Master Sandy's Snapdragon


THERE was just enough of December in the air and of May in the sky to

make the Yuletide of the year of grace 1611 a time of pleasure and

delight to every boy and girl in "Merrie England" from the princely

children in stately Whitehall to the humblest pot-boy and scullery-girl

in the hall of the country squire.

And in the palace at Whitehall even the cares of
tate gave place to the

sports of this happy season. For that "Most High and Mighty Prince

James, by the Grace of God King of Great Britain, France, and

Ireland"--as you will find him styled in your copy of the Old Version,

or what is known as "King James' Bible"--loved the Christmas

festivities, cranky, crabbed, and crusty though he was. And this year he

felt especially gracious. For now, first since the terror of the Guy

Fawkes plot which had come to naught full seven years before, did the

timid king feel secure on his throne; the translation of the Bible, on

which so many learned men had been for years engaged, had just been

issued from the press of Master Robert Baker; and, lastly, much profit

was coming into the royal treasury from the new lands in the Indies and

across the sea.

So it was to be a Merry Christmas in the palace at Whitehall. Great were

the preparations for its celebration, and the Lord Henry, the handsome,

wise and popular young Prince of Wales, whom men hoped some day to hail

as King Henry of England, was to take part in a jolly Christmas mask, in

which, too, even the little Prince Charles was to perform for the

edification of the court when the mask should be shown in the new and

gorgeous banqueting hall of the palace.

And to-night it was Christmas Eve. The Little Prince Charles and the

Princess Elizabeth could scarcely wait for the morrow, so impatient were

they to see all the grand devisings that were in store for them. So good

Master Sandy, under-tutor to the Prince, proposed to wise Archie

Armstrong, the King's jester, that they play at snapdragon for the

children in the royal nursery.

The Prince and Princess clamoured for the promised game at once, and

soon the flicker from the flaming bow lighted up the darkened nursery

as, around the witch-like caldron, they watched their opportunity to

snatch the lucky raisin. The room rang so loudly with fun and laughter

that even the King himself, big of head and rickety of legs, shambled in

good-humouredly to join in the sport that was giving so much pleasure to

the royal boy he so dearly loved, and whom he always called "Baby


But what was snapdragon, you ask? A simple enough game, but dear for

many and many a year to English children. A broad and shallow bowl or

dish half-filled with blazing brandy, at the bottom of which lay

numerous toothsome raisins--a rare tidbit in those days--and one of

these, pierced with a gold button, was known as the "lucky raisin."

Then, as the flaming brandy flickered and darted from the yawning bowl,

even as did the flaming poison tongues of the cruel dragon that St.

George of England conquered so valiantly, each one of the revellers

sought to snatch a raisin from the burning bowl without singe or scar.

And he who drew out the lucky raisin was winner and champion, and could

claim a boon or reward for his superior skill. Rather a dangerous game,

perhaps it seems, but folks were rough players in those old days and

laughed at a burn or a bruise, taking them as part of the fun.

So around Master Sandy's Snapdragon danced the royal children, and even

the King himself condescended to dip his royal hands in the flames,

while Archie Armstrong the jester cried out: "Now fair and softly,

brother Jamie, fair and softly, man. There's ne'er a plum in all that

plucking so worth the burning as there was in Signor Guy Fawkes'

snapdragon when ye proved not to be his lucky raisin." For King's

jesters were privileged characters in the old days, and jolly Archie

Armstrong could joke with the King on this Guy Fawkes scare as none

other dared.

And still no one brought out the lucky raisin, though the Princess

Elizabeth's fair arm was scorched and good Master Sandy's peaked beard

was singed, and my Lord Montacute had dropped his signet ring in the

fiery dragon's mouth, and even His Gracious Majesty the King was nursing

one of his royal fingers.

But just as through the parted arras came young Henry, Prince of Wales,

little Prince Charles gave a boyish shout of triumph.

"Hey, huzzoy!" he cried, "'tis mine, 'tis mine! Look, Archie; see, dear

dad; I have the lucky raisin! A boon, good folk; a boon for me!" And the

excited lad held aloft the lucky raisin in which gleamed the golden


"Rarely caught, young York," cried Prince Henry, clapping his hands in

applause. "I came in right in good time, did I not, to give you luck,

little brother? And now, lad, what is the boon to be?"

And King James, greatly pleased at whatever his dear "Baby Charles" said

or did, echoed his eldest son's question. "Ay lad, 'twas a rare good

dip; so crave your boon. What does my bonny boy desire?"

But the boy hesitated. What was there that a royal prince, indulged as

was he, could wish for or desire? He really could think of nothing, and

crossing quickly to his elder brother, whom, boy-fashion, he adored, he

whispered, "Ud's fish, Hal, what do I want?"

Prince Henry placed his hand upon his brother's shoulder and looked

smilingly into his questioning eyes, and all within the room glanced for

a moment at the two lads standing thus.

