Part 4 out of 12
As soon as Prince John observed that the destined Queen of the
day had arrived upon the field, assuming that air of courtesy
which sat well upon him when he was pleased to exhibit it, he
rode forward to meet her, doffed his bonnet, and, alighting from
his horse, assisted the Lady Rowena from her saddle, while his
followers uncovered at the same time, and one of the most
distinguished dismounted to hold her palfrey.
"It is thus," said Prince John, "that we set the dutiful example
of loyalty to the Queen of Love and Beauty, and are ourselves her
guide to the throne which she must this day occupy.---Ladies," he
said, "attend your Queen, as you wish in your turn to be
distinguished by like honours."
So saying, the Prince marshalled Rowena to the seat of honour
opposite his own, while the fairest and most distinguished ladies
present crowded after her to obtain places as near as possible to
their temporary sovereign.
No sooner was Rowena seated, than a burst of music, half-drowned
by the shouts of the multitude, greeted her new dignity.
Meantime, the sun shone fierce and bright upon the polished arms
of the knights of either side, who crowded the opposite
extremities of the lists, and held eager conference together
concerning the best mode of arranging their line of battle, and
supporting the conflict.
The heralds then proclaimed silence until the laws of the tourney
should be rehearsed. These were calculated in some degree to
abate the dangers of the day; a precaution the more necessary, as
the conflict was to be maintained with sharp swords and pointed
The champions were therefore prohibited to thrust with the sword,
and were confined to striking. A knight, it was announced, might
use a mace or battle-axe at pleasure, but the dagger was a
prohibited weapon. A knight unhorsed might renew the fight on
foot with any other on the opposite side in the same predicament;
but mounted horsemen were in that case forbidden to assail him.
When any knight could force his antagonist to the extremity of
the lists, so as to touch the palisade with his person or arms,
such opponent was obliged to yield himself vanquished, and his
armour and horse were placed at the disposal of the conqueror.
A knight thus overcome was not permitted to take farther share in
the combat. If any combatant was struck down, and unable to
recover his feet, his squire or page might enter the lists, and
drag his master out of the press; but in that case the knight was
adjudged vanquished, and his arms and horse declared forfeited.
The combat was to cease as soon as Prince John should throw down
his leading staff, or truncheon; another precaution usually taken
to prevent the unnecessary effusion of blood by the too long
endurance of a sport so desperate. Any knight breaking the rules
of the tournament, or otherwise transgressing the rules of
honourable chivalry, was liable to be stript of his arms, and,
having his shield reversed to be placed in that posture astride
upon the bars of the palisade, and exposed to public derision, in
punishment of his unknightly conduct. Having announced these
precautions, the heralds concluded with an exhortation to each
good knight to do his duty, and to merit favour from the Queen of
Beauty and of Love.
This proclamation having been made, the heralds withdrew to their
stations. The knights, entering at either end of the lists in
long procession, arranged themselves in a double file, precisely
opposite to each other, the leader of each party being in the
centre of the foremost rank, a post which he did not occupy until
each had carefully marshalled the ranks of his party, and
stationed every one in his place.
It was a goodly, and at the same time an anxious, sight, to
behold so many gallant champions, mounted bravely, and armed
richly, stand ready prepared for an encounter so formidable,
seated on their war-saddles like so many pillars of iron, and
awaiting the signal of encounter with the same ardour as their
generous steeds, which, by neighing and pawing the ground, gave
signal of their impatience.
As yet the knights held their long lances upright, their bright
points glancing to the sun, and the streamers with which they
were decorated fluttering over the plumage of the helmets. Thus
they remained while the marshals of the field surveyed their
ranks with the utmost exactness, lest either party had more or
fewer than the appointed number. The tale was found exactly
complete. The marshals then withdrew from the lists, and William
de Wyvil, with a voice of thunder, pronounced the signal words
--"Laissez aller!" The trumpets sounded as he spoke---the spears
of the champions were at once lowered and placed in the rests
---the spurs were dashed into the flanks of the horses, and the
two foremost ranks of either party rushed upon each other in full
gallop, and met in the middle of the lists with a shock, the
sound of which was heard at a mile's distance. The rear rank of
each party advanced at a slower pace to sustain the defeated, and
follow up the success of the victors of their party.
The consequences of the encounter were not instantly seen, for
the dust raised by the trampling of so many steeds darkened the
air, and it was a minute ere the anxious spectator could see the
fate of the encounter. When the fight became visible, half the
knights on each side were dismounted, some by the dexterity of
their adversary's lance,---some by the superior weight and
strength of opponents, which had borne down both horse and man,
---some lay stretched on earth as if never more to rise,---some
had already gained their feet, and were closing hand to hand with
those of their antagonists who were in the same predicament,
---and several on both sides, who had received wounds by which
they were disabled, were stopping their blood by their scarfs,
and endeavouring to extricate themselves from the tumult. The
mounted knights, whose lances had been almost all broken by the
fury of the encounter, were now closely engaged with their
swords, shouting their war-cries, and exchanging buffets, as if
honour and life depended on the issue of the combat.
The tumult was presently increased by the advance of the second
rank on either side, which, acting as a reserve, now rushed on to
aid their companions. The followers of Brian de Bois-Guilbert
shouted ---"Ha! Beau-seant! Beau-seant!*
* "Beau-seant" was the name of the Templars' banner, which
* was half black, half white, to intimate, it is said, that
* they were candid and fair towards Christians, but black
* and terrible towards infidels.
--- For the Temple---For the Temple!" The opposite party shouted
in answer---"Desdichado! Desdichado!"---which watch-word they
took from the motto upon their leader's shield.
The champions thus encountering each other with the utmost fury,
and with alternate success, the tide of battle seemed to flow now
toward the southern, now toward the northern extremity of the
lists, as the one or the other party prevailed. Meantime the
clang of the blows, and the shouts of the combatants, mixed
fearfully with the sound of the trumpets, and drowned the groans
of those who fell, and lay rolling defenceless beneath the feet
of the horses. The splendid armour of the combatants was now
defaced with dust and blood, and gave way at every stroke of the
sword and battle-axe. The gay plumage, shorn from the crests,
drifted upon the breeze like snow-flakes. All that was beautiful
and graceful in the martial array had disappeared, and what was
now visible was only calculated to awake terror or compassion.
Yet such is the force of habit, that not only the vulgar
spectators, who are naturally attracted by sights of horror, but
even the ladies of distinction who crowded the galleries, saw the
conflict with a thrilling interest certainly, but without a wish
to withdraw their eyes from a sight so terrible. Here and there,
indeed, a fair cheek might turn pale, or a faint scream might be
heard, as a lover, a brother, or a husband, was struck from his
horse. But, in general, the ladies around encouraged the
combatants, not only by clapping their hands and waving their
veils and kerchiefs, but even by exclaiming, "Brave lance! Good
sword!" when any successful thrust or blow took place under their
Such being the interest taken by the fair sex in this bloody
game, that of the men is the more easily understood. It showed
itself in loud acclamations upon every change of fortune, while
all eyes were so riveted on the lists, that the spectators seemed
as if they themselves had dealt and received the blows which were
there so freely bestowed. And between every pause was heard the
voice of the heralds, exclaiming, "Fight on, brave knights! Man
dies, but glory lives!---Fight on---death is better than defeat!
---Fight on, brave knights!---for bright eyes behold your deeds!"
Amid the varied fortunes of the combat, the eyes of all
endeavoured to discover the leaders of each band, who, mingling
in the thick of the fight, encouraged their companions both by
voice and example. Both displayed great feats of gallantry, nor
did either Bois-Guilbert or the Disinherited Knight find in the
ranks opposed to them a champion who could be termed their
unquestioned match. They repeatedly endeavoured to single out
each other, spurred by mutual animosity, and aware that the fall
of either leader might be considered as decisive of victory.
Such, however, was the crowd and confusion, that, during the
earlier part of the conflict, their efforts to meet were
unavailing, and they were repeatedly separated by the eagerness
of their followers, each of whom was anxious to win honour, by
measuring his strength against the leader of the opposite party.
But when the field became thin by the numbers on either side who
had yielded themselves vanquished, had been compelled to the
extremity of the lists, or been otherwise rendered incapable of
continuing the strife, the Templar and the Disinherited Knight at
length encountered hand to hand, with all the fury that mortal
animosity, joined to rivalry of honour, could inspire. Such was
the address of each in parrying and striking, that the spectators
broke forth into a unanimous and involuntary shout, expressive of
their delight and admiration.
But at this moment the party of the Disinherited Knight had the
worst; the gigantic arm of Front-de-Boeuf on the one flank, and
the ponderous strength of Athelstane on the other, bearing down
and dispersing those immediately exposed to them. Finding
themselves freed from their immediate antagonists, it seems to
have occurred to both these knights at the same instant, that
they would render the most decisive advantage to their party, by
aiding the Templar in his contest with his rival. Turning their
horses, therefore, at the same moment, the Norman spurred against
the Disinherited Knight on the one side, and the Saxon on the
other. It was utterly impossible that the object of this unequal
and unexpected assault could have sustained it, had he not been
warned by a general cry from the spectators, who could not but
take interest in one exposed to such disadvantage.
"Beware! beware! Sir Disinherited!" was shouted so universally,
that the knight became aware of his danger; and, striking a full
blow at the Templar, he reined back his steed in the same moment,
so as to escape the charge of Athelstane and Front-de-Boeuf.
These knights, therefore, their aim being thus eluded, rushed
from opposite sides betwixt the object of their attack and the
Templar, almost running their horses against each other ere they
could stop their career. Recovering their horses however, and
wheeling them round, the whole three pursued their united purpose
of bearing to the earth the Disinherited Knight.
Nothing could have saved him, except the remarkable strength and
activity of the noble horse which he had won on the preceding
This stood him in the more stead, as the horse of Bois-Guilbert
was wounded, and those of Front-de-Boeuf and Athelstane were both
tired with the weight of their gigantic masters, clad in complete
armour, and with the preceding exertions of the day. The
masterly horsemanship of the Disinherited Knight, and the
activity of the noble animal which he mounted, enabled him for a
few minutes to keep at sword's point his three antagonists,
turning and wheeling with the agility of a hawk upon the wing,
keeping his enemies as far separate as he could, and rushing now
against the one, now against the other, dealing sweeping blows
with his sword, without waiting to receive those which were aimed
at him in return.
But although the lists rang with the applauses of his dexterity,
it was evident that he must at last be overpowered; and the
nobles around Prince John implored him with one voice to throw
down his warder, and to save so brave a knight from the disgrace
of being overcome by odds.
