David Bruce: KING EDWARD III: A Retelling — Act 2, Scenes 1-2

— 2.1 —

Lodowick, King Edward III’s secretary, said this to himself about the King’s falling in love with the Countess of Salisbury:

“I might perceive his eye in her eye to be lost, his ear to drink her sweet tongue’s utterance, and his changing passions, like inconstant clouds that move forcefully upon the carriage of the winds, to increase and die, wax and wane, in his disturbed cheeks.

“Lo, when she blushed, even then he looked pale, as if her cheeks by some enchanted power had attracted the cherry blood from his cheeks. Soon, with reverent fear when she grew pale, his cheeks put on their scarlet ornaments, but they were no more like her radiant red than brick is to coral, or live things are to dead.

“Why did he then thus copy her looks? If she blushed, it was from tender modest shame because of being in the sacred presence of a King.

“If he blushed, it was from red immodest shame to lower his eyes improperly as if in submission — he is a King and he ought not to do that. No King should lower himself and submit to a subject.

“If she looked pale, it was a weak woman’s fear of being in the presence of a King.

“If he looked pale, it was with guilty fear to dote wrongly on her — he is a mighty King and he ought not to do that.

“So then, Scottish wars, farewell. I fear the war will prove to be a lingering English siege of silly, foolish, obstinate love.”

Seeing the King coming, he said to himself, “Here comes his highness walking all alone.”

King Edward III said this to himself about the Countess of Salisbury:

“She has grown far more fairer since I came hither. Her voice is every word more silvery than the previous word. Her intelligent conversation is more fluent. What a strange discourse she unfolded about King David II and his Scots! ‘Even thus,’ said she, ‘he said’ — and then she spoke broadly, with the epithets and accents of the Scot, but somewhat better than the Scot could speak. ‘And thus spoke she’ — and answered the question then herself, for who could speak like her?”

In entertaining King Edward III with an account of what she had heard King David II of Scotland say and of how she had spoken to him, she had taken on the roles of both King David II and herself.

King Edward III continued, “But she herself breathes from the wall an angel from Heaven’s note of sweet defiance to her barbarous foes. When she would talk of peace, I think her tongue commanded war to go to prison; when she spoke of war, it awakened Caesar from his Roman grave so he could hear war beautified by her discourse.

“Wisdom is foolishness except in her tongue. Beauty is a slander except in her fair face. There is no summer except in her cheerful looks, and there is no frosty winter except in her disdain.

“I cannot blame the Scots who besieged her, for she is all the treasure of our land, but I call them cowards because they ran away despite having so rich and fair a reason to stay.”

He then called, “Are you there, Lodowick? Give me ink and paper.”

“I will, my liege,” Lodowick replied.

Using the royal plural, King Edward III added, “And tell the lords to carry on with their play at chess, for we will walk and meditate alone.”

“I will, my sovereign,” Lodowick replied.

He exited to carry out his orders.

King Edward III said to himself about Lodowick, “This fellow is well read in poetry, and he has a vigorous and persuasive spirit. I will acquaint him with my passion for the Countess of Salisbury, which he shall shadow with a veil of fine fabric through which the Queen of Beauty’s Queen shall see that she herself is the cause of my infirmity.”

Beauty’s Queen is the goddess Venus, but the Countess of Salisbury was more beautiful than Venus in the eyes of King Edward III and therefore he regarded the Countess of Salisbury as the Queen of Beauty’s Queen.

Seeing Lodowick returning, he asked, “Have you pen, ink, and paper ready, Lodowick?”

“They are ready, my liege,” Lodowick replied.

King Edward III said, “Then in the summer arbor — this shady tree bower — sit by me.”

Using the royal plural, he said, “We will make it our council house or private apartment. Since green — new and spring-like — are our thoughts, green will be the meeting place where we will ease ourself by unburdening them.

“Now, Lodowick, invoke some golden muse to bring you here an enchanted pen.”

Ancient poets would create an invocation to a muse to ask for help in telling a story.

King Edward III continued, “Ask for an enchanted pen that may for sighs set down true sighs indeed. When talking of grief, the enchanted pen will make you readily groan. And when you write about tears, embed the word ‘tears’ before and after with such sweet laments that it may raise drops in a Tartar’s eye, and make a flint-heart Scythian pitiful — for so much moving has a poet’s pen.”

This society regarded the Tartars and the Scythians as pitiless.

King Edward III continued, “Then if you are a poet, move yourself so, and be enriched by your sovereign’s love, for if the touch of sweet concordant strings could force the ears of Hell to pay attention, how much more shall the strains of poets’ intelligence beguile and ravish soft and humane minds?”

Orpheus was an ancient musician who went to the Land of the Dead and played so beautifully that Hades, god of the underworld, made an agreement for Orpheus to return his late wife to the Land of the Living.

Lodowick asked, “To whom, my lord, shall I direct my style?”

King Edward III replied, “To one who shames the fair and makes foolish the wise, whose body is an abstract or a summary that contains each general virtue in the world.

