This ballad is a northern composition, and seems to have been the original of the legend called Sir Aldingar, which is printed in the Reliques of Antient Poetry. The incidents are nearly the same in both ballads, excepting that, in Aldingar, an angel combats for the queen, instead of a mortal champion. The names of Aldingar and Rodingham approach near to each other in sound, though not in orthography, and the one might, by reciters, be easily substituted for the other.
The tradition, upon which the ballad is founded, is universally current in the Mearns; and the editor is informed, that, till very lately, the sword, with which Sir Hugh le Blond was believed to have defended the life and honour of the queen, was carefully preserved by his descendants, the viscounts of Arbuthnot. That Sir Hugh of Arbuthnot lived in the thirteenth century, is proved by his having, in 1282, bestowed the patronage of the church of Garvoch upon the monks of Aberbrothwick, for the safety of his soul. —Register of Aberbrothwick, quoted by Crawford in Peerage. But I find no instance in history, in which the honour of a queen of Scotland was committed to the chance of a duel. It is true, that Mary, wife of Alexander II., was, about 1242, somewhat implicated in a dark story, concerning the murder of Patrick, earl of Athole, burned in his lodging at Haddington, where he had gone to attend a great tournament. The relations of the deceased baron accused of the murder Sir William Bisat, a powerful nobleman, who appears to have been in such high favour with the young queen, that she offered her oath, as a compurgator, to prove his innocence. Bisat himself stood upon his defence, and proffered the combat to his accusers; but he was obliged to give way to the tide, and was banished from Scotland. This affair interested all the northern barons; and it is not impossible, that some share, taken in it by this Sir Hugh de Arbuthnot, may have given a slight foundation for the tradition of the country. — WINTON, B. vii. ch. 9. Or, if we suppose Sir Hugh le Blond to be a predecessor of the Sir Hugh who flourished in the thirteenth century, he may have been the victor in a duel, shortly noticed as having occurred in 1154, when one Arthur, accused of treason, was unsuccessful in his appeal to the judgment of God. Arthurus regem Malcolm proditurus duello periit. Chron. Sanctae Crucis ap. Anglia Sacra, Vol. I. p. 161.
But, true or false, the incident, narrated in the ballad, is in the genuine style of chivalry. Romances abound with similar instances, nor are they wanting in real history. The most solemn part of a knight’s oath was to defend “all widows, orphelines, and maidens of gude fame.”288— LINDSAY’S Heraldry, MS. The love of arms was a real passion of itself, which blazed yet more fiercely when united with the enthusiastic admiration of the fair sex. The knight of Chaucer exclaims, with chivalrous energy,
To fight for a lady! a benedicite!
It were a lusty sight for to see.
It was an argument, seriously urged by Sir John of Heinault, for making war upon Edward II., in behalf of his banished wife, Isabella, that knights were bound to aid, to their uttermost power, all distressed damsels, living without council or comfort.
288 Such an oath is still taken by the Knights of the Bath; but, I believe, few of that honourable brotherhood will now consider it quite so obligatory as the conscientious Lord Herbert of Cherbury, who gravely alleges it as a sufficient reason for having challenged divers cavaliers, that they had either snatched from a lady her bouquet, or ribband, or, by some discourtesy of similar importance, placed her, as his lordship conceived, in the predicament of a distressed damozell.]
An apt illustration of the ballad would have been the combat, undertaken by three Spanish champions against three Moors of Granada, in defence of the honour of the queen of Granada, wife to Mohammed Chiquito, the last monarch of that kingdom. But I have not at hand Las Guerras Civiles de Granada, in which that atchievement is recorded. Raymond Berenger, count of Barcelona, is also said to have defended, in single combat, the life and honour of the Empress Matilda, wife of the Emperor Henry V., and mother to Henry II. of England. — See ANTONIO ULLOA, del vero Honore Militare, Venice, 1569.
