Percy's Reliques - King Estmere.

King Estmere.

            This old romantic legend (which is given from two copies, one of them in the Editor's folio manuscript but which contained very great variations,) bears marks of considerable antiquity, and perhaps ought to have taken place of any in this volume. It should seem to have been written while part of Spain was in the hands of the Saracens or Moors; whose empire there was not fully extinguished before the year 1491. The Mahometans are spoken of in ver. 49, &c. just in the same terms as in all other old romances. The author of the ancient legend of "Sir Bevis" represents his hero, upon all occasions, breaching out defiance against

"Mahound and Termagaunte;"[ 1]

and so full of zeal for his religion, as to return the following polite message to a Paynim king's fair daughter, who had fallen in love with him, and sent two Saracen knights to invite him to her bower:

"I wyll not ones stirre off this grounde,
To speake with an heathen hounde.
Unchristen houndes, I rede you fle,
Or I your harte blond shall se."[ 2]

Indeed they return the compliment by calling him elsewhere "A christen hounde."[ 3]

            This was conformable to the real manners of the barbarous ages: perhaps the same excuse will hardly serve our bard. For the situation in which he has placed some of his royal personages, that a youthful monarch should take a journey into another kingdom incog. was a piece of gallantry parallel in our own Charles I; but that King Adland should be found lolling or leaning at his gate (v. 35.) may be thought perchance a little out of character. And yet the great painter of manners, Homer, did not think it inconsistent with decorum to represent a King of the Taphians leaning at the gate of Ulysses to inquire for that monarch, when he touched at Ithaca as he was taking a voyage with a ship's cargo of iron to dispose in traffic.[ 4] So little ought we to judge of ancient manners by our own.

            Before I conclude this article, I cannot help observing that the reader will see, in this ballad, the character of the old minstrels (those successors of the bards) placed in a very respectable light:[ 5] here he will see one of them represented mounted on a fine horse, accompanied with an attendant to bear his harp after him, and to sing the poems of his composing. Here he will see him mixing in the company of kings without ceremony: no mean proof of the great antiquity of this poem. The further we carry our inquiries back, the greater respect we find paid to the professors of poetry and music among all the Celtic and Gothic nations. Their character was deemed so sacred, that under its sanction our famous King Alfred (as we have already seen [ 6]) made no scruple to enter the Danish camp, and was at once admitted to the king's head-quarters.[ 7] Our poet has suggested the same expedient to the heroes of this ballad. All the histories of the North are full of the great reverence paid to this order of men. Harold Harfagre, a celebrated King of Norway, was wont to seat them at his table above all the officers of his court: and we find another Norwegian King placing five of them by his side in a day of battle, that they might be eyewitnesses of the great exploits they were to celebrate.[ 8] As to Estmere's riding into the hall while the kings were at table, this was usual in the ages of chivalry; and even to this day we see a relic of this ancient custom still kept up, in the champion's riding into Westminster-hall during the coronation dinner.[ 9]

HEARKEN to me, gentlemem,
Come and you shall heare;
Ile tell you of two of the boldest brethren
That ever borne y-were.

The tone of them was Adler younge,
The tother was kyng Estmere;
The were as bolde men in their deeds,
As any were farr and neare.

As they were drinking ale and wine
Within kyng Estmeres halle:
"When will ye marry a wyfe, brother,
A wyfe to glad us all?"

Then bespake him kyng Estmere,
And answered him hastilee:
"I know not that ladye in any land
That's able[ 10] to marrye with mee."

"Kyng Adland hath a daughter, brother,
Men call her bright and sheene;
If I were kyng here in your stead,
That ladye shold be my queene."

Sayes, "Reade me, reade me, deare brother,
Throughout merry England,
Where we might find a messenger
Betwixt us towe to sende."

Saies, "You shal ryde yourselfe, brothèr,
Ile beare you companèe;
Many throughe fals messengers are deceived,
And I feare lest soe shold wee."

Thus the renisht them to ryde
Of twoe good renisht steeds,
And when the came to kyng Adlands halle,
Of redd gold shone their weeds.

And when the came to kyng Adlands hall
Before the goodlye gate,
There they found good kyng Adland
Rearing himselfe theratt.

"Now Christ thee save, good kyng Adland;
Now Christ you save and see."
Sayd, "You be welcome, kyng Estmere,
Right hartilye to mee."

"You have a daughter, said Adler younge,
Men call her bright and sheene,
My brother wold marrye her to his wiffe,
Of Englande to be queene."

