Gateway to the Classics: Historic Poems and Ballads by Rupert S. Holland
Historic Poems and Ballads by  Rupert S. Holland


T HIS poem represents the views of a Roundhead soldier who fought in the great civil war between King Charles I of England and the Parliamentary troops under Oliver Cromwell. Naseby is a small village in Northamptonshire, in central England, and one of the most important battles of the war was fought there on June 14, 1645. The Roundheads were led by Cromwell, Lord Fairfax, and General Ireton, and the Cavaliers, or Royal Army, by Prince Rupert. King Charles himself watched the battle from a neighboring hill.

The battle was a defeat for the King's army, and his troops were so badly beaten that the Cavaliers engaged in no more meetings with their foes. Not long afterward Charles became a prisoner of the Parliament, and was tried and beheaded by them in 1649.

The Roundheads were fond of using phrases from the Bible, and the speaker of this poem indulges in many allusions to the Scriptures. His party called themselves the Saints of God, and fought with all the bitter zeal of religious fanatics. He refers most bitterly to the Cavaliers and their leaders, to the "man of blood," King Charles, with his long, curling, perfumed hair, to Lord Astley, who commanded the Royalist infantry, to Sir Marmaduke Langdale, and to Rupert, Prince Palatine of the Rhine. In contrast to these sinful leaders the Roundhead general rode before his troops with the Bible in his hand.

The battle began with the cheers of the two sides. Then Prince Rupert charged, to the sound of clarions and drums, leading, as the Roundhead says, his ruffians from Alsatia, the slums of London, and his lackeys from the King's palace of Whitehall. The Roundheads grasped their pikes and stood manfully, but the charge broke their left wing. Major-General Skippen was wounded, when suddenly Cromwell himself dashed to the rescue of that side of his army. The Roundheads charged behind him, and in their turn broke the Cavalier line. Cromwell pursued; the gallants retreated, trying to save their heads that the Roundheads would like to set up on Temple Bar in London, where the heads of traitors were shown to public view; and King Charles turned and fled.

The speaker calls on his friends to strip lockets and gold from the slain Cavaliers, and then cries shame on the luxury-loving men who were so fond of silks and satins, of music, of theatres, and of cards. He wants to destroy the mitre of the Bishops of the Church of England and the crown of the King, the wickedness of the court and the love of wealth of the Church. Oxford, which sided with Charles, Durham, the seat of a great cathedral, shall be downcast, and both the Roman and the English Church despair.

"Naseby" gives a fine idea of the bigotry and hate of Cromwell's men for all the pomp and glamour of King Charles' court and church.


by Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay

Oh! wherefore come ye forth in triumph from the north,

With your hands, and your feet, and your raiment all red?

And wherefore doth your rout send forth a joyous shout?

And whence be the grapes of the wine-press that ye tread?

Oh! evil was the root, and bitter was the fruit,

And crimson was the juice of the vintage that we trod;

For we trampled on the throng of the haughty and the strong,

Who sate in the high places and slew the saints of God.

It was about the noon of a glorious day of June,

That we saw their banners dance and their cuirasses shine,

And the man of blood was there, with his long essenced hair,

And Astley, and Sir Marmaduke, and Rupert of the Rhine.

Like a servant of the Lord, with his Bible and his sword,

The general rode along us to form us for the fight;

When a murmuring sound broke out, and swelled into a shout

Among the godless horsemen upon the tyrant's right.

And hark! like the roar of the billows on the shore,

The cry of battle rises along their charging line:

For God! for the Cause! for the Church! for the laws!

For Charles, king of England, and Rupert of the Rhine!

The furious German comes, with his clarions and his drums,

His bravoes of Alsatia and pages of Whitehall;

They are bursting on our flanks! Grasp your pikes! Close your ranks!

For Rupert never comes, but to conquer or to fall.

They are here—they rush on—we are broken—we are gone—

Our left is borne before them like stubble on the blast.

O Lord, put forth thy might! O Lord, defend the right!

Stand back to back, in God's name! and fight it to the last!

Stout Skippen hath a wound—the centre hath given ground.

Hark! Hark! what means the trampling of horsemen on our rear?

Whose banner do I see, boys? 'Tis he! thank God! 'tis he, boys!

Bear up another minute! Brave Oliver is here!

Their heads all stooping low, their points all in a row:

Like a whirlwind on the trees, like a deluge on the dikes,

Our cuirassiers have burst on the ranks of the accurst,

And at a shock have scattered the forest of his pikes.

Fast, fast, the gallants ride, in some safe nook to hide

Their coward heads, predestined to rot on Temple Bar;

And he—he turns! he flies! shame on those cruel eyes

That bore to look on torture, and dare not look on war!

Ho, comrades! scour the plain; and ere ye strip the slain,

First give another stab to make your search secure;

Then shake from sleeves and pockets their broad-pieces and lockets,

The tokens of the wanton, the plunder of the poor.

Fools! your doublets shone with gold, and your hearts were gay and bold,

When you kissed your lily hands to your lemans to-day;

And to-morrow shall the fox from her chambers in the rocks

Lead forth her tawny cubs to howl above the prey.

Where be your tongues, that late mocked at heaven, and hell, and fate?

And the fingers that once were so busy with your blades?

Your perfumed satin clothes, your catches and your oaths?

Your stage plays and your sonnets, your diamonds and your spades?

Down! down! forever down, with the mitre and the crown!

With the Belial of the court, and the Mammon of the Pope!

There is woe in Oxford halls, there is wail in Durham's stalls;

The Jesuit smites his bosom, the bishop rends his cope.

And she of the seven hills shall mourn her children's ills,

And tremble when she thinks on the edge of England's sword;

And the kings of earth in fear shall shudder when they hear

What the hand of God hath wrought for the houses and the word!

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