Maid Marian, famous as the legendary girlfriend of Robin Hood, took on many roles and personas over the centuries, changing greatly with the times. Although she is absent from the earliest known ballads of Robin Hood she later appear in many plays, ballads and stories. Her character and role varied greatly, sometimes appearing as a noblewoman at other times as a commoner or shepherdess. From her early beginnings which can be found in folklore she evolves through literature from a simple medieval shepherdess and May Day Queen, to the girlfriend of the famous Robin Hood.
Folklore is dynamic and changes with the ages reflecting changes in attitude and circumstances by society. This can be seen in action with Maid Marian and how she became a folk heroine. Over time she becomes a deeper, more complex character and much more than just the love interest of the famous Robin Hood and more than just an important character in someone else’s adventure. It is in comparison to her and her character and traits that much of the morality of these stories comes out, making her an important ingredient to the overall plot, exposition and denouement of the story through the ages. The overall impression is of a strong, independent lady in a relatively equal relationship with Robin. Her qualities of loyalty and compassion mixed with boldness make her a popular figure in the Robin Hood canon of literature providing a strong folkloric tradition. There is also more than a hint of her dangerous side when she is found in a role of noble woman covertly undermining the patriarchal and ruling order by passing information on to Robin. The fact that she has male suitors in high society and chooses Robin rather than them underlines her independence of mind and action.
Marion and Robin in France
In the pastourelle songs of France, Marian became Marion and she and Robin are found together but not in the way that we are familiar with. In these songs Marion is a shepherdess who rejects the romantic attention of a knight to stay faithful to Robin who is a shepherd. From this, Marion and Robin appeared in Jeu de Robin et Marion, a French play by Adam de la Halle in the later part of the 13th century.
Later they became connected to spring festivals and traditions in both France and England to celebrate the passing of winter and welcome the new growth of spring. These were often outside events enjoyed by the community with lots of feasting, singing, dancing, games and all sorts of fun activities and entertainment.
Marian as the May Queen
Maid Marian also has associations with the rustic figures of the May Queen and Lady May the personifications of May Day, springtime and summer connecting her with renewal, new growth, fertility and abundance. With the figure of Robin Hood becoming increasingly popular appearing in plays, games and ballads especially during Whitsun, Robin and Marian eventually became integrated into new roles as the King and Queen of the May Day.
The Virgin Mary
It was not Marian in the early works that was Robin’s important female interest but the Virgin Mary. However, society changed and England became more protestant. With Marian’s strong associations to nature and fertility she complemented the forest environment and was a good partner for the outlaw of Sherwoos, eventually taking on the role of his lover. However social attitudes modified her behaviour making her become much more modest, ladylike and virtuous rather than the lusty, rustic figure of fertility, vitality and renewal.
As Marian became more integrated in the Robin Hood stories her character, social status and circumstance change and evolve considerable. She is not just a damsel in distress in need of rescue by some bold heroic male, she evolves into a much more complex character. Some of the tales portray her as a robust woman of action, her fighting expertise matching, or even surpassing male counterparts and even that of Robin in some stories.
At times when she is found within the stately and highly patriarchal confines of Norman society within Nottingham Castle she is the secret rebel passing on information to Robin in Sherwood Forest. She can move between the two worlds of Norman and outlaw society while remaining true to her own values and personal beliefs and her love for Robin.
Nineteenth Century Marion
In the nineteenth century Marion loses much of her power becoming a highborn, chaste and delicate noblewoman of high birth and very much an archetype of the Victorian lady. Her love story with Robin becomes central but she is now a supporting character to her lover rather than one in her own right. Perhaps to please Victorian audiences she and Robin are married by King Richard the Lionheart in St Mary’s Church in Edwinstowe making the story of Robin Hood and Maid Marion more romantic and sanitized.
From the early days to the present we can see how the changes in society and attitudes to women have evolved and expressed at different times through the ages. Her character and her role are reflections of those times and the attitudes that prevailed towards the male and female role models. We have seen her evolve from the rustic mysticism of the May Queen to the archetypical lady of high society with a secret lover, to a more competent, confident and assertive female whose history in many ways reflects the lot of women through the ages. Marian stands out as one of the strongest female characters in folklore and literature and there is ample potential for further interesting developments in the modern age. The potential for further development for her is also seen in modern times with the greater freeing of women from their traditional archetypes.
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.
