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Percy's Reliques - The King and the Miller of Mansfield.

The King and the Miller of Mansfield.

            It has been a favourite subject with our English ballad-makers to represent our kings conversing, either by accident or design, with the meanest of their subjects. Of the former kind, besides this song of the King and the Miller, we have King Henry and the Soldier; King James I. and the Tinker; King William III. and the Forester, &c. Of the latter sort, are King Alfred and the Shepherd; King Edward IV. and the Tanner; King Henry VIII. and the Cobbler, &c.-- A few of the best of these are admitted into this Collection.

            Both the author of the following ballad, and others who have written on the same plan, seem to have copied a very ancient poem intitled "John the Reeve," which is built on an adventure of the same kind, that happened between King Edward Longshanks and one of his Reeves or Bailiffs. This is a piece of great antiquity, being written before the time of Edward IV., and for its genuine humour, diverting incidents, and faithful picture of rustic manners, is infinitely superior to all that have been since written in imitation of it. The Editor has a copy in his ancient folio manuscript, but its length rendered it improper for this work, it consisting of more than 900 lines. It contains also some corruptions, and the Editor chuses to defer its publication, in hopes that some time or other he shall be able to remove them.

            The following is printed, with corrections, from the Editor's folio manuscript, collated with an old black-letter copy in the Pepys Collection, intitled, "A pleasant Ballad of King Henry II. and the Miller of Mansfield, &c."


HENRY, our royall king, would ride a hunting
To the greene forest so pleasant and faire;
To see the harts skipping, and dainty does tripping:
Unto merry Sherwood his nobles repaire:
Hawke and hound were unbound, all things prepar'd
For the game, in the same, with good regard.

All a long summers day rode the king pleasantlye,
With all his princes and nobles eche one;
Chasing the hart and hind, and the bucke gallantlye,
Till the dark evening forc'd all to turne home,
Then at last, riding fast, he had lost quite
All his lords in the wood, late in the night.

Wandering thus wearilye, all alone, up and downe,
With a rude miller he mett at the last:
Asking the ready way unto faire Nottingham;
"Sir," quoth the miller, "I meane not to jest,
Yet I thinke, what I thinke, sooth for to say,
You doe not lightlye ride out of your way."

"Why, what dost thou thinke of me," quoth our king merrily,
"Passing thy judgment upon me so briefe?"
"Good faith," sayd the miller, "I meane not to flatter thee;
I guess thee to bee but some gentleman thiefe;
Stand thee backe, in the darke; light not adowne,
Lest that I presentlye crack thy knaves crowne."

"Thou dost abuse me much," quoth the king, saying thus;
"I am a gentleman; lodging I lacke."
"Thou hast not," quoth th' miller, "one groat in thy purse;
All thy inheritance hanges on thy backe."
"I have gold to discharge all that I call;
If it be forty pence, I will pay all."

"If thou beest a true man," then quoth the miller,
"I sweare by my toll-dish, I'll lodge thee all night.
"Here's my hand," quoth the king, "that was I ever."
"Nay, soft," quoth the miller, "thou may'st be a sprite.
Better I'll know thee, ere hands we will shake;
With none but honest men hands will I take."

Thus they went all along unto the millers house:
Where they were seething of puddings and souse:
The miller first enter'd in, after him went the king;
Never came hee in soe smoakye a house.
"Now," quoth hee, "let me see here what you are."
Quoth our king, "looke your fill, and doe not spare."

"I like well thy countenance, thou hast an honest face;
With my son Richard this night thou shalt lye."
Quoth his wife, "by my troth, it is a handsome youth,
Yet it's best, husband, to deal warilye.
Art thou no run-away, prythee, youth, tell?
Shew me thy passport, and all shall be well."

Then our king presentlye, making lowe courtesye,
With his hatt in his hand, thus he did say:
"I have no passport, nor never was servitor,
But a poor courtyer, rode out of my way:
And for your kindness here offered to mee,
I will requite you in everye degree."

Then to the miller his wife whisper'd secretlye,
Saying, "It seemeth, this youth's of good kin,
Both by his apparel, and eke by his manners;
To turne him out, certainlye, were a great sin."
"Yes," quoth hee, "you may see, he hath some grace
When he doth speake to his betters in place."

