David Bruce: John Ford’s PERKIN WARBECK: A Retelling — Act 2, Scene 3

— 2.3 —

The Earl of Crawford and Lord Dalyell talked together in an apartment in the palace at Edinburgh. Neither man believed that Perkin Warbeck was the Duke of York.

“It is more than strange,” the Earl of Crawford said. “My reason cannot answer such an argument made from fine imposture, expressed in such a witchcraft of persuasion that it fashions impossibilities as if appearance could deceive truth itself.”

He was saying that he could not rationally believe that Perkin Warbeck had succeeded in making King James IV believe that he, Perkin Warbeck, was the Duke of York and the rightful heir to the English throne.

He added, “This dukeling mushroom has doubtless charmed and put a spell on the King.”

The word “mushroom” was used to describe someone who came out of nowhere to achieve high status. The word was appropriate because mushrooms grow overnight.

According to the Earl of Crawford, the best explanation for King James IV’s belief in Perkin Warbeck was that Perkin Warbeck had put a magic spell on him.

Lord Dalyell said, “He courts the ladies as if his strength of language chained attention by power of prerogative — by the privilege of royalty.”

“It maddened my very soul to hear our master King James IV’s proposal,” the Earl of Crawford said.

King James IV wanted to marry a high-ranking Scottish woman to Perkin Warbeck. This was a way of ensuring loyalty between two Kings and peace between two countries.

The Earl of Crawford continued, “What guarantee both of friendship and honor must of necessity ensue upon a match between some noble of our nation and this ‘brave prince,’ indeed!”

“It will prove too fatal,” Lord Dalyell said. “Wise Huntley fears the threatening. May God bless and protect the lady from such a ruin!”

Events would show that the lady being mentioned as a wife for Perkin Warbeck was Lady Katherine, the Earl of Huntley’s daughter.

The Earl of Crawford said, “How the ‘Privy Council’ of this young Phaëthon screw their faces into a gravity their trades, good people, were never guilty of! The meanest of them dreams of at least an office in the state.”

Phaëthon went to his father, the god Apollo, and asked to be allowed to drive the Sun-chariot across the sky and bring light to the world. But Phaëthon, doomed youth, was unable to control the stallions, and they ran wildly away with the Sun-chariot, wreaking havoc and destruction upon Humankind and the world by making the chariot come so close to the Earth that it set the Earth on fire. The King of the gods, Jupiter, saved Humankind and the world by throwing a thunderbolt at Phaëthon and killing him.

By calling Perkin Warbeck “Phaëthon,” the Earl of Crawford was saying the he had suddenly risen high but that the rise would end with a sudden fall.

The use of “Privy Council” to refer to Perkin Warbeck’s followers was also ironic. The members of the Privy Council were a King’s closest and most trusted advisors. To the Earl of Crawford, Perkin Warbeck’s followers were greedy, ambitious common people.

“Surely, they don’t seek the hangman’s office,” Lord Dalyell said. “That office is already spoken for — the executioner will do service to their rogueships.”

Lord Dalyell agreed with the Earl of Crawford that Perkin Warbeck’s followers were greedy, ambitious lowlifes, and so he used “rogueships” rather than “lordships” to refer to them.

Seeing King James IV and the Earl of Huntley coming, Lord Dalyell said, “Silence!”

King James IV and the Earl of Huntley arrived. The Earl of Huntley had been trying to convince the King that Perkin Warbeck was a fraud. The Earl of Huntley certainly did not want his daughter — Lady Katherine — to marry a fraud.

“Do not argue against our will,” King James IV said, using the royal plural. “We have descended somewhat — as we may term it — too familiarly and unceremoniously from the justice of our birthright, to examinethe strength of your allegiance — sir, we have — but we find the strength of your allegiance short of duty.”

“Break my heart,” the Earl of Huntley said. “Do, do, King! Have my services, my loyalty — Heaven knows that they are always untainted — draw upon me contempt now in my old age, when I lacked only a minute before I enjoyed a peace that would not be troubled — my last peace, my long peace that will follow my death! Let me be a dotard, a senile old man, a bedlamite, a madman, a poor sot, or whatever you please to have me, so long as you will not stain your blood, your own blood, royal sir, though mixed with mine, by marriage of this girl — Katherine, my daughter — to a vagabond. Take, take my head, sir — as long as my tongue can wag, it cannot call him — Perkin Warbeck — anything other than a vagabond.”

