The two English history plays written by Roger Boyle, earl of Orrery, during the first decade of the Restoration, The History of Henry the Fifth and The Black Prince, were instrumental in reviving the genre in the late seventeenth century. Although Boyle's Restoration plays have commonly been understood as inaugurating English heroic drama, this article situates them instead in an enduring tradition of seventeenth-century English history plays. Both complimentary and critical of court policy, these plays respond to the experience of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, from the early enthusiasm for war to the later disappointment with its disastrous outcome. The article aims to demonstrate how later seventeenth-century history plays, like their Elizabethan counterparts, continued to serve as vehicles for political critique and an important forum for the debate of pressing topical issues.
Since Irving Ribner's The English History Play in the Age of Shakespeare (1957), it has generally been held that the most overtly political of the Renaissance dramatic genres--the English history play--degenerated into historical romance and then vanished in the early years of the Smart monarchy. Many even assume that the English history play expired with the last breath of Shakespeare himself. (1) Given this prevailing wisdom, it is surprising to note that dozens of dramas treating events from English political history appeared in the early years of the Restoration. The English history play re-emerged first in the printing and reprinting of numerous prewar history plays, from cheerfully royalist Elizabethan dramas, such as John Day's The Blind Beggar of Bednal Green (ca. 1599, p. 1659), to darker and more oppositional Jacobean and Caroline works, such as Thomas Middleton's Hengist, King of Kent (reprinted twice in 1661) and Robert Davenport's King John and Matilda (reprinted in 1662). These prewar plays caught the attention of Restoration dramatists. As Nancy Maguire notes in her study of Restoration tragicomedy, playwrights in the 1660s were looking back to the prewar stage for dramatic models; as they absorbed and imitated these models, the result was "new integrations" that "inevitably translated the old genres into Carolean terms." (2) By the middle of the decade, a few dramatists had begun to compose new Restoration history plays that revive the form even as they rethink its political and dramatic function.
The most significant of these was Roger Boyle, earl of Orrery, who composed the first original history plays of the Restoration, The History of Henry the Fifth (1662-64) and The Black Prince (1665-67). Although relatively obscure today, these plays were successful on the Restoration stage; Boyle's Henry the Fifth, a play which Samuel Pepys called "the most full of heighth and raptures of wit and sense, that ever I heard," played at least until the end of the decade and would have been the only version of Henry V's life available to theatergoers. (3) While Roger Boyle has since been eclipsed in fame by his younger brother, the natural philosopher Robert Boyle, he was one of the most prominent public figures of his day, and he was virtually unique in acting as a personal friend and advisor both to Oliver Cromwell and to Charles II. As President of Munster and one of the three Lord Justices of Ireland in the 1660s, Boyle struggled to uphold English rule in the face of local Roman Catholic resistance to English rule, French-supported conspiracies, economic hardship, and privateering. Rather than being a cringing courtier, as critics have portrayed him, Boyle actively urged upon Charles a more militant foreign policy and a stronger stance against France than the latter was prepared to take. It is revealing that Louis XIV considered Boyle a strong enough enemy to France to demand his removal from office when negotiating the 1670 alliance, apparently on the grounds that he could no longer be trusted to deploy his troops according to the king's commands. (4) By June of 1672, this pressure had worn down Charles's loyalty to his friend, and he removed Boyle from office.
Boyle claimed that he wrote his heroic plays for two reasons: in obedience to the king's command, and as a means of passing the time while he was bedridden with the gout (5) In fact, as Susan Staves and Maguire have pointed out, he also used his writing for the stage to articulate the loyalist experience of the recent civil wars, and, in particular, to explicate his own accommodation to Cromwellian rule. (6) In my view, his attraction to the genre of the English history play in particular for his third and fourth plays probably derives from the strength of his political commitments in the 1660s. The English history play, with its long tradition as a forum for political commentary and analysis of topical events, provided a unique opportunity for a Restoration courtier-playwright such as Boyle to examine some of the most pressing political issues of his day in the presence of the king.
First, however, the old-fashioned genre required significant updating to fit the tastes of the Carolean court, where the vogue for French heroic prose romance and heroic drama was at its height. (7) In addition to writing in heroic couplets, the French dramatic verse form favored by the king, Boyle emphasized the romance elements inherent in the history play--notably the fascination with the lives of hero-kings that Ribner calls the "germ" of its deterioration implicit in the history play from its very beginning." (8) He then worked in the fashionable debates over the relative merits of love, honor, and friendship that were a deliberate attempt to revive the culture of the Caroline court. As William Smith Clark points out in his edition of Boyle's plays, Boyle had come of age among the "precieuse and Platonic conventions of Henrietta Maria's court," and lived to see such ideas revived at court as well as in Dublin high society, into which Katherine Phillips arrived in 1662. (9) Boyle would not have viewed these precieuse sentiments and situations as at odds with the naturalism modern readers have come to expect out of a treatment of history. In the preface to his Parthenissa (1655), the first English-language imitation of the French heroic prose romance, Boyle remarks that prose "Historyes are for the most Part but mixt Romances," in which the "mettle" of truth mixes indiscriminately with the "drosse" of invention ("Preface," B-Bv). (10) Much the same could be said for his history plays.
