William Shakespeare’s “1 Henry IV”: A Retelling in Prose — Cast and Act 1, Scene 1



King Henry the Fourth.

Henry, Prince of Wales, son to the King. Aka Prince Hal.

Prince John of Lancaster, son to the King.

Earl of Westmoreland.

Sir Walter Blunt.


Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester.

Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland.

Henry Percy, his son.

Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March.

Scroop, Archbishop of York.

Sir Michael, his Friend.

Archibald, Earl of Douglas.

Owen Glendower.

Sir Richard Vernon.


Sir John Falstaff.

Edward “Ned” Poins.





Lady Percy, Wife to Hotspur.

Lady Mortimer, Daughter to Glendower.

Mrs. Quickly, Hostess in Eastcheap.


Lords, Officers, Sheriff, Vintner, Chamberlain, Drawers, Carriers, Travellers, and Attendants.

Chapter 1

— 1.1 —

In 1399, Henry Bolingbroke succeeded in deposing his first cousin King Richard II of England, thereby becoming King Henry IV. Even after becoming King, however, he ruled over an uneasy country, many citizens of which believed that he had unjustly seized the crown. After Richard II died, Henry IV vowed to go on a crusade to the Holy Land and return it to Christian hands. Political events, however, kept coming up that required delaying that crusade.

King Henry IV met with one of his younger sons, Lord John, who was Earl of Lancaster, as well as with the Earl of Westmoreland and Sir Walter Blunt, and others in his palace in London. King Henry IV was under great stress due to political and personal troubles.

Using the royal we, King Henry IV said, “We are shaken by events and wan with care, but let us find time and breath in this shaky and still-frightened peacetime to talk about the new battles that we intend to fight in distant foreign lands. No more will the English soil drink the blood of her children. No more will the English fields be filled with cutting war. No more will the English flowerets be bruised by the tread of armored warhorses. The soldiers of hostile forces that have recently opposed and killed each other in civil wars were all countrymen, as similar to each other as are shooting stars. Now, these formerly hostile forces shall all march as one in mutual well-ordered ranks. No more will they be opposed against acquaintances, relatives, and allies. They will be united for a common purpose. No more will the edge of war, as if it were an ill-sheathed knife, cut our people. Therefore, friends, we will hold a crusade and go as far as the sepulcher of Christ in Jerusalem. We are now the soldier of Christ, under Whose blessed cross we have been conscripted and for Whom we are pledged to fight. Therefore, we will raise an English army composed of people who were shaped in their mothers’ wombs and born to chase away the pagans from those holy fields over whose acres walked those blessed feet which fourteen hundred years ago were nailed for our benefit to the bitter cross. For twelve months, we have been planning to do this. You know this, so we need not tell you our plans again.”

He then ordered, “My noble kinsman Westmoreland, tell us what the council decided yesterday about planning this urgent crusade.”

The Earl of Westmoreland replied, “My liege, we hotly discussed this crusade, and we had assigned many specific military responsibilities, but we were interrupted by a messenger bearing important news from Wales. The news was bad concerning the noble Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March. He led the men of Herefordshire to fight the lawless and wild Owen Glendower, who captured him. The Welshmen butchered a thousand men of Herefordshire. The Welshwomen did such a beastly shameless transformation to those corpses that it cannot be retold or spoken about except with much shame.”

True, the Earl of Westmoreland thought. The wild Welshwomen castrated the English corpses.

King Henry IV said, “The news of this new battle must have necessarily stopped your debate about our crusade to the Holy Land.”

Westmoreland replied, “This news and other news did that. Other news, even more disturbing and unwelcome, came from the north of England. On Holy-rood day, September 14, young Harry Percy — known also as the gallant Hotspur — fought the brave Earl of Douglas, that ever-valiant Scot, at the hill of Holmedon. The news we received was that they were fighting a serious and bloody battle with much firing of artillery. Our messenger left at the peak of the battle and so was unable to report who would win the battle.”

“I have received more recent news than you about that battle,” King Henry IV said. “A dear, truly devoted friend, Sir Walter Blunt, has newly alighted from his horse. He and his horse are stained with the various kinds of soil that lie between the hill of Holmedon and this palace of ours in London. He has brought us pleasant and welcome news: Hotspur has defeated the Earl of Douglas. Sir Walter Blunt himself saw the bloody corpses of ten thousand bold Scots and twenty-two knights heaped in piles on the plains by Holmedon. Hotspur has taken some nobles prisoner: Mordake, who is the Earl of Fife and the oldest son of the defeated Douglas; and the Earl of Athol, the Earl of Murray, the Earl of Angus, and the Earl of Menteith. Is not this an honorable spoil? Is not this a gallant prize? Ha, Westmoreland, is it not?”

“Truly,” Westmoreland replied, “it is a conquest for a Prince to boast of.”

“Indeed it is,” King Henry IV said, “but you make me sad and make me sin in envy when you say that. I am envious that the Earl of Northumberland is the father to so blest a son as Hotspur. Anyone who wishes to speak of honor speaks about Hotspur. In a crowd of young men, Hotspur stands out; if he were a tree in a grove, he would be the very straightest tree in that grove. Hotspur is the darling and the pride of Fortune. I see people praise Hotspur, and then I look at my own oldest son, my young Harry — my Prince Hal and the future King of England — and I see debauchery and dishonor upon his brow. I wish that I could prove that a mischievous fairy had come by when the two Harrys were infants and had swapped them! In that case, Hotspur would be my son, and Prince Hal would be the son of the Earl of Northumberland. Such thinking is sinful. But let us move on to other matters. What is your opinion of young Hotspur’s pride? He has sent word to me that he shall deliver to me, from all his prisoners, only one: Mordake, the Earl of Fife. He has sent word to me that he will keep all the other prisoners. Hotspur knows that he cannot keep as prisoner Mordake, who is of royal blood, but all prisoners are required to be turned over to me, the King, so that we can ransom them.”

Westmoreland replied, “Hotspur must be following the advice of Thomas Percy, the Earl of Worcester, who is his uncle. Worcester is opposed to you in every way possible, and his advice is making Hotspur proud and resistant to your authority. He is like a proud bird that preens its feathers and raises its crest.”

“I have sent word to Hotspur to come to me and to answer for his actions,” King Henry IV said. “Because of this, I must for a while put aside my crusade to Jerusalem. On Wednesday, we will meet with the council at Windsor. Inform all the lords about the meeting, and then quickly return here. More is to be said and to be done. I am angry now, and I do not wish to speak publicly.”

“I will do as you wish, my liege,” Westmoreland said.

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