"Not I, by the light of Heaven!" answered Prince John; "this same
springald, who conceals his name, and despises our proffered
hospitality, hath already gained one prize, and may now afford to
let others have their turn." As he spoke thus, an unexpected
incident changed the fortune of the day.
There was among the ranks of the Disinherited Knight a champion
in black armour, mounted on a black horse, large of size, tall,
and to all appearance powerful and strong, like the rider by whom
he was mounted, This knight, who bore on his shield no device of
any kind, had hitherto evinced very little interest in the event
of the fight, beating off with seeming ease those combatants who
attacked him, but neither pursuing his advantages, nor himself
assailing any one. In short, he had hitherto acted the part
rather of a spectator than of a party in the tournament, a
circumstance which procured him among the spectators the name of
"Le Noir Faineant", or the Black Sluggard.
At once this knight seemed to throw aside his apathy, when he
discovered the leader of his party so hard bestead; for, setting
spurs to his horse, which was quite fresh, he came to his
assistance like a thunderbolt, exclaiming, in a voice like a
trumpet-call, "Desdichado, to the rescue!" It was high time;
for, while the Disinherited Knight was pressing upon the Templar,
Front-de-Boeuf had got nigh to him with his uplifted sword; but
ere the blow could descend, the Sable Knight dealt a stroke on
his head, which, glancing from the polished helmet, lighted with
violence scarcely abated on the "chamfron" of the steed, and
Front-de-Boeuf rolled on the ground, both horse and man equally
stunned by the fury of the blow. "Le Noir Faineant" then turned
his horse upon Athelstane of Coningsburgh; and his own sword
having been broken in his encounter with Front-de-Boeuf, he
wrenched from the hand of the bulky Saxon the battle-axe which he
wielded, and, like one familiar with the use of the weapon,
bestowed him such a blow upon the crest, that Athelstane also lay
senseless on the field. Having achieved this double feat, for
which he was the more highly applauded that it was totally
unexpected from him, the knight seemed to resume the sluggishness
of his character, returning calmly to the northern extremity of
the lists, leaving his leader to cope as he best could with Brian
de Bois-Guilbert. This was no longer matter of so much
difficulty as formerly. The Templars horse had bled much, and
gave way under the shock of the Disinherited Knight's charge.
Brian de Bois-Guilbert rolled on the field, encumbered with the
stirrup, from which he was unable to draw his foot. His
antagonist sprung from horseback, waved his fatal sword over the
head of his adversary, and commanded him to yield himself; when
Prince John, more moved by the Templars dangerous situation than
he had been by that of his rival, saved him the mortification of
confessing himself vanquished, by casting down his warder, and
putting an end to the conflict.
It was, indeed, only the relics and embers of the fight which
continued to burn; for of the few knights who still continued in
the lists, the greater part had, by tacit consent, forborne the
conflict for some time, leaving it to be determined by the strife
of the leaders.
The squires, who had found it a matter of danger and difficulty
to attend their masters during the engagement, now thronged into
the lists to pay their dutiful attendance to the wounded, who
were removed with the utmost care and attention to the
neighbouring pavilions, or to the quarters prepared for them in
the adjoining village.
Thus ended the memorable field of Ashby-de-la-Zouche, one of the
most gallantly contested tournaments of that age; for although
only four knights, including one who was smothered by the heat of
his armour, had died upon the field, yet upwards of thirty were
desperately wounded, four or five of whom never recovered.
Several more were disabled for life; and those who escaped best
carried the marks of the conflict to the grave with them. Hence
it is always mentioned in the old records, as the Gentle and
Joyous Passage of Arms of Ashby.
It being now the duty of Prince John to name the knight who had
done best, he determined that the honour of the day remained with
the knight whom the popular voice had termed "Le Noir Faineant."
It was pointed out to the Prince, in impeachment of this decree,
that the victory had been in fact won by the Disinherited Knight,
who, in the course of the day, had overcome six champions with
his own hand, and who had finally unhorsed and struck down the
leader of the opposite party. But Prince John adhered to his own
opinion, on the ground that the Disinherited Knight and his party
had lost the day, but for the powerful assistance of the Knight
of the Black Armour, to whom, therefore, he persisted in awarding
To the surprise of all present, however, the knight thus
preferred was nowhere to be found. He had left the lists
immediately when the conflict ceased, and had been observed by
some spectators to move down one of the forest glades with the
same slow pace and listless and indifferent manner which had
procured him the epithet of the Black Sluggard. After he had
been summoned twice by sound of trumpet, and proclamation of the
heralds, it became necessary to name another to receive the
honours which had been assigned to him. Prince John had now no
further excuse for resisting the claim of the Disinherited
Knight, whom, therefore, he named the champion of the day.
Through a field slippery with blood, and encumbered with broken
armour and the bodies of slain and wounded horses, the marshals
of the lists again conducted the victor to the foot of Prince
"Disinherited Knight," said Prince John, "since by that title
only you will consent to be known to us, we a second time award
to you the honours of this tournament, and announce to you your
right to claim and receive from the hands of the Queen of Love
and Beauty, the Chaplet of Honour which your valour has justly
deserved." The Knight bowed low and gracefully, but returned
While the trumpets sounded, while the heralds strained their
voices in proclaiming honour to the brave and glory to the victor
---while ladies waved their silken kerchiefs and embroidered
veils, and while all ranks joined in a clamorous shout of
exultation, the marshals conducted the Disinherited Knight across
the lists to the foot of that throne of honour which was occupied
by the Lady Rowena.
On the lower step of this throne the champion was made to kneel
down. Indeed his whole action since the fight had ended, seemed
rather to have been upon the impulse of those around him than
from his own free will; and it was observed that he tottered as
they guided him the second time across the lists. Rowena,
descending from her station with a graceful and dignified step,
was about to place the chaplet which she held in her hand upon
the helmet of the champion, when the marshals exclaimed with one
voice, "It must not be thus---his head must be bare." The knight
muttered faintly a few words, which were lost in the hollow of
his helmet, but their purport seemed to be a desire that his
casque might not be removed.
Whether from love of form, or from curiosity, the marshals paid
no attention to his expressions of reluctance, but unhelmed him
by cutting the laces of his casque, and undoing the fastening of
his gorget. When the helmet was removed, the well-formed, yet
sun-burnt features of a young man of twenty-five were seen,
amidst a profusion of short fair hair. His countenance was as
pale as death, and marked in one or two places with streaks of
Rowena had no sooner beheld him than she uttered a faint shriek;
but at once summoning up the energy of her disposition, and
compelling herself, as it were, to proceed, while her frame yet
trembled with the violence of sudden emotion, she placed upon the
drooping head of the victor the splendid chaplet which was the
destined reward of the day, and pronounced, in a clear and
distinct tone, these words: "I bestow on thee this chaplet, Sir
Knight, as the meed of valour assigned to this day's victor:"
Here she paused a moment, and then firmly added, "And upon brows
more worthy could a wreath of chivalry never be placed!"
The knight stooped his head, and kissed the hand of the lovely
Sovereign by whom his valour had been rewarded; and then, sinking
yet farther forward, lay prostrate at her feet.
There was a general consternation. Cedric, who had been struck
mute by the sudden appearance of his banished son, now rushed
forward, as if to separate him from Rowena. But this had been
already accomplished by the marshals of the field, who, guessing
the cause of Ivanhoe's swoon, had hastened to undo his armour,
and found that the head of a lance had penetrated his
breastplate, and inflicted a wound in his side.
"Heroes, approach!" Atrides thus aloud,
"Stand forth distinguish'd from the circling crowd,
Ye who by skill or manly force may claim,
Your rivals to surpass and merit fame.
This cow, worth twenty oxen, is decreed,
For him who farthest sends the winged reed."
The name of Ivanhoe was no sooner pronounced than it flew from
mouth to mouth, with all the celerity with which eagerness could
convey and curiosity receive it. It was not long ere it reached
the circle of the Prince, whose brow darkened as he heard the
news. Looking around him, however, with an air of scorn, "My
Lords," said he, "and especially you, Sir Prior, what think ye of
the doctrine the learned tell us, concerning innate attractions
and antipathies? Methinks that I felt the presence of my
brother's minion, even when I least guessed whom yonder suit of
"Front-de-Boeuf must prepare to restore his fief of Ivanhoe,"
said De Bracy, who, having discharged his part honourably in the
tournament, had laid his shield and helmet aside, and again
mingled with the Prince's retinue.
"Ay," answered Waldemar Fitzurse, "this gallant is likely to
reclaim the castle and manor which Richard assigned to him, and
which your Highness's generosity has since given to
"Front-de-Boeuf," replied John, "is a man more willing to swallow
three manors such as Ivanhoe, than to disgorge one of them. For
the rest, sirs, I hope none here will deny my right to confer the
fiefs of the crown upon the faithful followers who are around me,
and ready to perform the usual military service, in the room of
those who have wandered to foreign Countries, and can neither
render homage nor service when called upon."
The audience were too much interested in the question not to
pronounce the Prince's assumed right altogether indubitable.
"A generous Prince!---a most noble Lord, who thus takes upon
himself the task of rewarding his faithful followers!"
Such were the words which burst from the train, expectants all of
them of similar grants at the expense of King Richard's followers
and favourites, if indeed they had not as yet received such.
Prior Aymer also assented to the general proposition, observing,
however, "That the blessed Jerusalem could not indeed be termed a
foreign country. She was 'communis mater'---the mother of all
Christians. But he saw not," he declared, "how the Knight of
Ivanhoe could plead any advantage from this, since he" (the
Prior) "was assured that the crusaders, under Richard, had never
proceeded much farther than Askalon, which, as all the world
knew, was a town of the Philistines, and entitled to none of the
privileges of the Holy City."
Waldemar, whose curiosity had led him towards the place where
Ivanhoe had fallen to the ground, now returned. "The gallant,"
said he, "is likely to give your Highness little disturbance, and
to leave Front-de-Boeuf in the quiet possession of his gains--he
is severely wounded."
"Whatever becomes of him," said Prince John, "he is victor of the
day; and were he tenfold our enemy, or the devoted friend of our
brother, which is perhaps the same, his wounds must be looked to
---our own physician shall attend him."
A stern smile curled the Prince's lip as he spoke. Waldemar
Fitzurse hastened to reply, that Ivanhoe was already removed from
the lists, and in the custody of his friends.
