The Tamar, Tavy and Torridge: A Tale of Three Rivers

This is a version of a folktale from the younger days of how three rivers were born in the West Country of England.  These rivers still run through the glorious valleys and water the rich pastures they pass through today.  In its own way it answers a few questions though of course it is in no way scientific. I did not write this story I simply curated and edited it and rearranged the words here and there. There is more than one version with varying details in existence but this one is based upon “The legend of the Tamar, the Tavy and the Taw,” from the book “Cornwall’s Wonderland”, by Mabel Quiller-Couch.

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Gaston Bussière – Koller Auktionen – Public Domain

 When the earth was much younger

The story goes that in a time when the earth was much younger there were many strange and magical creatures that lived upon and underneath its surface.  There were piskies, gnomes and fairies, dwarfs, giants and witches and there were Big People and there were Little People of all kinds, all dwelling on, or underneath the earth together.

Down deep below the earth there lived in a colossal cavern two of the Little People who belonged to the tribe we would call gnomes.  They were a husband and wife and they busily spent their days deep down in the bowels of the earth happily digging new tunnels and making new caves.  They were a very hard working couple and their delight was the cold dark tunnels and caves beneath the earth.  They had not the slightest desire to see the upper world with its green grass, beautiful colorful flowers and blue skies.  The bright light hurt their eyes so they kept underground and lived what they thought of as a good life doing what they did and indeed they knew no other way.

Tamara

Most wondrously they were sent a little daughter who they loved with all their hearts but she was not a bit like them.  They named their daughter Tamara and she was a lovely light, golden haired sprite as different from her parents as the sun is to night.  Nevertheless they looked upon their child and their hearts were filled with love and pride. They never failed to wonder at and admire the beauty and grace of their child and they were filled with happiness.

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As Tamara grew up she reached an age where her parents thought she would be ready to introduce her to the digging and delving they did in the depths of the earth.  To their dismay Tamara did not like the cold, dark, tunnels.  The silence and bare walls, floors and ceilings of her underground home filled her with gloom. She yearned for the sunlight and the fresh air of the upper world.  While her parents were busy digging and delving she would escape to the earth’s surface and enjoy the birdsong and the blue sky and the lovely flowers and she would be happy among these.

Her parents could not understand her and were often angry with her.  They scolded her, warning about the danger of  giants that inhabited the outer world.  They told her that if one  captured her there was nothing anyone could do to save her.  She took no notice of them for she knew not the meaning of fear and could not believe anyone would want to hurt anyone.  It was such a lovely world up there and she could not see why they made such a fuss.  Her parents shook their heads at their daughter’s naivety but they adored her and in many ways spoiled her, letting her have her own way too often.

As soon as their backs were turned as they began digging and delving she would take herself up to the upper world and spend her time singing with the birds and chasing the butterflies.  When she got out of breath she would lie on a bank of soft moss and ferns and look upwards into the blues sky and watching the clouds go by as she basked in the warm sunshine.  She loved her parents but she could not understand whatever there could be in this wonderful world that would possibly want to hurt her.

Torridge and Tavy

Now it so happened that one day as she frisked and danced after butterflies that two giants came by.  These were the sons of two old  giants from Dartmoor and never in all their lives had they seen anything like Tamara as she danced between the flowers and slid down sunbeams.

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Public Domain

The giants names were Torridge and Tavy and they looked at Tamara as she played with the butterflies and they were spellbound.  They had only ever seen giantesses and although these were all nice and good looking they were rather, well, statuesque. They had never seen anyone so tiny, so delicate, so vibrant and full of energy, such as Tamara.  They had no idea that such dainty,  beautiful creatures of light existed and they immediately fell in love with her.

Torridge and Tavy became enamored with her and followed her trying to catch up with her but they were so slow and ponderous.  She was so blithe, graceful and quick she easily escaped them.  She led them a merry dance thinking it great fun to allow them to get within a hands-breadth of her before shaking her pretty head and flitting out of reach of their grasping fingers.  On and on she led them far and wide and all the time they tried to coax and flatter her, but she led them on over the moors and across rivers, teasing and tantalising thinking it all great fun.  The more she led them on the more they ached for her and she teased them all the more for many a day.  The more mischievous she was the more poor Torridge and Tavy craved her and they thought their hearts would break.

