David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s RICHARD II: A Retelling in Prose — Cast of Characters, and Act 1, Scene 1



King Richard II; his father was the late Edward of Woodstock, known as The Black Prince.

Henry, surnamed Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford, son of John of Gaunt; afterwards King Henry IV.

Uncles of King Richard II

John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster; father of Henry Bolingbroke; he was called John of Gaunt because Gaunt was his birthplace; in modern English his birthplace is spelled Ghent; Ghent is in Belgium.

Edmund of Langley, Duke of York; uncle to both King Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke.

All of King Richard II’s other uncles are dead at the beginning of Shakespeare’s play.

Supporters of King Richard II

Sir John Bushy, friend of King Richard II.

Sir John Bagot, friend of King Richard II.

Sir Henry Green, friend of King Richard II.

Earl of Salisbury.

Lord Berkeley.

Bishop of Carlisle.

Abbot of Westminster.

Sir Stephen Scroop.

Captain of a band of Welshmen.

Supporters of Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford

Earl of Northumberland.

Henry Percy, son to Northumberland; in 1 Henry IV, young Henry Percy has acquired the nickname “Hotspur.”

Lord Ross.

Lord Willoughby.

Officials in Trial by Combat.

Lord Marshal.

First Herald.

Second Herald.

Other Male Characters

Duke of Aumerle, son to the Duke of York; another of his titles is Earl of Rutland.

Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk.

Duke of Surrey.

Lord Fitzwater.

Sir Pierce of Exton.


Queen to King Richard II.

Duchess of York.

Duchess of Gloucester.

Two ladies attending on the Queen.


Lords, Heralds, Officers, Soldiers, Head Gardener, two Assistant Gardeners, Jail Keeper, Messenger, Groom, and other Attendants.


England and Wales.


See “Appendix A: Brief Historical Background”if you need a very brief refresher on English history.

King Richard II’s reign began on 21 June 1377; he was deposed on 30 September 1399 and then murdered on 14 February 1400.

King Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke were first cousins. They shared the same grandfather: King Edward III. Their fathers were brothers, and so each man’s father was the other man’s uncle.

The action of this book begins in 1398; the previous year the Duke of Gloucester had been killed. The Duke of Gloucester was the brother of John of Gaunt and the uncle of both King Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke. The action of this book ends in 1400.

— 1.1 —

At Windsor Castle, King Richard II talked with John of Gaunt. Other nobles and attendants were present.

King Richard II said, “Old John of Gaunt, time-honored Duke of Lancaster, have you, according to your oath and bond, brought here Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford, your bold son, to make good his boisterous and violent recent accusation, which then our lack of leisure would not let us hear, against the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Mowbray?”

“I have, my liege,” replied John of Gaunt.

“Tell me, moreover, have you questioned him to find out if he accuses the Duke of Norfolk on account of ancient hatred toward him, or worthily, as a good subject should, on some known ground of treachery in him?”

“As near as I could find out by questioning him on that topic, he makes the accusation on account of some apparent and obvious danger seen in the Duke of Norfolk that is aimed at your highness, and not because of long-standing malice and hatred.”

“Then call them into our presence,” King Richard II said, using the royal plural. “We ourselves will hear the accuser and the accused — face to face, and frowning brow to brow — freely speak. High-stomached — proud and stubborn — are they both, and full of ire; in rage they are deaf as the sea, and as hasty as fire.”

Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford, and Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, entered the room.

Henry Bolingbroke said to King Richard II, “May many years of happy days befall you, my gracious sovereign, my most loving liege!”

Thomas Mowbray said to the King, “May each day always better the previous day’s happiness, until the Heavens, envying Earth’s good fortune, add an immortal title to your crown!”

“We thank you both,” King Richard II replied, “yet one of you is only flattering us, as well appears by the reason you come here — namely to accuse each other of high treason.

“Henry, my cousin of Hereford, what accusation do you bring against the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Mowbray?”

“First, let Heaven be the witness to my speech!” Henry Bolingbroke said. “In the devotion of a subject’s love, feeling concern for the precious safety of my Prince, and free from other misbegotten hate, I come as accuser into this Princely presence.

“Now, Thomas Mowbray, I turn to you. Mark well what I say to you; for what I speak my body shall make good upon this Earth, or my divine soul shall answer it in Heaven. I will fight you and prove by defeating and killing you that you are guilty of what I accuse you.

“You are a traitor and a miscreant, too highborn to be these things and too bad to live, since the more beautiful and crystal-clear the sky is, the uglier seem the clouds that in it fly.

“Once more, the more to aggravate the mark of your disgrace, I stuff down your throat the name of a foul traitor, and I wish, if it pleases my sovereign, before I move, to prove with sword drawn in righteous cause to prove that what I say is true.”

Thomas Mowbray replied, “Let not my cool, calm words here make anyone accuse me of lacking zeal. The trial of a woman’s war, the bitter clamor of two eager tongues, a battle fought only with words, cannot arbitrate this dispute between us two. The blood is hot that must be cooled for this. We must fight and spill blood on the ground.

