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THE Chronicle of Robert Wace informs us that the Normans, at the battle of Hastings, gave to the jongleur (minstrel or troubadour), Taillefer the honour of chanting the song of Roland, and that the same individual, by throwing his sword three times into the air, gave the signal to begin the battle which decided the fate of England. These are the words of the Chronicle:
“Taillefer, qui mult bien chantoit,
i. e. “Taillefer, who sang very well, upon a horse which went swiftly, went before the Duke, singing of Charlemagne, and of Roland, and of Oliver, and of the vassals who died at Romcevalles.”
XXIV. FAWOURITES, AND RELAXATIONS OF JAMES THE FIRST ; WITH A WORD ON COURT FOOLS.
SIR ANTHONY WELDON gives the following account of the manner in which Archee Armstrong exerted his powers of entertainment for behoof of his royal master James the First. It occurs in the description of the rise of Buckingham, which is so interesting that the passage seems worth quoting entire.
“For now began to appeare a glimering of a new favourite, one Mr. George Williers, a younger son (by a second venter) of an ancient knight in Leicestershire as I take it; his father of an ancient family, his mother but of a meane, and a waiting gentle-woman, whom the old man fell in love with and married, by whom he had three sons, all raised to the mobility by meanes of their brother favourite. This gentleman was come also but newly from travell, and at that time did beleeve it a great fortune to marry a daughter of Sir Roger Astons, and in truth it was the highest of his ambition, and for that only end was an hanger-on upon the court ; the gentle-woman loved him so well, as could all his friends have made her (for her great fortune) but an hundred markes' joynture, she had married him presently, in dispight of all her friends; and no question would have had him without any joynture at all.
“But, as the Fates would have it, before the closing up of this match, the King cast a glancing eye towards him, which was easily perceived by such as observed their prince's humour; and then the match was laid aside, some assuring him a great fortune was comming towards him. Then one gave him his place of cup-bearer, that he might be in the King's eye; another sent to his mercer and taylor to put good cloathes on him; a third, to his sempster for curious linnen; and all as prefacive insinuations to obtaine office upon his future rise: then others tooke upon them to be his bravoes, to undertake his quarrels upon affronts put on him by Somerset's faction: so all hands helped to the piecing up this new favourite.
“Then begun the King to eat abroad, who formerly used to eat in his bed-chamber, or if by chance supped in his bed-chamber, after supper would come forth to see pastimes and fooleries; in which Sir Ed. Zouch, Sir George Goring, and Sir John Finit were the chiefe and master fools; and surely this fooling got them more than any others' wisdome, farre above them in desert. Zouch his part was to sing bawdy songs, and tell bawdy tales; Finit's, to compose these songs. Then was a set of fidlers brought to court on purpose for this fooling; and Goring was master of the game for fooleries, sometimes presenting David Droman, and Archee Armstrong the King's foole, on the back of the other fools, to tilt one at another till they fell together by the eares; sometimes the property was presented by them in antick dances. But Sir John Millicent (who was never known before) was commended for notable fooling, and so was he indeed the best extemporary foole of them all: with this jollity was this favourite ushered in. — Court of K. James by Sir A. W. 12mo, Lond. 1651, p. 82. Archee Armstrong, the court fool in chief, continued to be employed after the demise of the modern Solomon; but, as we have mentioned in a preceding part of our Table Talk,” he incurred the displeasure of his Grace of Canterbury, and was thereupon disgraced and banished the court by Charles the First, with whom he had once been a very great favourite. Indeed, when Charles, as Prince of Wales, went on his fool's errand to Madrid for a wife, not being able to do without the society of the jester, he took Archee Armstrong with him, or caused him to follow to the Spanish capital. James Howell, who
was at Madrid at the time, tells the following story in a letter dated July 10th, 1623:
“Our cousin Archee hath more privilege than any, for he often goes with his fool's coat where the Infanta is with her meninas and ladies of honour, and keeps a blowing and blustering amongst them, and flurts out what he lists.
“One day they were discoursing what a marvellous thing it was, that the Duke of Bavaria, with less than fifteen thousand men, after a very toilsome march, should dare to encounter the Palsgrave's army, consisting of above twenty-five thousand, and to give them an utter discomfiture, and take Prague presently after. Whereunto Archee answered, that he would tell them a stranger thing than that: “Was it not a strange thing, quoth he, ‘ that in the year 88, there should come a fleet of one hundred and forty sails from Spain to invade England, and that ten of these could not go back to tell what became of the rest?’”—Howell’s Letters.
Archee, though a professional buffoon, was a presbyterian, and as such was opposed to Charles's match with the catholic Infanta.
XXV. A PIC-NIC.
It would not be easy to ascertain when this species of entertainment became fashionable ; but we have an account of a very distinguished pic-nic that took place more than two centuries ago, on occasion of the birthday of Charles, Prince of Wales, afterwards Charles I.
Manwairing, in a letter to the famous Earl of Arundel, who was another of those choice, luxurious, and prodigal spirits, whose “expenses were without any measure, and always exceeded very much his immense revenue,” gives a short description of this singular banquet. The letter is dated Nov. 22, 1618.
“The Prince his birthday has been solemnized here, by the few marquisses and lords which found themselves here, and (to supply the want of lords) knights and squires were admitted to a consultation, wherein it was resolved that such a number should meet at Gamiges, and bring every man his dish of meat. It was left to their own choice what to bring: some chose to be substantial, some curious, some extravagant. Sir George Goring's invention bore away the bell; and that was four huge brawny pigs, piping hot, bitted and harnessed with ropes of sarsiges, all tied to a monstrous bag pudding.”
This letter is curious in more respects than one. The facetious Goring here mentioned was the “bloody Goring” of the civil war some sixteen years after, and the most haughty, fierce, and cruel of all the commanders on the royal side. He, however, had begun life as a jester and buffoon in the court of James the First, where his antics obtained him more favour and promotion than other men's wisdom and important services procured to them.— See Court Fools.
Sir George Goring was vice-chamberlain to the Queen of Charles the First, and was created Earl of Norwich in 1644, when the civil war was at its height. In 1649, after the death of Charles, Goring was brought to trial; but his life, which by a hundred actions he had deserved to forfeit, was spared in the House of Commons by the casting vote of the Speaker.