This article was originally posted on #FolkloreThursday.com on 27/06/2019 titled British Legends: Wild Edric, the Wild Hunt and the Bride from the Otherworld by zteve t evans.
Wild Edric was an Anglo-Saxon earl from Shropshire who was also known as Eadric Salvage, Eadric Silvaticus and Eadric the Wild. He was one of the wealthiest men in Shropshire and the lord of fifty-six manors. Tradition says he was a great huntsman, hunting areas of the Forest of Clun, Stiperstones and the Long Mynd. Although he was a real person many myths and legends became attached to him such as the Wild Hunt, his faerie bride and the monster fish of Bomere Pool.
The Norman Conquest
Wild Edric was not believed to have fought at the Battle of Hastings,
but most of his manors were taken by King William to be given to his
own barons. Therefore, between 1068-70 he allied himself with Bleddyn
ap Cynfyn, Prince of Gwynedd, and his brother, Riwallon, the Prince of
Powys, who were Welsh resistance leaders opposed to William. They
attacked the Normans in Herefordshire, devastating Hereford, but, unable
to capture the castle, they retreated. In retaliation, the Normans
attacked Edric many times, but could not defeat him.
In 1069, William led his northern army to put down a rebellion led by
the Earl Mokar of Northumberland and his brother Edwin. While William
was preoccupied, Edric and his Welsh allies joined with rebels from
Cheshire, attacking Norman lands in northern parts of Shropshire. They
burnt Shrewsbury, but were unable to take the castle.
When news of the assault reached William he turned his army around and headed south. Instead of confronting William, Edric retreated back to Shropshire. The Welsh and Cheshire rebels fought William but were defeated near Stafford. William was not satisfied with this victory and proceeded to attack and lay waste the land. Eventually, Edric was forced to make peace and swear allegiance to King William who took all but three of his remaining manors. In 1072, Edric supported and accompanied William in an attack on Scotland.
In medieval England tales about the adventures of King Arthur and his knights were popular and were often found in the form of a long poem. These were often read socially as entertainment at events such as celebrations or banquets. The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle is such a poem and appears as a parody of the Arthurian world with a hidden mix of ancient motifs and themes such as The Loathly Lady, Sovereignty, the annual cycle of the sun, and a little humor blended into the story-line. In many ways it turns Arthurian tradition on its head for in this story unusually the heroic King Arthur is found having to beg a vengeful knight for his life. The knight agrees to put off his execution for one year when he must return to him with the correct answer to a question or die. The question is What is it that every woman, everywhere, most desires? No wonder Arthur is worried!
With the help of his faithful, but gullible nephew Sir Gawain he searched the world for the answer. He finally came across Dame Ragnelle in Inglewood Forest who gives him the correct answer but only on the condition that Sir Gawain marries her. Dame Ragnelle is the opposite of the beautiful and well-mannered females who populate the Arthurian world. She is repulsively ugly, openly lusty, and course of manners, nevertheless, to save his uncle, Gawain agrees to take her for his wife. Although it appears Gawain is too faithful and gullible for his own good things turn out extremely well for him in the end. Presented here is a retelling of the story.
One fine day King Arthur and a hunting party left his court at Carlisle to go hunting in the nearby forest of Inglewood. For speed in the chase, comfort and practicality he had left his armor off and was lightly armed with bow, arrow and hunting knife. While the hounds were seeking out a quarry Arthur noticed a fine stag standing stock still in a thicket. Ordering the others to stay where they were he carefully stalked the stag. Nevertheless the stag got a scent of him as he crept forward and ran off. Arthur gave chase and letting fly with his bow and arrow managing to wound the animal as the hounds took up the chase. He told his huntsmen to remain where they were while he went after it. He chased for about half a mile and managed to wound it again causing it to stumble and fall. As he finished it off with his hunting knife a stranger appeared who was well armed and dressed in armour and looked a most formidable warrior.
Sir Gromer Somer Joure
The stranger knight stood proudly over Arthur as he knelt over the stag and said, “Well, met King Arthur, well met indeed! All these years you have done me wrong and here I have you unarmed, without armor alone in the wilds. I will have my revenge. You took my lands and gave them to your nephew Sir Gawain. Now I will unleash my anger and hatred upon you. What have you to say now I have you alone in the wild unarmed?“
Arthur stood up realizing he was indeed alone, unarmed and vulnerable against this well armed knight dressed for battle who stood threateningly before him and said, “Well, Sir Knight, perhaps you could tell your name before you slay me?”
Replied the knight, “I am Gromer Somer Joure.”
“Then, Sir Gromer Somer Joure, good knight that you are, you will know slaying me unarmed and not attired for battle will bring you nothing but shame. You will be shunned by knights everywhere you go. Perhaps there is something I can do to amend or alleviate the hurt you accuse me of before I leave? Speak now!” replied Arthur.
“You will not escape me now that I have you. If I let you go you will defy me again.” replied the knight.
“Slay me while I am unarmed and with no armor and you will have eternal shame. Spare my life and perhaps there is something I can do to right the wrong you allege or reward you,” replied Arthur.
“There is nothing that will help you. I do not desire land or riches just you death, but if you agree that …”
“I agree,” interrupted Arthur.
“Listen to my demand! You must swear that you will return in a year with the answer to this quest I am about to ask you. If have the right answer you will live. If you do not have the right answer I will take your head. The question is this. What is it that every woman, everywhere, most desires? If you agree swear your oath and get gone. If you do not I will take you head now. What say you, King Arthur?”
“Although it is disagreeable to me I swear and being a true king will return in a year and a day with or without the answer to your question and face my fate.” answered Arthur.
“Then get you on your way King Arthur, you have no idea of the troubles that await you. You must keep this secret and don’t even think of betrayal for I could kill you in battle,” said Gromer Somer Joure before mounting his horse and riding off.
Arthur blew his horn and the rest of his party came quickly to him. They found him with the deer but were surprised to see how sad he looked. Telling them he had no further desire to hunt the party went back to Carlisle. Although no one said anything they all knew something strange and serious had happened by the look on his face. Back at Carlisle, Arthur sat alone brooding and clearly unhappy.
At last his nephew, Sir Gawain approached him and asked what ailed him. He replied sadly, “While I was unarmed and alone in the forest I encountered an unknown knight armed and clad in armor, ready for battle. He told me certain things that I must not tell unto others and gave my word. Therefore, I must keep my word or betray it.”