"Well," quo' the millers wife, "young man, ye're welcome here;
And, though I say it, well lodged shall be:
Fresh straw will I have, laid on thy bed so brave,
And good brown hempen sheets likewise," quoth shee.
"Aye," quoth the goodman; "and when that is done,
Thou shalt lye with no worse than our own sonne."

"Nay, first," quoth Richard, good-fellowe, "tell me true,
Hast thou noe creepers within thy gay hose
Or art thou not troubled with the scabbado?"
"I pray," quoth the king, "what creatures are those?"
"Art thou not lowsy, nor scabby?" quoth he:
"If thou beest, surely thou lyest not with mee."

This caus'd the king, suddenlye, to laugh most heartilye,
Till the teares trickled fast downe from his eyes.
Then to their supper where they set orderlye,
With hot bag-puddings and good apple-pyes;
Nappy ale, good and stale, in a browne bowle,
Which did about the board merrilye trowle.

"Here," quoth the miller, "good fellowe, I drinke to thee,
And to all cuckholds wherever they bee,"
"I pledge thee," quoth our king, "and thanke thee heartilye
For my good welcome in everye degree:
And here, in like manner, I drinke to thy sonne,"
"Do then," quoth Richard, "and quicke let it come."

"Wife," quoth the miller, "fetch me forth lightfoote,
And of his sweetnesse a little we'll taste."
A fair ven'son pastye brought she out presentlye.
"Eate," quoth the miller, "but, Sir, make no waste.
"Here's dainty lightfoote!" in faith, sayd the king,
"I never before eate so dainty a thing."

"I wis," quoth Richard, "no daintye at all it is,
For we doe eate of it everye day."
"In what place," sayd our king, "may be bought like to this?"
"We never pay pennye for itt, by my fay:
From merry Sherwood we fetch it home here;
Now and then we make bold with our kings deer."

"Then I thinke," sayd our king, "that it is venison."
"Eche foole," quoth Richard, "full well may know that:
Never are wee without two or three in the roof,
Very well fleshed, and excellent fat:
But, prythee, say nothing wherever thou goe;
We would not, for two pence, the king should it knowe."

"Doubt not," then sayd the king, "my promist secresye;
The king shall never know more on't for mee."
A cupp of lambs-wool they dranke unto him then,
And to their bedds they past presentlie.
The nobles, next morning, went all up and down,
For to seeke out the king in everye towne.

At last, at the miller's cott, soon they espy'd him out,
As he was mounting upon his faire steede;
To whom they came presently, falling down on their knee;
Which made the millers heart wofully bleede;
Shaking and quaking, before him he stood,
Thinking he should have been hang'd, by the rood.

The king perceiving him fearfully trembling,
Drew forth his sword, but nothing he sed:
The miller downe did fall, crying before them all,
Doubting the king would have cut off his head.
But he his kind courtesye for to requite,
Gave him great living, and dubb'd him a knight.


WHEN as our royall king came home from Nottingham,
And with his nobles at Westminster lay;
Recounting the sports and pastimes they had taken,
In this late progress along on the way;
Of them all, great and small, he did protest,
The miller of Mansfield's sport liked him best.

"And now, my lords," quoth the king, "I am determined
Against St. Georges next sumptuous feast,
That this old miller, our new confirm'd knight,
With his son Richard, shall here be my guest:
For, in this merryment, 'tis my desire
To talke with the jolly knight, and the young squire."

When as the noble lords saw the kinges pleasantness,
They were right joyfull and glad in their hearts:
A pursuivant there was sent straighte on the business,
The which had often-times been in those parts.
When he came to the place, where they did dwell,
His message orderlye then 'gan he tell.

"God save your worshippe," then said the messenger,
"And grant your ladye her own hearts desire;
And to your sonne Richard good fortune and happiness;
That sweet, gentle, and gallant young squire.
Our king greets you well, and thus he doth say,
You must come to the court on St. Georges day:

"Therefore, in any case, faile not to be in place.
"I-wis," quoth the miller, "this is an odd jest.
What should we doe there? faith, I am halfe afraid."
"I doubt," quoth Richard, "to be hang'd at the least."
"Nay," quoth the messenger, "you doe mistake;
Our king he provides a great feast for.your sake."

