With all the hoopla this weekend over the coronation of King Charles III and looking ahead to the drama of the "heir and the spare", this story of a crown and its role in the ruling by a king seems appropriate. Any further parallels is in the eye (or ear) of the audience.
This is from Moonshine and Clover by Laurence Housman with an illustration engraved by his sister, Clemence Housman. If the Housman names sounds familiar, they are the younger siblings of the noted English poet and scholar, A.E. Housman and each have their own literary history and social activism.
The story includes the English spelling of "gaolers" for "jailers", but otherwise needs no further introduction.
THE CROWN'S WARRANTY
FIVE hundred years ago or more, a king died,
leaving two sons: one was the child of his first
wife, and the other of his second, who surviving
him became his widow. When the king was dying
he took off the royal crown which he wore, and set
it upon the head of the elder born, the son of his
first wife, and said to him: "God is the lord of the
air, and of the water, and of the dry land: this gift
cometh to thee from God. Be merciful, over whatsoever
thou holdest power, as God is!" And
saying these words he laid his hands upon the heads
of his two sons and died.
Now this crown was no ordinary crown, for it
was made of the gold brought by the Wise Men of the
East when they came to worship at Bethlehem.
Every king that had worn it since then had reigned
well and uprightly, and had been loved by all his
people; but only to himself was it known what
virtue lay in his crown; and every king at dying
gave it to his son with the same words of blessing.
So, now, the king's eldest son wore the crown;
and his step-mother knew that her own son could not
wear it while he lived, therefore she looked on and
said nothing. Now he was known to all the people
of his country, because of his right to the throne,
as the king's son; and his brother, the child of the
second wife, was called the queen's son. But as
yet they were both young, and cared little enough
After the king's death the queen was made regent
till the king's son should be come to a full age; but
already the little king wore the royal crown his
father had left him, and the queen looked on and
More than three years went by, and everybody
said how good the queen was to the little king who
was not her own son; and the king's son, for his
part, was good to her and to his step-brother, loving
them both; and all by himself he kept thinking,
having his thoughts guarded and circled by his
golden crown, "How shall I learn to be a wise king,
and to be merciful when I have power, as God is?"
So to everything that came his way, to his playthings
and his pets, to his ministers and his servants,
he played the king as though already his word made
life and death. People watching him said, "Everything
that has touch with the king's son loves him."
They told strange tales of him: only in fairy books
could they be believed, because they were so beautiful;
and all the time the queen, getting a good name
for herself, looked on and said nothing.
One night the king's son was lying half-asleep upon
his bed, with wise dreams coming and going under
the circle of his gold crown, when a mouse ran out
of the wainscot and came and jumped up upon the
couch. The poor mouse had turned quite white
with fear and horror, and was trembling in every
limb as it cried its news into the king's ear. "O
king's son," it said, "get up and run for your life!
I was behind the wainscot in the queen's closet, and
this is what I heard: if you stay here, when you wake
up to-morrow you will be dead!"
The king's son got up, and all alone in the dark
night stole out of the palace, seeking safety for his
dear life. He sighed to himself, "There was a pain
in my crown ever since I wore it. Alas, mother, I
thought you were too kind a step-mother to do
Outside it was still winter: there was no warmth
in the world, and not a leaf upon the trees. He
wandered away and away, wondering where he should
The queen, when her villains came and told her
the king's son was not to be found, went and looked
in her magic crystal to find trace of him. As soon
as it grew light, for in the darkness the crystal could
show her nothing, she saw many miles away the
king's son running to hide himself in the forest. So
she sent out her villains to search until they should
As they went the sun grew hot in the sky, and birds
began singing. "It is spring!" cried the messengers.
"How suddenly it has come!" They rode on till
they came to the forest.
The king's son, stumbling along through the
forest under the bare boughs, thought, "Even
here where shall I hide? Nowhere is there a leaf
to cover me." But when the sun grew warm he
looked up; and there were all the trees breaking
into bud and leaf, making a green heaven above
his head. So when he was too weary to go farther,
he climbed into the largest tree he could find; and
the leaves covered him.