“‘Better than beautiful’ you must begin. Devise for ‘fair’ a fairer word than ‘fair,’ and every special physical and intellectual quality that you would praise, fly it a pitch above the soar of praise.”

The pitch of a hawk is the height to which a bird of prey flies before swooping.

King Edward III continued, “Don’t be afraid of being convicted of flattery, for if your admiration were ten times more than what you will write, the merit of what you are to praise exceeds that by ten times ten thousand.

“Begin — I intend to contemplate while you write. Don’t forget to set down how passionate, how heartsick, and how full of languishment her beauty makes me.”

Lodowick asked, “Am I writing to a woman?”

King Edward III asked, “What other beauty could triumph over me, and who except women do our love-songs greet? Did you think that I ordered you to praise a horse?”

“It is necessary that I know what social rank she is or what status she has, my lord,” Lodowick replied.

King Edward III replied, “She is of such estate that hers is like a throne, and my estate is like the footstool where she treads. Knowing that, you may judge what her condition is by the proportion of her mightiness.

“Write on, while I peruse her in my thoughts.”

He then said this to himself about the Countess of Salisbury:

“Should I compare her voice to music or the nightingale? To music every summer-leaping country lover compares his sunburnt lover when she speaks, and why should I speak of the nightingale?”

“Summer-leaping” can mean leaping in the enjoyment of the good weather that comes in summer, but the word “leaping” is also used to describe male animals mounting female animals.

King Edward III continued, “The nightingale sings of adulterous wrong.”

In myth, Tereus, who was Philomela’s sister’s husband, raped Philomela. To prevent Philomela from telling anyone about the rape, he cut out her tongue. Philomela, however, wove a tapestry that told about the rape. When Procne, her sister, saw the tapestry and realized what had happened, she killed her son and fed him to Tereus, the father. When he realized what had happened, he pursued Philomela and Procne, intending to kill them, but they prayed to the gods for help. The gods transformed Philomela into a nightingale, Procne into a swallow, and Tereus into a hoopoe.

King Edward III continued, “The nightingale’s singing about adulterous wrong, compared to my adulterous love for the Countess, is too satirical, for in my case sin, although sin, would not be so esteemed, but rather virtue sin, sin virtue deemed.”

He was married, but he was pursuing the Countess of Salisbury with his adulterous love. Because the Countess was so excellent, he believed that it was not a sin to pursue her, but rather it was a virtue; the sin would lie in not pursuing her.

King Edward III continued, “Her hair is far softer than the silkworm’s twist, similar to a flattering mirror that makes more beautiful the yellow amber of her hair — ‘similar to a flattering mirror’ I mention too soon; for when writing about her eyes, I’ll say that like a mirror they catch the sun, and the hot reflection rebounds from the mirror against my breast and burns my heart within.

“Ah, what a world of melodious accompaniment my soul makes upon this spontaneous foundation of love!”

He then said out loud, “Come, Lodowick, have you turned your ink into gold? If not, simply write in capital letters my mistress’ name and it will gild your paper.”

Some books of the time were decorated with capital letters made with gold leaf.

King Edward III continued, “Read, Lodowick, read. Fill the empty hollows of my ears with the sweet hearing of your poetry.”

Lodowick said, “I have not yet finished praising her.”

In fact, he had not finished even one sentence.

King Edward III said, “Her praise is like my love, both are infinite, and they apprehend such violent extremes that they disdain an ending period. Her beauty has no match but my affection. Her beauty is more than most, and my affection is most, and more than more.

“To praise her beauty adequately is harder than to count the drops of water in the sea, or to count the mass of sand-sized particles of the earth as they drop, grain by grain, in an immense hourglass and to memorize each sand-sized particle.

“So then why do you talk about an end to that which craves unending admiration? There can be no end to praising her beauty.

“Read what you have written; let us hear it.”

Lodowick read the first line:

More fair and chaste than is the Queen of shades —”

King Edward III interrupted, “That line has two faults that are gross and palpable.”

Readers may be forgiven for thinking that the “Queen of shades” was Proserpina (Greek name: Persephone), wife of Hades, god of the Underworld, where resides the shades of the dead, but King Edward III believed that the phrase referred to Diana (Greek name: Artemis) the moon goddess.

King Edward III continued, “Do you compare her to the pale Queen of night, who being set in dark seems therefore light?”

The moon appears light because it is set against the dark night sky.

He continued, “What is she — the moon — when the sun lifts up its head, but like a fading candle, dim and dead? My love shall challenge the eye — the sun — of Heaven at noon, and, when she takes off her mask, she shall outshine the golden sun.”

Women in this culture wore masks to protect their faces from the sun.

Lodowick asked, “What is the other fault, my sovereign lord?”

King Edward III ordered, “Read over the line again.”

Lodowick began, “‘More fair and chaste’ — ”

Again, King Edward III interrupted, “I did not ask you to talk of chastity, to investigate in such detail the treasure of her mind, for I had rather have her chased than chaste.”

Horny men often regard chastity as a vice, not a virtue. Readers should note that Diana is the goddess of chastity.

