John Skelton Poems >>
An Elegie on Henry, fourth Erle of Northumberlande

[Addressed to Henry Percy, fifth Earl of Northumberland]

Poeta Skelton Laureatus libellum suum metrice alloquitur.

Ad dominum properato meum mea pagina Percy,
   Qui Northumbrorum jura paterna gerit.
Ad nutum celebris tu porna repone leonis,
   Quaeque suo patri tristia justa cano.
Ast ubi perlegit, dubiam sub mente volutet
   Fortunam, cunceta quae male fida rotat.
Qui leo sit felix, et Nestoris occupet annos;
   Ad libitum cujus ipse paratus ero.

Skelton Laureat Upon the Dolourus Dethe and Muche Lamentable Chaunce of the Most Honorable Erle of Northumberlande.

I wayle, I wepe, I sobbe, I sigh ful sore
The dedely fate, the dolefulle desteny
Of hym that is gone, alas! without restore,
Of the bloud royall descending nobelly;
Whose lordshyp doutles was slayne lamentably
Thorow treson, ageyn him compassed and wrought,
Trew to his prince in word, in dede, and thought.

Of hevenly poems, O Clyo, calde by name
In the colege of Musis goddess hystoriall,
Adres the to me, whiche am both halt and lame
In elect uteraunce to make memoryall!
To the for souccour, to the for helpe I call,
Mine homely rudnes and dryghnes to expell
With the freshe waters of Elyconys well.

Of noble actes aunciently enrolde
Of famous pryncis and lordes of astate,
Be thy report ar wont to be extold,
Regestringe trewly every formare date;
Of thy bountie after the usuall rate
Kyndell in me suche plenty of thy nobles,
Thes sorrowfulle dites that I may shew expres.

In sesons past, who hathe h[ea]rde or sene
Of formar writyng by any presidente
That vilane hastarddis in their furious tene,
Fulfylled with malice of froward entente,
Confetered togeder of commonn concente
Falsly to slee theyr moste singuler good lord?
It may be regestrede of shamefull recorde.

So noble a man, so valiaunt lord and knyght,
Fulfilled with honor, as all the world doth ken;
At his commaundement which had both day and nyght
Knyghtes and squyers, at every season when
He calde upon them, as meniall household men;
Were not these commons uncurteis karlis of kind
To slo their owne lord? God was not in their mynd.

And were not they to blame, I say also,
That were aboute him, his owne servants of trust,
To suffre him slayn of his mortall fo?
Fled away from hym, let hym ly in the dust;
They bode not till the reckenyng were discust;
What shuld I flatter? what shuld I glose or paint?
Fy, fy for shame, their heartes were to faint.

In England and Fraunce which gretly was redouted,
Of whom both Flaunders and Scotland stode in drede,
To whome great estates obeyed and lowted,
And mayny of rude villayns made hym for to blede;
Unkyndly they slew him; that holp them oft at nede:
He was their bulwark, their paves, and their wall,
Yet shamefully they slew hym; that shame mot them befal!

I say, ye comoners, why we ye so stark mad?
What frantyk frensy fyll in your brayne?
Where was your wit and reson ye should have had?
What wilful foly made yow to ryse agayne
Your naturall lord? alas, I cannot fayne:
Ye armyd you with will, and left your wit behynd;
Well may you be called comones most unkynd.

He was your chefteyne, your shelde, your chef defence,
Redy to assyst you in every time of nede;
Your worshyp depended of his excellence;
Alas, ye mad men, to far ye did excede;
Your hap was unhappy, to ill was your spede:
What moved you againe him to war or to fyght?
What alyde you to sle your lord again all ryght?

The ground of his quarel was for his soverain lord,
The well concerning of all the hole lande,
Demandyng suche duties as nedes most acord
To the ryght of his prince, which shold not be withstand;
For whose cause ye slew him with your owne hand:
But had his noble men done wel that day,
Ye had not been able to have sayd him nay.

But ther was fals packing, or els I am begylde;
How-be-it the mater was evydent and playne,
For if they had occupied their spere and their shilde,
This noble man doutles had not bene slayne.
But men say they wer lynked with a double chaine,
And held with the comones under a cloke,
Which kindeled the wild fyr that made all this smoke.

The commons renyed ther taxes to pay,
Of them demaunded and asked by the kynge;
With one voice importune they playnly sayd nay;
They buskt them on a bushment themselfe in baile to bring,
Againe the kyngs plesure to wrestle or to wring;
Bluntly as bestis with boste and with crye
They sayd they forsed not, nor carede not to dy.

The noblenes of the north, this valiant lord and knight,
As man that was innocent of trechery or traine,
Pressed forth boldly to withstand the myght,
And, lyke marciall Hector, he faught them agayne,
Trustyng in noble men that were with him there;
Bot al they fled from hym for falshode or fere.

Barones, knyghtes, squiers, one and all,
Together with servauntes of his famuly,
Turned their baskis, and let their master fal,
Of whos [life] they counted not a flye;
Take up whose wold, for ther they let him ly.
Alas, his gold, his fee, his annual rent
Upon suche a sort was ille bestowd and spent!