"I was somewhat afflicted," he said, "to see the grief of the
Queen of Love and Beauty, whose sovereignty of a day this event
has changed into mourning. I am not a man to be moved by a
woman's lament for her lover, but this same Lady Rowena
suppressed her sorrow with such dignity of manner, that it could
only be discovered by her folded hands, and her tearless eye,
which trembled as it remained fixed on the lifeless form before
"Who is this Lady Rowena," said Prince John, "of whom we have
heard so much?"
"A Saxon heiress of large possessions," replied the Prior Aymer;
"a rose of loveliness, and a jewel of wealth; the fairest among a
thousand, a bundle of myrrh, and a cluster of camphire."
"We shall cheer her sorrows," said Prince John, "and amend her
blood, by wedding her to a Norman. She seems a minor, and must
therefore be at our royal disposal in marriage.---How sayst thou,
De Bracy? What thinkst thou of gaining fair lands and livings,
by wedding a Saxon, after the fashion of the followers of the
"If the lands are to my liking, my lord," answered De Bracy, "it
will be hard to displease me with a bride; and deeply will I hold
myself bound to your highness for a good deed, which will fulfil
all promises made in favour of your servant and vassal."
"We will not forget it," said Prince John; "and that we may
instantly go to work, command our seneschal presently to order
the attendance of the Lady Rowena and her company---that is, the
rude churl her guardian, and the Saxon ox whom the Black Knight
struck down in the tournament, upon this evening's banquet.---De
Bigot," he added to his seneschal, "thou wilt word this our
second summons so courteously, as to gratify the pride of these
Saxons, and make it impossible for them again to refuse;
although, by the bones of Becket, courtesy to them is casting
pearls before swine."
Prince John had proceeded thus far, and was about to give the
signal for retiring from the lists, when a small billet was put
into his hand.
"From whence?" said Prince John, looking at the person by whom it
"From foreign parts, my lord, but from whence I know not" replied
his attendant. "A Frenchman brought it hither, who said, he had
ridden night and day to put it into the hands of your highness."
The Prince looked narrowly at the superscription, and then at the
seal, placed so as to secure the flex-silk with which the billet
was surrounded, and which bore the impression of three
fleurs-de-lis. John then opened the billet with apparent
agitation, which visibly and greatly increased when he had
perused the contents, which were expressed in these words:
"Take heed to yourself for the Devil is unchained!"
The Prince turned as pale as death, looked first on the earth,
and then up to heaven, like a man who has received news that
sentence of execution has been passed upon him. Recovering from
the first effects of his surprise, he took Waldemar Fitzurse and
De Bracy aside, and put the billet into their hands successively.
"It means," he added, in a faltering voice, "that my brother
Richard has obtained his freedom."
"This may be a false alarm, or a forged letter," said De Bracy.
"It is France's own hand and seal," replied Prince John.
"It is time, then," said Fitzurse, "to draw our party to a head,
either at York, or some other centrical place. A few days later,
and it will be indeed too late. Your highness must break short
this present mummery."
"The yeomen and commons," said De Bracy, "must not be dismissed
discontented, for lack of their share in the sports."
"The day," said Waldemar, "is not yet very far spent---let the
archers shoot a few rounds at the target, and the prize be
adjudged. This will be an abundant fulfilment of the Prince's
promises, so far as this herd of Saxon serfs is concerned."
"I thank thee, Waldemar," said the Prince; "thou remindest me,
too, that I have a debt to pay to that insolent peasant who
yesterday insulted our person. Our banquet also shall go forward
to-night as we proposed. Were this my last hour of power, it
should be an hour sacred to revenge and to pleasure---let new
cares come with to-morrow's new day."
The sound of the trumpets soon recalled those spectators who had
already begun to leave the field; and proclamation was made that
Prince John, suddenly called by high and peremptory public
duties, held himself obliged to discontinue the entertainments
of to-morrow's festival: Nevertheless, that, unwilling so many
good yeoman should depart without a trial of skill, he was
pleased to appoint them, before leaving the ground, presently to
execute the competition of archery intended for the morrow. To
the best archer a prize was to be awarded, being a bugle-horn,
mounted with silver, and a silken baldric richly ornamented with
a medallion of St Hubert, the patron of silvan sport.
More than thirty yeomen at first presented themselves as
competitors, several of whom were rangers and under-keepers in
the royal forests of Needwood and Charnwood. When, however, the
archers understood with whom they were to be matched, upwards of
twenty withdrew themselves from the contest, unwilling to
encounter the dishonour of almost certain defeat. For in those
days the skill of each celebrated marksman was as well known for
many miles round him, as the qualities of a horse trained at
Newmarket are familiar to those who frequent that well-known
The diminished list of competitors for silvan fame still amounted
to eight. Prince John stepped from his royal seat to view more
nearly the persons of these chosen yeomen, several of whom wore
the royal livery. Having satisfied his curiosity by this
investigation, he looked for the object of his resentment, whom
he observed standing on the same spot, and with the same composed
countenance which he had exhibited upon the preceding day.
"Fellow," said Prince John, "I guessed by thy insolent babble
that thou wert no true lover of the longbow, and I see thou
darest not adventure thy skill among such merry-men as stand
"Under favour, sir," replied the yeoman, "I have another reason
for refraining to shoot, besides the fearing discomfiture and
"And what is thy other reason?" said Prince John, who, for some
cause which perhaps he could not himself have explained, felt a
painful curiosity respecting this individual.
"Because," replied the woodsman, "I know not if these yeomen and
I are used to shoot at the same marks; and because, moreover, I
know not how your Grace might relish the winning of a third prize
by one who has unwittingly fallen under your displeasure."
Prince John coloured as he put the question, "What is thy name,
"Locksley," answered the yeoman.
"Then, Locksley," said Prince John, "thou shalt shoot in thy
turn, when these yeomen have displayed their skill. If thou
carriest the prize, I will add to it twenty nobles; but if thou
losest it, thou shalt be stript of thy Lincoln green, and
scourged out of the lists with bowstrings, for a wordy and
"And how if I refuse to shoot on such a wager?" said the yeoman.
---"Your Grace's power, supported, as it is, by so many
men-at-arms, may indeed easily strip and scourge me, but cannot
compel me to bend or to draw my bow."
"If thou refusest my fair proffer," said the Prince, "the Provost
of the lists shall cut thy bowstring, break thy bow and arrows,
and expel thee from the presence as a faint-hearted craven."
"This is no fair chance you put on me, proud Prince," said the
yeoman, "to compel me to peril myself against the best archers of
Leicester And Staffordshire, under the penalty of infamy if they
should overshoot me. Nevertheless, I will obey your pleasure."
"Look to him close, men-at-arms," said Prince John, "his heart is
sinking; I am jealous lest he attempt to escape the trial.---And
do you, good fellows, shoot boldly round; a buck and a butt of
wine are ready for your refreshment in yonder tent, when the
prize is won."
A target was placed at the upper end of the southern avenue which
led to the lists. The contending archers took their station in
turn, at the bottom of the southern access, the distance between
that station and the mark allowing full distance for what was
called a shot at rovers. The archers, having previously
determined by lot their order of precedence, were to shoot each
three shafts in succession. The sports were regulated by an
officer of inferior rank, termed the Provost of the Games; for
the high rank of the marshals of the lists would have been held
degraded, had they condescended to superintend the sports of the
One by one the archers, stepping forward, delivered their shafts
yeomanlike and bravely. Of twenty-four arrows, shot in
succession, ten were fixed in the target, and the others ranged
so near it, that, considering the distance of the mark, it was
accounted good archery. Of the ten shafts which hit the target,
two within the inner ring were shot by Hubert, a forester in the
service of Malvoisin, who was accordingly pronounced victorious.
"Now, Locksley," said Prince John to the bold yeoman, with a
bitter smile, "wilt thou try conclusions with Hubert, or wilt
thou yield up bow, baldric, and quiver, to the Provost of the
"Sith it be no better," said Locksley, "I am content to try my
fortune; on condition that when I have shot two shafts at yonder
mark of Hubert's, he shall be bound to shoot one at that which I
"That is but fair," answered Prince John, "and it shall not be
refused thee.---If thou dost beat this braggart, Hubert, I will
fill the bugle with silver-pennies for thee."
"A man can do but his best," answered Hubert; "but my grandsire
drew a good long bow at Hastings, and I trust not to dishonour
The former target was now removed, and a fresh one of the same
size placed in its room. Hubert, who, as victor in the first
trial of skill, had the right to shoot first, took his aim with
great deliberation, long measuring the distance with his eye,
while he held in his hand his bended bow, with the arrow placed
on the string. At length he made a step forward, and raising the
bow at the full stretch of his left arm, till the centre or
grasping-place was nigh level with his face, he drew his
bowstring to his ear. The arrow whistled through the air, and
lighted within the inner ring of the target, but not exactly in
"You have not allowed for the wind, Hubert," said his antagonist,
bending his bow, "or that had been a better shot."
So saying, and without showing the least anxiety to pause upon
his aim, Locksley stept to the appointed station, and shot his
arrow as carelessly in appearance as if he had not even looked at
the mark. He was speaking almost at the instant that the shaft
left the bowstring, yet it alighted in the target two inches
nearer to the white spot which marked the centre than that of
"By the light of heaven!" said Prince John to Hubert, "an thou
suffer that runagate knave to overcome thee, thou art worthy of
Hubert had but one set speech for all occasions. "An your
highness were to hang me," he said, "a man can but do his best.
Nevertheless, my grandsire drew a good bow---"
"The foul fiend on thy grandsire and all his generation!"
interrupted John , "shoot, knave, and shoot thy best, or it shall
be the worse for thee!"
Thus exhorted, Hubert resumed his place, and not neglecting the
caution which he had received from his adversary, he made the
necessary allowance for a very light air of wind, which had just
arisen, and shot so successfully that his arrow alighted in the
very centre of the target.
"A Hubert! a Hubert!" shouted the populace, more interested in a
known person than in a stranger. "In the clout!---in the clout!
---a Hubert for ever!"
"Thou canst not mend that shot, Locksley," said the Prince, with
an insulting smile.
"I will notch his shaft for him, however," replied Locksley.
And letting fly his arrow with a little more precaution than
before, it lighted right upon that of his competitor, which it
split to shivers. The people who stood around were so astonished
at his wonderful dexterity, that they could not even give vent to
their surprise in their usual clamour. "This must be the devil,
and no man of flesh and blood," whispered the yeomen to each
other; "such archery was never seen since a bow was first bent in
"And now," said Locksley, "I will crave your Grace's permission
to plant such a mark as is used in the North Country; and welcome
every brave yeoman who shall try a shot at it to win a smile from
the bonny lass he loves best."