If Boyle's histories are gallicized in form, they are emphatically nativist and nationalistic in other ways. They take for their subject matter the French campaigns of England's greatest imperial hero-kings, Henry V and Edward III, whose victories over the French were already a matter of national legend. Not coincidentally, these were the two kings singled out by Thomas Heywood in the Apology for Actors (1612), republished in 1658 as The Actors Vindication, as the proper subject of "our domesticke histories," capable of raising the national feeling of "any bold English man" as well as the martial valor of his king. (11) Heywood's nationalist account of English history plays is given a distinctly royalist spin in A Prologue to His Majesty, at the First Play Presented at the Cockpit in Whitehall (London, 1660). This prologue contends that the Interregnum regimes closed the theaters because the specters of "Our HARRIES & our EDWARDS" threatened their authority from the stage: "Those Monuments of Fame (they thought) would stain / And teach the People to despise their Reign" (lines 11, 13-4). (12) Had the public theaters not been closed, the performance of English history plays might have reminded the people of England's monarchical tradition and thereby secured their allegiance to the king. With the reopening of the theaters, the prologue promises Charles a place among England's theatrical hero-kings, vowing that his restoration will now "fill our Story, and adorne our Stage" (line 44).
Boyle makes good on this promise, for not only Henry V and Edward III, but also Charles himself is on stage in Boyle's histories, which monumentalize the Restoration and the Carolean regime as part of English national history. We know that the king took an interest in Boyle's history plays; Boyle sent him partial drafts of The Black Prince to comment on, and John Downes records in Roscius Anglicanus (1708) that the king's own coronation robes were used in Henry the Fifth; they may by this time have been the property of the duke's company. (13) Charles attended the premieres of both plays and ordered at least one command performance of Henry the Fifth at court, on 28 December 1666. Although we cannot ascertain the extent of the king's involvement with Boyle's plays, it is suggestive that the re-emergence of the English history play in the early years of the Restoration dovetailed neatly with Charles's propagandistic use of English history in the coronation processions and London pageants of the early 1660s. As Paula R. Backscheider has documented, Charles used historical symbols, allusions, and ceremonies, oftentimes even spuriously authentic, as a means of rehistoricizing his regime and constructing a new mythology for the second phase of Stuart kingship. (14) Charles's patronage of Boyle's history plays may signify a cautious attempt to reintroduce a pro-Stuart history play to the stage.
It seems likely that Charles found the plays' royalist sentiments congenial and was flattered by Boyle's deference to his dramatic tastes; indeed, Boyle's attempt to "please" Charles has preoccupied virtually all critical accounts of his work. (15) Yet Boyle's histories are not merely "royalist propaganda," as Mita Choudhury has described them, nor are they "attempts to market the restored King," as Maguire has summed up Restoration tragicomedy. (16) Staves's reading of Boyle's plays cautions against such conclusions, noting that they both articulate contemporary political problems and resolve (or fail to resolve) them in ways that must leave us "puzzled" as to their politics; in her view, although Boyle is capable of identifying problems in Carolean governance, "Boyle had no realistic solutions, and in the sixties neither did anybody else." (17)
Yet Boyle's use of the English history play in Henry the Fifth and The Black Prince may justify a more optimistic view. With the unusual advantage of Charles's undivided attention, Boyle's English histories offer specific advice to the king, ranging from criticism of Charles's "private Gallantries" (Henry the Fifth, III.vii.381), to commentary on Anglo-French relations and the conduct of the Second Dutch War (1665-67). Separated by the bulk of the war, Henry the Fifth calls for Charles to pursue a vigorous foreign policy against France, while The Black Prince seeks consolation in national legend for England's humiliating defeat.
THE HISTORY OF HENRY THE FIFTH (1662-64)
Although Shakespeare's Henry V was not revived until the 1730s, audiences at the premiere of Boyle's Henry the Fifth (Duke's, August 1664) would have known Prince Hal from 1 Henry IV and from The Bouncing Knight, a popular 1650s droll that excerpted his adventures with Falstaff. (18) To an indulgent audience, the personal parallels between the new king and Henry V must have been striking: both Charles II and Hem-y V succeeded fathers whose reigns were mired in civil war, both had acquired a reputation for youthful foibles and vices prior to assuming the throne, and both promised to be heroic lovers as well as kings. In The History of Henry the Fifth, Boyle provides the Restoration audience with a grown-up and mature monarch to replace the roguish prince of the popular imagination, even as Charles II attempted to accomplish a similar transformation of his own public image.
In August of 1664, the parallel between Henry V and Charles II was particularly timely. Like Henry, Charles faced increasing insolence and hostility from France, a country over which the English monarchs had claimed sovereignty since Edward III. The young Louis XIV, consolidating his power after the death of Cardinal Mazarin in 1661, soon afterwards forced Charles to forgo his ceremonial title of king of France as well as other ritual deferences; these included the precedence of the English ambassador before the princes of the French royal family and mandatory French salute of English warships at sea. (19) More serious injuries were to come. Over the following three years, France sealed an alliance with England's main commercial enemy, the United Netherlands--a pact, as Charles saw it, "against himself." (20) As relations with both France and the United Netherlands deteriorated in the early 1660s, the memory of Henry's victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt (1415) and his ensuing diplomatic triumphs, culminating in the entailing of the French crown on his heirs, must have served as a cheering antidote to England's increasing marginalization.
