In a few weeks England sustains a revolution. The King is deposed ; the great
Duke is on the throne. Two or three years of discontent and intrigue, and then
insurrection. Shrewsbury can scarcely be called one of Shakspere's native locali-
ties, yet it is clear that he was familiar with the place. In Falstaff's march from
London to Shrewsbury the poet glances, lovingly as it were, at the old well-known
scenes. " The red-nosed innkeeper at Daventry" had assuredly filled a glass of sack
for him. The distance from Coventry to Suttoii-Coldfield was accurately known by
him, when he makes the burly commander say "Bardolph, get thee before to
* Dugdale. f " Richard II.," Act ii., Scene in.
CHAP. IV.] YORK AND LANCASTER. 97
Coventry ; fill me a bottle of sack : our soldiers shall march through : we'll to Sutton
Cophill to-night." * Shakspere, it seems to us, could scarcely resist the temptation
of showing the Prince in Warwickshire : " What, Hal ? How now, mad wag ? What
a devil dost thou in Warwickshire ?" A word or two tells us that the poet had seen
the field of Shrewsbury :
" How bloodily the sun begins to peer
Above yon busky hill !"
The Chronicle informs us that Henry had marched with a great army towards Wales
to encounter Percy and Douglas, who were coming from the north to join with
Glendower ; and then, " The King, hearing of the Earls' approaching, thought it
policy to encounter with them before that the Welshman should join with their
army, and so include him on both parts, and therefore returned suddenly to the
town of Shrewsbury. He was scantly entered into the town, but he was by his posts
advertised that the Earls, with banners displayed and battles ranged, were coming
toward him, and were so hot and so courageous that they with light horses began to
.skirmish with his host. The King, perceiving their doings, issued out, and encamped
himself without the east gate of the town. The Earls, nothing abashed although
their succours them deceived, embattled themselves not far from the King's army."
There was a night of watchfulness ; and then, " the next day in the morning early,
which was the vigil of Mary Magdalen, the King, perceiving that the battle was nearer
than he either thought or looked for, lest that long tarrying might be a minishing of
his strength, set his battles in good order." The scene of this great contest is well
defined ; the King has encamped himself without the east gate of Shrewsbury. The
poet, by one of his magical touches, shows us the sun rising upon the hostile armies ;
but he is more minute than the chronicler. The King is looking eastward, and he
sees the sun rising over a wooded hill. This is not only poetical, but it is true. He
who stands upon the plain on the east side of Shrewsbury, the Battle Field as it is
now called, waiting, not " a long hour by Shrewsbury clock," but waiting till the
" when the morning sun shall raise his car
Above the border of this horizon," f
will see that sun rise over a <' busky hill," Haughmond Hill. We may well believe,
therefore, from this accuracy, that Shrewsbury had lent a local interest in the mind of
Shakspere to the dramatic conception of the death-scene of the gallant Percy. Insur-
rection was not crushed at Shrewsbury ; but the course of its action does not lie in
the native district of the poet. Yet his Falstaff has an especial affection for these
familiar scenes, and perhaps through him the poet described some of the "old
familiar faces." Shallow and Silence, assuredly they were his good neighbours.
We think there was a tear in his eye when he wrote, " And is old Double dead 1 "
Mouldy, and Shadow, and Wart, and Feeble were they not the representatives of
the valiant men of Stratford, upon whom the corporation annually expended large
sums for harness ? Bardolph and Fluellen were real men, living at Stratford in
1592. After the treacherous putting down of rebellion at Gualtree Forest, Falstaff
casts a longing look towards the fair seat of "Master Robert Shallow, Esquire."
" My lord, I beseech you give me leave to go through Gloucestershire." We are not
now far out of the range of Shakspere's youthful journeys around Stratford. Shallow
will make the poor carter answer it in his wages " about the sack he lost the other
* All the old copies of The First Part of " Henry IV." have Cop-hill. There is no doubt that
Sutton Coldfield, as it is now spelt, was meant by Cop-hill ; but the old printers, we believe, impro-
perly introduced the hyphen ; for Dugdale, in his map, spells the word Cofeild; and it is easy to see
how the common pronunciation would be Cophill or Cofill.
f " Henry VI.," Part III., Act IV., Scene vn.
WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : A BIOGRAPHY.
day at Hinckley Fair." " William Visor of Wincot," that arrant knave who,
according to honest and charitable Davy, " should have some countenance at his
friend's request," was he a neighbour of Christopher Sly's " fat ale-wife of Wincot ; "
and did they dwell together in the Wincot of the parish of Aston-Clifford, or the
Wilmecote of the parish of Aston-Cantlow ? The chroniclers are silent upon this
point ; and they tell us nothing of the history of " Clement Perkes of the Hill."
The chroniclers deal with less happy and less useful sojourners on the earth. Even
" Goodman Puff of Barson," one of " the greatest men in the realm," has no fame
beyond the immortality which Master Silence has bestowed upon him.
The four great historical dramas which exhibit the fall of Richard II., the triumph
of Bolingbroke, the inquietudes of Henry IV., the wild career of his son ending in a
reign of chivalrous daring and victory, were undoubtedly written after the four other
plays of which the great theme was the war of the Eoses. The local associations
which might have influenced the young poet in the choice of the latter subject would
be concentrated, in a great degree, upon Warwick Castle. The hero of these wars
was unquestionably Richard Neville. It was a Beauchamp who fought at Agincourt
in that goodly company who were to be remembered "to the ending of the
" Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot. Salisbury and Gloucester."
[Entrance to Warwick Castle.]
He ordained in his will that in his chapel at Warwick " three masses every day
should be sung as long as the world might endure." The masses have long since
ceased ; but his tomb still stands, and he has a memorial that will last longer than
CHAP. IV.] YORK AND LANCASTER. 99
his tomb. The chronicler passes over his fame at Agincourt, but the dramatist
records it. Did the poet's familiarity with those noble towers in which the Beau-
champ had lived suggest this honour to his memory ? But here, at any rate was
the stronghold of the Neville. Here, when the land was at peace in the dead sleep
of weak government, which was to be succeeded by fearful action, the great Earl
dwelt with more than a monarch's pomp, having his own officer-at-arms called
Warwick herald, with hundreds of friends and dependants bearing about his badge
of the ragged staff ; for whose boundless hospitality there was daily provision made
as for the wants of an army ; whose manors and castles and houses were to be
numbered in almost every county ; and who not only had pre-eminence over every
Earl in the land, but, as Great Captain of the Sea, received to his own use the King's
tonnage and poundage. When William Shakspere looked upon this castle in his
youth, a peaceful Earl dwelt within it, the brother of the proud Leicester the son
of the ambitious Northumberland who had suffered death in the attempt to make
Lady Jane Grey queen, but whose heir had been restored in blood by Mary. War-
wick Castle, in the reign of Elizabeth, was peaceful as the river which glided by it,
the most beautiful of fortress palaces. No prisoners lingered in its donjon keep ;
the beacon blazed not upon its battlements, the warder looked not anxiously out to
see if all was quiet on the road from Kenilworth ; the drawbridge was let down for
the curious stranger, and he might refresh himself in the buttery without suspicion.
Here, then, might the young poet gather from the old servants of the house some of
the traditions of a century previous, when the followers of the great Earl were ever
in fortress or in camp, and for a while there seemed to be no king in England, but
the name of Warwick was greater than that of king.
In the connected plays which form the Three Parts of Henry VI., the Earl of
Warwick, with some violation of chronological accuracy, is constantly brought
forward in a prominent situation. The poet has given Warwick an early importance
which the chroniclers of the age do not assign to him. He is dramatically correct
in so doing ; but, at the same time, his judgment might in some degree have been
governed by the strength of local associations. Once embarked in the great quarrel,
\Vcinvick is the presiding genius of the scene :
" Now, by my father's badge, old Nevil's crest,
The rampant bear chain'd to the ragged staff,
This day I '11 wear aloft my burgonet,
As on a mountain-top the cedar shows
That keeps his leaves in spite of any storm."*
The sword is first unsheathed in that battle-field of St. Albans. After three or four
years of forced quiet it is again drawn. The " she- wolf of France" plunges her fangs
into the blood of York at Wakefield, after Warwick has won the great battle of North-
ampton. The crown is achieved by the son of York at the field of Towton, where
" Warwick rages like a chafed bull."
The poet necessarily hurries over events which occupy a large space in the narra-
tives of the historian. The rash marriage of Edward provokes the resentment of
Warwick, and his power is now devoted to set up the fallen house of Lancaster.
