In rough magnificence array'd,
When ancient Chivalry display'd
The pomp of her heroic games,
And crested chiefs and tissued dames
Assembled, at the clarion's call,
In some proud castle's high arch'd hall.
Prince John held his high festival in the Castle of Ashby. This
was not the same building of which the stately ruins still
interest the traveller, and which was erected at a later period
by the Lord Hastings, High Chamberlain of England, one of the
first victims of the tyranny of Richard the Third, and yet better
known as one of Shakspeare's characters than by his historical
fame. The castle and town of Ashby, at this time, belonged to
Roger de Quincy, Earl of Winchester, who, during the period of
our history, was absent in the Holy Land. Prince John, in the
meanwhile, occupied his castle, and disposed of his domains
without scruple; and seeking at present to dazzle men's eyes by
his hospitality and magnificence, had given orders for great
preparations, in order to render the banquet as splendid as
The purveyors of the Prince, who exercised on this and other
occasions the full authority of royalty, had swept the country of
all that could be collected which was esteemed fit for their
master's table. Guests also were invited in great numbers; and
in the necessity in which he then found himself of courting
popularity, Prince John had extended his invitation to a few
distinguished Saxon and Danish families, as well as to the Norman
nobility and gentry of the neighbourhood. However despised and
degraded on ordinary occasions, the great numbers of the
Anglo-Saxons must necessarily render them formidable in the civil
commotions which seemed approaching, and it was an obvious point
of policy to secure popularity with their leaders.
It was accordingly the Prince's intention, which he for some time
maintained, to treat these unwonted guests with a courtesy to
which they had been little accustomed. But although no man with
less scruple made his ordinary habits and feelings bend to his
interest, it was the misfortune of this Prince, that his levity
and petulance were perpetually breaking out, and undoing all that
had been gained by his previous dissimulation.
Of this fickle temper he gave a memorable example in Ireland,
when sent thither by his father, Henry the Second, with the
purpose of buying golden opinions of the inhabitants of that new
and important acquisition to the English crown. Upon this
occasion the Irish chieftains contended which should first offer
to the young Prince their loyal homage and the kiss of peace.
But, instead of receiving their salutations with courtesy, John
and his petulant attendants could not resist the temptation of
pulling the long beards of the Irish chieftains; a conduct which,
as might have been expected, was highly resented by these
insulted dignitaries, and produced fatal consequences to the
English domination in Ireland. It is necessary to keep these
inconsistencies of John's character in view, that the reader may
understand his conduct during the present evening.
In execution of the resolution which he had formed during his
cooler moments, Prince John received Cedric and Athelstane with
distinguished courtesy, and expressed his disappointment, without
resentment, when the indisposition of Rowena was alleged by the
former as a reason for her not attending upon his gracious
summons. Cedric and Athelstane were both dressed in the ancient
Saxon garb, which, although not unhandsome in itself, and in the
present instance composed of costly materials, was so remote in
shape and appearance from that of the other guests, that Prince
John took great credit to himself with Waldemar Fitzurse for
refraining from laughter at a sight which the fashion of the day
rendered ridiculous. Yet, in the eye of sober judgment, the
short close tunic and long mantle of the Saxons was a more
graceful, as well as a more convenient dress, than the garb of
the Normans, whose under garment was a long doublet, so loose as
to resemble a shirt or waggoner's frock, covered by a cloak of
scanty dimensions, neither fit to defend the wearer from cold or
from rain, and the only purpose of which appeared to be to
display as much fur, embroidery, and jewellery work, as the
ingenuity of the tailor could contrive to lay upon it. The
Emperor Charlemagne, in whose reign they were first introduced,
seems to have been very sensible of the inconveniences arising
from the fashion of this garment. "In Heaven's name," said he,
"to what purpose serve these abridged cloaks? If we are in bed
they are no cover, on horseback they are no protection from the
wind and rain, and when seated, they do not guard our legs from
the damp or the frost."
Nevertheless, spite of this imperial objurgation, the short
cloaks continued in fashion down to the time of which we treat,
and particularly among the princes of the House of Anjou. They
were therefore in universal use among Prince John's courtiers;
and the long mantle, which formed the upper garment of the
Saxons, was held in proportional derision.
The guests were seated at a table which groaned under the
quantity of good cheer. The numerous cooks who attended on the
Prince's progress, having exerted all their art in varying the
forms in which the ordinary provisions were served up, had
succeeded almost as well as the modern professors of the culinary
art in rendering them perfectly unlike their natural appearance.