“Yet I cannot boast of possessing such tame patience as to be hushed and to say nothing at all.

“First, the fair reverence of your highness — my respect for you, King Richard II, who are a blood relative to Henry Bolingbroke — curbs me from giving reins and spurs to my free speech, which otherwise would posthaste return these terms of treason and stuff them redoubled down his throat.

“Setting aside his high blood’s royalty, thereby letting him be no kinsman to my liege, I defy him, and I spit at him. I call him a slanderous coward and a villain, and to prove that what I say is true I would allow him odds, and meet him in man-to-man combat, even if I were obliged to run on foot all the way to the frozen ridges of the Alps, or any other uninhabitable ground where an Englishman has dared to set his foot.

“In the meantime let thisdefend my loyalty,” Thomas Mowbray said as he put his hand on the hilt of his sword. “I swear by all my hopes of attaining Heaven that most falsely he lies.”

Henry Bolingbroke threw his glove on the ground. The glove was his gage, a challenge to fight. If Thomas Mowbray picked up the gage, the two were obliged to fight.

Henry Bolingbroke said, “Pale trembling coward, there I throw my gage. I renounce here the kindred of the King, and I lay aside my high blood’s royalty. I say that fear of me, not respect for my being related to the King, makes you hold back from fighting me. You say that you respect the blood of the King — well, now that I have renounced my royal blood, you have no reason not to fight me.

“If guilty dread has left you so much strength as to take up my honor’s pawn, then stoop and pick up my gage. By that gage and all the other rites of knighthood, I will make good against you, arm against arm, what I have spoken, before you can devise even worse crimes to commit.”

Thomas Mowbray picked up the gage and said, “I take it up, and by that sword that gently tapped me on my shoulder when I was knighted, I swear that I’ll answer your challenge in any fair degree or chivalrous design of knightly trial. And when I mount my horse to fight you, may I not dismount alive from my horse, if I am a traitor or if I fight for an unjust cause!”

King Richard II said to Henry Bolingbroke, his first cousin, “What crime does our cousin charge that Mowbray is responsible for? It must be great if it will possess us of even as much as a thought of evil in him.”

“Pay attention to what I say,” Henry Bolingbroke replied. “My life shall prove that what I say is true. Mowbray received eight thousand nobles to pay as lendings — advances of pay — for your highness’ soldiers, but he retained that money and used it for improper employments, like a false, treacherous traitor and injurious villain.

“In addition, I say and will in battle prove, either here or elsewhere to the furthest border that ever was surveyed by English eye, that for these past eighteen years since the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 all the treasons plotted and contrived in this land stem from false Mowbray, who is their first head and spring.”

The Duke of Gloucester had been murdered while in the custody of Thomas Mowbray. Some people in this society believed that King Richard II had ordered the death of the Duke of Gloucester and that Thomas Mowbray, after delaying for three weeks, had ordered people who served him to carry out the order. The Duke of Gloucester was the uncle of both Henry Bolingbroke and King Richard II.

Referring to this murder, Henry Bolingbroke continued, “Further I say and further I will maintain upon his bad life to make all this good, that he plotted the Duke of Gloucester’s death, tempted his soon-believing adversaries, and subsequently, like a traitor coward, sluiced out the Duke of Gloucester’s innocent soul through streams of blood. This blood, like the blood of Abel, who sacrificed lambs to God and then was murdered by Cain, whose sacrifice of crops was not as well regarded by God, cries, even from the tongueless caverns of the earth, to me for justice and rough chastisement, and, by the glorious worth of my descent, this arm shall do it before this life is spent.”

The story of Abel and Cain is told in Genesis 4. In Genesis 4:12, we read, “The Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.’”

King Richard II said, “To how high a height the resolution of Henry Bolingbroke soars!

“Thomas Mowbray of Norfolk, what do you say to this?”

“Oh, let my sovereign turn away his face and bid his ears be deaf for a little while until I have told this disgrace to his blood relatives how God and good men hate so foul a liar.”

“Mowbray, our eyes and ears are impartial,” King Richard II said. “If Henry Bolingbroke were my brother, or even my Kingdom’s heir — although as it is, he is only my father’s brother’s son — but now, by the reverence due to my scepter and my majesty, I make a vow that such neighbor nearness to our sacred blood shall not privilege him, nor shall his close blood relationship to me make the unstooping firmness of my upright soul biased in his favor.”

Richard II believed that Kings are supposed to stoop — bow — to no one except God.

King Richard II continued, “Henry Bolingbroke is our subject, Mowbray, and so are you. I grant you permission to speak freely and without fear.”

Thomas Mowbray said, “Then, Bolingbroke, I say that as low as to your heart, through the perfidious passage of your throat, you lie. Three parts of that money I received for Calais I duly disbursed to his highness’ soldiers. The other part I retained with King Richard II’s consent because my sovereign liege was in my debt because of an unpaid balance of a dear — both expensive and loving — account. I paid out my own money when recently I went to France to fetch King Richard II’s Queen. Now swallow down that lie.”

