Ballad of William Rufus

by Hamilton Aide

Eight hundred years ago, sirs,
As I have heard men say,
A king rode through this forest,
His royal stags to slay.
Through brier and brake the huntsman’s horn
Rose with a cheerful swell ;
But instead of a royal stag, that day,
A King of England fell.

Men called him “ William Rufus,”
Because of his red beard,
A proud and a mighty king was he,
And greatly to be fear’d.
But an arrow shot from a cross-bow, sirs,
The fiercest pride will quell ;
For instead of a royal stag, that day,
This King of England fell.

There was a gallant gentleman,
Rode at the king’s right hand,
His name was Walter Tyrrel,
Best marksman in the land.
But had he never drawn a bow,
For him ’t would have been as well,
When, instead of a royal stag, that day,
A King of England fell.

The stag broke from his covert free,
The hounds they followed fast,
With Walter Tyrrel at his side,
The red king gallop’d fast:
When sudden, rang a piercing cry,
Through wooded brake and dell;
And instead of a royal stag, that day,
A King of England fell.

“ The King is killed!” the huntsmen
And round him gathered they ;
The hounds licked up the royal blood
On the green sward where he lay.
And Walter Tyrrel spurr’d his steed,
Nor stay’d to say “ Farewell”;
For instead of a royal stag, that day,
A King of England fell.

That day the king kept open court,
Under his oak-trees tall;
Over him spread a vulture’s wing,
Instead of a sable pall.
A raven’s hoarse note from the bough
Did toll his funeral knell ;
For instead of a royal stag, that day,
A King of England fell.

The crowd all fled, there lay the King,
Till countrymen who passed,
To Winchester-town did hear his corse,
And buried him at last.
And still in the Forest where he was slain,
We love the tale to tell,
How, instead of a royal stag, one day,
A King of England fell!

Poet’s note: This ballad has become popular in the New Forest. Several of the songs that follow have been set to music and are published.

You find out more about the events told in this ballad and hear it sung here: https://afolksongaweek.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/week-170-william-rufus/amp/

You can find out more about Hamilton Aide here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Hamilton_Aide

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