Warrior women: Mary Read, Pirate of the Caribbean

Mary Read was an English woman who also served in the English military successfully masquerading as a man and saw action as a soldier fighting the French. She later gained fame and notoriety when she and Anne Bonny were convicted of piracy and sentenced to hang. Both women gained a stay of execution  by claiming they were in child.

The masquerade begins

Mary was the illegitimate daughter of the widow of a sea captain and her date of birth is disputed but thought to be about 1690.  After her legitimate older brother, Mark, died, her mother would dress Mary in boy’s clothes. This was in order to pass her off as her legitimate son so that she could continue receiving money from his grandmother. This masquerade was apparently successful until Mary became a teenager then she managed to get employed as a foot-boy and later got a job on a ship still dressing as a boy.

Mary becomes a soldier

Later, still disguised as a male she joined the army as a soldier fighting the French possibly during the Nine Years War, or possibly the War of the Spanish Succession. Whichever it was she proved herself in battle as an able soldier and during this time fell in love with a Flemish soldier apparently then making her gender public and not just to her husband.  She received gifts from her former comrades and their commission from the army to invest in buying an inn near Breda in the Netherlands to called De drie hoefijzers or The Three Horseshoes. The death of her husband saw Read once again donning male clothing and signing up with the Dutch military, but it was a time of peace and there was no fighting to be had.

By all accounts by the way she dressed and her behaviour Mary Read made a convincing man seeming to desire to be in the thick of the action regardless of danger to herself. Quitting the soldier’s life she joined a  ship heading for the West Indies.

Becoming a pirate

The ship was attacked by pirates enroute and she was forced to join them.  Her pirate career came to a temporary end when  she took the King’s pardon in about 1718-19.  But trouble seemed to follow her and she that came to an end when she joined a crew in mutiny breaking the pardon.  She joined up with the infamous Calico Jack whose real name was John Rackham, and the Anne Bonny  a notorious female pirate. Keeping up her deception she managing to convince both that she was a man, a least to start with. Together, the three of them stole  an armed sloop anchored in Nassau, in the Bahamas.

Although Rackham and Anne were lovers it was said that she was attracted to Read and tried to seduce her, which forced Read to reveal the secret of her gender to her.  Some say they became lovers but Calico Jack, not yet knowing her secret grew jealous of the attention she was giving Mary.  Thinking Read was a man he confronted the two and Bonny then revealed the truth to allay his jealousy.  All of her other shipmates believed Read  to be a man with the exception of one who became the father of her child.  His name is not known though he had been a passenger on one of the ships they had captured.

She joined Calico Jack and Bonny in several successful attacks on shipping in the Caribbean and they accumulated a substantial amount of booty.  While celebrating their success on board ship along with another pirate crew, while at anchor off Negril Point, Jamaica,  they were surprised by bounty hunter, Captain Jonathan Barnet in an armed sloop. Read and Bonny were on deck and saw the sloop approaching and shouted a warning.  Most of the pirates were too drunk to fight and when Barnet fired a volley that incapacitated their vessel most of them hid below deck in the hold.

Taken into custody

Read and Bonny along with an unnamed pirate  put up a fierce fight against Barnet’s men managing to hold them back for a time.  Calico Jack called on Barnet for quarter and surrendered. Read, disgusted at her shipmate’s lack of fight allegedly shot into the hold killing one and wounding others.  Inevitably Barnet’s men overcame the three defenders and the entire pirate crew was taken into custody.

Read, Bonny, Calico Jack and the rest of the pirates were taken to Spanish Town, Jamaica and put on trial. At the time the trial was a sensation because of the two female pirates on trial.  All the pirates including Calico Jack, Anne Bonny and Mary Read were sentenced to hang and with the exception of Read and Bonny all were hung.

Read and Bonny pleaded that they were pregnant and were given a stay of execution until the babies were born.  Read beat the hangman by dying of fever in prison and her death is recorded in the records of St Catherine’s church in Jamaica, April 28th, 1721.   What became of Bonny is not known though it is thought her father may have paid a ransom for her release.  The body of Calico Jack was left hanging on the gibbet as a warning to other pirates. No record of her baby had been found so it is thought she died before it was born.

End of the masquerade

What ever may be said of her crimes Mary Read certainly lived an extraordinary life but it cannot be helped but wonder what her life may have been like if her mother had not dressed her up and masqueraded her as a boy from such an early age.  Did she feel like she was a man trapped in a female body, or did she become trapped by the masquerade?

© 29/03/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright March 3rd 2016 zteve t evans

The legendary King Leir


KIng Lear and his daughters – Public Domain

The legend of King Leir

The legend of King Leir and his daughters has been a popular theme throughout the ages and was most famously used by William Shakespeare in his play King Lear. The story of the aging king and his daughters has also inspired many other works and has been used in plays, literature, films, operas and art by many different writers and artists and holds an important part in modern British culture.

In the History of the Kings of Britain, by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Leir became king after his father, Bladud was killed in an attempt to fly using artificial wings.   Leir is supposed to have ruled for sixty years, one of the longest serving British monarchs and according to Geoffrey was the founder of the English city of Leicester.  He was said to be the last male heir from the dynastic line of the legendary Brutus of Troy.  According to Geoffrey, Brutus was the first king of the Britons in about the 8th century BCE.  A brief summary of the legend is provided followed by what truth there maybe in the legend and conclude by discussing the redeeming factors and impact of the story.