Besides these dishes of domestic origin, there were various
delicacies brought from foreign parts, and a quantity of rich
pastry, as well as of the simnel-bread and wastle cakes, which
were only used at the tables of the highest nobility. The
banquet was crowned with the richest wines, both foreign and
But, though luxurious, the Norman nobles were not generally
speaking an intemperate race. While indulging themselves in the
pleasures of the table, they aimed at delicacy, but avoided
excess, and were apt to attribute gluttony and drunkenness to the
vanquished Saxons, as vices peculiar to their inferior station.
Prince John, indeed, and those who courted his pleasure by
imitating his foibles, were apt to indulge to excess in the
pleasures of the trencher and the goblet; and indeed it is well
known that his death was occasioned by a surfeit upon peaches and
new ale. His conduct, however, was an exception to the general
manners of his countrymen.
With sly gravity, interrupted only by private signs to each
other, the Norman knights and nobles beheld the ruder demeanour
of Athelstane and Cedric at a banquet, to the form and fashion of
which they were unaccustomed. And while their manners were thus
the subject of sarcastic observation, the untaught Saxons
unwittingly transgressed several of the arbitrary rules
established for the regulation of society. Now, it is well
known, that a man may with more impunity be guilty of an actual
breach either of real good breeding or of good morals, than
appear ignorant of the most minute point of fashionable
etiquette. Thus Cedric, who dried his hands with a towel,
instead of suffering the moisture to exhale by waving them
gracefully in the air, incurred more ridicule than his companion
Athelstane, when he swallowed to his own single share the whole
of a large pasty composed of the most exquisite foreign
delicacies, and termed at that time a "Karum-Pie". When,
however, it was discovered, by a serious cross-examination, that
the Thane of Coningsburgh (or Franklin, as the Normans termed
him) had no idea what he had been devouring, and that he had
taken the contents of the Karum-pie for larks and pigeons,
whereas they were in fact beccaficoes and nightingales, his
ignorance brought him in for an ample share of the ridicule which
would have been more justly bestowed on his gluttony.
The long feast had at length its end; and, while the goblet
circulated freely, men talked of the feats of the preceding
tournament,---of the unknown victor in the archery games, of the
Black Knight, whose self-denial had induced him to withdraw from
the honours he had won,---and of the gallant Ivanhoe, who had so
dearly bought the honours of the day. The topics were treated
with military frankness, and the jest and laugh went round the
hall. The brow of Prince John alone was overclouded during these
discussions; some overpowering care seemed agitating his mind,
and it was only when he received occasional hints from his
attendants, that he seemed to take interest in what was passing
around him. On such occasions he would start up, quaff a cup of
wine as if to raise his spirits, and then mingle in the
conversation by some observation made abruptly or at random.
"We drink this beaker," said he, "to the health of Wilfred of
Ivanhoe, champion of this Passage of Arms, and grieve that his
wound renders him absent from our board---Let all fill to the
pledge, and especially Cedric of Rotherwood, the worthy father of
a son so promising."
"No, my lord," replied Cedric, standing up, and placing on the
table his untasted cup, "I yield not the name of son to the
disobedient youth, who at once despises my commands, and
relinquishes the manners and customs of his fathers."
"'Tis impossible," cried Prince John, with well-feigned
astonishment, "that so gallant a knight should be an unworthy or
"Yet, my lord," answered Cedric, "so it is with this Wilfred.
He left my homely dwelling to mingle with the gay nobility of
your brother's court, where he learned to do those tricks of
horsemanship which you prize so highly. He left it contrary to
my wish and command; and in the days of Alfred that would have
been termed disobedience---ay, and a crime severely punishable."
"Alas!" replied Prince John, with a deep sigh of affected
sympathy, "since your son was a follower of my unhappy brother,
it need not be enquired where or from whom he learned the lesson
of filial disobedience."
Thus spake Prince John, wilfully forgetting, that of all the sons
of Henry the Second, though no one was free from the charge, he
himself had been most distinguished for rebellion and ingratitude
to his father.
"I think," said he, after a moment's pause, "that my brother
proposed to confer upon his favourite the rich manor of Ivanhoe."
