King Henry VI,
by William Shakespeare
Presented by Paul W. Collins
© Copyright 2011 by Paul W. Collins
King Henry VI, Part 1
By William Shakespeare
Presented by Paul W. Collins
All rights reserved under the International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this work may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, audio or video recording, or other, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
Note: Spoken lines from Shakespeare’s drama are in the public domain, as is the Globe edition (1864) of his plays, which provided the basic text of the speeches in this new version of King Henry VI, Part 1. But King Henry VI, Part 1, by William Shakespeare: Presented by Paul W. Collins is a copyrighted work, and is made available for your personal use only, in reading and study.
Student, beware: This is a presentation, not a scholarly work, so you should be sure your teacher, instructor or professor considers it acceptable as a reference before quoting characters’ comments or thoughts from it in your report or term paper.
Relapse and Resolve
As the elaborate funeral for King Henry V concludes at Westminster Abbey, the royal guard plays a slow and solemn march. Attending nobles gather outside on the wide stone steps, and the mournful call of heralds’ trumpets echoes hollowly down London’s streets beyond the church.
“Hung be the heavens with black! Yield, day, to night!” cries the deceased monarch’s brother John, the stately but care-worn Duke of Bedford and Regent of France—a nation conquered by Henry, but since grown rebellious. “Comets importing change of times and states, flourish your crystal tresses in the sky, and with them scourge the bad, revolting stars that have consented unto Henry’s death!—King Henry the Fifth, too famous to live long!
“England ne’er lost a king of so much worth!”
“England ne’er had a king until his time!” says Henry’s brother Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. “Virtue he had, deserving to command! His brandished sword did blind men with its beams; his arms spread wider than a dragon’s wings; his sparking eyes, replete with wrathful fire, more dazzled and drove back his enemies than mid-day sun fierce-bent against their faces!
“What should I say? His deeds exceed all speech! He ne’er lifted up his hand but conquered!”
“We mourn in black; why mourn we not in blood?” demands their uncle, the Duke of Exeter. “Henry is dead, and never shall revive; upon a wooden coffin we attend, and Death’s dishonourable victory we with our stately presence glorify, like captives bound to a triumphant cart!
“What?—shall we curse the planets that charted thus our glory’s overthrow for mishap—or shall we think that the subtle-witted French, conjurers and sorcerers, afraid of him, by magic verses have contrived his end!”
France has challenged the foreign rule won by Henry V, whose young son, born at Windsor Castle, is about to become King Henry VI. Humphrey, Lord Gloucester, is serving as “lord protector of the realm,” the royal child’s guardian.
“He was a king blessèd by the King of Kings,” says the bishop—also one of the boy‑monarch’s uncles. “Unto the French, the dreadful Judgment Day will not so dreaded be as was sight of him! The battles of the Lord of Hosts he fought! The Church’s prayers made him so prosperous—”
“The Church!” snorts Humphrey. “Where is it? Had not churchmen prayed, his thread of life had not so soon decayed! None do you like but an effeminate prince, whom like a school-boy you may over-awe!”
“Gloucester, whate’er we like, thou art protector—and lookest to command the prince and realm!” counters the bishop. “Thy wife is prideful; she holdeth thee in awe more than God or religious churchmen may!” The lady is known to be ambitious.
Humphrey returns the scorn: “Name not religion, for thou lovest the flesh, and ne’er throughout the year to church go’st thou except it be to pray against thy foes!”
“Cease, cease these jars,” cries John, “and rest your minds in peace!” He motions toward the church doors. “Let’s to the altar; heralds wait for us.
“Instead of gold, we’ll offer up our arms!” says the regent, angry in his frustration. “Since arms avail not, now that Henry’s dead, posterity looks for wretched years, when at their mothers’ moist eyes babes shall suckle, and our isle be made a marsh of salt tears, with none but women left to wail the dead!
“Henry the Fifth, thy ghost I invocate: prosper this realm; keep it from civil broils! Combat with adverse planets in the heavens!—and a far more glorious star thy soul will make than Julius Caesar, or bright—”
“My honourable lords, health to you all!” Interrupting, a knight has rushed toward to the convocation. “Sad tidings bring I to you out of France,” he says, bowing, “of discomfiture, of loss and slaughter!
“Guienne, Champagne, Rheims, Orléans, Paris, Guysors, Poitiers—are all quite lost!”
John is appalled by the report. “What say’st thou, man, here before dead Henry’s corpse? Speak softly, or the loss of those great towns will make him burst his lead”—coffin lining—“and rise from death!”
“Is Paris lost?” gasps Humphrey. “Is Rouen yielded? If Henry were recalled to life again, these news would cause him once more to yield up the ghost!”
“How were they lost? What treachery was used?” demands Exeter, for whom an honorable French victory is unthinkable.
“No treachery, but want of men and money!” replies the knight boldly. “Amongst the soldiers this is mutterèd: that here you maintain differing factions—and whilst a field should be dispatched and fighting, you are disputing about your policy!
“One would have lingering wars with little cost; another would fly swiftly, but wanteth wings; a third thinks that without expense at all, by guileful fair words peace may be obtained.
“Awake, awake, English nobility! Let not sloth dim your honours new-begot! Croppèd are the flower-de-luces”—the fleur de lis is an emblem of France—“from your arms!—of England’s coat, one half is cut away!”
Lord Exeter is pale. “Were our tears wanting for this funeral, these tidings would call forth their flowing tides!”
“Me they concern!—regent am I of France!” cries John of Bedford. “Give me my steelèd coat! I’ll fight for France!—away with these disgraceful wailing robes! Wounds will I lend the French, instead of eyes to weep their intermissive miseries!”
A messenger rides up, dismounts, and bows. “Lords, view these letters full of bad mischance!” Exeter takes the documents. “France is revolted from the English quite, except some petty towns of no import. The dauphin, Charles, is crownèd king at Rheims!—the bastard of Orléans with him is joined; Reignier, Duke of Anjou, doth take his part!—the Duke of Alençon flieth to his side!”
Exeter stares at a letter listing the new French monarch’s new allies. “The dauphin crownèd king—all fly to him! Oh, whither shall we fly from this reproach?”
“We will not fly but to our enemies’ throats!” cries Humphrey. “Bedford, if thou be slack, I’ll fight it out!” he tells his brother.
John frowns. “Gloucester, why doubt’st thou of my forwardness? An army have I mustered in my thoughts wherewith already France is overrun!”
A third messenger arrives. “My gracious lords, to add to your laments, wherewith you now bedew King Henry’s hearse, I must inform you of a dismal fight betwixt the stout Lord Talbot and the French!”
“What? Wherein Talbot overcame!—is’t so?” asks the bishop. The legendary general, an English hero, has commanded the British troops besieging an important French city on the Loire.
“Oh, no!—wherein Lord Talbot was o’erthrown!” The noblemen are stunned. “The circumstance I’ll tell you more at large.
“The tenth of August last, this dread lord, retiring from the siege of Orléans,”—after receiving few provisions and no reinforcements, Talbot had to withdraw, “having well scarce of six thousand in his troop, by three and twenty thousand of the French was round encompassed and set upon!
“No leisure had he to enrank his men. He lacked pikes”—thick, pointed poles—“to set before his archers—instead whereof, sharp stakes plucked out of hedges they pitchèd in the ground confusedly, to keep the horsemen off from breaking in.
“More than three hours the fight continued, where valiant Talbot enacted wonders above human thought with his sword and lance! Hundreds he sent to Hell, and none durst stand against him! Here, there, and every where, enragèd he flew! The French exclaimed the Devil was in arms!—all the whole army stood agazèd on him.
“His soldiers, spying his undaunted spirit, ‘A Talbot! A Talbot!’ cried out amain, and rushed into the bowels of the battle!
“Here had the conquest fully been sealèd up—if Sir John Fastolfe had not played the coward! He, being placed behind the vaward with purpose to relieve and follow them, cowardly fled, not having struck one stroke!
“Hence grew the general wreck and massacre!—enclosèd were they by their enemies! A base traitor, to win the dauphin’s grace, thrust Talbot—whom all France with their chief assembled strength durst not presume to look once in the face—with a spear into the back!”
John is appalled. “Is Talbot slain? Then I will slay myself for living idly here in pomp and ease whilst such a worthy leader, wanting aid, unto his dastard foemen is betrayed!”
“Oh, no, he lives—but is took prisoner!—and Lord Scales with him, and Lord Hungerford—most of the rest, slaughtered or took likewise.”
“His ransom there is none but I shall pay!” cries Bedford. “I’ll haul the dauphin headlong from his throne!—his crown shall be the ransom of my friend! Four of their lords I’ll ’change for one of ours!
“Farewell, my masters; to my task will I! Bonfires I am to make forthwith in France to keep our great Saint George’s feast withal! Ten thousand soldiers with me I will take, whose bloody deeds shall make all Europe quake!”
“So you had need,” says the knight dourly, “for at Orléans is the English army besiegèd, grown weak and faint! The Earl of Salisbury”—now in command there—“craveth supply, and hardly keeps his men from mutiny, since they, so few, watch such a multitude!”
Exeter regards the brothers. “Remember, lords, your oaths to Henry sworn, either to quell the dauphin utterly,”—kill him, “or bring him in obedience to your yoke!”
“I do remember it!” says John, “and here take my leave, to go about my preparation.” He strides away, leading his attendants toward the palace.
Humphrey signals his own men. “I’ll to the Tower”—which is also an armory—“with all the haste I can, to view the artillery and munition—and then I will proclaim young Henry king.” Ceremonies for the child’s coronation were already imminent.
Exeter nods. “To Eltham,”—the palace in a suburb east of London, “where the young king is, will I, being ordainèd his special governor,”—tutor, “and for his safety there I’ll best devise.”
The lords hurry away, eager now to respond to a crisis on the continent.
The Bishop of Winchester watches them go—sourly. Each hath his place and function to attend! I am left out; for me nothing remains.
But I will not be Jack out of office long!
Envisioning the new ship of state, he thinks, playing on “stem to stern,” The king from Eltham I intend to stem—and sit at chiefest stern of public weal!
Charles, eldest son of the French king whom Henry V defeated, had been called dauphin, after the dolphin emblem on the family coat of arms. Various French forces surrounding the British have now consolidated, and King Charles VII meets with his commanders—who urge an immediate attack.
The new monarch is confident. “Mars’s true moving, even as in the heavens, so on the earth, this day is shown: late did he shine upon the English side; now we are victors!—upon us he smiles! What towns of any moment but we have? At pleasure here we lie near Orléans!
“Otherwhiles, the famishèd English, like pale ghosts faintly besieged us one hour in a month!”
“They want their porridge and their fat-bull beeves!” says the Duke of Alençon scornfully. “Either they must be dieted like mules, and have their provender tied to their mouths, or piteous they will look, like drownèd mice!”
Reignier, Duke of both Anjou and Maine, and the titular king of Naples and Jerusalem, is eager for battle. “Let’s lift their siege!—why live we idly here? Talbot, whom we were wont to fear, is taken; remaineth none but mad-brained Salisbury—and he may well in fretting spend his gall: neither men nor money hath he to make war!”
Charles decides. “Sound!—sound alarum! We will rush on them!—now, for the honour of the forlorn French!
“Him I forgive my death who killeth me when he sees me go back one foot, or fly!”
In the general French alarum, horns sound for retreat; the English have driven away Charles’s troops, and continue to inflict great losses, even as they edge back toward their positions outside the besieged city.
Charles and two of his lords angrily watch their soldiers running—the wounded staggering—as they try to escape from the carnage.
“Who ever saw the like?” cries the king, amazed. “What men have I?” He shouts at those stumbling past. “Dogs! Cowards! Dastards!
“I would ne’er have fled,” he tells the dukes, “but that they left me ’midst my enemies!”
Complains Reignier, “Salisbury is a desperate homicide!—he fighteth as one weary of his life! The other lords like lions wanting food do rush upon us as do hungry on prey!”
Alençon shakes his head in dismay. “Froissart, a countryman of ours, records England as all Olivers and Rowlands,”—stalwart heroes, “bred during the time Edward the Third did reign. More true now may this be verifièd!—for none but Samsons and Goliases it sendeth forth to skirmish one to ten! Lean, raw-boned rascals!—who would e’er suppose they had such courage and audacity?”
Charles, thwarted, is petulant. “Let’s leave this town!—for they are hare-brained slaves, and hunger will enforce them to be more eager!” He despises the stubborn British. “Of old I know them: rather with their teeth they’ll tear down the walls than forsake the siege!”
Reignier watches the Englishmen’s steady, determined defense as they back among the strewn corpses. “I think by some odd, gearless device their arms are set like clocks’—stiff to strike on!—else ne’er could they hold out so as they do!
“Even by my consent we’ll let them alone.”
Alençon nods. “Be it so.” The French lords will wait, knowing that the sequestered invaders lack provisions, and that their privation will only grow more dire.
They see a young French lord approach—grinning. “Where’s the prince ‘Dolphin’?” calls the nobleman to Reignier. “I have news for him!”
King Charles laughs. “‘Bastard of Orléans,’ thrice welcome to us!” The English use that name for his friend Count Jean Dunois, the out-of-wedlock son of the captured Duke of Orléans, now being held prisoner in England.
“Methinks your looks are sad, your cheer appallèd!” says Dunois. “Hath the late overthrow wrought this offence?” he taunts. “Be not dismayed, for succor is at hand!” he cries—wryly. “A holy maid hither with me I bring, who, by a vision sent to her from heaven, ordainèd is to raise this tedious siege, and drive the English forth the bounds of France!”
He moves closer, speaking with feigned fervor. “The spirit of deep prophecy she hath, exceeding the nine sibyls of old Rome! What’s past and what’s to come she can descry!
“Speak: shall I call her in? Believe my words, for they are certain and unfallible!”
Charles chuckles at the pretend pontificating; but he has heard of the peculiar girl from a country village, and of her eccentric claims. “Go, call her in.” Dunois bows and goes.
“But first, to try her skill, Reignier, stand thou as dauphin in my place,” says the king mischievously. “Question her proudly; let thy looks be stern! By this means shall we sound what ability she hath.” He steps back, and Alençon moves forward to stand beside the other lord.
Dunois returns from the camp, bringing Joanne la Pucelle—Joan the Virgin—a young woman with fine features and flaxen hair, cut short. She is dressed in armor; the noblemen are amused.
Reignier comes forward. “Fair maid, is’t thou wilt do these wondrous feats?”
She faces him squarely. “Reignier, is’t thou that thinkest to beguile me? Where is the dauphin?”
She motions the nobles apart. “Come, come from behind; I know thee well, though never seen before. Be not amazèd, there’s nothing hid from me.” She steps toward Charles. “In private will I talk with thee, apart.
“Stand back, you lords, and give us leave awhile.”
Reignier laughs at the impudence. “She takes upon her bravely at first dash!” But after a glance from the king, he and Alençon move, indulgently, away.
She begins with assurance. “Dauphin, I am by birth a shepherd’s daughter, my wit untrainèd in any kind of art. Heaven and Our Lady gracious hath it pleasèd to shine on my contemptible estate. Lo, whilst I waited on my tender lambs, and to the sun’s parching heat displayed my cheeks, God’s Mother deigned to appear to me, and in a vision full of majesty, willèd me to leave my base vocation, and free my country from calamity. Her aid she promised, and assurèd success!
“In complete glory she revealed herself! And, whereas I was short and dark before, with those clear rays she infused in me that beauty am I blessèd with, which you see.
“Ask me what question thou possibly canst, and I will answer, unpremeditated.
“My courage try by combat, if thou darest, and thou shalt find that I exceed my sex.”
With clear blue eyes she regards him intently. “Resolve on this: thou shalt be fortunate, if thou receive me for thy warlike mate!”
“Thou hast astonished me with thy high terms,” says Charles. “Only this proof I’ll of thy valour make: in single combat thou shalt buckle with me!—and if thou vanquishest, thy words are true; otherwise I renounce all confidence.”
“I am prepared,” says Joan. “Here is my keen-edged sword, decked with five fleurs de lis on each side—the which at Touraine, in Saint Katherine’s churchyard, out of a great deal of old iron I chose forth.”
Charles draws his costly new blade of the finest steel. “Then come, o’ God’s name! I fear no woman!”
“And while I live, I’ll ne’er fly from a man,” she vows.
He makes a quick thrust, intending to startle her, but she blocks it effortlessly, and surprises him with the power of a sideward stroke that he barely manages to stop.
Annoyed, he brings down four heavy blows, each skillfully deflected—indeed, brushed aside with apparent ease. He presses forward, jaws clenched as the other noblemen watch, and slashes vigorously, first from one side, then the other, without pause—but to no avail; impassively, she counters each attack.
As he wipes the sweat from his face, she springs forward with startling agility, and he finds himself struggling to bring up his sword fast enough to meet—and withstand—the clanging blows. He is amazed at the calm strength behind each careful, well guided stroke.
As he backs away, red-faced, he observes the lords’ looks of utter astonishment.
“Stay, stay thy hand!” cries Charles, dropping his sword. “Thou art an Amazon, and fightest with the sword of Deborah!”—an Old Testament prophet.
Joan lowers her blade. “Christ’s Mother helps me; else I were too weak.”
The king stares at the beautiful woman, her cheeks even more rosy now. “Whoe’er helps thee, ’tis thou that must help me! Impatiently I burn with desire; my heart and hands thou hast at once subdued!”
He stares. “Excellent Pucelle, if thy name be so, let me thy servant, and not sovereign, be! ’Tis the French dauphin sueth thus to thee!”
Joan sheathes her sword. “I must not yield to any rites of love, for my profession’s sacred, from above.” She draws a deep breath. “When I have chasèd all thy foes from hence, then will I think upon a recompense.”
Charles smiles warmly. “Meantime look gracious on thy prostrate thrall!” He moves closer.
- Reignier watches the panting pair. “My lord, methinks, is very long—in talk,” he says with an arch smile.
- “Doubtless he shrives this woman down to her smock,” murmurs Alençon, “else ne’er could he so long protract his speech.”
- “Shall we disturb him, since he keeps no mean?”—is fully smitten.
- Alençon smirks. “He may mean more than we poor men do know! These women are shrewd tempters with their tongues!”
Reignier approaches the king. “My lord, where are you?—what devise you now?” asks the commander. “Shall we give over Orléans, or no?”
“Well, no, I say, distrustful recreants!” cries Joan. “Fight till the last gasp! I will be your guard!”
