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The Prince and the Pretender
Written by and copyright Stephen Yellin

 

Dramatis Personae

PERKIN Warbeck – or is it Richard, Duke of York, the rightful King of England? 24 years old.

HENRY Tudor – King Henry VII of England, or is he? 40 years old, but looks much older.

Place and Time

A dungeon in the Tower of London, autumn 1497.

Lights up on PERKIN, chained to a
wall. His feet are manacled, and
there are chains around his torso. He
can move his arms and head only. He
is dirty and ragged.

Sound of a door opening. Enter
HENRY, warmly dressed in furs, a
wool cap on his head. Were it not for
the rings covering his hand, he could
be easily mistaken for a well-to-do
merchant.

HENRY

That’ll be all, jailor.

Sound of door being closed.

HENRY turns to PERKIN, inspecting him like merchandise. He has a slight Welsh lilt to his words.

Well, well, well, what do we have here? The weaver’s boy who would be King.

PERKIN looks straight ahead, holding out his hand for HENRY to kiss.

You’ve come a long way, young Master Perkin. From making cloth to making yourself a Prince. And now you’ve made yourself a prisoner. My prisoner.

HENRY laughs – a harsh, raspy laugh.

I had half a mind to kill you as soon as you were captured, Perkin; after all, you burned my favorite palace to the ground. Forget treason – arson is a capital offense too!

Another laugh. PERKIN does not move.

Then I realized that you’re worth more to me alive than dead. Far more. After all, Perkin, you have many followers, don’t you? People who’ve spent 6 years pretending you’re a Prince, people who I want to humiliate. Your confession will save your life.

Silence.

Did you hear me, boy? Your confession will save your life. Just admit that you are not, and never have been, Richard the Fourth of England, and we’ll let you go. You can even go back to Brussels – or whatever village you were plucked out of by that bitch Margaret –

At this PERKIN turns, dropping his hand.

PERKIN

Perfect Queen’s English.

My Aunt Margaret is not a bitch!

HENRY stops pacing, looks hard at PERKIN.

HENRY

Your accent’s good. You’ve been taught well.

PERKIN

My mother raised me –

HENRY

To speak Flemish –

PERKIN

To speak English. Which is more than you, brought up in some Welsh witch’s lair, will ever manage.

HENRY

Your mother never spoke a word of English.

PERKIN

After you shut her up in a nunnery – true.

HENRY

False. Your mother swore to my agents – in Flemish – that you were hers.

PERKIN

My mother was Queen of England.

HENRY

My, my, you are stubborn.

PERKIN

You are the stubborn one, Henry Tudor. You’ve yet to acknowledge me as your rightful King.

At this HENRY explodes in laughter.

Mock all you want – you can’t change the facts. A Prince chained and manacled is still a Prince.

HENRY

And a peasant with a crown on his head is still a peasant.

PERKIN

You’ve described yourself perfectly.

HENRY

How so?

PERKIN

You have the power, but not the dignity, that becomes a Prince.

HENRY

And you do, Perkin – ?

PERKIN

My name is Richard Plantagenet –

HENRY

And I’m the Pope!

PERKIN is more hurt than angry.

PERKIN

You don’t believe me?

HENRY

Would I have had my spies chase you across half of Europe, slaughtered your followers on the field of battle, and locked you up in the Tower if I did?

PERKIN

You are far from the first to doubt who I am. Aunt Margaret, the King of France, the King of Scotland – many more who knew me as a boy! – they doubted me at first. Test me. Prove that I’m not Richard the Fourth, your rightful King.

HENRY

I know your tricks. Your name is Perkin Warbeck, and you’re pretending to be a boy who’s been dead for 14 years. Your aunt trained you to be like that boy in every way possible, from his voice to his clothes to his manners. You were used a pawn to try and kill me, to destroy my realm. That’s it. And if you refuse to admit it, then I’ll let the rack do the “proving” for me.

He turns to go. 

PERKIN

You realize that if I’m tortured I might say anything, yes?

HENRY stops.

You might well get me to say that I am “Perkin Warbeck”. You might also get me to say I’m a pink-and-blue unicorn. Torture can do that to people. But if you want the truth…

HENRY turns back.

HENRY

Go on…

PERKIN

You’re a clever man – so it’s said. I understand you know every single thing about my life that your henchmen have dug up for you. So go ahead - unmask me, prove I’m not the man I claim to be. But if you walk out, you’ll never know.

HENRY mulls it over for a moment or two.

Unless marked by a pause, the
dialogue should be exchanged
quickly and with increasing tension
from both men.

HENRY

Where were you born?

PERKIN

Westminster Palace, in the Queen’s bedchamber.

HENRY

The date?

PERKIN

February the 21st, the year of our Lord 1473.

HENRY

Your nurse?

PERKIN

Maud Baker.