Boyle's Henry the Fifth is very much a history play of the Restoration moment and bears little relationship to Shakespeare's play. From the beginning of Boyle's play, the leadership of France is in acute disarray. King Charles VI, discreetly kept off stage, has succumbed to a bout of madness, and the court and aristocracy are divided between rival factions led by the queen-regent and her son, the dauphin. In this nightmare of political and domestic inversion, the madness of the king and corruption of the court reflect the ideological bankruptcy of Valois rule, founded on the usurpation of Henry's superior title to the throne through his great-great-grandmother, Isabel of France. The play opens as Henry, frustrated by his failure to achieve his ends through diplomatic means, invades France to "Prove to the French, our claim to France is just" (I.i.2).
In a nod to the unities of Lime and place, Boyle telescopes the historical Henry V's two French campaigns into one, with battles at Agincourt and at sea, and sets the entire play in France. The actual fighting of these battles appears in embedded epic narratives, appropriately for a heroic drama, which growing consensus dictated "ought to be an imitation, in little, of an heroic poem." (21) In the first of these, reported by the count of Blamount, the Battle of Agincourt is heroically (if unhistorically) decided by a single combat between Henry V and the French duke of Alanson that is modeled on the contest between Paris and Menelaus in the third book of the Iliad. (22) Paired with this Homeric episode is an archetypal epic sea battle, in which the English fleet reportedly destroys the French navy thanks to the timely intervention of the king of Portugal (an imaginative tribute to the new queen, Katherine of Braganza).
Besides these miniature epics, the bulk of the play is given over to scenes of diplomacy and court intrigue. When representatives from France and England convene after Agincourt, peace is delayed by the duke of Burgundy's Machiavellian resolve to continue the war in his own interest, for "Whilst these two mighty Kingdomes disagree, / I keep in safety my own Burgundie" (III.ii.29-30). Burgundy's secret alliance with the dauphin unravels, however, and the dauphin has him murdered; Burgundy's son consequently defects to the English cause. The dauphin then seeks to depose and imprison the queen, bringing France to the very brink of civil war. Yet like those of any usurper on the Restoration stage, the dauphin's "bloody deed[s]" reveal that "he but falsly claim'd what he would be" (V.vii.519-20), and when the French clergy search back through the written annals, they find that Henry possesses a superior claim to the French throne. The bishop of Arras emphasizes that Henry is king not by conquest, election, or deposition, but by lawful descent.
From those Records the Learned clearly tell Your Ancient Title by Queen Isabel; By whom you to this Crown are lawful Heir: New rights we grant not, but the old declare. (V.vii.527-30)
In a typically Carolean turn, the play is revealed to be a history not of conquest but of restoration, replaying the events of 1660 as a version of national legend.
Tactfully, no mention is made of the objection raised by Burgundy earlier to disrupt the peace process--that Henry V as a Lancastrian usurps the right of the House of York in his own country. Although Burgundy's unanswered allegation tarnishes Henry V's claim to France, Charles II meets Burgundy's exact criteria for a claimant: "if your Roses Heav'n should e're unite, / Then you may challenge France with better Right" (IV.i.91-2). As heir to the Tudor dynasty, which at its founding married the houses of Lancaster and York, Charles possesses a "better Right" to France even than Henry V. In this sense, Charles emerges as the unspoken hero of the play.
This political plot is interlaced with an erotic plot that mirrors its concern with sovereignty, legitimacy, and subjection. This wooing plot concerns the marriage of Henry and Katherine of Valois, but its principal hero is not Henry but his friend, Owen Tudor. Unaware that Tudor has a prior attachment to Katherine, Henry sends him to woo her by proxy, thus bringing Tudor's duties to king, friend, mistress, and love into irreconcilable conflict. Tudor reasons that he can reconcile them by renouncing Katherine, a "great action" (II.i.151) that will fulfill and even surpass his duty as a political subject, for "Who for his King against his Love does act / Pays Debts much greater than he can contract" (II.i.148-9). In addition to lightening the psychological burden of subjection, he will thereby remain loyal to his friend, while also assisting his mistress to attain "her right" (II.i.152)--perhaps to the throne of France, perhaps to a suitable royal spouse, or both. Finally, he will prove himself worthy of love, for "by losing, I shall merit her. / And to obtain, not merit her, will prove / Less than to lose her and deserve her Love" (II.i.153-5).
If Tudor's resolve seems somewhat wooden, Katherine's inner conflict is more dynamic. Although grateful to Tudor for saving her life in a flood and attracted by his "many Charms," Katherine is sufficiently conscious of her own glory to disqualify him as a suitor; while "I did grieve he sat not on a Throne ... He who a throne does want, wants all things too" (I.iii.319, 321-3). She marvels at the triumph of her reason over her heart, which enables her to prefer title, glory, and "blood" to Tudor's love, "And makes me flye what else I would pursue" (II.iii.359, 371). It is unclear whether the play endorses her decision to sacrifice love to these public values; however, her tribute to the power of reason resonates with Burgundy's chilling endorsement of Machiavellian raison d'etat two scenes later: "'Tis not a States-man's Vertue to be just ... Reason should still appoint us what to do" (III.ii.36-43).
