David Bruce: GEORGE-A-GREENE, THE PINNER OF WAKEFIELD: A Retelling — Acts 2-3


— 2.1 —

Before the Englishman Sir John-a-Barley’s castle, King James of Scotland met with Lord Humes and the messenger John Taylor. Some soldiers were present. John Taylor had given the Earl of Kendal’s message to King James.

King James of Scotland asked, “Why, Johnny, then the Earl of Kendal is blithe and merry, and he has brave, splendid men who troop along with him?”

“Aye, by the Virgin Mary, my liege, and he has good men who come along with him, and he vows to meet you at Scrasblesea, God willing,” John Taylor said.

“If good Saint Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, grants me, King Jamy, permission, I will be with him at the appointed day.”

Ned, the son of Sir John-a-Barley and his wife, Jane, entered the scene. Ned was a nickname for Edward.

Seeing Ned, King James said, “But wait a moment!”

He then asked, “Whose pretty boy are thou?”

Ned answered, “Sir, I am the son of Sir John-a-Barley. I am the eldest son, and I am all the sons that my mother ever had. Edward is my name.”

“And where are thou going, pretty Ned?” King James asked.

“To seek some birds, and kill them, if I can,” Ned said. “Now my schoolmaster is also gone, I have liberty to bend my bow and go hunting. For when my schoolmaster comes, I don’t stir away from my book.”

King James of Scotland said, “Lord Humes, just look at the face of this child. By the handsomeness of him, I guess the beauty of his mother. No one but Leda could breed Helena.”

Leda, a beautiful woman, became Queen of Sparta. After being seduced (or raped, according to the source) by Zeus, King of the gods, she gave birth to Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, who became Helen of Troy.

King James continued, “Tell me, Ned, who is inside with thy mother?”

“There is nobody but herself and the household servants, sir,” Ned said. “If you want to speak with her, knock at this gate.”

King James ordered, “Johnny, knock at that gate.”

John Taylor knocked at the gate.

Jane-a-Barley appeared upon the walls of the castle and saw King James’ army.

She said, “Oh, I’m betrayed! What multitudes of soldiers are these?”

King James of Scotland said, “Fear not, fair Jane. Don’t be afraid, for all these men are mine, and all are thy friends, if thou will be a friend to me.”

The word “friend” can mean “lover”: He wanted to sleep with her.

King James continued:

“I am thy lover: I am one who loves thee. I am James the King of Scots, who often have sued and wooed thee with many letters, depicting my outward passions with my pen, while my inward soul did bleed for woe.

“Little regard was given to my love suit, but perhaps thy husband’s presence wrought your little regard.

“Therefore, sweet Jane, I fitted myself to the time, and, hearing that thy husband was away from home, took advantage of the opportunity and have come to ask earnestly for what I long have desired.”

Ned knew what King James wanted from his mother. King James wanted Jane to commit adultery with him. That would make Ned’s father a cuckold: a man with an unfaithful wife.

“Nay, wait a minute, you, sir!” Ned said. “You get no entrance here, you who seek to wrong Sir John-a-Barley so and offer such dishonor to my mother.”

“Why, what dishonor, Ned?” King James said, either pretending not to understand or believing that Jane ought to consider it an honor to sleep with a king.

“Although I am young,” Ned said, “yet I have often heard my father say that there is no greater wrong than to be made a cuckold. If I were of age, or if my body were strong — if I were older and stronger — I would shoot to the heart any man, even if he were ten kings, who would attempt to give Sir John the horn.”

Cuckolds were said to have invisible horns growing from their forehead.

Ned then said, “Mother, don’t let him come in. I will go and stay at Jocky Miller’s house.”

He would do that so his mother would not have to open the gate to let him reenter the castle. Opening the gate would allow King James to enter.

“Stop him,” King James ordered.

His soldiers kept Ned from leaving.

“Aye, well said,” Jane said to her son. “Ned, thou have given the king his answer. For even if the ghost of Caesar were on the earth, wrapped in the wonted glory of his honor, he would not make me wrong my husband so.”

She then said, “But good King James is pleasant and is joking, as I guess, and he intends to test what mood I am in; otherwise, he would never have brought an army of men, to have them be witnesses of his Scottish lust.”

King James began, “Jane, indeed, Jane —”

Jane interrupted, “— never reply, for I avow by the highest holy God, Who judges and gives just revenge for things amiss, that King James, of all men, shall not have my love.”