Into the sunshine

There came one morning when Tamara awoke early before her mother and father.  She shivered in the damp darkness and thought about the sun that would just be rising in the upper world and suddenly she longed to hear the birds singing.  The more she thought about it the more she wanted run to the upper world and into the sunshine and feel the dew on the grass with toes.  So keeping very quiet she quickly dressed and left her parents for the last time to visit the wonders of the upper world.

Stepping into the upper world the sun warmed her skin and looking around she saw the trees hung with leaves of translucent green and flowers of all colours grew scattered on the ground visited by busy bees and fluttering butterflies.  Running into the sunshine she flitted from flower to flower just like the butterflies.  On and on she ran feeling the the dew on her feet and loving it until she came to a place where she found a pretty pool of water in a sheltered hollow which she just thought she just had to bathe in.  So slipping of her dress she swam in the pool and played in the cool clear water.  She froliced in the water until she got tired and then eased herself onto the grassy bank and lay basking in the warm sunshine.

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Janny Sandholm – Public Domain

Torridge and Tavy find her

That is where Torridge and Tavy found her sleeping in the sunshine.  To them she looked a picture of loveliness, so pure and beautiful, as they stood dumbfounded gazing in silent admiration as she softly slept.  Now these two giants were none too bright and very slow witted but they never in the world would have hurt her.  They just sat down and gazed longingly at her and after a short time a thrush sang a sweet song and Tamara woke, yawned, stretched and opened her blue, blue eyes and sighed.  Suddenly she was aware of the two giants and thinking she would have some fun sprang lightly to her feet but this time she could not escape

“Please don’t run away, we are not going to hurt you!” cried Torridge

“Please, please stay and be our friend!”  begged Tavy

“We may be big and ugly, but we are kind and gentle,” pleaded Torridge

“And we have good hearts, please stay and take pity on us.” said Tavy, “We worship you!”

“And we have spent all our time seeking you and we love you dearly,”  said Torridge and they both pleaded and begged her to stay.

Now for Tamara this was something new have two lovelorn giants pleading and begging her.  She felt a thrill run through her and was excited by the power she appeared to have over these two bumbling giants.

Tamara is missed

As the morning wore on deep down in the bowels of the earth her parents stopped their incessant digging and began to worry about where their wayward daughter had gone.

“She is not usually away this long,” fretted her mother, “I hope she is alright!”

“What a nuisance she is,” grumbled her father, “thank goodness we do not have any more children.  We never have time for our work these days and she worries us to death all the time!”

“Yes, I know but I am worried about her.  There are giants up there and other dangers and she knows nothing of the upper world!  I must go and find her and you must come too!

So the two gnomes set off to find their troublesome daughter.  Reaching the upper world they were both temporarily blinded as they stepped into the bright sunlight.  After a short while they became accustomed to the light and they began their search.  They found her sitting in the bright sunshine on a grassy bank with a giant on each side of her telling her how much they loved and each pleading their own case to be her own one true lover.

Tamara rebels

Her parents were shocked when they saw the two giants.  She was so small and they were so big.  Why, there were many tulips that were bigger than her and she was no bigger than a thumb on one of the giants.  Tamara’s father tried to talk to Tamara asking her to come home.  When that did not work her mother begged her but she said no.   So her father tried to command her to come home.  That did not work either and her mother again begged and pleaded with her to come home. That still did not work, but broke her mother’s heart when she continuously refused.

“I want to stay here in the sunshine,” she told them, “I hate all that digging and delving in all those cold dark, damp tunnels.  These two love me and they will take care me! I want to go with them and. see their country, I don’t want go underground ever again.  You won’t let them take me underground will you boys!” she said to the giants. Torridge and Tavy swore they would never allow anyone to hurt Tamara or to let them take her away from them.

Of course, this broke her mother’s heart and made her father fly into a rage. Now gnomes are very small in comparison to giants but what they lack in height they make up for in magic. In his rage he cast a spell on the two giants that made them fall into a deep slumber.

Her father’s curse

Now Tamara had no one to back her in her conflict with her parents and was taken greatly aback at this, but she became even more determined to disobey her them. Nothing they could say or do would convince her to return to the inside of the earth with them and they all got angrier and angrier. Her mother wept, Tamara wept and her father grew ever more furious and in a fit of temper he cursed her.