The queen's messengers searched through all the
forest but could not find him; so they went back
to her empty handed, not having either the king's
crown or his heart to show. "Fools!" she cried,
looking in her magic crystal, "he was in the big
sycamore under which you stopped to give your
The sycamore said to the king's son, "The
queen's eye is on you; get down and run for your
life till you get to the hollow tarn-stones among
the hills! But if you stay here, when you wake
to-morrow you will be dead."
When the queen's messengers came once more
to the forest they found it all wintry again, and
without leaf; only the sycamore was in full green,
clapping its hands for joy in the keen and bitter air.
The messengers searched, and beat down the
leaves, but the king's son was not there. They went
back to the queen. She looked long in her magic
crystal, but little could she see; for the king's
son had hidden himself in a small cave beside the
tarn-stones, and into the darkness the crystal could
Presently she saw a flight of birds crossing the
blue, and every bird carried a few crumbs of bread
in its beak. Then she ran and called to her villains,
"Follow the birds, and they will take you to where
the little wizard is; for they are carrying bread to
feed him, and they are all heading for the tarn-stones
up on the hills."
The birds said to the king's son, "Now you are
rested; we have fed you, and you are not hungry.
The queen's eye is on you. Up, and run for your
life! If you stay here, when you wake up to-morrow
you will be dead."
"Where shall I go?" said the king's son.
"Go," answered the birds, "and hide in the rushes
on the island of the pool of sweet waters!"
When the queen's messengers came to the tarn-stones,
it was as though five thousand people had
been feeding: they found crumbs enough to fill
twelve baskets full, lying in the cave; but no king's
son could they lay their hands on.
The king's son was lying hidden among the
rushes on the island of the great pool of sweet
waters; and thick and fast came silver-scaled fishes,
It took the queen three days of hard gazing in
her crystal, before she found how the fishes all
swam to a point among the rushes of the island in
the pool of sweet waters, and away again. Then
she knew: and running to her messengers she
cried: "He is among the rushes on the island in
the pool of sweet waters; and all the fishes are
The fishes said to the king's son: "The queen's
eye is on you; up, and swim to shore, and away
for your life! For if they come and find you here,
when you wake to-morrow you will certainly be
"Where shall I go?" asked the king's son.
"Wherever I go, she finds me." "Go to the old
fox who gets his poultry from the palace, and ask
him to hide you in his burrow!"
When the queen's messengers came to the pool
they found the fishes playing at alibis all about in
the water; but nothing of the king's son could
The king's son came to the fox, and the fox hid
him in his burrow, and brought him butter and
eggs from the royal dairy. This was better fare
than the king's son had had since the beginning
of his wanderings, and he thanked the fox warmly
for his friendship. "On the contrary," said the
fox, "I am under an obligation to you; for ever
since you came to be my guest I have felt like an
honest man." "If I live to be king," said the
king's son, "you shall always have butter and eggs
from the royal dairy, and be as honest as you like."
The queen hugged her magic crystal for a whole
week, but could make nothing out of it: for her
crystal showed her nothing of the king's son's
hiding-place, nor of the fox at his nightly thefts of
butter and eggs from the royal dairy. But it so
happened that this same fox was a sort of half-brother
of the queen's; and so guilty did he feel
with his brand-new good conscience that he quite
left off going to see her. So in a little while the
queen, with her suspicions and her magic crystal,
had nosed out the young king's hiding-place.
The fox said to the king's son: "The queen's eye
is on you! Get out and run for your life, for if
you stay here till to-morrow, you will wake up and
find yourself a dead goose!"
"But where else can I go to?" asked the king's
son. "Is there any place left for me?" The fox
laughed, and winked, and whispered a word; and
all at once the king's son got up and went.
The queen had said to her messengers, "Go and
look in the fox's hole; and you shall find him!"