King James said:

“Then listen to me:

“May Saint Andrew be my help, but I’ll raze thy castle to the very ground, unless thou open the gate, and let me in.”

The gate was both the gate of the castle and the “gate” that was her legs.

“I fear thee not, King Jamy,” Jane said. “Do thy worst.”

Normally, a king would be addressed as “you.” Jane was disrespecting — justifiably — King James by calling him “thee.”

Jane continued, “This castle is too strong for thee to scale. Besides, my husband, Sir John, will come home tomorrow.”

King James replied, “Well, Jane, since thou disdains King James’ love, I’ll draw thee on with sharp and deep extremes. For, by my father’s soul, I swear that this brat of thine shall perish here before thine eyes, unless thou open the gate, and let me in.”

The “brat” was her son, Ned, whom he was threatening to murder.

“Oh, deep extremes!” Jane said. “My heart begins to break. My little Ned looks pale for fear.”

She then said to her son, “Cheer thyself, my boy. Take heart. I will do much for thee.”

“But not so much as to dishonor me,” Ned said.

“But if thou die, I cannot live, sweet Ned,” Jane replied.

“Then die with honor, mother, by dying chaste,” Ned said.

Jane said, “I am armed. My husband’s love, his honor, and his fame, enjoins victory by virtue. Virtue shall be victorious.”

She then said, “Now, King James, if a mother’s tears cannot allay thine anger, then butcher my son, for I will never yield: The son shall die before I wrong the father.”

King James replied, “Why, then, he dies.”

Battle trumpets sounded.

A messenger arrived and said to King James, “My lord, Musgrove is at hand.”

William Musgrove was a long-standing enemy to King James and the Scots.

King James cried, “Who, Musgrove? The devil he is! Come, my horse!”

— 2.2 —

Later, before Sir John-a-Barley’s castle, William Musgrove appeared with King James as his prisoner. Jane-a-Barley stood on the walls.

William Musgrove said, “Now, King James, thou are my prisoner.”

“Not thine prisoner, but a prisoner of Lady Fortune,” King James replied.

Cuddy, Musgrove’s son, entered the scene and said, “Father, the battlefield is ours: We are victorious. We have seized their colors — their battle flags — and Lord Humes is slain. I slew him in hand-to-hand combat.”

“God and Saint George!” William Musgrove exclaimed.

“Oh, father, I am very thirsty!” Cuddy said.

“Come in, young Cuddy, come and drink thy fill,” Jane said. “Bring in King Jamy with you as a guest because all this broil occurred because he could not enter.”

— 2.3 —

In the town of Wakefield, George-a-Greene, the town’s Pinner, said to himself:

“The sweet content of men who live in love breeds fretting moods in a restless mind; and fancy, being checked by fortune’s spite, grows too impatient in her sweet desires. Such desires are sweet to those men whom love leads on to bliss, but sour to me whose luck is still amiss.”

Jenkin, George-a-Greene’s serving-man, entered the scene.

“By the Virgin Mary, amen, sir,” Jenkin said.

“Sir, what do you cry ‘amen’ at?” George asked.

“Why, didn’t you talk about love?” Jenkin asked.

“How do you know that?” George asked.

Jenkin had overheard George’s soliloquy.

“Well, although I say it who should not say it, few fellows in our parish are as nettled — stung — by love as I have been recently,” Jenkin said.

“Sirrah, I thought no less, when the other morning you rose so early to go to your wenches,” George said.

In this society, the word “wench” was not necessarily negative. It simply meant “young woman.”

George continued, “Sir, I had thought you had gone about my honest business.”

Jenkin had been chasing skirts instead of doing his job.

“Believe me, you have hit it when you talk about wenches,” Jenkin said, “for, master, let me tell you, there is some good-will between Madge the souce-wife and I.”

A souce-wife pickles edible parts of animals.

Jenkin continued, “By the Virgin Mary, she has another lover.”

He had just said that there was good-will between Madge and him. A comic character, Jenkin frequently contradicted himself. He also sometimes made grammatical errors such as using “I” when he should have used “me.”

“Can thou tolerate any rivals in thy love?” George asked.

Misunderstanding the word “rivals,” perhaps deliberately, Jenkin said, “A rider! No, he is a sow-gelder and goes on foot.”

A sow-gelder spays sows.

Jenkin said, “But Madge had an appointment to meet me in your wheat-close.”

A wheat-close is a fenced — enclosed — area in which grain is grown. The fence kept out stray animals and some wildlife.

“Well, did she meet you there?” George asked.

