Part 3 out of 6
battle we had with the Saracens yonder on the hills; they had the
men of Canaan there and the men of Armenia and the Giants; there
were no better men in their army than these. We dealt with them so
that they will not boast themselves of this day's work. But it cost
us dear; all the men of France lie dead on the plain, and I am
wounded to the death. And now, Roland, blame me not that I fled; for
you are my lord, and all my trust is in you."
"I blame you not," said Roland, "only as long as you live help me
against the heathen." And as he spake he took his cloak and rent it
into strips and bound up Walter's wounds therewith. This done he and
Walter and the Archbishop set fiercely on the enemy. Five-and-twenty
did Roland slay, and Walter slew six, and the Archbishop five. Three
valiant men of war they were; fast and firm they stood one by the
other; hundreds there were of the heathen, but they dared not come
near to these three valiant champions of France. They stood far off,
and cast at the three spears and darts and javelins and weapons of
every kind. Walter of Hum was slain forthwith; and the Archbishop's
armour was broken, and he wounded, and his horse slain under him.
Nevertheless he lifted himself from the ground, still keeping a good
heart in his breast. "They have not overcome me yet"; said he, "as
long as a good soldier lives, he does not yield."
Roland took his horn once more and sounded it, for he would know
whether King Charles were coming. Ah me! it was a feeble blast that
he blew. But the King heard it, and he halted and listened. "My
lords!" said he, "things go ill for us, I doubt not. To-day we shall
lose, I fear me much, my brave nephew Roland. I know by the sound of
his horn that he has but a short time to live. Put your horses to
their full speed, if you would come in time to help him, and let a
blast be sounded by every trumpet that there is in the army." So all
the trumpets in the host sounded a blast; all the valleys and hills
re-echoed with the sound; sore discouraged were the heathen when
they heard it. "King Charles has come again," they cried; "we are
all as dead men. When he comes he shall not find Roland alive." Then
four hundred of them, the strongest and most valiant knights that
were in the army of the heathen, gathered themselves into one
company, and made a yet fiercer assault on Roland.
Roland saw them coming, and waited for them without fear. So long as
he lived he would not yield himself to the enemy or give place to
them. "Better death than flight," said he, as he mounted his good
steed Veillantif, and rode towards the enemy. And by his side went
Turpin the Archbishop on foot. Then said Roland to Turpin, "I am on
horseback and you are on foot. But let us keep together; never will
I leave you; we two will stand against these heathen dogs. They have
not, I warrant, among them such a sword as Durendal." "Good,"
answered the Archbishop. "Shame to the man who does not smite his
hardest. And though this be our last battle, I know well that King
Charles will take ample vengeance for us."
When the heathen saw these two stand together they fell back in fear
and hurled at them spears and darts and javelins without number.
Roland's shield they broke and his hauberk; but him they hurt not;
nevertheless they did him a grievous injury, for they killed his
good steed Veillantif. Thirty wounds did Veillantif receive, and he
fell dead under his master. At last the Archbishop was stricken and
Roland stood alone, for the heathen had fled from his presence.
When Roland saw that the Archbishop was dead, his heart was sorely
troubled in him. Never did he feel a greater sorrow for comrade
slain, save Oliver only. "Charles of France," he said, "come as
quickly as you may, many a gallant knight have you lost in
Roncesvalles. But King Marsilas, on his part, has lost his army. For
one that has fallen on this side there has fallen full forty on
that." So saying he turned to the Archbishop; he crossed the dead
man's hands upon his breast and said, "I commit thee to the Father's
mercy. Never has man served his God with a better will, never since
the beginning of the world has there lived a sturdier champion of
the faith. May God be good to you and give you all good things!"
Now Roland felt that his own death was near at hand. In one hand he
took his horn, and in the other his good sword Durendal, and made
his way the distance of a furlong or so till he came to a plain, and
in the midst of the plain a little hill. On the top of the hill in
the shade of two fair trees were four marble steps. There Roland
fell in a swoon upon the grass. There a certain Saracen spied him.
The fellow had feigned death, and had laid himself down among the
slain, having covered his body and his face with blood. When he saw
Roland, he raised himself from where he was lying among the slain
and ran to the place, and, being full of pride and fury, seized the
Count in his arms, crying aloud, "He is conquered, he is conquered,
he is conquered, the famous nephew of King Charles! See, here is his
sword; 'tis a noble spoil that I shall carry back with me to
Arabia." Thereupon he took the sword in one hand, with the other he
laid hold of Roland's beard. But as the man laid hold, Roland came
to himself, and knew that some one was taking his sword from him. He
opened his eyes but not a word did he speak save this only, "Fellow,
you are none of ours," and he smote him a mighty blow upon his
helmet. The steel he brake through and the head beneath, and laid
the man dead at his feet. "Coward," he said, "what made you so bold
that you dared lay hands on Roland? Whosoever knows him will think
you a fool for your deed."
And now Roland knew that death was near at hand. He raised himself
and gathered all his strength together--ah me! how pale his face
was!--and took in his hand his good sword Durendal. Before him was a
great rock and on this in his rage and pain he smote ten mighty
blows. Loud rang the steel upon the stone; but it neither brake nor
splintered. "Help me," he cried, "O Mary, our Lady. O my good sword,
my Durendal, what an evil lot is mine! In the day when I must part
with you, my power over you is lost. Many a battle I have won with
your help; and many a kingdom have I conquered, that my Lord Charles
possesses this day. Never has any one possessed you that would fly
before another. So long as I live, you shall not be taken from me,
so long have you been in the hands of a loyal knight."
Then he smote a second time with the sword, this time upon the
marble steps. Loud rang the steel, but neither brake nor splintered.
Then Roland began to bemoan himself, "O my good Durendal," he said,
"how bright and clear thou art, shining as shines the sun! Well I
mind me of the day when a voice that seemed to come from heaven bade
King Charles give thee to a valiant captain; and forthwith the good
King girded it on my side. Many a land have I conquered with thee
for him, and now how great is my grief! Can I die and leave thee to
be handled by some heathen?" And the third time he smote a rock with
it. Loud rang the steel, but it brake not, bounding back as though
it would rise to the sky. And when Count Roland saw that he could
not break the sword, he spake again but with more content in his
heart. "O Durendal," he said, "a fair sword art thou, and holy as
fair. There are holy relics in thy hilt, relics of St. Peter and St.
Denis and St. Basil. These heathen shall never possess thee; nor
shalt thou be held but by a Christian hand."
And now Roland knew that death was very near to him. He laid himself
down with his head upon the grass putting under him his horn and his
sword, with his face turned towards the heathen foe. Ask you why he
did so? To shew, forsooth, to Charlemagne and the men of France that
he died in the midst of victory. This done he made a loud confession
of his sins, stretching his hand to heaven. "Forgive me, Lord," he
cried, "my sins, little and great, all that I have committed since
the day of my birth to this hour in which I am stricken to death."
So he prayed; and, as he lay, he thought of many things, of the
countries which he had conquered, and of his dear Fatherland France,
and of his kinsfolk, and of the good King Charles. Nor, as he
thought, could he keep himself from sighs and tears; yet one thing
he remembered beyond all others--to pray for forgiveness of his
sins. "O Lord," he said, "Who art the God of truth, and didst save
Daniel Thy prophet from the lions, do Thou save my soul and defend
it against all perils!" So speaking he raised his right hand, with
the gauntlet yet upon it, to the sky, and his head fell back upon
his arm and the angels carried him to heaven. So died the great
We now come to the great King Alfred, the best and greatest of all
English Kings. We know quite enough of his history to be able to say
that he really deserves to be so called, though I must warn you
that, just because he left so great a name behind him, people have
been fond of attributing to him things which really belonged to
others. Thus you may sometimes see nearly all English laws and
customs attributed to Alfred, as if he had invented them all for
himself. You will sometimes hear that Alfred founded Trial by Jury,
divided England into Counties, and did all kinds of other things.
Now the real truth is that the roots and beginnings of most of these
things are very much older than the time of Alfred, while the
particular forms in which we have them now are very much later. But
people have a way of fancying that everything must have been
invented by some particular man, and as Alfred was more famous than
anybody else, they hit upon Alfred as the most likely person to have
But, putting aside fables, there is quite enough to show that there
have been very few Kings, and very few men of any sort, so great and
good as King Alfred. Perhaps the only equally good King we read of
is Saint Louis of France; and though he was quite as good, we cannot
set him down as being so great and wise as Alfred. Certainly no King
ever gave himself up more thoroughly than Alfred did fully to do the
duties of his office. His whole life seems to have been spent in
doing all that he could for the good of his people in every way. And
it is wonderful in how many ways his powers showed themselves. That
he was a brave warrior is in itself no particular praise in an age
when almost every man was the same. But it is a great thing for a
prince so large a part of whose time was spent in fighting to be
able to say that all his wars were waged to set free his country
from the most cruel enemies.
And we may admire too the wonderful way in which he kept his mind
always straight and firm, never either giving way to bad luck or
being puffed up by good luck. We read of nothing like pride or
cruelty or injustice of any kind either towards his own people or
towards his enemies. And if he was a brave warrior, he was many
other things besides. He was a lawgiver; at least he collected and
arranged the laws, and caused them to be most carefully
administered. He was a scholar, and wrote and translated many books
for the good of his people. He encouraged trade and enterprise of
all kinds, and sent men to visit distant parts of the world, and
bring home accounts of what they saw. And he was a thoroughly good
man and a devout Christian in all relations of life. In short, one
hardly knows any other character in all history so perfect; there is
so much that is good in so many different ways; and though no doubt
Alfred had his faults like other people, yet he clearly had none, at
any rate in the greater part of his life, which took away at all
seriously from his general goodness. One wonders that such a man was
never canonized as a Saint; most certainly many people have received
that name who did not deserve it nearly so well as he did.
Alfred, or, as his name should really be spelled, Aelfred,
[Footnote: That is, the rede or councel of the elves. A great many
Old-English names are called after the elves or fairies.] was the
youngest son of King Aethelwulf, and was born at Wantage in
Berkshire in 849. His mother was Osburh daughter of Oslac the King's
cup-bearer, who came of the royal house of the Jutes in Wight. Up to
the age of twelve years Alfred was fond of hunting and other sports
but he had not been taught any sort of learning, not so much as to
read his own tongue. But he loved the old English songs; and one day
his mother had a beautiful book of songs with rich pictures and fine
painted initial letters, such as you may often see in ancient books.
And she said to her children, "I will give this beautiful book to
the one of you who shall first be able to read it." And Alfred said,
"Mother, will you really give me the book when I have learned to
read it?" And Osburh said, "Yes, my son." So Alfred went and found a
master, and soon learned to read. Then he came to his mother, and
read the songs in the beautiful book and took the book for his own.
In 868, when he was in his twentieth year, while his brother
Aethelred was King, Alfred married. His wife's name was Ealhswyth;
she was the daughter of Aethelred called the Mickle or Big, Alderman
of the Gainas in Lincolnshire, and her mother Eadburh was of the
royal house of the Mercians. It is said that on the very day of his
marriage he was smitten with a strange disease, which for twenty
years never quite left him, and fits of which might come on at any
time. If this be true, it makes all the great things that he did
even more wonderful.