He then turned to leave the lists. "Let your guards attend me,"
he said, "if you please---I go but to cut a rod from the next
Prince John made a signal that some attendants should follow him
in case of his escape: but the cry of "Shame! shame!" which
burst from the multitude, induced him to alter his ungenerous
Locksley returned almost instantly with a willow wand about six
feet in length, perfectly straight, and rather thicker than a
man's thumb. He began to peel this with great composure,
observing at the same time, that to ask a good woodsman to shoot
at a target so broad as had hitherto been used, was to put shame
upon his skill. "For his own part," he said, "and in the land
where he was bred, men would as soon take for their mark King
Arthur's round-table, which held sixty knights around it. A
child of seven years old," he said, " might hit yonder target
with a headless shaft; but," added he, walking deliberately to
the other end of the lists, and sticking the willow wand upright
in the ground, "he that hits that rod at five-score yards, I call
him an archer fit to bear both bow and quiver before a king, an
it were the stout King Richard himself."
"My grandsire," said Hubert, "drew a good bow at the battle of
Hastings, and never shot at such a mark in his life---and neither
will I. If this yeoman can cleave that rod, I give him the
bucklers---or rather, I yield to the devil that is in his jerkin,
and not to any human skill; a man can but do his best, and I will
not shoot where I am sure to miss. I might as well shoot at the
edge of our parson's whittle, or at a wheat straw, or at a
sunbeam, as at a twinkling white streak which I can hardly see."
"Cowardly dog!" said Prince John.---"Sirrah Locksley, do thou
shoot; but, if thou hittest such a mark, I will say thou art the
first man ever did so. However it be, thou shalt not crow over
us with a mere show of superior skill."
"I will do my best, as Hubert says," answered Locksley; "no man
can do more."
So saying, he again bent his bow, but on the present occasion
looked with attention to his weapon, and changed the string,
which he thought was no longer truly round, having been a little
frayed by the two former shots. He then took his aim with some
deliberation, and the multitude awaited the event in breathless
silence. The archer vindicated their opinion of his skill: his
arrow split the willow rod against which it was aimed. A jubilee
of acclamations followed; and even Prince John, in admiration of
Locksley's skill, lost for an instant his dislike to his person.
"These twenty nobles," he said, "which, with the bugle, thou hast
fairly won, are thine own; we will make them fifty, if thou wilt
take livery and service with us as a yeoman of our body guard,
and be near to our person. For never did so strong a hand bend a
bow, or so true an eye direct a shaft."
"Pardon me, noble Prince," said Locksley; "but I have vowed, that
if ever I take service, it should be with your royal brother King
Richard. These twenty nobles I leave to Hubert, who has this day
drawn as brave a bow as his grandsire did at Hastings. Had his
modesty not refused the trial, he would have hit the wand as well
Hubert shook his head as he received with reluctance the bounty
of the stranger, and Locksley, anxious to escape further
observation, mixed with the crowd, and was seen no more.
The victorious archer would not perhaps have escaped John's
attention so easily, had not that Prince had other subjects of
anxious and more important meditation pressing upon his mind at
that instant. He called upon his chamberlain as he gave the
signal for retiring from the lists, and commanded him instantly
to gallop to Ashby, and seek out Isaac the Jew. "Tell the dog,"
he said, "to send me, before sun-down, two thousand crowns. He
knows the security; but thou mayst show him this ring for a
token. The rest of the money must be paid at York within six
days. If he neglects, I will have the unbelieving villain's
head. Look that thou pass him not on the way; for the
circumcised slave was displaying his stolen finery amongst us."
So saying, the Prince resumed his horse, and returned to Ashby,
the whole crowd breaking up and dispersing upon his retreat.
In rough magnificence array'd,
When ancient Chivalry display'd
The pomp of her heroic games,
And crested chiefs and tissued dames
Assembled, at the clarion's call,
In some proud castle's high arch'd hall.
Prince John held his high festival in the Castle of Ashby. This
was not the same building of which the stately ruins still
interest the traveller, and which was erected at a later period
by the Lord Hastings, High Chamberlain of England, one of the
first victims of the tyranny of Richard the Third, and yet better
known as one of Shakspeare's characters than by his historical
fame. The castle and town of Ashby, at this time, belonged to
Roger de Quincy, Earl of Winchester, who, during the period of
our history, was absent in the Holy Land. Prince John, in the
meanwhile, occupied his castle, and disposed of his domains
without scruple; and seeking at present to dazzle men's eyes by
his hospitality and magnificence, had given orders for great
preparations, in order to render the banquet as splendid as
The purveyors of the Prince, who exercised on this and other
occasions the full authority of royalty, had swept the country of
all that could be collected which was esteemed fit for their
master's table. Guests also were invited in great numbers; and
in the necessity in which he then found himself of courting
popularity, Prince John had extended his invitation to a few
distinguished Saxon and Danish families, as well as to the Norman
nobility and gentry of the neighbourhood. However despised and
degraded on ordinary occasions, the great numbers of the
Anglo-Saxons must necessarily render them formidable in the civil
commotions which seemed approaching, and it was an obvious point
of policy to secure popularity with their leaders.
It was accordingly the Prince's intention, which he for some time
maintained, to treat these unwonted guests with a courtesy to
which they had been little accustomed. But although no man with
less scruple made his ordinary habits and feelings bend to his
interest, it was the misfortune of this Prince, that his levity
and petulance were perpetually breaking out, and undoing all that
had been gained by his previous dissimulation.
Of this fickle temper he gave a memorable example in Ireland,
when sent thither by his father, Henry the Second, with the
purpose of buying golden opinions of the inhabitants of that new
and important acquisition to the English crown. Upon this
occasion the Irish chieftains contended which should first offer
to the young Prince their loyal homage and the kiss of peace.
But, instead of receiving their salutations with courtesy, John
and his petulant attendants could not resist the temptation of
pulling the long beards of the Irish chieftains; a conduct which,
as might have been expected, was highly resented by these
insulted dignitaries, and produced fatal consequences to the
English domination in Ireland. It is necessary to keep these
inconsistencies of John's character in view, that the reader may
understand his conduct during the present evening.
In execution of the resolution which he had formed during his
cooler moments, Prince John received Cedric and Athelstane with
distinguished courtesy, and expressed his disappointment, without
resentment, when the indisposition of Rowena was alleged by the
former as a reason for her not attending upon his gracious
summons. Cedric and Athelstane were both dressed in the ancient
Saxon garb, which, although not unhandsome in itself, and in the
present instance composed of costly materials, was so remote in
shape and appearance from that of the other guests, that Prince
John took great credit to himself with Waldemar Fitzurse for
refraining from laughter at a sight which the fashion of the day
rendered ridiculous. Yet, in the eye of sober judgment, the
short close tunic and long mantle of the Saxons was a more
graceful, as well as a more convenient dress, than the garb of
the Normans, whose under garment was a long doublet, so loose as
to resemble a shirt or waggoner's frock, covered by a cloak of
scanty dimensions, neither fit to defend the wearer from cold or
from rain, and the only purpose of which appeared to be to
display as much fur, embroidery, and jewellery work, as the
ingenuity of the tailor could contrive to lay upon it. The
Emperor Charlemagne, in whose reign they were first introduced,
seems to have been very sensible of the inconveniences arising
from the fashion of this garment. "In Heaven's name," said he,
"to what purpose serve these abridged cloaks? If we are in bed
they are no cover, on horseback they are no protection from the
wind and rain, and when seated, they do not guard our legs from
the damp or the frost."
Nevertheless, spite of this imperial objurgation, the short
cloaks continued in fashion down to the time of which we treat,
and particularly among the princes of the House of Anjou. They
were therefore in universal use among Prince John's courtiers;
and the long mantle, which formed the upper garment of the
Saxons, was held in proportional derision.
The guests were seated at a table which groaned under the
quantity of good cheer. The numerous cooks who attended on the
Prince's progress, having exerted all their art in varying the
forms in which the ordinary provisions were served up, had
succeeded almost as well as the modern professors of the culinary
art in rendering them perfectly unlike their natural appearance.
Besides these dishes of domestic origin, there were various
delicacies brought from foreign parts, and a quantity of rich
pastry, as well as of the simnel-bread and wastle cakes, which
were only used at the tables of the highest nobility. The
banquet was crowned with the richest wines, both foreign and
But, though luxurious, the Norman nobles were not generally
speaking an intemperate race. While indulging themselves in the
pleasures of the table, they aimed at delicacy, but avoided
excess, and were apt to attribute gluttony and drunkenness to the
vanquished Saxons, as vices peculiar to their inferior station.
Prince John, indeed, and those who courted his pleasure by
imitating his foibles, were apt to indulge to excess in the
pleasures of the trencher and the goblet; and indeed it is well
known that his death was occasioned by a surfeit upon peaches and
new ale. His conduct, however, was an exception to the general
manners of his countrymen.
With sly gravity, interrupted only by private signs to each
other, the Norman knights and nobles beheld the ruder demeanour
of Athelstane and Cedric at a banquet, to the form and fashion of
which they were unaccustomed. And while their manners were thus
the subject of sarcastic observation, the untaught Saxons
unwittingly transgressed several of the arbitrary rules
established for the regulation of society. Now, it is well
known, that a man may with more impunity be guilty of an actual
breach either of real good breeding or of good morals, than
appear ignorant of the most minute point of fashionable
etiquette. Thus Cedric, who dried his hands with a towel,
instead of suffering the moisture to exhale by waving them
gracefully in the air, incurred more ridicule than his companion
Athelstane, when he swallowed to his own single share the whole
of a large pasty composed of the most exquisite foreign
delicacies, and termed at that time a "Karum-Pie". When,
however, it was discovered, by a serious cross-examination, that
the Thane of Coningsburgh (or Franklin, as the Normans termed
him) had no idea what he had been devouring, and that he had
taken the contents of the Karum-pie for larks and pigeons,
whereas they were in fact beccaficoes and nightingales, his
ignorance brought him in for an ample share of the ridicule which
would have been more justly bestowed on his gluttony.
The long feast had at length its end; and, while the goblet
circulated freely, men talked of the feats of the preceding
tournament,---of the unknown victor in the archery games, of the
Black Knight, whose self-denial had induced him to withdraw from
the honours he had won,---and of the gallant Ivanhoe, who had so
dearly bought the honours of the day. The topics were treated
with military frankness, and the jest and laugh went round the
hall. The brow of Prince John alone was overclouded during these
discussions; some overpowering care seemed agitating his mind,
and it was only when he received occasional hints from his
attendants, that he seemed to take interest in what was passing
around him. On such occasions he would start up, quaff a cup of
wine as if to raise his spirits, and then mingle in the
conversation by some observation made abruptly or at random.