“Never question that,” Jenkin said. “And first I saluted her with a green gown, and afterward I fell as hard a-wooing as if the priest had been at our backs to have married us.”

Appointments between a young man and a young woman often include an episode of the woman lying on her back and getting grass stains on the back of her gown.

“What, did she grant?” George asked.

Did she agree to marry him? Or did she agree to make out with him?

“Did she grant!” Jenkin said. “Don’t doubt that. And she gave me a shirt-collar embroidered over with no counterfeit stuff.”

“Was it gold?” George asked.

“Nay, it was better than gold,” Jenkin said.

“What was it?” George asked.

“Right Coventry blue,” Jenkin said.

Blue thread made in the city of Coventry was used in embroidery.

“We had no sooner come there but do you know who came by?” Jenkin asked.

Jenkin was contradicting himself again. Previously, he had said he had time to give Madge a green gown and to woo her.

“No,” George answered. “Who?”

“Clim the sow-gelder,” Jenkin answered.

“Did he come by?” George asked.

“He spied Madge and I sitting together,” Jenkin said. “He leapt from his horse, laid his hand on his dagger, and began to swear.”

Previously, Jenkin had said that his rival went on foot.

Jenkin said, “Now I seeing he had a dagger, and I having nothing but this twig in my hand, I gave him fair words and said nothing.”

Another contradiction.

Jenkin continued:

“He comes to me, and he takes me by the bosom.

“‘You whoreson slave,’ said he, ‘hold my horse, and make sure that he takes no cold in his feet.’

“‘No, by the Virgin Mary, shall he, sir,’ said I. ‘I’ll lay my cloak underneath him.’”

“I took my cloak, spread it all along, and set his horse on the midst of it.”

“Thou clown, did thou set his horse upon thy cloak?” George said.

Cloaks were expensive.

“Aye,” Jenkin said, “but note how I served him. Madge and he was no sooner gone down into the ditch, but I plucked out my knife, cut four holes in my cloak, and made his horse stand on the bare ground.”

“It was well done,” George said. “Now, sir, go and survey my fields. If you find any cattle in the corn, take them to the pound.”

George’s job was to impound stray animals. Here, he was delegating his job.

Jenkin said, “And if I find any stray cattle in the pound, I shall turn them out and release them.”

Jenkin exited as the Earl of Kendal, Lord Bonfield, and Sir Gilbert Armstrong, all of them disguised, entered the scene with a party of men who served as their bodyguards. They did not see George.

“Now we have put the horses in the corn,” the Earl of Kendal said. “Let us stand in some corner in order to hear what defiant terms the Pinner will breathe when he sees our horses in the corn.”

They had set a trap for George. They planned to surprise him when he came to capture the stray horses.

The Earl of Kendal retired with the others.

Jenkin returned, blowing his horn.

“Oh, master, where are you?” Jenkin said. “We have a prize.”

“A prize!” George said. “What is it?”

“Three excellent horses in our wheat-close,” Jenkin said.

This society used the words “corn” and “wheat” interchangeably. Both words meant grain.

“Three horses in our wheat-close!” George said. “Whose horses are they?”

“By the Virgin Mary, that’s a riddle to me,” Jenkin said, “but they are there; they are velvet horses, and I never saw such horses before.”

These horses were caparisoned in velvet cloth, and so their owners must be men of wealth and high social standing.

Jenkin continued:

“As my duty was, I put off my cap, and said as follows:

“‘My masters, what are you doing in our close?’

“One of them, hearing me ask what he was doing there, held up his head and neighed, and after his manner laughed as heartily as if a mare had been tied to his girdle.

“‘My masters,’ said I, ‘it is no laughing matter; for, if my master were to take you here, you would go as round as a top to the pound.’”

They would go round to the pound.

Jenkin continued:

“Another untoward — unruly — jade, hearing me threaten to take him to the pound and to tell you about them, cast up both his heels, and let such a monstrous great fart, that was as much as in his language to say, ‘A fart for the pound, and a fart for George-a-Greene!’

“Now I, hearing this, put on my cap, blew my horn, called them all jades, and came to tell you.”

Jades are bad horses.

“Now, sir, go and drive those three horses to the pound,” George said.

“Listen to me,” Jenkin said. “It would be best for me to take a constable with me.”

“Why?” George asked.

“Why, they, being gentlemen’s horses, may stand on their reputation, and will not obey me,” Jenkin said.

For some wealthy people of high social standing, laws and rules are mild suggestions.

