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History of Henry VI, Part II

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Act III, Scene 1

The Abbey at Bury St. Edmund’s.



  • Henry VI. I muse my Lord of Gloucester is not come:
    'Tis not his wont to be the hindmost man,
    Whate'er occasion keeps him from us now. 1280
  • Queen Margaret. Can you not see? or will ye not observe
    The strangeness of his alter'd countenance?
    With what a majesty he bears himself,
    How insolent of late he is become,
    How proud, how peremptory, and unlike himself? 1285
    We know the time since he was mild and affable,
    And if we did but glance a far-off look,
    Immediately he was upon his knee,
    That all the court admired him for submission:
    But meet him now, and, be it in the morn, 1290
    When every one will give the time of day,
    He knits his brow and shows an angry eye,
    And passeth by with stiff unbowed knee,
    Disdaining duty that to us belongs.
    Small curs are not regarded when they grin; 1295
    But great men tremble when the lion roars;
    And Humphrey is no little man in England.
    First note that he is near you in descent,
    And should you fall, he as the next will mount.
    Me seemeth then it is no policy, 1300
    Respecting what a rancorous mind he bears
    And his advantage following your decease,
    That he should come about your royal person
    Or be admitted to your highness' council.
    By flattery hath he won the commons' hearts, 1305
    And when he please to make commotion,
    'Tis to be fear'd they all will follow him.
    Now 'tis the spring, and weeds are shallow-rooted;
    Suffer them now, and they'll o'ergrow the garden
    And choke the herbs for want of husbandry. 1310
    The reverent care I bear unto my lord
    Made me collect these dangers in the duke.
    If it be fond, call it a woman's fear;
    Which fear if better reasons can supplant,
    I will subscribe and say I wrong'd the duke. 1315
    My Lord of Suffolk, Buckingham, and York,
    Reprove my allegation, if you can;
    Or else conclude my words effectual.
  • Earl of Suffolk. Well hath your highness seen into this duke;
    And, had I first been put to speak my mind, 1320
    I think I should have told your grace's tale.
    The duchess, by his subornation,
    Upon my life, began her devilish practises:
    Or, if he were not privy to those faults,
    Yet, by reputing of his high descent, 1325
    As next the king he was successive heir,
    And such high vaunts of his nobility,
    Did instigate the bedlam brain-sick duchess
    By wicked means to frame our sovereign's fall.
    Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep; 1330
    And in his simple show he harbours treason.
    The fox barks not when he would steal the lamb.
    No, no, my sovereign; Gloucester is a man
    Unsounded yet and full of deep deceit.
  • Winchester. Did he not, contrary to form of law, 1335
    Devise strange deaths for small offences done?
  • Richard Plantagenet (Duke of Gloucester). And did he not, in his protectorship,
    Levy great sums of money through the realm
    For soldiers' pay in France, and never sent it?
    By means whereof the towns each day revolted. 1340
  • Duke of Buckingham. Tut, these are petty faults to faults unknown.
    Which time will bring to light in smooth
    Duke Humphrey.
  • Henry VI. My lords, at once: the care you have of us,
    To mow down thorns that would annoy our foot, 1345
    Is worthy praise: but, shall I speak my conscience,
    Our kinsman Gloucester is as innocent
    From meaning treason to our royal person
    As is the sucking lamb or harmless dove:
    The duke is virtuous, mild and too well given 1350
    To dream on evil or to work my downfall.
  • Queen Margaret. Ah, what's more dangerous than this fond affiance!
    Seems he a dove? his feathers are but borrowed,
    For he's disposed as the hateful raven:
    Is he a lamb? his skin is surely lent him, 1355
    For he's inclined as is the ravenous wolf.
    Who cannot steal a shape that means deceit?
    Take heed, my lord; the welfare of us all
    Hangs on the cutting short that fraudful man.


  • Henry VI. Welcome, Lord Somerset. What news from France?
  • Henry VI. Cold news, Lord Somerset: but God's will be done! 1365
  • Richard Plantagenet (Duke of Gloucester). [Aside] Cold news for me; for I had hope of France
    As firmly as I hope for fertile England.
    Thus are my blossoms blasted in the bud
    And caterpillars eat my leaves away;
    But I will remedy this gear ere long, 1370
    Or sell my title for a glorious grave.


