of April, and then went back again into Normandy, where, immediately upon his arrival, a rumour was spread through all France of the death of his nephew Arthur. True it is that great suit was made to have Arthur set at liberty, as well by the French King as by William de Miches, a valiant baron of Poitou, and divers other noblemen of the Britains, who, when they could not prevail in their suit, they banded themselves together, and joining in confederacy with Robert Earl of Alanson, the Viscount Beaumont, William de Fulgiers, and other, they began to levy sharp wars against King John in divers places, insomuch (as it was thought) that so long as Arthur lived there would be no quiet in those parts: whereupon it was reported that King John, through persuasion of his counsellors, appointed certain persons into Falaise, where Arthur was kept in prison, under the charge of Hubert de Burgh, and there to put out the young gentleman's eyes.

“ But through such resistance as he made against one of the tormentors that came to execute the king's command (for the other rather forsook their prince and country than they would consent to obey the king's authority therein), and such lamentable words as he uttered, Hubert de Burgh did preserve him from that injury, not doubting but rather to have thanks than displeasure at the king's

ends, for delivering him of such infamy as would have redounded unto his highness if the young gentleman had been so cruelly dealt withal. For he considered that King John had resolved upon this point only in his heat and fury (which moveth men to undertake many an inconvenient enterprise, unbeseeming the person of a common man, much more reproachful to a prince, all men in that mood being more foolish and furious, and prone to accomplish the perverse conceits of their ill-possessed hearts; as one saith right well,

pronus in iram
Stultorum est animus, facilè excandescit et audet

Omne scelus, quoties concepta bile tumescit), and that afterwards, upon better advisement, he would both repent himself so to have commanded, and give them small thank that should see it put in execution. Howbeit, to satisfy his mind for the time, and to stay the rage of the Britains, he caused it to be bruited abroad through the country that the king's commandment was fulfilled, and that Arthur also, through sorrow and grief, was departed out of this life. For the space of fifteen days this rumour incessantly ran through both the realms of England and France, and there was ringing for him through towns and villages as it had been for his funerals. It was also bruited that his body was buried in the monastery of Saint Andrew's of the Cisteaux order.

“ But when the Britains were nothing pacified, but rather kindled more vehemently to work all the mischief they could devise, in revenge of their sovereign's death, there was no remedy but to signify abroad again that Arthur was as yet living, and in health. Now, when the King heard the truth of all this matter, he was nothing displeased for that his commandment was not executed, sith there were divers of his captains which uttered in plain words that he should not find knights to keep his castles if he dealt so cruelly with his nephew. For if it chanced any of them to be taken by the King of France, or other their adversaries, they should be sure to taste of the like cup. But now, touching the manner in very deed of the end of this Arthur, writers make sundry reports. Nevertheless certain it is, that in the year next ensuing he was removed from Falaise unto the castle or tower of Roan, out of the which there was not any that would confess that ever he saw him go alive. Some have written, that, as he assayed to have escaped out of prison, and proving to climb over the walls of the castle, he fell into the river of Seine, and so was drowned. Other write that through very grief and languor he pived away and died of natural sickness. But some affirm that King John secretly caused him

[ocr errors]

to be murdered and made away, so as it is not thoroughly agreed upon in what sort he finished his days; but verily King John was had in great suspicion, whether worthily or not the Lord knoweth.”

Wisely has the old chronicler said, “ Verily King John was had in great suspicion, whether worthily or not the Lord knoweth; and wisely has Shakspere taken the least offensive mode of Arthur's death which was to be found noticed in the obscure records of those times. It is, all things considered, most probable that Arthur perished at Rouen. The darkest of the stories connected with his death is that which makes him, on the night of the 3rd April, 1203, awakened from his sleep, and led to the foot of the castle of Rouen, which the Seine washed. There, say the French historians, he entered a boat, in which sate John, and Peter de Maulac, his esquire. Terror took possession of the unhappy boy, and he threw himself at his uncle's feet;—but John came to do or to witness a deed of horror, and with his own hand he slew his nephew, and the deep waters of the river received the body of his victim.