“Kings are counterfeits in your opinion, grave oracle, if they are not here and now set on their thrones with scepters in their fists,” King James IV said. “But perpetuate your own loss of reputation; it is our pleasure to give our cousin York our kinswoman the Lady Katherine as his wife. My royal instinct that Perkin Warbeck is truly of royal birth points out the honor that she shall be married to, although you, her peevish father, are attempting to usurp our already-made decision and want to make a different decision regarding her.”

“Oh, it is well, exceeding well!” the Earl of Huntley said. “I never was ambitious of using congees — bowing ceremonially — to my daughter-Queen. A Queen? Perhaps a quean!”

A quean is a whore.

The Earl of Huntley said to Lord Dalyell, whom he knew loved Lady Katherine and would not want to hear her called a whore, “Forgive me, Dalyell, thou honorable gentleman.”

He then asked, “Does anyone here dare to speak even one word to support what I am saying?”

“Cruel misery!” Lord Dalyell said.

“The lady, gracious prince, maybe has settled her affection on some former choice,” the Earl of Crawford said. “She may love someone other than Perkin Warbeck.”

“Forcing her to marry someone would prove to be tyranny,” Lord Dalyell said.

“I thank you heartily for speaking up,” the Earl of Huntley said. “Let any yeoman — any respectable commoner landowner — of our nation demand as a right an interest in the girl. If that should happen, then the King may add a marriage settlement of promotion in titles, worthy a free consent; but now he pulls down what old merit and desert have built.”

The Earl of Huntley believed that if a yeoman were to want to marry Lady Katherine, King James IV could make the marriage desirable by giving honorable titles to the yeoman and raising his social status, but by making Lady Katherine marry Perkin Warbeck, he was lowering her because although Perkin Warbeck appeared to be noble, his “nobility” would disappear as soon as he were revealed to be an imposter.

Of course, the Earl of Huntley vastly preferred Lord Dalyell rather than Perkin Warbeck as a husband for his daughter. That could happen if King James IV were to give honorable titles to Lord Dalyell.

“Cease your attempts at persuasion,” King James IV said. “I violate no pawns of faith, no pledges of betrothal, and no promises of marriage, and I do not intrude on private loves.”

King James IV was unaware that Lord Dalyell loved Lady Katherine.

He continued, “Virtuous Kate’s consent can justify my having played the orator for the kingly Duke of York: She can give her consent to handing over her future happiness to a husband of our providing. The Welsh Harry henceforth shall therefore know, and tremble to acknowledge, that the counterfeit idol of his political machinations shall not frighten the lawful owner from a kingdom. We are resolved — we have made up our mind.”

The Welsh Harry was King Henry VII, whose family — the Tudors — had Welsh origins. King Henry VII’s grandfather, Owen Tudor, was Welsh. King James IV of Scotland, like Perkin Warbeck, declined to call Henry the King of England.

“Some of thy subjects’ hearts, King James, will bleed for this,” the Earl of Huntley said.

Backing Perkin Warbeck’s claim to be King of England meant war against King Henry VII.

“Then their bloods shall be nobly spent,” King James IV said.

Using the royal plural, he said, “No more disputes; whoever contradicts us is not our friend.”

“Farewell, daughter!” the Earl of Huntley said. “My care by one is lessened — I thank the King for it. I and my griefs will dance now.”

Several people entered the scene. Perkin Warbeck led them as he and Lady Katherine held hands and exchanged courteous words. The others were the Countess of Crawford, Jane Douglas, Frion, Astley, John a-Water, Heron, and Skelton.

“Look, lords, look,” the Earl of Huntley said. “Here they are, hand in hand already!”

King James IV said to the Earl of Huntley, “Silence, old frenzied man!”

He then said about Perkin Warbeck, “How like a King he looks! Lords, just observe the confidence of his aspect; dross cannot cleave to so pure a metal — royal youth! Plantagenet undoubted!”