"He did endow him with it," answered Cedric; "nor is it my least
quarrel with my son, that he stooped to hold, as a feudal vassal,
the very domains which his fathers possessed in free and
"We shall then have your willing sanction, good Cedric," said
Prince John, "to confer this fief upon a person whose dignity
will not be diminished by holding land of the British crown.
---Sir Reginald Front-de-Boeuf," he said, turning towards that
Baron, "I trust you will so keep the goodly Barony of Ivanhoe,
that Sir Wilfred shall not incur his father's farther displeasure
by again entering upon that fief."
"By St Anthony!" answered the black-brow'd giant, "I will consent
that your highness shall hold me a Saxon, if either Cedric or
Wilfred, or the best that ever bore English blood, shall wrench
from me the gift with which your highness has graced me."
"Whoever shall call thee Saxon, Sir Baron," replied Cedric,
offended at a mode of expression by which the Normans frequently
expressed their habitual contempt of the English, "will do thee
an honour as great as it is undeserved."
Front-de-Boeuf would have replied, but Prince John's petulance
and levity got the start.
"Assuredly," said be, "my lords, the noble Cedric speaks truth;
and his race may claim precedence over us as much in the length
of their pedigrees as in the longitude of their cloaks."
"They go before us indeed in the field---as deer before dogs,"
"And with good right may they go before us---forget not," said
the Prior Aymer, "the superior decency and decorum of their
"Their singular abstemiousness and temperance," said De Bracy,
forgetting the plan which promised him a Saxon bride.
"Together with the courage and conduct," said Brian de
Bois-Guilbert, "by which they distinguished themselves at
Hastings and elsewhere."
While, with smooth and smiling cheek, the courtiers, each in
turn, followed their Prince's example, and aimed a shaft of
ridicule at Cedric, the face of the Saxon became inflamed with
passion, and he glanced his eyes fiercely from one to another, as
if the quick succession of so many injuries had prevented his
replying to them in turn; or, like a baited bull, who, surrounded
by his tormentors, is at a loss to choose from among them the
immediate object of his revenge. At length he spoke, in a voice
half choked with passion; and, addressing himself to Prince John
as the head and front of the offence which he had received,
"Whatever," he said, "have been the follies and vices of our
race, a Saxon would have been held 'nidering'," *
* There was nothing accounted so ignominious among the
Saxons as to merit this disgraceful epithet. Even William
the Conqueror, hated as he was by them, continued to draw
a considerable army of Anglo-Saxons to his standard, by
threatening to stigmatize those who staid at home, as
nidering. Bartholinus, I think, mentions a similar phrase
which had like influence on the Danes. L. T.
(the most emphatic term for abject worthlessness,) "who should in
his own hall, and while his own wine-cup passed, have treated, or
suffered to be treated, an unoffending guest as your highness has
this day beheld me used; and whatever was the misfortune of our
fathers on the field of Hastings, those may at least be silent,"
here he looked at Front-de-Boeuf and the Templar, "who have
within these few hours once and again lost saddle and stirrup
before the lance of a Saxon."
"By my faith, a biting jest!" said Prince John. "How like you
it, sirs?---Our Saxon subjects rise in spirit and courage; become
shrewd in wit, and bold in bearing, in these unsettled times
---What say ye, my lords?---By this good light, I hold it best to
take our galleys, and return to Normandy in time."
"For fear of the Saxons?" said De Bracy, laughing; "we should
need no weapon but our hunting spears to bring these boars to
"A truce with your raillery, Sir Knights," said Fitzurse;---"and
it were well," he added, addressing the Prince, "that your
highness should assure the worthy Cedric there is no insult
intended him by jests, which must sound but harshly in the ear of
"Insult?" answered Prince John, resuming his courtesy of
demeanour; "I trust it will not be thought that I could mean, or
permit any, to be offered in my presence. Here! I fill my cup to
Cedric himself, since he refuses to pledge his son's health."
The cup went round amid the well-dissembled applause of the
courtiers, which, however, failed to make the impression on the
mind of the Saxon that had been designed. He was not naturally
acute of perception, but those too much undervalued his
understanding who deemed that this flattering compliment would
obliterate the sense of the prior insult. He was silent,
however, when the royal pledge again passed round, "To Sir
Athelstane of Coningsburgh."
The knight made his obeisance, and showed his sense of the honour
by draining a huge goblet in answer to it.
