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Percy's Reliques - Fair Rosamond.

Fair Rosamond.

            Most of the circumstances in this popular story of King Henry II. and the beautiful Rosamond have been taken for fact by our English historians; who, unable to account for the unnatural conduct of Queen Eleanor in stimulating her sons to rebellion, have attributed it to jealousy, and supposed that Henry's amour with Rosamond was the object of that passion.

            Our old English annalists seem, most of them, to have followed Higden the monk of Chester, whose account, with some enlargements, is thus given by Stow. "Rosamond, the fayre daughter of Walter Lord Clifford, concubine to Henry II. (poisoned by Queen Eleanor, as some thought) dyed at Woodstocke [A.D. 1177] where King Henry had made for her a house of wonderfull working; so that no man or woman might come to her, but he that was instructed by the king, or such as were right secret with him touching the matter. This house after some was named Labyrinthus, or Dedalus worke, which was wrought like unto a knot in a garden, called a Maze;[ 1] but it was commonly said, that lastly the queen came to her by a clue of thridde, or silke, and so dealt with her, that she lived not long after: but when she was dead, she was buried at Godstow, in an house of nunnes beside Oxford, with these verses upon her tombe


In English thus:

"The rose of the world, but not the cleane flowre,
Is now here graven; to whom beauty was lent:
In this grave full darke nowe is her bowre,
That by her life was sweet and redolent:
But now that she is from this life blent,
Though she were sweets, now foully doth she stinke.
A mirrour good for all men, that on her thinke."
                Stow's Annals, ed. 1631, p. 154.

            How the queen gained admittance into Rosamond's bower is differently related. Holinshed speaks of it, as "the common report of the people, that the queene . . . founde hir out by a silken thread, which the king had drawne after him out of hir chamber with his foot, and dealt with hir in such sharpe and cruell wise, that she lived not long after." Vol. iii. p. 115. On the other hand in Speede's Hist. we are told that the jealous queen found her out "by a clew of silke, fallen from Rosamond's lappe, as shee sate to take are, and suddenly fleeing from the sight of the searcher, the end of her silke fastened to her foot, and the clew still unwinding, remained behinde: which the queene followed, till shee had found what she sought, and upon Rosamond so vented her spleene, as the lady lived not long after." 3d. edit. p. 509. Our ballad-maker, with more ingenuity, and probably as much truth, tells us the clue was gained by surprise, from the knight, who was left to guard her bower.

            It is observable, that none of the old writers attribute Rosamond's death to poison (Stowe, above, mentions it merely as a slight conjecture); they only give us to understand, that the queen treated her harshly; with furious menaces, we may suppose, and sharp expostulations, which had such an effect on her spirits, that she did not long survive it. Indeed on her tomb-stone, as we learn from a person of credit,[ 2] among other fine sculptures, was engraven the figure of a cup. This, which perhaps at first was an accidental ornament, (perhaps only the Chalice) might in after-times suggest the notion that she was poisoned; at least this construction was put upon it, when the stone came to be demolished after the nunnery was dissolved. The account is, that "the tombstone of Rosamund Clifford was taken up at God-stow, and broken in pieces, and that upon it were interchangeable weavings drawn out and decked with roses red and green, and the picture of the cup, out of which she drank the poison given her by the queen, carved in stone."

            Rosamond's father having been a great benefactor to the nunnery of Godstow, where she had also resided herself in the innocent part of her life, her body was conveyed there, and buried in the middle of the choir; in which place it remained till the year 1191, when Hugh Bishop of Lincoln caused it to be removed. The fact is recorded by Hoveden, a contemporary writer, whose words are thus translated by Stowe: "Hugh Bishop of Lincolne came to the abbey of nunnes, called God-stow, . . . and when he had entred the church to pray, he saw a tombe in the middle of the quire, covered with a pall of silke, and set about with lights of waxe: and demanding whose tomb it was, he was answered, that it was the tombe of Rosamond, that was some time lemman to Henry II. . . . who for the love of her had done much good to that church. Then quoth the bishop, Take out of this place the harlot, and bury her without the church, lest Christian religion should grow in contempt, and to the end that, through example of her, other women, being made afraid, may beware, and keepe themselves from unlawfull and advouterous company with men."-- Annals, p. 159.

            History further informs us that King John repaired Godstow nunnery, and endowed it with yearly revenues, "that these holy virgins might releeve with their prayers, the soules of his father King Henrie, and of Lady Rosamund there interred."[ 3] . . . In what situation her remains were found at the dissolution of the nunnery, we learn from Leland, "Rosamundes tumbe at Godstow nunnery was taken up [of] late; it is a stone with this inscription, Tumba Rosamundæ. Her bones were closid in lede, and withyn that bones were closyd yn lether. When it was opened a very swete smell came owt of it."[ 4]. See Hearne's discourse above quoted, written in 1718; at which time he tells us, were still seen by the pool at Woodstock the foundations of a very large building, which were believed to be the remains of Rosamond's labyrinth.

