David Bruce: John Ford’s PERKIN WARBECK: A Retelling — Act 1, Scene 3

— 1.3 —

The Bishop of Durham, Sir Robert Clifford, and Christopher Urswick talked together in an apartment in the Tower of London. The apartment was lit with torches.

Sir Robert Clifford had supported Perkin Warbeck, but he turned against him and was now about to reveal to King Henry VII details of the plot to make Perkin Warbeck King of England. The interrogation was taking place in the Tower of London, where King Henry VII had temporarily moved his court, in part because if Sir Robert Clifford named some high-ranking nobles in the court as traitors, they could be arrested quickly.

The Bishop of Durham said, “You see, Sir Robert Clifford, how confidently King Henry VII, our great master, commits his personal safety to your loyalty; you taste his bounty and his mercy even in this: that at a time of night so late, a place so private as his own chamber, he is pleased to admit you to his favor. Do not falter in your disclosure of the conspiracy; but as you covet aliberal grace and pardon for your follies, so labor to deserve it by revealing all the plots and all the persons who contrive against it.”

Christopher Urswick said to Sir Robert Clifford, “Don’t remember the witchcraft or the magic, the charms and incantations, which the sorceress of Burgundy — Margaret of Burgundy — cast upon your reason. Sir Robert, be your own friend now and do what is best for you: Tell all you know and free your conscience from guilt. All who respect you stand as guarantees for your honesty and truth. Take care that you do not dally with the King: He is as wise as he is gentle.”

“I am miserable, if King Henry VII will not be merciful,” Sir Robert Clifford replied.

“The King is coming,” Christopher Urswick said.

King Henry VII entered the apartment and said, “Clifford!”

Sir Robert Clifford knelt and said, “Let my weak knees root on the earth, if I appear as leprous in my treacheries before your royal eyes, as to my own eyes I seem to be a monster as a result of my breach of truth.”

He had sworn to be loyal to King Henry VII, but he had broken his oath by plotting to help make Perkin Warbeck King.

“Clifford, stand up,” King Henry VII said. “For evidence of thy safety, I offer thee my hand.”

“It is a sovereign balm for my bruised soul,” Sir Robert Clifford said. “I kiss it with greediness.”

He kissed the King’s hand, rose, and said, “Sir, you’re a just master, but I —”

Wanting to get down to business quickly, King Henry VII interrupted, “Tell me, is every detail thou has set down with thine own hand within this paper true? Is it accurate information of all the progress of our enemies’ intentions without corruption by anything that is not true?”

“It is as true as I wish Heaven or as I wish my infected honor to be white and morally pure again,”Sir Robert Clifford replied.

“We know all, Clifford, fully, since this comet, this airy and insubstantial apparition first discradled himself and moved from Tournai in Belgium into Portugal, and thence advanced his fiery blaze for adoration to the superstitious Irish,” King Henry VII said. “Thereupon the tail of this wild comet, conjured into France, sparkled in grotesque flames in the court of King Charles VIII of France. But it shrunk again from there, and, hidden in darkness, stole into Flanders and then landed in England, flourishing the rag — his so-called standard — of counterfeit power on the shore of Kent, from where he was beaten back with shame and scorn, contempt, and slaughter of some naked outlaws.”

In July of 1495, Perkin Warbeck sailed to Deal, Kent, with a small force of men, but the citizens of Deal fought and defeated his men. He then sailed to Ireland, as Sir Robert Clifford will inform King Henry VII. For 11 days, he unsuccessfully besieged the Irish port of Waterford, resisted by its citizens. Perkin Warbeck then sailed for Scotland, and in November of 1495, King James IV of Scotland received him.

King Henry VII added, “But tell me what new course now shapes ‘Duke’ Perkin?”

His use of “Duke” when referring to Perkin Warbeck was sarcastic.

Sir Robert Clifford said, “His new course is for Ireland, mighty Henry; he was so instructed by Stephen Frion, who was formerly a secretary in the French tongue to your sacred excellence, but who is Perkin’s tutor now.”

“He is a crafty villain, that Frion, Frion,” King Henry VII said.

He then said, “You, my Lord of Durham, knew the man well.”

The Bishop of Durham said, “He is French both in his heart and in his actions.”

This was not a compliment.

King Henry VII said to Sir Robert Clifford, “Some Irish heads work in this mine of treason and support Perkin Warbeck. Name them.”

Sir Robert Clifford replied, “They are not any of the best; your good fortune has dulled their spirits. Never has a fraud had such a confused rabble of lost bankrupts for counselors. First is Heron, a bankrupt dealer in textile fabrics. Then are John a-Water, who is sometimes Mayor of Cork, Ireland, and a tailor named Skelton and a legal clerk called Astley. Whatever these wish to speak about, Perkin must listen to; but Frion, who is more cunning and intelligent than these dull capacities, still prompts Perkin to fly to Scotland to young King James IV and appeal to him for aid. This is the most recent of all their resolutions.”

“Still more Frion!” King Henry VII said. “Pestilent adder, he will hiss out poison that is as dangerous as it is infectious. We must equal him in cunning.