Instantly the curse fell upon the weeping Tamara.  She was transformed into a stream of crystal clear water.  This flowed on to become a beautiful fast running river that murmured sadly through the lovely countryside that she so loved. Today the River Tamar forms much of the boundary between the counties of Devon and Cornwall. Finally she wound her way down to the Hamoaze and through the Plymouth Sound to join the sea in the English Channel.

Too late her father realized what he had done but could not undo the spell.  Her mother and father now desolate and heartbroken for their beloved Tamara returned to the depths of the earth to lose themselves in the never ending darkness of the tunnels.  While they returned to their home Tamara was fleeing further and further from her sleeping would be lovers.

Tavy

Tavy was the first to wake and looked for Tamara, but she was nowhere to be seen. Looking around he saw his sleeping friend.  Then he saw the clear bubbling spring that was not there before.  The he realized what had happened. Worse still, to his horror Tamara was gone!

In a panic Tavy jumped up and ran around and around calling her name. He looked high and low for her but he could neither see her, or hear her.  He did notice that a very pretty little spring of pure water was bubbling up from the ground singing a sad murmuring song.  He could not say that he remembered it being there when he fell asleep, but he paid it no heed to it.  Instead he went rushing hither and zither looking for his lost love Tamara.  In despair he ran all the way to his father who had already foreseen his son’s troubles, for he had power that his son did not possess.

His father said,  “I am sorry but Tamara has been taken from you in a fit of temper that her grieving parent will regret forever.  I cannot return her to you, but I can send you to her, though I too will probably regret it forever and my grief will be endless.  I can see you too suffer endless pain at her loss so I will do this for you.”

His father stooped and kissed his son’s brow. Instantly, Tavy was turned into a clear, pure, spring whose water burst and gushed from the ground to form a river.  The River Tavy ran helter skelter around hills and through valleys, over the rocks and across bleak Dartmoor, seeking, out his lost Tamara. Dashing down into a beautiful valley he found her lingering among water meadows filled with flowers and butterflies.  Happily he called to her and she to him and reaching out to each they flowed onward together as one to the sea where they mingled together for eternity.

Torridge

Meanwhile Torridge was waking from the sleeping spell and had been dreaming that Tamara had chosen him to be his love forever.  Opening his eyes with a smile on his face he found to his dismay she was gone and so was Tavy.  He remembered her mother and father coming to take her home and he thought she must have gone back with them and Tavy, in his grief had killed himself.  He was filled with sorrow for the loss of Tamara and Tavy both friends he loved dearly and now he was left all alone.

Filled with grief poor Torridge ran as fast as he could a sorcerer who lived nearby and begged him to tell him the truth of what had happened to his friends.  So the sorcerer told Torridge that Tamara and Tavy had now become beautiful rivers that joined together to flow into the sea where they mingled together for eternity.  Wild with grief and not giving a thought for his parents, he begged the sorcerer to turn him into a river as well  that he might overtake them and be with his love and his friend forever.

The sorcerer was reluctant to help at first thinking Torridge was driven mad by grief, but after a great deal of begging from Torridge he consented.  Reluctantly he cast a spell that turned Torridge into a fast flowing river that rapidly sped after his friends.  The River Torridge sped after them calling and crying for them to wait for him. In his grief and blinded by tears he took the wrong turning and instead of catching them he went off in the wrong direction and ended up going the opposite way so he could never find them and never catch them, flowing always further and further from his love and his friend and sadly, he would never see either again and eventually joined the estuary of the River Taw and flowed into the Bristol Channel.

Explanations of nature

This story is a simple way of explaining the origins of the three rivers.  It tells why the River Torridge, whose source is less than a third of a mile from that of the Tamar, runs in the opposite direction to Tamar to the sea and why the Tavy eventually meets up with the Tamar and they flow together into the sea.  Of course it’s not scientific but perhaps one day science will see the light!

© 24/02/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright February 24th, 2016 zteve t evans – Editor and curator – zteve t evans

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Those Crafty Wise Men of Gotham!

