Percy's Reliques - Sir Lancelot du Lake

Sir Lancelot du Lake

            This ballad is quoted in Shakspeare's second part of Henry IV. act ii. The subject of it is taken from the ancient romance of King Arthur (commonly called Morte Arthur), being a poetical translation of Chap. cvii. cix. cx. in pt. 1st, as they stand in ed. 1634, 4to. In the older editions the Chapters are differently numbered. This song is given from a printed copy, corrected in part by folio MS.[ 1]

In the same play of 2 Henry IV,. Silence hums a scrap of one of the old ballads of Robin Hood. It is taken from the following stanza of Robin Hood and the Pindar of Wakefield.

All this beheard three wighty yeomen,
'Twas Robin Hood, Scarlet, and John:
With that they espy'd the jolly Pindār
As he sate under a throne.

            That ballad may be found on every stall, and therefore is not here reprinted.

WHEN Arthur first in court began,
And was approved king,
By force of armes great victorys wanne,
And conquest home did bring;

Then into England straight he came
With fifty good and able
Knights, that resorted unto him,
And were of his round table:

And he had justs and turnaments,
Wherto were many prest,
Wherin some knights did far excel
And eke surmount the rest.

But one Sir Lancelot du Lake,
Who was approved well,
He for his deeds and feats of armes
All others did excell.

When he had rested him a while,
In play, and game, and sportt,
He said he wold goe prove himselfe
In some adventurous sort.

He armed rode in a forrest wide,
And met a damsell faire,
Who told him of adventures great,
Wherto he gave great eare.

"Why shold I not?" quoth Lancelott tho
"For that cause came I hither."
"Thou seemest," quoth shee, "a knight full good,
And I will bring thee thither.

"Wheras[ 2] a mighty knight doth dwell,
That now is of great fame:
Therfore tell me what wight thou art,
And what may be thy name."

"My name is Lancelot du Lake."
Quoth she, "It likes me than:
Here dwelles a knight who never was
Yet matcht with any man:

"Who has in prison threescore knights
And four, that he did wound;
Knights of King Arthurs court they be,
And of his table round."

She brought him to a river side,
And also to a tree,
Whereon a copper bason hung,
And many shields to see.

He struck soe hard, the bason broke;
And Tarquin soon he spyed:
Who drove a horse before him fast,
Whereon a knight lay tyed.

"Sir knight," then sayd Sir Lancelōtt,
Bring me that horse-load hither,
And lay him downe, and let him rest;
Weel try our force together:

"For, as I understand, thou hast,
So far as thou art able,
Done great despite and shame unto
The knights of the Round Table."

"If thou be of the Table Round,
Quoth Tarquin speedilye
Both thee and all thy fellowship
I utterly defye."

"That's over much," quoth Lancelott tho,
"Defend thee by and by."
They sett their speares unto their steeds,
And eache att other flie.

They coucht theire speares (their horses ran,
As though there had beene thunder),
And strucke them each immidst their shields,
Wherewith they broke in sunder.

Their horsses backes brake under them,
The knights were both astound:
To avoyd their horsses they made haste
And light upon the ground.

They tooke them to their shields full fast,
Their swords they drewe out than,
With mighty strokes most eagerlye
Each at the other ran.

They wounded were, and bled full sore,
They both for breath did stand.
And leaning on their swords awhile,
Quoth Tarquine, "Hold thy hand,

"And tell to me what I shall aske."
"Say on," quoth Lancelot tho.
"Thou art," quoth Tarquine, "the best knight
That ever I did know;

"And like a knight, that I did hate:
Soe that thou be not hee,
I will deliver all the rest,
And eke accord with thee."

"That is well said," quoth Lancelott;
But sith it must be soe,
What knight is that thou hatest thus?
I pray thee to me show."

"His name is Lancelot du Lake,
He slew my brother deere;
Him I suspect of all the rest:
I would I had him here."

"Thy wish thou hast, but yet unknowne,
I am Lancelot du Lake,
Now knight of Arthurs Table Round;
King Hauds son of Schuwake;

"And I desire thee to do thy worst."
"Ho, ho," quoth Tarquin tho,
"One of us two shall ende our lives
Before that we do go.

"If thou be Lancelot du Lake,
Then welcome shalt thou bee:
Wherfore see thou thyself defend,
For now defye I thee."

They buckled them together so,
Like unto wild boares rashing;[ 3]
And with their swords and shields they ran
At one another slashing:

The ground besprinkled was with blood:
Tarquin began to yield;
For he gave backe for wearinesse,
And lowe did beare his shield.

This soone Sir Lancelot espyde,
He leapt upon him then,
He pull'd him downe upon his knee,
And rushing off his helm,

Forthwith he strucke his necke in two,
And, when he had soe done,
From prison threescore knights and four
Delivered everye one.


1. The folio MS. Copy of this ballad is so mutilated that we owe more than half the present version to the ingenuity of Percy.-- Editor.

2. Where is often used by our old writers for whereas, here it is just the contrary.

3. Rashing seems to be the old hunting term to express the stroke made by the wild-boar with his fangs. To rase has apparently a meaning something similar. See Mr. Steevens's Note on King Lear, act iii. sc. 7. (ed. 1793, vol. xiv. p. 193.) where the quartos read,

". . . . Nor thy fierce sister
In his anointed flesh rash boarish fangs."

So in King Richard III. act iii. sc. 2. (vol. x. p. 567, 583.)

". . . He dreamt
To night the boar had rased off his helm."


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