This article was first published under the title of British Legends: Warrior Women — The Battle of Britomart and Radigund the Amazon Queen on #FolkloreThursday.com, 28/02/2019 by zteve t evans
The Faerie Queen
The epic unfinished poem, The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser, published 1590-96, created a parallel of the medieval universe that alluded to events and people in Elizabethan society. The narrative draws on Arthurian influences, legend, myth, history, and politics, alluding to reforms and controversial issues that arose in the times of Elizabeth I and Mary I. It is an allegorical work that both praised and criticised Queen Elizabeth I, who is represented in the poem by Gloriana, the Faerie Queene. The six human virtues of holiness, chastity, friendship, temperance, justice, and courtesy are all represented by a knight. Spenser raises many questions about Elizabethan society, especially about the role of women in maintaining the patriarchal order. This is represented by a spectacular battle between Britomart, the Knight of Chastity, and Radigund, the Amazon Queen.
Britomart the Knight of Chastity
Britomart is a virginal female
knight, who not only represents chastity but is also associated with
English virtue, especially military power. The “Brit” part of her name comes from “Briton” while “martis” comes from the Roman god of war, “Mars,” meaning
war-like person. From an early age she refrained from the traditional
activities of girls at the time, and was trained in the use of weapons
and combat, preferring such typically masculine activities. She dressed
in the armour of a knight, acted like a knight, fought like a knight,
and wielded a magical black spear.
After a long quest and many
adventures seeking him, Britomart married Artegall, the Knight of
Justice whom she had seen in the magic looking glass belonging to
Merlin. Yet, as was often the way with knights, Artegall was bound to a
quest he could not abandon without losing his honour. Gloriana, the
Faerie Queene, had given him the task of rescuing the Lady Eirena from
the tyrant Grantorto. It was his chivalric duty to complete the quest or
die trying. Despite her sorrow at his leaving, Britomart knew she had
to allow her husband to complete his quest, and looked forward to his
Queen Radigund, the Warrior Queen
On his quest, Artegall, accompanied by Talos, an iron-man who helped him in the dispensation of justice, came to the country of the Amazons, ruled by the warrior Queen Radigund. She fought against any knight who arrived in her realm and would not submit to her will. After conquering them, she forced them to obey her every command or die. Radigund made all defeated knights remove their armour and against their will wear female clothing, forcing them to work by spinning thread, sewing, washing clothes, and other tasks that women usually did. If any refused or complained, she executed them.
The legend of Keong Mas, or the Golden Snail, is a popular folktale from East Java, Indonesia. There are several versions and this retelling draws on more than one source. It tells how many years ago there was a rich and prosperous kingdom called Daha ruled by King Kertamarta who had two beautiful daughters named Candra Kirana and Dewi Galuh. The princesses were very good friends as well as being sisters and were very happy and content with their lives.One day a handsome prince from the Kingdom of Kahuripan named Raden Inu Kertapati visited King Kertamarta. On meeting Candra Kirana for the first time he fell in love with her and she with him and he asked the king for permission to marry his daughter. King Kertamarta was happy to give his permission and the two were engaged to be married.
The Wicked Witch
Although the two sisters had been happy and good friends up until then Dewi Galuh was now deeply jealous of her sister wishing Prince Raden Inu Kertapati had chosen her instead. She thought that perhaps is she could somehow get her sister out of the way the prince might instead turn his affections towards her and marry her. Therefore, she sought the help of a wicked witch who suggested she cast a spell and turn her sister, Candra Kirana, into something repulsive to to kill the passion of Prince Raden Inu Kertapati promising to pay the witch handsomely. The wicked witch agreed but told her she would have to get near enough to cast the spell so she suggested she take her sister for a walk along the river bank where she would disguise herself and lie in wait for them and she transformed herself into a large golden snail.
The Golden Snail
As Dewi Galuh and her sister walked along the river bank they came across the golden snail and Candra Kirana said, “Ugh! What a repulsive creature!” The witch instantly transformed back to herself and cast her spell transforming Princess Candra Kirana into a large golden snail and threw it into the river
One day a very old woman was casting nets into the river hoping to catch some fish. She did this several times but when she pulled the net out each time she was very disappointed because the net was completely empty of fish. She decided to have one last go and once again the net was empty of fish but did contain a large golden snail. The grandmother had never seen a golden snail before and thought it would make a good pet so she took it home and placed in a large jar.
