London, The entrance to Westminster Abbey: Trumpets blast out a Royal Fanfare.
To the stately sound of drum and woodwind, the young King, Henry the Sixth, a golden crown on his head, dressed in all the richness of silks and satins in blues, reds and gold, a rich ermine lined cloak and a shy smile on his soft-bearded face, enters. He carries a Psalter in his hands which he has been studying whilst he waited.
Henry is accompanied by his uncle, Humphrey of Lancaster, The Duke of Gloucester, carrying the ebony, gold-topped staff of the Lord Protector of England and by a number of other Lords of the Realm.
On the other side of the stage, a blaze of blues and whites, Margaret, newly married by proxy, Henry’s Queen, enters and is presented - on the hand of William de la Pole, the Marquis of Suffolk.
She is also accompanied by a train of Lords, newly returned from fighting in France, including Richard Plantagenet, the Duke of York.
This is the first time Henry has met his bride and he is overjoyed at what he sees. De la Pole steps forward to address the King and all the hall, and announces he has followed his orders and married, on behalf of the king, Margaret in front of the assembled nobles and clergy of France and Sicily. He then goes down on one knee and hands over his ‘title in the Queen’ to her husband.
There is polite applause as Henry takes Margaret by the hand and orders Suffolk to stand.
Almost as a teenage boy would kiss his mother, Henry welcomes and kisses Margaret lightly on the cheek. He then preys out loud - a short prayer of thanks for the gift God has given him of a beautiful wife, and, hopefully, a soul mate.
Some of the assembled Lords pass knowing looks to each other – the King might have a beard, but he also has the innocence of a child.
Margaret, reading quickly the character of her young husband, replies with spirit, and a reference to her own prayers.
In this very public place, the King turns to his Lords and expresses his delight almost at the point of tears. Then he orders all present to greet his new Queen.
The Lords of England, fall on one knee and salute, ‘Queen Margaret!’
Again the trumpets blast a fanfare, and the air fills with cheers.
Margaret, for the first time, addresses and thanks the Lords, and straight away falls into using the Royal, “We.” She is intensely aware of her position, both as Queen of England and wife of a weak husband.
Suffolk again steps forward, the formalities of the meeting requiring the contract of marriage agreement to be presented not to the King, who has still not assumed all his legal powers, but to Gloucester, the Lord Protector.
Gloucester starts to read out the terms, and is so horrified at what he is reading that he stops dead in his tracks and refuses to read on – pretending to be ill. Suffolk has given away large amounts of land won by the English in France – land fought for by the very Lords now surrounding the King.
Beaufort, Uncle to Gloucester and Great Uncle to the King, a Cardinal and Bishop, carries on reading the terms of the contract – there is to be no dowry and all expenses are to be paid for by the English.
Henry, whether innocently or foolishly, sees nothing wrong in the contract and, delighted with his new bride, orders Suffolk to kneel. He invests him straight away with the title Duke, highest of the English Aristocratic Titles.
He also, as the contract demands, removes the Duke of York from his position of Regent, (King’s representative) in France.
Finally, taking her by the hand, and once again to the sound of drum and woodwind, the King leads Margaret into the Abbey, to her coronation. The new Duke of Suffolk, goes with them as do many servants and lesser nobility - but, just as the other Lords are arranging themselves to follow, Gloucester sticks out his staff and stops them.
Now, like an onion being peeled, layer after layer, the true thoughts and feelings of the mightiest men in the Kingdom are revealed.
Gloucester speaks first - of the loss and dishonour brought on the realm by the marriage - a loss so great it wipes away all the recorded victories of his dead brother, Henry V, and of the lords he is talking to.
He is contradicted by his Uncle, the Cardinal, but the Lords, Salisbury, Warwick and York all agree with Gloucester.
Gloucester angrily exits leaving the Cardinal, Bishop of Winchester, to have his say - he warns the lords to be careful of Gloucester - he is next in line to the throne after all, and Buckingham joins with him to say the King is now old enough to rule by himself.
The Cardinal leaves, and Somerset warns of Winchester’s ambition – again Buckingham speaks up, this time saying either he or Somerset will be the King’s new Protector – both leave.
Now it is Salisbury, his son Warwick, and York’s turn.
Salisbury praises honest Gloucester – and warns of both the ambition and pride of the lords who have just left. He vows to protect Gloucester as long as it is in the interests of the people of England and he asks his son and York to join him – both agree, although York, in an aside, indicates he has other reasons for agreeing.
Finally, Salisbury and Warwick exit, leaving only Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York to speak his mind: In a long speech he reveals he should be King. He will support Salisbury and Warwick, and Gloucester, until it is time for York to claim the throne of England, – until it is time for York to raise the standard of the White Rose.