The daughters of Leir

Leir was the father of three daughters; Regan, Goneril and Cordelia.  As he drew close to death he decided to divide his kingdom between them.  His two eldest daughters Goneril and Regan, in a calculated bid to gain more from their father flattered and exaggerated their love for him. His youngest daughter, Cordelia, was the king’s favorite and feeling that she should not need to prove her love because she demonstrated it daily, refused to use false flattery to deceive him.

On the advice of his counselors he decide his two eldest daughters should marry the dukes of Albany and Cornwall  and his kingdom should be split between them when he died.  His counselors had said that because she had refused to show her love when asked, Cordelia should receive no land to rule or marriage dowry.  Despite this Aganippus, a King of the Franks married Cordelia even though Leir refused to pay a dowry, and she went to live in Gaul.

Leir is humiliated

Leir also gave Goneril and Regan half his kingdom, while he lived and the rest would be inherited by them on his death.  However encouraged by their wives, his son-in-laws usurped him and took the entire kingdom for themselves while he lived. They did not kill him though and the Duke Maglaurus of Albany gave Leir a retinue of sixty knights but Goneril reduced this.  Feeling sleighed Leir went to Regan, who had married the Duke of Cornwall and she reduced it further to a mere five knights.  Leir then went back to plead with Goneril for a greater retinue but what he had was reduced from five to one to serve his needs.


This left Leir humiliated and in fear of his daughters and their husbands and he went to Cordelia who was now living in Gaul with were husband.  Arriving outside her court at Kartia he sent her a message asking to see her.  Cordelia bore him no malice despite his mistreatment of her had him bathed and gave him fine clothing befitting his status.  She then assigned him an appropriate number of retainers to befit his status. She made sure he was properly received by her husband, King Aganippus as was made regent of the Franks.

Cordelia persuade her husband and the Frankish nobles to back an invasion to restore Leir’s kingdom to him.   Their backing was agreed and an army was raised with Leir, Cordelia and her husband leading it.  They successfully defeated the usurper dukes of Cornwall and Albany, his son-in-laws, and restored Leir to the throne.  He ruled for three years before dying and was succeeded by Cordelia.  She buried her father with great honour in a shrine said to be below the River Soar dedicated to the god Janus and a feast was held annually in his remembrance.

Truth in the legend

From the 17th century historians did not take Geoffrey as a bona fide historian some even accused him of making it up himself. Many scholars think he may have drawn upon old Celtic and other pagan gods and legends for his stories as there is little if any real evidence to support his version of history.

There was a pagan god called Leir who is mentioned in a number of ancient texts such as the Triads of the Isle of Britain or Ynys Prydein, a set of manuscripts of medieval origin preserving parts of history, mythology and folklore of Wales.  In this Leir is a water god who has three children and one defeats the other two in a battle to retake his land. Some scholars think the names Lir and Leir are variations of a Celtic deity, with Leir evolving into a fabled king of Britain that was associated with the area we call Leicester today.

Cordelia the redeemer

Maybe it’s the righting of a wrong done to someone who himself was shown to be devoid of good judgment and gratitude that makes the story popular.  His treatment of Cordelia certainly wins him few friends. Yet even though we may feel that he gets his just desserts by the way his daughters and son-in-laws treat him there is still a degree of sympathy for his foolishness.  It is his loyal and loving daughter Cordelia who is the redeemer of a sorry tale by taking up his cause and restoring him to his former glory despite the wrong he did to her.  Her act of forgiveness and Leir’s treatment of her because she refused to flatter and exaggerate her love shows that action speaks louder than words, especially false words. While the historical accuracy of  Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work may be open to question the impact it has had on British culture is still considerable as shown in the example of King Leir.

© 22/03/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright March 22nd, 2016 zteve t evans

Cherokee folktales: Awi Usdi, the Little Deer


The Cherokee folktale of Awi Usdi, the Little Deer, is a story that is very relevant to most human societies all around the world today. The Native American Cherokee people of the Southeastern states of the USA lived close to nature and before the arrival of Europeans a balance was achieved that benefited man and nature. Many of their myths, legends and folktales reflect this and evolved to explain the natural world, their place in it and express their spirituality. Presented here is a version I have curated, edited and adapted of the Cherokee folktale of  Awi Usdi, the Little Deer, followed by a thought of where it all may end.

The folktale of Awi Usdi, the Little Deer

In the early days when the world was young humans and animals spoke together as friends and lived peacefully side by side in happiness.  Although humans needed to kill animals for food or to make clothing it was only done out of necessity.  An understanding existed between humans and animals and the animals knew humans had to do this, because some of them had to kill other animals to live.  The hunted accepted the hunter  and the hunter respected the hunted and nature was balanced.

Then humans invented bows and arrows and learnt how to use them to kill animals quickly and easily.   They began to kill animals with their bows and arrows not out of necessity but because they could and for the thrill it gave them and this tipped the balance of nature.  As time wore on more and more animals were being killed unnecessarily and the animals grew worried that they would soon be exterminated.  All of the different clans of animals held meetings in their different clans to discuss what could be done to stop this.

