The Abbey at Bury St. Edmund’s.
(Two Heralds; King Henry the Sixth; Queen Margaret; Cardinal Beauford; Duke of Suffolk; Duke of York; Duke of Buckingham; Earl of Salisbury; Earl of Warwick; Duke Somerset; Duke of Gloucester; Post)
The King is surprised that Gloucester is late for the Parliament meeting, as this is not his custom, and the Queen takes the opportunity to lash out at the Duke. She is seconded by Suffolk, the Cardinal, and York. Henry refuses to agree with them. Somerset enters and announces that all is lost in France. This only sharpens York’s resolve to take over. Gloucester enters, apologizing for his lateness, and is instantly arrested for high treason by Suffolk. He defends himself against all charges, and the King is sympathetic, but he is nevertheless given into the Cardinal’s custody after he directly confronts his accusers. Henry sees that Gloucester is innocent, but is too weak to control the nobles, and he leaves in tears. Margaret, the Cardinal, Suffolk and York agree to have Gloucester murdered. News is brought of an uprising in Ireland; York tauntingly suggests that Somerset, ever-so-successful in France, be sent there as well. Suffolk and the Cardinal give York the commission instead, insisting that there’s no need to involve the King in the decision. Left alone, York reflects that all his plans lacked was an army, and now the government itself is giving him one. Further, he has found a man, Jack Cade, who resembles the dead Mortimer, from whom his claim to the throne descends, and has suborned him to stir up a rebellion while pretending to be that Mortimer, so that York can gauge public reaction to the Yorkist claim to the crown. York envisages that once Cade has done the dirty work, he will be able to return from Ireland with his army and mop things up. (383 lines)
Sound a sennet. Enter two Heralds before. Then enter King, Queen, Cardinal, Suffolk, York, Buckingham, Salisbury, and Warwick to the parliament.
I muse my Lord of Gloucester is not come;
’Tis not his wont to be the hindmost man,
What e’er occasion keeps him from us now.
Can you not see? Or will ye not observe
The strangeness of his alter’d countenance?
With what a majesty he bears himself,
How insolent of late he is become,
How proud, how peremptory, and unlike himself?
We know the time since he was mild and affable,
And if we did but glance a far-off look,
Immediately he was upon his knee,
That all the court admir’d him for submission;
But meet him now, and, be it in the morn,
When every one will give the time of day,
He knits his brow and shows an angry eye,
And passeth by with stiff unbowed knee,
Disdaining duty that to us belongs.
Small curs are not regarded when they grin,
But great men tremble when the lion roars,
And Humphrey is no little man in England.
First note that he is near you in descent,
And should you fall, he is the next will mount.
Me seemeth then it is no policy,
Respecting what a rancorous mind he bears
And his advantage following your decease,
That he should come about your royal person,
Or be admitted to your Highness’ Council.
By flattery hath he won the commons’ hearts;
And when he please to make commotion,
’Tis to be fear’d they all will follow him.
Now ’tis the spring, and weeds are shallow-rooted;
Suffer them now, and they’ll o’ergrow the garden,
And choke the herbs for want of husbandry.
The reverent care I bear unto my lord
Made me collect these dangers in the Duke.
If it be fond, call it a woman’s fear;
Which fear, if better reasons can supplant,
I will subscribe, and say I wrong’d the Duke.
My Lord of Suffolk, Buckingham, and York,
Reprove my allegation if you can,
Or else conclude my words effectual.
Well hath your Highness seen into this duke;
And, had I first been put to speak my mind,
I think I should have told your Grace’s tale.
The Duchess by his subornation,
Upon my life, began her devilish practices;
Or if he were not privy to those faults,
Yet, by reputing of his high descent,
As next the King he was successive heir,
And such high vaunts of his nobility,
Did instigate the bedlam brain-sick Duchess
By wicked means to frame our sovereign’s fall.
Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep,
And in his simple show he harbors treason.
The fox barks not when he would steal the lamb.
No, no, my sovereign, Gloucester is a man
Unsounded yet and full of deep deceit.
Did he not, contrary to form of law,
Devise strange deaths for small offenses done?
And did he not, in his protectorship,
Levy great sums of money through the realm
For soldiers’ pay in France, and never sent it,
By means whereof the towns each day revolted?
Tut, these are petty faults to faults unknown,
Which time will bring to light in smooth Duke Humphrey.
