David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s KING JOHN: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scene 1

— 2.1 —

Before the city of Angiers in France, two groups of people met. Angiers was a possession of England. In one group were the Duke of Austria and some of his forces, including drummers. In the other group were King Philip II of France and some of his forces. Also with him were Louis the Dauphin, his son, who was next in line to be King of France; Arthur, who had a claim to be King of England; Constance, Arthur’s mother; and some attendants. The Duke of Austria was wearing a lion skin that he had taken from King Richard I — the Lionheart — of England.

Louis the Dauphin said, “We are well met before the city of Angiers, brave Duke of Austria.

“Arthur, that great forerunner of your blood, King Richard I, who robbed the lion of his heart and fought the holy wars — the Crusades — in Palestine, was sent by this brave Duke of Austria early to his grave. To make amends to his posterity, at our importuning he has come here to unfurl his battle flags, boy, in your behalf and to rebuke the usurpation of your unnatural uncle, John of England. Embrace him, love him, and give him welcome here.”

Arthur said to the Duke of Austria, “God shall forgive you Coeur-de-lion’s death all the sooner because you are giving life to his offspring, sheltering their right under your wings of war. I give you welcome with a powerless — lacking an army — hand, but with a heart full of unstained love.”

Arthur then said, “Welcome before the gates of Angiers, Duke.”

“You are a noble boy!” Louis the Dauphin said. “Who would not do right by you?”

The Duke of Austria kissed Arthur and said, “Upon your cheek I lay this zealous kiss as seal to this contract of my love. I swear that I will return no more to my home until Angiers and the territory you have rights to in France, together with that pale, white-faced shore, whose foot spurns back the ocean’s roaring tides and defends from other lands her islanders, even until that England, hedged in with the ocean, that water-walled bulwark, always secure and confident — safe and sure — from foreign designs and plots, even until that utmost corner of the west salutes you as her King. Until you have all the land, including England, you have the right to possess, fair boy, I will not think of home, but instead will follow arms and the way of war.”

Constance said, “Oh, take his mother’s thanks, a widow’s thanks, until your strong hand shall help to give him strength to make a better requital for your love and friendship!”

The Duke of Austria said, “The peace of Heaven is theirs who lift their swords in such a just and charitable war.”

“Well then, let’s get to work,” King Philip II said. “Our cannon shall be aimed against the brows of this resisting town. Call for our men who best understand military strategy to select the spots that offer the best advantages for our cannon. We’ll lay before this town our royal bones and wade to the marketplace in Frenchmen’s blood, but we will make it subject to this boy.”

“Stay for an answer to your embassy to King John,” Constance advised, “lest unadvisedly and without proper deliberation you stain your swords with blood. My Lord Chatillion may bring from England that right in peace which here we urge in war, and then we shall repent each drop of blood that hot rash haste so unjustly and illegitimately shed.”

Chatillion entered the scene.

Seeing him, King Philip II said, “It’s a wonder, lady! Look, following upon your wish, our messenger Chatillion has arrived!

“Tell us briefly and quickly, gentle lord, what King John of England says. We calmly and coolly pause for you. Chatillion, speak.”

“Then turn your forces from this paltry siege and stir them up against a mightier task,” Chatillion replied. “King John of England, provoked by your just demands, has put himself in armor. The adverse winds, which kept me in England waiting for favorable winds, have given him time to land his legions here in France at the same time I landed here. His army marches quickly to this town. His forces are strong, his soldiers confident. Coming along with him is the Mother Queen. She is an Ate, a goddess of discord, stirring him to blood and strife. With her is her niece, the Lady Blanche of Spain. With them is a bastard of the deceased King Richard I, and all the unsettled humors — restless, disgruntled men — of the land. They are rash, inconsiderate, fiery volunteers, with ladies’ faces and fierce dragons’ spleens — that is, they are good-looking and have hot tempers. They have sold their fortunes at their native homes, and now bear their birthrights proudly on their backs in order to make hazard of new fortunes here; in other words, they sold all they had so they could equip themselves to make war against us. In brief, a braver choice of dauntless spirits than now the English ships have wafted over never has floated upon the swelling tide to do offence and scathing damage in Christendom.”

The sound of King John’s drums filled the air.

Chatillion continued, “The interruption of their churlish drums cuts off the telling of more details. They are at hand, either to parley or to fight; therefore, prepare yourselves.”