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The Merry Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham

Gotham is a village in Nottinghamshire, England that has acquired remarkable reputation for the villager’s ingenuity.  The inspiration for this came from a series of short, amusing, stories called, ‘The Merry Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham’ that describe the villagers performing a number of peculiar tasks.   This was first published in a chapbook during the reign of King Henry VIII in 1540. Chapbooks were cheap publications that were written to appeal to the common people.  Rather than mad the people of Gotham became known as the Wise Men of Gotham and for good reason.  The chapbook does not give reasons for their absurd behavior but medieval legend and tradition say there are at least two versions of how this came to be.    

King John

The first says that King John wanted to build a hunting lodge, or castle and make the surrounding area subject to strict Forest Laws for hunting and its use.  The people of Gotham would probably have not welcomed this as it would have place restrictions on the use of the forest and its resources.  The second says that  King John wanted  to travel through the parish, but any road the king traveled on in those days became a Royal Highway. Its maintenance and upkeep became the responsibility of the parishes it passed through.  This was perceived as bad news by the people of Gotham who not surprisingly, really did not want to pay for the privilege of maintaining it.

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To dissuade the king from his plan the people of Gotham hatched a remarkable plan of their own.  In those days madness was believed to be catching so the villagers came up with a plan where they would be carrying out a series of acts of apparent madness.  When the King’s riders arrived ahead of the main party they were astonished to find a group of men hard at work building a fence around a small bush growing on top of a mound.  The conversation between the king’s men  and the villagers may have been something along the following lines:-

Fencing in the cuckoo

“Why are you doing that?” inquired the king’s man.  “To fence the cuckoo in.” said their leader.

“And why would you want to do doing that?” said the King’s man.

“Because the cuckoo brings the spring and we shall keep the spring with us forever if we fence her in.”  said the leader as the last piece of fencing was fixed in place.  With that the cuckoo flew out of the bush and away over the countryside.

“Darn!” cried the leader, “we should have made the fence higher!”   Perplexed, the king’s man rode on.

Drowning an eel and more madness

Wherever they went they found the people engaged in some absurd or hopeless task.  At a local pond they found a group of villagers trying to drown an eel.

“What ever are you doing?” asked the king’s man.

“This eel has eaten all the fish we put in the pond we kept for our own use. We are drowning it to teach it a lesson!” they told him.

Puzzled the king’s man rode on until he came upon a group of men dragging carts onto a barn roof.  “Why are you doing that?” asked the king’s man.

“To shade the barn from the sun!” they replied.

Astonished the king’s man rode on and soon came on another group of villagers rolling cheeses down a hill towards Nottingham.  Reluctantly the king’s man asked them what they were doing.illus236“We are rolling our cheeses down the hill to Nottingham that they may find their own way to market, saving us the trouble of taking them ourselves!” they replied.

The bemused king’s men rode into Gotham but wherever they went they found the people engaged in an impossible or absurd task.

The  madness of Gotham

The King’s men, as was the belief at the time,  believed madness to be a contagious disease.  From what they saw of the villagers they were convinced they had all fallen sick with it.  They returned to King John and reported that the whole population was afflicted with madness.  Not wanting to risk catching their affliction King John decided not to go to Gotham and either found a way round the village, or decided to have his hunting lodge elsewhere.

The Wise Men of Gotham

So the people of Gotham managed to avoid the consequences of a Royal Forest or  expense for the upkeep of public road. The villagers became known as the Wise Men of Gotham and the people would often be heard to  say, “we ween there are more fools pass through Gotham than remain in it”.

© 12/07/2015 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright zteve t evans

King Arthur and the Legend of the Ermine of Our Lady

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KIng Arthur and Flolo – Public Domain

The Coat of Arms of the Duchy of Brittany

The former Duchy of Brittany was a small feudal state in medieval times before it became part of France.  Like most other such states it had its own Coat of Arms.   Curiously, the Duchy’s featured the white winter coat of the stoat which was often known as  ermine. There are at least two legends as to how this came about.  The first concerns Anne de Bretagne the last independent ruler of the duchy and the other King Arthur, the King of Britain. This work deals with the Arthurian version.

This legend goes back to the time King Arthur ruled Britain.  As well as being a mighty warrior and leader of men he was also a good and wise king who was devoted to God and the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Hugh O’Reilly tells the The Legend of the Ermine of Our Lady which explains how this came to be.

