Percy's Reliques - The Boy and the Mantle.

The Boy and the Mantle.


            Mr. Warton, in his ingenious Observations on Spenser, has given his opinion that the fiction of the Boy and the Mantle is taken from an old French piece intitled Le Court Mantel, quoted by M. de St. Palaye, in his curious "Memoires sur l'ancienne Chevalerie," Paris, 1759, 2 tom. 12mo; who tells us the story resembles that of Ariosto's enchanted cup. It is possible our English poet may have taken the hint of this subject from that old French Romance; but he does not appear to have copied it in the manner of execution; to which (if one may judge from the specimen given in the Memoires) that of the ballad does not bear the least resemblance. After all, it is most likely that all the old stories concerning King Arthur are originally of British growth, and that what the French and other southern nations have of this kind were at first exported from this island, See Memoires de l'Acad. des Inscrip. tom. xx. p. 352.

            In the Fabliaux ou Contes, 1781, 5 tom. 12mo of M. Le Grand (tom. i. p. 54), is printed a modern version of the old tale Le Court Mantel, under a new title, Le Manteau maltaillé, which contains the story of this ballad much enlarged, so far as regards the Mantle, but without any mention of the knife or the horn.

IN Carleile dwelt King Arthur,
A prince of passing might;
And there maintain'd his Table Round,
Beset with many a knight.

And there he kept his Christmas
With mirth and princely cheare,
When, lo! a straunge and cunning boy
Before him did appeare.

A kirtle and a mantle
This boy had him upon,
With brooches, rings, and owches,
Full daintily bedone.

He had a sarke of silk
About his middle meet;
And thus, with seemely curtesy,
He did King Arthur greet.

"God speed thee, brave King Arthur,
Thus feasting in thy bowre;
And Guenever thy goodly queen,
That fair and peerlesse flowre.

"Ye gallant lords, and lordings,
I wish you all take heed,
Lest, what ye deem a blooming rose,
Should prove a cankred weed."

Then straitway from his bosome
A little wand he drew;
And with it eke a mantle
Of wondrous shape and hew.

"Now have thou here, King Arthur,
Have this here of mee,
And give unto thy comely queen,
All-shapen as you see.

"No wife it shall become,
That once hath been to blame."
Then every knight in Arthur's court
Slye glaunced at his dame.

And first came Lady Guenever,
The mantle she must trye.
This dame, she was new-fangled,
And of a roving eye.

When she had tane the mantle,
And all was with it cladde,
From top to toe it shiver'd down,
As tho' with sheers beshradde.

One while it was too long,
Another while too short,
And wrinkled on her shoulders
In most unseemly sort.

Now green, now red it seemed,
Then all of sable hue.
"Beshrew me," quoth King Arthur,
"I think thou beest not true."

Down she threw the mantle,
Ne longer would not stay;
But, storming like a fury,
To her chamber flung away.

She curst the whoreson weaver,
That had the mantle wrought;
And doubly curst the froward impe,
Who thither had it brought.

"I had rather live in desarts
Beneath the green-wood tree;
Than here, base king, among thy groomes,
The sport of them and thee."

Sir Kay call'd forth his lady,
And bade her to come near;
"Yet, dame, if thou be guilty,
I pray thee now forbear."

This lady, pertly gigling,
With forward step came on,
And boldly to the little boy
With fearless face is gone.

When she had tane the mantle,
With purpose for to wear;
It shrunk up to her shoulder,
And left her b*** side bare.

Then every merry knight,
That was in Arthur's court,
Gib'd, and laught, and flouted,
To see that pleasant sport.

Downe she threw the mantle,
No longer bold or gay,
But with a face all pale and wan,
To her chamber slunk away.

Then forth came an old knight,
A pattering o'er his creed;
And proffer'd to the little boy
Five nobles to his meed;

"And all the time of Christmass
Plumb-porridge shall be thine,
If thou wilt let my lady fair
Within the mantle shine."

A saint his lady seemed,
With step demure and slow,
And gravely to the mantle
With mincing pace doth goe.

When she the same had taken,
That was so fine and thin,
It shrivell'd all about her,
And show'd her dainty skin.

