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of Croyland is the only contemporary who says anything, and he (whose character of an ecclesiastic requires that what he says should be taken with allowance) only tells us that he was eminent for “probity and wisdom, as well as for riches and glory.” I presume that the exposure of a rich, haughty, and unscrupulous Cardinal was a popular topic at the court of the daughter of Anne Boleyn. The fourth act commences with a mysterious transaction—the murder of the Duke of Suffolk. The poet represents this execution as done by pirates, who refuse to take ransom from Suffolk (though accepted from the other prisoners), by reason of his public offences (among which, however, Gloucester's murder is not included). And the executioner is Walter Whitmore, whose name reminds Suffolk of the prophecy in the first act, that he should die by water. This is not according to Holinshed— “Intending to transport himself over to France, he was encountered with a ship of war, appertaining to the Duke of Exeter, constable of the Tower of London, called the Nicholas of the Tower. The captain of this bark with small fight entered into the Duke's ship, and perceiving his person present brought him to Doverroad, and there, on the one side of a cock-boat, caused
his head to be stricken off, and left his body with the head lying there on the sand—which corpse being there found by a chaplain of his, was conveyed to Wingfield College, in Suffolk, and there buried.”*
A letter in the Paston collection, perfect authority as to the belief of the day, tells the story more particularly :—
“Right worshipful Sir, LI recommend me to you, and am right sorry of that I shall say, and have so washed this little bill with sorrowful tears, that uneths (scarcely) ye shall read it. As on Monday next after May-day (4th May) there came tidings to London that on Thursday before (30th April) the Duke of Suf. folk came unto the coasts of Kent full near Dover with his two ships and a little spinner; the which spinner he sent with certain letters by certain of his trusted men unto Calais-ward, to know how he should be received, and with him met a ship called Nicholas of the Tower, with other ships waiting on him, and by them that were in the spinner the master of the Nicholas had knowledge of the Duke's coming. When he espied the Duke's ships, he sent full his boat to weet what they were, and the Duke himself spoke to them, and said he was, by the King's commandment, sent to Calais-ward, &c.; and they said he must speak with their master; and so he, with two or three of his men, went forth with them in their boat to the Nicholas, and when he came, the
master bade him Welcome, traitor, as men say. And further, the master desired to weet if the shipmen would hold with the Duke, and they sent word they would not in no wise, and so he was in the Nicholas till Saturday next following. Some say he wrote much things to be delivered to the King, but that is not verily known ; some say he had his confessor with him, &c.; and some say he was arraigned in the ship in their manner, upon the impeachments, and found guilty, &c.
“Also he asked the name of the ship, and when he knew it, he remembered Stacy, that said, if he might escape the danger of the Tower he would be safe, and then his heart failed him, for he thought he was deceived. And in the sight of all his men he was drawn out of the great ship into the boat, and there was an axe, and a stock, and one of the leudest of the ship bade him lay down his head, and he should be fairly fought with, and die on a sword; and took a rusty sword and smote off his head within half-a-dozen strokes, and took away his gown of russet, and his doublet of velvet mailed, and laid his body on the sands of Dover, and some say his head was set on a pole by it, and his men sit on the land by great circumstance and pray. And the sheriff of Kent doth watch the body, and sent his under-sheriff to the judges to weet what to do ; and also to the King, what shall be done. Further I wot not, but thus far is it, if the process be erroneous let his counsel reverse it, &c.”*
* W. Lomner to John Paston, 5th May 1450; Fenn, i. 39.
Mrs. Lennox observes, that “Shakspeare probably borrowed his story from the same tale that furnished him with the loves of Suffolk and the Queen.” The truth is, that Shakspeare's version, and that of more authentic history, are equally mysterious. Mackintosh says that there was in the killing of Suffolk “ some butcherly mimicking of an execution of public justice.”*— Paston's correspondent clearly so viewed the transaction. Is it possible that Suffolk—whom this account represents as hovering on the coast of Kent, and who was detained, I think, until after a communication might have been had with the court – can have been executed as a banished man unlawfully returning 2 I give this as a mere floating conjecture, and have no confidence in it; and, indeed, few weeks, perhaps few days, elapsed between the banishment and this catastrophe. It has been suggested $ that the Nicholas was sent by the Duke of York, on purpose to intercept and destroy Suffolk; but this is also a mere conjecture. It must be noted that the contemporary account does not say that the ship belonged to the Duke of Exeter.
* Shakspeare Illustrated, iii. 154.
f Hist. of Eng., ii. 12.
t It is distinctly stated that the sheriff made a communication after the execution; but it appears that Suffolk was
on board the Nicholas for two or three days. § Fenn's notes on the Paston letter.
It is remarkable that the Paston letter not only mentions a rumour that the Duke was “arraigned in the ship, after their manner” (possibly, by Admiralty law), but speaks of reversing the process, by a legal proceeding, if erroneous. How the process of beheading was to be reversed I do not exactly know.
This strange business suggests still one more remark. The Paston account refers, as the play does, to a prophecy and a quibble, but instead of Water and Walter, it is the Tower, and the ship called Nicholas of the Tower, that excite the apprehensions of the Duke.
We have now * the insurrection of Jack Cade, who had already been thus announced by the Duke of York:—
“. . for a minister of my intent,
This devil here shall be my substitute;
* Act iv. Sc. 2. This was in 1450.