1590
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

A Tale of Two Swannes.

A Tale of Two Swannes. Wherein is comprehended the Original and Increase of the River Lee commonly called Ware-River: together, with the Antiquitie of sundrie Places and Townes seated upon the same. Pleasant to be read, and not altogether unprofitable to bee understood. By W. V.

William Vallans


A topographic poem, apparently modelled on a manuscript of Spenser's lost Epithalamion Thamesis: "hereby I would animate, or encourage those worldly Poets, who have written Epithalamion Thamesis, to publish the same: I have seen it in Latine verse (in my judgment) wel done, but the Author I know not for what reason doth suppress it: That which is written in English, though long since it was promised, yet is it not perfourmed: so as it seemeth, some unhappy Star envieth the sight of so good a work: which once set abroad, such trifles as these would vanish, and be overshadowed, much like the Moon and other starres, which after the appearing of the Sunne are not to be seene at all" sig. A2. The poet, writing anonymously, adds several pages of commentary at the end.

Elizabeth Elstob praises "an ingenious Poem, entituled, The Tale of the Swans, written by William Vallans in blank Verse in the time of Queen Elizabeth; for the reprinting of which, we are obliged to that ingenious and most industrious Preserver and Restorer of Antiquities, Mr. Thomas Hearne of Oxford" Rudiments of Grammar for the English-Saxon Tongue (1715) xxi.

Thomas Warton: "In the year 1590, William Vallans published a blank-verse poem, entitled A TALE OF TWO SWANNES, which, under a poetic fiction, describes the situation and antiquities of several towns in Hertfordshire. The author, a native or inhabitant of Hertfordshire, seems to have been connected with Camden and other ingenious antiquaries of his age" History of English Poetry (1774-81, 1840) 3:69.

George Steevens to Thomas Percy (then preparing an edition of early poems in blank verse): "You will find the Tale of the two Swannes reprinted in the fifth volume of the last edition of Leland's Itinerary; I think, at the very beginning of it. The original in 1590 I have never seen, nor am I acquainted with any person who has it; a faint recollection, however, suggests that it may be found at Oxford, the Alma Mater of my brother-nephew. It was also republished in a small Latin collection which I have met with more than once, though at present it does not occur in the catalogues of our principal booksellers, whom I have applied to on this emergency. But Mr. Nichols, in all probability, has Leland, or at least can borrow it to print from" 26 December 1796; in Nichols, Illustrations (1817-58) 7:8.

Thomas Park: "In 1600 an English poem of a loosely descriptive kind was published under the title of Thameseidos, by E. W. in three books or cantos; but this was a posterior production to the present [Tale of Two Swannes]. Vallans, it may be added, has commendatory lines before Wharton's Dreame, 1578" in Restituta or ... English Literature Revived 4 (1816) 444-7.

Robert Arnold Aubin: "This poem displays the Elizabethan's astounding attachment to allegory, pageantry, royal progresses, and the face itself of England, their bookishness and liking for serious and learned subject matter in poetry; and it suggests the need of a suitable form for descriptive verse" "Topographical Poetry in XVIII Century England" (1936) 16.

Virginia Tufte: "In a conventional spring setting, Venus orders Mercury to bring to her two beautiful swans, who are to draw her chariot and rule as king and queen of the Thames. In their old age the swan rulers go on progress through their kingdom. Attended by forty milk-white swans, they swim from the source of the Lea to its mouth, inspecting places of interest along the way. The poem ends with a swan of the Thames inviting the king and queen to see and celebrate 'the marriage of two Rivers of great name'" Poetry of Marriage (1970) 191-92.

Rather improbably, Lawrence D. Stewart mentions Vallans as an influence on the eighteenth-century Quaker poet, John Scott of Amwell (1956) 95-96.

See also the untitled MSS verses by Vallans, dated 1582.



When nature nurse of every living thing,
Had clad her charge in brave and new aray:
The hils rejoyst to see themselves so fine:
The fields, and woods grew proud therof also:
The medowes with their partie coloured coates,
Like to the Rainebow in the azur'd skie,
Gave just occasion to the cheerefull birdes,
With sweetest note, to sing their nurses praise.
Among the which, the merrie Nightingale
With swete and swete, (her brest against a thorne)
Ringes out all night the never ceasing laudes
Of God, the author of her nursse and all.

About this time, the Lady Venus viewd,
The fruitfull fieldes of Hartfordshire:
And saw the river, and the meades thereof
Fit for to breede her birdes of greatest prise.
She calles in haste for winged Mercurie,
And sendes him to Cayster, silver streame:
Fetch me (saith he) two Cignets of the best,
And in the Laund, hard by the parke of Ware,
Where Fanshawe buildes for his succeeding race,
Thy speedie comming I will there await.
The messenger of all the heavenly court,
Makes haste away to doo his mistresse quest:
And from the brood two Cignets of esteeme
He sleely takes, unseene of any Swannes,
Which in that river be so plentifull.