Shakspere is then again in his native localities. He has dramatized the scene of
Edward's capture at Wolvey, on the borders of Leicestershire. Edward escapes from
Middleham Castle, and, after a short banishment, lands again with a few followers in
England, to place himself a second time upon the throne, by a movement which has only
* " Henry VI," Part II., Act v., Scene III.
100 WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : A BIOGRAPHY. [BOOK II.
one parallel in history.* Shakspere describes his countrymen, in the speech which
the great Earl delivers for the encouragement of Henry :
" In Warwickshire I have true-hearted friends,
Not mutinous in peace, yet bold in war ;
Those will I muster up.""}"
Henry is again seized by the Yorkists. Warwick, " the great-grown traitor," is at
the head of his native forces. The local knowledge of the poet is now rapidly put
forth in the scene upon the walls of Coventry :
" War. Where is the post that comes from valiant Oxford ?
How far hence is thy lord, mine honest fellow ]
1 Mess. By this at Dunsmore, marching thitherward.
War. How far off is our brother Montague ?
Where is the post that came from Montague 1
2 Mess. By this at Daintry, with a puissant troop.
Enter Sir JOHN SOMERVILLE.
War. Say Somerville, what says my loving son ]
And, by thy guess, how nigh is Clarence now ]
Som. At Southam I did leave him with his forces,
And do expect him here some two hours hence.
War. Then Clarence is at hand, I hear his drum.
Som. It is not his, my lord ; here Southam lies ;
The dram your honour hears march eth from Warwick."
The chronicler tells the great event of the encounter of the two leaders at Coventry,
which the poet has so spiritedly dramatized : " In the mean season King Edward
came to Warwick, where he found all the people departed, and from thence with all
diligence advanced his power toward Coventry, and in a plain by the city he pitched
his field. And the next day after that he came thither, his men were set forward
and marshalled in array, and he valiantly bade the Earl battle : which, mistrusting
that he should be deceived by the Duke of Clarence, as he was indeed, kept himself
close within the walls. And yet he had perfect word that the Duke of Clarence
came forward toward him with a great army. King Edward, being also thereof
informed, raised his camp, and made toward the Duke. And lest that there might
be thought some fraud to be cloaked between them, the King set his battles in an
order, as though he would fight without any longer delay ; the Duke did likewise."!
Then "a fraternal amity was concluded and proclaimed," which was the ruin of
Warwick and of the House of Lancaster. Ten years before these events, in the
Parliament held in this same city of Coventry a city which had received great
benefits from Henry VI. York, and Salisbury, and Warwick had been attainted.
And now Warwick held the city for him who had in that same city denounced him
as a traitor. With store of ordnance, and warlike equipments, had the great Captain
lain in this city for a few weeks ; and he was honoured as one greater than either
of the rival Kings one who could bestow a crown and who could take a crown
away ; and he sate in state in the old lialls of Coventry, and prayers went up for
his cause in its many churches, and the proud city's municipal officers were as his
servants. He marched out of the city with his forces, after Palm Sunday ; and on
* The landing of Bonaparte from Elba, and Edward ai Eavenspurg, are remarkably similar in
their rapidity and their boldness, though very different in their final consequences,
t " Henry VI.," Part III., Act v., Scene i.
YORK AND LANCASTER.
Easter Day the quarrel between him and the perjured Clarence and the luxurious
Edward was settled for ever upon Barnet Field :
" Thus yields the cedar to the axe's edge,
Whose arms gave shelter to the princely eagle ;
Under whose shade the ramping lion slept ;
Whose top-branch overpeer'd Jove's spreading tree,
And kept low shrubs from winter's powerful wind." *
The Battle of Barnet was fought on the 14th of April, 1471. Sir John Paston, a
stout Lancastrian, writes to his mother from London on the 18th of April : "As
for other tidings, it is understood here that the Queen Margaret is verily landed, and
her son, in the west country, and I trow that as to-morrow, or else the next day, the
King Edward will depart from hence to her ward to drive her out again." t Sir John
Paston, himself in danger of his head, seems to hint that the landing of Queen Mar-
garet will again change the aspect of things. In sixteen days the Battle of Tewksbury
was fought. This is the great crowning event of the terrible struggle of sixteen
years ; and the scenes at Tewksbury are amongst the most spirited of these dramatic
pictures. We may readily believe that Shakspere had looked upon the " fair park
adjoining to the town," where the Duke of Somerset " pitched his field, against the
will and consent of many other captains which would that he should have drawn
aside ; " and that he had also thought of the unhappy end of the gallant Prince
Edward, as he stood in "the church of the Monastery of Black Monks in Tewksbury,"
where " his body was homely interred with the other simple corses." $
There were twelve years of peace between the Battle of Tewksbury and the death
of Edward IV. Then came the history which Hall entitles^ " The Pitiful Life of
King Edward the Fifth," and " The Tragical Doings of King Eichard the Third."