The next morning she went out down to the river with her nets hoping to have better luck than the previous day and catch a few fish. Again she was disappointed and this time there was not even a snail. She trudged home disconsolate but when she got back she had a big surprise. When she entered the door she noticed the pleasant aroma of cooking and on the table were beautifully prepared dishes of the most delicious food.
Of course she wondered who had sent her such wonderful food but she counted her blessings and ate it all. Everyday the old woman would go down to the river and cast her nets into the water and every day she would catch nothing. Each day on her return there would be a sumptuous feast prepared and waiting on the table for her. Of course, the old woman ate and enjoyed all the food and gave thanks for such blessings but she was curious. One morning she took her nets and made as if to go down to the river but instead double-backed and peaked through the window to see what might be happening.
At first she saw nothing but then she noticed her golden snail had slithered up the inside of the jar and then down the outside, To he utter amazement it then began to grow and transform into a beautiful princess who stepped out of the shell. The girl began preparing and cooking ingredients that appeared on the table creating the most wonderfully tasty dishes. The old woman was surprised and shocked and stepped into house and asked the beautiful princess why she was cooking for an old woman like her.
The Spell is Broken
The Princess of the Golden Snail replied, “I am Princess Candra Kiranathe daughter of King Kertamarta. who was chosen by Prince Raden Inu Kertapati to be his wife. My sister Princess Dewi Galuh was jealous and persuaded my wicked witch to transform me into this golden snail. The old woman was disbelieving of the tale but when remembered how she had seen her transform into a princess from the golden snail before her eyes she was astounded but believed. Now although the old woman was not in anyway magical she possessed a certain wisdom and this wisdom told her that if she broke the golden snail’s shell then the princess would not be able to transform back into a snail and return to it so she crushed the shell under her foot. Sure enough the princess had nowhere to return to and the spell was broken.
Prince Raden Inu Kertapati
Meanwhile, Prince Raden Inu Kertapati learnt of the disappearance of his true love and was heartbroken. He loved her with all of his heart and she had become the light of his life, his candle in the dark and he resolved to find her. He left the king’s court and searched the countryside and traveled to many towns and villages in search of his lost love but could find no trace.
His disappearance from court came to the ears of the wicked witch. She quickly realised he was searching for Princess Candra Kirana andtransformed herself into a crow to seek him out and thwart him. One day as he was resting under a tree a crow came and perched in a branch above him and began talking to him. Of course he was surprised by encountering a talking crow but realizing it must be magical listened to what it said. The crow deceived him telling him that Princess Candra Kirana, the light of his life, his candle in the dark, was kept prisoner by a wicked old woman in a place over the mountains and told him that he would lead him to that place.
Therefore, he followed the crow’s which flew before him. After many days traveling he came across an old man who was sat by the road begging for food. The prince had little to give but gave it all anyway even though he knew he would have to go hungry.The old man thanked him and after he had eaten told him that he was a sorcerer and because he had stopped and given him the last of his food he would help him to find his heart’s desire and asked him what that might be.
Prince Raden Inu Kertapati told him about his search for his lost love and how the crow was leading him to where she was being held prisoner. The old man looked searchingly at the crow then hit it with his stick and it disappeared in a puff of smoke. The prince was aghast and shouted, Why did you do that? Now I will never find my lost love who is my heart’s desire!”
The old man smiled and said, “Fear not! I will tell you where your heart’s desire lies and I will tell you that cast upon her is now broken by an old woman and I know where she is waiting for you.”
The old man told him which village she could be found in and gave him directions and told her she lived with a kind old woman and which house they lived in. So the prince made his way to the village and when he arrived he was tired and thirsty so he approached one of the huts to ask for drink of water. He knocked on the door and a kind old woman answered and invited him in to have a drink and a rest. As he entered he was thrilled to see Princess Candra Kirana cooking some food. As soon as she saw him she ran to him and they embraced.
Prince Raden Inu Kertapati took Princess Candra Kirana and the kind old woman back to the Royal Court and Princess Candra Kirana told her father, King Kertamarta about the spell her sister had persuaded the wicked witch to place on her. The king was very angry with Princess Dewi Galuh and fearing what punishment he might inflict upon her she fled into the forest and was never seen again. Prince Raden Inu Kertapati and Princess Candra Kirana were married and lived a long and happy life together and the kind old woman stayed with them.
This is a retelling of a folktale called The Murder Hole, found in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction Magazine, 1829 and believed to be set in an area of Scotland about three hundred years earlier.
