The Archbishop of York and other chiefs of the rebellion have led their troops to a wooded area of Yorkshire, in northern England. “What is this forest called?” he asks.
“’Tis Gaultree Forest, an’t shall please Your Grace,” says Hastings.
“Here stand, my lords,” orders the archbishop, as he dismounts, “and send discoverers forth to know the numbers of our enemies.”
“We have sent forth already,” Hastings tells him; the scouts have ridden toward the king’s forces.
“’Tis well done.” But before the ranks of soldiers are moved forward to take up positions, he confers with their commanders.
“My friends and brethren in these great affairs, I must acquaint you that I have received new-dated letters from Northumberland, their cold intent, tenor and substance thus: here doth he wish his person, with such powers as might hold sortance with his quality—the which he could not levy!” The other lords realize, with anger and disgust, that their ally has deserted them.
“Whereupon he is retired, to ripen his growing fortunes, to Scotland!—and concludes with hearty prayers that our attempts may overlive the hazard and fearful meeting of their opposite!”
Mowbray is appalled. “Thus do the high hopes we had in him touch ground and dash themselves to pieces!”
One of the scouts is returning; he rides up to the noblemen and dismounts.
“Now what news?” demands Hastings.
“West of this forest, scarcely off a mile, in goodly form comes on the enemy!—and, by the ground they hide, I judge their number upon or near the rate of thirty thousand!”
“Just the proportion that we gave them out,” notes Mowbray. “Let us sway on, and face them in the field!”
An emissary in armor approaches from the king’s army on horseback, under a staff flying a white flag.
“What well-appointed leader fronts us here?” asks the archbishop, watching the rider and his two attendants.
“I think it is my lord of Westmoreland,” says Mowbray.
The nobleman comes to Mowbray. “Health and fair greeting from our general, the prince—Lord John, and Duke of Lancaster!”
The archbishop speaks. “Say on, my lord of Westmoreland, in peace. What doth concern your coming.”
Westmoreland turns to the churchman. “Then, my lord, unto Your Grace do I in chief address the substance of my speech.
“If rebellion came like itself—in base and abject routs led on by bloody youth, guarded with rags, and countenanced by boys in beggary!—I say, if damnèd commotion so appeared, in its true, native and most proper shape—you, reverend father, and these noble lords, had not been here, to dress the ugly form of base and bloody insurrection with your fair honours!
“You, lord archbishop—whose jurisdiction is by the civil peace maintained, whose beard the silver hand of peace hath touchèd, whose learning and good letters hath tutored peace, whose white vestments figure innocence, the dove and very blessèd spirit of peace!—wherefore do you so ill-translate yourself out of the speech of peace, that bears such grace, into the harsh and boisterous tongue of war?—turning your books to graves, your ink to blood, your pens to lances, and your divine language into a trumpet and a signal for war?”
The archbishop is defiant. “Wherefore do I this?—so the question stands.
“Briefly, to this end: we are all diseasèd, and through our surfeiting in wanton hours have brought ourselves into a burning fever—of which disease our late King Richard, being infected, died! And we must bleed for it!
“But, my most noble lord of Westmoreland, I take nought on me here as a physician, nor do I as an enemy to peace troop in the throngs of military men, but rather show awhile as fear-inspiring War to diet rank minds sick from good fortune, and purge the obstructions which begin to stop-up our very veins of life!”
Westmoreland’s scorn shows; war is a harsh medicine for political indigestion.
“Hear me more plainly,” says the archbishop. “I have in equal balance justly weighed what wrongs our arms may do, what wrongs we suffer—and find our griefs heavier than our offences.
“We see which way the stream of time doth run, and are enforcèd from our most quiet theme by the rough torrent of occasion!—and we have the summary of all our griefs, when time shall serve, to show in articles,”—written complaints, “which long ere this we offered to the king, but might by no suit gain our audience! When we are wronged and would unfold our griefs, we are denied access unto his person, even by those men that have done us most wrong!
“The dangers of the days whose memory is written on the earth with yet-appearing blood are but newly gone, and the example of every minute’s present instance now hath put us in these ill-beseeming arms, not to break peace, or any branch of it, but to establish here a peace indeed, concurring in both name and quality!”
Westmoreland scoffs. “When ever yet was your appeal denied? Wherein have you been gallèd by the king?