“This expedition is very unexpected!” King Philip II said.

The Duke of Austria said, “By how much unexpected, by so much we must rouse our efforts for our defense, for courage rises when it is needed. Let them be welcome then; we are prepared.”

King John, Queen Eleanor, Blanche, the Bastard, and some lords and forces arrived.

“May peace belong to France, if the King of France in peace permits our just and lineal entrance to our own town and territory,” King John said. “If not, let France bleed, and let peace ascend to Heaven, while we, God’s wrathful agent, punish the proud contempt of those who beat His peace and send it to Heaven.”

King Philip II of France replied, “May peace belong to England, if your soldiers and their war return from France to England, there to live in peace. We love England, and it is for England’s sake that we sweat here from the burden of our armor. This toil of ours should be your toil — you should be making sure that Arthur has his rights as the legitimate King of England. But you are so far from loving England that you have undermined England’s lawful King. You have cut off the sequence of posterity, intimidated a child King, and raped the maidenly virtue of the crown.

“Look here upon your brother Geoffrey’s face: Look at Arthur. These eyes, these brows, were molded out of his. Arthur is a child who is a little abstract — a little summary — of his father, Geoffrey, but with time he will become as huge a volume as his father.

“Geoffrey was born your elder brother, and this boy Arthur is his son; England was rightfully Geoffrey’s and this boy is rightfully Geoffrey’s, and so England is rightfully this boy’s. In the name of God, how comes it then that you are called a King, when living blood beats in the temples of Arthur, who owns the crown that you have usurped?”

King John replied, “From whom have you received this great commission, King of France, that allows you to demand that I answer your charges — your articles of condemnation against me?”

King Philip II replied, “I have received my commission from that supernatural Judge Who stirs good thoughts in any breast of strong authority to look into the blots and stains affecting what is right: I have a commission to look into injustice. That Judge has made me guardian to this boy, Arthur, under whose warrant I charge you with injustice and with the Judge’s help I mean to chastise it.”

King John replied, “You usurp authority.”

“I have an excuse,” King Philip II said. “I usurp authority in order to beat down usurpation.”

“Who is it you are calling a usurper, King of France?” Queen Eleanor asked.

“Let me make the answer,” Constance, the mother of Arthur, said. “Your usurping son: John.”

Eleanor and Constance were mother- and daughter-in-law. Eleanor had given birth to Richard the Lionheart, Geoffrey, and King John, and Constance was Geoffrey’s widow.

“Damn you, insolent woman!” Queen Eleanor replied. “Your bastard shall be King so that you may be a Queen, and check the world!”

She was using the metaphor of a game of chess. A Queen can check — threaten — a King, and Blanche, if she were Queen, would check — threaten — the world.

“My bed was always to your son as true as your bed was to your husband,” Constance said, “and this boy is more similar in his features to his father, Geoffrey, than you and John are in your manners and conduct, although you and John, your son, are as similar as rain is to water, or the Devil is to his dam. My boy a bastard! By my soul, I think his father never was so truly begotten. It cannot be, if you were his mother.”

“There’s a good mother, boy, who insults your father,” Eleanor said to Arthur.

“There’s a good grandmother, boy, who would insult you,” Constance said to Arthur.

“Peace! Silence!” the Duke of Austria said.

“Hear the crier,” the Bastard said.

In law courts, a crier cried, “Peace! Silence!”

“Who the Devil are you?” the Duke of Austria asked.

“One who will play the Devil, sir, with you,” the Bastard said, “if he may catch your hide and you alone. You are the hare whose valor pulls the beards of dead lions, according to the proverb. I’ll smoke your skin-coat — I’ll beat you — if I catch you right. Sirrah, look to it; truly, I will, truly.”

Blanche said, “Oh, well did he become that lion’s robe who did disrobe the lion of that robe!”

The Duke of Austria was responsible for the death of Richard the Lionheart, who had owned the skin of the lion he had killed. Such skins could be worn as clothing. After the PanHellenic hero Hercules killed the Nemean Lion, he wore its skin. Now the Duke of Austria was wearing Richard the Lionheart’s lion skin.

The Bastard said, “Richard’s lion skin lies as attractively on the back of the Duke of Austria as great Alcides’ shoes lie upon an ass.”

“Alcides” is an alternate name of Hercules.