The Bear clan meets

The bears met in their clan and after much debated decided they should fight back.  The problem was they did not know how. One of the their great warriors pointed out that humans would simply shoot them with their bows and arrows before they got near enough to fight them.

Then Old Bear their chief said to defend themselves the bears must learn how to make and use bows and arrows to restore the balance to nature.  So the bears set to work and managed to make a powerful bow and some arrows to fire from it.  bear-907684_1280The problem was that that when they tried to use it their long claws got in the way.

One of the bear warriors said that he would cut his claws and then try.  So he cut his claws and he found he could use the bow very well and shoot with great accuracy.  Old Bear looked on and then told him that he was very good with the bow and arrow but then asked him to climb a tree.

The warrior bear tried but without his claws he could not get a hold on the trunk.  Old Bear shook his head in dismay and said that without claws they could not climb trees, could not dig for food and could not hunt.  He told them because of these problems they could not use the same weapons against humans that they used on animals so they could not fight back like that.

All of the other animal clans held similar meetings one after the other.  Many different ideas were suggested but none was found that could work. The conclusion was that the animals had no way of fighting back against the humans.

Awi Usdi, the Little Deer

The very last of the animals to meet was the Deer clan and their leader was Awi Usdi, the Little Deer.  When all the members of his clan were gathered he spoke and told them that he could only see one way.  He told them that here was nothing that could be done to stop humans hunting animals and told them that was the way of the world.  The wolf hunts rabbit because it is the natural law and there is a balance and respect.

Awi Usdi, the Little Deer then said, “Humans are breaking the natural laws.  They kill animals out of greed not because they need to eat or clothe themselves.  They no longer respect us or nature.  In this way all of the animals are in danger of being wiped out by human greed and ignorance.  They have altered the balance and no longer respect us.”


He then said, “I will visit the humans in their dreams and teach them what they must do.  First when they wish to kill a deer they must first prepare by holding a ceremony.  Secondly, they must ask permission to kill a deer. Thirdly, when they do kill a deer they must respect the spirit of the deer and ask it for pardon.”  

Then Awi Usdi, the Little Deer, told his clan that if humans did not obey these simple and fair rules he would work his magic on them crippling their limbs.  This would prevent them from using their bows and arrows and return the balance.

Awi Usdi, the Little Deer did as his word and went to the humans in the night and whispered into their ears teaching what they must do when hunting.  In the morning when they awoke the humans thought they had experienced a strange dream and many could not tell if it was real or not.

Some of the humans understood that Awi Usdi, the Little Deer had visited them and tried their hardest to follow and keep to what he had taught them.  They obeyed the natural laws and only hunted animals out necessity for food and clothing.  Just as they were told they prepared in a ceremonial way and asked for permission and pardon when a kill had to be made.

Sadly, there were still hunters that ignored what Awi Usdi, the Little Deer had taught and continued to kill animals when there was no need.  As he had promised Awi Usdi, the Little Deer visited them in the night and caused their limbs to become bent and crippled.  It was not too long before all humans began to treat animals with the respect they deserved and followed the teaching of Awi Usdi, the Little Deer.

This is why there are still animals in the wild today because  Awi Usdi, Little Deer taught the humans to show respect.  Because of Awi Usdi, the Little Deer, Cherokee people show respect. Even though humans and animals can no longer talk with each other respect must be given to the animals they hunt as Awi Usdi, the Little Deer taught  and the balance of nature maintained.

Where will it end?

But all this happened a long, long, time ago. Once again humans are inventing new and more powerful weapons and worse still have learnrt how to mechanise their killing of animals in numbers undreamed of in the past.  The natural balance has been lost and the sixth mass extinction has begun and no one knows where it will end. Perhaps if we listened to the teachings of Awi Usdi, Little Deer we may find it again, or perhaps it’s too late.  What do you think?

© 16/03/2016  zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright March 16th, 2016 zteve t evans

Atagâ’hï: The hidden lake of the Cherokees


Cherokee tradition

The Cherokee are a Native American people from the Southeastern United States of America.  They evolved a rich culture centuries before the first Europeans set foot in the New World.  Like any other ancient people they saw the world around them and strove to make sense of their place in the great scheme of things. Over time they evolved, mythology, legends, folktales and lore which explained how they see their place in the world, how the world works and much more besides.  Presented here is the Cherokee tradition of the hidden lake of  Atagâ’hï that is said to only be able to be experienced and seen after careful preparations and a suitable plane of spiritual development has been attained by an individual.  This is followed by a short folktale of how a young Cherokee brave and his little sister believed they found the hidden place and finally conclude.

Seeking Atagâ’hï

The hidden lake of Atagâ’hï is a special place that the Cherokee people believe lies in the wild lands of the Great Smoky Mountains that separate Tennessee from North Carolina, somewhere west of the birthplace of the Oconaluftee river.  Atagâ’hï which means Gall place is not an easy place for humans to find and some people think it does not exist at all. The Cherokees know that it exists even though few people are said to have ever seen.  Its location although  secret to humans is known to the animals who seek it out for healing when they are sick or wounded.

