Henry, Henry and Henry

I’m sitting on the sofa, with my legs raised up higher than my bum, and making a mental note not to use a crop top as a sports bra for a long run again.

Chafing is not pleasant, and I would always recommend getting good kit for anything longer than an hour, but I was too lazy to dig my normal long-run sports bra out of the unsorted, clean washing pile. I was actually not going to talk about running at all today but I needed to get that off my chest. Literally.

We just got back, yesterday evening, from three days in Stratford, enjoying back-to-back Shakespeare evenings. The RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) were putting on a slightly squashed down version of Henry VI. There are three parts to this play normally, but they’ve squeezed it into two three-hour episodes called Rebellion and War of the Roses.

My knowledge of this section of English history is really hazy. I get the gist of how Henry V wins most of France after his odds-defying victory at Agincourt, and my history A-level comes back to me after Henry VII battles his way to the throne, but the stuff in between is all a bit complicated. Which kind of explains why Shakespeare needed to write three full plays just to explain one king’s reign.

What I should have done was try and dig out the Spark notes and figure out who all these dukes of Somerset and Warwick and Gloucester, etc. were and what their beefs were with each other. What I actually did was get out and about the lovely town with Anne to enjoy the multitude of swans a-swimming down the river Avon, and the fine food and wine that could be savoured.

The days were chilly but dry, and because we were there mid-week and out of season, the place wasn’t crawling with other tourists. We had a nose around what was left of the house that Shakespeare had built after he made it. There was nothing left of ‘New Place’ as he called it, rather uninventively, apart from the footprint and the gardens, but they were nice gardens and there were an interesting set of sculptures displayed about the place.

The small town of Stratford-upon-Avon is brimming with all things Shakespeare, as you might expect, but it is very pretty as well, and worth a trip if you’re kicking about the Cotswolds or the Midlands area.

There are lots of places to eat and drink, including a wonderful, not-for-profit Portuguese cafe, that we visited twice, and a Michelin-starred restaurant, Salt. We were lucky to get a lunch at Salt on our final day as they’d just reopened after a refurbishment. I recommend the 4-course tasting menu because, not only are there some really beautifully arranged and sumptuous plates, they also generously add some divine amuse-bouche and an extra sweet if you finish off with teas and coffees.

So, as you see, revising Henry VI was not up there on my to-do list, and although I did ask Anne, every now and then, as to which lord was which, I managed to follow the proceedings pretty well. We made it a bit difficult for ourselves by watching the two plays back to front, but still, I got the story. The acting was terrific, particularly the guy playing Richard, who will later become Richard III. He’s the bloke that is shockingly denigrated by Shakespeare, because his patrons needed to justify their positions on the throne. So Elizabeth I’s grandad, Henry VII, needed to look like a hero to Richard’s demon. We are coming back in July to watch Richard III and the same man is playing him, so I’m really looking forward to it.

As to these plays, the basic plot is this:

Henry 6 was a baby when his dad, Henry 5 died, so the country’s been ruled by some dukes until he came of age. However, because Henry’s grandad, Henry 4, came to the throne a bit dubiously, and because Henry 6 isn’t all that capable of being King even though he’s now old enough, and because his arranged marriage to Margaret of Anjou has lost a big chunk of France, there is some jockeying for power amongst all these dukes, several of whom have pretty decent claims to the thrones themselves, owing to being part of large families and a bit of in-breeding.

The strongest of these claims is with the Duke of York, Richard (Richard III’s dad), and many of the nobles want him to be Regent and then King in his own right when Henry 6 pops it. However, Henry’s got a son, Edward, and Margaret is rather unhappy that Edward’s been kicked off the podium. So she raises an army to reinstate him. There are a whole bunch of battles, one of which kills off Richard, but his sons then get stuck in, eventually win the day, and another Edward (Richard III’s elder brother), is crowned King. Easy really!

These are not plays that you can easily fall asleep in with the amount of warring going on. But besides the action, there is an interesting exploration of power and kingship, and what it means to be a good ruler. We thoroughly enjoyed it all, and it’s made me want to go and read up on this section of history a little more.

I’m going to start by reading ‘Cecily’, a novel by Annie Garthwaite. It looks at all the events above, from the perspective of the wife of the Duke of York. Anne’s read it and loved it, so I’ll crack on with that, perhaps while I’m waiting for these sore bits to calm down.

2 thoughts on “Henry, Henry and Henry”

  1. You do make me giggle! I love Stratford and a bit of the Bard. Glad you enjoyed it and I recommend Sudocrem for any chafing 😆

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