Meanwhile the great Danish invasion had begun in the northern parts
of England. There are many stories told in the old Northern Songs as
to the cause of it. Some tell how Ragnar Lodbrog, a great hero of
these Northern tales, was seized by Aella, King of the
Northumbrians, and was thrown into a dungeon full of serpents, and
how, while he was dying of the bites of the serpents, he sang a
wonderful death-song, telling of all his old fights, and calling on
his sons to come and avenge him. The year 871 the Danes for the
first time entered Wessex. Nine great battles, besides smaller
skirmishes, were fought this year, in some of which the English won
and in others the Danes. One famous battle was at Ashdown, in
Berkshire. We are told that the heathen men were in two divisions;
one was commanded by their two Kings Bagsecg and Halfdene, and the
other by five Earls, Sidroc the Old, Sidroc the Young, Osbeorn,
Fraena, and Harold. And King Aethelred was set against the Kings and
Alfred the Aetheling against the Earls. And the heathen men came on
against them. But King Aethelred heard mass in his tent. And men
said, "Come forth, O King, to the fight, for the heathen men press
hard upon us." And King Aethelred said, "I will serve God first and
man after, so I will not come forth till all the words of the mass
be ended." So King Aethelred abode praying, and the heathen men
fought against Alfred the Aetheling. And Alfred said, "I cannot
abide till the King my brother comes forth; I must either flee, or
fight alone with the heathen men." So Alfred the Aetheling and his
men fought against the five Earls. Now the heathen men stood on the
higher ground and the Christians on the lower. Yet did Alfred go
forth trusting in God, and he made his men hold close together with
their shields, and they went forth like a wild boar against the
hounds. And they fought against the heathen men and smote them, and
slew the five Earls, Sidroc the Old, Sidroc the Young, Osbeorn,
Fraena, and Harold. Then the mass was over, and King Aethelred came
forth and fought against the two Kings, and slew Bagsecg the King
with his own hand and smote the heathen men with a great slaughter
and chased them even unto Reading.
In 871, on Aethelred's death, Alfred became King of the West-Saxons
and Over-lord of all England, as his father had appointed so long
before with the consent of his Wise Men.
The Danes did not come again into Wessex till 876. But though the
West-Saxons had no fighting by land during these years, things were
not quite quiet, for in 875 King Alfred had a fight at sea against
some of the Danish pirates. This sea-fight is worth remembering as
being, I suppose, the first victory won by the Englishmen at sea,
where Englishmen have since won so many victories. King Alfred then
fought against seven Danish ships, of which he took one and put the
rest to flight. It is somewhat strange that we do not hear more than
we do of warfare by sea in these times, especially when we remember
how in earlier times the Angles and Saxons had roved about in their
ships, very much as the Danes and other Northmen were doing now. It
would seem that the English, after they settled in Britain, almost
left off being a seafaring people. We find Alfred and other Kings
doing what they could to keep up a fleet and to stir up a naval
spirit among their people. And in some degree they did so; still we
do not find the English, for a long while after this time, doing
nearly so much by sea as they did by land. This was a pity; for
ships might then, as in later times, have been wooden walls. It is
much better to meet an enemy at sea, and to keep him from landing in
your country, than to let him land, even if you can beat him when he
But in 876 the Danes came again into Wessex; and we thus come to the
part of Alfred's life which is at once the saddest and the
brightest. It is the time when his luck was lowest and when his
spirit was highest. The army under Guthorm or Guthrum, the Danish
King of East-Anglia, came suddenly to Wareham in Dorsetshire. The
Chronicle says that they "bestole"--that is, came secretly or
escaped--from the West-Saxon army, which seems to have been waiting
for them. This time Alfred made peace with the Danes, and they gave
him some of their chief men for hostages, and they swore to go out
of the land. They swore this on the holy bracelet, which was the
most solemn oath in use among the heathen Northmen, and on which
they had never before sworn at any of the times when they had made
peace with the English. But they did not keep their oath any better
for taking it in this more solemn way. The part of the host which
had horses "bestole away." King Alfred rode after the Danish horse
as far as Exeter, but he did not overtake them till they had got
there, and were safe in the stronghold. Then they made peace,
swearing oaths, and giving as many hostages as the King asked for.
And now we come to the terrible year 878, the greatest and saddest
and most glorious in all Alfred's life. In the very beginning of the
year, just after Twelfth-night, the Danish host again came suddenly-
-"bestole" as the Chronicle says--to Chippenham. Then "they rode
through the West-Saxons' land, and there sat down, and mickle of the
folk over the sea they drove, and of the others the most deal they
rode over; all but the King Alfred; he with a little band hardly
fared [went] after the woods and on the moor-fastnesses." This time
of utter distress lasted only a very little while, for in a few
months Alfred was again at the head of an army and able to fight
against the Danes.
It was during this trouble that Alfred stayed in the hut of a
neatherd or swineherd of his, who knew who he was, though his wife
did not know him. One day the woman set some cakes to bake, and bade
the King, who was sitting by the fire mending his bow and arrows, to
tend them. Alfred thought more of his bow and arrows than he did of
the cakes, and let them burn. Then the woman ran in and cried out,
"There, don't you see the cakes on fire? Then wherefore turn them
not? You are glad enough to eat them when they are piping hot."
We are told that this swineherd or neatherd afterwards became Bishop
of Winchester. They say that his name was Denewulf, and that the
King saw that, though he was in so lowly a rank, he was naturally a
very wise man. So he had him taught, and at last gave him the
I do not think that I can do better than tell you the next happening
to Alfred, as it is in the Chronicle, only changing those words
which you might not understand.
"And that ilk [same] winter was Iwer's and Healfdene's brother among
the West-Saxons in Devonshire; and him there men slew and eight
hundred men with him and forty men of his host. And there was the
banner taken which they the Raven hight [call]. And after this
Easter wrought King Alfred with his little band a work [fortress] at
Athelney, and out of that work was he striving with the [Danish]
host, and the army sold [gave] him hostages and mickle oaths, and
eke they promised him that their King should receive baptism. And
this they fulfilled. And three weeks after came King Guthrum with
thirty of the men that in the host were worthiest, at Aller, that is
near Athelney. And him the King received at his baptism, [Footnote:
That is, was his godfather.] and his chrisom-loosing [Footnote: That
is, he laid aside the chrisom or white garment which a newly
baptised person wore.] was at Wedmore. And he was twelve nights with
the King, and he honoured him and his feres [companions] with mickle
Thus you see how soon King Alfred's good luck came back to him
again. The Raven was a famous banner of the Danes, said to have been
worked by the daughters of Ragnar Lodbrog. It was thought to have
wonderful powers, so that they could tell by the way in which the
raven held his wings whether they would win or not in battle.
You see the time of utter distress lasted only from soon after
Twelfth-night to Easter, and even during that time the taking of the
Raven must have cheered the English a good deal. After Easter things
began to mend, when Alfred built his fort at Athelney and began to
skirmish with the Danes, and seven weeks later came the great
victory at Ethandun, which set Wessex free. Some say that the white
horse which is cut in the side of the chalk hills near Edington was
cut then, that men might remember the great battle of Ethandun. But
it has been altered in modern times to make it look more like a real
All this time Alfred seems to have kept his headquarters at
Athelney. Thence they went to Wedmore. There the Wise Men came
together, and Alfred and Guthorm (or, to give him the name by which
he was baptised, Aethelstan) made a treaty. This treaty was very
much better kept than any treaty with the Danes had ever been kept
before. The Danes got much the larger part of England; still Alfred
contrived to keep London. Some accounts say that only those of the
Danes stayed in England who chose to become Christians, and that the
rest went away into Gaul under a famous leader of theirs named
Hasting. Anyhow, in 880 they went quite away into what was now their
own land of East-Anglia, and divided it among themselves. Thus
Alfred had quite freed his own Kingdom from the Danes, though he was
obliged to leave so much of the island in their hands. And even
through all these misfortunes, the Kingdom of Wessex did in some
sort become greater. Remember that in 880, when Alfred had done so
many great things, he was still only thirty-one years old.
We can see how much people always remembered and thought of Alfred,
by there being many more stories told of him than of almost any
other of the old Kings. One story is that Alfred, wishing to know
what the Danes were about and how strong they were, set out one day
from Athelney in the disguise of a minstrel or juggler, and went
into the Danish camp, and stayed there several days, amusing the
Danes with his playing, till he had seen all that he wanted, and
then went back without any one finding him out. This is what you may
call a soldier's story, while some of the others are rather what
monks and clergymen would like to tell. Thus there is a tale which
is told in a great many different ways, but of which the following
is the oldest shape.
"Now King Alfred was driven from his Kingdom by the Danes, and he
lay hid for three years in the isle of Glastonbury. And it came to
pass on a day that all his folk were gone out to fish, save only
Alfred himself and his wife and one servant whom he loved. And there
came a pilgrim to the King, and begged for food. And the King said
to his servant, 'What food have we in the house?' And his servant
answered, 'My Lord, we have in the house but one loaf and a little
wine.' Then the King gave thanks to God, and said, 'Give half of the
loaf and half of the wine to this poor pilgrim.' So the servant did
as his lord commanded him, and gave to the pilgrim half of the loaf
and half of the wine, and the pilgrim gave great thanks to the King.
And when the servant returned, he found the loaf whole, and the wine
as much as there had been aforetime. And he greatly wondered, and he
wondered also how the pilgrim had come into the isle, for that no
man could come there save by water, and the pilgrim had no boat. And
the King greatly wondered also. And at the ninth hour came back the
folk who had gone to fish. And they had three boats full of fish,
and they said, 'Lo, we have caught more fish this day than in all
the three years that we have tarried in this island.' And the King
was glad, and he and his folk were merry; yet he pondered much upon
that which had come to pass. And when night came, the King went to
his bed with Ealhswyth his wife. And the Lady slept, but the King
lay awake and thought of all that had come to pass by day. And
presently he saw a great light, like the brightness of the sun, and
he saw an old man with black hair, clothed in priest's garments, and
with a mitre on his head, and holding in his right hand a book of
the Gospels adorned with gold and gems. And the old man blessed the
King, and the King said unto him, 'Who art thou?' And he answered,
'Alfred, my son, rejoice; for I am he to whom thou didst this day
give thine alms, and I am called Cuthberht the soldier of Christ.
Now be strong and very courageous, and be of joyful heart, and
hearken diligently to the things which I say unto thee; for
henceforth I will be thy shield and thy friend, and I will watch
over thee and over thy sons after thee. And now I will tell thee
what thou must do. Rise up early in the morning, and blow thine horn
thrice, that thy enemies may hear it and fear, and by the ninth hour
thou shalt have around thee five hundred men harnassed for the
battle. And this shall be a sign unto thee that thou mayest believe.
And after seven days thou shalt have by God's gift and my help all
the folk of this land gathered unto thee upon the mount that is
called Assandun. And thus shalt thou fight against thine enemies,
and doubt not that thou shalt overcome them. Be thou therefore glad
of heart, and be strong and very courageous, and fear not, for God
hath given thine enemies into thine hand. And He hath given thee
also all this land and the Kingdom of thy fathers, to thee and to
thy sons and to thy sons' sons after thee. Be thou faithful to me
and to my folk, because that unto thee is given all the land of
Albion. Be thou righteous, because thou art chosen to be the King of
all Britain. So may God be merciful unto thee, and I will be thy
friend, and none of thine enemies shall ever be able to overcome
thee.' Then was King Alfred glad at heart, and he was strong and
very courageous, for that he knew that he would overcome his enemies
by the help of God and Saint Cuthberht his patron. So in the morning
he arose, and sailed to the land, and blew his horn three times, and
when his friends heard it they were glad, and when his enemies heard
it they feared. And by the ninth hour, according to the word of the
Lord, there were gathered unto him five hundred men of the bravest
and dearest of his friends. And he spake unto them and told them all
that God had said unto him by the mouth of his servant Cuthberht,
and he told them that, by the gift of God and by the help of Saint
Cuthberht, they would overcome their enemies and win back their own
land. And he bade them as Saint Cuthberht had taught him, to fear
God alway and to be alway righteous toward all men. And he bade his
son Edward who was by him to be faithful to God and Saint Cuthberht,
and so he should alway have the victory over his enemies. So they
went forth to battle and smote their enemies and overcame them, and
King Alfred took the Kingdom of all Britain, and he ruled well and
wisely over the just and the unjust for the rest of his days."