Early Morning, Gloucester’s Home.
Tired and worried, after a night of bad dreams, Gloucester enters, followed by his ageing, nagging wife. She asks him why he looks so weary, what is he looking at? Could it be the crown – she’ll help him and together they will become King and Queen.
Gloucester, honourable and horrified, but loving his silly Nell, tells her to be quiet – he is only disturbed by dreams.
“What dreams?” she asks and he tells her – a dream where his staff of office is broken in two and his enemies, the Cardinal and Suffolk, triumph.
She puts a different interpretation on the dream, and again presses him to claim the crown and make his nephew and his new wife kneel to her.
Angrily he chides her for her presumption – she is the second lady in the realm, isn’t that enough for her?
She goes into a little sulk and he gently stokes her hair – after all, he loves her deeply, for all her silliness and they have grown old together.
A messenger enters and delivers a command from the king to join him hunting.
Gloucester leaves, and his wife says she will follow after – but she hasn’t given up ideas of becoming Queen. She calls in ‘Sir’ John Hume, a churchman who, as soon as he enters, calls the Duchess, ‘Your Majesty’. She is delighted, but pretends she should be called only, ‘Your Grace’ – and he says, if she has good fortune - and follows his advice - she will soon become ‘Majesty’!
She smiles, and quickly asks if he has spoken to the witch and magician who can raise spirits and answer questions about the future.
He says he has, and she orders him to have them waiting for her when she returns form the hunt. She gives him a gold coin, then rushes off after her husband.
Alone, Hume tosses the coin in the air, then, brings out his purse and adds it to the other coins already there – coins given him by Suffolk and the Cardinal to trap Gloucester’s wife – and so bring about the fall of Gloucester.
At court in London.
Four ordinary working men are waiting for Gloucester, the Lord Protector, to pass in the hope of presenting him with written petitions about various grievances - they know Gloucester will take seriously what they present him, and judge fairly.
They see a Duke arriving with the Queen, and one of them, mistaking Suffolk for Gloucester, steps forward to present his petition before the others can stop him.
The Queen takes the petition and, annoyed at it being addressed to 'My Lord Protector', opens it.
It is against one of the Cardinal's men - who has taken the petitioner's goods and wife.
Suffolk laughs at the man for loosing his wife - but the smile drops from his face when he sees the second petition - it is against him, for enclosing and stealing land belong in common to the town of Melford.
Peter, an apprentice, the third petitioner, quickly steps forward with his petition before the situation turns nasty: He is making complaint against his master, an armourer in the service of the Duke of York.
Horner, his master, (Peter claims) has said the Duke of York is the rightful King!
The Queen, either through her poor English, or deliberately seeing a chance to attack a former enemy, leaps on what Peter says and asks, 'Did the Duke of York claim to be the rightful King of England?'
Peter denies this but it is too late - Suffolk, following the Queen's lead, orders a servant to take Peter away and to fetch his master, Horner so both can appear before the King.
The Queen rips up the other petitions and orders the petitioners out. Suffolk is about to stop the man from Melford, but the Queen orders him to let them go - she has something more important than a minor dispute over land to talk to Suffolk about.
She starts by complaining about these 'English' traditions about Gloucester's power, and about her husband - who she thought was more of a man, more like Suffolk, than the saintly and studious person he is. She would prefer him to be 'whisked off' to Rome to become Pope.
Such an expression of disloyalty from the Queen (and wife) of the King of England is quickly understood by Suffolk.
Suffolk councils patience - he will do everything he can - to 'satisfy' her.
The Queen points out it is not only Gloucester, but the Cardinal, Somerset, Buckingham - and most of all, York.
Suffolk adds the Nevils - Salisbury and his son, Warwick - to the list.
The Queen now admits that worse than all of these, is Gloucester's wife, who, even though she is from a poor family herself, laughs at the Queen's family's poverty.
Suffolk assures her that he has prepared a trap for 'Duke Humphrey's Wife' and she is not too worry about it - it means working with the Cardinal and the other lords until they have destroyed Gloucester, but that can't be helped. The incident with Peter, and the petition will help fight against York.
The trumpet sounds and in mid-discussion the King, Gloucester, Cardinal and all the lords they have just been discussing enter.
The King, with a deep sigh, foolishly admits he doesn’t care whether York or Somerset becomes England’s regent in France.
The lords take this as a sign and start to squabble over who would be the better candidate until the Queen, forgetting her limited role at court, joins in.
Gloucester quickly steps in and reminds her she has no role to play in this affair.
