King Ryence's Challenge.
This song is more modern than many of those which follow it, but is placed here for the sake of the subject. It was sung before Queen Elizabeth at the grand entertainment at Kenilworth castle in 1575, and was probably composed for that occasion. In a letter describing those festivities it is thus mentioned: "A minstral came forth with a sollem song, warranted for story out of K. Arthur's acts, whereof I gat a copy, and is this:
"So it fell out on a Pentecost, &c."
After the song the narrative proceeds: "At this the minstrell made a pause and a curtezy for Primus Passus. More of the song is thear, but I gatt it not." The story in Morte Arthur whence it is taken, runs as follows: "Came a messenger hastely from King Ryence of North Wales, saying,-- that King Ryence had discomfited and overcomen eleaven kings, and everiche of them did him homage, and that was this: they gave him their beards cleane flayne off -- wherefore the messenger came for King Arthur's beard, for King Ryence had purfeled a mantell with kings beards, and there lacked for one a place of the mantell, wherefore he sent for his beard, or else he would enter into his lands, and brenn and slay, and never leave till he have thy head and thy beard. Well, said King Arthur, thou hast said thy message, which is the most villainous and lewdest message that ever man heard sent to a king. Also thou mayest see my beard is full young yet for to make a purfell of, but tell thou the king that -- or it be long he shall do me homage on both his knees, or else he shall leese his head." B. i. c. 24. See also the same romance, b. i. c. 92.]
The thought seems to be originally taken from Jeff. Monmouth's Hist. B. x. c. 3. which is alluded to by Drayton in his Poly-Olb. Song iv. and by Spenser in Faer. Queen vi. 1. 13, 15.-- See the Observations on Spenser, vol. ii. p. 223.
The following text is composed of the best readings selected from three different copies. The first in Enderbie's Cambria Triumphans, p. 197. The second in the Letter above mentioned. And the third inserted in manuscript in a copy of Morte Arthur, 1632, in the Bodl. Library.
Stow tells us, that King Arthur kept his round table at "diverse places, but especially at Carlion, Winchester, and Camalet in Somerset-shire." This Camalet, "sometimes a famous towne or castle, is situate on a very high for or hill, &c." See an exact description in Stow's Annals, Ed. 1631, p. 55]
As it fell out on a Pentecost day,
King Arthur at Camelot kept his court royall,
With his faire queene Dame Guenever the gay;
And many bold barons sitting in hall;
With ladies attired in purple and pall;
And heraults in hewkes, hooting on high,
Cryed, Largesse, Largesse, Chevaliers tres-hardie.[ 1]
A doughty dwarfe to the uppermost dens
Right pertlye gan pricke, kneeling on knee;
With steven fulle stoute amids all the preas,
Sayd, "Nowe sir King Arthur, God save thee and see!
Sir Ryence of North-Gales greeteth well thee,
And bids thee thy beard anon to him send,
Or else from thy jaws he will it off rend.
"For his robe of state is a rich scarlet mantle,
With eleven kings beards bordered[ 2] about,
And there is room lefte yet in a kantle,
For thine to stande, to make the twelfth out:
This must be done, be thou never so stout;
This must be done, I tell thee no fable,
Maugre the teethe of all thy round table."
When this mortal message from his mouthe past,
Great was the noyse bothe in hall and in bower:
The king fum'd; the queene screecht; ladies were aghast;
Princes puffd; barons blustred; lords began lower;
Knights stormed: squires startled, like steeds in a stover;
Pages and yeomen yell'd out in the hall,
Then in came Sir Kay, the king's seneschal.
"Silence, my soveraignes," quoth this courteous knight,
And in that stound the stowre began still:
Then the dwarfe's dinner full deerely was dight;
Of wine and wassel he had his wille
And, when he had eaten and drunken his fill,
An hundred pieces of fine coyned gold
Were given this dwarf for his message bold.
"But say to Sir Ryence, thou dwarf," quoth the king,
"That for his bold message I do him defye;
And shortlye with basins and pans will him ring
Out of North-Gales; where he and I
With swords, and not razors, quickly shall trye,
Whether he, or King Arthur will prove the best barbor;"
And therewith he shook his good sword Escalābor.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
*** Strada, in his Prolusions, has ridiculed the story of the Giant's Mantle, made of the beards of kings.
1. Largesse, Largesse. The heralds resounded these words as oft as they received of the bounty of the knights. See Memoires de la Chevalerie, tom. i. p. 99.-- The expression is still used in the form of installing knights of the garter.
2. i.e. set round the border, as furs are now round the gowns of Magistrates.