Now is there any truth in all this story? I think there is thus
much, that Alfred, for some reason or other, thought he was under
the special protection of Saint Cuthberht. For several years after
880 there was peace in the land, and for a good many more years
still there was much less fighting than there had been before. It
was no doubt at this time that Alfred was able to do all those
things for the good of his people of which we hear so much. He had
now more time than either before or after for making his laws,
writing his books, founding his monasteries, and doing all that he
did. You may wonder how he found time to do so much; but it was by
the only way by which anybody can do anything, namely, by never
wasting his time, and by having fixed times of the day for
everything. Alfred did not, like most other writers of that time,
write in Latin, so that hardly anybody but the clergy could read or
understand what he wrote. He loved our own tongue, and was
especially fond of the Old-English songs, and all that he wrote he
wrote in English that all his people might understand. His works
were chiefly translations from Latin books; what we should have
valued most of all, his notebook or handbook, containing his remarks
on various matters, is lost. He translated into English the History
of Basda, the History of Orosius, some of the works of Pope Gregory
the Great, and the Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. Perhaps
you will ask why he did not rather translate some of the great and
famous Greek and Latin writers of earlier times. Now we may be sure
that King Alfred did not understand Greek at all; very few people in
those days in the West of Europe knew any Greek, except those who
needed to use the language for dealing with the men in the Eastern
Empire who still spoke it. Indeed Alfred complains that, when he
came to the Crown, very few people, even among the clergy,
understood even Latin at all well. And as for Latin books, no doubt
Alfred thought that the writings of Christians would be more
edifying to his people than those of the old heathens. He chose the
History of Orosius, as a general history of the world, and that of
Basda, as a particular history of England. Boethius was a Roman
Consul in the beginning of the sixth century, who was put to death
by the great Theodoric, King of the East-Goths, who then ruled over
Italy. While he was in prison he wrote the book which King Alfred
translated. He seems not to have been a Christian; at least there is
not a single Christian expression in his book. But people fancied
that he was not only a Christian, but a saint and a martyr, most
likely because Theodoric, who put him to death, was not an orthodox
Christian, but an Arian. Alfred, in translating his books, did not
always care to translate them quite exactly, but he often altered
and put in things of his own, if he thought he could thus make them
more improving. So in translating Boethius, he altered a good deal,
to make the wise heathen speak like a Christian. So in translating
Orosius, where Orosius gives an account of the world, Alfred greatly
enlarged the account of all the northern part of Europe, of which
Alfred naturally knew much more than Orosius did.
Alfred was also very careful in the government of his Kingdom,
especially in seeing that justice was properly administered. So men
said of him in their songs, much as they had long before said of
King Edwin in Northumberland, that he hung up golden bracelets by
the roadside, and that no man dared to steal them. In his collection
of laws, he chiefly put in order the laws of the older Kings, not
adding many of his own, because he said that he did not know how
those who came after him might like them.
King Alfred was very attentive to religious matters, and gave great
alms to the poor and gifts to churches. He also founded two
monasteries; one was for nuns, at Shaftesbury in Dorsetshire, of
which he made his own daughter, Aethelgifu, abbess. The other was
for monks at Athelney; you can easily see why he should build it
there. He also sent several embassies to Rome, where he got Pope
Marinus to grant certain privileges to the English School at Rome;
the Pope also sent him what was thought to be a piece of the wood of
the True Cross, that on which our Lord Jesus Christ died. He also
sent an embassy to Jerusalem, and had letters from Abel the
Patriarch there. And what seems stranger than all, he sent an
embassy all the way to India, with alms for the Christians there,
called the Christians of Saint Thomas and Saint Bartholomew.
Lastly, there seems some reason to think that the Chronicle began to
be put together in its present shape in Alfred's time, and that it
was regularly gone on with afterward, so that from the time of
Alfred onward we have a history which was regularly written down as
All these things happened mainly in the middle years of the reign of
Alfred, when there was so much less fighting than there was before
and after, and when some years seem to have been quite peaceable.
Guthorm Aethelstan and his Danes in East-Anglia were for some years
true to the treaty of Wedmore, and the other Danes seem just now to
have been busy in invading Gaul and other parts of the continent
rather than England. Also King Alfred had now got a fleet, so that
he often met them at sea and kept them from landing. This he did in
882, and we do not find that any Danes landed again in England till
885. In that year part of the army which had been plundering along
the coast of Flanders and Holland came over to England, landed in
Kent, and besieged Rochester. But the citizens withstood them
bravely, and Alfred gathered an army and drove the Danes to their
ships. They seem then to have gone to Essex and to have plundered
there with their ships, getting help from the Danes who were settled
in East-Anglia, or at least from such of them as still were
heathens. Alfred's fleet however quite overcame them and took away
their treasure, but his fleet was again attacked and defeated by the
East-Anglian Danes. It would seem that in some part of this war
Guthorm Aethelstan was helped by Hrolf, otherwise called Rollo, the
great Northern chief.
The Danish wars began again in 893. For years now there was a great
deal of fighting. Two large bodies of Danes, one of them under the
famous chief Hasting, landed in Kent in 893 and fixed themselves in
fortresses which they built. And the Danes who had settled in
Northumberland and East-Anglia helped them, though they had all
sworn oaths to King Alfred, and those in East-Anglia had also given
hostages. There was fighting all over the south of England
throughout 894, and the King had to go constantly backward and
forward to keep up with the Danes. One time Alfred took a fort in
Kent, in which were the wife and two sons of Hasting. Now Hasting
had not long before given oaths and hostages to Alfred, and the two
boys had been baptised, the King being godfather to one of them and
Alderman Aethelred to the other. But Hasting did not at all keep to
his oath, but went on plundering all the same. Still, when the boys
and their mother were taken, Alfred would not do them any harm, but
gave them up again to Hasting.
In 897 we read that Alfred made some improvements in his ships.
"They were full-nigh twice as long as the others; some had sixty
oars, some more; they were both swifter and steadier and eke higher
than the others; they were neither on the Frisian shape nor on the
Danish, but as himself thought that they useful might be." These new
ships seem to have done good service, though one time they got
aground, seemingly because they were so large, and the Danes were
therefore able to sail out before them. These sea-fights along the
south coast were nearly the last things that we hear of in Alfred's
reign. The crews of two Danish ships were brought to Winchester to
Alfred and there hanged. One cannot blame him for this, as these
Danes were mere pirates, not engaged in any lawful war, and many of
them had been spared, and had made oaths to Alfred, and had broken
them, over and over again.
This was in 897; the rest of King Alfred's reign seems to have been
spent in peace. In 901 the great King died himself. He was then only
fifty-two years old. Alfred's wife, the Lady Ealhswyth, lived a
little while after her husband, till 903 or 905. King Alfred was
buried at Winchester in the New Minster which he himself began to
found and which was finished by his son Edward. It then stood close
to the Old Minster, that is, the cathedral church. Afterward it was
moved out of the city and was called Hyde Abbey. But you cannot see
King Alfred's grave there now, because everything has been
destroyed, and the bones of the great King have been turned out, to
make room for a prison.
Afterwards the Castillians arrived, and they kissed his hands in
homage, all, save only my Cid. And when King Don Alfonso saw that
the Cid did not do homage and kiss his hand, as all the other chief
persons had done, he said, "Since now ye have all received me for
your Lord, and given me authority over ye, I would know of the Cid
Ruydiez why he will not kiss my hand and acknowledge me; for I would
do something for him, as I promised unto my father King Don
Ferrando, when he commended him to me and to my brethren." And the
Cid arose and said, "Sir, all whom you see here present, suspect
that by your counsel the King Don Sancho your brother came to his
death; and therefore I say unto you that, unless you clear yourself
of this, as by right you should do, I will never kiss your hand, nor
receive you for my lord." Then said the King, "Cid, what you say
pleases me well; and here I swear to God and to St. Mary, that I
never slew him, nor took counsel for his death. And I beseech ye
therefore all, as friends and true vassals, that ye tell me how I
may clear myself." And the chiefs who were present said, that he and
twelve of the knights who came with him from Toledo, should make
this oath in the church at St. Gadea at Burgos, and that so he
should be cleared.
So the King and all his company took horse and went to Burgos. And
when the day appointed for the oath was come, the King came forward
upon a high stage that all the people might see him, and my Cid came
to him to receive the oath; and my Cid took the book of the Gospels
and opened it, and laid it upon the altar, and the King laid his
hands upon it, and the Cid said unto him, "King Don Alfonso, you
come here to swear concerning the death of King Don Sancho your
brother, that you neither slew him nor took counsel for his death;
say now you and these hidalgos, if ye swear this." And the King and
the hidalgos answered and said, "Yea, we swear it." And the Cid
said, "If ye knew of this thing, or gave command that it should be
done, may you die even such a death as your brother the King Don
Sancho, by the hand of a villain whom you trust; one who is not a
hidalgo, from another land, not a Castillian"; and the King and the
knights who were with him said "Amen." And the King's colour
changed; and the Cid repeated the oath unto him a second time, and
the King and the twelve knights said "Amen" to it in like manner,
and in like manner the countenance of the King was changed again.
And my Cid repeated the oath unto him a third time, and the King and
the knights said "Amen." But the wrath of the King was exceedingly
great, and he said to the Cid, "Ruydiez, why dost thou thus press
me, man? To-day thou swearest me, and to-morrow thou wilt kiss my
hand." And from that day forward there was no love toward my Cid in
the heart of the King.
After this King Don Alfonso assembled together all his power and
went against the Moors. And the Cid should have gone with him, but
he fell sick and perforce therefore abode at home. And while the
King was going through Andalusia, having the land at his mercy, a
great power of the Moors assembled together on the other side, and
entered the land, and did much evil. At this time the Cid was
gathering strength; and when he heard that the Moors were in the
country, laying waste before them, he gathered together what force
he could, and went after them; and the Moors, when they heard this,
began to fly. And the Cid followed them as far as Toledo, slaying
and burning, and plundering and destroying, and laying hands on all
whom he found, so that he brought back seven thousand prisoners, men
and women; and he and all his people returned rich and with great
honour. But when the King of Toledo heard of the hurt which he had
received at the hands of the Cid, he sent to King Don Alfonso to
complain thereof. And the King was greatly troubled. And he went
with all speed to Burgos, and sent from thence to bid the Cid come
Now my Cid knew the evil disposition of the King toward him, and
when he received his bidding he made answer that he would meet him
between Burgos and Bivar. And the King went out from Burgos and came
nigh unto Bivar; and the Cid came up to him and would have kissed
his hand, but the King withheld it, and said angrily unto him,
"Ruydiez, quit my land." Then the Cid clapt spurs to the mule upon
which he rode, and vaulted into a piece of ground which was his own
inheritance, and answered, "Sir, I am not in your land, but in my
own." And the King replied full wrathfully, "Go out of my kingdoms
without any delay." And the Cid made answer, "Give me then thirty
days' time, as is the right of the hidalgos"; and the King said he
would not, but that if he were not gone in nine days' time he would
come and look for him. The counts were well pleased at this; but all
the people of the land were sorrowful. And then the King and the Cid
parted. And the Cid sent for all his friends and his kinsmen and
vassals, and told them how King Don Alfonso had banished him from
the land, and asked of them who would follow him into banishment,
and who would remain at home. Then Alvar Fanez, who was his cousin-
german, came forward and said, "Cid, we will all go with you,
through desert and through peopled country, and never fail you. In
your service will we spend our mules and horses, our wealth and our
parments, and ever while we live be unto you loyal friends and
vassals." And they all confirmed what Alvar Fanez had said; and the
Cid thanked them for their love, and said that there might come a
time in which he should guerdon them.
