Alfred the Great

Alfred the Great was a shy king
Who found it not much to his liking
__Making do with cornflakes
__‘Cos he’d burned all the cakes
While hiding his face from the Viking.


Sweyn Forkbeard

It is said that Sweyn Forkbeard
Would frequently walk weird.
__His lumbering limp
__Made him look like the wimp
The lusty old Bishop of York feared.


Æthelread the Unready

Æthelread the Unready
Often felt rather heady.
__Territorial gains
__From his war with the Danes
Left him moderately flushed and unsteady.


King Canute

King Canute entered into dispute
With his courtiers hot in pursuit.
__No matter, the tide
__Was to shatter their pride
And refute his omnipotent repute.



Peter Hartley is a retired painting restorer. He was born in Liverpool and lives in Manchester, UK.

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25 Responses

    • Peter Hartley

      Ravi – Thank you for the comment. Either that heady mix or the poor vodka has a lot to answer for.

  1. Ravi Choks

    Nice ones Mr. Hartley.
    Would like to add some more spice to the heady mix.

    Bloody Mary

    Didn’t want to get blackened at fiery stake
       So chanted her name to keep me awake
             I saw fear in mirror’s eyes
             Now thousand piece it comprise
       Blame icy Russians for poor vodka make.

    • Peter Hartley

      Joe – Thank you for the kind comment, but I’m glad he wasn’t King William of Orange.

  2. James A. Tweedie

    Peter, these limericks serve as a witty appetizer to whet palates for more since they assume readers know as much about these characters as you do! Not surprisingly, I didn’t know that Sweyn (Sven?) Forkbeard had a limp or, more important than that, I didn’t know who he was at all.

    As for Æthelread, besides having the coolest last name in history, wouldn’t it be great if a few parents gave that name to their child and insisted that it be spelled and formatted correctly? “This is my son, Æth.”

    You have also succeeded in enabling my dream of being better able to multi-task insofar as I am 1. reading your limericks, 2. scratching my head, and 3.
    laughing all at the same time. Thank you for that.

    • Peter Hartley

      James – I only make the assumption that Sweyn Forkbeard had a limp because he accidentally had both his kneecaps shot off in a motorcycle accident in 1013AD. As you probably know “unready” means poorly counselled or ill-advised. As to multi- tasking if I lie on my back I am able to breathe, sleep and snore all at the same time, oh! and juggle four bananas. Thank you for the kind comments.

  3. Paul Freeman

    Very nicely done, Peter. I, too, was unaware of Sweyn Forkbeard and the Bish.

    If I may:

    Though Alfred the Great ruled a nation,
    He caused one old hag consternation;
    For her cakes, which he watched,
    Got entirely botched
    On the stove in a mass conflagration.

    Thanks for the entertaining reads.

    • Peter Hartley

      Paul – Thank you for the kind comment and, particularly, for the incendiary poem.

      King Edward the Elder
      From the moment he beheld her
      Shared exactly the views
      Of his twenty-stone wife Eadgifu’s.

      King Æthelstan’s
      Unacceptably murderous plans
      Involved spearing Saint Cuthbert
      On the point of his halbert.

      • Paul Freeman

        Aha! So we’re going down the Clerihew route!

        The Briton, Queen Boudicca,
        The Roman centurions called a moody cur,
        to which, with a screech and a frown,
        she got in her chariot and mowed them all down.

  4. Peter Hartley

    Paul – you don’t know how pleased I am that you brought up the issue.

    King Edward the Martyr,
    His claim to the throne a non-starter,
    Only wanted a life without hassle
    But was sadly killed at Corfe Castle.

    King Edmund Ironside
    Was glorified countrywide,
    And was better known for his valour
    Than his thanatognomonic pallor.

    King Edward the Confessor’s
    Comedo expressers left his mirrors less reflective
    And consequently less effective.

    Hereward the Wake took umbrage
    At outcasts from Cambridge
    But associated more freely
    With exiles from Ely.

    • Paul A. Freeman

      Thank you for ‘thanatognomonic’!


      Ethel the Woke
      claimed she misspoke.
      She wanted headlights on bikes,
      not heads high on spikes.

      • Peter Hartley

        Paul – An immensely useful word it is, particularly since it has a silent G slap bang in the middle.

