Verse > Anthologies > Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. > Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry
Ralph Waldo Emerson, comp. (1803–1882).  Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry.  1880.
Bristowe Tragedy; or, The Death of Sir Charles Bawdin
By Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770)
THE FEATHERED songster chanticleer
  Had wound his bugle horn,
And told the early villager
  The coming of the morn.
King Edward sawe the ruddy streaks
  Of light eclipse the grey;
And heard the raven’s croaking throat
  Proclaim the fated day.
“Thou’rt right,” quoth he, “for, by the God
  That sits enthroned on high!        10
Charles Bawdin, and his fellows twain,
  To-day shall surely die.”
Then with a jug of nappy ale
  His knights did on him wait.
“Go tell the traitor, that to-day        15
  He leaves this mortal state.”
Sir Canterlone then bended low,
  With heart brimful of woe;
He journeyed to the castle-gate,
  And to Sir Charles did go.        20
But when he came, his children twain,
  And eke his loving wife,
With briny tears did wet the floor,
  For good Sir Charles’s life.
“O good Sir Charles!” said Canterlone,
  “Bad tidings do I bring.”
“Speak boldly, man,” said brave Sir Charles,
  “What says thy traitor king?”
“I grieve to tell, before yon sun
  Does from the welkin fly,        30
He hath upon his honor sworn,
  That thou shalt surely die.”
“We all must die,” quoth brave Sir Charles,
  “Of that I’m not affeared;
What boots to live a little space?        35
  Thank Jesu, I’m prepared;
“But tell thy king, for mine he’s not,
  I’d sooner die to-day
Than live his slave, as many are,
  Though I should live for aye.”        40
Then Canterlone he did go out,
  To tell the mayor straight
To get all things in readiness
  For good Sir Charles’s fate.
Then Master Canning sought the king,
  And fell down on his knee:
“I’m come,” quoth he, “unto your grace
  To move your clemency.”
Then quoth the king, “Your tale speak out,
  You have been much our friend;        50
Whatever your request may be,
  We will to it attend.”
“My noble liege! all my request
  Is for a noble knight,
Who, though mayhap he has done wrong,        55
  He thought it still was right:
“He has a spouse and children twain,
  All ruined are for aye,
If that you are resolved to let
  Charles Bawdin die to-day.”        60
“Speak not of such a traitor vile,”
  The king in fury said;
“Before the evening star doth shine,
  Bawdin shall loose his head;
“Justice does loudly for him call,
  And he shall have his meed;
Speak, Master Canning! What thing else
  At present do you need?”
“My noble liege,” good Canning said,
  “Leave justice to our God,        70
And lay the iron rule aside;
  Be thine the olive rod.
“Was God to search our hearts and reins,
  The best were sinners great;
Christ’s vicar only knows no sin,        75
  In all this mortal state.
“Let mercy rule thine infant reign,
  ’Twill fast thy crown full sure;
From race to race thy family
  All sovereigns shall endure:        80
“But if with blood and slaughter thou
  Begin thy infant reign,
Thy crown upon thy children’s brows
  Will never long remain.”
“Canning, away! this traitor vile
  Has scorned my power and me;
How canst thou then for such a man
  Intreat my clemency?”
“My noble liege! the truly brave
  Will val’rous actions prize,        90
Respect a brave and noble mind,
  Although in enemies.”
“Canning, away! By God in Heaven,
  That did my being give,
I will not taste a bit of bread        95
  Whilst this Sir Charles doth live.
“By Mary and all Saints in Heaven,
  This sun shall be his last;”
Then Canning dropped a briny tear,
  And from the presence passed.        100
With heart brimful of gnawing grief,
  He to Sir Charles did go,
And sat him down upon a stool,
  And teares began to flow.
“We all must die,” quoth brave Sir Charles;
  “What boots it how or when;
Death is the sure, the certain fate
  Of all we mortal men.
“Say, why, my friend, thy honest soul
  Runs over at thine eye;        110
Is it for my most welcome doom
  That thou dost child-like cry?”
Quoth godly Canning, “I do weep,
  That thou so soon must die,
And leave thy sons and helpless wife;        115
  ’Tis this that wets mine eye.”
“Then dry the tears that out thine eye
  From godly fountains spring;
Death I despise, and all the power
  Of Edward, traitor king.        120
“When through the tyrant’s welcome means
  I shall resign my life,
The God I serve will soon provide
  For both my sons and wife.
