David Bruce: John Ford’s PERKIN WARBECK: A Retelling — Act 5, Scenes 3-4 and Epilogue

— 5.3 —

Theconstable, some officers, Perkin Warbeck, Christopher Urswick, and Lambert Simnel (formerly a Pretender, but now one of King Henry VII’s falconers) went to a place of public punishment. They were followed by the rabble. Some newly built stocks — a structure with holes in which an offender’s head and limbs could be restrained — stood there.

King Henry VII had spared Perkin Warwick’s life and had let him live at court, although he was always watched. On 9 June 1498, Perkin Warbeck escaped, but he was quickly caught, sentenced to five hours in public stocks, and then imprisoned in the Tower of London. In 1499, he tried to bribe his jailors into helping him seize the Tower of London. He also brought the Earl of Warwick into his plans. King Henry VII discovered the plot and sentenced both Perkin Warwick and the Earl of Warwick to death.

The constable ordered the rabble, “Make room there! Keep off, I order you, and none of you come within twelve feet of his majesty’s new stocks, upon pain of displeasure.”

He ordered, “Bring forth the malefactor.”

They brought forth Perkin Warbeck, and the constable said to him, “Friend, you must endure this business; there is no avoiding it.”

He ordered, “Open the hole, and in with his legs, just in the middle hole; there, that hole.”

They put Perkin Warbeck in the stocks. Normally, one hole would restrain one limb or the head, but in this case both of Perkin Warbeck’s legs were placed in the hole for the head. The stocks were then closed around his ankles.

The constable ordered the rabble, “Keep off, or I’ll imprison you all. Shall not a man in authority be obeyed!”

He then said, “So, so, there; it is as it should be.”

He ordered, “Put on the padlock, and give me the key.”

The constable ordered the rabble, “Off, I say, keep off!”

Christopher Urswick said, “Even now, Warbeck, clear thy conscience. Thou have tasted King Henry’s mercy liberally; the law has forfeited thy life.”

He was using the less respectful “thou” and “thy” when talking to Perkin Warbeck, who had been sentenced to death by hanging. This method of execution was used for commoners. Royal prisoners such as the Earl of Warwick were executed by beheading.

Christopher Urswick continued, “A fair, impartial jury has sentenced thee to the gallows.”

It was a jury of one: King Henry VII.

He continued, “Twice most wickedly, most desperately, thou have escaped from the Tower of London, inveigling to thy party with thy witchcraft young Edward, Earl of Warwick, son to the Earl of Clarence. The Earl of Warwick’s head must pay the price of that attempt, that poor gentleman, unhappy in his fate, and ruined by thy cunning!

“So a mongrel — you, a commoner — may pluck the true stag — the Earl of Warwick, a noble — down. Yet, yet, confess thy parentage; for yet the King has mercy.”

Lambert Simnel said, “You would be Dick the Fourth — very likely! Your pedigree has been published; you are known to be Osbeck’s son of Tournay, Belgium. You are a loose runagate, a wanderer, and a landloper and land rover, and your father was a Jew who turned Christian merely to repair his miseries. Where’s now your kingship?”

“Am I to be tormented to my death?” Perkin Warbeck said. “Intolerable cruelty! I laugh at the Duke of Richmond’s intrigue against my fortunes.”

He still refused to call Henry VII the King of England.

He continued, “Those in possession of a crown have never lacked heralds.”

In other words, anyone who wears a crown will have heralds who declare that the crown-wearer is in fact King, whether or not he biologically deserves to be King.

“You will not know who I am?” Lambert Simnel said. “You refuse to acknowledge who I am?”

Christopher Urswick said to Perkin Warbeck, “He is Lambert Simnel, your predecessor in a dangerous rebellion. But, on his submission to King Henry VII, he was not just received to grace and allowed to live, but by the King he was granted his service. The King gave him a job.”

Lambert Simnel said, “I, who would be the Earl of Warwick, toiled and battled against my master, King Henry VII, and I leaped to catch the moon and boasted that my name was Plantagenet, as you do. An earl, indeed! When in truth I was, as you are, a complete and utter rascal. Yet his majesty, a prince composed of sweetness — may Heaven protect him! — forgave me all my villainies, reprieved the sentence of a shameful end, accepted my guarantee of obedience to his service, and I am now his falconer, live plenteously, eat at the King’s expense, enjoy the sweetness of liberty and favor, and sleep securely. And is not this, now, better than to struggle against the hangman’s clutches, or to encounter the cordage of a tough noose that will break your neck?”

