Lludd and Llevelys and the Three Plagues of Britain


Cropped image of Two Dragons from History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth – Public Domain

King Lludd

King Lludd appears in the Mabinogion in the story of Lludd and Llevelys as King of Britain.  This is a tale that tells how with the help of Llevelys, his younger brother, he overcome the Three Plagues of Britain that had caused his people great anxiety and fear.  It is thought that Geoffrey of Monmouth in the History of the Kings of Britain refers to him as Lud and it may be the case that the Mabinogion tale owes much to Geoffrey.

After the death of his father Beli the Great, as his eldest son, Lludd became King of the Island of Britain.   Lludd was a great and generous king and a mighty warrior and leader of men.  He was generous in giving food and hospitality to any who sought it from him and cared for the welfare of his lords and subjects.  During the reign of Lludd the island of Britain prospered greatly.  Lludd rebuilt the city of London that Brutus the Trojan, the legendary first King of Britain was said to have founded.  He surrounded it with strong walls with many towers to defend its citizens and called upon his subjects to built fine houses within those walls and London became the finest and richest city on the island of Britain.

King Llevelys

According to the Mabinogion, Lludd had three brothers and the youngest named Llevelys was his favourite. He was extremely fond of Llevelys who grew up to be a very wise and discreet man whom he could always trust.   It so happened that when the King of France passed away and having no male heirs to the throne he had left his kingdom to his daughter.  Llevelys sought her hand in marriage and after a successful courtship  married her and became the ruler of France.   He was to prove to be a good and just ruler who governed with great wisdom for many years and had a long and happy life.

The Three Plagues of Britain

The island of Britain ruled by Lludd continued to prosper as did France ruled by Llevelys.  There came a time in Britain when the situation changed for the worse and the people grew fearful and troubled.  Three plagues had descended upon the island of Britain that caused the people great distress and anxiety.   The first of these plagues was a people called the Coranians, the second was an unearthly Shriek heard throughout the land and the third was the theft of Royal provisions.

The Coranians

The Coranians were said to be a race of dwarves who had the power to hear anything and everything the wind touched.  No word could be spoken anywhere without them instantly hearing it.  They could hear every word that was uttered upon the island of Britain and so could never be attacked unprepared.  In some texts they were said to have settled near the Humber and allies themselves with the enemies of Britain.

The Shriek

The second plague came every year on the eve of May Day when without fail the most unearthly and terrifying shriek was heard throughout the land.  It was such an awful and terrifying sound that it would pierce the hearts of the people causing such terror that grown men turned pale and maidens lost their reason and cause animals, trees and the very earth to become barren.

Theft of Provisions

The third plague was baffling and annoying.   However much of the King’s food and drink was prepared in the Royal courts from morning to nightfall the next morning it would be discovered to have vanished overnight without a trace.

Lludd Seeks Counsel

Of these three plagues Lludd had more hope of being cured of the first than the other two because he knew the cause of the first, whereas with the other two the cause was a mystery.  Lludd called together the princes, the nobles and his wise men of his realm to discuss and set out a course of action.  After much debating and arguing they had to admit they were all baffled not knowing the cause so not knowing a remedy.  In the end it was decided by all that Lludd should travel to the court of his youngest brother Llevelys to ask his advice and most  being the wisest person and most trustworthy they knew.  All further preparations for the voyage were done in silence in case the Coranians heard of the venture. So it was that in silence and secrecy a fleet of ships embarked from the island of Britain bound for France to seek out the counsel of Llevelys.

When tidings of the fleet reached Llevelys he was puzzled at the meaning of the ships not knowing his brother’s reason for them.  Llevelys then assembled his own fleet and sailed to meet him.    When Lludd saw his brother’s fleet he immediately ordered all ships save the one that bore him to hold back while he sailed to meet his brother.   On seeing this Llevelys immediately did the same and the two brothers met together and embraced in love,  friendship and joy at their reunion.

