“The King and the Beggar-maid” is a Medieval romance which tells the legend of the prince Cophetua and his unorthodox love for the beggar Penelophon.
I READ that once in Affrica
A princely wight did raine,
Who had to name Cophetua
As poets they did faine.
From natures lawes he did decline,
For sure he was not of my minde,
He cared not for women-kind
But did them all disdaine.
But marke what hapned on a day;
As he out of his window lay,
He saw a beggar all in gray.
The which did cause his paine.
According to tradition, Cophetua was an African king known for his lack of any natural sexual attraction to women. One day while looking out a palace window he witnesses a young beggar (Penelophon) suffering for lack of clothes. Struck by love at first sight, Cophetua decides that he will either have the beggar as his wife or commit suicide.
Walking out into the street, he scatters coins for the beggars to gather and when Penelophon comes forward, he tells her that she is to be his wife. She agrees and becomes queen, and soon loses all trace of her former poverty and low class. The couple lives a “quiet life” but are much loved by their people. Eventually they die and are buried in the same tomb.
The Beggar Maid
by Alfred Lord Tennyson (written 1833, published 1842) http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/atennyson/bl-aten-beggar.htm
Her arms across her breast she laid;
She was more fair than words can say;
Barefooted came the beggar maid
Before the king Cophetua.
In robe and crown the king stept down,
To meet and greet her on her way;
‘It is no wonder,’ said the lords,
‘She is more beautiful than day.’
As shines the moon in clouded skies,
She in her poor attire was seen;
One praised her ankles, one her eyes,
One her dark hair and lovesome mien.
So sweet a face, such angel grace,
In all that land had never been.
Cophetua sware a royal oath:
‘This beggar maid shall be my queen!’