And as he was about to depart he looked back upon his own home, and
when he saw his hall deserted, the household chests unfastened, the
doors open, no cloaks hanging up, no seats in the porch, no hawks
upon the perches, the tears came into his eyes, and he said, "My
enemies have done this. God be praised for all things." And he
turned toward the East and knelt and said, "Holy Mary Mother, and
all Saints, pray to God for me, that He may give me strength to
destroy all the Pagans, and to win enough from them to requite my
friends therewith, and all those who follow and help me." Then he
called for Alvar Fanez and said unto him, "Cousin, the poor have no
part in the wrong which the King hath done us; see now that no wrong
be done unto them along our road," and he called for his horse.
My Cid Ruydiez entered Burgos, having sixty streamers in his
company. And men and women went forth to see him. and the men of
Burgos and the women of Burgos were at their windows, weeping, so
great was their sorrow; and they said with one accord, "God, how
good a vassal if he had but a good Lord!" and willingly would each
have bade him come in, but no one dared so to do. For King Don
Alfonso in his anger had sent letters to Burgos, saying that no man
should give the Cid a lodging; and that whosoever disobeyed should
lose all that he had, and moreover the eyes in his head. Great
sorrow had these Christian folk at this, and they hid themselves
when he came near them because they did not dare speak to him; and
my Cid went to his Posada, and when he came to the door he found it
fastened, for fear of the King. And his people called out with a
loud voice, but they within made no answer. And the Cid rode up to
the door, and took his foot out of the stirrup, and gave it a kick,
but the door did not open with it, for it was well secured. A little
girl of nine years old then came out of one of the houses and said
unto him, "O Cid, the King hath forbidden us to receive you. We dare
not open our doors to you, for we should lose our houses and all
that we have, and the eyes in our head. Cid, our evil would not help
you, but God and all His saints be with you." And when she had said
this she returned into the house. And when the Cid knew what the
King had done he turned away from the door and rode up to St.
Mary's, and there he alighted and knelt down, and prayed with all
his heart; and then he mounted again and rode out of the town and
pitched his tent near Arlanzon, upon the sands. My Cid Ruydiez, he
who in a happy hour first girt on his sword, took up his lodging
upon the sands, because there was none who would receive him within
their door. He had a good company round about him, and there he
Moreover the King had given orders that no food should be sold them
in Burgos, so that they could not buy even a pennyworth. But Martin
Antolinez, who was a good Burgalese, he supplied my Cid and all his
company with bread and wine abundantly. "Campeador," said he to the
Cid, "to-night we will rest here, and tomorrow we will be gone: I
shall be accused for what I have done in serving you, and shall be
in the King's displeasure; but following your fortunes, sooner or
later, the King will have me for his friend, and if not, I do not
care a fig for what I leave behind." Now this Martin Antolinez was
nephew unto the Cid, being the son of his brother, Ferrando Diaz.
And the Cid said unto him, "Martin Antolinez, you are a bold
lancier; if I live I will double you your pay. You see I have
nothing with me, and yet must provide for my companions. I will take
two chests and fill them with sand, and do you go in secret to
Rachel and Vidas, and tell them to come hither privately; for I
cannot take my treasures with me because of their weight, and will
pledge them in their hands. Let them come for the chests at night,
that no man may see them. God knows that I do this thing more of
necessity than of wilfulness; but by God's good help I shall redeem
all." Now Rachel and Vidas were rich Jews, from whom the Cid used to
receive money for his spoils. And Martin Antolinez went in quest of
them, and he passed through Burgos and entered into the Castle; and
when he saw them he said, "Ah Rachel and Vidas, my dear friends! now
let me speak with ye in secret." And they three went apart. And he
said to them, "Give me your hands that you will not discover me,
neither to Moor nor Christian! I will make you rich men for ever.
The Campeador went for the tribute and he took great wealth, and
some of it he has kept for himself. He has two chests full of gold;
ye know that the King is in anger against him, and he cannot carry
these away with him without their being seen. He will leave them
therefore in your hands, and you shall lend him money upon them,
swearing with great oaths and upon your faith, that ye will not open
them till a year be past." Rachel and Vidas took counsel together
and answered, "We well knew he got something when he entered the
land of the Moors; he who has treasures does not sleep without
suspicion; we will take the chests, and place them where they shall
not be seen. But tell us with what will the Cid be contented, and
what gain will he give us for the year?" Martin Antolinez answered
like a prudent man, "My Cid requires what is reasonable; he will ask
but little to leave his treasures in safety. Men come to him from
all parts. He must have six hundred marks." And the Jews said, "We
will advance him so much." "Well then," said Martin Antolinez, "ye
see that the night is advancing; the Cid is in haste, give us the
marks." "This is not the way of business," said they; "we must take
first, and then give." "Ye say well," replied the Burgalese: "come
then to the Campeador, and we will help you to bring away the
chests, so that neither Moors nor Christians may see us." So they
went to horse and rode out together, and they did not cross the
bridge, but rode through the water that no man might see them, and
they came to the tent of the Cid.
Meantime the Cid had taken two chests, which were covered with
leather of red and gold, and the nails which fastened down the
leather were well gilt; they were ribbed with bands of iron, and
each fastened with three locks; they were heavy, and he filled them
with sand. And when Rachel and Vidas entered his tent with Martin
Antolinez, they kissed his hand; and the Cid smiled and said to
them, "Ye see that I am going out of the land, because of the King's
displeasure; but I shall leave something with ye." And they made
answer, "Martin Antolinez has covenanted with us, that we shall give
you six hundred marks upon these chests, and keep them a full year,
swearing not to open them till that time be expired, else shall we
be perjured." "Take the chests," said Martin Antolinez; "I will go
with you, and bring back the marks, for my Cid must move before
cock-crow." So they took the chests, and though they were both
strong men they could not raise them from the ground; and they were
full glad of the bargain which they had made. And Rachel then went
to the Cid and kissed his hand and said, "Now, Campeador, you are
going from Castille among strange nations, and your gain will be
great, even as your fortune is. I kiss your hand, Cid, and have a
gift for you, a red skin; it is Moorish and honourable." And the Cid
laid, "It pleases me: give it me if ye have brought it; if not,
reckon it upon the chests." And they departed with the chests, and
Martin Antolinez and his people helped them, and went with them. And
when they had placed the chests in safety, they spread a carpet in
the middle of the hall, and laid a sheet upon it, and they threw
down upon it three hundred marks of silver. Don Martin counted them,
and took them without weighing. The other three hundred they paid in
When Martin Antolinez came into the Cid's tent he said unto him, "I
have sped well, Campeador! you have gained six hundred marks. Now
then strike your tent and be gone. The time draws on, and you may be
with your Lady Wife at St. Pedro de Cardena, before the cock crows."
The cocks were crowing again, and the day began to break, when the
good Campeador reached St. Pedro's. The Abbot Don Sisebuto was
saying matins, and Dona Ximena and five of her ladies of good
lineage were with him, praying to God and St. Peter to help my Cid.
And when he called at the gate and they knew his voice, God, what a
joyful man was the Abbot Don Sisebuto! Out into the courtyard they
went with torches and with tapers, and the Abbot gave thanks to God
that he now beheld the face of my Cid. And the Cid told him all that
had befallen him, and how he was a banished man; and he gave him
fifty marks for himself, and a hundred for Dona Ximena and her
children. "Abbot," said he, "I leave two little girls behind me,
whom I commend to your care. Take you care of them and of my wife
and of her ladies: when this money be gone, if it be not enough,
supply them abundantly; for every mark which you spend upon them I
will give the monastery four." And the Abbot promised to do this
with a right good will. Then Dona Ximena came up weeping bitterly,
and she said to her husband, "Lo now you are banished from the land
by mischief-making men, and here am I with your daughters, who are
little ones and of tender years, and we and you must be parted, even
in your lifetime. For the love of St. Mary tell me now what we shall
do." And the Cid took the children in his arms, and held them to his
heart and wept, for he dearly loved them. "Please God and St. Mary,"
said he, "I shall yet live to give these my daughters in marriage
with my own hands, and to do you service yet, my honoured wife, whom
I have ever loved, even as my own soul." Now hath my Cid left the
kingdom of King Don Alfonso, and entered the country of the Moors.
And at day-break they were near the brow of the Sierra, and they
halted there upon the top of the mountains, and gave barley to their
horses, and remained there until evening. And they set forward when
the evening had closed, that none might see them, and continued
their way all night, and before dawn they came near to Castrejon,
which is upon the Henares. And Alvar Fanez said unto the Cid, that
he would take with him two hundred horsemen, and scour the country
and lay hands on whatever he could find, without fear either of King
Alfonso or of the Moors. And he counselled him to remain in ambush
where he was, and surprise the castle of Castrejon: and it seemed
good unto my Cid. Away went Alvar Fanez, and the two hundred
horsemen; and the Cid remained in ambush with the rest of his
company. And as soon as it was morning, the Moors of Castrejon,
knowing nothing of these who were so near them, opened the castle
gates, and went out to their work as they were wont to do. And the
Cid rose from ambush and fell upon them, and took all their flocks,
and made straight for the gates, pursuing them. And there was a cry
within the castle that the Christians were upon them, and they who
were within ran to the gates to defend them, but my Cid came up
sword in hand; eleven Moors did he slay with his own hand, and they
forsook the gate and fled before him to hide themselves within, so
that he won the castle presently, and took gold and silver, and
whatever else he would.
Alvar Fanez meantime scoured the country along the Henares as far as
Alcala, and he returned driving flocks and herds before him, with
great stores of wearing apparel, and of other plunder. And when the
Cid knew that he was nigh at hand he went out to meet him, and
praised him greatly for what he had done, and gave thanks to God.
And he gave order that all the spoils should be heaped together,
both what Alvar Fanez had brought, and what had been taken in the
castle; and he said to him, "Brother, of all this which God hath
given us, take you the fifth, for you well deserve it"; but Minaya
would not, saying, "You have need of it for our support." And the
Cid divided the spoil among the knights and foot-soldiers, to each
his due portion; to every horseman a hundred marks of silver, and
half as much to the foot-soldiers: and because he could find none to
whom to sell his fifth, he spake to the Moors telling them that they
might come safely to purchase the spoil, and the prisoners also whom
he had taken, both men prisoners and women. And they came, and
valued the spoil and the prisoners, and gave for them three thousand
marks of silver, which they paid within three days: they bought also
much of the spoil which had been divided, making great gain, so that
all who were in my Cid's company were full rich. And the heart of my
Cid was joyous, and he sent to King Don Alfonso, telling him that he
and his companions would yet do him service upon the Moors.
