This is a full size prepatory cartoon for the oil painting exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1884 and now in the Tate Gallery. Although the subject was set down as a ballad in Thomas Percy's 'Reliques of English Poetry' (1612), Burne-Jones's inspiration was more likely to have been Tennyson's poem 'The Beggar Maid'. He seems to have turned to the seventeenth-century source, however, for this striking image of the beggar maid Penelophon's bewilderment at the king's proposal of marriage:
The beggar blusheth scarlet red,
And straight again as pale as lead,
But not a word at all was said,
She was in such amaze.
In an amusing letter of November 1883, Burne-Jones wrote: '...to put on the Beggar Maid a sufficiently beggarly coat, that will not look unappetising to King Cophetua - that I hope has been achieved, so that she will look as if she deserved to have it made of cloth of gold and pearls. I hope the king kept the old one and looked at it now and then.'