William Morris Archive


I walked along with the others musing as if I did not belong to them, till we came to Will Green’s house. He was one of the wealthier of the yeomen, and his house was one of those I told you of, the lower story of which was built of stone. It had not been built long, and was very trim and neat. The fit of wonder had worn off me again by then I reached it, or perhaps I should give you a closer description of it, for it was a handsome yeoman’s dwelling of that day, which is as much as saying it was very beautiful. The house on the other side of it, the last house in the village, was old or even ancient; all built of stone, and except for a newer piece built on to it—a hall, it seemed—had round arches, some of them handsomely carved. I knew that this was the parson’s house; but he was another sort of priest than John Ball, and what for fear, what for hatred, had gone back to his monastery with the two other chantrey priests who dwelt in that house; so that the men of the township, and more especially the women, were thinking gladly how John Ball should say mass in their new chancel on the morrow.

Will Green’s daughter was waiting for him at the door and gave him a close and eager hug, and had a kiss to spare for each of us withal: a strong girl she was, as I have said, and sweet and wholesome also. She made merry with her father; yet it was easy to see that her heart was in her mouth all along. There was a younger girl some twelve summers old, and a lad of ten, who were easily to be known for his children; an old woman also, who had her livelihood there, and helped the household; and moreover three long young men, who came into the house after we had sat down, to whom Will nodded kindly. They were brisk lads and smart, but had been afield after the beasts that evening, and had not seen the fray.

The room we came into was indeed the house, for there was nothing but it on the ground floor, but a stair in the corner went up to the chamber or loft above. It was much like the room at the Rose, but bigger; the cupboard better wrought, and with more vessels on it, and handsomer. Also the walls, instead of being panelled, were hung with a coarse loosely–woven stuff of green worsted with birds and trees woven into it. There were flowers in plenty stuck about the room, mostly of the yellow blossoming flag or flower–de–luce, of which I had seen plenty in all the ditches, but in the window near the door was a pot full of those same white poppies I had seen when I first woke up; and the table was all set forth with meat and drink, a big salt–cellar of pewter in the middle, covered with a white cloth.

We sat down, the priest blessed the meat in the name of the Trinity, and we crossed ourselves and fell to. The victual was plentiful of broth and flesh–meat, and bread and cherries, so we ate and drank, and talked lightly together when we were full.

Yet was not the feast so gay as might have been. Will Green had me to sit next to him, and on the other side sat John Ball; but the priest had grown somewhat distraught, and sat as one thinking of somewhat that was like to escape his thought. Will Green looked at his daughter from time to time, and whiles his eyes glanced round the fair chamber as one who loved it, and his kind face grew sad, yet never sullen. When the herdsmen came into the hall they fell straightway to asking questions concerning those of the Fellowship who had been slain in the fray, and of their wives and children; so that for a while thereafter no man cared to jest, for they were a neighbourly and kind folk, and were sorry both for the dead, and also for the living that should suffer from that day’s work.

So then we sat silent awhile. The unseen moon was bright over the roof of the house, so that outside all was gleaming bright save the black shadows, though the moon came not into the room, and the white wall of the tower was the whitest and the brightest thing we could see.

Wide open were the windows, and the scents of the fragrant night floated in upon us, and the sounds of the men at their meat or making merry about the township; and whiles we heard the gibber of an owl from the trees westward of the church, and the sharp cry of a blackbird made fearful by the prowling stoat, or the far–off lowing of a cow from the upland pastures; or the hoofs of a horse trotting on the pilgrimage road (and one of our watchers would that be).

Thus we sat awhile, and once again came that feeling over me of wonder and pleasure at the strange and beautiful sights, mingled with the sights and sounds and scents beautiful indeed, yet not strange, but rather long familiar to me.

But now Will Green started in his seat where he sat with his daughter hanging over his chair, her hand amidst his thick black curls, and she weeping softly, I thought; and his rough strong voice broke the silence.

“Why, lads and neighbours, what ails us? If the knights who fled from us this eve were to creep back hither and look in at the window, they would deem that they had slain us after all, and that we were but the ghosts of the men who fought them. Yet, forsooth, fair it is at whiles to sit with friends and let the summer night speak for us and tell us its tales. But now, sweetling, fetch the mazer and the wine.” “Forsooth,” said John Ball, “if ye laugh not over–much now, ye shall laugh the more on the morrow of to–morrow, as ye draw nearer to the play of point and edge.”

“That is sooth,” said one of the upland guests. “So it was seen in France when we fought there; and the eve of fight was sober and the morn was merry.”

“Yea,” said another, “but there, forsooth, it was for nothing ye fought; and to–morrow it shall be for a fair reward.”

“It was for life we fought,” said the first.

“Yea,” said the second, “for life; and leave to go home and find the lawyers at their fell game. Ho, Will Green, call a health over the cup!”

