This story was first published in the Strand Magazine of October 1906, and McClure’s Magazine for the same month. It was collected in Puck of Pook’s Hill in 1906 and in numerous subsequent editions of that collection. It was accompanied by two poems, “Song of the Fifth River” and “The Children’s Song”.
The children meet Kadmiel, one of the elders of the Jews in England at the time of King John (1199-1216). He tells of how when the King was quarrelling with the Barons of England he discovered that a fellow Jew, Elias of Bury, was planning to lend him gold, which Elias had discovered in Pevensey Castle, the very gold that Richard and Hugh had brought back from their ‘Joyous Venture’. This would have made it possible for the King to resist the Barons’ demands for limits on his power. Kadmiel was determined to prevent this. In disguise, he managed to get into the castle, carry out the treasure, and sink it in the sea out of reach of the King. John was forced to sign the great charter – ‘Magna Carta’ – and Kadmiel was able to ensure it applied to all Englishmen, bond or free. As Puck said, harking back to before the Norman Conquest:
Weland gave the Sword ! The Sword gave the Treasure, and the Treasure gave the Law.
Magna Carta was signed by King John at Runnymede on 15 June 1215. His financial exactions had led to baronial unrest and the demand for a solemn grant of liberties from the king. The document known as the ‘Articles of the Barons’ became the text from which the final version of the Charter was drafted at Runnymede, to become a symbol of English liberties for later centuries. Kipling records (Something of Myself p. 189) that this story: somehow … always struck me as too heavy for its frame.
Notes on the Text
[Page 283, line 1] the third week in November The ‘Open Season’, in which pheasants and certain other wild birds may be shot in Britain, runs from October 1st to February 1st. Many land-owners rear pheasants specially for the shooting and preserve them with much care, as they have done for many generations. By the third week in November the season would have been in full swing.
[Page 283, line 7] towling yowling, howling, or yelling. The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edn.), which notes it as a dialect word, gives this passage as one of its examples.
[Page 284, line 20] a quid – sovereign £1.00 sterling in present-day currency. In those days about half a week’s wages for a working man.
[Page 285, line 7] A Jew drew blood from a Christian… In mediaeval England, Jews – as non-believers, historically thought to have been responsible for the death of Jesus – were subject to a number of repressive laws. It was technically illegal to charge interest on loans, since this was defined as ‘usury’, but since money was often sorely needed by Kings and nobles, the Jews were often, in practice, able to act profitably as financiers. There was much hostility towards them, and they were treated as second-class citizens.
[Page 285, line 31] Out of the mouths of babes cf. Psalms 8, 2.
[Page 286, line 6] Because he jolly well had to Abuses by King John had caused a revolt by nobles who compelled him to execute this recognition of rights for both noblemen and ordinary Englishmen in June 1215. It established the principle that no one, including the king or a lawmaker, is above the law.
[Page 289, line 12] Moors – in Spain The ‘Moors’ were the Arab peoples who conquered what is now Spain in the eighth century and were not finally driven out for some 500 years. They were great builders and scholars, and many monuments to their civilisation survive in Andalusia to this day. They were arguably more tolerant towards the Jews than the Christians of northern Europe
[Page 289, line 21] the Chosen It is a deeply-held Jewish belief that in the days of Moses, the Israelites, their ancestors, were chosen by God to live under His protection under His laws.
[Page 290, line 11] the Great Candle possibly the lamp, either a candelabrum or a minimum of two candles, lit on Friday evening to inaugurate the Jewish Sabbath.
[Page 290, line 16] Sala-ud-Din more familiar in the Westernized form Saladin, (1137/8-93) the great Kurdish warrior. Having united the Muslim territories of Syria, Northern Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Egypt he inflicted a major defeat on the Christian forces of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem at the Battle of Hattin (4 July 1187). His capture of Jerusalem three months later sparked off the Third Crusade. He fought the Crusaders to a draw and acquired a lasting reputation in Western memory as a chivalrous opponent.
[Page 290, line 25] King should draw sword against King cf. Isaiah 2, 4 and Micah 4, 3.
[Page 291, line 5] a square plate of gold, studded with jewels Breastplates of gold, studded with jewels, were worn by Jewish High Priests in ancient times.
[Page 291, line 23] I was diligent in my business cf. Proverbs 22, 29.
[Page 291, line 25] brother to Princes this recalls: `Brother to a prince and fellow to a beggar if he be found worthy’, the variant on a Masonic formula which Kipling uses as epigraph to “The Man who would be King” (Wee Willie Winkie).
[Page 292, line 25] saw men kill Jews there fifty-seven Jews were massacred at Bury on Palm Sunday 1190.
[Page 294, line 9] Who made thee a Lawgiver cf. Exodus 2, 14.
[Page 294, line 28] Joseph cf. Genesis 37, 23-4.
[Page 295, line 9] chapman pedlar.
[Page 295, line 21] tiring-maids attiring maids.
[Page 296, line 4] Langton Stephen Langton (1150-1228); Archbishop of Canterbury from 1207. He advised and supported the barons in their opposition to John.
[Page 297, line 1] The Morning is come Ezekiel 7, 7.
[Page 297, line 14] His Hand covered me cf. e.g. Isaiah 49, 2.
[Page 297, line 21] Ahasuerus in medieval and later legend a Jew who mocked Christ on His way to execution and was condemned to wander the earth undying until His return.
[Page 298, line 28] I spoiled the Egyptians! cf. Exodus 12, 36.
[Page 301, line 9] Parvaim 2 Chronicles 3, 6.
[Page 302, line 1] I have sunk an army with horsemen in the sea cf. Exodus 14, 26-5 or 15, 1 f.
[Page 303, line 3] Who am I to meddle cf. Psalms 131, 1.
[Page 304, line 11] Heffle Cuckoo Fair Heathfield Fair, held on 14 April. According to a Sussex folk-tradition an old woman visits the Fair each year and releases a cuckoo from her basket to signal the coming of Spring. See Kipling’s poem “Cuckoo Song”.
[Page 304, line 25] I wonder who his cloak would turn… from Corbett’s poem “Farewell Rewards and Fairies”.
©Donald Mackenzie 2005 All rights reserved