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The Cub Becomes a Lion
Written by and copyright Stephen Yellin
 

 

Characters

King Henry VII – early 50s, but old before his time in mind and body alike. He has controlled his son’s life and livelihood at every point up to this one.

Prince Henry (Henry VIII) – his son; a large, handsome 17-year old, in love with Catherine. An eaglet fighting to fly the nest.

Catherine of Aragon – a Spanish princess, living in poverty at the English court. In love with Prince Henry; they have not seen each other alone for three years.

Place and Time

King Henry’s study, Richmond Palace, England, fall 1508.

Lights up on King sitting in chair at
upstage side of a table. He has just
taken a handkerchief away from his
mouth and stuffed it in a pocket of his
robe. In front of him are a document
and inkwell/pen for signing it. A curtain
or tapestry runs upstage of the table.
Room is empty otherwise.

Knock heard on door offstage.

 

KING

 A thin, reedy voice.

Enter.

Enter Prince, who stands at a distance from his father.

Pause while he waits for King to speak.

You’re late. When I tell you 10 o’clock, I mean ten o’clock at my time, not at “Prince of Wales” time.

PRINCE

Yes, your Majesty.

KING

You see anyone here but us? No? Then why the formality?

PRINCE

Sorry, father.

KING

Better. Now, pay attention to what I’m about to tell you – come closer boy, I can’t talk to you when you’re halfway out the door.

Prince moves to table, standing opposite King.

Better. As I was about to say, I have very good news. News that concerns you, that will make you very happy. I have received a letter from the German Emperor – are you listening?

Prince nods.

Good. As I was about to say, the Emperor has agreed to have you marry his granddaughter, Princess Eleanor. This marriage is a great coup for me, Harry. With one marriage, I will have secured an alliance that will protect England for years to come. With the Emperor’s support, I’ll be able to teach that bastard Ferdinand a lesson he’ll never forget. The King of Aragon will never double-cross me again!

PRINCE

How old is Princess Eleanor?

KING

I don’t recall giving you permission to speak.

PRINCE

May I have your permission to speak, father?

KING

Granted.

PRINCE

How old is Princess Eleanor?

KING

9.

PRINCE

I am 17 –

KING

So? You can find a milkmaid if you’re eager to diddle around.

PRINCE

That wasn’t the reason –

KING

I don’t recall inviting you to argue.

PRINCE

Sorry, father.

KING

At any rate, my decision is final. The treaty –

Points to the document.

Has already been worked out. All I need is your signature, agreeing to marry Eleanor, and it’s done.

A pause.

PRINCE

Permission to speak, father?

KING

Granted.

PRINCE

I am betrothed to Princess Catherine. I have been betrothed to her for 5 years, and –

KING

A mere formality, boy. Betrothals get broken all the time. Your sister’s had 3 men vow to marry her, and she’s only 13.

PRINCE

My sister hasn’t met these men. I have met Catherine. I have known her for 7 years.

KING

I know. That’s why you’re going to break the news to her yourself. Oh come now, boy, don’t look so glum. You should have known I wasn’t going to let you marry the King of Aragon’s daughter. He’s cheated me out of her dowry – 200,000 ducats, boy! You expect me to give you up in marriage to a pauper?

PRINCE

With all due respect, father –

KING

I did not give you permission to reply.

PRINCE

You have made her a pauper.

KING

That’s enough. I’ve sent for the Princess, she’ll be here shortly. I’m going to be listening behind the curtain. You will tell her that your betrothal is ended, that you’ve decided you will marry Princess Eleanor, and that she will be leaving England shortly. Is that understood, Harry?

A pause.

Is that understood?

PRINCE

Yes, your Majesty.

KING

Father, please.

PRINCE

She is coming here, your Majesty?

KING

Do not tell her I’m here. I hope you have enough brains to manage that.

A knock on the door.

Your cue. Do as you’re told, boy.

King moves behind curtain.

Another knock on the door.

PRINCE

Taking a deep breath.

Enter.

Enter Catherine. She is shabbily dressed, with patches on her gown.

She is startled to see Prince.

CATHERINE

A heavy Spanish accent.

Harry! My dear lord – I thought the King had sent for me. But it’s you!

Catherine moves to embrace Prince. He stops her with a move of his hand.

You have something to tell me?

PRINCE

I do. Catherine, as you know we have been betrothed for 5 years. I am fond of you, it’s true, and it’s difficult for me to inform you of this. You must understand that what I am about to tell you is for the good of my country, nothing else. Do you believe me?

Catherine has been dreading this moment for 5 years.

CATHERINE

I believe you, your Highness.

