Percy's Reliques - King Arthur's Death

King Arthur's Death


            The object of this ballad is evidently taken from the old romance Morte Arthur, but with some variations, especially in the concluding stanzas; in which the author seems rather to follow the traditions of the old Welsh bards, who "believed that King Arthur was not dead, but conveied awaie by the Fairies into some pleasant place, where he should remaine for a time, and then returne againe and reign in as great authority as ever."-- Holinshed, B. v. c. 14.; or, as it is expressed in an old Chronicle printed at Antwerp 1493, by Ger. de Leew, "The Bretons supposen, that he [K. Arthur] shall come yet and conquere all Bretaigne, for certes this is the prophicye of Merlyn: He sayd, that his deth shall be doubteous; and sayd soth, for men thereof yet have doubte, and shullen for ever more; for men wyt not whether that he lyveth or is dede." See more ancient testimonies in Selden's Notes on Poly Olbion, Song iii.

            This fragment, being very incorrect and imperfect in the original MS., hath received some conjectural emendations, and even a supplement of three or four stanzas composed from the romance of Morte Arthur.

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ON Trinitye Mondaye in the morne,
This sore battayle was doom'd to bee;
Where manye a knighte cry'd, WeIl-awaye!
Alacke, it was the more pittie.

Ere the first crowinge of the cocke,
When as the kinge in his bed laye,
He thoughte Sir Gawaine to him came,[ 1]
And there to him these wordes did saye.

"Nowe, as you are mine unkle deare,
And as you prize your life, this daye
O meet not with your foe in fighte;
Putt off the battayle, if yee maye.

"For Sir Launcelot is nowe in Fraunce,
And with him many an hardye knighte:
Who will within this moneth be backe,
And will assiste yee in the fighte."

The king then call'd his nobles all,
Before the breakinge of the daye;
And tolde them howe Sir Gawaine came,
And there to him these wordes did saye.

His nobles all this counsayle gave,
That earlye in the morning, hee
Shold send awaye an herauld at armes,
To aske a parley faire and free.

Then twelve good knightes King Arthur chose,
The best of all that with him were:
To parley with the foe in field,
And make with him agreement faire.

The king he charged all his hoste,
In readinesse there for to bee:
But noe man sholde noe weapon sturre,
Unlesse a sword drawne they shold see.

And Mordred, on the other parte,
Twelve of his knights did likewise bringe;
The beste of all his companye,
To hold the parley with the kinge.

Sir Mordred alsoe charged his hoste,
In readinesse there for to bee;
But noe man sholde noe weapon sturre,
But if a sworde drawne they shold see.

For he durste not his unkle truste,
Nor he his nephewe, sothe to tell:
Alacke! it was a woefulle case,
As ere in Christentye befelle.

But when they were together mette,
And both to faire accordance broughte;
And a month's league betweene them sette,
Before the battayle sholde be foughte;

An addere crept forth of a bushe,
Stunge one o' th' king's knightes on the knee:
Alacke! it was a woefulle chance,
As ever was in Christentie.

When the knighte found him wounded sore,
And sawe the wild-worme hanginge there;
His sworde he from his scabberde drewe;
A piteous case, as ye shall heare.

For when the two hostes sawe the sworde,
They joyned battayle instantlye;
Till of soe manye noble knightes,
On one side there were left but three.

For all were slain that durst abide,
And but some fewe that fled awaye:
Ay mee! it was a bloodye fielde,
As ere was foughte on summer's daye.

Upon King Arthur's own partyč,
Onlye himselfe escaped there,
And Lukyn Duke of Gloster free,
And the king's butler Bedevere.

And when the king beheld his knightes,
All dead and scattered on the molde;
The teares fast trickled downe his face;
That manlye face in fight so bolde.

"Nowe reste yee all, brave knights," he said,
"Soe true and faithful to your trust:
And must yee then, ye valiant hearts,
Be lefte to moulder into dust!

"Most loyal have yee been to mee,
Most true and faithful unto deathe:
And, oh! to rayse yee up againe,
How freelye could I yield my breathe!

"But see the traitor's yet alive,
Lo where hee stalkes among the deade!
Nowe bitterlye he shall abye:
And vengeance fall upon his head."