If by chance some wanderer in the wild ventures close to it, he, or she, may hear the sound of the wings of the multitude of wild ducks and birds that inhabit the hidden place and fly in the skies above the waters.  Should that wanderer then follow that sound they will not find a lake, but may find a dry flat plain of mud. No birds, animals, plants or any living thing, or even its beautiful waters will be seen by the wanderer.

Nevertheless, the Cherokee people will tell you that it is still there but to see it and experience it then it is necessary to heighten your own inner spiritual development. Then it is necessary to fast and pray to the spirits and then begin an all night vigil.  Only then when the person has attained the right enhanced state of being will the lake and its inhabitants be visible to them as the sun rises after the night of the vigil.

People make the mistake of thinking that because the lake is not seen then it does not exist or if they stumbled across a mudflat in the wilderness of the Great Smoky Mountains that it has dried up long ago.  It is not so. To see and experience the hidden lake of Atagâ’hï it is necessary to follow closely the procedure that has been given and then and only then can Atagâ’hï be seen and experienced.


The Great Smoky Mountains – Public Domain

After the appropriate procedures have been followed the magical lake will appear at  sunrise as a wide but shallow expanse of beautiful blue water fed by springs falling from high cliffs around it.  The waters are home to many kinds of wild fowl, fish and reptiles. In the skies above birds of all kinds fly overhead or swim upon its surface and animal tracks of all kinds led down to the water edge.  It it is known that animals such as bears know how to find Atagâ’hï and bathe in the waters which heal their wounds and cure their sickness. This is a sacred place for all creatures and that is the reason why the lake is kept from the view of most humans especially hunters.

A message from the sun

Of the many people who have sought Atagâ’hï only a few have ever found it.  Two of these may have been two Cherokee youngsters by the name of Utani and Netani.  Utani was the elder brother of Netani, who was his little sister.  He was a young Cherokee lad, tall and strong, who was approaching the age when he would be considered a brave and be expected to act like one. Utani had been given a new knife with a bright and shiny blade that was razor sharp and gleamed and glittered in the sunshine.

He was fascinated by his knife and the way the blade reflected the sun.  He placed it upon the ground in the sun and stood and admired the way it gleamed in the sunshine.  He was so absorbed in staring at the blade gleaming in the sunlight that he did not notice the approach of his sister, Netani.  Not until her body cut out the sunlight from the blade stopping it gleaming did he notice she was there.

Seeing the knife suddenly stop gleaming Utani looked up and saw it was because his sister was blocking the sun by where she was standing and her shadow was falling upon it “Please remove your shadow from my knife,” he said but Netani just staring at him at him with puzzled look on her face.  “Please move so that that your body does not stop the sun from shining on my knife!” he said.  Netani did not move so he said it again.

Although Netani did not understand why Utani was staring at the blade, because he was her elder brother she obeyed him and moved out of the way allowing the sun to shine upon the knife again. Then she asked him why he was so fascinated about the knife.  Realising she may think him foolish and because he was now approaching the age of when a Cherokee boy becomes a brave and he did not want to sound childish.  He told her that he was watching the blade of his knife because the sun was shining on it and was sending him a message.

Utani had not reckoned on his little sister’s natural curiosity. She was fascinated and begged to know what the message was.  Thinking to quiet her curiosity he told her that the sun was telling him the secret location of Atagâ’hï the hidden lake. Too late Utani realised he had gone too far with his childishness.  But, he was obstinate. He did not want to be seen to lose face by telling his little sister that he had made it all up and did not know the way to the hidden lake.  If he did he would have to admit  that he had not received a message from the sun from his knife.  Netani was intrigued by the thought of Atagâ’hï and begged him to take her there.

In search of Atagâ’hï


Great Smokey Mountains – By Terry White

Utani realised he was in a fix but thinking now he was almost a brave he must begin to act like one. So he decided, perhaps foolishly, that he would try and find the way to the hidden lake of Atagâ’hï. Picking up his knife he placed it in its sheath at his side and taking his sister by the hand began walking towards the high ridges of the Great Smoky Mountains.

With no clear idea of which way to go Utani led his sister along the trails that led up to the high ridges.  They walked for hours through the wild woods climbing higher and ever higher along remote trails that few trod.  They got further away from home than Utani had ever been before and he began to feel scared, but he did not want to show fear in case he frightening his sister who had always placed her trust in him.  They walked and walked and came across no sign of the lake and Netani now began to grow tired and lagged behind.  She called to Utani to wait for her and suggested they rest and then head home as she was beginning to feel very hungry.  She suggested they come back tomorrow and look when they would have more time.

Secretly, Utani was very pleased because he had no idea where he was going and with his sister suggesting it was time to go home he would not lose face and he was also feeling very hungry and tired.  Making out he was angry he agreed to turn round and go home, but as he took his sister’s hand to return down the trail he kicked a pebble which rolled across the trail to one side and down a bank and they heard a plop as it fell into water.