Defeating the Coranians

Brass tube of Llevelys

Levely flushes out the Demon – Public Domain

After Lludd had explained the cause of his visit Llevelys said that it was good that he had come and that he could help and advised they go below ship out of the wind lest the Coranians should get word of their meeting.   Llevelys ordered the making of a long brass tube that they could use to talk through to one another without fear of the Coranians hearing.  This was done but when they spoke to each other through the tube the only words the hearer could hear from the speaker were all words of anger and hostility.  Llevelys realised that the horn was possessed by a demon of some kind that was deliberately twisting their words into anger.  He washed it through with wine which because of the goodness of the wine the demon to flee.

When at last Llevelys and Lludd could talk freely and naturally to each other Llevelys told his brother that he would provide him with insects and teach him how to crush these in water to create a mixture that would rid him of the Coranians. He would also teach him how to breed them should the Coralians ever return.  He instructed Lludd that he would need to throw the specially prepared mixture over the Coranians and they would be destroyed but not harm any of the people of Britain that the mixture might fall upon.

The Two Dragons

Two Dragons

The Two Warring Dragons – Public Domain

Then Llevelys turned his attention to the second plague and said,

“The second plague is caused by a dragon within your realm that is fighting a foreign dragon in a life or death battle.  The dragon of your realm is making the fearful shriek and here is what you must do.

When you return home you must have the length and breadth of the island of Britain measured from this you must work out the exact center of the island.  There in the very heart of the island you must have a deep pit dug and place a cauldron filled with the best mead in the land to be placed in the bottom of the pit.  Then, cover the cauldron with a sheet of satin and there you, yourself must remain to watch for the warring beasts which will appear in the form of two terrible animals.  These will fight each other but eventually they will rise into the air and take the form of two dragons.  These will continue to fight furiously in the air until they grow tired and will transform into pigs and drop out of the air into the cauldron onto the satin covering and fall through sinking to the bottom of the cauldron and drink up the mead.  This will cause them to fall asleep and as soon as they are asleep wrap the around in the sheet and then place them in a stone kistvaen and transport them to the strongest place of your kingdom and bury them.  While they remain buried in that place no plague shall again trouble Britain.” (1)

Mighty Man of Magic

Mighty Man of Magic

Mighty Man of Magic Stealing the King;s Provisions – Public Domain

Llevelys then told his brother that the cause of the third plague was a mighty man of magic who was using his magical arts to send everyone to sleep while he stole the food from Lludd’s court.  To prevent this Llevelys advised that it would be necessary for Lludd himself to stay awake to guard the store and confront the thief.  He told him to ensure he stays awake he should keep a cauldron of cold water at his side to splash over his face should he begin to drowse.

Lludd Frees Britain of the Plagues

Thanking his brother Lludd returned to Britain where he summoned the whole of his people along with the Coranians to a great meeting.  He had previously crushed and prepared the insect mixture as his brother had taught him and when all were assembled he threw the concoction over the Coranians killing them but leaving the Britons unharmed.    In this way through the advice of Llevelys the Coranians were defeated and the plague ended.

After this Lludd had his servants measure the length and breadth of Britain to determine the center of the realm and decided this was at a place now known as Oxford.  In that place Lludd had a pit dug and placed a cauldron of mead at its base.  He then covered it with a sheet of satin as his brother had advised.  On the eve of May Day he set himself to watch what events should unfold.

That night he witnessed the appearance of the two warring beasts who immediately set about fighting each other just as his brother had foretold. He saw how they rose into the air and transformed into great fighting dragons.  He watched as they battled each other and eventually overcome with exhaustion fell from the air into the cauldron of mead which they then drank and fell into a deep slumber.   Seizing his chance Lludd wrapped them in the satin sheet and placed them into a stone container and transported them to Dinas Emrys, which was the strongest part of his kingdom at the time.   This action ended the fearful shrieking that had plagued and terrified the entire island of Britain.

After this, Lludd resolved to deal with the mighty man of magic who had been plundering his stores.  He ordered a great banquet to be prepared  and setting himself on watch with a vessel of cold water beside him he awaited the arrival of the thief.  In the dead hours after midnight he heard many wonderful songs and many curious things and found himself sinking into a dreamy slumber.   Rousing himself he splashed his face with old water from the cauldron. He found he needed to do this often battling to stay awake.

