William Shakespeare’s “1 Henry IV”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scenes 3 and 4

— 4.3 —

Hotspur, the Earl of Worcester, the Earl of Douglas, and Sir Richard Vernon debated battle tactics in the rebel camp near Shrewsbury.

“Let’s fight tonight,” Hotspur said.

“No,” Worcester said. “That’s a bad idea.”

Douglas said, “If we do not fight this night, then we give the King the advantage.”

“That is not true,” Sir Richard Vernon said.

“Why do you say that?” Hotspur asked. “Isn’t the King looking for reinforcements?”

“So are we.”

“The King’s reinforcements are sure to arrive,” Hotspur said. “Our reinforcements may or may not arrive.”

“Hotspur, take my advice,” Worcester said. “Let’s not fight the King tonight.”

“I agree,” Sir Richard Vernon said. “Let’s not fight tonight.”

“This is poor advice,” Douglas said. “It is based on fear and cowardice.”

“Don’t slander me, Douglas,” Sir Richard Vernon said. “I swear on my life, and I will back up what I say with my life, that although I fight after carefully considering what is the best thing to do, I fight with as little fear as you or as any Scot who lives today. Tomorrow we will see which of us is afraid in the battle.”

“Or we will find out tonight,” Douglas said.

“At either time, I will show no fear,” Sir Richard Vernon said.

“I say that we shall fight tonight,” Hotspur said.

“Tonight is a bad time for fighting,” Sir Richard Vernon said. “You, Hotspur, and you, Douglas, are great leaders, and you should be able to see the reasons why we should not fight tonight. We face many problems. Some cavalry led by my kinsman have not arrived. Your uncle Worcester’s cavalry arrived only today, and now their spirit is asleep and their courage is tame and dull because of exhaustion from hard labor. Not a horse is half the half of himself.”

“The same thing is true of the horses in the King’s cavalry,” Hotspur said. “In general, the King’s horses are weary and brought low from travel. The majority of our horses are rested.”

“The number of the King’s horses is greater than ours,” Worcester said. “For God’s sake, Hotspur, let’s wait until all our cavalry have arrived.”

A trumpet sounded to announce a visitor from King Henry IV, and Sir Walter Blunt walked into the rebel camp.

He said, “I come with gracious offers from the King, if you will listen to them.”

“Welcome, Sir Walter Blunt,” Hotspur said with respect. “I wish to God that you were on our side! Some of us respect you very well, but we begrudge you your great honor and good name because you are fighting not on our side but for our enemy.”

“God forbid that I should be on your side as long as you step outside the bounds of decency and oppose your legitimate and anointed majesty,” Sir Walter Blunt replied. “But let me convey to you my message from the King. He wants to know the nature of your grievances and why in this time of civil peace you are stirring up war and spreading bold hostility, dissent, and rebellion throughout his loyal land. If the King has in any way forgotten your good actions, which he admits are many, he asks you to list your complaints, and he will as quickly as possible meet your demands — with interest. He will also give an absolute pardon to you and to your troops whom you have misled.”

Hotspur replied, “The King is kind, and we know well that the King knows when to promise and when to pay. My father and my uncle and myself did give him that same royalty he wears. We are the ones who made him King. When he had not even twenty-six soldiers supporting him, when the world had a low opinion of him, when he was wretched and low, a poor and forsaken outlaw sneaking home, my father gave him welcome to the shore of England. And when my father heard Henry Bolingbroke swear and vow to God that he had returned to England only to gain his rightful title of Duke of Lancaster, to sue for the return of his lands, and to make peace with King Richard II with tears of innocence and declarations of loyalty, my father, because of his kind heart and because he was moved by pity, swore to help him and delivered that help that he had promised.

“When the lords and barons of the realm perceived that my father, the Earl of Northumberland, supported Henry Bolingbroke, both the higher and the lower classes came and showed their allegiance to him by taking off their caps and bending their knees. They met him in boroughs, cities, and villages, waited for him on bridges, stood in rows and let him pass between them, laid gifts before him, gave him their oaths to support him, gave him their heirs to serve him as pages, and followed at his heels in celebration.