“What peer hath been suborned to greaten you, that you should seal this lawless, bloody, forgèd book of rebellion with a seal divine, and consecrate commotion’s bitter edge?”
“My brother in general—the commonwealth!” is the archbishop’s answer. “I make my quarrel in particular for a brother torn in a household of cruelty!” While the priest had supported Richard’s overthrow, his brother, the Earl of Wiltshire, did not; he was executed by Bolingbroke’s forces at Bristow.
Westmoreland shakes his head. “There is no need of any such redress!—or if there were, it belongs not to you!”
“Why not to him, in part?” demands Mowbray, “and to us all that felt the bruises of the days before, and suffer the condition of these times to lay a heavy and unequal hand upon our honours!”
Westmoreland regards him dourly. “Oh, my good Lord Mowbray, construe the times as they require and you shall say, indeed, it is the time, and not the king, that doth you injuries!
“Yet for your part, it not appears to me that you should have an inch of any ground to build a grief on, from either the king’s early time or in the present! Were you not restored to all the Duke of Norfolk’s signories, your noble and right-well-remembered father’s?”
“What thing in honour had my father lost that need be revived and breathèd into me?” counters Mowbray. “The king that loved him as the state stood then”—Richard II—“was force-perforce compelled to banish him!”—by Lord Bolingbroke’s challenge to duel.
He remembers his father’s preparing for single combat in chivalry, a fight using lances. “And when Harry Bolingbroke and he, being mounted and both rousèd in their seats, their neighing coursers daring the spur, their armèd staves in charge, their visors down, their eyes afire sparking through slits in steel, and the loud trumpet blowing them together—then, then, when there was nothing could have stayed my father from the breast of Bolingbroke—!”
He flushes, feeling yet again a deep frustration over Richard’s sudden intervention. “Oh, when the king did throw his warder down, his own life hung upon the staff he threw!—then threw he down himself, and all their lives that, by indictment and by dint of sword, have since miscarried under Bolingbroke!”—today, King Henry IV.
“You speak now, Lord Mowbray, you know not what!” says Westmoreland. “The Earl of Hereford”—Henry—“was reputed then the most valiant gentlemen in England!
“Who knows on whom Fortune would have smiled? But if your father had been victor there, he ne’er had borne it out of Coventry!—for all the country in a general voice cried hate upon him!—and all their prayers and love were set on Hereford, whom they doted on, and blessed, and graced indeed more than the king!
“But this is mere digression from my purpose.
“Here come I from our princely general to know your griefs, and to tell you from his grace that he will give you audience. Wherein it shall appear that your demands are just, you shall enjoy them, everything set aside that you might so much as think enmities!”
Mowbray snorts. “He hath but by force been compelled to offer us this!—and it proceeds from policy, not love!”
“Mowbray, you overween to take it so! This offer comes from mercy, not from fear! For, lo!—within sight our army lies, all, upon mine honour, too confident to give admittance to a thought of fear! Our force is more full of names”—noblemen—“than yours, our men more perfected in the use of arms, our armour all as strong, our cause the best! Thus reason will say our hearts should be as good!
“Say you not then our offer is compellèd!”
“Well, by my will we shall admit no parley!” growls Mowbray.
“That argues but the shame of your offence!” says Westmoreland contemptuously. “A rotten case abides no handling.”
Lord Hastings asks, “Hath Prince John a full commission, in every ample virtue of his father, to hear and absolutely to determine what conditions we shall stand upon?”—not fight.
The emissary is annoyed. “That is implicit in the general’s name! I muse you make so slight a question!”
The Archbishop of York offers a folded sheet of paper. “Then take, my lord of Westmoreland, this schedule, for it contains our general grievances.
“If each several article herein be redressed—all members of our cause, both here and hence, that are insinewed to this action, repaid by a true, substantial form, and immediate execution of our wills to us—and to our purposes confinèd—we will come within our respective banks again,”—return home, “and knit our powers to the army of peace.”
Westmoreland takes the document. “This will I show the general.
”Please it you, lords, in sight of both our armies we may meet, and either end in peace—which God so frame!—or to the place of difference call the swords which must decide it!”
“My lord, we will do so,” says the archbishop.
Westmoreland and his men return to Prince John.
Mowbray is frowning as they ride away. “There is a thing within my bosom tells me that no conditions of our peace can stand.”
