Burghers

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“Silly Burghers,” he said, more to himself than to his Queen. “Why are they silly?” she asked. “I think it is very noble of them to offer their lives for the lives of the townspeople. ” “It would be, Phillippa – if they were risking their lives.

They’re not. They are under the protection of the heralds. This is just a formal declaration of surrender. The nooses round their necks are symbolic, not for use.

It’s a convention of war. I have threatened Calais with pillage and rape if they don’t surrender. I don’t want to do that. I want to use the town and port and not have it cluttered with stinking corpses and my soldiers drunk and probably poxed.

The burghers know I want the town intact but they can’t defend it because I’ve defeated their army, and they are starving. So we go through this charade. Probably some French minstrel is composing a ballade about how brave these burghers are. They’re not.

They’ll be trading with us before the week is out and looking to make good profits from English gold. They get the money and the glory. I get to look bad in the eyes of my French speaking subjects. ” “And my countrymen, Edward.

” “How could I forget, Phillippa? I love my French Queen. ” “Then why don’t you do something to make yourself beloved by your French subjects instead of acting apparently like a tyrant?” “I wish I could. I have to make Calais an example of my ferocity or other towns might think they can defy me.

If I was really a tyrant I’d execute these burghers, or refuse to accept their sacrifice and slaughter the inhabitants. I don’t want to do that. ” “Why don’t you pretend that’s what you want to do? If I make an impassioned public plea for them on my knees you can seem to have been swayed by your wife’s appeal.

” “Edward! You can’t do that in public!” “I couldn’t. I daren’t. ” “What is this? Edward the great King dare not do something? I don’t believe it. ” “It’s true.

Part of any King’s strength as ruler is his manliness. He must appear to be stronger and greater than his subjects. Any sign of weakness is a threat. I have to seem to be the greatest warrior, the strongest man and the insatiable lover.

Nonsense, of course. Many men are stronger than I am. Many soldiers are better at fighting. You and I know that most women can wear out the most demanding man.

I dare not say any of that openly. I’d love to be at your feet but I can’t be seen there. I wouldn’t last long as King if I were seen to be an inferior position to you. ” “Typical of men.

Women know they rule. You just can’t admit that we do. ” “No. We can’t.

I certainly can’t. But your idea is good. It makes the threat plain yet the threat isn’t carried out because my Queen pleads for them. You won’t always be at sieges and even if you are, your intercession cannot be guaranteed, nor might it succeed every time.

That will make my enemies nervous. If you are happy to go through this charade, we’ll do it. Since my counsellors don’t know about it, it will surprise them as well. The French will note their genuine reactions.

Come on. The burghers are almost here. ” “I’ll follow. You do the threatening and order a gallows built.

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