PRINCE

I have decided that I will marry the Princess Eleanor of Austria. The treaty has already been arranged, and I intend to be betrothed to her soon. As such, our courtship is at an end.

CATHERINE

Oh God –

HARRY

The King has decided that you will return to Spain as soon as possible. I – I hope you will be kind enough to obey his request.

CATHERINE

Her voice shaking.

And is this also your Highness’ request?

PRINCE

More rapidly.

It is. And it is for the best, Catherine. You will be able to marry another, more suitable Prince once you return –

CATHERINE

I would rather die than return to Spain without you. You know that all too well.

PRINCE

I am sorry to hear you say that. As I said, I am…fond of you, and will miss you dearly. But I am a Prince, and Princes – they have a duty... I hope you will forgive me.

CATHERINE

I will obey your Highness’ command. I ask only that your father the King look after my servants, to see that they return safely to Spain. I will not go with them.

PRINCE

Struggling to control himself.

Catherine, please don’t –

CATHERINE

When God took your brother from me, it became my mother’s wish to marry you instead. My mother is in Heaven now, and I hope shortly to join her – for you see, without you…

Breaks down.

You promised – Enrique, soy soyu!

Prince goes to embrace her, remembers King is behind curtain.

He wavers for several moments, then…

PRINCE

I love you!

Prince takes Catherine into his arms, kissing her passionately.

I love you forever and ever, and you will not go, I will not let you go, you are mine in the eyes of God, and they could break my limbs on the rack, but I won’t let you go!

King steps from behind curtain, angry.

KING

This is not in the script.

Catherine steps back, startled, makes a hurried curtsey.

Prince faces King, his face hardening.

I should have known better to trust a lovesick boy with matters of state. Princess, your stay in England is ended. My son’s betrothal to you is broken –

PRINCE

By whose authority, Majesty, are my vows to Catherine broken?

KING

Excuse us. The Prince and I have something to discuss.

PRINCE

She has a right to be here, it’s her future –

KING

Out!

Catherine looks at Prince.

PRINCE

Please excuse us, my love.

Catherine, smiling for the first time, exits.

King strikes Prince across the face.

KING

What in God’s name were you thinking?! What will the Emperor say when he finds out his granddaughter isn’t wanted by her Prince?

PRINCE

She will be able to marry another, more suitable Prince.

KING

Don’t mock me, boy.

PRINCE

I am not a boy! I am a man. I am a grown man.

KING

I did not give you permission –

PRINCE

To speak. I’m afraid that you lost that prerogative when you hid behind the curtain. I spoke to her, didn’t I? I told her what you wanted me to, didn’t I? But my God, did you expect me to just stand there and watch her heart break?

KING

Princes do not marry for love.

PRINCE

An alliance with the King of Aragon is hardly for love.

KING

She is your brother’s widow.

PRINCE

The Pope says otherwise. I’m free to marry her –

KING

Not while I’m here!

Grabs document and inkwell, brings them next to Prince.

You will sign the treaty, and you will do it right now. You’ll marry Eleanor, understood?

PRINCE

I understand your wishes very clearly.

Leans over the document.

KING

Menacingly.

Sign it.

Prince knocks over the inkwell, spilling its contents over the document.

PRINCE

Your wishes, father, are not mine.

King strikes Prince in the face again.

Prince does not move.

KING

I’ll have you whipped for this.

PRINCE

Find a man in this court who will whip his future King, and I’ll show you a hung traitor the moment you’re gone.

King is speechless.

I know what I’m capable of. When I go out, the people cheer me – when did they last cheer you? When I joust, I flatten every man I face – and you hide in your room counting money. I know more Latin and Greek, more of law and religion, more of philosophy and the stars – at 17 – than you have ever, and will ever, know!

So go ahead and yoke me to Eleanor. Lie to the Emperor and tell him I agreed. As God is my witness, the moment I am King is the moment that marriage is over.

KING

Rasping it out.

Ingrate! Traitor!

PRINCE

What, will you throw me in the Tower? Who would dare lay their hands on me?

Slowly, deliberately.

I’m all you’ve got.

King lunges at Prince, who blocks strike. Prince
twists King’s arm to protect himself. King begins
coughing heavily, reaches for handkerchief, and
puts it to mouth. Prince lets go at once.

Oh my God, that’s blood. Black blood, that’s what Arthur was coughing up…You’re dying.

KING

A harsh whisper.

Go away!

Prince hurriedly bows and exits.

King makes his way back to the chair, slumps wearily into it, and looks up.

I don’t pray to you often. But God, if you can hear me…make my son’s reign a living Hell.

Blackout