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

— 2.3 —

In a hall of justice, the trial of Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester, was taking place. Present were King Henry VI, Queen Margaret, the Duke of Gloucester, the Duke of York, the Duke of Suffolk, and the Earl of Salisbury. Also present were the defendants — the Duchess of Gloucester, Margaret Jourdain the witch, John Southwell and John Hume the priests, and Roger Bolingbroke the conjuror — all of whom were under guard and all of whom had been found guilty. Now they were learning what their punishment would be.

King Henry VI said, “Stand forth, Dame Eleanor Cobham, wife of the Duke of Gloucester. In the sight of God and us, your guilt is great. Receive the sentence of the law for sins such as by God’s book are punished by death.”

Exodus 22:18 states,“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (King James Version).

King Henry VI continued, speaking to Margaret Jourdain the witch, John Southwell and John Hume the priests, and Roger Bolingbroke the conjuror, “You four shall go from here back again to prison, and from there to the place of execution. The witch in Smithfield shall be burned to ashes, and you three shall be strangled — hung — on the gallows.”

He then said to the Duchess of York, “You, madam, because you are more nobly born, will be dispossessed of your honor in your life, and you shall, after three days of open penance have been done, live in your country here in banishment, with Sir John Stanley, in the Isle of Man.”

The Duchess of Gloucester replied, “Welcome is banishment; also welcome would be my death.”

The Duke of Gloucester said to her, “Eleanor, the law, you see, has judged you. I cannot excuse and exonerate a person whom the law condemns.”

The Duchess of Gloucester and the other prisoners, under guard, exited.

Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, said, “My eyes are full of tears, and my heart is full of grief. Ah, Humphrey, this dishonor in your old age will bring your head with sorrow to the ground! I ask your majesty to give me permission to go. Sorrow needs solace, and my old age needs ease.”

“Wait, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester,” King Henry VI said. “Before you go, give up your staff of office. I, Henry VI, will to myself be my own Lord Protector, and God shall be my hope, my stay and support, my guide, and my lantern to my feet.”

Psalm 71:5 states, “For thou art my hope, O Lord God[…]” (King James Version).

Psalm 18:19 states, “They prevented me in the day of my calamity: but the Lord was my stay” (King James Version).

Isaiah 58:11 states, “And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not” (King James Version).

Psalm 119:105 states, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (King James Version).

King Henry VI continued, “And go in peace, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, no less beloved than when you were Lord Protector to your King.”

Queen Margaret said, “I see no reason why a King who is no longer a minor should need to be protected like a child. May God and King Henry VI govern England’s realm. Give up your staff, sir, and the King’s realm.”

“Give up my staff?” the Duke of Gloucester said. “Here, noble King Henry VI, is my staff. I resign the staff as willingly as ever your father, King Henry V, made it mine; and even as willingly at your feet I leave it as others would ambitiously receive it.

“Farewell, good King. When I am dead and gone, may honorable peace attend your throne!”

The Duke of Gloucester exited.

Queen Margaret said, “Why, now Henry VI is King, and Margaret is Queen. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, is scarcely himself because he bears so severe a maim. Two things at once have been pulled away from him: His lady has been banished, and a limb — his staff of office as Lord Protector — has been lopped off.

“This staff of honor snatched away from him, there let it stand, where it best is suitable to be, in King Henry VI’s hand.”

The Duke of Suffolk said, “Thus droops this lofty pine and thus hang his branches. Thus Eleanor’s pride dies in her youngest — most recent — days.”

“Lords, let him go and stop talking about him,” the Duke of York said. “If it pleases your majesty, this is the day appointed for the trial by combat, and the appellant and defendant — the armorer and his apprentice — are ready to enter the area of combat, if your highness would like to see the fight.”

“Yes, my good lord,” Queen Margaret answered for King Henry VI, “because for this purpose I left the court. I want to see this quarrel tried by combat.”

King Henry VI said, “In God’s name, see that the area of combat and all things are ready. Here let them end it; and may God defend the person who is in the right!”

The Duke of York said, “I never saw a fellow worse prepared, or more afraid to fight, than is the appellant, the apprentice of this armorer, my lords.”

From one direction came Horner the armorer and his neighbors, who were drinking to and with him so much that he was drunk. A drummer accompanied them, and Horner carried a staff with a sandbag fastened to one end. This weapon was lethal.

From another direction came Peter the apprentice, also with a drummer and a staff with a sandbag fastened to one end. Some apprentices accompanied and drank to him, but Peter abstained from drinking.

Horner’s first neighbor said, “Here, neighbor Horner, I drink to you a cup of the wine called sack, and fear not, neighbor Horner, you shall do well enough in the trial by combat.”

Horner’s second neighbor said, “And here, neighbor Horner, here’s a cup of the wine called charneco.”

Horner’s third neighbor said, “And here’s a pot of good double-strong beer, neighbor Horner. Drink, and don’t be afraid of your apprentice.”

Horner said, “Let the bowl of alcohol come to me, in faith, and I’ll drink to the health of you all, and here’s a fig for Peter!”

He made an obscene gesture in Peter’s direction.

The first apprentice said, “Here, Peter, I drink to you, and don’t be afraid.”

The second apprentice said, “Be merry, Peter, and don’t be afraid of your master. Fight for the credit and reputation of the apprentices.”

“I thank you all,” Peter said. “Drink, and pray for me, I ask you, because I think that I have taken my last drink in this world.

“Here, Robin, if I die, I give you my apron.

“And, Will, you shall have my hammer.

“And here, Tom, take all the money that I have.

“Oh, may the Lord bless me, so I pray to God! I am never able to deal with my master in combat because he has learned so much fencing already.”

The Earl of Salisbury said, “Come, stop your drinking, and fall to blows.

“Sirrah, what’s your name?”

“Peter, indeed.”

“Peter! What the rest of your name?”

“Thump,” Peter Thump said.

“Thump!” the Earl of Salisbury said. “Then see you thump your master well.”

Horner said, “Masters, I have come here, as it were, upon my apprentice’s instigation, to prove that he is a knave and that I myself am an honest man. Concerning the Duke of York, I will stake my death that I never meant him any ill, nor the King, nor the Queen.

“Therefore, Peter, I will come at you with a blow directed straight at you!”

“Let’s get started,” the Duke of York said. “This knave’s tongue begins to slur and double the time it takes him to say anything.

“Sound, trumpeters, the call to battle to the combatants!”

Horner and Peter fought, and Peter struck Horner a mortal blow.

Horner shouted, “Stop, Peter, stop! I confess, I confess treason. I am a traitor.”

He died.

This culture believed in the importance of confessing sins before dying. Doing so could keep one’s soul out of Hell.

“Take away the apprentice’s weapon,” the Duke of York said.

He then said to Peter, “Fellow, thank God, and the good wine that stood in your master’s way and kept him from doing what he was capable of doing while sober.”

Overjoyed, Peter said, “Oh, God, have I overcome my enemy in the presence of this royal assembly? Oh, Peter, you have prevailed in combat and proven that you are in the right!”

King Henry VI ordered, “Go, take that traitor away from here and out of our sight. From the fact of his death we perceive his guilt, and God in justice has revealed to us the truth and innocence of this poor fellow named Peter, whom Horner, the traitor, had wanted to have murdered wrongfully in the trial by combat.

“Come, fellow, follow us and receive your reward.”


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: