David Bruce:William Shakespeare’s RICHARD II: A Retelling Prose — Act 1, Scenes 2-4

— 1.2 —

In his house in London, John of Gaunt and the Duchess of Gloucester, whose husband had been murdered at King Richard II’s order, talked together.

John of Gaunt said, “Alas, the blood I shared with my brother Thomas of Woodstock, the Duke of Gloucester, urges me more than your exclamations to stir and take action against the butchers of his life! But since correction lies in the hands of him who committed the crime — the King’s hands — we cannot avenge the crime, and so we leave revenge to the will of Heaven. God, when He sees the right time and the ripe hours on Earth, will rain hot vengeance on such offenders’ heads.”

The Duchess of Gloucester said, “Doesn’t brotherhood find in you a sharper spur? Has love in your old blood no living fire? King Edward III had seven sons, and you yourself are one. Those seven sons were like seven vials of his sacred blood, or seven beautiful branches springing from one root. Some of those seven are dried by nature’s course; they have died. Some of those branches were cut by the Destinies — the Fates who spin, weave, measure, and cut the thread of life.

“But Thomas of Woodstock, my dear lord, my life, my Duke of Gloucester, who was one vial full of King Edward III’s sacred blood, one flourishing branch of his most royal root, is cracked, and all the precious liquor spilt. He is hacked down and his summer leaves are all faded, by hatred’s hand and murder’s bloody axe.

“Ah, Gaunt, his blood was yours! That bed, that womb, that stuff, that same mold that fashioned you made him a man; and although you live and breathe, yet you are slain in him. You consent in some large measure to your father’s death, in that you see your wretched brother die, who was the model of your father’s life.

“Don’t call it Christian patience, Gaunt; it is despair and desperation — a sin. Despair is loss of hope. Christian patience is forbearance and self-control; it is Christian long-suffering — waiting patiently for God to act.

“In allowing thus your brother to be slaughtered, you show the naked, defenseless pathway to your own life, and you teach stern murder how to butcher you. That which in mean men we entitle patience is pale cold cowardice when it appears in noble breasts.

“What shall I say? To safeguard your own life, the best way is to avenge my Gloucester’s death.”

“God’s is the quarrel,” John of Gaunt replied. “God’s substitute, His deputy anointed in His sight, has caused the death of the Duke of Gloucester. That substitute is King Richard II, who was crowned in the sight of God in the coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey. All Kings, good or bad, are God’s deputies. If King Richard II caused Gloucester’s death wrongfully, let Heaven revenge it, for I may never lift an angry arm against the minister of God.”

“To whom then, alas, may I complain?” the Duchess of Gloucester asked.

“To God, the widow’s champion and defense.”

“Why, then, I will. Farewell, old Gaunt. You go to Coventry, there to behold our kinsman the Duke of Hereford fight deadly Mowbray.

“Oh, may my husband’s wrongs sit on Hereford’s spear, so that it may enter the butcher Mowbray’s breast! Or, if misfortune miss the first charge in the man-to-man combat, may Mowbray’s sins sit so heavy in his bosom that they break his foaming courser’s back, and throw the rider headlong in the combat arena, a captive coward to my cousin Hereford!

“Farewell, old Gaunt. Your at one time brother’s wife with her companion, Grief, must end her life.”

“Sister-in-law, farewell,” John of Gaunt replied. “I must go to Coventry. May as much good stay with you as goes with me!”

“Yet one word more,” the Duchess of Gloucester said. “Grief rebounds from where it falls, not with its empty hollowness, but with its weight. It rebounds because it is so heavy and returns to the mourner.

“I take my leave before I have begun, for sorrow does not end when it seems to be done.

“Commend me to your brother, Edmund of Langley, the Duke of York.

“Well, that is all — no, do not yet depart. Although this is all, do not so quickly go. I shall remember more things to say. Tell the Duke of York — ah, what? — with all good speed at Plashy visit me.”

Plashy was the home of the Gloucester family in Essex.

The Duchess of Gloucester continued, “Alas, and what shall good old York see there but empty rooms and undecorated walls since the tapestries have been taken down while I am away. What shall good old York see there but unpeopled rooms where servants should be doing their work, and untrodden stones? And what should old York hear there for his welcome except my groans?

“Therefore convey my greetings to him, but let him not come there to seek the sorrow that dwells everywhere.

“Desolate, desolate, I will go there and die. My weeping eyes now take their last leave of you.”