The Murder Hole
In a remote part of the country there exists a lonely road that runs for miles and miles through an empty and dreary landscape broken by the odd sharp hillock and tor and a few scattered and tortured trees. On one side of the road stands and old stone cross that seems to stand as a bleak warning to the unwary traveler that they are crossing over a boundary into the unknown. Beyond that lies a ruined, abandoned church. There are no flowers and In daylight the landscape appears to be covered in a mass of dull grey, green stringy grass but it is a deceptive and dangerous place. From the road the ground looks firm and solid but there are bogs and marshes whose watery surface take on the grayness of the skies and hide their presence from the unwary and these stretch as far as the eye could see in all directions. The only time their presence can be seen plainly is at times when the veils that shroud this world from the next become thin such as at sunset just before they lift. Then light from the dying sun strikes the watery surface revealing blood-stained pools and streams that appear from the landscape giving it a surreal and disturbing aspect. At such a time any traveler on that road would be vulnerable to their own thoughts as the veil lifts and the night creatures begin to roam through. The road was bad but it was better to keep upon it than risk the treacherous bogs and marshes that changed and shifted. These were dangerous for those who did not know the area but the few locals who remained could find their way through safely.
The only sign of human habitation were a few rough wooden huts clustered both sides of the road that made up a small almost deserted hamlet situated in the center of this God forsaken place. Anyone using that road from either direction must eventually pass this place though it was not quite fully abandoned. There had never been many people making their home in these parts at the best of times and slowly people drifted away to settle in a village beyond the moor telling in hushed tones of the malevolence that haunted that strange forsaken place.
Rumors filtered out that some evil walked upon the moor and travelers used it less and less and then only out of dire necessity and never at night. When people went missing, the people from the hamlet scoured the moor each time, but no body or grave was ever found. No place that may serve as a hideaway was ever discovered that might have been used by those seeking concealment for some reason.
Nevertheless, over the years, people kept disappearing without a trace and the few inhabitants became fewer and fewer. People told of the terrible black nights that fell upon the land and spoke of hearing the deathly silence broken by unearthly screams of anguish from some distant place on the heath.
A shepherd who had been out on the moor one evening came back with a terrifying account of how he had become lost in the featureless plane and came across three dark sinister figures. They appeared to be locked in a terrible struggle, each exuding supernatural effort against the other until one of them slowly sank screaming into the very earth.
This along with similar sinister events persuaded the people of the hamlet to pack up their meager belongings and head for the safety of the village on the other side of the moor. Eventually, the only inhabitants that remained were an old woman and her two sons who owned a humble but ramshackle cottage. They complained that they stayed because they were prisoners bound to this dreadful place by the chains of poverty
The few travelers who used the forsaken road now only did so in groups and would spend the day traveling together and rest up over night at the cottage of the old woman and her sons who were glad of the income they brought. The lodgings were poor and basic but the safety of four walls around them and a roof over their heads was greater draw than traversing that haunted road in the dark. Sometimes by the firelight the cottagers would tell a story or two of the horrors of the moor and watch in dark humor at the terror on the faces of their guests. After a sleepless night In the morning they would gladly pay their hosts and continue their journey glad to be gone
It so happened that one storm night in November, a young pedlar-boy rather than listen to the advice of locals and common sense travelled the road alone. The year before he had traveled this road as part of a group of people and believed himself acquainted and prepared for what a solitary journey may bring but he was wrong
As the night fell and the wind blew he heard the cries and groans of the dying all around him. Fearing to look to the left or to the right he forced himself onward. At last in the distance he saw the glimmer of a fire through a window and knew he was approaching the cottage and hurried towards it. Remembering his last stay as a member of a large party he expected a warm welcome. The old woman had regaled them with terror tales and had appeared to take a shine to him begging him to stay
Reaching the door in relief he rapped loudly upon it but despite hearing a great deal of noise and confusion no one answered. Thinking that the inhabitants might think it was supernatural visitor whom the old lady had spoken so much of on his last visit he looked through a side window. As he looked he saw everyone was busy. The old woman was rubbing the stone floor and sprinkling a layer of sand over it. Her two sons appeared to be trying to push something large and bulky into a chest pushing the lid down and locking it. The pedlar-boy tapped on the window seeking to attract their attention causing them all to jump in nervous surprise and glare malevolent at him. This shocked the boy who was expecting a friendly welcome after his last visit. Before he could do anything one of the men rushed out of cottage grabbing hold of him tightly and pulled him roughly inside.