A less apocryphal example is the duel, fought in 1387, betwixt Jaques le Grys and John de Carogne, before the king of France. These warriors were retainers of the earl of Alencon, and originally sworn brothers. John de Carogne went over the sea, for the advancement of his fame, leaving in his castle a beautiful wife, where she lived soberly and sagely. But the devil entered into the heart of Jaques le Grys, and he rode, one morning, from the earl’s house to the castle of his friend, where he was hospitably received by the unsuspicious lady. He requested her to show him the donjon, or keep of the castle, and in that remote and inaccessible tower forcibly violated her chastity. He then mounted his horse, and returned to the earl of Alencon within so short a space, that his absence had not been perceived. The lady abode within the donjon, weeping bitterly, and exclaiming, “Ah Jaques! it was not well done thus to shame me! but on you shall the shame rest, if God send my husband safe home!” The lady kept secret this sorrowful deed until her husband’s return from his voyage. The day passed, and night came, and the knight went to bed; but the lady would not; for ever she blessed herself, and walked up and down the chamber, studying and musing, until her attendants had retired; and then, throwing herself on her knees before the knight, she shewed him all the adventure. Hardly would Carogne believe the treachery of his companion; but, when convinced, he replied, “Since it is so, lady, I pardon you; but the knight shall die for this villainous deed.” Accordingly, Jaques le Grys was accused of the crime, in the court of the earl of Alencon. But, as he was greatly loved of his lord, and as the evidence was very slender, the earl gave judgment against the accusers. Hereupon John Carogne appealed to the parliament of Paris; which court, after full consideration, appointed the case to be tried by mortal combat betwixt the parties, John Carogne appearing as the champion of his lady. If he failed in his combat, then was he to be hanged, and his lady burned, as false and unjust calumniators. This combat, under circumstances so very peculiar, attracted universal attention; in so much, that the king of France and his peers, who were then in Flanders, collecting troops for an invasion of England, returned to Paris, that so notable a duel might be fought in the royal presence. “Thus the kynge, and his uncles, and the constable, came to Parys. Then the lystes were made in a place called Saynt Katheryne, behinde the Temple. There was soo moche people, that it was mervayle to beholde; and on the one side of the lystes there was made gret scaffoldes, that the lordes might the better se the batayle of the ii champion; and so they bothe came to the felde, armed at all peaces, and there eche of them was set in theyr chayre; the erle of Saynt Poule gouverned John of Carongne, and the erle of Alanson’s company with Jacques le Grys; and when the knyght entred in to the felde, he came to his wyfe, who was there syttynge in a chayre, covered in blacke, and he sayd to her thus:— Dame, by your enformacyon, and in your quarrell, I do put my lyfe in adventure, as to fyght with Jacques le Grys; ye knowe, if the cause be just and true.’—‘Syr,’ sayd the lady, ‘it is as I have sayd; wherefore ye maye fyght surely; the cause is good and true.’ With those wordes, the knyghte kissed the lady, and toke her by the hande, and then blessyd hym, and soo entred into the felde. The lady sate styll in the blacke chayre, in her prayers to God, and to the vyrgyne Mary, humbly prayenge them, by theyr specyall grace, to send her husbande the victory, accordynge to the ryght. She was in gret hevynes, for she was not sure of her lyfe; for, if her husbande sholde have ben dyscomfyted, she was judged, without remedy, to be brente, and her husbande hanged. I cannot say whether she repented her or not, as the matter was so forwarde, that both she and her husbande were in grete peryll: howbeit, fynally, she must as then abyde the adventure. Then these two champyons were set one agaynst another, and so mounted on theyr horses, and behauved them nobly; for they knewe what perteyned to deades of armes. There were many lordes and knyghtes of Fraunce, that were come thyder to se that batayle. The two champyons justed at theyr fyrst metyng, but none of them dyd hurte other; and, after the justes, they lyghted on foote to periournie theyr batayle, and soo fought valyauntly. — And fyrst, John of Carongne was hurt in the thyghe, whereby al his frendes were in grete fere; but, after that, he fought so valyauntly, that he bette down his adversary to the erthe, and threst his swerde in his body, and soo slewe hyrn in the felde; and then he demaunded, if he had done his devoyse or not? and they answered, that he had valyauntly atchieved his batayle. Then Jacques le Grys was delyuered to the hangman of Parys, and he drewe hym to the gybbet of Mountfawcon, and there hanged him up. Then John of Carongne came before the kynge, and kneled downe, and the kynge made him to stand up before hym; and, the same daye, the kynge caused to be delyvred to him a thousande franks, and reteyned him to be of his chambre, with a pencyon of ii hundred pounde by yere, durynge the terme of his lyfe. Then he thanked the kynge and the lordes, and went to his wyfe, and kissed her; and then they wente togyder to the chyrche of our ladye, in Parys, and made theyr offerynge, and then retourned to their lodgynges. Then this Sir John of Carongne taryed not longe in Fraunce, but went, with Syr John Boucequant, Syr John of Bordes, and Syr Loys Grat. All these went to se Lamorabaquyn,289 of whome, in those dayes, there was moche spekynge.”