  • Duke of Gloucester. All happiness unto my lord the king!
    Pardon, my liege, that I have stay'd so long.
  • Earl of Suffolk. Nay, Gloucester, know that thou art come too soon, 1375
    Unless thou wert more loyal than thou art:
    I do arrest thee of high treason here.
  • Duke of Gloucester. Well, Suffolk, thou shalt not see me blush
    Nor change my countenance for this arrest:
    A heart unspotted is not easily daunted. 1380
    The purest spring is not so free from mud
    As I am clear from treason to my sovereign:
    Who can accuse me? wherein am I guilty?
  • Duke of Gloucester. Is it but thought so? what are they that think it?
    I never robb'd the soldiers of their pay,
    Nor ever had one penny bribe from France.
    So help me God, as I have watch'd the night, 1390
    Ay, night by night, in studying good for England,
    That doit that e'er I wrested from the king,
    Or any groat I hoarded to my use,
    Be brought against me at my trial-day!
    No; many a pound of mine own proper store, 1395
    Because I would not tax the needy commons,
    Have I disbursed to the garrisons,
    And never ask'd for restitution.
  • Winchester. It serves you well, my lord, to say so much.
  • Duke of Gloucester. Why, 'tis well known that, whiles I was
    protector, 1405
    Pity was all the fault that was in me;
    For I should melt at an offender's tears,
    And lowly words were ransom for their fault.
    Unless it were a bloody murderer,
    Or foul felonious thief that fleeced poor passengers, 1410
    I never gave them condign punishment:
    Murder indeed, that bloody sin, I tortured
    Above the felon or what trespass else.
  • Earl of Suffolk. My lord, these faults are easy, quickly answered:
    But mightier crimes are laid unto your charge, 1415
    Whereof you cannot easily purge yourself.
    I do arrest you in his highness' name;
    And here commit you to my lord cardinal
    To keep, until your further time of trial.
  • Henry VI. My lord of Gloucester, 'tis my special hope 1420
    That you will clear yourself from all suspect:
    My conscience tells me you are innocent.
  • Duke of Gloucester. Ah, gracious lord, these days are dangerous:
    Virtue is choked with foul ambition
    And charity chased hence by rancour's hand; 1425
    Foul subornation is predominant
    And equity exiled your highness' land.
    I know their complot is to have my life,
    And if my death might make this island happy,
    And prove the period of their tyranny, 1430
    I would expend it with all willingness:
    But mine is made the prologue to their play;
    For thousands more, that yet suspect no peril,
    Will not conclude their plotted tragedy.
    Beaufort's red sparkling eyes blab his heart's malice, 1435
    And Suffolk's cloudy brow his stormy hate;
    Sharp Buckingham unburthens with his tongue
    The envious load that lies upon his heart;
    And dogged York, that reaches at the moon,
    Whose overweening arm I have pluck'd back, 1440
    By false accuse doth level at my life:
    And you, my sovereign lady, with the rest,
    Causeless have laid disgraces on my head,
    And with your best endeavour have stirr'd up
    My liefest liege to be mine enemy: 1445
    Ay, all you have laid your heads together—
    Myself had notice of your conventicles—
    And all to make away my guiltless life.
    I shall not want false witness to condemn me,
    Nor store of treasons to augment my guilt; 1450
    The ancient proverb will be well effected:
    'A staff is quickly found to beat a dog.'
  • Winchester. My liege, his railing is intolerable:
    If those that care to keep your royal person
    From treason's secret knife and traitors' rage 1455
    Be thus upbraided, chid and rated at,
    And the offender granted scope of speech,
    'Twill make them cool in zeal unto your grace.
  • Earl of Suffolk. Hath he not twit our sovereign lady here
    With ignominious words, though clerkly couch'd, 1460
    As if she had suborned some to swear
    False allegations to o'erthrow his state?
  • Duke of Gloucester. Far truer spoke than meant: I lose, indeed;
    Beshrew the winners, for they play'd me false! 1465
    And well such losers may have leave to speak.
  • Duke of Buckingham. He'll wrest the sense and hold us here all day:
    Lord cardinal, he is your prisoner.
  • Winchester. Sirs, take away the duke, and guard him sure.
  • Duke of Gloucester. Ah! thus King Henry throws away his crutch 1470
    Before his legs be firm to bear his body.
    Thus is the shepherd beaten from thy side,
    And wolves are gnarling who shall gnaw thee first.
    Ah, that my fear were false! ah, that it were!
    For, good King Henry, thy decay I fear. 1475

