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King John and the Bishop

No: 45; variant: 45B

  1. I’LL tell you a story, a story anon, Of a noble prince, and his name was King John; For he was a prince, and a prince of great might, He held up great wrongs, he put down great right. Derry down, down hey, derry down
  2. I’ll tell you a story, a story so merry, Concerning the Abbot of Canterbury, And of his house-keeping and high renown, Which made him resort to fair London town.
  3. ‘How now, father abbot? ‘Tis told unto me That thou keepest a far better house than I; And for [thy] house-keeping and high renown, I fear thou has treason against my crown.’
  4. ‘I hope, my liege, that you owe me no grudge For spending of my true-gotten goods:’ ‘If thou dost not answer me questions three, Thy head shall be taken from thy body.
  5. ‘When I am set so high on my steed, With my crown of gold upon my head, Amongst all my nobility, with joy and much mirth, Thou must tell me to one penny what I am worth.
  6. ‘And the next question you must not flout, How long I shall be riding the world about; And the third question thou must not shrink, But tell to me truly what I do think.’
  7. ‘O these are hard questions for my shallow wit, For I cannot answer your grace as yet; But if you will give me but three days space, I’ll do my endeavor to answer your grace.’
  8. ‘O three days space I will thee give, For that is the longest day thou hast to live. And if thou dost not answer these questions right, Thy head shall be taken from thy body quite.’
  9. And as the shepherd was going to his fold, He spy’d the old abbot come riding along: ‘How now, master abbot? You’r welcome home; What news have you brought from good King John?’
  10. ‘Sad news, sad news I have thee to give, For I have but three days space for to live; If I do not answer him questions three, My head will be taken from my body.
  11. ‘When he is set so high on his steed, With his crown of gold upon his head, Amongst all his nobility, with joy and much mirth, I must tell him to one penny what he is worth.
  12. ‘And the next question I must not flout, How long he shall be riding the world about; And the third question I must not shrink, But tell him truly what he does think.’
  13. ‘O master, did you never hear it yet, That a fool may learn a wiseman wit? Lend me but your horse and your apparel, I’ll ride to fair London and answer the quarrel.’
  14. ‘Now I am set so high on my steed, With my crown of gold upon my head, Amongst all my nobility, with joy and much mirth, Now tell me to one penny what I am worth.’
  15. ‘For thirty pence our Saviour was sold, Amongst the false Jews, as you have been told, And nine and twenty’s the worth of thee, For I think thou are one penny worser than he.’
  16. ‘And the next question thou mayst not flout; How long I shall be riding the world about.’ ‘You must rise with the sun, and ride with the same, Until the next morning he rises again, And then I am sure you will make no doubt But in twenty-four hours you’l ride it about.’
  17. ‘And the third question you must not shrink, But tell me truly what I do think.’ ‘All that I can do, and ‘twill make you merry; For you think I’m the Abbot of Canterbury, But I’m his poor shepherd, as you may see, And am come to beg pardon for he and for me.’
  18. The king he turned him about and did smile, Saying, Thou shalt be the abbot the other while: ‘O no, my grace, there is no such need, For I can neither write nor read.’
  19. ‘Then four pounds a week will I give unto thee For this merry jest thou hast told unto me; And tell the old abbot, when thou comest home, Thou hast brought him a pardon from good King John.’