Your sumptuous buildings and your wife’s attire have cost a mass of public treasury.”

The Duke of Buckingham said, “Your cruelty in execution upon offenders has exceeded the law and left you to the mercy of the law. Your implementation of penalties for breaking the law has been too harsh.”

Queen Margaret said, “The sale of official positions and towns in France, if they were known to be true, as the suspicion is great, would make you quickly hop without your head.’

She was threatening the Duke of Gloucester with beheading.

Angry, the Duke of Gloucester left rather than say something that could hurt him. Queen Margaret and her allies had much power.

Queen Margaret deliberately dropped her fan and said to the Duchess of Gloucester, “Give me my fan.”

The Duchess of Gloucester was slow to obey, and Queen Margaret said, “Minion, won’t you pick up and give me my fan!”

In this context, the word “minion” was derogatory and meant “underling.”

Queen Margaret hit the Duchess of Gloucester on the ear and said, “I beg your pardon, madam; was it you I hit?”

“Was it I!” an angry Duchess of Gloucester said. “Yes, it was I, proud Frenchwoman! If I could come near your beauty with my fingernails, I’d set my ten commandments in your face.”

God was believed to have written the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets with his fingernails.

King Henry VI said to his aunt, the Duchess of Gloucester, “Sweet aunt, be calm. It was against her will — it was unintentional.”

“Against her will!” the Duchess of Gloucester said. “Good King, beware before it’s too late. She’ll hamper you, and dandle you like a baby. Although in this place the greatest master wears no breeches because she is the Queen and not the King, she shall not strike Dame Eleanor of Gloucester unrevenged.”

The Duchess of Gloucester exited.

The Duke of Buckingham said quietly to only the Cardinal, “Lord Cardinal Beaufort, I will follow Dame Eleanor of Gloucester, and look for Duke Humphrey of Gloucester in order to see how he proceeds and conducts himself. Dame Eleanor of Gloucester is ticked off now. Her fury needs no spurs; she’ll gallop far enough to her destruction.”

The Duke of Buckingham exited as the Duke of Gloucester, now calmer, returned and said, “Lords, now that my anger has blown over while I walked once about the quadrangle, I have come back to talk about the affairs of the commonwealth. As for your spiteful false objections, prove them and I will lie open to the law. But may God in mercy so deal with my soul as I in duty love my King and country! But, to the matter that we have in hand: I say, my sovereign, that the Duke of York is the fittest man to be your Regent in the realm of France.”

The Duke of Suffolk said, “Before we make the choice of who is to be Regent of France, give me permission to show some evidence, of no little force, that the Duke of York is the most unfitting of any man.”

The Duke of York said, “I’ll tell you, Duke of Suffolk, why I am unfitting. First, because I cannot flatter you and still keep my pride, Next, if I am appointed as the Regent in France, my Lord of Somerset will keep me here, without payment, money, or military equipment, until France has been won by the French and placed into the Dauphin’s hands. The last time I danced attendance on the Duke of Somerset’s will, I was kept waiting until Paris was besieged, famished, and lost.”

The Earl of Warwick said, “That I can bear witness to, and no traitor has ever in the land committed a fouler deed.”

Actually, both the Duke of York and the Duke of Somerset had been at fault for not coming to the aid of the English military leader Lord Talbot, who died as a result of their inaction. The death of Lord Talbot led to many French victories.

“Peace, headstrong Warwick!” the Duke of Suffolk said. “Be quiet!”

“Image of pride, why should I hold my peace?” the Earl of Warwick replied.

Guards brought in Horner the armorer and Peter, his apprentice.

The Duke of Suffolk replied to the Earl of Warwick, “Because here is a man accused of treason. Pray to God that the Duke of York is able to excuse himself!”

The Duke of York asked, “Does anyone accuse me of being a traitor?”

King Henry VI asked, “What do you mean, Duke of Suffolk? Tell me, who are these men?”

The Duke of Suffolk replied, “If it pleases your majesty, this is the man who is accusing his master of high treason. He said that Richard, Duke of York, was the rightful heir to the English crown and that your majesty was a usurper.”

“Tell me, man, were these your words?” King Henry VI asked Horner.

He replied, “If it shall please your majesty, I never said or thought any such thing. God is my witness: I am falsely accused by this villain.”

Peter said, holding up his ten fingers, “By these ten bones, my lords, he did speak them to me in the garret one night, as we were scouring my Lord of York’s armor.”

The Duke of York said to Horner, “Base dunghill villain and craftsman! I’ll have your head for this traitorous speech of yours.”

He then said to King Henry VI, “I beseech your royal majesty to let him have all the rigor of the law.”

Horner said, “Alas, my lord, hang me, if I ever spoke those words. My accuser is Peter, my apprentice, and when I punished him for his mistake the other day, he vowed upon his knees that he would get even with me. I have good witness and evidence for this; therefore, I beseech your majesty to not cast away an honest man because of a villain’s accusation.”

King Henry VI asked the Duke of Gloucester, “Uncle, what shall we say to this in law?”

The Duke of Gloucester said, “This is my decision, if I may judge. Let the Duke of Somerset be the Regent over the French, because this accusation breeds suspicion against the Duke of York, and let these two men — Horner and Peter — have a day appointed for them to fight a single combat in a convenient place because Horner has witness and evidence of his servant’s malice. This is the law, and this is Duke Humphrey’s judgment.”

Peter had made an accusation against Horner, who had defended himself by giving a reason for why Peter could be lying. To decide the matter, since it could not be decided on the basis of the evidence available, the two would fight a single combat. This culture believed that God would help the person in the right to defeat the person in the wrong, and so the victor of the single combat would be in the right.

“I humbly thank your royal majesty,” the Duke of Somerset said to King Henry VI.

He addressed his thanks to the King rather than to the Duke of Gloucester because the Duke of Gloucester had made the decision on behalf of the King.

Horner said, “And I accept the combat willingly.”

“Alas, my lord, I cannot fight,” Peter said. “For God’s sake, pity my case. The spite of man prevails against me. Oh, Lord, have mercy upon me! I shall never be able to fight a blow. Oh, Lord, my heart!”

“Sirrah, either you must fight, or else you must be hanged,” the Duke of Gloucester said to Peter.

“Take them away to prison,” King Henry VI said, “and the day of combat shall be the last day of the next month.

“Come, Duke of Somerset, we’ll see you sent on your way.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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