My lords, at once: the care you have of us
To mow down thorns that would annoy our foot
Is worthy praise; but shall I speak my conscience,
Our kinsman Gloucester is as innocent
From meaning treason to our royal person
As is the sucking lamb or harmless dove.
The Duke is virtuous, mild, and too well given
To dream on evil or to work my downfall.
Ah, what’s more dangerous than this fond affiance!
Seems he a dove? His feathers are but borrow’d,
For he’s disposed as the hateful raven.
Is he a lamb? His skin is surely lent him,
For he’s inclin’d as is the ravenous wolves.
Who cannot steal a shape that means deceit?
Take heed, my lord, the welfare of us all
Hangs on the cutting short that fraudful man.
All health unto my gracious sovereign!
Welcome, Lord Somerset. What news from France?
That all your interest in those territories
Is utterly bereft you: all is lost.
Cold news, Lord Somerset; but God’s will be done!
Cold news for me; for I had hope of France
As firmly as I hope for fertile England.
Thus are my blossoms blasted in the bud,
And caterpillars eat my leaves away;
But I will remedy this gear ere long,
Or sell my title for a glorious grave.
All happiness unto my lord the King!
Pardon, my liege, that I have stay’d so long.
Nay, Gloucester, know that thou art come too soon,
Unless thou wert more loyal than thou art.
I do arrest thee of high treason here.
Well, Suffolk, thou shalt not see me blush
Nor change my countenance for this arrest;
A heart unspotted is not easily daunted.
The purest spring is not so free from mud
As I am clear from treason to my sovereign.
Who can accuse me? Wherein am I guilty?
’Tis thought, my lord, that you took bribes of France,
And being Protector, stay’d the soldiers’ pay,
By means whereof his Highness hath lost France.
Is it but thought so? What are they that think it?
I never robb’d the soldiers of their pay,
Nor ever had one penny bribe from France.
So help me God, as I have watch’d the night,
Ay, night by night, in studying good for England.
That doit that e’er I wrested from the King,
Or any groat I hoarded to my use,
Be brought against me at my trial day!
No; many a pound of mine own proper store,
Because I would not tax the needy commons,
Have I dispursed to the garrisons,
And never ask’d for restitution.
It serves you well, my lord, to say so much.
I say no more than truth, so help me God!
In your protectorship you did devise
Strange tortures for offenders, never heard of,
That England was defam’d by tyranny.
Why, ’tis well known that, whiles I was Protector,
Pity was all the fault that was in me;
For I should melt at an offender’s tears,
And lowly words were ransom for their fault.
Unless it were a bloody murderer,
Or foul felonious thief that fleec’d poor passengers,
I never gave them condign punishment.
Murder indeed, that bloody sin, I tortur’d
Above the felon or what trespass else.
My lord, these faults are easy, quickly answer’d;
But mightier crimes are laid unto your charge,
Whereof you cannot easily purge yourself.
I do arrest you in his Highness’ name,
And here commit you to my Lord Cardinal
To keep, until your further time of trial.
My Lord of Gloucester, ’tis my special hope
That you will clear yourself from all suspense.
My conscience tells me you are innocent.
Ah, gracious lord, these days are dangerous:
Virtue is chok’d with foul ambition,
And charity chas’d hence by rancor’s hand;
Foul subornation is predominant,
And equity exil’d your Highness’ land.
I know their complot is to have my life;
And if my death might make this island happy,
And prove the period of their tyranny,
I would expend it with all willingness.
But mine is made the prologue to their play;
For thousands more, that yet suspect no peril,
Will not conclude their plotted tragedy.
Beauford’s red sparkling eyes blab his heart’s malice,
And Suffolk’s cloudy brow his stormy hate;
Sharp Buckingham unburdens with his tongue
The envious load that lies upon his heart;
And dogged York, that reaches at the moon,
Whose overweening arm I have pluck’d back,
By false accuse doth level at my life.
And you, my sovereign lady, with the rest,
Causeless have laid disgraces on my head,
And with your best endeavor have stirr’d up
My liefest liege to be mine enemy.
Ay, all of you have laid your heads together—
Myself had notice of your conventicles—
And all to make away my guiltless life.
I shall not want false witness to condemn me,
Nor store of treasons to augment my guilt.
The ancient proverb will be well effected:
“A staff is quickly found to beat a dog.”
My liege, his railing is intolerable.
