A history play describing King Edward’s wars off battling against the Welsh and the Scots, while behind his back, his villainous Queen Elinor is torturing and killing her staff.
While perhaps still a little disjointed, and certainly not a reliable history textbook, there is lots of opportunity for fun while staging this play, with duels, battles and beheadings ; some teasing of a lustful Friar, and a very satisfactory surprise comeuppance for the Queen.
Source : My copy was the online script provided by ElizabethanDrama.org. Indeed, it was the enthusiasm supplied by this site’s introduction that made me stick out the play to the end.
Edward I (known as Edward Longshanks) comes back from the Crusades to England to find he is now King after the death of his father, Henry III. He brings his consort, Elinor of Castile, who he dotes on, favouring her every whim. While Edward is kept busy with the uprisings of the legitimate Welsh prince Lluellen, and the Scottish King John Baliol; the play will stay in my memory for the madness of Elinor. A victim of character assassination at a time when anti-Spanish sentiment was seething (the Spanish Armada had tried its luck against the English navy in 1588), we see Elinor grow steadily more outrageous in her demands. She tells us that English soil is too base for her to honour with her footsteps, and the climate is unworthy to be refreshed with her very breath. By Scene X, she is insisting on all English women having one breast lopped off and all Englishmen’s beards be shaved. Edward, having promised her anything, cannot go back on his word, so instead insists that he and Elinor be the first to submit to this new law. Needless to say, it doesn’t go ahead. But Elinor is not finished there; the Mayoress of London has innocently raised the Queen’s ire, and so needs must be tied to a chair and put to death using a poisonous snake.
This leads to the best scene of the play. Elinor is returning to London with her daughter Joan (no, the dates don’t match up, but ignore that) when a violent storm hits.
Qu. Elinor: “Why, Joan, is this the welcome that the clouds affords? How dare these disturb our thoughts, knowing that I am Edward’s wife and England’s Queen, here thus on Charing-Green to threaten me?”
Joan: “Ah, mother, blaspheme not so! Your blaspheming and other wicked deeds have caused our God to terrify your thoughts. And call to mind your sinful fact committed against the Mayoress here of lovely London, and better Mayoress London never bred, So full of ruth and pity to the poor. Her have you made away, that London cries for vengeance on your head.”
Qu. Elinor: “I rid her not; I made her not away: By Heaven I swear, traitors they are to Edward and to England’s Queen that say I made away the Mayoress.”
Joan: “Take heed, sweet lady-mother, swear not so: A field of prize-corn will not stop their mouths that say you have made away that virtuous woman.”
Qu. Elin. “Gape, earth, and swallow me, and let my soul sink down to hell, if I were author of that woman’s tragedy!”
[The earth opens and swallows her up.]
“O, Joan, help, Joan, Thy mother sinks!”
Joan: “O, mother! my help is nothing! − O, she is sunk, and here the earth is new-closed up again.”
Scene X, lines 1-36
She is spat back later from the Earth’s bowels but it doesn’t end well for her.
After all that, does it really matter who rules England, Scotland or Wales?
Personal rating: 7/10