John of Lancaster’s Negotiation with the Rebels in 2 Henry IV

Fifteenth-Century Northern England as Sixteenth-Century Ireland

in Critical Survey

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.