[graphic][subsumed][merged small]

In Act III. the dramatic action exhibits to us the “holy legate of the pope" breaking the peace between John and Philip, demanding of John

6 Why thou against the church, our holy mother,

So wilfully dost spurn; and, force perforce,
Keep Stephen Langton, chosen archbishop

Of Canterbury, from that holy see?"
The great quarrel between John and the Pope, with reference to the election of Ste-
phen Langton, did not take place till 1207, about six years after Arthur was taken
prisoner at Mirebeau. Pandulph was not sent into France “ to practise with the
French king” against John till 1211; and the invasion of England by the Dauphin
(which is suggested by Pandulph as likely to be supported by the indiguation of

the English on the death of Arthur) did not take place till 1216, the year of John's death. The poet has leaped over all those barriers of time which would have impeded the direct march of his own poetical history. Coleridge has well explained the principle of this :-“ The history of our ancient kings,—the events of their reigns I mean,

,- are like stars in the sky;-whatever the real interspaces may be, and however great, they seem close to each other. The stars—the events--strike us and remain in our eye, little modified by the difference of dates. An historic drama is, therefore, a collection of events borrowed from history, but connected together, in respect of cause and time, poetically and by dramatic fiction.” Again : “ The events themselves are immaterial, otherwise than as the clothing and manifestation of the spirit that is working within. In this mode, the unity resulting from succession is destroyed, but is supplied by a unity of a higher order, which connects the events by reference to the workers, gives a reason for them in the motives, and presents men in their causative character."**

The reader may, perhaps, be pleased with an example of the manner in which Shakspere follows the chronicles when the historical and the poetical truth are in unison. We will give him the story of Peter of Pomfret, and the incident of the five moons, from Holinshed:--

“ There was in this season (1213, An. Reg. 15) an hermit whose name was Peter, dwelling about York, a man in great reputation with the common people, because that, either inspired with some spirit of prophecy, as the people believed, or else having some notable skill in art magic, he was accustomed to tell what should follow after.

This Peter, about the first of January last past, had told the King that at the feast of the Ascension it should come to pass that he should be cast out of his kingdom. And he offered himself to suffer death for it, if bis words should not prove true. Hereupon being committed to prison within the castle of

[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed][merged small][merged small]

One cause,

Corfe, when the day by him prefixed came, without any other notable damage unto King John, he was, by the King's commandment, drawn from the said castle unto the town of Warham, and there hanged, together with his son.

* Some thought that he had much wrong to die, because the matter fell out even as he had prophesied; for the day before Ascension-day King Johu had resigned the superiority of his kingdom (as they took the matter) unto the Pope, and had done to him homage, so that he was no absolute king indeed, as authors aflirm. and that not the least which moved King John the sooner to agree with the Pope, rose through the words of the said hermit, that did put such a fear of some great mishap in his heart, which should grow through the disloyalty of his people, that it made him yield the sooner.”

“ About the month of December there were seen in the province of York five moons, one in the east, the second in the west, the third in the north, the fourth in the south, and the fifth, as it were, set in the middest of the other, having many stars about it, and went five or six times encompassing the other, ils it were the space of one hour, and shortly after vanished away.”'

We subjoin the portraits of two of the “ angry lords " who figure in this act. Salisbury and Pembroke are especially mentioned by Holinshed as having revolted from John, and joined Lewis. The portrait of William Longespée, Earl of Salisbury—the son of Henry II. by Rosamond de Clifford—is from his effigy in Salisbury Cathedral: that of William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke—the Rector regis et regni” in the next reign-is from his effigy in the Temple church.

[graphic][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]


SCENE I.-The same.

A Room in the Palace.

Enter KING JOHN, PANDULPH with the Crown, and Attend

K. John. Thus have I yielded up into your hand
The circle of my glory.

Take again [Giving John the crown.
From this my hand, as holding of the pope,
Your sovereign greatness and authority.

K. John. Now keep your holy word: go meet the French; And from his holiness use all your power To stop their marches, 'fore we are inflam’d. Our discontented counties a do revolt; Our people quarrel with obedience; Swearing allegiance, and the love of soul, To stranger blood, to foreign royalty. This inundation of mistemper'd humour Rests by you only to be qualified. Then pause not; for the present time's so sick, That present medicine must be minister'd, Or overthrow incurable ensues.

Pand. It was my breath that blew this tempest up, Upon your stubborn usage of the pope; But, since you are a gentle convertite, My tongue shall hush again this storm of war, And make fair weather in your blustering land. On this Ascension-day, remember well, Upon your oath of service to the pope, Go I to make the French lay down their arms. [Exit.

K. John. Is this Ascension-day? Did not the prophet

a Counties-nobles. The reader will remember the County Paris, in “Romeo and Juliet;' and County Guy, in Sir Walter Scott's ballad.

b Convertite-convert ;-reclaimed to the authority of “holy church."

« VorigeDoorgaan »