He continued, “Out with the moon line, I will have none of it, and let me have her likened to the sun: Say that she has thrice more splendor than the sun, that her perfections emulate the sun, that she breeds sweet flowers as plenteous as the sun, that she thaws cold winter like the sun, that she gladdens fresh summer like the sun, that she dazzles gazers like the sun, and in this application to the sun, tell her to be as free and open to all as the sun, which smiles upon the basest weed as lovingly as on the fragrant rose.

“Let’s see what follows that same moonlight line.”

Lodowick read what he had written:

“‘More fair and chaste than is the Queen of shades,

“‘More bold in constancy’ —”

King Edward III asked, “In constancy than who?

Lodowick read, “‘Than Judith was.’”

Judith 13:6-10 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition) tells the story of how the Jewish widow Judith decapitated the enemy general Holofernes:

6 And Judith stood before the bed praying with tears, and the motion of her lips in silence,

7 Saying: Strengthen me, O Lord God of Israel, and in this hour look on the works of my hands, that as thou hast promised, thou mayst raise up Jerusalem thy city: and that I may bring to pass that which I have purposed, having a belief that it might be done by thee.

8 And when she had said this, she went to the pillar that was at his bed’s head, and loosed his sword that hung tied upon it.

9 And when she had drawn it out, she took him by the hair of his head, and said: Strengthen me, O Lord God, at this hour.

10 And she struck twice upon his neck, and cut off his head, and took off his canopy from the pillars, and rolled away his headless body.

Judith was loyal to her God; she saved the Israelites by decapitating the general of their enemy as he lay in a drunken stupor. Although many men courted her, she remained an unmarried widow for the rest of the life.

By seeking to commit adultery, King Edward III was not loyal to his God.

King Edward III said, “Oh, monstrous line! Put a sword in the next line, and I shall woo her and ask her to cut off my head! Blot, blot out that line, good Lodowick; let us hear the next line.”

Lodowick said, “That’s all that I have written so far.”

King Edward III said, “I thank you then because you have done little ill, but what little is done is surpassing surpassing ill. No, let the Captain talk about boisterous war, and let the prisoner talk about his enclosed dark constraint. The sick man best sets down the pangs of death, the starving man best sets down the sweetness of a feast, the frozen soul best sets down the benefit of fire, and every man suffering a grief best sets down his happy opposite. Love cannot sound well except in lovers’ tongues. Give me the pen and paper; I will write.”

The Countess of Salisbury appeared and walked over to them, and King Edward III pretended that he and Lodowick had been talking about military matters.

He said quietly to Lodowick, “Quiet, here comes the treasurer of my spirit!”

He then said loudly, “Lodowick, you don’t know how to deploy the ranks of soldiers.”

Pointing to the paper, he said, “These wings, these flankers, and these squadrons argue that you are deficient in military training. You should have placed this one here, this other one over here.”

The Countess of Salisbury said, “Pardon my boldness, my thrice gracious lords. Let my intrusion here be called my duty that comes to see how my sovereign fares.”

King Edward III said to Lodowick, “Go, and deploy them in what form I have told you.”

The Countess of Salisbury understood King Edward III to be referring to ranks of soldiers, but Lodowick understood him to be referring to ranks of words.

Lodowick said, “I go.”

He exited.

The Countess of Salisbury said, “I am sorry to see my liege so sad. What may your subject do to drive away from you your gloomy consort, which is sullen melancholy?”

“Ah, lady,” King Edward III said, “I am blunt and cannot strew the flowers of solace on a ground of shame. Since I came hither, Countess, I am wronged.”

The Countess of Salisbury said, “May God forbid that anyone in my house should think to wrong my sovereign! Thrice gentle King, acquaint me with the cause of your discontent.”

“How near then shall I be to a remedy?” King Edward III asked.

“As near, my liege, as all my woman’s power can pawn itself to buy your remedy,” the Countess of Salisbury said.

“If you are speaking the truth,” King Edward III said, “then I will have my redress. Engage your power to redeem my joys, and I will be joyful, Countess, or else I will die.”

“I will, my liege,” she replied.

King Edward III said, “Swear, Countess, that you will.”

“I swear by Heaven, I will,” the Countess of Salisbury said.

King Edward III said, “Then take yourself a little way aside, and tell yourself that a King dotes on you. Say that it is within your power to make him happy, and that you have sworn to give him all the joy it is within your power to give. Do this and tell me when I shall be happy.”

The Countess of Salisbury replied, “All this is done, my thrice dread sovereign. That power of love that I have power to give, you have with all my devout obedience. Employ me how you will to test what I told you.”

“You heard me say that I dote on you,” King Edward III said.

The Countess of Salisbury replied, “If you dote on my beauty, take it if you can. Although my beauty is little, I prize it ten times less. If you dote on my virtue, take it if you can, for giving increases the amount of virtue one has. Dote on whatever you can that I can give to you, and you can take it away, and have it.”

“It is your beauty that I would enjoy,” King Edward III said.

“Oh, if my beauty were painted on my face, I would wipe it off and dispossess myself of it so I could give it to you, but sovereign, it is soldered to my life. Take one and you take both, for like a humble shadow it haunts the sunshine of my summer’s life.”