HENRY

What did she look like?

PERKIN

Short, pudgy, brown hair tied back.

HENRY

How many teeth was she missing?

PERKIN

Seven. Three in the front, two on each side.

Pause.

HENRY

Who was your teacher?

PERKIN

Which one?

HENRY

All of them.

PERKIN

Robert Caxton taught me letters. The Bishop of Wells taught me religion and history. My uncle Anthony taught me to ride and wield a sword.

HENRY

You forgot your Latin teacher.

PERKIN

Thomas Covington was Edward’s Latin tutor. We took lessons together from time to time, but he wasn’t mine.

HENRY

Is that because he publicly swore you were an imposter?

PERKIN

Was that because you bribed him?

HENRY shoots PERKIN an angry look.

HENRY

He said it, that’s what counts. Where were you when your father died?

PERKIN

My brother and I were at Greenwich. [Pronounced “GREN-itch”]

HENRY

Who broke the news to you?

PERKIN

Lord Hastings.

HENRY

Who was Lord Hastings married to?

PERKIN

Anne Mowbray.

HENRY

What happened to their son?

PERKIN

You killed him.

HENRY

He was a traitor –

PERKIN

At the age of 8?

HENRY opens his mouth, but has no response to this.

HENRY

What happened the night you were rescued?

PERKIN

My father, King Edward the Fourth was the grandson of the 5th son of Edward the Third, his legitimacy unchallenged. My brother, King Edward the Fifth - God rest his soul! – was murdered in the Tower of London. I, having been rescued from the same fate –

HENRY

When were you rescued?

PERKIN

The night of September the 16th. The King sent 2 henchmen to smother Edward and me in our sleep –

HENRY

Their names?

PERKIN

Robert Tyrell and –

HENRY

That snake! 

PERKIN

You know him?

HENRY

He’s the Governor of Calais, fool.

PERKIN

You’re the foolish one. He’s loyal to his King.

HENRY

So he is

Makes a mental note.

You were smuggled out of the Tower. Why not Edward?

PERKIN

The other man killed him. Tyrell took pity on me, told me to lie still, waited until the other man was gone, and then hid me on a ship for Flanders.

HENRY

What was the ship’s cargo?

PERKIN

Wool.

At this HENRY breaks out into a wide grin.

HENRY

I knew you were lying. Now I have my proof. There was no ship with wool going to Flanders in 1483. Your Uncle sent alltrading vessels to Calais during his reign.

PERKIN

I know that.

HENRY

So you admit it. Good. I’ll send for the lawyers to take your confession.

He turns to go.

PERKIN

I never said what year the ship sailed. Or which King sent Tyrell.

HENRY spins back, mouth agape.

But you already knew that.

HENRY

You can’t prove it.

PERKIN

I don’t have to. The world knows you have royal blood on your hands.

HENRY approaches, fists clenched.

So tell me, Henry Tudor – what did you say when you killed my Uncle and found out his nephews were alive and well in the Tower? In 1485?

HENRY

Shut up.

PERKIN

What did you say, Henry? Come now, tell me.

HENRY

You’re Perkin Warbeck! You’re not Richard Plantagenet. I know it, I know it.

PERKIN

Prove it!

HENRY

I saw the body! Tyrell – he showed me the corpses. We had them buried under the stairwell –

PERKIN

Two boys, yes – but not mine. You sent a page to Tyrell with the execution order. Where is he now?

HENRY opens his mouth to reply. He can’t.

He stares at PERKIN, eye to eye, then spits in his face.

I win.

HENRY

You lose. You already lost. I didn’t see the faces...well, such is the fate of Kings, to be betrayed from time to time. Lord Tyrell will die for it. As for you…it may be you are King Richard IV. It may be you fled abroad, spent years hiding in a Flemish fishing village, before magically reemerging at your Aunt’s court. It may be you raised an army to regain what was rightfully yours, marched on London, and damned near beat me in battle.

But you know what, boy? I say you are Perkin Warbeck. I say you are the son of a weaver, no royal blood whatsoever. More to the point, myhistorians will say you are Perkin Warbeck. They’ll write it down, publish it, make it fact. Memories fade, but books and records live on.

PERKIN

So tell me, Henry Tudor – who is the Prince, and who is the Pretender?

HENRY

I will make quite sure that no one ever knows. You can go to your execution proclaiming otherwise, but it won’t matter. My dynasty will go on, yours will wither. Besides, people love a good legend. It keeps them guessing.

Mockingly.

Nothing more to say, your Majesty? A pity. After I have my torturers tear out your tongue, you won’t have another chance. Jailor!

Goes to exit.

Sound of cell door opening, and he goes.

PERKIN

Eyes shut, reciting.

I am Richard, King of England. I am Richard, King of England. I am Richard…do I have the inflection right? Do I, Margaret?

Blackout.