It is an open question whether Katherine is "just" to Tudor. Despite her resolve to reject him, Katherine unexpectedly upbraids Tudor for refusing to plead his suit in the presence of the king, who has granted him license to do so:
He who resigns his Love, though for his King, Does, as he is a Lover, a low thing: But, as a Subject, a high Crime does do; Being, at once, Subject and Rebel too: For, whilst to Regal pow'r he does submit, He casts off Love, a greater pow'r than it. (V.iv.331-6)
In a dense and witty conflation of political subjection and subjection to love, Katherine recasts Tudor's act of model obedience as an act of rebellion, presenting Tudor with an agonizing dilemma. If he pleads for himself, he disobeys as a political subject by opposing the king's interests. Yet if he refuses to plead, he also disobeys--not only by disregarding Henry's express command that he speak for himself, but also by rebelling against the sovereignty of love, "a greater pow'r" even than his king. In Katherine's skeptical view, Tudor's anxious attempt to obey two masters at once is motivated by "fear," thinly disguised as loyalty, and thus earns him nothing more than her "disdain" (V.iv.364, 384). Entrapped by conflicting obligations, Tudor as a loyal subject finds himself in the unbearable position of being forced to play the part of subject, rebel, and coward at once. It is perhaps not surprising that at least one group of audience members, namely Pepys and his friends, took umbrage at Katherine's dismissal of Tudor as an "indignity" and "great blemish to the play." (23) Yet Tudor's predicament is also reminiscent of what Staves calls "the impossibility of [Boyle's] own political choices," in which loyalty to Charles could be maintained only by betraying Protestant Ireland, and vice versa. (24)
Although Tudor loses out to Henry, whose betrothal to Katherine in the last scene brings together the play's two plots, in many ways he is the more heroic lover of the two. Like Shakespeare's Henry V, Boyle's Henry is fundamentally more of a fighter than a lover, and his plan to woo Katherine by conquering France to "Crown her Queen where she was born" (II.i.85) patently smacks of self-interest. While the political advantages of a marriage are clear, Henry's avowals of love for Katherine are singularly unconvincing--not least because even at this point in the play, he has never met her. Tudor, whose posture as lover is habitually self-denying, suggests that "your flame had with more lustre shone, / Had you for it declin'd the Gallick Throne"; a love that shows itself "in proofs of hatred" and "her Countries ruines" (II.i.88-9, 102, 103) does not look particularly heroic. Hearing of the king's professed love for her at the same time that he invades France, Katherine is similarly appalled: "If me he lov'd, her blood he then would spare ... Where blood does cry, can I a Lover hear?" (I.iii.453-7). It is tempting to suspect a critique here of the climactic courtship scene in Shakespeare's Henry V; here, the inarticulate reluctance of Shakespeare's Katherine is replaced by a highly fluent account of the private costs of a marriage of state.
While Katherine is brought by political considerations to marry the king, Tudor triumphs as the moral hero of the romance plot--all the more, perhaps, for the hopelessness of his position. As a mistress Katherine resents his willingness to renounce her, yet his loyalty to Henry earns her esteem; she invites him to "Be but my Friend, as you to him have been ... Then I'le your Friendship, Sir, like Love esteem" (V.iv.403-6). Henry allows that "I gain the Field, and you the Victory: / Your's is the Nobler, mine the happier share" (V.iv.396-7). The audience might be justified in suspecting that Tudor's loss is only a deferred victory, and that he will eventually gain field and victory, the nobler and the happier share. Historically, as Raphael Holinshed reports, Katherine married Tudor after Henry's death: "This woman, after the death of king Henrie the fift her husband, being yoong and lustie following more hir owne wanton appetite than freendlie counsell ... tooke to husbande privily a galant gentleman and a right beautifull person, indued with manic goodlie gifts, both of bodie and of mind, called Owen Teuther, a man descended of the noble linage and ancient line of Cadweller last king of the Britains." (25) Taking a hint from Holinshed, Boyle moved the love affair with Tudor backwards chronologically to predate Katherine's marriage to Henry V, and made this lesser nobleman a close friend of the king. The audience would have been reminded of this later match by the presence on stage of both of the Bettertons, the reigning couple of the Restoration stage, with Thomas Betterton playing Owen Tudor and his wife, Mary, the part of Katherine. (26)
Holinshed's account of Katherine's and Tudor's "wanton" courtship begins in disparagement and ends in praise, for Katherine's second marriage ultimately gave rise to the Tudor dynasty. Holinshed's queen, Elizabeth, was the great-great-granddaughter of Owen Tudor and Katherine of Valois. Boyle likewise knew that Charles also descended from this marriage, via Henry VIII's elder sister, Margaret. The parallel between Charles and Tudor would have been highlighted by Betterton/Tudor's appearance in the king's own coronation robes--fitting attire for the founder of the Tudor and Stuart dynastic claims. (27) In an elaborate compliment to the king, Charles is invited to see himself as uniting the romance virtues of Tudor (the idealized lover and friend) and the epic virtues of Henry (the heroic fighter and king).
