Re-imagining Cardenio

The Future Henry IX

January 5, 2011

In these blogs, I am chasing the story of the political rows which were simmering at Court leading up to Christmas 1612, when Cardenio was first performed. I want to find out why Shakespeare and Fletcher had chosen to write a play with a Spanish subject. It seems the King wanted to make a name for himself as a unifying figure on the European stage. He had made peace with Spain in 1604, and now wanted to marry his daughter to a Protestant, and his son to a Catholic. But the Prince of Wales was having none of it.

Prince Henry was a popular prince. He had proved himself a remarkable horseman, he showed great interest in reviving the arts of Chivalry, and tournaments, he had overseen the building of a great new warship, the Prince Royal, but he did not always see eye to eye with his father.

Prince Henry may have had some indirect knowledge of the Duchy of Savoy from his friend Thomas Coryate, who had published his book Crudities hastily gobbled up in 5 months travels in France, Savoy etc. Prince Henry was the patron of the book, and indeed kept Coryate as a sort of Court Jester to his circle.

When Prince Henry was thirteen his mother, Queen Anne, had taken the prince to meet the famous Sir Walter Ralegh, who had been locked up in the Tower of London on trumped up charges of treason early in James' reign. “No one but my father would keep such a bird in a cage” he said.

Ralegh wrote the prince a long letter advising him to refuse the match with Savoy. He reminds him that Queen Mary tried to get her sister Elizabeth married off to Savoy, “...which though they failed to get, yet thereby we failed not to lose Calais.” And he lists a gruesome series of examples of treacherous marriages with their terrible consequences: the marriage of 'La Reine Margot' with King Henry of France, which caused so many protestant deaths; Bentivoglio, Prince of Bologna, who married his daughter to a lord of Farenza, “... she caused her husband to be murdered in her own chamber”; or Francis Sforza, Duke of Milan, who married his daughter to “that brave Italian Captain” Piccinius, who was subsequently murdered by Ferdinand of Naples in his own castle. His catalogue of treachery reads like a play by John Webster. “There is a kind of noble and royal deceiving in marriages between kings and princes”, Raleigh warns, “It is the fairest and most unsuspected trade of betraying”. And if that didn't frighten off the young prince then Ralegh moved on to what he regarded as the insidious relationship between Savoy and Spain.

He declared: “Savoy from Spain is inseparable. Spain to which England is irreconcilable”. Not surprising perhaps from a man whose memory of the Spanish Armada was so clear. “If the queen would have believed her men of war, as she did her scribes”, he wrote bitterly, “we had in her time beaten that great empire in pieces, and made their kings kings of figs and oranges as in the old times.
“Yea, in '88, when he made his great and fearful fleet, if the queen would have hearkened to reason, we had burnt all his ships and preparations in his own ports.”

Ralegh's inveterate hatred of Spain burns through the letter. Savoy would be a useless ally he argues, trapped as they are between Spain and France and the Pope (“Our king hath no enemy so malicious as that prelate”), and we don't want to get saddled with them as we are with Ireland, he argues, yet “Ireland is near to us, and in our sight, and yet we have often wished it at the bottom of the sea... it has served us as a grave to our best captains and soldiers.”

He ends his passionate appeal to young Prince Henry advising him to wait: “Seeing his majesty is yet but young, and by God's favour like to live many years... Seeing therefore we have nothing yet in hand, seeing there is nothing moves; seeing the world is yet in a slumber, and that this long calm will shortly break out in some terrible tempest, I would advise the prince to keep his own ground for a while, and no way engage or entangle himself.”

But God's favour was not to be extended to the Prince, and on November 6th 1612, just three weeks after the joyful arrival of the Elector Palatine, his new brother-in-law-to-be, Henry, suddenly, died.

by Greg Doran  |  No comments yet

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