David Bruce: John Ford’s PERKIN WARBECK: A Retelling — Act 4, Scenes 1-2

— 4.1 —

The Earl of Surrey talked with the Bishop of Durham in the English military camp near Ayton, on the Borders. Some soldiers, with drums and colors, were present. King James IV of Scotland had made a raid into England, and so the Earl of Surrey had in response made a raid into Scotland.

They were at the Old Ayton Castle, which had been just demolished.

“Are all our boasting and defying enemies shrunk back, hidden in the fogs of their distempered climate, not daring to see our colors wave in hatred of this intemperate air?” the Earl of Surrey asked.

He then listed a number of Scottish castles that he had overthrown: “Can they look on the strength of Cundrestine defaced? The glory of Hedonhall devastated? That of Edington cast down? The Pile — small castle — of Fulden overthrown? And this the strongest of their forts, Old Ayton Castle, yielded and demolished?”

He continued, “And yet they do not peep abroad? The Scots are bold and hardy in battle, but it seems the cause they undertake, considered, appears unjointed in the frame of it.”

In other words, Perkin Warbeck’s cause wasn’t worth fighting for.

The Bishop of Durham said, “Noble Surrey, our royal master’s wisdom is at all times his fortune’s harbinger: His wise decisions lead to his success and good fortune. For when he draws his sword to threaten war, his providence and foresight settle on peace, the crowning — the fulfillment — of an empire.”

A trumpet sounded.

“Put the ranks of soldiers in order,” the Earl of Surrey commanded. “It is a herald’s sound: The herald carries some message from King James IV. Keep a fixed station.”

Marchmont and another Scottish herald arrived. They were wearing sleeveless coats that were traditional garb for heralds.

“From Scotland’s awe-inspiring majesty we come to the English general,” Marchmont said.

“To me?” the Earl of Surrey said. “Say on.”

“This is my message, then,” Marchmont said. “Because the waste and prodigal effusion of so much guiltless blood as two powerful armies fighting must necessarily glut the earth’s dry womb, King James IV’s sweet compassion has found a way to prevent that bloodshed. Thus he says to thee, great Earl of Surrey, that in a single fight he offers his own royal person, fairly proposing only these conditions. First, that if victory settles our master’s right, the Earl shall deliver for his ransom the town of Berwick to him, with the fishgarths.”

Berwick was located on the Tweed River; both Scotland and England wanted control of this strategic town.

A garth is an enclosure. A fishgarth is an enclosure in a river or sea that keeps fish in an area where they can easily be caught. The fishgarth at Berwick was for salmon.

Marchmont continued, “Second, if Surrey shall prevail, then King James IV will pay a thousand pounds down immediately for his freedom, and silence further arms and not engage in battles. So speaks King James.”

The single combat need not end in death.

“‘So speaks King James’!” the Earl of Surrey said. “So like a King he speaks. Heralds, the English general returns a deeply felt devotion from his heart, his very soul, to this unequalled grace.”

King James IV was offering to meet in single combat a mere Earl. Normally, Kings would offer to fight in single combat only other Kings, so this was an honor to the Earl of Surrey.

The Earl of Surrey continued, “For let the King know, noble heralds, truly, how his descent from his great throne, to honor a foreign subject with so high a title as his compeer and fellow in arms, has conquered me more than any sword could do; for which — my loyalty excepted and adhered to — I will serve his virtues ever in all humility.

“But tell him that Berwick is not mine to part with; in affairs of princes subjects cannot traffic in rights inherent to the crown. My life is mine, and that life I dare to freely risk, and — with pardon to some unbribed vainglory — if his majesty shall taste a change of fate, his liberty shall meet no articles. He will be set at liberty with no conditions made.”

The “change of fate” that King James IV could suffer would be losing to the Earl of Surrey, who was respectful enough to James IV in his speech not to say that openly. He, of course, did say that indirectly — not even the “bribe” of the honor of a King’s offering to meet him in single fight was enough to keep him from saying that.

He continued, “If I fall, falling so splendidly to a King, I refer me to his pleasure without condition.”

