The Mythstories Poetry Commission 2003
Fouke le fitz waryn by Michael Rosen


People one and all
I come before you today
To tell the tale of a man
Who once lived round this way.


An outlaw like Robin Hood
Or the American Jesse James
But in this book, my friends,
you won’t hear of such names.


No, we’re talking here
Of one Fouke le fitz waryn
A man let’s agree
was a Norman baron


Though Fouke le fitz waryn
is the name you see on this book
Between me and you
We’ll just call him Fouke.


And in case it’s a story
You do not know
I’ll tell you it takes place
Eight hundred years ago.


Fouke’s grandad, Waryn
Came from France
Not something, you realise,
That happened by chance.


He wasn’t a tourist
Who’d be that barmy?
No, he came over
With the Norman army.


Duke William of Normandy
Was the commander in chief
Though there are some even now
Who would say he was a thief.


He charged all over Britain
Spreading panic and fear
Killing Saxons and Celts.
He even came here.


And if you did a bit extra
To support William’s power
He’d give you something nice;
Like a castle or tower.


He built one right here
La Tour Blanche, it was known
It’s Whittington in English
This one, the one you all own.


He gave it to his niece
She was his pet
Beautiful, not married
By the name of Melette.


If you wanted to marry her
You had to bring a tent
And take part in a
Tourna-ment.


He who dares
Is he who achieves
Waryn turned up
dressed in leaves


The Duke of Burgundy
Hit Waryn with enormous force
So Waryn hit him back
- knocked him off his horse.


The ref said Waryn won
Shoulder-high he was carried.
So Melette said to Waryn
Hey let’s get married.


Now Waryn had a son,
He called him Fouke
Not our Fouke, but our Fouke’s dad
It’s easily mistook.


Waryn ruled in this castle
He seriously bossed it
But Fouke his son
then went and lost it.


So he was Fouke the loser
Fouke the bodger
Whittington now belonged to
Morys fitz Roger.


But Fouke and his wife
did one sensible thing
They hung out with Henry
Who happened to be king


Now Fouke and his wife
By hook or by crook
Had a son
And they called him fouke


Do you remember John
Who hated Robin Hood?
The baddie, the Prince
Yes, I thought you would.


He was King Henry’s son
The same one, yes,
And him and little Fouke
Liked to play chess.


Well, I say ‘play chess’
But I have to record
That john once hit fouke
With the wooden chess board.


Fouke then kicked John
Right in the chest
I think you can probably
Imagine the rest


John’s head hit the wall
He was in terrible pain
And to tell the truth
Was never the same again.


John got whipped by his master
Because he got the blame
As for Fouke
John never forgot the name.


Years went by
John became king
Young Fouke became a man
And was after one thing:


This place. He said
It was his by right
‘Not so,’ says Morys fitz Roger
The dastardly knight


So in front of King John
They argued it out,
But Fouke’s brother dived in
And gave Morys a clout.


‘Whittington’s mine’ says Fouke
Morys, says ‘’s mine’
King John meanwhile
was thinking of another time


That game of chess
And ending up in the wars
He turned to Morys:
‘The castle is yours!’


So our Fouke stood up
‘I can’t stand any more.
I’m not your liege
I’ll be an outlaw.’


So Fouke and his brothers
(I forgot to say, he had four)
Girded up their loins
And galloped out the door.


In a matter of hours
They were facing the king’s men
In a fierce battle
The Fouke Gang killed ten.


The king swore revenge
With his sword he’d make merry.
The Fouke gang hurried off
To Alberbury.


Alberbury? You say
That sounds funny.
It’s where mum lived.
He was after her money.


He got it. He led her
A right dance.
Then along with his brothers
Went off to France.


But the Fouke Gang came back
Travelling only at night
Not daring to face
an attack in daylight.


‘Back to mum’s,’ he thought
‘Ah home!’ he sighed
only to hear that
the old dear had died.


He prayed for her soul
(You see how he was good)
Then he and the gang
Headed for Babbins Wood.


Babbins Wood? Near here?
What for? you cry.
To fight Morys fitz Roger
That’s why.


Morys’s shield was green
As I’ve heard told
With two wild boars
Of beaten gold.


A border of argent
fleur de lys of azure
How do I know?
I’m not really sure.


Morys stabbed Fouke
Deep in the shoulder
‘Ah!’ said Fouke
‘I shan’t live a day older.’


A crossbow bolt
got him in the thigh.
‘Ah!’ said Fouke
‘I’m going to die.’


But the Fouke Gang fought back
Against Morys fitz Roger
He ran back to the castle
Did Morys fitz Dodger.


But Morys was no fool
He liked to do his own thing
'The Fouke Gang’s back’
he messaged the king.


King John picked
One hundred knights and their men
‘Don’t stand there!’ He shouted
‘Find Fouke, then!’


‘How do you want him?’
one knight said.
‘I don’t care,’ said John
‘Alive or dead!’


