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THE DEATH OF THE POET KING
 AS Prince James slept he dreamed that a sudden great light shone
into his prison, making bright all the room. A voice cried, "I
bring thee comfort and healing, be not afraid." Then the light
passed as suddenly as it had come and the Prince went forth from
his prison, no man saying him nay.
"And hastily by both the arms twain
I was araiséd up into the air,
Caught in a cloud of crystal clear and fair."
And so through "air and water and hot fire" he was carried,
seeing and hearing many wonders, till he awoke to find himself
still kneeling by his window.
Was it all a dream, Prince James asked himself, even the vision
of the lovely lady in the garden? At that thought his heart grew
heavy. Then, as if to comfort him, a dove flew in at his window
carrying in her mouth a sprig of gilliflowers. Upon the stalk in
golden letters were written the words, "Awake! Awake! lover, I
bring thee glad news."
And so the story had a happy ending, for Prince James knew that
the lovely lady of the garden loved him. "And if you think," he
says, "that I have written a great deal about a very little
thing, I say this to you:—
"Who that from hell hath creepéd once to heaven
Would after one thank for joy not make six or seven,
And every wight his own sweet or sore
Has most in mind: I can say you no more."
 Then, in an outburst of joy, he thanks and blesses everything
that has led up to this happy day, which has brought him under
"Love's yoke which easy is and sure." Even his exile and his
prison he thanks.
"And thankéd be the fair castle wall
Whereas I whilcome looked forth and leant."
The King's Quair reminds us very much of Chaucer's work. All
through it there are lines which might have been written by
Chaucer, and in the last verse James speaks of Gower and Chaucer
as his "masters dear." Of Gower I have said nothing in this
book, because there is not room to tell of every one, and he is
not so important as some or so interesting as others. So I leave
you to learn about him later. It is to Chaucer, too, much more
than to Gower that James owes his music. And if he is grave like
Gower rather than merry like Chaucer, we must remember that for
nineteen years he had lived a captive, so that it was natural his
verse should be somber as his life had been. And though there is
no laughter in this poem, it shows a power of feeling joy as well
as sorrow, which makes us sad when we remember how long the poet
was shut away from common human life.
The King's Quair is written in verses of seven lines. Chaucer
used this kind of verse, but because King James used it too, and
used it so well, it came to be called the Rhyme Royal.
King James's story had a happy ending. A story with a happy
ending must end of course with a wedding, and so did this one.
The King of England, now Henry VI, was only a child. But those
who ruled for him were quite pleased when they heard that Prince
James had fallen in love with the beautiful lady of the garden,
for she was the King's cousin, Lady Jane Beaufort. They set
James free and willingly consented that he should marry his lady,
for  in this way they hoped to bind England and Scotland together,
and put an end to wars between the two countries. So there was a
very grand wedding in London when the lovely lady of the garden
became Queen of Scotland. And then these two, a King and Queen,
yet happy as any simple lovers journeyed northward to their
They were received with great rejoicing and crowned at Scone.
But the new King soon found, that during the long years he had
been kept a prisoner in England his kingdom had fallen into wild
disorder. Sternly he set himself to bring order out of disorder,
and the wilfull, lawless nobles soon found to their surprise that
the gentle poet had a will of iron and a hand of steel, and that
he could wield a sword and scepter as skillfully as his pen.
James I righted much that was wrong. In doing it he made for
himself many enemies. But of all that he did or tried to do in
the twelve years that he ruled you will read in history books.
Here I will only tell you of his sad death.
In 1436 James decided to spend Christmas at Perth, a town he
loved. As he neared the river Forth, which he had to cross on
his way, an aged woman came to him crying in a loud voice, "My
Lord King, if ye cross this water ye shall never return again in
Now the King had read a prophecy in which it was said that a King
of Scotland should be slain that same year. So wondering what
this woman might mean, he sent a knight to speak with the woman.
