Percy's Reliques - An Elegy on Henry, fourth Earl of Northumberland.

An Elegy on Henry, fourth Earl of Northumberland.

            [ 1]The subject of this poem, which was written by Skelton, is the death of Henry Percy, fourth Earl of Northumberland, who fell a victim to the avarice of Henry VII. In 1489 the parliament had granted the king a subsidy for carrying on the war in Bretagne. This tax was found so heavy in the north, that the whole country was in a flame. The Earl of Northumberland, then lord lieutenant for Yorkshire, wrote to inform the king of the discontent, and praying an abatement. But nothing is so unrelenting as avarice: the king wrote back that not a penny should be abated. This message being delivered by the earl with too little caution, the populace rose, and, supposing him to be the promoter of their calamity, broke into his house, and murdered him, with several of his attendants, who yet are charged by Skelton with being backward in their duty on this occasion. This melancholy event happened at the earl's seat at Cocklodge, near Thirske, in Yorkshire, April 28, 1489. See Lord Bacon, &c.

            If the reader does not find much poetical merit in this old poem (which yet is one of Skelton's best), he will see a striking picture of the state and magnificence kept up by our ancient nobility during the feudal times. This great earl is described here as having among his menial servants, knights, squires, and even barons. See v. 32, 183. &c. which, however different from modern manners, was formerly not unusual with our greater barons, whose castles had all the splendour and offices of a royal court, before the laws against retainers abridged and limited the number of their attendants.

            John Skelton, who commonly styled himself Poet Laureat, died June 21, 1529. The following poem, which appears to have been written soon after the event, is printed from an ancient manuscript copy preserved in the British Museum, being much more correct than that printed among Skelton's poems, in black-letter, 12mo. 1568. It is addressed to Henry Percy, fifth Earl of Northumberland, and is prefaced, &c. in the following manner:

Poeta Skelton Laureatus libellum suum metrice alloquitur.

Ad dominum properato meum mea pagina Percy,
Qui Northumbrorum jura paterna gerit,
Ad nutum celebris tu porna repone leonis,
Quæque suo patri tristia justa cano.
Ast ubi perlegit, dubiam sub mente volutet
Fortunam, cuncta qua male fida rotat.
Qui leo sit felix, & Nestoris occupet annos;
Ad libitum cujus ipse paratus ero.


I WAYLE, I wepe, I sobbe, I sigh ful sore
The dedely fate, the dolefulle destenny
Of him that is gone, alas! withoute restore,
Of the bloud[ 2] royall descendinge nobelly;
Whos lordshepe doutles was slayne lamentably
Thorow treson ageyn hym compassyd and wrought;
Trew to his prince, in word, in dede, and thought.

Of hevenly poems, O Clyo, calde by name
In the college of musis goddess hystoriall,
Adres thé to me, whiche am both halt and lame
In elect uteraunce to make memoryall!
To thé for soccour, to thé for helpe I call
Myne homely rudnes and dryghnes to expelle
With the freshe waters of Elyconys welle.

Of noble actes auncyently enrolde,
Of famous princis and lordes of astate,
By thy report ar wonte to be extold,
Regestringe trewly every formare date;
Of thy bountie after the usuail rate
Kyndle in me suche plenty of thy noblès,
Thes sorrowfulle dities that I may shew expres.

In sesons past who hathe h[ea]rde or sene
Of formar writinge by any presidente
That vilane hastarddis in ther furious tene,
Fulfyld with malice of froward entente,
Confeterd togeder of commonn concente
Falsly to slo ther moste singular goode lorde?
It may be registerde of shameful recorde.

So noble a man, so valiaunt lorde and knight,
Fulfilled with honor, as all the worlde dothe ken;
At his commaundement, whiche had both day and night
Knyghtis and squyers, at every season when
He calde upon them, as menyall houshold men:
Were no thes commones uncurteis karlis of kynde
To slo their owne lorde? God was not in their minde.

And were not they to blame, I say also,
That were aboute hym, his owne servants of trust,
To suffre hym slayn of his mortall fo?
Fled away from hym, let hymn ly in the dust:
They bode not till the rekening were discust;
What shuld I flatter? what shulde I glose or paynt?
Fy, fy for shame, their heartes wer to faint.