“Go, do as I tell you, sir,” George said.

“Well, I may go,” Jenkin said.

The Earl of Kendal, Lord Bonfield, and Sir Gilbert Armstrong now came forward.

The Earl of Kendal asked Jenkin, “Where are you going, sir?”

“Where?” Jenkin said. “I am going to put the horses in the pound.”

“Sirrah, those three horses belong to us, and we put them in the wheat-close,” the Earl of Kendal said. “And they must tarry there and eat their fill.”

The Earl of Kendal lacked knowledge of horses. Eating too much high-starch grain can cause severe illnesses, including laminitus (founder), in horses. Horses can literally eat themselves sick — or dead.

Pinners help the owners of stray animals by keeping them from eating too much grain. Pinners also help the farmer who grow the grain.

“Wait, I will go tell my master,” Jenkin said.

He said to George, “Do you hear, master? We have another prize: Those three horses are in your wheat-close still, and here are three geldings more.”

Geldings are castrated horses, but as used by Jenkin, the word “geldings” referred to the Earl of Kendal, Lord Bonfield, and Sir Gilbert Armstrong.

“Who are these men?” George asked.

“These men are the masters of the horses,” Jenkin answered.

George said to the three men, “Now, gentlemen (I don’t know your social ranks, but you cannot be more than gentlemen, unless you are kings), why do you wrong us people of Wakefield with your horses? I am the Pinner, and, before you pass, you shall make good the trespass they have done.”

Horses in a grainfield cause much damage and waste much grain. Food is valuable, and famines sometimes occur.

The Earl of Kendal replied, “Peace, saucy mate, don’t prate to us. I tell thee, Pinner, we are gentlemen.”

The word “gentleman” can refer either to a high social rank or to the possession of gentlemanly qualities.

The Earl of Kendal had said that the purpose of the rebellion had been to relieve the poor people, but his actions had not been evidence of that.

“Why, sir, so may I tell you I am a gentleman, sir, although I wear no arms,” George said.

“Arms” can refer to a coat of arms or to weapons.

George had no coat of arms. He did own a staff.

“Thou!” the Earl of Kendal said. “How are thou a gentleman?”

The Earl of Kendal was behaving arrogantly, while George was showing gentlemanly behavior while insisting on his rights. George was calling the Earl of Kendal “sir.”

Jenkin backed up George: “And such is my master, and he may give as good arms as ever your great-grandfather could give.”

“Please, let me hear how,” the Earl of Kendal said.

“By the Virgin Mary, my master may wear for his coat of arms the image of April in a green jacket, with a crow on one fist and a horn on the other, but my master wears his arms the wrong way, for he wears the horn on his fist; and your grandfather, because he would not lose his arms, wears the horn on his own head.”

Horns on the head are the sign of the cuckold.

“Well, Pinner, since our horses are in the wheat-close, in spite of thee they now shall feed their fill, and eat until we are ready to go,” the Earl of Kendal said.

“Now, by my father’s soul,” George said, “even if good King Edward’s horses were in the corn, they shall pay for the damage, or kiss the pound.”

As a loyal subject, George would not arrest the king, but he would impound the king’s horses.

George continued speaking to the Earl of Kendal, “Much more yours, sir, whoever you are.”

“Why, man, don’t you know who we are?” the Earl of Kendal said. “We are the men of Henry Momford, Earl of Kendal, and we serve him. We are men who, before a month is fully expired, will be King Edward’s betters in the land.”

The Earl of Kendal was incognito. He was pretending to be one of his followers.

“King Edward’s betters!” George said. “Rebel, thou lie!”

George hit him.

“Villain, what have thou done?” Lord Bonfield said. “Thou have struck an earl.”

“Why, what do I care?” George said. “A poor man who is true and loyal to the king, is better than an earl, if the earl is false and disloyal to the king. Traitors reap no better favors at my hands.”

“Aye, so I think,” the Earl of Kendal said, “but thou shall dearly pay for this blow.”

He then ordered his bodyguards, “Now or never lay hold on the Pinner!”

They all came forward.

Seeing that he was badly outnumbered, George said, “Wait, my lords, let us parley on — talk about — these quarrels. ‘Not Hercules against two,’ the proverb is, nor I against so great a multitude.”

He said to himself, “If your troops had not come marching as they did, I would have stopped your passage to London: But now I’ll fly to secret policy.”

George could not fight so many and succeed, but he could trick them.

“What are thou murmuring, George?” the Earl of Kendal asked.

