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Percy's Reliques - King Edward IV. and the Tanner of Tamworth.

King Edward IV. and the Tanner of Tamworth.

            This was a story of great fame among our ancestors. The author of the Art of English Poesie, 1589, 4to. seems to speak of it as a real fact. Describing that vicious mode of speech, which the Greeks called Acyron, i.e. "When we use a dark and obscure word, utterly repugnant to that we should express;" he adds, "Such manner of uncouth speech did the Tanner of Tamworth use to King Edward the Fourth; which Tanner, having a great while mistaken him, and used very broad talke with him, at length perceiving by his traine that it was the king, was afraide he should be punished for it, [and] said thus, with a certain rude repentance,

I hope I shall he hanged to-morrow,

for [I feare me] I shall be hanged; whereat the king laughed a good,[ 1] not only to see the Tanner's vaine feare, but also to heare his illshapen terme: and gave him for recompence of his good sport, the inheritance of Plumpton-parke. I am afraid," concludes this sagacious writer," the poets of our times that speake more finely and correctedly, will come too short of such a reward,"-- p. 214. The phrase here referred to, is not found in this ballad at present,[ 2] but occurs with some variation in another old poem, intitled John the Reeve, described in the following volume.-- see the Preface to The King and the Miller, viz.

"Nay, sayd John, by Gods grace,
And Edward war in this place,
Hee shold not touch this tonne:
He wold be wroth with John I HOPE,
Thereffore I beshrew the soupe,
That in his mouth shold come."
                -- Part ii. st. 24.

            The following text is selected (with such other corrections as occurred) from two copies in black-letter. The one in the Bodleian Library, intitled, "A merrie, pleasant, and delectable historie betweene King Edward the Fourth, and a Tanner of Tamworth, &c. printed at London, by John Danter, 1596." This copy, ancient as it now is, appears to have been modernized and altered at the time it was published; and many vestiges of the more ancient readings were recovered from another copy (though more recently printed), in one sheet folio, without date, in the Pepys Collection.

            But these are both very inferior in point of antiquity to the old ballad of The King and the Barker, reprinted with other "Pieces of ancient popular Poetry from authentic Manuscripts, and old Printed Copies, &c." Lond. 1791, 8vo. As that very antique poem had never occurred to the editor of the Reliques, till he saw it in the above collection, he now refers the curious reader to it, as an imperfect and incorrect copy of the old original ballad.

IN summer time, when leaves grow greene,
And blossoms bedecke the tree,
King Edward wolde a hunting ryde,
Some pastime for to see.

With hawke and hounde he made him bowne,
With horne, and eke with bowe;
To Drayton Basset he tooke his waye,
With all his lordes a rowe.

And he had ridden ore dale and downe
By eight of clocke in the day,
When he was ware of a bold tannèr,
Come ryding along the waye.

A fayre russet coat the tanner had on
Fast buttoned under his chin,
And under him a good cow-hide,
And a mare of four shilling.[ 3]

"Nowe stand you still, my good lordes all,
Under the grene wood spraye;
And I will wend to yonder fellowe,
To weet what he will saye.

"God speede, God speede thee," said our king.
"Thou art welcome," Sir, sayd hee.
"The readyest waye to Drayton Basset
I praye thee to shewe to mee."

"To Drayton Basset woldst thou goe,
Fro the place where thou dost stand?
The next payre of gallowes thou comest unto,
Turne in upon thy right hand."

"That is an unreadye waye," sayd our king,
"Thou doest but jest, I see
Nowe shewe me out the nearest waye,
And I pray thee wend with mee."

"Away with a vengeance!" quoth the tanner:
"I hold thee out of thy witt:
All daye have I rydden on Brocke my mare,
And I am fasting yett."

"Go with me downe to Drayton Basset,
No daynties we will spare;
All daye shalt thou eate and drinke of the best,
And I will paye thy fare."

"Gramercye for nothing," the tanner replyde,
"Thou payest no fare of mine:
I trowe I've more nobles in my purse,
Than thou hast pence in thine."

"God give thee joy of them," sayd the king,
"And send them well to priefe."
The tanner wolde faine have beene away,
For he weende he had beene a thiefe.

"What art thou," hee sayde, "thou fine fellawe,
Of thee I am in great feare,
For the clothes, thou wearest upon thy back,
Might beseeme a lord to weare."

"I never stole them," quoth our king,
"I tell you, Sir, by the roode."
"Then thou playest, as many an unthrift doth,
And standest in midds of thy goode."[ 4]

"What tydinges heare you," sayd the kynge,
"As you ryde farre and neare?"
"I heare no tydinges, Sir, by the masse,
But that cowe-hides are deare."

"Cow-hides! cow-hides! what things are those?
I marvell what they bee? "
"What, art thou a foole?" the tanner reply'd
"I carry one under mee."

"What craftsman art thou," said the king,
"I praye thee tell me trowe."
"I am a barker,[ 5] Sir, by my trade;
Nowe tell me what art thou?"

"I am a poor courtier, Sir," quoth he,
"That am forth of service worne;
And faine I wolde thy prentise bee,
Thy cunninge for to learne."

"Marrye heaven forfend, the tanner replyde,
That thou my prentise were:
Thou woldst spend more good than I shold winne
By fortye shilling a yere."