In Englande and Fraunce, which gretly was redouted;
Of whom both Flounders and Scotland stode in drede;
To whome great estates obeyde and lowted;
A mayny of rude villyans made him for to blede:
Unkindly they slew hym, that holp them oft at nede:
He was their bulwark, their paves, and their wall,
Yet shamfully they slew hym; that shame mot them befall!

I say, ye commoners, why wer ye so stark mad
What frantyk frensy fyll in your brayne?
Where was your wit and reson, ye shuld have had?
What willful foly made yow to ryse agayne
Your naturall lord? alas! I can not fayne.
Ye armed you with will, and left your wit behynd;
Well may you be called comones most unkynd.

He was your chyfteyne, your shelde, your chef defence,
Redy to assyst you in every tyme of nede:
Your worship depended of his excellence:
Alas! ye mad men, to far ye did excede:
Your hap was unhappy, to ill was your spede:
What movyd you agayn hym to war or fyght?
What aylde you to sle your lord again all right?

The grounde of his quarrel was for his sovereyn lord,
The welle concernyng of all the hole lande,
Demaundyng soche dutyes as nedis most acord
To the right of his prince which shold not be withstand;
For whos cause ye slew hym with your awne hande:
But had his nobill men done wel that day,
Ye had not been able to have saide him nay.

But there was fals packinge, or els I am begylde:
How-be-it the matter was evident and playne,
For yf they had occupied ther spere and ther shilde.
This noble man doutles had not be slayne.
Bot men say they wer lynked with a double chayn,
And held with the commouns under a cloke,
Whiche kindeled the wild fyr that made all this smoke.

The commouns renyed ther taxes to pay
Of them demaunded and asked by the kinge;
With one voice importune, they playnly said nay:
They buskt them on a bushment themselfe in baile to bringe.
Agayne the kings plesure to wrastle or to wringe,
Bluntly as bestis withe boste and with cry
They saide, they forsede not, nor carede not to dy.

The noblenes of the northe this valiant lorde and knyght,
As man that was innocent of trechery or traine,
Presed forthe boldly to witstand the myght,
And, lyke marciall Hector, he faught them agayne,
Vigorously upon them with myght and with mayne,
Trustinge in noble men that wer with hym there:
Bot all they fled from hym for falshode or fere.

Barons, knights, squyers, one and alle,
Together with servaunts of his famuly,
Turnd their backis, and let ther master fall,
Of whos [life] they counted not a flye;
Take up whose wold, for ther they let hym ly.
Alas! his golde, his fee, his annual rente
Upon suche a sort was ille bestowde and spent!

He was environde aboute on every syde
Withe his enemys, that were stark mad and wode;
Yet whils he stode he gave them woundes wyde:
Alas for ruth! what thoughe his mynde were goode,
His corage manly, yet ther he shed his bloode:
All left alone, alas! he foughte in vayne;
For cruelly amonge them ther he was slayne.

Alas for pite! that Percy thus was spylt,
The famous Erle of Northumberlande:
Of knightly prowes the sworde pomel and hylt,
The myghty lyon[ 3] doutted by se and lande!
O dolorus chaunce of Fortunes froward hande!
What man remembring how shamfully he was slayne,
From bitter weepinge himself can restraine?

O cruell Mars, thou dedly god of war!
O dolorous tewisday, dedicate to thy name,
When thou shoke thy sworde so noble a man to mar
O grounde ungracious, unhappy be thy fame,
Whiche wert endyed with rede blode of the same
Moste noble erle! O fowle mysuryd grounde
Whereon he gat his fynal dedely wounde!

O Atropos, of the fatall systers thre,
Goddes mooste cruell unto the lyf of man,
All merciles, in the ys no pite
O homycide, whiche sleest all that thou kan,
So forcibly upon this erle thow ran,
That with thy sworde enharpit of mortall drede,
Thou kit asonder his perfight vitall threde!

My wordis unpullysht be nakide and playne,
Of aureat poems they want ellumynynge;
Bot by them to knowlege ye may attayne
Of this lordis dethe and of his murdrynge.
Which whils he lyvyd had fuyson of every thing,
Of knights, of squyers, chef lord of toure and toune,
Tyl fykkill fortune began on hym to frowne.

Paregall to dukis, with kings he myght compare,
Surmountinge in honor all erls he did excede,
To all cuntreis aboute hym reporte me I dare.
Lyke to Eneas benygne in worde and dede,
Valiaunt as Hector in every marciall nede,
Provydent, discrete, circumspect, and wyse,
Tyll the chaunce ran agyne him of fortunes duble dyse.

