The French royal family and several princes and noblemen waited in the royal palace for the arrival of King Henry of England. He had asked them all to meet him so that he could talk to them. King Charles V1 was there with his queen, Isabel and their daughter, Princess Katherine, accompanied by her maid, Alice. The Duke of Burgundy, a seasoned negotiator, was also present.
King Henry arrived with his noblemen and took his seat.
‘Peace to this gathering,’ he said, ‘since peace is the purpose of this meeting. Health and greetings to our brother France and to our sister. Joy and best wishes to our most beautiful and regal cousin Katherine. And as a member of this royal family and the convenor of this great assembly, we salute you, Duke of Burgundy. And health to you all, French princes and peers!’
King Charles spoke for his countrymen. ‘We rejoice to look on your face,’ he said. ‘Most worthy brother England, you are welcome. So are you, English princes, all of you.’
Queen Isabel bowed. ‘Let the outcome of this important occasion and of this gracious meeting be as happy as we are to see your eyes which, until now, have displayed the force of cannon balls and deadly basilisks to the French who have opposed you,. We are confident that the venom of those looks has lost its sting, and that this day will transform all former griefs and quarrels into love.’
‘We have come to say amen to that,’ said Henry.
Queen Isabel looked round at the visitors. ‘English princes all, I salute you.’
Henry inclined his head towards Burgundy, who stood up and cleared his throat.
‘Great kings of France and England, ‘ he began, ‘I stand between you both with equal love. Your highnesses on both sides know how hard I have worked, using all my skill, determination and energy, to bring your most imperial majesties to this conference. Therefore, because my good offices have brought you face to face and royal eye to eye I think I have the right to ask in your royal presence what problem or what impediment there may be that could prevent this naked poor and mangled Peace – the dear nourisher of arts, prosperity and happy parentage – from showing her lovely face in our fertile France. Alas, she has been exiled from France for far too long. Her crops lie in heaps, rotting in their own compost. Her vines, the happy cheerer of the heart, die unpruned. Her well-trimmed hedges are sending out random shoots, like prisoners with wildly overgrown hair. Ryegrass, hemlock, and wild fumiter grow in her fallow fields – the ploughshare that should crop them rusts. The level meadow that formerly grew freckled cowslips, burnet and green clover lies, missing the scythe – neglected, grossly luxuriant, seeding itself from neglect: nothing grows but obnoxious docks, hairy thistles, cow parsley and burdocks, and so loses its beauty and usefulness. And all our vineyards, fallow fields, meadows and hedges, defective by nature, are now growing wild. In the same way, our homes, ourselves and our children have lost the skills that our country needs because we don’t have the time. Instead, they grow like savages, as soldiers do who think of nothing else than blood, and take to swearing, making stern faces, wearing shabby clothes and doing everything that seems unnatural. You have assembled here to restore all this to its former pleasing state. My speech is intended to find out what is preventing gentle peace from banishing these misfortunes and from blessing us with her former qualities.’
Henry nodded. ‘If, Duke of Burgundy,’ he said, ‘you want the peace whose absence causes the imperfections you have cited, you must pay for that peace with the accession to all our just demands – the general ideas and details you’ve scheduled in that document you are holding.’
‘The King has heard them but he has made no reply as yet,’ said Burgundy.
‘Well then.’ King Henry looked at the French King. ‘The peace that you have just urged depends on his answer.’
‘I’ve given the conditions only a cursory glance,’ said King Charles. ‘If it pleases Your Grace to appoint some of your Council to sit down with us again and go over them more carefully, we will immediately give you our final answer.’
‘Brother, we shall,’ said Henry. ‘Go Uncle Exeter, brother Clarence, brother Gloucester, Warwick and Huntingdon. Go with the King. You have full power to ratify, add to, or alter anything in, or missing from, our demand, as you in your wisdom think advantageous to our interests. We’ll agree to it.’ He turned to the Queen. ‘Will you, fair sister, go with the princes, or stay here with us?’
‘Our gracious brother,’ she said, ‘I’ll go with them Perhaps a woman’s voice may do some good when some detail becomes a stumbling block.’
‘But leave our cousin Katherine here with us. She is our principal demand and one of our major conditions.’
‘She has full freedom in this,’ said the Queen.
They all got up, leaving only Henry, Princess Katherine and Alice. Henry took a seat beside her and smiled.
‘Fair Katherine,’ he began, ‘ Most beautiful. Will you agree to teach a soldier the kind of tender words that might please a lady and to plead his case as a suitor to her gentle heart?’