Then my Cid assembled together his good men and said unto them,
"Friends, we cannot take up our abode in this castle, for there is
no water in it, and moreover the King is at peace with these Moors,
and I know that the treaty between them hath been written; so that
if we should abide here he would come against us with all his power,
and with all the power of the Moors, and we could not stand against
him. If therefore it seem good unto you, let us leave the rest of
our prisoners here, that we may be free from all encumbrance, like
men who are to live by war." And it pleased them well that it should
be so. And he said to them, "Ye have all had your shares, neither is
there anything owing to any one among ye. Now then let us be ready
to take horse betimes on the morrow, for I would not fight against
my Lord the King." So on the morrow they went to horse and departed,
being rich with the spoils which they had won: and they left the
castle to the Moors, who remained blessing them for this bounty
which they had received at their hands. Then my Cid and his company
went up the Henares as fast as they could go; great were the spoils
which they collected as they went along. And on the morrow they came
against Alcocer. There my Cid pitched his tents upon a round hill,
which was a great hill and a strong; and the river Salon ran near
them, so that the water could not be cut off. My Cid thought to take
Alcocer: so he pitched his tents securely, having the Sierra on one
side, and the river on the other, and he made all his people dig a
trench, that they might not be alarmed, neither by day nor by night.
When my Cid had thus encamped, he went to look at the Alcazar, and
see if he could by any means enter it. And the Moors offered tribute
to him, if he would leave them in peace; but this he would not do,
and he lay before the town. And news went through all the land that
the Cid was come among them. And my Cid lay before Alcocer fifteen
weeks; and when he saw that the town did not surrender, he ordered
his people to break up their camp, as if they were flying, and they
took their way along the Salon, with their banners spread. And when
the Moors saw this they rejoiced greatly, and they praised
themselves for what they had done in withstanding him, and said that
the Cid's bread and barley had failed him, and he had fled away, and
left one of his tents behind him. And they said among themselves,
"Let us pursue them and spoil them." And they went out after him,
great and little, leaving the gates open and shouting as they went;
and there was not left in the town a man who could bear arms. And
when my Cid saw them coming he gave orders to quicken their speed,
as if he was in fear, and would not let his people turn till the
Moors were far from the town. But when he saw that there was a good
distance between them and the gates, he bade his banner turn, and
spurred toward them crying, "Lay on, knights, by God's mercy the
spoil is our own." God! what a good joy was theirs that morning! My
Cid's vassals laid on without mercy; in one hour, and in a little
space, three hundred Moors were slain, and my Cid won the place, and
planted his banner upon the highest point of the castle. And the Cid
said, "Blessed be God and all His saints, we have bettered our
quarters both for horses and men." And he said to Alvar Fanez and
all his knights, "Hear me, we shall get nothing by killing these
Moors--let us take them and they shall show us their treasures which
they have hidden in their houses, and we will dwell here and they
shall serve us." In this manner did my Cid win Alcocer, and take up
his abode therein.
In three weeks time after this returned Alvar Fanez from Castille.
And my Cid rode up to him, and embraced him without speaking, and
kissed his mouth and the eyes in his head. God, how joyful was that
whole host because Alvar Fanez was returned! for he brought them
greetings from their kinswomen and their brethren and the fair
comrades whom they had left behind. God, how joyful was my Cid with
the fleecy beard, that Minaya had purchased the thousand masses, and
had brought him the biddings of his wife and daughters! God, what a
joyful man was he!
Now it came to pass that the days of King Almudafar were fulfilled:
and he left his two sons Zulema and Abenalfange, and Zulema had the
kingdom of Zaragoza, and Abenalfange the kingdom of Denia. And
Zulema put his kingdom under my Cid's protection, and bade all his
people obey him even as they would himself. Now there began to be
great enmity between the two brethren, and they made war upon each
other. And the Count Don Ramon Berenguer of Barcelona helped
Abenalfange, and was enemy to the Cid because he defended Zulema.
And my Cid chose out two hundred horsemen and went out by night, and
fell upon the lands of Alcaniz and brought away great booty. Great
was the talk among the Moors; how my Cid was over-running the
When Don Ramon Berenguer the Count of Barcelona heard this, it
troubled him to the heart, and he held it for a great dishonour,
because that part of the land of the Moors was in his keeping. And
he spake boastfully saying, "Great wrong doth that Cid of Bivar
offer unto me; he ravages the lands which are in my keeping, and I
have never renounced his friendship; but since he goes on in this
way I must take vengeance." So he and King Abenalfange gathered
together a great power both of Moors and Christians, and went in
pursuit of the Cid, and after three days and two nights they came up
with him in the pine-forest of Tebar. And when the Cid heard this he
sent to Don Ramon saying, that the booty which he had won was none
of his, and bidding him let him go on his way in peace: but the
Count made answer, that my Cid should now learn whom he had
dishonoured. Then my Cid sent the booty forward, and bade his
knights make ready. "They are coming upon us," said he, "with a
great power both of Moors and Christians, to take from us the spoils
which we have so hardly won, and without doing battle we cannot be
quit of them; for if we should proceed they would follow till they
overtook us: therefore let the battle be here, and I trust in God
that we shall win more honour, and something to boot. They come down
the hill, drest in their hose, with their gay saddles, and their
girths wet. Before they get upon the plain ground let us give them
the points of our lances; and Ramon Berenguer will then see whom he
has overtaken to-day in the pine-forest of Tebar, thinking to
despoil him of booty won from the enemies of God and of the faith."
While my Cid was speaking, his knights had taken their arms, and
were ready on horseback for the charge. Presently they saw the
Frenchmen coming down the hill, and when they had not yet set foot
upon the plain ground, my Cid bade his people charge, which they did
with a right good will, thrusting their spears so stiffly, that by
God's good pleasure not a man whom they encountered but lost his
seat. The Count's people stood firm round their Lord; but my Cid was
in search of him, and when he saw where he was, he made up to him,
clearing the way as he went, and gave him such a stroke with his
lance that he felled him. When the Frenchmen saw their Lord in this
plight they fled away and left him; and the pursuit lasted three
leagues, and would have been continued farther if the conquerors had
not had tired horses. Thus was Count Ramon Berenguer made prisoner,
and my Cid won from him that day the good sword Colada, which was
worth more than a thousand marks of silver. That night did my Cid
and his men make merry, rejoicing over their gains. And the Count
was taken to my Cid's tent, and a good supper was set before him;
nevertheless he would not eat, though my Cid besought him so to do.
And on the morrow my Cid ordered a feast to be made, that he might
do pleasure to the Count, but the Count said that for all Spain he
would not eat one mouthful, but would rather die, since he had been
beaten in battle by such a set of ragged fellows. And Ruydiez said
to him, "Eat and drink, Count, for this is the chance of war; if you
do as I say you shall be free; and if not you will never return
again into your own lands." And Don Ramond answered, "Eat you, Don
Rodrigo, for your fortune is fair and you deserve it; take you your
pleasure, but leave me to die." And in this mood he continued for
three days, refusing all food. But then my Cid said to him, "Take
food, Count, and be sure that I will set you free, you and any two
of your knights, and give you wherewith to return into your own
country." And when Don Ramond heard this, he took comfort and said,
"If you will indeed do this thing I shall marvel at you as long as I
live." "Eat then," said Ruydiez, "and I will do it: but mark you, of
the spoil which we have taken from you I will give you nothing; for
to that you have no claim neither by right nor custom, and besides
we want it for ourselves, being banished men, who must live by
taking from you and from others as long as it shall please God."
Then was the Count full joyful, being well pleased that what should
be given him was not of the spoils which he had lost; and he called
for water and washed his hands, and chose two of his kinsmen to be
set free with him. And my Cid sate at the table with them, and said,
"If you do not eat well, Count, you and I shall not part yet." Never
since he was Count did he eat with better will than that day! And
when they had done he said, "Now, Cid, if it be your pleasure let us
depart." And my Cid clothed him and his kinsmen well with goodly
skins and mantles, and gave them each a goodly palfrey, with rich
caparisons, and he rode out with them on their way. And when he took
leave of the Count he said to him, "Now go freely, and I thank you
for what you have left behind; if you wish to play for it again let
me know, and you shall either have something back in its stead, or
leave what you bring to be added to it." The Count answered, "Cid,
you jest safely now, for I have paid you and all your company for
this twelve--months, and shall not be coming to see you again so
Then Count Ramond pricked on more than apace, and many times looked
behind him, fearing that my Cid would repent what he had done, and
send to take him back to prison, which the perfect one would not
have done for the whole world, for never did he do disloyal thing.
At last after long and pitiful fighting it was bruited abroad
throughout all lands, how the Cid Ruydiez had won the noble city of
And now the Cid bethought him of Dona Ximena his wife, and of his
daughters Dona Elvira and Dona Sol, whom he had left in the
monastery of St. Pedro de Cardena and he called for Alvar Fanez and
Martin Antolinez of Burgos, and spake with them, and besought them
that they would go to Castille, to King Don Alfonso and take him a
present from the riches which God had given them; and the present
should be a hundred horses, saddled and bridled; and that they would
kiss the King's hand for him, and beseech him to send to him his
wife Dona Ximena, and his daughters; and that they would tell the
King all the mercy which God had shown him, and how he was at his
service with Valencia and with all that he had. Moreover he bade
them take a thousand marks of silver to the monastery of St. Pedro
de Cardena, and give them to the Abbot, and thirty marks of gold for
his wife and daughters, that they might prepare themselves and come
in honourable guise. And he ordered three hundred marks of gold to
be given them, and three hundred marks of silver, to redeem the
chests full of sand which he had pledged in Burgos to the Jews; and
he bade them ask Rachel and Vidas to forgive him the deceit of the
sand, for he had done it because of his great need.
Then Alvar Fanez and Martin Antolinez dispeeded themselves of the
King, and took their way toward Burgos. When they reached Burgos
they sent for Rachel and for Vidas, and demanded from them the
chests, and paid unto them the three hundred marks of gold and the
three hundred of silver as the Cid had commanded, and they besought
them to forgive the Cid the deceit of the chests, for it was done
because of his great necessity. And they said they heartily forgave
him, and held themselves well paid; and they prayed God to grant him
long life and good health, and to give him power to advance
Christendom, and put down Pagandom. And when it was known through
the city of Burgos the goodness and the gentleness which the Cid had
shown to these merchants in redeeming from them the chests full of
sand and earth and stones, the people held it for a great wonder,
and there was not a place in all Burgos where they did not talk of
the gentleness and loyalty of the Cid; and they besought blessings
upon him, and prayed that he and his people might be advanced in
honour. When they had done this, they went to the monastery of St.
Pedro de Cardena, and the porter of the King went with them, and
gave order everywhere that everything which they wanted should be
given them. If they were well received, and if there was great joy
in St. Pedro de Cardena over them, it is not a thing to ask, for
Dona Ximena and her daughters were like people beside themselves
with the great joy which they had, and they came running out on foot
to meet them, weeping plenteously.
After a long life-time of adventure the Cid sickened of a malady.