“Before I saw the lightsome sun,
  This was appointed me;
Shall mortal man repine or grudge
  What God ordains to be?
“How oft in battle have I stood,
  When thousands died around;        130
When smoking streams of crimson blood
  Imbrued the fattened ground:
“How did I know that every dart
  That cut the airy way,
Might not find passage to my heart,        135
  And close mine eyes for aye?
“And shall I now, for fear of death,
  Look wan and be dismayed?
No! from my heart fly childish fear,
  Be all the man displayed.        140
“Ah! Godlike Henry! God forfend,
  And guard thee and thy son,
If ’tis His will; but if ’tis not,
  Why then His will be done.
“My honest friend, my fault has been
  To serve God and my prince;
And that I no time-server am,
  My death will soon convince.
“In London city was I born,
  Of parents of great note;        150
My father did a noble arms
  Emblazon on his coat:
“I make no doubt but he is gone
  Where soon I hope to go;
Where we forever shall be blest,        155
  From out the reach of woe:
“He taught me justice and the laws
  With pity to unite;
And eke he taught me how to know
  The wrong cause from the right:        160
“He taught me with a prudent hand,
  To feed the hungry poor,
Nor let my servant drive away
  The hungry from my door:
“And none can say but all my life
  I have his wordys kept;
And summed the actions of the day
  Each night before I slept.
“I have a spouse, go ask of her,
  If I defiled her bed?        170
I have a king, and none can lay
  Black treason on my head.
“In Lent, and on the holy eve,
  From flesh I did refrain;
Why should I then appear dismayed        175
  To leave this world of pain?
“No! hapless Henry! I rejoice,
  I shall not see thy death;
Most willingly in thy just cause
  Do I resign my breath.        180
“Oh, fickle people! ruined land!
  Thou wilt ken peace nae moe;
While Richard’s sons exalt themselves,
  Thy brooks with blood will flow.
“Say, were ye tired of godly peace,
  And godly Henry’s reign,
That you did chop your easy days
  For those of blood and pain?
“What though I on a sled be drawn,
  And mangled by a hind?        190
I do defy the traitor’s power,
  He can not harm my mind;
“What though, uphoisted on a pole,
  My limbs shall rot in air,
And no rich monument of brass        195
  Charles Bawdin’s name shall bear;
“Yet in the holy book above,
  Which time can’t eat away,
There with the servants of the Lord
  My name shall live for aye.        200
“Then welcome death! for life eterne
  I leave this mortal life:
Farewell, vain world, and all that’s dear,
  My sons and loving wife!
“Now death as welcome to me comes,
  As e’er the month of May;
Nor would I even wish to live,
  With my dear wife to stay.”
Quoth Canning, “’Tis a goodly thing
  To be prepared to die;        210
And from this world of pain and grief
  To God in Heaven to fly.”
And now the bell began to toll,
  And clarions to sound;
Sir Charles he heard the horses’ feet        215
  A prancing on the ground:
And just before the officers
  His loving wife came in,
Weeping unfeignèd tears of woe,
  With loud and dismal din.        220
“Sweet Florence! now I pray, forbear,—
  In quiet let me die;
Pray God that every Christian soul
  May look on death as I.
“Sweet Florence! why these briny tears?
  They wash my soul away,
And almost make me wish for life,
  With thee, sweet dame, to stay.
“’Tis but a journey I shall go
  Unto the land of bliss;        230
Now, as a proof of husband’s love,
  Receive this holy kiss.”
Then Florence, faltering in her say,
  Trembling these wordys spoke,
“Ah, cruel Edward! bloody king!        235
  My heart is well nigh broke:
“Ah, sweet Sir Charles! why wilt thou go,
  Without thy loving wife!
The cruel axe that cuts thy neck,
  It eke shall end my life.”        240
And now the officers came in
  To bring Sir Charles away,
Who turned to his loving wife,
  And thus to her did say:
“I go to life, and not to death;
  Trust thou in God above,
And teach thy sons to fear the Lord,
  And in their hearts Him love:
“Teach them to run the noble race
  That I their father run:        250
Florence! should death thee take,—adieu!
  Ye officers, lead on.”
Then Florence raved as any mad,
  And did her tresses tear;
“Oh! stay, my husband! lord! and life!”—        255
  Sir Charles then dropped a tear.