        Ethel the Woke at a stroke
        (Though folk spoke of her as a joke)
        Would forsake her beefcake
        And take Hereward the Wake
        Till a poke proved he wasn’t a bloke.

  5. Jeff Eardley

    Peter, “Forkbeard,” “walk weird” and “York feared” is so delightfully, breathtakingly bonkers. Thank you for a huge chuckle today.

    • Peter Hartley

      Jeff – Sweyn really was a king of England, the first Danish one, though he only lasted from 1013 to 1014 and his life was made a misery by all the revolting peasants. I can’t vouch for the limp though. Thank you for your splendid comment.

      • Jeff Eardley

        Peter, I have just noticed a range of gentleman’s shaving products under the brand name of “Sweyn Forkbeard” I wonder if if you give some as a gift on Christmas Day, to a revolting peasant, it will last just five weeks…a bit like Sweyn’s reign?

  6. Peter Hartley

    Jeff – Dedicating a range of gentlemen’s shaving products to Sweyn Forkbeard sounds a bit like honouring the name of Orwell’s Napoleon with a set of giant pig-castrating shears. Swine Forkbeard never shaved in his life, being far too busy with his revolting peasants.

    • Jeff Eardley

      Peter, just a word to say that Chieftains founder, Paddy Moloney, passed away today. He was an amazing bundle of energy. Best wishes to you and thanks for the smiles today.

      • Peter Hartley

        Jeff – Thank you for that information and it is sad to think he will no longer be around. To me he always looked old, but that is only because he was so much older than me, but his age was always belied by his incredible energy. A great loss to the world of Irish music and I particularly like the sound of instruments that, like the hurdy-gurdy and the Northumbrian and Highland pipes, always sound good on their own because they have their own drones.

  7. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Peter, this set of hilarious limericks are not only entertaining – they’re a lesson in spot-on rhyming skills that show just how significant the right end rhymes are when writing humorous poetry. You have nailed it! I hope there are more uproarious limericks to come.

    • Peter Hartley

      Susan – These four are from a set of ten poems called Anglo-Saxon Chronicles but the other six, scattered among my responses to comments, were all clerihews as opposed to limericks. But I have a lot more of both that I have composed in the last couple of months with some more Cs coming up before the end of the year I hope. Thank you very much for your very kind comments, from somebody who knows all about the importance of good end-rhymes in any poetry, whether it is miserable (and just wait for my next one which reaches the absolute pits) or humorous, but particularly so when you are trying to be funny. I am reminded of a clerihew quoted by Bruce Dale Wise in these pages which really must take the biscuit:
      “Steady the Greeks!” Shouted Æschylus. / “We won’t let such dogs as these kill us!” / Nothing, he thought, could be bizarre than / The Persians winning at Marathon. For contorted rhyme I think that would be very difficult to beat (unless you know better!)

  8. Margaret Coats

    Peter, while this discussion seems British-oriented, there is certainly great limerick opportunity around the world, considering all the place names and personal names that beg for suitably amusing rhymes. You have me thinking!

    • Peter Hartley

      Margaret – I’m really looking forward to the reguerdons (I really do believe I came out with a bit of Old French there – known to me only because it is English as well) of your labours in the near future. The following is vaguely right up your street I think:

      John Gower
      Would glower and turn sour
      When his “Confessio Amantis”
      Was lost in Atlantis.

    • Margaret Coats

      Peter, none of us could hold a rhyming candle to Gower himself. Put his name in our SCP search bar at the upper right above the Trending column, and you’ll find my translation of some marriage poems by him. Notice the last stanza of originals, and you will see him rhyme 8 lines in a row with the same sound, AND put an internal rhyme in each line, for a total of 16 rhymes on that sound in the space of 8 lines! As you’ll see, my translation could only manage eight.

      • Peter Hartley

        Margaret – first of all many thanks indeed for telling me how to find references by putting single words into that grey box! I had not seen that translation of yours when I posted my John Gower clerihew to you. He had a much easier job writing his epithalamia than you did in the translation though, and was well advised to write it in Latin, with its identical genitive plural suffixes (?). I could find myself quite jealous of Petrarch for making it so much easier to write an Italian sonnet in Italian than it is to write one in English!

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