What nedethe me for to extoll his fame
With my rude pen enkankerd all with rust?
Whos noble actis shew worshiply his name,
Transcendyng far myne homely muse, that must
Yet sumwhat wright supprisid with herty lust,
Truly reportinge his right noble astate,
Immortally whiche is immaculate.

His noble blode never disteynyd was,
Trew to his prince for to defende his right,
Doublenes hatinge, fals maters to compas,
Treytory and treson he bannesht out of syght,
With trowth to medle was all his holl delyght,
As all his kuntrey kan testefy the same:
To slo suche a lord, alas, it was grete shame.

If the hole quere of the Musis nyne
In me all onely wer sett and comprisyde,
Enbrethed with the blast of influence dyvyne,
As perfightly as could be thought or devysyd
To me also allthough it were promysyde
Of laureat Phebus holy the eloquence,
All were to lytell for his magnyficence.

O yonge lyon, bot tender yet of age,
Grow and encrese, remembre thyn estate,
God thé assyst unto thyn herytage,
And geve thé grace to be more fortunate,
Agayne rebellyouns arme thé to make debate.
And, as the lyoune, whiche is of bestis kinge,
Unto thy subjectis be kurteis and benyngne.

I pray God sende thé prosperous lyf and long,
Stabille thy mynde constant to be and fast,
Right to mayntein, and to resist all wronge:
All flattringe faytors abhor and from thé cast,
Of foule detraction God kepe the from the blast!
Let double delinge in thé have no place,
And be not light of credence in no case.

Wythe hevy chere, with dolorous hart and mynd,
Eche man may sorow in his inward thought,
Thys lords death, whose pere is hard to fynd,
Allgyf Englond and Fraunce were thorow saught.
Al kings, all princes, all dukes, well they ought
Bathe temporall and spirituall for to complayne
This noble man, that crewelly was slayne.

More specially barons, and those knygtes bold,
And all other gentilmen with hym enterteynd
In fee, as menyall men of his housold,
Whom he as lord worshyply manteynd:
To sorowfull weping they ought to be constreynd,
As oft as thei call to ther remembraunce,
Of ther good lord the fate and dedely chaunce.

O perlese prince of hevyn emperyall!
That with one worde formed al thing of noughte;
Hevyn, hell, and erth obey unto thy call;
Which to thy resemblance wondersly hast wrought
All mankynd, whom thou full dere hast boght,
With thy blode precious our finaunce thou dyd pay,
And us redemed, from the fendys pray;

To thé pray we, as prince incomperable,
As thou art of mercy and pite the well,
Thou bringe unto thy joye etermynable
The soull of this lorde from all daunger of hell,
In endles blis with thé to byde and dwell
In thy palace above the orient,
Where thou art lorde, and God omnipotent.

O quene of mercy, O lady full of grace,
Maiden moste pure, and Goddes moder dere,
To sorowfull harts chef comfort and solace,
Of all women O flowre withouten pere!
Pray to thy son above the sterris clere,
He to vouchesaf by thy mediacion
To pardon thy servant, and bringe to salvacion.

In joy triumphaunt the hevenly yerarchy,
With all the hole sorte of that glorious place,
His soule mot receyve into ther company
Thorowe bounte of hym that formed all solace:
Well of pite, of mercy, and of grace,
The father, the son, and the holy goste
In Trinitate one God of myghts moste!

*** I have placed the foregoing poem of Skelton's before the following extract from Hawes, not only because it was written first, but because I think Skelton is in general to be considered as the earlier poet; many of his poems being written long before Hawes's Graunde Amour.


1. Percy's text has been carefully revised by collation with the reading of the Elegy as given by the Rev. Alexander Dyce.-- Editor.

2. The mother of Henry, first Earl of Northumberland, was Mary, daughter to Henry, Earl of Lancaster, whose father Edmond was second son of King Henry III. The mother and wife of the second Earl of Northumberland were both lineal descendants of King Edward III. The Percys also were lineally descended from the Emperor Charlemagne and the ancient Kings of France, by his ancestor Josceline du Lovain (Son of Godfrey, Duke of Brabant), who took the name of PERCY on marrying the heiress of that house in the reign of Henry II. Vide. Camden's Britan. Edmondson, &c.

3. Alluding to his crest and supporters. Doutted is contracted for redoubted.


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