The fleet was ready at Southampton – the army had embarked – and they were waiting only for the King to arrive. The Dukes of Exeter, Bedford and Westmorland stood on the quay where the royal ship was docked. ‘By God, His Grace is taking a risk, trusting these traitors,’ said Bedford.
‘They’ll be arrested by and by,’ said Exeter.
‘How calmly and coolly they conduct themselves, as though allegiance and unwavering loyalty sat enthroned in their hearts,’ said Westmorland.
‘The King is fully aware of their plans from intelligence that they don’t even dream of,’ said Bedford.
‘Yes, but the man he grew up with, on whom he has showered gracious favours…’ Exeter shook his head in disbelief ‘… to think that he should sell his sovereign’s life to death and treachery for a foreign bribe!’
‘Oh, do you mean Lord Masham?’ said Westmorland.
There was a silver fanfare and the King, accompanied by the Earl of Cambridge, Henry, Lord Scroop of Masham, Sir Thomas Grey, and their attendants, pulled up at the quayside. The King had given the three noblemen the commission to deputise for him while he led the army in France.
‘The wind is perfect and we will go aboard,’ said Henry. ‘My lord of Cambridge, and my kind lord of Masham, and you -‘ nodding towards Sir Thomas Grey – ‘tell me what you think. Do you agree to our forces cutting their way through the French forces in carrying out the action for which we have assembled them?’
‘Without a doubt, my liege, if every man does his best,’ said Scroop.
‘I have no doubts about that,’ said Henry, ‘ since we are sure that we’re not taking a single heart with us that’s not in complete accord with ours, nor leaving one behind that doesn’t wish us success and victory.’
‘Never was a monarch more respected and loved than your Majesty,’ said Cambridge. ‘There isn’t, I think, a single subject who is dissatisfied or disconnected under the sweet protection of your government.’
‘True,’ said Grey. ‘Those who were your father’s enemies have immersed their bitter galls in sweet honey and now serve you with hearts composed of duty and zeal.’
‘We therefore have great cause for gratitude,’ said Henry. ‘And we would rather lose a hand than neglect to dispense rewards and punishments according to desert and merit.’
Scroop smiled. ‘So, your servants will toil with steeled muscles on your behalf, their labour made lighter by hopeful prospects, to give your Grace unceasing service.’
‘We would expect nothing less,’ said Henry. ‘Uncle Exeter, free the man who was imprisoned yesterday for speaking out against us. We think he did it because he had drunk too much wine and now that we have thought about it we pardon him.’
‘That’s merciful, but unsafe,’ said Scroop. ‘Let him be punished, sovereign, in case his example breeds more of the same kind.’
‘Oh, let us be merciful in this case,’ said Henry.
‘Your Highness can be merciful and still punish him,’said Cambridge.
‘Sir, you would be showing him great mercy if you released him after he’d had a taste of torture,’ said Grey.
‘Alas,’ said Henry, ‘your excessive love and concern for me are strong pleas against this poor wretch! If small misdemeanours brought on by drunkenness aren’t allowed how shall we regard capital crimes – detected, investigated and proven – when they come to our notice? We’ll still set that man free even though Cambridge, Scroop and Grey, in their deep concern and protectiveness of our person, would have him punished. And now to French affairs. Who are the men recently appointed to deputise for me in my absence?’
‘I was one, my lord,’ said Cambridge. ‘Your Highness told me to ask for it today.’
The King looked at Scroop inquiringly.
‘You told me as well,’ said Scroop.
‘And I, my royal sovereign,’ said Grey.
Henry snapped his fingers and an attendant gave him three scrolls. ‘Then, Richard, Earl of Cambridge, there is yours,’ he said, handing one to Cambridge. ‘There yours, Lord Scroop of Masham,’ – handing one to him – ‘and Sir Knight, Grey of Northumberland, this one is yours. Read them and you will see how aware I am of your worthiness.’
He turned away from them to his counsellors. ‘My lord of Westmorland, and Uncle Exeter, we’ll embark tonight.’ He turned back to the three lords, who were staring at him with ashen faces. ‘Why, what’s the matter, gentlemen?’ he said, feigning surprise. ‘What do you see in those documents that makes you so pale? Look how they’ve changed. Their cheeks are as white as paper. Why, what have you read there that has so cowed you and drained the blood from your faces?’
Cambridge threw himself to his knees in front of the King. ‘I confess to my offence and submit myself to Your Highness’ mercy,’ he said in a low voice. Grey and Scroop went down too, also appealing for mercy.