Ah! little did HER mincing,
Or HIS long prayers bestead;
She had no more hung on her,
Than a tassel and a thread.

Down she threwe the mantle,
With terror and dismay,
And, with a face of scarlet,
To her chamber hyed away.

Sir Cradock call'd his lady,
And bade her to come neare:
"Come, win this mantle, lady,
And do me credit here.

"Come, win this mantle, lady,
For now it shall be thine,
If thou hast never done amiss,
Sith first I made thee mine."

The lady, gently blushing,
With modest grace came on,
And now to trye the wondrous charm
Courageously is gone.

When she had tane the mantle,
And put it on her backe,
About the hem it seemed
To wrinkle and to cracke

"Lye still," shee cryed, "O mantle!
And shame me not for nought,
I'll freely own whate'er amiss,
Or blameful I have wrought.

"Once I kist Sir Cradocke
Beneathe the green-wood tree:
Once I kist Sir Cradocke's mouth
Before he married mee."

When thus she had her shriven,
And her worst fault had told,
The mantle soon became her
Right comely as it shold.

Most rich and fair of colour.
Like gold it glittering shone;
And much the knights in Arthur's court
Admir'd her every one.

Then towards King Arthur's table
The boy he tum'd his eye;
Where stood a boar's head garnished
With bayes and rosemarye.

When thrice he o'er the boar's head
His little wand had drawne;
Quoth he, "There's never a cuckold's knife
Can carve this head of brawne."

Then some their whittles rubbed
On whetstone, and on hone;
Some threwe them under the table,
And swore that they had none.

Sir Cradock had a little knife,
Of steel and iron made;
And in an instant thro' the skull
He thrust the shining blade.

He thrust the shining blade
Full easily and fast;
And every knight in Arthur's court
A morsel had to taste.

The boy brought forth a horne,
All golden was the rim;
Saith he, "No cuckolde ever can
Set mouth unto the brim.

"No cuckold can this little horne
Lift fairly to his head;
But or on this, or that side,
He shall the liquor shed."

Some shed it on their shoulder,
Some shed it on their thigh;
And hee that could not hit his mouth,
Was sure to hit his eye.

Thus he, that was a cuckold,
Was known of every man:
But Cradock lifted easily,
And wan the golden can.

Thus boar's head, horn and mantle,
Were this fair couple's meed:
And all such constant lovers,
God send them well to speed.

Then down in rage came Guenever,
And thus could spightful say,
"Sir Cradock's wife most wrongfully
Hath borne the prize away.

"See yonder shameless woman,
That makes herselfe so clean:
Yet from her pillow taken
Thrice five gallants have been.

"Priests, clarkes, and wedded men;
Have her lewd pillow prest;
Yet she the wonderous prize forsooth
Must beare from all the rest."

Then bespake the little boy,
Who had the same in hold;
"Chastize thy wife, King Arthur,
Of speech she is too bold;

"Of speech she is too bold,
Of carriage all too free;
Sir King, she hath within thy hall
A cuckold made of thee.

"All frolick light and wanton
She hath her carriage borne;
And given thee for a kingly crown
To wear a cuckold's horne."

*** The Rev. Evan Evans, Editor of the Specimens of Welsh Poetry, 4to. affirmed that the story of The Boy and the Mantle is taken from what is related in some of the old Welsh MSS. of Tegan Earfron, one of King Arthur's mistresses. She is said to have possessed a mantle that would not fit any immodest or incontinent woman; this (which, the old writers say, was reckoned among the curiosities of Britain) is frequently alluded to by the old Welsh bards.

            Carleile, so often mentioned in the ballads of King Arthur, the Editor once thought might probably be a corruption of Caer-leon, an ancient British city on the river Uske, in Monmouthshire, which was one of the places of King Arthur's chief residence; but he is now convinced that it is no other than Carlisle, in Cumberland; the old English minstrels, being most of them northern men, naturally represented the hero of romance as residing in the north; and many of the places mentioned in the old ballads are still to be found there, as Tearne-Wadling, &c.

            Near Penrith is still seen a large circle, surrounded by a mound of earth, which retains the name of Arthur's Round Table.


1. The "modern hand" was Percy's.-- Editor.


Prev Next

Back to Introduction