“By the Virgin Mary, this, my lord,” George said. “I wonder why, if thou are Henry Momford, Kendal’s earl, that thou will do poor George-a-Greene this wrong: to match me against a troop of men.”

George had guessed the Earl of Kendal’s identity. He had been helped in this by Lord Bonfield’s saying a little earlier, “Villain, what have thou done? Thou have struck an earl.”

“Why did thou strike me, then?” the Earl of Kendal asked.

George said:

“Why, my lord, measure me but by yourself. Judge what I do by what you would do if you were in my position. If you had a man who had served you long, and this man heard your foe abuse you behind your back, and would not draw his sword in your defense, you would cashier — fire — him.

“Much more, King Edward is my king. And before I’ll hear him so wronged, I’ll die defending him within this place and back up as good everything I have said.

“And, even if you think that I am not speaking reasonably in this case, what I have said I’ll maintain in this place.”

“Give a pardon, my lord, to this Pinner,” Lord Bonfield said. “For, trust me, he speaks like a man of worth.”

“Well, George, if thou will leave Wakefield and travel with me, I’ll freely put aside all you have done to me and I’ll pardon thee,” the Earl of Kendal said.

“Aye, I will, my lord, if you will do for me one thing: You will put aside these weapons and follow your good king.”

“Why, George, I rise not against King Edward, but for the poor people who are oppressed by wrong,” the Earl of Kendal said.

His actions had shown that this — helping poor, oppressed people — was merely an excuse for grabbing power.

The Earl of Kendal continued:

“And, if King Edward will redress the same, I will not offer him disparagement, but otherwise; and so let this suffice.

“Thou have heard the reason why I rise in arms: Now, if thou will leave Wakefield and travel with me, I’ll make thee captain of a hardy band, and when I have my will, I will dub thee a knight.”

“Why, my lord, do you have any hope to win?” George asked.

Warring against a king is a dangerous undertaking.

The Earl of Kendal replied, “Why, there is a prophecy that says that King James and I shall meet at London, and King Edward will take off his hat to us both.”

“If this were true, my lord, this would be a mighty reason to rebel,” George said.

“Why, it is a miraculous prophecy, and cannot fail,” the Earl of Kendal said.

“Well, my lord, you have almost convinced me,” George said.

He then said, “Jenkin, come here.”

“Sir?” Jenkin said.

“Go on home, sir, and drive those three horses home to my house, and pour them down a bushel of good oats,” George said.

“Well, I will,” Jenkin said.

Jenkin, who was loyal to the king, then muttered as he left, “Must I give these scurvy horses oats?”

George said to the Earl of Kendal, “Will it please you to command your train of men to stand aside?”

“Stand aside,” the Earl of Kendal ordered.

His men stood to the side.

George said:

“Now listen to me.

“Here in a wood, not far from here, there dwells an old man alone in a cave, who can foretell what fortunes shall befall you, for he is greatly skillful in magic art.

“You three go to him early in the morning and question him. If he foretells good things in your future, why, then, my lord, I am the foremost man who will march up with your camp to London.”

“George, thou honor me in this,” the Earl of Kendal said. “But where shall we find him out?”

“My serving-man shall conduct you to the place,” George said. “But, my good lord, tell me truly what the wise man tells you.”

“That will I, as I am Earl of Kendal.”

“Why, then, to honor me, George-a-Greene, the more,” George said, “deign to eat a piece of beef at my poor house. You shall have your fill of wafer-cakes, and you shall have a piece of beef hung up since Martlemas.”

Martlemas was the traditional day for hanging up enough salted beef to last through the winter.

“Martlemas” is a now-obsolete word for “Martinmas,” or St. Martin’s Day, which is November 11.

George added, “If you don’t like that, then I say that you can eat whatever you bring to my house.”

“Gramercies, George,” the Earl of Kendal said. “Many thanks.”

They exited.


— 3.1 —

Before Grime’s house in Bradford, George-a-Greene’s serving-boy Wily, who was disguised as a woman, and who had muffled his face to hide it, said to himself:

“Oh, what is love! It is some mighty power, else it never could conquer George-a-Greene.”

He then said, “Here dwells a churl who keeps away his love.”

Grime was keeping his daughter, Bettris, away from George.

Wily added:

“I know the worst, and if I am detected, the punishment is only a beating; and if I by this means can get fair Bettris out of her father’s door, it is enough.

“Venus, especially for me, and all the gods above, aid me in my wily enterprise!”

Wily knocked at the door.