And the day before his weakness waxed great, he ordered the gates of
Valencia to be shut, and went to the Church of St. Peter; and there
the Bishop Don Hieronymo being present, and all the clergy who were
in Valencia, and the knights and honourable men and honourable
dames, as many as the church could hold, the Cid Ruydiez stood up,
and made a full noble preaching, showing that no man, however
honourable or fortunate he may be in this world, can escape death,
to which, said he, "I am now full near; and since ye know that this
body of mine hath never yet been conquered, nor put to shame, I
beseech ye let not this befall it at the end, for the good fortune
of man is only accomplished at his end." Then he took leave of the
people, weeping plenteously, and returned to the Alcazar, and betook
himself to his bed, and never rose from it again; and every day he
waxed weaker and weaker. He called for the caskets of gold in which
was the balsam and the myrrh which the Soldan of Persia had sent
him; and when these were put before him he bade them bring him the
golden cup, of which he was wont to drink; and he took of that
balsam and of that myrrh as much as a little spoonful, and mingled
it in the cup with rose-water, and drank of it; and for the seven
days which he lived he neither ate nor drank aught else than a
little of that myrrh and balsam mingled with water. And every day
after he did this, his body and his countenance appeared fairer and
fresher than before, and his voice clearer, though he waxed weaker
and weaker daily, so that he could not move in his bed.
On the twenty-ninth day, being the day before he departed, he called
for Dona Ximena, and for the Bishop Don Hieronymo, and Don Alvar
Fanez Minaya, and Pero Bermudez, and his trusty Gil Diaz; and when
they were all five before him, he began to direct them what they
should do after his death; and he said to them, "Ye know that King
Bucar will presently be here to besiege this city, with seven and
thirty Kings whom he bringeth with him, and with a mighty power of
Moors. Now therefore the first thing which ye do after I have
departed, wash my body with rose-water many times and well, and when
it has been well washed and made clean, ye shall dry it well, and
anoint it with this myrrh and balsam, from these golden caskets,
from head to foot, so that every part shall be anointed. And you, my
Dona Ximena, and your women, see that ye utter no cries, neither
make any lamentation for me, that the Moors may not know of my
death. And when the day shall come in which King Bucar arrives,
order all the people of Valencia to go upon the walls, and sound
your trumpets and tambours and make the greatest rejoicings that ye
can. For certes ye cannot keep the city, neither abide therein after
they know of my death. And see that sumpter beasts be laden with all
that there is in Valencia, so that nothing which can profit may be
left. And this I leave especially to your charge, Gil Diaz. Then
saddle ye my horse Bavieca, and arm him well; and apparel my body
full seemlily, and place me upon the horse, and fasten and tie me
thereon so that it cannot fall: and fasten my sword Tizona in my
hand. And let the Bishop Don Hieronymo go on one side of me, and my
trusty Gil Diaz on the other, and he shall lead my horse. You, Pero
Bermudez, shall bear my banner, as you were wont to bear it; and
you, Alvar Fanez, my cousin, gather your company together, and put
the host in order as you are wont to do. And go ye forth and fight
with King Bucar: for be ye certain and doubt not that ye shall win
this battle; God hath granted me this. And when ye have won the
fight, and the Moors are discomfited, ye may spoil the field at
pleasure. Ye will find great riches."
And this noble Baron yielded up his soul, which was pure and without
spot, to God, on that Sunday which is called Quinquagesima, being
the twenty and ninth of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand
and ninety and nine, and in the seventy and third year of his life.
After he had thus made his end they washed his body and embalmed it
as he had commanded. And then all the honourable men, and all the
clergy who were in Valencia, assembled and carried it to the Church
of St. Mary of the Virtues, which is near the Alcazar, and there
kept their vigil, and said prayer and performed masses, as was meet
for so honourable a man.
Three days after the Cid had departed King Bucar came into the port
of Valencia, and landed with all his power. And there came with him
thirty and six Kings, and one Moorish Queen, and she brought with
her two hundred horsewomen, all negresses like herself, all having
their hair shorn save a tuft on the top, and they were all armed in
coats of mail and with Turkish bows. King Bucar ordered his tents to
be pitched round about Valencia. And his people thought that the Cid
dared not come out against them, and they were the more encouraged,
and began to think of making engines wherewith to combat the city.
All this while the company of the Cid were preparing all things to
go into Castille, as he had commanded before his death; and his
trusty Gil Diaz did nothing else but labour at this. And the body of
the Cid was prepared and the virtue of the balsam and myrrh was such
that the flesh remained firm and fair, having its natural colour and
his countenance as it was wont to be, and the eyes open, and his
long beard in order, so that there was not a man who would have
thought him dead if he had seen him. And on the second day after he
had departed, Gil Diaz placed the body upon a right noble saddle.
And he took two boards and fitted them to the body, one to the
breast and the other to the shoulders; these were so hollowed out
and fitted that they met at the sides and under the arms, and these
boards were fastened into the saddle, so that the body could not
move. All this was done by the morning of the twelfth day; and all
that day the people of the Cid were busied in making ready their
arms, and in loading beasts with all that they had. When it was
midnight they took the body of the Cid fastened to the saddle as it
was, and placed it upon his horse Bavieca, and fastened the saddle
well: and the body sate so upright and well that it seemed as if he
was alive. And it had on painted hose of black and white, so
cunningly painted that no man who saw them would have thought but
that they were grieves, unless he had laid his hand upon them; and
they put on it a surcoat of green sendal, having his arms blazoned
thereon, and a helmet of parchment, which was cunningly painted that
every one might have believed it to be iron; and his shield was hung
around his neck, and they placed the sword Tizona in his hand, and
they raised his arm, and fastened it up so subtly that it was a
marvel to see how upright he held the sword. And the Bishop Don
Hieronymo went on one side of him, and the trusty Gil Diaz on the
other, and he led the horse Bavieca, as the Cid had commanded him.
And when all this had been made ready, they went out from Valencia
at midnight, through the gate of Roseros, which is towards Castille.
Pero Bermudez went first with the banner of the Cid, and with him
five hundred knights who guarded it, all well appointed. Then came
the body of the Cid with an hundred knights, all chosen men, and
behind them Dona Ximena with all her company, and six hundred
knights in the rear. All these went out so silently, and with such a
measured pace, that it seemed as if there were only a score. And by
the time that they had all gone out it was broad day.
Now, while the Bishop Don Hieronymo and Gil Diaz led away the body
of the Cid, and Dona Ximena, and the baggage, Alvar Fanez Minaya
fell upon the Moors. First he attacked the tents of that Moorish
Queen, the Negress, who lay nearest to the city; and this onset was
so sudden, that they killed full a hundred and fifty Moors before
they had time to take arms or go to horse. But that Moorish Negress,
so skilful in drawing the Turkish bow, that they called her the Star
of the Archers, was the first that got on horseback, and with some
fifty that were with her, did some hurt to the company of the Cid;
but in fine they slew her, and her people fled to the camp. And
so great was the uproar and confusion, that few there were who took
arms, but instead thereof they turned their backs and fled toward
the sea. And when King Bucar and his Kings saw this they were
astonished. And it seemed to them that there came against them on
the part of the Christians full seventy thousand knights, all as
white as snow: and before them a knight of great stature upon a
white horse. And King Bucar and the other Kings were so greatly
dismayed that they never checked the reins till they had ridden into
the sea; and the company of the Cid rode after them, smiting and
slaying and giving them, no respite. And when the Moors came to the
sea, so great was the press among them to get to the ships, that
more than ten thousand died in the water. And King Bucar and they
who escaped with him hoisted sails and went their way, and never
more turned their heads.
Then Alvar Fanez and his people went after the Bishop Don Hieronymo
and Gil Diaz, who, with the body of the Cid, and Dona Ximena, and
the baggage, had gone on till they were clear of the host, and then
waited for those who were gone against the Moors. And so great was
the spoil, gold, and silver, and other precious things that the
poorest man among the Christians, horseman or on foot, became rich
with what he won that day. And when they were all met together, they
took the road toward Castille; and they halted that night in a
village which is called Siete Aguas, that is to say, the Seven
Waters, which is nine leagues from Valencia.
When the company of the Cid departed from the Siete Aguas, they held
their way by short journeys. And the Cid went alway upon his horse
Bavieca, as they had brought him out from Valencia, save only that
he wore no arms, but was clad in right noble garments, Great was the
concourse of people to see the Cid Ruydiez coming in that guise.
They came from all the country round about, and when they saw him
their wonder was the greater, and hardly could they be persuaded
that he was dead.
At this time King Don Alfonso abode in Toledo, and when the letters
came unto him saying how the Cid Campeador was departed, and after
what manner he had discomfited King Bucar, and how they brought him
in this goodly manner upon his horse Bavieca, he set out from
Toledo, taking long journeys till he came to San Pedro de Cardena to
do honour to the Cid at his funeral. And when the King Don Alfonso
saw so great a company and in such goodly array, and the Cid Ruydiez
so nobly clad and upon his horse Bavieca, he was greatly astonished.
And the King beheld his countenance, and seeing it so fresh and
comely, and his eyes so bright and fair, and so even and open that
he seemed alive, he marvelled greatly.
On the third day after the coming of King Don Alfonso, they would
have interred the body of the Cid, but when the King heard what Dona
Ximena had said, that while it was so fair and comely it should not
be laid in a coffin, he held that what she said was good. And he
sent for the ivory chair which had been carried to the Cortes of
Toledo, and gave order that it should be placed on the right of the
altar of St. Peter; and he laid a cloth of gold upon it, and he
ordered a graven tabernacle to be made over the chair, richly
wrought with azure and gold. And he himself, and the King of Navarre
and the Infante of Aragon, and the Bishop Don Hieronymo, to do
honour to the Cid, helped to take his body from between the two
boards, in which it had been fastened at Valencia. And when they had
taken it out, the body was so firm that it bent not on either side,
and the flesh so firm and comely, that it seemed as if he were yet
alive. And the King thought that what they purported to do and had
thus begun, might full well be effected. And they clad the body in
cloth of purple, which the Soldan of Persia had sent him, and put
him on hose of the same, and set him in his ivory chair; and in his
left hand they placed his sword Tizona in its scabbard, and the
strings of his mantle in his right. And in this fashion the body of
the Cid remained there ten years and more, till it was taken thence
Gil Diaz took great delight in tending the horse Bavieca, so that
there were few days in which he did not lead him to water, and bring
him back with his own hand. And from the day in which the dead body
of the Cid was taken off his back, never man was suffered to
bestride that horse, but he was alway led when they took him to
water, and when they brought him back. And this good horse lived two
years and a half after the death of his master the Cid, and then he
died also, having lived full forty years. And Gil Diaz buried him
before the gate of the monastery, in the public place, on the right
hand; and he planted two elms upon the grave, the one at his head
and the other at his feet, and these elms grew and became great
trees, and are yet to be seen before the gate of the monastery.
Because of the hardness towards the English people of William the
Conqueror, and of William's successors to several generations, many
an Englishman exiled himself from town and passed his life in the
greenwood. These men were called "outlaws." First they went forth
out of love for the ancient liberties of England. Then in their
living in the forest, they put themselves without the law by their
ways of gaining their livelihood. Of such men none were more
renowned than Robin Hood and his company.
We do not know anything about Robin Hood, who he was, or where he
lived, or what evil deed he had done. Any man might kill him and
never pay penalty for it. But, outlaw or not, the poor people loved
him and looked on him as their friend, and many a stout fellow came
to join him, and led a merry life in the greenwood, with moss and
fern for bed, and for meat the King's deer, which it was death to
slay. Tillers of the land, yeomen, and some say knights, went on
their ways freely, for of them Robin took no toll; but lordly
churchmen with money-bags well filled, or proud bishops with their
richly dressed followers, trembled as they drew near to Sherwood
Forest--who was to know whether behind every tree there did not lurk
Robin Hood or one of his men?