Charles nods. “What she says I’ll confirm! We’ll fight it out!”
Joan faces the men with a stern, intense resolution. “Assignèd am I to scourge the English! This night their siege assuredly I’ll raise!”—end. “Expect Saint Martin’s summer, halcyon days, since I have entered into these wars!
“Glory is like a circle on the water, which never ceaseth to enlarge itself—till by broad spreading it disperse to nought. With Henry’s death, the English circle ends; dispersèd are the glories it included.
“Now am I like that proud, insulting ship which bore Caesar and his fortune together!”
Charles regards her with awe. “Was Mahomet inspirèd by a dove? Thou with an eagle art inspirèd, then! Not Helen, the mother of great Constantine, nor even Saint Philip’s daughters were like thee! Bright star of Venus, fall’n down on the earth, how may I reverently worship thee enough?”
Alençon can see that the king will not be dissuaded. “Leave off delays,” he says gruffly, “and let us raise the siege.”
Reignier has been examining, with surprise, the fresh nicks and gouges in the king’s sword. “Woman, do what thou canst to save our honours! Drive them from Orléans, and be immortalized!”
“Presently we’ll try!” cries Charles. “Come, let’s away about it!
“No prophet will I trust, if she prove false!”
Brawl and Battle
Followed by six liveried serving-men wearing the House of Gloucester’s blue coats, Humphrey approaches the entrance of the Tower of London, a royal residence, military storehouse—and sometime prison for nobles. “I am come to survey the Tower this day,” he tells his steward. “Since Henry’s death, I fear, there is conveyance!”—theft.
He pounds on the locked panel at the center of tall iron bars, rattling the gates. “Where be these warders, that they wait not here? Open the gates! ’Tis Gloucester that calls!”
A warder shouts from within. “Who’s there that knocks so imperiously?”
A serving man calls toward the doors: “It is the noble Duke of Gloucester!”
Another voice replies: “Whoe’er he be, you may not be let in.”
“Villains, answer you so the lord protector?” cries the indignant servant.
“The Lord protect him,” replies the warder, at the distant door. “So we answer him.” But, upon seeing the duke, he shrinks back inside. “We do no otherwise than we are willed.”
Humphrey is irate. “Who willèd you?—whose word will stand but mine? There’s none ‘protector of the realm’ but I!” He turns to his men. “Break ope the gates; I’ll be your warranties! Shall I be flouted thus by dunghill grooms?”
Gloucester’s men draw back, then hurl themselves forward to test the lock’s strength with their shoulders.
In the ensuring clatter, a military officer comes to the door beyond. “What noise is this? What traitors have we here?”
Humphrey calls: “Lieutenant, is it you whose voice I hear? Open the gates; here’s Gloucester that would enter!”
“Have patience, noble duke!” pleads the soldier. “I may not open!—the Cardinal of Winchester forbids! From him I have express commandment that thou nor none of thine shall be let in!”
“Faint-hearted Woodville, prizest him ’fore me?” demands Gloucester. “Arrogant Winchester, that haughty prelate, whom Henry, our late sovereign, ne’er could brook? Thou art no friend to God or to the king! Open the gates, or I’ll shut thee out shortly!”
His steward, too, warns: “Open the gates unto the lord protector, or we’ll burst them open, if that you come not quickly!”
Humphrey’s servants are preparing for another assault when they spot the red-clad Bishop of Winchester. Followed by six of his men, all in light-brown livery, he approaches Gloucester and stands blocking the entrance. “How now, ambitious Humphrey?” he demands. “What means this?”
“Peelèd priest!” Henry V had undone Beaufort’s elevation to cardinal by Rome, but he still dresses as one. “Dost thou command me to be shut out?”
“I do, thou most usurping proditor!—and not protector, of the king or realm!”
Gloucester waves him away. “Stand back, thou manifest conspirator!—thou that contrivedst to murder our dead lord!—thou that givest whores indulgences to sin! I’ll wrap thee in thy broad cardinal’s hat if thou proceed in this thine insolence!”
The bishop is defiant. “Nay, stand thou back! I will not budge a foot! If this be Damascus, be thou cursèd Cain, to slay thy brother Abel if thou wilt!”
“I will not slay thee, but I’ll drive thee back! Thy scarlet robes as a child’s bearing-cloth I’ll use to carry thee out of this place!”
“Do what thou darest! I beard thee to thy face!”
“What! Am I dared and bearded to my face?” cries Gloucester, furious. “Draw, men, for all this privileged place!—blue coats against tawny coats! Priest, beware your beard!—I mean to tug it, and to cuff you soundly! Under my feet I’ll stamp thy cardinal’s hat! In spite of Pope or dignities of Church, here by the cheeks I’ll drag thee up and down!”
“Gloucester, thou wilt answer this before the Pope! ”
“Winchester goose,”—a term for prostitute, “I cry a rope, a rope!” retorts Gloucester, as if calling for a beadle’s lash. He turns to the steward. “Now beat them hence!—why do you let them stay?” He starts for the bishop. “Thee I’ll chase hence, thou wolf in sheep’s array!
“Out, tawny coats! Out, scarlet hypocrite!”
As the nobles’ men cross swords, the portly mayor of London and a dozen of his officers—all armed with tall halberds—enter the hurly-burly, and soon have separated the factions. “Fie, lords!” cries the high official. He glares at them. “That you, being supreme magistrates, thus contumeliously should break the peace!”
“Peace, mayor!” demands Gloucester. “Thou know’st little of my wrongs! Here Beaufort—that regards nor God nor king—hath distrainèd the Tower to his own use!”
“Here’s Gloucester, a foe to citizens!” counters the bishop, “one that ever motions war, and never peace, o’ercharging your free purses with large fines!—that seeks to overthrow religion because he is ‘protector of the realm!’—and would have armour here out of the Tower—to crown himself king, and suppress the prince!”
Gloucester is livid. “I will not answer thee with words, but blows!” He springs at the churchman, and the blue and tawny coats again move closer, swords once more raised.
The mayor is appalled. “Naught rests for me in this tumultuous strife but to make open proclamation! Come, officer!—as loud as e’er thou canst, cry out!”
The big deputy steps away from the fray and bellows at the combatants: “All manner of men assembled here in arms this day against God’s peace and the king’s, we charge and command you in his highness’ name to repair to your several dwelling-places—and not to wear, handle, or use any sword, weapon, or dagger henceforward, upon pain of death!”
Humphrey releases his grip on the bishop’s robe. “‘Cardinal,’ I’ll be no breaker of the law!” he growls, “but we shall meet and break our minds at large!”— fully assert differences.
“Gloucester, we will meet—to thy cost, be sure!” The bishop dabs his torn lip with a lace kerchief, thinking, Thy heart-blood I will have for this day’s work!
The mayor shoves aside one of the bishop’s servants. “I’ll call for clubs, if you will not away!” he warns the commoners. This cardinal’s more haughty than the devil! he grumbles to himself.
Gloucester nods to his steward, and his other men start away. “Mayor, fare well,” says Humphrey. “Thou dost but what thou mayst.”
Abominable Gloucester, guard thy head! thinks the bishop, for I intend to have it ere long! He storms away, leading his servants.
The mayor watches as the disputants straggle off. “See the coast cleared,” he tells the chief deputy, “and then we will depart.
“Good God!—that these nobles should such stomachs bare!”—exhibit so much anger.
“I myself fight not once in forty year!”
Atop the high stone wall protecting the city’s northern edge, a grizzled French officer walks, under gathering storm clouds, with a boy who cradles an old musket. “Sirrah, thou know’st how Orléans is besieged, and how the English have the suburbs won—”
“I know—and oft have shot at them, father!” says the boy respectfully. “Howe’er, unfortunately I missed in my aim.”
“But be thou ruled by me, now thou shalt not! Chief master-gunner am I of this town; something I must do to procure me grace!” Enemy soldiers have kept beyond his weapons’ range, except for some too near the wall for cannon fire. “The prince’s espials have informed me how the English, close intrenchèd, through a secret grate of iron bars in yonder tower are wont to overpeer the city, and thence discover how with most advantage they may vex us with shot, or with assault!
“To intercept this inconvenience,” he says dryly, “a piece of ordnance ’gainst it I have placed,”—he has aimed a cannon, “and even these three days have I watched if I could see them.”
He lays a hand on the lad’s shoulder. “Now do thou watch, for I can stay no longer. If thou spy’st any, run and bring me word! Thou shalt find me at the governor’s.” With that, he stamps away, going down to the placid, shielded street.
The boy looks at the ready cannon, then moves carefully to the wall’s edge. His glance runs from the huge, barred doors far below, across the bridge, and up a high stone tower just across the river. Father, I warrant you!
Take you no care! he thinks eagerly. I’ll never trouble you if I may spy them!
“Talbot!—my life, my joy, again returnèd!” whispers Lord Salisbury, delighted to see his friend the general coming up the circular stone steps to join the other British officers who have climbed, with some stealth, through the dank old riverside tower. “How wert thou handled being prisoner? Or by what means got’st thou to be released?
“Discourse, I prithee, at this turret’s top,” he says, as the other men move toward a window in the masonry.
Lord Talbot stands beside him. “The Duke of Bedford had a prisoner called ‘the brave Lord Ponton de Santrailles’; for him was I exchanged and ransomèd.
“But once with a baser man of arms by far, for contempt they would have bartered me—which I disdaining scorned, and cravèd death rather than I would be so vilely esteemed! At last, redeemèd I was as I desired.
“But, oh, the treacherous Fastolfe wounds my heart!—him with my bare fists I would execute, if I now had him brought into my power!”
“Yet tell’st thou not how thou were treated….”
Talbot flushes with anger. “With scoffs and scorns, and contumelious taunts! In open market-place produced they me, to be a public spectacle to all! ‘Here,’ said they, ‘is the terror of the French, the scarecrow that affrights our children so!’
“Then broke I from the officers that led me, and with my nails diggèd stones out of the ground to hurl at the beholders of my shame! My grisly countenance made others fly!—none durst come near, for fear of sudden death!
“In iron walls they deemed me not secure! So great a fear of my name amongst them was spread that they supposed I could rend bars of steel, and spurn into pieces posts of adamant! Wherefore a guard of chosen shot”—pistol experts—“I had, that walked about me every minute—while if I did but stir out of my bed, ready they were to shoot me in the heart!”
- Across the river, the boy is slipping carefully through the shadows with a thin stick, its tip smoldering. He crouches, then crawls toward the cannon.
“I grieve to hear what torments you endured,” says Salisbury, “but we will be revengèd sufficiently! Now it is supper time in Orléans; here, through this grate, I view the Frenchmen, count each one, in how they fortify!
“Let us look—the sight will much delight thee!
“Sir Thomas Gargrave, and Sir William Glansdale, let me have your express opinions where is best place to make our battery next.”
The knights step forward to look through the rusty grate.
“I think at the north gate; for there stand lords,” says Gargrave.
The other knight points down. “And I, here, at the bulwark of the bridge.”
“For aught I see,” says Talbot, noting no weakness, “this city must be famished,”—starved into submission, “or with light skirmishes enfeeblèd.”
A pounding crash hurls the men back, stunned by fragments of stone and shards of iron.
In the swirl of dust, Salisbury gasps, unable to rise from the floor. “O Lord, have mercy on us, wretched sinners….”
Gargrave sees the blood spilling onto his own legs. “O Lord, have mercy on me, woeful man!” he groans.
Talbot staggers up. “What chance is this that suddenly hath crossed us?” He goes to kneel. “Speak, Salisbury—at least, if thou canst speak, mirror of all martial men! How farest thou?” One of thine eyes and thy cheek’s side are struck off! “Accursèd tower! Accursèd fatal hand that hath contrivèd this woeful tragedy!
“In thirteen battles Salisbury o’ercame! Henry the Fifth he first followed to the wars! Whilst any trump did sound, or drum struck up, his sword did ne’er leave off striking in the field!
“Yet livest thou, Salisbury? Though thy speech doth fail, one eye thou hast to look to heaven for grace! The sun with one eye vieweth all the world!
“Heaven, be Thou gracious to none alive,” he sobs, “if Salisbury wants mercy at thy hands!”
He points to Glansdale, as English soldiers come running up the stairs. “Bear hence his body; I will help to bury it.
“Sir Thomas Gargrave, hast thou any life? Speak unto Talbot!—nay, look up at him….” But the knight is still.
Talbot rises. “Salisbury, cheer thy spirit with this comfort: thou shalt not die whiles—” He moves closer to the fallen lord. “He beckons with his hand, and smiles on me—as if to say, ‘When I am dead and gone, remember to avenge me on the French!’
“Plantagenet, I will!—and, like Nero, play on the lute, beholding the towns burn! Wretched only shall France be, in my time!”
From outside, below, a trumpet is sounded, and, as lightning flares behind the darkening clouds, thunder engulfs the tower.
“What stir is this?” cries Talbot. “What tumult’s in the heavens? Whence cometh this alarum and the noise?”
A messenger rushes to him, nimbly dodging soldiers who are carrying the knights’ bodies. “My lord, my lord, the French have gathered head!—the dauphin, joinèd with one Joan de Pucelle, a holy prophetess new risen up, is come with a great power to raise the siege!”
Salisbury moves, trying to rise.
“Hear, hear how dying Salisbury doth groan!” cries Talbot. “It irks his heart he cannot see revenge!”
He faces the shattered opening as the English party evacuates. “Frenchmen, I’ll be a Salisbury to you!
“Pucelle or puzel,”—virgin or whore, “dolphin or dogfish, your hearts I’ll stamp out with my horse’s heels, and make a quagmire of your mingled brains!
“Convey Salisbury unto his tent,” he tells a sergeant, “and then we’ll try what these dastard Frenchmen dare!”
Fighting rages just south of the river: more French forces have reached the city, and men from its garrison now pour forth to join in assailing the embattled Britons.
Lord Talbot again commands his men, and his guard sounds alarums; but not far away, Joan leads a band of French knights in a charge, driving the British back from them.
Talbot stares, aghast, surveying the chaos. Where is my strength?—my valour and my force! Our English troops retire!—I cannot stay them! A woman clad in armour chaseth them!
Here, here she comes!
“I’ll have a bout with thee!” he cries, confronting her, sword ready. “Devil or devil’s dam, I’ll conjure thee! Blood will I draw though thou art a witch!—and straightway give thy soul to him thou servest!”
Joan motions her knights away and flourishes her sword. “Come, come!—’tis only I that must disgrace thee!”
Talbot strikes viciously at her, intending to cut down the challenge immediately. But his sword is thrust aside, and instantly the blade is battered by a series of blows so strong that merely fending them off numbs his arm.
He is astonished. Heavens, can you suffer Hell so to prevail? My breast I’ll burst with straining of my courage, and from my shoulders crack my arms asunder, but I will chastise this ambitious strumpet!
Pitching himself forward, he swings his broadsword violently; again and again it arcs up and crashes down, wearying his outstretched arms as he pounds futilely at a seemingly impervious barrier.
When the Englishman, blinking, pauses for breath, Joan steps away. French forces’ supply wagons are pulling up. “Talbot, farewell; thine hour is not yet come,” she says calmly. “I must go victual Orléans forthwith.”
She signals her soldiers, and they begin leading the provisioners safely across the bridge.
“O’ertake me, if thou canst,” she calls back. “I scorn thy strength! Go, go, cheer up thy hungry, starvèd men! Help Salisbury to make his testament!
“This day is ours!—as many more shall be!”
Talbot stands facing the city, amazed. My thoughts are whirlèd like a potter’s wheel; I know not where I am, nor what I do! A witch, by fear, not force, like Hannibal drives back our troops, and conquers as she lists! So bees with smoke, and doves with noisome stench, are from their hives and houses driven away!
They called us for our fierceness English dogs!—now, like to whelps, we crying run away!
British trumpets call again—to no avail. “Hark, countrymen!” he shouts, as fearful soldiers run past. “Either renew the fight or renounce your soil!—tear the lions out of England’s coat!—give sheep in lions’ stead!” He scowls. “Sheep run not half so fast from the wolf, or horse or oxen from the leopard, as you fly, treacherously, from your oft-subduèd slaves!”
More French troops now confront them, and the English are forced to fight for their lives.
Talbot realizes they are being overwhelmed. “It will not be!” he calls, in disgust. “Retire into your trenches!
“You’ve all consented unto Salisbury’s death!” he cries, “for none would strike a stroke in his revenge!”
As the retreat is sounded and rain begins to fall, Talbot stalks angrily after his men.
Pucelle is entered into Orléans, in spite of us or aught that we could do!
Oh, would I were to die with Salisbury! The shame hereof will make me hide my head!
On a platform high above the massive city gates, Joan stands with the king and several lords, and their guard of soldiers.
“Advance our waving colours on the walls!” she orders. “Rescuèd is Orléans from the English! Thus Joan la Pucelle hath performed her word.”
Charles is delighted. “Divinest creature, Astraea’s daughter, how shall I honour thee for this success? Thy promises are like Adonis’ gardens, that one day bloomed, and fruitful were the next!
“France, triumph in thy glorious prophetess!”
He surveys the scene below as the English huddle in disarray. “Recovered is the town of Orléans! More blessèd hap did ne’er befall our state!”
“Why do the bells not ring aloud throughout the town?” asks Reignier. “Dauphin, command the citizens to make bonfires, and feast and banquet in the open streets,” he cries, elated, “to celebrate the day that God hath given us!”
Alençon beams. “All France will be replete with mirth and joy, when they shall hear how we have played the men!”
Says Charles, “’Tis Joan, not we, by whom the day is won!—for which I will divide my crown with her, and all the priests and friars in my realm shall in procession sing her endless praise! A statelier pyramid to her I’ll rear than Rhodope’s or Memphis’ ever was!
“In memory of her when she is dead, her ashes, in an urn more precious than the rich-jeweled of Darius, transported shall be at high festivals before the kings and queens of France!
“No longer on Saint Denis will we cry, but Joan la Pucelle shall be France’s saint!
“Come in, and let us banquet royally, after this golden day of victory!”
A weary French sergeant stations two of his troops on the parapet. “Sirs, take your places, and be vigilant! If any noise or soldier you perceive near to the walls, by some apparent sign let us have knowledge at the court of guard.”
A new corporal nods. “Sergeant, you shall.”
As the old veteran heads back down to the city, the young men crouch beside the crannied stone.
Thus are poor servitors, when others sleep upon their quiet beds, constrainèd to watch in darkness, rain and cold! complains one sentinel, a beardless lad—to himself.
