KING JOHN: a LEGEND OF SWINESHEAD ABBEY by Henry Winn.

A hundred tapers bath'd in light
The Abbey's gloomy walls;
And clang of tongues and arms resound
Through Swineshead's peaceful halls;
For guests unbidden, undesired,
Are to be lodg'd and fed;
Nor dare the monks good cheer withhold,
Nor stint the wine so red,
A tyrant king, and servile court,
Licentious, lawless, rude,
With hosts of armed men invade
The cloister's solitude.
The holy abbot spreads his board,
And greets them with a smile,
Though in his secret heart, no doubt,
He'd curse them all the while.

What vengeful passions, dark and deep,
Contract yon royal brow?
While all attentive wait around,
Why storms he fiercely now?
And swears at fate, and scoffs at prayer,
And like a madman raves;
Pours curses deep on friends and foes,
And treats the monks like slaves?
This day when crossing o'er the Wash,
Led by a peasant guide,
By dire mistake or deep laid plot,
The met the rapid tide;
A panic seized his rabble host,
Who fly to reach the shore,
And treasure, crown, and baggage too,
Are lost and found no more.

At evensong the neighbouring poor
Surround the abbey gate;
While prayers are said and masses sung,
For usual arms they wait.
The angry king, in scornful tones,
Ask'd how the knaves were fed;
The monks repli'd “they hither come
And beg their daily bread.”
“By Jove!” the vengeful king exclaim'd,
His anger boiling o'er,
“You lazy monks are growing rich,
While I, your king, am poor;
I swear, and heav'n record my vow,
If spar'd in twelve months hence,
Your loaf that's worth one penny now,
Shall sell for full twelve-pence.”

The pious monks with horror heard
This rash and wicked vow,
The knew him, cruel, mean, and base,
And dubb'd him monster now.
Before St. Mary's holy shrine
Their secret thoughts they bring,
And ask their patron virgin saint
To curb the haughty king.
One Simon nam'd, the abbot sought,
And this his bold request,
“Absolve me, father, and I'll rid
The earth of such a pest.”
Sustain'd by vows of daily prayers
And holy masses said,
Like one whom duty urges on,
His murd'rous scheme he laid.

A loathsome draught his hand prepar'd,
A poison safe and sure;
So deadly, if but once imbibed
No skill on earth can cure.
And after supper, when the king,
(His anger much appeased,)
To acts of courtesy inclin'd,
The unguarded moment siezed.
A speech of well-feigned sympathy
The wily traitor made;
Suggests that from the abbey rents
Their royal guest they aid.
Then, with emotion, humbly asks
To be allow'd to bring
A flagon of their best red wine,
In which to pledge the king.

The wine is brought, he takes the cup,
Falls low on bended knee;
In tones of deepest rev'rance said,
“Long life, king John, to thee.”
The he, whom dreams of abbey gold,
To friendly acts incline,
Receives the cup, and pledg'd the monks
In the same deadly wine.
That night, upon his couch, the monk
A stiffen'd corpse is laid;
And two days hence the hated king,
Death's fearful call obey'd.
Thus perish'd, in the prime of life,
King John, who leaves behind,
A name that stain'd by every vice
Degrading to mankind.

Source: South Holland Magazine Volume 3, 1871, pp. 128-129.