One day Robin was walking alone in the wood, and reached a river
spanned by a very narrow bridge, over which one man only could pass.
In the midst stood a stranger, and Robin bade him go back and let
him go over. "I am no man of yours," was all the answer Robin got,
and in anger he drew his bow and fitted an arrow to it, "Would you
shoot a man who has no arms but a staff?" asked the stranger in
scorn; and with shame Robin laid down his bow, and unbuckled an
oaken stick at his side. "We will fight till one of us falls into
the water," he said; and fight they did, till the stranger planted a
blow so well that Robin rolled over into the river. "You are a brave
soul," said he, when he had waded to land, and he blew a blast with
his horn which brought fifty good fellows, clad in green, to the
little bridge. "Have you fallen into the river that your clothes are
wet?" asked one; and Robin made answer, "No, but this stranger,
fighting on the bridge, got the better of me, and tumbled me into
At this the foresters seized the stranger, and would have ducked him
had not their leader bade them stop, and begged the stranger to stay
with them and make one of themselves. "Here is my hand," replied the
stranger, "and my heart with it. My name, if you would know it, is
"That must be altered," cried Will Scarlett; "we will call a feast,
and henceforth, because he is full seven feet tall and round the
waist at least an ell, he shall be called Little John." And thus it
was done; but at the feast Little John, who always liked to know
exactly what work he had to do, put some questions to Robin Hood.
"Before I join hands with you, tell me first what sort of life is
this you lead? How am I to know whose goods I shall take, and whose
I shall leave? Whom I shall beat, and whom I shall refrain from
And Robin answered: "Look that you harm not any tiller of the
ground, nor any yeoman of the greenwood--no knight, no squire,
unless you have heard him ill spoken of. But if bishops or
archbishops come your way, see that you spoil them, and mark that
you always hold in your mind the High Sheriff of Nottingham."
This being settled, Robin Hood declared Little John to be second in
command to himself among the brotherhood of the forest, and the new
outlaw never forgot to "hold in his mind" the High Sheriff of
Nottingham, who was the bitterest enemy the foresters had.
THE BALLAD OF ROBIN HOOD, THE BUTCHER AND THE SHERIFF.
Upon a time it chanced so,
Bold Robin in forest did spy
A jolly butcher, with a bonny fine mare,
With his flesh to the market did hie.
"Good morrow, good fellow," said jolly Robin,
"What food hast thou? tell unto me;
Thy trade to me tell, and where thou dost dwell,
For I like well thy company."
The butcher he answer'd jolly Robin,
"No matter where I dwell;
For a butcher I am, and to Nottingham
I am going, my flesh to sell."
"What's the price of thy flesh?" said jolly Robin,
"Come, tell it soon unto me;
And the price of thy mare, be she never so dear,
For a butcher fain would I be."
"The price of my flesh," the butcher replied,
"I soon will tell unto thee;
With my bonny mare, and they are not dear,
Four marks thou must give unto me."
"Four marks I will give thee," said jolly Robin,
"Four marks shall be thy fee;
The money come count, and let me mount,
For a butcher I fain would be."
Now Robin he is to Nottingham gone,
His butcher's trade to begin;
With good intent to the Sheriff he went,
And there he took up his inn.
When other butchers did open their meat,
Bold Robin got gold and fee,
For he sold more meat for one penny
Than others did sell for three.
Which made the butchers of Nottingham
To study as they did stand,
Saying, "Surely he is some prodigal
That has sold his father's land."
"This is a mad blade," the butchers still said;
Said the Sheriff, "He is some prodigal,
That some land has sold for silver and gold,
And now he doth mean to spend all.
"Hast thou any horn-beasts," the Sheriff asked,
"Good fellow, to sell to me?"
"Yes, that I have, good Master Sheriff,
I have hundreds, two or three.
"And a hundred acres of good free land,
If you please it to see:
And I'll make you as good assurance of it,
As ever my father made me."
The Sheriff he saddled his good palfrey,
And with three hundred pounds of gold,
Away he went with bold Robin Hood,
His horned beasts to behold.
Away then the Sheriff and Robin did ride,
To the forest of merry Sherwood;
Then the Sheriff did say, "God keep us this day
From a man they call Robin Hood."
But when a little farther they came,
Bold Robin he chanced to spy
A hundred head of good red deer,
Come tripping the Sheriff full nigh.
"How like you my horn-beasts, good Master Sheriff?
They be fat and fair to see";
"I tell thee, good fellow, I would I were gone,
For I like not thy company."
Then Robin set his horn to his mouth,
And blew but blasts three;
Then quickly anon there came Little John,
And all his company.
"What is your will?" then said Little John,
"Good master, come tell unto me";
"I have brought hither the Sheriff of Nottingham
This day to dine with thee,"
Then Robin took his cloak from his back
And laid it upon the ground;
And out of the Sheriff's portmanteau
He took three hundred pound.
He then led the Sheriff through the wood,
And set him on his dapple grey;
"Commend Robin Hood to your wife at home,"
He said, and went laughing away.
Now Robin Hood had no liking for a company of idle men about him,
and sent off Little John and Will Scarlett to the great road known
as Watling Street, with orders to hide among the trees and wait till
some adventure might come to them; and if they took captive earl or
baron, abbot or knight, he was to be brought unharmed back to Robin
But all along Watling Street the road was bare; white and hard it
lay in the sun, without the tiniest cloud of dust to show that a
rich company might be coming: east and west the land lay still.
At length, just where a side path turned into the broad highway,
there rode a knight, and a sorrier man than he never sat a horse on
summer day. One foot only was in the stirrup, the other hung
carelessly by his side; his head was bowed, the reins dropped loose,
and his horse went on as he would. At so sad a sight the hearts of
the outlaws were filled with pity, and Little John fell on his knees
and bade the knight welcome in the name of his master.
"Who is your master?" asked the knight.
"Robin Hood," answered Little John.
"I have heard much good of him," replied the knight, "and will go
with you gladly."
Then they all set off together, tears running down the knight's
cheeks as he rode, but he said nothing, neither was anything said to
him. And in this wise they came to Robin Hood.
"Welcome, Sir Knight," cried he, "and thrice welcome, for I waited
to break my fast till you or some other had come to me."
"God save you, good Robin," answered the knight, and after they had
washed themselves in the stream they sat down to dine off bread,
with flesh of the King's deer, and swans and pheasants. "Such a
dinner have I not had for three weeks and more," said the knight.
"And if I ever come again this way, good Robin, I will give you as
fine a dinner as you have given me."
"I thank you," replied Robin, "my dinner is always welcome; still, I
am none so greedy but I can wait for it. But before you go, pay me,
I pray you, for the food which you have had. It was never the custom
for a yeoman to pay for a knight."
"My bag is empty," said the knight, "save for ten shillings only."
"Go, Little John, and look in his wallet," said Robin, "and, Sir
Knight, if in truth you have no more, not one penny will I take;
nay, I will give you all that you shall need."
So Little John spread out the knight's mantle, and opened the bag,
and therein lay ten shillings and naught besides.
"What tidings, Little John?" cried his master.
"Sir, the knight speaks truly," said Little John.
"Then tell me, Sir Knight, whether it is your own ill doings which
have brought you to this sorry pass."
"For an hundred years my fathers have dwelt in the forest," answered
the knight, "and four hundred pounds might they spend yearly. But
within two years misfortune has befallen me, and my wife and
"How did this evil come to pass?" asked Robin.
"Through my own folly," answered the knight, "and because of my
great love I bore my son, who would never be guided of my counsel,
and slew, ere he was twenty years old, a knight of Lancaster and his
squire. For their deaths I had to pay a large sum, which I could not
raise without giving my lands in pledge to the rich Abbot of St.
Mary's. If I cannot bring him the money by a certain day they will
be lost to me for ever."
"What is the sum?" asked Robin. "Tell me truly."
"It is four hundred pounds," said the knight.
"And what will you do if you lose your lands?" asked Robin again.
"Hide myself over the sea," said the knight, "and bid farewell to my
friends and country. There is no better way open to me."
At this tears fell from his eyes, and he turned him to depart. "Good
day, my friend," he said to Robin, "I cannot pay you what I should--"
But Robin held him fast. "Where are your friends?" asked he.
"Sir, they have all forsaken me since I became poor, and they turn
away their heads if we meet upon the road, though when I was rich
they were ever in my castle."
When Little John and Will Scarlett and the rest heard this they wept
for very shame and fury.
"Little John," said Robin, "go to my treasure chest, and bring me
thence four hundred pounds. And be sure you count it truly."
So Little John went, and Will Scarlett, and they brought back the
"Sir," said Little John, when Robin had counted it and found it no
more and no less, "look at his clothes, how thin they are! You have
stores of garments, green and scarlet, in your coffers-no merchant
in England can boast the like. I will measure some out with my bow."
And thus he did.
"Master," spoke Little John again, "there is still something else.
You must give him a horse, that he may go as beseems his quality to
"Take the grey horse," said Robin, "and put a new saddle on it, and
take likewise a good palfrey and a pair of boots, with gilt spurs on
them. And as it were a shame for a knight to ride by himself on this
errand, I will lend you Little John as squire--perchance he may
stand you in yeoman's stead."
"When shall we meet again?" asked the knight.
"This day twelve months," said Robin, "under the greenwood tree."
Then the knight rode on his way, with Little John behind him, and as
he went he thought of Robin Hood and his men, and blessed them for
the goodness they had shown towards him.
"To-morrow," he said to Little John, "I must be at the Abbey of St.
Mary, which is in the city of York, for if I am but so much as a day
late my lands are lost for ever, and though I were to bring the
money I should not be suffered to redeem them."
Now the Abbot had been counting the days as well as the knight, and
the next morning he said to his monks: "This day year there came a
knight and borrowed of me four hundred pounds, giving his lands in
surety. And if he come not to pay his debt ere midnight tolls they
will be ours forever."
"It is full early yet," answered the Prior, "he may still be
"He is far beyond the sea," said the Abbot, "and suffers from hunger
and cold. How is he to get here?"
"It were a shame," said the Prior, "for you to take his lands. And
you do him much wrong if you drive such a hard bargain."
"He is dead or hanged," spake a fat-headed monk who was the
cellarer, "and we shall have his four hundred pounds to spend on our
gardens and our wines," and he went with the Abbot to attend the
court of justice wherein the knight's lands would he declared
forfeited by the High Justiciar.
"If he come not this day," cried the Abbot, rubbing his hands, "if
he come not this day, they will be ours."
"He will not come yet," said the Justiciar, but he knew not that the
knight was already at the outer gate, and Little John with him.
"Welcome, Sir Knight," said the porter. "The horse that you ride is
the noblest that ever I saw. Let me lead them both to the stable,
that they may have food and rest."
"They shall not pass these gates," answered the knight, sternly, and
he entered the hall alone, where the monks were sitting at meat, and
knelt down and bowed to them.
"I have come back, my lord," he said to the Abbot, who had just
returned from the court. "I have come back this day as I promised."
"Have you brought my money? What do you here without it?" cried the
Abbot in angry tones.
"I have come to pray you for a longer day," answered the knight,
"The day was fixed and cannot be gainsaid," replied the Justiciar;
"I am with the Abbot."