— 1.3 —

On this Saint Lambert’s day — 17 September 1398 — the lists — the area prepared for combat — had been prepared at Coventry for the combat between Henry Bolingbroke and Mowbray. The duel would decide which man was honorable; people believed that God would help the honorable man defeat the dishonorable man in this fight to the death.

The Lord Marshal and the Duke of Aumerle spoke together.

The Lord Marshal asked, “My Lord Aumerle, is Harry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford, armed?”

“Yes, at all points he is fully armed, and he longs to enter into the fighting arena.”

The Lord Marshal said, “The Duke of Norfolk, full of spirit and bold, waits only for the summons of the accuser’s trumpet.”

The Duke of Aumerle replied, “Why, then, the champions are prepared, and I am waiting for nothing except his majesty’s approach.”

The trumpets sounded, and King Richard II entered with John of Gaunt, Bushy, Bagot, Green, and others. They sat, and Thomas Mowbray, fully armed, entered with his herald. Mowbray was the defendant in this trial by arms.

King Richard II said, “Lord Marshal, demand of yonder champion the cause of his arrival here in arms. Ask him his name and orderly proceed to make him swear to the justice of his cause.”

The Lord Marshal said to Mowbray, “In God’s name and the King’s, say who you are and why you have come here thus knightly clad in arms, say against what man you have come here to fight, and say what are your quarrel and cause of complaint with that man. Speak truly, on your knighthood and your oath, and may God and your valor protect you in accordance with the justice of your cause.”

Knights identified themselves as part of the ritual. They were wearing helmets with the visors down and in some cases would not be recognized. Also, one of the rules of chivalry was that knights were under no obligation to fight those challengers who were not knights.

“My name is Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, and I have come here engaged by my oath — which God forbid a knight should violate! — both to defend my loyalty and truth to God, my King, and my descendants against the Duke of Hereford who accuses me and, by the grace of God and this my arm, to prove, in defending myself, that he is a traitor to my God, my King, and me, and as I fight for the truth, may Heaven defend me!”

The trumpets sounded, and Henry Bolingbroke, the accuser of Mowbray, entered the combat arena fully armed, accompanied by a herald.

King Richard II said, “Marshal, ask yonder knight in arms both who he is and why he comes here thus armed in plate armor in the habiliments of war, and formally, according to our law, take an oath from him about the justice of his cause.”

The Lord Marshal asked, “What is your name? And why have you come here before King Richard II in his royal lists? Against whom have you come? And what’s your quarrel? Speak like a true knight, so that Heaven may defend you!”

“I am Harry of Hereford, Lancaster, and Derby,” Henry Bolingbroke replied.

He called himself Lancaster because he was the heir to the Duke of Lancaster. He was also the Duke of Hereford and the Earl of Derby.

He continued, “I stand here in arms ready to prove, by God’s grace and my body’s valor, in this combat arena, against Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, that he is a traitor, foul and dangerous, to God of Heaven, King Richard II, and to me, and as I fight for the truth, may Heaven defend me!”

The Lord Marshal said, “On pain of death, no person shall be so bold or foolhardy as to interfere in the combat arena, except the Marshal and such officers as are appointed to direct this fair undertaking.”

“Lord Marshal,” Henry Bolingbroke said, “let me kiss my sovereign’s hand, and bow my knee before his majesty, for Mowbray and I are like two men who vow a long and weary pilgrimage. Then let us take a ceremonious leave and loving farewell of our many friends.”

The Lord Marshal said to King Richard II, “The accuser greets your highness in all duty, and he requests to kiss your hand and take his leave.”

“We will descend and enfold him in our arms,” King Richard II said, coming down from his chair of state, which was on a platform, and hugging Henry Bolingbroke, his first cousin.

He added, “Cousin of Hereford, to that extent that your cause is right, so be your fortune in this royal fight! If your cause is just, then win. If your cause is unjust, then die. Farewell, my blood. If today you shed your blood, I am permitted to lament you, but not to revenge your death. If you die, Mowbray has proven that your cause is unjust, and revenging your death would be unjust.”

“Oh, let no noble eye drop a profane tear for me, if I am gored with Mowbray’s spear,” Henry Bolingbroke replied. “As confidently as against a bird the falcon takes flight, I with Mowbray fight. My loving lord, I take my leave of you.

“I also take my leave of you, my noble cousin, Lord Aumerle. I am not sick, although I have to do with death; instead, I am strong, young, and cheerfully drawing breath.

“Lo, as at English feasts, at which sweet things are served last, so I greet the sweetest, most delicious, and daintiest last, to make the end most sweet.”