The Bastard was conflating two proverbial expressions: 1) Hercules’ shoe will not fit a little foot, and 2) an ass in a lion’s skin.

One of Aesop’s fables is about an ass that found a lion skin and wore it. At first, the other animals were afraid when they saw the ass, but out of happiness at being feared, the ass brayed, and the other animals were no longer afraid of him. The proverb that came from the fable is this: “Fine clothes may disguise, but silly words will reveal a fool.”

The Bastard’s point was that the Duke of Austria was not the man that Richard the Lionheart was; he was like an ass compared to a lion.

The Bastard continued, “But, ass, I’ll take that burden from your back, or lay on you a burden — blows — that shall make your shoulders crack.”

The Duke of Austria asked, “What cracker — boaster — is this man who deafens our ears with this abundance of superfluous breath?

“King Philip, determine what we shall do immediately.”

King Philip II said, “Women and fools, break off your conversation.

“King John, this is the very sum of all. I claim England and Ireland, Anjou, Touraine, and Maine as being the rightful possessions of Arthur; they do not belong to you. Will you resign them and lay down your arms?”

“I will as soon lay down my life,” King John said. “I defy you, King of France.

“Arthur of Bretagne, yield yourself into my hand, and out of my dear love I’ll give you more than the coward hand of France can ever win. Submit yourself to me, boy.”

Queen Eleanor said to Arthur, “Come to your grandmother, child.”

Constance used baby talk to say sarcastically to Arthur, “Do, child, go to its grandam, child. Give grandam Kingdom, and its grandam will give it a plum, a cherry, and a fig. There’s a good grandam.”

“To give someone the fig” meant “to make an insulting gesture at someone.”

“My good mother, peace!” Arthur said. “I wish that I were laid low in my grave. I am not worth this disturbance that’s made over me.”

“His mother shames him so, poor boy,” Queen Eleanor said. “He weeps.”

“Now shame upon you, whether she does or not!” Constance said. “His grandmother’s wrongs, and not his mother’s shames, draw those Heaven-moving pearls — tears — from his poor eyes, which Heaven shall take in nature of a fee. Yes, with these crystal beads, which are like prayer beads, Heaven shall be bribed to do him justice and to do revenge on you.”

“You monstrous slanderer of Heaven and Earth!” Queen Eleanor said.

“You monstrous injurer of Heaven and Earth!” Constance said. “Don’t call me a slanderer. You and your son John usurp the dominions and the royal prerogatives and rights of this oppressed boy. This is your oldest grandson, and he is unfortunate in nothing except in you. Your sins are visited in this poor child: The canon of the law is laid on him, being but the second generation removed from your sin-conceiving womb.”

Constance was referring to Exodus 20:5: “[…] I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me[…]” (King James Version).

The canon of the law is the rule of the church.

“Madwoman, be quiet,” King John ordered.

Constance replied, “I have only this to say, that he is not only plagued for her sin, but that God has made her sin and herself the plague on this grandson. Eleanor committed adultery and gave birth to John, who is a bastard. Arthur is plagued because of her, and he is plagued by her. Her sin — the adultery that resulted in the birth of John — is her grandson’s injury. Her injuriousness is the beadle — the officer who punishes sinners — to her sin. Both Eleanor and John are punishing Arthur, who ought not to be punished. The person who should be punished is Eleanor. All is punished in the person of this child, Arthur, and all is punished because of her — may a plague fall upon her!”

“You rash, foolhardy scold,” Queen Eleanor said, “I can produce a will that bars the title of your son.”

Richard the Lionheart had made a will that declared John would inherit his throne.

In her reply, Constance used the word “will” to mean “desire” and “sexual desire.”

She said, “True, who doubts that? A will! A wicked will. A woman’s will; a cankered, diseased grandmother’s will!”

“Peace, lady, quiet!” King John ordered. “Pause, or be more calm and temperate. It ill beseems this presence to cry ‘Aim!’ to these ill-tuned repetitions. It is not fitting for this royal company to encourage these harsh-sounding accusations.”

Spectators to an archery match cried “Aim!” as a way to encourage an archer.

King John ordered, “Let some trumpeter summon hither to the walls these men of Angiers. Let us hear them say whose title they permit: Arthur’s or John’s. They will tell us whether they believe Arthur is King of England, or I am.”

The trumpet sounded. Some citizens appeared on the wall of the city.

