King Robert of Sicily
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Adapted)
King Robert was ruler of all Sicily. Many lands and beautiful castles
were his, and he had many servants, who obeyed his every word; but they
obeyed not because they loved him, but because they feared him. He was a
proud king, and haughty - that is, he would look over his lands, and he
would say, "Surely, this is a great kingdom, and I am a great king!"
One Easter Sunday morning, King Robert went to church. He wore his
finest robes, and riding with him were all of his lords and ladies. The
morning was beautiful, and everything seemed to bear a message of love
and joy. The grass and flowers that grew by the roadside, the trees that
waved their branches above, and the blue sky, all seemed to bear the
But King Robert saw nothing beautiful. He was thinking only of himself.
They reached the church, and the sunlight came through the beautiful
windows, seeming to speak of God above. The pure white lilies on the
altar whispered to each other, "On this day Christ was risen!" The music
from the organ seemed to reach every heart, but King Robert sat unmoved
in his pew. When the minister spoke, the king heard nothing of the
sermon until certain words caught his ear. The minister was saying these
words, "The Lord can exalt the humble and can bring down the proud and
mighty from their seats." The choir chanted the words again and again.
As the king heard, he threw back his head and said, "Why do they teach
such words as these? There is no power on earth or in heaven above that
could take my throne."
By and by the king fell asleep in his pew. He must have slept a long
time, for when he awoke the great church was dark and the moonlight was
streaming through the great glass windows. The king sprang to his feet
in alarm, and said, "How dare they go away and leave me alone?" He
rushed quickly to the door, but it was locked. He called loudly and
knocked upon the door, and finally the old sexton, asleep on the
outside, heard the noise and shouted, "Who is there?" And the king
answered, "It is I - the king. Open the door!"
The old sexton shook his head and murmured to himself, "It must be some
madman locked in the church," but he unlocked the door, and the king
rushed wildly out - on out in the street, where the moonlight fell upon
him. Then suddenly he stopped and gazed at his clothes in amazement, for
instead of wearing his royal robes he wore nothing but rags. His crown
was gone, and he seemed a beggar, and he cried out, "How can these
things be? Some one has robbed me while I have slept, and left me these
Then he rushed on to the great castle, and at the gate he again called,
"Open! I, the king, am here." The great gate swung open and the king
rushed on through the great castle halls, never pausing until he reached
the throne room, and there he stopped and stood looking in surprise and
amazement, for there on his throne sat another king, wearing his crown
and wearing his robes, and holding in his hand his scepter. King Robert
looked at the new king and cried, "Why do you sit on my throne, wearing
my robes and my crown and my scepter?"
The new king only smiled and said, "I am the king, and who art thou?"
King Robert threw back his head haughtily and answered, "I am the king.
You have no right on my throne."
At these words the strange king smiled sadly, and replied, "I am the
king, and thou shalt be my servant. Yes, thou shalt be the servant of
all my servants, for thou shalt be court jester, and wear the cap and
bells, and have for your companion the ugly ape."
Before King Robert could say more, the servants came and hurried him
through the castle halls, down to a little room, cold and bare, with
nothing but a pile of straw in a corner, and there they left him alone,
save for the ugly ape, which sat in the corner grinning at him. As King
Robert looked down on the rough pile of straw he said, "It must surely
be a dream, and I will awaken in the morning and find myself the king."
The morning came, but when he awoke he heard the rustle of the straw
beneath him, and there in the corner still sat the ugly ape. That day
the new king called him to the throne, and, looking at him, said, "Art
thou the king?" And King Robert proudly threw back his head as before
and answered, "I am the king."
And each day the new king sent for him and asked him the same question,
and each day King Robert gave the same proud and haughty answer. One day
there came a summons to the court - King Robert's brother, the Emperor of
Rome, sent word for King Robert and all of his court to visit him at
Easter-time, and great preparations were made for the journey. When the
train was ready it formed a beautiful procession. The new king rode at
its head, in his splendor, and all the beautiful ladies and the brave
knights came riding behind in their gorgeous robes. At the last of this
splendid train rode King Robert on a queer old mule. He had on the cap
and bells, and behind him sat the ugly ape, and, as they passed along
the street, the boys laughed and jeered; but King Robert said to
himself, "They will not laugh long," because his heart was glad now, for
they were going to Rome, where his own brother ruled, and now surely he
would be restored to his rights, for his brother would see and know that
the new king was an impostor. Thus the splendid train rode to Rome, and
the emperor was there to meet them.
When the emperor saw the strange king he went to him and embraced him
and called him "brother." At this, King Robert rushed forward and cried
out, "I am the king, thy brother. This man is an impostor. Do you not
know me? I am the king." But the emperor only looked at him strangely,
and, turning to the strange king, he said, "Why do you keep this madman
at your court?" The new king only smiled, and made no answer.
The visit ended, and again the splendid train passed back to Sicily, and
King Robert still rode behind. His heart was very sad, because he
thought, "If my own brother knows me not, what hope can there be?"
When the new king came back to Sicily he changed many of the cruel laws,
and the whole land was made glad and happy, as it had never been before.
King Robert noticed the change and wondered at it.
It was Easter-time again, and King Robert said in his heart, "I will go
to church again this morning." Behind all the procession he rode, as
usual, and took his seat in the back of the church, so that no one might
see him. Everything was beautiful at this Easter-time. The church, the
flowers, the music, all bore the Easter message. When the music began it
crept into King Robert's heart, and as he listened the tears rolled down
his cheek, and he bowed his head in prayer. The first words that he
heard were the old, familiar ones, "The Lord can exalt the humble and
bring down the proud and mighty from their seats." As poor King Robert
listened he humbly bowed his head and said, "Ah, surely that is true;
the Lord in heaven is mightiest of all. He is the king."
When the king and his court had reached home again that day, the new
king called King Robert immediately to his throne room, and upon his
face there seemed to be a glorious light shining forth, and, looking at
King Robert with a wondrous smile, he asked the old, old question, "Art
thou the king?" But King Robert only bowed his head and said, "I know
not who I am. I only know that I am the most humble and most unworthy of
all men to be the king." To these words the new king replied, "Thou art
indeed the king, and I - I am an angel sent from Heaven to help thee for
a little while."
When King Robert raised his head, behold! he was alone. The angel had
gone. He again had on his own robes, his own crown, and was bearing his
That day, when the courtiers came to wait upon the king, they found him
kneeling beside his throne in prayer.