As he fought against the slumber he became aware of the appearance of a huge man clad in the armour of a warrior and armed with a sword.  The giant proceed to gather all the food and drink and place it in a huge hamper.  Lludd sat still and watched for a while in wonderment and was further amazed that the hamper never overflowed with all that was being placed inside.  At last he decided enough was enough and jumping up and cried, “Stop! stop! You have insulted me enough!  Stop now or face my sword!

Ludd and the Mghty Man of Magic

Lludd Fights the Mighty Man of Magic – Public Domain

With a mighty roar the giant threw down the hamper and rushed at Lludd with his drawing his sword.  Lludd rushed to meet him and they fell together in deadly combat.  Fire flew from their swords and after a hard fight fortune gave the victory to Lludd.  As he threw down his foe to the ground and had him at the mercy of his sword he asked,  “Should I spare thee for all the wrongs you have done me?”

“Spare me and all that I have taken shall be returned in equal amount and from this day on I will be your faithful servant,” replied the giant. Lludd quickly reflected upon this and accepted and the Mighty Man of Magic served him faithfully and fully as he had promised.

The Two Dragons Reappear

So it was that Lludd rid Britain of the three plagues and from that day on his realm bloomed and prospered in peace and security and so the story of Lludd and Llevelys ended.  However, part of the story was to reappear many centuries later in the time of King Vortigern when the two dragons resurfaced to hinder the construction of a fortress Vortigern was building. This event was to see the emergence of a young Merlin who prophesied the coming of Arthur who would unite Britain under his banner and become King of Britain and drive out the Anglo-Saxon invaders at least for a time.

© 12/07/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Information

Copyright zteve t evans July 12th, 2017


The Curious Case of Spring-heeled Jack

Spring-heeled Jack was a legendary character who first appeared in Victorian London. He would terrify people by springing out on them and by his fearsome appearance.

Victorian London

Victorian London Scene – Public Domain.

In Victorian times London was the largest city in the world. It had experienced an explosion in population as people moved from the countryside in search of work as the Industrial Revolution unfolded.
In 1800 the population was about one million people but by 1880 it had reached 4.5 million.

This influx of people from the countryside was supplemented by people coming from foreign countries to live and trade in the great city. It was a melting pot of cultures where people brought their own traditions, superstitions and folklore with each adding to the other.

The rich and middle class lived in comfortable and spacious homes but lived in relatively close proximity to the poor and working class whose housing was usually in overcrowded slums. The streets were badly lit at night and crime was rife. In such an atmosphere urban legends sprang up and spread rapidly.

The first reports of Spring-heeled Jack

Reports of sightings of Spring-heeled Jack first appeared in London in 1837. Later reports came from all across Great Britain, with most coming from London and its surrounding area. There were also reports from the Midlands, Liverpool and Scotland. It soon developed into a popular urban legend. The last reported sighting of him was in Liverpool in 1904.

The strange appearance of Spring-heeled Jack

Artist’s impression of Spring Heeled Jack – Public Domain

Spring-heeled Jack was generally described as having a long pale face, horns on his head and had the ability to breathe blue and white fire from his mouth. His eyes were also said to glow red and he wore a tight fitting garment of white over his tall, thin, body covered by a dark cloak. His hands were like sharp metallic claws.

He got his name from his acrobatic abilities and was said to be able to spring and leap huge distances to escape capture. According to two witnesses he could speak good English.

During Victorian times there were many reports of ghosts that haunted the streets of London. They were said to be very pale and human-like and would prey on people walking alone. The stories told about these hauntings are part of a unique London ghost tradition which many people believe created the basis for the legendary Spring-heeled Jack.

The Mary Stevens incident

His first reported victim was a servant girl in London named Mary Stevens. She had been to visit her parents in Battersea and was walking to her place of work in Lavender Hill when she encountered him.

While she was walking through Clapham Common she was attacked by dark, bizarre figure that had sprung out of the shadows of an alley. Grabbing hold of her arms he had restrained her while kissing her face. His hands were like claws and he ripped at her clothing. Mary later described them as “being cold and clammy as those of a corpse.”

Fortunately for her, when she screamed he sprang off. Hearing her panic stricken screams a number of local people came to her assistance. Although they searched all over they could not find her attacker.

The next attack

The next day the strange figure struck again near to where Mary Stevens lived. This time he chose a different victim and mode of attack. He lay in wait for a passing carriage and sprang out in front of the horses causing them to panic. The coachman lost control resulting in him crashing the carriage and being seriously injured.

