David Bruce: GEORGE-A-GREENE, THE PINNER OF WAKEFIELD: A Retelling — Cast of Characters, Act 1


Edward, King of England.

James, King of Scotland.

The English Rebels:

Earl of Kendal.

Lord Bonfield.

Sir Gilbert Armstrong.

Sir Nicholas Mannering.

Other English Characters:

Earl of Warwick.


Jenkin, George-a-Greene’s serving-man.

Wily, George-a-Greene’s serving-boy.

William Musgrove.

Cuddy, son to Musgrove.


Bettris, daughter to Grime.


Ned-a-Barley, son to Jane.

Main Justice of Wakefield. His name is Woodroffe.

Other Scottish Characters:

Lord Humes.

John Taylor, messenger to King James.

Robin Hood’s Gang:

Robin Hood.

Much, the Miller’s Son.

Will Scarlet.

Maid Marian.

Townsmen, Shoemakers, Soldiers, Messengers, etc.


In the play, George-a-Greene meets and befriends Robin Hood, and so the time of the play is perhaps during the reign of King Richard I: Richard the Lionheart. (While King Richard I was away on a Crusade, Prince John, who later became King John, ruled England.) The anonymous author, however, uses the generic names Edward for the King of England and James for the King of Scotland. The anonymous author of the play does not much — or at all — concern himself with historical accuracy.

KING RICHARD I: 1189-1199

He was also known as Richard the Lionheart because of his military prowess as a leader and soldier. He was a Christian commander in the Third Crusade. As king, he spent little time in England. Much of his time was spent defending his lands in France. He also spent time in captivity.

KING JOHN: 1199-1216

He was also known as John Lackland because he lost the Duchy of Normandy and most of his lands in France. In 1215, he signed the Magna Carta. John is a bad man in Robin Hood stories.


A Pinner, aka Pinder, catches stray animals such as sheep and horses and puts them in an enclosed area called a pin-fold.

In this society, a person of higher rank would use “thou,” “thee,” “thine,” and “thy” when referring to a person of lower rank. (These terms were also used affectionately and between equals.) A person of lower rank would use “you” and “your” when referring to a person of higher rank.

“Sirrah” was a title used to address someone of a social rank inferior to the speaker. Friends, however, could use it to refer to each other.

Thomas à Kempis (or Thomas a Kempis) means Thomas of Kempen (or Thomas from Kempen). Kempen is the town where he lived. Thomas à Becket (or Thomas a Becket) means Thomas of the Beckets; his father was Gilbert Beket. (Spelling was not standardized in the Middle Ages.) George-a-Greene is George à Greene (or George a Greene), aka George of the Greenes.

  • Peter Lukacs has an excellent annotated edition of the play at ElizabethanDrama.org:



— 1.1 —

The Earl of Kendal met with Lord Bonfield, Sir Gilbert Armstrong, Sir Nicholas Mannering, and John Taylor (a messenger of King James of Scotland) at the town of Bradford, about 300 miles north of London. Bradford was also about twenty miles from the town of Wakefield. All of these men were planning a rebellion against the King of England, and the Earl of Kendal was their leader.

“Welcome to Bradford, martial, warlike gentlemen, Lord Bonfield and Sir Gilbert Armstrong both,” the Earl of Kendal said. “And to all my troops, even to my lowest servant, courage and welcome! For the day is ours. Victory is assured. Our cause is good: It is for the land’s benefit. So then let us fight and die for England’s good.”

“We will, my lord,” all the others said.

He replied, “As I am Henry Momford, the Earl of Kendal, you honor me with this assent of yours. And here upon my sword I swear to relieve the poor or die myself. And know, my lords, that James, the King of Scots, wars hard upon the borders of this land.”

King James of Scotland was already fighting against the English counties bordering Scotland.

The Earl of Kendal continued:

“Here is his post-messenger.

“Tell us, John Taylor, what is the news regarding King James?”

“War, my lord, I tell, and good news, I believe,” John Taylor said. “For King Jamy vows to meet you the twenty-sixth of this month, God willing; by the Virgin Mary, he vows this, sir.”

