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Chapter 14
In rough magnificence array'd,
When ancient Chivalry display'd
The pomp of her heroic games,
And crested chiefs and tissued dames
Assembled, at the clarion's call,
In some proud castle's high arch'd hall.
Prince John held his high festival in the Castle of Ashby. This was not the same building
of which the stately ruins still interest the traveller, and which was erected at a later
period by the Lord Hastings, High Chamberlain of England, one of the first victims of the
tyranny of Richard the Third, and yet better known as one of Shakspeare's characters
than by his historical fame. The castle and town of Ashby, at this time, belonged to
Roger de Quincy, Earl of Winchester, who, during the period of our history, was absent
in the Holy Land. Prince John, in the meanwhile, occupied his castle, and disposed of
his domains without scruple; and seeking at present to dazzle men's eyes by his
hospitality and magnificence, had given orders for great preparations, in order to render
the banquet as splendid as possible.
The purveyors of the Prince, who exercised on this and other occasions the full
authority of royalty, had swept the country of all that could be collected which was
esteemed fit for their master's table. Guests also were invited in great numbers; and in
the necessity in which he then found himself of courting popularity, Prince John had
extended his invitation to a few distinguished Saxon and Danish families, as well as to
the Norman nobility and gentry of the neighbourhood. However despised and degraded
on ordinary occasions, the great numbers of the Anglo-Saxons must necessarily render
them formidable in the civil commotions which seemed approaching, and it was an
obvious point of policy to secure popularity with their leaders.
It was accordingly the Prince's intention, which he for some time maintained, to treat
these unwonted guests with a courtesy to which they had been little accustomed. But
although no man with less scruple made his ordinary habits and feelings bend to his
interest, it was the misfortune of this Prince, that his levity and petulance were
perpetually breaking out, and undoing all that had been gained by his previous
Of this fickle temper he gave a memorable example in Ireland, when sent thither by his
father, Henry the Second, with the purpose of buying golden opinions of the inhabitants
of that new and important acquisition to the English crown. Upon this occasion the Irish
chieftains contended which should first offer to the young Prince their loyal homage and
the kiss of peace. But, instead of receiving their salutations with courtesy, John and his
petulant attendants could not resist the temptation of pulling the long beards of the Irish