Then sayd the miller, "By my troth, messenger,
Thou hast contented my worshippe full well.
Hold, here are three farthings, to quite thy gentleness,
For these happy tydings which thou dost tell.
Let me see, hear thou mee; tell to our king,
We'll wayt on his mastershipp in everye thing."

The pursuivant smiled at their simplicitye,
And, making many leggs, tooke their reward;
And his leave taking with great humilitye
To the king's court againe he repair'd;
Shewing unto his grace, merry and free,
The knightes most liberall gift and bountie.

When he was gone away, thus 'gan the miller say,
"Here come expences and charges indeed;
Now must we needs be brave, tho' we spend all we have;
For of new garments we have great need:
Of horses and serving-men we must have store,
With bridles and saddles, and twentye things more."

"Tushe," Sir John, quoth his wife, "why should you frett or frowne?
You shall ne'er be att no charges for mee;
For I will turne and trim up my old russet gowne,
With everye thing else as fine as may bee;
And on our mill-horses swift we will ride,
With pillowes and pannells, as we shall provide."

In this most statelye sort rode they unto the court,
Their jolly sonne Richard rode foremost of all;
Who set up, for good hap,[ 1] a cocks feather in his cap,
And so they jetted downe to the kings hall;
The merry old miller with hands on his side;
His wife, like maid Marian,[ 2] did mince at that tide.

The king and his nobles that heard of their coming,
Meeting this gallant knight with his brave traine;
"Welcome, Sir Knight," quoth he, "with your gay lady;
Good Sir John Cockle, once welcome againe:
And soe is the squire of courage soe free."
Quoth Dicke, "a bots on you! do you know mee?"

Quoth our king gentlye, "how should I forgot thee?
Thou wast my owne bed-fellowe, well it I wot."
"Yea, sir," quoth Richard, "and by the same token,
Thou with thy farting didst make the bed hot.
"Thou whore-son unhappy knave," then quoth the knight,
"Speak cleanly to our king, or else go sh***!"

The king and his courtiers laugh at this heartily,
While the king taketh them both by the hand;
With the court-dames, and maids, like to the queen of spades,
The millers wife did soe orderly stand.
A milk-maids courtesye at every word;
And downe all the folkes were set to the board.

There the king royally, in princelye majestye,
Sat at his dinner with joy and delight;
When they had eaten well, then he to jesting fell,
And in a bowle of wine dranke to the knight:
"Here's to you both, in wine, ale, and beer;
Thanking you heartilye for my good cheer."

Quoth Sir John Cockle, "I'll pledge you a pottle,
Were it the best ale in Nottinghamshire:"
But then said our king, "now I think of a thing;
Some of your lightfoote I would we had here."
"Ho! ho!" quoth Richard, "full well may I say it,
'Tis knavery to eate it and then to betray it."

"Why art thou angry?" quoth our king merrilye;
"In faith, I take it now very unkind:
I thought thou wouldst pledge me in ale and wine heartily."
Quoth Dicke, "you are like to stay till I have din'd:
You feed us with twatling dishes soe small;
Zounds! a blacke pudding is better than all."

"Aye, marry," quoth our king, "that were a daintye thing,

Could a man get but one here for to eate."
With that Dicke straite arose, and pluckt one from his hose,
Which with heat of his breech 'gan to sweate.
The king made a proffer to snatch it away:--
'Tis meat for your master: good Sir, you must stay."

Thus in great merriment was the time wholly spent;
And then the ladyes prepared to dance.
Old Sir John Cockle, and Richard, incontinent
Unto their places the king did advance.
Here with the ladyes such sport they did make,
The nobles with laughing did make their sides ake.

Manye thankes for their paines did the king give them,
Asking young Richard then, if he would wed;
Among these ladyes free, tell me which liketh thee?
Quoth he, "Jugg Grumball, Sir, with the red head:
She's my love, she's my life, her will I wed;"
She hath sworn I shall have her maidenhead.

Then Sir John Cockle the king call'd unto him,
And of merry Sherwood made him o'erseer;
And gave him out of hand three hundred pound yearlye:
"Take heed now you steale no more of my deer:
And once a quarter let's here have your view;
And now, Sir John Cockle, I bid you adieu."


1 "For good hap," i.e. for good luck: they were going on an hazardous expedition.

2. Maid Marian, in the Morris dance, was represented by a man in woman's clothes, who was to take short steps in order to sustain the female character.


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