King Edward III said, “But you may allow me to sexually sport with it.”

The Countess of Salisbury, who was married to her still-living husband, the Earl of Salisbury, said, “As easily may my intellectual soul be lent away and yet my body live, as I could lend my body, which is the palace to my soul, away from my soul and yet retain my soul.

“My body is my soul’s bower, my soul’s court, my soul’s abbey, and my soul is an angel pure, divine, and unspotted with sin. If I should lend my soul’s house, my lord, to you, I would kill my poor soul and the death of my poor soul would kill me.”

King Edward III asked, “Didn’t you swear to give me what I wanted?”

“I did, my liege,” the Countess of Salisbury said, “as long as what you want, I could give to you. You are asking for something I cannot give to you.”

King Edward III said, “I wish no more of you than you may give, and I do not beg but rather buy — that is, I buy your love, and for that love of yours in rich exchange I give to you my love.”

Knowing that King Edward III was also married, the Countess of Salisbury said, “Except that your lips are sacred, my lord, you would profane the holy name of love. That love you offer me you cannot give, for Caesar owes that tribute to his Queen. That love you beg of me I cannot give, for Sarah owes that duty to her lord.”

This part of 1 Peter 3:6 recognizes Sarah as a dutiful wife: “Sarah obeyed Abraham, and called him Sir” (1599 Geneva Bible).

The Countess of Salisbury continued, “He who clips the edges of a coin or who counterfeits your stamped image on a coin shall die, my lord; will your sacred self commit high treason against the King of Heaven by stamping his image in forbidden metal, forgetting your allegiance and your oath?”

In this society, anyone who would cut the edges off a gold coin, thereby lessening its value, or who counterfeited a coin by using gold mixed with an alloy, would be sentenced to death. Such people were lessening the value of coins on which the King’s image was stamped; this was a capital offense.

Genesis 1:27 states, “Thus God created the man in his image: in the image of God created he him: he created them male and female” (1599 Geneva Bible).

King Edward III was stamped with the image of God, but if he were to violate his marriage vows, he would be adulterating that image with sin. Such sin could be punished with damnation.

The Countess of Salisbury continued, “In violating marriage’s sacred law, you break a greater honor than yourself. To be a King is of a younger ancestry than to be married; your progenitor, sole reigning Adam in the whole of creation, by God was honored for a married man, but not by him anointed for a King.”

Marriage came into existence before Kingship did. Adam married Eve, but Adam was never anointed as a King.

She continued, “It is a criminal act to break your statutes, although they are not enacted with your highness’ hand; how much more criminal it would be to infringe the holy act made by the mouth of God, sealed with His hand?

“I know my sovereign respects my husband, who is now doing loyal service in his sovereign’s wars, and so my sovereign is only testing the wife of Salisbury to see whether or not she will listen to the tale of a seducer.

“Lest I be found guilty of that by my staying here, from that, and not from my liege, I turn away.”

The Countess of Salisbury exited.

King Edward III said, “Which is it? Is her beauty made divine by her words, or are her words sweet chaplains to her beauty?

“Just as the wind beautifies a sail, and just as a sail graces the unseen wind, so do her words grace her beauty, and her beauty graces her words.”

He knew that his wanting to sexually possess the Countess was wrong.

He added, “Oh, if only I were a honey-gathering bee that would bear the honeycomb of virtue from this flower, and not a poison-sucking malicious spider that would turn the juice I take to deadly venom.

“Religion is austere and beauty is gentle: too strict a guardian for so beautiful a ward.

“Oh, if only she were as is the air to me! Why so she is, for when I would embrace her, this I do” — he made an embracing movement in the air — “and I catch nothing but myself.

“I must enjoy her in bed, for I cannot beat my fond, foolish love away with reason and reproof.”

The Earl of Warwick walked toward him.

“Here comes her father,” King Edward III said. “I will persuade him to bear my battle flag in this battlefield of love.”

The Earl of Warwick said, “How is it that my sovereign is so sad? May I with pardon know your highness’ grief? If an effort by me, despite my age, can remove it, it shall not long burden your majesty.”

“You are offering a kind and voluntary gift that I was eager to have begged of you,” King Edward III said.

He then addressed the world: “But, oh, world, you great nurse of flattery, why do you tip men’s tongues with golden words and weigh down their deeds with the weight of heavy lead, so that fair performance cannot follow promise?

“Oh, that a man might hold close the book of his heart, and choke the lavish tongue when it utters the breath of falsehood not engraved there!”

“Far be it from the honor of my age that I should own bright gold and render lead,” the Earl of Warwick said. “Age is a critic, not a flatterer. I say again, that if I knew your grief and if that grief of yours by me may be lessened, my own harm would buy your highness’ good. I would willingly harm myself if it would do you good.”

King Edward III said, “These are the vulgar tenders of false men who never pay what their words have promised. You will not hesitate to swear what you have said, but when you know the circumstances of my grief, you will eat up again this rash disgorged vomit of your words and leave me helpless. You won’t do what you have promised to do.”

“By Heaven, I will not break my word,” the Earl of Warwick said, “even if your majesty were to tell me to run upon your sword and die.”

