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King John and the Bishop

No: 45; variant: 45A

  1. OFF an ancient story Ile tell you anon, Of a notable prince that was called King Iohn, In England was borne, with maine and with might; Hee did much wrong and mainteined litle right.
  2. This noble prince was vexed in veretye, For he was angry with the Bishopp of Canterbury; Ffor his house-keeping and his good cheere, The: rode post for him, as you shall heare.
  3. They rode post for him verry hastilye; The king sayd the bishopp kept a better house then hee: A hundred men euen, as I [have heard] say, The bishopp kept in his house euerye day, And fifty gold chaines, without any doubt, In veluett coates waited the bishopp about.
  4. The bishopp, he came to the court anon, Before his prince that was called King Iohn. As soone as the bishopp the king did see, ‘O,’ quoth the king, ‘Bishopp, thow art welcome to mee. There is noe man soe welcome to towne As thou that workes treason against my crowne’
  5. ‘My leege,’ quoth the bishopp, ‘I wold it were knowne I spend, your grace, nothing but that that’s my owne; I trust your grace will doe me noe deare For spending my owne trew gotten geere.’
  6. ‘Yes,’ quoth the king, ‘Bishopp, thou must needs dye, Eccept thou can answere mee questions three; Thy head shalbe smitten quite from thy bodye, And all thy liuing remayne vnto mee.
  7. ‘First,’ quoth the king, ‘Tell me in this steade, With this crowne of gold heere vpon my head, Amongst my nobilitye, with ioy and much mirth, Lett me know within one pennye what I am worth.
  8. ‘Secondlye, tell me without any dowbt How soone I may goe the whole world about; And thirdly, tell mee or euer I stinte, What is the thing, bishopp, that I doe thinke. Twenty dayes pardon thoust haue trulye, And come againe and answere mee.’
  9. The bishopp bade the king god night att a word; He rode betwixt Cambridge and Oxenford, But neuer a doctor there was soe wise Cold shew him these questions or enterprise.
  10. Wherewith the bishopp was nothing gladd, But in his hart was heauy and sadd, And hyed him home to a house in the countrye, To ease some part of his melanchollye.
  11. His halfe-brother dwelt there, was feirce and fell, Noe better but a shepard to the bishoppe himsell; The shepard came to the bishopp anon, Saying, My Lord, you are welcome home!
  12. ‘What ayles you,’ quoth the shepard, ‘that you are soe sadd, And had wonte to haue beene soe merry and gladd?’ ‘Nothing,’ quoth the bishopp, ‘I ayle att this time; Will not thee availe to know, brother mine.’
  13. ‘Brother,’ quoth the shepeard, ‘you haue heard itt, That a ffoole may teach a wisemane witt; Say me therfore whatsoeuer you will, And if I doe you noe good, Ile doe you noe ill.’
  14. Quoth the bishop: I haue beene att the court anon, Before my prince is called King Iohn, And there he hath charged mee Against his crowne with traitorye.
  15. If I cannott answer his misterye, Three questions hee hath propounded to mee, He will haue my land soe faire and free, And alsoe the head from my bodye.
  16. The first question was, to tell him in that stead, With the crowne of gold vpon his head, Amongst his nobilitye, with ioy and much mirth, To lett him know within one penye what hee is worth.
  17. And secondlye, to tell him with-out any doubt How soone he may goe the whole world about; And thirdlye, to tell him, or ere I stint, What is the thinge that he does thinke.
  18. ‘Brother,’ quoth the shepard, ‘you are a man of learninge; What neede you stand in doubt of soe small a thinge? Lend me,’ quoth the shepard, ‘your ministers apparrell, Ile ryde to the court and answere your quarrell.
  19. ‘Lend me your serving men, say me not nay, With all your best horsses that ryd on the way; Ile to the court, this matter to stay; Ile speake with King Iohn and heare what heele say.’
  20. The bishopp with speed prepared then To sett forth the shepard with horsse and man; The shepard was liuely without any doubt; I wott a royall companye came to the court.
  21. The shepard hee came to the court anon Before [his] prince that was called King Iohn. As soone as the king the shepard did see, ‘O,’ quoth the king, ‘Bishopp thou art welcome to me.’ The shepard was soe like the bishopp his brother, The king cold not know the one from the other.
  22. Quoth the king, Bishopp, thou art welcome to me If thou can answer me my questions three. Said the shepeard, If it please your grace, Show mee what the first quest[i]on was.
  23. ‘First,’ quoth the king, ‘Tell mee in this stead, With the crowne of gold vpon my head, Amongst my nobilitye, with ioy and much mirth, Within one pennye what I am worth.’
  24. Quoth the shepard, To make your grace noe offence, I thinke you are worth nine and twenty pence; For our Lord Iesus, that bought vs all, For thirty pence was sold into thrall Amongst the cursed Iewes, as I to you doe showe; But I know Christ was one penye better then you.
  25. Then the king laught, and swore by St Andrew He was not thought to bee of such a small value. ‘Secondlye, tell mee with-out any doubt How soone I may goe the world round about.’
  26. Saies the shepard, It is noe time with your grace to scorne, But rise betime with the sun in the morne, And follow his course till his vprising, And then you may know without any leasing.
  27. And this [to] your grace shall proue the same, You are come to the same place from whence you came; [In] twenty-four houres, with-out any doubt, Your grace may the world goe round about; The world round about, euen as I doe say, If with the sun you can goe the next way.
  28. ‘And thirdlye tell me or euer I stint, What is the thing, bishoppe, that I doe thinke.’ ‘That shall I doe,’ quoth the shepeard; ‘For veretye, You thinke I am the bishopp of Canterburye.’
  29. ‘Why, art not thou? the truth tell to me; For I doe thinke soe,’ quoth the king, ‘By St Marye.’ ‘Not soe,’ quoth the shepeard; ‘The truth shalbe knowne, I am his poore shepeard; my brother is att home.’
  30. ‘Why,’ quoth the king, ‘if itt soe bee, Ile make thee bishopp here to mee.’ ‘Noe, Sir,’ quoth the shepard, ‘I pray you be still, For Ile not bee bishop but against my will; For I am not fitt for any such deede, For I can neither write nor reede.’
  31. ‘Why then,’ quoth the king, ‘Ile giue thee cleere A pattent of three hundred pound a yeere; That I will giue thee franke and free; Take thee that, shepard, for coming to me.
  32. ‘Free pardon Ile giue,’ the kings grace said, ‘To saue the bishopp, his land and his head; With him nor thee Ile be nothing wrath; Here is the pardon for him and thee both.’
  33. Then the shepard he had noe more to say, But tooke the pardon and rode his way: When he came to the bishopps place, The bishopp asket anon how all things was.
  34. ‘Brother,’ quoth the shepard, ‘I haue well sped, For I haue saued both your land and your head; The king with you is nothing wrath, For heere is the pardon for you and mee both.’
  35. Then the bishopes hart was of a merry cheere: ‘Brother, thy paines Ile quitt them cleare; For I will giue thee a patent to thee and to thine Of fifty pound a yeere, land good and fine.’
  36. . . . . . . . . . . ‘I will to thee noe longer croche nor creepe, Nor Ile serue thee noe more to keepe thy sheepe.’
  37. Whereeuer wist you shepard before, That had in his head witt such store To pleasure a bishopp in such a like case, To answer three questions to the kings grace? Whereeuer wist you shepard gett cleare Three hundred and fifty pound a yeere?
  38. I neuer hard of his fellow before. Nor I neuer shall: now I need to say noe more. I neuer knew shepeard that gott such a liuinge But David, the shepeard, that was a king.