Act IV Scene 1
The Archbishop, Mowbray and Hastings meet at Gaultree Forest, in Yorkshire. The Archbishop reports that he has received a letter from Northumberland saying that he is retiring to Scotland until he can raise a larger army.
A messenger brings news that an army of thirty thousand men is assembled against them west of the forest.
Westmoreland, one of the King's men, enters. He brings greetings from Prince John, and asks the Archbishop why he of all people, a man of learning and peace, should be ready to wage war. The Archbishop replies that he has carefully weighed the situation, balancing the harm that may come from taking up arms against the evils the kingdom currently suffers. He has decided going to war is the lesser of the two evils. He says that the rebels had drawn up a list of their grievances and tried to present them to the King, but the King refused to give them an audience. The Archbishop claims that they are not there to break the peace but to establish one.
Westmoreland disputes that they have been rebuffed by the King, and also says that there is no need for any redress of wrongs. He tells Mowbray that he has no cause to rebel against the King, and does not care to listen to Mowbray's complaint, which goes back to a dispute between Mowbray's father and Henry IV (this was before Henry IV, then known as Bolingbroke, became king). Instead, Westmoreland brings an offer from Prince John: the Prince is prepared to give them an audience, and meet their demands, if those demands prove to be just. Mowbray is suspicious and does not want to accept the offer, and Hastings demands to know whether Prince John has sufficient authority from his father to make such an offer. Westmoreland confirms that he does. The Archbishop then presents a list of their grievances, and says that if they are redressed, the rebellion will end. Westmoreland agrees to present the demands to the Prince.
After Westmoreland exits, Mowbray expresses doubt about whether any peace settlement could hold for long. The King would always be suspicious of them and be ready to misinterpret their actions. But the Archbishop disagrees. He believes that the King would be willing to wipe the slate clean. Hastings agrees, and also argues that the King has been weakened by other rebellions, and no longer has the power to threaten them.
Westmoreland returns and invites them to meet Prince John half-way between their two armies.
As in the earlier scene involving the rebels (Act 1, scene 3), no details are given about the rebels' grievances, although they continue to insist that they are justified in their actions. But the lack of specific grievances tends to weaken their case in the eyes of the audience, and strengthen our belief that their motivations are as much personal as a desire for the common good. As he did earlier, Mowbray brings up the fact that his father was banished after a quarrel with Henry IV before the latter became King. And it should also be remembered (although it is not mentioned in this scene), that a relative of the Archbishop had been executed as a rebel by Henry IV early in his reign.
Historically, the Archbishop of York was the ringleader of the rebellion. In the spring of 1405, he posted around the city of York a document which accused Henry IV of misgoverning the kingdom. According to Peter Saccio, in Shakespeare's English Kings: History, Chronicle and Drama, the document brought attention to "indignities inflicted upon the clergy, destruction visited upon the secular lords, and unbearable taxes imposed upon the commons" (p. 54).