            To conclude this (perhaps too prolix) account, Henry had two sons by Rosamond, from a computation of whose ages, a modern historian has endeavoured to invalidate the received story. These were William Longue-espé (or Long-sword) Earl of Salisbury, and Geoffrey Bishop of Lincolne.[ 5] Geoffrey was the younger of Rosamond's sons, and yet is said to have been twenty years old at the time of his election to that see in 1173. Hence the writer concludes, that King Henry fell in love with Rosamond in 1149, when in King Stephen's reign he came over to be knighted by the King of Scots; he also thinks it probable that Henry's commerce with this lady "broke off upon his marriage with Eleanor [in 1152] and that the young lady, by a natural effect of grief and resentment at the defection of her lover, entered on that occasion into the nunnery of Godstowe, where she died probably before the rebellion of Henry's sons in 1173." [Carte's Hist. vol. i. p. 652.] But let it be observed, that Henry was but sixteen years old when he came over to be knighted; that he staid but eight months in this island, and was almost all the time with the King of Scots; that he did not return back to England till 1153, the year after his marriage with Eleanor; and that no writer drops the least hint of Rosamond's having been abroad with her lover, nor indeed is it probable that a boy of sixteen should venture to carry over a mistress to his mother's court. If all these circumstances are considered, Mr. Carte's account will be found more incoherent and improbable than that of the old ballad; which is also countenanced by most of our old historians.

            Indeed the true date of Geoffrey's birth, and consequently of Henry's commerce with Rosamond, seems to be best ascertained from an ancient manuscript in the Cotton Library; wherein it is thus registered of Geoffrey Plantagenet: "Natus est 5° Henry II. [ 1159.] Factus est miles 25° Henry II. [ 1179.] Elect. in Episcop. Lincoln. 28° Henry II. [ 1182.]" Vid. Chron. de Kirkstall (Domitian xii.) Drake's Hist. of York, p. 422.

            The Ballad of Fair Rosamond appears to have been first published in "Strange Histories or Songs and Sonnets, of Kinges, Princes, Dukes, Lords, Ladyes, Knights, and Gentlemen, &c. By Thomas Delone. Lond. 1612," 4to. It is now printed (with conjectural emendations) from four ancient copies in black-letter; two of them in the Pepys Library.

WHEN as King Henry rulde this land,
The second of that name,
Besides the queene, he dearly lovde
A faire and comely dame.

Most peerlesse was her beautye founde,
Her favour, and her face;
A sweeter creature in this worlde
Could never prince embrace.

Her crisped lockes like threads of golde
Appeard to each mans sight;
Her sparkling eyes, like Orient pearles,
Did cast a heavenlye light.

The blood within her crystal cheeks
Did such a colour drive,
As though the lillye and the rose
For mastership did strive.

Yea Rosamonde, fair Rosamonde,
Her name was called so,
To whom our queene, dame Ellinor,
Was known a deadlye foe.

The king therefore, for her defence,
Against the furious queene,
At Woodstocke builded such a bower,
The like was never scene.

Most curiously that bower was built
Of stone and timber strong,
An hundered and fifty doors
Did to this bower belong:

And they so cunninglye contriv'd
With turnings round about,
That none but with a clue of thread,
Could enter in or out.

And for his love and ladyes sake,
That was so faire and brighte,
The keeping of this bower he gave
Unto a valiant knighte.

But fortune, that doth often frowne
Where she before did smile,
The kinges delighte and ladyes joy
Full soon shee did beguile:

For why, the kinges ungracious sonne,
Whom he did high advance,
Against his father raised warres
Within the realme of France.

But yet before our comelye king
The English land forsooke,
Of Rosamond, his lady faire,
His farewelle thus he tooke:

"My Rosamonde, my only Rose,
That pleasest best mine eye:
The fairest flower in all the worlde
To feed my fantasye:

"The flower of mine affected heart,
Whose sweetness doth excelle:
My royal Rose, a thousand times
I bid thee nowe farwelle!

"For I must leave my fairest flower,
My sweetest Rose; a space,
And cross the seas to famous France,
Proud rebelles to abase.

But yet, my Rose, be sure thou shalt
My coming shortlye see,
And in my heart, when hence I am,
Ile beare my Rose with mee."

