Anonymous Olde English


The Story Of Ill May Day, In The Reign Of King Henry Viii - Poem by Anonymous Olde English

The Story of Ill May Day, in the reign of king Henry the Eighth, and why it was so called; and how Queen Katherine begged the lives of two thousand London Apprentices. -- To the Tune of Essex Good Night.


Peruse the stories of this land,
And with advisement mark the same,
And you shall justly understand
How Ill May Day first got the name.
For when king Henry th' eighth did reign
And rul'd our famous kingdom here,
His royal queen he had from Spain,
With whom he liv'd full many a year.

Queen Katherine nam'd, as stories tell,
Some time his elder brother's wife;
By which unlawful marriage fell
An endless trouble during life:
Of his fair queen, and of her friends,
Which being by Spain and France perceiv'd,
Their journeys fast for England bends.

And with good leave were suffered
Within our kingdom here to stay,
Which multitude made victuals dear,
And all things else from day to day;
For strangers then did so increase,
And privileg'd in many a place
To dwell, as was in London seen.

Poor tradesmen had small dealing then,
And who but strangers bore the bell?
Which was a grief to English men,
To see them here in London dwell:
Wherefore (God-wot) upon May-eve,
The 'prentices a-maying went,
Who made the magistrates believe,
At all to have no other intent:

But such a May-game it was known,
As like in London never were;
For by the same full many a one
With loss of life did pay full dear:
For thousands came with Bilboe blade,
As with an army they could meet,
And such a bloody slaughter made
Of foreign strangers in the street,

That all the channels ran with blood.
In every street where they remain'd;
Yea, every one in danger stood,
That any of their part maintain'd:
The rich, the poor, the old, the young,
By 'prentices they suffer'd wrong,
When armed thus they gather'd head.

Such multitudes together went,
No warlike troops could them withstand,
Nor could by policy prevent,
What they by force thus took in hand:
Till, at the last, king Henry's power
This multitude encompass'd round,
Where, with the strength of London's tower,
They were by force suppress'd and bound.

And hundreds hang'd by martial law,
On sign-posts at their masters' doors,
By which the rest were kept in awe,
And frighted from such loud uproars;
And others which the fact repented
(Two thousand 'prentices at least)
Were all unto the king presented,
As mayor and magistrates thought best.

With two and two together tied,
Through Temple-bar and Strand they go,
To Westminster, there to be tried,
With ropes about their necks also:
But such a cry in every street,
Till then was never heard or known,
By mothers for their children sweet,
Unhappily thus overthrown;

Whose bitter moans and sad laments,
Possess'd the court with trembling fear;
Whereat the queen herself relents,
Though it concern'd her country dear:
What if (quoth she) by Spanish blood,
Have London's stately streets been wet,
Yet will I seek this country's good,
And pardon for these young men get;

Or else the world will speak of me,
And say queen Katherine was unkind,
And judge me still the cause to be,
These young men did these fortunes find:
And so, disrob'd from rich attires,
With hair hang'd down, she sadly hies,
And of her gracious lord requires
A boon, which hardly he denies.

The lives (quoth she) of all the blooms
Yet budding green, these youths I crave;
O let them not have timeless tombs,
For nature longer limits gave:
In saying so, the pearled tears
Fell trickling from her princely eyes;
Whereat his gentle queen he cheers,
And says, stand up, sweet lady, rise;

The lives of them I freely give,
No means this kindness shall debar,
Thou hast thy boon, and they may live
To serve me in my Bullen war.

No sooner was this pardon given,
But peals of joy rung through the halls,
As though it thundered down from heaven,
The queen's renown amongst them all.

For which (kind queen) with joyful heart,
She gave to them both thanks and praise,
And so from them did gently part,
And lived beloved all her days:
And when king Henry stood in need
Of trusty soldiers at command,
These 'prentices prov'd men indeed,
And fear'd no force of warlike band.

For, at the siege of Tours, in France,
They show'd themselves brave Englishmen;
At Bullen, too, they did advance
Saint George's ancient standard then;
Lest Tourine, Tournay, and those towns
That good king Henry nobly won,
Tell London's 'prentices' renowns,
And of their deeds by them there done.

For Ill May-day, and Ill May-games,
Perform'd in young and tender days,
can be no hindrance to their fames,
But now it is ordain'd by law,
We see on May-day's eve, at night,
To keep unruly youths in awe,
By London's watch, in armour bright

Still prevent the like misdeed,
Which once through headstrong young men came:
And that's the cause that I do read,
May-day doth get so ill a name.


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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, April 7, 2010



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