“My friends, you see what assistance we have to win our fight,” the Earl of Kendal said.

He said to John Taylor, “Well, John, commend me to King James, and tell him that I will meet him the twenty-sixth of this month, and tell him all the rest; and so, farewell.”

John Taylor exited.

The Earl of Kendal said, “Bonfield, why do thou stand like a man in the dumps? Why are you melancholic? Have courage! For, if I win, I’ll make thee a duke. I — Henry Momford — will be King of England myself. I will make thee Duke of Lancaster, and I will make Gilbert Armstrong Lord of Doncaster.”

Lord Bonfield replied, “Nothing, my lord, makes me dismayed at all, except that our soldiers find our food scanty. We must make havoc against the local country peasants because if we do that the rest of the peasants will tremble and be afraid, and they will humbly send provisions to your camp.”

The rebels needed to take what they needed by force. By making an example of a few countrymen, they could convince the other countrymen to give the rebels what they needed.

“My Lord Bonfield gives good advice,” Sir Gilbert Armstrong said. “The country peasants scorn us and remain loyal to the King of England, so what provisions are brought to us are sent from them by force. Ask Mannering whether that is the case.”

“What do thou say, Mannering?” the Earl of Kendal asked.

Sir Nicholas Mannering answered, “When I showed the countrymen your high commission demanding provisions, they made this answer: They would send provisions for your horses only.”

“Well, hurry to the town of Wakefield,” the Earl of Kendal said, “and tell the town to send me all the provisions that I want, lest I, like martial Tamburlaine, lay waste their bordering countries, leaving alive no one who won’t fulfill my commission. Those who don’t give me what I want will die.”

Tamburlaine was an emperor who made war and ruthlessly killed those who opposed him and ruthlessly killed innocent people.

“Leave it to me,” Sir Nicholas Mannering said. “I’ll make them lower their plumes — their hats — and bow to you, for whoever he is — the proudest knight, justice of the peace, or any other man who refuses to carry out your order — I’ll quickly take him prisoner, in order to make the rest fear to resist your orders.”

“Do so, Nick,” the Earl of Kendal said. “Hurry to Wakefield immediately and let us hear from thee again tomorrow.”

“Aren’t you going to move your camp, my lord?” Sir Nicholas Mannering asked.

“No, I will stay at Bradford all this night and all the next,” the Earl of Kendal said.

He then said, “Bonfield, let’s go and listen for news of some bonny lasses here.”

— 1.2 —

At Wakefield, the main Justice of Wakefield, the other justices of Wakefield, some townsmen, and George-a-Greene were meeting with Sir Nicholas Mannering, who had presented them with his commission. Sir Nicholas was demanding provisions, and now the people of Wakefield were deciding whether to give him those provisions.

The main Justice of Wakefield said, “Master Mannering, stand aside, while we confer about what is best for us to do.”

Sir Nicholas Mannering stepped aside.

The main Justice of Wakefield said to the Wakefield citizens, “Townsmen of Wakefield, the Earl of Kendal here has sent for food and other provisions. If we aid him, we show ourselves to be no less than traitors to Edward our king; therefore, let me hear, townsmen, what is your opinion.”

The first townsman said, “Even as you please, we are all content. We agree with you that to help the Earl of Kendal will make us traitors to our king.”

The main Justice of Wakefield then said to Sir Nicholas Mannering, “So then, Master Mannering, we have decided —”

Sir Nicholas Mannering interrupted, “— have decided what?”

“By the Virgin Mary, sir, we have decided this,” the main Justice of Wakefield said. “We will send the Earl of Kendal no food and no other provisions because he is a traitor to the king; and in aiding him we would show ourselves to be no less than traitors, too.”

Sir Nicholas Mannering replied:

“Why, men of Wakefield, have you grown mad, so that present and immediate danger cannot sharpen your wits and cannot make you wisely take action to save yourselves and your town?

“The Earl of Kendal’s army is thirty thousand men strong, and whatsoever town resists him, he lays it flat and level with the ground. You foolish men, you seek your own destruction.