She fights back, and asks why the King, who is old enough to rule for himself, should nave a protector.
Gloucester reminds her he is ‘England’s’ Protector, not the King’s – and he is willing to resign as soon as the King requests it.
The king, not really listening, stays silent.
Suffolk jumps in – Gloucester is the real King, Gloucester has brought England to ruin, and France is making gains against English territory because of Gloucester (remember, the man saying this is responsible for giving away large amounts of English territory to his French born Queen’s Father).
The Cardinal, then Somerset, then Buckingham all make false accusations against Gloucester.
Finally the Queen claims Gloucester has sold towns in France to the enemy.
Gloucester, in a rage, storms off to calm down before says something he will regret.
With Duke Humphrey gone, the Queen drops her fan, and then, pretending she doesn’t realise who is next to her, calls her servant and slaps The Duchess of Gloucester for refusing to pick it up.
The Duchess threatens the Queen with her nails but the King, taking his wife’s side, tells the Duchess to be quiet - it was an accident.
The Duchess warns the King to be careful of his wife – she will be the power in his house – and storms off threatening revenge.
Buckingham whispers to the Cardinal he will follow the Duchess – she is in such a rage she is bound to do something stupid.
Gloucester, unaware of what has happened, returns. He tells anyone with any evidence to produce it in court, otherwise God will be his judge – andit is time to get on with state affairs.
He says York should be Regent in France.
Suffolk again interrupts saying he has good reason to object to the appointment.
York, annoyed, says he can give two reasons why he shouldn’t be made Regent – first, he refuses to flatter Suffolk, second Somerset will not supply him with what he will need to defend England’s French territories anyway.
Warwick supports York and another squabble is in danger of breaking out when Horner and Peter are brought in.
Suffolk, phrasing his words very carefully, says he hopes that York can ‘excuse himself’ from being involved in a case of treason.
There is a deadly silence.
The King, paying attention at last, demands to know who the two men are who have been brought in and what Suffolk means by using the word, ‘treason’!
Peter’s accusation against Horner is repeated, and York, reacting quickly demands Horner be given the law’s toughest sentence – death.
Horner, down on his knees, begs the King to listen – Peter is his apprentice, he’d beaten Peter for a fault and Peter made a vow to revenge himself – he had witnesses to prove it. Peter is a villain telling lies to get revenge.
The King turns to his uncle, Gloucester, and asks what the law says they should do.
Gloucester, after a moment’s pause, stands straight and announces –
Somerset should become Regent in France because this case brings doubt upon York;
The two serving men are to engage in trial by combat on a date to be set by the King: God will decide who is telling the truth.
Somerset, a smile of victory on his face, bows to the King and thanks him.
Horner, also smiling, knowing he is stronger and much more experienced at fighting than his weak and underfed apprentice, also accepts the judgement.
Poor Peter, still only a boy, asks for pity: But Gloucester warns him he will hang if he doesn’t fight.
The King ends the audience by setting the date for the fight and the court exits to the sound of trumpets to see Somerset off on his journey to France.
The Duchess of Gloucester, angry at being humiliated by the Queen, has rushed home and ordered Hume to arrange for the witch, Margery Jourdain, and wizards, Southwell and Bolingbroke, to summon evil spirits to answer her questions about the future.
They are preparing to do so when the Duchess enters – they instruct her to go to the balcony above as they draw the magic circle and start to recite the Latin texts which will summon a devil: There is the deep role of thunder, lightening flashes and a spirit rises from the ground.
Bolingbroke reads the first of the prepared questions – and writes down the answer he gets.
He asks about the King, Suffolk and Somerset in turn and gets answers, which, as you would expect from the forces of evil, could mean a number of things.
There is more thunder and lightening as the spirit is released to return to the flames of hell.
Suddenly the doors burst open and the Dukes of York and Buckingham, accompanied by soldiers, enter, seize the witch and other necromancers, and their equipment, and arrest the Duchess.
Buckingham orders the prisoners to be taken away – the magicians to prison, the Duchess to be taken to the King.
Once they are alone, York and Buckingham read over the answers given by the evil spirit – answers which, York notes, are just like those given by the ancient Greek oracle at Delphi – full of double meaning and alternative readings:
Is the Duke alive who the King will depose, or will the Duke depose the King?
Suffolk will die ‘by’ water – will he drown?
Somerset should avoid ‘Castles’ – but which castle and what does it mean, ‘mounted’? Is it on a hill?
Buckingham rushes off to tell Gloucester and the King of the night’s events, and York sends an invitation to the Nevils to dine with him.
In the fields near St Albans: A clear, bright sky with a stiff breeze blowing. In the distance, the sound of church bells. This is joined by the shouts and calls of serving men and falconers bringing home their charges.