“Fear you not that,” says Hastings. “If we can make our peace upon such large terms, ones so absolute as our conditions shall insist upon, our peace shall stand as firm as rocky mountains!”
Mowbray shakes his head grimly. “But our valuation shall be such that every slight and false-derivèd cause—yea, every idle, dull and wanton reason shall to the king taste of this action!—such that, were our royal allegiances martyrs in loyalty, we shall be winnowed with so rough a wind that even our wheat shall seem as light as chaff, and good from bad find no partition!”
But the archbishop fully expects a favorable outcome. “No, no, my lord! Note this: the king is weary of such daily and piercing grievances!—for he hath found that to end one doubt by death revives two greater in the heirs of life! And therefore will he wipe his accounts clean, and keep no tell-tale of ill memory that may repeat its history and loss to new remembrance!
“For full well he knows he cannot precisely weed as his misdoubts present occasion; his foes are so enrooted with his friends that, plucking to unfix an enemy he doth unfasten and shake a friend! So that this land, like an offensive wife who, having enraged him to offer strokes, as he is striking holds his infant up!—and thus hangs correction unresolvèd in the arm that was upreared to execution!”
Hastings concurs. “Besides, the king hath so wasted all his rods on recent offenders that he now doth lack the very instruments of chastisement! His power, like to a fangless lion, may offer, but not hold!”
“’Tis very true!” says the archbishop. “And therefore be assured, my good lord marshal, if we do now make our atonement well, our peace will, like a broken limb united, grow stronger for the breaking!”
“Be it so,” mutters Mowbray. He points toward the south. “Here is returnèd my lord of Westmoreland.”
The representative summons them to parley. “The prince is here at hand, pleaseth Your Lordship to meet his grace at equal distance ’tween our armies.”
Mowbray turns to their leader. “Your Grace of York, in God’s name, then, set forward.”
The archbishop nods. “Before, and greet his grace! My lord, we come!” he calls eagerly, mounting his white steed.
Hastings and Mowbray follow him, with their attendants.
Between the two vast, opposing forces their commanders meet. With Prince John of Lancaster are Lord Westmoreland and other officers of the king’s army. The young prince greets his opponents. “You are well encountered here, my cousin Mowbray. Good day to you, gentle lord archbishop; and so to you, Lord Hastings; and to all.”
He frowns at the priest. “My lord of York, it better showed with you when your flock, assembled by the bell, encircled you to hear with reverence your exposition on the Holy Text, than now to see you here an iron man, cheering a rout of rebels with your drum, turning the Word to the sword, and life to death!
“That man who sits within a monarch’s heart, and ripens in the sunshine of his favour, should he abuse the countenance of the king, alack, what mischiefs might he set abroach in shadow of such greatness! With you, lord bishop, it is even so. Who hath not heard it spoken how deep you were within the books of God?—to us, the Speaker in his parliament, to us, the imagined voice of God Himself!—the very opener and intelligencer between the grace, the sanctities of Heaven and our dull workings!
“Oh, who shall believe but you misuse the reverence of your place, employ the countenance and grace of Heaven as a false favourite doth his prince’s name, in deeds dishonourable! You have ta’en up, under a counterfeited zeal for God, the subjects of his substitute, my father, and against the peace of both heaven and him have here up-swarmèd them!”
“Good my lord of Lancaster, I am not here against your father’s peace,” the archbishop claims, “but, as I told my lord of Westmoreland, the misordered time doth, in common sense, crowd us and crush us into this monstrous form to uphold our safety!
“I sent Your Grace the parcels and particulars of our grief, the which hath been shoved from the court with scorn!—whereupon this Hydra, son of War, is born—whose dangerous eyes may well be charmed asleep with grant of our most-just and right desires!
“Then true obedience, of this madness curèd, stoops tamely to the foot of majesty.”
Mowbray is irked by the final, conciliatory words. “If not,” he insists, “we ready are to try our fortunes to the last man!”
“And though we here fall down,” says Hastings, “we have supplies to second our attempt! If they miscarry, theirs shall second them—and so a succession of mischief shall be born, and heir from heir shall hold this quarrel up whiles England shall have generation!”
Lancaster dismisses that dire threat. “You are too shallow, Hastings, much too shallow, to sound the bottom of the after-times!”