Referring to Perkin Warbeck, he said, “So, then, the gallant totters!”

One meaning of “totters” is “hangs and swings from the gallows.” Another meaning is “wavers,” as in this case “thinks about taking back his claim to be the rightful King of England.”

Switching to the less respectful “thee,” Lambert Simnel said, “Please, Perkin, let my example lead thee; be no longer a counterfeit; confess, and hope for pardon.”

“For pardon!” Perkin Warbeck said, scornfully. “Hold, my heartstrings, while contempt of calumnies, in scorn, may bid defiance to this base man’s foul language!

“Thou poor vermin, how dare thou creep so near me? Thou an earl! Why, thou enjoy as much of happiness as all the driving power of slight ambition flew at. A dunghill was thy cradle. So a puddle, by virtue of the sunbeams, breathes forth a dangerous vapor to infect the purer air, which drops again into the muddy womb that first exhaled it. Bread and a slavish ease, with some protection from the base beadle’s whip, crowned all thy hopes.

“But, sirrah, if there ran in thy veins one drop of such a royal blood as flows in mine, thou would not change thine condition to be second in England’s state, without the crown itself. Coarse creatures are incapable of excellence.

“But let the world, as all to whom I am this day a spectacle, to time deliver, and by tradition pass on to posterity without any other chronicle than truth, how steadfastly my resolution suffered a martyrdom of majesty.”

“He’s past recovery,” Lambert Simnel said. “A Bedlam cannot cure him.”

Bedlam was London’s Bethlem Royal Hospital; it served the mentally ill.

Christopher Urswick ordered, “Leave. Inform the King about his behavior.”

Lambert Simnel said, “Perkin, beware the rope! The hangman’s coming.”

He exited to carry out his orders.

Christopher Urswick said to Perkin Warbeck, “If yet thou have no pity for thy body, pity thy soul!”

This society believed in confessing sins, including lies, before death in order to escape eternal damnation.

Lady Katherine, Jane Douglas, Lord Dalyell, and the Earl of Oxford entered the scene.

Jane Douglas said, “Dear lady!”

The Earl of Oxford said to Lady Katherine, “Where are you, careless of shame, going?”

He felt that Lady Katherine ought to be ashamed of herself for visiting the criminal Perkin Warbeck, although Perkin Warbeck was her husband.

“Have patience with me, sir,” Lady Katherine replied, “and don’t trouble and disturb the current of my duty. Leave me alone.”

She said to her husband, “Oh, my loved lord! Can any scorn be yours in which I have no interest?”

Wanting to join him in the stocks, she said, “Some kind hand, lend me assistance, so that I may partake in and have a share of the infliction of this penance.”

She then said to her husband, “My life’s dearest, forgive me. I have stayed too long from tendering attendance on your disgrace; yet bid me welcome.”

“Great miracle of loyalty!” Perkin Warbeck said. “My miseries were never bankrupt of their confidence in even the worst afflictions, until this time; now I feel the worst afflictions.”

Because his wife was sharing in his miseries, he now truly felt them. He loved his wife and did not want her to feel miserable.

He continued, “Reputation and thy own merits, thou best of creatures, might to eternity have stood as an example for every virtuous wife without this conquest — this moral victory. Thou have outdone belief; yet may their ruin in marriages-to-come be never pitied, to whom thy story shall appear an unbelievable fable!

“Why would thou prove to be so much unkind to your greatness of rank as to glorify thy vows by such a servitude of loyalty to me, your husband? I cannot weep, but trust me, dear, my heart is filled with strong emotion.”

In an apostrophe, he addressed King Henry VII, who was not present: “Harry Richmond, a woman’s faith has robbed thy fame of triumph.”

The Earl of Oxford said, “Sirrah, stop your deceiving, and tie up the devil that ranges in your tongue.”