"Yet one thinge wolde I, sayd our king,
If thou wilt not seeme strange:
Thoughe my horse be better than thy mare,
Yet with thee I fain wold change."

"Why if with me thou faine wilt change,
As change full well maye wee,
By the faith of my bodye, thou proude fellòwe
I will have some boot of thee."

"That were against reason," sayd the king,
"I sweare, so mote I thee:
My horse is better than thy mare,
And that thou well mayst see.

"Yea, Sir, but Brocke is gentle and mild,
And softly she will fare:
Thy horse is unrulye and wild, I wiss;
Aye skipping here and theare."

"What boote wilt thou have?" our king reply'd;
"Now tell me in this stound."
"Noe pence, nor half pence, by my faye,
But a noble in gold so round."

"Here's twentye groates of white moneye,
Sith thou will have it of mee."
"I would have sworne now," quoth the tanner,
"Thou hadst not had one pennie."

"But since we two have made a change,
A change we must abide,
Although thou hast gotten Brocke my mare,
Thou gettest not my cowe-hide."

"I will not have it," sayd the kynge,
"I sweare, so nought I thee;
Thy foule cowe-hide I wolde not beare,
If thou woldst give it to mee."

The tanner hee tooke his good cowe-hide,
That of the cow was hilt;
And threwe it upon the king's sadèlle,
That was soe fayrelye gilte.

"Now help me up, thou fine fellòwe,
'Tis time that I were gone:
When I come home to Gyllian my wife,
Sheel say I am a gentilmon."

The king he tooke him up by the legge;
The tanner a f** lett fall.
"Nowe marrye, good fellowe," sayd the king,
"Thy courtesye is but small."

When the tanner he was in the kinges sadelle,
And his foote in the stirrup was;
He marvelled greatlye in his minde,
Whether it were golde or brass.

But when his steede saw the cows taile wagge,
And eke the blacke cowe-horne;
He stamped, and stared, and awaye he ranne,
As the devill had him borne.

The tanner he pulld, the tanner he sweat,
And held by the pummil fast:
At length the tanner came tumbling downe;
His necke he had well-nye brast.

"Take thy horse again with a vengeance," he sayd,
With mee he shall not byde."
"My horse wolde have borne thee well enoughe,
But he knewe not of thy cowe-hide."

Yet if againe thou faine woldst change,
As change full well may wee,
By the faith of my bodye, thou jolly tanner,
I will have some boote of thee."

"What boote wilt thou have?" the tanner replyd,
"Nowe tell me in this stounde.
"Noe pence nor halfpence, Sir, by my faye,
But I will have twentye pound."

"Here's twentye groates out of my purse;
And twentye I have of thine:
And I have one more, which we will spend
Together at the wine."

The king set a bugle horne to his mouthe,
And blewe both loude and shrille:
And soone came lords, and soone came knights,
Fast ryding over the hille.

"Nowe, out alas!" the tanner he cryde,
"That ever I sawe this daye
Thou art a strong thiefe, yon come thy fellowes
Will beare my cowe-hide away."

"They are no thieves," the king replyde,
"I sweare, soe mote I thee:
But they are the lords of the north countrèy,
Here come to hunt with mee."

And soone before our king they came,
And knelt downe on the grounde:
Then might the tanner have beene awaye,
He had lever than twentye pounde.

"A coller, a coller, here:" sayd the king,
"A coller," he loud gan crye:
Then woulde he lever than twentye pound,
He had not beene so nighe.

"A coller, a coller," the tanner he sayd,
"I trowe it will breed sorrowe:
After a coller cometh a halter,
I trow I shall be hang'd to-morrowe."

"Be not afraid, tanner," said our king
"I tell thee, so mought I thee,
Lo here I make thee the best esquire
That is in the North countrie.[ 6]

"For Plumpton-parke I will give thee,
With tenements faire beside
'Tis worth three hundred markes by the yeare,
To maintaine thy good cowe-hide."

"Gramercye, my liege," the tanner replyd,
"For the favour thou hast me showne;
If ever thou comest to merry Tamworth,
Neates leather shall clout thy shoen."


1. Vid. Gloss.

2. Nor in that of the "Barker" mentioned below.

3. In the reign of Edward IV. Dame Cecill, Lady of Torboke, in her will dated March 7, A.D. 1466, among many other bequests, has this, "Also I will that my sonne Thomas of Torboke have 13s. 4d. to buy him an horse.-- Vid. Harleian Catalog. 2176. 27.) Now if 13s. 4d. would purchase a steed fit for a person of quality, a tanner's horse might reasonably be valued at four or five shillings.

4. i.e. hast no other wealth, but what thou carriest about thee.

5. i.e. a dealer in bark.

6. This stanza is restored from a quotation of this ballad in Selden's Titles of Honour, who produces it as a good authority to prove, that one mode of creating Esquires at that time, was by the imposition of a Collar. His words are, "Nor is that old pamphlet of the Tanner of Tamworth and King Edward the Fourth so contemptible, but that wee may thence note also an observable passage, wherein the use of making Esquires by giving Collars is expressed."-- Sub Tit. Esquire; vide in Spelmanni Glossar. Armiger. This form of creating Esquires actually exists at this day among the Serjeants at Arms, who are invested with a Collar (which they wear on Collar Days) by the King himself.
            This information I owe to Samuel Pegge, Esq. to whom the public is indebted for that curious work the Curialia, 4to.



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