And they were well worth looking at. Prince Henry of Wales, tall,

comely, open-faced, and well-built, a noble lad of eighteen who called

to men's minds, so "rare Ben Jonson" says, the memory of the hero of

Agincourt, that other

thunderbolt of war,

Harry the Fifth, to whom in face you are

So like, as Fate would have you so in worth;

Prince Charles, royal Duke of York, Knight of the Garter and of the

Bath, fair in face and form, an active, manly, daring boy of eleven--the

princely brothers made so fair a sight that the King, jealous and

suspicious of Prince Henry's popularity though he was, looked now upon

them both with loving eyes. But how those loving eyes would have grown

dim with tears could this fickle, selfish, yet indulgent father have

foreseen the sad and bitter fates of both his handsome boys.

But, fortunately, such foreknowledge is not for fathers or mothers,

whatever their rank or station, and King James's only thought was one of

pride in the two brave lads now whispering together in secret

confidence. And into this he speedily broke.

"Come, come, Baby Charles," he cried, "stand no more parleying, but out

and over with the boon ye crave as guerdon for your lucky plum. Ud's

fish, lad, out with it; we'd get it for ye though it did rain jeddert

staves here in Whitehall."

"So please your Grace," said the little Prince, bowing low with true

courtier-like grace and suavity, "I will, with your permission, crave my

boon as a Christmas favor at wassail time in to-morrow's revels."

And then he passed from the chamber arm-in-arm with his elder brother,

while the King, chuckling greatly over the lad's show of courtliness and

ceremony, went into a learned discussion with my lord of Montacute and

Master Sandy as to the origin of the snapdragon, which he, with his

customary assumption of deep learning, declared was "but a modern

paraphrase, my lord, of the fable which telleth how Dan Hercules did

kill the flaming dragon of Hesperia and did then, with the apple of that

famous orchard, make a fiery dish of burning apple brandy which he did

name 'snapdragon.'"

For King James VI of Scotland and I of England was, you see, something

too much of what men call a pendant.

Christmas morning rose bright and glorious. A light hoarfrost whitened

the ground and the keen December air nipped the noses as it hurried the

song-notes of the score of little waifs who, gathered beneath the

windows of the big palace, sung for the happy awaking of the young

Prince Charles their Christmas carol and their Christmas noel:

A child this day is born,

A child of great renown;

Most worthy of a sceptre.

A sceptre and a crown.

Noel, noel, noel,

Noel, sing we may

Because the King of all Kings

Was born this blessed day.

These tidings shepherds heard

in field watching their fold,

Were by an angel unto them

At night revealed and told.

Noel, noel, noel,

Noel sing we may

Because the King of all Kings

Was born this blessed day.

He brought unto them tidings

Of gladness and of mirth,

Which cometh to all people by

This holy infant's birth.

Noel noel, noel,

Noel sing we may

Because the King of all Kings

Was born this blessed day.

The "blessed day" wore on. Gifts and sports filled the happy hours. In

the royal banqueting hall the Christmas dinner was royally set and

served, and King and Queen and Princes, with attendant nobles and

holiday guests, partook of the strong dishes of those old days of hearty


"A shield of brawn with mustard, boyl'd capon, a chine of beef roasted,

a neat's tongue roasted, a pig roasted, chewets baked, goose, swan and

turkey roasted, a haunch of venison roasted, a pasty of venison, a kid

stuffed with pudding, an olive-pye, capons and dowsets, sallats and

fricases"--all these and much more, with strong beer and spiced ale to

wash the dinner down, crowned the royal board, while the great boar's

head and the Christmas pie, borne in with great parade, were placed on

the table joyously decked with holly and rosemary and bay. It was a

great ceremony--this bringing in of the boar's head. First came an

attendant, so the old record tells us,

"attyr'd in a horseman's coat with a Boares-speare in his hande; next to

him another huntsman in greene, with a bloody faulchion drawne; next to

him two pages in tafatye sarcenet, each of them with a messe of mustard;

next to whom came hee that carried the Boares-head, crosst with a greene

silk scarfe, by which hunge the empty scabbard of the faulchion which

was carried before him."

After the dinner--the boar's head having been wrestled for by some of

the royal yeomen--came the wassail or health-drinking. Then the King


"And now, Baby Charles, let us hear the boon ye were to crave of us at

wassail as the guerdon for the holder of the lucky raisin in Master

Sandy's snapdragon."

And the little eleven-year-old Prince stood up before the company in all

his brave attire, glanced at his brother Prince Henry, and then facing

the King said boldly:

"I pray you, my father and my liege, grant me as the boon I ask--the

freeing of Walter Raleigh."

At this altogether startling and unlooked-for request, amazement and

consternation appeared on the faces around the royal banqueting board,

and the King put down his untasted tankard of spiced ale, while

surprise, doubt and anger quickly crossed the royal face. For Sir Walter

Raleigh, the favourite of Queen Elizabeth, the lord-proprietor and

colonizer of the American colonies, and the sworn foe to Spain, had been

now close prisoner in the Tower for more than nine years, hated and yet

dreaded by this fickle King James, who dared not put him to death for

fear of the people to whom the name and valour of Raleigh were dear.

"Hoot, chiel!" cried the King at length, spluttering wrathfully in the

broadest of his native Scotch, as was his habit when angered or

surprised. "Ye reckless fou, wha hae put ye to sic a jackanape trick?