Christopher Urswick said, “Thus witches, possessed and deluded even to their deaths, say that they have been wolves and dogs, and sailed in eggshells over the sea, and rode on fiery dragons and travelled in the air more than a thousand miles, all in a night.

“Satan, the enemy of mankind, is powerful, but false, and falsehood is confident.”

“Remember, lady, who you are,” the Earl of Oxford said. “Come away from that impudent impostor.”

Lady Katherine was a noble, the Earl of Oxford was saying, while Perkin Warbeck was a commoner who was pretending to be a noble.

“You abuse us,” Lady Katherine replied. “For when the holy churchman joined our hands, our vows were real then; the ceremony was not an illusion, but an actuality.”

She said to Perkin Warbeck, “Whatever these people call thee, I am certain that thou are my husband. No divorce in Heaven has been filed in court between us; it is an injustice for any earthly power to divide us. Either we will live together, or let us die together. There is a cruel mercy.”

Perkin Warbeck said, “Despite the tyranny of Henry, we reign in our affections, blessed woman! Read in my destiny the wreck of honor. Point out, in my contempt of death, to the memory of posterity some miserable happiness; since herein, even when I fell, I stood enthroned a monarch of one chaste wife’s pure and uncorrupted loyalty in marriage. Fair angel of perfection, immortality shall raise thy name up to an adoration, immortality shall court every high opinion of true merit for thy name, and immortality shall enroll your name as a saint in the calendar of Virtue, when I am turned into the self-same dust from which I was first formed.”

The Earl of Oxford said to Lady Katherine, “The lord ambassador, the Earl of Huntley, your father, madam, should he look on your strange subjection of yourself in talking to this commoner in so public a gaze, would blush on your behalf, and wish he had never left his country of Scotland because such a sight would give him such sorrow.”

“Why are thou angry, Oxford?” Lady Katherine said. “I must be more resolute in my duty.”

She said to her husband, “Sir, don’t impute it to immodesty that I presume to press you to a legacy before we part forever.”

The legacy would be something to remember him by.

“Let the legacy be, then, my heart, the rich remains of all my fortunes,” Perkin Warbeck said.

“Confirm it with a kiss, please,” Lady Katherine said.

“Oh, with that kiss I wish to breathe my last!” Perkin Warbeck said. “Upon thy lips, those equal twins of comeliness, I seal the testament of honorable vows.”

He kissed her.

He added, “Whoever be that man who shall unkiss this sacred imprint next, may he prove more prosperous than I in this world’s just applause, but not more desertful than I!”

“By this sweet pledge of both our souls, I swear to die a faithful widow to thy bed, not to be forced or won,” Lady Katherine said. “Oh, never, never!”

The Earl of Surrey, the Earl of Huntley, the Earl of Crawford, and Lord Chamberlain Giles Dawbeney entered the scene.

Lord Chamberlain Giles Dawbeney ordered, “Free the condemned person from the stocks; quickly free him from them! What has he confessed by now?”

They tookPerkin Warbeck out of the stocks.

“Nothing to the purpose,” Christopher Urswick said. “Still he will be King. He will not admit that he is actually a commoner.”

The Earl of Surrey said to Perkin Warbeck, “Prepare your journey to a new kingdom, then, unhappy, willfully foolish madman!”

He said to Lady Katherine’s father, the Earl of Huntley, “See, my lord ambassador, your lady daughter will not leave the counterfeit in this disfavor of fate.”

The Earl of Huntley said to his daughter, Lady Katherine, “I never appointed thy marriage to this man, girl, but yet, being married, enjoy thy duty to a husband freely. The griefs are mine. I glory in thy loyalty to your husband, and I must not say that I wished that I had missed some part in these trials of a patience.”

“You will forgive me, noble sir?” Lady Katherine asked.

“Yes, yes,” her father said. “In every duty of a wife and daughter, I dare not disavow and disown thee.

“To your husband — for such you are, sir — I impart a farewell of manly pity; what your life has passed through, the dangers of your end will make apparent. And I can add, to give comfort to your suffering, no cordial, but the wonder of your person, which keeps so firm a station. You are a mere mortal man, but you are making a firm stand. We are now parted.”

“We are,” Perkin Warbeck said. “May a crown of peace renew thy age, most honorable Huntley!