The first citizen asked, “Who is it who has summoned us to the walls?”

King Philip II said, “It is the King of France, on behalf of Arthur, King of England.”

King John said, “It is the King of England, on behalf of himself. You men of Angiers, and my loving subjects —”

King Philip II interrupted, “You loving men of Angiers, Arthur’s subjects, our trumpet called you to this gentle parley —”

Using the royal plural, King John interrupted, “— for our benefit; therefore, listen to us first.

“These flags of France that are advanced here before the eye and prospect of your town have marched here to your harm. The cannons have their bowels full of wrath, and they are ready mounted to spit forth their iron indignation against your walls. All preparation for a bloody siege all mercilessly proceeding from these French soldiers confronts your city’s eyes, your winking — opening and closing — gates. And except for our approach, those sleeping stones, which like a belt girdle you and make up your city walls, would have been attacked. The French army’s ordinance would have compelled the stones of your city wall to leave their fixed beds of mortar, and wide havoc that is made for bloody power would have rushed upon your peace.”

The cry “havoc!” to soldiers meant “attack and pillage and show no mercy!”

King John continued, “But at the sight of us, your lawful King, who diligently with much expeditious marching have brought a countercheck — a counter maneuver — before your gates, to save unscratched your city’s threatened cheeks, behold, the dumbfounded French permit a parley.

“And now, instead of cannonballs wrapped in fire that would make a shaking fever in your walls, they shoot only calm words folded up in smoke — deceitful and obscure words. They want your ears to make an error and trust words that are not backed up by faith.

“Kind citizens, trust their words as they ought to be trusted, and let in your city us, your King, whose labored spirits, wearied in this action of swift speed, craves harborage and shelter within your city walls.”

King Philip II said, “When I have finished talking, make answer to us both.”

He took Arthur’s hand in his right hand and said, “Look, in this right hand, whose protection is most divinely vowed to support the just rights of him whose hand it holds, stands young Arthur Plantagenet, son to the elder brother of this man named John, and King over him and all that he enjoys.

“For that which is right but has been downtrodden and oppressed, we tread in warlike march these greens before your town, but we are no further enemy to you than the constraint of hospitable zeal in the relief of this oppressed child religiously provokes.

“Be pleased then to pay that duty that you truly owe to that boy who owns it, namely this young Prince, and then our arms, just like a muzzled bear except in appearance, will end all offence. Our cannons’ malice shall vainly be spent against the invulnerable clouds of Heaven, and with a blessed and unmolested retreat, with unhacked swords and helmets all unbruised by blows, we will bear home again that fierce energy and blood that we came here to spout against your town. And so we will leave your children, wives, and you in peace.

“But if you foolishly ignore our proffered offer, the round circumference of your walls that are so well built that they did not require refacing cannot hide you from our messengers of war — our cannonballs — even if all these English and their military discipline were harbored in your wall’s rough circumference.

“Then tell us, shall your city call us lord, on behalf of Arthur, on whose behalf we have challenged your city? Or shall we give the signal to release our rage and martial spirit and stalk in blood to our possession? Shall we attack your city and through warfare gain possession of it?”

The first citizen replied, “In brief, we are the King of England’s subjects. For him, and in his right, we hold this town.”

“In his right” meant “in his rightful ownership.”

“Acknowledge then the King, and let me in,” King John said.

The first citizen replied, “We cannot do that, but he who proves himself to be the King, to him we will prove loyal. Until that time we have closed our gates against the world.”

King John asked, “Doesn’t possession of the crown of England prove who is the King? And if that doesn’t, I bring you witnesses, twice fifteen thousand hearts of England’s breeding —”

The Bastard said, “Bastards, and otherwise.”

King John continued, “— to verify our title with their lives.”

King Philip II said, “As many and as well-born bloods as those —”

The Bastard said, “Including some bastards.”

King Philip II continued, “— stand in his face to contradict his claim.”

The first citizen responded, “Until you settle whose right is worthiest, we on behalf of the worthiest withhold the right from both of you.”

King John said, “Then may God forgive the sin of all those souls who to their everlasting residence, before the dew of evening falls, shall fleetly flee from this mortal world in dreadful battle to determine our Kingdom’s King!”

“Amen! Amen!” King Philip II said. “Mount, chevaliers! To arms!”

Chevaliers are French knights.