Brother and sister looked at each other with surprise and then very quietly and carefully walked to the side of the trail which had thick branches and foliage growing along it. Pulling the foliage out of the way Utani and Netani found themselves looking down a bank that ran to the the edge of a beautiful blue lake that was hidden by trees and bushes.  All around  around the edges of the lake great cliffs rose and springs of crystal clear water bubbled down their face into the lake.  There were multitudes of ducks and other water fowl and many different kinds of birds.  The waters were filled with fish and their were reptiles in among them  Around the shore of the lake there were the footprints of many kinds of animals and they could see bears and deer, squirrels and many other kinds of animals.  They knew they had found the Atagâ’hï the hidden lake of their Cherokee people.

They looked about them and realised it was getting towards sundown so they agreed to return home and come back again in the morning to explore it further.  When they arrived home it was dark and their mother and father and the older braves of the village were worried and angry.  They wanted to know where they had been and Netani told them happily that the sun had sent a message to Utani’s knife blade telling him where to find Atagâ’hï and that was where they had been.  Their parents laughed and the older braves laughed.  Utani and Netani did not laugh. They knew they had found the hidden lake of Atagâ’hï and could find it again.  Now, for those who wander in the Great Smoky Mountains sometimes along the trail in the wilds you may come across a young Cherokee brave and his sister kicking pebbles down a bank on the side of the trail.

Drawing conclusions

So that is the tradition and folktale of Atagâ’hï of the Cherokee people.  For those interested in conclusions it would seem fitting that I  leave the reader to form their own ideas and draw their own conclusions from their own knowledge and experience.

What do you think?

© 09/03/2016  zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright March 9th, 2016 zteve t evans



The Outlaws of Inglewood Forest


Public Domain

The medieval outlaws Adam Bell, William of Cloudesly and Clym of Clough of Inglewood Forest in Cumbria may not be as famous as Robin Hood, Little John and Will Scarlet of Sherwood Forest but their story is still a good action packed yarn that deserves greater recognition.

Inglewood Forest, Cumbria

Today the Inglewood Forest in the county of Cumbria, which was called Cumberland, is an area of fertile of arable and dairy farm land with patches woodland. The name means “Wood of the English or Angles.”  After the Norman Conquest the area was made a Royal Forest.   The hunting of certain animals such as deer and boar was strictly reserved for the King and there could be severe punishments for offenders.  Certain other activities were also restricted though yeomen did have some rights.

Popular narratives

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries outlaw narratives were popular often appearing as ballads. The adventures of Robin Hood, Little John and the rest of his Merrie Men are the best known examples set in or around Sherwood Forest that have come down through the ages.  Inglewood Forest was home to Adam Bell, William of Cloudesly, and Clym of Clough.  Although this trio are not so famous as the Sherwood outlaws is still a worthy narrative of the age.  The Child Ballad 116 entitled Adam Bell, Clym of the Cloughe and Wyllyam of Cloudeslee, tells their story focusing on William of Cloudsley as the main hero of the story.  The ballad also has a parallel with the Swiss story of William Tell who shoots an apple from the head of his son. Presented here is brief comparison with Robin Hood and an edited version of the story from the ballad.

Robin Hood

Many areas in England and Wales have a claim to Robin Hood, possibly with some justification, but his most widely accepted home is  Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, another Royal Forest.  Though maybe not as famous as Sherwood Forest, Inglewood had its share of hero outlaws in the semi-legendary trio of Adam Bell, William of Cloudesly and Clym of the Clough.

Similarities with Robin Hood

As with Robin Hood they have mentions in the Child Ballads and appear to have much in common. For example they were outlaws and expert archers roaming a forest and setting right what was wrong portrayed as honest yeoman who had suffered injustice at the hands of the authorities.  In Adam, William and Clym there are three local heroes swearing allegiance and brotherhood to each other forced to live by breaking the laws of the forest in much the same way as Robin Hood and his band of outlaws did.  Like them, they made their base in the wilds living off the fruits of the forest.

Adam Bell, William of Cloudesly and Clym of Clough

Of the three, only William of Cloudesly was a married man and he dearly loved his wife and three children, but he was forced to leave them in Carlisle.  Being separated from them broke his heart and one day he told his two friends that he would go into Carlisle to visit them.  Both Adam and Clym warned against this fearing that he may walk into a trap or be captured by the authorities.  Nevertheless William tells them he sorely misses his family and must take a chance on seeing them no matter what the risk.  He reassures his friends that he will take every precaution and that he would be alright and goes off to Carlisle to visit his family.

William and Alice

Taking the utmost care he steals through the streets under the cover of darkness until he reaches his family home.  Using a pre-arranged code of knocks upon the window his wife, Alice gladly opens the door and throws her arms around her husband. Great is there joy at their reunion and Alice tells him that she had kept the house  ready for his return for the last six months since he went away.  He hugs and kisses his delighted children and insists his wife tell him of all their doings, which of course she does.  Indeed, this is a very happy scene but there is also one other in the house who is interested in the return of William to Carlisle.


Also present in the house when William returned was an old woman who had been made homeless seven years previous.  William, being a kind hearted man had taken pity on her and had let her live in his home with his family seeking no recompense but giving her free food and lodging for all that time.  Now this woman seeing William had returned crept out of the house and went to the Sheriff and the Magistrate to tell them the news.  The Sheriff and the Magistrate were delighted with the news and reward the old woman with a scarlet dress.

