Gateway to the Classics: Scotland's Story by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Scotland's Story by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall

James I.—The Beautiful Lady of the Garden

When King Henry of England took Prince James of Scotland prisoner, he did not treat him unkindly. No chains were put on his hands or feet, nor was he thrown into a dark and horrible dungeon. He was shut up in a strong castle, but he had a pleasant room in which to live. His window looked out on a pretty garden. There early and late Prince James would sit, watching the trees and the flowers, and listening to the birds singing, and that brought great comfort to him in his loneliness.

King Henry, remembering that he had said that he could teach James French as well as any man, had him taught not only French, but many other things. Prince James learned to read French, and English, and Latin, to sing, and to play upon the harp and organ. He was also taught to fence and to wrestle, to use bows and arrows, and indeed, to do everything that knights and nobles did in those days.

No doubt the hours seemed long to the little boy, shut up all day in one room, so he looked forward to the coming of his masters, and soon he grew to love his books better than anything else. Over and over again he read the pretty stories of Chaucer and of other great poets, and he filled his mind so full of beautiful thoughts that when he grew up he too wrote poems.

But in spite of all this James was very lonely. When he was a boy he longed for other boys to play with, and as year after year went by and he grew to be a man, he longed more and more to be out in the great world, to go and come as he wished, to talk and laugh, to be merry and sad with other men and women, and to have his share in all the joy and sorrow, work and play, of life.

"Whereas in ward full oft I would bewail

My deadly life, full of pain and penance,

Saying right thus, 'What guilt have I, to fail

My freedom in this world and my pleasance?

Since every man has thereof sufficance,

That I behold; and I a creature

Put from all this—hard is mine adventure.

" 'The bird, the beast, the fish eke in the sea,

They live in freedom each one in his kind;

And I a man and liketh liberty;

What shall I say, what reason shall I find,

That fortune should do so—' Thus in my mind

My folk I would argue, but all in vain,

None there was took pity on my pain.

"Then would I say, 'If God me had divined

To live my life in thraldom thus and pine,

What was the cause that he more me adjudged

Than other folk to live in such ruin?

I suffer alone among the figures nine,

An woeful wretch that to no man may speed,

And yet of all living help has need.' "

That is part of a poem which James wrote, and which is called The King's Quair,  or King's book. He tells us that both day and night he would bewail his sad fate in words like these. Often he could not sleep, and would spend the night trying to read, and so to forget his misery. Then, as soon as the sun began to shine, he would go to his window, and look out upon the fair world into which he might not go. And the sight of the blue sky and the green trees comforted him.

One May morning he rose very early, and, opening his window, leaned out to breathe the fresh, clear air. He looked down into the garden with its green arbour, set about with thick leafy trees and hawthorn hedges white with blossom, and up to the sky where big fleecy clouds were sailing through the blue. All the world was bright.

"And on the small green twigs sat

The little sweet nightingales, and sang

So loud and clear, the hymns consecrate

To love's use, now soft now loud among,

That all the garden and the walls rang

Right with their song, and all the linked notes

Of their sweet harmony.

" 'Worship ye that lovers be this May,

For of your bliss the first days are begun,

And sing with us, Away Winter, away!

Come Summer, come, the sweet season and sun!

Awake for shame! that have your heavens won,

And joyously lift up your heads all,

Thank Love that does you to this merci call.' "

The birds seemed so glad and joyous that after they had stopped singing, Prince James still leaned by the window, watching them as they hopped about, preening their feathers, twittering and playing with each other in the sunshine. They came quite close to his window, for they were not afraid of the man with the sad eyes who watched them. And all the time Prince James was saying to himself, "What have I done that I should be cooped up here within these four walls, with no one to love me, while the birds may fly about in the free air, and sing to each other and love each other?"


For there in the garden walked the fairest lady he had ever seen.

Still full of these sad thoughts he looked down again into the garden. Suddenly all the blood in his body seemed to rush to his heart. For there in the garden walked the fairest lady he had ever seen. Her golden hair was crowned with a wreath of flowers, red, white, and blue. Her dress glittered with gold and gems. Round her neck hung a great, red, ruby heart, and oh! she was more beautiful than any fairy princess. Unable to move, the Prince stood and gazed at her.

"No wonder was; for why? my wits all

Were so o'ercome with pleasure and delight,

Only through letting of my eyes down fall,

That suddenly my heart became her thrall,

For ever of free will; for of menace

There was no token in her sweet face."

As soon as he recovered himself, Prince James drew in his head quickly, lest he should be seen, and frighten the beautiful lady away. But again he leaned out to watch her as she walked with her two ladies in waiting, and played about with her little dog.

Then, although the lady was far away down in the garden and could not hear him, Prince James knelt at the window and whispered to her. "Dear lady," he said, "you are so beautiful I cannot help but love you. Why did you come? I am only a wretched prisoner, but be kind to me, and love me too. If you will not, I must bear the pain all my life."

And so he knelt, and watched, and whispered, and envied the little dog she played with. "Dear birds," he cried, "where are your songs? You sang of love this morning. Where are your songs now? Why are you silent? Do you not see that the most beautiful lady in all the world is walking in the garden? Sing on again and make my lady cheer. Now is the time to sing, or else never."

It seemed as if the little birds understood, for they began to sing more sweetly than they had ever sung before, it seemed to the Prince. The beautiful lady stood under the trees, looking up and listening to their songs. And Prince James knelt by the window, watching and loving her more and more.

"In her was youth, beauty with humble port,

Bounty, richness and womanly feature,

God better wot than my pen can report,

Wisdom, largess, estate and knowledge sure.

In every point, so goodly her measure

In word, in deed, in shape, in countenance,

That nature might no more her child advance.

"And when she walkèd had a little while

Under the sweet young boughs bent,

Her fair fresh face, as white as any snow,

She turnèd has, and forth her ways went;

But then began mine anguish and torment,

To see her go and follow not I might,

Methought the day was turnèd into night."

The beautiful lady had gone from the garden. To Prince James, life seemed darker and more dreary than before. All day he mourned and grieved, longing again to see the lovely lady. When night came he still knelt by the window, as motionless as any statue. At last, wearied out both in heart and mind, he leaned his head against the cold stone and slept. And in his dreams he saw again the beautiful lady walking in the garden.

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