At Lord Talbot’s signal, battalions of British troops move, silently, closer to the dark, fortified city. At the front of their lines, foot-soldiers carry long ladders for scaling walls.
Talbot addresses the noblemen among those who have just converged; fresh English forces, led here by John of Bedford, have now joined his. And with them is the powerful French duke who once negotiated peace with Henry V, and whose troops now side with England.
“Lord Regent, and redoubted Burgundy—by whose approach the regions of Artois, Wallon and Picardy are friends to us this happy night!—the Frenchmen are secure, having all day caroused and banqueted.
“Embrace we then this opportunity as fitting—best quittance of their deceit, contrivèd by art and baleful sorcery!”
Mutters Bedford, “Cowardly France!”—King Charles. “How much he wrongs his fame, despairing of his own army’s fortitude to join with witches and the help of Hell!”
“Traitors have never other company,” says Lord Burgundy—intending no irony; he is another of Henry VI’s uncles. “But what’s that Pucelle whom they term so pure?”
“A maid, they say.” Talbot remembers his own encounter with her.
“A maid,” says the regent, “and to be so martial!”
“Pray God she prove not masculine for long,” says Burgundy, motioning for the men with ladders to move forward, “if beneath the standard of the French she carry armour as she hath begun!”
Talbot is confident. “Well, let them practise and converse with spirits! God is our fortress, in whose conquering name let us resolve to scale their flinty bulwarks!”
They turn to a section of the wall. Bedford sees that their troops are ready. “Ascend, brave Talbot; we will follow thee!”
Talbot regards the grim bastion, a black form rising before them in the night. “Not all together; better far, I’d guess, that we do make our entrance several ways, so that, if it chance the one of us do fail, the others yet may rise against their force.”
The regent nods. “Agreed. I’ll to yond corner.”
“And I to that,” says Burgundy, pointing.
“And here will Talbot mount, or make his grave!” He glares at a tower. “Salisbury, for thee, and for the right of English Henry, shall this night appear how much in duty I am bound to both!”
From above comes a French cry, “Arm! Arm!—the enemy doth make assault!” The sentinels rush down the steps to rouse the reinforced garrison.
Within the breached city of Orléans, cries of “St. George!” and “A Talbot!” echo across the square, as the British soldiers press forward in their incursion. Startled French troops, some still in sleeping-clothes, rush angrily from their quarters, clutching weapons.
Commanding the city’s own defenses is Count Dunois. Carrying a coat, he saunters out into a courtyard to find two other noblemen pulling on boots as they stand, sheathed swords lying nearby.
“How now, my lord!” taunts Alençon. “What, all unready so?”
“Unready?” says Dunois. “Aye—and glad we ’scaped so well!”
Reignier agrees: “’Twas time, I trow, to wake and leave our beds—hearing alarums at our chamber doors!” he says wryly.
Complains Alençon, annoyed, “Of all exploits since first I followed arms, ne’er heard I of a warlike enterprise more venturous or desperate than this!” The city has yet to learn of the army of Britons brought by Bedford, or of Burgundy’s troops.
Portly Dunois watches the violent combat nearby as he pulls on his coat. “I think this Talbot be a fiend of hell!”
“If not of hell, the heavens surely favour him!” says Reignier, carefully placing a plumed hat on his head at the proper angle.
“Here cometh Charles.” Alençon nods toward the center of town, as the regal contingent ambles forward. “I marvel how he sped!” he adds, with sarcasm.
“Tsk! Holy Joan was his defensive guard,” notes Dunois.
The king is challenging her as they arrive. “Is this thy cunning, thou deceitful dame? Didst thou at first, to flatter us withal, make us partakers of a little gain, so that now our loss might be ten times so much?”
Joan is indignant. “Wherefore is Charles impatient with his friend? At all times will you have my power alike—sleeping or waking must I ever prevail, or you will blame, and lay the fault on me?” She glares at Dunois and the other lords. “Improvident soldiers! Had your watch been good, this sudden mischief never could have befallen!”
Charles frowns. “Duke of Alençon, this was your default, in that, being captain of the watch tonight, you did look no better to that weighty charge!”
“Had all your quarters been as safely kept as that whereof I had the government,” replies Alençon hotly, “we had not been thus shamefully surprisèd!”
“Mine was secure!” claims Dunois.
“And so was mine, my lord!” insists Reignier.
“As for myself, most part of all this night, within her quarter and mine own precinct,” says Charles, “I was employed in passing to and fro…about relieving of the sentinels. “Then how or which way could they first break in?”
Joan is annoyed. “Question, my lords, no further the of case how or which way!—’tis sure they found some place but weakly guarded, where the breach was made. And now there rests no other shift but this: to gather our soldiers, scattered and dispersèd, and lay new platforms to endamage them!”
But just then a squadron of British soldiers, furiously waving raised swords, charges forward, crying, “A Talbot! A Talbot!” The French must flee, leaving various articles of clothing scattered about as they are chased away.
An English conscript lags behind. I’ll be so bold as to take what they have left, he thinks, gathering up items of fine silk. The cry of ‘Talbot!’ serves me as a sword!—for I have loaden me with many spoils, using no other weapon but his name!
Trumpets sound another shrill alarum, and more of King Henry’s troops rush in through the now-opened gates.
John of Bedford, Regent of France, surveys an open area of the town, now quiet and guarded by English soldiers. “The day begins to break, and night, whose pitchy mantle over-veilèd the earth is fled. Here sound retreat,” he tells a soldier, “and cease our hot pursuit.”
The horn blares out into the dawn, bringing respite for the French, rest for the harrying British troops.
Talbot motions solemnly to the guard of his colors. “Bring forth the body of old Salisbury, and here advance it in the market-place, the muddy centre of this cursèd town!
“Now have I paid my vow unto his soul: for every drop of blood as was drawn from him, there hath at least five Frenchmen died tonight! And that hereafter ages may behold what ruin happened in revenge of him, within their chiefest temple I’ll erect a tomb wherein his corpse shall be interrèd—upon the which, that every one may read, shall be engravèd the sack of Orléans, the treacherous manner of his mournful death, and what a terror he had been to France!
“But, lords, in all our bloody massacre, I muse we met not with the dauphin’s grace—his new-come champion, virtuous Joan of Air—or any of his false confederates!”
Bedford reports: “’Tis thought, Lord Talbot, when the fight began, rousèd on the sudden from their drowsy beds they did amongst the troops of armèd men leap o’er the walls for refuge in the field!”
Says Burgundy, “Myself, as far as I could well discern for smoke and dusky vapours of the night, am sure I scared the dauphin and his trull, when arm-in-arm they both came swiftly running, like to a pair of loving turtle-doves that could not live asunder day or night!
“After things are set in order here, we’ll follow them with all the power we have.”
An unarmed French serving-man, now acting as an messenger, approaches the nobles, leading his horse away from the sentries. “All hail, my lords! Which of this princely train call ye the warlike Talbot, for his acts so much applauded through the realm of France?”
“Here is that Talbot. Who would speak with him?”
“The virtuous lady, Countess of Auvergne, with modesty admiring thy renown, by me entreats, great lord, thou wouldst vouchsafe to visit her poor castle where she lies, that she may boast she hath beheld the man whose glory fills the world with loud report.”
Burgundy grins. “Is it even so? Nay, then, I see our wars will turn unto a peaceful, comic sport, when ladies crave to be encountered with! You may not, my lord, disprize her gentle suit!”
Talbot laughs. “Ne’er trust me then; for when a world of men could not prevail with all their oratory, yet hath a woman’s kindness over-ruled!” He anticipates a gratifying experience. He turns to the rider. “And therefore tell her I return great thanks, and in submission will attend on her.
“Will not Your Honours bear me company?”
“No,” laughs the regent, “truly it is more than manners will bear! And I have heard it said, unbidden guests are often welcomest when they are gone.”
“Well then, alone, since there’s no remedy,” sighs Talbot, in mock resignation. “I mean to test this lady’s courtesy!” He signals an officer. “Come hither, captain.” He whispers briefly. “You perceive my mind?”
The captain smiles and bows. “I do, my lord, and intend accordingly.”
In the large manor house at Auvergne, the countess sends away a thin old man. “Porter, remember what I gave in charge; and when you have done so, bring the keys to me.”
“Madam, I will.” He bows, and returns to his post in a side chamber by the front doors.
The countess paces in anticipation, while three servants stand waiting. The plot is laid! If all things fall out right, I shall as famous be by this exploit as Scythian Tomyris by Cyrus’ death!
Great is the rumor of this dreadful night, and his achievements of no less account! Fain would mine eyes be witness with mine ears, to give their assessment of these rare reports.
She goes to a table just as her plump steward leads the general into the chamber and bows. “Madam, according as Your Ladyship desired, by message cravèd, so is Lord Talbot come.”
The Englishman is resplendent, with a medallion at his chest, a sheathed sword, and a glistening trumpet hanging at his side. He sweeps off his plumed hat with a courtly bow.
“And he is welcome,” says the countess, turning. “What? Is this the man?”
“Madam, it is.”
She stares, seemingly incredulous. “Is this the scourge of France? Is this the Talbot so much feared abroad that with his name the mothers silence their babes?
“I see report is fabled and false! I thought I should have seen some Hercules, a second Hector for his grim aspect, and the large proportion of his strong-knit limbs. Alas, this is a child, a silly dwarf! It cannot be that this weak and writhled shrimp should strike such terror into his enemies!”
Lord Talbot only nods, his suspicion confirmed. “Madam, I have been bold to trouble you, but since Your Ladyship is not at leisure, I’ll sort some other time to visit with you.” He strides away.
“What means he now?” says the indignant countess. “Go ask him whither he goes,” she orders.
The steward hurries after the visitor. “Stay, my lord Talbot; for my lady craves to know the cause of your abrupt departure!”
Talbot raises an eyebrow. “Marry, for that she’s in a wrong belief; I go to certify for her that Talbot’s here.”
The countess sees the porter returning with his keys; she smiles, triumphant. “If thou be he, then art thou prisoner!” She nods to her men, who draw their rapiers.
“Prisoner? To whom?”
“To me, blood-thirsty lord!—and for that cause I trainèd thee to my house!
“Long time thy shadow hath been thrall to me, for in my gallery thy picture hangs. But now the substance shall endure the like, and I will chain these legs and arms of thine, that hast by tyranny these many years wasted our country, slain our citizens, and sent our sons and husbands captivate!”
Talbot is clearly amused.
“Laughest thou, wretch? Thy mirth shall turn to moan!”
“I laugh to see Your Ladyship so foolish as to think that you have aught but Talbot’s shadow whereon to practise your severity.”
“Why, art not thou the man?”
“I am indeed.”
“Then have I substance, too!”
The venerable officer smiles. “No, no, I am but shadow of my self! You are deceived: my substance is not here—for what you see is but the smallest part and least proportion of humanity. I tell you, madam, were the whole framèd here, it is of such a spacious, lofty pitch, your roof were not sufficient to contain it!”
The countess scoffs: “This is a riddling merchant for the nonce! He will be here, and yet he is not here—how can these contrarieties agree?”
“That will I show you immediately.” Talbot lifts the horn to sound a sharp, brief call; drums pound outside, a cannon booms, and the doors fly open with a crash of splintering wood. The lady’s servants stumble back in fear, as six soldiers rush into the room, swords drawn—and more troops peer in through the wide-open entrance.
“How say you, madam?” asks the English lord calmly. “Are you now persuaded that himself is but shadow of Talbot?” He smiles at the captain and his men. “These are his substance—sinews, arms and strength with which he yoketh your rebellious necks, razeth your cities, and subverts your towns, and in a moment makes them desolate!”
The Countess of Auvergne flushes. “Victorious Talbot, pardon my abuse! I find thou art no less than fame hath bruited, and more than may be gathered by thy shape. Let my presumption not provoke thy wrath; for I am sorry that with reverence I did not entertain thee as thou art.”
He smiles again. “Be not dismayed, fair lady; nor misconstrue the mind of Talbot, as you did mistake the outward composition of his body; what you have done hath not offended me.
“Nor other satisfaction do I crave, but only, with your patience, that we may taste of your wine, and see what cakes you have!—for soldiers’ stomachs always serve them well.”
He signals to the captain, and more foot-soldiers stamp into the mansion, already looking for the kitchen and pantry—and full larder.
As they file past, the countess moves back and stands, watching, beside her wide-eyed servants.
“With all my heart,” she says, weakly, “and think me honoured to feast so great a warrior in my house….”
“Great lords and gentlemen, what means this silence?” demands young Richard Plantagenet, descended of the House of York. “Dare no man answer in a case of truth?”
William de la Pole, the Earl of Suffolk, speaks softly; they have adjourned an argument about litigation, begun at a college residence for London law students, in order to continue outside. “Within the Temple-hall we were too loud; the garden, here, is more convenient.”
“Then say at once if I maintained the truth, or else was Somerset wrangling in the error!”
Suffolk laughs at Richard’s tricksy phrasing. “’Faith, I have been a truant in the law, and never yet could frame my will to it—or, therefore, frame the law unto my will!” he gibes.
Somerset, however, is not amused. “Judge you, then, my Lord of Warwick, between us!”
The old Earl of Warwick, a visitor at the college, holds up his hands in mild demurral. “Between two hawks, which flies the higher pitch; between two dogs, which hath the deeper mouth; between two blades, which bears the better tempering—between two horses which doth bear him best, between two girls which hath the merriest eye, I have perhaps some shallow spirit of judgment.” He shakes his head, smiling. “But in these fine, sharp quillets of the law, in good faith, I am no wiser than a daw!”—a crow.
Richard is annoyed. “Tsk, tsk, here is a mannerly forbearance! The truth appears so naked on my side that any purblind eye may find it out!”
“And on my side it is so well-apparelled—so clear, so shining, and so evident—that it will glimmer through a blind man’s eye!” counters Somerset.
Richard confronts the others. “Since you are tongue-tied, and so loath to speak, in silent signification proclaim your thoughts.” He steps to a trellis laden with blooms. “Let him that is a true-born gentleman and stands upon the honour of his birth, if he suppose that I have pleaded truth, from off this brier pluck a white rose with me!” He picks one, and holds it high.
Somerset immediately finds an opposing symbol. “Let him that is no coward nor no flatterer, but dares maintain the party of the truth, pluck a red rose from off this thorn with me!”
“I love no colour,” shrugs the Warwick, “but without any colour of base, insinuating flattery, I pluck this white rose with Plantagenet.”
Suffolk gently grasps a bloom. “I pluck this red rose with young Somerset, and say withal I think he held the right.”
Vernon, a gentleman of the Inns of Court, would quiet the matter. “Stay, lords and gentlemen, and pluck no more, till you consent that he upon whose side the fewest roses are cropped from the tree shall yield that the other’s is the right opinion.”
“Good Master Vernon, it is well objected,” says Somerset. “If I have fewest, I’ll subscribe in silence.”
“And I,” says Richard Plantagenet.
Vernon nods. “Then for the truth and plainness of the case, I pluck this pale and maiden blossom here, giving my verdict on the white-rose side.”
Somerset frowns. “Prick not your finger as you pluck it off, lest bleeding you do paint the white rose red, and so fall on my side, against your will.”
Vernon will not be bullied. “If I, my lord, for my opinion bleed, opinion shall be surgeon to my hurt, and keep me on the side where still I am.”
“Well, well, come on,” says Somerset to the others. “Who else?”
A young Temple lawyer resents the tone. “Unless my study and my books be false, the argument you held was wrong in you.” He reaches into the foliage. “In sign whereof, I pluck a white rose too.”
Richard Plantagenet is pleased. “Now, Somerset, where is your argument?”
“Here in my scabbard, meditating what shall dye your white rose in a bloody red!”
Richard scoffs. “Meantime your cheeks do counterfeit our roses: for pale they look with fear, as witnessing the truth on our side!”
“No, Plantagenet, ’tis not for fear but anger!—that thy cheeks blush for pure shame, counterfeiting our roses!—and yet thy tongue will not confess thy error!”
“Hath not thy rose a canker, Somerset?”—a caterpillar within.
“Hath not thy rose a thorn, Plantagenet?”
“Aye, sharp and piercing, to maintain its truth, whiles thy consuming canker eats its falsehood!”
Somerset scowls. “Well, I’ll find friends to wear my bleeding roses, who shall maintain what I have said is true where false Plantagenet dare not be seen!”—in nobles’ company.
Richard flushes angrily. “Now, by this maiden blossom in my hand, I scorn thee and thy fashion, peevish boy!”
Now Suffolk is offended. “Turn not thy scorns this way, Plantagenet!” he warns.
“Proud Pole, I will,” insists Richard, “and scorn both him and thee!”
“I’ll return my part thereof into thy throat!” cries Suffolk.
But Somerset, welcoming the fuming nobleman to the Lancastrian faction, takes him by the arm. “Away, away, good William de la Pole! We grace the yeoman by conversing with him!”
Warwick objects: “Now, by God’s will, thou wrong’st him, Somerset! His grandfather was Lionel, Duke of Clarence, third son to the third Edward, King of England! Spring crestless yeomen from so deep a root?”
Says Richard with scorn, “He bears him on this place’s privilege”—students are allowed considerable latitude for debate, but none for fighting, “or durst not for his craven heart say thus!”
Somerset responds to the implicit challenge: “By Him that made me, I’ll maintain my words on any plot of ground in Christendom!”
He faces Plantagenet. “Was not thy father—Richard, Earl of Cambridge—for treason executed in our late king’s days?” he asks, disdainfully. “And, by his treason, stand’st not thou attainted, corrupted and exempt from ancient gentry? His trespass yet lives guilty in thy blood—and, till thou be restored, thou art a yeoman!”
Richard is furious. “My father was attachèd,”—arrested, “not attainted; condemnèd to die for treason, but no traitor!—and that I’ll prove on better men than Somerset, when growing time once ripens to my will!” He cannot lawfully challenge a titled nobleman—yet. “As for your part-taker, Pole—and you yourself!—I’ll note you in my book of memory, to scourge you for this affrontation! Look to it well, and say you are well warned!”
“Oh, thou shalt find us ready for thee still!” says Somerset. “And know us by these colours as thy foes—for these my friends in spite for thee shall wear!”
Richard brandishes his white flower. “And, by my soul, this pale and angry rose, as cognizance of my blood-drinking hate, will I and my faction forever wear, until it wither with me to my grave, or flourish to the height of my degree!”
