Queen Eleanor, dying, calls for two friars. King Henry decides to substitute himself and Earl Marshal. Eleanor confesses to many sins against Henry, often with the Earl. Henry reveals himself and wishes that he could tell the world what Eleanor said
Queen Eleanor's Confession [Child 156] Complete text(s) *** A *** From Percy/Wheatley, II.ii.8, pp. 166-168 "[G]iven, with some corrections, from an old printed copy." Queene Elianor was a sicke woman And afraid that she should dye: Then she sent for two fryars of France To speke with her speedilye. The king calld down his nobles all, By one, by two, by three; "Earl marshall, Ile go shrive the queene, And thou shalt wend with mee. A boone, a boone; quoth earl marshall, And fell on his bended knee; That whatsoere queen Elianor saye, No harme therof may bee. Ile pawne my landes, the king then cryd, My sceptre, crowne, and all, That whotsoere queen Elianor sayes No harm thereof shall fall. Do thou put on a fryars coat, And Ile put on another; And we will to queen Elianor goe Like fryar and his brother. Thus both attired then they goe: When they came to Whitehall, The bells did ring, and the quiristers sing, And the torches did lighte them all. When that they came before the queene They fell on their bended knee; A boone, a boone, our gracious queene, That you sent so hastilee. Are you two fryars of France, she sayd, As I suppose you bee, But if you are two Englishe fryars, You shall hang on the gallowes tree. We are two fryars of France, they sayd, As you suppose we bee, We have not been at any masse Sith we came from the sea. The first vile thing that ever I did I will to you unfolde; Earl marshall had my maidenhed, Beneath this cloth of golde. Thats a vile sinne, then sayd the king; May God forgive it thee! Amen, amen, quoth earl marshall; With a heavye heart spake hee. The next vile thing that ever I did, To you Ile not denye, I made a boxe of poyson strong, To poison king Henrye. Thats a vile sinne, then sayd the king; May God forgive it thee! Amen, amen, quoth earl marshall; And I wish it so may bee. The next vile thing that ever I did, To you I will discover; I poysoned fair Rosamonde, All in fair Woodstocke bower. Thats a vile sinne, then sayd the king; May God forgive it thee! Amen, amen, quoth earl marshall; And I wish it so may bee. Do you see yonders little boye, A tossing of the balle? That is earl marshalls eldest sonne, And I love him the best of all. Do you see yonders little boye, A catching of the balle? That is king Henryes youngest sonne, And I love him the worst of all. His head is fashyon'd like a bull; His nose is like a boare. No matter for that, king Henrye cryd, I love him the better therefore. The king pulled off his fryars coate, And appeared all in redde: She shrieked, and cryd, and wrung her hands, And sayde she was betrayde. The king lookt over his left shoulder, And a grimme look looked hee, Earl marshall, he sayd, but for my oathe, Or hanged thou shouldst bee.
The element of fiction in this ballad is immense. Note the following:
* Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) outlived Henry Plantagenet (1133-1189) by fifteen years.
* Neither Earl Marshal nor King Henry took Queen Eleanor's maidenhead; she had previously been married to, and had two daughters by, Louis VII of France.
* Eleanor could hardly have poisoned Henry's mistress Rosamund Clifford; by the time Henry discovered Rosamund, he had placed Eleanor under house arrest.
If one moves the story to the time of Henry III (reigned 1216-1272), who married Eleanor of Provence, we should note that by the time the third Henry grew up, the Marshal earldom was extinct - RBW