Katherine spoke slowly and carefully. ”Your Majesty will make ze fun of me. I cannot speak your England.’
‘Oh fair Katherine,’ he said, ‘if you will love me truly with your French heart I will be glad to hear you confess it in broken English. Do you like me Kate?’
‘Pardonnez- moi,’ she said, ‘I cannot tell what is “like me.” ‘
He laughed. ‘An angel is like you, Kate, and you are like an angel.’
She turned to Alice. ‘Que dit-il? – que jesuis semblable a les anges?’ [What did he say? That I am like the angels?]
‘Oui, vraiment sauf votre grace ,’ said Alice. ‘– ainsi dit-il.’ [Yes indeed, Your Grace, that’s what he said.]
‘I said that, dear Katherine, and I must not blush to affirm it,’ said Henry.
‘Oh bon Dieu!’ exclaimed Katherine. ‘Les langues des hommes sont pleines de tomperies.’ [Oh, good God, Men’s tongues are full of idle flatteries.]
‘What did she say, fair one?’ he asked Alice. ‘That men’s tongues are full of deceit?’
‘Oui, dat de tongues of de mans is be full of deceits – dat is what de Princess say.’
‘The Princess is just like an Englishwoman!’ he exclaimed. ‘Indeed, Kate, my poor level of wooing matches the level of your understanding. I’m glad you can’t speak better English because if you could you’d find me such a blunt king you would think I had sold my farm to buy my crown. I don’t know how to speak lovingly in that kind of language but only how to say directly, “I love you”. Then if you press me further and say, “Do you really?” I’m unable to answer. Give me your answer, please do and let’s shake hands on the deal. What do you say, lady?’
‘Sauf votre honneur, me understand well,’ she said.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘if you want me to write verse, or dance for you, Kate, then I’m undone. As for the one, I have neither the words nor the skill in metre, and for the other I have no ability with my feet, although I’m not bad at feats of strength. If I could win a lady by playing leap-frog or by vaulting into my saddle in my armour, subject to being corrected for bragging if I say it, then I would quickly jump my way to a wife. Or if I could box for my love, or gallop my horse for her favours, I could lay on like a butcher or stay in the saddle like a monkey and never fall off. But before God, Kate, I don’t know how to look lovesick or gasp out my deepest feelings, nor do I have any skill in solemn declarations of love, only plain oaths, which I make only when forced to and never break, no matter what happens. If you can love a fellow of this temperament, Kate, whose face couldn’t be worse, even if it were sunburnt, that never looks in a mirror because he likes what he sees, then let your eyes transform me into something more palatable. I speak as a plain soldier: if you can love me as that, take me. If not, to say that it would kill me would be true, but out of love for you, by the Lord, no! Yet I do love you. And, being realistic, take a fellow of plain and genuine loyalty because he’ll treat you well because he won’t have the ability to be unfaithful by wooing other women. As for these fellows with silver tongues that can rhyme themselves into ladies’ affections, they always reason themselves out again. What! An orator is only a prattler, a poem is, only a jingle; a good leg will weaken, a straight back will stoop, a black beard will turn white,a curly head will go bald, a beautiful face will wrinkle, a bright eye will become hollow, but a good heart, Kate, is the sun and the moon – or rather the sun and not the moon, because it shines bright and never changes, following it’s true course. If you want such a fellow, take me. Take me, you take a soldier, and in taking a soldier you’re taking a king. So what do you say to my proposal? Speak, my fair one, and fairly I beg you.’
The Princess frowned. ‘Is it possible dat I should love de ennemi of France?
‘No, it’s not possible you should love the enemy of France, Kate. But in loving me you would be loving the friend of France, because I love France so much that I will not part with a village of it. I want it all to myself. And, Kate, when France is mine, and I am yours, then France is yours and you are mine.’
That confused Katherine. She shook her head. ‘I cannot tell what is dat.’
‘No, Kate? I’ll tell you in French – which I’m sure will hang on my tongue like a new-married wife about her husband’s neck, hardly to be shaken off. Je grand sur le possesseur de France, et quand vous avez le possession de moi. Let me see. What now? Saint Denis help me! – donc votre est France, et vous etes mienne. It is as easy to me, Kate, to conquer the kingdom as to speak so much more French. I shall never move you in French, unless it is to laugh at me.’
‘Sauf votre honneur, le francais que vous parlez, il est meilleur que l’anglais l’equel je parle. [Save Your Honour, the French you speak is better than the English I speak.]
