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If the reader does not find much poetical merit in this old poem (which yet is one of Skelton's best,) he will see a striking picture of the state and magnificence kept up by our ancient nobility during the feudal times. This great earl is described here as having, among his menial servants, KNIGHTS, SQuires, and even BARONS: see ver. 132. 83. &c. which, however different from modern manners, was formerly not unusual with our greater Barons, whose castles had all the splendour and offices of a royal court, before the laws against retainers abridged and limited the number of their attendants.
JOHN SKELTON, who commonly styled himself Poet Laureat, died June 21, 1529. The following poem, which appears to have been written soon after the event, is printed from an ancient MS. copy preserved in the British Museum, being much more correct than that printed among SKELTON's Poems, in bl. let. 12mo. 1568.-It is addressed to Henry Percy, fifth earl of Northumberland, and is prefaced, &c. in the following manner:
Poeta Skelton Laureatus libellum suum metrice
Ad dominum properato meum mea pagina Percy,
Ad nutum celebris tu prona repone leonis,
Ast ubi perlegit, dubiam sub mente volutet
SKELTON LAUREAT UPON THE DOLORUS DETHE AND
MUCH LAMENTABLE CHAUNCE OF THE MOOST
HONORABLE ERLE OF NORTHUMBERLANde.
I wepe, I sobbe, I sigh ful sore The dedely fate, the dolefulle destenny Of him that is gone, alas! withoute restore,
Of the blode* royall descendinge nobelly;
Whos lordshepe doutles was slayne lamentably 5 Thorow treson ageyn hym compassyd and wrought; Trew to his prince, in word, in dede, and thought.
Of hevenly poems, O Clyo calde by name
In the college of musis goddess hystoriall,
Of noble actes auncyently enrolde,
Of famous princis and lordes of astate,
Regestringe trewly every formare date;
Kyndle in me suche plenty of thy noblès,
Thes sorrowfulle dities that I may shew expres.
In sessons past who hathe harde or sene
Of formar writinge by any presidente
That vilane hastarddis in ther furious tene,
The mother of Henry, first Earl of Northumberland, was Mary daughter to Henry E. of Lancaster, whose father Edmond was second son of K. Henry III.-The mother and wife of the second Earl of Northumberland were both lineal descendants of K. Edward II.-The PERCYS also were lineally descended from the Emperor Charlemagne and the ancient Kings of France, by his ancestor Josceline du Lovain (son of Godfrey Duke of Brabant,) who took the name of PERCY on marrying the heiress of that house in the reign of Hen. II. Vid. Camden Britan. Edmondson, &c.
Fulfyld with malice of froward entente, Confeterd togeder of commoun concente Falsly to slo ther moste singular goode lorde? It may be registerde of shamefull recorde.
So noble a man, so valiaunt lorde and knight,
And were not they to blame, I say also,
That were aboute hym, his owne servants of trust, To suffre hym slayn of his mortall fo?
Fled away from hym, let hym ly in the dust:
They bode not till the rekening were discust. 40 What shuld I flatter? what shulde I glose or paynt? Fy, fy for shame, their harts wer to faint.
In Englande and Fraunce, which gretly was redouted; Of whom both Flaunders and Scotland stode in
To whome grete astates obeyde and lowttede ; 45
A mayny of rude villayns made him for to blede: Unkindly they slew hym, that holp them oft at nede: He was their bulwark, their paves, and their wall, Yet shamfully they slew hym; that shame mot them befal.
I say, ye commoners, why wer ye so stark mad ? 50 What frantyk frensy fyll in youre brayne ? Where was your wit and reson, ye shuld have had ? What willfull foly made yow to ryse agayne
Your naturall lord ? alas! I can not fayne.
He was your chyfteyne, your shelde, your chef defence,
Your hap was unhappy, to ill was your spede :
What movyd you agayn hym to war or to fight?
The grounde of his quarel was for his sove reyn lord
For whos cause ye slew hym with your awne hande: But had his nobill men done wel that day,
Ye had not been hable to have saide him nay.
But ther was fals packinge, or els I am begylde:
And held with the commouns under a cloke, Whiche kindeled the wyld fyre that made all this smoke.
The commouns renyed ther taxes to pay
Of them demaunded and asked by the kinge; With one voice importune, they plainly said nay: 80 They buskt them on a bushment themself in baile to bringe :
Agayne the kings plesure to wrastle or to wringe Bluntly as bestis withe boste and with cry They saide, they forsede not, nor carede not to dy.
The noblenes of the northe this valiant lorde and 85
As man that was innocent of trechery or trayne, Presed forthe boldly to witstand the myght,
And, lyke marciall Hector, he fauht them agayne, Vigorously upon them with myght and with mayne, Trustinge in noble men that wer with hym there: 90 Bot all they fled from hym for falshode or fere.
Barons, knights, squyers, one and alle,
Togeder with servaunts of his famuly,
Turnd their backis, and let ther master fall,
Alas! his golde, his fee, his annuall rente