Classic and Contemporary Poetry
CHRONICLE OF ENGLAND: INTRODUCTION, by ROBERT OF GLOUCESTER Poet's Biography
First Line: England, it is a right good land, I ween of lands the best
Last Line: That england is the best land, e'en as I tell to ye.
ENGLAND, it is a right good land, I ween of lands the best,
'T is set in one end of the world, and lieth toward the West;
The sea, it girts it all about, it stands as doth an isle,
Thus of their foes they have less doubt, save that they come thro' guile
The people of that self-same land -- as hath been seen of old.
From South to North the land is long, eight hundred miles full told,
He who would cross from East to West two hundred miles must wend,
So is the mid-land measure told, 't is less toward the end.
And here in England all good things in plenty may ye see
Save thro' wrong-doing of the folk the years the worser be.
For England, it is full enow of fruit, and trees so green,
Of woodland, and of parks so fair, joyful to see, I ween;
And birds and beasts, both wild and tame, ye sure shall find them there
With fishes too, both salt and fresh, and many a river fair!
And wells of water, sweet and cold, pastures and meads wide-spread,
And mines of silver and of gold, of tin, and eke of lead,
Of steel, of iron, and of brass; garners of good corn full,
And wheat have they, and therewithal the very best of wool.
And waters have they there enow, above all others three
(Across the land to sea they run, e'en as its arms they be,)
Whereon the ships may safely sail, and from the sea may wend
To land with merchandise enow, and reach to either end.
Two be the Severn and the Thames, Humber the third they call,
And these, e'en as I said to ye, run thro' the land withal.
The Humber runneth to the North, a goodly stream and wide,
South-West, I trow, the Severn's course, the Thames, on the East side,
So that enow of merchandise from distant lands, I wis,
Is borne by them thro' England, the folk, they nothing miss.
And many a smaller isle there be that lieth off this land
But three there be above them all, so do I understand.
That which they call the Isle of Man lies in the Irish sea,
And the great Isle of Orkney shall North of Scotland be,
South, toward Normandy, the third the Isle of Wight they call,
These be the three best islands, and the best known of all.
The earliest lords and masters who dwelt within that land
They reared the towns and cities that chief in England stand;
London, and York, and Lincoln, Leicester, the names they bore,
Colchester, Canterbury, Bristol, and Worcester, four,
And Chichester, and Cambridge, with Cirencester, these three
With Dorchester, and Winchester, and Gloucester, next shall be.
Other great towns be found there, in Wales, the sooth to say,
And thus it was in England when Britons there held sway.
Men have made war on England, thither as conquerors come,
First, mighty lords they ruled it, the Emperors of Rome,
They fought, and eke they won it, and held it at that same;
The Picts and Scots thereafter, from North to England came,
They warred, and wide they wasted, yet won not all they sought;
Then Angles came, and Saxons, by Britons hither brought
Against these foes to help them -- they gained the upper hand
Against these self-same Britons, and took from them their land.
And since that time in England the warfare scarce may cease,
First, thro' the folk of Denmark, who be not yet at peace,
England oft-times they won it, and held by mastery --
Fifthly, the land was conquered by folk from Normandy
And still they dwell among us, and shall for evermore --
The book hereafter telleth of all this woe so sore.
The Britons were the first folk who landed on this shore,
The kingdom they divided, and gave to rulers four;
The kings of Kent, and Wessex, and of Northumberland,
And of the March, this last king, he ruled the middle land.
The Saxons, and the English, when they the land had won
In shires five and thirty they parted it anon,
Sussex, I trow, and Surrey, Essex, and Kent they be,
And Berkshire next, and Hampshire, and Middlesex, these three.
Then Dorsetshire, and Wiltshire, and Somerset, also,
And Devonshire and Cornwall, with Gloucestershire ye know.
Then Shropshire nigh to Worcester, thereafter Hereford,
With Warwickshire, and Cheshire, Derby, and eke Stafford;
And Lincolnshire, and Bedford, and also Huntingdon,
Buckingham, and Northampton, and Oxenford, anon.
Norfolk there is, and Suffolk, and Cambridge-shire also,
And Hertfordshire, and Leicester, and Nottingham thereto.
York and Carlisle, Northum berland, these three complete the tale --
These shires be all in England, without the March of Wales.
With that there be in England Bishoprics seventeen,
Carlisle they be, and Durham, and York, so do I ween,
Ely, and Canterbury, Norwich, and Rochester,
With London, too, and Salisbury, Chichester, Winchester,
Of Lincoln, and of Chester, and Worcester, last there be
Bath, Hereford, and Exeter -- these be the final three.
With that, Wales too, hath bishops, but three alone, no more,
Saint David first, then Landaff, the third is of Bangor.
But York and Canterbury, Archbishoprics are they,
They of Carlisle, and Durham, must York's decrees obey;
The others all of England with those of Wales, the three,
They all shall owe allegiance to Canterbury's see.
When Saxons ruled in England, tho' they in power did thrive,
But seven kings they made here, and afterward but five;
Northumbria, and East Anglia, these be the names of two,
The kings of Kent, and Wessex, and of the March also.