‘No, indeed it isn’t Kate. But I agree: the way you speak my language and the way I speak yours in that garbled way are very similar. But Kate, do you understand this much English? Can you love me?’
She understood that and blushed. ‘I can not tell.’
‘Can any of your neighbours tell, Kate? I’ll ask them. Come on, I know you love me and tonight when you go to your bedroom you’ll question this gentlewoman about me, and I know, Kate, you will criticise those things about me that you love most. But, good Kate, mock me mercifully – if only, gentle princess, because I love you madly. If you’re ever mine, Kate – and I have a strong feeling that you will be – I’ll win you only after a struggle, so you should be a good breeder of soldiers. Won’t you and I, between Saint Denis and Saint George make a boy – half French, half English – who will go to Constantinople and grab the Turk by the beard? Won’t we? What do you say, my beautiful lily flower?’
‘I do not know dat,’ she said.
‘No.’ He smiled. ‘Knowing is for later. Now is the time to promise. Just promise, Kate, that you will try for your French part of such a boy, and for my English part, take the word of a king and a bachelor. What do you say, la plus belle Katherine du monde, mon tres chere et divine deesse?’
‘Your Majesty ‘ave fausse French enough to deceive de most sage demoiselle dat is en France,’ she said.
‘Now forget my bad French,’ he said. ‘By my honour, in good English, I love you Kate. By that same honour I dare not swear that you love me, but my intuition is beginning to flatter me that you do, notwithstanding the poor and offputting effect of my face. Curse my father’s ambition! He was thinking about civil wars when I was conceived, so I was created with a fierce look, with an expression of toughness, so that when I come courting ladies I frighten them. But don’t worry, Kate, my looks will improve as I mature. I’m comforted by the thought that old age, that waster of beauty, can’t do my face any further harm. You have me – if you’ll have me – at my worst; and I’ll grow on you – if I grow on you – more and more. So tell me, beautiful Katherine – will you have me? Take off your maidenly blushes, match the thoughts of your heart to the looks of an empress, take me by the hand and say, “Harry of England, I am yours.” As soon as you bless my ears with those words I will tell you aloud, “England is yours, Ireland is yours, France is yours, and Henry Plantagenet is yours” who – though I say it to his face – if he isn’t the best king it’s because the best king is the king of Good Fellows. Come, your answer in broken music, because your voice is music and your English is broken. Therefore, queen of all, Katherine, break your silence to me in broken English; will you have me?’
‘Dat is as it shall please de roi mon pere,’ she said. [the King my father.]
Henry nodded confidently. ‘It will please him well, Kate. It will please him, Kate.’
‘Den it shall also content me,’ she conceded.
‘On that I kiss your hand and call you my queen,’ he said. He knelt before her and raised her hand to his lips.
She pulled her hand away sharply. ‘Laissez mon seigneur, laissez, laissez! Ma foi, je ne veux point que vous abaissiez votre grandeur en baissant la main d’une de votre seigneurie indigne serviteur. Excusez-moi, je vous supplie, mon tres-puissant seigneur.’ [Stop, stop, my lord, stop stop! My goodness, I would not have you demean yourself by kissing the hand of one of Your Majesty’s humble servants. Excuse me, I beg you, my thrice-powerful lord.]
He rose. ‘Then I will kiss your lips, Kate.’
‘Les dames et damoiselles pour etre baisees devant leurs noces, il ne’est pas la coutume de France,’ she said. [It is not the French custom for ladies and gentlemen to kiss before their marriage.]
‘Madam my interpreter, what did she say?’ said Henry.
‘Dat it not be de fashion pour les ladies of France – I can not tell what ‘baiser’ en Anglish…’
‘To kiss,’ said Henry.
‘Your Majesty entendre bettre que moi,’ said Alice.
‘It is not the fashion for the maids in France to kiss before they are married: is that what she says?’
‘Oh Kate!’ said Henry. ‘Petty customs bow to great kings. Dear Kate, you and I cannot be confined within the list of a country’s fashion. We are the makers of fashion, Kate, and the latitude that goes with our rank stops the mouth of all fault-finders, as I will do yours, for upholding the petty fashion of your country in denying me a kiss. So.’ He invited her with his arms open and she yielded. ‘Lovingly and yielding,’ he said.
He kissed her then stood back and gazed at her. ‘You have witchcraft in your lips, Kate. There is more eloquence in the sweet touch of them than in the speeches of the French Council and they would more easily persuade Harry of England than a whole delegation of monarchs.’