Dinna ye ken that sic a boon is nae for a laddie like you to meddle wi'?

Wha hae put ye to't, I say?"

But ere the young Prince could reply, the stately and solemn-faced

ambassador of Spain, the Count of Gondemar, arose in the place of

honour he filled as a guest of the King.

"My Lord King," he said, "I beg your majesty to bear in memory your

pledge to my gracious master King Philip of Spain, that naught save

grave cause should lead you to liberate from just durance that arch

enemy of Spain, the Lord Raleigh."

"But you did promise me, my lord," said Prince Charles, hastily, "and

you have told me that the royal pledge is not to be lightly broken."

"Ma certie, lad," said King James, "ye maunay learn that there is nae

rule wi'out its aicciptions." And then he added, "A pledge to a boy in

play, like to ours of yester-eve, Baby Charles, is not to be kept when

matters of state conflict." Then turning to the Spanish ambassador, he

said: "Rest content, my lord count. This recreant Raleigh shall not yet

be loosed."

"But, my liege," still persisted the boy prince, "my brother Hal did


The wrath of the King burst out afresh.

"Ay, said you so? Brother Hal, indeed!" he cried. "I thought the wind

blew from that quarter," and he angrily faced his eldest son. "So,

sirrah; 'twas you that did urge this foolish boy to work your traitorous

purpose in such coward guise!"

"My liege," said Prince Henry, rising in his place, "traitor and coward

are words I may not calmly hear even from my father and my king. You

wrong me foully when you use them thus. For though I do bethink me that

the Tower is but a sorry cage in which to keep so grandly plumed a bird

as my Lord of Raleigh, I did but seek----"

"Ay, you did but seek to curry favour with the craven crowd," burst out

the now thoroughly angry King, always jealous of the popularity of this

brave young Prince of Wales. "And am I, sirrah, to be badgered and

browbeaten in my own palace by such a thriftless ne'er-do-weel as you,

ungrateful boy, who seekest to gain preference with the people in this

realm before your liege lord the King? Quit my presence, sirrah, and

that instanter, ere that I do send you to spend your Christmas where

your great-grandfather, King Henry, bade his astrologer spend his--in

the Tower, there to keep company with your fitting comrade, Raleigh, the


Without a word in reply to this outburst, with a son's submission, but

with a royal dignity, Prince Henry bent his head before his father's

decree and withdrew from the table, followed by the gentlemen of his

household. But ere he could reach the arrased doorway, Prince Charles

sprang to his side and cried, valiantly: "Nay then, if he goes so do I!

'Twas surely but a Christmas joke and of my own devising. Spoil not our

revel, my gracious liege and father, on this of all the year's

red-letter days, by turning my thoughtless frolic into such bitter

threatening. I did but seek to test the worth of Master Sandy's lucky

raisin by asking for as wildly great a boon as might be thought upon.

Brother Hal too, did but give me his advising in joke even as I did

seek it. None here, my royal father, would brave your sovereign

displeasure by any unknightly or unloyal scheme."

The gentle and dignified words of the young prince--for Charles Stuart,

though despicable as a king, was ever loving and loyal as a friend--were

as oil upon the troubled waters. The ruffled temper of the ambassador of

Spain--who in after years really did work Raleigh's downfall and

death--gave place to courtly bows, and the King's quick anger melted

away before the dearly loved voice of his favourite son.

"Nay, resume your place, son Hal," he said, "and you, gentlemen all,

resume your seats, I pray. I too did but jest as did Baby Charles

here--a sad young wag, I fear me, is this same young Prince."

But as, after the wassail, came the Christmas mask, in which both

Princes bore their parts, Prince Charles said to Archie Armstrong, the

King's jester:

"Faith, good Archie; now is Master Sandy's snapdragon but a false beast

withal, and his lucky raisin is but an evil fruit that pays not for the


And wise old Archie only wagged his head and answered, "Odd zooks,

Cousin Charlie, Christmas raisins are not the only fruit that burns the

fingers in the plucking, and mayhap you too may live to know that a

mettlesome horse never stumbleth but when he is reined."

Poor "Cousin Charlie" did not then understand the full meaning of the

wise old jester's words, but he did live to learn their full intent. For

when, in after years, his people sought to curb his tyrannies with a

revolt that ended only with his death upon the scaffold, outside this

very banqueting house at Whitehall, Charles Stuart learned all too late

that a "mettlesome horse" needed sometimes to be "reined," and heard,

too late as well, the stern declaration of the Commons of England that

"no chief officer might presume for the future to contrive the enslaving

and destruction of the nation with impunity."

But though many a merry and many a happy day had the young Prince

Charles before the dark tragedy of his sad and sorry manhood, he lost

all faith in lucky raisins. Not for three years did Sir Walter

Raleigh--whom both the Princes secretly admired--obtain release from the

Tower, and ere three more years were past his head fell as a forfeit to

the stern demands of Spain. And Prince Charles often declared that

naught indeed could come from meddling with luck saving burnt fingers,

"even," he said, "as came to me that profitless night when I sought a

boon for snatching the lucky raisin from good Master Sandy's Christmas