Peaceable King, or Lord Mendall


Historical Records

From Sir Henry Herbert's office-book:

For the Princes servants of the Rede Bull — An oulde <play called the> Peacable Kinge or the lord Mendall former<ly allowed of by Sir> George Bucke & likewise by mee & because <itt was free from adition> or reformation I tooke no fee this 19th Augt. <1623>
(Bawcutt, 142)

Theatrical Provenance

Prince Charles's (I) Men, performing at the Red Bull.

Probable Genre(s)


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

If the play was about the Jack Cade rebellion (see below), its closest dramatic analogue might be the Cade scenes of Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 2.

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

G. E. Bentley notes that Herbert’s comments restrict the play’s date of composition to 1606-22, the period of Sir George Buc’s tenure as Herbert’s predecessor. Beyond these facts, Bentley concludes, "nothing is known of the subject" of the play (V, 1393). N.W. Bawcutt (45) observes that Herbert clearly believed that the players had left the play unaltered the play since its original licensing, but also that his waiving of the fee implies that he did not study it closely.

David Nicol observes that Jack Cade, leader of the peasant revolt of 1450, was reported by chroniclers to have called himself 'Mend-all': "for example, Raphael Holinshed reports that 'his name was John Cade, or (of some) John Mend-all'; John Stow says 'he was named of some John amend all'; and John Trussel says that he styled himself 'Captaine Mend-all' (138). Nicol thus argues that the play was about the conflict between Cade and King Henry VI, who had a reputation as a peaceable king: in the words of Edward Hall, he was "a man of a meke spirite, and of a symple witte, preferryng peace before warre, reste before businesse, honestie before profite and quietnesse before laboure" and "studied onely for the health of his soule" (138). The play may thus have contained material similar to the Jack Cade scenes in Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part Two, or to the anonymous play The Life and Death of Jack Straw (138-9, 141-2).

Nicol further argues that the play's revival in 1623 may have been politically motivated, since the phrase 'peaceable king' was frequently applied to King James, both by himself and by his enemies, in the 1620s (139-40). The play could thus have reflected on the ongoing passionate debates in England over James's pacifist response to the conflicts in Europe. At the time, James was resisting military intervention despite the deposition by an invading Habsburg army of his son-in-law Frederick and daughter Elizabeth from the Bohemian throne. Nicol observes that "in parliament, in the pulpit, and in print, outraged voices expressed incredulity at James’s pacific response: his refusal to aid Frederick and Elizabeth militarily and his plans for a diplomatic marriage between Prince Charles and the Spanish Infanta" (139). In addition, "anger in the popular press occurred alongside physical violence in London," so that "the sense that the populace was generally hostile to King James’s preference for negotiation was strong, and the tension did not fully break until October [1623], when Charles finally returned, brideless, from Madrid" (140-1). Nicol thus speculates that the play was "revived at a time when the topic of a peace-loving king confronting violent hostility from the populace was extremely topical, so that if the play were about Henry and Cade, it may not have required any 'additions or reformations' to enhance its contemporary parallels" (141).

For What It's Worth

Information welcome.

Works Cited

  • Nicol, David. "The Peaceable King, or The Lord Mendall: A Lost Jack Cade Play and its 1623 Revival". Early Theatre 19.1 (2016): 137-45.

Site created and maintained by David Nicol, Dalhousie University; updated 12 June, 2016.