“Wait, wait! I am not what you think I am! I am only the poor pedlar-boy who came this way last year and you gave shelter. Don’t you you remember me? I stayed with you last year and you asked me to stay. When I said I couldn’t. you invited me back at any time and here I am,” he said laughing adding, “I am not what you think I am.”
“I am but a poor pedlar-boy all alone in the world. If I died tomorrow know one would miss me – no one would mourn me. I am completely and utterly alone! ”
The cottagers glared at him suspiciously and the old woman asked “Are you alone?”
“No one would miss you?” asked the old woman in a whisper.
“No one in the world, ” he answered beginning to feel nervous and sorry for himself, “would shed a tear, or be remotely distressed if I died this night!”
“Then indeed you are welcome here!” said the old woman looking at the other two slyly.
It was not the cold that made the pedlar-boy shiver and draw near the peat fire. He was thinking that the shelter of any of the dilapidated buildings in the ghost hamlet may have been a better choice than this. Despite the warmth of the fire he still felt chills running through him and now looking upon the sinister aspect of these three cottagers his apprehension grew. Nevertheless being alone and beyond any assistance he determined to conquer his fears, or at least suppress them to prevent them being revealed to his hosts
He was shown to a room that had the look about it that some violent confrontation had taken place. The curtains hung in tatters, the table had been broken by some mighty blow and whatever scarce furniture graced the room, parts of it lay scattered on the floor. The pedlar-boy begged for a candle to burn until he had drifted off to sleep and was reluctantly given one. When he had been left alone he explored further and found the door had been broken and to his consternation the latch and lock snapped off.
He tried to compose himself for sleep but his nerves were on edge. It had been a long arduous journey and he eventually drifted into an uneasy slumber. In his sleep his imagination was working overtime and vivid scenes of terror and horror flashed through his mind. He was in a lucid world of fear where he saw himself being alone and wandering lost upon the haunted heath. Something followed on behind and people appeared before him warning him not to enter the cottage before dissolving into mist before his eyes leaving naught but a hollow cry echoing in his mind. He found himself sat before the peat fire in the cottage with the three cottagers all looking upon him greedily. Suddenly the old woman moved and grabbed his arms holding them behind his back and the two men rose and moved slowly towards him grinning malevolently. Then he heard the sound of a slow tortured cry and awoke with a start. Covered in a cold sweat he sat up in bed he listened but could hear nothing. As he gazed fearfully around him his eyes were caught by a movement under the door. He stared in horror as a stream of bright red blood oozed silently and slowly underneath the door towards him
Jumping out of bed he crept to the door and peered through a crack into the next room. Seeing the trail of blood came from a goat one of the men had just slaughtered relief swept over him. Just as he was about to return to bed one of them spoke to the other saying,
“Hah! This was a far easier victim than last night’s. It’s a pity all of the throats we have slit were not as quiet or as easy. It is a good job we have no neighbours for miles around. The old man last night would have woken them all had they heard his cries for mercy. How he howled when saw you were going to cut his throat!”
“Let’s not speak of it. I hate blood shed!” replied the other
Oh, you do, do you?” laughed the first.
“I do and it is true. I prefer the Murder Hole. It tells no tales, leaves no trace. There is nothing to get rid of after and no one will ever find them. No one will ever find it and if they do no one will suspect there are over forty dead bodies hidden within it. It looks nothing more than a deep puddle and small enough for the long grass to bend over it concealing it. Unless you know you could stand next to it and never guess it was there or what it was.”
“Unless of course you step in it,” replied the second.”
“Indeed, it’s a fact and it sucks them down, so quick, it is a wonder of nature! How do you think we shall we end the pedlar-boy?” asked the old woman who stood watching hem and pointed towards the door which the pedlar boy was huddled behind trembling. Her eldest son looked at her and with his knife in his hand and a look of sheer evil motioned his knife across throat.
Although terrified the pedlar-boy had lived all of his life alone in a never ending struggle against the odds of fate. He had never given up and always won through and despite his fear and the odds against him he was not prepared to surrender his life easily. One thing he had learnt was there was a time to fight and a time to fly and decided there and then flight to be the best answer. Creeping silently to the window he gently eased it up and slipped out silently. Once outside he paused to get his bearings but was shaken to the core when he heard one of the men cry, “Curses! He is gone! He must have heard and will bring ruin upon us!”