Who ruled the March, I think me, at that time had the best, --
The greater part of England, that lieth toward the West,
Both Worcestershire and Warwick, with Gloucester to him fell,
('T was well nigh all one Bishopric, of Worcester, so men tell.)
And Derbyshire, and Cheshire, and Staffordshire, those three
Again be held together, and make one Bishop's see,
The Bishopric of Chester, yet more to him was told,
Since Shropshire, and the half share of Warwick did he hold.
And this king, too, had Hereford, one bishopric it is,
(But Shropshire forms the half part of that same see, I wis.
Of Gloucester part, and Warwick) nor this, I trow, was all,
For still more land as portion unto the March did fall;
Northamptonshire, and Buckingham, and Oxfordshire also,
With Leicestershire, and Lincoln, and Hertford, shall ye know.
One Bishopric 't is counted, of Lincoln is the see,
Whilom it was of Dorchester, that shall by Oxford be.
And Nottinghamshire also fell to that same king's share --
(Unto York's see 't is reckoned, altho' it be not there --)
And thereto Wales was added, 't is a great land I ween,
And all this, of aforetime, the March of Wales hath been.
But for the land 'twixt Humber and Thames, that land, I wis,
Is reckoned unto Lincoln, within that see it is.
The Bishopric of Lincoln, and West of all that land,
Who ruled the March, that monarch had all that in his hand.
The King of Wessex, Wiltshire he held beneath his sway
With Dorsetshire and Berkshire, one Bishopric are they
By Salisbury's Bishop holden -- and Sussex, too, was his,
The Weald, and with it Chichester, a Bishopric it is.
Southamptonshire and Surrey be 'neath one Bishop's power,
The Bishopric of Winchester -- it standeth to this hour.
With Somerset, that erstwhile belonged to Wells, I trow,
Of Bath too, is that Bishop, ye know it well enow.
Yet had the King of Wessex all Devonshire, I wis,
And Cornwall, in the bishopric of Exeter it is.
The King of Kent, he ruled then o'er all the Kentish land
Two Bishoprics they had then, and still the same they stand,
The one is Canterbury, that ranks the first of all,
The next place on the West side to Rochester doth fall.
The King of the East Angles, o'er Norfolk did he reign,
The Bishopric is Norwich; Suffolk was his again,
Thereto the see of Ely, in Ely's isle it is,
And Cambridgeshire was reckoned unto his land, I wis.
Northumbria's king was ruler, so do I understand,
Of all beyond the Humber, up to the Scottish land.
All these were kings aforetime where now one bears the crown
For that the King of Wessex put all the others down,
Sithen, alone he ruled there, as doth our King indeed,
Here in this book 't is written, and men the tale may read.
In Canterbury's country most fish be found, I wis;
Round Salisbury most hunting of the wild beasts there is;
Most ships be found at London; at Winchester, most wine;
Most sheep and kine in Hereford; and Worcester's fruit is fine;
From Coventry the soap comes; in Gloucester iron is found;
And lead and tin in Exeter, and all that country round.
The fairest woods hath Yorkshire; Lincoln, the fairest men;
And Huntingdon and Cambridge, the most of marsh and fen.
Ely, of places fairest; best to sight, Rochester;
Facing toward France there standeth the land of Chichester;
Norwich doth face toward Denmark; Chester, the Irish shore;
And Durham looks toward Norway; so doth it run, my lore.
Three Wonders be in England, and three alone, I wot,
The one be the Bath waters, that evermore are hot,
And ever freshly springing, be the chill ne'er so great,
Of such baths there be many, alike in house and street.
On Salisbury's plain it standeth, the second, strange it is,
Stonehenge its name, no marvel shall greater be, I wis;
Upright and high it standeth, 't is wondrous all to see,
The stones they be so mighty, that greater none may be,
Others lie high above them, that men may sorely fear,
And in their hearts may wonder who did them first uprear?
For neither strength nor cunning, I trow, that work might do;
And men shall speak hereafter of these same wonders two
How that they first were fashioned -- The other wonder is
Upon a hill, they call it the Peak, the wind, I wis,
Up from the earth it cometh, e'en as thro' holes it were,
And thro' these holes it bloweth so that it taketh there
Great cloths, aloft it bears them, if so they be anigh,
And here and there it blows them, up in the air on high.
And of fair roads full many there be throughout that land
But four above all others, so do I understand,
The Kings of old, they made them, and by them men may wend
From the one end of England right to the other end.
From South to North it runneth, the first, 't is Erning Street;
From East to West who travels must go by Ykenilde Street;
From Dover up to Chester by Watling Street men fare
From South-east unto North-west, a long road, and a fair;
The fourth, it is the longest, it starteth from Totness,
From the one end of Cornwall, and goeth to Caithness,
From South-west to the North-east, even to England's end,
By many good towns the Fossway, so is it called, doth wend.
So clean a land is England, and from all whoredom free
The fairest men in all the world in England born shall be;
So clean they be midst others, so fair and pure, I ween,
In every land men know them, where'er they may be seen.
So clean be all that country, so pure men's blood, that ne'er
The evil men call "Holy Fire" may find an entrance there;
That ill men's limbs devoureth, e'en as tho' burned by flame,
But men of France in such case may rid them of that same,
If they be brought to England -- whereby they well may see
That England is the best land, e'en as I tell to ye.
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