To Ware he comes, and to the Launde he flies,
Where Venus, like the Goddesse of great Love,
Sate lovely by the running river side,
Tuning her Lute unto the waters fall;
Wherewith she did record the love and armes
Of mightie Mars, the God of dreadfull warre.

The present come, she layeth downe her Lute,
And takes these Cignets of so great esteeme,
Throwing them both into her river Lee:
And posted straight up, to the throne of Jove,
Where lovely, like to verie love it selfe,
Shee set her selfe, upon her yeelding knee,
And craves of him but onely this request,
That her two Swannes might prosper in the streame,
And rule the rest, as worthie King and Queene.

The mightie Jove, unwilling to denie
His daughters sute, for feare of further ill,
Graunts her request: and more to pleasure her,
Saith, that these two so fruitfull shall become,
That all the Swannes, yea, the verie Thames
Shall be replenisht with their princely race.
Uenus yeeldes thankes, and hastes her selfe away,
To mount Troclya, where she tooke her rest.

Long lived these Swannes in Lee, with great increase
Of honour, royaltie, and in high estate:
Inricht with issue of the fayrest breede,
That lives in Severne, Humber or in Trent,
The chiefest floudes that water English ground.
Three times had Venus us'd them for to draw
Her Ivory Chariot, through the loftie ayre.
A speciall favour (as the Poets say)
Graunted to such, as she holdes in accompt.

Now as these Swannes began to waxen old,
As time outweares eche creature that doth live:
It pleased them to send throughout their realme,
For all their subjectes of the highest bloud:
With full intent to make a progresse cleane,
Throughout their land to see the boundes thereof,
And every brooke that harbours anie Swanne,
With all the Isles that unto them belong.
No sooner was this message knowne abroad,
But there resorted to their being place,
Such troupes of milke-white Swannes, as well beseem'd
The royall state of two such princes great.
Among which troupes, the King and Queene made choise
Of fortie Swannes of high and royall bloud,
For to attend upon their Majesties.
Then looke how Cynthia with her silver rayes,
Exceedes the brightnesse of the lesser starres,
When in her chiefest pompe she hasteth downe,
To steale a kisse from drousie Endymion:
So doe these princes farre excell in state,
The Swannes that breede within Europaes boundes.

And in this pompe, they hie them to the head,
Whence Lee doth spring, not farre from Kempton towne,
And swiftly comming downe through Brooke-hall parke,
Leaves Whethamsted, so called of the corne:
By Bishops-Hatfield then they come along,
Seated not farre from antient Verolane:
His Citie, that first did spend his blessed life,
In just maintaining of our Christian faith.

When they had past Hartingfordbury towne,
A quite contrarie course they doe finde out:
And though it were some labour gainst the streame,
To trace this River, feeding christall Lee:
Yet worthily they holde their first resolve,
And up by Tewing, wide of Butlers house,
To Digswell haste, where Horsley dwelt of late:
And then to Welwine, passing well beknowne,
And noted for a worthie stratagem:
I meame the Danes, who on S. Bryces night,
Were stoughtly murdred by their women foes:
To Whitwell short, whereof doth burbling rise
The spring, that makes this little river runne.

Thence backe againe unto the chiefest towne,
Of all the shire, and greatest of accompt,
Defended with a Castle of some strength,
Well walled, dyched, and amended late,
By her, the onely mirror of the world,
Our gracious Queene and Prince ELIZABETH.

Not far from hence, stands many a milkewhite Swanne,
Attending for to entertaine their Prince:
Among the which, was one of chiefe accompt,
That busked up his winges in greatest pride,
And so salutes this worthie companie:
And with a speeche that well did him beseeme,
He tels how that neere Walkhorne Capels seate,
The Bene doth rise, and gives his proper name
To Benington, and so to Watton runnes:
And then by Staplefoord, to Beneghoo heere,
Where we, with all the Swannes and Cignets both,
That live in Bene, doe rest at your command.
Right graciously the Princes tooke his speeche:
And so departed towardes Edwardes Ware,
But ere they come unto the Meade or Laund,
Where Venus first did put them in estate,
They passed up a river of good depth,
The greatest branch that feedeth christall Lee:
With speedie pace (as Swannes doe use to swimme)
They passe to Wadesmill, and to Thundrich Church,
And so to Standon, honoured with the house
Of worthie Sadler Knight, and Counseller
To all the children of King Henry seventh:
Whose sonne surviving, holdes the verie path,
That leades to vertue and to honours throne.
By Puckhridge likewise they doe swiftly passe:
And so to Horne-meade more and lesse, and then
To Withthall, to Buckland and to Barckway both,
Where is the head and verie utmost bound
Of this surpassing cleere and goodly streame.

Returning backe againe, the companie
Were marshalled and set in order brave.
And this was done least that undecently
They should passe by the guested towne of Ware.
Thus ordered, they come by Byrches house.
That whilom was the brothers Priers place
Then by the Crowne, and all the Innes of Ware:
And so approching to the late built bridge,
They see the barges lading malt apace:
And people wondering at so great a troope:
Among the which, a man whose silver heares
Seem'd to excell the whitenesse of the rest,
Bespake them thus.