When Rosamond, that ladye brighte,
Did heare the king saye soe,
The sorrowe of her grieved heart
Her outward lookes did showe;

And from her cleare and crystall eyes
The teares gusht out apace,
Which like the silver-pearled dewe
Ranne downe her comely face.

Her lippes, erst like the corall redde,
Did waxe both wan and pale,
And for the sorrow she conceivde
Her vital spirits faile;

And falling down all in a swoone
Before King Henryes face,
Full oft he in his princelye armes
Her bodye did embrace:

And twentye times, with watery eyes,
He kist her tender cheeke,
Until he had revivde againe
Her senses milde and meeke.

"Why grieves my Rose, my sweetest Rose?"
The king did often say.
"Because," quoth shee, "to bloodye warres
My lord must part awaye.

"But since your grace on forrayne coastes
Amonge your foes unkinde
Must goe to hazard life and limbe,
Why should I staye behinde?

"Nay rather, let me, like a page,
Your sworde and target beare;
That on my breast the blowes may lighte,
Which would offend you there.

Or lett mee, in your royal tent,
Prepare your bed at nighte,
And with sweete baths refresh your grace,
At your returne from fighte.

"So I your presence may enjoye
No toil I will refuse;
But wanting you, my life is death;
Nay, death Ild rather chuse!"

"Content thy self, my dearest love;
Thy rest at home shall bee
In Englandes sweet and pleasant isle;
For travell fits not thee.

"Faire ladies brooke not bloodye warres;
Soft peace their sexe delightes;
Not rugged campes, but courtlye bowers;
Gay feastes, not cruell fightes.

"My Rose shall safely here abide,
With musicke passe the daye;
Whilst I, amonge the piercing pikes,
My foes seeke far awaye.

"My Rose shall shine in pearle, and golde,
Whilst Ime in armour dighte;
Gay galliards here my love shall dance,
Whilst I my foes goe fighte.

"And you, Sir Thomas, whom I truste
To bee my loves defence;
Be carefull of my gallant Rose
When I am parted hence."

And therewithall he fetcht a sigh,
As though his heart would breake
And Rosamonde, for very griefe,
Not one plaine word could speake.

And at their parting well they mighte
In heart be grieved sore:
After that daye faire Rosamonde
The king did see no more.

For when his grace had past the seas,
And into France was gone;
With envious heart, Queene Ellinor
To Woodstocke came anone.

And forth she calls this trustye knighte,
In an unhappy houre;
Who with his clue of twined thread,
Came from this famous bower.

And when that they had wounded him,
The queene this thread did gette,
And went where Ladye Rosamonde
Was like an angell sette.

But when the queene with stedfast eye
Beheld her beauteous face,
She was amazed in her minde
At her exceeding grace.

"Cast off from thee those robes," she said,
"That riche and costlye bee;
And drinke thou up this deadlye draught,
Which I have brought to thee."

Then presentlye upon her knees
Sweet Rosamonde did falle;
And pardon of the queene she crav'd
For her offences all.

"Take pitty on my youthfull yeares,"
Faire Rosamonde did crye;
"And lett mee not with poison stronge
Enforcèd bee to dye.

"I will renounce my sinfull life,
And in some cloyster bide;
Or else be banisht, if you please,
To range the world soe wide.

"And for the fault which I have done,
Though I was forc'd theretoe,
Preserve my life, and punish mee
As you thinke meet to doe."

And with these words, her lillie handes
She wrunge full often there;
And downe along her lovely face
Did trickle many a teare.

But nothing could this furious queene
Therewith appeased bee;
The cup of deadlye poyson stronge,
As she knelt on her knee,

Shee gave this comelye dame to drinke;
Who tooke it in her hand,
And from her bended knee arose,
And on her feet did stand:

And casting up her eyes to heaven,
Shee did for mercye calle;
And drinking up the poison stronge,
Her life she lost withalle.

And when that death through everye limbe
Had showde its greatest spite,
Her chiefest foes did plaine confesse
Shee was a glorious wight.

Her body then they did entomb,
When life was fled away,
At Godstowe, neare to Oxford towne,
As may be seene this day.


1. Consisting of vaults under ground, arched and walled with brick and stone, according to Drayton. See note on his Epistle of Rosamond.

2. Tho. Allen, of Gloc. Hall, Oxon. who died in 1632, aged 90. See Hearne's rambling discourse concerning Rosamond, at the end of Gul. Neubrig. Hist. vol. iii. p. 739.

3. Vide Reign of Henry II. in Speed's History, writ by Dr. Barcham, Dean of Bocking

4. This would have passed for miraculous, if it had happened in the tomb of any clerical person, and a proof of his being a saint.

5. Afterwards Archbishop of York, temp. Rich. I.


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