Hart’s-Horn Tree

Hart'S-Horn Tree

When wild deer ranged the forest free,
Mid Whinfell oaks stood Hart's-Horn Tree;
Which, for three hundred years and more,
Upon its stem the antlers bore
Of that thrice-famous Hart-of-Grease
That ran the race with Hercules.

The King of Scots, to hunt the game
With brave de Clifford southward came:
Pendragon, Appleby, and Brough'm,
Gave all his bold retainers room;
And all came gathering to the chase
Which ended in that matchless race.

Beneath a mighty oak at morn
The stag was roused with bugle horn;
Unleashed, de Clifford's noblest Hound
Rushed to the chase with strenuous bound;
And stretching forth, the Hart-of-Grease
Led off with famous Hercules.

They ran, and northward held their way;
They ran till dusk, from dawning grey;
O'er Cumbrian waste, and Border moor,
Till England's line was speeded o'er;
And Red-kirk on the Scottish ground
Mark'd of their chase the farthest bound.

Then turned they southward, stretching on,
They ran till day was almost gone;
Till Eamont came again in view;
Till Whinfell oaks again they knew;
They ran, and reached at eve the place
Where first began their desperate race.

They panted on, till almost broke
Each beast's strong heart with its own stroke!
They panted on, both well nigh blind,
The Hart before, the Hound behind!
And now will strength the Hart sustain
To take him o'er the pale again?

He sprang his best; that leap has won
His triumph, but his chase is done!
He lies stone dead beyond the bound;
And stretched on this side lies the Hound!
His last bold spring to clear the wall
Was vain; and life closed with his fall.

The steeds had fail'd, squires', knights', and king's,
Long ere the chase reached Solway's springs!
But on the morrow news came in
To Brough'm, amidst the festive din,
How held the chase, how far, how wide
It swerved and swept, and where they died.

Ah! gallant pair! such chase before
Was never seen, nor shall be more:
And Scotland's King and England's Knight
Looked, mutely wondering, on the sight,
Where with that wall of stone between
Lay Hart and Hound stretched on the green.

Then spoke the King—"For equal praise
This hand their monument shall raise!
These antlers from this Oak shall spread;
And evermore shall here be said,
That Hercules killed Hart-of-Grease,
And Hart-of-Grease killed Hercules.

"From Whinfell woods to Red-kirk plain,
And back to Whinfell Oaks again,
Not fourscore English miles would tell!
But"—said the King—"they spann'd it well.
And by my kingdom, I will say
They ran a noble race that day!"—

Then said de Clifford to the King—
"Through many an age this feat shall ring!
But of your Majesty I crave
That Hercules may have his grave
In ground beneath these branches free,
From this day forth called Hart's-Horn Tree."

And there where both were 'reft of life,
And both were victors in the strife,
Survives this saying on that chase,
In memory of their famous race—
"Here Hercules killed Hart-of-Grease,
And Hart-of-Grease killed Hercules."

Notes to "Hart'S-Horn Tree."

I.—The memorable Westmorland Forest, or Park of Whinfell, anciently written Qwynnefel, was a grant to Robert de Veteripont from King John. This grant restrained him from committing waste in the woods, and from suffering his servants to hunt there in his absence during the king's life. Till the beginning of last century it was famous for its prodigious oaks; a trio of them, called The Three Brothers, were the giants of the forest; and a part of the skeleton of one of them, called The Three Brothers' Tree, which was thirteen yards in girth, at a considerable distance from the root, was remaining until within a very recent period.

On the east side of this park is Julian's Bower, famous for its being the residence of Gillian, or Julian, the peerless mistress of Roger de Clifford, about the beginning of the reign of Edward III. The Pembroke memoirs call it "a little house hard by Whinfell-park, the lower foundations of which standeth still, though all the wall be down long since." This record also mentions the Three Brother Tree and Julian's Bower, as curiosities visited by strangers in the Countess of Pembroke's time, prior to which a shooting seat had been erected near these ruins, for she tells us, that her grandson, Mr. John Tufton, and others at one time, "alighted on their way over Whinfield  park at Julian's Bower, to see all the rooms and places about it." Its hall was spacious, wainscotted, and hung round with prodigious stags' horns, and other trophies of the field. One of the rooms was hung with very elegant tapestry; but since it was converted into a farm-house all these relics of ancient times have been destroyed.