[Exit, guarded]

  • Henry VI. My lords, what to your wisdoms seemeth best,
    Do or undo, as if ourself were here.
  • Henry VI. Ay, Margaret; my heart is drown'd with grief, 1480
    Whose flood begins to flow within mine eyes,
    My body round engirt with misery,
    For what's more miserable than discontent?
    Ah, uncle Humphrey! in thy face I see
    The map of honour, truth and loyalty: 1485
    And yet, good Humphrey, is the hour to come
    That e'er I proved thee false or fear'd thy faith.
    What louring star now envies thy estate,
    That these great lords and Margaret our queen
    Do seek subversion of thy harmless life? 1490
    Thou never didst them wrong, nor no man wrong;
    And as the butcher takes away the calf
    And binds the wretch, and beats it when it strays,
    Bearing it to the bloody slaughter-house,
    Even so remorseless have they borne him hence; 1495
    And as the dam runs lowing up and down,
    Looking the way her harmless young one went,
    And can do nought but wail her darling's loss,
    Even so myself bewails good Gloucester's case
    With sad unhelpful tears, and with dimm'd eyes 1500
    Look after him and cannot do him good,
    So mighty are his vowed enemies.
    His fortunes I will weep; and, 'twixt each groan
    Say 'Who's a traitor? Gloucester he is none.'
    [Exeunt all but QUEEN MARGARET, CARDINAL,] 1505
    SUFFOLK, and YORK; SOMERSET remains apart]
  • Queen Margaret. Free lords, cold snow melts with the sun's hot beams.
    Henry my lord is cold in great affairs,
    Too full of foolish pity, and Gloucester's show
    Beguiles him as the mournful crocodile 1510
    With sorrow snares relenting passengers,
    Or as the snake roll'd in a flowering bank,
    With shining chequer'd slough, doth sting a child
    That for the beauty thinks it excellent.
    Believe me, lords, were none more wise than I— 1515
    And yet herein I judge mine own wit good—
    This Gloucester should be quickly rid the world,
    To rid us of the fear we have of him.
  • Winchester. That he should die is worthy policy;
    But yet we want a colour for his death: 1520
    'Tis meet he be condemn'd by course of law.
  • Earl of Suffolk. But, in my mind, that were no policy:
    The king will labour still to save his life,
    The commons haply rise, to save his life;
    And yet we have but trivial argument, 1525
    More than mistrust, that shows him worthy death.
  • Richard Plantagenet (Duke of Gloucester). 'Tis York that hath more reason for his death.
    But, my lord cardinal, and you, my Lord of Suffolk, 1530
    Say as you think, and speak it from your souls,
    Were't not all one, an empty eagle were set
    To guard the chicken from a hungry kite,
    As place Duke Humphrey for the king's protector?
  • Earl of Suffolk. Madam, 'tis true; and were't not madness, then,
    To make the fox surveyor of the fold?
    Who being accused a crafty murderer,
    His guilt should be but idly posted over,
    Because his purpose is not executed. 1540
    No; let him die, in that he is a fox,
    By nature proved an enemy to the flock,
    Before his chaps be stain'd with crimson blood,
    As Humphrey, proved by reasons, to my liege.
    And do not stand on quillets how to slay him: 1545
    Be it by gins, by snares, by subtlety,
    Sleeping or waking, 'tis no matter how,
    So he be dead; for that is good deceit
    Which mates him first that first intends deceit.
  • Earl of Suffolk. Not resolute, except so much were done;
    For things are often spoke and seldom meant:
    But that my heart accordeth with my tongue,
    Seeing the deed is meritorious,
    And to preserve my sovereign from his foe, 1555
    Say but the word, and I will be his priest.
  • Winchester. But I would have him dead, my Lord of Suffolk,
    Ere you can take due orders for a priest:
    Say you consent and censure well the deed,
    And I'll provide his executioner, 1560
    I tender so the safety of my liege.

