A few months ago I posted a short play that I had written half-in-jest for a History class (The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln). It is a past-time that I seem to have been more and more engaged with over the past three or so years, and the origins of this stretch back to my first attempt: ‘The Rise and Fall of Dudders’. The “Dudders” in question is John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, who was virtual ruler of England from 1550-53 during the reign of Edward VI. He is a fascinating character due to the villainous tint placed on him by successive generations of historians over a four hundred year period. However, the past four decades have seen a transformation, with Dudley now viewed as a successful ruler who was no more unscrupulous than other Tudor politicians. However, my own short play casts him in the role of wicked ruler, thereby supporting the traditionalists in this interpretation. Personally, I’m more of a revisionist; in the interests of fair-play I will upload a post surrounding the historiographical debate on Northumberland’s legacy. Overall, the value of this play is debatable, but it is nice to sometimes have a toy around with these historical characters in a different context.
HENRY VIII is lying on his death-bed, moaning like a poisoned dog. Standing by the bed are DUDLEY, SOMERSET, and PAGET.
PAGET: O, woe is me! The end is nigh for poor King Harry.
DUDLEY: It would appear he is succumbing to a bad case of death.
SOMERSET: Yes, it is all very sad. However, we have the matter of who is to run the country on his death.
DUDLEY: I believe the will stipulates for a royal council to overlook the little prince until he comes of age.
SOMERSET: O yes, the will. Yes, hmmm.
DUDLEY: It is in the interests of all in this nation that it is agreed to. Don’t you believe so, Somerset?
SOMERSET: Yes, yes! Of course. (To himself): Hmmm… I have a scheme up my sleeve. (Back to the others): Dudley, I have a question. Would you be as kind to fetch my purse? I left it in the other room. If you were willing to fetch it I would gladly pay out for a few Costa coffees for us to drink down.
DUDLEY: Costa coffee you say? Why, yes! I will fetch it now.
SOMERSET: Now, with that Dudley out of the room I shall change this blasted will to make me Protector. Why, you agree with me, don’t you, Paget??
PAGET: (feeling somewhat scared) Why…Um…of course… dear Somerset.
SOMERSET: Get me my pen!
PAGET passes a pen to SOMERSET.
SOMERSET: Now, if the will doesn’t do what I want, I shall make Henry’s old, weak, feeble hand do my bidding.
SOMERSET gets HENRY’s hand to scribble down his signature. SOMERSET holds up the piece of paper and kisses it.
SOMERSET: O yes, the power is mine!!! I shall rule England!!
SOMERSET: evil laughter.
EDWARD walks into the room.
EDWARD: What is all this evil laughter. It sounds rather ominous.
SOMERSET: Hello dear, sweet nephew. You shouldn’t be here. Your father is rather unwell.
EDWARD runs up to HENRY and kisses his cheek.
EDWARD: O Papa! Say it isn’t so! Say we will play catch and go out fishing again. Papa??? PAPA???!! O no!!! He has already slipped off to where the angels are.
PAGET: The king is dead! Long live the king!
SOMERSET: (to himself) And yes! Power is mine.
It is 1549 and DUDLEY and PAGET are sitting in the council room.
PAGET: O, come on, Dudders. You’ve got to speak to me at some point.
DUDLEY folds his arm, and turns away.
PAGET: It was 2 years ago! Get over it. He even made you Earl of Warwick. Somerset is the Protector and you’ll have to accept it.
DUDLEY: Never! I would be a much better ruler than him any day of the week. I just need a chance to show it.
Suddenly, the door bursts open. In walks SOMERSET, looking rather upset.
SOMERSET: O no! It is all going horribly wrong. The people are revolting against me. First these Kett rebels, and now this pesky Cornish lot. What am I to do?
DUDLEY: Lord Protector, send me into battle. I can silence this wicked rabble!
SOMERSET: Yes, you must, Dudley! I am at my wits end. Sort out that nasty lot for your good old duke.
DUDLEY: I shall destroy the rebels! (to the audience) And I will make my name and become ruler as I do so.
DUDLEY enters the Council room after Kett’s Rebellion– cheered by everyone around him.
PAGET: O Dudders! You were magnificent.
CRANMER: Brave, wise Dudley! You were tremendous. I love you.
ANOTHER EARL: Wonderful, sexy Dudley! I want your babies!!!
DUDLEY: Yes, yes. I am rather fantastic. I must agree. But where is the young king?