If the Earl of Surrey would win the single combat, he would release King James IV without making any conditions for his release. If King James IV would win the single combat, he could do what he wanted with the Earl of Surrey.

The Earl of Surrey continued, “And for this dear favor, say that if I am not countermanded by my King, Henry VII, I will cease hostilities, unless provoked.”

Marchmont replied, “This answer we shall relate to our King impartially.”

The Bishop of Durham said, “I beg your pardon. Please do me the favor of having a little patience. Wait a moment, please.”

He then said quietly to the Earl of Surrey, “Sir, you find by these gay flourishes how wearied travail makes one desire a willing rest; here’s but a prologue, however confidently uttered, meant for some ensuing acts of peace.

“Consider the time of year, unseasonableness of weather, expense, and barrenness of profit; and an opportunity presents itself for an honorable treaty, which we may make good use of. I will go back, sent from you in point of noble gratitude, to King James, with these his heralds. You shall shortly hear from me, my lord, with orders either for continuing to take a break from war or for proceeding to fight against Scotland. King Henry VII, fear not, will be thankful for this service.”

The Earl of Surrey replied quietly to the Bishop of Durham, “To your wisdom, Lord Bishop, I refer it. Do as you wish to do.”

“Be it so, then,” the Bishop of Durham replied quietly.

The Earl of Surrey said loudly, “Heralds, accept this chain and these few crowns.”

Tradition required that heralds and messengers receive gifts. The chain was made of gold or silver.

Marchmont said, “We offer you our duty, noble general.”

The Bishop of Durham said, “In partial repayment for such princely love, my lord the general is pleased to show the King your master his sincerest zeal with further treaty negotiations by no common man: I myself will return with you to your King James IV.”

The Earl of Surrey said, “You bind my most faithful affections to you, Lord Bishop.”

Marchmont said, “May all happiness attend your lordship!”

The Bishop of Durham and the heralds exited.

The Earl of Surrey said, “Come, friends and fellow-soldiers. We, I suspect, shall meet no enemies but woods and hills to fight with, so then it would be as good to feed and sleep at home. We may be free from danger without being carelessly overconfident.”

— 4.2 —

Perkin Warbeck and Frion talked together.

“Frion, oh, Frion, all my hopes of glory are at a standstill! The Scottish King grows dull in purpose, frosty, and wayward, since this Spanish agent, Pedro Hialas,has mixed discourses with him; they are often in private conference together. I am not called to council now — may ruin fall on all Hialas’ crafty shrugs of the shoulders! I feel that the edifice of my plans is tottering.”

Frion said about King Henry VII, “Henry’s policies stir with too many plots and snares.”

Perkin Warbeck replied,“Let his mines filled with explosives, shaped in the bowels of the earth, blow up works raised for my defense, yet they never can toss into air the freedom of my birth, or deny that my blood is Plantagenet’s: I am my father’s son still.

“But, oh, Frion, when I bring into reckoning with my disasters my wife’s co-partnership, my Kate’s, my life’s, then, then my frailty — my body — feels like an earthquake.

“May evil damn Henry’s plots! Either I will be England’s King, or let my aunt Margaret of Burgundy report my fall in the attempt rightfully deserved by our ancestors!”

Perkin Warbeck continued to not refer to Henry Tudor as King Henry VII of England.

“You grow too wild in emotion,” Frion said. “If you will appear to be a prince indeed, confine your emotion to moderation.”

This society believed that Kings and nobles should keep their emotions under control.

“What a saucy rudeness prompts this distrust!” Perkin Warbeck said. “If? If I will appear! Appear a prince!”

His point was that he wasa prince and not imitating one.

He continued, “May Death throttle such deceits even in their birth of utterance! Cursed deceit of trust! We deceive ourselves by trusting others!

“You make me mad. It would be best, it seems, that I should turn impostor to myself, be my own counterfeit, belie the truth of my dear mother’s womb, the sacred bed of a prince murdered and a living prince disgraced and treated badly!”