The Loss of Gaul

The story takes place during the time when the Emperor of Rome was Leo I and Gaul was ruled by Flolo, a Tribune of Rome.  It tells how Flolo was an unjust and cruel ruler who persecuted Christians and frequently blasphemed against the Virgin Mary ordering the desecration and destruction of her statues, shrines and relics.

During this period Arthur had lost control of Gaul and was back in Britain at his court.  It was said to be towards the end of summer when a knight stood up in his court and called Arthur a coward because he had lost Gaul to his enemies.  He told Arthur that he would now die without being King of the fair and that beautiful land that the Pope himself had given him.

Arthur’s vow

Angry and embarrassed Arthur swore before God and the Virgin Mary that he would retake Gaul and be its King once again.  He vowed that within twelve months he would challenge Flolo man to man. Arthur set about planning and preparing his army for the invasion of Gaul.  By the  time Spring came Arthur had assembled a mighty invasion force and moved it across the sea into Gaul.

In Spring-time the land of Gaul was a marvelous place with oceans of sunshine and lush greenery and it was indeed a most beautiful land.  Arthur was expecting fierce resistance in its defense but no army appeared to confront him.  Bemused, Arthur sent five hundred of his warriors and two thousand archers to seek out the defending army but all they could report was that everywhere they went people fled from them.  Now unlike Flolo, Arthur was not a cruel man and he began to regret that his arrival with such a huge and warlike host of armed men had frightened the local people. They were simple peasants who worked the land for their living and they themselves were victims of the cruelty of Flolo and he felt sorry for them.  Just as he was pondering what he should do he heard the sound of trumpets and a party of messengers rode into his camp.

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King Arthur – Public Domain

Flolo’s challenge

They were the heralds of Flolo who he had sent to lay down a challenge.  The herald announced that his master proposed that to save needless bloodshed,  instead of the two armies meeting in open battle Arthur should appoint a champion who would fight him man to man to the death.  The winner would rule Gaul.

Flolo was a giant of a man with incredible strength and endurance and was completely fearless in battle.  As a sleight to Arthur he had challenged him to pick his bravest, strongest and best warrior to fight for him, rather than face him himself.  The herald was carrying Floro’s gauntlet and threw it contemptuously at Arthur’s feet.

Arthur accepts

Arthur’s knights clamoured to be his champion but Arthur silenced them.  He told them that he would fight Flolo and it was he alone who could be King of Gaul. Arthur told the herald to go back to Flolo and tell him that he himself would fight him to the death.  There would be no quarter asked and none would be given and that God alone would grant the most righteous victory.  So with the terms agreed the place of the combat was to be the Island of Notre Dame of Paris.

In the morning Arthur knelt in prayer to God and the Holy Virgin Mary that he may acquit himself with honour and courage and for protection.  Flolo appealed to the god Bacchus for strength and courage and the death of Arthur. Both men then mounted their warhorses and faced each other waiting for the signal from the herald.  The herald stood in the middle of the field waiting for the two to be ready and then blew on a trumpet to let the fight begin.

Fight to the death

Flolo spurred his horse forward and Arthur did the same.  The points of both men’s lances crashed against their shields as they met head on knocking both from their horses.  With lance and shield splintered to shards  both men scrambled to their feet and began raining sword blows at each other.  Both managed to deflect the deadly blows until the height and strength of Flolo gained a brief advantage and blow to Arthur’s head split his iron helmet and brought him to his knees knocking the senses from him.

Appearance of the Holy Mother

Arthur’s followers groaned thinking their King must surely die.  Flolo raised his sword for the final blow but that blow never came.  To the astonishment of all the Holy Mother Mary appeared with a cloak of ermine around her shoulders which she quickly threw over Arthur’s shield.  So pure and white was the ermine cloak that Flolo was temporarily blinded and stunned with terror.  Arthur, although wounded seized his chance and with his last strength took off the head of his enemy with his sword, Excalibur.