“Let loose the bloodhound!” cried the other
“Make sure he does not escape,” cried the old woman, “do not bring him back here. Use the Murder Hole for this!”
The pedlar-boy’s heart stopped at these words and he feared greatly for his life but he was determined and quickly roused himself and fled into the darkness of the haunted moor. It was not long before the baying of the bloodhound broke the silence of the night as it picked up his trail. Forcing himself to greater speed he stumbled on through the night but could tell by the baying of the hound and the voices of the men they were gaining on him.
Although he struggled to see in the darkness the hound was unimpeded simply following his scent trail and grew nearer and nearer followed by the men carrying lanterns. Again he redoubled his efforts and ran blindly through the night but caught his foot on pile of stones, tripping and cutting his hands and knees and staining the stones with his blood. Stunned he lay on the ground panting and bleeding but hearing the baying of the dog growing louder and the men’s voices following he forced himself up and onward. It seemed like his feet had grown wings and he flew over the moor. He heard the hound yapping and baying at the spot where he had fallen and if he had dared to have looked back he would have seen it lapping at his blood on the stones where he had lain. To the annoyance of the men it would not move from the spot but continued lapping up his blood regardless of how cruelly they beat it. At last satiated with blood it refused to take up the scent a second time.
The villages dropped weighted hooks down the Murder Hole and brought up the bones of several victims. It was impossible to tell how many more were down there or how they had been dispatched. There was also the question of what had happened to those who had not gone down the Murder Hole and some suspected these were disposed of in a in a less than savoury way. Perhaps it is as well that we shall never know, but now at sunset when the veils grow thin and part three more wailing ghosts wander the haunted heath.
The pedlar-boy did not know this and continued his wild flight across the moors. Luckily he did not fall into the bogs but found the road where he could run faster. Although his assassins continued to seek him they could not find find him. As dawn broke he reached the village on the edge of the moors and knocking on every door raised the alarm. After the villagers had managed to calm him enough for him to tell them his tale the light of realization dawned upon them. It was the cottagers who had been responsible for the disappearances of so many of their loved ones. Forming themselves into a gang they marched to to the cottage and seized the old woman and her two son and took them back to the village for trial. The cottagers confessed to over fifty murders and took the villagers to show them the Murder Hole where they had disposed of so many of them. They were duly tried and found guilty and three gibbets were quickly constructed and justice dispensed.
The villages dropped weighted hooks down the Murder Hole and brought up the bones of several victims. It was impossible to tell how many more were down there. There was also the question of what had happened to those who had not gone down the Murder Hole and some suspected these were disposed of in a in a less than savory way. Perhaps it is as well that we shall never know, but now at sunset when the veils grow thin and then part, three more wailing ghosts wander the haunted heath.
Historically, Elen of the Hosts was a real woman who lived in the 4th century, but in British legend and Welsh and Celtic mythology, may go back even further. She appears to have been a woman of many roles that have grown and evolved over the centuries to the present day. Today, Elen is best known for her part as the subject of the affections of the emperor of Rome in strange tale of The Dream of Macsen Wledig, from the Mabinogion. The story depicts her as a mysterious woman of power who knows how to gets what she wants and appears linked to the giving and taking of sovereignty a very powerful attribute. Presented here is a discussion about who Elen was, and how she has changed and evolved over the centuries, hopefully encouraging the reader to perhaps research and create their own ideas for themselves.
The Dream of Macsen Wledig
Her story begins one day when the emperor of Rome, Macsen Wledig, was out hunting. Feeling tired in the midday sun, he decided to take a nap. As he slept, he experienced a dream that had an incredible effect on him. In that dream, he travelled across mountains and along rivers, and undertook a sea voyage which brought him to a fair island. He crossed that island and found a magnificent castle and in that castle, seated in a golden hall, was a beautiful woman and he fell in love with her. Macsen had found the woman of his dreams within his dream and, typical of a dream, he never gets his kiss. When he moves to kiss and embrace her, he awakens, and in the waking world there is no Elen. But Macsen wants his kiss badly and now the world has changed for him. He is obsessed with her to the point that he can think of nothing and no one else. His health fails and he begins to waste away and pines for her, telling his counsellors, “and now I am in love with someone who I know not. She may be real and she may be unreal, but I am mortally stricken, so tell, what am I to do?”. Although he did not know it at the time, the woman in the dream was named Elen, and it is clear from the dream that she was someone very special, but who was she?