Suffolk stalks away, disgusted. “Go forward and be choked with thy ambition!” He patronizes with a phrase: “And so fare well—until I meet thee next.”
“Have with thee, Pole!” says Somerset, following the older man. He glares at Plantagenet. “Farewell, ambitious Richard.” They leave, striding into one of the Temple’s dim corridors.
Richard seethes. “How I am braved, and must perforce endure it!”
Warwick believes Richard will be granted his hereditary title. “This blot that they object against your house shall be wiped out,” he assures the fiery young man, “in the next Parliament, called for the truce of Winchester and Gloucester. And if thou be not then created York, I will not live to be accounted Warwick!
“Meantime, in signal of my love to thee, against proud Somerset and William Pole”—the earl considers Suffolk’s de la an affectation—“will I among thy party wear this rose.” The white-haired earl regards the white blossom solemnly, turning it slowly in his hand. He says, sadly: “And here I prophesy: this brawl today, grown thus to faction in the Temple garden, shall send, between the red rose and the white, a thousand souls to death and deadly night.”
But Richard turns to the others. “Good Master Vernon, I am bound to you, that you on my behalf would pluck a flower!”
“In your behalf, ever will I wear the same!”
“And so will I!” says the lawyer.
“Thanks, gentle sirs,” says Richard. “Come, let us four to dinner!
“I dare say this quarrel will drink blood another day!”
In a chamber high in the Tower of London, a bed-ridden old man addresses two of the jailers. “Kind keepers of my weak, decaying age, let dying Mortimer here rest himself. Even like a man new-halèd from the rack, so fare my limbs with long imprisonment; and these grey locks, the pursuivants of Death, augur the end of Nestor-like Edmund Mortimer, agèd in an age of care.
“These eyes, like lamps whose wasting oil is spent, wax dim; weak shoulders are overborne with burthening grief; and pithless arms, like to a withered vine, droop sapless branches to the ground, as drawing to their exeunt. These feet, whose strengthless stay is numb, unable to support this lump of clay, are yet swift-wingèd in my desire to get to a grave, as if witting I no other comfort have.
“But tell me, keeper, will my nephew come?”
“Richard Plantagenet, my lord, will come,” the senior jailer replies. “We sent unto the Temple, unto his chamber, and answer was returnèd that he will come.”
Lord Mortimer nods. “Enough. My soul shall then be satisfied.” He lies back, closing his eyes, and the keepers leave him.
He thinks of Richard. Poor gentleman!—his wrong doth equal mine! Since Henry Monmouth —Henry V— first began to reign, before whose glory I was great in arms, this loathsome sequestration have I had! And ever since then hath Richard been obscurèd, deprived of honour and inheritance.
But now that the arbitrator of despairs, just Death, kind umpire of men’s miseries, with sweet enlargement —setting free— doth dismiss me hence, I would his troubles were likewise expirèd, so that he might recover what was lost.
In less than a hour, a voice awakens the old man. “My lord, your loving nephew now is come.”
Slowly, Lord Mortimer struggles to sit up, trying to see. “Richard Plantagenet, my friend—is he come?”
“Aye, noble uncle, though ignobly used, your nephew, lately despisèd Richard comes.” He sits at the side of the prisoner’s bed.
Mortimer reaches out. “Direct mine arms I may embrace his neck, and in his bosom spend my latter gasp! Oh, tell me when my lips do touch his cheeks, that I may kindly give one fainting kiss!
“And now declare, sweet stem from York’s great stock, why didst thou say of late thou wert despisèd.”
The law student smiles at the frail figure. “First, lean thine agèd back against mine arm; and, in that ease, I’ll tell thee my dis-ease.
“This day, in argument upon a case, some words there grew ’twixt Somerset and me—among which terms he used his lavish tongue, and did upbraid me with my father’s death!—which obloquy set bars before my tongue, else with the like I had requited him!
“Therefore, good uncle: for my father’s sake, and honour of a true Plantagenet, and for alliance’ sake—explain now the cause for which my father, Earl of Cambridge, lost his head!”
Mortimer’s eyes glisten. “That cause, fair nephew, which imprisoned me, and hath detained me all my flowering youth within a loathsome dungeon here to pine, was the cursèd instrument of his decease!”
“Uncover more at large what cause that was, for I am ignorant, and cannot guess.”
Mortimer nods. “I will, if that my fading breath permit, and Death approach not ere my tale be done!
“Henry the Fourth, grandfather to this king, deposed his nephew Richard, Edward’s son—the first-begotten and lawful heir of Edward, king, the third of that descent!—during whose reign the Percies of the north,”—the lords of Northumberland, “finding his usurpation most unjust, endeavored my advancement to the throne!
“The reason which moved those warlike lords to it was this: young King Richard thus removed, leaving no heir begotten of his body, I was the next by birth and parentage!” Indignation flashes anew as he recalls. “For by my mother I derivèd am from Lionel, Duke of Clarence, the third son to King Edward the Third; while he”—Henry IV—“from John of Gaunt—but fourth of that heroic line—doth bring his pedigree!
“But mark: in this haughty attempt, as they laboured to plant the rightful heir, I lost my liberty, and they their lives!
“Long after, when Henry the Fifth, succeeding his father, Bolingbroke, did reign, thy father—Earl of Cambridge, derivèd from famous Edmund Langley, Duke of York, and marrying my sister, who thy mother was—again in pity of my hard distress, levied an army, in supposition it could redeem me, and install me with the diadem!”—the crown.
The ancient shakes his head sadly. “But, as did the rest, so fell that noble earl, and he was beheaded. Thus the Mortimers”—nobles of the House of York—“in whom a title rested, were suppressèd.”
Richard regards his uncle. “Of which, my lord, Your Honour is the last.”
“True; and thou seest that I have no issue,”—offspring, “and that my fainting words do certify death.” The old man leans forward, touching his hand. “Thou art my heir!—the rest”—others of the House of York—“I wish thee to gather!” He whispers, urgently, “But yet be wary in thy studious care!”
Richard nods. “Thy grave admonishments prevail with me! But yet methinks my father’s execution was nothing less than bloody tyranny!”
“With silence, nephew, be thou politic!” warns Mortimer, ever fearful here in the Tower. “Strong-fixèd is the House of Lancaster, and like a mountain, not to be removèd!
“But now thine uncle is removing hence,” he moans, his voice faltering, “as princes do their courts, when they are cloyed with long continuance in a settled place.”
“Oh, Uncle, would some part of my young years might but redeem the passage of your age!”
Weakly, Mortimer laughs. “Thou dost then wrong me, as doth that slaughterer which giveth many wounds when one will kill. Mourn not, except thou sorrow for thy good. Only, give order for my funeral.
“And so farewell… and fair be all thy hopes, and prosperous be thy life… in peace and war….” He sinks back. His eyes close, and in a moment he is gone.
Richard, tearful, eases him down onto the bed. “And peace, no war, befall thy parting soul! In prison hast thou spent a pilgrimage, and like a hermit”—religious recluse—“overpassed thy days.”
He rises. Well will I lock his counsel in my breast!—and what I do imagine, let that rest.
He calls, and the jailers come. “Keepers, convey him hence, and I myself will see that his burial is better than his life.” They turn and go.
Here dies the dusky torch of Mortimer, chokèd by the ambition of a lesser line!
And for those wrongs—those bitter injuries which Somerset hath offered to my house—I doubt not but with honour to redress!
And therefore haste I to the Parliament, either to be restorèd to my blood—or take by ill the advantage of my good!
King Henry VI, all of ten years old, is meeting this morning with lords of England at the Parliament-house in London. One of his father’s brothers walks forward, holding out a document to be offered for consideration.
But another uncle, the Bishop of Winchester, snatches it from his hands—and angrily tears it in half. “Comest thou with deep-premeditated lines, with written pamphlets studiously devisèd, Humphrey of Gloucester?
“If thou canst accuse, or aught intend’st to lay unto my charge, do it without invention—immediately, as I with sudden and extemporal speech purpose to answer what thou canst object!”
“Presumptuous priest!” cries the duke, a hand at he hilt of his sheathed sword. “This place commands my patience, or thou shouldst find how thou hast dishonoured me!
“Think not, although in writing I proffered the manner of thy vile, outrageous crimes, that therefore I have forgèd, or am not able verbatim to rehearse the method of my pen! No, prelate! Such is thy audacious wickedness—thy lewd, pestiferous and dissentious pranks—that very infants prattle of thy pride!
“Thou art a most pernicious usurer!—forward by nature, enemy to peace; lascivious, wanting more than well-beseems a man of thy profession and degree!—and as for thy treachery, what’s more manifest than that thou laid’st a trap to take my life!—at London Bridge, as well as at the Tower!
“Beside, I fear me, if thy thoughts were sifted, the king thy sovereign is not quite exempt from envious malice of thy swelling heart!”
“Gloucester, I do defy thee!” cries the furious bishop. He surveys the noblemen in the huge hall. “Lords, vouchsafe to give me hearing in what I shall reply!
“If I were covetous, ambitious or perverse, as he will have me, how am I so poor? Or how haps it I seek not to advance or raise myself, but keep my wonted calling?” Hearing the barely stifled chuckles—the priest is one of realm’s most wealthy men—he glares. “ And as for dissension, who preferreth peace more than I do?—except I be provokèd!
“No, my good lords, it is not that which offends; it is not that which hath incensed the duke—it is because no one should sway but he!—no one but he should be about the king!—and that engenders thunder in his breast, and makes him roar these accusations forth!
“But he shall know I am as good—”
“As good?” cries Gloucester. “Thou bastard of my grandfather!”
The bishop sneers. “Aye, lordly sir—yet what are you, I pray, but one imperious in another’s throne?”
“Am I not protector, saucy priest?”
“And am not I a prelate of the Church?”
“Yes—and useth it to promote his theft, as an outlaw in a castle’s keep!”
“Thou art ‘reverent’ touching thy spiritual unction,”—soothing rhetoric, “not thy life!”
The bishop scowls. “Rome shall remedy this!” he warns.
“Roam thither, then!”
Somerset would calm Gloucester: “My lord, it were your duty to forbear….”
“Aye,” says Warwick, in mock sympathy with the powerful priest, “see that the bishop be not overborne!”
Somerset chides him: “Methinks my lord should be religious, and know the office that belongs to such!”
“Methinks his lordship should be humbler!” counters Warwick. “It befitteth not a prelate so to plead!”
“Yes,”—it does, “when his holy state is touched so near!” insists Somerset.
“State!—holy or unhallowed, what about it?” asks Warwick. He nods toward Humphrey. “Is not his grace protector to the king?”
- Among the listening nobles, disinherited Richard must suffer in frustration. Plantagenet, I see, must hold his tongue, lest it be said, ‘Speak, sirrah, when you should; must your bold verdict enter talk among lords?’ Else would I have a fling at Winchester!
But now earnest young King Henry, upset by the strife, steps forward. “Uncles—of Gloucester and of Winchester, the special watchmen of our English weal—I would prevail upon you, if prayers might avail, to join your hearts in love and amity!
“Oh, what a scandal is it to our crown that two such noble peers as ye should jar! Believe me, lords, my tender years can tell that civil dissension is a viperous worm that gnaws the bowels of the commonwealth!”
He hears a disturbance outside the doors, where an angry voice cries out, “Down with the tawny-coats!”
“What tumult’s this?” asks the boy.
Warwick replies: “An uproar, I dare warrant, begun through malice of the bishop’s men!”
The shouting just outside grow louder. “Stones! Stones!”
A door flies opens, and the mayor rushes into the hall. “Oh, my good lords, and virtuous Henry, pity the City of London, pity us!
“The bishop’s and the Duke of Gloucester’s men, forbidden of late to carry any weapon, have filled their pockets full of cobblestones, and, banding themselves in contrary parts, do pelt so fast at one another’s pate that many have their giddy brains knocked out!
“Our windows are broke down in every street!—and we, for fear, compelled to shut our shops!”
The tall doors swing wide, and liveried serving-men with bleeding knuckles burst in, struggling in the grasp of others.
The youthful monarch calls to them: “We charge you, on allegiance to ourself, to hold your slaughtering hands and keep the peace!
“Pray, Uncle Gloucester, mitigate this strife!” he pleads, wide-eyed.
One of the combatants turns. “Nay—if we be forbidden stones, we’ll fall to it with our teeth!”
The man’s closest opponent uses the opportunity to break his nose. “Do what ye dare!—we are as resolute!”
As the brawling continues, Gloucester moves forward. “You of my household, leave this peevish broil, and set this unaccustomed fighting aside!”
A man stumbles from the fray to bow hastily to Humphrey. “My lord, we know Your Grace to be a man just and upright; and, for your royal birth, inferior to none but to his majesty! And ere that we will suffer such a prince, so kind a father of the commonweal, to be disgracèd by an ink-horn mate,”—mere clerk, “we and our wives and children, all will fight, and have our bodies slaughtered by thy foes!”
“Aye!” cries the man now wiping blood from his face onto a sleeve, “and the very parings by our nails”—torn wounds—“shall pitch the field”—blacken it with dried gore—“when we are dead!”
Arms flail as the men, growling and kicking, engage in further fisticuffs.
“Stay, stay, I say!” shouts Gloucester. “And if you love me as you say you do, let me persuade you to forbear a while!”
On the throne, the boy is weeping. “Oh, how this discord doth afflict my soul!” He turns to the bishop, whose men appear to be having the best of it. “Can you, my lord of Winchester, behold my sighs and tears, yet not at once relent? Who should be pitying, if you be not? Or who should study to prefer a peace, if holy churchmen take delight in broils?”
Warwick is appalled by the men’s severe breach of decorum, security and law. “Yield, my lord protector! Yield, Winchester!—unless you mean with obstinate repulse to slay your sovereign, and destroy the realm! You see what mischief, and what murder, too, hath been enacted through your enmity! Then be at peace, unless ye thirst for blood!”
“He shall submit, for I will never yield!” says the stone-faced bishop.
“Compassion for the king commands me stop,” says Gloucester, “or ere the priest should get that privilege of me, I would see his heart out!” But some of his combatants have already gone, and he motions again for his men to leave.
“Behold, my lord of Winchester,” Warwick tells the bishop, “the duke hath banished moody, discontented fury, as by his smoothèd brows it doth appear! Why look you still so stern and tragical?”
“Here, Winchester—I offer thee my hand,” says Gloucester. But the bishop turns away.
“Fie, Uncle Beaufort!” cries King Henry. “I have heard you preach that malice was a great and grievous sin!—and will not you maintain the thing you teach, but prove a chief offender in the same?”
“Sweet king, the bishop hath unkindly gird!” says Warwick. He moves swiftly toward the prelate, ignoring his adamant glare. “For shame, my lord of Winchester, relent! What?—shall a child instruct you what to do?”
The bishop flushes. “Well, Duke of Gloucester, I will yield to thee love for thy love,” he says sourly, “and hand for hand I give.”
Aye, but, I fear me, with a hollow heart! thinks Humphrey. Still, he shakes the bishop’s hand, and calls out, to some still-scuffling commoners: “See here, my friends and loving countrymen! This token serveth for a flag of truce betwixt ourselves and all our followers—so help me God, as I dissemble not!”
So help me God, as I intend it not! thinks the bishop, as the fighters separate.
“Oh, loving uncle, kind Duke of Gloucester,” cries the boy, “how joyful am I made by this contract!
“Away, my masters!” he tells the intruders. “Trouble us no more, but join in friendship, as your lords have done!”
“Content,” mutters broken-nose. “I’ll to the surgeon’s.”
“And so will I,” says his opposite, one cheek swollen purple, his lower lip bleeding.
“And I will see what physic the tavern affords!” a third brawler decides.
Led away by the mayor, the bruised and battered servants leave the hall.
The Parliament moves, slowly, back into orderly assembly, facing the king.
They quiet as Warwick brings a document to Henry. “Accept this scroll, most gracious sovereign, which in the right of Richard Plantagenet we do exhibit to Your Majesty.”
“Well urgèd, my lord of Warwick,” says Gloucester. “For, sweet prince, an if Your Grace mark every circumstance, you have great reason to do Richard right—especially for those occasions at Eltham Place I told Your Majesty of….”
“And those occasions, Uncle, were of force,” says Henry. “Therefore, my loving lords, our pleasure is that Richard be restored to his blood!”—hereditary title.
Warwick nods. “Let Richard be restorèd; so shall his father’s wrongs be recompensed.”
The bishop looks around the hall. “As do the rest, so willeth Winchester,” he says, hoping to seem conciliatory.
King Henry nods kindly to Plantagenet. “If Richard will be true, not that alone, but all the whole inheritance I give, that doth belong unto the House of York, from whence you spring by lineal descent.”
Richard bows. “Thy humble servant vows obedience, and humble service till the point of death!”
The king begins the ceremony. “Stoop then, and set your knee against my foot.”
“And, in reguerdon of that duty done,” says Henry, “I gird thee with the valiant sword of York!
“Rise, Richard, like a true Plantagenet, and rise, created princely Duke of York!”
Richard beams at the boy. “And so thrive Richard as thy foes may fall! And as my duty springs, so perish they that grudge one thought against Your Majesty!”
“Welcome, high prince,” says one of the noblemen.
“The mighty Duke of York!” cries another, amid the general acclaim.
Thinks the Lancastrian Duke of Somerset, Perish, base prince, ignoble Duke of York!
The lord protector approaches the boy. “Now will it best avail Your Majesty to cross the seas and to be crownèd in France,” Humphrey advises. “The presence of a king engenders love amongst his subjects and his loyal friends, as it disanimates his enemies.”
Henry smiles agreement. “When Gloucester says the word, King Henry goes; for friendly counsel cuts off many foes.”
Humphrey bows. “Your ships already are in readiness.”
The king’s guard sounds a sennet, and with a colorful flourish, the royal party leaves the hall. Soon the lords and their attendants are drifting away as well.
The silver-haired Duke of Exeter stands, pensive, in the chamber.
Aye, we may march in England or in France, not seeing what is likely to ensue! This late dissension grown betwixt the peers burns under feignèd ashes!—a forcèd love!—and will at last break out into a flame!
And as festered members rot but by degree, till bones’ flesh and sinews fall away, so will this base and envious discord breed!
Now I fear that fatal prophecy which in the time of Henry named the Fifth was in the mouth of every sucking babe: that Henry born at Monmouth —Henry V— should win all, and Henry born at Windsor lose all!
Which is so plain that Exeter doth wish his own days may finish ere that hapless time….