[Enter a Post]

  • Post. Great lords, from Ireland am I come amain,
    To signify that rebels there are up
    And put the Englishmen unto the sword:
    Send succors, lords, and stop the rage betime, 1570
    Before the wound do grow uncurable;
    For, being green, there is great hope of help.
  • Winchester. A breach that craves a quick expedient stop!
    What counsel give you in this weighty cause?
  • Duke/Earl of Somerset. If York, with all his far-fet policy,
    Had been the regent there instead of me,
    He never would have stay'd in France so long. 1580
  • Richard Plantagenet (Duke of Gloucester). No, not to lose it all, as thou hast done:
    I rather would have lost my life betimes
    Than bring a burthen of dishonour home
    By staying there so long till all were lost.
    Show me one scar character'd on thy skin: 1585
    Men's flesh preserved so whole do seldom win.
  • Queen Margaret. Nay, then, this spark will prove a raging fire,
    If wind and fuel be brought to feed it with:
    No more, good York; sweet Somerset, be still:
    Thy fortune, York, hadst thou been regent there, 1590
    Might happily have proved far worse than his.
  • Winchester. My Lord of York, try what your fortune is.
    The uncivil kerns of Ireland are in arms 1595
    And temper clay with blood of Englishmen:
    To Ireland will you lead a band of men,
    Collected choicely, from each county some,
    And try your hap against the Irishmen?
  • Earl of Suffolk. Why, our authority is his consent,
    And what we do establish he confirms:
    Then, noble York, take thou this task in hand.
  • Earl of Suffolk. A charge, Lord York, that I will see perform'd.
    But now return we to the false Duke Humphrey.
  • Winchester. No more of him; for I will deal with him
    That henceforth he shall trouble us no more.
    And so break off; the day is almost spent: 1610
    Lord Suffolk, you and I must talk of that event.

[Exeunt all but YORK]

  • Richard Plantagenet (Duke of Gloucester). Now, York, or never, steel thy fearful thoughts,
    And change misdoubt to resolution:
    Be that thou hopest to be, or what thou art
    Resign to death; it is not worth the enjoying: 1620
    Let pale-faced fear keep with the mean-born man,
    And find no harbour in a royal heart.
    Faster than spring-time showers comes thought
    on thought,
    And not a thought but thinks on dignity. 1625
    My brain more busy than the labouring spider
    Weaves tedious snares to trap mine enemies.
    Well, nobles, well, 'tis politicly done,
    To send me packing with an host of men:
    I fear me you but warm the starved snake, 1630
    Who, cherish'd in your breasts, will sting
    your hearts.
    'Twas men I lack'd and you will give them me:
    I take it kindly; and yet be well assured
    You put sharp weapons in a madman's hands. 1635
    Whiles I in Ireland nourish a mighty band,
    I will stir up in England some black storm
    Shall blow ten thousand souls to heaven or hell;
    And this fell tempest shall not cease to rage
    Until the golden circuit on my head, 1640
    Like to the glorious sun's transparent beams,
    Do calm the fury of this mad-bred flaw.
    And, for a minister of my intent,
    I have seduced a headstrong Kentishman,
    John Cade of Ashford, 1645
    To make commotion, as full well he can,
    Under the title of John Mortimer.
    In Ireland have I seen this stubborn Cade
    Oppose himself against a troop of kerns,
    And fought so long, till that his thighs with darts 1650
    Were almost like a sharp-quill'd porpentine;
    And, in the end being rescued, I have seen
    Him caper upright like a wild Morisco,
    Shaking the bloody darts as he his bells.
    Full often, like a shag-hair'd crafty kern, 1655
    Hath he conversed with the enemy,
    And undiscover'd come to me again
    And given me notice of their villanies.
    This devil here shall be my substitute;
    For that John Mortimer, which now is dead, 1660
    In face, in gait, in speech, he doth resemble:
    By this I shall perceive the commons' mind,
    How they affect the house and claim of York.
    Say he be taken, rack'd and tortured,
    I know no pain they can inflict upon him 1665
    Will make him say I moved him to those arms.
    Say that he thrive, as 'tis great like he will,
    Why, then from Ireland come I with my strength
    And reap the harvest which that rascal sow'd;
    For Humphrey being dead, as he shall be, 1670
    And Henry put apart, the next for me.