But the messengers came and dug up the burrow,
and found butter and eggs from the royal dairy,
but of the king's son never a sign.
The king's son came to the palace, and as he
crept through the gardens he found there his little
brother alone at play,—playing sadly because now
he was all alone. Then the king's son stopped and
said, "Little brother, do you so much wish to be
king?" And taking off the crown, he put it upon
his brother's head. Then he went on through
underground ways and corridors, till he came to
the palace dungeons.
Now a dungeon is a hard thing to get out of,
but it is easy enough to get into. He came to the
deepest and darkest dungeon of all, and there he
opened the door, and went in and hid himself.
The queen's son came running to his mother,
wearing the king's crown. "Oh, mother," he said,
"I am frightened! while I was playing, my brother
came looking all dead and white, and put this crown
on my head. Take it off for me, it hurts!"
When the queen saw the crown on her son's
head, she was horribly afraid; for that it should
have so come there was the most unlikely thing of
all. She fetched her crystal ball, and looked in,
asking where the king's son might be, and, for
answer, the crystal became black as night.
Then said the queen to herself, "He is dead at
But, now that the king's crown was on the
wrong head, the air, and the water, and the dry
land, over which God is lord, heard of it. And the
trees said, "Until the king's son returns, we will
not put forth bud or leaf!"
And the birds said, "We will not sing in the
land, or breed or build nests until the king's son
And the fishes said, "We will not stay in the
ponds or rivers to get caught, unless the king's
son, to whom we belong, returns!"
And the foxes said, "Unless the king's son returns,
we will increase and multiply exceedingly
and be like locusts in the land!"
So all through that land the trees, though it
was spring, stayed as if it were mid-winter; and
all the fishes swam down to the sea; and all the
birds flew over the sea, away into other countries;
and all the foxes increased and multiplied, and
became like locusts in the land.
Now when the trees, and the birds, and the
beasts, and the fishes led the way the good folk of
the country discovered that the queen was a
criminal. So, after the way of the flesh, they took
the queen and her little son, and bound them, and
threw them into the deepest and darkest dungeon
they could find; and said they: "Until you tell
us where the king's son is, there you stay and
The king's son was playing all alone in his dungeon
with the mice who brought him food from
the palace larder, when the queen and her son
were thrown down to him fast bound, as though
he were as dangerous as a den of lions. At first he
was terribly afraid when he found himself pursued
into his last hiding-place; but presently he gathered
from the queen's remarks that she was quite powerless
to do him harm.
"Oh, what a wicked woman I am!" she moaned;
and began crying lamentably, as if she hoped to
melt the stone walls which formed her prison.
Presently her little son cried, "Mother, take off
my brother's crown; it pricks me!" And the
king's son sat in his corner, and cried to himself
with grief over the harm that his step-mother's
wickedness had brought about.
"Mother," cried the queen's son again, "night
and day since I have worn it, it pricks me; I
But the queen's heart was still hard; not if she
could help, would she yet take off from her son
Hours went by, and the queen and her son grew
hungry. "We shall be starved to death!" she
cried. "Now I see what a wicked woman I
"Mother," cried the queen's son, "someone is
putting food into my mouth!" "No one," said
the queen, "is putting any into mine. Now I
know what a wicked woman I am!"
Presently the king's son came to the queen also,
and began feeding her. "Someone is putting food
into my mouth, now!" cried the queen. "If it
is poisoned I shall die in agony! I wish," she said,
"I wish I knew your brother were not dead; if I
have killed him what a wicked woman I am!"
"Dear step-mother," said the king's son, "I am
not dead, I am here."
"Here?" cried the queen, shaking with fright.
"Here? not dead! How long have you been
"Days, and days, and days," said the king's son,
"Ah! if I had only known that!" cried the
queen. "Now I know what a wicked woman I
Just then, the trap-door in the roof of the dungeon
opened, and a voice called down, "Tell us
where is the king's son! If you do not tell us, you
shall stay here and starve."
"The king's son is here!" cried the queen.