As dawn approaches, Joan walks along a wide road, leading four French soldiers; but all five are disguised as farm hands, and the men carry grain sacks. She peers ahead in the dark, past a stand of trees. “These are the city gates, the gates of Rouen, through which our policy must make a breach!”
King Charles’s nearby forces intend to reclaim, one by one, cities held by the British.
“Take heed,” she says. “Be wary how you place your words; talk like the vulgar sort of market men that come to gather money for their wheat. If we have entrance—as I hope we shall, and that we find the slothful watch but weak—I’ll by a sign give notice to our friends that Charles the dauphin may encounter them!”
The captain carefully besmirches his face with dark earth. “Our sacks shall be a mean to sack the city; then we’ll be lords and rulers over Rouen! Therefore we’ll knock.” The soldier would prefer an open assault.
At the heavy doors, a watchman beyond is eventually roused. He calls from within, irritated by the rough banging, “Qui est la?” —Who’s there?
“Paysans, pauvres gens de France,” calls Joan as he approaches, yawning. “Poor market folks that come to sell their wheat.”
The fat English private unlatches a tiny window; the glow of his low-held lantern gives his face a demonic cast. He closes the peephole and unbars the doors. “Enter,” he says, pushing one of them open a bit. Glancing behind him, he rubs stubbly jowls. “Go in; the market bell is rung.”
The soldiers again shoulder their sacks—many weapons are hidden within—and enter the city. Joan follows, peering up at the shadowy towers. Now, Rouen, I’ll shake thy bulwarks to the ground!
Says King Charles softly, as he leads columns of French troops up the gentle slope toward town, “Saint Denis bless this happy stratagem!—and once again we’ll sleep secure in Rouen!”
Count Dunois edges forward to look past the trees. “Here entered Pucelle and her practisants; now that she is there, how will she specify where is the best and safest passage in?”
Reignier replies: “By thrusting out a torch from yonder tower—which once discernèd shows her meaning and which way, for its weakness, should be entered.”
Even as they watch intently for a signal, Joan is climbing to the top of an eastern tower.
While her comrades’ knives silence the English guard forever, she looks down into the now-teeming darkness outside the wall. Heavy oaken doors creak open, and she raises an arm. Behold! This is the happy wedding torch that joineth Rouen unto her countrymen!—burning deadly for the Talbotites!
Dunois points. “See, noble Charles, the beacon of our friend! The torch in yonder turret stands!”
“Now shine it like a comet of revenge,” cries the king, “a prophet to the fall of all our foes!”
Reignier is already moving. “Defer no time; delays have dangerous ends!
“Enter immediately, and cry ‘The dauphin!’” he calls to the running troops, “and then do execution on the watch!”
As trumpets wail a shrill alarum, British soldiers rush out to counter the violent incursion.
Their general is red-faced with rage. “France, thou shalt rue this treason with thy tears, if Talbot but survive thy treachery!
“Pucelle, that witch, that damnèd sorceress, hath wrought this hellish mischief, such that we, unawares, escape hardly the pride of France!”
Driven from the town, Talbot and Burgundy meet on the grounds just outside its gates, where skirmishing continues. Brought to join them is the ailing regent, now huddled in a chair carried by two men.
Joan, above on a parapet with the king and Lords Alençon, Reignier and Dunois, looks down. “Good morrow, gallants!” she calls to the British. “Want ye wheat for bread?” she calls, taunting. “I think the Duke of Burgundy will fast before he’ll buy again at such a rate!
“’Twas full of darnel!”—weeds. “Do you like the taste?”
Burgundy glares. “Scoff on, vile fiend and shameless courtezan! I trust ere long to choke thee with thine own words, and make thee curse the harvest of that wheat!”
Charles laughs. “Your Grace may starve, perhaps, before that time.”
Bedford leans forward in his chair. “Oh, let no words, but deeds revenge this treason!” he urges his companions.
Joan laughs at him. “What will you do, good grey-beard? Break off a lance, and run a-tilt at Death—within a chair?”
Talbot rages at the enemies above. “Foul fiend of France, and hag of all despite, encompassèd with thy lustful paramours, it becomes thee to taunt his valiant age, and with cowardice twit a man half dead!
“Damsel, I’ll have a bout with you again, or else let Talbot perish with this shame!”
“Are ye so hot, sir?” laughs Joan. “Yet, Pucelle, hold thy peace; if Talbot do but thunder, rain will follow!” she gibes; empty threats yield but tears.
She watches the English lords confer. “God speed the Parliament! Who shall be the speaker?”
Talbot steps forward. “Dare ye come forth and meet us in the field?” he cries.
Again Joan laughs. “Belike Your Lordship takes us, then, for fools, to try whether our own be ours or no!”
Angrily, Talbot motions her aside. “I speak not to that railing Hecate, but unto thee, Alençon, and the rest! Will ye, like soldiers, come and fight it out?”
Alençon regards him with contempt. “Signior, no.”
“Signior, hang!” shouts Talbot. “Base muleteers of France! Like peasant foot-boys do they keep to the walls, and dare not take up arms like gentlemen!”
Joan feigns fear: “Away, captains! Let’s get us from the wall!—for, by his looks, Talbot means no goodness!
“God be wi’ you, my lord,” she calls, as they go. “We came but to tell you that we are here.”
The English commander turns from the wall. “And there will we be, too, ere it be long, or else reproach be Talbot’s greatest fame!
“Vow, Burgundy, by the honour of thy house, pricked on by public wrongs sustained in France, either to get the town again or die! And I—as sure as English Henry lives and as his father was conqueror here, as sure as in this late-betrayèd town great Coeur-de-lion’s heart was burièd!—so sure I swear to get the town or die!”
Burgundy nods grimly. “My vows are equal partners with thy vows!”
“But, ere we go, regard this dying prince, the valiant Duke of Bedford.
“Come, my lord,” Talbot tells John, “we will bestow you in some better place, fitter for sickness and for distracted age.”
“Lord Talbot, do not so dishonour me!” protests John. “Here will I sit before the walls of Rouen, and will be partner of your weal or woe!”
Burgundy comes to his side. “Courageous Bedford, let us now persuade you—”
“Not to be gone from hence!” cries John. “For once I read that stout Pendragon”—King Arthur’s father—“in his litter, sick, came to the field and vanquished his foes!” He looks up at the nobles. “Methinks I should revive the soldiers’ hearts, because I ever found them as myself.”
Talbot is quite moved. Undaunted spirit in a dying breast! “Then be it so! Heavens, keep old Bedford safe!
“And now no more ado, brave Burgundy, but gather we our forces from out of hand, and set upon our boasting enemy!”
Amid the new fighting before the gates, an English captain looks up from cutting the throat of a fallen French townsman on the trodden grass. “Whither away, Sir John Fastolfe, in such haste?”
“Whither away? To save myself by flight! We are not likely to have the overthrow again!”
The officer frowns. “What? Will you fly, and leave Lord Talbot?”
“Aye!—all the Talbots in the world, to save my life!” cries Fastolfe, dashing down the road.
“Cowardly knight! Ill fortune follow thee!”
John watches, pleased as the course of battle turns, and the French troops are driven to retreat.
Now, quiet soul, depart when heaven please, for I have seen our enemies’ overthrow!
He coughs, and his attendants move closer.
What is the trust or strength of foolish Man? They that of late were daring with their scoffs are glad and fain by flight to save themselves!
He groans, and closes his eyes.
The soldiers glance at each other.
Lord John of Bedford is dead, they find; they carry him away in his chair.
“Lost, and recovered again—in a day!” cries Lord Talbot with jubilation. “This is a double honour, Burgundy! Let heavens have glory for this victory!”
“Warlike and martial Talbot, Burgundy enshrines thee in his heart, and there erects thy noble deeds as Valour’s monuments!”
“Thanks, gentle duke. But where is Pucelle now? I think her old familiar”—the Devil—“is asleep! Now where’s the Bastard’s dares and Charles’s gleeks? What, all amort? Rouen hangs her head for grief that such a valiant company are fled!” he says, with exultant sarcasm.
“Now will we make some order in the town, placing therein some expert officers, and then depart to Paris—to the king!—for there young Henry and his nobles lie.”
The French-born duke happily agrees. “What wills Lord Talbot pleases Burgundy!”
“But yet, before we go, let us not forget the noble Duke of Bedford, late deceasèd, but see his exequies fulfilled in Rouen.
“A braver soldier never couchèd lance; a gentler heart did never sway in court; but kings and mightiest potentates must die, for that’s the end of human misery.”
Compelled to abandon the city, Charles and his battered forces hasten to reassemble on the wide plains nearby.
Joan is undaunted. “Dismay not, princes, at this accident, nor grieve that Rouen is so recoverèd! Care about things that are not to be remedied is no cure, but rather corrosive.
“Let frantic Talbot triumph for a while, and like a peacock sweep along his tail; we’ll pull his plumes, and take away his train, if the dauphin and the rest will but be ruled….”
Charles nods. “We have been guided by thee hitherto, and with thy cunning had no difference. One sudden foil shall never breed distrust.”
Dunois agrees. “Search out thy wit for secret policies,” he tells her, “and we will make thee famous through the world!”
“We’ll set thy statue in some holy place,” says Alençon, “and have thee reverenced like a blessèd saint! Employ thee then, sweet virgin, for our good!”
For a moment, she regards the town, deep in thought. “Then thus it must be.
“This doth Joan devise: by fair persuasions mixed with sugared words we will entice the Duke of Burgundy to leave the Talbot, and to follow us.”
“Aye, marry, sweeting! If we could do that, France were no place for Henry’s warriors!” says Charles. “Nor should that nation boast it so with us, but be extirpèd from our provinces!”
“Forever should they be expulsed from France,” says Alençon, “and not have title of an earldom here!”
Joan is confident. “Your Honours shall perceive how I will work to bring this matter to the wishèd end.”
In the distance they can hear trumpet calls, and a military cadence. “Hark! By the sound of drum you may perceive their powers are marching unto Paris’ ward.” They can see the British forces moving steadily away in long formations. “There goes the Talbot, with his colours spread, and all the troops of English after him.”
She watches, her eyes narrowing. “Now in the rearward comes the duke—as his fortune in favour”—esteem among the English—“makes him lag behind.”
Joan turns to the king. “Summon a parley; we will talk with him.”
“A parley with the Duke of Burgundy!” calls Charles to the guard of his colors; men ride forward, and soon deliver the offer.
The duke, accompanied by a contingent of knights, approaches on horseback. “Who craves a parley with Burgundy?” he demands.
Joan replies, “The princely Charles of France,” adding, “thy countryman.”
“What say’st thou, Charles? For I am marching hence….”
Charles defers. “Speak, Pucelle.” And enchant him with thy words! He watches as she moves forward.
Says Joan, removing her helmet, “Brave Burgundy, undoubted hope of France!” A slender hand smoothes her soft, tousled hair. “Stay; let thy humble handmaid speak to thee.”
“Speak on; but be not over-tedious,” says Burgundy, dismounting. If the French king is proposing some settlement, Talbot will want to know about it.
“Look on thy country, look on fertile France, and see the cities and the towns defacèd by wasting ruin of the cruel foe!” cries Joan. “As looks the mother on her lowly babe when Death doth close his tender, dying eyes, see, see the pining malady of France! Behold the wounds!—the most unnatural wounds, which thou thyself hast given her woeful breast!
“Oh, turn thine edgèd sword another way!—strike those that hurt, and hurt not those that help!
“One drop of blood drawn from thy country’s bosom should grieve thee more than streams of foreign gore!”
Her blue eyes scan his face. “Return thee therefore, with a flood of tears, and wash away thy country’s stainèd spots!”
Despite his impassive expression, the duke is moved. Either she hath bewitched me with her words, or nature makes me suddenly relent!
Joan steps closer. “Besides, France and all French exclaim on thee, doubting thy birth and lawful progeny! Who joint’st thou with, but with a lordly nation that will not trust thee but for profit’s sake? When once Talbot hath set footing”—a full occupying force—“in France, and fashioned by thee that instrument of ill, who then but English Henry will be lord?—and thou will be thrust out like a fugitive!
“Call ye to mind, and mark but this for proof: was not the Duke of Orléans thy foe? And was he not in England prisoner? But when they heard he was thine enemy, they set him free without his ransom paid—in despite of Burgundy and all his friends!
“See, then, thou fight’st against thy countrymen, and joint’st with them that will be thy slaughtermen!
“Come, come, return!—return, thou wandering lord! Charles and the rest will take thee in their arms!”
I am vanquishèd! thinks Burgundy. These proud words of hers have battered me like roaring cannon-shot, and made me almost yield upon my knees!
He removes his plumed helmet. “Forgive me, country, and sweet countrymen!” he says tearfully. “And, lords, accept this hearty, kind embrace!” He clasps Alençon around the shoulders. “My forces and my power of men are yours!”
He glances away, toward the distant British columns. “So, farewell, Talbot! I’ll no longer trust thee!”
Joan’s smile is wry; she holds the common view of nobles’ unvarnished honor: Done like a Frenchman: turn, and turn again!
“Welcome, brave duke!” cries Charles. “Thy friendship makes us fresh!”
Dunois beams. “And doth beget new courage in our hearts!”
Thinks Alençon, Pucelle hath bravely played her part in this, and doth deserve a coronet of gold!
Charles grasps Burgundy’s hand. “Now let us on, my lords, and join our powers, and seek how we may harm the foe!”
In a French hall of state, King Henry VI of England holds court; his guardian, the Duke of Gloucester, stands beside the boy. Among the lords who have sailed with them to France and ridden into Paris are Richard Plantagenet, newly created as Duke of York, and the Dukes of Suffolk, Exeter and Somerset, the Earl of Warwick, and the Bishop of Winchester.
A much-honored officer addresses the king this morning. “My gracious prince, and honourable peers,” says Lord Talbot, “hearing of your arrival in this realm, I have awhile given truce unto my wars, to do my duty to my sovereign.
“In sign, whereof,” he says, kneeling, “this arm—that hath reclaimed to your obedience fifty fortresses, twelve cities, and seven wallèd towns of strength, beside five hundred prisoners of esteem—lets fall his sword before Your Highness’ feet, and with submissive loyalty of heart ascribes the glory gotten by this conquest, first to my God, and next unto Your Grace!”
The boy looks up at Humphrey. “Is this the Lord Talbot, Uncle Gloucester, that hath so long been resident in France?”
“Yes, my liege, if it please Your Majesty.”
“Welcome, brave captain and victorious lord! When I was young—and as yet I am not old—I do remember how my father said a stouter champion never handled sword!
“Long since were we resolvèd of your truth, your faithful service, and your toil in war; yet never have you tasted our reward, or been reguerdonèd with so much as thanks, because till now we never saw your face!
“Therefore, stand up; and, for these good deserts, we here create you Earl of Shrewsbury; and in our nation take your place!”
Talbot sheathes his sword and bows, and courtiers gather around him with warm congratulations on his additional title and lands.
A sennet and flourish are sounded, and the lords proceed into the throne-room, eager for young Henry’s coronation as King of France—even if the French will not recognize him as such.
But two young gentlemen remain in the room, still angry after exchanging words on the voyage from England.
“Now, sir, to you, who were so hot at sea, disparaging of these colours that I wear in honour of my noble Lord of York!” says Vernon. “Darest thou maintain the former words thou spakest?”
“Yes, sir!” cries young Basset, “as well as you dare support the envious barking of your saucy tongue against my lord the Duke of Somerset!”
“Sirrah, thy lord I honour as he is.”
“Why, what is he? As good a man as York!”
“Hark ye: not so! In witness, take ye that!” cries Vernon, striking him.
“Villain! Thou know’st the law of arms”—wartime regulation—“is such that whoso draws a sword, ’tis present death, or else this blow should broach thy dearest blood! But I’ll unto his majesty, and crave I may have liberty to avenge this wrong!—when thou shalt see I’ll meet thee to thy cost!”
“Well, miscreant, I’ll be there as soon as you!” says Vernon, starting toward the royal party. “And, after, meet you sooner than you would!”
The Bishop of Winchester stands just behind King Henry of England, both hands raised to position the French crown just above the boy’s head. At the front of the wide throne-room, Henry and his lords have been joined, for the coronation, by the nobleman chosen to serve as the English governor of Paris.
“Lord bishop,” says Gloucester, “set the crown upon his head.”
Winchester lowers it slowly, calling, “God save King Henry, of that name the sixth!”
The boy smiles happily.
“Now, Governor of Paris,” says Gloucester, “take your oath that you elect no other king but him, esteem none friends but such as are his friends, and none your foes but such as shall pretend malicious practises against his state. This shall ye do, so help you righteous God!”
As the governor affirms his allegiance, a knight comes forward and bows to the king.
“My gracious sovereign,” says Sir John Fastolfe officiously, “as I rode from Calais to haste unto your coronation, a letter was delivered to my hands, writ to Your Grace from the Duke of Burgundy.” Gloucester accepts the folded, sealed paper.
“Shame to the Duke of Burgundy and thee!” cries Talbot, coming forward to confront Fastolfe. “I vowed, base knight, when I did meet thee next, to tear the garter from thy craven’s leg!” He rips away the ribbon, badge of the Order of the Garter. “Which I have done, because unworthily wast thou installèd in that high degree!
“Pardon me, princely Henry, and the rest! This dastard, at the battle of Patay—when in all I was but six thousand strong, and the French were almost ten to one—before we met or a stroke was given, like an untested squire did run away!
“In which assault we lost twelve hundred men! Myself, and divers gentlemen beside, were there surprisèd and taken prisoner!
“Then judge, great lords, if I have done amiss—and whether such cowards ought to wear this ornament of knighthood, yea or no!”
Gloucester stares at Fastolfe. “To say the truth, this crime was infamous, ill beseeming any common man—and much more so a knight, a captain and a leader!”
Talbot continues: “When first this order was ordainèd, my lords, Knights of the Garter were of noble birth, valiant and virtuous, full of haughty courage, such as were grown to credit by the wars: not fearing death, nor shrinking for distress, but always resolute in the most extremes.
“He, then, that is not furnished in that sort doth but usurp the sacred name of ‘knight,’ profaning this most honourable order!—and should, if I were worthy to be judge, be quite degraded, like a hedge-born swain that doth presume to boast of gentle blood!”
The young king frowns at the knight. “Stain to thy countrymen, thou hear’st thy doom! Be packing, therefore, thou that wast a knight! Henceforth we banish thee, on pain of death!”
Without a word, Fastolfe bows—and again flees.
