Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/Llewellyn's vengeance
Llewellyn ap Jorwerth, Prince of Wales, and representative of its ancient line of kings, married Joan, natural daughter of King John. When they had been some years married Llewellyn unfortunately captured William De Brâose, a Norman noble, who, being related to Llewellyn, was treated by him with all kindness and courtesy. This treatment De Brâose is said to have repaid by an intrigue with the Princess Joan, the wife of Llewellyn; this was discovered, and summary justice inflicted upon the offender; Llewellyn is said to have made a display of the effects of that justice in the manner shown in this Ballad.
It is but right, however, to add that, though the subject of popular rhymes and traditions, the story of the intrigue is denied by authorities worthy of respectful consideration.
By the castle of Llewellyn
One age-hollowed oak doth stand,
Bearing fruit—no other like it
Grows upon Llewellyn’s land.
One huge fruit—’tis centuries vanished
Since upon’t an acorn grew;
Giant trees have long while perished
Which from it their life-sap drew;
Thunder-stricken, jagged and splintered,
Cracks and fissures in its side,
One arch-rent through which a monarch
With unbending plume might ride;
He who climbed its vigorous branches
Is the patriarch of a tribe;
Him who saw it as a sapling
We to ancient days ascribe;
Navies from it have been timbered
So long is it since ’twas young;—
What strange fruit is that which pendent
From one stark bough still is hung?
One huge fruit that sways and gyrates
In the night wind to and fro;
Sometimes striking on the great trunk
With a hollow ringing blow,
Just as if its rind were iron?
Strong as cord its stem must be,
So great weight and strain upholding,—
Fearful fruit for wondrous tree—
Just before the chamber window
Where Llewellyn sits alone;
He the heir of kings unnumbered,
On the shadow of a throne.
Hapless is a race once royal,
Ages cannot all efface
Ghostly memories whose weird splendours
Make subjection seem disgrace.
Mourn a throne, there’s much to mourn for,
Though he owns His will who broke
From his hand the ancient sceptre
By disastrous stroke on stroke.
Still through all his trials looked he
Bravely forward,—nought could tame
That high spirit fit to wrestle
With all ills except with shame.
Ever fronting foes o’erwhelming,
Ever ready with his life
For his country’s weal and honour,
First in council, first in strife.
But who marked him closely noted
How a paleness, day by day,
Settled on his shrinking visage,
And his brown locks turned to gray
Suddenly!—since some one whispered
How his friend was false and fair,
And—but see, the thought has stung him,
And, upspringing from his chair,
Down in heavy folds a curtain
Draws he, thick and treacherous screen,
O’er that window whence the stark oak
With its dangling fruit was seen.
To the chamber of the Princess
Takes he then his threatening way;
Lords and pages, guards and menials
Absent are this fatal day.
Through the woods and glens they’re chasing
Savage wolf and antlered deer;
Hunt and revel was his order,
Though himself seeks other cheer.
No wood music more shall rouse him,
Hound and horn have lost their tone,—
Through the castle towers and courtyards,
Lord and Lady move alone.
And his footsteps clang and echo
Through the rooms and corridor,—
As he leads her forth to look on
Some one she has known before.
Loads her with his hand in gauntlet,
(Not the glove of courtesy)
While keen Words of scorn and anger
Dagger-like between them fly.
Down the line of life-like trophies
Where his dead sire’s arms are hung,
Pointing each with rusted weapon
Upwards where his banner swung.
And the Princess treads beside him,
Startled, wondering, proud withal,
Through his railing, through his charges,
Scornfully retorting all;
Till they enter that dim chamber,
Where Llewellyn sat alone:—
Hark! was that the creak of armour
Outside, through the wind’s low moan?
Towards the curtained window pointing,
Spoke Llewellyn mockingly,—
“Gentle lady, gentle lady.
What would’st give thy love to see?”
Proud, defiant, past all patience,
Answered she as mockingly,—
“Wales and England and Llewellyn
For my love I’d give the three.”
Hark! again the creak of armour
Outside, through the wind’s low moan;
Scarce the Princess’ troubled spirit
Kept her from an answering groan.
From the window rolled the curtain
Like a dragon to the floor,
And the stark oak stood before her
Dandling the great fruit it bore.
Bred in guilt, and nursed in pleasure,
Hot with ease, but ripe with woe,
There the great fruit on the stark oak
Sways and gyrates to and fro,—
To and fro it sways and gyrates,
Scorning blasts that make one reel;
Sure that stem is tough as cordage,
And that rind is strong as steel.
Starting eyes, arms upthrown wildly,
A shriek, a fall, showed well she knew
What was there, and whence was grafted,
That fruit which to vengeance grew.
Cut it down, and at the tree-foot
Hide it in a nameless hole;—
If the core was once De Brâose,
Heaven have mercy on his soul.
C. H. W.