He was environd aboute on every syde
With his enemyes, that we starke made and wode;
Yet while he stode he gave them woundes wyde;
Allas for ruth! what thoughe his mynd wer gode,
His corage manly, yet ther he shed his blode:
Al left alone, alas, he foughte in vayne!
For cruelly among them ther he was slayne.

Alas for pite! that Percy thus was spylt,
The famous Erle of Northumberland;
Of knyghtly prowes the sword, pomel, and hylt,
The myghty lyon doutted by se and lande;
O dolorous chaunce of Fortunes froward hande!
What man, remembryng howe shamefully he was slaine,
From bitter weping himself can restrain?

O cruell Mars, thou dedly god of war!
O dolorous tewisday, dedicate to thy name,
When thou shoke thy sworde so noble a man to mar!
O grounde ungracious, unhappy be thy fame,
Which wert endyed with rede bloud of the same
Most noble erle!  O foule mysuryd ground,
Whereon he gat his finall dedely wounde!

O Atropos, of the fatall systers iii
Goddess most cruel unto the lyfe of man,
All merciles, in the is no pite!
O homicide, which sleest all that thou can,
So forcibly upon this erle thou ran,
That with thy sword, enharpit of mortall drede,
Thou kit asonder his perfight vitall threde!

My wordes unpullysht be, nakide and playne,
Of aureat poems they want ellumynynge;
But by them to knowlege ye may attayne
Of this lordes dethe and of his murdrynge;
Which whils he lyvyd had fuyson of every thing,
Of knights, of squyers, chyf lord of toure and towne,
Tyll fykkell Fortune began on hym to frowne:

Paregall to dukes, with kynges he might compare,
Surmounting in honor all eryls he did excede;
To all countreis aboute hym reporte me I dare;
Lyke to Eneas benigne in worde and dede,
Valiant as Hector in every marciall nede,
Provydent, discrete, circumspect, and wyse,
Tyll the chaunce ran agayne hym of Fortunes duble dyse.

What nedeth me for to extoll his fame
With my rude pen enkankered all with rust?
Whose noble actes show worshiply his name,
Transendyng far myne homly Muse, that muste
Yet somwhat wright supprised with herty lust,
Truly reportyng his right noble estate,
Immortally whiche is immaculate?

His noble blode never destaynyd was,
Trew to his prince for to defend his ryght
Doblenes hatyng fals maters to compas,
Treytory and treason he banysht out of syght,
With truth to medle was al his holl delyght,
As all his countrey can testyfy the same:
To sle suche a lorde, alas, it was great shame.

If the hole quere of the Musis nyne
In me all onely wer set and comprised,
Enbrethed with the blast of influence devyne,
As perfytly as could be thought or devisyd;
To me also allthough it were promised
Of laureat Phebus holy the eloquence,
All were to lytell for his magnificence.

O yonge lyon, but tender yet of age,
Grow and encrese,  remembre thyne estate;
God the assyst unto thyn herytage,
And geve  the grace to be more fortunate!
Agayn rebellyones arme the to make debate;
And, as the lyone, whiche is of bestes kynge,
Unto thy subjectes by curteis and benygne.

I pray God sende the prosperous lyfe and long,
Stable thy mynde constant to be and fast,
Ryght to mayntayn, and to resyst all wronge:
All flateryng faytors abhor and from the cast;
Of foule detraction God kepe the from the blast!
Let double delyng in the have no place,
And be not lyght of credence in no case.

With hevy chere, with dolorous hart and mynd,
Eche man may sorow in his inward thought
This lordes death, whose pere is hard to fynd,
Allgif Englond and Fraunce were thorow saught.
Al kynges, all princes, al dukes, well they ought,
Both temorall and spiritual, for to complayne
This noble man, that crewelly was slayne:

More specially barons, and those knyghtes bold,
And al other gentilmen with him entertenyed
In fee, as menyall men of his houseold,
Whom he as lord worshyply mainteyned;
To sorowful weping they ought to be constreined,
As oft as they call to theyr remembraunce,
Of ther good lord the fate and dedely chaunce.

O perlese Prince of heven emperyall!
That with one word formed al thing of noughte;
Heven, hell, and erthe obey unto thy call;
Which to thy resemblaunce wondersly hast wrought
All mankynd, whom thou full dere hast bought,
With thy bloud precious our finaunce thou did pay,
And us redemed from the fendys pray;

To the pray we, as Prince incomparable,
As thou art of mercy and pyte the well,
Thou bring unto thy joye eterminable
The soull of this lorde from all daunger of hell,
In endles blys with the to byde and dwell
In thy palace above the orient,
Where thou art Lord, and God omnipotent.

O quene of mercy, O lady full of grace,
Mayden most pure, and Goddess moder dere,
To sorowful hartes chef comfort and solace,
Of all women O flowre withouten pere!
Pray to thy Son above the sterris clere,
He to vouchesaf, by thy mediacion,
To pardon thy servaunt and brynge to salvacion.

In joy triumphant the hevenly yerarchy,
With all the hole sorte of that glorious place,
His soull mot receyve into theyr company
Thorow bounty of Hym that formed all solace:
Wel of pite, of mercy, and of grace,
The Father, the Sonn, and the Holy Ghost,
In Trinitate one God of myghtes moste!