"A likely story!" answered the gaolers. "Do
you think we are going to believe that?" And
they shut-to the trap.
The queen's son cried, "Dear brother, come and
take back your crown, it pricks so!" But the
king's son only undid the queen's bonds and his
brother's. "Now," said he, "you are free: you
can kill me now."
"Oh!" cried the queen, "what a wicked
woman I must be! Do you think I could do it
now?" Then she cried, "O little son, bring your
poor head to me, and I will take off the crown!"
and she took off the crown and gave it back to the
king's son. "When I am dead," she said, "remember,
and be kind to him!"
The king's son put the crown upon his own head.
Suddenly, outside the palace, all the land broke
into leaf; there was a rushing sound in the river
of fishes swimming up from the sea, and all the air
was loud and dark with flights of returning birds.
Almost at the same moment the foxes began to
disappear and diminish, and cease to be like locusts
in the land.
People came running to open the door of the
deepest and darkest dungeon in the palace: "For
either," they cried, "the queen is dead, or the
king's son has been found!"
"Where is the king's son, then?" they called
out, as they threw wide the door. "He is here!"
cried the king; and out he came, to the astonishment
of all, wearing his crown, and leading his
step-mother and half-brother by the hand.
He looked at his step-mother, and she was quite
white; as white as the mouse that had jumped
upon the king's bed at midnight bidding him fly
for his life. Not only her face, but her hair, her
lips, and her very eyes were white and colourless,
for she had gone blind from gazing too hard into
her crystal ball, and hunting the king's son to death.
So she remained blind to the end of her days;
but the king was more good to her than gold, and
as for his brother, never did half-brothers love each
other better than these. Therefore they all lived
very happily together, and after a long time, the
queen learned to forget what a wicked woman she
is part of a series of postings of stories under the category,
"Keeping the Public in Public Domain." The idea
behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the
authors and their immediate heirs were compensated. I feel
strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the
20th century. My
own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public
Domain I decided to share stories from them. I hope you enjoy
discovering new stories.
the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates
projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an
audience. Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing
of Public Domain stories will not occur that week. This is a return to
my regular posting of a research project here. (Don't worry, this
isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future
storytelling to an audience.) Response has convinced me that "Keeping
the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other
postings as often as I can manage it.
Public Domain story resources I recommend-
are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for
folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's
the International Folktales Collection. I have long
recommended it and continue to do so. He has loaded
Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so
you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression
you like by pressing one key. http://folkmasa.org/motiv/motif.htm
You may have noticed I'm no
longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his
offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking
specific types of stories. There's another site, FairyTalez
claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales,
folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for
phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.
Between those two sites, there
is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait,
email list for storytellers, Storytell,
discussed Online Story Sources and came up with these additional
Story-Lovers - http://www.story-lovers.com/ is now only accessible
through the Wayback Machine, described below, but the late Jackie Baldwin's
wonderful site lives on there, fully searchable manually (the Google
search doesn't work), at https://archive.org/ . It's not easy, but go to Story-lovers.com snapshot for December 22 2016 and you can click on SOS: Searching Out Stories to scroll down through the many story topics and click on the story topic that interests you.
- Zalka Csenge Virag - http://multicoloreddiary.blogspot.com
doesn't give the actual stories, but her recommendations, working her
way through each country on a continent, give excellent ideas for
finding new books and stories to love and tell.
going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT
go to the Internet Archive
Wayback Machine to find some of these old links. Tim's
site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a
full-time job. In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that
Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she
could no longer maintain it. Possibly searches maintained it.
Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim
Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old
Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library
(something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine. It
took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally
in December of 2006 it appears!
as of this writing whose stories can still be found by his website
is the late Chuck Larkin - http://chucklarkin.com/stories.html.
I prefer to list these sites by their complete address so they can
be found by the Wayback Machine, a.k.a. Archive.org, when that
becomes the only way to find them.
can see why I recommend these to you.
discovering even more stories