When metal is purified, the impurities known as dross are left behind.

The Earl of Huntley said sarcastically to himself, “Ho, splendid! Youth, but no Plantagenet, by our lady the Virgin Mary, yet, whether by the red rose or by the white rose.”

In the Wars of the Roses, the emblem of the Yorkists was the white rose, while the emblem of the Lancastrians was the red rose. Margaret of Burgundy was a Yorkist, while King Henry VII was a Lancastrian through the female line. The Earl of Huntley believed that Perkin Warbeck was a fraud and therefore had no rose of either color as an emblem. Both the Yorkists and the Lancastrians were Plantagenets.

Perkin Warbecksaid to Lady Katherine, “A union between us settles possession in a monarchy of love — this possession will be established as rightly as is my inheritance of the crown of England. Acknowledge me as sovereign of this kingdom that is your heart, fair princess, and the hand of Providence shall crown you Queen of me and my best fortunes.”

“That is where my obedience is a duty, my lord,” Lady Katherine replied. “Love owes true service.”

“Shall I?” Perkin Warbeck asked the King.

He meant, “Shall I marry her?”

“Cousin, yes,” King James IV answered. “Enjoy her; from my hand accept your bride.”

King James IV joined their handstogether, and then said, “And may all who grieve at such an equal pledge of marriage vows live at enmity with comfort!”

He then said to Lady Katherine, “You are the prince’s wife now.”

“By your gift, sir,” Lady Katherine said.

“Thus I take seizure of my own,” Perkin Warbeck said.

“I lack yet a father’s blessing,” Lady Katherine said. “Let me find it.”

She knelt and said, “Humbly upon my knees I seek it.”

Her father, the Earl of Huntley, said, “I am Huntley, old Alexander Gordon, a plain subject, neither more nor less; and, lady, if you wish for a blessing, you must bend your knees to Heaven, for Heaven did give you to me.

“Alas, alas — what would you have me say?

“May all the happiness my prayers ever asked to fall upon you preserve you in your virtues!”

Lady Katherine rose.

“Please, Dalyell, come with me,” the Earl of Huntley said, “for I feel thy griefs are as great as mine; let’s steal away and cry together.”

“My hopes are in their ruins,” Lord Dalyell said.

TheEarl of Huntley and Lord Dalyellexited.

“Good, kind Huntley is overjoyed,” King James IV said. “A fitting ceremonial observance shall perfect these delights.

“Crawford, await our order for the preparation of the fitting ceremonial observance.”

Everyone exitedexcept Frion, Heron, Skelton, John a-Water, and Astley. These were Perkin Warbeck’s followers and advisors.

“Now, worthy gentlemen,” Frion said, “haven’t I followed my undertakings with success? Here’s entrance into a certainty above a hope.”

The entrance was into King James IV’s court. The certainty was of success, and certainty of success was better than a hope of success.

The other followers’ language used the words of the trades they had learned.

John Heron, a dealer in textile fabrics, said, “Hopes are but hopes; I was always confident, when I traded just in remnants of cloth, that my stars had reserved me for the title of a Viscount at least. Honor is honor, whatever materials it is cut out of.”

Edward Skelton, a tailor, said, “My brother Heron has very wisely delivered his opinion, for he who threads his needle with the sharp eyes of industry shall in time go like a through-stitch goes through cloth with the new suit of preferment and advancement.”

“That was spoken to the purpose, my fine-witted brother Skelton,” Nicholas Astley, a legal clerk, said, “for as no indenture, aka contract, but has its counterpane, aka counterpart or copy of a contract, no noverint, aka contract,but his condition, aka way of validating a contract, or defeasance, aka way of nullifying a contract, so no right but may have claim, no claim but may have possession, any act of Parliament to the contrary notwithstanding.”

The noverint(legal bond or contract) got its name from the opening Latin words of the legal document: noverint universi. This means, “Let everyone know.”

Frion said, “You are all read and learned in mysteries of state, and you are all quick of understanding, deep in judgment, and active in resolution; and it is a pity that such counsel should lie buried in obscurity.

“But why, in such a time and cause of triumph, stands the judicious Mayor of Cork so silent? Believe it, sir, as English Richard prospers, you must not miss out on employment of a high nature.”

