You beauteous ladyes, great and small,
I write unto you one and all,
Whereby that you may understand
What I have suffered in the land.
I was by birth a ladye faire,
An ancient barons only heire,
And when my good old father dyed,
Then I became a young knightes bride.
And there my love built me a bower,
Bedeck’d with many a fragrant flower;
A braver bower you ne’er did see
Then my true-love did build for mee.
And there I livde a ladye gay,
Till fortune wrought our loves decay;
For there came foes so fierce a band,
That soon they over-run the land.
They came upon us in the night,
And brent my bower, and slew my knight;
And trembling hid in mans array,
I scant with life escap’d away.
In the midst of this extremitie,
My servants all did from me flee:
Thus was I left myself alone,
With heart more cold than any stone.
Yet though my heart was ful of care,
Heaven would not suffer me to dispaire.
Wherefore in haste I change’d my name
From faire Elise, to sweet Williame;
And therewithall I cut my haire,
Resolv’d my mans attire to weare;
And in my beaver, hose and band,
I travell’d far through many a land.
At length all wearied with my toil,
I sate me downe to rest awhile;
My heart it was so fill’d with woe
That downe my cheeke the teares did flow.
It chanc’d the king of that same place
With all his lords a hunting was,
And seeing me weepe, upon the same,
Askt who I was and whence I came.
Then to his Grace I did replye,
‘I am a poore and friendlesse boye,
Though nobly borne, nowe forc’d to bee
A serving-man of lowe degree.’
‘Stand up, faire youth,’ the king reply’d,
‘For thee a service I’ll provyde.
But tell me first what thou canst do;
Thou shalt be fitted thereunto.
‘Wilt thou be usher of my hall,
To wait upon my nobles all?
Or wilt be taster of my wine,
To ‘tend on me when I shall dine?
‘Or wilt thou be my chamberlaine,
About my person to remaine?
Or wilt thou be one of my guard,
And I will give thee great reward?
‘Chuse, gentle youth,’ said he, ‘thy place.’
Then I reply’d, ‘If it please Your Grace
To shew such favour unto mee,
Your chamberlaine I faine would bee.’
The king then smiling gave consent,
And straitwaye to his court I went;
Where I behavde so faithfullie
That hee great favour showd to mee.
Now marke what fortune did provide:
The king he would a hunting ride
With all his lords and noble traine,
Sweet William must at home remaine.
Thus being left alone behind,
My former state came in my mind;
I wept to see my mans array;
No longer now a ladye gay.
And meeting with a ladyes vest,
Within the same myself I drest;
With silken robes and jewels rare,
I deckt me, as a ladye faire;
And taking up a lute straitwaye,
Upon the same I strove to play;
And sweetly to the same did sing,
As made both hall and chamber ring.
‘My father was as brave a lord,
As ever Europe might afford;
My mother was a lady bright;
My husband was a valiant knight;
‘And I myself a ladye gay,
Bedeckt with gorgeous rich array;
The happiest lady in the land
Had not more pleasure at command.
‘I had my musicke every day
Harmonious lessons for to play;
I had my virgins faire and free
Continually to wait on mee.
‘But now, alas! my husband’s dead,
And all my friends are from me fled;
My former days are past and gone,
And I am now a serving-man.’
And fetching many a tender sigh,
As thinking no one then was nigh,
In pensive mood I laid me lowe,
My heart was full, the tears did flowe.
The king, who had a huntinge gone,
Grewe weary of his sport anone,
And leaving all his gallant traine,
Turn’d on the sudden home againe;
And when he reach’d his statelye tower,
Hearing one sing within his bower,
He stopt to listen and to see
Who sung there so melodiouslie.
Thus heard he everye word I sed,
And saw the pearlye teares I shed,
And found to his amazement there
Sweet William was a ladye faire.
Then stepping in, ‘Faire ladye, rise
And dry,’ said he, ‘those lovelye eyes,
For I have heard thy mournful tale,
The which shall turne to thy availe.’
A crimson dye my face orespred,
I blusht for shame and hung my head
To find my sex and story knowne,
When as I thought I was alone.
But to be briefe, his Royal Grace
Grewe so enamour’d of my face,
The richest gifts he proffered mee,
His mistress if that I would bee.
‘Ah! no, my liege,’ I firmlye sayd,
‘I’ll rather in my grave be layd;
And though Your Grace hath won my heart,
I ne’er will act soe base a part.’
‘Faire ladye, pardon me,’ sayd hee,
‘Thy virtue shall rewarded bee,
And since it is soe fairly tryde
Thou shalt become my royal bride.’
Then strait to end his amorous strife,
He tooke sweet William to his wife.
The like before was never seene:
A serving-man became a queene.