"And now, sirs," said Prince John, who began to be warmed with
the wine which he had drank, "having done justice to our Saxon
guests, we will pray of them some requital to our courtesy.
---Worthy Thane," he continued, addressing Cedric, "may we pray
you to name to us some Norman whose mention may least sully your
mouth, and to wash down with a goblet of wine all bitterness
which the sound may leave behind it?"
Fitzurse arose while Prince John spoke, and gliding behind the
seat of the Saxon, whispered to him not to omit the opportunity
of putting an end to unkindness betwixt the two races, by naming
Prince John. The Saxon replied not to this politic insinuation,
but, rising up, and filling his cup to the brim, he addressed
Prince John in these words: "Your highness has required that I
should name a Norman deserving to be remembered at our banquet.
This, perchance, is a hard task, since it calls on the slave to
sing the praises of the master---upon the vanquished, while
pressed by all the evils of conquest, to sing the praises of the
conqueror. Yet I will name a Norman---the first in arms and in
place---the best and the noblest of his race. And the lips that
shall refuse to pledge me to his well-earned fame, I term false
and dishonoured, and will so maintain them with my life.---I
quaff this goblet to the health of Richard the Lion-hearted!"
Prince John, who had expected that his own name would have closed
the Saxon's speech, started when that of his injured brother was
so unexpectedly introduced. He raised mechanically the wine-cup
to his lips, then instantly set it down, to view the demeanour of
the company at this unexpected proposal, which many of them felt
it as unsafe to oppose as to comply with. Some of them, ancient
and experienced courtiers, closely imitated the example of the
Prince himself, raising the goblet to their lips, and again
replacing it before them. There were many who, with a more
generous feeling, exclaimed, "Long live King Richard! and may he
be speedily restored to us!" And some few, among whom were
Front-de-Boeuf and the Templar, in sullen disdain suffered their
goblets to stand untasted before them. But no man ventured
directly to gainsay a pledge filled to the health of the
Having enjoyed his triumph for about a minute, Cedric said to his
companion, "Up, noble Athelstane! we have remained here long
enough, since we have requited the hospitable courtesy of Prince
John's banquet. Those who wish to know further of our rude Saxon
manners must henceforth seek us in the homes of our fathers,
since we have seen enough of royal banquets, and enough of Norman
So saying, he arose and left the banqueting room, followed by
Athelstane, and by several other guests, who, partaking of the
Saxon lineage, held themselves insulted by the sarcasms of Prince
John and his courtiers.
"By the bones of St Thomas," said Prince John, as they retreated,
"the Saxon churls have borne off the best of the day, and have
retreated with triumph!"
"'Conclamatum est, poculatum est'," said Prior Aymer; "we have
drunk and we have shouted,---it were time we left our wine
"The monk hath some fair penitent to shrive to-night, that he is
in such a hurry to depart," said De Bracy.
"Not so, Sir Knight," replied the Abbot; "but I must move several
miles forward this evening upon my homeward journey."
"They are breaking up," said the Prince in a whisper to Fitzurse;
"their fears anticipate the event, and this coward Prior is the
first to shrink from me."
"Fear not, my lord," said Waldemar; "I will show him such reasons
as shall induce him to join us when we hold our meeting at York.
---Sir Prior," he said, "I must speak with you in private, before
you mount your palfrey."
The other guests were now fast dispersing, with the exception of
those immediately attached to Prince John's faction, and his
"This, then, is the result of your advice," said the Prince,
turning an angry countenance upon Fitzurse; "that I should be
bearded at my own board by a drunken Saxon churl, and that, on
the mere sound of my brother's name, men should fall off from me
as if I had the leprosy?"
"Have patience, sir," replied his counsellor; "I might retort
your accusation, and blame the inconsiderate levity which foiled
my design, and misled your own better judgment. But this is no
time for recrimination. De Bracy and I will instantly go among
these shuffling cowards, and convince them they have gone too far
"It will be in vain," said Prince John, pacing the apartment with
disordered steps, and expressing himself with an agitation to
which the wine he had drank partly contributed---"It will be in
vain--they have seen the handwriting on the wall---they have
marked the paw of the lion in the sand---they have heard his
approaching roar shake the wood---nothing will reanimate their
"Would to God," said Fitzurse to De Bracy, "that aught could
reanimate his own! His brother's very name is an ague to him.
Unhappy are the counsellors of a Prince, who wants fortitude and
perseverance alike in good and in evil!"