Edmund Leighton (1852-1922)
“The King and the Beggar-maid” (1898)
Oil on canvas
Currently in a private collection
“The King and the Beggar-maid” tells the story of King Cophetua and his love for the beggar Penelophon. According to tradition, Cophetua was an African king known for his lack of any sexual attraction to women. One day while looking out a palace window he witnesses a young beggar (Penelophon). 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. The couple lives a “quiet life” but are much loved by their people. Eventually they die and are buried in the same tomb.
Helsby Soul Cakers, circa 1920. Soul Caking plays are a Cheshire tradition performed around All Souls’ Day, 2nd November. Gangs of performers would visit large houses in their village and perform a play of St George fighting his enemies and killing one, who is then revived by a quack doctor. They were once common across the county, but today only a handful of soul caking gangs survive.