Faustian Pacts: The Soul of Edgar Astley

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The Faustian Pact

A Faustian pact or bargain is also sometimes known as a Deal with the Devil. This is where someone makes an agreement or contract with the Devil or his demonic representative.  It is named after a character from German literature, legend and folklore named Faust, sometimes known as Dr Faustus or Faustus, who made just such a contract.  The devil grants their material or worldly desires such as riches, knowledge and power, usually for a set length of time, in return for their soul.  The pact must be honored and when that time comes the devil or his representative arrives to take the soul of his contract partner.

Hoghton Tower

Presented here is a retelling of a tale from Goblin Tales of Lancashire, a collection of folktales by James Bowker that appeared as The Demon of the Oak.  For those who like a little bit of history with their folk tales the story is set in an ancient fortified manor in Lancashire, England called Hoghton Tower.  This was the ancestral home of the de Hoghton family descended directly from Harvey de Walter, who was a companion of William the Conqueror. Their female line of descent is also impressive  descending from famous Lady Godiva of Coventry, wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia. The setting in time is uncertain but it is known the the land has been in the hands of ancestors of the de Hoghton’s since at least the 12th century and the present  house dates from about 1560–65 and rebuilt and extended between 1862 and 1901. The narrative centers around a young gentleman named Edgar Astley who in the story stayed at the manor and whose actual existence is much more nebulous than that of his hosts.

Edgar Astley

In fact, Edgar was a rather earnest young man whose habit of dressing in black indicated that he was still in mourning for someone dear who had passed away.  The servants of the tower, much like servants everywhere, discussed among themselves the reason for his sombre style of dress and melancholy air. They came to the conclusion he mourned for a woman whom he greatly loved and had deceived him and had married a rival instead of him. The lady in question had died mysteriously soon after for reasons unknown.

The speculations were sufficient to give the young man an aura of mystery and romance among the servants.  This was fueled when it was reported among them that strange colored lights had been seen from his room in the Tower at night.  This increased their suspicion making them wary and uncomfortable with the air of melancholy that he exuded

The more the superstitious servants thought about him the more they saw in him that was strange and abnormal.  They noticed how he would suddenly start out of a gloomy mood when approached making no secret of his desire to avoid where possible all society and companionship.   Even so, no one could ever accuse him of being unfriendly or rude and he was always very kind and patient with the youngsters of the household.  He always found time to chat cordially with the females of the household. When asked he would accompany them on rambles through the woods and countryside  and escort them on excursions to the local towns.

Yet it was noticeable that he did so more out of a sense of duty and chivalry rather than his own pleasure and quickly return to his station under the oak.  There he would read his dark books lost and become lost in dark thoughts. The ladies regarded him with an affectionate pity. They would try to encourage him to join them in more cheerful and sociable activities.  All though he complied he would only bear so much before politely returning to his books and dark dreaming.

The Baronet who was his host and master of the Tower liked him greatly despite his melancholy and strange ways.  Everyone else looked on him with pity. The general consensus was that time alone would eventually heal the darkness that appeared in his soul  and were happy for him to be amongst them. For his part, Edgar appreciated their sympathy and the freedom they allowed him in their home. He came and went as he pleased and the hosts were content to allow him this freedom asking no questions, just accepting him and his ways as they were.

Servant’s Talk

In the servant’s quarters the talk about Edgar was of  very different kind. One particular servant claimed he knew a servant who had known a footman, who had worked for Edgar’s family and there was a tragic story attached to the young man.  Apparently Edgar had once been betrothed to a young lady by the name of Anna.  She was a very attractive lady and had many suitors but she narrowed these down to Edgar and another young man.   She saw both of them at intervals and was very much in love with both but could not decide which she preferred and was well aware which ever one she rejected would be terribly hurt.  

Nonetheless, she enjoyed the attentions of both men and would play them off against each other.  Both suitors had been the best of friends but then a bitter rivalry developed between them for the love of Anna.  Both loved her with a passion and would have done anything in the world to win her favor and it seemed when she accepted Edgar’s proposal of marriage that he had won.  The date was set for the happy event and Edgar was looking forward to spending the rest of his life with the woman of his heart’s desire.

