By Beth von Staats
Video Credit: Great Performances, PBS
In celebration of next Sunday’s release of The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses in the United States (PBS at 9:00 PM on December 11, 2016), enjoy some flash fiction from the point of view of King Henry VI, Episode One’s protagonist and reigning monarch.
“Of France and England, did this king succeed;
Whose state so many had the managing.
That they lost France and made his England bleed.”
~~~~ William Shakespeare, Henry V ~~~~
My father, King Henry, fifth of his name, near conqueror of all of France, commander of the sea, warrior, diplomat, statesman, and ruler of a united nation, was the grandest king among all the kings of Christendom. While he reigned, there was peace within the realm. While he reigned, England was the jewel in the crown of Europe. While he reigned, crops were plentiful. The treasury grew abundantly. The arts flourished. While he reigned, the Lords were obedient, loyal to him above all. I heard all the stories. They were pounded into my head since a babe. “This would never happen while he reigned,” I hear them whisper. No, of course not, my father was God personified on earth.
Respite, I need thee respite. My Clarendon hunting lodge, though more humble than a palace, more humble than a castle, always soothed my soul. Quiet, peaceful, free of the stresses of the boulders laying hard and heavy upon my shoulders, Clarendon cleared my mind, relieved the weight of all the world that threatens to always smother me. God, so why not now? Why not now? All I seek is peace before I head on to Dorset. All I seek is quiet before I deal with the Lord’s most recent grievances. All I seek is escape from the failures of my life, escape from the shame of defeat, escape from the factions and infighting among the Lords and my subjects, some loyal to me, most not. Margaret, my beloved queen, bless her please God I pray. She in truth is the rightful King of England. She in truth is the strength upon the throne. I am merely a scholar, a devout man of worship, a gentle man of the quill, a patron of the arts. God, you know me, all of me, the good and the bad. Why am I not a monk? Why am I not of your clergy, a servant of His Holy Father? Worship is my calling, my greatest desire. Oh yes, this just can’t be. I am the only son of King Henry, fifth of his name.
They say the war with France has gone near 100 years now — near 100 years, battles fought, battles lost, battles won. Near 100 years, English kings maintained a stronghold, never French upon our shores. Near 100 years, we fought with glory, the war all but won when God called him home. Heir apparent to the thrown of France, he married the daughter of King Charles, inched his way across his land of fortune. The grand warrior king, he nearly won it all. God, is his seed really in me, Henry, fifth of his name? A quandary, yes a right quandary I dare say. I think not. I know not. I must be a bastard child unbeknownst, a changling. A failure of a king I am, losing all the monarchs of England gained through sweat and tears of their subjects these near 100 years, only Calais hanging on. The fool of Christendom, I rule not. The fool of Christendom, I lead not. The fool of Christendom, I heal the divides of my ever battling Lords and subjects not. I am but a pygmy king, a pretender.
As I sit by the hearth, wine full in my goblet, I watch the flames roar. Satan, there he is in the fire, urging me on. “Die, you bastard pretender, die. That’s what you want. Do it!”
I know Satan’s trickery. Yes, death comes easy to a man like me, good to no one. The seed is within her. The deed is done. Why stay now? “Die, you bastard pretender. Your realm is best without you.”
My mind spins with Satan’s words, his urging tempting me to do the deed. I am best gone. I am best invisible. The grandest sin is to follow Satan’s call. I shall go to hell. I shall rage in the fire, licking at my feet for all eternity. “Be gone, Satan, I command you!”
I am a Godly man, a pious man. Thou shalt not kill, even me. I take a long drink from the goblet, the wine warming the edge off my thoughts. I close my eyes, and rest my weary mind. Quiet and peaceful at last, the boulders lift, floating off me. My humors align, my soul is at rest. I think through scripture. It be surely a sin to kill the body, but is it sinful to kill the soul? Is it a sin to still be living, but dead? Gone, but still here? No, I think not. I begin to pray in earnest, my mind and all within me intent on shutting down.
“Lord, grant me peace and release my soul. Lord, grant me peace and release my soul. Lord, grant me peace release my soul. Lord, grant me peace and release my soul. Lord, grant me peace…”
~~~~~ Fade To Black ~~~~~
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Beth von Staats is a history writer of both fiction and non-fiction short works. A life-long history enthusiast, Beth holds a Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, in Sociology from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. She is the owner and administrator of Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers website, QueenAnneBoleyn.com.
Beth’s interest in British History grew through the profound influence of her Welsh grandparents, both of whom desired she learn of her family cultural heritage. Her most pronounced interest lies with the men and women who drove the course of events and/or who were most poignantly impacted by the English Henrician and Protestant Reformations, as well as the Tudor Dynasty of English and Welsh History in general.
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