“And now, my lord protector,” says Henry, “view the letter sent from our uncle the Duke of Burgundy.”
Examining the document, Gloucester frowns. “What means his grace, that he hath changed his manner? No more than plainly and bluntly, ‘To the king’! Hath he forgot that he is his sovereign? Or doth this churlish superscription portend some alteration in good will?
“What’s here…?” He reads aloud: “‘I have upon especial cause—movèd with compassion for my country’s wreck, together with the pitiful complaints of such as your oppression feeds upon—forsaken your pernicious faction, and joined with Charles, the rightful King of France!’
“Oh, monstrous treachery! Can this be so?—that in alliance, amity and oaths there should be found such false, dissembling guile!”
“What?” says Henry. “Doth my Uncle Burgundy revolt?”
Gloucester nods. “He doth, my lord, and is become your foe.”
“Is that the worst this letter doth contain?” asks the king.
“It is the worst, and all he writes, my lord.”
Henry blinks. “Why, then, Lord Talbot, there, shall talk with him, and give him chastisement for this abuse.” He looks at the commander. “How say you, my lord? Are you content?”
“Content, my liege? Yes!” cries Talbot. “But that I am prevented,”—the king has spoken first, “I should have begged that I might have been so employèd!”
“Then gather strength and march unto him straight,” says Henry. “Let him perceive how ill we brook his treason—and what offence it is to flout his friends!”
Talbot bows. “I go, my lord, in heart desiring you may ever behold confounding of your foes!” He strides away, followed by his officers—all quite eager for a talk with Lord Burgundy.
Two young gentlemen hurry to the throne. Both bow, but Vernon manages to speak first: “Grant me the combat, gracious sovereign!”
“And me, my lord!—grant me the combat too!” says Basset.
Richard of York steps forward to stand beside Vernon. “This is my servant,” says the duke, nodding to the lawyer. “Hear him, noble prince!”
“And this is mine!” says the Duke of Somerset, joining Basset. “Sweet Henry, favour him!”
“Be patient, lords, and give them leave to speak,” says the king. “Say, gentlemen, what makes you thus exclaim, and wherefore crave you combat. And with whom.”
Vernon gestures. “With him, my lord!—for he hath done me wrong!”
“And I with him; for he hath done me wrong!”
The boy-king regards them, both more than twice his age. “What is that wrong whereof you both complain? First let me know, and then I’ll answer you.”
Basset begins. “Crossing the sea from England unto France, this fellow here, with envious, carping tongue, upbraided me about the rose I wear, saying the sanguine colour of the bloom did represent my master’s blushing cheeks when stubbornly he did repugn the truth about a certain question in the law argued betwixt the Duke of York and him!—with other vile and ignominious terms!
“In confutation of which rude reproach, and in defence of my lord’s worthiness, I crave the benefit of law of arms!”
“And that is my petition, noble lord!” cries Vernon. “For though he’d seem, with a forgèd, quaint conceit, to set a gloss upon his bold intent, yet know, my lord, I was provokèd by him!—and he first took exceptions to this badge, pronouncing that the paleness of the flower bewrayed a faintness of my master’s heart!”
Richard, now Duke of York, chides the other’s persistence: “Will not this malice, Somerset, be left?”
“Your private grudge, my Lord of York, will out, though ne’er so cunningly you’d smother it!”
King Henry is perturbed by his followers’ contention over flowers. “Good Lord, what madness rules in brainsick men, when for so slight and frivolous a cause such factious jealousies shall arise! Good cousins, both of York and Somerset, quiet yourselves, I pray, and be at peace!”
“Let this dissension first be tried by fight,” says York, “and then Your Highness shall commend a peace!”
“The quarrel toucheth none but us alone,” says Somerset. “Betwixt ourselves let us decide it then!”
York throws down a glove—a formal challenge in chivalry. “There is my pledge; accept it, Somerset!”
But Vernon is petulant. “Nay, let it rest where it began at first!” he urges York.
Basset tells Somerset, “Confirm it so, mine honourable lord!”
“Confirm it so?” cries Gloucester angrily, moving forward to intervene. “Confounded be your strife!” he tells the gentlemen, “and perish ye, with your audacious prate! Presumptuous vassals!—are you not ashamed with this immodest, clamorous outrage to trouble and disturb the king—and us?”
He confronts the dukes. “And you, my lords, methinks you do not well to bear with their perverse objections—much less to take occasion from their mouths to raise a mutiny betwixt yourselves! Let me persuade you to take a better course!”
“It grieves his highness,” notes old Exeter, nodding toward the throne. “Good my lords, be friends!”
Henry rises. “Come hither, you that would be combatants. Henceforth I charge you, as you love our favour, quite to forget this quarrel and the cause!
“And you, my lords, remember where we are!—in France, amongst a fickle, wavering nation! If they perceive dissension in our looks, and that within ourselves we disagree, how will their grudging acceptance be provokèd?—to wilful disobedience, and rebellion!
“Beside, what infamy will arise when foreign princes shall be certified that, for a toy, a thing of no regard,”—a quarrel over roses, “King Henry’s peers and chief nobility destroyed themselves, and lost the realm of France!
“Oh, think upon the conquest of my father, my tender years—and let us not forego, for a trifle, what was bought with blood!
“Let me be umpire in this doubtful strife. I see no reason, if I wear this rose,” he says, taking Basset’s red one, “that any one should therefore be suspicious I more incline to Somerset than York! Both are my kinsmen, and I love them both! As well they may upbraid me about my crown because, forsooth, the King of Scots is crownèd!”—a small and parochial distinction, in the English view.
“But your discretions can better persuade than I am able to instruct or teach,” adds Henry soothingly. “And therefore, as we hither came in peace, so let us still continue in peace and love.
“Cousin of York, we institute Your Grace to be our regent in these parts of France!
“And, good my Lord of Somerset, unite your troops of horsemen with his bands of foot—and, like true subjects, sons of your progenitors, go cheerfully together, and divest your angry choler—on your enemies!
“Ourself, my lord protector and the rest, after some respite will return to Calais, and from thence to England—where I hope ere long to be presented, by your victories, with Charles, Alençon, and that traitorous rogue!”—Burgundy.
The boy motions to his herald, and heads for his chambers, under a trumpet flourish; the lords and other courtiers bow, and most depart.
As they walk, Warwick says, lightly, hoping to soothe the sting of admonition, “My lord of York, I promise you, the king prettily, methought, did play the orator!”
“And so he did,” says the duke. “But yet I like it not, in that he wears the badge of Somerset!”
“Tsk, that was but his fancy; blame him not! I dare presume, sweet prince, he thought no harm.”
Mutters York, frowning, “An if I thought he did…. But let it rest; other affairs must now be managed.” Attended by Vernon, he and the earl leave the room.
Alone in the long, high hall, the Duke of Exeter again ruminates. Well didst thou, Richard, to suppress thy voice! For, had the passions of thy heart burst out, I fear we should have seen deciphered there more rancorous spite, more furious raging broils, than yet can be imagined or supposèd!
But howsoe’er, no simple man sees this jarring discord of nobility, this shouldering of each other in the court, this factious bandying by their favourites, but that it doth presage some ill event!
’Tis much when sceptres are in children’s hands, but more when envy breeds unkind division. There comes the rain—there begins calamity!
In Southwestern France
“Go to the gates of Bourdeaux, trumpeter! Summon their general unto the wall!”
The horn blares out its demand, and soon the French garrison’s commander and several city officials appear, aloft, to stare down at the British troops assembled behind their general.
He speaks: “English John Talbot, captains, calls you forth!—servant in arms to Harry, King of England!
“And thus would he: open your city gates! Be humble to us, call my sovereign yours, and do him homage as obedient subjects, and I’ll withdraw me and my bloody power.
“But if you frown upon this proffered peace, you tempt the fury of my three attendants: lean famine, quartering steel, and climbing fire!—who in a moment shall lay your stately and air-braving towers level with the earth, if you forsake the offer of their love!”
Scornfully, the French general calls down: “Thou owl of ominous Death, terror of our nation’s fearful, and their bloody scourge, the period”—end point—“of thy tyranny approacheth!
“From us thou canst not entreat but for death, for I protest we are well fortified—and strong enough to issue out and fight!
“If thou retire,” he says, pointing past the English force, “the dauphin, well appointed, stands with the snares of war to tangle thee! On either hand of thee there are squadrons pitchèd to wall thee from the liberty of flight! And no way canst thou turn thee for redress but that devastation doth meet thee in the face, and pale Death front thee with obvious spoil!
“Ten thousand French have ta’en the sacrament to train their dangerous artillery upon no Christian soul but English Talbot!”
He motions at the general below. “Lo, there thou stand’st, a breathing, valiant man, of an invincible, unconquerèd spirit; this is the final glory of thy praise that I, thine enemy, endue thee withal, for ere the glass that now begins to run finishes the process of its sandy hour, these eyes, that see thee now well colourèd, shall see thee withered, bloody, pale and dead!
“Hark! Hark!—the dauphin’s drum! A waning bell sings heavy music to thy timorous soul—but mine shall ring thy dire departure out!” At his nod, bells in the city’s towers begin to chime—a signal. He stalks away, leading the townsmen from the parapet.
Talbot is alarmed. “He fables not; I hear the enemy! Out, some light horsemen, and peruse their wings!” he calls, to a captain among his closely gathered troops. But the big French battalions are already marching into view.
“Oh, negligent and heedless discipline!—now are we enclosèd as if mazed in a park, a little herd of England’s timorous deer, bounded by a yelping kennel of French curs!
“If we be English deer, be then in blood!—not whelp-like to fall down at a pang, but rather moody, mad, and desperate stags!—to turn on the bloody hounds with heads of steel, and make the cowards stand apart, at bay!”
He draws his sword and raises it high. “Sell every man his life as dear as mine,” he cries, “and they shall find dear”—costly—“deer in us, my friends!
“God and Saint George, Talbot and England’s right prosper our colours in this dangerous fight!”
Elsewhere in Gascony, a messenger who is hurrying through the British encampment toward the Duke of York’s command tent is hailed by England’s new Regent of France. “Are not the speedy scouts that doggèd the mighty army of the dauphin returned again?” asks Richard.
“They are returnèd, my lord!—and give it out that he has marched to Bourdeaux with his power, to fight with Talbot! As he marched along, by your espials were discovered two mightier troops than that the dauphin led, which joined with him and made their march for Bourdeaux!”
Richard complains to his officers: “A plague upon that villain Somerset, who thus delays my promised supply of horsemen that were levied for this siege! Renownèd Talbot doth expect my aid, but I am flouted by a traitor villain, and cannot help the noble chevalier! God comfort him in this necessity! If he miscarry, farewell wars in France!”
Sir William Lucy rides up at a gallop, quickly dismounts, and greets Richard with a bow. “Thou princely leader of our English strength, never so needed on the earth of France, spur to the rescue of the noble Talbot, who now is girdled with a waist of iron, and hemmed about with grim destruction!
“To Bourdeaux, warlike duke! To Bourdeaux, York! Else, farewell Talbot, France, and England’s honour!”
Richard seems angry. “Oh, God, I would that Somerset, who in proud heart doth stop my cornets, were in Talbot’s place!—thus should we save a valiant gentleman by forfeiting a traitor and coward! Mad ire and wrathful fury make me weep, that thus we die, while remiss traders sleep!”
Sir William pleads: “Oh, send some succor to the distressèd lord!”
But York only stares out, morosely, over his legions of foot soldiers. “He dies; we lose—I break my warlike word! We mourn, France smiles! We lose; they daily get—all because of this vile traitor Somerset!”
The knight stares. “Then God have mercy on brave Talbot’s soul!—and on his son, young John, who two hours ago I met in travel toward his warlike father! This seven years did not Talbot see his son!—and now they meet where both their lives are done!”
York nods sadly. “Alas, what joy shall noble Talbot have, to bid his young son welcome to his grave?” He motions to his lieutenant for the troops to begin breaking camp. “Away! Vexation almost stops my breath, that sundered friends greet in the hour of death!”
He turns, ready to prepare for the march. “Lucy, farewell; no more my fortune can, but curse the cause I cannot aid the man!
“Blois, Poitiers, Maine and Tours are won away, all due to Somerset’s delay!” he insists, going into the tent.
The knight reflects angrily as he mounts his sweaty steed. Thus, while the vulture of sedition feeds in the bosom of such great commanders, sleeping neglection doth betray to loss the conquest of our scarce-cold conqueror, that man of ever-living memory, Henry the Fifth!
He spurs the steed forward. Whiles they each other cross, lives, honours, lands and all hurry to loss!
“It is too late; I cannot send them now,” Lord Somerset tells the frantic sergeant dispatched by Talbot from Bourdeaux. “This expedition was by York and Talbot too rashly plotted: all our general force might, in one sally, be buckled to that very town! The over-daring Talbot hath sullied all his gloss of former honour by this unheedful, desperate, wild adventure!
“York set him on to fight and die in shame so that, Talbot dead, great York might bear the fame!”
The sergeant sees a rider approaching. “Here is Sir William Lucy, who with me set forth for aid of our o’ermatchèd forces….”
“How now, Sir William,” calls Somerset, frowning, “whither were you sent?” He had expected the gentleman to remain with York.
The knight glowers, stepping down from his lathered mount. “Whither, my lord? From bought-and-sold Lord Talbot!—who, ringed about with bold adversity, cries out for noble York and Somerset to beat assailing Death from his weak legions!
“But, whiles the honourable captain there drops bloody sweat from his war-wearied limbs, and as advantage lingers, looks for rescue, you two—his false hopes, the trusts of England’s honour!—keep off, aloof in worthless rivalry!
“Let not your private discord keep away the levied succor that should lend him aid, while he, renownèd, noble gentleman, yields up his life unto a world of odds!
“Orléans the bastard, Charles, Burgundy, Alençon, Reignier compass him about, and Talbot perisheth!—by your default!”
But Somerset is defiant. “York set him on; York should have sent him aid.”
“And York as fast upon Your Grace exclaims!” cries the exasperated knight, “swearing that you withhold his levied host, collected for this expedition!”
“York lies,” says Somerset. “He might have sent and had the horse! I owe him little duty, and less love—and take in full scorn to fawn on him by sending.”
Sir William shakes his head in despair. “The feud of England, not the force of France, hath now entrapped the noble-minded Talbot! Never to England shall he bear his life—but dies, betrayèd to Fortune by your strife!”
Wary, now, of that perception, Somerset turns toward the camp’s eastern edge, where the horses have been kept. “Come, I will dispatch the horsemen straight. Within six hours they will be at his aid.”
Six hours. “Too late comes rescue,” says the knight sadly. “He is ta’en or slain. For fly he could not, if he would have fled; and fly would Talbot never, though he might.”
Says Somerset, “If he be dead, then brave Talbot, adieu.”
His fame lives in the world, thinks Sir William, his shame in you!
Amidst the closing English ranks at Bourdeaux, Lord Talbot confers urgently with a captain—his son, nineteen.
“O young John Talbot,” moans the general, “I did send for thee to tutor thee in stratagems of war, that Talbot’s name might be in thee revived when sapless age and weak, unable limbs should bring thy father to his drooping chair.
“But—oh, malignant and ill-boding stars!—now thou art come unto a feast of death, terrible and implacable danger! Therefore, dear boy, mount on my swiftest horse, and I’ll direct thee how thou shalt escape by sudden flight! Come, dally not!—be gone!”
The young man shakes his head. “Is my name Talbot? And am I your son?—and shall I fly?
“Oh, if you love my mother, dishonour not her honourable name by making a bastard and a slave of me! The world will say, ‘He is not Talbot’s blood, that basely fled when noble Talbot stood!’”
“Fly to revenge my death, if I be slain!”
John only smiles. “He that flies so will ne’er return again.”
“If we both stay, we both are sure to die!”
“Then let me stay, and, Father, do you fly! Your loss is great; so your regard should be! My worth unknown, no loss is known in me. Upon my death the French can little boast; in yours they will! With you all hopes are lost!
“Flight cannot stain the honour you have won—but mine it will, who no exploit have done! You fled for vantage, every one will swear; but, if I bow, they’ll say it was for fear.
“There is no hope that ever I will stay, if in the first hour I shrink and run away!” He removes his helmet. “Here on my knee I beg mortality, rather than life preservèd with infamy!”
“Shall all thy mother’s hopes lie in one tomb?”
“Aye, rather than I’ll shame my mother’s womb!”
“Upon my blessing, I command thee go!”
“To fight I will!—but not to fly the foe.”
Talbot pleads: “Part of thy father may be saved in thee!”
“No part of him but might be shamed in me!”
“Thou never hadst renown, nor canst not lose it.”
“Yes!—your renownèd name! Shall flight abuse it?”
“Thy father’s charge”—order—“shall clear thee from that stain!”
“You cannot witness it for me, being slain,” protests John Talbot. “If death be so apparent, then both fly!”
Talbot is aghast. “And leave my followers here to fight and die? My age was never tainted with such shame!”
John Talbot rises. “And shall my youth be guilty of such blame? No more can I be severed from your side than can yourself yourself in twain divide! Stay, go, do what you will, the like do I; for live I will not, if my father die!”
Lord Talbot regards the young officer proudly. “Then here I take my leave of thee, fair sun, born to eclipse thy life this afternoon!
“Come, side by side, together live and die! And soul with soul, from France to heaven fly!”
Drumming rumbles along the field of battle, and trumpets signal the rise and fall of soldiers’ excursions into violent clashes of armed men—some striding, proud and fierce in fine armor, with swords of Spanish steel and emblems of heraldry painted on their shields, determined to find glory; others crouching in drab and dirty homespun, hoping to survive, with fear in their hearts, knives and pikes clutched in hands slick with blood.
“Saint George and victory!” cries Lord Talbot. “Fight, soldiers, fight!” he calls to his men. “The regent hath with Talbot broken his word, and left us to the rage of France’s sword!”
He cuts down a French foot soldier among three attacking an English knight, and slashes the left shoulder of another, who whirls to face him. Talbot’s sword stabs deep into the belly; pressing a foot against the enemy’s thigh, he jerks the blade free, and watches blood gush forth. The young face goes pale, and the boy’s eyes roll back as he falls to the very turf he played on as a child.
“Where is John Talbot?” calls the general, while the nearby knight graciously finishes off a screaming French man whose severed arm lies on the ground beside him.
As his son removes his helmet, grinning, Talbot smiles. “Pause, and take thy breath! I gave thee life, and rescued thee from death!”