The King and court are returning from a morning's hunting with hawks.
As they enter, the Queen, quite excited after what has been an enjoyable hunt, is talking: For once she has found something good in England.
The King turns to Gloucester and praises his bird - saying how high it flew and reading a religious lesson into it.
Not one to miss the opportunity of attacking Gloucester, Suffolk says the bird is like the man - trying to fly higher than anyone else.
Gloucester turns the tables: Only a low thinking, ignoble man would not try to fly higher than a dumb bird.
The Cardinal joins in against Gloucester and, once again, the suppressed hatred of one man for the other threatens to break into open warfare.
Suffolk and the Queen both join in until the King, who from his childhood has heard nothing but the ‘Peers’ of England furiously arguing, gently rebukes her and quotes the bible.
The Cardinal, in a half-whispered aside to Gloucester, irreligiously turns the King’s words into a threat.
Gloucester first checks the King is occupied in talking to his Queen, then turns aside to the Cardinal, his hand on his sword, and says he wishes they could settle their argument with the sword.
In a rapid exchange of asides, the Cardinal and Gloucester arrange to meet and fight.
Even when the King, seeing the fury in the faces of the two old men, asks what is happening, they pretend to talk about hawking and carry on their secret arrangements.
The breeze has stiffened and is now turning into a strong wind.
The King, for once noticing the dangerous division between his uncle and great uncle, calls for everyone to return to town to eat. Just as they are turning to go, there is the sound of an excited crowd approaching shouting, laughing, and singing hymns.
A man bursts onto the scene and, forgetting where he is and who he is talking to, dances around and shouts, ‘miracle’.
Suffolk steps up to him, quietens him with a look, and takes him to the king.
Kneeling, the man explains there has been a miracle at the shrine of St Alban, the first English Martyr: A man blind from birth has had his sight miraculously restored.
The King quickly crosses himself and offers a prayer of thanks to God.
The crowd arrives – carrying the man, who is still a cripple, in a chair. There is a whole mix of people including the Mayor of St Albans.
Gloucester orders everyone to move away and let the King talk to the man.
The King asks him whether he had been blind from birth. Simpcox, the man, answers he has – and then a woman rudely steps forward and confirms what he says.
Suffolk asks who she is and she answers Simpcox’s wife.
Gloucester, starting to get suspicious, comments that if she was his mother, she might be able to say he had been born blind.
The King and Queen both ask him questions, and the Cardinal asks him whether he can walk.
He says no – not since he fell out of a tree – and his wife adds a ‘plumb tree’ – making a rude joke. The King, innocent as ever, misses this.
Gloucester, now very suspicious, asks again when he went blind – and being told again, since birth, he expresses surprise at a blind man climbing trees.
Simpcox says it was the only time. And again, his wife makes a rude remark.
Gloucester, smiling as if he appreciates the joke, encourages Simpcox – and he now adds another sexual joke to his wife’s becoming over confident.
Gloucester pretends to examine Simpcox’s eyes – says he can’t see clearly and Simpcox, anxious to prove the miracle, says he can see clearly.
Leading him on, Gloucester quickly catches him out – he can name the colours of Gloucester’s clothes – which, if he had been born blind, he would not know.
Gloucester now promises to perform a miracle too – he is going to make this lame man walk – and he sends for the beadle, to bring his whips.
After he has been hit once with the whip, Simpcox leaps over a stool and runs off – and the crowd chases after him laughing at the joke and crying miracle.
Gloucester now sentences Simpcox and his wife to a cruel punishment (whipping in every town they pass through from St Albans to their home in the very North of England) – despite her pleading it was need that made them try to deceive people.
Almost straight away Buckingham enters with news of another man’s wife – Gloucester’s.
The King asks what has happened, and is quickly told – Gloucester’s wife has been caught involved in witchcraft, asking the forces of evil about the King’s life and about other members of the Privy Council.
A smile of victory on his face, the Cardinal adds she has been arrested and taken to London – in an aside he cruelly adds Gloucester won’t have the heart to fight now!
The King, only looking to heaven, says how evil quickly defeats itself, but the Queen, scenting blood, adds Gloucester better be faultless – a threat Gloucester understands, but thinks he is safe against.
Gloucester publicly states he has only ever had the Kin’s and country’s best interest in mind in his actions and adds that if his wife is guilty, he disowns her for her actions in bringing shame upon his name and household.
The King, starting to understand at last the situation Gloucester is in, and the consequences that will follow, orders everyone back into St Albans for the night – and to London for the investigation and trial the following day.
(To be continued)