Edgar’s rival was not one to simply accept whatever fate should throw at him and the night before the wedding went to Anna and begged she elope that night with him.   She agreed and the two made off in her father’s coach and horses with all speed heading for Gretna Green.

The next morning word came to Edgar of the disappearance of Anna.  Of course he was devastated. Knowing that it could only have been at the instigation of his rival he took off after them intending a final confrontation with his rival.

Such was the talk in the servant’s quarters and their curiosity towards Edgar grew and grew and were fed by the peculiarity of his own habits.  It had been noticed that he stayed up late at nights in his room and strange lights and sounds could sometimes be seen and heard coming from it.  It was therefore decided that one of them should creep up to his room at midnight and listen at the door and look through the keyhole to try and learn more of this mysterious young man’s behaviour.  To his chagrin it was the servant who knew a servant who knew a footman that worked for Edgar’s family that was chosen for this dubious task. Therefore at the stroke of midnight, wishing he had kept quiet, the servant was sent up stairs to listen at Edgar’s bedroom door and spy through his keyhole.

Once at his station the reluctant spy knelt and put his eye to the keyhole listening intently for any sounds that should come through the door. Through the keyhole he saw that Edgar was seated at a table intently studying an ancient black book he had spread out before him. With one hand he shaded his eyes from a flame that burnt in  a small cauldron upon the table.

The Pale Student

Suddenly he leaned forward and with a quick movement of his hand took a pinch of a bright blue powder  placed in a saucer and sprinkled it upon the flame. The room was filled by strange, sickly aroma while the flame burst upwards with sudden life. The pale student of unhallowed arts turned over a page in the book and began to softly chant strange words unaware he was being watched.  Then he looked puzzled and muttered,

“Strange, I have bat’s blood, the severed hand of a dead man, viper’s venom, mandrake root and the flesh of a newt.  These are the ingredients stated and yet I still fail. Must I use the spell of spells at the risk of losing my life?

Think, man! What  is there for one such as me to fear in death? So far I remain unharmed from my experiments but were it otherwise I must still proceed to the bitter end.

There was a time when I would have given all my future happiness for her to be called by my name.  What is there left in this empty life for me that I should fear in this desperate enterprise to gain one last glimpse of her lovely face?”

As the pale student bent over the book studying the dreadful words on the cracked pages for the spy at the door the silence was almost palpable.  The night appeared to stand still and a harsh, rasping voice from the air cut through the silence saying,

Answer truly, will you give your very soul in exchange for a glimpse and a brief exchange of speech for she who you were once betrothed.”

The pale student quickly jumped to his feet excited and declared,

“Make no mistake, what ever you are, whoever you are, if you deliver her to me for a glimpse, a  brief word or two for the briefest of time my soul shall be yours forever!”

The night,  inside the house and outside, fell silent and the world seemed to stand still.  The spy at the door could hear the beating of his own heart and the the disembodied voice spoke once again,

“So it shall be! You have one last spell left that you must invoke at midnight beneath the spreading arm of the old oak and there and then shall you be rewarded with your heart’s desire.   Dare you look upon my face?”

replied the pale student.

“Devil or demon, whatever kind of beast you may be, I have no fear of seeing you”  

This was not the case for the spy at the keyhole who knelt shivering in fear at what he was witnessing and as soon as the lights flared a lurid blue he fell in a faint at his station by the door.

The Spy Discovered

When the spying servant finally came to he found himself inside the dread room with the pale student standing over him demanding,

“Who are you?  Why do you spy on me and what have you seen?  Tell me all, tell me true!”

Trembling in fear the terrified servant told him everything he had seen and heard while  Edgar listened gravely. When the servant had finished he would not allow him to leave until he had sworn on all that he held valuable that he would not tell a soul of what he had seen and heard that night.  To ensure the complete silence of the servant Edgar bound him by several terrifying threats of what would happen should he speak and then gave further instructions.