"We drink this beaker," said he, "to the health of Wilfred of
Ivanhoe, champion of this Passage of Arms, and grieve that his
wound renders him absent from our board---Let all fill to the
pledge, and especially Cedric of Rotherwood, the worthy father of
a son so promising."
"No, my lord," replied Cedric, standing up, and placing on the
table his untasted cup, "I yield not the name of son to the
disobedient youth, who at once despises my commands, and
relinquishes the manners and customs of his fathers."
"'Tis impossible," cried Prince John, with well-feigned
astonishment, "that so gallant a knight should be an unworthy or
"Yet, my lord," answered Cedric, "so it is with this Wilfred.
He left my homely dwelling to mingle with the gay nobility of
your brother's court, where he learned to do those tricks of
horsemanship which you prize so highly. He left it contrary to
my wish and command; and in the days of Alfred that would have
been termed disobedience---ay, and a crime severely punishable."
"Alas!" replied Prince John, with a deep sigh of affected
sympathy, "since your son was a follower of my unhappy brother,
it need not be enquired where or from whom he learned the lesson
of filial disobedience."
Thus spake Prince John, wilfully forgetting, that of all the sons
of Henry the Second, though no one was free from the charge, he
himself had been most distinguished for rebellion and ingratitude
to his father.
"I think," said he, after a moment's pause, "that my brother
proposed to confer upon his favourite the rich manor of Ivanhoe."
"He did endow him with it," answered Cedric; "nor is it my least
quarrel with my son, that he stooped to hold, as a feudal vassal,
the very domains which his fathers possessed in free and
"We shall then have your willing sanction, good Cedric," said
Prince John, "to confer this fief upon a person whose dignity
will not be diminished by holding land of the British crown.
---Sir Reginald Front-de-Boeuf," he said, turning towards that
Baron, "I trust you will so keep the goodly Barony of Ivanhoe,
that Sir Wilfred shall not incur his father's farther displeasure
by again entering upon that fief."
"By St Anthony!" answered the black-brow'd giant, "I will consent
that your highness shall hold me a Saxon, if either Cedric or
Wilfred, or the best that ever bore English blood, shall wrench
from me the gift with which your highness has graced me."
"Whoever shall call thee Saxon, Sir Baron," replied Cedric,
offended at a mode of expression by which the Normans frequently
expressed their habitual contempt of the English, "will do thee
an honour as great as it is undeserved."
Front-de-Boeuf would have replied, but Prince John's petulance
and levity got the start.
"Assuredly," said be, "my lords, the noble Cedric speaks truth;
and his race may claim precedence over us as much in the length
of their pedigrees as in the longitude of their cloaks."
"They go before us indeed in the field---as deer before dogs,"
"And with good right may they go before us---forget not," said
the Prior Aymer, "the superior decency and decorum of their
"Their singular abstemiousness and temperance," said De Bracy,
forgetting the plan which promised him a Saxon bride.
"Together with the courage and conduct," said Brian de
Bois-Guilbert, "by which they distinguished themselves at
Hastings and elsewhere."
While, with smooth and smiling cheek, the courtiers, each in
turn, followed their Prince's example, and aimed a shaft of
ridicule at Cedric, the face of the Saxon became inflamed with
passion, and he glanced his eyes fiercely from one to another, as
if the quick succession of so many injuries had prevented his
replying to them in turn; or, like a baited bull, who, surrounded
by his tormentors, is at a loss to choose from among them the
immediate object of his revenge. At length he spoke, in a voice
half choked with passion; and, addressing himself to Prince John
as the head and front of the offence which he had received,
"Whatever," he said, "have been the follies and vices of our
race, a Saxon would have been held 'nidering'," *
* There was nothing accounted so ignominious among the
* Saxons as to merit this disgraceful epithet. Even William
* the Conqueror, hated as he was by them, continued to draw
* a considerable army of Anglo-Saxons to his standard, by
* threatening to stigmatize those who staid at home, as
* nidering. Bartholinus, I think, mentions a similar phrase
* which had like influence on the Danes. L. T.
(the most emphatic term for abject worthlessness,) "who should in
his own hall, and while his own wine-cup passed, have treated, or
suffered to be treated, an unoffending guest as your highness has
this day beheld me used; and whatever was the misfortune of our
fathers on the field of Hastings, those may at least be silent,"
here he looked at Front-de-Boeuf and the Templar, "who have
within these few hours once and again lost saddle and stirrup
before the lance of a Saxon."
"By my faith, a biting jest!" said Prince John. "How like you
it, sirs?---Our Saxon subjects rise in spirit and courage; become
shrewd in wit, and bold in bearing, in these unsettled times
---What say ye, my lords?---By this good light, I hold it best to
take our galleys, and return to Normandy in time."
"For fear of the Saxons?" said De Bracy, laughing; "we should
need no weapon but our hunting spears to bring these boars to
"A truce with your raillery, Sir Knights," said Fitzurse;---"and
it were well," he added, addressing the Prince, "that your
highness should assure the worthy Cedric there is no insult
intended him by jests, which must sound but harshly in the ear of
"Insult?" answered Prince John, resuming his courtesy of
demeanour; "I trust it will not be thought that I could mean, or
permit any, to be offered in my presence. Here! I fill my cup to
Cedric himself, since he refuses to pledge his son's health."
The cup went round amid the well-dissembled applause of the
courtiers, which, however, failed to make the impression on the
mind of the Saxon that had been designed. He was not naturally
acute of perception, but those too much undervalued his
understanding who deemed that this flattering compliment would
obliterate the sense of the prior insult. He was silent,
however, when the royal pledge again passed round, "To Sir
Athelstane of Coningsburgh."
The knight made his obeisance, and showed his sense of the honour
by draining a huge goblet in answer to it.
"And now, sirs," said Prince John, who began to be warmed with
the wine which he had drank, "having done justice to our Saxon
guests, we will pray of them some requital to our courtesy.
---Worthy Thane," he continued, addressing Cedric, "may we pray
you to name to us some Norman whose mention may least sully your
mouth, and to wash down with a goblet of wine all bitterness
which the sound may leave behind it?"
Fitzurse arose while Prince John spoke, and gliding behind the
seat of the Saxon, whispered to him not to omit the opportunity
of putting an end to unkindness betwixt the two races, by naming
Prince John. The Saxon replied not to this politic insinuation,
but, rising up, and filling his cup to the brim, be addressed
Prince John in these words: "Your highness has required that I
should name a Norman deserving to be remembered at our banquet.
This, perchance, is a hard task, since it calls on the slave to
sing the praises of the master---upon the vanquished, while
pressed by all the evils of conquest, to sing the praises of the
conqueror. Yet I will name a Norman---the first in arms and in
place---the best and the noblest of his race. And the lips that
shall refuse to pledge me to his well-earned fame, I term false
and dishonoured, and will so maintain them with my life.---I
quaff this goblet to the health of Richard the Lion-hearted!"
Prince John, who had expected that his own name would have closed
the Saxon's speech, started when that of his injured brother was
so unexpectedly introduced. He raised mechanically the wine-cup
to his lips, then instantly set it down, to view the demeanour of
the company at this unexpected proposal, which many of them felt
it as unsafe to oppose as to comply with. Some of them, ancient
and experienced courtiers, closely imitated the example of the
Prince himself, raising the goblet to their lips, and again
replacing it before them. There were many who, with a more
generous feeling, exclaimed, "Long live King Richard! and may he
be speedily restored to us!" And some few, among whom were
Front-de-Boeuf and the Templar, in sullen disdain suffered their
goblets to stand untasted before them. But no man ventured
directly to gainsay a pledge filled to the health of the
Having enjoyed his triumph for about a minute, Cedric said to his
companion, "Up, noble Athelstane! we have remained here long
enough, since we have requited the hospitable courtesy of Prince
John's banquet. Those who wish to know further of our rude Saxon
manners must henceforth seek us in the homes of our fathers,
since we have seen enough of royal banquets, and enough of Norman
So saying, he arose and left the banqueting room, followed by
Athelstane, and by several other guests, who, partaking of the
Saxon lineage, held themselves insulted by the sarcasms of Prince
John and his courtiers.
"By the bones of St Thomas," said Prince John, as they retreated,
"the Saxon churls have borne off the best of the day, and have
retreated with triumph!"
"'Conclamatum est, poculatum est'," said Prior Aymer; "we have
drunk and we have shouted,---it were time we left our wine
"The monk hath some fair penitent to shrive to-night, that he is
in such a hurry to depart," said De Bracy.
"Not so, Sir Knight," replied the Abbot; "but I must move several
miles forward this evening upon my homeward journey."
"They are breaking up," said the Prince in a whisper to Fitzurse;
"their fears anticipate the event, and this coward Prior is the
first to shrink from me."
"Fear not, my lord," said Waldemar; "I will show him such reasons
as shall induce him to join us when we hold our meeting at York.
---Sir Prior," he said, "I must speak with you in private, before
you mount your palfrey."
The other guests were now fast dispersing, with the exception of
those immediately attached to, Prince John's faction, and his
"This, then, is the result of your advice," said the Prince,
turning an angry countenance upon Fitzurse; "that I should be
bearded at my own board by a drunken Saxon churl, and that, on
the mere sound of my brother's name, men should fall off from me
as if I had the leprosy?"
"Have patience, sir," replied his counsellor; "I might retort
your accusation, and blame the inconsiderate levity which foiled
my design, and misled your own better judgment. But this is no
time for recrimination. De Bracy and I will instantly go among
these shuffling cowards, and convince them they have gone too far
"It will be in vain," said Prince John, pacing the apartment with
disordered steps, and expressing himself with an agitation to
which the wine he had drank partly contributed---"It will be in
vain--they have seen the handwriting on the wall---they have
marked the paw of the lion in the sand---they have heard his
approaching roar shake the wood---nothing will reanimate their
"Would to God," said Fitzurse to De Bracy, "that aught could
reanimate his own! His brother's very name is an ague to him.
Unhappy are the counsellors of a Prince, who wants fortitude and
perseverance alike in good and in evil!"
And yet he thinks,---ha, ha, ha, ha,---he thinks
I am the tool and servant of his will.
Well, let it be; through all the maze of trouble
His plots and base oppression must create,
I'll shape myself a way to higher things,
And who will say 'tis wrong?