Grime opened the door and said, “What is this now! Who knocks there? What do you want? From where have you come? Where do you dwell?”

“I am, truly, a sempster’s — seamstress’ — maid, who lives nearby, who has brought work home to your daughter,” Wily said.

He was saying that he had brought some work done by the seamstress for Bettris to examine and perhaps buy or order to be made in her size.

Grime was suspicious:

“Nay, aren’t you some crafty quean — sneaky whore — who comes from George-a-Greene, that rascal, with some letters to my daughter?

“I will have you searched.”

Wily replied:

“Alas, sir, it is Hebrew to me to tell me about George-a-Greene or any other! I do not know either Hebrew or George-a-Greene.

“Search me, good sir, and if you find a letter about me, let me have the punishment that’s due.”

“Why is your face muffled?” Grime said. “I like you less for that.”

“I am not, sir, ashamed to show my face, yet I am loath that my cheeks should take the air,” Wily said. “It’s not that I’m particularly caring about my beauty’s hue, but instead it’s that I’m sorely troubled with a toothache.”

Wily did not care if his face got tanned.

He unmuffled his face.

Grime looked at it and said to himself, “A pretty wench, of smiling countenance! Old men can like, although they cannot love, aye, and they can love, though not as brief as young men can.”

A young man can finish love-making quickly; it often takes longer for old men to finish. Also, old men may need more time to seduce a woman.

Grime said, “Well, go in, my wench, and speak with my daughter.”

Wily went into Grime’s house.

Alone, Grime said to himself:

“I wonder much at the Earl of Kendal: Being a mighty man, as still he is, he is yet a traitor to his king. That is more than God or man will well allow. But what a fool am I to talk about him!

“My mind is more here on the pretty lass who just went into my house. Had she brought some forty pounds to town to be her dowry, I could be content to make her my wife. Yet I have heard it said in a proverb:

“He who is old and marries with a lass,

“Lies but at home and proves himself an ass.”

Bettris, who was now wearing Wily’s clothing and whose face was muffled, exited from the house.

Her father did not recognize her.

Grime said, “How are you now, my wench! How are things with you?”

Bettris remained silent, fearing that her father would recognize her voice.

“What! Not a word?” Grime said. “Alas, poor soul, the toothache plagues her sorely.”

He then gave her a coin that was called an angel and said:

“Well, my wench, here is an angel for you to use to buy thee pins, and I ask thee to please visit my house. The oftener you visit, the more welcome you will be.


He went inside his house.

Alone, Bettris said to herself:

“Oh, blessed love, and blessed fortune both!

“But, Bettris, don’t stand here to talk of love, but instead hurry immediately to thy George-a-Greene. A roe-buck never went swifter on the downs than I will trip it until I see my George.”

“Roe” is a species of deer. A buck is a stag: a male deer.

— 3.2 —

The Earl of Kendal, Lord Bonfield, Sir Gilbert Armstrong, and Jenkin talked together in a wood near Wakefield. They were going to visit the old man whom George had spoken of.

“Come away, Jenkin,” the Earl of Kendal said.

“Come, here is his house,” Jenkin said.

He then called to the old man, “Where are you? Ho!”

The old man, who was actually George-a-Greene in disguise, answered, “Who is knocking there?”

The Earl of Kendal said, “Here are two or three poor men, father, who would speak with you.”

In this culture, people would often call an old man “father” even if the old man was not biologically their father.

The old man (George) replied, “Please, give your serving-man permission to lead me forth.”

George, as part of his disguise, was pretending to be blind.

“Go, Jenkin, fetch him forth,” the Earl of Kendal ordered.

Jenkin led forth the disguised George-a-Greene.

“Come, old man,” Jenkin said.

“Father,” the Earl of Kendal said, “here are three poor men come to question thee a word in secret that concerns their lives.”

 The Earl of Kendal, Lord Bonfield, and Sir Gilbert Armstrong were pretending to be men who were deciding whether or not to join the rebels.

“Say on, my son,” the disguised George said.

The Earl of Kendal said:

“Father, I am sure you have heard the news about how the Earl of Kendal wars against the king.

“Now, father, we three are gentlemen by birth, but we are younger brethren who lack income.”

This society followed the practice of primogeniture: The oldest son inherited the bulk of the estate. Younger sons received much less, if anything.

The Earl of Kendal continued:

“And for the hope we have to be preferred and raised in wealth and social rank that we know that we shall win if the rebellion succeeds, we will march with him, but if the rebellion will not succeed, we will not march one more foot to London.