Long have I lived, and by this bridge was borne,
Yet never saw I such a companie:
So well beseene, so ordered, and so faire:
Nay (as I thinke) the age that is by past,
Nor yet the same that after shall insue
Never beheld, nor lookt upon the like.
The people listened to this aged man,
As one they loved, and held in reverence.

And as they stoode, behold a sodaine chance:
From South-side of the bridge, hard by the same,
Two goodly Swannes, with Cignets full fifteene
Presents themselves, and theirs unto the Prince:
Excusing well their slackenesse, and offence
In not appearing at their first command.
The Queene beholding such a goodly broode,
Receiv'd them all, and pardoned everie misse:
Demanding where they us'd, and all their state,
After a becke in signe of humble thankes,
The Cocke made answere with a modest grace.

A place there is, not farre from hence (O king)
A chalkie hill, beneath the same a hole,
Cal'd Chadwell head, whence issues out a streame,
That runnes behind broad Meade that you see heere:
A little rill, yet great inough for us,
And these our breede, yet (gratious Prince) behold
A tale there is delivered unto us
From hand to hand, how that a hunted ducke,
Diving within this Chalk-well head or hole,
Was forced underneath the hollow ground
To swimme along by waies that be unknowne:
And afterward at Amwell spring (they say)
Was taken up all fetherlesse and bare.

The King and Lordes tooke pleasure at the tale:
And so made haste quite through the arched bridge,
To Amwell, when they easilie did espie
The spring and rill that comes out of the hill:
And is supposed to rise at Chadwell head.

Beneath the same comes downe a little streame
That fosters Swannes, and comes from Haddam small:
And so by Haddam, where the Bishops house
Hath bene of long, and so to Wydford towne:
And here at Amwell falles into the river Lee.

Then troupes this traine to Stanstead, called Le Thele,
And Stanstead where as Bashe did lately build,
Whose sonne yeeldes hope of vertue worth the place,
And livinges which his father purchast him.

And here againe out of the kingly streame
They passe by Roydon through little Estwyke quite:
Then they salute Hunsdon the nurserie
And foster house of thrise renowmed Swannes:
Whose honour, and whose noble progenie
Gives glorie to that honourable house:
Lord, how they live all glorious as the sunne,
With tipes, and titles fit for their degree,
As kinsmen to our most redoubted Queene,
And men of high desert unto the state.

From hence to Sapsford, and to Starford, cald
The Bishops: then to Farnam and to Maunder,
And so to Clavering, where it riseth first,
And then comes downe againe into the Lee.

From Stansted unto Hodsdon goe these Swannes,
From thence to Broxborne, and to Wormley wood
And so salute the holy house of Nunnes,
That late belongd to captaine Edward Dennie,
A knight in Ireland of the best accompt
Who late made execution on our foes,
I meane of Spanyardes, that with open armes
Attempted both against our Queene and us:
There now lord Talbot keepes a noble house:

Now see these Swannes the new and worthie seate
Of famous Cicill, treasoror of the land,
Whose wisedome, counsell, skill of Princes state
The world admires, then Swannes may doe the same:
The house it selfe doth shewe the owners wit,
And may for bewtie, state, and every thing,
Compared be with most within the land.

Downe all along through Waltham street they passe,
And wonder at the ruines of the Abbay,
Late supprest, the walles, the walkes, the monumentes,
And everie thing that there is to be seene:
Among them all a rare devise they see,
But newly made, a waterworke: the locke
Through which the boates of Ware doe passe with malt,
This locke containes two double doores of wood,
Within the same a Cesterne all of Plancke,
Which onely fils when boates come there to passe
By opening anie of these mightie dores with sleight,
And strange devise, but now decayed sore.
And as they stayed here, thy chaunst to see
The stately crosse of Elnor, Henries wise
Then Enfield house that longes unto our Queene,
They all behold, and with due reveverence
Salute the same.

From hence by Hackney, Leyton, and old-Foord,
They come to Stratford, cal'd also the Bowe:
And underneath the bridge that thwartes the streame
And partes the shires of Middlesex, and Essex both
At last (though long and wearie was their way)
They come unto the mouth of river Lee,
Where all the Swannes of that part of the Thames
Attend t' see this royall companie:
So that from Woolwich to Blackwall was seene
Nor water, nor the medowes thereabout,
For looke how in a frostie night or day,
When Snowe hath fallen thicke upon the ground,
Eche gasing eye is daseled with the sight,
So Lillie-white was land and strand beseene
With these faire Swannes, the birdes of lovely love.

After a noyse in signe of passing joy,
A Swane of Thames invites the King and Queene
Upon a day prefixt, to see and celebrate
The marriage of two Rivers of great name.
Which granted, everie one departes his way,
The King and Queene againe into their Lee:
Where yet they live in health and happie state,
Or if not so, they dyed but of late.

[sigs A3-B2v]