He then said to his father, John of Gaunt, “Oh, you, the Earthly author of my blood, whose youthful spirit, in me reborn, with a twofold vigor lifts me up to reach out for victory above my head, add tested strength to my armor with your prayers, and with your blessings steel and strengthen my lance’s point so that it may pierce Mowbray’s armor as if it were made of wax, and polish anew the name of John of Gaunt through the vigorous behavior of his son.”

John of Gaunt replied, “May God make you prosperous because your cause is good! Be swift like lightning in the execution, and let your blows, doubly redoubled, fall like stupefying thunder on the helmet of your adverse pernicious enemy. Rouse up your youthful blood, be valiant, and live.”

“I rely for success on my innocence and the help of Saint George, the patron saint of England,” Henry Bolingbroke said.

Thomas Mowbray said, “However God or fortune casts my lot, there lives or dies, true to King Richard II’s throne, a loyal, just, and upright gentleman: myself. Never did a captive with a freer heart cast off his chains of bondage and embrace his golden uncontrolled freedom more than my dancing soul celebrates this feast of battle with my adversary.

“Most mighty liege, and my companion peers, take away from my mouth the wish of happy years. As gentle and as jocund as to an entertainment, I go to fight. Truth has a calm breast.”

“Farewell, my lord,” King Richard II said. “I confidently see virtue with valor lying poised and ready in your eye.

“Order the trial, Marshal, and let the combat begin.”

The Lord Marshal had inspected the opponents’ lances to make sure that they were the same length. Now he gave the opponents their lances.

He said, “Harry of Hereford, Lancaster, and Derby, receive your lance; and may God defend whoever has right on his side!”

“Strong as a tower in hope, I cry, ‘Amen,’” Henry Bolingbroke said.

The Lord Marshal ordered an officer, “Go bear this lance to Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk.”

The first herald said, “Harry of Hereford, Lancaster, and Derby, stands here for God, his sovereign and himself, on pain to be found false and cowardly, to prove that the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Mowbray, is a traitor to his God, his King, and himself, and dares him to set forward to the fight.”

The second herald said, “Here stands Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, on pain to be found false and cowardly, both to defend himself and to prove that Henry of Hereford, Lancaster, and Derby is to God, his sovereign, and himself disloyal. Thomas Mowbray stands here courageously and with a free desire to fight, and is waiting only for the signal to begin.”

The Lord Marshal said, “Sound, trumpets; and set forward, combatants.”

The trumpets sounded a charge, but King Richard II threw his warder — his baton — down. This was a signal to stop the combat.

The Lord Marshal ordered, “Stop! The King has thrown his warder down.”

King Richard II said, “Let them lay by their helmets and their spears, and both return back to their chairs again.”

Using the royal plural, he then ordered the lords of his Council, “Withdraw with us, and let the trumpets sound until we notify these Dukes what we decree.”

The trumpets made a succession of calls until the deliberation stopped.

King Richard II then said to the combatants, “Come close, and listen to what with our Council we have decided.

“Because our Kingdom’s earth should not be soiled with that dear blood that it has fostered, and because our eyes hate the dire aspect of wounds plowed up with neighbors’ swords in civil war, and because we think the eagle-winged pride of sky-aspiring and ambitious thoughts, with rival-hating envy, set you on to disturb our peace, which in our country’s cradle draws the sweet infant breath of gentle sleep, and which would become excessively roused up with savage out-of-tune military drums, with harsh resounding trumpets’ dreadful brays, and with the grating shock of wrathful iron arms — these disturbances might from our quiet confines frighten fair Peace and make us wade even in our kindred’s blood — we therefore banish both of you from our territories.

“You, cousin Hereford, upon pain of losing your life, until twice five summers have enriched our fields, shall not greet again our fair dominions. Instead, for ten years you shall tread the foreign paths of banishment.”

“Your will be done,” Henry Bolingbroke replied. “This must be my comfort: The Sun that warms you here shall shine on me there, and the Sun’s golden beams that are given to you here shall also shine on me and gild my banishment.”

King Richard II said to Mowbray, “Duke of Norfolk, for you remains a heavier doom, a more serious sentence, which I with some unwillingness pronounce. The stealthy and slow hours shall not bring to an end the endless time of your dear — dire — exile. The hopeless words of ‘never to return’ speak I against you, upon pain of losing your life.”