A large portion of the park was divided into farms in 1767; and the remainder in 1801, when its deer were finally destroyed. It was thus stripped of its giant trees, and consigned to its present unsheltered condition.

II.—A fine oak formerly stood by the way side, near Hornby Hall, about four miles from Penrith on the road to Appleby, which, from a pair of stag's horns being hung up in it, bore the name of Hart's-Horn Tree. It grew within the district which to this day is called Whinfell Forest. Concerning this tree there is a tradition, confirmed by Anne, Countess of Pembroke in her memoirs, that a hart was run by a single greyhound (as the ancient deer hound was called) from this place to Red-Kirk in Scotland, and back again. When they came near this tree the hart leaped the park paling, but, being worn out with fatigue, instantly died; and the dog, equally exhausted, in attempting to clear it, fell backwards and expired. In this situation they were found by the hunters, the dog dead on one side of the paling, and the deer on the other. In memory of this remarkable chase, the hart's horns were nailed upon the tree, whence it obtained its name. And as all extraordinary events were in those days recorded in rhymes, we find the following popular one on this occasion, from which we learn the name of the dog likewise:—

Hercules killed Hart-o-Grease,
And Hart-o-Grease killed Hercules.

This story appears to have been literally true, as the Scots preserve it without any variation, and add that it happened in the year 1333 or 1334, when Edward Baliol King of Scotland came to hunt with Robert de Clifford in his domains at Appleby and Brougham, and stayed some time with him at his castles in Westmorland. In course of time, it is stated, the horns of the deer became grafted, as it were, upon the tree, by reason of its bark growing over their root, and there they remained more than three centuries, till, in the year 1648, one of the branches was broken off by some of the army, and ten years afterwards the remainder was secretly taken down by some mischievous people in the night. "So now," says Lady Anne Clifford in her Diary, "there is no part thereof remaining, the tree itself being so decayed, and the bark so peeled off, that it cannot last long; whereby we may see time brings to forgetfulness many memorable things in this world, be they ever so carefully preserved—for this tree, with the hart's horn in it, was a thing of much note in these parts."

The tree itself has now disappeared; but Mr. Wordsworth, "well remembered its imposing appearance as it stood, in a decayed state by the side of the high road leading from Penrith to Appleby."

This remarkable chase must have been upwards of eighty miles, even supposing the deer to have taken the direct road.

Nicolson and Burn remark, when they tell the story, "So say the Countess of Pembroke's Memoirs, and other historical anecdotes. But from the improbable length of the course, we would rather suppose, that they ran to Nine Kirks, that is the Church of Ninian the Scottish Saint, and back again, which from some parts of the park might be far enough for a greyhound to run." These writers have overlooked the circumstance, that the animal which in those days was called a greyhound was the ancient deerhound, a large species of dog having the form of the modern greyhound, but with shaggy hair and a more powerful frame. The breed is not yet extinct: Sir Walter Scott's Maida was of the species.

Dr. Burn deals another blow at the tradition; for he goes on to say, "And before  this time there was a place in the park denominated from the Hart's horns ; which seem therefore to have been put up on some former occasion, perhaps for their remarkable largeness. For one of the bounder marks of the partition aforesaid between the two daughters of the last Robert de Veteripont is called Hart-horn sike ".

III.—Dr. Percy, referring to the expression hart-o-greece  in a verse given below from the old ballad of "Adam Bell," explains it to mean a fat hart, from the French word graisse.

"Then went they down into a lawnde,
These noble archarrs thre;
Eche of them slew a hart of greece,
The best that they cold se."

Clarke, in an appendix to his "Survey of the Lakes," speaking of the Red Deer which is bred upon the tops of the mountains in Martindale, gives Hart of Grease  as the proper name of the male in the eighth year.

In Black's "Picturesque Guide to the English Lakes," it is stated in a note upon this subject, that there is an ancient broadside proclamation of a Lord Mayor of London, preserved in the Archiepiscopal Library at Lambeth, in which, after denouncing "the excessyve and unreasonable pryses of all kyndes of vytayles," it is ordered that "no citizen or freman of the saide citie shall sell or cause to be solde," amongst other things, "Capons of grece above XX d. or Hennes of grece above VII d."