More than a mere compliment, however, Henry the Fifth serves as a call to arms against France. By celebrating the king as the descendant of the union of the "roses" anticipated by Burgundy as well as the heroic achievements of Henry V, the play affirms Charles's title to an empire extending over France and the British Isles. In reasserting Charles's ceremonial claim to the throne of France even as Louis XIV was forcing him to forgo it, Boyle's play patently urges the king to pursue an aggressive policy against France and to reassert England's threatened sphere of influence. As Henry points out, in a clear reference to Louis XIV's recent order that Charles's warships no longer be saluted by French vessels,
That Prince, whose Flags are bow'd to on the Seas, Of all Kings shores, keeps in his hand the Keys: No King can him, he may all Kings invade; And on his Will depends their Peace and Trade. Trade, which does Kings and Subjects wealth increase; Trade, which more necessary is than Peace. (V.i.57-62)
Exeter pointedly adds that "If the Worlds trade may to our hand be brought, / Though purchas'd by a War, 'tis cheaply bought" (V.i.63-4). Although Boyle's modern biographer writes that "Orrery's views on the Dutch war are not known," (28) Boyle's history plays clearly align him with the war-mongering faction at court led by James, duke of York, that was urging Charles to protect English trade against the encroachments of France and her ally, the United Netherlands. (29) In the view of James and his circle, continuing English influence in Europe, both on sea and on land, would have to be "purchas'd by a War." Henry the Fifth seeks to persuade Charles of the wisdom of such an action, at the same time that it rallies Parliament to the cause. The spokesman for this policy in the play is the king's brother and naval commander, the duke of Bedford, whose relationship to the duke of York is further signaled by his surreptitious courtship of a "Princess Anne," a sanitized version of James's secret marriage to Anne Hyde in 1659. As the duke of Bedford (James) informs his brother Henry (Charles),
your Parliament Have such supplies of Men and Treasure sent That France will now in humble posture seek The Treaty which her former Pride did break. (V.i.67-70)
The appeal to "Trade, which does Kings and Subjects wealth increase," which makes little sense in the context of Henry V's campaign, makes a great deal of sense in the context of the effort to sell the war to London merchants and MPs.
Although we cannot gauge the political impact of Henry the Fifth with certainty, the play undoubtedly took part in the rising swell of English maritime imperialism that swept England into the Second Dutch War in the winter of 1664-65. In fact, at the time of the first production of Henry the Fifth in August of 1664, popular support was building for an official declaration of war against the United Netherlands. In the following November, Parliament voted to allocate 2,500,000 [pounds sterling] for the war effort, a sum that would become part of the "four Millions vainly giv'n, as spent" (line 327) lambasted by Andrew Marvell in The Second Advice to a Painter for Drawing the History of Our Navall Busynesse (1667). (30) It is surely no coincidence that at this historical moment, with the war gaining widespread support, the English history play as a genre returned to the stage. In support of this war, and perhaps in support of the duke of York, Boyle found in the history play an ideal medium for the expression of a new Restoration nationalism that asserted English commercial maritime dominance and resented those in Europe who attempted to contain it.
THE BLACK PRINCE (1665-67)
The Black Prince reached the stage less than three months after the end of the Second Dutch War, premiering before the king on 19 October 1667. Boyle's correspondence reveals that he wrote the play "by ye Kings Command," and letters survive in which Charles hurries Boyle to complete it. (31) The composition and revision of The Black Prince spanned most of the war, including France's declaration of war on England in January, 1666, the war's small triumphs and stalemates, Michiel De Ruyter's humiliating raid on the Medway, and ultimately the signing of the inconclusive Treaty of Breda on 31 July 1667. Considering the events of the intervening three years, and given Charles's involvement in its composition, it is perhaps not surprising that the play retreats from the militant nationalism of Henry the Fifth toward a more conciliatory mode of foreign policy. Whereas Henry the Fifth announces that "Trade ... more necessary is than Peace," The Black Prince presents peace itself as a dignified political strategy. By adapting the tropes of friendship and loyalty which attached to Tudor and King Henry into a metaphor for the alliance of states, The Black Prince manages to glorify England's acceptance of a prejudicial peace as seamlessly as the earlier play had glorified war.
On first glance, Boyle's second history play seems destined to extend the imperialist project of his first. Cycling backwards in history to Edward III's wars against the French, the origin of Henry V's claim to the throne of France, The Black Prince begins with Lord Delaware's account of the Battle of Poictiers (1356). Faced by a force of eighty thousand, the English troops were "but eight Thousand strong; / But those eight Thousand, Sir, were English men" (I.i.72-3). By the end of the day, the flat and dusty plain lies under mountains of the French dead. The hero of the day is the Black Prince, surrounded with the "Glorious Trophies" of the French colors, "His Armour cover'd all with dust and blood" (I.i.127, 128).
Yet although the play begins in an epic mode, it quickly modulates into chivalric romance, as the prince receives the captive King John of France with courtly "pity":
He hastily to meet him did advance, And to his Prisoner did ... humbly bow, The Prince, in whom all Vertues do reside, Pitying the Kings misfortune, thus reply'd: "That, mighty Prince, to which I most pretend Is, from an Enemy you'll turn a Friend: And if you'll grant what now is begg'd by me, I'le prize it more than this dayes Victory." (I.i.131-48)
This courtly exchange introduces the play's dominant myth--that the English have fought a war against France not to conquer it but to transform France "from an Enemy" to a "Friend." As Edward III tells King John in the last lines of the play, "'Tis more to gain your Friendship, than your Throne" (V.v.653).
