In scene five, act three of Richard II we witness Bolingbroke, now King Henry, make his first difficult decision as King.
Prior to this scene, we learn than Aumerle, now named “Rutland” has committed a horrible crime. Aumerle’s father, the Duke of York, discovers a letter adorning Aumerle’s neck. Although Aumerle attempts to hid the note from his father, York eventually reads it. After retrieving the note, York learns that Aumerle is among a group of individuals who are planning the assassination of King Henry.
York’s reaction to Aumerle’s action struck me as very peculiar. As a present day reader, I would expect York’s loyalty to be to his son rather than to the King. However, we do not see this. York responds to the letter saying “Treason, foul treason! Villain, traitor, slave” (5.2 72).
The Duke of York completely ignores the familial ties that he has to his son. This scene directly influences the argument of blood versus justice, and which is more important. It is clear that the Duke of York finds it more important to remain loyal to one’s leader, rather than one’s kin. These values completely contrast the values of the Duchess of York. She begs the Duke of York to not tell the King of Aumerle’s unlawful actions. The Duchess of York’s plea to maintain her son’s innocence can be seen when she says: “Why York, what whilt thou do?/ Will thou not hid the trespass of thine own?/ Have we more sons? Or are we like to have”? (5.2 88-90).
It is obvious after reading this passage of what the Duchess of York palces importance on. Although she may have a great deal of admiration and respect for her leader, King Henry, it is clear that her loyalty belongs to her son. This idea of unconditional love for one’s child, regardless of their actions, greatly contradicts the opinion of the Duke of York.
Regardless of the pleas of his wife, York decides to take immediate action and report Aumerle’s crime to the King at once. In order to attempt to save his life, both Aumerle and the Duchess of York flee to visit King Henry as well. It is here that the Duke of York begs King Henry to execute Aumerle for the crime of plotting the assassination of the King. At the same time, the Duchess of York is begging the King to spare her son’s life. Once again, the struggle between blood versus justice is clearly illustrated in this passage. Ultimately, King Henry chooses to spare Aumerle’s life, but decides the other individuals involved in the crime will be executed. This decision brings up the question, which is more important to King Henry, blood or justice?