William is taken

They then raise a crowd of men to arrest William.  They besiege his house as he and his wife defend their home against them.  Finally the besiegers set the house on fire and William is forced to let his children down through the upper windows with tied sheets.  Alice wants to stay and fight to the death with William but he insists she leaves or the children would have no one in the world to take care of them.  Reluctantly she agrees and he lowers her to the ground with the sheets.

Now alone, William shoots arrow after arrow into the crowd until he has none left.  Resolving to face death fighting he draws his sword and leaps out at his attackers.  Although he puts up a fierce fight he is eventually overpowered and chained hand and foot and dragged to the gaol.  The Sheriff, even though he has William in chains is still fearful of his escape and orders that all the gates to the city of Carlisle be locked and barred and no one is to enter or leave.  He orders his carpenters to build a gallows from which he planned to hang William.

Adam and Clym

Not all the people of Carlisle had taken part in the attack on William’s house, it was only a small minority, and one who had a small son sent his boy through a small breach in the city walls to find Adam Bell and Clym of Cloudesly and warn them of their friend’s danger.  The boy was a swineherd who spent time in the forest with his pigs and looked after Alice’s at times.  William would leave game where he could easily find it as payment.

Adam and Clym found the boy, rather than he finding them, and he told them of the plight of their friend and how the sheriff had ordered the city gates to be barred.  So they set off to Carlisle but when they arrive they find all the gates to the city barred and locked allowing no one in or out, just as the boy had told them.  But Adam had a plan.  He had on him an official looking letter.   Guessing that the gatekeeper was no scholar he proposed they make out they were the King’s messengers on his business with orders to be given directly by them to the Sheriff of Carlisle and no one should hinder them or answer to the King’s anger.  The two men banged on the gate.  A flustered gatekeeper arrived and told them the gates were barred because the hanging of an outlaw was to take place no one was allowed in or out until the man was dead. He told them to go away and come back tomorrow.

Deceiving the gatekeeper

Adam brandished the letter in front of his face and told him that they had carried this direct from the King in London.  They been instructed by the King himself to give it into the hand of the Sheriff of Carlisle and no man must hinder them on pain of death.  The gatekeeper hesitated and looked closely at the letter.  He saw what he assumed was the King’s seal and not being an educated man knew no different and decided it would be safe and prudent to let them in.  As soon as they passed through the gates Adam and Clym attacked him, bound him hand and foot and gagged him leaving him upon the floor in his guardroom.  Taking the keys of the gates from they prepared their bows and entered the city to find their friend.

The fight for William

Finding their way to the marketplace they see a new gallows had been completed and their see their friend bound hand and foot in a cart nearby waiting the arrival of the sheriff and the magistrate to carry out the execution. William sees his friend and hope returns to him.  As he is stood on the cart with the rope around her neck awaiting the order from the Sheriff, Adam and Clym take aim and shoot the Sheriff and the Magistrate simultaneously preventing the order to be given.  Both suddenly fall to the ground dying causing the gathered crowd to flee in panic and disorder.   In the confusion Adam and Clym race to their friend and cut the ropes which bind him.  Now free William attacks one of his guards managing to wrest a battle axe from him and killing him with it.

Fighting their way out


Public Domain

Now armed he and his companion attack the remaining guards who flee in disarray. Clym and Adam shoot all their arrows at them then draw their swords and fight hand to hand with any remaining.  But horns blow and bells ring and the Mayor of Carlisle is warned of the events.  He quickly gathers a large body of armed men and the three companions have to fight their way back to the gates and William kills the Mayor in the process.  They make the gates and unlock them to let themselves out then quickly relock them to keep their pursuers in.   They then melt into the fastness of Inglewood Forest which they know so well, leaving their pursuers locked in the city of Carlisle.

Alice and the children

After William had let her to the ground from their burning home she had gathered the children about her and made her way through the dark streets of Carlisle to the gates.  She and the children managing to sneak out just before the order came to bar entry and exit to all.  Stealthily she lead her children into the depths of the forest.  Her intention was to finding Adam and Clym and tell them all that had befallen.  She hoped that they would be able to perform a rescue but she thought at least that they should know what had happened to their comrade and ask them for help for her and the children.  With these thoughts she made her way to the place of the trysting tree in the hope of finding them.  Of course she had no idea that they had been forewarned of events. To her despair she did not find them there as they had gone to the succour of William.

The trysting tree

The three friends made their way through the forest until they come to the trysting tree where they planned to camp for the night.  There, knelt in a huddle with her arms around her weeping children was Alice, herself weeping thinking that William had been killed.  Pure delight was the feeling of that loving family to be reunited again.  Adam and Clym took leave of the happy family leaving them to be together while they went hunting bringing back game to feed all.

While eating they all talked together about their future trying to form a plan of what to do next.  They knew that the king would be angry about the killing of his Sheriff, Magistrate and Mayor as well as all the others who fell in the battle.