King Edward III said, “Let’s say that my grief is in no way able to be cured except by the loss and bruising of your honor.”

“If nothing but that loss may benefit you,” the Earl of Warwick said, “I would regard that loss as my benefit, too.”

King Edward III asked, “Do you think that you can unswear your oath and make it not an oath again?”

The Earl of Warwick replied, “I cannot, nor would I if I could.”

King Edward III asked, “But if you do unswear your oath, what shall I say to you?”

The Earl of Warwick replied, “Say what may be said to any perjured villain who breaks the sacred warrant of an oath.”

“What would you say to one who breaks an oath?” King Edward III asked.

The Earl of Warwick replied, “I would say to him that he has broken his faith with God and man, and from them both he stands excommunicated.”

King Edward III asked, “Whose duty would it be to suggest to a man that he should break a lawful and religious vow?”

“That would be a duty for the devil, not for a man,” the Earl of Warwick said.

King Edward III said, “That devil’s duty you must do for me, or break your oath and cancel all the bonds of love and duty between yourself and me. And therefore, Earl of Warwick, if you are yourself the lord and master of your word and oath, go to your daughter — the Countess of Salisbury — and in my behalf command her, persuade her, and convince her by using any means to be my mistress and my secret love.

“I will not stand here and wait to hear you make a reply — your oath will either break her marriage oath or will let your sovereign die.”

King Edward III exited.

“Oh, doting King,” the Earl of Warwick said. “Oh, detestable duty! Well may I tempt myself to wrong myself when he has sworn me by the name of God to break a vow made by the name of God.”

By “wrong myself,” he meant “commit suicide.”

The “vow made by the name of God” was his daughter’s marriage vow.

He continued, “What if I swear by this right hand of mine to cut this right hand off? The better course of action would be to profane the idol than destroy it.”

He meant that it would be better to treat the idol with contempt by not keeping the oath than to destroy the idol. One way to do that would be to disobey the idol. Here, the idol is his right hand, with which he had made an unvirtuous oath. Analogously, the idol is also an unvirtuous King. People in this culture believed that Kings ruled by divine right, but King Edward III was not behaving virtuously. Adultery could damn King Edward III to Hell.

The Earl of Warwick continued, “But I will do neither; I’ll keep my oath, and to my daughter I’ll make a recantation of all the virtue I have preached to her. Then I will recant the recantation.

“To be clear, I will tell her to do one thing, but make clear that she ought not to do that thing.

“I’ll say she must forget her husband, the Earl of Salisbury, if she remembers — bears in mind — to embrace the King.

“I’ll say an oath such as a marriage oath may easily be broken, but not so easily pardoned being broken.

“I’ll say it is true charity to love, but not true love to be so charitable.

“I’ll say the King’s greatness may weather the shame, but not all of his Kingdom can buy out the sin.

“I’ll say it is my duty to persuade her to break her marriage vow, but it is not the duty of her honesty and her loyalty to her husband to give consent to the King to sleep with her.”

The Countess of Salisbury walked over to him.

Seeing her, the Earl of Warwick said, “See where she comes; no father ever had, against the benefit and well being of his child, an errand so bad.”

The Countess of Salisbury said, “My lord and father, I have sought you. My mother and the peers urge you to stay in the presence of his majesty, and do your best to make his highness merry.”

The Earl of Warwick thought, How shall I begin this graceless errand? I must not call her child, for where’s the father who will in such a courtship seduce his child? Then what about ‘wife of Salisbury’? Shall I so begin? No, he’s my friend, and where is found the friend who will do friendship such damage?

He said out loud, “I call you neither my daughter, nor my dear friend’s wife. I am not the Earl of Warwick as you think I am, but instead I am an attorney from the court of Hell, who thus have housed my spirit in his form in order to give you a message from the King.”

Apparently, he meant that a demon from Hell had exchanged bodies with him for the purpose of delivering a Hellish message to her from the King.

He continued, “The mighty King of England dotes on you. He who has the power to take away your life also has the power to take away your honor, so then you should consent to pawn your honor rather than your life. Honor is often lost and gotten again, but life once gone has no recovery. The sun that withers hay also nourishes grass. The King who would defile you also will advance you. The ancient poets write that great Achilles’ spear could heal the wound it made: The moral is that what mighty men misdo, they can amend.”

The Greek warrior Achilles wounded Telephus with his spear, and the wound would not heal. Telephus eventually went to Achilles and promised to help the Greeks in their war against Troy if he would heal the wound. Rust from the head of the spear was scraped onto his wound, which healed.

The Earl of Warwick continued, “The lion dignifies its bloody jaws and shows mercy to its prey by being mild when the submissive vassal fearfully lies trembling at its feet.

“The King will in his glory hide your shame, and those who gaze on him to find you will lose their eyesight looking in the sun.

“How can one drop of poison harm the sea, whose huge vastness can digest the poison and make it lose its effect?

“The King’s great name will temper your misdeeds, and give the bitter potion of reproach a sugared, sweet, and most delicious taste.