The Bastard said, “Saint George, who thrashed the dragon, and ever since sits on his horseback at my hostess’ door, teach us some fencing and some defense!”

Saint George, the patron saint of England, appeared mounted on horseback on the signs of many English inns.

The Bastard then said to the Duke of Austria, “Sirrah, if I were at your home, at your den, with your lioness I would set an ox-head onto your lion’s hide, and make a monster of you.”

Lionesses had the reputation of especially liking sex. The Bastard was saying that he would give the Duke of Austria horns by sleeping with his wife and making him a cuckold.

“Peace! Silence! Say no more,” the Duke of Austria said.

“Oh, tremble, for you hear the lion roar,” the Bastard said, sarcastically referring to the Duke of Austria, who was wearing Richard the Lionheart’s lion skin.

“Let’s go up higher to the plain,” King John ordered, “where we’ll set forth in the best arrangement all our regiments.”

The Bastard said, “Let us hurry, then, to take the most advantageous place of the battlefield.”

King Philip II said, “It shall be so, and at the other hill command the rest to stand. Fight for God and our right!”

The two Kings set their troops in military formation and then the battle began.

After the battle was over, a French herald, with trumpeters, went to the gates of the city and said, “You men of Angiers, open wide your gates, and let young Arthur, Duke of Bretagne, in, who by the help of the King of France this day has made much reason for tears in many English mothers whose sons lie scattered on the bleeding ground. Many a widow’s husband lies prostrate, coldly embracing the discolored earth, and victory, with little loss, plays upon the dancing banners of the French, who are at hand, triumphantly displayed in formation, and are prepared to enter your city as conquerors and to proclaim Arthur of Bretagne England’s King and yours.”

The English herald then arrived, accompanied by trumpeters, and said, “Rejoice, you men of Angiers, ring your bells. King John, your King and England’s, approaches. He is commander of this hot malicious day. The English armored soldiers, who marched here so silver-bright, hither return all gilt with the blood of Frenchmen. No plume stuck in any English crest has been removed by a French spear shaft. Our colors return in those same hands that displayed them unfurled when we first marched forth, and, like a troop of jolly huntsmen, come our vigorous, strong English soldiers, all with purpled hands, dyed in the dying slaughter of their foes.”

In this culture, hunters dipped their hands in the blood of the deer they had killed.

The English herald continued, “Open your gates and give the victors entry.”

The first citizen said, “Heralds, from off our towers we have beheld, from first to last, the onset and retire of both your armies, whose equality by our best eyes cannot be criticized. Your two armies have fought to a standstill. Blood has bought blood, and blows have answered blows. Strength has matched with strength, and power has confronted power. Both sides are alike, and both alike we like. One side must prove greater. While both sides weigh so evenly, we hold our town for neither, yet for both.”

King John and King Philip II arrived, along with many soldiers.

King John spoke to the King of France, using a metaphor. He imagined his right to the throne as a current that was being blocked by the impediment of the King of France. Irritated by the impediment, his right to the throne would spill over the banks and flood the surrounding area, causing destruction.

King John said, “King of France, do you still have more blood to cast away? Tell me whether the current of our right shall run on? Our current’s passage, vexed with your impediment, shall leave its native channel and overswell with a disturbed course even your confining shores, unless you let its silver water keep a peaceful progress to the ocean.”

King Philip II replied, “England, you have not saved one drop of blood in this hot trial more than we of France have; instead, you have lost more blood than we have. And by this hand that holds sway over the earth this part of the sky overlooks, I swear before we will lay down our just-borne — justly borne and just-now borne — arms, we’ll put down you, against whom these arms we bear, or add a royal number and name to the list of the dead, gracing the scroll that tells of this war’s loss with slaughter coupled to the name of Kings.”

In other words, one or the other King would die on the battlefield.

“Majesty! Ha!” the Bastard said. “How high your glory towers, when the rich blood of Kings is set on fire! Oh, now Death lines his dead jaws with steel. The swords of soldiers are his teeth, his fangs. And now Death feasts, mousing — tearing — the flesh of men, in unresolved quarrels of Kings. Why do these royal faces stand amazed and thunderstruck like this? Kings, cry ‘Havoc!’ Go back to the bloodstained battlefield, you equal potentates, you fiery kindled spirits! Then let the destruction of one side confirm the other’s peace. Until then, blows, blood, and death!”

