17 Pages

King and Queen

In this age, Chaucer could scarcely have had a better introduction to Court life than that which fell to his lot. The King whom he served, when we have made all possible deductions, was still the most imposing sovereign of the time. Adam Murimuth, a contemporary chronicler not often given to rhetoric, has drawn Edward IlL's portrait with no more exaggeration than we must take for granted in a contemporary, and with such brilliancy that his more picturesque successor, Walsingham, has transferred the paragraph almost bodily into his own pages. II This King Edward," writes Adam, II was of infinite goodness, and glorious among all the great ones of the world, being entitled The Glorious par excellence, for that by virtue of grace from heaven he outshone in excellence all his predecessors, renowned and noble as they were. He was so great-hearted that he never blenched or changed the fashion of his countenance at any ill-hap or trouble soever that came upon him; a renowned and fortunate warrior, who triumphed gloriously in battles by sea

and land; clement and benign, familiar and gentle even to all men, both strangers and his own subjects or dependents; devoted to God, for he held God's Church and His ministers in the greatest reverence. In temporal matters he was not too unyielding, prudent and discreet in counsel, affable and gentle in courtesy of speech, composed and measured in gesture and manners, pitiful to the afflicted, and profuse in largesse. In times of wealth he was not immoderate; his love of building was great and discriminating; he bore losses with moderation; devoted to hawking, he spent much pains on that art. His body was comely, and his face like the face of a god, wherefrom so marvellous grace shone forth that whosoever openly considered his countenance, or dreamed thereof by night, conceived a sure and certain hope of pleasant solace and goodfortune that day. He ruled his realm strictly even to his old age; he was liberal in giving and lavish in spending; for he was excellent in all honour of manners, so that to live under him was to reign; since his fame was so spread abroad among barbarous nations that, extolling his honour, they averred that no land under the sun had ever produced a King so noble, so generous, or so fortunate; and that, after his death, none such would perchance ever be raised up for future times. Yet he controlled not, even in old age, the dissolute lusts of the flesh; and, as is believed, this intemperance shortened his life." Hereupon follows a painfully involved sentence in which the chronicler draws a moral from Edward's brilliant youth, the full midday of his manhood, and the degradation of his declining years. •

If the praise of Edward's clemency seems overdrawn to those who remember the story of the citizens of Calais, we must bear in mind that the chronicler compares him here with other sovereigns of the timewith his rival Philippe de Valois, who was scarcely

dissuaded from executing Sir Walter de Mauny in cold blood, despite his safe conduct from the Dauphin; with Gaston de Foix, who with a penknife in his hand struck at his only son and killed him; with Richard 11., who smote the Earl of Arundel in the face during the Queen's funeral, and // polluted Westminster Abbey with his blood"; with Charles the Bad of Navarre, and Pedro the Cruel of Spain. What even the cleric Murimuth saw, and what Chaucer and his friend Hoccleve saw still more intimately, was the Haroun al-Raschid who went about /I in simple array alone" to hear what his people said of him; the /I mighty victor, mighty lord" of Sluys, Crecy and Calais; the King who in war would freely hazard his own person, /I raging like a wild boar, and crying / Ha Saint Edward! Ha Saint George!'''· and who in peace would lead the revels at Windsor, clad in white and silver, and embroidered with his motto-

If Edward and his sons were renowned for their uniform success in battle, it was not because they had feared to look defeat lin the face. Everyone knows how much was risked and all but lost at Crecy and Poi tiers ; the great sea-fight of ,/ Les Espagnols sur Mer" is less known. Froissart excels himself in this story. t We see Edward sailing out gaily, in spite of the superior numbers of the Spaniards, and bidding his minstrels pipe the brand-new air which Sir John Chandos had brought back from Germany, while Chandos himself sang the words. Then, when the enemy came sailing down upon him with their great embattled ships, the King bade his steersman tilt straight at the first Spanish vessel, in spite of the disparity of weight. The English boat cracked under the shock; her seams opened; and,

by the time that Edward had captured the next ship, his own was beginning to sink. The Black Prince had even a narrower escape; it became evident that his ship would go down before he could board the enemy; only the timely arrival of the Earl of Derby saved him; the deck sank almost under his feet as he climbed the sides of the Spaniard; II and all the enemy were put overboard without taking any to mercy." The Queen prayed all day at some abbey-probably Battle-in anguish of heart for the news which came from time to time through watchers on the far-off Downs. Although Edward and his sons took horse at once upon their landing, not until two o'clock in the morning did they find her, apparently in her own castle at Pevensey: /I so the lords and ladies passed that night in great revel, speaking of war and of love."