The Tale of King Henry's Coronation

[The Kingdom was now in the midst of winter, the days all seemed far too short, and the nights seemed to be endless. To help pass the eventide better, the King proclaimed that on Sunday of each week a banquet would be held in honor of that day's Saint, and after eating, there would be a time for songs and the telling of tales.

On one particular Sunday, it was the feast day of St. Catherine, and she was remembered in fine style. The feast itself was wonderful; not too extravagant, mind you, but good nourishing food, and a lot of it; with enough treats afterward to make even those with a insatiable sweet tooth admit to being satisfied. So it was that when all were at their fullest, the King called for a story from his Court Monk.

"What story shall you tell us tonight, Roger?" inquired the King; "We need a tale to take our minds off of our over-stuffed bellies!"

"Then I beg your Majesties' leave to tell the tale of the Coronation of Good King Henry," replied the old monk; "If that does not put your mind in a pleasant mood to digest dinner, I know of no other tale that could."

The King gave his leave, and the people all settled down, ready for the telling of one of the Monk's favorite stories.]

In the days after King Henry's Knighting, there was a sense of urgency in the King's Castle. There was still fighting going on in the Western lands, and much of the business of the Crown had fallen by the wayside while the King had taken to his deathbed. The funerals for the old King and the Crown Prince were solemn affairs but with very little fancy ceremony, for the Kingdom was at war, and there was no time now to properly mourn the dead. Still the new King planned to hold a week of mourning for his father, and likewise one week for his beloved brother; though the King and Kingdom would have to wait until after the fighting was over before they expressed their grief.

"I will not be crowned until my Father and Brother have had every prayer and every hymn that they were entitled to," said the young King; "We do not forget them, but we must put aside our grief for awhile."

As the King's Knights were already busy tracking down the invaders, and were perfectly capable of handling the job of ridding the land of them all, the King himself began the massive task of getting the Kingdom's other business under control. His Royal Mother was a great help in this, as was the royal Chamberlain; they had inherited the lion's share of the labors that were left undone while the old King lay ill. Unfortunately, no one but a King could do certain tasks, and those all needed to be done right away. As Henry had not ever intended to be King, he was not as well prepared as his brother would have been, but he learned quickly, and slowly the enormous backlog of tasks was whittled away.

As the days wore on, the King took to spending an hour or so each morning in the Royal Chapel, before the morning Mass. A lifetime of getting up early had had its effect on Henry, and he used it to good effect now. He used the time to pray for guidance, naturally, but he also asked the Lord to help him learn all that he needed to learn. He would review all that he had done the previous day, think of how it affected the tasks of previous days, and blocked out in his mind the tasks that lay before him that day. It was very productive, and the Queen and the Royal Chancellor both remarked on his ability to use so well what he had just learned.

It was during one of these morning quiet times that the King had a strange feeling. He felt that he was being watched. Looking around did not lead to any sight of an intruder, and so he knelt very still, and listened for any sound. When he realized what he was hearing, he walked over to a window and opened it enough to see who was talking and to hear what was being said outside.

"Thank you, your Majesty, I did not want to break the glass, but I wanted to get your attention. You spend little time in your bedroom, and so contacting you there is a bit problematical."

The words were coming from an old raven, a stately bird that had clearly seen many summers. The King recognized the bird as one who had spoken to him during his Knight's vigil, and he was curious on what the bird wanted to say. He did not have to wait long.

"Your Majesty, some of your people are living in misery; and without your aid they will surely perish. They need food and warm clothing, and their homes patched to keep out the winter winds."

The King was saddened, for when any of his subjects hurt, he hurt along with them. "Where are these people, where in the land do they dwell?" He asked the noble bird.

"They dwell in the Eastern shores, where fierce storms have destroyed the boats and homes of the fisher folk. They are proud people, quite independent, and will not beg for your help. You must send them aid, but dress it so that they do not see it as charity."

That day the King sat with his advisors; he told them of the message he had gotten, but did not say where the message had come from. The Queen looked askance at her son; "Where shall we get funds to feed them? All our funds are budgeted and can not be made free."

"What about the funds in the Coronation account? Surely this is more important than a foolish ceremony?" asked the King of his Royal Chamberlain.