Basil, a Tragedy
No spider ever took more pains to repair the shattered meshes of
his web, than did Waldemar Fitzurse to reunite and combine the
scattered members of Prince John's cabal. Few of these were
attached to him from inclination, and none from personal regard.
It was therefore necessary, that Fitzurse should open to them new
prospects of advantage, and remind them of those which they at
present enjoyed. To the young and wild nobles, he held out the
prospect of unpunished license and uncontrolled revelry; to the
ambitious, that of power, and to the covetous, that of increased
wealth and extended domains. The leaders of the mercenaries
received a donation in gold; an argument the most persuasive to
their minds, and without which all others would have proved in
vain. Promises were still more liberally distributed than money
by this active agent; and, in fine, nothing was left undone that
could determine the wavering, or animate the disheartened. The
return of King Richard he spoke of as an event altogether beyond
the reach of probability; yet, when he observed, from the
doubtful looks and uncertain answers which he received, that this
was the apprehension by which the minds of his accomplices were
most haunted, he boldly treated that event, should it really take
place, as one which ought not to alter their political
"If Richard returns," said Fitzurse, "he returns to enrich his
needy and impoverished crusaders at the expense of those who did
not follow him to the Holy Land. He returns to call to a fearful
reckoning, those who, during his absence, have done aught that
can be construed offence or encroachment upon either the laws of
the land or the privileges of the crown. He returns to avenge
upon the Orders of the Temple and the Hospital, the preference
which they showed to Philip of France during the wars in the Holy
Land. He returns, in fine, to punish as a rebel every adherent
of his brother Prince John. Are ye afraid of his power?"
continued the artful confident of that Prince, "we acknowledge
him a strong and valiant knight; but these are not the days of
King Arthur, when a champion could encounter an army. If Richard
indeed comes back, it must be alone,---unfollowed---unfriended.
The bones of his gallant army have whitened the sands of
Palestine. The few of his followers who have returned have
straggled hither like this Wilfred of Ivanhoe, beggared and
broken men.---And what talk ye of Richard's right of birth?" he
proceeded, in answer to those who objected scruples on that head.
"Is Richard's title of primogeniture more decidedly certain than
that of Duke Robert of Normandy, the Conqueror's eldest son? And
yet William the Red, and Henry, his second and third brothers,
were successively preferred to him by the voice of the nation,
Robert had every merit which can be pleaded for Richard; he was a
bold knight, a good leader, generous to his friends and to the
church, and, to crown the whole, a crusader and a conqueror of
the Holy Sepulchre; and yet he died a blind and miserable
prisoner in the Castle of Cardiff, because he opposed himself to
the will of the people, who chose that he should not rule over
them. It is our right," he said, "to choose from the blood royal
the prince who is best qualified to hold the supreme power
---that is," said he, correcting himself, "him whose election
will best promote the interests of the nobility. In personal
qualifications," he added, "it was possible that Prince John
might be inferior to his brother Richard; but when it was
considered that the latter returned with the sword of vengeance
in his hand, while the former held out rewards, immunities,
privileges, wealth, and honours, it could not be doubted which
was the king whom in wisdom the nobility were called on to
These, and many more arguments, some adapted to the peculiar
circumstances of those whom he addressed, had the expected weight
with the nobles of Prince John's faction. Most of them consented
to attend the proposed meeting at York, for the purpose of making
general arrangements for placing the crown upon the head of
It was late at night, when, worn out and exhausted with his
various exertions, however gratified with the result, Fitzurse,
returning to the Castle of Ashby, met with De Bracy, who had
exchanged his banqueting garments for a short green kittle, with
hose of the same cloth and colour, a leathern cap or head-piece,
a short sword, a horn slung over his shoulder, a long bow in his
hand, and a bundle of arrows stuck in his belt. Had Fitzurse met
this figure in an outer apartment, he would have passed him
without notice, as one of the yeomen of the guard; but finding
him in the inner hall, he looked at him with more attention, and
recognised the Norman knight in the dress of an English yeoman.
"What mummery is this, De Bracy?" said Fitzurse, somewhat
angrily; "is this a time for Christmas gambols and quaint
maskings, when the fate of our master, Prince John, is on the
very verge of decision? Why hast thou not been, like me, among
these heartless cravens, whom the very name of King Richard
terrifies, as it is said to do the children of the Saracens?"
"I have been attending to mine own business," answered De Bracy
calmly, "as you, Fitzurse, have been minding yours."
"I minding mine own business!" echoed Waldemar; "I have been
engaged in that of Prince John, our joint patron."
"As if thou hadst any other reason for that, Waldemar," said De
Bracy, "than the promotion of thine own individual interest?
Come, Fitzurse, we know each other---ambition is thy pursuit,
pleasure is mine, and they become our different ages. Of Prince
John thou thinkest as I do; that he is too weak to be a
determined monarch, too tyrannical to be an easy monarch, too
insolent and presumptuous to be a popular monarch, and too fickle
and timid to be long a monarch of any kind. But he is a monarch
by whom Fitzurse and De Bracy hope to rise and thrive; and
therefore you aid him with your policy, and I with the lances of
my Free Companions."
"A hopeful auxiliary," said Fitzurse impatiently; "playing the
fool in the very moment of utter necessity.---What on earth dost
thou purpose by this absurd disguise at a moment so urgent?"
"To get me a wife," answered De Bracy coolly, "after the manner
of the tribe of Benjamin."
"The tribe of Benjamin?" said Fitzurse; "I comprehend thee not."
"Wert thou not in presence yester-even," said De Bracy, "when we
heard the Prior Aymer tell us a tale in reply to the romance
which was sung by the Minstrel?---He told how, long since in
Palestine, a deadly feud arose between the tribe of Benjamin and
the rest of the Israelitish nation; and how they cut to pieces
well-nigh all the chivalry of that tribe; and how they swore by
our blessed Lady, that they would not permit those who remained
to marry in their lineage; and how they became grieved for their
vow, and sent to consult his holiness the Pope how they might be
absolved from it; and how, by the advice of the Holy Father, the
youth of the tribe of Benjamin carried off from a superb
tournament all the ladies who were there present, and thus won
them wives without the consent either of their brides or their
"I have heard the story," said Fitzurse, "though either the Prior
or thou has made some singular alterations in date and
"I tell thee," said De Bracy, "that I mean to purvey me a wife
after the fashion of the tribe of Benjamin; which is as much as
to say, that in this same equipment I will fall upon that herd of
Saxon bullocks, who have this night left the castle, and carry
off from them the lovely Rowena."
"Art thou mad, De Bracy?" said Fitzurse. "Bethink thee that,
though the men be Saxons, they are rich and powerful, and
regarded with the more respect by their countrymen, that wealth
and honour are but the lot of few of Saxon descent."
"And should belong to none," said De Bracy; "the work of the
Conquest should be completed."
"This is no time for it at least," said Fitzurse "the approaching
crisis renders the favour of the multitude indispensable, and
Prince John cannot refuse justice to any one who injures their
"Let him grant it, if he dare," said De Bracy; "he will soon see
the difference betwixt the support of such a lusty lot of spears
as mine, and that of a heartless mob of Saxon churls. Yet I mean
no immediate discovery of myself. Seem I not in this garb as
bold a forester as ever blew horn? The blame of the violence
shall rest with the outlaws of the Yorkshire forests. I have
sure spies on the Saxon's motions---To-night they sleep in the
convent of Saint Wittol, or Withold, or whatever they call that
churl of a Saxon Saint at Burton-on-Trent. Next day's march
brings them within our reach, and, falcon-ways, we swoop on them
at once. Presently after I will appear in mine own shape, play
the courteous knight, rescue the unfortunate and afflicted fair
one from the hands of the rude ravishers, conduct her to
Front-de-Boeuf's Castle, or to Normandy, if it should be
necessary, and produce her not again to her kindred until she be
the bride and dame of Maurice de Bracy."
"A marvellously sage plan," said Fitzurse, "and, as I think, not
entirely of thine own device.---Come, be frank, De Bracy, who
aided thee in the invention? and who is to assist in the
execution? for, as I think, thine own band lies as far of as
"Marry, if thou must needs know," said De Bracy, "it was the
Templar Brian de Bois-Guilbert that shaped out the enterprise,
which the adventure of the men of Benjamin suggested to me. He
is to aid me in the onslaught, and he and his followers will
personate the outlaws, from whom my valorous arm is, after
changing my garb, to rescue the lady."
"By my halidome," said Fitzurse, "the plan was worthy of your
united wisdom! and thy prudence, De Bracy, is most especially
manifested in the project of leaving the lady in the hands of thy
worthy confederate. Thou mayst, I think, succeed in taking her
from her Saxon friends, but how thou wilt rescue her afterwards
from the clutches of Bois-Guilbert seems considerably more
doubtful---He is a falcon well accustomed to pounce on a
partridge, and to hold his prey fast."
"He is a Templar," said De Bracy, "and cannot therefore rival me
in my plan of wedding this heiress;---and to attempt aught
dishonourable against the intended bride of De Bracy---By Heaven!
were he a whole Chapter of his Order in his single person, he
dared not do me such an injury!"
"Then since nought that I can say," said Fitzurse, "will put this
folly from thy imagination, (for well I know the obstinacy of thy
disposition,) at least waste as little time as possible---let not
thy folly be lasting as well as untimely."
"I tell thee," answered De Bracy, "that it will be the work of a
few hours, and I shall be at York---at the head of my daring and
valorous fellows, as ready to support any bold design as thy
policy can be to form one.---But I hear my comrades assembling,
and the steeds stamping and neighing in the outer court.
---Farewell.---I go, like a true knight, to win the smiles of
"Like a true knight?" repeated Fitzurse, looking after him; "like
a fool, I should say, or like a child, who will leave the most
serious and needful occupation, to chase the down of the thistle
that drives past him.---But it is with such tools that I must
work;---and for whose advantage?---For that of a Prince as unwise
as he is profligate, and as likely to be an ungrateful master as
he has already proved a rebellious son and an unnatural brother.
---But he---he, too, is but one of the tools with which I labour;
and, proud as he is, should he presume to separate his interest
from mine, this is a secret which he shall soon learn."
The meditations of the statesman were here interrupted by the
voice of the Prince from an interior apartment, calling out,
"Noble Waldemar Fitzurse!" and, with bonnet doffed, the future
Chancellor (for to such high preferment did the wily Norman
aspire) hastened to receive the orders of the future sovereign.
Far in a wild, unknown to public view,
>From youth to age a reverend hermit grew;
The moss his bed, the cave his humble cell,
His food the fruits, his drink the crystal well
Remote from man, with God he pass'd his days,
Prayer all his business---all his pleasure praise.
