James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

May 4

Battle of Tewksbury

By William Shakespeare (1564–1616)

  • From Henry VI. Part III., Act V. Scene 4.
  • In this battle, fought on May 4, 1471, the Yorkists under Edward IV completely defeated the Lancastrians under Henry VI. This secured the throne to Edward IV.

  • Scene, Plains near Tewksbury.


    Margaret.Great lords, wise men ne’er sit and wail their loss,

    But cheerly seek how to redress their harms.

    What though the mast he now blown overboard,

    The cable broke, the holding-anchor lost,

    And half our sailors swallow’d in the flood?

    Yet lives our pilot still. Is’t meet that he

    Should leave the helm and like a fearful lad

    With tearful eyes add water to the sea

    And give more strength to that which hath too much,

    Whiles, in his moan, the ship splits on the rock,

    Which industry and courage might have saved?

    Ah, what a shame! ah, what a fault were this!

    Say Warwick was our anchor; what of that?

    And Montague our topmast; what of him?

    Our slaughter’d friends the tackles; what of these?

    Why, is not Oxford here another anchor?

    And Somerset another goodly mast?

    The friends of France our shrouds and tacklings?

    And, though unskilful, why not Ned and I

    For once allow’d the skilful pilot’s charge?

    We will not from the helm to sit and weep,

    But keep our course, though the rough wind say no,

    From shelves and rocks that threaten us with wreck.

    As good to chide the waves as speak them fair.

    And what is Edward but a ruthless sea?

    What Clarence but a quicksand of deceit?

    And Richard but a ragged fatal rock?

    All these the enemies to our poor bark.

    Say you can swim; alas, ’tis but a while!

    Tread on the sand; why, there you quickly sink:

    Bestride the rock: the tide will wash you off,

    Or else you famish; that’s a threefold death.

    This speak I, lords, to let you understand,

    In case some one of you would fly from us,

    That there’s no hoped-for mercy with the brothers

    More than with ruthless waves, with sands and rocks.

    Why courage then! what cannot be avoided

    ’Twere childish weakness to lament or fear.

    Prince.Methinks a woman of this valiant spirit

    Should, if a coward heard her speak these words,

    Infuse his breast with magnanimity

    And make him, naked, foil a man at arms.

    I speak not this as doubting any here;

    For did I but suspect a fearful man,

    He should have leave to go away betimes,

    Lest in our need he might infect another

    And make him of like spirit to himself.

    If any such be here—as God forbid!—

    Let him depart before we need his help.

    Oxf.Women and children of so high a courage,

    And warriors faint! why, ’twere perpetual shame.

    O brave young prince! thy famous grandfather

    Doth live again in thee: long mayst thou live

    To bear his image and renew his glories!