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Percy's Reliques - The Beggar's Daughter of Bednall-Green.

The Beggar's Daughter of Bednall-Green.

            This popular old ballad was written in the reign of Elizabeth, as appears not only from ver. 23, where the arms of England are called the "Queenes armes," but from its tune's being quoted in other old pieces, written in her time.-- See the ballad of Mary Ambree, Book v. No. 19. The late Mr. Guthrie assured the Editor, that he had formerly seen another old song on the same subject, composed in a different measure from this; which was truly beautiful, if we may judge from the only stanza he remembered. In this it was said of the old Beggar, that "down his neck

"-- his reverend lockes
In comelye curles did wave
And on his aged temples grewe
The blossomes of the grave."

            The following ballad is chiefly given from the Editor's folio manuscript, compared with two ancient printed copies: the concluding stanzas, which contain the old Beggar's discovery of himself, are not however given from any of these, being very different from those of the vulgar ballad. Nor yet does the Editor offer them as genuine, but as a modern attempt to remove the absurdities and inconsistencies, which so remarkably prevailed in this part of the song, as it stood before: whereas, by the alteration of a few lines, the story is rendered much more affecting, and is reconciled to probability and true history. For this informs us, that at the decisive battle of Evesham, (fought August 4, 1265) when Simon de Montfort, the great Earl of Leicester, was slain at the head of the barons, his eldest son Henry fell by his side, and, in consequence of that defeat, his whole family sunk for ever, the king bestowing their great honours and possessions on his second son, Edmund Earl of Lancaster.


ITT was a blind beggar, had long lost his sight,
He had a faire daughter of bewty most bright;
And many a gallant brave suiter had shee,
For none was soe comelye as pretty Bessee.

And though shee was of favor most faire,
Yett seeing shee was but a poor beggars heyre,
Of ancyent housekeepers despised was shee,
Whose sonnes came as suitors to prettye Bessee.

Wherefore in great sorrow faire Bessy did say,
"Good father, and mother, let me goe away
To seeke out my fortune, whatever itt bee."
This suite then they granted to prettye Bessee.

Then Bessy, that was of bewtye soe bright,
All cladd in gray russett, and late in the night
From father and mother alone parted shee;
Who sighed and sobbed for prettye Bessee.

Shee went till shee came to Stratford-le-Bow;
Then knew shee not whither, nor which way to goe:
With teares shee lamented her hard destinie,
So sadd and soe heavy was pretty Bessee.

Shee kept on her journey untill it was day,
And went unto Rumford along the hye way;
Where at the Queenes armes entertained was shee;
Soe faire and wel favoured was pretty Bessee.

Shee had not beene there a month to an end,
But master and mistres and all was her friend:
And every brave gallant, that once did her see,
Was straight-way enamourd of pretty Bessee.

Great gifts they did send her of silver and gold,
And in their songs daylye her love was extold;
Her beawtye was blazed in every degree;
Soe faire and soe comelye was pretty Bessee.

The young men of Rumford in her had their joy;
Shee shewed herself curteous, and modestlye coye;
And at her commandment still wold they bee;
Soe fayre and soe comlye was pretty Bessee.

Foure suitors att once unto her did goe;
They craved her favor, but still she sayd noe;
"I wold not wish gentles to marry with mee.--"
Yett ever they honored prettye Bessee.

The first of them was a gallant young knight,
And he came unto her disguisde in the night;
The second a gentleman of good degree,
Who wooed and sued for prettye Bessee.

A merchant of London, whose wealth was not small,
He was the third suiter, and proper withall:
Her masters own sonne the fourth man must bee,
Who swore he would dye for pretty Bessee.

"And, if thou wilt marry with mee," quoth the knight,
"Ile make thee a ladye with joy and delight;
My hart's so inthralled by thy bewtie,
That soone I shall dye for prettye Bessee."

The gentleman sayd, "Come, marry with mee,
As fine as a ladye my Bessy shal bee:
My life is distressed: O heare me, quoth hee;
And grant me thy love, my prettye Bessee."

"Let me bee thy husband," the merchant cold say,
"Thou shalt live in London both gallant and gay;
My shippes shall bring home rych jewells for thee,
And I will for ever love pretty Bessee."

Then Bessy shee sighed, and thus she did say,
"My father and mother I meane to obey;
First gett their good will, and be faithfull to mee,
And you shall enjoye your prettye Bessee."

To every one this answer shee made,
Wherfore unto her they joyfullye sayd,
"This thing to fulfill wee all doe agree;
But where dwells thy father," my prettye Besse?