“This is a heavy sentence, my most sovereign liege,” Mowbray replied, “and all unlooked for from your highness’ mouth. I have deserved at your highness’ hands a dearer merit, not so deep a wound as to be cast forth in the common air.

“The language I have learned these forty years, my native English, now I must forego. And now my tongue is of use to me no more than an unstringed viol or a harp. My tongue is as useful to me as a skillfully made musical instrument put away in its case. My tongue is as useful to me as a skillfully made musical instrument put into the hands of a person who does not know how to play a tuneful harmony. Within my mouth you have jailed my tongue. It is doubly guarded with portcullises — my teeth and lips.”

A portcullis is a strong, heavy grating that can be lowered to block the entrance to a castle.

Mowbray continued, “Dull, unfeeling, barren ignorance is made my jailer to wait on me. I am too old to fawn upon a wet nurse, too far in years — too old — to be a pupil now. I cannot learn a foreign language either from a wet nurse — a servant who takes care of and breastfeeds someone else’s baby and teaches it to say its first words — or from a tutor. What is your sentence then but speechless death, which robs my tongue from breathing native breath and speaking native words?”

King Richard II replied, “It does not help you to be piteously full of lamentation. After we have pronounced our sentence, complaining comes too late.”

“Then thus I turn myself away from my country’s light, to dwell in solemn shadows of endless night,” Mowbray said, preparing to leave.

King Richard II said to him, “Return again, and take an oath with you.”

Using the royal plural, he then said to both Thomas Mowbray and Henry Bolingbroke, “Lay your banished hands on our royal sword — the sword, hilt, and guard form a cross. Swear by the duty that you owe to God — now that I have banished you, you owe no duty to me — to keep this oath that we administer:

“You shall never — so help you truth and God! — embrace each other’s friendship in banishment, shall never look upon each other’s face, shall never write each other, greet each other again, or reconcile this frowning tempest of your home-bred hate, and shall never by premeditated plan meet to plot, contrive, or collude in any ill against us, our state, our subjects, or our land.”

Henry Bolingbroke said, “I swear.”

Thomas Mowbray said, “And I swear to keep all this.”

Henry Bolingbroke said to Mowbray, “Duke of Norfolk, so far as I may speak to my enemy, let me say this: By this time, if the King had permitted us to fight, one of our souls had wandered in the air because it had been banished from this frail sepulcher of our flesh, as now our flesh is banished from this land. Confess your treasons before you fly from the realm. Since you have far to go, do not bear along with you the clogging burden of a guilty soul.”

A clog is a weight that is attached to the leg of a prisoner to impede movement.

“No, Bolingbroke,” Thomas Mowbray replied. “If I ever were a traitor, may my name be blotted from the Book of Life, and may I from Heaven be banished as I am banished from England! But what you are, God, you, and I know, and all too soon, I fear, the King shall rue what you are.

“Farewell, my liege. Now no way can I stray, unless I come back to England. All the world’s my way. I can go anywhere I want except England.”

Mowbray exited.

King Richard II looked at John of Gaunt, who was mourning the exile of Henry Bolingbroke.

King Richard II said, “The eyes mirror what is in the heart. Uncle, even in the mirrors of your eyes I see your grieving heart. Your sad expression has from the number of your son’s banished years plucked away four years.”

He said to Henry Bolingbroke, “After six frozen winters are spent and gone, return with welcome home from banishment.”

Henry Bolingbroke replied, “How long a time lies in one little speech from a King! Four lagging, lingering winters and four wanton, luxuriant springs disappear with a King’s small speech: Such is the breath of Kings.”

John of Gaunt said, “I thank my liege because in his regard for me he shortens my son’s exile by four years, but little advantage shall I reap thereby, for before the six years that my son has to spend in exile can change their Moons, making months pass, and bring their times to an end, my oil-dried lamp and my wasted-away-by-time light shall be extinct with age and endless night. My inch of taper will be burnt and done, and blindfolded death will not let me see my son. I will never see my son again; I will die before his exile is over.”

“Why, uncle, you have many years to live,” King Richard II said.

“But, King, you cannot give to me even a minute,” John of Gaunt said. “You can shorten my days with sullen sorrow, and you can pluck nights away from me, but you cannot give me a morning. You can help time to furrow — wrinkle — me with age, but you can stop no wrinkle in time’s pilgrimage. Your word is current with time for my death, but once I am dead, your Kingdom cannot buy my breath. You have the power to kill me, but once I am dead you lack the power to give me life.”

“Your son is banished upon good advice,” King Richard II said. “Your own tongue assented to this group verdict. Why then at our justice do you seem to frown?”