Perkin Warbeck was referring to the two princes in the Tower of London. According to him, one prince — King Edward V — was murdered, and the other prince — the Duke of York, aka Perkin Warbeck himself — survived but was being kept from his rightful place on the throne of England.

“Nay, if you have no ears to hear,” Frion said, “I have no breath to spend in vain.”

“Sir, sir, take heed!” Perkin Warbeck said. “Gold and the promise of promotion rarely fail in temptation.”

He was accusing Frion of being bribed to lack loyalty to him.

“Why are you saying this to me?” Frion asked.

“I mean nothing by saying it,” Perkin Warbeck said, calming down. “Speak what you will; we are not sunk so low but that your advice may piece together again the heart that many cares have broken. You have been accustomed in all extremities to talk of comfort; have you no comfort for me left now? I’ll not interrupt you.

“Good sir, bear with my mental disturbances! If King James should deny us dwelling here, whither must I go next? I ask you not to be angry.”

Frion replied, “Sir, I told you about letters that have come from Ireland, telling how the Cornish resent their last defeat by the armies of Henry, and the Cornish humbly request that you would in person, with such forces as you could raise, land in Cornwall, where thousands will gladly maintain your title.”

Perkin Warbeck now used the familiar “thee” and “thou” used by close friends in referring to Frion rather than the formal “you”:

“Let me embrace thee, hug thee; thou have revived my comforts.

“Even if my cousin-King James IV may fail us, our cause will never fail.”

John a-Water the politician, Heron the dealer in textile fabrics, Astley the legal clerk, and Skelton the tailor entered the scene.

“Welcome, my tested friends!” Perkin Warbeck said. “You keep your brains awake in our defense.

“Frion, with them carefully consider these affairs, in which all of you be wondrously secret. I will listen to and for what else concerns us here. Be quick and wary.”

He exited.

Astley the legal clerksaid, “Ah, sweet young prince!

“Secretary Frion, my fellow-counselors and I have consulted, and we all agree in one opinion precisely: If these Scotch garboils, aka tumults, do not fadge, aka come off as we wish, we will pell-mell and in disorder run among the Cornish choughs immediately and in a trice.

A chough is 1) a chattering bird, or 2) a rustic.

“In a trice” means “without delay.”

Skelton the tailor said, “It is but going to sea and leaping ashore in order to cut ten or twelve thousand unnecessary throats, set fire to seven or eight towns, take half a dozen cities, get into the marketplace, crown Perkin Warbeck King Richard IV, and the business is finished.”

John a-Water the politician said, “I grant you, say I, so far forth as men may do, no more than men may do; for it is good to consider when consideration may be to the purpose, otherwise — still you shall pardon me — little said is soon amended.”

Frion asked, “Then you conclude that the Cornish action is surest?”

Heron the dealer in textile fabrics said, “We do so, and we don’t doubt that we shall thrive abundantly. Ho, my masters, had we known of the commotion — the Cornish rebellion — when we set sail out of Ireland, the land had been ours before this time.”

Skelton the tailor said, “Bah! Bah! It is but forbearing being an Earl or a Duke a month or two longer. I say, and I say it again, if the work does not go on apace, let me never see new fashion more. I warrant you, I warrant you; we will have it so, and so it shall be.”

Astley the legal clerk said, “This is just a cold phlegmatic country, not stirring enough for men of spirit. Give me the heart of England for my money!”

Skelton the tailor said, “A man may batten and grow fat in England in only a week, with hot loaves and butter, and a lusty cup of muscatel wine and sugar at breakfast, though he make never a meal all the month after.”

John a-Water the politician said, “Surely, when I bore office I found by experience that to be much troublesome was to be much wise and busy. I have observed how filching, aka stealing, and bragging have been the best service in these last wars; and therefore conclude peremptorily on the design in England. If things and things may fall out, as who can tell what or how — only the end will show it.”

Frion said, “Resolved like men of judgment! To linger here a longer time is only to lose time. Cheer the prince, Perkin Warbeck, and hasten him on to this; on this depends fame in success, or glory in our ends.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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