"Yesterday was att my deere daughtèr
Syr Bremor the kyng of Spayne;
And then she nicked him of naye,
I feere sheele do you the same."

"The kyng of Spayne is a foule paynìm,
And 'leeveth on Mahound;
And pitye it were that fayre ladye
Shold marrye a heathen hound."

"But grant to me," sayes kyng Estmere,
For my love I you praye;
That I may see your daughter deere
Before I goe hence awaye."

"Although itt is seven yeers and more
Since my daughter was in halle,
She shall come once downe for your sake
To glad my guestès alle.

Downe then came that mayden fayre,
With ladyes laced in pall,
And halfe a hundred of bold knightes,
To bring her from bowre to hall;
And as many gentle squiers,
To tend upon them all.

The talents of golde were on her head sette,
Hanged low downe to her knee;
And everye ring on her small fingèr
Shone of the chrystall free.

Sayes, "God you save, my deere madàm;"
Sayes, "God you save and see."
Sayes, "You be welcome, kyng Estmere,
Right welcome unto mee.

"And iff you love me, as you saye,
Soe well and hartilèe,
All that ever you are comen about
Soone sped now itt shal bee."

Then bespake her father deare:
"My daughter, I saye naye;
Remember well the kyng of Spayne,
What he sayd yesterdaye.

"He wold pull downe my halles and castles,
And reave me of my life.
I cannot blame him if he doe,
If I reave him of his wyfe."

"Your castles and your towres, father,
Are stronglye built aboute;
And therefore of that foule paynìm
Wee neede not stande in doubt.

Plight me your troth nowe, kyng Estmère,
By heaven and your righte hand,
That you will marrye me to your wyfe,
And make me queene of your land."

Then kyng Estmere he plight his troth
By heaven and his righte hand,
That he wolde marrye her to his wyfe,
And make her queene of his land.

And he tooke leave of that ladye fayre,
To goe to his owne countree,
To fetche him dukes and lordes and knightes,
That marryed the might bee.

They had not ridden scant a myle,
A myle forthe of the towne,
But in did come the kyng of Spayne,
With kempès many one.

But in did come the kyng of Spayne,
With manye a grimme baròne,
Tone day to marrye kyng Adlands daughter,
Tother daye to carrye her home.

Shee sent one after kyng Estmere
In all the spede might bee,
That he must either turne againe and fighte,
Or goe home and loose his ladyè.

One whyle then the page he went,
Another while he ranne;
Till he had oretaken king Estmere,
I wis, he never blanne.

"Tydings, tydings, kyng Estmere!"
"What tydinges nowe, my boye?"
"O tydinges I can tell to you,
That will you sore annoye.

"You had not ridden scant a mile,
A mile out of the towne,
But in did come the kyng of Spayne
With kempès many a one:

"But in did come the kyng of Spayne
With manye a grimme baròne,
Tone daye to marrye king Adlands daughter,
Tother daye to carry her home.

"My ladye fayre she greetes you well,
And ever-more well by mee:
You must either turne againe and fighte,
Or goe home and loose your ladyè.

Sayes, "Reade me, reade me, deere brothèr,
My reade shall ryde[ 11] at thee,
Which way we best may turne and fighte,
To save this fayre ladyè."

"Now hearken to me," sayes Adler yonge,
"And your reade must rise at me,
I quicklye will devise a waye
To sette thy ladye free.

"My mother was a westerne woman,
And learned in gramaryè,[ 12]
And when I learned at the schole,
Something she taught itt mee.

"There growes an hearbe within this field,
And if it were but knowne,
His color, which is whyte and redd,
It will make blacke and browne:

"His color, which is browne and blacke,
Itt will make redd and whyte;
That sworde is not in all Englande,
Upon his coate will byte.

"And you shall be a harper, brother,
Out of the north countrèe;
And Ile be your boy, soe faine of fighte,
And beare your harpe by your knee.

"And you shal be the best harpèr,
That ever tooke harpe in hand;
And I wil be the best singèr,
That ever sung in this lande.

"Itt shal be written on our forheads
All and in grammaryè,
That we towe are the boldest men,
That are in all Christentyè."

And thus they renisht them to ryde,
On tow good renish steedes;
And when they came to Kyng Adlands hall,
Of redd gold shone their weedes.

And whan the came to Kyng Adlands hall,
Untill the fayre hall gate,
There they found a proud portèr
Rearing himselfe thereatt.