“Therefore, send my lord such food and provisions as he wants, so he will spare your town, and come no nearer to Wakefield than he is.”

The main Justice of Wakefield replied, “Master Mannering, you have your answer. You may be gone.”

Sir Nicholas Mannering replied, “Well, Woodroffe, for so I guess is thy name, I’ll make thee curse thy hostile refusal to supply provisions, and all who sit upon the bench this day shall rue the hour they have rejected my lord’s commission.”

“Do thy worst,” the main Justice of Wakefield said. “We don’t fear thee.”

“Do you see these seals on the commission?” Sir Nicholas Mannering said. “Before you cause the town to act against its own interests, I will have all the things my lord wants, in spite of you.”

George-a-Greene, the Pinner of Wakefield, said, “You proud, dapper Jack, take off your hat to show respect to the bench that represents the person of the king. Or, sirrah, I’ll cut off thy head and lay it before thy feet.”

“Why, who are thou?” Sir Nicholas Mannering asked.

“Why, I am George-a-Greene, true liege-man and loyal subject to my king, who scorns that men of such esteem as these should endure the boasts of any traitorous squire.”

George was insulting him by speaking to him in this manner. George was a yeoman, a rank lower than a gentleman. A knight ranked much more highly than a yeoman.

George then said to his fellow countrymen, “You of the bench, and you, my fellow-friends, neighbors, we are all subjects to the king. We are English born, and therefore Edward’s friends. We vowed loyalty to him even when we were in our mothers’ womb. We vowed our minds to God and our hearts to our king. Our wealth, our homage, and our bodies are all King Edward’s.”

He then said to the rebel Sir Nicholas Mannering, “So then, sirrah, we have nothing left for traitors except our swords, which are sharpened so we can bathe them in your bloods, and die fighting against you, before we send you any food.”

“Well spoken, George-a-Greene!” the main Justice of Wakefield said.

“Please let George-a-Greene speak for us,” the first townsman said.

George-a-Greene said to the rebel Sir Nicholas Mannering, “Sirrah, you get no food here, not even if a hoof of beef would save your lives.”

A hoof has little, if any, edible portion.

“Fellow, I stand amazed at thy presumption,” Sir Nicholas Mannering replied. “Why, who are thou who dares deny my lord, knowing his mighty power and the stroke of his sword? Why, my friend, I come not solely on my own authority. For, see, I have a large commission.”

“Let me see it, sirrah,” George-a-Greene said.

He took the commission and asked, “Whose seals are these?”

Pointing to the seals in turn, Sir Nicholas Mannering answered, “This is the Earl of Kendal’s seal-at-arms. This is Lord Charnel Bonfield’s, and this is Sir Gilbert Armstrong’s.”

George-a-Greene said, “I tell thee, sirrah, even if good King Edward’s son should seal a commission against the king his father, thus would I tear it up in despite of him who is being a traitor to my sovereign.”

He tore up the commission.

“What! Have thou torn my lord’s commission?” Sir Nicholas Mannering said. “Thou shall rue it, and so shall all Wakefield.”

“What, are you in choler?” George-a-Greene said. “Are you angry? I will give you pills to cool your stomach. Do thou see these seals? Now, by the soul of my father, who was a respectable yeoman when he was alive, eat the seals, or eat my dagger’s point, proud squire.”

The seals were made of wax; eating the seals would hurt only Sir Nicholas Mannering’s pride.

George’s father was a yeoman: a land-owning farmer.

George was threatening to stab Sir Nicholas Mannering.

“But thou do but jest, I hope,” Sir Nicholas Mannering said.

Knights regarded it as beneath their dignity to fight people who were lowly born.

“To be sure, that you shall see before we two part,” George-a-Greene said.

“Well, if there is no remedy, I do so, George,” Sir Nicholas Mannering said.

He swallowed one of the seals and said, “One is gone; please, no more now.”

“Oh, sir, if one is good, then the others cannot hurt,” George-a-Greene said.

Sir Nicholas Mannering swallowed the other two seals.

