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The King’s Shilling

September 2, 2010

by Clive Birnie

They cut his hair short like a peasant,
and he trembled like a maid
on her wedding night.

Fright? I dare say I should feel the same
if it was for my neck they were
sharpening the blade.

Regicide they call it.
I say killing is killing.
A King is just a man
like any other:
thin and scared and pale.
All I know is, when they lopped off his head
he bled red as the rest of us.

My Bess she got a rag.
Soaked it in his blood.
She loves a relic.
Prays, she does.

Some people got a lock of hair.
Some they got some whiskers.
I know one got some nose hair.
Another his left eyebrow.

I met this woman once,
claimed she had old Charlie’s penis.
Shrivelled and dried.
Touch it first, she said,
and it protects you from the pox.

Me, I bought an earlobe
off this fella in the King’s Head.
A good bit of business.
Only cost a shilling.

I took it home.
Cured it like a rasher.
I put it in my mouth once.
It tasted like a scratching.

That was three hundred
and sixty one years ago.

So I suppose it had some power.


Note: There was an exhibition in London in May 2010 of relics of King Charles I, who was executed in January 1639. Many of the relics were reputedly sold to the crowd at the execution. Legend has it that many exhibited magical powers.

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Clive Birnie lives in Portishead in SW England with his wife, daughter and a French dog. He has recently had poems published in Popshot and Snakeskin magazines, with further work forthcoming in Message In A Bottle.

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  1. Karen Greenbaum-Maya
    September 2, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    This raised the hairs on my neck, not only because of the beheading. Grim and good!

  2. September 3, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    i donnow if that is o.k,
    but i found it funny..

  3. September 6, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    Oh, I like this! The deadpan ending is wonderful.

  4. September 10, 2010 at 12:25 am

    Good stuff. The scene of Charles’ execution is so vividly presented and those last lines just take this to another place (and time!) altogether.

  1. March 20, 2011 at 7:12 am
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