Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > British
The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vols. VI–IX: British
King John and the Abbot
By Thomas Percy (1729–1811)
From “Reliques of Ancient English Poetry”

AN ANCIENT story I’ll tell you anon
Of a notable prince, that was called King John;
And he ruled England with maine and with might,
For he did great wrong, and maintein’d little right.
And I’ll tell you a story, a story so merrye,        5
Concerning the Abbot of Canterbùrye;
How for his housekeeping, and high renowne,
They rode poste for him to fair London towne.
An hundred men, the King did heare say,
The Abbot kept in his house every day;        10
And fifty golde chaynes, without any doubt,
In velvet coates waited the Abbot about.
“How now, Father Abbot, I heare it of thee,
Thou keepest a farre better house than mee;
And for thy housekeeping and high renowne,        15
I feare thou work’st treason against my crown.”
“My liege,” quo’ the Abbot, “I would it were knowne,
I never spend nothing but what is my owne;
And I trust your Grace will doe me no deere
For spending of mine owne true-gotten geere.”        20
“Yes, yes, Father Abbot, thy fault it is highe,
And now for the same thou needest must die;
For except thou canst answer me questions three,
Thy head shall be smitten from thy bodie.
“And first,” quo’ the King, “when I’m in this stead,        25
With my crowne of golde so faire on my head,
Among all my liege-men, so noble of birthe,
Thou must tell me to one penny what I am worthe.
“Secondlye, tell me, without any doubt,
How soone I may ride the whole world about;        30
And at the third question thou must not shrink,
But tell me here truly what I do think.”
“Oh, these are hard questions for my shallow witt,
Nor I cannot answer your Grace as yet;
But if you will give me but three weekes’ space,        35
I’ll do my endeavour to answer your Grace.”
“Now three week’s space to thee will I give,
And that is the longest time thou hast to live;
For if thou dost not answer my questions three,
Thy lands and thy livings are forfeit to mee.”        40
Away rode the Abbot, all sad at that word,
And he rode to Cambridge and Oxenford;
But never a doctor there was so wise
That could with his learning an answer devise.
Then home rode the Abbot, of comfort so cold,        45
And he mett his shepheard a-going to fold:
“How now, my Lord Abbot, you are welcome home!
What newes do you bring us from good King John?”
“Sad newes, sad newes, shepheard, I must give:
That I have but three days more to live;        50
For if I do not answer him questions three,
My head will be smitten from my bodie.
“The first is to tell him there in that stead,
With his crowne of golde so fair on his head,
Among all his liege-men so noble of birthe,        55
To within one penny of what he is worthe.
“The seconde, to tell him, without any doubt,
How soone he may ride this whole world about.
And at the third question I must not shrinke,
But tell him there truly what he does thinke.”        60
“Now cheare up, Sire Abbot. Did you never hear yet,
That a fool he may learne a wise man witt?
Lend me horse, and serving-men, and your apparel,
And I’ll ride to London to answere your quarrel.
“Nay, frowne not, if it hath bin told unto mee,        65
I am like your lordship, as ever may bee;
And if you will but lend me your gowne,
There is none shall knowe us in fair London towne.”
“Now horses and serving-men thou shalt have,
With sumptuous array, most gallant and brave;        70
With crozier, and mitre, and rochet, and cope,
Fit to appeare ’fore our fader the Pope.”
“Now, welcome, Sire Abbot,” the King he did say;
“’Tis well thou’rt come back to keepe thy day;
For and if thou canst answer my questions three,        75
Thy life and thy living both saved shall bee.
“And first, when thou seest me here in this stead,
With my crowne of golde so fair on my head,
Among all my liege-men so noble of birthe,
Tell me to one penny what I am worthe.”        80
“For thirty pence our Saviour was sold
Among the false Jewes, as I have bin told:
And twenty-nine is the worth of thee,
For I thinke thou art one penny worser than hee.”
The King he laughed, and swore by St. Bittel,        85
“I did not think I had been worth so littel!
Now, secondly, tell me, without any doubt,
How soone I may ride this whole world about.”
“You must rise with the sun, and ride with the same,
Until the next morning he riseth againe;        90
And then your Grace need not make any doubt
But in twenty-four hours you’ll ride it about.”
The King he laughed, and swore by St. Jone,
“I did not think it could be gone so soone!
Now from the third question thou must not shrinke,        95
But tell me here truly what I do thinke.”
“Yea, that shall I do, and make your Grace merrye:
You thinke I’m the Abbott of Canterburye;
But I’m his poor shepheard, as plain you may see,
That am come to beg pardon for him and for mee.”        100
The King he laughed, and swore by the masse,
“I’ll make thee Lord Abbot this day in his place!”
“Now, naye, my liege, be not in such speede,
For alacke I can neither write, ne reade.”
“Four nobles a week, then, I will give thee,        105
For this merry jest thou hast showne unto mee;
And tell the old Abbot, when thou comest home,
Thou hast brought him a pardon from good King John.”

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