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Coat of Arms of the former Duchy of Brittany – Public Domain

Ermine

Not until the fight was over did Arthur learn from his knights of the apparition of the Virgin Mary.  To give thanks and to honor her he ordered that a Church be built on the island. Today the Church of Notre Dame of Paris is said to stand on that same spot.  Arthur then ordered that his nephew, Hoel, the sixth Duke of Brittany should incorporate the cloak of ermine on his Coat of Arms also.  According to legend from that day on ermine was always borne on the  Coat of Arms of the Duchy of Brittany.

© 17/02/2016 zteve t evans

 References and Attributions

Copyright February 17th, 2016 zteve t evans

 

The legendary necromancer, King Bladud

Geoffrey of Monmouth and King Bladud

An extraordinary and very short account, of King Bladud, one of the early legendary Celtic kings of the Britons, is written in the Historia Regum Britanniae, by Geoffrey of Monmouth. This very briefly tells the story of a king who practiced necromancy and built himself a pair of wings in an attempt to fly.  Geoffrey says of him:-

Next succeeded Bladud, his son, and reigned twenty years. He builtn Kaerbadus, now Bath, and made hot baths in it for the benefit of the public, which he dedicated to the goddess Minerva; in whose temple he kept fires that never went out nor consumed to ashes, but as soon as they began to decay were turned into balls of stone. About this time the prophet Elias prayed that it might not rain upon earth; and it did not rain for three years and six months. This prince was a very ingenious man, and taught necromancy in his kingdom, nor did he leave off pursuing his magical operations, till he attempted to fly to the upper region of the air with wings which he had prepared, and fell upon the temple of Apollo, in the city of Trinovantum, where he was dashed to pieces. (1) (Chapter 10, page 28)

There is also a later legend about how he was cured of leprosy while working as a swineherd which also links him to the ancient founding of the city of Bath.

Descendant of Brutus of Troy

Bladud, or Blaiddyd, was a Celtic king of the Britons who was the son of  King Rud Hud Hudibras, and the tenth ruler from the line of the legendary Brutus of Troy, first King of Britain.  Bladud was supposed to have ruled for about twenty years somewhere between 863 and 500 BC.  Except for the accounts of Geoffrey there is little if any real evidence of either king’s actual existence and Geoffrey is not widely accepted as an accurate historical source by most historians.  Later writers further added to and embellished legends about him.  However, rather than an all powerful, warrior as many kings of the age were presented he is more the scholar, magician, or even the eccentric inventor, which was to lead to his final downfall.

Bladud the scholar

The legend tells how Bladud in his youth was sent by his father to be educated in Athens.  On the death of his father he was said to have returned home bringing with him four philosophers and founding a university in what is now Stamford, Lincolnshire.   This university was alleged to have taught heresies and necromancy and was later closed by Saint Augustine of Canterbury.

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Statue of king Bladud at the Roman Baths, Bath, England – by Smalljim – CC BY-SA 3.0

King Bladud’s leprosy

When Bladud returned home from his studies in Athens it was found that he was suffering from a severe skin condition that was taken as leprosy.  Because of this he had to leave the Royal court and became an outcast.  He lost his status as heir to the throne and was forced to make his way in the world the best way he could.

The legend says that before he left the court his mother gave him a gold ring.  This was as a keepsake and also a means to identify himself should there become a need. Sadly, everywhere he went he was shunned and forced to move on as people did not want to risk catching his disease.  To support himself the took a job as a swineherd at a place about two miles from Bath known today as Swainswick.  With pigs as his only company he took to watching them closely and after a while  he noticed the pigs were also beginning to be afflicted by his skin condition.

Fearing the worst and to prevent his employer from finding out he drove the pigs across a river.  There he noticed the pigs were attracted to a boggy area of ground wallowing in mud which was warm because the area was fed by warm water springs.  According to the story when the pigs came out of bog he scraped them clean and discovered their skin condition was cured.

With nothing at all to lose Bladud decided to try the warm mud himself and bathed in it. To his great joy he found that this also cured his skin condition.  Bladud returned to court where he was identified by the gold ring his mother had given him.  He later became king and built a temple  and spa baths ingratitude on the site so that others may benefit from the mud.

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Public Domain

Another version tells how while tending the pigs he noted that during cold weather the pigs would go to a bog and come back covered in black mud which he discovered was warm.  From observing them he saw that they appeared to like the warmth. He also noticed that it appeared to work wonders for their skin as they suffered no blemishes or disease as pigs that did not use it suffered. With nothing much to lose he tried it for himself and found the warm mud cured his leprosy, or skin condition.  Returning to his home his father restored him to be his heir and he founded the spas at Bath to benefit others with skin conditions.