The bulk of the play is taken up with the development of this idealized friendship between France and England in the persons of King John and the Black Prince while the French king is held for ransom at the English court. This improbable situation is actually historical, and derives from Jean Froissart's account of King John's sojourn in England: "KYNGE JOHN of France (who had great desyre to retourne into Fraunce, as it was reason) shewed to the kynge of Englande with good corage all the signes of love that he might do, and also to his nephewe the prince of Wales. And in like wyse so dyd the kynge of Englande to hym, for the confirmacion of more love. These two kynges ... by the ordinaunce of the peace, called eche other brother." (32) While Boyle omits certain details, notably the presence at court of King David of Scotland under similar circumstances, he absorbs the chivalric emphasis of Froissart's account into his play. The English king and prince seek to entertain King John with lavish feasts and an elaborate court masque--Pepys' favorite part of the play and a neat Stuart addition to the recreations mentioned by Froissart. (33) Yet an obstacle to the developing accord between Edward III, King John, and the Black Prince arises when all three fall in love with the Widow Plantagenet, historically Edward III's first cousin, Joan, the "Fair Maid of Kent." Prevented from marrying Plantagenet years before by the ruse of an unscrupulous rival, the Black Prince now finds that "she does again my Conquerour prove" (II.iv.307), even as his father pursues her and the French king falls in love at first sight during the court masque.
As in Henry the Fifth, private desires and political obligations soon collide. Learning that the Black Prince, his friend and conqueror, loves Plantagenet, King John complains that "I'me subdu'd by Kindness as by Force" from pursuing her (II.iii.154). Yet in a direct inversion of Tudor's actions in Henry the Fifth, King John chooses love over honor, attempting to betray the prince by telling him first of his own love and thus transferring the obligation to step aside. Such dishonorable conduct is not limited to the French king alone. If conquest and political jealousy are sublimated issues in the French king's complaint, they are equally present in Edward III's own courtship of Plantagenet. As he tells Lord Latimer, "not Love alone does me inflame" (IV.ii.16) to woo his son's former betrothed, but also envy over the glory the Black Prince has won in France:
Nothing for me seems Worthy to Pursue, But what my Son Attempting Fail'd to do: Since he to such an Envied Flame does rise, Mine will Burn dimme if it Outshine not his. (IV.i.19-22)
Latimer is understandably appalled. When the king arbitrarily imprisons both his son and King John in order to pursue his suit at will, he temporarily sinks into tyranny.
Ultimately, the king's "Tyrannous" (IV.iv.486) exercise of power avails him little. Plantagenet cannot forgive the king for his role in the death of her father, who was executed by Mortimer during Edward's minority. To Plantagenet's mind, Edward usurped his father politically, just as he now seeks to usurp his son's place in her love.
Can you believe I'll share that Monarcks Bed By whose Command my Father lost his Head? My Father who was Unkle too to him, And who in Virtue to such height did climb, As a whole day he on the Scaffold stood, E're they could find out one would shed his Blood; King Edwards double Guilt my soul does fright; First he usurp'd on his own Fathers right, Then stain'd a Scaffold with his Unkles gore For striving his wrong'd Brother to restore. (III.ii.195-204)
The clear allusion to the regicide--which likewise was reported to have waited for a consenting executioner--introduces further complications. Charles would surely have remembered Boyle's proposal in the late 1650s that he marry Cromwell's daughter to secure the English throne, as well as Cromwell's famous refusal on the grounds that "the king can never forgive his father's blood." (34) In a bizarre echo of Cromwell, Plantagenet rejects Edward's advances on the grounds that "There's no Atonement for a Fathers Blood" (III.ii.214).
As this allusion reflects, establishing the proper bounds for forgiveness was a timely issue in the early 1660s, as Charles exacted swift revenge on prominent regicides and granted expedient clemency to less culpable abettors of the Cromwellian regime, as well as to the political nation at large. The exhumation and mutilation of the corpses of Cromwell, Henry Ireton, and John Bradshaw on 30 January 1661, the anniversary of Charles I's execution, was only one spectacular expression of Charles II's selective willingness to forgive. Yet like Charles II, who consented to a political espousal with his father's subjects, Plantagenet forgives the prince for his father's actions, for "into a high Injustice I had run, / Had I ascrib'd the Kings guilt to his Son" (III.ii.221-2). Her refusal to blame the prince for his father's offenses enables Boyle to bring about a happy ending to the play, in which Plantagenet and the Black Prince are betrothed once again with the approval of Edward and King John, who are in turn forgiven by their own long-suffering mistresses.