"My father," shee said, "is soone to be seene:
The seely blind beggar of Bednall-greene,
That daylye sits begging for charitie,
He is the good father of pretty Bessee.

"His markes and his tokens are knowen very well;
He alwayes is led with a dogg and a bell:
A seely olde man, God knoweth, is hee,
Yett hee is the father of pretty Bessee.

"Nay then," quoth the merchant, "thou art not for mee."
"Nor," quoth the innholder, "my wife thou shalt bee:"
"I lothe," sayd the gentle, "a beggars degree,
And therefore, adewe, my pretty Bessee!"

"Why then," quoth the knight, "hap better or worse,
I waighe not true love by the waight of my pursse,
And bewtye is bewtye in every degree;
Then welcome unto me, my prettye Bessee.

"With thee to thy father forthwith I will goe."
"Nay soft," quoth his kinsmen, "it must not be soe;
A poor beggars daughter noe ladye shal bee,
Then take thy adew of pretty Bessee."

But soone after this, by breake of the day,
The knight had from Rumford stole Bessy away.
The younge men of Rumford, as thicke might bee,
Rode after to feitch againe pretty Bessee.

As swifte as the winde to ryde they were seene,
Untill they came neare unto Bednall-greene;
And as the knight lighted most courteouslie,
They all fought against him for pretty Bessee.

But rescew came speedilye over the plaine,
Or else the young knight for his love had been slaine.
This fray being ended, then straitway he see
His kinsmen come rayling at pretty Bessee.

Then spake the blind beggar, "Although I bee poore,
Yett rayle not against my child at my own doore:
Though shee be not decked in velvett and pearle,
Yett will I dropp angells with you for my girle.

"And then, if my gold may better her birthe,
And equall the gold that you lay on the earth,
Then neyther rayle nor grudge you to see
The blind beggars daughter a lady to bee.

"But first you shall promise, and have it well knowne,
The gold that you drop shall all be your owne."
With that they replyed, "Contented bee wee."
"Then here's," quoth the beggar, "for pretty Bessee."

With that an angell he cast on the ground,
And dropped in angels full three thousand pound;
And oftentimes itt was proved most plaine,
For the gentlemens one the beggar droppt twayne:

Soe that the place, wherin they did sift,
With gold it was covered every whitt.
The gentlemen then having dropt all their store,
Sayd, "Now, beggar, hold, for wee have noe more.

"Thou hast fulfilled thy promise arright."
"Then marry," quoth he, "my girle to this knight;
And heere," added hee, "I will now throwe you downe
A hundred pounds more to buy her a gowne."

The gentlemen all, that this treasure had seene,
Admired the beggar of Bednall-greene:
And all those, that were her suitors before,
Their fleshe for very anger they tore.

Thus was faire Besse matched to the knight,
And then made a ladye in others despite:
A fairer ladye there never was seene,
Than the blind beggars daughter of Bednall greene.

But of their sumptuous marriage and feast,
What brave lords and knights thither were prest,
The SECOND FITT[ 1] shall set forth to your sight
With marveilous pleasure, and wished delight.


OFF a blind beggars daughter most bright,
That late was betrothed unto a younge knight;
All the discourse therof you did see;
But now comes the wedding of pretty Bessee.

Within a gorgeous palace most brave,
Adorned with all the cost they cold have,
This wedding was kept most sumptuouslie,
And all for the creditt of pretty Bessee.

All kind of dainties, and delicates sweete
Were bought for the banquet, as it was most meete;
Partridge, and plover, and venison most free,
Against the brave wedding of pretty Bessee.

This marriage through England was spread by report,
Soe that a great number therto did resort
Of nobles and gentles in every degree;
And all for the fame of prettye Bessee.

To church then went this gallant younge knight;
His bride followed after, an angell most bright,
With troopes of ladyes, the like nere was seene
As went with sweete Bessy of Bednall-greene.

This marryage being solempnized then,
With musicke performed by the skilfullest men,
The nobles and gentles sate downe at that tyde,
Each one admiring the beautifull bryde.

Now, after the sumptuous dinner was done,
To talke, and to reason a number begunn:
They talkt of the blind beggars daughter most bright,
And what with his daughter he gave to the knight.

Then spake the nobles, "Much marvell have wee,
This jolly blind beggar wee cannot here see."
"My lords," quoth the bride, "my father's so base,
He is loth with his presence these states to disgrace."

