Verse > Anthologies > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of Ballads
Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. (1863–1944).  The Oxford Book of Ballads.  1910.
18. King Arthur and King Cornwall
A Fragment
King Arthur of Little Britain unwisely boasts the beauty of his famous Round Table.


SAIES, ‘Come here, cuzen Gawaine so gay,
  My sisters sonne be yee;
Ffor you shall see one of the fairest round tables
  That ever you see with your eye.’

Then bespake Lady Queen Guenever,
  And these were the words said shee:
‘I know where a round table is, thou noble king,
  Is worth thy round table and other such three.

‘The trestle that stands under this round table,’ she said,
  ‘Lowe downe to the mould,        10
It is worth thy round table, thou worthy king,
  Thy halls, and all thy gold.

‘The place where this round table stands in,
  [Is fencèd round amaine]
It is worth thy castle, thy gold, thy fee,        15
  And all good Litle Britaine.’

‘Where may that table be, lady?’ quoth hee,
  ‘Or where may all that goodly building be?’
‘You shall it seeke,’ shee says, ‘till you it find;
  You shall never gett more of me.’        20

Then bespake him noble King Arthur
  These were the words said hee:
‘I’le make mine avow to God,
  And alsoe to the Trinity,

‘I’le never sleepe one night there as I doe another
  ’Till that round table I see:
Sir Marramiles and Sir Tristeram,
  Fellowes that ye shall bee.

[‘Sir Gawaine and Sir Bredbettle
  Be fellowes eke with me,]        30
Weele be clad in palmers’ weede,
  Five palmers we will bee;

‘There is noe outlandish man will us abide,
  Nor will us come nye.’
Then they rived east and they rived west,        35
  In many a strange country.

Then they tranckled a litle further,
  They saw a battle new sett:
‘Now, by my faith,’ saies noble King Arthur,
  [These armies be well met.’]        40
After travelling in many strange lands they arrive at the castle of King Cornwall, not a great way from home.


But when he cam to this [Cornwall castle]
  And to the palace gate,
Soe ready was ther a proud portèr,
  And met him soone therat.

Shooes of gold the porter had on,
  And all his other rayment was unto the same:
‘Now, by my faith,’ saies noble King Arthur,
  ‘Yonder is a minion swaine.’

Then bespake noble King Arthur,
  These were the words says hee:        50
‘Come thou hither, thou proud portèr,
  I pray thee come hither to me.

‘I have two poore rings, of my finger,
  The better of them I’le give to thee;
Tell who may be lord of this castle,        55
  Or who is lord in this cuntry?’

‘Cornewall King,’ the porter sayes,
  ‘There is none soe rich as hee;
Neither in christendome, nor yet in heathendom,
  None hath soe much gold as he.’        60

And then bespake him noble King Arthur,
  These were the words sayes hee:
‘I have two poore rings of my finger,
  The better of them I’le give thee,
If thou wilt greete him well, Cornewall King,        65
  And greete him well from me.

‘Pray him for one night’s lodging and two meales’ meate,
  For his love that dyed uppon a tree;
Of one ghesting and two meales’ meate,
  For his love that dyed uppon tree.        70

‘Of one ghesting, of two meales’ meate,
  For his love that was of virgin borne,
‘And in the morning that we may scape away,
  Either without scath or scorne.’

Then forth is gone this proud portèr,
  As fast as he co’ld hye,
And when he came befor Cornewall King,
  He kneelèd downe on his knee.

Sayes, ‘I have beene porter-man at thy gate
  This thirty winter and three,        80
[But there is ffive knights before itt now,
  The like I never did see.’]
King Cornwall questioning the strangers, they happen to speak of a certain shrine of Our Lady, from which he gathers that they have been in Little Britain. This leads him to question them concerning King Arthur.


Our Lady was borne; then thought Cornewall King
  ‘These palmers had beene in Brittaine.’

Then bespake him Cornewall King,
  These were the words he said there:
‘Did you ever know a comely king,
  His name was King Arthùr?’

And then bespake him noble King Arthùr,
  These were the words said hee:        90
‘I doe not know that comly king,
  But once my selfe I did him see.’
Then bespake Cornewall King againe,
  These were the words said he:

Sayes, ‘Seven yeere I was clad and fed,
  In Litle Brittaine, in a bower;
I had a daughter by King Arthur’s wife,
  That now is called my flower;
For King Arthur, that kindly cockward,
  Hath none such in his bower.        100

‘For I durst sweare, and save my othe,
  That same lady soe bright,
That a man that were laid on his death bed
  Wo’ld open his eyes on her to have sight.’—
‘Now, by my faith,’ sayes noble King Arthur,        105
  ‘And that’s a full faire wight!’