"O staye, my liege," then sayd the duke;
"O staye for love and charitėe;
Remember what the vision spake,
Nor meete your foe, if it may bee."

"O staye mee not, thou worthye wight,
This debt my loyal knights I owe:
Betide me life, betide me death,
I will avenge them of their foe."

Then straite he grasp'd his trustye speare,
And on his horse then mounted hee:
As his butler holpe him to his horse,
His bowels gushed to his knee.

"Alas!" then sayd the noble king,
"That I should live this sight to see
To see this good knight here be slaine,
All for his love in helping mee!"

He put his speare into his reste,
And to Sir Mordred loud gan crye;
"Nowe sette thyself upon thy guarde,
For, traitor, nowe thy death is nye."

Sir Mordred lifted up his sworde,
And fierce to meet the king ran hee:
The king his speare he through him thrust;
A fathom thorow his bodėe.

When Mordred felt the stroke of death,
And found that he was wounded soe;
He thruste himselfe upon the speare,
And strucke the king a deadlye blowe.

Then grimmlye dyed Sir Mordered,
Presentlye upon that tree:
And bloody streames ranne from the kinge
Ere to the duke returned hee.

Sir Lukyn then he thus bespake,
"Sir knighte, thou hast beene faithfulle tryde,
Nowe take my sword Excalibar,[ 2]
That hangs so freelye by my syde:

"O take my sword Excalibar,
And there into the river throwe:
For here, henceforth, benethe this tree,
All use of weapons I foregoe.

"And fare thee well, thou trustye sword,
A better neer had valiant knighte,
With thee full ofte, and manye a daye,
Have I withstood my foe in fighte.

"With this good fauchion in my hande,
Oft have I reapd the bloody feelde:
But nowe the fatalle houre is come,
That never more I may thee weelde."

The duke to the river side he went,
And there his owne sword in threwe he:
But he kept back Excalibar,
He kept it back in privitie.

For all of coleyne was the blade;
And all the hilte of precious stone;
"And ever alacke!" then sayd the knighte,
"Must such a sword awaye be throwne?"

Then backe he came unto the kinge,
Who sayd, "Sir Lukyn, what did yee see?"
"Nothing, my liege, save that the winde
Blewe oer the waters faire and free."

"O goe againe," then said the kinge,
"O good Sir Lukyn, goe againe
Into the rivere throwe my sword,
Nor keepe me lingering here in paine."

The duke then to the river went,
And the kings scabberd in threwe hee;
But hee kept backe Excalibar,
And hid it undernethe a tree.

Then backe he came to tell the kinge,
Who sayde, "Sir Lukyn, sawe ye oughte?
Nothinge, my liege, save that the winde
Nowe with the angrye waters fought."

"O Lukyn, Lukyn," said the kinge,
"Twice haste thou dealt deceytfullye:
Alacke, whom may wee ever truste,
When suche a knighte soe false can bee?

"Saye, wouldst thou have thy master dead,
All for a sword, that wins thine eye?
Nowe goe againe, and throwe it in,
Or here the one of us shall dye."

The duke, all shent with this rebuke,
No aunswere made unto the kinge:
But to the rivere tooke the sworde,
And threwe it far as he coulde flinge.

A hande and an arme did meete the sworde,
And flourishd three times in the air;
Then sunke benethe the renninge streme,
And of the duke was seene noe mair.

All sore astonied stood the duke;
He stood as still, as still mote bee:
Then hastend backe to telle the kinge;
But he was gone from under the tree.

But to what place he cold not tell,
For never after hee did him spye:
But hee saw a barge goe from the land,
And hee heard ladyes howle and crye.[ 3]

And whether the kinge were there, or not,
Hee never knewe, nor ever colde:
For from that sad and direfulle daye,
Hee never more was seene on molde.


1. Sir Gawaine had been killed at Arthur's landing on his return from abroad.-- See the next Ballad, v. 73.

2. More commonly called Caliburn. In the folio MS. Escalberd.

3 Not unlike that passage in Virgil:

"Summoque ulularunt vertice nymphæ."

            Ladies was the word our old English writers used for nymphs: as in the following lines of an old song in the Editor's folio MS.

"When scorching Phoebus he did mount,
Then Lady Venus went to hunt:
To whom Diana did resort,
With all the Ladyes of hills, and valleys,
Of springs, and floodes," &c.


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