“Things sweet to taste prove in digestion to be sour,” John of Gaunt said. “You urged me to express my opinion as a judge; but I had rather you would have bid me to argue like a father. Oh, if it had been a stranger and not my child I was judging, I would have been milder and glossed over his fault. I sought to avoid being accused of being biased because I was judging my son. So I advocated exile, and with this sentence I destroyed my own life. Alas, I looked for the time when some of you would say that I was too strict when I made my own son go away in exile, but you gave permission to my unwilling tongue against my will to do myself this wrong.”

King Richard II said to Henry Bolingbroke, “Cousin, farewell.”

He then said to John of Gaunt, “Uncle, tell your son farewell. For six years we banish him, and he shall go.”

The trumpets sounded, and King Richard II and his train of attendants exited.

The Duke of Aumerle, who was loyal to King Richard II, said to Henry Bolingbroke, “Cousin, farewell. What presence must not know, from where you do remain let paper show. You won’t be able to communicate with me in person, but be sure to write to me.”

The Duke of Aumerle, King Richard II, and Henry Bolingbroke were all first cousins, since they were the sons of three brothers, all of whom were sons of King Edward III. The Duke of Aumerle was the son of the Duke of York.

The Lord Marshal said to Henry Bolingbroke, “My lord, no leave from you will I take, for I will ride, as far as land will let me, by your side. I will ride to the harbor with you.”

Henry Bolingbroke stayed silent because of his grief at leaving England.

His father, John of Gaunt, said to him, “Oh, for what reason do you hoard your words with the result that you return no courteous sentences to your friends?”

“I have too few words to take my leave of you,” Henry Bolingbroke said. “Now my tongue’s duty is to be prodigal in expressing the abundant dolor of my heart.”

“Your grief — cause of sorrow — is only your absence from England for a time,” John of Gaunt said.

“As long as joy is absent, grief — sorrow — is present for that time,” Henry Bolingbroke said.

“What are six winters? They are quickly gone.”

“To men in joy, but grief makes one hour seem like ten.”

“Call it a travel that you are taking for pleasure,” John of Gaunt said.

“My heart will sigh when I miscall it so,” Henry Bolingbroke said. “It is a travail — a forced pilgrimage.”

“Think of it this way,” John of Gaunt said. “The sullen, gloomy passage of your weary steps is a foil wherein you are to set the precious jewel of your home return.”

A foil is a thin piece of metal set under a jewel to make it more brilliant. The foil has little value, but the jewel has great value. The time spent in exile, according to John of Gaunt, will make his son’s return to England seem all the more brilliant.

“No,” Henry Bolingbroke replied. “Rather, every tedious stride I make will only remind me at what a great distance away I wander from the jewels whom I love.

“Isn’t it true that I must serve a long apprenticeship to foreign passages, and in the end, having again my freedom, I must boast of nothing else but that I was a journeyman to grief? I will spend time in exile, but I will gain nothing for it — except six years of serving grief.”

“All places that the eye of Heaven visits are to a wise man ports and happy havens,” John of Gaunt said.

A proverb stated, “A wise man makes every country his own.”

He continued, “Teach your necessity to reason like this. There is no virtue like necessity.

“Don’t think that the King banished you; think that you banished the King.

“Woe does the heavier sit, where it perceives it is but faintheartedly borne.

“Go, and say that I sent you forth to earn honor instead of saying that the King exiled you.

“Or suppose that a devouring pestilential plague hangs in our air and you are fleeing to a fresher, healthier climate.

“Look, whatever your soul holds dear, imagine that it lies the way you are going, and not from whence you came. Say that you are traveling to find whatever your soul holds dear.

“Imagine that the singing birds are musicians. Imagine that the grass you tread on is the King’s presence chamber strewed with rushes. Imagine that the flowers are fair ladies, and your steps are no more than a delightful stately or lively dance.

“Gnarling — snarling and gnashing — sorrow has less power to bite the man who mocks it and regards it as light.”

“Oh, who can hold a fire in his hand by thinking about the frosty Caucasus Mountains that separate Europe from Asia?” Henry Bolingbroke replied. “Who can cloy — satiate — the hungry edge of appetite with only the imagination of a feast? Who can wallow naked in December snow by thinking about summer’s fantastic heat?

“Oh, no! The awareness of the good only gives the greater feeling to the worse. Cruel Sorrow’s tooth never rankles and creates a festering wound more than when it bites and creates a sore, but does not lance it.”