The reader cannot have forgotten that the event of the tournament
was decided by the exertions of an unknown knight, whom, on
account of the passive and indifferent conduct which he had
manifested on the former part of the day, the spectators had
entitled, "Le Noir Faineant". This knight had left the field
abruptly when the victory was achieved; and when he was called
upon to receive the reward of his valour, he was nowhere to be
found. In the meantime, while summoned by heralds and by
trumpets, the knight was holding his course northward, avoiding
all frequented paths, and taking the shortest road through the
woodlands. He paused for the night at a small hostelry lying out
of the ordinary route, where, however, he obtained from a
wandering minstrel news of the event of the tourney.
On the next morning the knight departed early, with the intention
of making a long journey; the condition of his horse, which he
had carefully spared during the preceding morning, being such as
enabled him to travel far without the necessity of much repose.
Yet his purpose was baffled by the devious paths through which he
rode, so that when evening closed upon him, he only found himself
on the frontiers of the West Riding of Yorkshire. By this time
both horse and man required refreshment, and it became necessary,
moreover, to look out for some place in which they might spend
the night, which was now fast approaching.
The place where the traveller found himself seemed unpropitious
for obtaining either shelter or refreshment, and he was likely to
be reduced to the usual expedient of knights-errant, who, on such
occasions, turned their horses to graze, and laid themselves down
to meditate on their lady-mistress, with an oak-tree for a
canopy. But the Black Knight either had no mistress to meditate
upon, or, being as indifferent in love as he seemed to be in war,
was not sufficiently occupied by passionate reflections upon her
beauty and cruelty, to be able to parry the effects of fatigue
and hunger, and suffer love to act as a substitute for the solid
comforts of a bed and supper. He felt dissatisfied, therefore,
when, looking around, he found himself deeply involved in woods,
through which indeed there were many open glades, and some paths,
but such as seemed only formed by the numerous herds of cattle
which grazed in the forest, or by the animals of chase, and the
hunters who made prey of them.
The sun, by which the knight had chiefly directed his course, had
now sunk behind the Derbyshire hills on his left, and every
effort which he might make to pursue his journey was as likely to
lead him out of his road as to advance him on his route. After
having in vain endeavoured to select the most beaten path, in
hopes it might lead to the cottage of some herdsman, or the
silvan lodge of a forester, and having repeatedly found himself
totally unable to determine on a choice, the knight resolved to
trust to the sagacity of his horse; experience having, on former
occasions, made him acquainted with the wonderful talent
possessed by these animals for extricating themselves and their
riders on such emergencies.
The good steed, grievously fatigued with so long a day's journey
under a rider cased in mail, had no sooner found, by the
slackened reins, that he was abandoned to his own guidance, than
he seemed to assume new strength and spirit; and whereas,
formerly he had scarce replied to the spur, otherwise than by a
groan, he now, as if proud of the confidence reposed in him,
pricked up his ears, and assumed, of his own accord, a more
lively motion. The path which the animal adopted rather turned
off from the course pursued by the knight during the day; but as
the horse seemed confident in his choice, the rider abandoned
himself to his discretion.
He was justified by the event; for the footpath soon after
appeared a little wider and more worn, and the tinkle of a small
bell gave the knight to understand that he was in the vicinity
of some chapel or hermitage.
Accordingly, he soon reached an open plat of turf, on the
opposite side of which, a rock, rising abruptly from a gently
sloping plain, offered its grey and weatherbeaten front to the
traveller. Ivy mantled its sides in some places, and in others
oaks and holly bushes, whose roots found nourishment in the
cliffs of the crag, waved over the precipices below, like the
plumage of the warrior over his steel helmet, giving grace to
that whose chief expression was terror. At the bottom of the
rock, and leaning, as it were, against it, was constructed a rude
hut, built chiefly of the trunks of trees felled in the
neighbouring forest, and secured against the weather by having
its crevices stuffed with moss mingled with clay. The stem of a
young fir-tree lopped of its branches, with a piece of wood tied
across near the top, was planted upright by the door, as a rude
emblem of the holy cross. At a little distance on the right
hand, a fountain of the purest water trickled out of the rock,
and was received in a hollow stone, which labour had formed into
a rustic basin. Escaping from thence, the stream murmured down
the descent by a channel which its course had long worn, and so
wandered through the little plain to lose itself in the
Beside this fountain were the ruins of a very small chapel, of
which the roof had partly fallen in. The building, when entire,
had never been above sixteen feet long by twelve feet in breadth,
and the roof, low in proportion, rested upon four concentric
arches which sprung from the four corners of the building, each
supported upon a short and heavy pillar. The ribs of two of
these arches remained, though the roof had fallen down betwixt
them; over the others it remained entire. The entrance to this
ancient place of devotion was under a very low round arch,
ornamented by several courses of that zig-zag moulding,
resembling shark's teeth, which appears so often in the more
ancient Saxon architecture. A belfry rose above the porch on
four small pillars, within which hung the green and weatherbeaten
bell, the feeble sounds of which had been some time before heard
by the Black Knight.
The whole peaceful and quiet scene lay glimmering in twilight
before the eyes of the traveller, giving him good assurance of
lodging for the night; since it was a special duty of those
hermits who dwelt in the woods, to exercise hospitality towards
benighted or bewildered passengers.
Accordingly, the knight took no time to consider minutely the
particulars which we have detailed, but thanking Saint Julian
(the patron of travellers) who had sent him good harbourage, he
leaped from his horse and assailed the door of the hermitage
with the butt of his lance, in order to arouse attention and
It was some time before he obtained any answer,
and the reply, when made, was unpropitious.
"Pass on, whosoever thou art," was the answer given by a deep
hoarse voice from within the hut, "and disturb not the servant of
God and St Dunstan in his evening devotions."
"Worthy father," answered the knight, "here is a poor wanderer
bewildered in these woods, who gives thee the opportunity of
exercising thy charity and hospitality."
"Good brother," replied the inhabitant of the hermitage, "it has
pleased Our Lady and St Dunstan to destine me for the object of
those virtues, instead of the exercise thereof. I have no
provisions here which even a dog would share with me, and a horse
of any tenderness of nurture would despise my couch---pass
therefore on thy way, and God speed thee."
"But how," replied the knight, "is it possible for me to find my
way through such a wood as this, when darkness is coming on? I
pray you, reverend father as you are a Christian, to undo your
door, and at least point out to me my road."
"And I pray you, good Christian brother," replied the anchorite,
"to disturb me no more. You have already interrupted one
'pater', two 'aves', and a 'credo', which I, miserable sinner
that I am, should, according to my vow, have said before
"The road---the road!" vociferated the knight, "give me
directions for the road, if I am to expect no more from thee."
"The road," replied the hermit, "is easy to hit. The path from
the wood leads to a morass, and from thence to a ford, which, as
the rains have abated, may now be passable. When thou hast
crossed the ford, thou wilt take care of thy footing up the left
bank, as it is somewhat precipitous; and the path, which hangs
over the river, has lately, as I learn, (for I seldom leave the
duties of my chapel,) given way in sundry places. Thou wilt then
keep straight forward-----"
"A broken path---a precipice---a ford, and a morass!" said the
knight interrupting him,---"Sir Hermit, if you were the holiest
that ever wore beard or told bead, you shall scarce prevail on me
to hold this road to-night. I tell thee, that thou, who livest
by the charity of the country---ill deserved, as I doubt it is
---hast no right to refuse shelter to the wayfarer when in
distress. Either open the door quickly, or, by the rood, I will
beat it down and make entry for myself."
"Friend wayfarer," replied the hermit, "be not importunate; if
thou puttest me to use the carnal weapon in mine own defence, it
will be e'en the worse for you."
At this moment a distant noise of barking and growling, which the
traveller had for some time heard, became extremely loud and
furious, and made the knight suppose that the hermit, alarmed
by his threat of making forcible entry, had called the dogs who
made this clamour to aid him in his defence, out of some inner
recess in which they had been kennelled. Incensed at this
preparation on the hermit's part for making good his inhospitable
purpose, the knight struck the door so furiously with his foot,
that posts as well as staples shook with violence.
The anchorite, not caring again to expose his door to a similar
shock, now called out aloud, "Patience, patience---spare thy
strength, good traveller, and I will presently undo the door,
though, it may be, my doing so will be little to thy pleasure."
The door accordingly was opened; and the hermit, a large,
strong-built man, in his sackcloth gown and hood, girt with a
rope of rushes, stood before the knight. He had in one hand a
lighted torch, or link, and in the other a baton of crab-tree,
so thick and heavy, that it might well be termed a club. Two
large shaggy dogs, half greyhound half mastiff, stood ready to
rush upon the traveller as soon as the door should be opened.
But when the torch glanced upon the lofty crest and golden spurs
of the knight, who stood without, the hermit, altering probably
his original intentions, repressed the rage of his auxiliaries,
and, changing his tone to a sort of churlish courtesy, invited
the knight to enter his hut, making excuse for his unwillingness
to open his lodge after sunset, by alleging the multitude of
robbers and outlaws who were abroad, and who gave no honour to
Our Lady or St Dunstan, nor to those holy men who spent life in
"The poverty of your cell, good father," said the knight, looking
around him, and seeing nothing but a bed of leaves, a crucifix
rudely carved in oak, a missal, with a rough-hewn table and two
stools, and one or two clumsy articles of furniture---"the
poverty of your cell should seem a sufficient defence against any
risk of thieves, not to mention the aid of two trusty dogs, large
and strong enough, I think, to pull down a stag, and of course,
to match with most men."
"The good keeper of the forest," said the hermit, "hath allowed
me the use of these animals, to protect my solitude until the
times shall mend."
Having said this, he fixed his torch in a twisted branch of iron
which served for a candlestick; and, placing the oaken trivet
before the embers of the fire, which he refreshed with some dry
wood, he placed a stool upon one side of the table, and beckoned
to the knight to do the same upon the other.
They sat down, and gazed with great gravity at each other, each
thinking in his heart that he had seldom seen a stronger or more
athletic figure than was placed opposite to him.
"Reverend hermit," said the knight, after looking long and
fixedly at his host, "were it not to interrupt your devout
meditations, I would pray to know three things of your holiness;
first, where I am to put my horse?---secondly, what I can have
for supper?---thirdly, where I am to take up my couch for the
"I will reply to you," said the hermit, "with my finger, it being
against my rule to speak by words where signs can answer the
purpose." So saying, he pointed successively to two corners of
the hut. "Your stable," said he, "is there---your bed there;
and," reaching down a platter with two handfuls of parched pease
upon it from the neighbouring shelf, and placing it upon the
table, he added, "your supper is here."