“Whose side do the townsmen yet admit to be King of England and admit into the town?” King John asked.

“Speak, citizens, for England,” King Philip II said. “Who’s your King?”

“The King of England,” the first citizen said, “when we know who is the King.”

Using the royal plural, King Philip II said, “Know him in us, who here uphold his rights.”

Using the royal plural, King John said, “Know him in us, who are our own great deputy and bear possession of our person here, lord of our presence, of Angiers, and of you.”

King John was pointing out that unlike Arthur, he needed no deputy to act for him.

“A greater power than we denies all this,” the first citizen said, “and until who is King of England is beyond doubt, we lock our former doubt about the right thing to do in our strong-barred gates, Kings of our fears, until our fears, resolved and allayed, be by some certainly legitimate King purged and deposed.”

The Bastard said, “By Heaven, these scoundrels of Angiers flout you and mock you, Kings. They stand securely and safely on their battlements, as if they were in a theater, from whence they stare and point at your industrious and laborious scenes and acts of death.

“Allow your royal presences to be ruled by me. Do like the mutineers of Jerusalem did. Be friends for a while and both of you join together and aim your sharpest deeds of malice on this town. By east and west let the King of France and the King of England mount their battering cannon charged to the mouths, until the cannons’ soul-frightening clamors have brawled down the flinty ribs of this contemptuous city. I’d aim the cannon incessantly upon these jades — these worthless wretches — even until unfenced desolation leaves them as naked as the common air.

“Once that is done, separate your united strengths, and part your mingled battle flags once again. Turn face to face and bloody spear point to bloody spear point. Then, in a moment, Fortune shall cull forth out of one side her happy favorite, to whom in favor she shall give the day, and kiss him with a glorious victory.

“How do you like this wild counsel, mighty heads of state? Doesn’t it smack something of political intrigue?”

King John replied, “Now, by the sky that hangs above our heads, I like it well. King of France, shall we knit our armies together and lay this Angiers even to the ground, and then afterward fight over who shall be King of it?”

The Bastard said to King Philip II, “If you have the mettle of a King, being wronged as we are by this peevish town, then turn the mouth of your artillery, as we will ours, against these insolent walls, and when we have dashed them to the ground, why then we will defy each other and pell-mell we will make battle upon each other, sending souls either to Heaven or Hell.”

“Let it be so,” King Philip II decided.

He asked King John, “Tell me, from where will you assault the city?”

King John replied, “We from the west will send destruction into this city’s bosom.”

“I will send destruction from the north,” the Duke of Austria said.

King Philip II said, “Our thundering cannon from the south shall rain their drift of cannonballs on this town.”

The Bastard said to himself, “Oh, prudent military discipline! From north to south, the Duke of Austria and the King of France will shoot in each other’s mouth. I’ll encourage them to do it.”

He said out loud, “Come, away, away! Let’s go!”

The first citizen of Angiers said, “Listen to us, great Kings. Please wait a while, and I shall show you peace and a fair-faced alliance and treaty. You will win this city without a sword stroke or a wound. You will rescue those breathing lives who come here as sacrifices for the battlefield; you will rescue them so that they can die in beds. Don’t persevere in destroying the city, but listen to me, mighty Kings.”

King John said, “Speak on with permission; we are inclined to hear what you have to say.”

The first citizen said, “That daughter there of Spain, the Lady Blanche, is the niece of King John of England. Look upon the years of Louis the Dauphin and that lovely maiden. If lusty love should go in quest of beauty, where would he find it fairer than in Blanche? If zealous love — holy love — should go in search of virtue, where would he find it purer than in Blanche? If ambitious love should seek a match of birth — a dynastic marriage — whose veins enclose richer blood than those of Lady Blanche?

“Such as she is, in beauty, virtue, and birth, so also is the young Dauphin in every way complete. If he is not complete in anything, say he is not she. And she again falls short of nothing, and so lacks nothing, except that she is not he.

“This man and this woman each requires the other to make their own perfection more perfect.

“He is the half part of a blessed man, left to be finished by such as she. And she is a fair divided excellence, whose fullness of perfection lies in him.”

“Oh, two such silver currents, when they join, glorify the banks that bound them in, and two such shores to two such streams made one, two such controlling bounds shall you be, Kings, to this Prince and Princess, if you marry them to each other.