Sayes, "Christ thee save, thou proud portèr;"
Sayes, "Christ thee save and see."
"Nowe you be welcome," sayd the porter,
"Of whatsoever land ye bee."

"Wee beene harpers," sayd Adler younge,
"Come out of the northe countrèe;
Wee beene come hither until this place,
This proud weddinge for to see."

Sayd, "And your color were white and redd,"
As it is blacke and browne,
Ild saye king Estmere and his brother,
Were comen untill this towne."

Then they pulled out a ryng of gold,[ 13]
Layd itt on the porters arme:
"And ever we will thee, proud portèr,
Thow wilt saye us no harme."

Sore he looked on king Estmère,
And sore he handled the ryng,
Then opened to them the fayre hall yates,
He lett for no kind of thyng.

King Estmere he light off his steede
Upp att the fayre hall bord;
The froth, that came from his brydle bitte,
Light in kyng Bremors beard.

Saies, "Stable thy steed, thou proud harpèr,"
Go stable him in the stalle;
Itt doth not beseeme a proud harpèr
To stable him in a kyngs halle."

"My ladde he is so lither," he said,
"He will doe nought that's meete;
And is there any man in this hall
Were able him to beate?

"Thou speakst proud words," sayd the paynim king,
"Thou harper, here to mee:
There is a man within this halle
That will beate thy Ladd and thee."

"O lett that man come downe," he said,
"A sight of him wold I see;
And when hee hath beaten well my ladd,
Then he shall beate of mee."

Downe then came the kemperye man,
And looketh him in the eare;
For all the gold, that was under heaven,
He durst not neigh him neare.

"And how nowe, kempe," said the Kyng of Spayne,
"And how what aileth thee?"
He sayes, "It is writt in his forhead
All and in gramarye,
That for all the gold that is under heaven
I dare not neigh him nye."

Then Kyng Estmere pulld forth his harpe,
And plaid thereon so sweete:
Upstart the ladye from the kynge,
As hee sate at the meate.

"Now stay thy harpe, thou proud harpèr,
Now stay thy harpe, I say
For an thou playest as thou beginnest,
Thou'lt till[ 14] my bryde awaye".

He strucke upon his harpe agayne,
And playd both fayre and free;
The ladye was so pleasde theratt,
She laught loud laughters three.

"Nowe sell me thy harpe," sayd the Kyng of Spayne,
"Thy harpe and stryngs eche one,
And as many gold nobles thou shalt have,
As there be stryngs thereon"

And what wold ye doe with my harpe," he sayd,
"Iff I did sell it yee?"
"To playe my wife and me a FITT,[ 15]
When abed together we bee."

"Now sell me," quoth hee, "thy bryde soe gay,
 As shee sitts laced in pall,
And as many gold nobles I will give,
As there be rings in the hall"

"And what wold ye doe with my bryde soe gay,
Iff I did sell her yee?
More seemelye it is for her fayre bodye
To lye by mee than thee."

[ 16] Hee played agayne both loud and shrille,
And Adler he did syng,
"O ladye, this is thy owne true love;
Noe harper, but a kyng.

"O ladye, this is thy owne true love,
As playnlye thou mayest see;
And Ile rid thee of that foule paynim,
Who partes thy love and thee."

The ladye looked, the ladye blushte,
And blushte and lookt agayne,
While Adler he hath drawne his brande,
And hath the Sowdan slayne

Up then rose the kemperye men,
And loud they gan to crye
"Ah ! traytors, yee have slayne our kyng,
And therefore yee shall dye."

Kyng Estmere threwe the harpe asyde,
And swith he drew his brand;
And Estmere he, and Adler yonge,
Right stiffe in stour can stand

And aye their swordes soe sore can byte,
Throughe help of Gramaryè,
That soone they have slayne the kempery men,
Or forst them forth to flee

Kyng Estmere tooke that fayre ladyè,
And marryed her to his wiffe,
And brought her home to merrye England
With her to leade his life.

*** The word Gramarye, which occurs several times in the foregoing Poem, is probably a corruption of the French word Grimoire, which signifies a conjuring Book in the old French romances, if not the art of Necromancy itself.

*** Termagaunt is the name given in the old romances to the God of the Saracens: in which he is constantly linked with Mahound or Mahomet. Thus in the legend of Syr Guy the Soudan (Sultan) swears,

So helpe me Mahowne of might,
And Termagaunt my God so bright.
                Sign. p. iij. b.