Who was Elen?
Although very little for certain is known today about her, it can be seen from the dream that Elen was not an ordinary woman. Today she is known by many names. She is Elen Luyddog in Welsh or in English, Elen of the Hosts, and also known as Elen of the Ways, Elen of the Roads and Elen Belipotent in reference to her military leadership skills. She also is known as Saint Elen or Helen of Caernarfon, sometimes being named as Helen rather than Elen, and there are still more names. Elen was believed to be the daughter of Eudav, or Eudaf Hen, a Romano-British ruler of the 4th century who became the wife of Macsen Wledig, also known as Magnus Maximus, a Western Roman Emperor from (383-388AD). She was the mother of five children including a son named Constantine who was also known as Cystennin, or Custennin. She introduced into Britain from Gaul a form of Celtic monasticism and founded a number of churches. There are also many holy wells and springs named after her and there still exist roads were named after her such as Sarn Elen.
She was also a warrior queen. According to David Hughes in his book, The British Chronicles, Volume 1, after Macsen was defeated and executed, Elen reigned over the Britons. She led the defence of the country against invading Picts, Irish and Saxons. After a long, hard fight she pushed the invaders out, earning the name Elen Luyddog, or Elen of the Hosts and Elen Belipotent meaning “mighty in war”. In the Welsh Triads, Elen of the Hosts and Macsen Wledig, or in some versions Cynan her brother, lead an army to Llychlyn, which some scholars such as Rachel Bromich see as a corruption of Llydaw, or Armorica which does fit better with what is known.
There is a line of thought that sees characters in the Mabinogion as Christianised versions of far older gods. Some people also see her as being a conflation of several women and ultimately derived from an ancient Celtic goddess of sovereignty. The theme of sovereignty in one form or another does appear in the dream and she appears as the catalyst that can make it happen, or take it away.
From the dream, we learn that she was in the company of her father, Eudav, who was the son of Caradawc and is also known as Eudaf Hen, (Eudaf “the Old”), or Octavius, a King of the Britons, so she was a lady of considerable importance. This is evidenced by the surroundings in the dream, which matched exactly those she was in when the messengers of Macsen find her. Her response to the messengers is not one from a woman who sees herself as being subordinate to men or emperors, or anyone else no matter who they may be. When the messengers tell her about the great love their emperor holds for her and request she accompany them back to Rome, she revealed part of her true power by flatly refusing. Instead she told them to return to Rome and tell the emperor that he must travel to her if he truly loved her as he claimed. Macsen obeyed …
The carau (Aramus guarauna), is a bird found in the wetlands of Argentina and other countries in the Americas. It is also known as the crying bird, limpkin, carrao or courlan and is looks like a cross between a crane and a rail. From the northeastern part of Argentina comes a legend about its origin which also warns about the dangers of disrespecting one’s mother.
The Legend of the Origin of the Carau
The story tells how a mother suffering from a terrible illness sent her son to fetch medicine for her from a nearby village which she desperately needed. Her son was a young man who was perhaps not too bright and more than a little selfish and he set off walking to the next village to get the medicine. On the way he heard the distant sound of an accordion playing. Intrigued by the music he followed the sound and came to a place where a country dance was in full swing. Like many young men he liked to dance and liked nothing better than dancing with a pretty girl. Searching out the prettiest girl he asked her to be his partner and was soon completely taken up with dancing with her.
He was enjoying himself so much he forgot his poor, sick mother was waiting for him to return with her medication. He danced and caroused with her all through the afternoon and as evening began to fall one of his friends tapped him on his shoulder and said,
“Please accept my condolences on the death of your poor mother. I am very sad and very sorry for you.”
“It matters not that my mother has died, I will have time to grieve later. Right now I am enjoying myself” he replied and carried on dancing through the night. As dawn was breaking he asked the girl if he could go home with her. She looked at him with disbelief and anger and said,
“My home is far away and if it were near I would never allow one such as you who has no love for his mother to pass through the door!”
This shocked the young man and broke his heart as he suddenly realized what he had done and he went home crying bitter tears. God looked down and as punishment for his callousness towards his poor sick mother turned him into a large bird wearing the black feathers of mourning. Ever since his lamenting cry will be heard at dusk, through the night and at dawn, as a warning to all young men to respect their mothers, until God sees fit to pardon him.