“Besides, it is no harm to do the thing that without shame could not be left undone. Not to obey a King is a shame, and so to obey a King is not a shame.

“In his majesty’s behalf, I have thus dressed up sin in virtuous sentences, and I wait for your answer to the King’s love suit.”

His daughter the Countess replied, “Unnatural siege! Woe to unhappy me! I have escaped the danger of my foes and now I am ten times worse beset on by friends!

“Had the King no other means to stain my honest blood, but to corrupt the author of my blood — my father — to be his scandalous and vile solicitor?

“It is no marvel that the branches are then infected, when poison encompasses the root.

“It is no marvel that the poisoned infant dies, when the stern mother has poisoned her nipple.

“Why, then give sin a passport — official permission — to offend, and give youth the dangerous reign of liberty. Blot out the strict forbidding of the law, and cancel every canon law that prescribes a shame for shame, or penance for offence.

“No, let me die, if his too boisterous and savage will, will have it so, before I will consent to be an actor in his graceless lust.”

The Earl of Warwick replied, “Why, just now you spoke as I would want you to speak. Pay close attention to how I unsay the words I just spoke:

“An honorable grave is more esteemed than the polluted private chamber of a King.

“The greater the man, the greater is the thing, whether it be good or bad, that he shall undertake.

“An insignificant speck of dust, flying in the sunshine, presents a greater substance than it is: It can be seen only in sunshine.

“The freshest summer’s day soonest taints the loathed carrion that it seems to kiss.

“Deep are the blows made with a mighty axe.

“That sin that is committed in a holy place aggravates itself ten times. It is ten times more heinous because it is committed in a holy place.

“An evil deed done by authority — taking advantage by using one’s power — is both sin and subornation, aka inducement, to sin.

“Deck an ape in rich clothing, and the beauty of the robe adds only the greater scorn to the beast.

“Daughter, I could urge a spacious field of many reasons to put between his glory and what would be your shame. Power and honor do not always go together:

“Poison shows worst in a golden cup.

“Dark night seems darker by the lightning flash.

“Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

“And every glorious person who inclines to sin trebles his shame because he seeks the opposite of what a person with his advantages should seek.

“So I leave with my blessing in your bosom. This blessing will convert to a most heavy curse if you convert from honor’s golden name to the black faction of bed-blotting shame.”

His daughter the Countess said, “I’ll follow you, and if my mind turns to such evil, may my body sink my soul in endless woe.”

— 2.2 —

The Earl of Derby, who had just returned from France, and Lord Audley, who was accompanied by a drummer, talked together.

The Earl of Derby said, “Thrice noble Lord Audley, you are well encountered here. It is good to see you. How is it with our sovereign King Edward III and his peers?”

Lord Audley replied, “It is fully a fortnight since I saw his highness. At that time he sent me forth to muster men, which I accordingly have done and have brought them hither before his majesty in fair readiness for combat. What news, my lord of Earl of Derby, do you have from the Emperor of Almagne?”

“As good as we desire,” the Earl of Derby replied. “The Emperor has yielded friendly aid to his highness, and he makes our King lieutenant-general in all his lands and large dominions. So then via — let’s go! — for the spacious bounds of France!”

Lord Audley asked, “Does his highness leap with gladness to hear this news?”

“I have not yet found the right time to tell him the news,” the Earl of Derby said. “The King is unhappy in his private apartment, I don’t know for what reason, but he gave the order that no one should interrupt him until after dinner. The Countess Salisbury and her father — the Earl of Warwick — as well as the Count of Artois and all the others, look downcast.”

Lord Audley said, “Undoubtedly then something is wrong.”

Trumpets sounded.

The Earl of Derby said, “The trumpets sound — the King is now out of his private apartment.”

King Edward III entered the room.

“Here comes his highness,” Lord Audley said.

The Earl of Derby said, “May all my sovereign’s wishes come true.”

King Edward III said, “Ah, I wish that you were a witch who could make it so.”

“The Emperor of Almagne sends you greetings —” the Earl of Derby began.

King Edward III interrupted, “I wish the greetings came from the Countess of Salisbury.”

The Earl of Derby finished, “— and has agreed to your highness’ suit.”

King Edward III replied, “You lie, she has not, but I wish that she had.”

“I give all love and duty to my lord the King,” Lord Audley said.

King Edward III replied, “Well, all but one is none.”

In other words, the love and duty of everyone except the Countess of Salisbury is worth nothing.

He then asked Lord Audley, “What news do you bring?”

Lord Audley replied, “I have, my liege, levied those horse soldiers and foot soldiers as you ordered me to, and I have brought them hither.”

King Edward III said, “Then let those foot soldiers trudge away from here immediately after those horse soldiers, according to our discharge, and be gone.”

He added, “Earl of Derby, I’ll look upon the Countess’ mind soon.”

He meant that he would look at her thoughts — her response to his proposition — that would be conveyed in a letter.

The Earl of Derby asked, “The Countess’ mind, my liege?”

“I mean the Emperor of Almagne,” King Edward III said.

He then ordered, “Leave me alone.”

Lord Audley asked the Earl of Derby quietly, “What’s in his mind? What is he thinking about?”