So off they galloped
To find the gang and Fouke
But if they heard he was near
In their boots they shook


And galloped off
In the opposite direction
Never to make the vital
Connection.


The Fouke Gang were hiding
One time in some woods
When some merchants came by
Weighed down with goods.


Cloth, fur and dresses
Finer than you’ve ever seen
All being carried
Through the forest so green


The merchants weren’t alone:
Along for good measure
Came 24 soldiers
Guarding some treasure.


Fouke called for his friend
(Also called John)
‘Go and find out
what business they’re on.’


John galloped up
‘Might I ask you, what this is?’
A merchant replied
‘None of your business!’



Says John; ‘Will you come and
speak with my lord?’
For that, he was attacked
By a knight with a sword.


‘I’m not sure I needed that’
John said
And gave the soldier
A whack on the head.


The Fouke Gang turned up
the merchants were well defended
and yet it wasn’t long
before they all surrendered


‘Now, you gentlemen,’ says Fouke
‘I’ll ask you one thing.
Where’s all this stuff going?’
Says one, ‘To the king!’



‘I don’t think so,’ says Fouke
playing with some flowers
‘From now on, good sirs
all this stuff’s ours.’


‘See all this cloth?
We’ll have all that
How do I look
In this fine fur hat?


‘As for these sweetmeats
They’ll all be eaten
Oh and this gold
My, it’s newly beaten.


‘I love this necklace
And this silver ring’
And with that he added:
‘Send our compliments to the king.’



Then he thanked them
Wished them all good day
And sent those merchants
On their way.


Many days later
They came before King John
They told the story of how
They were set upon


They told of how and what
And who came and took.
‘Who?’ Says John, ‘Who?’
‘He said his name was Fouke.’


At that King John
Flew into a terrible rage
Tipped up his drink and
Kicked his page.



He punched the air
He stamped on the ground
‘Whoever catches damn Fouke
Wins a thousand pound.’


‘What’s more,’ he added
‘I’ll give that man
Every acre, every inch
Of that damn Fouke’s land.’


So now Fouke and the gang
Were on the run
And it seemed like, after
Them, was everyone.


One time the Fouke Gang
Hid in an abbey
An ancient place
And rather shabby.



With nothing to eat
But a stew made of rabbit
And nothing to wear
But an old monk’s habit.


Not long after
I think it was half past eight
The king’s knights turned up
And knocked on the gate.


They knocked so loud
The whole place shook
‘Is there anyone in here
By the name of Fouke?’


Fouke himself
Came to the gate
‘Old Monk,’ says a knight
‘Can you help us, mate?’



‘You said, “Fouke?”, said Fouke
‘I can’t stand the name.
His horses trampled on me.
Look, I’m lame.’


Fouke limped in front of them
Across the yard
‘No one has ever
beaten me so hard.’


‘Say no more, old monk
we wish you well
As for that Fouke
He will rot in hell.’


‘D’you think so?’ says Fouke
with a sly cough
‘Just watch us,’ they cried
as they galloped off.



About this time Fouke tired
of the single life:
‘What a terrible pity
I haven’t got a wife.’

The Archbish of Canterbury
One Hubert by name
Also thought
It was a bit of a shame.


So he invited Fouke
round to his house
And married him off
To Matilda de Caus.


You don’t need to know
the how or the which
All you need to know
Is she was incredibly rich.



Fouke’s fame now spread
Both far and wide
Even to Scotland
Where lived a knight who lied


Saying that he was Lord Fouke
And all should obey him.
Fouke didn’t like this
And had to slay him.


But what of Whittington?
I hear you cry
Yes, the Fouke Gang came there
By the by.


To reclaim this castle
Was always his dream
So they camped outside
Just by a stream.



‘John,’ says Fouke
‘you like to do your thing.
You can juggle a bit
And you can sing.'


‘You’re a bit of a minstrel
A bit of a rascal
How’s about you
Going into the castle?'


‘Then you could find out
What Morys is doing
You could find out
If anything’s brewing.’


‘Oh yes,’ says John,
‘I like that, guys,
I tell you what
I’ll go in disguise.’



At that he took up
And old herb of the south
And crammed it into
His great big mouth.


His eyes went red
His hair went fluffy
His lips swelled up
His face went puffy.


Under his eyes
grew two black bags
And he dressed himself
in filthy rags.


He started to speak
With an accent really thick
And walked with a limp
Carrying a stick.



He knocked on the door
The one over there
And leered at the porter
Through his filthy hair.


‘Who are you?’ says the man
‘And where are you from?’
‘Scotland,’ says John
‘And ma name’s wee Tom.’


‘What news do you bring
From there?’ the man said.
‘Ye herd o’ Lord Fouke?
I can tell ye he’s dead.’


‘Now that’s good news
you’ve cheered me up,’
and the porter gave
our John a silver cup.



Well, John stayed in the castle
For a short while
But some who were there
didn’t like his style.