289 This odd name Froissart gives to the famous Mahomet, emperor of Turkey, called the Great.]
Such was the readiness, with which, in those times, heroes put their lives in jeopardy, for honour and lady’s sake. But I doubt whether the fair dames of the present day will think, that the risk of being burned, upon every suspicion of frailty, could be altogether compensated by the probability, that a husband of good faith, like John de Carogne, or a disinterested champion, like Hugh le Blond, would take up the gauntlet in their behalf. I fear they will rather accord to the sentiment of the hero of an old romance, who expostulates thus with a certain duke:—
Certes, sir duke, thou doest unright,
To make a roast of your daughter bright;
I wot you ben unkind.
Amis and Amelion.
I was favoured with the following copy of Sir Hugh le Blond, by K. Williamson Burnet, Esq. of Monboddo, who wrote it down from the recitation of an old woman, long in the service of the Arbuthnot family. Of course the diction is very much humbled, and it has, in all probability, undergone many corruptions; but its antiquity is indubitable, and the story, though indifferently told, is in itself interesting. It is believed, that there have been many more verses.
The birds sang sweet as ony bell,
The world had not their make,
The queen she’s gone to her chamber,
With Rodingham to talk.
“I love you well, my queen, my dame,
“‘Bove land and rents so clear
“And for the love of you, my queen,
“Would thole pain most severe.”
“If well you love me, Rodingham,
“I’m sure so do I thee:
“I love you well as any man,
“Save the king’s fair bodye.”
“I love you well, my queen, my dame;
“’Tis truth that I do tell:
“And for to lye a night with you,
“The salt seas I would sail.”
“Away, away, O Rodingham!
“You are both stark and stoor;
“Would you defile the king’s own bed,
“And make his queen a whore?
“To-morrow you’d be taken sure,
“And like a traitor slain;
“And I’d be burned at a stake,
“Altho’ I be the queen.”
He then stepp’d out at her room-door,
All in an angry mood;
Until he met a leper-man,
Just by the hard way-side.
He intoxicate the leper-man
With liquors very sweet;
And gave him more and more to drink,
Until he fell asleep.
He took him in his arms two,
And carried him along,
Till he came to the queen’s own bed,
And there he laid him down.
He then stepp’d out of the queen’s bower,
As switt as any roe,
Till he came to the very place
Where the king himself did go.
The king said unto Rodingham,
“What news have you to me?”
He said, “Your queen’s a false woman,
“As I did plainly see.”
He hasten’d to the queen’s chamber,
So costly and so fine,
Untill he came to the queen’s own bed,
Where the leper-man was lain.
He looked on the leper-man,
Who lay on his queen’s bed;
He lifted up the snaw-white sheets,
And thus he to him said:
“Plooky, plooky,290 are your cheeks,
“And plooky is your chin,
“And plooky are your arms two
“My bonny queen’s layne in.