“Clifford, thou have spoken well and to the heart of the matter and given us good information; we give thee life. But, Clifford, there are unknown conspirators of our own people who remain behind in England; who are they, Clifford? Name those conspirators who are in England, and we are friends, and then we will rest. This is thy last task.”

“Oh, sir, here I must break a most unlawful oath to keep a just one,” Sir Robert Clifford said.

The very unlawful oath was the oath of allegiance he had made to the conspirators; the just oath was the oath of allegiance he had made to King Henry VII.

“Well, well, be brief, be brief,” King Henry VII said.

Naming the conspirators who supported Perkin Warbeck, Sir Robert Cliffordsaid, “The first in rank shall be John Ratcliffe, Lord Fitzwater. Then are Sir Simon Mountford and Sir Thomas Thwaites, with William Dawbeney, Chessoner, Astwood, Worseley the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathredral, two other friars, and Robert Ratcliffe.”

“Churchmen are turned devils,” King Henry VII said, and then he asked, “These are the principal conspirators?”

“One more remains unnamed, whom I could willingly forget,” Sir Robert Clifford said.

“Ha, Clifford!” King Henry VII said. “One more?”

“Great sir, do not hear him,” Sir Robert Clifford said.

He meant 1) Do not hear his name, or 2) Do not listen to what he will want to tell you.

Sir Robert Clifford continued, “For when Sir William Stanley, your Lord Chamberlain, shall come into the list, as he is chief, I shall lose credit with you — yet this lord who is the last named is the first conspirator against you.”

“Urswick, bring the torch!” King Henry VII said.

He brought the torch.

King Henry VII then said, “View well my face, sirs; is there any blood left in it?”

“You alter strangely, sir,” the Bishop of Durham said.

“Alter, Lord Bishop!” King Henry VII said. “Why, Clifford stabbed me, or I dreamed he stabbed me.”

He said to Sir Robert Clifford, “Sirrah, it is a custom with the guilty to think that they remove their own moral stains by laying aspersions on some people nobler than themselves. Lies accompany and serve treasons, as I find it here. Thy life again is forfeit; I recall and take back my word of mercy, for I know thou dare to repeat the name no more.”

“I dare, and once more, upon my knowledge, name Sir William Stanley both in his counsel and his financial support the chief assistant to the feigned Duke of York,” Sir Robert Clifford replied.

“Most strange!” the Bishop of Durham said.

“Most wicked!” Christopher Urswick said

“Yet again, tell me once more,” King Henry VII said to Sir Robert Clifford.

“Sir William Stanley is your secret enemy, and, when the time is fit, he will openly profess it,” Sir Robert Clifford replied.

“Sir William Stanley! Who? Sir William Stanley! My Lord Chamberlain, my counselor, the love and the pleasure of my court, my bosom friend, the charge and the control of access to me and the provider of my own personal security, the keys and secrets of my treasury, the all of all I am!” King Henry VII said. “I am unhappy. Misery of confidence, let me turn traitor to my own person and yield my scepter up to Edward’s sister and her bastard Duke!”

Edward’s sister and her bastard Duke were Margaret of Burgundy and Perkin Warbeck.

“You lose your steadiness of temper,” the Bishop of Durham said.

“Sir William Stanley!” King Henry VII said. “Oh, do not blame me; he, it was only he, who, having rescued me in the Battle of Bosworth Field from Richard’s bloody sword, snatched from his head the Kingly crown, and placed it first on my head.”

At the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, Sir William Stanley, who had supported King Richard III, a Yorkist, brought in his soldiers at the last moment to support Henry Tudor, who won the battle and became King Henry VII, the first Tudor King.

“He never failed me,” King Henry VII said. “In what way have I deserved to lose this good man’s heart, or he his own?”

“The night wastes away,” Christopher Urswick said. “This passion ill becomes you. Prepare against your danger.”

“Let it be so,” King Henry VII said. “Urswick, command Stanley to go immediately to his chamber — it is well we are in the Tower of London — and set a guard on him.”

King Henry VII had moved himself and his court to the Tower of London in order to question Sir Robert Clifford.

He continued, “Clifford, go to bed. You must lodge here tonight. We’ll talk with you tomorrow.”

He then said to all present, “My sad soul divines strange troubles.”

Lord Giles Dawbeney called from outside the apartment, “Ho! The King! The King! I must have entrance to the King.”

“That is Dawbeney’s voice,” King Henry VII said. “Admit him. What new tumultuous conflagrations pile up now and keep our eyes from rest?”

Lord Giles Dawbeney entered the apartment.

“What is the news?” King Henry VII askedLord Giles Dawbeney.

“Ten thousand Cornishmen, begrudging to pay your taxes for war against Scotland, have gathered together an army. Led by a blacksmith and a lawyer, they make their way for London, and to them is joined Lord Audley. As they march, their number daily increases; they are —”

Michael Joseph, a blacksmith; Thomas Flammock, a lawyer; and Lord Audley were the leaders of the Cornish rebellion.

King Henry VII finished Lord Giles Dawbeney’s sentence, “— rascals! Talk no more. Such rascals are not worthy of my thoughts tonight. Let’s all go to bed, and if I cannot sleep, I’ll stay awake.

“When counsels fail, and there’s in man no trust, even then an arm from Heaven fights for the just.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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