Over the years, I have found several scraps of what seems to me to be some kind of play, perhaps written in the Tudor period (certainly not before!) which sheds a startling light on the personality of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. These scraps have turned up in the oddest places – some scrawled on pieces of parchment carefully cut to form the covers of other less interesting documents; some lining bird cages and sock drawers; several roughly scored through so the other side could be used to write (usually utterly boring) letters; and one (rather thrillingly!) used as a menu in a hip café, where I ate chocolate icecream out of a tiny plastic toilet and was served an adequate martini in a flower vase. Perhaps, one day, if I have the time, I shall piece these scraps together and see if there isn’t some kind of narrative flow to be discovered. In the meantime, because I suspect this play (thought utterly free of any literary merit whatsoever) might yet prove to be of interest to historians, I shall be sharing some of the more intact extracts with my dear dear readers.
… be you not so wise nor so merry, Herbert!
Herbert: Ah, you speak the truth though you are too great a fool to know it.
Lorenzo: And so I take my leave of you. [exeunt with flourish]
Herbert: ‘Tis a hasty fool who speaks of love
And understands not its glory.
A barrel of beer, a hunk of bread,
My dear wife waiting in my bed.
A poor man may dream, may he not?
E’en though an empty tankard’s all he’s got.
But I intrude too much upon this stage
So return you to the story.
Hush! Who comes? Who aventures to this scene?
(I swear by Holy God I’ll have my lager yet!
E’en though ‘tis put off for a time by Lady Margaret.)
[Hides behind curtain]
[Enter Lady Margaret and Lord Stanley.]
Margaret: I saw, I swear I did, afore that crown was on his head
Our King – the devil take him! – my eyes did see nak-ed.
Stanley: As did mine.
Margaret. That image we can use,
I shall find a way.
Stanley: You’ll think of him bare chested
When we at bed sport play?
[aside] And that’s a promise long withheld
A vow of chastity, a lonely husband,
The coverlets not perfumed by her scent
The contents of my breeches sorely swelled.
Margaret: Nay, husband! Forsooth, you are a dolt!
When my precious boy takes the crown,
Once the princes breath their last,
Once Richard’s dead, his wife and son,
Once your promise I hold fast.
I shall persuade you yet, my lord
Stanley: With a hot kiss and a sweeter word?
[aside] Methinks the time draws nigh
When, at last, I make her sigh.
Margaret: We shall tell them, once he is dead
To strip him bare and see him themselves naked.
Stanley. Spread the joy!
That kingly chest will be your undoing, wife!
Margaret: I see it in my mind’s dark eye
Some ink-stained wordsmith,
Bent over smoking candle.
Fetch me parchment and ink so I can write this down…
Stanley: Megsie, love… sweetheart… Think a time.
Draw a long deep breath and have a cup of wine.
Your words confound my ears, as e’er they do,
But now they confound my very brainbox, too.
Margaret: His back…
Margaret: Well, it’s all twisted, isn’t it?
Margaret: It means he’s evil!
Stanley: Does it?
Margaret: Of course it does! ‘Tis easy understood,
No-one gets a twisted back by being good!
Stanley: Is that why he stole his nephew’s crown?
And why into the Tower he thinks to creep
In darkest night when no-one is around
And plots to smother him while he does sleep?
Margaret: No! If any is to those sweet princes smother
‘Twill be the next come monarch’s sainted mother.
My son shall be King! I swear this to be true.
And I shall be his Mother! As for you
A great reward awaits you husband mine.
Stanley: I’ll go turn down the blankets, get one of the cleaner pages to warm the bed up for us…
Margaret: Though fortune weighs him down and he doth live in penury,
I shall secure the crown of England for my Henury.
Stanley: [aside] What madness is this? What folly strikes her?
If I didn’t know her better I’d say it was not like her!
Margaret: I shall be the King’s Mother, husband. I verily shall. For I have seen King Richard naked!
JEF Dingle-Bell (Mrs) is up to her elbows in flour and poached quince. It will be a small gathering, nothing terribly fancy, just a few old friends and her Aunt Evangelina. Mr Bell might be persuaded to do his impression of Clement Atlee (which is jolly good!) and the Rev Fairbrother promised to bring his bassoon. The Hon Diana Clackton will be most delighted, she tells us, to show us the new dance she learned from Isadora Duncan when they last communed, though we do hope this time she wears something a little less… gauzy. Major Humphrey-Nettlesting (Darling Roddy!) will be bringing some rather jolly chaps from the Black Watch – always the most tremendous fun! Do pop by if you’ve nothing on that day.