Download The Baron's Wars Study Guide

Subscribe Now

"A King's A King, Do Fortune What She Can"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The poem treats of the conflict between King Edward II and his nobles, a subject dramatized by Christopher Marlowe in Edward the Second. The barons of England, angered at the king's misrule and insulted by the favoritism shown to Piers Gaveston and to members of the Spencer family, revolted under the Mortimers. Even the much neglected but perhaps not too virtuous queen, Isabella, sister of the King of France, fell away from the king and fled to France to raise a military force, the ostensible purpose of which was to insure her rights and those of her son, Prince Edward, afterwards King Edward III. At first the king's forces were successful in the war, but fortune turned against him and he was captured and imprisoned by the barons. The barons forced Edward to abdicate his throne; he did what he had to, insisting, however, that as an anointed king, he was supreme and the barons had no power over him. His protestations did him no good, and he was taken as a close prisoner from one castle to another. Finally he was set upon by a pair of most odious felons named Gurney and Matrevis, who subjected him to a series of indignities, such as wetting him with pond water, shaving his head and beard, clothing him in rags, depriving him of rest and food, and making him ride on a sorry jade. At this point in the poem the poet addresses the murderers and tells them to keep their unhallowed hands off the king, because he had had the spirit of God infused into him; he was still a king, although fortune had dealt severely with him.

Vile traitors, hold off your unhallowed hands,
His brow, upon it majesty still bears;
Dare ye thus keep your sovereign lord in bands?
And can your eyes behold th'anointed tears?
Or if your sight all pity thus withstands,
Are not your hearts yet pierced through your ears?
The mind is free, what ere afflict the man,
A king's a king, do fortune what she can.
Dare man take that which God himself hath given?
Or mortal spill the spirit by him infused,
Whose power is subject to the power of heaven?
Wrongs pass not unrevenged, although excused.
Except that thou set all at six and seven,
Rise, majesty, when thou art thus abused;
Or for thy refuge, which way wilt thou take,
When in this sort thou dost thyself forsake?