“O twice my father, twice am I thy son! The life thou gavest me first was lost and done, till with thy warlike sword, defying ‘late,’ to my determinèd time thou gavest new date!”
“When from the dauphin’s crest thy sword struck fire, it warmed thy father’s heart with proud desire of bold-faced victory!” Talbot tells him, of one earlier incident. “Then leaden age, animated with youthful spleen and warlike rage, beat down Alençon, Orléans, Burgundy—and from the pride of Gallia”—Charles and the three nobles—“rescued thee!
“The ireful bastard of Orléans, that drew blood from thee, my boy, and had the maidenhood of thy first fight, I soon encounterèd—and interchanging blows, I quickly shed some of his bastard blood!—and to his disgrace bespoke him thus: ‘Contaminated, base and misbegotten blood I spill of thine, mean and right poor, for that pure blood of mine which thou didst force from Talbot my brave boy!’”
He glances around them on the field. “Here, purposing the bastard to destroy,” he says, “I came in strong rescue.
“Speak to thy father’s care; art thou not weary, John? How dost thou fare? Wilt thou yet leave the battle, boy, and fly, now thou art sealèd as a son of chivalry?
“Fly!—to revenge my death when I am dead! The help of one stands me in little stead! Oh, too much folly is it, well I wot, to hazard all, our lives in one small boat! If I today die not with Frenchmen’s rage, tomorrow I shall die with mickle age! By me they nothing gain an if I stay: ’tis but the shortening of my life one day!
“In thee thy mother dies, our household’s name, my death’s revenge, thy youth, and England’s fame! All these and more we hazard by thy stay; all these are saved if thou wilt fly away!”
Says John, still bleeding, “The sword of Orléans hath not made me to smart, drawn life-blood from my heart; these words of yours, bought with such shame, own that advantage: to save paltry life and slay bright fame! Before young Talbot from old Talbot fly, may the coward horse that bear me fall and die! Then liken me to the peasant boys of France, to bear shame’s scorn, a subject of Mischance!
“Surely by all the glory you have won, an if I fly I am not Talbot’s son! Then talk no more of flight—it is no boot! If son to Talbot, die at Talbot’s foot!”
Cries the graybeard, “Then follow thou thy desperate sire of Crete, thou Icarus! Thy life to me is sweet! If thou wilt fight, fight by thy father’s side!
“And, commendable proved, let’s die in pride!”
A corporal leads Lord Talbot, now gravely injured, through an open space.
“Where is my other life? Mine own is gone,” groans the warrior. “Oh, where’s young Talbot?—where is valiant John?
“O triumphant Death, smearèd in capturing, young Talbot’s valour makes me smile at thee!” He regards his own gory gashes. “When he perceived me shrink, then on my knee, his bloody sword he brandished over me, and, like a hungry lion, did commence rough deeds of rage and stern impatience!
“But when my angry guardant stood alone, alarmed at my ruin and assailed by none, dizzy-eyed fury and great rage of heart suddenly made him from my side to start, into the clustering battle of the French!
“And in that sea of blood my boy did drench his over-mounting spirit,” he sobs, “and there died my blossom, my Icarus, in his pride!”
The servant points. “O my dear lord, lo where your son is borne!” Two soldiers carry John Talbot to his father.
Slowly, painfully, Lord Talbot kneels beside the fallen youth. “Thou antic, Death, which laugh’st us here to scorn,” he calls out, “anon from thy insulting tyranny, coupled in bonds of perpetuity, two Talbots, blithe and wingèd, through the sky in thy despite shall escape mortality!”
He touches the still-warm face. “O thou, whose wounds beckon hard-favoured Death, speak to thy father ere thou yield thy breath!”
Reaching a steadying hand to the ground, he manages to sit. “Defy Death!—speak whether he will or no! Imagine him a Frenchman—and thy foe!
“Poor boy. He smiles, methinks, as if to say, ‘Had Death been French, then Death had died today!’”
Talbot motions to the men. “Come, come and lay him in his father’s arms; my spirit can no longer bear these harms!”
The men so move the body—but flee as French troops approach.
“Soldiers, adieu!” calls the old man. “I have what I would have: now my old arms are young John Talbot’s grave.”
Leaning forward to kiss his son’s cheek, he gasps at a sudden new pain—and then he is still.
As some dejected British prisoners are being led away under guard, King Charles walks among the dead with Alençon and Burgundy, Joan and Dunois. Soldiers follow.
“Had York and Somerset brought rescue in, we should have found a bloody day in this!” notes the king.
Dunois strides to two bodies. “How this young whelp of Talbot’s, raging, did flesh his puny sword in French men’s blood!”
“Once I encountered him,” Joan tells them, “and thus I said: ‘Thou maiden youth, be vanquished by a maid!’ But with a majestical-high scorn, he answered thus: ‘Young Talbot was not born to be the pillage of a giglot wench!’ So, rushing into the bowels of the French, he left me—proudly—as unworthy to fight.” She smirks now, looking at his corpse.
Burgundy kneels beside the father and son. “Doubtless he would have made a noble knight; see where he lies, enhearsèd in the arms of a most-bloody nurser of his harms.”
“Hew them to pieces!” cries Dunois angrily, “hack their bones asunder, whose life was England’s glory, Gallia’s wonder!”
Charles stops the sergeant. “Oh, no; forbear. For that which we have fled during the life, let us not wrong it, dead.”
They see a French officer approaching—followed by an English knight and his attendants. “Herald,” Sir William Lucy is saying, “conduct me to the dauphin’s tent, to know who hath attained the glory of the day.”
“On what submissive embassage art thou sent?” demands King Charles.
“Submission, dauphin? ’Tis a mere French word; we English warriors wot not what it means. I come to know what prisoners thou hast ta’en, and to survey the bodies of the dead.”
“For prisoners ask’st thou? Hell our prison is!” retorts Charles. “But tell me whom thou seek’st.”
Sir William names only one man—comparing him to Hercules: “Where’s the great Alcides of the field?—valiant Lord Talbot: created Earl of Shrewsbury for his rare success in arms, great Earl of Washford, Waterford and Valence, Lord Talbot of Goodrig and Urchinfield, Lord Strange of Blackmere, Lord Verdun of Alton, Lord Cromwell of Wingfield, Lord Furnival of Sheffield, the thrice-victorious Lord of Falconbridge, knight of the noble orders of Saint George, worthy Saint Michael, and the Golden Fleece, great marshal to Henry the Sixth for all his wars within the realm of France!”
Joan laughs harshly. “Here is a silly stately style indeed! The Turk, that two-and-fifty kingdoms hath,”—a deck of minor, heathen conquests, “writes not in so tedious a style as this!” She points. “Him that thou magnifiest with all these titles, stinking and fly-blown lies here at our feet!”
The knight moves to kneel beside the bodies. “Is Talbot slain?—the Frenchman’s lone scourge, your kingdom’s terror and black nemesis!”
He stares up at the enemy lords. “Oh, were mine eyeballs turnèd into bullets, that I in rage might shoot them at your faces! Oh, that I could but call these dead to life!—it were enough to fright the realm of France! Were but his picture left amongst you here, it would amaze the proudest of you all!
“Give me their bodies,” he demands, rising, “that I may bear them hence, and give them burial as beseems their worth!”
Joan sneers: “I think this upstart is old Talbot’s ghost, he speaks with such a proud, commanding spirit!
“For God’s sake let him have ’em,” she tells Charles. “Keeping them here, they would but stink, and putrefy the air.” The king nods. “Go, take their bodies hence!”
“I’ll bear them hence,” says Sir William, tears in his eyes, “but from their ashes shall be reared a phoenix that shall make all France afeard!”
Charles has already turned and started away, and is pulling on his lace-trimmed gloves. “So we be rid of them, do with ’em what thou wilt.”
He smiles at Joan, walking beside him. “And now to Paris, in this conquering vein!
“All will be ours, now bloody Talbot’s slain!”
In the palace at London, King Henry VI has received missives from Pope Eugenius IV, from Sigismund of the Holy Roman Empire, and from a leading French nobleman. Now of legal majority but still childlike, sheltered, and religious, Henry continues to take guidance from his uncle.
“Have you perused the letters from the Pope, the Emperor, and the Earl of Armagnac?” he asks Humphrey this morning.
“I have, my lord,” says Gloucester, “and their intent is this: they humbly sue unto Your Excellence to have a godly peace concluded between the realms of England and of France.”
“How doth Your Grace like their motion?”
“Well, my good lord,” says the duke, “and as the only means to stop effusion of our Christian blood, and establish quietness on every side.”
Henry is pleased. “Aye, marry, Uncle!—for I always thought it was both impious and unnatural that such inhumanity and bloody strife should reign among professors of one faith!”
“Beside, my lord, the sooner to effect—and surer to bind—this knot of amity, the Earl of Armagnac, near-knit to Charles, and a man of great authority in France, proffers his only daughter to Your Grace in marriage, with a large and sumptuous dowry!” Humphrey has carefully arranged the lucrative agreement.
Henry, pious and scholarly, blushes. “Marriage, Uncle? Alas, my years are young, and fitter is my study in my books than wanton dalliance with a paramour!
“Yet call the ambassadors, and, as you please, so let them have their answers, every one. I shall be well content with any choice that tends to God’s glory and my country’s weal.”
At Gloucester’s nod, the herald’s cornet sounds a sennet, and three emissaries enter the tall throne room, followed by their attendants. The legate from Rome is accompanied by an English prelate robed in red.
Thinks Lord Exeter, surprised; What? Is my lord of Winchester called, installèd unto a cardinal’s degree? He frowns. Then I perceive that what Henry the Fifth did sometime prophesy will be verified: ‘If once he come to be a cardinal, he’ll make his cap co-equal with the crown!’
Henry smiles at the visitors. “My lords ambassadors, your several suits have been considered and debated on. And therefore are we certainly resolved to draw conditions”—list terms—“of a friendly peace!—which by my lord of Winchester we mean shall be transported presently to France.”
Gloucester addresses Armagnac’s representative: “And for the proffer of my lord your master, I have informed his highness so at large that, as liking of the lady’s virtuous gifts, her beauty, and the value of her dower, he doth intend she shall be England’s queen!”
Henry slides a ruby ring from his finger. “In argument and proof of which contract, bear her this jewel, pledge of my affection.” He hands it to the French gentleman.
“And so, my lord protector, see them guarded and safely brought to Dover,” Henry tells Humphrey, “where inshippèd, commit them to the fortune of the sea!”
The emissaries, all highly pleased, bow and begin to follow Gloucester out past the high double doors.
The cardinal advises the Italian privately, “Stay, my lord legate. You shall first receive the sum of money which I promised should be delivered to His Holiness for clothing me in these grave ornaments.”
“I will attend upon Your Lordship’s leisure.”
As they walk, the churchman savors progress. Now Winchester will not submit, I trow, nor be inferior to the proudest peer!
Humphrey of Gloucester, thou shalt well perceive that neither in birth nor for authority will the bishop be overborne by thee!
I’ll either make thee stoop and bend thy knee, or sack this country with a mutiny!
On the plain of Anjou in France, King Charles shows a document to the commanders of his forces challenging English occupation. “These news, my lords, may cheer our drooping spirits! ’Tis said the stout Parisians do revolt, and turn again unto the warlike French!”
“Then march to Paris, royal Charles of France,” cries Alençon, “and keep not back your powers in dalliance!”
But there has been contention among factions in Paris. “Peace be amongst them if they turn to us,” says Joan sternly, “else may ruin compete within their palaces!”
A horseman rides up to the king, dismounts and bows. “Success unto our valiant general, and happiness to his accomplices!”
“What tidings send our scouts?” asks Charles eagerly. “I prithee, speak!”
“The English army that was divided into two parties is now conjoinèd in one, and means to give you battle presently!”
Charles is taken aback. “Somewhat too sudden, sirs, the warning is! But we will presently provide for them!”
“I trust the ghost of Talbot is not there,” says Burgundy. “Now he is gone, my lord, you need not fear.”
Jaws tightening, Joan grasps the hilt of her sheathed sword.. “Of all base passions, fear is most accursèd!
“Command the conquest, Charles!—it shall be thine! Let Henry fret, and all the world repine!”
Charles is exuberant. “Then on, my lords—and France be fortunate!”
Soon ready, they march to meet the English.
Alone on a hilltop, Joan watches in dismay as the powerful, combined force now led by Richard of York fights its way ever closer. The regent conquers, and the French men fly!
She looks up at the thick and gathering clouds, lowering dark above her. “Now help, ye spells for charming!—and periapts!” She rubs her arms to incite the magical protections invoked by what is written on the cloths wrapping them. She peers up into the gloom. “And ye, choice spirits that admonish me, give me signs of future occurrence!”
Lightning flashes, briefly illuminating the valley below, and providing a glimpse of the deadly battle in which English troops are engulfing resistance.
She calls, as the thunder rumbles away, “You speedy helpers that are substitutes under the lordly monarch of the North,”—the strongest of cold winds, “appear, and aid me in this enterprise!”
While the storm looms nearer, gusts stir up dry dirt and dead leaves—and dim, inchoate figures rise in the eddies swirling around her. “This speedy and quick appearance argues proof of your accustomed diligence to me!
“Now, ye familiar spirits, that are cullèd out of the powerful regions under earth, help me this once, that France may get the field!”
With feverish intensity she watches the specters dancing about her.
“Oh, hold me not with silence over-long!” She bares a scarred arm. “Where I was wont to feed you with my blood, I’ll lop a member off, and give it you in earnest of further benefit, if you do condescend to help me now!”
As rain begins to fall, the fleeting forms slow.
“No hope to have redress?
“My body shall pay recompense, if you will grant my suit!” she cries in desperation.
“Cannot my body nor blood-sacrifice entreat you to your wonted furtherance? Then take my soul!—my body, soul and all!—rather than England give the French a fall!”
The shrinking shadows dissipate, and crumpled bits of withered leaf flutter and drift to the ground as the storm breaks.
I see they forsake me!
She draws her sword and starts down the hill in the pelting rain.
Now the time is come that France must lower her lofty-plumèd crest, and let her head fall into England’s lap. My ancient incantations are too weak, and Hell too strong for me to buckle with!
Now, France, thy glory droopeth to the dust!
Joining a band of French soldiers in the vanguard of a lone, bold excursion, Joan flings herself forward, sword darting out to fell a huge advancing Briton just as he lifts an axe over his head; astonished, he topples back. Her blade proves lethal among the men, all taller—until she loses footing and falls; the bloody old sword of Touraine drops into the mud.
She sees that the French troops are all running to follow their fleeing army. English fighters surge forward, and two soldiers quickly haul Joan from the ground, pinioning her arms behind her. Their commander, leading the attack, spots the prisoner.
“Damsel of France, I think I have you fast!” cries Richard of York. “Unchain your spirits now with spelling charms, and try if they can gain your liberty!”
He pulls off her helmet. “A goodly prize, fit for the Devil’s grace! See how the ugly wench doth bend her brows!—as if with Circe she would change my shape!” The goddess turned Odysseus’s men into swine.
Joan spits. “Changèd to a worser shape thou canst not be!”
“Oh, Charles the dolphin is a proper man!” gibes York. “No shape but his can please your dainty eye!”
“A plaguing mischief alight on Charles and thee!” cries Joan, feeling betrayed and forsaken. “And may ye both be suddenly surprisèd by bloody hands when sleeping on your beds!”
“Fell, damning hag! Enchantress, hold thy tongue!”
Says Joan, seething, “I prithee, give me leave to curse a while!”
York motions for the men to drag her away. “Curse, miscreant, when thou comest to the stake!”
The sun has come out again. “Be what thou wilt, thou art my prisoner,” says the English officer, taking a young French lady by the hand at Tours, just outside a besieged castle—to which she has been caught trying to flee as the British approached.
“O fairest beauty, do not fear nor fly!” he tells her kindly. “For I will touch thee but with reverent hands!” He lifts her left one. “I kiss these fingers for eternal peace, and lay them gently at thy tender side.
“Who art thou? Say, that I may honour thee.”
“Margaret is my name—and daughter to a king, the King of Naples,” she says haughtily, “whosoe’er thou art.”
“An earl I am, and Suffolk am I called. Be not offended by Nature’s miracle: thou art allotted to be ta’en by me! So doth the swan her downy cygnets save, keeping them prisoner underneath her wings!
“Yet if this servile usage once offend, go and be free again, as Suffolk’s friend!
“Oh, stay!” he pleads, laughing, as she starts to pull away. William de la Pole is enchanted. I have no power to let her pass! My hand would free her, but my heart says no! As plays the sun upon the glassy stream, twinkling at another, counterfeited beam, so seems this gorgeous beauty to mine eyes!
Fain would I woo her, yet I dare not speak! I’ll call for pen and ink, and write my mind….
Fie, de la Pole! Disable not thyself!—hast not a tongue? Is she not here? Wilt thou be daunted at a woman’s sight?
Aye!—beauty’s princely majesty is such as confounds the tongue, and makes the senses rough!
Margaret faces him boldly. “Say, Earl of Suffolk—if thy name be so—what ransom must I pay before I pass? For I perceive I am thy prisoner.”
He does not want to release her yet. How canst thou tell she will deny thy suit before thou make a trial of her love?
“Why speak’st thou not? What ransom must I pay?”
She’s beautiful, and therefore to be wooed; she is a woman, therefore to be won!
“Wilt thou accept of ransom?—yea, or no!”
Fond man, remember that thou hast a wife! Then how can Margaret be thy paramour?
She frowns, watching the troubled Englishman. I were best to leave him, for he will not hear!
William is staring down, muttering. “There all is marred; there lies a cooling card…..”
Margaret is puzzled. He talks at random; surely the man is mad!
Suffolk ponders. “And yet a dispensation may be had….”
She is impatient. “And yet I would that you would answer me!”
I’ll win this Lady Margaret! He ponders sourly. For whom?
Why, for my king! Suffolk is fast contriving a scheme to keep her close at hand. He pictures the pious and credulous young Henry—and chuckles, blurting out, “Tsk, that’s a wooden thing!”
She stares. He talks of wood!—it is some carpenter!
William is thinking. Yet so, my fancy may be satisfied—and peace established between these realms! But there remains a qualm in that, too; for though her father be the King of Naples, Duke of Anjou and Maine, yet is he poor, and our nobility will scorn the match….
Margaret pulls her hand away, annoyed; she is hardly accustomed to being ignored. “Hear ye, captain!” she says angrily. “Are you now on leave?”
