Richard II - Character Profiles - Bishop Of Carlisle

As we look forward to David Tennant's performance as Richard II in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of the play, we will be taking a look at the play and its characters in a series of articles.
We continue with a look at Richard's most loyal supporter...

Thomas Merke, Bishop of Carlisle, is the noblest of Richard's followers, he is totally devoted to his King. He is prepared to defend Richard in the midst of the enemy camp in Act IV and to fight to restore him to his throne. Despite his part in the Abbot of Westminster's plot, Henry, his enemy, grants him his life, but it seems unlikely his unwavering commitment would ever have allowed him, like Aumerle, to change his allegiance and beg for a pardon. Henry nevertheless does pardon him because, as he says, "High sparks of honour in thee I have seen". There is similar evidence of his holiness and dignity earlier in the play when Percy says that there is in Flint Castle with Richard "A clergyman of holy reverence" and from this description Northumberland recognises the Bishop. 
To this Bishop Shakespeare gives the most eloquent defence of Richard's inalienable rights as divinely anointed King, but he also advises Richard to take steps to defend himself. Clearly the Bishop is not ignorant to the ways of the world. He believes that "heaven helps those who help themselves" and he himself acts in the plot against Henry. That it is this high minded clergyman, so unlike Richard's flatterers and the brusque Earl Of Northumberland, who foretells a bloody civil war as the consequence of Richard's deposition, lends the prophecy an awful authority.