For now Will Green had a bowl of wine in his hand. He stood up and said: “Here, now, I call a health to the wrights of Kent who be turning our plough–shares into swords and our pruning–hooks into spears! Drink around, my masters!”

Then he drank, and his daughter filled the bowl brimming again and he passed it to me. As I took it I saw that it was of light polished wood curiously speckled, with a band of silver round it, on which was cut the legend, “In the name of the Trinity fill the cup and drink to me.” And before I drank, it came upon me to say, “To–morrow, and the fair days afterwards!”

Then I drank a great draught of the strong red wine, and passed it on; and every man said something over it, as “The road to London Bridge!” “Hob Carter and his mate!” and so on, till last of all John Ball drank, saying:

“Ten years hence, and the freedom of the Fellowship!” Then he said to Will Green: “Now, Will, must I needs depart to go and wake the dead, both friend and foe in the church yonder; and whoso of you will be shriven let him come to me thither in the morn, nor spare for as little after sunrise as it may be. And this our friend and brother from over the water of Thames, he hath will to talk with me and I with him; so now will I take him by the hand: and so God keep you, fellows!”

I rose to meet him as he came round the head of the table, and took his hand. Will Green turned round to me and said:

“Thou wilt come back again timely, old lad; for betimes on the morrow must we rise if we shall dine at Rochester.”

I stammered as I yea–said him; for John Ball was looking strangely at me with a half–smile, and my heart beat anxiously and fearfully: but we went quietly to the door and so out into the bright moonlight.

I lingered a little when we had passed the threshold, and looked back at the yellow–lighted window and the shapes of the men that I saw therein with a grief and longing that I could not give myself a reason for, since I was to come back so soon. John Ball did not press me to move forward, but held up his hand as if to bid me hearken. The folk and guests there had already shaken themselves down since our departure, and were gotten to be reasonably merry it seemed; for one of the guests, he who had spoken of France before, had fallen to singing a ballad of the war to a wild and melancholy tune. I remember the first rhymes of it, which I heard as I turned away my head and we moved on toward the church:

“On a fair field of France
We fought on a morning
So lovely as it lieth
Along by the water.
There was many a lord there
Mowed men in the medley,
‘Midst the banners of the barons
And bold men of the knighthood,
And spearmen and sergeants
And shooters of the shaft.”

Continue to Chapter 9
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Notes on Chapter 8 by Peter Wright

p. 238 para. 1 the house ... of stone ... round arches ... handsomely carved

Morris presumably imagines a house somewhat like the 12th-century 'Jew's House' at Lincoln with its round-headed windows, one of the oldest non-aristocratic dwellings surviving in England. An actual village clergyman's home might not have been so imposing.

The parson's house .... his monastery Here and later Morris is a little confused about church law on parish churches. Most of them, established from the 10th century onwards, had originally been controlled by the manorial lords who had founded them, who took their tithes and other revenues and paid a priest to minister in them. From the 12th century such lords, persuaded that it was impious for laymen to possess sacred things, had often given their churches to monasteries, which might leave the church to a parson or rector taking the whole income, whom they merely appointed, as their lay predecessors had done. But often the monastery would take over ('appropriate') most of the income, especially the tithes of corn, the most valuable part, and appoint to serve the church a vicar endowed with the tithes on beasts and other produce, and a little land. Both rectors and vicars were 'secular' clergy, not monks, who were forbidden by canon law to minister to parishes. Here, however, Morris apparently supposes that the 'parson' was a monk who could flee to 'his' monastery; a secular incumbent would have been less likely to retreat to an institution which had merely appointed him.

chantr[e]y priests

Priests employed to sing masses to deliver from Purgatory the souls of the people who had founded the chantry and endowed it with land or money. When not so engaged they were expected to help with the ordinary services of the church in which the chantry was established. (They might have lodged with the parson of the parish, but this was probably not common.)

p. 240 para. 9 a bowl .... of light polished wood

These cups, technically called mazers, were usually made of maple wood and had their brims bound with metal, in surviving ones usually silver. Examples can be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

p. 240 para. 10  Hob Carter and his mate Possibly a reminiscence of ‘Jakke Carter', named as author of one of the peasants' propaganda letters: Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt, p. 382.

p. 241 verses

Here Morris gives a sample of unrhymed alliterative verse as revived for narrative and didactic poems in the 14th century, though he has set out the verses in short lines, recalling those used in the poems of Icelandic skalds which he knew from his work on the sagas. Though he would hardly have heard of the concept of an 'alliterative revival', he certainly knew Langland's Piers Plowman, as edited from the 1860s by W. W. Skeat, (see William Morris on History, p. 84), but might not have been aware of the 'alliterative romances' now so well known, such as 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' and 'Morte Arthur.’ (Modern bibliographies only cite more recent editions of them.)