David Bruce: John Ford’s PERKIN WARBECK: A Retelling — Act 2, Scene 2

— 2.2 —

King Henry VII, the Earl of Oxford, the Earl of Surrey, and the Bishop of Durham met in the Tower of London. They talked about Sir William Stanley — the Lord Chamberlain — who had been convicted of treason in a trial by his peers.

“Have you convicted my Lord Chamberlain?” King Henry VII asked.

“His treasons convicted him, sir,” the Bishop of Durham replied. “They were as clear and manifest as they were foul and dangerous; besides, the guilt of his conspiracy pressed and oppressed him so nearly and closely that it drew from him a freely made confession without persistent requests.”

“Oh, Lord Bishop, his willing confession argued shame and sorrow for his folly, and it must not stand in evidence against our mercy and the softness of our nature,” King Henry VII said. “The rigor and extremity of law is sometimes too, too bitter, but we carry a chancery court of equity, appeal, and pity in our bosom. I hope we may reprieve him from the sentence of death — I hope we may.”

“You may, you may,” the Bishop of Durham said, “and in so doing you may persuade your subjects that the title of York is better, and indeed more just and lawful, than your title of Lancaster! That is what Stanley believes. If that belief is not treason in the highest degree, then we are all traitors, and we are all perjured and false, all of us who have taken an oath to Henry and the justice of Henry’s title. Oxford, Surrey, Dawbeney, and all your other peers of state and church are forsworn and perjured, and Stanley alone is true to Heaven and England’s lawful heir!”

The Bishop of Durham was sarcastic: If King Henry VII were to fail to sentence Lord Stanley to death, then it would be evidence that Lord Stanley was right to support Perkin Warbeck’s claim to the throne of England and all the nobles who had sworn oaths of loyalty to Henry VII were wrong to have done so.

“By Vere’s old honors, I’ll cut the throat of anyone who dares to speak such treason,” the Earl of Oxford said.

“Vere” was the Earl of Oxford’s family name: The Earl of Oxford was referring to the honors of his family.

“It is a quarrel to engage a soul in,” the Earl of Surrey said.

“What a turmoil is here to keep my gratitude unadulterated and perfect!” King Henry VII said. “Stanley was once my friend, and he came in time to save my life at the Battle of Bosworth Field; yet, to say the truth, my lords, the man delayed his help long enough to endanger my life.

“But I could see no more into his heart than what his outward actions presented. And for his outward actions I have rewarded him so fully that there lacked nothing in our gift to reward his merit, so I thought, unless I should divide my crown with him, and give him half, although now I well perceive it would hardly have served his turn and satisfied him without the whole crown.

“But I am charitable, lords; let justice continue on in execution — both operation and capital punishment — while I mourn the loss of one whom I esteemed a friend.”

“Sir, he is coming this way,” the Bishop of Durham said.

“If he speaks to me, I could deny him nothing,” King Henry VII said. “To prevent it, I must withdraw. Please, lords, give him my best wishes for his last peace, which I will pray for, as will he. That done, it concerns us to consult about other following troubles.”

King Henry VII exited.

“I am glad he’s gone,” the Earl of Oxford said. “I swear upon my life that he would have pardoned the traitor, had he seen him.”

“He is a King composed of gentleness,” the Earl of Surrey said.

“Which is rare and unheard of,” the Bishop of Durham said. “But it is true that every man is nearest to himself and looks out for himself, and the King observes that truth, as is fitting that he should.”

Sir William Stanley, Christopher Urswick, and Lord Giles Dawbeney entered the scene. The executioner and the confessor accompanied them.

“May I speak with Clifford — the man who accused me of treason — before I shake off this piece of frailty that is my body?” Sir William Stanley asked.

“You shall,”Lord Giles Dawbeney replied. “He hasbeen sent for.”

“I must not see the King?” Sir William Stanley asked.

“These lords and I have been sent to you from him,” the Bishop of Durham replied. “He bade us say that he commends his compassion to your thoughts. He wishes that the laws of England could remit the forfeit of your life as willingly as he would in the sweetness of his nature forget your trespass, but however your body fall into dust, he vows — the King himself vows — to keep a requiem for your soul, as for a friend closely treasured in his bosom.”

“Without remembrance of your errors past, I come to take my leave, and wish you Heaven,” the Earl of Oxford said.

“And I do, too,” the Earl of Surrey said. “May good angels guard you!”

“Oh, the King, next to my soul, shall be the most immediate subject of my last prayers,” Sir William Stanley said. “My grave Lord of Durham, and my Lords of Oxford, Surrey, Giles Dawbeney, and all, accept from a poor dying man a farewell. I was once as you are now — I was great and stood hopeful of many flourishing years, but fate and time have wheeled about and revolved, to turn me into nothing.”

William Stanley had been high and fortunate on the Wheel of Fortune, but it had turned, and he was now low and unfortunate and about to die.

“Sir Robert Clifford comes — the man, Sir William, you so desire to speak with,” Lord Giles Dawbeney said.

“Closely observe their meeting,” the Bishop of Durham said quietly. The soon-to-be-beheaded Sir William Stanley was about to meet the man who had accused him of treason.

Sir Robert Clifford entered the scene and said, “Sir William Stanley, I am glad that your conscience before your end has with your confession so emptied every burden that weighed it down that you can clearly witness how far I have proceeded in a duty that concerned both my truth and the state’s safety.”