And then bespake Cornewall [King] againe,
  And these were the words he said:
‘Come hither, five or three of my knights,
  And feitch me downe my steed;        110
King Arthur, that foule cockeward,
  Hath none such, if he had need.

‘For I can ryde him as far on a day
  As King Arthur can any of his on three;
And is it not a pleasure for a king        115
  When he shall ryde forth on his journèy?

‘For the eyes that beene in his head,
  They glister as doth the gleed.’
‘Now, by my faith,’ says noble King Arthur,
  ‘That is a well faire steed.’        120
After showing them other of his possessions, King Cornwall has the strangers conducted to bed; but first takes the precaution to conceal the Burlow Beanie, or Billy Blind—friendly household spirit—in a rubbish-barrel by the bedside, to listen and overhear their conversation.


Then King Arthur to his bed was brought,
  A greivèd man was hee;
And soe were all his fellowes with him,
  From him they thought never to flee.

Then take they did that lodly groome,
  And under the rub-chadler closed was hee,
And he was set by King Arthur’s bed-side,
  To heere theire talke and theire comunye;

That he might come forth, and make proclamation,
  Long before it was day;        130
It was more for King Cornewall’s pleasure,
  Then it was for King Arthur’s pay.

And when King Arthur in his bed was laid,
  These were the words said hee:
‘I’le make mine avow to God,        135
  And alsoe to the Trinity,
That I’le be the bane of Cornewall Kinge
  Litle Brittaine or ever I see!’

‘It is an unadvised vow,’ saies Gawaine the gay,
  ‘As ever king hard make I;        140
But wee that beene five christian men,
  Of the christen faith are wee,
And we shall fight against anoynted king
  And all his armorie.’

And then bespake him noble Arthur,
  And these were the words said he:
‘Why, if thou be afraid, Sir Gawaine the gay,
  Goe home, and drinke wine in thine owne country.’

And then bespake Sir Gawaine the gay,
  And these were the words said hee:        150
‘Nay, seeing you have made such a hearty vow,
  Heere another vow make will I.

‘I’le make mine avow to God,
  And alsoe to the Trinity,
That I will have yonder faire lady        155
  To Litle Brittaine with mee.
While they lie talking, an unguarded movement of the sprite in the barrel leads to his discovery. Then follows a great combat.


[O then bespake Sir Tristram,]
  These were the words sayd hee:
‘Befor I wold wrestle with yonder feend,
  It is better to be drown’d in the sea.’        160

And then bespake Sir Bredbeddle,
  And these were the words said he:
‘Why, I will wrestle with yon lodly feend,
  God, my governor thou wilt bee!’

Then bespake him noble Arthur,
  And these were the words said he:
‘What weapons wilt thou have, thou gentle knight?
  I pray thee tell to me.’

He sayes, ‘Collen brand I’le have in my hand,
  And a Millaine knife fast by my knee,        170
And a Danish axe fast in my hands,
  That a sure weapon I thinke will be.’

Then with his Collen brand that he had in his hand,
  The bunge of that rub-chandler he burst in three;
With that start out a lodly feend,        175
  With seven heads, and one body.

The fyer towards the element flew,
  Out of his mouth, where was great plentie;
The knight stoode in the middle and fought,
  That it was great joy to see.        180

Till his Collaine brand brake in his hand,
  And his Millaine knife burst on his knee,
And then the Danish axe burst in his hand first,
  That a sure weapon he thought sho’ld be.

But now is the knight left without any weapons,
  And alacke! it was the more pittye;
But a surer weapon then he had one,
  Had neuer lord in Christentye;
And all was but one litle booke,
  He found it by the side of the sea.        190

He found it at the sea-side,
  Wruckèd upp in a floode;
Our Lord had written it with his hands,
  And sealed it with his bloode.
With this book of Evangiles Sir Bredbittle, otherwise the Green Knight, overcomes the sprite, and having conjured him into a wall of stone, returns with report to King Arthur.


[Saies] ‘That thou doe not [stir a foot]
  But ly still in that wall of stone,
Till I have beene with noble King Arthur,
  And told him what I have done.’

And when he came to the king’s chamber,
  He co’ld of his curtesie:        200
Says, ‘Sleepe you, wake you, noble King Arthur?
  And ever Jesus waken yee!’