When the servant returned to the servant’s quarter his fellows all wanted to know what he had seen and heard.  They were disappointed when he told them he had spied so long and seen nothing and overcome with fatigue and boredom fallen asleep at his station.  Nevertheless, this appeared to satisfy his eager friends who could not help wondering what would have happened should he have been discovered.

The day passed in much the same way  as other days with the only notable exception being Edgar’s absence from the table under the old oak.  As evening fell dark clouds swept in from the distant sea and the wind began to rise and shake the old oak in its rage.

As usual the household had retired at eleven that night and only Edgar and one other were awake.  Edgar sat in his room at studying intensely the black book, but every now and then glancing impatiently at the clock.  At last he stood up and sighing to himself said,

 “The time I have longed for draws near.  Once again we shall meet!”

Taking up his small cauldron, the book and a few other items he left his room and went down the ancient staircase.  As he did so the servant stepped from the shadows and followed him. Calmly walking down to the old oak Edgar place his items at the foot of the tree and then taking a hazel wand from his pocket drew a circle around him and the servant.  Placing some red powder in the cauldron he put it down before him. As he did so a red flame leapt up from cauldron blazing with a steady flame while the wind roared in fury all around.

The Spell

In the gateway of the tower the chained guard dogs howled mournfully but Edgar pressed on with his task, striking the ground three time with his hazel wand, crying,

“Anna my love, my heart’s desire I summon thee!  Hear my words and obey, come to me this night!”

No sooner had he stopped speaking when the filmy figure of a most beautiful child appeared and floated around the outside of the circle.  The servant groaned in fear and sunk to his knees covering his eyes. The necromancer took no notice and as lightning flashed and thunder rolled he began incanting a new spell before finishing with these words,

“Soul of Anna, spirit of my love, spirit of my heart’s desire, I summon thee!  Come to me with all haste and without deceit and without power over my earthly body, spirit or soul.  May the shadow of death fall upon thee for ever if you refuse! Come now to me”!

With these last word the storm abated and all around fell to brooding silence. Suddenly the flame in the cauldron flared upwards several yards in height and a sweet voice could be heard engaged in a melodious chant.   A rasping, invisible voice said,

“Are you ready to behold the dead?

“I am ready!”

Before his eyes a column of mist formed and swirled and in that column slowly appeared the form and face of a beautiful woman still wrapped in her burial shroud.  She looked at him with sad, mournful eyes and asked,

“Why, Egar, why”

“Because I loved you, Anna! Did you love me?”

“I did!”

“And did you love him Anna, did you really love him?

“I do!”

Edgar gazed upon the ghost of his betrothed in tortured silence for some time. Slowly he reached out into the mist trying to embrace her.  As he did so the servant fainted at his feet as if struck down by death and thunder broke the silence.

“Edgar Astley, thy time is done and thou art mine forever!”

hissed a harsh disembodied voice at his side.  As these word were spoken the door of the tower were flung wide open and out rushed the baronet followed by his servants.

“Keep back, keep back! Save yourselves!”

“We would save you too! In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti!”  

cried the baronet striding forward to the circle holding a silver crucifix before him. No sooner had he spoken when the thunder fell quiet and the lightning ceased to flash and the moon broke through the dark clouds throwing down a soft light.

The servant was found face down trembling in the circle and carried indoors.  Edgar was found leaning against the trunk of the old oak. His eyes glazed and fixed upon the spot in the air he had last seen the ghost of his betrothed.  Gently the baronet took him by the hand and led him away as one would lead an innocent and trusting child. All reason and purpose had left his mind and his body was but an empty husk for he had gained his heart’s desire but in doing so given away his soul.

© 06/03/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright Copyright zteve t evans

The Popular Legend of Lady Godiva

The popular legend of how Lady Godiva rode naked on horse back through the streets of Coventry to save the people from a crippling and unjust tax known as the Heregild, is one of the most renowned stories in British folklore. The Heregild was a tax imposed on the English by the Danish King Canute to pay for his body guard.