Gawain reassured him that whatever he told him he did so in complete confidence and that he would never pass it on. Therefore Arthur said,
“Today while hunting alone I slew a stag. Afterwards, I met a knight named, Sir Gromer Somer Joure who wanted to slay me. I had no sword or armor and I spoke to him politely and courteously reminding him of the shame and dishonor as a knight that would befall him if slayed and unarmed man. Of course I did not want to die and I swore on oath that I would return to him in one year, clad as I was and unarmed with the answer to this question. What is it that women most desire? I am bound to return and give him the right answer. Should the answer be wrong he takes my head. If I give the right answer I am set free from the oath. If I don’t turn up, unless by death alone, then I am eternally shamed. This, then is the cause of my woe.”
On hearing him Gawain said, “Let me help. You search for the answer in one direction and I will search in the opposite. On our way we will ask everyone we meet the question and write down the answers in a book. At the end of a eleven months we will meet back here in Carlisle and I will give you my book and we will peruse the findings together.”
Arthur could think of no better plan and so agreed and they went off on their separate ways. Each asked everyone they came across the question, “What is it that women most desire of men?” and wrote down the answer. Some said it was money. Some said it was fine clothing. Others said they liked to be courted and wooed, while the other said they liked lusty men who swept them off their feet. By the time they arrived back at the court of Carlisle the both books were full with many different answers.
Eleven months later they met back in Carlisle and looked over each other books. Gawain was confident that one of the answers contained in the books would be right but Arthur was not so sure. There were so many answers so he said, “I still have a month left and there is time to find something more definite. I think I will look around Inglewood Forest for a while in the hope of finding the right answer.”
Gawain was confident that they had the right answer in the books already but said, “As you wish, but I have every confidence the right answer is in the books.”
The next day Arthur rode to Inglewood and spent several hours wandering the many paths in the forest. Eventually he came across and old woman seated upon a horse at a crossroads. She was the most hideous, ugliest and the most repulsive person he had ever seen. In contrast to her the horse she sat was most handsome chestnut mare. Its saddle and bridle were decorated with gold, silver and precious gems. The magnificence of the beast was in stark contrast to the vile appearance of her. She was sat on her horse in the middle of a crossroads seemingly in waiting for him. It was she that spoke first seeming to knew who he was and boldly greeting him thus,
“Well, met King Arthur, well met alone in the woods. I have advice for you if you will listen that will save your life!”
Arthur was utterly repulsed by the loathly lady but politely asked what she had to say. She told him she aware of him and his quest and knew the answer he sought,
“I know the right answer to the secret. I know you found many answers but the ones you have gathered to you are wrong. If I do not tell you then you will die. If you grant me a request I will tell you the answer you seek, Your life is in my hands! Therefore, what say you?”
Arthur was unpleasantly surprised that she appeared to know so much. He looked at her in disgust of her appearance and said, “Lady, I dislike your words, Tell me what you want and if I can I will grant it. Why is my life in your hands?”
The loathly lady cackled at him said, “Whatever else I am, I am not evil. The bargain I would make with you is this. To save your life I must marry Sir Gawain. Think, deeply, think wisely. If you do not agree or if he does not agree the marriage you will die!”
Arthur was aghast at the thought. The more he considered it the least able he thought himself of delivering it. Therefore, he said, “In all truth, fairness and honesty, I cannot promise Sir Gawain will agree to be part of this bargain. It is for he alone to choose a wife, but I will ask his thoughts on the matter, though only because it may save my own life. I would not blame him if he refused, but I will ask and see what happens from there.”
This appeared to satisfy the lady who replied, “Go now and speak to Sir Gawain and speak as fair as you can of me. Yes, I am hideous, but I am as lusty as I am hideous! Go and speak to Gawain and you may yet live. You will find me here when you have your decision.”
“What will I tell him your name is?” asked Arthur.
“You may tell him my name is Dame Ragnelle,” she replied
So Arthur rode back to Carlisle to talk to Gawain. He knew his nephew would probably accept simply because of his own sake. Nevertheless, he really regretted having to ask him with the terrible consequences involved but he had no choice.
The first person Arthur met was Gawain who greeted him happily and asked how he got on with his quest in Inglewood. Arthur looked at Gawain sadly and said, “Everything went exceedingly bad. I may as well kill myself now as I appear to be doomed to die!”
Gawain was shocked and wanted to know why he was so sorely depressed and unhappy. Arthur said, “In Inglewood I met the most disgusting and hideous lady I have ever seen. She has promised me that she will save my life if you will marry her. Gawain, I cannot let you do this, therefore I am doomed!”
Gawain replied, “No matter how foul or hideous I will marry her to save you. You are my uncle, my king and my friend. We have fought side by side in many battles and it is my honour that is at stake if I refuse. I will not dishonor myself or become a coward afraid of a lady, hideous or otherwise. I will marry her!”
Arthur told him how they had met at the crossroads and how she had told him her name was Dame Ragnelle. He reiterated that she was the vilest, ugliest woman he had ever seen. He told Gawain that she had told she knew the answer to the question he sought. She had told him there was only one answer and she was the only one knew. She would only reveal it if you married her.
Gawain was not to be put off and replied, “Have no fear, I will marry her regardless of her vile appearance, for my respect for you is even greater.”
Arthur was pleased by Gawain’s answer and told him, “I cannot thank you enough! You are the best of my knights and I shall love you as long as I am king of this land!”
At the end of the last month, Arthur, accompanied by Gawain went to seek Dame Ragnelle at the crossroads as he had promised. When they reached the forest Arthur told Gawain that here they must part. Gawain told him he would prefer to accompany him but as it was his wish they would separate.
When Arthur reached the crossroads he found Dame Ragnelle sitting as if she had not moved since he had left. She greeted him saying,
“Well met, what is the news. Are to be saved or are you doomed?”
Arthur looked upon her with a mixture of gloom and disgust and said, “I have spoken to Gawain. As there is no other way he has agreed to the marriage. Therefore, Dame, tell me the answer to the question for I must go.”