A decision is made

William tells the others that he thinks they should go to the king before he hears the news and ask for clemency.  He takes Alice and the children to a nunnery who will give them food and shelter and takes his eldest son with him.  Adam and Clym also go with saying they are brothers and brothers should stick together.

The King

So William and his son, along with Adam Bell and Clym of Clough make their way to London to ask clemency from the King.  Arriving in London they make their way to the palace and enter its gates and proceed into the hall ignoring the sentries, the ushers the porters, and kneel  straight before the King and beg clemency for killing his deer.

The King asks them who they are and when they tell him he immediately rejects clemency and tells them they must hang.  Adam points out that they had come to ask for clemency of their own free will and asks again for clemency, or else to be set free with the weapons they carry and that they will then never in 100 years again ask for grace.  The king is unmoved and tells them again that all three will hang.


Public Domain

The Queen is sitting next to him throughout all this and decides to intervene on behalf of the men of Inglewood.  She reminds her husband that when they were wed he promised her a wedding gift of her choice which she had never yet asked for.  Now she asked him to spare the lives of these three yeoman as her wedding gift.

The King reluctantly agreed to his wife’s request but no sooner had he done so when messengers arrive from Carlisle with news of the deaths of the Sheriff the Magistrate, the Mayor and others of his men some fifty in number who were killed  in the fight. The king is grieved and looking woefully at them he wonders what kind of fighters they were and just how good was their archery.  To test the proficiency of the three outlaws of Inglewood he calls his best archers who set up a series of tests and targets.

William shoots an apple on his son’s head

William, Adam and Clym easily pass every test and prove themselves better archers than the King’s men.  William suggests that the targets were too easy for a good bowman and sets up three hazel rods in the ground twenty paces distant from each other.  He then turns to the King and says that it is a good archer who can split even one of these.  The King doubtfully tells him such a feat is impossible and no archer could possibly do it.  William proves the King wrong splitting the hazel down the middle.  The King now is greatly impressed telling him he is the best archer he has ever seen.


Public Domain

William says to the king that he can better that and will place an apple upon his seven year old son’s head and split it in two with an arrow fired at 120 paces distant.  The king now tells William that he would like to see such a feat of archery and warns him that if he misses or fails, or if the arrow so much as touches his son’s head, or clothes then he, along with Adam and Clym would be hung.

So William fixes a stake in the ground and ties his son to it.  He tells the boy to turn his head so he cannot see in front of him and places an apple upon his head.  William measures the one hundred and twenty paces and begs the onlookers for complete silence.  Taking careful aim he lets fly an arrow which splits the apple in two leaving his son or his clothing untouched and unharmed.  The king now is most impressed by William’s prowess as an archer gives him eighteen pence a day as one of his bowmen and makes him his rider in chief over the North country.

The queen is also highly impressed making him a gentleman of the cloth and makes Adam and Clym yeoman of her chamber,  She also gives William’s son a place in her wine cellar as a porter.  Alice is brought from the nunnery with the other children and is made the governess of the Royal children and also the Queen’s chief gentlewoman.

William, Adam Bell and Clym of Clough give thanks to the king and queen and go to the church to be absolved of their sins.  They spend the rest of their lives serving the king and queen and all three eventually die good honest men in the service of their monarch.

Happy ending

This ballad has a happy ending which many others of its type and time do not get.  It shares many common elements with Robin Hood and the shooting of the apple from the head of William’s son is similar to the story of William Tell.  It is an action packed tale yet somehow not as famous as those of Robin and his Merry Men.

© 01/03/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright 1st March, 2016 zteve t evans

The Legend of Saint Collen of Llangollen

St.Collen parish church: Stained glass window ( 1986 ) showing Saint Collen – by Wolfgang Sauber – CC BY-SA 3.0

Early life of St Collen

Saint Collen was a 7th century warrior monk who appeared to be more interested in living a life of quiet dedication to his religion, than fighting.  Nevertheless when he was called upon he proved to be a brave and effective warrior.  He gave his name to the Welsh town of Llangollen, with Llan meaning religious settlement, and golen, a derivative of Collen, which means hazel.  He built a church on the south bank of the River Dee which is the only one in Wales dedicated to him.  He is often associated with the 13th century Colan Church which is also known as St Colan Church in the Cornish village of  Colan, and Langolen a small community in Brittany, France.  Not much is known about his early years but he was believed to have been educated in Orleans, Gaul, staying there for about eight years before returning to his homeland to live in Porth Hanwig, which is now known as Southampton in England.

Fighting for the Pope

According to legend a pagan warrior chief from Greece by the name of Bras was ravaging parts of continental Europe with his war-bands.  Bras challenged the Papacy to find a champion who would fight him in single combat.  The losers would have to convert to the religion of the winner.  The Pope took this challenge seriously and possibly through some form of divine intervention was inspired to send emissaries to look for his champion to Porth Hanwig. Collen was the man they found and fortunately he was prepared to take up the challenge.