Lady Godiva, by artist John Collier – Public Domain Image

According to the legend the event happened on a market day and had profoundly beneficial consequences for the people of Coventry.

The problem with legends is that there are often more than one versions of the same story and events that happened in the distant past get changed and exaggerated until it is difficult to discern the accuracy of accounts.  This article presents a version of the popular legend of Lady Godiva as it exists today and has been put together from a number of other versions.  It is the first of a planned series on the subject each of which will present different view points on the legend, such as the historical and pagan contexts of the story.

The Heregild Tax

Earl Leofric was a powerful lord loyal to King Canute and owed his position to his goodwill.  As such he was not prepared to risk losing that goodwill.  He strictly imposed the Heregild on the people and made sure it was collected

Lady Godiva was also rich and owned valuable land and assets in her own right in the area and was very fond of the local people.  One of those assets was the town of Coventry. She was a devout Christian and was renowned for being pious, virtuous and faithful to the Christian Church and its ideals.  In comparison, it was said that Leofric, although thought to be a Christian, did not hold quite the same religious convictions as his wife.

Leofric’s Challenge

Lady Godiva could see the suffering it was causing to her beloved people and persistently begged Leofric to put an end to the tax.  With his patience running thin through his wife’s continuous pestering he is reputed to have told her that she would have to ride naked through the streets of Coventry before he would repeal the tax.. He probably said this out of exasperation, thinking his very prim and pious wife would never do such a thing. However, Leofric badly underestimated his wife’s devotion to the people and her determination to help them.

Lady Godiva takes up the Challenge

Godiva took up the challenge and rode naked on a horse through the streets of Coventry.  There are a number of variations to the legend, but one says that the people of Coventry were so grateful to Godiva, that they kept to their homes and covered the windows and no one took advantage of the situation to try and peek at her.

Peeping Tom

Another later variation tells how she had sent out messengers to clear the streets in front of her as she rode. All the citizens of Coventry obeyed except for one who tried to peep but was immediately struck blind.  His name was Tom who was a tailor, and from that day on he became known as Peeping Tom.

In Coventry’s Cathedral Lanes Shopping Centre there is a rather peculiar carved painted wooden effigy said to be a depiction of Peeping Tom.  Its eyes are blank possibly because the paint has worn off or possibly for other reasons. Either way, Lady Godiva completed the ride veiled only by her long golden hair which was long enough to cover her body, leaving only her face and legs visible.

Leofric Keeps His Promise

It seems her husband, Leofric, was so impressed that his demure and pious wife would dare to do such a thing for the people of Coventry and so amazed that no one had seen her that he changed his own religious convictions.  He regarded it as a miracle and keeping his word to his wife he repealed the hated Heregild and founded a Benedictine monastery with her, although no trace of this remains today.

The grateful people of Coventry held an annual fair keeping alive the story of Godiva and her heroism.  Unfortunately this was banned during the Reformation.

The Godiva Procession

Around 1678 the fair was revived with a representative of Lady Godiva riding through the streets on a snow white horse accompanied by a man making lewd and suggestive gestures.  The Godiva Procession is an annual event which takes place in June.

Future Articles

Although the naked ride of Lady Godiva is one of Britain’s most famous legends there is no proof that it actually happened though Godiva and Leofric were both historical and important figures in their day. It is still debated whether this was the same Godiva or a different person.  Historically, back in the days when the event was supposed to have happened Coventry was just a small settlement and nothing like the city we know today. Many scholars think that the legend has its roots in pagan ceremonies such as the May Queen.  These and other ideas will be dealt with in future articles.

References and Attributions
Lady Godiva - From Wikipedia 
BBC – Lady Godiva 
LIBER GENTIUM MEDIEVAL BIOGRAPHY - Lady Godiva - the eleventh century Coventry legend
Image - File:Lady Godiva by John Collier.jpg - From Wikipedia - Lady Godiva, by Artist, John Collier (1850–1934) Credit line Photographer, user:Hautala