Dame Ragnelle laughed long and hideously and then said,
“I will tell you what it is that women most desire. Some men say it is beauty and youth we desire that we stay attracted to men and are lusted after. It is not that. Some say women wish to be flattered and feted and wooed, but it is not that either. There are many other wrong things men say about women but now I will tell you what women most desire in all the world of men. It is this. We women desire most of all to have complete sovereignty of our self and over men, so that all that is theirs is ours. We will use all our wiles and skills to master the most manly, the fiercest and the most brutal of men and gain sovereignty over them. Now King Arthur, go and tell this to the adversary who would cut off you head and you will be saved. Just remember our bargain!
Wasting no time Arthur rode to the place where he had killed the stag and where he had agreed to rendezvous with Sir Gromer Somer Joure. When he arrived Sir Gromer was already waiting. Arthur showed him the books with the answers he and Gawain had collected, Gromer spent a long time diligently studying them and at last said, “No, the correct answer is not here. Therefore, prepare to die!”
Arthur held up his hand and cried, “Wait! I have one more answer, will you hear it?”
“I will,” said Gromer.
“It is this. Women desire most of all to have complete sovereignty of herself and over men so that all that is men’s is theirs,” said Arthur.
This infuriated Gromer who replied angrily, “Curse the woman, I hope she burns in Hell. Clearly you have spoken to the old hag, Dame Ragnelle, who is my sister. If not for her I would have your head here and now! Yes, you have given the right answer, but only thanks to her. Go now Arthur, but never let me catch you alone and unarmed in the forest again, for I will not hesitate a second time!“
Much relieved Arthur replied, “You can be sure I will never again be found at such a disadvantage. From now on I will always be armed and armored to defend myself and defend myself I will. Now I go.”
With that Arthur mounted his horse and rode to the crossroads to meet Dame Ragnelle, leaving Sir Gromer Somer Joure angrily cursing his sister. Although Arthur was glad to be free of the threat of death he now looked forward to his meeting with the loathly lady with disgust and dismay. He was desperately sorrow for what had been lain on Gawain and would have done anything to change it. At the crossroads she was waiting patiently still sat upon her horse. She cackled hideously at his approach and said, “Ha, King Arthur! See it is just as I told you. I have kept my part of the bargain and now you must keep yours. Sir Gawain will be my husband!”
Arthur shuddered, deeply sorry for what he had got his faithful nephew into but said, “I have spoke to Gawain and he has agreed, The marriage will go ahead though I wish for all the world it would not! Therefore if you will have your wish follow my advice. We will go secretly …”
Dame Ragnelle cut him short saying, “We will do nothing in secrecy. I will be married openly in public for all to see. You will not leave me until I am the wife of Sir Gawain, or it will bring shame and dishonor upon you. You will escort me royally to your court and all will see how I have saved your life and the gratitude you owe me! ”
Deeply embarrassed Arthur escorted Dame Ragnelle to court. When they reached Carlisle she waved and smiled gruesomely at all she met lapping up the attention she received. Everyone stared in shock and wonder at the hideous woman King Arthur escorted to his court. On arrival Arthur led her into his hall where she said joyfully, “Now bring to me Sir Gawain and summon your knights, noble and ladies. Send out to all nobles and lords to attend that they may witness our marriage which will take place as soon as all is assembled as witnesses. Fulfill your bargain King Arthur!”
Groaning inwardly, Arthur summoned Gawain and his knights, noble and ladies to meet Dame Ragnelle. When Gawain arrived, Dame Ragnelle declared she was so taking by his handsome appearance she wished she was beautiful for him. To his bemusement and embarrassment she reassured him she was as lusty as she was hideous, digging him in the elbow and winking, while Gawain stared blankly before him.
King Arthur held his head in his hands in despair while all of his knights and noble looked on in shock and bewilderment, The ladies of the court wept at the sight of the handsome, heroic Sir Gawain sitting next to his grotesque fiance. Although Arthur and his queen begged her to have a small private ceremony Dame Ragnelle refused. She declared it was her special day and she would share it openly with everyone. With resignation, Arthur summoned the lords and ladies of his realm to Carlisle to witness the marriage of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle.
After a few days everyone had arrived and all was in place and a magnificent wedding banquet prepared for after the ceremony. Although she wore a most beautiful wedding gown the contrast between her and her gown made it all the more surreal.The ceremony took place and Arthur and his lords and ladies looked on in shock and horror as the jubilant Dame Ragnelle wedded Sir Gawain. Although the horror could be seen in his eyes his courage was without fault that day. After the ceremony the banquet began and Sir Gawain led his bride to her chair at the banquet table.
The Marriage Banquet
It was a magnificent banquet but no one was prepared for what happened next. Taking her seat next to her husband at the head of the table. After all the appropriate speeches were rendered and proper protocols observed, Dame Ragnelle wasted no time in tucking in to the banquet.
To the sheer amazement of her new husband and the guests she began eating with amazing speed. She stuffed her mouth full of various kinds of food while swallowing great gulps of beer and wine. Everyone one stared in amazement and horror as plates of meat, pies, bread, sweetmeat and delicacies of all kinds disappeared into her voluminous mouth. As she ate she belched and coughed sending saliva flying across the hall and causing the guests to cover their plates. Greedily she ate whole capons, whole ducks, even whole swans, She ate a boar’s head and body to herself. She ate and she ate and ate and she drank and she drank and she drank.
Everyone looked on in embarrassed astonishment. All the time she chatted away gaily with her mouthful to her new bewildered husband and their equally bewildered guests. Every now and then she would elbow Gawain urging him to up to build up his strength, while giggling coyly. Gawain sat blank faced staring in space before him while Arthur sat holding his head in his hands silently begging Gawain for forgiveness.
At last she was satiated of food and drink and with more than a wink and a nod to her guests carried her new husband off to their bedchamber. Gawain stared forlornly out of the window while his wife prepared herself for her husband. At last she said, “Ah now, since we are now married you must not deny me in bed. I cannot deny that if I were beautiful you would feel and act differently, certainly with more enthusiasm. Nevertheless, do me the honor of turning to face me and kissing me. Show that you honor me!”
Gawain stood staring out of the window and sighing said, “Have no fear, I will kiss you and more.”
The Spell is Broken
Turning to face her he stood dumbfounded in astonishment at what he saw. Stood before him was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
“What are you?” he asked.
“Husband, I am your wife, Why do act so strange?”
Gawain stood in amazement at the transformation and said, “Forgive me, I am at a loss. I am bemused and well and truly confused. Earlier today at our wedding you were the most hideous and ugliest creature I have ever seen. Now you are transformed into a vision of loveliness. The day began strange and has grown even stranger and I am at a loss to know what to say or do!”
