John Ford's play Perkin Warbeck uses sanctuary, which bookends the life of the titular pretender to the English throne, as a figure for the tension between justice and mercy. The play associates legal sanctuary with the medieval past, as crystallized in Thomas More's account of Richard Plantagenet's extraction from sanctuary at Westminster in The History of Richard III (1557). Moreover, Ford redirects the language of contemporary chroniclers Francis Bacon and Thomas Gainsford in order to emphasize the link between sanctuary and practices of royal pity in the play. By positioning itself between a myth of medieval kingship as limited, contingent, and responsive to human need, on the one hand, and on the other, a myth of Tudor pragmatism as a sovereign assertion of law, the play offers two alternatives to the absolutism of Stuart monarchy without endorsing either.
A Once and Future King: Sanctuary, Sovereignty, and the Politics of Pity in the Histories of Perkin Warbeck
Elizabeth Allen; A Once and Future King: Sanctuary, Sovereignty, and the Politics of Pity in the Histories of Perkin Warbeck. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1 May 2017; 47 (2): 327–358. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10829636-3846359
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