England – 13th Century
England, fairest England, cowered in fear;
Doom was forecast by each prophet and seer.
Grim death and hunger roamed all through the land.
Drowned merchants’ corpses washed up on the sand
As wild pirates plied their odious trade
And seldom, if ever, were good laws made.
Greed and rank lust begat crimes everywhere;
Taxes were more than poor peasants could bear.
Arrogant knights’ weak villages plundered;
From their sacred oaths, their swords were sundered.
Earls and dukes, now a perfidious breed,
Their vassals and liegemen they chose to bleed,
Who, in turn, fastened fat reeves like leeches
On farms and fields, leaving naught but breeches
To humble serfs they were sworn to protect.
This corruption the Church did soon infect.
No longer for victims’ sanctuaries,
Chapels amassed gilded reliquaries.
Freebooting knights violated the Mass,
Looting pockets in a manner most crass.
Even poor wayfarers feared for their lives;
And many fell to brigands’ cruel knives.
They would cut you for two pence or a pound
And leave your throat gushing blood on the ground.
For a fever that of its own accord
Would have soon vanished like the Golden Horde,
A barber would bleed you with rusted knife,
Then impound your farm including your wife
If you refused to pay his cutthroat fee,
To which in dire panic you did agree.
Justice might be found in the rich squire’s court,
Of course, with a bribe with which to resort.
Honor and valor were in short supply;
For the slightest reason, a man could die.
King John sat atop this foul heap of dung,
A villain but wanting his praises sung;
And so, he pretends to great piety
While stealing with all due propriety.
Followed by a cadre of scant regard;
The vilest was a count known as Gerard,
A knight who murdered for gold and pleasure,
His coffers flowing with jeweled treasure.
He confiscates lands without a writ
As the King’s right-hand man and favorite.
Peasants huddled in fear when he rode by;
His heart stone, though he hears a baby cry
From hunger because the year’s crops had failed.
Next to Gerard, even the devil paled!
His skin mottled, his mouth drawn and thin,
He had a scar that ran from cheek to chin.
Fear caused the serfs to see portents and signs
In breeding stock turned barren and sour wines.
Comets tempted sages to prophecy;
The times brought priests to fetid heresy.
A skulking dog howled at an eclipsed moon;
The dread Apocalypse will follow soon.
Weary scholars cried as they knelt and quaked;
Haggard crones through goats’ gory entrails raked.
Men fled to worship in ancient cromlechs
Seeking some relief from moth-eaten texts.
One light shone in this dark night of evil:
A crusading earl both strong and civil
Who sought long and hard for a path of peace
And thought the future lay with King John’s niece.
He had a fair daughter whom he adored,
Teaching her early to fight with a sword.
But there was more in this strife-torn nation:
A mystic world of imagination.
Sprites, goblins and elves filled an airy scene
With joyous games led by an elfin Queen.