The Earl of Derby replied, “Let’s leave him to his mood.”

The Earl of Derby and Lord Audley exited, as did Lord Audley’s drummer.

King Edward III said, “Thus from the heart’s abundance speaks the tongue: ‘Countess’ for ‘Emperor,’ and indeed why not? She is like an Emperor over me, and I to her am like a kneeling vassal who observes the pleasure or displeasure of her eye.”

Lodowick entered the room.

King Edward III asked him, “What says the more than Cleopatra’s match to Caesar now?”

The “more than Cleopatra’s match” was the Countess of Salisbury.

Lodowick replied, “Still she says, my liege, that before night she will give your majesty her answer.”

A drum sounded.

King Edward III said, “What drum is this that thunders forth this march to disturb the tender Cupid in my bosom? Poor sheepskin, how it brawls with the drummer who beats it.”

Drums and parchment are made from sheepskin.

King Edward III continued, “Go wear out the thundering parchment bottom completely, and I will teach it to conduct sweet lines to the bosom of a Heavenly nymph, for I will use it as my writing paper, and so reduce the drum from a scolding drum to be the herald and dear counsel-bearer between a goddess and a mighty King.”

He then ordered, “Go tell the drummer to learn to touch the lute or hang himself in the straps of his drum, for now we think it an uncivil thing to trouble Heaven with such harsh resounds. Go.”

Lodowick exited.

King Edward III continued, “The quarrel that I have requires no arms but these arms of mine, and these shall meet my foe in a deep march of piercing groans. My eyes shall be my arrows, and my sighs shall serve me as the favor and advantage of the wind to whirl away my sweetest artillery.

“Ah, but alas, she wins the sun of me — the sun is in my eyes — because she herself is the sun, and therefore poets call the wanton warrior — Cupid — blind.

“But love has eyes as judgment to its steps, until too much loved glory dazzles them.”

Lodowick returned, and King Edward III asked, “What is the source of that drumming?”

“My liege, the drummer who struck the lusty march accompanies Edward the Black Prince, your thrice valiant son,” Lodowick answered.

Lodowick exited and Edward the Black Prince entered the room.

King Edward III thought, I see the boy. Oh, how his mother’s face, which is modeled in his face, corrects my strayed desire, and berates my heart and chides my thievish eye, which despite being rich enough in seeing her yet seeks elsewhere. The basest theft is that which cannot cloak itself in poverty. Some people justify theft on the basis that their poverty makes them steal, but my desire is not impoverished because I am married to such a good wife.

He said to Edward the Black Prince, “Now, boy, what news do you bring?”

“I have assembled, my dear lord and father,” Edward the Black Prince said, “the choicest buds of all our English bloodfor our affairs in France, and here we come to take orders from your majesty. We are ready to go fight in France when you order us to.”

King Edward III thought, Still I see delineated in him his mother’s visage; his eyes are hers, eyes that looking attentively at me make me blush for faults and make me give evidence against myself.

Lust is a fire, and men like lanterns show light — and show themselves alight, and wanton — lust within themselves, even through themselves.

Away, loose silks of wavering, inconstant vanity!

Shall I overthrow the extensive territory of fair Bretagne, and shall I not master this little mansion of myself?

Give me an armor of eternal steel! I go to conquer Kings! Shall I not then subdue myself?

Or shall I be my enemies’ friend because I am unable to subdue myself? Shall I be my enemies’ friend because I lack the self-control needed to conquer France?

It must not be.

He said to Edward the Black Prince, “Come, boy, forward, advance. Let’s with our colors — our battle flags — sweeten the air of France.”

Lodowick entered the room and said, “My liege, with a smiling face the Countess desires access to your majesty.”

King Edward III thought, Why, there my reformation goes; that very smile of hers has ransomed captive France and set the French King, the Dauphin, and the French peers at liberty.

He said to Edward the Black Prince, “Go, leave me, Ned, and revel with your friends.”

Edward the Black Prince exited.

King Edward III said to himself about his son Edward the Black Prince, “Your mother is but black, and you, because you are like her, make me remember how foul she is.”

He then ordered Lodowick, “Go and fetch and escort the Countess here.”

Lodowick exited.

King Edward III added to himself, “And let her chase away these winter clouds, for she gives beauty both to Heaven and Earth. It is a greater sin to hack and hew poor men in war than to embrace in an unlawful bed the register of all rarities since the time of leather-wearing Adam until this most recent hour.”

Lodowick returned, escorting the Countess of Salisbury.

King Edward III ordered, “Go, Lodowick, put your hand into your purse and play, spend, give, riot, waste, do whatever you will, as long as you will go away from here for a while and leave me here.”

Trusted servants often carried their master’s moneybags, which this society called purses.

Lodowick exited.

King Edward III then said to the Countess of Salisbury, “Now, my soul’s playfellow, have you come in your beauteous love to speak the more than Heavenly word of ‘yes’ to my proposition?”

The Countess of Salisbury said, “My father on his blessing has commanded —”

“— that you shall yield to me,” King Edward III interrupted.