The door opened and, amid a cheerful, happy atmosphere, the French King and Queen entered, followed by the French and English Lords.
‘God save Your Majesty,’ said Burgundy. ‘My royal cousin, are you teaching our princess English?’
‘I want her to learn, dear cousin, how perfectly I love her, and that is good English,’ Henry said.
‘Doesn’t she want that?’ said Burgundy.
‘Our language is rough, cousin, and I don’t have a smooth tongue, so that, having neither the words nor the temperament for flattery in me I’m unable to raise enough of the spirit of love in her for it to appear real.’
Burgundy laughed. ‘Forgive the directness of my humour if I come back at you on that,’ he said. ‘If you want to conjure love up in her you must make a magic circle. If you want to conjure love up in her in its true likeness, he must appear naked and blind. So can you blame her, since she is still a blushing virgin, if she won’t allow a naked blind boy to intrude into her exposed and vulnerable self? My lord, it’s a hard situation for a young woman to be placed in.’
‘Nevertheless,’ said Henry, ‘ they shut their eyes and submit because love is wilful and forces them to.’
‘They can be excused, then, my lord, when they can’t see what they’re doing,’ said Burgundy.
‘Well then, my good lord, teach your cousin to close her eyes and consent.’
Burgundy patted Henry’s shoulder. He smiled at the Princess. ‘I’ll give her the wink, my lord, if you will teach her to understand what I’m saying. Because young women, sheltered and comfortably brought up are like flies in late summer – too drowsy to see, although they’re not blind. Then they will allow you to handle them though before they wouldn’t have allowed you near them.’
Henry laughed. ‘This philosophy commits me to a long wait and a hot summer,’ he said. ‘So I’ll just have to catch the fly, your cousin, from behind, while her eyes are closed.’
‘Like Love’s are, my lord before it’s awakened.’
‘Exactly,’ said Henry. ‘And you can thank love, some of you, thank love for my blindness, who can’t see many a fair French city because of one fair maid who stands in my way.’
‘Yes, my lord,’ said King Charles. ‘You see them distortedly – cities in the form of a young woman. They are all encircled by virginal walls that war has never penetrated.’
‘Shall Kate be my wife?’ said Henry.
‘If you wish,’ said King Charles.
Henry nodded,’ I’m content, provided that the maiden cities you mentioned go with her. In that way the young woman that stood in the way of my wish will help me achieve my aims.’
‘We have agreed to all reasonable demands,’ said King Charles.
Henry looked round at his lords. ‘Is that so my lords of England?’
‘The King has granted everything,’ said Westmorland. ‘First his daughter, then all the succeeding clauses, in precise detail.’
‘The only thing he hasn’t subscribed to is this: where Your Majesty demands that the King of France, whenever he has reason to write to you over matters of gifts of land or the conferment of titles, shall address Your Highness in this style and with this rank: in French, ‘Notre tres cher fils, Henri, roi d’ angleterre, Heritier de France, and thus in Latin, Praeclarissimus filius noster Henricus, Rex angliae et Haeres Franciae.’
‘I’m not so opposed to it that I wouldn’t concede it if you requested it,’ said Charles.
‘I ask you then, in love and dear friendship, let that one clause remain with the rest, and then give me your daughter,’ said Henry.
‘Take her, dear son,’ said Charles, ‘and from her body raise up my descendents so that the rival kingdoms of France and England, whose white shores look pale with envy of each other’s happiness, may end their hatred and this dear union plant neighbourliness and Christian-like harmony in their hearts, to end all wars between England and fair France.’
The lords added their amens to those sentiments and Henry turned to his bride. ‘Now welcome Kate!’ he exclaimed. ‘Everyone bear witness that I kiss her here as my sovereign queen.’
The trumpeters took their cue from the royal embrace and the hall was filled with their brassy sound.
Queen Isabel kissed her daughter. ‘God, the best maker of all marriages, unite your hearts in one and your realms as one,’ she said. ‘Just as man and wife, although two people, are one in love, so may there be such a marriage between your kingdoms that neither wrongdoing nor cruel jealousy – both of which often trouble the marriage bed – may come between the bond between these kingdoms and cause a divorce. That the English may regard themselves as French and the French as English, God say amen.’
The lords, French and English, echoed her amen.
King Henry held his hand up for silence. ‘We are going to prepare for our marriage,’ he said. ‘On that day, my lord of Burgundy, we’ll receive your oath, and that of all the peers, to ratify our treaty. Then I’ll make my oath to Kate and you your oaths to me. And may our oaths be well kept and lead to prosperity.