PAGET: Watch out!! Somerset has kidnapped him! Over there!!
They turn to see SOMERSET has a gun at EDWARD’s head.
SOMERSET: Get back you lot, or the king gets it!!!
EDWARD: My uncle has gone insane.
SOMERSET: You loved me once, dear and noble earls and dukes. You can love me again.
DUDLEY: The game is up, Somerset. Come on, put down the gun. I will give you a place on the council.
DUDLEY: Of course, dear friend (to himself) And as soon as I have the support of the lords I will have him executed!
SOMERSET puts down the gun. EDWARD runs into DUDLEY’s arms.
EDWARD: O, Dudley. Such strong, comforting arms. You can protect me. I will make you Lord President of the Council.
DUDLEY does a thumbs up to the audience.
DUDLEY has come back from holiday. He sees PAGET working at the desk.
DUDLEY: Hey bros. I’m back! What’s the latest.
PAGET: Dearest Duke. Everything is splendid. The economy is recovering, war has ended against Scotland and France. Your policies are bearing fruit, and even the religious reforms are going ahead and making us some bucks.
DUDLEY: And as for Somerset?
PAGET: Killed, your liege.
DUDLEY: And so everything is, as it should be.
PAGET: The king is even making you a nice Christmas present. You are loved by all.
DUDLEY: Fan-bloody-tastic. So, perhaps another holiday to Benidorm?
Suddenly, an USHER rushes in with bad and alarming news.
USHER: My lords! It is the king. He has a cough!!! It is rather bad.
EDWARD walks in, on crutches.
EDWARD: Tis true, tis true. Dudders, I feel death approaching me.
DUDLEY: No, my lovely king. This can’t be. What about your religious reforms if that blasted Mary gets on the throne? The Pope will be back in no time at all, lording it over us, and telling us what we can do.
EDWARD: No worries, Dudders. I have a cunning plan. We shall remove Mary from the succession, and that Elizabeth too. In their place we shall put that Jane Grey. Good Protestants, those Greys. They deserve the throne.
DUDLEY: A most wise plan. When shall we enact it?
EDWARD: Um, now. Because I’m about to die.
EDWARD dies in dramatic, agonising fashion.
PAGET: Blimey! The king is dead!
DUDLEY: Get Jane on the phone. We need to get this sorted pronto!!!
ACT V – The FINAL ACT!!!!
DUDLEY is in the throne room. JANE GREY and GUILDFORD are beside him.
DUDLEY: So, Guildford, you know the plan, right son?
GUILDFORD: Um, explain it to me again.
DUDLEY: Blasted child! Okay, you have married Jane Grey, right?
DUDLEY: And now I will control power from behind the curtain. Like a puppet-master.
DUDLEY: And you shall have lots of children, and they will become future kings of England. My blood shall forever be entwined with this new dynasty!
GUILDFORD: Yes, boss! Um, I mean dad.
JANE GREY: Um, hold on a minute. Don’t I get a say in all this.
DUDLEY: Shut up, woman! Know your place. This is a man’s world. If you say another peep I will strike you down with my fists. Nobody can stop me now.
There are knocks on the door.
DUDLEY: Paget, go to the door. Paget??!! Where the blasted is he??
The door opens and in walks PAGET and QUEEN MARY.
PAGET: Everyone, please stand for attention of the new monarch of England. The one…the only…the super-star…Queen Mary!
MARY: Yes, yes, all right, that will do.
DUDLEY: Mary?? But how can this be? I thought the people hated you?
MARY: The people love the Tudors, darling. And I am a Tudor. Not like these puny imposters. The people have risen in my honour.
DUDLEY falls to his knees and clasps his hands together.
DUDLEY: O, Mary!!! Forgive me! I have done you wrong. I will never do it again.
MARY: No, that is right, you won’t. Because I am going to have your head chopped off. Ha! Men, take him away.
MEN come and take DUDLEY away.
DUDLEY: Marrrrry!!! I’m sorrrrry!!!!
PAGET: And what about these two, your highness?
MARY: Hmmm. Place them in the Tower. I’m sure I’ll get around to killing them at some point. Now, onto the important business. Let’s get the stained glass windows back up again. And email the Pope. We need to arrange the return of Catholicism to this sinned land. And whilst you’re at it, have Cranmer arrested and burnt. Come now! We have matters to attend to!