David Lewis Paget
Jus Primae Noctis - Poem by David Lewis Paget
(In medieval times, the right of the
Lord of the Manor to spend the first night
with a peasant's bride) .
John and Jayne at the altar stood,
To put up their wedding banns,
In the Church at Haversham, Holy Cross
On Sir Robert de Courcy's lands,
When a clatter of hooves on the cobblestones
Brought dread to the open door,
As the Lord of the Manor came striding in
And planted his feet on the floor.
He looked at the two with a great disdain,
His hand on his scabbard sword,
His knights stood silent across the nave,
Not one would utter a word.
His voice rang out in that hallowed place
As Jayne cowered down, distress'd,
'I come to claim the Lord's First Right
By the power jus primae noctis.'
He strolled so arrogant down the aisle,
Of the Hereford Village Kirk,
Then drew his sword with a wicked smile,
With the tip of it, lifted her skirt,
'Her legs are fine, I can tell you that, '
He said to John with a sneer,
But John had averted his eyes to the floor
As his eyes were beginning to tear.
De Courcy turned, and he walked away
Up the aisle to the Norman doors,
Then turned at last with a final command
That would end their short discourse,
'You'll place yourself at my mercy, then,
And leave your husband denied,
You'll make your way to the castle gate
On the night that the knot is tied! '
John had cursed as they rode away,
The priest was more reserved,
'You should think it an honour, young man, ' he said,
That your bride will be well served.
With luck, you may get a blue-blood son,
And honours will come his way,
Sir Robert has twenty or more in the town
That are blessed in the usual way.'
Jayne knew, of course, it would come to this,
She had seen with her sister Jone,
Carried away to the castle gate,
And weep all the way back home.
She'd watched her belly grow big with child
While her man had cursed and sworn,
'Til the day she lay on a bale of hay
As the child arrived, still-born.
Meanwhile, in Bristol, came a ship
That had sailed from Gascony,
Dropping a sickening sailor there
With its wines and its armoury,
The sailor staggered up streets outside,
And fell in the tavern door,
Infected all that were drinking there,
As the pestilence came ashore.
It spread at the rate of a raging fire
That nothing could halt or douse,
The abscesses in the armpits made
Their way from house to house,
The plague ran on through the countryside
And arrived at Haversham,
On the day of the wedding of John and Jayne
Though they didn't know it then.
There was just one victim on that day,
A woman who stayed at home,
She watched as her flesh grew puffy, as
The boils grew down below,
She sent a note to her sister, said
'I'll not be there at the feast,
But I have a gift I'll give to you,
It's the least I can do... the least! '
That evening, out by the castle gate
A woman was led inside,
De Courcy sat in the dark, and watched
As she knelt by the Lord's bedside,
She knelt in shadows, and then she wept
And he watched as she disrobed,
Then stood quite naked beside his bed
For the lord to touch and probe.
He pulled her onto the bed and grasped her
Close to his body there,
And then she laughed, it was not the laugh
Of a bride caught in despair,
The moon shone bright through the chamber then
And he shrank from the woman's moan,
She was covered in blood and pustules, said:
'Not Jayne - but her sister Jone! '
He screamed for his knights, who pulled her off,
Then spilt her blood on the floor,
Cut off her head, then shrank in dread
At the sight of her festering sores,
The plague ran right through the castle then,
Spared not one knight or horse,
While John and Jayne in the forest lay
Til the plague had run its course.
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