Some wounds do not leave an opening, meaning that any pus stays inside the body, and the wound does not heal. Lancing a wound leaves an opening that allows the pus to drain and fosters healing.

“Come, come, my son,” John of Gaunt said. “I’ll accompany you on your way. If I had your youth and cause, I would not delay.”

“Then, England’s ground, farewell,” Henry Bolingbroke said. “Sweet soil, adieu. My mother, and my nurse, that bears me yet! Wherever I wander, boast of this I can: Although I am banished, I am yet a trueborn Englishman.”

— 1.4 —

King Richard II was at his court. With him were Bagot and Green and the Duke of Aumerle.

“We did observe that,” King Richard II said in mid-conversation.

He then said, “Cousin Aumerle, how far did you accompany high Hereford on his way?”

The word “high” was ambiguous. It could mean “highborn” or “proud and haughty.”

“I accompanied high Hereford, if you call him so, only to the next highway, and there I left him,” Aumerle replied.

“Tell me, what quantity of parting tears was shed?” King Richard II asked.

“Indeed, no tears were shed by me, except the north-east wind, which then blew bitterly against our faces, awakened the sleeping seepage of my eye, and so by chance I graced our hollow — insincere — parting with a tear.”

“What did our cousin say when you parted from him?”

“‘Farewell,’ and, because my heart disdained that my tongue should so profane the word ‘farewell’ by saying it to Bolingbroke, my heart taught me the craftiness to counterfeit and imitate oppression of such grief that words seemed buried in my sorrow’s grave. I pretended that I was so overcome with sorrow that I could not speak. Truly, if the word ‘farewell’ would have lengthened the hours and added years to Bolingbroke’s short banishment, he would have had a volume of farewells from me, but since it would not, he had none from me.”

King Richard II said, “He is our cousin, cousin.”

King Richard II, the Duke of Aumerle, and Henry Bolingbroke were all first cousins.

He continued, “But when time shall call Bolingbroke home from banishment, it is doubtful whether he, our kinsman, will come back to see his friends. When his exile is ended and he is supposed to return to England, I may come up with a reason to extend his exile.”

Using the royal plural, he said, “We ourself and Bushy, Bagot here, and Green observed Henry Bolingbroke’s courtship to the common people — how he seemed to dive into their hearts with humble and familiar courtesy, what reverence he threw away on slaves, wooing poor craftsmen with the craft — deceit — of smiles and the patient endurance of his fortune, as if to carry their affections into exile with him.

“Off goes his hat to an oyster-wench — a female who sells oysters. A pair of draymen — wagon drivers — bid that God speed him well, and they had the tribute of his supple, easily bending knee, with ‘Thanks, my countrymen, my loving friends.’ He acted as if he would inherit our England, and as if he were our subjects’ next hope to be King.”

“Well, he is gone; and with him go these thoughts,” Green said. “Now for the rebels who refuse to yield in Ireland. Expeditious management must be made, my liege, before further leisure yield them further opportunities for their advantage and your highness’ loss.”

“We will ourself go in person to this war,” King Richard II said. “And, as for our coffers, with too great a court and liberal largess, they are grown somewhat light, and so we are forced to farm our royal realm.”

He had leased out parts of the country to tax-farmers. They paid King Richard II a large sum of money, and then recovered that money — and a profit — by levying their own taxes on the people.

He continued, “The revenue from leasing out the country shall furnish us for our affairs in hand — it shall pay for the war in Ireland. If that revenue falls short, our deputies at home in England shall have blank charters. When my deputies shall know what men are rich, they shall subscribe them for large sums of gold and send the gold to us to supply our wants, for we will make for Ireland soon.”

The blank charters were like blank checks. The rich man would sign the blank charter, and the King’s deputy would then fill in an amount of money that would be sent to King Richard II.

Bushy entered the room.

“Bushy, what is the news?” King Richard II asked.

“Old John of Gaunt is grievously sick, my lord. He has suddenly taken ill, and he has sent posthaste to entreat your majesty to visit him.”

“Where is he staying?”

“At Ely House,” Bushy replied.

Ely House was the London palace of the Bishops of Ely; often Ely House was rented out to nobles.

King Richard II said, “Now put it, God, in the physician’s mind to help John of Gaunt to his grave immediately! The lining of his coffers shall make coats to deck our soldiers for these Irish wars.

“Come, gentlemen, let’s all go visit him. Pray God we may make haste, and come too late!”

Everyone replied, “Amen!”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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