‘Nay, I am not sleeping, I am waking,’
  These were the words said hee;
‘Ffor thee I have car’d; how hast thou fared?        205
  O gentle knight, let me see.’

The knight wrought the king his booke,
  Bad him behold, reede and see;
And ever he found it on the back of the leafe
  As noble Arthur wo’ld wish it to be.        210

And then bespake him King Arthur,
  ‘Alas! thow gentle knight, how may this be,
That I might see him in the same licknesse
  That he stood unto thee?’

And then bespake him the Greene Knight,
  These were the words said hee:
‘If you’le stand stifly in the battell stronge,
  For I have won all the victory.’

Then bespake him the king againe,
  And these were the words said hee:        220
‘If wee stand not stifly in this battell strong,
  Wee are worthy to be hang’d on a tree.’

Then bespake him the Greene Knight,
  These were the words said he:
Saies, ‘I doe conjure thee, thou fowle feend,        225
  In the same licknesse thou stood unto me.’

With that start out a lodly feend,
  With seven heads, and one body;
The fier towards the element flew
  Out of his mouth, where was great plentie.        230
But now with the aid of the book Sir Bredbittle has the fiend wholly at command. He is sent first to fetch the steed.


And then bespake him the Greene Knight,
  And these were the words said he:
Saith, ‘I conjure thee, thou fowle feend,
  That thou feitch downe the steed, that we see.’

And then forth is gone Burlow-beanie,
  As fast as he co’ld hie,
And feitch he did that fairè steed,
  And came againe by and by.

Then bespake him Sir Marramiles,
  And these were the words said hee:        240
‘Ryding of this steed, brother Bredbeddle,
  The mastery belongs to me.’

Marramiles tooke the steed to his hand,
  To ryd him he was full bold;
He co’ld noe more make him goe        245
  Then a child of three yeere old.

He laid uppon him with heele and hand,
  With yard that was soe fell;
‘Helpe! brother Bredbeddle,’ says Marramile,
  ‘For I thinke he be the devill of hell.        250

‘Helpe! brother Bredbeddle,’ says Marramile,
  ‘Helpe! for Christ’s pittye;
Ffor without thy help, brother Bredbeddle,
  He will never be rydden for me.’

Then bespake him Sir Bredbeddle,
  These were the words said he:
‘I conjure thee tell, thou Burlow-beanie,
  How this steed was riddin in his country.’

‘In Cornewall’s window is a gold wand;
  Let him strike three strokes on that steed,        260
And then he will spring forth of his hand
  As sparke doth out of gleede.’
Then Sir Tristram requires a horn. At Sir Bredbittle’s command the sprite fetches it; but the horn will not sound until anointed with a certain powder. This also the sprite is sent to fetch.


And then bespake Sir Bredebeddle,
  To the ffeend these words said hee:
Says, ‘I conjure thee, thou Burlow-beanie,        265
  The powder-box thou feitch me.’

Then forth is gone Burlow-beanie,
  As fast as he co’ld hie,
And feich he did the powder-box,
  And came againe by and by.        270

Then Sir Tristeram tooke powder forth of that box,
  And blent it with warme sweet milke,
And there put it unto that horne,
  And swill’d it about in that ilke.

Then he tooke the horne into his hand,
  And a lowd blast he blew;
He rent the horne up to the midst,
  All his ffellowes this they knew.

Then bespake him the Greene Knight,
  These were the words said he:        280
Saies, ‘I conjure thee, thou Burlow-beanie,
  That thou feitch me the sword, that I see.’

Then forth is gone Burlow-beanie,
  As fast as he co’ld hie,
And feitch he did that fairè sword,        285
  And came againe by and by.

Then bespake him Sir Bredbeddle,
  To the king these words said he:
‘Take this sword in thy hand, thou noble King Arthur,
  For thy vowes sake I’le give it thee,        290
And goe strike off King Cornewall’s head,
  In bed where he doth lye.’

Then forth is gone noble King Arthur,
  As fast as he co’ld hye,
And strucken he hath off King Cornewall’s head,        295
  And came againe by and by.

So King Arthur fulfils his vow; and, if the rest of the Ballad had been preserved, no doubt it would have told us how his companions fulfilled theirs.
GLOSS:  rived] arrived, travelled.  tranckled] travelled.  ghesting] guesting, lodging.  gleed] live coal.  lodly] loathly.  rub-chadler] rubbish-tub.  pay] satisfaction.  Collen brand] sword of Cologne steel.  Millaine] Milanese element] sky.  gleede] live coal.


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