Bladud and the founding of Bath

According to legend Bladud was strongly linked to the founding of the spa town of Bath in Somerset.  The Romans developed the famous spa baths calling them Aquae Sulis, which means Waters of Sullis,  after thermal springs dedicated to the Celtic goddess, Sulis whom Romans identified with Minerva.  In later times as it grew it became known as Bath.

There is a legend that it was Bladud who founded the city and created the the thermal springs the city is famous for by magic. Geoffrey says that undying fires were lit whose flames transformed into balls of stone as they died with new flames springing from them to take their place (2).  This may have been a description of how coal was used as a source of fuel for the flames in the temple altars.

Necromancy and flying

According to legend Bladud practiced and encouraged necromancy and trying to communicate with the dead.  From this came the inspiration to built a pair of wings for himself.  He tried them out but collided with the temple of Apollo in Trinovantum, now known as London and reputedly founded by his ancestor Brutus of Troy.  He fell to earth and was killed. The legend tells he was buried in Trinovantum and succeeded by his son Leir, who William Shakespeare wrote his famous play about.

King Bladud’s Pigs in Bath

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Sally – Image by Trish Steel –  CC BY-SA 2.0

In more modern times the people of Bath have celebrated their legendary founder in a brilliantly creative way.  In 2008, a public art event called King Bladud’s Pigs in Bath celebrated the legendary origins of Bath.  More than one hundred beautifully decorated pig sculptures were displayed throughout the summer around the Bath area.  Later they were auctioned off to contribute funds towards the city’s Two Tunnels Project, which seems like something the eccentric king would approve!

© 09/02/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright February 9th, 2016 zteve t evans

Warrior Women: Anne Bonny, Pirate of the Caribbean

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Anne Bonny – By Anushka.Holding (Own work)  – CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Anne Bonny the female pirate

Anne Bonny was certainly not like most women of her era breaking just about all the social conventions there were. The history, legends and folklore that surround pirates of the sea throughout the ages, paint a picture of a male dominated world with most women playing a traditional, subservient, non-aggressive role where they do appear.  Anne Bonny was different. She and shipmate, Mary Read, gained fame as female pirates actively engaged in piracy in the Caribbean alongside the infamous Calico Jack.

Early years

She was born Anne McCormac in Kinsale, County Cork, in Ireland in around 1700.  Her mother, Mary Brennan was a maid employed by William McCormac, a lawyer, who although married to another woman, was Anne’s father.  To escape his in-laws wrath  McCormac moved to London with Mary and their daughter.  They began dressing his daughter as a boy and called her Andy in an attempt to hide from his wife’s family. Whether this ploy was to affect Anne in later life is uncertain but the disguise was eventually discovered. McCormac moved  across the Atlantic Ocean North America to settle in Charles Towne (Charleston), South  Carolina, taking Mary and their daughter with him. In the process he also changed his name to Cormac in the hope of finding a fresh start. He succeeded in building a new career and business as a lawyer and plantation owner.

Red hair and a fiery temper

By all accounts Cormac loved his daughter dearly and when Mary died she took over the running of the household at an early age.  At 13 years of age Anne was said to be an attractive girl with red hair and a fiery temper to match.  Some accounts say that later on she stabbed and killed a maid with a table knife and had almost beaten an attempted rapist to death. She also became the center of a string of accusations and rumors of her drinking in taverns and sleeping with drunks and fishermen.

Marriage

Such rumors damaged her father’s business and he wanted her to settle down and to marry a local man but she rebelled. In 1718 she married James Bonny, a penniless sailor and petty pirate who may have had more designs on her father’s wealth than her.  Her father, did not approve of the marriage and disowned her.  It was rumoured that Bonny retaliated by setting fire to his plantation though there appears little evidence to support this.

What is known is the that Anne and James Bonny moved to Nassau, on Providence Island and known as the Republic of Pirates, a haven for English pirates.  They mixed freely with pirates and vagabonds and to her dismay her husband became an informant for Governor Woodes Rogers as a means of earning money.