Like so much of early Restoration drama, Plantagenet's betrothal to the Black Prince thus reenacts the Restoration of 1660--with Edward III oddly placed in the position of reformed Cromwellian usurper. The parallel to 1660 is reinforced by the play's epilogue, which avoids mention of the Second Dutch War and instead falls back on Charles's more successful conquest of England itself. The epilogue, which may have been spoken by Nell Gwyrm in the role of the king's mistress, Alizia (historically Alice Perrers), informs the king that he is even greater than the Black Prince through his restoration: (35)
For though Immortal Honour he did gain, By conquering France, and by restoring Spain, Yet, Sir, you brought Three Kingdomes to Remorse, And gain'd by Vertue more than he by Force; 'Tis more by Vertue England to o'recome, Than by the English to beat Christendome. ("Epilogue to the King," lines 5-12)
In its stress on reconciliation, friendship, and accord, the play makes a triumph of the dismal Dutch wars, while at the same time celebrating the originary myth of the Restoration. In the play's climactic gesture, the rehabilitated king consents to his son's marriage with Plantagenet and frees the French king. Receiving King John's pledge of friendship as "a Conquest we delight to owne," Edward announces a new national ethos, in which "all th' Alarm's of Love and War shall cease, / And yeild their roomes to the soft Joyes of Peace" (V.v.652, 654-5). In sharp contrast to the militant nationalism of Henry the Fifth, The Black Prince concludes Boyle's English history plays, and England's foreign wars, with a ceremonial reaffirmation of the Restoration values of peace, unity, and reconciliation.
While Boyle must have sensed, even in the 1660s, that Charles would never be a Henry V or Edward III, Boyle's English history plays encourage Charles to become a better and more heroic king and to pursue a more aggressive foreign policy on the Continent. They urge Charles to defend English trade and the English church against the encroachments of France and French-supported Irish Catholicism. When it became apparent to Boyle after the Treaty of Dover in 1670 and his subsequent removal from office that his cause was hopeless, he abandoned the genre altogether. Boyle went on to write six more plays after The Black Prince, including two political plays on subjects drawn from biblical history, Herod the Great (1671) and The Tragedy of King Saul (ca. 1677-79). Although his personal correspondence with Charles remained cordial, Boyle became more outspoken as a champion of the Protestant cause in Ireland after the French alliance; the earl of Essex remarked snidely that Boyle apparently planned to make himself "[y.sup.e]" great Patrone of [y.sup.e] Protestant Interest." (36) There is no reason to question Boyle's sincerity on the point of religion, particularly since it brought him little advancement in the political climate of the early 1670s. Boyle's turn away from national panegyric toward biblical history perhaps reflects his decision to serve a more deserving master.
Although Boyle ceased to write English history plays after 1667, Henry the Fifth and The Black Prince interested others in the genre. John Caryll, later James II's ambassador to the Vatican, reinfused Boyle's experimental historical drama with self-consciously Shakespearean archaism in The English Princess, or the Death of Richard III (1667). And the efforts of Boyle and Caryll, combined with the growing interest in Shakespeare's histories, paved the way for a new wave of English history plays during the Exclusion Crisis. (37) It would even be possible to chart a trajectory from Boyle through the sentimental historical drama of the early eighteenth century to the English history plays of Alfred Lord Tennyson and, more recently, Caryl Churchill. (38) To do so would reveal enormous shifts in dramatic sensibility and the representation of national identity, but might also reveal surprising continuities, such as commentary on political events, empire, and English nationhood. Only by allowing our conception of the English history play to cross the invisible boundaries of historical periods and academic specialties will we arrive at a fuller understanding of its significance on the English stage.
(1) Irving Ribner, The English History Play in the Age of Shakespeare, 2d edn. (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1965), see esp. pp. 297-8. For the theory that the history play was a largely Shakespearean phenomenon, please see Phyllis Rackin, Stages of History: Shakespeare's English Chronicles (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1990), esp. p. 31.
(2) Nancy Maguire, Regicide and Restoration: English Tragicomedy, 1660-1671 (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992), p. 59.
(3) Samuel Pepys, The Diary of Samuel Pepys, ed. Robert Latham and William Matthews, 11 vols. (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1970-83), 5:240. Henry the Fifth played at court on 28 December 1666, and Pepys attended another performance on 6 July 1668. Shakespeare's Henry V was not revived until 1738. See Michael Dobson, The Making of the National Poet: Shakespeare, Adaptation, and Authorship, 1660-1769 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), p. 203 n. 24.
(4) Kathleen Martha Lynch, Roger Boyle, First Earl of Orrery (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1965), pp. 141, 269 n. 173. Another valuable discussion of Boyle's activities in Ireland, published after the completion of this essay, is John Kerrigan's "Orrery's Ireland and the British Problem, 1641-1679," in David Baker and Willy Maley, eds., British Identities and English Renaissance Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2002), pp. 197-225.
(5) The Dramatic Works of Roger Boyle, ed. William Smith Clark, 2 vols. (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1937), 1:24, 42. Henceforth, I refer to this edition as "Dramatic Works." All references to Boyle's plays are to this edition and will be cited parenthetically within the text by act, scene, and line number.
(6) Susan Staves, Players' Scepters: Fictions of Authority in the Restoration (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1979), esp. pp. 51-2. Maguire, pp. 164-70, esp. p. 166. See also my footnote 15.
(7) Following the practice of Robert D. Hume, I use the term "Carolean" to distinguish the drama of the first decades of the Restoration from later developments. See Hume, The Development of English Drama in the Late Seventeenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), esp. p. 6.
(8) Ribner, p. 266.
(9) Dramatic Works, 1:63, 73.
(10) Boyle, Parthenissa, A Romance (London, 1655), sig. B-By.
(11) Thomas Heywood, Apology for Actors (London, 1612), sig. B4.