“Therefore, good father, tell us what shall happen. Tell us whether the king or the Earl of Kendal shall win.”

“The king will win, my son,” the old man (George) said.

“Are thou sure of that?” the Earl of Kendal asked.

“Aye, I am as sure of that as I am sure that thou are Henry Momford, this man is Lord Bonfield, and the other man is Sir Gilbert Armstrong,” the old man (George) said.

“Why, this is wondrous,” the Earl of Kendal said. “Despite his being blind, his deep perceiverance — perception — is such as to know who we are.”

“Magic is mighty and foretells great matters,” Sir Gilbert Armstrong said.

He then said to the old man (George), “Indeed, father, here is the Earl of Kendal; he has come to see thee; therefore, good father, don’t fable with him — tell him the truth.”

“Welcome is the earl to my poor cell,” the old man (George) said, “and so are you, my lords; but let me counsel you to leave these wars against your king, and instead live in quiet.”

“Father, we haven’t come for advice in war, but instead to know whether we shall win or lose,” the Earl of Kendal replied.

“You shall lose, gentle lords, but not at the hands of good King Edward,” the old man (George) said. “A baser man shall foil your plans and put an end to your rebellion.”

“By the Virgin Mary, father, what man is that?” the Earl of Kendal asked.

“Poor George-a-Greene, the Pinner,” the old man (George) answered.

“What shall he do?” the Earl of Kendal asked.

“Pull all your plumes, and sorely dishonor you,” the old man (George) said.

Some helmets had plumes, and George would pluck them the way he could pluck the plumes — feathers — of a peacock. Doing that would humble the soldiers and the peacock.

“He will!” the Earl of Kendal said. “How?”

The old man (George) declined to give specific details as to how, but he emphasized that it would happen: “Nay, the end tries — proves — all; but so it will fall out.”

“But so it shall not fall out so, by my honor Christ,” the Earl of Kendal said. “I’ll rouse my soldiers, and set on fire the town of Wakefield, and take that servile, menial Pinner George-a-Greene, and butcher him before King Edward’s face.”

“My good lord, don’t be offended,” the old man (George) said, “for I speak no more than my art of prophecy reveals to me. And for greater proof, give your serving-man permission to fetch me my staff.”

“Jenkin, fetch him his walking-staff,” the Earl of Kendal ordered.

Jenkin handed the old man (George) his staff and said, “Here is your walking-staff.”

Casting aside his disguise and showing his true identity, George-a-Greene said:

“I’ll prove that my prophecy is good upon your carcasses. You never yet met a wiser wizard, nor one who better could foredoom — foretell — your fall.

“Now that I have singled you here alone, I don’t care although you are three to one.”

The three rebels had come without their troop of bodyguards.

“Villain, have thou betrayed us?” the Earl of Kendal said.

“Momford, thou lie. I was never a traitor,” George said.

He had not betrayed the Earl of Kendal because he had never joined the side of the rebels against King Edward.

George continued, “I devised this guile only to draw you on to be combatants. Now conquer me, and then march on to London, if you can. It shall go hard, but I will hold you to task.”

In other words, stopping their rebellion might be hard, but nevertheless he would do it.

“Come, my lord, be cheerful. I’ll kill him in hand-to-hand combat,” Sir Gilbert Armstrong said to the Earl of Kendal.

“I will give a thousand pounds to him who strikes the stroke that kills!” the Earl of Kendal said.

He meant the blow that would kill George-a-Greene, but George said, “Then give the thousand pounds to me, for I will have the first stroke that kills.”

The four men fought, three men against George, who killed Sir Gilbert Armstrong and made the other two men his prisoners.

“Stop, George, we do appeal,” Lord Bonfield said.

“To whom?” George asked.

“Why, to the king,” Lord Bonfield replied, “for we would rather endure what he appoints as our punishment rather than here be murdered by a servile, menial servant.”

The punishment given to traitors was almost certain to be death. As a gentleman, Lord Bonfield was proud, and he preferred to be killed at the order of a king than to be killed by a commoner.

“What will thou do with us?” the Earl of Kendal asked.

“Just as Lord Bonfield wishes,” George answered. “You shall go to the king. And, for that purpose, see where the main Justice of Wakefield is.”

The main Justice of Wakefield had been hiding nearby to witness what would occur.

Coming out of hiding, the main Justice of Wakefield said, “Now, my Lord of Kendal, where are all your threats? Even as the cause, so is the combat fallen, else one could never have conquered three.”