The last play of the series which belongs to the wars of the Roses is unquestionably
written altogether with a more matured power than those which preceded it ; yet
the links which connect it with the other three plays of the series are so unbroken,
the treatment of character is so consistent, and the poetical conception of the whole
so uniform, that we speak of them all as the plays of Shakspere, and of Shakspere
alone. Matured, especially in its wonderful exhibition of character, as the Richard
III. is, we cannot doubt that the subject was very early familiar to the young poet's
mind. The Battle of Bosworth Field was the great event of his own locality, which
for a century had fixed the government of England. The course of the Reformation,
and especially the dissolution of the Monasteries, had produced great social changes,
which were in operation at the time hi which Shakspere was born ; whose effects,
for good and for evil, he must have seen working around him, as he grew from year
to year in knowledge and experience. But those events were too recent, and indeed
of too delicate a nature, to assume the poetical aspect in his mind. They abided
still in the region of prejudice and controversy. It was dangerous to speak of the
great religious divisions of the kingdom with a tolerant impartiality. History could
scarcely deal with these opinions in a spirit of justice. Poetry, thus, which has
regard to what is permanent and universal, has passed by these matters, important
as they are. But the great event which placed the Tudor family on the throne, and
gave England a stable government, however occasionally distracted by civil and reli-
gious division, was an event which would seize fast upon such a mind as that of
Shakspere. His ancestor, there can be little doubt, had been an adherent of the
Earl of Richmond. For his faithful services to the conqueror at Bosworth he was
rewarded, as we are assured, by lands in Warwickshire. That field of Bosworth
* Henry VI.," Part III., Act v., Scene n.
t " Paston Letters," edited by A. Ramsay, vol. ii., p. 60.
102 WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : A BIOGRAPHY. [BOOK II.
would therefore have to him a family as well as a local interest. Burton, the
historian of Leicestershire, who was born about ten years after William Shakspere,
tells us " that his great-great-grandfather, John Hardwick, of Lindley, near Bosworth,
a man of very short stature, but active and courageous, tendered his service to
Henry, with some troops of horse, the night he lay at Atherston, became his guide
to the field, advised him in the attack, and how to profit by the sun and by the
wind."* Burton further says, writing in 1622, that the inhabitants living around
the plain called Bosworth Field, more properly the plain of Sutton, "have many
occurrences and passages yet fresh in memory, by reason that some persons there-
about, which saw the battle fought, were living within less than forty years, of which
persons myself have seen some, and have heard of their disclosures, though related
by the second hand." This " living within less than forty years " would take us
back to about the period which we are now viewing in relation to the life of Shak-
spere. But certainly there is something over-marvellous in Burton's story to enable
us to think that William Shakspere, even as a very young boy, could have conversed
with "some persons thereabout" who had seen a battle fought in 1485. That, as
Burton more reasonably of himself says, he might have " heard their discourses at
second-hand " is probable enough. Bosworth Field is about thirty miles from
Stratford. Burton says that the plain derives its name from Bosworth, " not that
this battle was fought at this place (it being fought in a large flat plain, and spacious
ground, three miles distant from this town, between the towns of Shenton, Sutton,
Dadlington, and Stoke) ; but for that this town was the most worthy town of note
near adjacent, and was therefore called Bosworth Field. That this battle was fought
in this plain appeareth by many remarkable places : By a little mount cast up, where
the common report is, that at the first beginning of the battle Henry Earl of Rich-
mond made his parsenetical oration to his army ; by divers pieces of armour, weapons,
and other warlike accoutrements, and by many arrow-heads here found, whereof,
about twenty years since, at the enclosure of the lordship of Stoke, great store were
digged up, of which some I have now (1622) in my custody, being of a long, large,
and big proportion, far greater than any now in use ; as also by relation of the
inhabitants, who have many occurrences and passages yet fresh in memory." t
Burton goes on to tell two stories connected with the eventful battle. The one
was the vision of King Richard, of " divers fearful ghosts running about him, not
suffering him to take any rest, still crying ' Revenge.' " Hall relates the tradition
thus : " The fame went that he had the same night a dreadful and a terrible dream,
for it seemed to him, being asleep, that he saw divers images like terrible devils, not
suffering him to take any quiet or rest." Burton says, previous to his description
of the dream, " The vision is reported to be in this manner." And certainly his
account of the fearful ghosts " still crying Revenge" is essentially different from that
of the chronicler. Shakspere has followed the more poetical account of the old local
historian ; which, however, could not have been known to him :
" Methought the souls of all that I have murther'd
Came to my tent : and every one did threat
To-morrow's vengeance on the head of Richard."