But the knight could make nothing of her, and returning to the
King he said, "Sir, take no heed of yon woman's words, for she is
old and foolish, and wots not what she sayeth." So the King rode
Christmas went by quietly and peacefully, and the New Year came,
and still the King lingered in Perth. The winter days passed
pleasantly in reading, walking, and tennis-playing; the evenings
in chess-playing, music, and story-telling.
 But one night, as James was chatting and laughing with the Queen
and her ladies before going to bed, a great noise was heard. The
sound of many feet, the clatter of armor mingled with wild cries
was borne to the quiet room, and through the high windows flashed
the light of many torches.
At once the King guessed that he was betrayed. The Queen and her
ladies ran hastily to the door to shut it. But the locks had
been broken and the bolts carried away, so that it could not be
In vain James looked round. Way of escape there was none.
Alone, unarmed, he could neither guard the ladies nor save
himself. Crying to them to keep fast the door as best they
might, he sprang to the window, hoping by his great strength to
wrench the iron bars from their places and escape that way. But,
alas, they were so strongly set in the stone that he could not
move them, "for which cause the King was ugly astonied."
Then turning to the fire James seized the tongs, "and under his
feet he mightily brast up a blank of the chamber,"
down into the vault beneath he let the plank fall again into its
place. By this vault the King might have escaped, for until
three days before there had been a hole leading from it to the
open air. But as he played tennis his balls often rolled into
this hole and were lost. So he had ordered it to be built up.
There was nothing, then, for the King to do but wait. Meanwhile
the noise grew louder and louder, the traitors came nearer and
nearer. One brave lady named Catherine Douglas, hoping to keep
them out, and so save the King, thrust her arm through the iron
loops on the door where the great bolt should have been. But
against the savage force without, her frail, white arm was
useless. The door was burst open. Wounded and bleeding,
Catherine Douglas was thrown aside and the wild horde stormed
into the room.
 It was not long ere the King's hiding-place was found, and one of
the traitors leaped down beside him with a great knife in his
hand. "And the King, doubting him for his life, caught him
mightily by the shoulders, and with full great violence cast him
under his feet. For the King was of his person and stature a man
right manly strong."
Seeing this, another traitor leaped down to help his fellow.
"And the King caught him manly by the neck, both under him that
all a long month after men might see how strongly the King had
holden them by the throats."
Fiercely the King struggled with his enemies, trying to wrench
their knives from them so that he might defend himself. But it
was in vain. Seeing him grow weary a third traitor, the King's
greatest enemy, Robert Grahame, leaped down too into the vault,
"with a horrible and mortal weapon in his hand, and therewithal
he smote him through the body, and therewithal the good King fell
And thus the poet King died with sixteen wounds in his brave
heart and many more in his body. So at the long last our story
has a sad ending. But we have to remember that for twelve years
King James had a happy life, and that as he had loved his lady at
the first so he loved her to the end, and was true to her.
Besides The King's Quair, there are a few other short poems which
some people think King James wrote. They are very different from
the Quair, being more like the ballads of the people, and most
people think now that James did not write them. But because they
are different is no real reason for thinking that they are not
his. For James was quite clever enough, we may believe, to write
in more than one way.
Besides these doubtful poems, there is one other poem
 of three
verses about which no one has any doubt. I will give you one
verse here, for it seems in tune with the King's own life and
"Be not our proud in thy prosperite,
Be not o'er proud in thy prosperity,
For as it cumis, sa will it pass away;
For as it comes, so will it pass away;
Thy tym to compt is short, thou may weille se
Thy time to count is short, thou mayst well see
For of green gres soyn cumis walowit hay,
For of green grass soon cometh withered hay,
Labour is trewth, quhill licht is of the day.
Labour in truth, while light is of the day.
Trust maist in God, for he best gyd thee can,
Trust most in God, for he best guide thee can,
And for ilk inch he wil thee quyt a span."
And for each inch he will thee requite a span.
BOOKS TO READ
An illustration of this chapter may be read in The Fair Maid of
Perth, by Sir Walter Scott; The King's Tragedy (poetry), by D. G.
Rossetti in his Poetical Works. The best version of The King's
Quair in the ancient text is by W. W. Skeat.