Westmoreland sees that the rebels commanders’ ire is rising; he turns to the prince. “Pleaseth Your Grace to answer them directly how far forth you do like their articles.”
“I like them all, and do well allow them,” says John, “and swear here, by the honour of my blood, that my father’s purposes have been mistook, and some about him have too lavishly wrested his meaning and authority.
“My lord, these griefs shall be with speed redressèd,” he tells the archbishop. “Upon my soul, they shall!
“If this may please you, discharge your powers unto their several counties, as we will ours. And here, between the armies, let’s drink together, friendly, and embrace, so that all their eyes may bear home those tokens of our restorèd love and amity!”
The bishop bows, highly pleased. “I take your princely word for these redresses!”
“As I give it you, I will maintain my word,” says Prince John, signaling to his attendants. Two men bring a small wooden table and a bottle of wine, set down four silver cups, and fill them. “And thereupon I drink unto Your Grace!”
Hastings turns to an officer. “Go, captain, and deliver to the army this news of peace! Let them have pay, and depart!—I know it will well please them! Hie thee, captain!” The officer bows and goes to the rebels’ forces.
The bishop, beaming, raises his cup. “To you, my noble lord of Westmoreland!”
“I pledge Your Grace,” says the earl, lifting his, and they drink. “And, if you knew what pains I have taken breeding this present peace, you would drink deeply! But my love to ye shall show itself more openly hereafter.”
“I do not doubt you!”
“I am glad of it. Health to my lord and gentle cousin, Mowbray.”
But Mowbray scowls. “You wish me health in very appropriate season, for I am, on the sudden, somewhat ill,” he says angrily.
“Despite ill chances, men are ever merry; heaviness but foreruns a good event!” the bishop tells him brightly.
Westmoreland raises his cup, watching Mowbray. “Therefore be merry, coz; since sullen sorrow serves to say thus: ‘Some good thing comes tomorrow.’”
“Believe me, I am surpassingly light in spirit!” says the archbishop happily.
“So much the worse,” mumbles Mowbray, “if your own rule be true.”
They hear cheering. Prince John looks toward the rebels’ disbanding army. “The word of peace is rendered! Hark how they shout!”
Mowbray glowers. “This had been cheerful after victory.”
“A peace is of the nature of a conquest,” says the archbishop, “for then both parties nobly are subdued, and neither party a loser!”
The prince turns to Westmoreland. “Go, my lord, and let our army be dischargèd, too.” The earl bows and strides away. “And, good my lord,” says John to the archbishop, “so please you, let your trains”—columns of troops—“march past us, that we may peruse the men we should have coped withal.”
“Go, good Lord Hastings, and, ere they be dismissed, let them march by,” says the archbishop. Hastings bows and goes.
Prince John sees the opposing generals’ relief as their armies are sent home. “I trust, lords, you shall lie here together tonight.” He asks, as Westmoreland returns, “Now, cousin, wherefore stands our army still?”
“The leaders, having charge from you to stand, will not go off until they hear you speak.”
The prince, hardly surprised, nods. “They know their duties.”
Hastings returns, smiling, to tell the archbishop there can be no review of his troops. “My lord, our army is dispersed already! Like youthful steers unyoked, they take their courses east, west, north, south; for, like a school broke up, each hurries toward his home and sporting-place!”
“Good tidings, my lord Hastings!” says Westmoreland, stepping forward. “On the which I do arrest thee, traitor, for high treason!
“And you, lord archbishop, and you, Lord Mowbray, for capitol treason I attach you both!”
Mowbray is furious. “Is this proceeding just and honourable?” he demands, as royal soldiers surround and seize them.
“Is your assembly so?” asks Westmoreland angrily.
The silver cup falls from the bishop’s hand as he stares, aghast. “Will you thus break your faith?”
“I empawned thee none!” says John of Lancaster. “I promised you redress for these same grievances whereof you did complain—which, by mine honour, I will perform with a most Christian care!
“But as for you rebels, look to taste the due meet for rebellion and such acts as yours!
“Most shallowly did you these armies commence, recklessly brought them here, and foolishly sent them hence!
“Strike up our drums!—pursue the scattered strays!” he tells Westmoreland. “God, but not we, hath safely fought today!”
John now regards the prisoners with open contempt. “Some guard these traitors to the block of death—treason’s true bed, and yielder-up of breath!”