At the appointed time and venue the duel took place with the Pope and his retinue and the followers of Bras watching. Soon after the fight began Bras dealt Collen a blow which wounded his hand.  Bras offered him the opportunity to surrender and sportingly offered him a jar of magic ointment that would heal his wound.  The ointment was accepted by Collen who applied it and it healed his hand but refused to surrender.  Instead he threw the jar into a nearby river preventing either of them from using it again.  The fight then resumed and Collen managed to defeat Bras and made him beg for mercy.  Collen agreed to spare his adversary but insisted that the original terms of the fight be followed.  Bras agreed and the Pope baptized him there and then.  As was agreed his followers and people were also baptized and became Christians.

In gratitude for his services the Pope gave Collen a miraculous lily which was also a holy relic which was said to have been present at the Virgin Birth of Jesus. Although it had withered it had once flowered again in the presence of doubting pagans who dismissed the possibility of the Virgin Birth. Its miraculous flowering was seen as a divine sign of proof that the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus. This holy relic was later kept and revered in the cathedral of the city of Worcester in Britain.

Glastonbury Tor


Glastonbury Tor – Attribution: Alan Simkins – CC BY-SA 2.0

Collen returned to Britain, settling in Colan, near Newquay after spending time at Langolen, Brittany.  Later, he moved to Ynys Witrin which is now known as Glastonbury where he became a monk.  It only took three months before he was promoted to abbot. Life in an abbey did not seem to suit hims and he then spent the next three years traveling around the countryside preaching the Gospel to the local people.  Eventually he returned to the abbey seeming to settle down for five years, but he had become so disillusioned with the society of his time he became a hermit living near a spring at the foot of Glastonbury Tor

Gwyn ap Nudd

One day at this hermitage he overheard two of the followers of Gwyn ap Nudd, the King of Annwyn, or the Otherworld, who was also known as the King of the Faeries. Disgusted with them he angrily admonished the men who lived locally telling them it was wrong to believe in such demons.

The two local men were unrepentant and told Collen that he would be invited to recant his words and would be visited by the messengers of  Gwyn ap Nudd.  Shortly afterwards a messenger of the King of Annwyn’s messengers arrived at Collen’s hermitage summoning him to a meeting with Gwyn on top of Glastonbury Tor.  The messengers were dressed in red and blue which were the colors of Gwyn ap Nudd. Collen refused to go and turned them away.  This happened twice more and he became annoyed with the messenger’s attitude so he bottled some holy water and climbed to the top of the tor.

On the summit, to his surprise, he found a beautiful castle which he had not seen before.  It was manned and guarded by the most strikingly handsome and best presented soldiers he had ever seen.  They were all dressed in the colors of blue and red, which were the colors of Gwyn ap Nudd.  Wonderful music filled the air and beautiful maidens danced and sang.  From the ramparts a herald dressed in blue and red hailed him and blew on a trumpet.  From the castle door an emissary came dressed in blue and red and respectfully escorted Collen into the castle to the hall of the King of Annwyn who sat amid his courtiers on his golden throne.

Gwyn invited Collen to sit and dine with him offering the finest food and drink imaginable.  He clapped his hands and the most wonderful entertainments began and Collen was most graciously treated by the King of Annwyn’s followers.  Gwyn told Collen that if he would stay he would give him anything his heart desired. He asked him if he had ever seen soldiers and followers as fair as those that followed him wearing  his red and blue colors. Despite all these fair folk and the great temptations Collen was not moved or in any way inspired by the promises.  Sternly, he told Gwyn he saw the red as meaning they would all burn in hell and the blue as the coldness of the corpse.  Quickly taking out his holy water he sprinkled it over the King of Annwyn and his folk and instantly Gwyn ap Nudd, the castle and all of his followers disappeared leaving Collen alone on the Tor.

Finding his sanctuary

Despite his victory over the King of the Otherworld, Collen became dismayed by what had happened and he prayed to God asking him for a place where he might live out his life in peace and seclusion.  In his dreams he was told to travel to the east and then to the north until he found a horse that was all alone and waiting for him.  Following the advice of his dream he traveled some one hundred and fifty miles over hill and dale until he found the horse waiting for him at a place known then as Rhysfa Maes Cadfarch, which is known as Llangollen today. He decided to build a sanctuary in the center of an area he could ride around on his horse in one day and was easily placed to help the local people.  Finding a suitable site he built a hermitage and chapel for himself to live a life full of prayer and quiet contemplation and service.   Another legend has his arriving in the area by coracle presumably along the River Dee.

The giantess of Bwlch Rhiwfelen

However his peace was disturbed when he discovered the area was part of the territory of a giantess who ate humans and lived in the high mountain pass of Bwlch Rhiwfelen and brought fear and terror to the local people. He decided he had to do something to help so he went up to the pass with his sword intending to fight and kill the giantess.

The giantess soon took up the fight after exchanging a few sharp words with him.  He called upon the Lord for help and strength and succeeded in cutting off one of his foe’s arms. She tried to cry out to the giant of the Eglwyseg Rocks to come to her aid, but Collen cut off her other arm and killed her before she could summon him.  He washed the blood of the giantess from himself and his sword in a nearby spring now called Ffynnon Gollen.  From then on he lived the peaceful life he seemed to have craved.   He was thought to have died on 21st of May possibly in the 7th century and was buried by the local people in his chapel that was sited to the west of the present day church of St Collen in Llangollen.

© 01/03/2015 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright March 1st, 2016 zteve t evans