(12) This prologue to a court performance of Ben Jonson's Epicoene has been attributed variously to Sir John Denham and Sir William Davenant. See The Prologues and Epilogues of the Restoration, 1660-1700, ed. Pierre Danchin, 7 vols. (Nancy: Publications de l'universite de Nancy II, 1981), 1:49.
(13) John Downes, Roscius Anglicanus (London, 1708), pp. 27-8. Downes mentions a prior use of the coronation robes for a 1661 performance of Davenant's Love and Honour (p. 21). Clark reproduces evidence of the correspondence between Boyle and Charles II on the subject of The Black Prince (Dramatic Works, 1:42).
(14) Paula R. Backscheider, Spectacular Politics: Theatrical Power and Mass Culture in Early Modern England (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1993), pp. 5-25.
(15) Clark characterizes Boyle as a courtly "dilettante" who wrote "chiefly for the sake of self-advertisement" before the king and court (Dramatic Works, 1:96). Mita Choudhury agrees with Clark that "Orrery's primary aim was to please Charles II" ("Orrery and the London Stage: A Loyalist's Contribution to Restoration Allegorical Drama," SN 62, 1 : 43-59, 53). Maguire psychologizes this need to "please" the king, writing that "like nearly all the playwrights, Orrery consciously used playwriting to rehabilitate himself by pleasing Charles II, but he also, probably unconsciously, used playwriting to work through his own personal and political conflicts, particularly his obsession with the execution of Charles I" (p. 166).
(16) Choudhury, p. 57; Maguire, p. 14.
(17) Staves, p. 60.
(18) Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part One, played very frequently at the Red Bull Inn and, after the establishment of the patent theaters, at the King's Company's playhouse. See Dobson, pp. 25, 27 n. 23. The Bouncing Knight was reprinted along with other popular Commonwealth drolls in Francis Kirkman's The Wits; or Sport Upon Sport (London, 1662).
(19) Ronald Hutton, Charles the Second, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), p. 217.
(20) These are the earl of Clarendon's words. See Hutton, p. 216.
(21) John Dryden, "Of Heroick Plays," in Critical Essays of John Dryden, 2 vols. (New York: Dutton, 1962), 1:58. For an earlier exposition of this idea, see Thomas Hobbes, The Answer of Mr Hobbes to Sir William Davenant's Preface before Gondibert (London, 1673), p. 21.
(22) Henry the Fifth, I.iii. 198-207. Cf. Iliad, III:84, 111-2.
(23) Pepys, 5:241, 245. Joseph Roach provides an interesting reading of Pepys's reaction in "History, Memory, Necrophilia," in The Ends of Performance, ed. Peggy Phelan and Jill Lane (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1998), esp. p. 27.
(24) Staves, p. 54.
(25) Raphael Holinshed, Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, 2d ed. (London, 1587); qtd. in Dramatic Works, 1:166.
(26) Pepys, 9:256. Thomas Betterton married Mary Saunderson, one of the first female players to attain prominence on the Restoration stage, in 1662.
(27) Downes, p. 27.
(28) Lynch, p. 123.
(29) For details of James's role in the war, see Hutton, pp. 218-21.
(30) Hutton, pp. 219-20.
(31) Dramatic Works, 1:43. Hereinafter, I silently amend Clark's transcription of "ye" to "[y.sup.e]."
(32) Jean Froissart, Froissarts Cronycles, trans. Sir John Bourchier, Lord Berners, 2 vols. in 8 (Stratford upon Avon: Shakespeare Head Press, 1972), 1:2:ccxiii, p. 449.
(33) Pepys, 8:487. Cf. Froissart, 1:2:ccxiii, pp. 450-1.
(34) Lynch, p. 90.
(35) As Glenn Baugher has pointed out, the 1672 edition's attribution of this role to "Mrs Guinn" may refer to either Nell Gwynn or to Anne Marshall Quin ("John Banks and the Revival of the English History Play in the Restoration," Ph.D. diss., Tulane Univ., 1972, p. 90).
(36) Dramatic Works, 1:53,
(37) For a discussion of the explosion of political plays (including a remarkable number of English history plays) in the Exclusion Crisis, please see Susan J. Owen, Restoration Theatre and Crisis (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), esp. pp. 2-3, 12-6.
(38) See, for example, Alfred Lord Tennyson's Queen Mary (1875), Harold (1876), and Becket (1884). Caryl Churchill's Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (1976) obviously makes a very different use of English history.
Tracey E. Tomlinson, assistant professor of English at New Mexico State University, is completing a book on seventeenth-century English history plays.
Tracey E. Tomlinson, The Restoration History Plays of Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery
The two English history plays written by Roger Boyle, earl of Orrery, during the first decade of the Restoration, The History of Henry the Fifth and The Black Prince, were instrumental in reviving the genre in the late seventeenth century. Although Boyle's Restoration plays have commonly been understood as inaugurating English heroic drama, this article situates them instead in an enduring tradition of seventeenth-century English history plays. Both complimentary and critical of court policy, these plays respond to the experience of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, from the early enthusiasm for war to the later disappointment with its disastrous outcome. The article aims to demonstrate how later seventeenth-century history plays, like their Elizabethan counterparts, continued to serve as vehicles for political critique and an important forum for the debate of pressing topical issues.…