Suffolk is resolved. It shall be so, disdain they ne’er so much! Henry is youthful, and will quickly yield. He steps closer. “Madam, I have a secret to reveal!”
“What, though I’m already enthralled?” she asks, voice deep with sarcasm. He seems a knight, and will not dishonour me any way….
“Lady, vouchsafe to listen what I say!”
Perhaps I shall be rescued by the French, and then I need not crave his courtesy. She turns away.
“Sweet madam, give me hearing in a cause….”
Margaret reassures herself: “Tsk, women have been captivate ere now!”
Now Suffolk is nonplussed. “Lady, wherefore talk you so?”
“I cry you mercy,” says Margaret sourly to the puzzled lord, “’tis but quid for quo!”
But he smiles, and speaks soothingly: “Say, gentle princess: would you not suppose your bondage happy, to be made a queen?”
“To be a queen in bondage is more vile than is a slave in base servility,” she replies sharply, “for princes should be free!”
“And so shall you, if happy England’s royal king be free!”
“Why, what concerns his freedom unto me?”
“I’ll undertake to make thee Henry’s queen!—to put a golden sceptre in thy hand, and set a precious crown upon thy head, if thou wilt condescend to be my—”
Surprised—and flattered—Margaret considers carefully. “I am unworthy to be Henry’s wife….”
“No, gentle madam, I unworthy am, to woo so fair a dame to be his wife!” And have a portion in the choice myself! “How say you, madam; are ye content?”
Margaret slowly nods. “An if my father please, I am content.”
Suffolk is delighted. He signals to his ensign. “Then call our captains and our colours forth! And, madam, at your father’s castle walls we’ll crave a parley, to confer with him.”
The herald’s trumpet sounds a call for negotiation, and before long Lord Reignier comes to the stone parapet high above.
“See, Reignier, see, thy daughter prisoner!” calls Suffolk.
Reignier recognizes him; but he shrugs. “Suffolk, what remedy? I am a soldier, and unapt to weep, or to exclaim on Fortune’s fickleness.”
Suffolk steps forward, smiling. “Yet there is remedy enough, my lord! Consent!—for thine honour, give consent: that thy daughter shall be wedded to my king! I with pain have wooed and won her thereto!—and thus her easy-held imprisonment hath gained thy daughter princely liberty!”
Reignier is astonished. “Speaks Suffolk as he thinks?”
“Fair Margaret knows that Suffolk doth not flatter, feint, or feign!”
The King of Naples nods happily. “Upon thy princely warrant, I descend to give thee answer of thy just demand!”
“And here I will expect thy coming.”
The trumpet sounds again as the castle gates swing open, and the duke emerges with attendants. “Welcome, brave earl, into our territories! Command in Anjou what Your Honour pleases!”
Suffolk bows courteously. “Thanks, Reignier, happy for so sweet a child, fit to be made companion with a king! What answer makes Your Grace unto my suit?”
“Since thou dost deign to woo her little worth to be the princely bride of such a lord—upon condition that I may quietly enjoy mine own, with Maine and Anjou, free from oppression or the stroke of war—my daughter shall be Henry’s, if he please.”
Suffolk smiles. “That is her ransom! I will deliver her, and undertake that Your Grace shall well and quietly enjoy the two countries.”
Reignier bows, very pleased. “And I again, in Henry’s royal name, give thee, as deputy unto that gracious king, her hand for sign of plighted faith.”
“Reignier of France, I give thee kingly thanks, because this is in traffic of a king!” says Suffolk. And yet, methinks, I could be well content to be mine own attorney in this case!
“I’ll over, then, to England with this news, and make this marriage to be solemnizèd.
“So farewell, Reignier!” He kisses Margaret’s hand. “Set this diamond safe in golden palaces, as becomes it!”
Reignier goes to him. “I do embrace thee, as I would embrace the Christian prince King Henry, were he here!”
Margaret beams. “Farewell, my lord!” Her eyes flash. “Good wishes, praise and prayers shall Suffolk ever have of Margaret!”
“Farewell, sweet madam! But hark you, Margaret: no princely commendations to my king?”
“Such commendation as becomes a maid. A virgin, and his servant, say to him,” she adds.
Suffolk smiles. “Words sweetly placed, and modestly directed. But madam, I must trouble you again: no loving… token to his majesty?”
“Yes, my good lord: a pure unspotted heart, never yet tainted with love, I send the king.”
“And this withal?” Suffolk kisses her cheek.
“That for thyself; I will not so presume as to send such pleasing tokens to the king.”
As Reignier returns to his castle with the lovely lady, William watches her.
Oh, wert thou for myself!
But, Suffolk, stay; thou mayst not wander in that labyrinth!—there Minotaurs and ugly treasons lurk!
Solicit Henry with her wondrous praise. Bethink thee on her virtues, that surmount, and most natural graces that extinguish art! Repeat their semblance often on the seas, so that when thou comest to kneel at Henry’s feet, thou mayst bereave him of his wits with wonder!
On the edge of the British encampment at Anjou, Richard of York calls to guards outside a mud-spattered tent. “Bring forth that sorceress condemnèd to burn!”
Soldiers surrounding Joan, whose arms are tied behind her, propel her forward. An old man walks along behind them. “Ah, Joan, this kills thy father’s heart outright!” he moans. “I have sought in every county far and near, and now that it is my chance to find thee, must I behold thy untimely, cruel death?
“Oh, Joan, sweet daughter Joan, I’ll die with thee!” he wails, falling to his knees.
She sneers. “Decrepit miser! Base, ignoble wretch! I am descended of a gentler blood! Thou art no father, nor no friend of mine!”
“Out, out!” cries the wizened shepherd. “My lords, an’t please you, ’tis not so! I did beget her, all the parish knows! Her mother liveth yet—can testify she was the first fruit of my bachelorship!”
Lord Warwick scowls at the woman. “Graceless, wilt thou deny thy parentage?”
York shakes his head. “This argues what her kind of life hath been: wicked and vile!—and her death concludes it so!”
The shepherd weeps. “Fie, Joan, that thou wilt be so obstacle! God knows thou art a collop of my flesh, and for thy sake have I shed many a tear! Deny me not, I prithee, gentle Joan!”
She scoffs: “Peasant, avaunt!
“You have suborned this man,” she protests to the Englishmen, “of purpose to obscure my noble birth!”
Says the shepherd, “’Tis true I gave a noble”—a coin—“to the priest the morn that I was wedded to her mother….” He rises and goes to Joan. “Kneel down and take my blessing, good my girl.” She turns away coldly.
“Wilt thou not stoop?” He wipes tears from his eyes. “Now cursèd be the time of thy nativity! I would the milk thy mother gave thee when thou suckedst her breast had been a little ratsbane, for my sake! Or else, when thou didst keep my lambs a-field, I wish some ravenous wolf had eaten thee!
“Dost thou deny thy father, cursèd drab?
“Go, burn her, burn her!” he tells the soldiers. “Hanging is too good!” He stamps off, and leaves the camp.
“Take her away,” orders York, “for she hath lived too long, filling the world with vicious quiddities!”
Joan steps toward him. “First, let me tell you whom you have condemned!” she demands. “Not one begotten of a shepherd swain, but issued from the progeny of kings!—virtuous and holy; chosen from above, by inspiration of celestial Grace, to work exceeding miracles on earth!
“I never had to do with wicked spirits! But you—that are polluted with your lusts, stained with the guiltless blood of innocents, corrupt and tainted with a thousand vices—because you lack the grace that others have, you judge it straight a thing impossible to accomplish wonders but by help of devils!
“No, misconceivèd! Joanne la Pucelle hath been a virgin from her tender infancy, chaste and immaculate in very thought!—whose maiden blood, thus rigorously effusèd, will cry for vengeance at the gates of heaven!”
“Aye, aye,” says York, disgusted, “away with her to execution.”
Says old Warwick dryly, “And hark ye, sirs, because she is a maid, spare for no branches—let there be enough! Place barrels of pitch upon the fatal stake, that so her torture may be shortened!”
“Will nothing turn your unrelenting hearts?” asks the woman. “Then, Joan, reveal thine infirmity—that warranteth by law to be thy privilege!
“I am with child, ye bloody homicides!” she cries out. “Murder not, then, the fruit within my womb, although ye’d hale me to a violent death!”
York grins. “Now heaven forfend! The holy maiden with child!”
Warwick laughs at her. “The greatest miracle that e’er ye wrought! Is all your strict discipline come to this?”
“She and the dauphin have been ‘juggling,’” says York. “I did imagine this would be her refuge!”
Warwick motions the guards onward. “Well, go to; we’ll have no bastard live—especially since Charles must have fathered it!”
Joan shakes her head. “You are deceivèd; my child is none of his. It was Alençon that enjoyed my love.”
“Alençon!” cries York. “That notorious Machiavel! It dies, then, if it had a thousand lives!”
Joan is desperate. “Oh, give me leave!—I have deluded you! ’Twas neither Charles nor yet the duke I named, but Reignier, King of Naples, that prevailèd!”
“A married man!” cries Warwick, feigning outrage. “That’s most intolerable!”
“Why, here’s a girl!” laughs York. “I think she knows not well, there were so many whom she may accuse!”
Warwick concurs. “It’s sign she hath been liberal and free.”
York seems puzzled. “And yet, forsooth, she is a virgin pure….
“Strumpet!” he shouts at her, “thy words condemn thy brat and thee! Use no entreaty, for it is in vain!”
Says Joan, glaring as the men pull her away, “Then lead me hence from whom I leave my curse: may never glorious sun reflect his beams upon the country where you make abode!—but darkness and the gloomy shade of death environ you, till mischief and despair drive you to break your necks,” she calls back, “or hang yourselves!”
York watches as she is chained to the stake. “Break thou in pieces,” he mutters, “and be consumed to ashes, thou foul, accursèd minister of hell!”
Richard of York and his commanders meet with a powerful delegation from England.
The Cardinal of Winchester has sailed from London, and made his way here to Anjou, in the Loire Valley. “Lord Regent,” he says to Richard of York, “I do greet Your Excellence with letters of commission from the king!” He hands the documents to Lord Warwick.
“For know, my lords, the states of Christendom, movèd with remorse over these outrageous broils, have earnestly implored a general peace betwixt our nation and the aspiring French. And here at hand,” he says, gesturing back toward his procession, “the dauphin and his train approacheth, to confer about such matter.”
“Is all our travail turned to this effect?” cries York, appalled. “After the slaughter of so many peers, so many captains, gentlemen and soldiers that in this quarrel have been overthrown, and sold their bodies for their country’s benefit, shall we at the last collude with effeminate peace?
“Have we not lost—by treason, falsehood and by treachery!—most part of all the towns that our great progenitors had conquerèd?
“Oh Warwick, Warwick! I foresee with grief the utter loss of all the realm of France!”
“Be patient, York,” urges the old earl—who is equally angry. “If we conclude a peace, it shall be with such strict and severe covenants as little shall the Frenchmen gain thereby!”
With his contingent—Alençon, Reignier, Dunois and others—King Charles now comes forward. “Since, lords of England, it is thus agreed that peaceful truce shall be proclaimèd in France, we come to be informed by yourselves what the conditions of that league must be.”
York is livid. “Speak, Winchester!” he says scornfully, “for boiling choler chokes the hollow passage of my poisoned voice by sight of these our baleful enemies!”
The cardinal has persuaded his royal nephew, and now he addresses the French. “Charles, and the rest, it is enacted thus: in regard that King Henry gives consent, from mere compassion and of lenity, to ease your country of distressful war, and suffer you to breathe in fruitful peace, you shall become true liegemen to his crown.
“And, Charles, upon condition thou wilt swear to pay him tribute, submit thyself, thou shalt be placed as viceroy under him, and still enjoy thy regal dignity.”
Alençon, glowers. “Must he be then as a shadow of himself?—adorn his temples with a coronet, and yet, in substance and authority, retain but privilege of a private man! This proffer is absurd and reasonless!”
Charles is surprised—and indignant. “’Tis known that I am already possessed of more than half the Gallian territories unvanquishèd, and therein reverenced as their lawful king! Shall I, for lure of the rest, detract so much from that prerogative as to be called but viceroy of the whole?
“No, lord ambassador! I’ll rather keep that which I have, than, coveting for more, be cast from possibility of all!”
“Insulting Charles!” cries York angrily. “Hast thou by secret means used intercession to obtain a league?—and now that the matter grows to compromise, stand’st thou aloof upon comparison? Either accept the title thou usurp’st—a benefit proceeding from our king, and not out of any challenge or deserving—or we will plague thee with incessant wars!”
- Charles turns away, and confers privately with the French party.
- Reignier, whose daughter is betrothed to King Henry, wants no more war. “My lord, you do not well in obstinacy to cavil on the course of this contract! If once it be neglected, ten to one we shall not find like opportunity!”
- Alençon must concur. “To say the truth, it is your ‘policy’”—simply judicious—“to save your subjects from such massacre and ruthless slaughters as are daily seen by our proceeding in hostility,” he tells Charles. “And therefore take this compact of a truce—although you break it when your pleasure serves.”
“How say’st thou, Charles?” demands Warwick. “Shall our condition stand?”
Charles nods. “It shall. Only reservèd: you claim no interest in any of our towns of garrison.”
York unsheathes his sword and thrusts it forward, upright; the hilt and blade form a cross. “Then swear allegiance to his majesty, as thou art knight, never to disobey nor be rebellious to the crown of England—thou, nor thy nobles, to the crown of England!”
Charles touches the sword and swears.
“So. Now dismiss your army when ye please,” says York contemptuously. “Hang up your ensign, let your drums be still,” he says, red-faced, “for here we entertain a solemn peace.”
King Henry VI is exuberant. “Your wondrous, rare description, noble earl, of beauteous Margaret hath astonished me!” he tells Suffolk, from the throne in London. “Her virtues, gracèd with external gifts, do breed love’s unsettled passions in my heart!
“And like as rigor of tempestuous gusts provokes the mightiest hulk against the tide, so am I driven by breath of her renown!—either to suffer shipwreck, or to arrive where I may have fruition of her love!”
Says Suffolk, “Tsk, my good lord, this superficial tale is but a preface of her worthy praise! The chief perfections of that lovely dame, had I sufficient skill to utter them, would make a volume of enticing lines, able to ravish any dull imagination!
“And, which is more, she is not only so divine, so fully replete with choicest of all delights, but with a humble submission of mind she is content to be at your command!” he says, almost breathlessly. “Command, I mean, of virtuous, chaste intents,” he quickly adds, “to love and honour Henry as her lord.”
The virginal young monarch blushes. “And otherwise will Henry ne’er presume!” He turns to Humphrey. “Therefore, my lord protector, give consent that Margaret may be England’s royal queen!”
“So should I give consent to flatter sin!” says Gloucester flatly. He too has arranged a marriage—one of political value to himself. “You know, my lord, that Your Highness is betrothèd unto another lady of esteem! How shall we then dispense with that contract, and not deface your honour with reproach?”
Suffolk replies: “As doth a ruler with an unlawful oath!—or as one who, at a tournament having vowed to try his strength, yet forsaketh the lists by reason of his adversary’s odds!” Rules of chivalry forbid too great a difference in opponents’ ranks. “A poor earl’s daughter is unequal odds; and therefore it may be broken without offence.”
Gloucester protests: “Why, what, I pray, is Margaret more than that? Her father is no better than an earl, although in glorious titles he excel!”
Suffolk is ready. “Yes, lord!—her father is a king, the King of Naples and Jerusalem!”—both important ports of commerce, “and of such great authority in France as his alliance will confirm our peace, and keep the Frenchmen in allegiance!”
“And so may the Earl of Armagnac do!” argues Gloucester, “because he is near kinsman unto Charles!”
“Beside, his wealth doth warrant a liberal dower,” adds Lord Exeter, “while Reignier sooner will receive than give.”
“A dower, my lords?” cries Suffolk. “Disgrace not so your king, that he should be so abject, base and poor, as to choose for wealth, and not for perfect love!
“Henry is able to enrich his queen, and not seek a queen to make him rich! So do worthless peasants bargain for their wives—as market-men for oxen, horse, or sheep.
“Marriage is a matter of more worth than to be dealt in by attorneyship—not whom we will, but whom his grace affects must be companion of his nuptial bed! And therefore, lords, since he affects her most, it most of all these reasons bindeth us that in our opinions she should be preferrèd!
“For what is forcèd wedlock but a hell?—an age of discord and continual strife!—whereas the contrary bringeth bliss, and is a pattern of celestial peace! Whom should we match with Henry, being a king, but Margaret, who is daughter to a king?
“Her peerless features, joinèd with her birth, approve her fit for none but for a king! Her valiant courage and undaunted spirit, more than in women commonly is seen, will answer our hope for issue of a king!—for Henry, son unto a conqueror, is likely to beget more conquerors, if with a lady of so high resolve as is fair Margaret he be linked in love!
“Then yield, my lords; and here conclude with me that Margaret shall be queen, and none but she!”
The king rises and hurries to William. “Whether it be through force of your report, my noble lord of Suffolk, or for that my tender youth was never yet attaint with any passion of inflaming love, I cannot tell—but of this I am assurèd: I feel such sharp dissension in my breast, such fierce alarums both of hope and fear, that I am sick with the working of my thoughts!
“Therefore take shipping!—posthaste, my lord!—to France! Agree to any covenants, and procure that Lady Margaret do vouchsafe to come!—to cross the seas to England and be crownèd King Henry’s faithful and anointed queen!
“For your expenses, and sufficient for the task, among the people gather up a tenth”—assess a tax. “Be gone, I say! For, till you do return, I rest perplexèd with a thousand cares!”
Henry turns to Gloucester. “And you, good uncle, banish all offence! If you do judge me by what you were,”—younger, “not what you are, I know it will excuse this sudden execution of my will!”
He motions to the royal attendants. “And so conduct me where, away from company, I may revolve and ruminate my grief!”—suffer in anticipation. They head toward his private chambers.
“Aye!—grief, I fear me—both at first and last!” says Gloucester to Lord Exeter, watching as Henry leaves the throne room.
Thinks William de la Pole, Thus Suffolk hath prevailèd!
And thus he goes, as did the youthful Paris once go to Greece, with hope to find the like event in love!—but to prosper better than the Trojan did! Lord Paris found Helen—another lord’s wife—but in doing so provoked the long war with Greece.
Margaret shall now be queen, and rule the king!
But I will rule both her and the king—and the realm!