painting by Gillis van Tilborgh
THE TICHBORNE DOLE
Lady Mabella, gravely ill,
from her four poster bed,
begged Sir Roger to change their will
so the poor could be fed:
“On Lady Day all who request
should know they can claim flour.
I trust you’ll honour this bequest
in my decisive hour.”
Sir Roger Tichborne lit a brand.
“They shall have corn,” smirked he,
“but you will have to mark the land;
crawl round its boundary.”
Twenty three acres she secured,
with bleeding palms and knees.
Sir Roger’s oath was not abjured:
“I waive all feudal fees.”
Relieved her husband did comply,
her breathing yet grew worse.
“Should any of our line deny
this dole, he’ll earn my curse.
Seven daughters in succession
will cause his name to fail.
He must grant all intercession,
if Tichborne’s to prevail;
if not, the house will turn to dust.”
The taper’s flame spluttered.
“See to it that you do what’s just.”
Its final glow guttered.
Lady Mabella’s blazing eyes
closed as the ember died.
“He must be Satan in disguise,”
all her maidservants cried.
Up from the stubble, with respect,
they placed her on a bier.
Sir Roger’s guilt made him abject.
His mouth was dry with fear:
“These field ‘The Crawls‘ will be re-named,”
in penitence he said.
“For what I’ve done I am ashamed,
now that my wife is dead.”
For centuries, on Lady Day,
rowdy and dissolute,
scavengers came, in disarray,
till dole was in dispute.
Gentry and magistrates, as one,
cancelled the codicils.
The baronet then had no son.
Grass grew on window sills.
Seven daughters, as prophesied,
Sir Henry’s table graced.
A missing nephew was devised
to aid the now shamefaced.
Advertisements placed in the press
tried to contact this youth,
thought lost at sea. Nevertheless,
someone replied, “In truth,
I am the missing heir you sought:
Roger, in certitude.”
They thought him an escutcheon’s blot,
worth penal servitude:
fourteen years for one who’d perjured
the High Court and his soul.
“Of one thing only we’re assured:
we must restore the dole.”
This butcher’s son found he had scored
no success with his tale.
True Tichborne claimants had restored
their right to bread and ale.
So if on Lady Day you faint,
to Tichborne importune,
accept the purchase of a saint
and bless your good fortune.