“Mercy, how dear is life to such as hug it!” Sir William Stanley said. “Come here; by this token think about me!”

He licked his finger and then made a cross on Clifford’s face with it.

“This token!” Sir Robert Clifford said. “What! I am abused and wronged!”

“You are not,” Sir William Stanley said. “I wet upon your cheeks a holy sign — the cross, which is the Christian’s badge and the traitor’s infamy.”

The cross is the symbol of Christianity, and crucifixion was the Roman penalty for treason.

“Wear, Clifford, to thy grave this painted emblem,” Sir William Stanley said. “Water shall never wash it off; all eyes that gaze upon thy face shall read there written a state-informer’s character — a sign that is uglier when stamped on a noble name than when stamped on a base name. May the heavens forgive thee!

“Please, my lords, let there be no exchange of words; this man and I have used too many.”

“Shall I be disgraced without making a reply?” Sir Robert Clifford said.

“Give losers such as Sir William Stanley permission to talk,” the Bishop of Durham said. “His soon-to-be loss of life is irrecoverable.”

“Once more, to all a long farewell!” Sir William Stanley said. “May the best of greatness — God — preserve the King! My next suit is, my lords, to be remembered to my noble brother, Derby, my much-grieved brother.”

Sir Thomas Stanley, first Earl of Derby, was Sir William Stanley’s older brother. He was also King Henry VII’s stepfather.

Sir William Stanley continued, “Oh, persuade him that I shall be no permanent blemish to his house in chronicles written in another age.”

He expected that future histories would treat his memory well.

He continued, “My heart bleeds for him and for his sighs: Tell him that he must not think the name and title of Derby, nor being husband to King Henry VII’s mother, the league with peers, and the smiles of Lady Fortune can secure his peace above the state of man.”

The natural state of man was one in which one could be high on the Wheel of Fortune and then be low on the Wheel of Fortune. The natural state of man was one of uncertainty.

Sir William Stanley continued, “I take my leave to travel to my dust. Subjects deserve their deaths whose Kings are just.”

He did not say that King Henry VII was just.

He continued, “Come, confessor.

“Onward with thy axe, friendly executioner, onward!”

He was led off to be beheaded.

“Was I called here by a traitor’s breath to be upbraided?” Sir Robert Clifford said. “Lords, the King shall know it.”

King Henry VII reentered, carrying a white staff that had been Lord William Stanley’s staff of office as Lord Chamberlain.

He said, “The King does know it, sir; the King has heard what he or you could say. We have given credit to every point of Clifford’s information, the only evidence against Stanley’s head. He dies for it.”

He then asked, sarcastically, “Are you pleased?”

“Am I pleased, my lord!” Sir Robert Clifford said.

“No echoes,” King Henry VII said. “As for your service, we dismiss you from further attendance on the court; take your ease, and live at home; but as you love your life, don’t stir away from London without first getting permission from us. We’ll think about your reward for the information you have provided us. Leave!”

“I go, sir,” Sir Robert Clifford said.

He exited.

King Henry VII said, “May all our griefs die with Stanley!

“Take this staff of office, Giles Dawbeney; henceforth, you shall be our Lord Chamberlain.”

“I am your humble servant,” Lord Chamberlain Giles Dawbeney replied.

“We are followed by enemies at home, who will not cease to seek their own ruin,” King Henry VII said. “It is most true that the Cornish under Audley have marched on as far as Winchester — but let them come. Our forces are in readiness; we’ll catch them in their own snares.”

Winchester is within sixty miles of London.

Lord Chamberlain Giles Dawbeney said, “Your army, being mustered, consists in all, of horsemen and footmen, in number at least twenty-six thousand. These are men who are daring and able, resolute to fight, and loyal in their vows to you.”

“We know it, Giles Dawbeney,” King Henry VII said. “For them we give these orders.

“Oxford in chief, assisted by bold Essex and the Earl of Suffolk, shall lead on the first division.

“That will be your charge.”

The Earl of Oxford replied, “I humbly thank your majesty.”

King Henry VII continued, “The next military division we assign to Giles Dawbeney. These must be men of action, for on those the fortune of our fortunes must rely.

“The last and main division ourself commands in person. It is as ready to turn the tide of battle at all times as it is to consummate an assured victory.”

“The King is as always oracular,” Lord Chamberlain Giles Dawbeney said.

In other words, King Henry VII always told the truth just as if he were an oracle, according to Lord Chamberlain Giles Dawbeney.

“But, Surrey, we have employment of more toil for thee,” King Henry VII said. “For our intelligence comes swiftly to us that James IV of Scotland recently has welcomed Perkin the counterfeit with more than common grace and respect, indeed, he courts him with rare favors. The Scot is young and forward; we must look for a sudden storm coming to England from the north, from Scotland.

“In order to withstand the Scots, the Bishop of Durham shall go posthaste to Norham to fortify the border castle there and secure the frontiers against an invasion.

“The Earl of Surrey shall follow soon, with such an army as may relieve the bishop, and encounter at every opportunity the death-daring Scots. You all know your responsibilities; it is now a time to execute, not talk. Heaven is our guard still. War must breed peace; such is the fate of Kings.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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John Ford’s Perkin Warbeck: A Retelling




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