“This union shall do more than the battery of cannonballs can to open our fast-closed gates, for at this match, with swifter eagerness than gunpowder can enforce, the mouth of passage — our city gate — we shall fling wide open, and give you entrance to our city.

“But without this marriage match, the enraged sea is not half so deaf, lions more confident, mountains and rocks more free from motion, no, not Death himself in moral fury half so peremptory, as we are to keep this city.”

The Bastard said to himself, “Here’s a stop that shakes the rotten carcass of old Death out of his rags! Here’s a large mouth, indeed, that spits forth death and mountains, rocks, and seas, that talks as familiarly of roaring lions as maidens of thirteen do of puppy-dogs!

“What cannoneer begot this strong, vigorous, hot-blooded fellow? He speaks plain cannon fire, and smoke and explosive noise. He gives the bastinado — the beating — with his tongue. Our ears are cudgeled. Not a word of his but buffets better than a fist of a soldier of France. Zounds! I was never so bethumped with words since I first called my brother’s father Dad.”

It’s possible that the Bastard’s brother’s father knew that the Bastard was a bastard and so objected to being called Dad by him.

Queen Eleanor said to King John, “Son, listen to this proposed union and make this match. Give with our niece a dowry large enough to accomplish your goals: For by this marriage knot you shall so securely tie your now precarious assurance to the crown that yonder green, inexperienced boy shall have no Sun to ripen the bloom that promises a mighty fruit. His claim to be King of England shall never bear fruit.”

Constance and Arthur were not present; they were in the French camp.

Queen Eleanor continued, “I see a yielding in the looks of the King of France. See how the French whisper. Urge them while their souls are capable of this ambition, lest zeal, now melted by the windy breath of soft petitions, pity, and remorse, cool and congeal again to what it was. Let the marriage take place before the French change their minds and renew their zeal to help Arthur.”

The first citizen said, “Why don’t the double majesties — the King of England and the King of France — answer our threatened town’s friendly proposal for agreement?”

King Philip II said, “Let the King of England speak first. He has been eager to first speak to the citizens of this city.”

He asked King John, “What do you have to say?”

King John replied, “If the Dauphin there, your Princely son, can in this book of beauty — Blanche — read ‘I love,’ her dowry shall weigh equal to that of a Queen: Anjou and fair Touraine, Maine, Poictiers, and all that we find liable to our crown and dignity upon this side of the English Channel, except this city now by us besieged, shall gild her bridal bed and make her rich in titles, honors, and promotions, as she in beauty, education, and blood holds hands with and is equal to any Princess of the world.”

King Philip asked his son, “What do you say, boy? Look at the lady’s face.”

“I am, my lord,” Louis the Dauphin said, “and in her eye I find a wonder, or a wondrous miracle: the shadow of myself formed in her eye. This shadow, being but the shadow of your son, becomes a Sun and makes your son a shadow.”

In Blanche’s eye Louis saw a reflection of himself. This reflection was a reflection of his Kingly father’s royal, Sun-like glory. Therefore, it was fitting for the Sun — the King. It also made the son a shadow — something created by the Sun-like King.

The marriage was being made for dynastic purposes, and in marrying Blanche, Louis was merely an instrument being used to achieve the ambitions of his father.

Louis the Dauphin continued, “I protest I never loved myself until now infixed — captured and firmly held — I beheld myself drawn in the flattering tablet of her eye.”

Although this would be an arranged marriage, Louis the Dauphin was not opposed to it. He loved the reflection of himself in Blanche’s eye, and by extension he loved Blanche’s eye and Blanche herself.

He then talked quietly to Blanche.

The Bastard talked to himself and made fun of Louis the Dauphin’s use of language:

“‘Drawn in the flattering tablet of her eye!’ Hanged, aka suspended, in the frowning wrinkle of her brow! And quartered, aka lodged, in her heart! He sees himself as a traitor in love. This is a pity now, that hanged and drawn and quartered, there should be in such a love so vile a lout as he.”

In this culture, traitors to the King were hung, drawn, and quartered. They were hung but taken down from the rope while still alive. They then were disemboweled — their entrails were drawn out of their body. Finally, they were quartered — their bodies were cut into four pieces.

Blanche said to Louis the Dauphin, “My uncle’s will and desire in this respect is mine. If he sees anything in you that makes him like you, then that anything he sees, which moves his liking, I can with ease translate it to my will — I can make it suit my own desires. Or if you prefer, to speak more properly, I will enforce it easily to my love.