George-a-Greene said, “So, sir, now you may go tell the Earl of Kendal that although I have torn his large commission, yet out of courtesy I have sent all his seals back to him again by you.”

“Well, sir, I will do your errand,” Sir Nicholas Mannering said.

He exited.

George-a-Greene said to the main Justice of Wakefield and his fellow townsmen, “Now let him tell his lord that he has spoken with George-a-Greene, the right — true — Pinner of the merry town of Wakefield. I have medicine for a fool — I have pills for a traitor who wrongs his sovereign.”

He then asked the main Justice of Wakefield and his fellow townsmen, “Are you content with this action that I have done?”

The main Justice of Wakefield answered:

“Aye, we are content, George, for thou have highly honored the town of Wakefield in cutting off proud Mannering so short.

“Come, George, thou shall be my welcome guest today, for well have thou deserved reward and favor.”

— 1.3 —

In Westmoreland, William Musgrove and his son, Cuddy, talked together. Westmoreland is an English county approximately 60 miles south of Scotland and 100 miles northwest of Wakefield. William Musgrove and Cuddy were Englishmen, and they were loyal to King Edward.

Cuddy Musgrove said, “Now, gentle father, listen to thy son, and for my mother’s love, who formerly was blithe and bonny in thine eye, grant to me one thing that I shall request.”

“What is that, my Cuddy?” William Musgrove asked.

“Father, you know the ancient and recent enmity between the Musgroves and the wily Scots, who have taken an oath not to leave one alive who bestrides a lance.”

The Scots had sworn an oath to kill even the children of the Musgroves — children who play by bestriding a stick and pretending it is a hobby-horse.

If “lance” is a code word for “penis,” then the threat was that the Scots would kill every male.

Cuddy continued, “Oh, father, you are old, and waning, declining age is taking you to the grave. You are nearing death. Old William Musgrove, who once was thought to be the bravest horseman in all Westmoreland, is weak, and forced to rest his arm upon a cane, his arm that once could wield a lance.

“So then, gentle father, resign the hold to me. Turn over the family property to me. Give arms to youth, and honor to age.”

William Musgrove said:

“Get lost, false-hearted boy!

“My joints do quake even with anguish of thy very words. Has William Musgrove seen a hundred years?”

He had reached 100 years old.

He continued:

“Have I been feared and dreaded by the Scots, so that, when they heard my name in any inroad into England, they fled away, and rode quickly back to Scotland? And shall I die with shame now in my old age?

“No, Cuddy, no. Thus I resolve: Here have I lived, and here will I — Musgrove — die.”

— 1.4 —

At Bradford, where the rebel army was staying, Lord Bonfield, Sir Gilbert Armstrong, Grime, and Bettris (Grime’s daughter) stood together. Grime had provided a good meal for the rebels Lord Bonfield and Sir Gilbert Armstrong.

“Now, gentle Grime, God-a-mercy — thank you — for our good meal,” Lord Bonfield said.

“God-a-mercy” means “God have mercy.” It was a way of saying, “Thank you.”

Lord Bonfield continued, “Our fare was royal, and our welcome great, and since so kindly thou has welcomed, entertained, and fed us, if we return with fortunate victory, we will deal as friendly with thee in recompense for how you have dealt with us.”

“Your welcome was just my duty, gentle lord,” Grime said, “for why have we been given our wealth but to make our betters welcome when they come?”

Grime, who was loyal to King Edward of England, said to himself, “Oh, things are bad when traitors must be flattered! But life is sweet, and I cannot avoid flattering them. God, I hope, will revenge the quarrel against my king.”

“What did you say, Grime?” Sir Gilbert Armstrong, one of the traitors, asked.

“I say, Sir Gilbert, looking on my daughter, I curse the hour that I ever begot the girl,” Grime said, “for, sir, she could have many wealthy suitors, and yet she disdains them all, in order to have poor George-a-Greene as her husband.”

As a Pinner, a catcher of stray animals, George-a-Greene was not wealthy.