The “English Richard” Frion mentioned was Perkin Warbeck, who was impersonating Richard, the Duke of York.

John a-Water, a politician, said, “If men may be credited in their mortality — that is, if merely mortal men may be believed — which I dare not peremptorily aver but they may or may not be, presumptions by this marriage are then, truly, of fruitful expectation. Or else I must not justify and uphold other men’s belief, more than others should rely on mine.”

“Pith of experience!” Frion said. “Those who have borne office weigh every word before it can drop from them. But, noble counselors, since now the present circumstances require in point of honor — please don’t misunderstand me — some service to our lord, it is fitting that the Scots should not monopolize all the glory to themselves at this so grand and eminent solemnity — the wedding of Perkin Warbeck and Lady Katherine.”

Often, guests would perform a masque, a dramatic presentation often including music and dance, on such occasions.

By saying “please don’t misunderstand me,” Frion was apologizing for using the word “honor” — the people he was talking to did not deserve the honor of the nobility that they claimed to possess.

Skelton the tailor said, “The Scots! The proposal that they get all the honor is defied. I had rather, for my part, without trial of my country, suffer persecution under the pressing-iron of reproach; or let my skin be punched full of eyelet-holes — holes for shoelaces — with the bodkin of derision.”

Bodkins were used to pierce holes in cloth or leather.

Astley the legal clerk said, “I would sooner lose both my ears on the pillory of forgery.”

A punishment for forgery was cropping the forger’s ears.

Heronthe textile dealer said, “Let me first live a bankrupt, and die in the lousy Hole of hunger, without settling with my creditors for sixpence in the pound.”

The Counter was a prison in London for debtors, and the Hole was the place in that prison where the poorest prisoners were kept. Prisoners with some money could pay the jailers for better accommodations.

John a-Waterthe politician said, “If men fail not in their expectations, there may be spirits also that digest no rude affronts, Master Secretary Frion, or I am deceived, which is possible, I grant.”

“Resolved like men of knowledge,” Frion said, applauding their decision to put on a masque.

He continued, “At this feast, then, in honor of the bride, the Scots, I know, will in some show, some masque, or some other entertainment, present their homage. Now it would be uncomely if we were to be found less eager to perform for our prince than they are for their lady; and by how much we outshine them in the eyes of persons of account, by so much more will our endeavors meet with a livelier applause. Great emperors have for their recreations undertaken such kind of pastimes. As for the idea for the masque, refer it to my study; you all shall share thanks in the performance. It will be pleasurable.”

Heronthe textile dealersaid, “The proposal is allowed. I have stolen away to a dancing school when I was an apprentice.”

Astley the legal clerk said, “There have been noisy, tumultuous, Irish hubbubs when I have made an actor, too.”

Skelton the tailor said, “As for fashioning of shapes and cutting a cross-caper in a dance, turn me off to my trade again.”

A shape can be 1) an attitude in dancing, or 2) a costume. A cross-caper is a move in dancing, and it may be a reference to the traditional tailors’ custom of working while sitting cross-legged.

John a-Water the politician said, “Surely there is, if I am not deceived, a kind of gravity in merriment; as there is, or perhaps ought to be, respect of persons in the quality of bearing, which is as it is construed, either so or so.”

“Always you come home to me and understand my meaning,” Frion said. “As opportunity arises I find you relish — taste and appreciate — court-conduct with discretion, and court-conduct and discretion are fit for statesmen of your merits. Please wait for the prince and in his ear acquaint him with this plan. I’ll follow and direct you.”

Everyone except Frion exited.

Alone, he said to himself, “Oh, the toil of humoring this abject scum of mankind, muddy-brained peasants! Princes feel a misery beyond impartial sufferance.”

“Impartial sufferance” is the suffering that is dealt out impartially to members of the human species.

Frion continued, “Princes in extreme circumstances must yield to such abettors — yet now our tide runs smoothly, without adverse winds. Run on! Flow to a full sea! Time alone abates the quarrels that are forewritten in the Book of Fates.”

As time goes on, our complaints and our grievances lessen in intensity.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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