"Good Sir Abbot, be my friend," prayed the knight again, "and give
me one chance more to get the money and free my lands. I will serve
you day and night till I have four hundred pounds to redeem them."
But the Abbot only swore a great oath, and vowed that the money must
be paid that day or the lands be forfeited.
The knight stood up straight and tall: "It is well," said he, "to
prove one's friends against the hour of need," and he looked the
Abbot full in the face, and the Abbot felt uneasy, he did not know
why, and hated the knight more than ever. "Out of my hall, false
knight!" cried he, pretending to a courage which he did not feel.
But the knight stayed where he was, and answered him, "You lie,
Abbot. Never was I false, and that I have shown in jousts and in
"Give him two hundred pounds more," said the Justiciar to the Abbot,
"and keep the lands yourself."
"No, by Heaven!" answered the knight, "not if you offered me a
thousand pounds would I do it! Neither Justiciar, abbot, nor monk
shall be heir of mine." Then he strode up to a table and emptied out
four hundred pounds. "Take your gold, Sir Abbot, which you lent to
me a year agone. Had you but received me civilly, I would have paid
you something more.
"Sir Abbot, and ye men of law,
Now have I kept my day!
Now shall I have my land again,
For aught that you may say."
So he passed out of the hall singing merrily, leaving the Abbot
staring silently after him, and rode back to his house in Verisdale,
where his wife met him at the gate.
"Welcome, my lord," said his lady,
"Sir, lost is all your good."
"Be merry, dame," said the knight,
"And pray for Robin Hood.
But for his kindness, we would have been beggars."
After this the knight dwelt at home, looking after his lands and
saving his money carefully till the four hundred pounds lay ready
for Robin Hood. Then he bought a hundred bows and a hundred arrows,
and every arrow was an ell long, and had a head of silver and
peacock's feathers. And clothing himself in white and red, and with
a hundred men in his train, he set off to Sherwood Forest.
On the way he passed an open space near a bridge where there was a
wrestling, and the knight stopped and looked, for he himself had
taken many a prize in that sport. Here the prizes were such as to
fill any man with envy; a fine horse, saddled and bridled, a great
white bull, a pair of gloves, and a ring of bright red gold. There
was not a yeoman present who did not hope to win one of them. But
when the wrestling was over, the yeoman who had beaten them all was
a man who kept apart from his fellows, and was said to think much of
himself. Therefore the men grudged him his skill, and set upon him
with blows, and would have killed him, had not the knight, for love
of Robin Hood, taken pity on him, while his followers fought with
the crowd, and would not suffer them to touch the prizes a better
man had won.
When the wrestling was finished the knight rode on, and there under
the greenwood tree, in the place appointed, he found Robin Hood and
his merry men waiting for him, according to the tryst that they had
fixed last year:
"God save thee, Robin Hood,
And all this company."
"Welcome be thou, gentle knight,
And right welcome to me."
"Hast thou thy land again?" said Robin,
"Truth then thou tell me."
"Yea, for God," said the knight,
"And that thank I God and thee."
"Have here four hundred pounds," said the knight,
"The which you lent to me;
And here are also twenty marks
For your courtesie."
But Robin would not take the money. Then he noticed the bows and
arrows which the knight had brought, and asked what they were. "A
poor present to you," answered the knight, and Robin, who would not
be outdone, sent Little John once more to his treasury, and bade him
bring forth four hundred pounds, which was given to the knight.
After that they parted, in much love, and Robin prayed the knight if
he were in any strait "to let him know at the greenwood tree, and
while there was any gold there he should have it."
Now the King had no mind that Robin Hood should do as he willed, and
called his knights to follow him to Nottingham, where they would lay
plans how best to take captive the felon. Here they heard sad tales
of Robin's misdoings, and how of the many herds of wild deer that
had been wont to roam the forest in some places scarce one remained.
This was the work of Robin Hood and his merry men, on whom the king
swore vengeance with a great oath.
"I would I had this Robin Hood in my hands," cried he, "and an end
should soon be put to his doings." So spake the King; but an old
knight, full of days and wisdom, answered him and warned him that
the task of taking Robin Hood would be a sore one, and best let
alone. The King, who had seen the vanity of his hot words the moment
that he had uttered them, listened to the old man, and resolved to
bide his time, if perchance some day Robin should fall into his
All this time and for six weeks later that he dwelt in Nottingham
the King could hear nothing of Robin, who seemed to have vanished
into the earth with his merry men, though one by one the deer were
At last one day a forester came to the King, and told him that if he
would see Robin he must come with him and take five of his best
knights. The King eagerly sprang up to do his bidding, and the six
men clad in monk's clothes mounted their palfreys and rode down to
the Abbey, the King wearing an Abbot's broad hat over his crown and
singing as he passed through the greenwood.
Suddenly at the turn of the path Robin and his archers appeared
"By your leave, Sir Abbot," said Robin, seizing the King's bridle,
"you will stay a while with us. Know that we are yeomen, who live
upon the King's deer, and other food have we none. Now you have
abbeys and churches, and gold in plenty; therefore give us some of
it, in the name of holy charity."
"I have no more than forty pounds with me," answered the King, "but
sorry I am it is not a hundred, for you should have had it all."
So Robin took the forty pounds, and gave half to his men, and then
told the King he might go on his way. "I thank you," said the King,
"but I would have you know that our liege lord has bid me bear you
his seal, and pray you to come to Nottingham."
At this message Robin bent his knee.
"I love no man in all the world
So well as I do my King,"
he cried, "and, Sir Abbot, for thy tidings, which fill my heart with
joy, to-day thou shalt dine with me, for love of my King." Then he
led the King into an open place, and Robin took a horn and blew it
loud, and at its blast seven-score of young men came speedily to do
"They are quicker to do his bidding than my men are to do mine,"
said the King to himself.
Speedily the foresters set out the dinner, venison and white bread,
and Robin and Little John served the King. "Make good cheer, Abbot,
for charity," said Robin, "and then you shall see what sort of life
we lead, that so you may tell our King."
When he had finished eating the archers took their bows, and hung
rose-garlands up with a string, and every man was to shoot through
the garland. If he failed, he should have a buffet on the head from
Good bowmen as they were, few managed to stand the test. Little John
and Will Scarlett, and Much, all shot wide of the mark, and at
length no one was left in but Robin himself and Gilbert of the White
Hand. Then Robin fired his last bolt, and it fell three fingers from
the garland. "Master," said Gilbert, "you have lost, stand forth and
take your punishment."
"I will take it," answered Robin, "but, Sir Abbot, I pray you that I
may suffer it at your hands."
The King hesitated. "It did not become him," he said, "to smite such
a stout yeoman," but Robin bade him smite on; so he turned up his
sleeve, and gave Robin such a buffet on the head that he rolled upon
"There is pith in your arm," said Robin. "Come, shoot a-main with
me." And the King took up a bow, and in so doing his hat fell back
and Robin saw his face.
"My lord the King of England, now I know you well," cried he, and he
fell on his knees and all the outlaws with him. "Mercy I ask, my
lord the King, for my men and me."
"Mercy I grant," then said the King, "and therefore I came hither,
to bid you and your men leave the greenwood and dwell in my court
"So it shall be," answered Robin, "I and my men will come to your
court, and see how your service liketh us."
"Have you any green cloth," asked the King, "that you could sell to
me?" and Robin brought out thirty yards and more, and clad the King
and his men in coats of Lincoln green. "Now we will all ride to
Nottingham," said he, and they went merrily, shooting by the way.
The people of Nottingham saw them coming, and trembled as they
watched the dark mass of Lincoln green drawing near over the fields.
"I fear lest our King be slain," whispered one to another, "and if
Robin Hood gets into the town there is not one of us whose life is
safe"; and every man, woman, and child made ready to fly.
The King laughed out when he saw their fright, and called them back.
Right glad were they to hear his voice, and they feasted and made
merry. A few days later the King returned to London, and Robin dwelt
in his court for twelve months. By that time he had spent a hundred
pounds, for he gave largely to the knights and squires he met, and
great renown he had for his openhandedness.
But his men who had been born under the shadow of the forest, could
not live amid streets and houses. One by one they slipped away, till
only little John and Will Scarlett were left. Then Robin himself
grew home-sick, and at the sight of some young men shooting thought
upon the time when he was accounted the best archer in all England,
and went straightway to the King and begged for leave to go on a
pilgrimage to Bernisdale.
"I may not say you nay," answered the King; "seven nights you may be
gone and no more." And Robin thanked him, and that evening set out
for the greenwood.
It was early morning when he reached it at last, and listened
thirstily to the notes of singing birds, great and small.
"It seems long since I was here," he said to himself; "It would give
me great joy if I could bring down a deer once more," and he shot a
great hart, and blew his horn, and all the outlaws of the forest
came flocking round him. "Welcome," they said, "our dear master,
back to the greenwood tree," and they threw off their caps and fell
on their knees before him in delight at his return.
For two and twenty years Robin Hood dwelt in Sherwood forest after
he had run away from court, and naught that the King could say would
tempt him back again. At the end of that time he fell ill; he
neither ate nor drank, and had no care for the things he loved. "I
must go to merry Kirkley," said he, "and have my blood let."
But Will Scarlett, who heard his words, spoke roundly to him. "Not
by MY leave, nor without a hundred bowmen at your back. For there
abides an evil man, who is sure to quarrel with you, and you will
need us badly."
"If you are afraid, Will Scarlett, you may stay at home, for me,"
said Robin, "and in truth no man will I take with me, save Little
John only, to carry my bow."
"Bear your bow yourself, master, and I will bear mine."
"Very well, let it be so," said Robin, and they went on merrily
enough till they came to some women weeping sorely near a stream.
"What is the matter, good wives?" said Robin Hood.
"We weep for Robin Hood and his dear body, which to-day must let
blood," was the answer.
"Pray why do you weep for me?" asked Robin; "the Prioress is the
daughter of my aunt, and well I know she would not do me harm for
all the world." And he passed on, with Little John at his side.
Soon they reached the Priory, where they were let in by the Prioress
herself, who bade them welcome heartily, and not the less because
Robin handed her twenty pounds in gold as payment for his stay, and
told her if he cost her more, she was to let him know of it. Then
she began to bleed him, and for long Robin said nothing, giving her
credit for kindness and for knowing her art, but at length so much
blood came from him that he suspected treason. He tried to open the
door, for she had left him alone in the room, but it was locked
fast, and while the blood was still flowing he could not escape from
the casement. So he lay down for many hours, and none came near him,
and at length the blood stopped. Slowly Robin uprose and staggered
to the lattice-window, and blew thrice on his horn; but the blast
was so low, and so little like what Robin was wont to give, that
Little John, who was watching for some sound, felt that his master
must be nigh to death.
At this thought he started to his feet, and ran swiftly to the
Priory. He broke the locks of all the doors that stood between him
and Robin Hood, and soon entered the chamber where his master lay,
white, with nigh all his blood gone from him.
"I crave a boon of you, dear master," cried Little John.
"And what is that boon," said Robin Hood, "which Little John begs of
me?" And Little John answered, "It is to burn Kirkley Hall, and all
But Robin Hood, in spite of the wrong that had been done him, would
not listen to Little John's cry for revenge. "I never hurt a woman
in all my life," he said, "nor a man that was in her company. But
now my time is done. That know I well. So give me my bow and a broad
arrow, and wheresoever it falls there shall my grave be digged. Lay
a green sod under my head and another at my feet, and put beside me