His bride stood before him very much a vision of loveliness and she said, “You must make a choice. My beauty as you see me now will not last. I can only be fair at night or in the day time. That means if you chose me to be fair at night I will be foul during the day. If chose me to be fair in the day then I will be foul at night. Whatever you choose, I will remain, but you must choose one or the other. What will it be?”
Gawain thought for awhile then said, “It is a hard choice to make. To have you beautiful only for myself at night would be a sorrowful thing and I would do you dishonor. To have you beautiful in the daytime would mean I have little reward at night. Truly, I would like to choose the best but I have no idea of what that may be. Therefore, I give you the choice. Please make the choice that you prefer. I promise whatever that may be, my body, all of by possessions, my heart and soul will remain yours to do with as you please, this I promise before God.”
Thus transformed Lady Ragnelle said, “Sir Gawain you have proved to be an honorable and courteous knight and I bless you for the honor you have shown me. Do not be grieved or confused by my sudden transformation. My wicked stepmother cast a spell upon me changing me into the hideous being you first saw. I was to remain in that vile shape until the best and most worthy knight in England married me and gave himself, his body, his soul, all his worldly goods to me to rule and to do as I wished. You have given me sovereignty over myself and also over you. Be sure that I will use that power most wisely and with all love.”
Their wedding night was still young and they made the best of it. When dawn came they laughed and kissed and remained in bed happy in each other’s company. The morning passed and midday arrived and Arthur said to his knights with trepidation, “I think we better go and make sure Gawain has survived the night. I fear the hideous thing may have killed him. Let us go and make sure he is alright.”
He led a party of knights to the newly weds bedchamber and began banging upon the door crying, “Gawain, it is midday. Why are you so long in bed, are you ill?”
Gawain got up and opened the door ajar and said, “My Lord, I would be most grateful if you would leave me be for all is well here and in good health as is my beautiful wife, see …”
And he purposely opened the door fully to reveal Dame Ragnelle standing in a stunning gown with her red hair hanging around her waist looking a vision of beautiful and loveliness.
“Now you can see for yourselves why I am in no rush to rise and meet the day. Meet my wife, Dame Ragnelle who gave you the answer that saved your life.”
He told Arthur of the enchantment she has been under and how now it had been broken. All of Arthur’s knights were greatly relieved at his safety and pleased at the way things had turned out for him. The queen and her ladies were also delighted fearing that the hideous woman had murdered him, but even more pleased that his exemplary behaviour had won a wife of outstanding beauty. There was much relief all around and Arthur told the queen of how he had been forced to swear an oath in the forest of Inglewood to save his life and how Dame Ragnelle had saved him.
Gawain explained how his wife had placed under an enchantment by her stepmother and how his marriage to her and the choice he made to grant her sovereignty over herself and him on his wedding night had broken the spell.
Dame Ragnelle said, “I give my thanks to Gawain for without him I would still be the hideous, vile and misshapen thing. Therefore, although Gawain has recognized my own sovereignty over myself and granted me sovereignty over him I swear I shall never abuse or misuse it. I will be his wife and he my husband as it should be. There will never be discord between us.”
In return Gawain pledged his love and faithfulness, acknowledging the mercy she granted him.
The queen declared to her ladies that Lady Ragnelle was the most beautiful of the all and said, “I give my thanks to you for saving the king for I love him with my life!”
Gawain and Dame Ragnelle settled down and soon she bore him a fine strong son whom they named Gyngolyn, who grew up to be a good knight of the Round Table. It soon became apparent that Gawain loved his wife more than anything in the world. He gave up jousting and competing in tournaments and spent all his time by her side and she was reckoned the fairest lady in England.
Lady Ragnelle, begged Arthur to forgive her brother Sir Gromer Somer Joure for the wrong he had done to him and he reluctantly agreed. If everything appeared happy for a time it was bound to change. Sadly, after five happy years together Lady Ragnelle passed away. Although Gawain remarried he was said to have never loved anyone else like he loved Lady Ragnelle.
This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com under the title, British Legends: King Lear and Cordelia – A Tale of Love and Foolishness, by zteve t evans on May 30th, 2019.
Legendary Rulers of Britain
King Leir and his youngest daughter, Queen Cordelia, were legendary rulers of the the Britons. Their story appeared in History of the Kings of Britain(Historia regum Britanniae) by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th century and presented here is a retelling of that story.
Leir took the throne after the untimely death of his father, King
Bladud, and founded the city of Kaerleir upon the river Soar, which
later became Leicester. Both were named after him.
As he grew older, Leir began to consider what should be done with his
kingdom when he died as he had no son. He did have three daughters, and
decided he would marry them to suitable husbands and divide the kingdom
between them. First, Leir decided to test each daughter’s love for him
to decide who would receive the best parts of his inheritance. To do
this he decided to ask each one how much they loved him.
A Test of Love
First he asked his eldest daughter, Goneril. Seeking solely to impress and flatter she told him she loved him more than her own soul. Pleased with her answer he told her,
This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com, 18/04/2019, under the title, Mythical Beasts: The Griffin, the Legendary King of all Creatures, written by zteve t evans.
A griffin is a legendary beast believed to be the offspring of a
lion and an eagle, depicted in various ways by many different human
cultures in different places throughout antiquity. It is usually
depicted as having the back legs, tail and body of a lion, with the head
of an eagle, sometimes having projecting ears. It is usually shown with
eagle wings, but sometimes is wingless and sometimes has eagle talons
on its forefeet. The eagle part was sometimes covered in feathers while
the lion part had fur.
King of all Creatures
The lion was considered to be the king of the beasts, while an eagle was the king of the birds. The griffin, as a hybrid of these two, inherited the qualities of both, making it very powerful and the king, or ruler, of all creatures. Griffins were also known by a number of other names including ‘griffon,’ ‘griffon,’ or ‘gryphon.’ They
were often depicted as having wings, but sometimes found wingless, as
in the fine example found in the Palace of Knossos and shown here. The
Palace of Knossos was the ancient ceremonial and political centre of the
Bronze Age Minoan civilisation on Crete, described as the earliest in
Europe, indicating the age and importance of the griffin motif.