"The prayse of a woman in questyon to bringe
Before her own face, were a flattering thinge;
But wee thinke thy father's baseness," quoth they,
"Might by thy bewtye be cleane put awaye."

They had noe sooner these pleasant words spoke,
But in comes the beggar cladd in a silke cloke;
A faire velvet capp, and a fether had hee,
And now a musicyan forsooth he wold bee.

He had a daintye lute under his arme,
He touched the strings, which made such a charme,
Saies, "Please you to heare any musicke of mee,
Ile sing you a song of pretty Bessee."

With that his lute he twanged straightway,
And thereon begann most sweetlye to play;
And after that lessons were playd two or three,
He strayn'd out this song most delicatelie.

"A poore beggars daughter did dwell on a greene,
Who for her fairenesse might well be a queene:
A blithe bonny lasse, and a daintye was shee,
And many one called her pretty Bessee.

"Her father hee had noe goods, nor noe land,
But beggd for a penny all day with his hand;
And yett to her marriage he gave thousands three,
And still he hath somewhat for pretty Bessee.

"And if any one here her birth doe disdaine,
Her father is ready, with might and with maine,
To proove shee is come of noble degree:
Therfore never flout att prettye Bessee."

With that the lords and the companye round
With harty laughter were readye to swound;
Att last said the lords, "Full well wee may see,
The bride and the beggar's behoulden to thee."

On this the bride all blushing did rise,
The pearlie dropps standing within her faire eyes,
"O pardon my father, grave nobles," quoth shee,
"That throughe blind affection thus doteth on mee.

"If this be thy father," the nobles did say,
"Well may he be proud of this happy day;
Yett by his countenance well may wee see,
His birth and his fortune did never agree:

"And therfore, blind man, we pray thee bewray,
(And looke that the truth thou to us doe say)
Thy birth and thy parentage, whatt itt may bee;
For the love that thou bearest to pretty Bessee."

"Then give me leave, nobles and gentles, each one,
One song more to sing, and then I have done;
And if that itt may not winn good report,
Then doe not give me a GROAT for my sport.

"[ 2]Sir Simon de Montfort my subject shal bee;
Once chiefe of all the great barons was hee,
Yet fortune so cruelle this lorde did abase,
Now loste and forgotten are hee and his race.

"When the barons in armes did King Henrye oppose,
Sir Simon de Montfort their leader they chose;
A leader of courage undaunted was hee,
And oft-times he made their enemyes flee.

"At length in the battle on Eveshame plaine
The barons were routed, and Montford was slaine;
Moste fatall that battel did prove unto thee,
Thoughe thou wast not borne then, my prettye Bessee!

"Along with the nobles, that fell at that tyde,
His eldest son Henrye, who fought by his side,
Was fellde by a blowe, he receivde in the fight!
A blowe that deprivde him for ever of sight.

"Among the dead bodyes all lifelesse he laye,
Till evening drewe on of the following daye,
When by a yong ladye discoverd was hee;
And this was thy mother, my prettye Bessee!

"A barons faire daughter stept forth in the nighte
To search for her father, who fell in the fight,
And seeing young Montfort, where gasping he laye,
Was moved with pitye, and brought him awaye.

"In secrette she nurst him, and swaged his paine,
While he throughe the realme was beleevd to be slaine
At lengthe his faire bride she consented to bee,
And made him glad father of prettye Bessee.

"And nowe lest oure foes our lives sholde betraye,
We clothed ourselves in beggars arraye;
Her jewelles shee solde, and hither came wee:
All our comfort and care was our prettye Bessee.

"And here have we lived in fortunes despite,
Thoughe poore, yet contented with humble delighte:
Full forty winters thus have I beene
A silly blind beggar of Bednall-greene.

"And here, noble lordes, is ended the song
Of one, that once to your own ranke did belong:
And thus have you learned a secrette from mee,
That ne'er had been knowne, but for prettye Bessee."

Now when the faire companye everye one,
Had heard the strange tale in the song he had showne,
They all were amazed, as well they might bee,
Both at the blinde beggar, and pretty Bessee.

With that the faire bride they all did embrace,
Saying, "Sure thou art come of an honourable race,
Thy father likewise is of noble degree,
And thou art well worthy a lady to bee."

Thus was the feast ended with joye and delighte,
A bridegroome most happy then was the young knighte,
In joy and felicitie long lived hee,
All with his faire ladye, the pretty Bessee.


1. See the Essay on the word FIT, Next.

2. The eight succeeding stanzas are conjectured to be the work of Robert Dodsley.-- Editor.


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