“Further I will not flatter you, my lord, by saying that all I see in you is worthy of love, other than this: I see nothing in you, even if churlish thoughts themselves should be your judge, that I can find should merit any hate. I see nothing in you that I ought to hate.”

King John said, “What say these young ones? What do you say, my niece?”

Blanche replied, “That she is bound in honor always to do what you in wisdom always deign to say.”

“Speak then, Prince Dauphin,” King John said. “Can you love this lady?”

“Ask me instead if I can refrain from loving her, for I do love her most unfeignedly,” Louis the Dauphin replied.

“Then I give Volquessen, Touraine, Maine, Poictiers, and Anjou, these five provinces, with her to you,” King John said, “and this in addition: fully thirty thousand marks of English coin.

“Philip of France, if you are pleased with this, command your son and future daughter-in-law to join hands.”

“I like this well,” King Philip II said. “Young Prince and Princess, join your hands.”

“And your lips, too,” the Duke of Austria said, “for I am well assured that I did so when I was first assured — that is, when I was first betrothed.”

Louis the Dauphin and Blanche held hands and kissed.

The joining of hands and a kiss were enough for a legal marriage, but a church wedding customarily followed.

King Philip II said, “Now, citizens of Angiers, open your gates. Let in that amity that you have made, for at Saint Mary’s chapel immediately the rites of marriage shall be solemnized.

“Isn’t the Lady Constance in this troop? I know she isn’t, for her presence would have much interrupted this match we have made up. Where are she and her son? Tell me, whoever knows.”

Louis the Dauphin said, “She is sad and impassioned at your highness’ tent.”

“And, by my faith, this league that we have made will give her sadness very little cure,” King Philip II said.

“Brother of England, how may we content this widow lady? In her right we French came, but we, God knows, have turned another way, to our own advantage. We came to win the rights of Arthur, her son, but we have chosen to do something more advantageous to us.”

“We will heal up all,” King John said, “for we’ll give young Arthur the titles of Duke of Bretagne and Earl of Richmond, and we will make him lord of this rich fair town.”

He ordered, “Call the Lady Constance. Some speedy messenger, go to her and tell her to go to our solemnity: this marriage ceremony. I trust we shall, if not fill up the measure of her will, yet in some measure satisfy her so that we shall stop her exclamations of distress and outrage.

“Let us go, as well as haste will allow us, to this unlooked for and unplanned pomp.”

Everyone except the Bastard exited.

The Bastard said to himself, “This is a mad world with mad Kings and a mad truce!

“John, to stop Arthur’s title to the whole, has willingly parted with a part.

“And the King of France, whose conscience buckled on his armor, whom zeal and charity brought to the battlefield as God’s own soldier, has been whispered to in the ear by that same purpose-changer, that sly Devil, that pimp who always breaks the head of faith, that daily vow-breaker, he who wins of all — of Kings, beggars, old men, young men, and maidens, who, having no external thing to lose except the word ‘maiden,’ he cheats the poor maiden of that. To whom am I referring? I am referring to that smooth-faced, deceitful gentleman who is flattering self-interest — self-interest, the bias of the world.

“The world of itself is well balanced and made to run even upon even ground until this advantage, this vile-drawing bias, this sway of motion, this self-interest, makes it throw off the control of all impartiality and of all direction, purpose, course, and intent.

“And this same bias, this self-interest, this bawd, this pimp, this all-changing word, placed on the outward eye of ambition — as opposed to the inward eye of conscience — of the fickle King of France, has drawn him from his own determined aid, from a resolved and honorable war, to a most base and vilely concluded peace.

“And why do I rail against this self-interest? Only because self-interest has not wooed me yet. It’s not because I have the power to clutch my hand shut when any fair angels — coins bearing the image of an angel — would salute my palm; instead, it’s because the palms of my hands have not been tempted yet, and so like a poor beggar, I rail against the rich.

“Well, while I am a beggar, I will rail and say there is no sin except to be rich. And when I am rich, my virtue then shall be to say there is no vice except begging.

“Since Kings break faith when tempted by self-interest, then be my lord, Gain, for I will worship you.”

The Bastard’s words and actions did not match. Often he spoke cynically about following his own self-interest, but his deeds showed that he was loyal and patriotic.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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