Till tired out with raving loud,
  She fellen on the floor;
Sir Charles exerted all his might,
  And marched from out the door.        260
Upon a sled he mounted then,
  With looks full brave and sweet;
Looks that enshone ne more concern
  Than any in the street.
Before him went the council-men,
  In scarlet robes and gold,
And tassels spangling in the sun,
  Much glorious to behold:
The friars of Saint Augustine next
  Appearèd to the sight,        270
All clad in homely russet weeds,
  Of godly monkish plight:
In different parts a godly psalm
  Most sweetly did they chant;
Behind their backs six minstrels came,        275
  Who tuned the strung bataunt.
Then five and twenty archers came;
  Each one the bow did bend,
From rescue of King Henry’s friends
  Sir Charles for to defend.        280
Bold as a lion came Sir Charles,
  Drawn on a cloth-laid sled,
By two black steeds in trappings white,
  With plumes upon their head:
Behind him five and twenty more
  Of archers strong and stout,
With bended bow each one in hand,
  Marchèd in goodly rout:
Saint James’s Friars marchèd next,
  Each one his part did chant;        290
Behind their backs six minstrels came,
  Who tuned the strung bataunt:
Then came the mayor and aldermen,
  In cloth of scarlet decked;
And their attending-men each one,        295
  Like Eastern princes trickt.
And after them a multitude
  Of citizens did throng:
The windows were all full of heads,
  As he did pass along.        300
And when he came to the high cross,
  Sir Charles did turn and say,
“O Thou, that savest man from sin,
  Wash my soul clean this day!”
At the great minster window sat
  The king in mickle state,
To see Charles Bawdin go along
  To his most welcome fate.
Soon as the sled drew nigh enough,
  That Edward he might hear,        310
The brave Sir Charles he did stand up,
  And thus his words declare:
“Thou seest me, Edward! traitor vile!
  Exposed to infamy;
But be assured, disloyal man!        315
  I’m greater now than thee.
“By foul proceedings, murder, blood,
  Thou wearest now a crown;
And hast appointed me to die,
  By power not thine own.        320
“Thou thinkest I shall die to-day;
  I have been dead till now,
And soon shall live to wear a crown
  For aye upon my brow;
“Whilst thou, perhaps, for some few years,
  Shall rule this fickle land,
To let them know how wide the rule
  ’Twixt king and tyrant hand:
“Thy power unjust, thou traitor slave!
  Shall fall on thy own head”—        330
From out of hearing of the king
  Departed then the sled.
King Edward’s soule rushed to his face,
  He turned his head away,
And to his brother Gloucester        335
  He thus did speak and say:
“To him that so-much-dreaded death
  No ghastly terrors bring;
Behold the man! he spake the truth,
  He’s greater than a king!”        340
“So let him die!” Duke Richard said;
  “And may each one our foes
Bend down their necks to bloody axe,
  And feed the carrion crows.”
And now the horses gently drew
  Sir Charles up the high hill;
The axe did glister in the sun,
  His precious blood to spill.
Sir Charles did up the scaffold go,
  As up a gilded car        350
Of victory, by val’rous chiefs
  Gained in the bloody war:
And to the people he did say,
  “Behold you see me die,
For serving loyally my king,        355
  My king most rightfully.
“As long as Edward rules this land,
  No quiet will you know;
Your sons and husbands shall be slain,
  And brooks with blood shall flow.        360
“You leave your good and lawful king,
  When in adversity;
Like me, unto the true cause stick,
  And for the true cause die.”
Then he, with priests, upon his knees,
  A prayer to God did make,
Beseeching Him unto Himself
  His parting soul to take.
Then, kneeling down, he laid his head
  Most seemly on the block;        370
Which from his body fair at once
  The able headsman stroke;
And out the blood began to flow,
  And round the scaffold twine;
And tears, enough to wash’t away,        375
  Did flow from each man’s eyne.
The bloody axe his body fair
  Into four partés cut;
And every part and eke his head,
  Upon a pole was put.        380
One part did rot on Kynwulft-hill,
  One on the minster tower,
And one from off the castle-gate
  The crowen did devour;
The other on St. Powle’s good gate,
  A dreary spectacle;
His head was placed on the high cross,
  In high-street most nobel.
Thus was the end of Bawdin’s fate:
  God prosper long our king,        390
And grant he may, with Bawdin’s soul,
  In heaven God’s mercy sing!

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