Griffins in Mythology
Depictions of griffins are found in
the art and mythology of many diverse ancient cultures, including
Iranian, Anatolian, Egyptian, European, and Indian. In early Greek art
they were shown pulling the chariots of the gods Apollo and Nemesis, and
were said to be the hounds of Zeus. By their association with Apollo
they became associated with the sun, and through their service to
Nemesis became known as protectors and guardians, carrying out
retribution for injustice on offenders. One legend tells how Alexander
the Great captured two griffins and chained them to his throne. He
eventually managed to tame one and rode on its back as it flew him
around his realm for seven days.
Guardians of Treasure
Griffins were often seen as the guardians of treasure and priceless objects. They were associated with gold and said to guard gold mines, and often appear on tombs as guardians. According to Pliny the Elder, griffins laid eggs in burrows in nests lined with gold nuggets. Other accounts say griffins built a nest like an eagle’s and lay eggs of agate, which is a semi-precious stone.
Sir Francis Drake was one of the most celebrated mariners of the Elizabethan era and one of the greatest heroes of British naval history. In his career he had many spectacular victories, but also some serious defeats. It is his victories which he is most remembered for. In the modern age for some people his reputation is tarnished by his involvement with the slave trade and his part in the Rathlin Island massacre in 1575. Nevertheless, to the English he was the scourge of the Spanish Main and a hero who played a key part in saving the nation from the Spanish armada. To the Spanish he was a bloodthirsty pirate who plundered the treasure ships carrying the gold and silver they had plundered from the Native Americans. Presented here is a brief retelling of his adventures and his exploits concluding with a brief look at some of the legends that surround him.
Drake’s Early Career
Francis Drake began his seafaring career becoming apprenticed to a merchant who owned a small freight boat trading between England and France. He proved an adept seaman, a skilled navigator and a such a highly regarded employee that when his employer died childless and without an heir, he left the vessel to Drake.
Drake had cousins by the name of Hawkins who were traders and privateers. They owned a fleet of ships based in Plymouth In those days a privateer was not much different to a pirate except that a privateer had the backing of Queen Elizabeth I who took a portion of the plunder.
First Voyage to the Americas
Drake made his first voyage to the Americas at the age of 23 with Sir John Hawkins, his cousin. He was given the command of his own vessel in 1568 called the “Judith.” In San Juan de Ulua, a port in Mexico the two ran into trouble. Although Drake and Hawkins escaped many of their men were captured, or killed. From then on Drake developed a burning hatred for Spain. In 1570 and 1571 he again returned to the Americas though both voyages were uneventful.
Return to the Spanish Main
Queen Elizabeth I granted Drake a privateer’s commission in 1572. In effect, this gave him her permission to attack and rob Spanish ships and property wherever he found it much to the fury of King Philip II of Spain. With the permission and encouragement of Elizabeth he set sail for the Spanish Main planning to attack the strategic port of Nombre de Dios in Panama. Along with him were two other ships, the Passcha and the Swan and 73 men for the planned raid on Nombre de Dios, the nearest Atlantic port to the Pacific. Nombre de Dios was important because gold and silver from Chile and Peru on the Pacific coast was transported overland across the narrowest part of Panama to the Caribbean port. It was then loaded onto ships and taken by the Spanish through the Caribbean Sea and across the Atlantic Ocean to Spain.
Although he and his men captured Nombre de Dios, Drake was seriously injured in the fighting. This forced the attackers to pull back without winning much treasure and Drake was forced to find a safe haven in the area to recover from his wounds. When he was fully recovered, he and his crew embarked on a series of raids on Spanish shipping along the Spanish Main. From these raids Drake captured a great deal of gold and silver taking it back to England in 1573.
Back to the New World
Queen Elizabeth was delighted with the success of his expedition having also gained much in profit herself. In 1577, she sent Drake along with Thomas Doughty and John Wynter, back to the New World on an expedition to raid the Spanish settlements on the western South American continent along the Pacific coast. The three men were to jointly share command of a small fleet of five ships and men that comprised the expedition. After raiding Spanish settlements in the Azores, Drake assumed command. Doughty resented this and tensions between the two festered as they crossed the Atlantic.
Drake Executes Doughty
On reaching the coast of Argentina, tensions came to a head and Drake had Doughty arrested and tried for witchcraft and treason. He was found guilty and beheaded. Drake then made all officers responsible directly and only to him, effectively giving him full control of the fleet. A short time after this Drake changed the name of his flag ship, the Pelican, to the Golden Hinde. This may have been a move to placate Sir Christopher Hatton, one of his sponsors because Doughty had been Hatton’s personal secretary. The Hatton family coat of arms featured a golden hind so the name may have been deemed an apt compliment.
Now in total command of the fleet he set sail for the Straits of Magellan and then on to the Pacific Ocean. A storm arose and two ships could not keep up. One commanded by John Wynter gave up and returned to England. The other was lost in the storm. Only his flagship, now renamed the Golden Hinde, remained of his fleet, but Drake pressed on with his expedition. Navigating through the Straits into the Pacific Ocean and sailing up the coast of Chile and Peru he attacked and plundered many unsuspecting and unprotected Spanish treasure ships. Eventually he reached the California coast claiming it for Queen Elizabeth.
Here he landed and repaired his ship, rested his men, and replenished supplies and provisions, before sailing across the Pacific to the Indian Ocean. Then rounding the Cape of Good Hope he returned to England. In 1580, he finally arrived in Plymouth to become the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world.
The treasure he had plundered from the Spanish made him a very wealthy man. Queen Elizabeth and his investors were delighted at the highly profitable enterprise and with their share of the booty. In 1581, the Queen gave him a knighthood and he was elected to the House of Commons.
Back to the Spanish Main
When relations between England and Spain reached a new low between 1585 and 1586, Queen Elizabeth sent Drake back to the Americas to harry and plunder Spanish ships and settlements. Apart from the huge financial incentives, the hope was to damage their economy and morale. Drake successfully raided or captured several Spanish settlements in both South and North America, angering King Philip II of Spain.
The Spanish Armada
King Philip of Spain ordered the construction of a massive armada planning to invade and conquer England. Drake, as bold as ever, led a pre-emptive strike on the Spanish city of Cadiz where the armada was anchored. He destroyed over 30 vessels and thousands of tons of supplies. Furthermore, he mocked King Philip referring to the raid as “singeing the king of Spain’s beard.”