King Richard II had married Isabella of Valois.

Thomas Mowbray continued, “As for the Duke of Gloucester’s death,I did not slay him, but to my own disgrace I neglected my sworn duty in that case.

“As for you, my noble John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, you who are the honorable father to my foe, I once lay an ambush for your life. That is a trespass that vexes my grieving soul, but before I last received the sacrament I confessed my sin and expressly begged for your grace’s pardon, and I hope I had it.

“That is my fault. As for the other things I am accused of, they issue from the rancor of a villain, a cowardly and most degenerate traitor, and I boldly will defend myself against those charges.”

He threw down his glove and said, “I in turn hurl down my gage upon this overweening and arrogant traitor’s foot, and I will prove myself a loyal gentleman even in the best blood chambered in his bosom. I will spill the blood of his heart to prove that I am a loyal gentleman.

“Most heartily I pray that your highness will quickly assign a day for our trial by combat.”

Both Henry Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray had picked up the other’s gage.

“Wrath-kindled gentlemen, be ruled by me,” King Richard II said. “Let’s purge this choler without letting blood.”

In this society, physicians sometimes treated illnesses by bleeding. The physician would make shallow incisions in veins and bleed the patient.

Using the royal plural, King Richard II continued, “This we prescribe, although we are no physician. Deep malice makes too deep incision. Forget and forgive; come to terms and be agreed to be reconciled. Our doctors say this is no month to bleed.”

In this society, physicians believed that some months were more favorable than others for bleeding.

Using the royal plural, King Richard II said to John of Gaunt, “Good uncle, let this end where it began. We’ll calm the Duke of Norfolk; you calm your son.”

John of Gaunt said, “To be a peacemaker shall be suitable for my age. Throw down, my son, the Duke of Norfolk’s gage.”

King Richard II said, “And, Duke of Norfolk, throw down Bolingbroke’s gage.”

Henry Bolingbroke did not throw down Mowbray’s gage. Nor did Mowbray throw down Bolingbroke’s gage.

John of Gaunt said, “When, Harry, when will you do what I tell you to do? Filial obedience bids I should not bid again. A dutiful son would have already done what I told you to do.”

King Richard II said, “Norfolk, we order you to throw down Henry Bolingbroke’s gage; there is no alternative.”

Thomas Mowbray knelt and said, “Myself I throw, dread sovereign, at your foot. My life you shall command, but not my shame. The one my duty owes to you, but my fair name, a name that will live on after I am dead and in my grave, to dark dishonor’s use you shall not have. I am disgraced, accused, and publicly treated with infamy here. I am pierced to the soul with the poisoned spear of slander, and no balm can cure that except the heart’s-blood of the man who uttered these poisoned words against me.”

“Rage must be withstood,” King Richard II said. “Give me Henry Bolingbroke’s gage. Lions make leopards tame. Kings make nobles tame.”

“Yes, lions make leopards tame, but they cannot change the leopard’s spots,” Mowbray said. “Just take away my shame, and I will resign my challenge and take back my gage.”

A spot is a stain, aka sin or crime. Mowbray may have been saying that if King Richard II would admit that he had ordered the death of the Duke of Gloucester, then Mowbray would take back his gage and his challenge.

Mowbray continued, “My dear, dear lord, the purest treasure mortal times afford is spotless reputation. Take that away, and men are only gilded loam or painted clay.”

According to Genesis, God created men out of dust. Take away a man’s spotless reputation, and all that is left is dust that has been covered with gilt or paint.

Mowbray continued, “A jewel in a ten-times-barred-up chest is like a bold spirit in a loyal breast. My honor is my life; both grow in one — they are intertwined. Take honor from me, and my life is done. So then, my dear liege, let me put my honor to the test. In defending honor I live, and for honor I will die.”

King Richard II said to Henry Bolingbroke, “Cousin, give up your challenge; you begin the peace-making process.”

“Oh, may God keep my soul from such deep sin!” Henry Bolingbroke said. “Shall I seem crestfallen and humbled in my father’s sight? Or with fear appropriate to a pale beggar discredit my high birth before this brazen dastardly coward? Before my tongue shall wound my honor with such feeble wrong, or sound so base a truce, my teeth shall tear the slavish instrument of recanting fear, and I will spit my bleeding tongue with its high disgrace where shame finds harbor — I will spit my tongue in Mowbray’s face.”

King Richard II said, “We were not born to beseech, but to command, which since we cannot do to make you friends, be ready, as your lives shall answer for it if you are not ready, at Coventry, upon Saint Lambert’s day — September 17 — in this year of 1398. There shall your swords and lances arbitrate the swelling difference of your deep-rooted hate. Since we cannot reconcile you, we shall see the justice of God designate which of you shall be the victor and therefore is in the right.

“Lord Marshal, command our officers at arms to be ready to manage these home — as opposed to foreign — disturbances.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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