Whitehall. The council chamber.
(Earl of Shrewsbury; Earl of Surrey; Bishop of Rochester; Lords; Clerk of the Council; Sir Thomas More; Sir Thomas Palmer)
More is late for the Council meeting, but arrives just as the other councilors are on the verge of having him sent for. They settle down to consider whether England should make an alliance with the German emperor. There is some disagreement on the matter, but More votes that they should. Palmer brings in a list of articles from the King, which all of the councilors are required to agree to and sign. More recommends reading them before agreeing, and passes them to the Bishop of Rochester, who is horrified at the contents and refuses to sign. Palmer arrests him for it. More asks for some time to consider the matter, and resigns the chancellorship for the duration; he is ordered to confine himself to his house at Chelsea. More invites any of the nobles to come visit him for some fishing, and leaves. The others all sign, and are convinced that both the Bishop and More will soon change their minds. (119 lines)
Enter the Earls of Shrewsbury, Surrey, Bishop of Rochester, and other Lords; severally, doing courtesy to each other.
Clerk of the Council waiting bareheaded.
Good morrow to my Lord of Shrewsbury.
The like unto the honoured Earl of Surrey.
Yond comes my Lord of Rochester.
Good morrow, my good lords.
Clerk of the Council, what time is’t of day?
Past eight of clock, my lord.
I wonder that my good Lord Chancellor
Doth stay so long, considering there’s matters
Of high importance to be scanned upon.
Clerk of the Council, certify his lordship
The lords expect him here.
It shall not need;
Yond comes his lordship.
Enter Sir Thomas More, with Purse and Mace borne before him.
Good morrow to this fair assembly.
Come, my good lords, let’s sit. Oh serious square!
Upon this little board is daily scanned
The health and preservation of the land;
We the physicians that effect this good,
Now by choice diet, anon by letting blood;
Our toil and careful watching brings the king
In league with slumbers, to which peace doth sing.
Avoid the room there!—
What business, lords, today?
This, my good lord;
About the entertainment of the Emperor
’Gainst the perfidious French into our pay.
My lords, as ’tis the custom in this place
The youngest should speak first, so, if I chance
In this case to speak youngly, pardon me.
I will agree, France now hath her full strength,
As having new recovered the pale blood
Which war sluiced forth; and I consent to this,
That the conjunction of our English forces
With arms of Germany may soon bring
This prize of conquest in. But, then, my lords,
As in the moral hunting ’twixt the lion
And other beasts, force joined with greed
Frighted the weaker sharers from their parts;
So, if the empire’s sovereign chance to put
His plea of partnership into war’s court,
Swords should decide the difference, and our blood
In private tears lament his entertainment.
To doubt the worst is still the wise man’s shield,
That arms him safely. But the world knows this,
The Emperor is a man of royal faith;
His love unto our sovereign brings him down
From his imperial seat, to march in pay
Under our English flag, and wear the cross,
Like some high order, on his manly breast;
Thus serving, he’s not master of himself,
But, like a colonel commanding other,
Is by the general over-awed himself.
Yet, my good lord—
Let me conclude my speech.
As subjects share no portion in the conquest
Of their true sovereign, other than the merit
That from the sovereign guerdons the true subject;
So the good Emperor, in a friendly league
Of amity with England, will not soil
His honor with the theft of English spoil.
There is no question but this entertainment
Will be most honorable, most commodious.
I have oft heard good captains wish to have
Rich soldiers to attend them, such as would fight
Both for their lives and livings; such a one
Is the good Emperor. I would to God,
We had ten thousand of such able men!
Hah, then there would appear no court, no city,
But, where the wars were, they would pay themselves.
Then, to prevent in French wars England’s loss,
Let German flags wave with our English cross.
Enter Sir Thomas Palmer.
My lords, his majesty hath sent by me
These articles enclosed, first to be viewed,
And then to be subscribed to. I tender them
In that due reverence which befits this place.
With great reverence.
Subscribe these articles! Stay, let us pause;
Our conscience first shall parley with our laws.
My Lord of Rochester, view you the paper.
Subscribe to these! Now, good Sir Thomas Palmer,
Beseech the king that he will pardon me:
My heart will check my hand whilst I do write;
Subscribing so, I were an hypocrite.
Do you refuse it, then, my lord?
I do, Sir Thomas.
Then here I summon you forthwith t’ appear
Before his majesty, to answer there
This capital contempt.
I rise and part,
In lieu of this to tender him my heart.
Wilt please your honor to subscribe, my lord?
Sir, tell his highness, I entreat
Some time for to bethink me of this task:
In the meanwhile I do resign mine office
Into my sovereign’s hands.
Then, my lord,
Hear the prepared order from the king:
On your refusal, you shall straight depart
Unto your house at Chelsea, till you know
Our sovereign’s further pleasure.
Most willingly I go.
My lords, if you will visit me at Chelsea,
We’ll go a-fishing, and with a cunning net,
Not like weak film, we’ll catch none but the great:
Farewell, my noble lords. Why, this is right:
Good morrow to the sun, to state good night!
Will you subscribe, my lords?
Instantly, good Sir Thomas,
We’ll bring the writing unto our sovereign.
My Lord of Rochester,
You must with me, to answer this contempt.
This is the worst,
Who’s freed from life is from all care exempt.
Exit Rochester and Palmer.
Now let us hasten to our sovereign.
Tis strange that my Lord Chancellor should refuse
The duty that the law of God bequeaths
Unto the king.
Come, let us in. No doubt
His mind will alter, and the bishop’s too:
Error in learned heads hath much to do.