The knight shrugged his shoulders, and leaving the hut, brought
in his horse, (which in the interim he had fastened to a tree,)
unsaddled him with much attention, and spread upon the steed's
weary back his own mantle.
The hermit was apparently somewhat moved to compassion by the
anxiety as well as address which the stranger displayed in
tending his horse; for, muttering something about provender left
for the keeper's palfrey, he dragged out of a recess a bundle of
forage, which he spread before the knight's charger, and
immediately afterwards shook down a quantity of dried fern in the
corner which he had assigned for the rider's couch. The knight
returned him thanks for his courtesy; and, this duty done, both
resumed their seats by the table, whereon stood the trencher of
pease placed between them. The hermit, after a long grace, which
had once been Latin, but of which original language few traces
remained, excepting here and there the long rolling termination
of some word or phrase, set example to his guest, by modestly
putting into a very large mouth, furnished with teeth which might
have ranked with those of a boar both in sharpness and whiteness,
some three or four dried pease, a miserable grist as it seemed
for so large and able a mill.
The knight, in order to follow so laudable an example, laid aside
his helmet, his corslet, and the greater part of his armour, and
showed to the hermit a head thick-curled with yellow hair, high
features, blue eyes, remarkably bright and sparkling, a mouth
well formed, having an upper lip clothed with mustachoes darker
than his hair, and bearing altogether the look of a bold, daring,
and enterprising man, with which his strong form well
The hermit, as if wishing to answer to the confidence of his
guest, threw back his cowl, and showed a round bullet head
belonging to a man in the prime of life. His close-shaven crown,
surrounded by a circle of stiff curled black hair, had something
the appearance of a parish pinfold begirt by its high hedge. The
features expressed nothing of monastic austerity, or of ascetic
privations; on the contrary, it was a bold bluff countenance,
with broad black eyebrows, a well-turned forehead, and cheeks as
round and vermilion as those of a trumpeter, from which descended
a long and curly black beard. Such a visage, joined to the
brawny form of the holy man, spoke rather of sirloins and
haunches, than of pease and pulse. This incongruity did not
escape the guest. After he had with great difficulty
accomplished the mastication of a mouthful of the dried pease, he
found it absolutely necessary to request his pious entertainer to
furnish him with some liquor; who replied to his request by
placing before him a large can of the purest water from the
"It is from the well of St Dunstan," said he, "in which, betwixt
sun and sun, he baptized five hundred heathen Danes and Britons
---blessed be his name!" And applying his black beard to the
pitcher, he took a draught much more moderate in quantity than
his encomium seemed to warrant.
"It seems to me, reverend father," said the knight, "that the
small morsels which you eat, together with this holy, but
somewhat thin beverage, have thriven with you marvellously. You
appear a man more fit to win the ram at a wrestling match, or the
ring at a bout at quarter-staff, or the bucklers at a sword-play,
than to linger out your time in this desolate wilderness, saying
masses, and living upon parched pease and cold water."
"Sir Knight," answered the hermit, "your thoughts, like those of
the ignorant laity, are according to the flesh. It has pleased
Our Lady and my patron saint to bless the pittance to which I
restrain myself, even as the pulse and water was blessed to the
children Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego, who drank the same
rather than defile themselves with the wine and meats which were
appointed them by the King of the Saracens."
"Holy father," said the knight, "upon whose countenance it hath
pleased Heaven to work such a miracle, permit a sinful layman to
crave thy name?"
"Thou mayst call me," answered the hermit, "the Clerk of
Copmanhurst, for so I am termed in these parts---They add, it is
true, the epithet holy, but I stand not upon that, as being
unworthy of such addition.---And now, valiant knight, may I pray
ye for the name of my honourable guest?"
"Truly," said the knight, "Holy Clerk of Copmanhurst, men call me
in these parts the Black Knight,---many, sir, add to it the
epithet of Sluggard, whereby I am no way ambitious to be
The hermit could scarcely forbear from smiling at his guest's
"I see," said he, "Sir Sluggish Knight, that thou art a man of
prudence and of counsel; and moreover, I see that my poor
monastic fare likes thee not, accustomed, perhaps, as thou hast
been, to the license of courts and of camps, and the luxuries of
cities; and now I bethink me, Sir Sluggard, that when the
charitable keeper of this forest-walk left those dogs for my
protection, and also those bundles of forage, he left me also
some food, which, being unfit for my use, the very recollection
of it had escaped me amid my more weighty meditations."
"I dare be sworn he did so," said the knight; "I was convinced
that there was better food in the cell, Holy Clerk, since you
first doffed your cowl.---Your keeper is ever a jovial fellow;
and none who beheld thy grinders contending with these pease, and
thy throat flooded with this ungenial element, could see thee
doomed to such horse-provender and horse-beverage," (pointing to
the provisions upon the table,) "and refrain from mending thy
cheer. Let us see the keeper's bounty, therefore, without
The hermit cast a wistful look upon the knight, in which there
was a sort of comic expression of hesitation, as if uncertain how
far be should act prudently in trusting his guest. There was,
however, as much of bold frankness in the knight's countenance
as was possible to be expressed by features. His smile, too, had
something in it irresistibly comic, and gave an assurance of
faith and loyalty, with which his host could not refrain from
After exchanging a mute glance or two, the hermit went to the
further side of the hut, and opened a hutch, which was concealed
with great care and some ingenuity. Out of the recesses of a
dark closet, into which this aperture gave admittance, he brought
a large pasty, baked in a pewter platter of unusual dimensions.
This mighty dish he placed before his guest, who, using his
poniard to cut it open, lost no time in making himself acquainted
with its contents.
"How long is it since the good keeper has been here?" said the
knight to his host, after having swallowed several hasty morsels
of this reinforcement to the hermit's good cheer.
"About two months," answered the father hastily.
"By the true Lord," answered the knight, "every thing in your
hermitage is miraculous, Holy Clerk! for I would have been sworn
that the fat buck which furnished this venison had been running
on foot within the week."
The hermit was somewhat discountenanced by this observation; and,
moreover, he made but a poor figure while gazing on the
diminution of the pasty, on which his guest was making desperate
inroads; a warfare in which his previous profession of abstinence
left him no pretext for joining.
"I have been in Palestine, Sir Clerk," said the knight, stopping
short of a sudden, "and I bethink me it is a custom there that
every host who entertains a guest shall assure him of the
wholesomeness of his food, by partaking of it along with him.
Far be it from me to suspect so holy a man of aught inhospitable;
nevertheless I will be highly bound to you would you comply with
this Eastern custom."
"To ease your unnecessary scruples, Sir Knight, I will for once
depart from my rule," replied the hermit. And as there were no
forks in those days, his clutches were instantly in the bowels
of the pasty.
The ice of ceremony being once broken, it seemed matter of
rivalry between the guest and the entertainer which should
display the best appetite; and although the former had probably
fasted longest, yet the hermit fairly surpassed him.
"Holy Clerk," said the knight, when his hunger was appeased, "I
would gage my good horse yonder against a zecchin, that that same
honest keeper to whom we are obliged for the venison has left
thee a stoup of wine, or a runlet of canary, or some such trifle,
by way of ally to this noble pasty. This would be a
circumstance, doubtless, totally unworthy to dwell in the memory
of so rigid an anchorite; yet, I think, were you to search yonder
crypt once more, you would find that I am right in my
The hermit only replied by a grin; and returning to the hutch, he
produced a leathern bottle, which might contain about four
quarts. He also brought forth two large drinking cups, made out
of the horn of the urus, and hooped with silver. Having made
this goodly provision for washing down the supper, he seemed to
think no farther ceremonious scruple necessary on his part; but
filling both cups, and saying, in the Saxon fashion, "'Waes
hael', Sir Sluggish Knight!" he emptied his own at a draught.
"'Drink hael', Holy Clerk of Copmanhurst!" answered the warrior,
and did his host reason in a similar brimmer.
"Holy Clerk," said the stranger, after the first cup was thus
swallowed, "I cannot but marvel that a man possessed of such
thews and sinews as thine, and who therewithal shows the talent
of so goodly a trencher-man, should think of abiding by himself
in this wilderness. In my judgment, you are fitter to keep a
castle or a fort, eating of the fat and drinking of the strong,
than to live here upon pulse and water, or even upon the charity
of the keeper. At least, were I as thou, I should find myself
both disport and plenty out of the king's deer. There is many a
goodly herd in these forests, and a buck will never be missed
that goes to the use of Saint Dunstan's chaplain."
"Sir Sluggish Knight," replied the Clerk, "these are dangerous
words, and I pray you to forbear them. I am true hermit to the
king and law, and were I to spoil my liege's game, I should be
sure of the prison, and, an my gown saved me not, were in some
peril of hanging."
"Nevertheless, were I as thou," said the knight, "I would take my
walk by moonlight, when foresters and keepers were warm in bed,
and ever and anon,---as I pattered my prayers,---I would let fly
a shaft among the herds of dun deer that feed in the glades
--Resolve me, Holy Clerk, hast thou never practised such a
"Friend Sluggard," answered the hermit, "thou hast seen all that
can concern thee of my housekeeping, and something more than he
deserves who takes up his quarters by violence. Credit me, it is
better to enjoy the good which God sends thee, than to be
impertinently curious how it comes. Fill thy cup, and welcome;
and do not, I pray thee, by further impertinent enquiries, put me
to show that thou couldst hardly have made good thy lodging had I
been earnest to oppose thee."
"By my faith," said the knight, "thou makest me more curious than
ever! Thou art the most mysterious hermit I ever met; and I will
know more of thee ere we part. As for thy threats, know, holy
man, thou speakest to one whose trade it is to find out danger
wherever it is to be met with."
"Sir Sluggish Knight, I drink to thee," said the hermit;
"respecting thy valour much, but deeming wondrous slightly of thy
discretion. If thou wilt take equal arms with me, I will give
thee, in all friendship and brotherly love, such sufficing
penance and complete absolution, that thou shalt not for the next
twelve months sin the sin of excess of curiosity."
The knight pledged him, and desired him to name his weapons.
"There is none," replied the hermit, "from the scissors of
Delilah, and the tenpenny nail of Jael, to the scimitar of
Goliath, at which I am not a match for thee---But, if I am to
make the election, what sayst thou, good friend, to these
Thus speaking, he opened another hutch, and took out from it a
couple of broadswords and bucklers, such as were used by the