The reason for the rebellion was poor — the Earl of Kendal wanted to grab power, not to help the poor commoners — and therefore God had allowed George to fight against three gentlemen and be victorious. This had been a trial by combat, and God had helped the person who was in the right.

The Earl of Kendal said, “Please, Justice Woodroffe, do not twit and taunt me. If I have faulted, I must make amends.”

“Master Woodroffe, here is not a place for many words,” George said. “I beseech you, sir, to discharge all his soldiers, so that every man may go home to his own house.”

Often, the soldiers of a rebel leader were pardoned and allowed to return home as long as they swore to be loyal to the king and to cause no more trouble.

“It shall be done,” the main Justice of Wakefield said. “What will thou do, George?”

“Master Woodroffe, look after your responsibilities; leave me to myself,” George replied.

“Come, my lords,” the main Justice of Wakefield said.

Everyone except George exited.

— 3.3 —

Alone in the wood near Wakefield, George said to himself:

“Here sit thou, George, wearing a willow wreath, as one despairing of thy beauteous love.”

Willow wreathes were a symbol of unrequited love. Bettris’ father was keeping George from marrying Bettris.

He continued:

“Bah, George! No more. Don’t pine away for that which cannot be. I cannot enjoy any earthly bliss, as long as I lack my Bettris.”

Jenkin, George’s serving-man, arrived and said, “Who sees a master of mine? Has anyone seen a master of mine?”

“What is it now, sirrah!” George said. “Whither away? Where are you going?”

“Whither away!” Jenkin said. “Why, who do you take me to be?”

“Why, you are Jenkin, my serving-man,” George replied.

“I was so once indeed, but now the case is altered,” Jenkin said.

He was claiming to no longer be George’s servant.

“I ask thee, how is that true?” George said.

“Weren’t you a fortune-teller today?” Jenkin asked.

“Well, what of that?” George asked.

“So surely I have become a juggler,” Jenkin said. “What will you say if I juggle your sweetheart?”

A juggler is a magician; Jenkin was planning to conjure up Bettris for George.

Jugglers are also entertainers and tricksters.

“Be quiet, you prating losel! Shut up, you talkative good-for-nothing!” George said. “Her jealous father stands guard over her with such suspicious eyes that, if a man just dallies by her feet, he immediately thinks that the man is a witch — a magician — who intends to charm and seduce his daughter.”

“Well, what will you give me, if I bring her here?” Jenkin asked.

“An outfit of green clothing, and twenty crowns besides,” George said.

“Well, give me your permission and give me room to work,” Jenkin said. “You must also give me something that you have recently worn.”

“Here is a shirt,” George said. “Will that serve your needs?”

George gave him his shirt.

“Aye, this will serve me well,” Jenkin said, drawing a circle in the dirt. “Keep out of my circle, lest you be torn in pieces by she-devils.”

Normally, the conjurer will stay inside the circle. The dangerous devils are outside the protective circle.

Jenkin threw the shirt into the circle and conjured, “Mistress Bettris, once, twice, thrice!”

Bettris appeared from behind a tree where she had been hiding to surprise George.

Jenkin said, “Oh, isn’t this cunning?”

It was not supernatural conjuring, but it did provide a welcome surprise for George.

“Is this my love, or is it but only her shadow?” George asked.

By “shadow,” he meant apparition, aka ghost.

The day was sunny. Jenkin pointed to Bettris’ shadow on the ground and said, “Aye, this is the shadow.”

He then pointed to Bettris herself and said, “But here is the substance.”

“Tell me, sweet love,” George said to Bettris, “what good fortune brought thee here? For it was good fortune that favored George-a-Greene.”

“Both love and fortune brought me to my George, in whose sweet sight is all my heart’s content,” Bettris said.

“Tell me, sweet love, how did thou come away from thy father’s home?” George asked.

“A willing mind has many slips and tricks in love,” Bettris said, “but it was not I, but Wily, thy sweet serving-boy, who came up with the trick.”

Wily had acted without George’s knowledge; he was a good servant.

“And where is Wily now?” George asked.

“He is still wearing my apparel, and he is still in my bed-chamber,” Bettris said.

George ordered, “Jenkin, come here. Go to Bradford and listen for news about Wily, your fellow. What is happening with him?”

He then said, “Come, Bettris, let us go in, and in my cottage we will sit and talk.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce

This entry was posted in Books, David Bruce Retellings, Funny and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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