“Lady Clare,” by Tennyson and Waterhouse

John William Waterhouse, The Lady Clare, 1900. Private collection.

“The Lady Clare,” by Alfred Lord Tennyson

It was the time when lilies blow,
And clouds are highest up in air,
Lord Ronald brought a lily-white doe
To give his cousin, Lady Clare.

I trow they did not part in scorn:
Lovers long-betrothed were they:
They too will wed the morrow morn:
God’s blessing on the day!

“He does not love me for my birth,
Nor for my lands so broad and fair;
He loves me for my own true worth,
And that is well,” said Lady Clare.

In there came old Alice the nurse,
Said, “Who was this that went from thee?”
“It was my cousin,” said Lady Clare,
“To-morrow he weds with me.”

“O God be thanked!” said Alice the nurse,
“That all comes round so just and fair:
Lord Ronald is heir of all your lands,
And you are not the Lady Clare.”

“Are ye out of your mind, my nurse, my nurse?”
Said Lady Clare, “that ye speak so wild?”
“As God ’s above,” said Alice the nurse,
“I speak the truth! you are my child.

“The old Earl’s daughter died at my breast;
I speak the truth, as I live by bread!
I buried her like my own sweet child,
And put my child in her stead.”

“Falsely, falsely have ye done,
O mother,” she said, “if this be true,
To keep the best man under the sun
So many years from his due.”

“Nay, now, my child,” said Alice the nurse,
“But keep the secret for your life,
And all you have will be Lord Ronald’s,
When you are man and wife.”

“If I ’m a beggar born,” she said,
“I will speak out, for I dare not lie,
Pull off, pull off, the brooch of gold,
And fling the diamond necklace by.”

“Nay now, my child,” said Alice the nurse,
“But keep the secret all ye can.”
She said, “Not so: but I will know
If there be any faith in man.”

“Nay now, what faith?” said Alice the nurse,
“The man will cleave unto his right.”
“And he shall have it,” the lady replied,
“Tho’ I should die to-night.”

“Yet give one kiss to your mother dear!
Alas, my child, I sinned for thee.”
“O mother, mother, mother,” she said,
“So strange it seems to me.

“Yet here ’s a kiss for my mother dear,
My mother dear, if this be so,
And lay your hand upon my head,
And bless me, mother, ere I go.”

She clad herself in a russet gown,
She was no longer Lady Clare:
She went by dale and she went by down,
With a single rose in her hair.

The lily-white doe Lord Ronald had brought
Leapt up from where she lay,
Dropt her head in the maiden’s hand,
And followed her all the way.

Down stept Lord Ronald from his tower:
“O Lady Clare, you shame your worth!
Why come you drest like a village maid,
That are the flower of the earth?”

“If I come drest like a village maid,
I am but as my fortunes are:
I am a beggar born,” she said,
“And not the Lady Clare.”

“Play me no tricks,” said Lord Ronald,
“For I am yours in word and in deed.
Play me no tricks,” said Lord Ronald,
“Your riddle is hard to read.”

O and proudly stood she up!
Her heart within her did not fail:
She looked into Lord Ronald’s eyes,
And told him all her nurse’s tale.

He laughed a laugh of merry scorn:
He turned and kissed her where she stood:
“If you are not the heiress born,
And I,” said he, “the next in blood—

“If you are not the heiress born,
And I,” said he, “the lawful heir,
We two will wed to-morrow morn,
And you shall still be Lady Clare.”


  • Tennyson (1809-1892) first published “Lady Clare” in 1842; the final version, with some changes to the introductory stanzas, appeared in 1851. (More here.) The story is based on the enormously popular three-volume novel The Inheritance, 1824, by Susan Edmonstone Ferrier (1782-1854). Two people have apparently made The Inheritance available on Amazon with who-cares-what-a-mess files, and Amazon has told them to shape up or ship out: see here and here. Having gotten scammed more than once by people who upload public-domain works without taking any trouble to check their files, I’m happy to see Amazon is taking action.
  • Project Gutenberg has a version of “Lady Clare” with 22 black-and-white illustrations by Alfred Fredericks, Granville Perkins, Frederic B. Schell, Edmund H. Garrett, F. S. Church, and Harry Fenn.
  • Here’s study by Waterhouse for Lady Clare. How do you “read” this woman differently than the one in the finished painting at the top of this post?
  • In 1911, a silent movie was made of “Lady Clare” – all of 1,000 feet of film. Nothing seems to have survived but the critics’ comments, for example: “Many scenes are tinted, two being picturesquely and appropriately framed in the shape of a heart,” and “The scenery, costumes and the property are very remarkable and also the photography, but the acting is exceedingly poor and in many cases hurried.”
  • Want wonderful art delivered weekly to your inbox? Members of my free Sunday Recommendations list (email DuranteDianne@gmail.com) receive three art-related suggestions every week: check out my favorites from last year’s recommendations. For more goodies, check out my Patreon page.
Posted in Painting, Poetry Tagged permalink

About Dianne L. Durante

I constantly seek out art that's inspiring, thought-provoking, skillfully executed, and/or beautiful so I can share it (in jargon-free language) with others who need and enjoy such art, but don't have time to search for it themselves. As an independent scholar, writer, and lecturer, I focus on art history and history, with forays into food, history, politics, and publishing. My most recent projects are three volumes on Alexander Hamilton, From Portraits to Puddles, Central Park: The Early Years, Innovators in Sculpture (a survey of 5,000 years of art in 2 hours), and videoguide apps by Guides Who Know. Click on the Books & Essays tab for a list of all books. For upcoming projects, see my Patreon page.

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