The Boy And The Mantle

A poem by Frank Sidgwick

Text.--The Percy Folio is the sole authority for this excellent lively ballad. It is here given as it stands in the manuscript, except for division into stanzas. Percy printed the ballad 'verbatim,'--that is, with emendations--and also a revised version.

The Story, which exists in countless variations in many lands, is told from the earliest times in connection with the Arthurian legend-cycle. Restricting the article used as a criterion of chastity to a mantle, we find the elements of this ballad existing in French manuscripts of the thirteenth century (the romance called Cort Mantel); in a Norse translation of this 'fabliau'; in the Icelandic Mantle Rhymes of the fifteenth century; in the Scalachronica of Sir Thomas Gray of Heton (circ. 1355); in Germany, and in Gaelic (a ballad known in Irish writings, but not in Scottish); as well as in many other versions.

The trial by the drinking-horn is a fable equally old, as far as the evidence goes, and equally widespread; but it is not told elsewhere in connection with the parallel story of the mantle. Other tests used for the purpose of discovering infidelity or unchastity are:-- a crown, a magic bridge (German); a girdle (English; cp. Florimel's girdle in the Faery Queen, Book iv. Canto 5); a bed, a stepping-stone by the bedside, a chair (Scandinavian); flowers (Sanskrit); a shirt (German and Flemish); a picture (Italian, translated to England--cp. Massinger's The Picture (1630), where he localises the story in Hungary); a ring (French); a mirror (German, French, and Italian); and so forth.

Caxton, in his preface to Kyng Arthur (1485), says:-- 'Item, in the castel of Douer ye may see Gauwayn's skull and Cradok's mantel.' Sir Thomas Gray says the mantle was made into a chasuble, and was preserved at Glastonbury.

Thomas Love Peacock says (The Misfortunes of Elphin, chap. xii.), 'Tegau Eurvron, or Tegau of the Golden Bosom, was the wife of Caradoc [Craddocke], and one of the Three Chaste Wives of the island of Britain.' A similar statement is recorded by Percy at the end of his 'revised and altered' ballad, taking it from 'the Rev. Evan Evans, editor of the Specimens of Welsh Poetry.'


In the third day of May
to Carleile did come
A kind curteous child
that cold much of wisdome.

A kirtle & a mantle
this child had vppon,
With brauches and ringes
full richelye bedone.

He had a sute of silke,
about his middle drawne;
Without he cold of curtesye,
he thought itt much shame.

'God speed thee, King Arthur,
sitting at thy meate!
& the goodly Queene Gueneuer!
I canott her fforgett.

'I tell you lords in this hall,
I hett you all heede,
Except you be the more surer,
is you for to dread.'

He plucked out of his potewer,
& longer wold not dwell,
He pulled forth a pretty mantle,
betweene two nut-shells.

'Haue thou here, King Arthure,
haue thou heere of mee;
Give itt to thy comely queene,
shapen as itt is alreadye.

'Itt shall neuer become that wiffe
that hath once done amisse':
Then euery knight in the King's court
began to care for his wiffe.

Forth came dame Gueneuer,
to the mantle shee her bid;
The ladye shee was new-fangle,
but yett shee was affrayd.

When shee had taken the mantle,
shee stoode as she had beene madd;
It was ffrom the top to the toe
as sheeres had itt shread.

One while was itt gaule,
another while was itt greene;
Another while was itt wadded;
ill itt did her beseeme.

Another while was it blacke,
& bore the worst hue;
'By my troth,' quoth King Arthur,
'I thinke thou be not true.'

Shee threw downe the mantle,
that bright was of blee,
Fast with a rudd redd
to her chamber can shee flee.

Shee curst the weauer and the walker
that clothe that had wrought,
& bade a vengeance on his crowne
that hither hath itt brought.

'I had rather be in a wood,
vnder a greene tree,
Then in King Arthurs court,
shamed for to bee.'

Kay called forth his ladye,
& bade her come neere;
Saies, 'Madam, & thou be guiltye,
I pray thee hold thee there.'

Forth came his ladye
shortlye and anon,
Boldlye to the mantle
then is shee gone.

When shee had tane the mantle,
& cast it her about,
Then was shee bare
all aboue the buttocckes.

Then euery knight
that was in the Kings court
Talked, laug[h]ed, & showted,
full oft att that sport.

Shee threw downe the mantle,
that bright was of blee,
Ffast with a red rudd
to her chamber can shee flee.

Forth came an old knight,
pattering ore a creede,
& he proferred to this litle boy
20 markes to his meede,

& all the time of the Christmasse
willinglye to ffeede;
For why this mantle might
doe his wiffe some need.

When shee had tane the mantle,
of cloth that was made,
Shee had no more left on her
but a tassell and a threed:
Then euery knight in the Kings court
bade euill might shee speed.

She threw downe the mantle,
that bright was of blee,
& fast with a redd rudd
to her chamber can shee flee.

Craddocke called forth his ladye,
& bade her come in;
Saith, 'Winne this mantle, ladye,
with a litle dinne.

'Winne this mantle, ladye,
& it shalbe thine
If thou neuer did amisse
since thou wast mine.'

Forth came Craddockes ladye
shortlye & anon,
But boldlye to the mantle
then is shee gone.

When shee had tane the mantle,
& cast itt her about,
Vpp att her great toe
itt began to crinkle & crowt;
Shee said, 'Bowe downe, mantle,
& shame me not for nought.

'Once I did amisse,
I tell you certainlye,
When I kist Craddockes mouth
vnder a greene tree,
When I kist Craddockes mouth
before he marryed mee.'

When shee had her shreeuen,
& her sines shee had tolde,
The mantle stoode about her
right as shee wold,

Seemelye of coulour,
glittering like gold;
Then euery knight in Arthurs court
did her behold.

Then spake dame Gueneuer
to Arthur our king:
'She hath tane yonder mantle,
not with wright but with wronge.

'See you not yonder woman
that maketh her selfe soe cleane?
I haue seene tane out of her bedd
of men fiueteene;

'Preists, clarkes, & wedded men,
from her by-deene;
Yett shee taketh the mantle,
& maketh her selfe cleane!'

Then spake the litle boy
that kept the mantle in hold;
Sayes, 'King, chasten thy wiffe;
of her words shee is to bold.

'Shee is a bitch & a witch,
& a whore bold;
King, in thine owne hall
thou art a cuchold.'

A litle boy stoode
looking ouer a dore;
He was ware of a wyld bore,
wold haue werryed a man.

He pulld forth a wood kniffe,
fast thither that he ran;
He brought in the bores head,
& quitted him like a man.

He brought in the bores head,
and was wonderous bold;
He said there was neuer a cucholds kniffe
carue itt that cold.

Some rubbed their k[n]iues
vppon a whetstone;
Some threw them vnder the table,
& said they had none.

King Arthur & the child
stood looking them vpon;
All their k[n]iues edges
turned backe againe.

Craddoccke had a litle kniue
of iron & of steele;
He birtled the bores head
wonderous weele,
That euery knight in the Kings court
had a morssell.

The litle boy had a horne,
of red gold that ronge;
He said, 'There was noe cuckolde
shall drinke of my horne,
But he shold itt sheede,
either behind or beforne.'

Some shedd on their shoulder,
& some on their knee;
He that cold not hitt his mouth
put it in his eye;
& he that was a cuckold,
euery man might him see.

Craddoccke wan the horne
& the bores head;
His ladye wan the mantle
vnto her meede;
Euerye such a louely ladye,
God send her well to speede!

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