The Ballad of Christopher Aske: (Catholic Rebellion of 1536)

COME gentle sweet ladies, with kerchief and fan;
Come lily-fair maidens, who love a brave man;
Come all ye gay gallants from wine-cup and flask,
To hear my good ballad of Christopher Aske.
There was fighting in Lincoln and firing in Trent,
The bells were all ringing, the bows were all bent;
The commons had risen at Catholic call,
And the Askes left their hunting at Ellerkar Hall.
There was Robert the rebel, one brother of three;
They nursed at one bosom, and prayed at one knee;
But true men and loyal stood two against one, —
Jolly brave Christopher, sober-sides John.
Lord Clifford in Skipton lay all but alone,
For Cumberland’s vassals to Robert had gone;
And all the West Riding was up and away,
While there with a handful Earl Cumberland lay.
“ They may hew us in gobbets,” said Christopher then,
“ They ’ll make no curst rebels of Harry’s true men!
Come saddle and bridle, to Skipton with speed,
To help our good cousin in time of his need!”
Full glad was Lord Clifford to welcome the pair,
Though dark was his look as they mounted the stair.
“ Good gentles and cousins, ye come at our need,
For Skipton’s old castle is empty indeed!
“ My wife and my babies to Bolton have fled;
Would God they had tarried by board and by bed!
And Rosamond Temple, and Mary Kildare,
And Isabel Darcy are all with them there.
“ With murder and outrage the rebels have sworn
To visit my darlings ere Friday at morn,
If we hold the gates fast to their rascally crew.
And the Abbot ’s a coward. Friends, what shall I do?
“ A traitor I must be to king or to wife;
My heart ’s like to burst in the terrible strife, —
For Clifford and traitor were never at one.
Yet if Nell and the babies — my life were well done! ”
Up sprung gallant Christopher, red to the brow,
He had sworn to proud Rosamond many a vow:
“Bide here in your castle, and Robert defy;
I ’ll bring back the women and children, or die!”
The darkness of midnight hid forest and fell,
But loud through the tree-tops whirled roaring and yell,
For a storm was abroad, like the morning of doom,
When out of the postern, and into the gloom,
With soft-pacing horses and armor of black,
By many a by-path and intricate track,
Rode the vicar of Skipton, Earl Cumberland’s squire,
And Christopher Aske, with his eyes like a fire.
Proud Rosamond sat by the casement awake;
She longed and she sighed for the daylight to break;
When clear in the darkness a signal she heard,—
A cry that came never from beast or from bird.
It was Christopher’s call; to the wicket she crept.
Full soundly the Abbot that midnight had slept;
For long ere the dawning came, stormy and red,
Far over the moorland his guests had all fled!
They muffled the horse-hoofs with wrappings of silk,
They blackened the palfrey, whose coat was like milk;
The babies were Clifford’s, they uttered no cry,
And scorned the brave women to tremble or sigh.
They crept in the heather and slid through the trees,
They stalked the wild rebels like deer on their knees;
Like a vision of spirits, so silent and fleet,
Save the throb of the hearts in their bosoms that beat.
In stillness and darkness sped maidens and men,
But the dark was as daylight to Christopher’s ken;
As sure as an arrow, as true as a hound,
Through the host of the rebels a pathway he found.
At the dawning of day, on the battlement high,
Those women and children the rebels did spy;
They raged like the ocean along a lee shore,
But Clifford laughed softly to hear the wild roar.
“We’re safe from your mercy, good rascals!” quoth he,
“ But a shaft might still find us, so high as we be.
Go down, my sweet ladies, and rest you to-day;
I think our brave gallant comes hither away!”
And there on the dais, in midst of them all,
The Rose of the Tempests stood stately and tall;
And Christopher, stooping, or ever she wist,
Before all the maidens her red lips he kissed.
“ Fie!” rustled the ladies; but Rosamond laughed:
“ I give thee good-will to the cup thou hast quaffed.
Thou hast done thy devoir like a courteous knight,
And becomes a true lady to give thee thy right.”
Then Christopher louted full low at her feet:
“ I could go to the death for a guerdon so sweet;
But the poor ride to Bolton,—the guiding thee back,—
’T were no hazardous deed for a friar, good lack!
“ ’T was the trick of a coward to steal through the moor;
Yet we were but three men, you women were four.
It was terrible odds from those devils to ask,
And behooved to be careful!” quoth Christopher Aske.
Yet again and again ere the rebels had fled,
On errand as valiant had Christopher sped;
Till summer came smiling with blossoms and sun,
And England had rest, for the wars were all done.
But Nicholas Tempest hung high on the tree, —
And kin to proud Rosamond’s father was he;
And Robert the rebel, that villainous Aske,
On a gallows still higher had ended his task.
Yet for all that was dead and for all that was gone,
The living and loyal made never a moan;
At the bravest of weddings did Rosamond ride,
With Christopher Aske on his charger beside.
A mighty carousal saw Skipton that day, With lords and with ladies in goodly array. Their souls are in heaven to-day, we do trust, For Christopher Aske and his comrades are dust.
Give a smile to his memory, sweethearts, I pray; Come fill him a bumper, my gallants so gay! Full loath do I finish my excellent task, Such a jolly brave fellow was Christopher Aske!
Rose Terry Cooke.