The Sovereignty and Goodness of God

by: Mary Rowlandson

King Philip

Characters King Philip

The leader of the Wampanoags, known as King Philip by the British, plays a large but ambiguous role in Mary Rowlandson’s narrative. Though as a leader he has power and status, Philip often seems removed from the politics and violence of his people and seems distant even from the war that bears his name. When he first meets Rowlandson, he is courteous, offering her some of his tobacco in a gesture of friendship. Far from being a demanding ruler with a sense of entitlement, Philip engages Rowlandson in his culture on an economic level by offering her money or food for her services as a seamstress. This exchange, however small it may be, suggests Philip’s decency and humanity. Rowlandson may be a captive of his tribe, but she is still a person, and she is not a slave.

Despite this basic decency and kindness, Philip does not set Rowlandson free, though as a leader, he might have had the power to do so. When the General Court of the Indians meets to discuss freeing her, Philip refuses to attend, prolonging Rowlandson’s captivity through his petty, immature action. He offers Rowlandson her freedom in exchange for clothing, money, and food, but Rowlandson distrusts him, fearing he’ll go back on his word. This mention of Philip’s possibly false offer, and his childish sulking, is the last Rowlandson says of him in her story.