Did Shakspere obtain his notion from the same source as Burton from " relation of
the inhabitants who have many occurrences and passages yet fresh in memory ? "
King Henry is crowned upon the Field of Bosworth. According to the Chronicler,
Lord Stanley " took the crown of King Richard, which was found amongst the spoil
in the field, and set it on the Earl's head, as though he had been elected king by
* Button's " Bosworth Field."
f From " Burton's Manuscripts," quoted by Mr. Nicholls.
CHAP. IV.] YORK AND LANCASTER. 103
the voice of the people, as in ancient times past in divers realms it hath been
accustomed." Then, " the same night in the evening King Henry with great pomp
came to the town of Leicester," where he rested two days. " In the mean season
the dead corpse of King Richard was as shamefully carried to the town of Leicester,
as he gorgeously the day before with pomp and pride departed out of the said
Years roll on. There was another conqueror, not by arms but by peaceful intel-
lect, who had once moved through the land in " pomp and pride," but who came
to Leicester in humility and heaviness of heart. The victim of a shifting policy and
of his own ambition, Wolsey, found a grave at Leicester scarcely more honourable
than that of Richard :
" At last, with easy roads, he came to Leicester,
Lodg'd in the abbey ; where the reverend abbot,
With all his convent, honourably receiv'd him ;
To whom he gave these words : ' 0, father abbot,
An old man, broken with the storms of state,
Is come to lay his weary bones among ye ;
Give him a little earth for charity ! '
So went to bed : whore eagerly his sickness
Pursued him still ; and three nights after this,
About the hour of eight, (which he himself
Foretold should be his last,) full of repentance,
Continual meditations, tears, and sorrows,
He gave his honours to the world again,
His blessed part to heaven, and slept in peace." *
Wolsey is the hero of Shakspere's last historical play ; and even in this history, large
as it is, and belonging to the philosophical period of the poet's life, we may trace
something of the influence of the principle of Local Association.
* " Henry VIII.," Act iv., Scene n.
WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : A BIOGRAPHY.
[Evesham : The Bell Tower.]
RUINS, NOT OF TIME.
" High towers, fair temples, goodly theatres,
Strong walls, rich porches, princely palaces,
Large streets, brave houses, sacred sepulchres,
Sure gates, sweet gardens, stately galleries,
Wrought with fair pillars and fine imageries ;
All these, pity ! now are turn'd to dust,
And overgrown with black oblivion's rust."
SUCH is Spenser's noble description of what was once the " goodly Verlam." These
were " The Euins of Time." But within sixteen miles of Stratford would the young
Shakspere gaze in awe and wonder upon ruins more solemn than any produced by
" time's decay." The ruins of Evesham were the fearful monuments of a political
CHAP. V.] RUINS, NOT OF TIME. 105
revolution which William Shakspere himself had not seen ; but which, in the boy-
hood of his father, had shaken the land lik an earthquake, and, toppling down its
" high steeples," had made many
" An heap of lime and sand,
For the screech-owl to build her baleful bo'wer."
Such were the ruins he looked upon, cumbering the ground where, forty years before,
stood the magnificent abbey whose charters reached back to the days of the Kings
The last great building of the Abbey of Evesham is the only one properly belong-
ing to the monastery which has escaped destruction. The campanile which formed