After this Queen Elizabeth made him vice admiral of the English Navy and second in command, under Lord Charles Howard. But the danger for England was not yet over. Drake had damaged the armada but not destroyed it and what remained was still a mighty force and his attack had only delayed its sailing.
Under the command of Medina Sidonia the armada comprising of 130 vessels and 25,000 men moved menacingly into the English Channel in a crescent-shaped battle formation. The English fleet met and engaged them in battles that lasted several days. Although the Spanish galleons were bigger and heavier than the English ships the battle did not go their way.
The English ships were smaller, faster and more manoeuvrable and engaged the Spanish in a series of hit and run attacks. Two Spanish ships were disabled and Drake, always in the right place whenever there is plunder to be had, captured one of the galleons that carried the pay chest of the Spanish army.
Finding the going tough against the English navy, the Spanish commander Sidonia, decided to rest up off the coast of Calais. He hoped he would be joined there by Spanish soldiers for the invasion of England. This was a mistake as while the armada kept its crescent battle formation the English navy found it difficult to attack them decisively.
The Battle of Gravelines
Sir Francis Drake and Lord Howard were not content to stop the fight just yet. The next day they sent fire ships sailing into the Spanish armada. The fire ships did little damage to the Spanish ships but caused great panic in their captains with many cutting anchor and scattering out of the way.
In doing so they were caught in a strong south westerly wind that took them into the English Channel with the fast English ships in hot pursuit. The battle formation of the armada was broken and the huge, slow galleons, struggled with the hit and run tactics of the English navy. The big Spanish ships were trying to come alongside the English vessels and board them. But the English came in close in a line and turned their ships broadside firing their cannons blasting the Spanish vessels before quickly moving out of reach effectively ruining the Spanish battle plan.
The Armada Runs
Many English ships were running out of powder by the end of the afternoon and had to hold back At this stage the battle was still not fully decisive. Sidonia, the Spanish admiral, now believed he had no choice other than to take what was left of the armada north to sail around the Scottish coast and around Ireland to return to Spain. But as they rounded the Scottish coast they ran into a strong gale and many ships were forced on to rocks. Many of the sailors and soldiers on board were drowned, or if they reached land, were killed by English soldiers or local people. Less than 10,000 of the 25,000 who set off returned to Spain.
Drake Meets With Disaster
Queen Elizabeth was still not satisfied with the victory and in 1589, commanded Drake to search out and destroy any vessels that remained of the armada. He was also ordered to aid the Portuguese rebellion against the Spanish occupiers in Lisbon. This proved to be a disaster with Drake losing 20 ships and 12,000 men. On his return to England he kept himself out of naval affairs taking up office as mayor of Plymouth.
Drake’s Last Voyage
In a bid at severing Spain’s revenue from the Americas and hopefully ending the war, Queen Elizabeth commanded Drake and his cousin, Sir John Hawkins to sail to Panama in a bid to capture as much treasure as possible. In the Caribbean, Drake’s fleet clashed with Spanish ships before anchoring off the coast off Portobello, Panama. Here, Drake contracted dysentery dying of fever on the 28th of January, 1596. He was placed in a lead coffin and buried at sea off Portobello.
Legend In His Own Lifetime
Drake was very much a legend in his own lifetime. To the English he was a great national hero who had given his best for his queen and country. Perhaps one of the greatest compliments of his prowess came from the Spaniards. They called him “El Draque” and King Philip II was believed to have offered a reward of 20,000 ducats, for him dead. This would be the equivalent of around £4 million, or roughly $6.5 million in today’s terms.
The Legend of Drake’s Drum
Drake had a snare drum that he took with him on may of his voyages and was with him on his last. According to legend, just before he died he instructed that the drum be taken back to England where it was kept at his family home of Buckland Abbey. He vowed that should England ever be in danger someone should beat upon the drum and he would return to save his country. The legend also says that the drum can be heard when England is at war or when events of national importance occur.
The legend of the Drake’s drum is a variation of the classic folklore motif or theme of the king under the mountain who lies either dead or asleep to awake and save his people in times of danger. Allegedly the drum has been heard to beat several times when the nation has been threatened, in danger or at other significant times.
It was said to have been heard in 1620 when the Mayflower left Plymouth for the New World and was also reportedly heard when Admiral Lord Nelson was made a freeman of Plymouth. It was said to have been heard again when Napoleon Bonaparte was brought to Plymouth Harbour by ship as a prisoner after he had been defeated. The drum was said to have been heard in 1914 at the beginning of World War I. A victory roll was reported to have been heard on HMS Royal Oak that was attributed to Drake’s drum when the German navy surrendered. It was also allegedly heard when Dunkirk was evacuated by British troops during the Second World War.
Illustration by Charles Gliddon – Believed to be Public Domain
Presented below is a retelling of a story from Goblin Tales of Lancashire called the Pillion Lady collected by James Bowker.
The Pillion Lady
It had been a beautiful summer day and after conducting a good day’s business in the local market Humphrey Dobson had spent a few hours drinking with his friends in his favorite tavern. Deciding he had drank his fill he mounted his easy tempered mare and set off on the road home.
It was a warm and balmy evening and the moon was throwing down her light making the road easy to follow. There was one place along the route that Humphrey was always wary about. This was where a road crossed over a stream which was said to be the scene of where a maiden was murdered many years ago. Nevertheless the moon was high and lighting the road sufficiently for Humphrey to see the stream and fortified by the beer he pushed on.
The bridge was shrouded in darkness caused by dense branches of overhanging trees that blotted out the moonlight. It was the dark bridge that gave Humphrey the shivers. He had heard many eerie stories of a headless woman reputed to haunt the bridge that appearing to terrified travellers. To bolster his spirits he began to sing an old song and stoutly urged his horse onwards.
“He rode and he rode till he came to the dooar,
And Nell came t’ oppen it, as she’d done afooar:
‘Come, get off thy horse,’ she to him did say,
‘An’ put it i’th’ stable, an’ give it some hay.”‘ (1)
Nevertheless, as he approached the bridge he could feel his heart beginning to quail and suddenly he spurred his horse forward to gallop cross the bridge. No sooner had his horse’s hooves struck the stone on the bridge when an eerie, unearthly laugh rang out from beneath the arch. The horse shuddered and snorted and galloped nervously forward but as it did so Humphrey’s blood turned to ice as he felt a deathly cold arm creep smoothly around his waist and at the same time experienced faint, cold, pressure against his back as if someone or something was close behind and leaning on him.