‘The mercy that was alive in us only recently is, by your own advice, suppressed and killed. You must not dare, for fear of shaming yourselves, to talk of mercy. Your own arguments turn against you, like dogs turning against their masters, to haunt you.’ He addressed the assembled lords. ‘Do you see these English monsters? My lord of Cambridge, here: you know how our love extended to providing him with everything appropriate to his rank. And this vile man has, for a few wretched gold coins, wretchedly conspired and sworn to associate himself with France’s plot to kill us here in Southampton.’ He indicated Grey. ‘To which end this knight – no less obliged to us for our generosity than Cambridge is – has likewise sworn. But oh, what shall I say to you, Lord Scroop, you cruel, ungrateful,savage, and inhuman creature? You who held the key to all my secrets, you who knew me intimately, who could have turned me into gold for your own use if you’d wanted to. Can it be possible that a foreign bribe could tempt one spark of evil out of you that could harm even a finger of mine? It’s so incredible that though the truth stands out as clearly as black and white I can scarcely believe it. Treason and murder have always been linked as two devils yolked together, sworn to further each other’s purpose, working so hideously in wickedness that nobody finds it surprising. But you, against all human decency, introduced surprise into the service of treason and murder. Whoever the cunning fiend was that worked on you so well has got a special place in hell for excellence at it. Other devils who tempt by means of treason make their evil work seem virtuous, with covering it over and making plausible pretexts – both stemming from superficial illusions of virtue. But the one who tempted you, who made you act, offered no motive for committing treason, unless it was to dub you with the name ‘Sir Traitor.’ If the devil who tricked you like that should roam the whole world like the roaring lion of the fable, he could return to hell and tell the legions of demons there “I could never win a soul as easily as that Englishman’s.” Oh how you’ve infected the sweetness of trust with suspicion! Do men behave dutifully? Why, so did you. Do they appear serious and learned? Why, so did you. Are they of noble families? Why, so are you. Do they appear religious? Why, so did you. Or are they moderate in their eating, free of extreme emotions, either in merrymaking or anger, stable in temperament, not moved by passion, appearing to be conservative, not just using their eyes but listening with their ears, and not trusting either without confirmation? Such and so perfect, you seemed. And so your fall has left a kind of blot that makes the best of men be regarded with suspicion. I will weep for you because I think this fall of yours is like that ancient fall of man.’ Henry nodded to Exeter. ‘Their crimes are laid bare. Arrest them in the name of the law. And God forgive them for their actions.’
Exetor formally addressed the three. ‘I arrest you for high treason, Richard, Earl of Cambridge. I arrest you for high treason, Henry, Lord Scroop of Masham. I arrest you for high treason, Thomas Grey, Knight, of Northumberland.’
Soldiers surrounded the conspirators.
Scroop lifted his eyes to meet those of his childhood friend. ”God has rightly exposed our plot, and I repent of my crimes more than I regret my death,’ he said. ‘I beseech Your Highness to forgive, although I must pay the price of my crime.’
‘As for myself,’ said Cambridge, ‘it wasn’t the gold of France that tempted me, although I admit it was a way of achieving my goal sooner. But thank God it was prevented, for which I heartily rejoice, though I have to suffer the penalty. I beseech God and you to pardon me.’
‘Never did a faithful subject more rejoice at the discovery of most dangerous treason than I at this moment rejoice over myself,’ said Grey. ‘Thwarted in an evil enterprise. Pardon my crime, but not my body, sovereign.’
‘God forgive you in his mercy,’ said Henry. ‘Hear your sentence. You have conspired against our royal person, joined with a declared enemy, and from his coffers received payment in anticipation of our death, thereby intending to sell your king to slaughter, his princes and his nobility to slavery, his subjects to oppression and abuse and his whole kingdom into desolation. Personally, we seek no revenge, but we must consider our kingdom’s safety, whose ruin you have sought and to whose laws we deliver you. Therefore go from here, poor miserable wretches, to your death; the taste of which may God in his mercy give you the patience to endure, and true repentance of all your terrible crimes. Take them away.’
The traitors rose and were led away. The King turned and walked towards the waiting ship. He stopped at the gangway.
‘Now lords,’ he said, ‘to France, which enterprise shall be to you, and to us, equally glorious. We have no doubt that the war will be a fair and lucky one, since God has so graciously brought this dangerous treason to light, which lurked in our way and hindered the beginning of this action. We have no doubt now that all obstacles have been removed. So on, dear countrymen: let us deliver our army into the hand of God and start straight away. To sea with optimism. Fly the flags of war! I’m not King of England if not also King of France!’