“Worthy Crawford! We may embrace; I never thought to give thee injury.”

It was customary for a condemned man to make peace as much as possible with those around him, including — immediately before death — the executioner.

“Nor was I ever guilty of neglect that might procure such a thought,” the Earl of Crawford said. “I take my leave now, sir.”

“To you, Lord Dalyell — what?” Perkin Warbeck said. “Accept a sigh — it is hearty and in earnest.”

“I lack utterance; I cannot speak,” Lord Dalyell said. “My silence is my farewell.”

Near fainting, Lady Katherine cried, “Oh! Oh!”

Supporting her, Jane Douglas said, “Sweet madam, what is this?”

She said to Lord Dalyell, “My lord, your hand.”

Lord Dalyell supported Lady Katherine and said, “Dear lady, be pleased that I may attend you to your lodging.”

Lord Dalyell and Jane Douglas, both supporting Lady Katherine, exited.

The Sheriff and some officers arrived with Skelton, Astley, Heron, and John a-Water, who had nooses around their necks.

“Look,” the Earl of Oxford said to Perkin Warbeck. “Behold your followers, appointed to wait on you in death!”

Perkin Warbeck said to his followers, “Why, peers of England, we’ll lead them on courageously. I read atriumph over tyranny upon their individual foreheads.

“Faint not in the moment of victory! Our ends, and Warwick’s head, innocent Warwick’s head — for we are only the prologue to his tragedy — conclude the wonder of Henry’s fears, and then the glorious race of fourteen Kings, all of them Plantagenets, terminates in this last male child. Heaven be obeyed!”

There were fourteen Plantagenet Kings, ranging from King Henry II to King Richard III. The Earl of Warwick — the man whom Lambert Simnel had pretended to be, was the last male descended from the kingly Plantagenet line. With his death, King Henry VII — the first Tudor King — no longer had to fear rebellion from or in support of the Plantagenets.

The deaths of Perkin Warbeck and his followers were the prologue to the Earl of Warbeck’s death. On 23 November 1499, an executioner hanged Perkin Warbeck. On 28 November 1499, an executioner beheaded the Earl of Warbeck.

Perkin Warbeck continued, “We will impoverish time of its power to be amazed, friends, and we will prove to be as trusty in our payments as we prove to be prodigal to nature in our debts. We will act finely as we pay the debt — death — we owe to nature.

“Death? Bah! It is only a sound, a name of air — a minute’s storm, or not so much.

“To tumble from bed to bed, be mangled and mutilated alive by some physicians, for a month or two, in hope of gaining freedom from a fever’s torments, might make a man’s courage stagger; but here in execution the pain is already over before it can be acutely felt.

“Be men of spirit! Spurn coward passion! So illustrious mention shall blaze and proclaim our names, and call us Kings over Death.”

Lord Chamberlain Giles Dawbeney said, “Away, impostor beyond precedent!”

The Sheriff and officers exited with the prisoners, including Perkin Warbeck.

Lord Chamberlain Giles Dawbeney added, “No chronicle records his fellow.”

The Earl of Huntley said, “I have no thoughts left: It is sufficient in such cases that just laws ought to proceed.”

King Henry VII, the Bishop of Durham, and Pedro Hialas entered the scene.

King Henry VII said to the Earl of Huntley, “We have made up our mind. Your business, noble lords, shall find such a successful result as your King James IV importunes.”

“You are gracious,” the Earl of Huntley replied.

King Henry VII said, “Perkin, we are informed, is prepared to die. In that we’ll honor him. Our lords shall follow to see the execution; and from hence we gather this fit moral lesson:

“Public governments and kingdoms, like our particular bodies, experience the most good in health when purged of corrupted blood.”



Here has appeared, although in a diverse and varied fashion,

The threats of majesty, the strength of passion,

Hopes of an empire, change of fortunes; all

The great events that can to the theaters of greatness — kingdoms — fall,

Proving their weak foundations. Who will please,

Amongst such several sights, to judge these

To be no births abortive, nor a bastard brood —

Shame to a parentage or fosterhood —

May sanction by their kindness all our just excuses,

And often find a welcome to the company of the Muses.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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