This word is derived by the very learned editor of Junius from the Anglo-Saxon Tyr, very, and Magan, mighty. As this word has so sublime a derivation, and was so applicable to the true God, how shall we account for its being so degraded? Perhaps Tyr-magan, or "Termagant," had been a name originally given to some Saxon idol, before our ancestors were converted to Christianity; or had been the peculiar attribute of one of their false deities; and therefore the first Christian missionaries rejected it as profane and improper to be applied to the true God. Afterwards, when the irruptions of the Saracens into Europe, and the Crusades into the east, had brought them acquainted with a new species of unbelievers, our ignorant ancestors, who thought that all that did not receive the Christian law were necessarily Pagans and Idolaters, supposed the Mahometan creed was in all respects the same with that of their Pagan forefathers, and therefore made no scruple to give the ancient name of "Termagant" to the God of the Saracens: just in the same manner as they afterwards used the name of "Sarazen" to express any kind of Pagan or Idolater. In the ancient romance of "Merline" (in the editor's folio MS), the Saxons themselves that came over with Hengist, because they were not Christians, are constantly called Saracens.

However that be, it is certain that, after the times of the Crusades, both "Mahound" and "Termagaunt" made their frequent appearance in the pageants and religious interludes of the barbarous ages; in which they were exhibited with gestures so furious and frantic, as to become proverbial. Thus Skelton speaks of Wolsey

"Like Mahound in a play,
No man dare him withsay."
                Ed. 1736, p. 158.

And Bale, describing the threats used by some Papist magistrates to his wife, speaks of them as "grennyng upon her lyke Termagauntes in a playe." [Actes of Engl. Votaryes, Part 2. fol. 83. ed. 1550. 12mo.]  Hence we may conceive the force of Hamlet's expression in Shakspeare, where, condemning a ranting player, he says, "I could have such a fellow whipt for ore-doing Termagant: it outherods Herod."--  A 3. sc. 3. By degrees the word came to be applied to an outrageous turbulent person, and especially to a violent brawling woman; to whom alone it is now confined, and this the rather as, I suppose, the character of Termagant was anciently represented on the stage after the eastern mode, with long robes or petticoats.

            Another frequent character in the old pageants or interludes of our ancestors was the Sowdan or Soldan, representing a grim eastern tyrant. This appears from a curious passage in Stow's Annals, (p. 458.) In a stage-play "the people know right well that he that plaieth the Sowdain is percase a sowter [shoe-maker]; yet if one should cal him by his owne name, while he standeth in his majestie, one of his tormentors might hap to break his head." The Sowdain, or Soldan, was a name given to the Sarazen king (being only a more rude pronunciation of the word Sultan), as the Soldan of Egypt, the Soudan of Persia, the Sowdan of Babylon, &c. who were generally represented as accompanied with grim Sarazens, whose business it was to punish and torment Christians.

            I cannot conclude this short memoir, without observing that the French romancers, who had borrowed the word Termagant from us, and applied it as we in their old romances, corrupted it into Tervagaunte: and from them La Fontaine took it up, and has used it more than once in his tales. This may be added to the other proofs adduced in these volumes of the great intercourse that formerly subsisted between the old minstrels and legendary writers of both nations, and that they mutually borrowed each others romances.

NOTES

1. See the note on Termagant above.

2. Sign. C. ij. b.

3. Sign. C. j. b.

4. Odyss. A. 105.

5. See Note subjoined to 1st pt. of Beggar of Bednal, &c.

6. See the Essay on the ancient Minstrels above.

7 Even so late as the time of Froissart, we find minstrels and heralds mentioned together, as those who might securely go into an enemy's country. Cap. cxl.

8. Bartholini Antiq. Dan. p. 173. Northern Antiquities, &c. vol. i. pp. 386, 380, &c.

9. See also the account of Edw. II. in the Essay on the Minstrels.

10. He means fit, suitable.

11. Sic MS. It should probably be "ryse," i.e. my counsel shall arise from thee.-- See ver. 140.

12. See the note on Gramarye above.

13. There is assurance that the ryng was not the article of personal adornment, but a coin.--- Vide Ring Money, Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, vol xvii.-- Editor.

14. i.e. entice. -- Vide Gloss. For gramarye, see the note on Gramarye above.

15. i.e. a tune or strain of music--- See Gloss.

16. Some liberties have been taken in the following stanzas; but wherever this edition differs from the preceding, it hath been brought nearer to the folio MS.

 

Previous Next