The Countess of Salisbury replied, “Yes, my dear liege, that I shall yield to you what is your due.”

King Edward III said, “And that, my dearest love, can be no less than right for right, and love for love.”

She replied, “— no less than wrong for wrong, and endless hate for hate. But since I see your majesty is so bent and inclined that my unwillingness, my husband’s love, your high estate, and no regard for any other consideration can be my help, but that your mightiness will overrule and repress through awe and dread of your majesty these dear considerations, I will make myself be happy with what displeases me and I will force myself to do what I don’t want to do, provided that you yourself remove those obstacles that stand between your highness’ love and mine.”

King Edward III said, “Name those obstacles, fair Countess, and I swear by Heaven that I will remove them.”

The Countess of Salisbury said, “It is their lives that stand between our love that I would have suffocated, my sovereign.”

“Whose lives, my lady?” King Edward III asked.

“My thrice loving liege,” the Countess of Salisbury said, “the lives of your Queen and the Count of Salisbury, my wedded husband. These people while living have that title to our love that we cannot bestow except but by their death.”

“What you are proposing is against the law,” King Edward III objected.

“So is your desire,” the Countess of Salisbury said. “If the law can prevent you from executing and carrying out the one, let it forbid you to attempt the other. I cannot think you love me as you say unless you make good on what you have sworn.”

“Say no more,” King Edward III said, “your husband and the Queen shall die. Fairer are you by far than Hero was, and beardless Leander is not as strong as I am. He swam an easy current for his love, but I will go through a Hellespont of blood to arrive at Sestos where my Hero lies.”

In ancient Greek mythology, Leander was a man who loved the woman Hero, who was a priestess in a temple dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite at the town of Sestos. He used to swim across the Hellespont to see her, but he drowned one night. The modern name for the Hellespont is the Dardanelles.

“No, you’ll do more,” the Countess of Salisbury said, “you’ll also make the river with the blood of the hearts of those two who keep our love asunder: my husband and your wife.”

King Edward III said, “Your beauty makes them guilty and deserving of their death sentences, and gives evidence that they shall die, upon which verdict I, their judge, condemn them.”

“Oh, perjured beauty, and more corrupted judge!” the Countess of Salisbury said. “When in the great Star Chamber — the Heavenly court — over our heads the universal sessions call to account this secret, underhand evil, we both shall tremble for it.”

She was referring to the Last Judgment.

“What does my fair love say?” King Edward III asked. “Is she resolute?”

By “resolute,” he meant “decided.”

The Countess replied, “Resolute to be dissolved.”

She meant that she was determined to die.

The King likely thought that she had decided to be dissolute.

She added, “And therefore I say this: Just keep your word, great King, and I am yours.

“Stand where you are standing, I’ll go away a little from you, and see how I will yield myself to your hands.”

She now made a reference to the two wedding knives that brides at that time wore in a sheath during their weddings:

“Here by my side hang my wedding knives: Take one, and with it kill your Queen. You can learn from me where you can find she lies; and with this other, I’ll dispatch my love, my husband, who now lies fast asleep within my heart.”

The King’s Queen resided within his heart, just as the Countess’ husband resided within her heart. She was proposing a double suicide.

She said, “When they are gone, then I’ll consent to love you. Don’t move, lascivious King, and don’t try to stop me. My resolution is more nimbler by far than your attempted prevention can be if you try to rescue me and keep me from killing myself.

“If you move, I will strike my heart with my knife; therefore, stand still, and listen to the choice that I will put before you. Either swear to leave your most unholy love suit to me and swear to never henceforth solicit me, or else, by Heaven, this sharp-pointed knife shall stain your earth with that blood which you want to stain with dishonor: my poor chaste blood.

“Swear, Edward, swear, or I will strike my heart with my knife and die in front of you here.”

She knelt.

King Edward III said, “Even by that Heavenly power I swear that gives me now the power to be ashamed of myself, I never mean to part my lips again in any words that tend to such a love suit.

“Arise, true English lady, whom our isle may better boast of than any Roman might boast of her whose ransacked treasury has tasked the vain endeavor of so many pens.”

He was referring to Lucretia, an ancient Roman woman who committed suicide after being raped; this led to the throwing out of the Roman King and the establishment of the Roman Republic.

King Edward III continued, “Arise and let my sin be your honor’s fame, which after ages shall enrich you with.”

He raised her up from the floor and said, “I am awakened from this idle dream.”

He then called, “Earl of Warwick, Edward the Black Prince, Earl of Derby, Count of Artois, and Lord Audley, brave warriors all, where are you all this while?”

All of the men he had named entered the room.

King Edward III said, “Earl of Warwick, I make you Warden of the North.

“You, Edward the Black Prince, and Lord Audley, go immediately to sea, hurry to Newhaven — some others are there waiting for me.

“I myself, the Count of Artois, and the Earl of Derby will travel through Flanders to greet our friends there and to ask for their aid.

“This night will scarcely suffice for me to reveal my folly’s siege against a faithful lover, for before the sun shall gild the eastern sky we’ll wake it with our martial harmony.”

He planned to confess his sin this night.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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