“Since she has lain into your arms,
“She shall not lye in mine;
“Since she has kiss’d your ugsome mouth,
“She never shall kiss mine.”
In anger he went to the queen,
Who fell upon her knee;
He said, “You false, unchaste woman,
“What’s this you’ve done to me?”
The queen then turn’d herself about,
The tear blinded her e’e —
There’s not a knight in all your court
“Dare give that name to me.”
He said, “’Tis true that I do say;
“For I a proof did make:
“You shall be taken from my bower,
“And burned at a stake.
“Perhaps I’ll take my word again,
“And may repent the same,
“If that you’ll get a Christian man
“To fight that Rodingham.”
“Alas! alas!” then cried our queen,
“Alas, and woe to me!
“There’s not a man in all Scotland
“Will fight with him for me.”
She breathed unto her messengers,
Sent them south, east, and west;
They could find none to fight with him,
Nor enter the contest.
She breathed on her messengers,
She sent them to the north;
And there they found Sir Hugh le Blond,
To fight him he came forth.
When unto him they did unfold
The circumstance all right,
He bade them go and tell the queen,
That for her he would fight.
The day came on that was to do
That dreadful tragedy;
Sir Hugh le Blond was not come up
To fight for our lady.
“Put on the fire,” the monster said;
“It is twelve on the bell!”
“Tis scarcely ten, now,” said the king;
“I heard the clock mysell.”
Before the hour the queen is brought,
The burning to proceed;
In a black velvet chair she’s set,
A token for the dead.
She saw the flames ascending high,
The tears blinded her e’e:
“Where is the worthy knight,” she said,
“Who is to fight for me?”
Then up and spake the king himsel,
“My dearest, have no doubt,
“For yonder comes the man himsel,
“As bold as ere set out.”
They then advanced to fight the duel
With swords of temper’d steel,
Till down the blood of Rodingham
Came running to his heel.
Sir Hugh took out a lusty sword,
’Twas of the metal clear;
And he has pierced Rodingham
Till’s heart-blood did appear.
“Confess your treachery, now,” he said,
“This day before you die!”
“I do confess my treachery,
“I shall no longer lye:
“I like to wicked Haman am,
“This day I shall be slain.”
The queen was brought to her chamber
A good woman again.
The queen then said unto the king,
“Arbattle’s near the sea;
“Give it unto the northern knight,
“That this day fought for me.”
Then said the king, “Come here, sir knight,
“And drink a glass of wine;
“And, if Arbattle’s not enough,
“To it we’ll Fordoun join.”
290 Plooky— Pimpled.]
Until he met a leper-man. &c.— P. 268. v. 4.
Filth, poorness of living, and the want of linen, made this horrible disease formerly very common in Scotland. Robert Bruce died of the leprosy; and, through all Scotland, there were hospitals erected for the reception of lepers, to prevent their mingling with the rest of the community.
“It is twelve on the bell!”
“Tis scarcely ten, now,” said the king, &c.— P. 272. v. 2.
In the romance of Doolin, called La Fleur des Battailles, a false accuser discovers a similar impatience to hurry over the execution, before the arrival of the lady’s champion:—“Ainsi comme Herchambaut vouloit jetter la dame dedans le feu, Sanxes de Clervaut va a lui, si lui dict; ‘Sire Herchambaut, vous estes trop a blasmer; car vous ne devez mener ceste chose que par droit ainsi qu’il est ordonnè; je veux accorder que ceste dame ait un vassal qui la diffendra contre vous et Drouart, car elle n’a point de coulpe en ce que l’accusez; si la devez retarder jusque a midy, pour scavoir si un bon chevalier l’a viendra secourir centre vous et Drouart.”— Cap. 22.
“And, if Arbattle’s not enough,
“To it we’ll Fordoun join.“— P. 274. v. 1.
Arbattle is the ancient name of the barony of Arbuthnot. Fordun has long been the patrimony of the same family.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00