Lord Bonfield, who was interested in Bettris, Grime’s daughter, said:

“On that subject, good Grime, I have been talking with thy daughter, but she, in the quirks and quiddities — the idiosyncrasies — of love, sets me to school and tries to educate me because she is so over-wise and precocious.”

He then said to Bettris:

“But, gentle girl, if thou will forsake the Pinner and be my love, I will advance thee high in society and will dignify your hair of amber — golden — hue. I’ll grace your hair with a coronet made of pearl, set with choice rubies, small sparkling gems, and diamonds, planted upon a velvet hood, to hide that head in which two sapphires — your eyes — burn like sparkling fire.

“This will I do, fair Bettris, and far more, if thou will love the Lord of Doncaster.”

The Earl of Kendal had promised to make Lord Bonfield the Lord of Doncaster if the rebellion were successful.

Bettris teased Lord Bonfield by saying:

“Ho-hum! My heart is in a higher place, perhaps on the Earl of Kendal, if that is him coming.

“See where he comes. He is either angry, or in love, for those must be the reasons why his color makes him look unhappy.”

The Earl of Kendal and Sir Nicholas Mannering entered the room. Sir Nicholas Mannering had informed — with some exaggeration — the rebel leader about how he was treated at Wakefield.

“Come, Nick, follow me,” the Earl of Kendal said.

“How are you now, my lord!” Lord Bonfield said. “What is the news?”

The Earl of Kendal replied:

“It is such news, Bonfield, as will make thee laugh, and fret thy fill, when you hear how Nick was treated.

“Why, the justices stand on their terms and will not change their minds and give us food and other provisions.

“Nick, as you know, is proud in his words. He laid the law to the justices with threatening, boastful words, so that one justice looked at another, ready to stoop and bow down to us, except that a churl, one George-a-Greene, the Pinner of the town, came in and with his dagger drawn laid hands on Nick.”

Sir Nicholas Mannering was exaggerating. The justices and townspeople had never been about to submit to and aid the rebels. And although George-a-Greene had made threats against Sir Nicholas, he had not drawn his knife or laid hands on him.

The Earl of Kendal continued:

“And by no beggars George-a-Greene swore that we were traitors.”

George-a-Greene had made a serious oath. He had not sworn by beggars.

The Earl of Kendal continued:

“He tore our commission, and he made a threat, forcing Nick to choose whether to eat the seals or endure being stabbed.

“Poor Mannering, afraid, came riding here immediately.”

Bettris said, “Oh, lovely George, make Lady Fortune be always thy friend! And as thy thoughts be high, so be thy mind in all accords, even to thy heart’s desire!”

Lord Bonfield said, “What is pretty Bettris saying?”

Grime said, “My lord, she is praying for George-a-Greene. He is the man she wants, and she will have no one but him.”

“No one but him!” Lord Bonfield said. “Why, look upon me, my girl. Thou know that last night I courted thee, and I swore at my return to wed thee. So then tell me, love, shall I possess all thy beauty?”

“I don’t care for an earl, nor do I care for a knight, nor for a baron who is so bold,” Bettris said. “I do care for George-a-Greene, the merry Pinner. He has imprisoned my heart. It is no longer free to love anyone but him.”

Lord Bonfield said to the Earl of Kendal, “It is useless, my lord, for me to make many vain replies to her. Let us hurry to Wakefield and send her the Pinner’s head.”

“It shall be so,” the Earl of Kendal said. “We shall do that.”

He then said, “Grime, gramercy — many thanks. Shut up thy daughter, keep her enclosed, and bridle her affections. Let me not miss her when I return; make sure that I see her. Therefore, look after her as you look after thy life, good Grime.”

“I assure you that I will, my lord,” Grime replied.

The Earl of Kendal said, “And, Bettris, leave a lowly born Pinner and instead love an earl.”

Grime and Bettris exited.

Also, the Earl of Kendal said to himself:

“Gladly would I see this Pinner George-a-Greene.

“It shall be thus: Nick Mannering shall lead on the army in my absence, and we three — Lord Bonfield, Sir Gilbert Armstrong, and I — will go to Wakefield in some disguise.

“But one way or another, I’ll have George-a-Greene’s head today.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s