If those that care to keep your royal person
From treason’s secret knife and traitors’ rage
Be thus upbraided, chid, and rated at,
And the offender granted scope of speech,
’Twill make them cool in zeal unto your Grace.
Hath he not twit our sovereign lady here
With ignominious words, though clerkly couch’d,
As if she had suborned some to swear
False allegations to o’erthrow his state?
But I can give the loser leave to chide.
Far truer spoke than meant. I lose indeed;
Beshrew the winners, for they play’d me false!
And well such losers may have leave to speak.
He’ll wrest the sense and hold us here all day.
Lord Cardinal, he is your prisoner.
Sirs, take away the Duke, and guard him sure.
Ah, thus King Henry throws away his crutch
Before his legs be firm to bear his body.
Thus is the shepherd beaten from thy side,
And wolves are gnarling who shall gnaw thee first.
Ah, that my fear were false, ah, that it were!
For, good King Henry, thy decay I fear.
Exit Gloucester with the Cardinal’s Men.
My lords, what to your wisdoms seemeth best,
Do or undo, as if ourself were here.
What, will your Highness leave the parliament?
Ay, Margaret; my heart is drown’d with grief,
Whose flood begins to flow within mine eyes;
My body round engirt with misery—
For what’s more miserable than discontent?
Ah, uncle Humphrey, in thy face I see
The map of honor, truth, and loyalty;
And yet, good Humphrey, is the hour to come
That e’er I prov’d thee false or fear’d thy faith.
What low’ring star now envies thy estate,
That these great lords, and Margaret our queen,
Do seek subversion of thy harmless life?
Thou never didst them wrong, nor no man wrong;
And as the butcher takes away the calf,
And binds the wretch, and beats it when it strays,
Bearing it to the bloody slaughter-house,
Even so remorseless have they borne him hence;
And as the dam runs lowing up and down,
Looking the way her harmless young one went,
And can do nought but wail her darling’s loss,
Even so myself bewails good Gloucester’s case
With sad unhelpful tears, and with dimm’d eyes
Look after him, and cannot do him good,
So mighty are his vowed enemies.
His fortunes I will weep, and ’twixt each groan
Say, “Who’s a traitor, Gloucester he is none.”
Exit with Buckingham, Salisbury, and Warwick.
Free lords, cold snow melts with the sun’s hot beams:
Henry my lord is cold in great affairs,
Too full of foolish pity; and Gloucester’s show
Beguiles him as the mournful crocodile
With sorrow snares relenting passengers;
Or as the snake roll’d in a flow’ring bank,
With shining checker’d slough, doth sting a child
That for the beauty thinks it excellent.
Believe me, lords, were none more wise than I—
And yet herein I judge mine own wit good—
This Gloucester should be quickly rid the world,
To rid us from the fear we have of him.
That he should die is worthy policy,
But yet we want a color for his death.
’Tis meet he be condemn’d by course of law.
But, in my mind, that were no policy:
The King will labor still to save his life,
The commons haply rise, to save his life;
And yet we have but trivial argument,
More than mistrust, that shows him worthy death.
So that, by this, you would not have him die.
Ah, York, no man alive so fain as I!
’Tis York that hath more reason for his death.
But, my Lord Cardinal, and you, my Lord of Suffolk,
Say as you think, and speak it from your souls:
Were’t not all one, an empty eagle were set
To guard the chicken from a hungry kite,
As place Duke Humphrey for the King’s Protector?
So the poor chicken should be sure of death.
Madam, ’tis true; and were’t not madness then,
To make the fox surveyor of the fold?
Who being accus’d a crafty murderer,
His guilt should be but idly posted over,
Because his purpose is not executed.
No; let him die, in that he is a fox,
By nature prov’d an enemy to the flock,
Before his chaps be stain’d with crimson blood,
As Humphrey, prov’d by reasons, to my liege.
And do not stand on quillets how to slay him;
Be it by gins, by snares, by subtlety,
Sleeping, or waking, ’tis no matter how,
So he be dead; for that is good deceit
Which mates him first that first intends deceit.
Thrice-noble Suffolk, ’tis resolutely spoke.
Not resolute, except so much were done,
For things are often spoke and seldom meant;
But that my heart accordeth with my tongue,
Seeing the deed is meritorious,
And to preserve my sovereign from his foe,
Say but the word, and I will be his priest.
But I would have him dead, my Lord of Suffolk,
Ere you can take due orders for a priest.
Say you consent, and censure well the deed,
And I’ll provide his executioner,
I tender so the safety of my liege.