"The Coronation is not foolish, it is quite important to the people and the Land itself. However, there may be a way to meet both needs; the major aspect of the Coronation is held in the Cathedral, and has relatively little cost. The major expense is the banquet held afterwards, and that, strictly speaking, does not have to be lavish. A simple breaking of bread with your new subjects would fulfill the feast's purpose."

The King liked what the Royal Chamberlain had said, and quickly agreed. That very day money was sent with a trusted courier to the Lords of the Eastern part of the realm, with instructions to them to use the funds to meet the needs of the King's subjects that had been harmed by the violent storms. To let them keep their pride the people were to be told that it was in honor of the King's Coronation, and was only their rightful gifts due from a grateful monarch.

The Queen was sad that her plans for her son's Coronation were trimmed, but she was proud that the King knew what was more important. She wrote to all of the nobles in the land, told them what the King had done, and asked them to aid her in a plan.

When the fighting in the West finally ended, the King sent more aid to the poor in the war-ravaged lands, with the same story that it was a gift in celebration of his Crowning. The people did not really care why they got the help, they just thanked their Lord for feeding and clothing them in their time of need. The feast budget grew smaller and smaller, until it seemed it was quite literally going to be a banquet of bread and water.

"No, not water," said the King; "We have barrels of wine and ale in the cellars, enough for fifty banquets." So the plans were made, and after giving time for the fallen to be remembered and praised, The Coronation date was finally set. The entire Castle turned out to clean and prepare the Cathedral, and the Great Hall was polished so fine that you could see your reflection in the marble walls. As the day drew nearer, visitors from outlying provinces and neighboring kingdoms filled all the rooms of the Castle, and every inn for miles around had more custom then they knew what to do with.

Well, it was finally the day of the New King's coronation, and what a splendid day it was! The actual coronation had taken place in the Castle Cathedral, and everything had gone perfectly. The altar was decked with festive flowers, and the musicians were playing a solemn march. With the Archbishop waiting at the altar, the people all rose to greet their new Monarch. His walk up the aisle was slow and stately, and the people were proud to see the Great man their former Prince had become. The King knelt at the foot of the altar, and the Archbishop led the congregation in joyful thanks that the Lord had given them a new King. When the Archbishop had put the crown upon the King's head, the Choir had burst forth into song, and the very air was charged with excitement. The celebration Mass followed, with the King himself acting as acolyte to the Archbishop Finally the Archbishop dismissed the King and his subjects, and then all went to the Great Hall of the Castle, for the Coronation Banquet.

The King was calm as he faced his guests in the Great Hall; bread may be simple fare, but it was wholesome and nourishing, and did not the Lord's Prayer ask that we be given our daily bread? As he stood for the Archbishop to give the blessing, he heard a noise outside, and there seemed to be a fuss at the doors.

"Some of your people wish to pay their respects to you, your Majesty, and beg leave to enter the hall," said the sergeant of the palace guards; "May I let them in?"

"By all means," spoke the King, "and tell the Kitchen to prepare more bread, they shall not go away unfed."

Nevertheless, the visitors had no need of the King's bread; they came bearing food. And what food they had, baked hams, and roast pigs, sides of beef, and racks of lamb, enough to feed an army. There were side dishes of every kind, soups and cheeses, nuts and berries, yams and roots. The feast that day was talked about for years afterwards, and none could be found to say they had ever been better fed.

"How did you do it?" the King asked his mother later.

"Your people did it," replied the Queen; "you showed your love for them by giving up your feast, and your subjects have showed their love for you in return. You will have to be a very good King now," she added playfully, "You have all their confidence, and you must pay them back in kind."

Those in the hall ate, laughed, danced, and sang until all hours of the night, and it was only when the morning star was in the sky that the last revelers made their way to their rest. All were proud of their King, and the King swore to serve the people God had given him to the best of his abilities.

[". . . and so the coronation feast of King Henry was finally over. Never had there been a feast so fine, and most likely there never will be one like it again." The monk stopped for a moment, and then added; "But this one came mighty close!"

With the laughter of those in the hall as his reward, the old monk slowly got up, bowed to the King, and went off to the Chief cook to thank her, and to see if any extraneous cookies were left for later snacking.]

Roger of Belden Abbey
Copyright © 2005, Daniel A. Thompson, Jr.

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