Shocked and startled by the experience his heart racing and breaking into a cold sweat he hardly daring to look around. His horse galloped wildly out of control itself sweating in fear, eyes wild and rolling. Humphrey fought to gain control of the terrified beast as its iron-clad hooves thundered upon the cobbled stones causing flashing sparks in the darkness.
Another eerie cackling laugh split the night but this time seemed so close to his ear that Humphrey looked quickly around and was shocked and terrified at what he saw. It was not the headless woman he had heard so many frightening tales about. The thing behind him with its arm wrapped tightly around him certainly was not headless but more grotesque and terrifying than that. The ghastly thing had a head, or rather a grinning skull that looked out of black hood so close to his face they were almost cheek to cheek, a pale light flickering from its empty eye sockets and its ample teeth white in the light of the moon.
Paralyzed by fear Humphrey was forced to ride cheek by jowl with the terrifying thing as the mare galloped wildly down the road. Every now and then his ghastly pillion passenger let out a hideously laugh its jaw snapping grotesquely close to his ear. As its arm tightened around him he slipped his own arm down to feel but was alarmed to discover that what encircled his waist was the cool hard skeleton of an arm.
Shocked and terrified to the core Humphrey continued on the wild ride clasped in the loving embrace of his skeletal companion. He lost all sense of time as frozen in fear he careered wild down the road on his frantic horse. Suddenly the horse came upon a sharp corner in the road and had to turn sharply to get round it as the ghastly figure behind let out another terrifying laugh. Humphrey was completely unready for such a sudden a manoeuvre and was thrown over the head of his terrified steed landing heavily upon the road.
There he lay unconscious through the night until the sun began to rise. He finally regained consciousness with the dawn chorus in the trees above in full song. Looking around he saw his horse quietly grazing just along the road. Climbing painfully to his feet, for he was battered, bruised and bleeding, he managed to mount the horse and ride carefully home.
On his return he was greeted by several farm lads who listened to his story with disbelief and not a little humor. They jibed him and jested at the idea of his ghastly skeletal passenger making great fun of him. Yet thereafter, not one of his tormentors, dared cross the bridge over the stream alone after dark, ever since the night Humphrey Dobson had a fright.
During the Middle Ages a very strange and very popular story appeared that told how the island today known as Britain was first named as Albion. It appeared as an anonymous Anglo-Norman poem called Des Grants Geanz (Of the Great Giants) ca 1333-34 and often appeared as a prologue in the Brut chronicles, or Prose Brut. This was the collective name for a number of medieval works written in Anglo-Norman chronicling the history of Britain from its mythological founding by Brutus of Troy to the Plantagenet period.
The poem should be read as an allegorical work and tells how a Greek or Syrian princess named Albina and her twenty eight sisters were sent into exile arriving on the shores of an unknown country and with supernatural assistance created a new society. When it first appeared it was largely accepted as being true despite the highly fantastic elements that were featured in the story. There were several versions which varied slightly in detail depending who was doing the telling and where they were found. Presented her is a retelling of the story from more than one source followed by a brief discussion of some of the main questions and themes.
The Story of Albina and her Sisters
This story begins 3,970 years after the world began. In Greece there was a king who was the most powerful king on Earth and more powerful than all of the other kings combined. This king was exceptionally tall and married a beautiful wife who was also exceptionally tall. She bore him thirty daughters who were all very beautiful and very straight and tall like their parents. There names are not known except for the oldest and tallest whose name was Albina.
The king and queen brought their daughters up ensuring they were taught all the royal protocols that behooved their status. When they reached an appropriate age their father decreed they should all be married to rich and powerful kings and with their marriage they became queens. They were very proud of their status as the daughters of the most powerful king on Earth and that with marriage they had become queens but there was a resentment that festered within each of them. After the marriages the sisters contrived to meet together as one group. In this group the sisters discussed a common grievance they saw as an unjust part of the femmine fate which in their eyes put them at an unfair disadvantage in their society.
The Murderous Plot
In the discussion that ensued it was agreed that not one of them would allow her husband to have sovereignty over her and furthermore, each would bind their husband to their own will. They believed that being daughters of the most powerful king on Earth they themselves should not be subjected to the dominion of their husbands or any man. For this reason they were adamant that they would be ruled by no man or allow their own status and standing to be challenged or diminished by anyone. This philosophy was agreed by each and everyone of them and to ensure this desire should reach fruition they devised a murderous plot. They took powerful oaths swearing that on a certain day they would murder their husbands while they were locked in close embrace in bed unless they should agree to obey the will of their wife in all of their doings.
With the plan of action agreed the sisters each returned to their respective husbands intent on carrying it out. However, the youngest sister had secretly not fully embraced the plan. Although she had sworn an oath with the others it was because she was terrified of them and feared her sisters would kill her. Upon returning home she realised she loved her husband more than anything and could not find it in herself to do him harm.
The Plot Unmasked
Although she tried to hide her grief and fear from her husband he loved her greatly and saw through her and asked her what the problem was. At this she broke down before him and revealed the extent of her sister’s conspiracy and begged his forgiveness for having gone along thus far with it. Her husband took her in his arms and comforted her for he understood her fear of her sisters and knew full well how much she loved him. In his caring embrace she calmed down and her heart filled with love for him. After reassuring her further he took her to see her father, the king, to disclose to him the full treachery of her sisters. Her father was both astounded at the plot and appalled. Once he understood completely the full magnitude of what his daughters were planning he had them brought before him accompanied by their husbands and confronted them.
At first they denied the plot but he persisted with his questioning and with his perseverance the murderous plot was slowly unveiled to the horror of their husbands. The king put them before independent judges who listened to their denials but investigated wisely. Eventually they found all the sisters with the exception of the youngest guilty of the intended murder of their husbands. She was held to have initially agreed to the plot under fear of her sisters and because it was her who had revealed it to her husband she was fully cleared of guilt.
The guilty sisters were imprisoned until a fitting punishment could be devised for them. Although such a crime usually warranted the death penalty it was decided that because they were all children of the most powerful king on Earth and his noble queen and indeed queens themseves they should be spared. Instead of execution a large ship was prepared for them. This would be deprived of rudder or means of navigation and furnished with no food, water or any kind of comfort. Once the sisters had been escorted on board the ship was towed out to the open sea where it was left at the mercy of the waves, currents, wind and the mercy of the gods. When this was done there was no one who pitied them for they had shown no regret or remorse only vexation that they had been found out and grief and sorrow for their own fate.