Here is my hand, the deed is worthy doing.
And so say I.
And I; and now we three have spoke it,
It skills not greatly who impugns our doom.
Enter a Post.
Great lords, from Ireland am I come amain,
To signify that rebels there are up
And put the Englishmen unto the sword.
Send succors, lords, and stop the rage betime,
Before the wound do grow uncurable;
For being green, there is great hope of help.
A breach that craves a quick expedient stop!
What counsel give you in this weighty cause?
That Somerset be sent as Regent thither:
’Tis meet that lucky ruler be employ’d—
Witness the fortune he hath had in France.
If York, with all his far-fet policy,
Had been the Regent there in stead of me,
He never would have stay’d in France so long.
No, not to lose it all, as thou hast done.
I rather would have lost my life betimes
Than bring a burden of dishonor home
By staying there so long till all were lost.
Show me one scar character’d on thy skin:
Men’s flesh preserv’d so whole do seldom win.
Nay then, this spark will prove a raging fire,
If wind and fuel be brought to feed it with.
No more, good York; sweet Somerset, be still.
Thy fortune, York, hadst thou been Regent there,
Might happily have prov’d far worse than his.
What, worse than nought? Nay, then a shame take all!
And, in the number, thee that wishest shame!
My Lord of York, try what your fortune is.
Th’ uncivil kerns of Ireland are in arms,
And temper clay with blood of Englishmen.
To Ireland will you lead a band of men,
Collected choicely, from each county some,
And try your hap against the Irishmen?
I will, my lord, so please his Majesty.
Why, our authority is his consent,
And what we do establish he confirms.
Then, noble York, take thou this task in hand.
I am content. Provide me soldiers, lords,
Whiles I take order for mine own affairs.
A charge, Lord York, that I will see perform’d.
But now return we to the false Duke Humphrey.
No more of him; for I will deal with him
That henceforth he shall trouble us no more.
And so break off, the day is almost spent;
Lord Suffolk, you and I must talk of that event.
My Lord of Suffolk, within fourteen days
At Bristow I expect my soldiers,
For there I’ll ship them all for Ireland.
I’ll see it truly done, my Lord of York.
Exeunt. Manet York.
Now, York, or never, steel thy fearful thoughts,
And change misdoubt to resolution;
Be that thou hop’st to be, or what thou art
Resign to death; it is not worth th’ enjoying.
Let pale-fac’d fear keep with the mean-born man,
And find no harbor in a royal heart.
Faster than spring-time show’rs comes thought on thought,
And not a thought but thinks on dignity.
My brain, more busy than the laboring spider,
Weaves tedious snares to trap mine enemies.
Well, nobles, well; ’tis politicly done,
To send me packing with an host of men:
I fear me you but warm the starved snake,
Who, cherish’d in your breasts, will sting your hearts.
’Twas men I lack’d, and you will give them me;
I take it kindly. Yet be well assur’d
You put sharp weapons in a madman’s hands.
Whiles I in Ireland nourish a mighty band,
I will stir up in England some black storm
Shall blow ten thousand souls to heaven or hell;
And this fell tempest shall not cease to rage
Until the golden circuit on my head,
Like to the glorious sun’s transparent beams,
Do calm the fury of this mad-bred flaw.
And for a minister of my intent,
I have seduc’d a headstrong Kentishman,
John Cade of Ashford,
To make commotion, as full well he can,
Under the title of John Mortimer.
In Ireland have I seen this stubborn Cade
Oppose himself against a troop of kerns,
And fought so long, till that his thighs with darts
Were almost like a sharp-quill’d porpentine;
And in the end being rescued, I have seen
Him caper upright like a wild Morisco,
Shaking the bloody darts as he his bells.
Full often, like a shag-hair’d crafty kern,
Hath he conversed with the enemy,
And undiscover’d come to me again,
And given me notice of their villainies.
This devil here shall be my substitute;
For that John Mortimer, which now is dead,
In face, in gait, in speech, he doth resemble.
By this I shall perceive the commons’ mind,
How they affect the house and claim of York.
Say he be taken, rack’d, and tortured,
I know no pain they can inflict upon him
Will make him say I mov’d him to those arms.
Say that he thrive, as ’tis great like he will,
Why then from Ireland come I with my strength,
And reap the harvest which that rascal sow’d.
For Humphrey being dead, as he shall be,
And Henry put apart, the next for me.