The disastrous peace negotiations between John of Lancaster and the Northern rebels in 2 Henry IV show how the political and moral stakes of truth and trust play out, not only between Prince Hal, the king-to-be, and his unruly companions but also among other subjects both loyal and rebellious. Off-stage, similar tensions can be discerned between English officials and Irish rebels during the Nine Years War (1594–1603). In fact, a remarkably well-documented instance of such a case can be traced to the same year that 2 Henry IV seems to have been first staged. The 1597 truce negotiation between Hugh O’Neill, leader of the Irish confederates, and English crown representatives can shed light on Lancaster’s shocking betrayal of the Northern rebels in Shakespeare’s play. The exchange between crown representatives and rebel leaders, both in early modern Ireland and in 2 Henry IV, exposes the limitations of delegated authority and undercuts assumptions of trust and honour between king and subjects in truce negotiations.
Jane Yeang Chui Wong is Assistant Professor of English at Nanyang Technological University (Singapore). Her primary research area is in sixteenth-century British literature and history. She is especially interested in how changes in state and foreign policies shaped early modern literature and historiography. Ireland figures prominently in her research; her current project focuses on the representation of dissent and conflict among Elizabeth’s colonial administrators between the 1570s and 1603.