The Storm at Sea
The ship drifted with the currents for a few days before the wind began to blow hard and the sea became wild. While at one moment the ship rode the crest of a wave, the next it plunged into its trough and the women were thrown from side to side trying to desperately to find something solid to cling to. At any time the women could have been thrown overboard or the ship overwhelmed by the waves.
At last all the women could do was huddle together in the bottom of the ship, hungry, thirsty and terrified while lamenting their present state of wretchedness. Once they had they been royal queens and feasted on the best food and victuals and had servants at their beck and call. Now they were wretched and terribly afraid of their fate which was firmly in the hands of the gods. Many days and nights passed in this way and at last the women passed out through hunger, fatigue and sea sickness. For three days and nights they lay insensible to the world while all the time the ship was driven wildly across the seas.
An Unknown Land
At last the storm abated and the ship gently floated to the shore of a land that is now called Britain but in those times had no name for there were no human inhabitants. The sisters awoke from their sleep to find the ship had come to rest upon a fair and pleasant land. Greatly relieved and overjoyed they quickly followed Albina the eldest sister in stepping onto solid ground again. Being famished they were greatly relieved to find an abundance of nuts, fruit and berries to satisfy their hunger and they quenched their thirst from the pure springs of water of which there were many. After rest and refreshment they began to explore the unknown shore venturing further inland. They roamed the length and breadth of the land discovering it was in fact an island and were delighted to find many streams of clean fresh water and rivers and lakes abundant in fish and water birds. The land was home to plentiful game and there were many fruit and nut trees. Herbs and roots were easily found on the ground and they found rich, fertile meadows suitable for cultivation of vegetables and grain. Although the land appeared to be able to host great cities full of people with enough farms to feed them they saw no sign of human occupation or that it had ever been settled.
Although it was clear they would never again be queens the abundance of animals and birds greatly reassured them. After their exploration Albina called her sisters together saying,
“We must face that we as exiles cannot return to our native land and regain our former status as queens even if we could find our way back. Therefore, lets us see that we are indeed fortunate and fortune has delivered us to this island. I propose that with myself being the oldest of us it would be right that I take the rule and lordship of this land and you should all accept my command and because I was the first to set foot upon this land took seisin in doing so.”
When her proposition had been approved by all and Albina was made the leader over them with her authority recognised and accepted she named the land “Albion” after herself, so people in the future would remember her.
Although the land provided an abundance of fruit, nuts and plants to eat the women began to crave meat. They were clever and resourceful women and quickly learned how to make hooks and nets to catch fish and fashioned traps to catch birds and animals. They learnt how to make fire from flints and how to roast the game they caught. They used the skins for clothing and bones for needles and tools and learnt how to make flint knives, arrowheads and spears. In this way they feasted upon the bounty of the land and drank from its pure waters.
They feasted so well that they grew fatter and stronger their sexual desire grew and they yearned to satisfy their carnal needs but there were no men and no other humans. Nevertheless what they did not know was that the air over the land was inhabited by demon spirits known as incubuses who fed off the women’s basest desires and emotions. They came to the women at night in the shape of men and impregnated them with their demon seed and then vanished.
The Giants of Albion
Although the women could not see the men they all experienced the male presence and each gave birth to male offspring that was both gigantic in size and grotesquely resembled human beings. When their sons reached maturity they mated with their mothers who produced males and females. Brother mated with sister to produce a new generation of monstrous giants huge in physique and grotesque in appearance. These were the descendants of Albina and her sisters who had grown huge and abhorrent themselves and the incubi . In this way monsters mated with monsters and gave birth to monsters and abhorrent things mated with abhorrent things begetting abhorrent things that were gigantic in stature. The giants of Albion bred and populated the land and made for themselves underground dwellings or fortified the hills with great walls and stitches, some of which can still be seen today scattered across the ancient landscape though many have decayed over the ages.
Brutus of Troy
The giants lived peacefully for many years until the arrival to Albion of Brutus of Troy with an army of Trojans exiles. The Trojans arrived on Albion 1,136 years before the birth of Christ, while Albina and her sisters had arrived 260 years before them. On arrival Brutus set about exterminating the giants and claimed Albion as his own renaming it Britain after himself, so that people in the future would remember him. The last of the giants was named Gogmagog and was the largest and strongest of his race and their leader. After the slaughter of his kin the Brutus kept him alive to fight his lieutenant Corinieus, in single combat and was defeated and thrown him from a cliff to die in the sea.
This, according to the ancient texts was the beginning of the nation known after Brutus of Troy as the British who took control of the entire island after the extermination of the brood of giants.
Questions and Themes
This story still raises many questions and there is much more to it than a simple story. The narrative reveals the tension between male and female – patriarchal society and that of matriarchy – in the Middle Ages. This is seen in the initial rejection by Albina and her sisters of male dominance not just in marriage but in society and status. It was not equality the sisters allegedly sought but sovereignty over themselves and over their husbands wanting to rule them and all others to their will. In short they wanted mastery of themselves, their bodies and their lives for themselves while ruling over males.
Murder would have been bad enough but dominance and control over men threatened patriarchal authority and could not be tolerated hence their exile. In the medieval patriarchal view the family was a microcosm of the state and anything that threatened the status quo within it also threatened the state and male dominated society.
On arrival on to Albion it is noticeable that the already tall sisters grew fatter and stronger and their mating with incubus resulted in a monstrous gigantic brood of giants. Not only was their new matriarchal society unnaturally created it was unnaturally perpetuated by incest between mothers and sons and sons and sisters.
it is also worth noting that there was also a clash of Greek philosophies that were held important during the Middle Ages: the first was that of Aristotle and the second was that of Galen. These were important to how women were seen and also the state.
It also highlights another theme that occured in the prose and literature of the Middle Ages that was the question of what women really want which is also related to the various forms of sovereignty. This theme was found in the anonymous poem of The Marriage of Gawain and Dame Ragnalle and Geoffrey Chaucer’s, The Wife of Bath. These and other issues will be discussed in further articles concerning Albina and her Sisters and Des Grantz Geanz.