“Henry Bolingbroke presently understood his new power, and he became more ambitious than he was in the vow he made to my father upon the shore at Ravenspurgh when he, Henry Bolingbroke, was still humble and had little power. He then took on himself to reform certain laws and strict decrees that weighed too heavily on the country. He cried out against abuses, and he pretended to weep over wrongs that hurt England. With this image, this mask that pretended justice, he won the hearts of all whom he wanted to back him. He then proceeded further and cut off the heads of all the deputies whom the absent King Richard II had left behind here in England while he was personally fighting in the war in Ireland.”

“I did not come here to hear this,” Sir Walter Blunt said.

“Allow me to get to the point,” Hotspur said. “Shortly afterward, Henry Bolingbroke deposed King Richard II. Soon after that, he took away the King’s life. Following that, he taxed the entire country. Even worse, he then allowed Mortimer to be held as hostage in Wales, and he refused to ransom him. If Mortimer now held the office that he by rights ought to have, he would be King instead of Henry Bolingbroke. King Henry IV also disgraced me despite my many military victories, sent spies to gather information to be used against me, berated my uncle Worcester and drove him away from the council board, and in rage dismissed my father from the court. He has broken oath on oath and committed wrong on wrong. In conclusion, he has driven us to raise an army to protect ourselves and to question his title to the crown. Henry Bolingbroke is not in the direct line of descent from Richard II, and so we think that his claim to be King is weak and ought not to be endured.”

Sir Walter Blunt asked, “Shall I return this answer to the King?”

“No,” Hotspur said. “We will think over our final answer tonight. Go now to King Henry IV, and ask him to send us a hostage to ensure the safe return of my uncle Worcester, who will go to the King tomorrow morning and tell him our demands.”

“I wish that you would accept the King’s offer of kindness and respect,” Sir Walter Blunt said.

“Perhaps we will,” Hotspur replied.

“I pray God that you do,” Sir Walter Blunt said.

— 4.4 —

In his palace, the Archbishop of York talked to Sir Michael.

The Archbishop of York said, “Sir Michael, take this sealed message quickly to the lord marshal, this message to my kinsman Scroop, and all the other messages to those to whom they are addressed. If you knew how important these messages are, you would be vigilant and deliver them very quickly.”

“My good lord, I can guess what their content is.”

“I think you can,” the Archbishop of York said. “Tomorrow, Sir Michael, is a day during which ten thousand men will be tested. At Shrewsbury, I understand that the King with a mighty and quickly raised army will fight against Hotspur’s army. Sir Michael, because of the illness of Northumberland, whose army would be huge had he been healthy enough to raise it, and because of the absence of the army of Owen Glendower, who was counted on to provide needed strength but has stayed away because of prophecies, I am afraid that the army of Hotspur is too weak to risk a battle with the King’s army.”

“Why, my good lord, you need not fear,” Sir Michael said. “Hotspur will be aided by Douglas and Lord Mortimer.”

“No, Mortimer is not there.”

“But there is Mordake, Sir Richard Vernon, Hotspur, the Earl of Worcester, and many other gallant warriors and noble gentlemen.”

“That’s true,” the Archbishop of York said, “but the King has gathered the best men of all the land to fight for him: the Prince of Wales, Lord John of Lancaster, the noble Westmoreland, and warlike Sir Walter Blunt; in addition, the King has gathered many other associates and respected men who are skilled in the arts of war.”

“You can be sure, my lord, that they shall be well opposed.”

“I hope so,” the Archbishop of York said, “yet I have reason to fear Hotspur’s defeat in battle. And so, to prevent the worst that can happen, Sir Michael, hurry and deliver these letters. If Hotspur is defeated in battle, King Henry IV will attack us next because he has learned of our part in the rebellion, and it is wise for us to prepare to oppose him as strongly as we can. Therefore make haste. I must write to other friends, and so, farewell, Sir Michael.”

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