They said he was ugly
They pulled his hair
Called him a fool -
Happened just over there.


John lost his rag
It made him sick
He whacked one of them
With his big stick


He hit his head so hard
Some people say
The man’s brains flew out
Just down thisaway.


Sir Morys leaped up
‘How could you be so bad?’
‘Sorry, m’lud,’ says John
‘But you see, I’m mad.’


‘I canna help meself
I think I’m possessed
Something o’ertaks me body
And rages in me breast.’


‘I’m not sure if this
isn’t some cunning ruse.
I’d cut off your head
Were it not for the good news.


‘I’m very grateful
To you, Tom,’ he said
‘Thanks to you we know
That damn Fouke is dead.’


‘We’re off to Shrewsbury
In the morning
Watch out old juggler
And that’s a warning.’


Well, our John left
Pretty soon after
And told all to Fouke
With a great deal of laughter.


So on the next day
When Sir Morys rode out
The Fouke gang fell on him
With a great shout.


In the battle that followed
Fought with might and main
19 knights and Sir Morys
were all slain.


People said, ‘Don’t tell the king
Better to leave it.’
But when John finally heard
He couldn’t believe it.


‘Hey! By Saint Mary
I am the King. I rule here.
I’m Duke of Anjou and Normandy
Don’t I strike fear


Into the hearts of all?
I said Fouke must be stopped
To an end he must be brought
His head off chopped.


I’m going to Shrewsbury
And I’ll tell you what’s more.
We’re talking ‘serious consequences’
And that means war.’


Most people thought John was mad
Gone in the head, la-la
That’s why Fouke
Waited for him at Castle Bala.


Fouke, as we know
Was a cunning man
What’s more, he was local
Knew the lie of the land.


King John’s route to Bala
Would be across a marsh
Over a ford
And through a narrow pass.


Now you’d think
That this’d be hard enough
Coming through all that
Would be tricky stuff.


But Fouke couldn’t risk
Any kind of glitch
So next to the ford
He dug a long ditch.


And then to do
He knew just what he oughta
He filled the ditch
With gallons of water.


So when John arrived
With his thousands of troops
He sees the ditch
And cries out ‘Oops!’


From the other side
Of the cunning ditch
Fouke shouts out
‘And there’s no bridge!’


Then with no more
Than a nudge and a jolt
Each of his men
Shot a crossbow bolt.


Thousands of bolts
Darkened the air
King John thought it best
To get out of there.


But his hate of Sir Fouke
Was in no way diminished
‘I’ll be back!’ he shouted
‘And then you’re finished’


John, Like sir Alex
He of Old Trafford
Had powerful friends:
Like Henry of Stafford.


A man with a foul
And horrible face
With ten thousand men
He marched on this place.


By now our Fouke
Was used to these fights
This time he had the help
Of seven hundred Welsh knights.


But sad to say
It wasn’t enough
The fight was long
The going tough


Though Fouke’s horses
Were fast and pacy
John captured Fouke’s friend
Sir Audulph de Bracy.


King John, whose cheeks
Were as hairy as a gooseberry
Now retreated
To the city of Shrewsbury.


Sir Fouke was sad
‘This is the end,
King John has seized
My best friend.’


But Sir Fouke’s mate John
Had to interrupt
‘oh for gawd’s sake sir
do shuttup.’


‘Trust me, you know
My ideas are always racy
Watch me, I’ll save
Sir Audulph de Bracy.’


And John was quick
He was sharp
And quite a dab hand
At playing the harp.


Not at all hesitant
Not at all faltery
When he turned his hand
To playing the psaltery.


He dressed in fine clothes
Put on earrings of pearl
He could easily pass off
As a duke or an earl.


But then his scheme
Took a surprising tack
He dyed all his hair
And his skin, jet black.


Around his neck
He hung a beautiful drum
By the way, he was black all over
Even his bum.


A disguise like this
Doesn’t come for free
He rode out
On a handsome palfrey.


To Shrewsbury he rode
To seek out the King
The sun flashed on his
Ruby ring.


He held his head high,
As high as he could bear
The people of Shrewsbury
Stopped to stare.


He came before King John
And knelt down low
Our john could put on
A convincing show.


‘Sire,’ says our John
‘I’m not here to soft soap yer.
I’m a minstrel
From Ethiopia.’


‘Wow,’ said King John
Much taken aback
‘I take it that all
Ethiopians are black.’


‘Indeed, sir, we are,
You don’t miss a trick
We had heard that
You are tremendously…th.. quick.’


‘Oh really?’ says King John
Feeling rather pleased
Having no idea
That he was being teased.


‘Your fame goes back years
My my, it’s lasted.
Everyone thinks you’re
A fantastic ba….loke.’


Well, King John missed that
Sorry to say
But he called on our John
To sing and play.

Will our John's cunning plan succeed, click on the duck for
the next episode of Fouke le fitz waryn by Michael Rosen

To episode 2