Anne had become friends with many pirates and appeared to spend a lot of time carousing with them in bars and seducing them.  On one occasion she was caught in bed with one by her husband.  There was one named Pierre who was a well known homosexual.  He ran a popular brothel and helped her to leave her husband and to meet John Rackham, a notorious pirate.  He was known as Calico Jack, because of his preference for colorful clothing.

Calico Jack

The two became lovers and Rackman offered to pay her husband to divorce her which at the time was a recognised practice.  Bonny, through jealousy, spite or some other unknown reason, refused the offer. Later, she gave birth to Rackman’s  son in Cuba.  It is not clear what happened to the boy though some stories say that he was abandoned while other say he was left with Rackham’s family, or her own.

Anne then divorced her husband and rejoined Calico Jack to live the life of a pirate.  They were joined by Mary Read a female pirate who dressed and masqueraded as a man. It is not clear if Calico Jack and Anne were aware of this at the time though they certainly were later.   The three of them stole a ship anchored in Nassau harbor called the Revenge and recruited a crew of suitable cutthroats to man her and spent several months attacking and pillaging smaller ships raking in a considerable fortune.

Most pirates and sailors considered it bad luck to have women on board ships but Calico Jack and his crew did not appear to hold that superstition. Anne and Mary did not join the pirate ship for a pleasure cruise and took part in the fighting shoulder to shoulder with their male shipmates, who were said to respect their fighting prowess and combativeness. In the case of Mary Read they may not have known she was a woman to begin with because she hid the fact.   It is thought that Anne knew later and that she and Mary became lovers and that also Calico Jack knew.  In the case of Anne she openly wore female clothing only changing into male clothing when fighting was expected making no secret of her gender.

According to one story about her she obtained a mannequin such as used by dressmakers and smeared it with fake blood to give it a bloody corpse like appearance. As they approached a French vessel she stood over the fake corpse wielding an axe which supposedly persuaded the crew to surrender without a fight.

As her infamy grew, Governor Rogers posted her name in the Wanted Pirates circular that was published in the The Boston News-Letter.  Despite her growing notoriety as a female pirate of the Caribbean she was never the commander of her own ship and despite her successes with Rackham, Mary Read and the Revenge their luck was about to run out.

Bounty hunters

While Calico Jack and the crew of the Revenge were hosting a party during October 1720 when they were attacked by a ship under the command of bounty hunter, Jonathan Barnet, holding a commission from the Governor of Jamaica, Nicholas Lawes.  Bonny and Read were on deck and noticed an unknown ship approaching alongside.  Realizing it was bounty hunters they shouted a warning to the rest of the crew, most of whom were too incapacitated through drink to respond and hid below deck.  A few did respond, including Rackham but they were too drunk to offer much resistance. Rackham cried out for quarter and he and his men surrendered. Bonny and Read refused to surrender and put up a fierce fight and managed to hold off Barnet’s men for a brief time. They too were eventually overpowered and captured along with Calico Jack and the rest of the crew.

A sensational trial

They were all taken to Jamaica where they were tried and sentenced to hang by Governor Lawes.  The trial of two women for piracy caused a sensation at the time with women prisoners  being reviled in general.  These were two who had broken through from the traditional role of women to forge different and even dangerous identities in more ways than one and their trial caused a sensation.  Apart from the challenge of their murderous behaviour they also challenged the traditional subservient and domestic role of women in their time.  Bonny was allowed to see Rackham before his execution and reputedly, the last words she spoke to him were, “Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hang’d like a dog.”

Both Bonny and Read begged for mercy pleading their bellies which was a temporary stay of execution that allowed the baby to be born in accordance to English Common Law.   Read died in prison possibly from a fever contracted during childbirth.

Disappearance

What happened to Bonny is not certain.  There appears to be no record of her execution or release.  It is speculated that her father may have paid a ransom for her, or she may have returned to James Bonny, or even taken up piracy again under a new name.  It is thought that the likeliest scenario was that her father paid a ransom for her and married her to a man from Virginia named Joseph Burleigh (spelling varies) and lived into her eighties producing eight children.  Although some records do tend to support this it is not absolutely certain.

© 02/02/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright February 2nd, 2016 zteve t evans