According to several eye-witnesses the culprit sprang off laughing manically leaping over a 9 ft fence to make his escape. As news of these attacks spread by word of mouth and the press he became known as Spring-heeled Jack.

A matter of public concern

Sir John Cowan, Lord Mayor of London, at a public session revealed that he had been sent an anonymous letter from someone in Peckham. The letter claimed that Spring-heeled Jack was a high ranking person in London life who had accepted a bet. The bet required this person to appear as a ghost, a bear and a devil in many of the villages around London.

The letter also alleged that Jack had struck several times and had so terrified his victims that at least two would never fully recover. It also claimed that although these events had been happening over a period of time the newspapers were strangely not reporting the attacks. The writer claimed that they knew about the attacks and knew who was responsible but chose not to publish on the matter.

A member of the audience revealed that there had also been a number of attacks in Kensington, Ealing and Hammersmith on servant girls. The girls were terrified and talked of being attacked by a ghost or the devil himself.

Reports of more incidents

File:Springheel Jack.png From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Author User Allen3 on en.wikipedia

Spring-heeled Jack jumped over a gate

On the 9th of January “The Times” did publish a report and the next day several other national newspapers followed. The Lord Mayor revealed he had received many letters from many places in the London area reporting similar acts.

Indeed, the sheer number of letters from all around London suggested that the culprit had been highly active in and all around the capital city. Many young women had been terrified out of their wits and some had been injured by the attacker who either had false, or real claws on his hands.

There were claims that many people in Brixton, Stockwell, Vauxhall and Camberwell had been overcome by fits when attacked or had died of fright. There were also reports that the attacker had also been active in Blackheath and Lewisham.

The Lord Mayor was undecided what to make of the situation. On one hand he thought that the events had been exaggerated but on the other someone he knew and trusted had related to him the case of a servant girl who had gone into fits when attacked by someone wearing a bear’s skin. Nevertheless, he was sure that the culprit would be eventually apprehended and brought to justice. Rewards were offered for information leading towards his capture and the police were now searching for him.

The Sussex Incident

A story originally reported in the “Brighton Gazette” was taken up by “The Times” on 14th April, 1838. The report told how a gardener had experienced a terrifying encounter with an unknown beast.

The incident occurred on the 13th of April, 1838, when a gardener in Rosehill, Sussex, had his attention caught by some kind of animal growl. A bear-like animal then appeared and climbed upon the garden wall and ran along the top before leaping down and chasing the gardener. It terrorised him for some time before finally climbing back over the wall and escaping.

Although there was little of similarity between the London incidents and this one “The Times” claimed, “Spring-heeled Jack, it seems, found his way to the Sussex coast.”

The infamy of Spring-heeled Jack spreads

Two of the most notorious and best known incidents were those that happened to Jane Alsop and Lucy Scales, both teenage girls. It was the coverage of these by the newspapers that elevated Spring-heeled Jack in public awareness.

The Jane Alsop incident

On the night of 19th February, 1838, Jane Alsop answered a knock on the door of her father’s house. On answering she found a man wearing a great cloak who claimed he was a policeman. He asked her to bring a light outside as the police believed they had captured Spring-heeled Jack in the lane.

She ran inside and brought out a candle into the lane. Upon giving him the candle the man threw off the cloak giving the girl the fright of her life. His appearance, “presented a most hideous and frightful appearance”, vomiting blue and white flame from his mouth while his eyes resembled “red balls of fire”. According to Jane he wore a style of garment that was tight-fitting and similar to white oilskin. On his head he wore a large helmet.

He did not utter a further word but commenced tearing at her clothing with hands that were like metallic claws. Screaming she managed to escape his grasp and tried to run back to the house. He caught up with her and clawed her neck and arms wounding her. Her sister, on hearing the screams came to her assistance and the attacker ran off into the night.

The Lucy Scales Incident

Just over a week later on the 28th of February another attack on a teenage girl took place. The victim was Lucy Scales an 18 year old who was walking back to her home accompanied by her sister. They had been visiting their brother who was a butcher in a high class area of Limehouse.

They had just left their brother’s house to return home. As they passed by a passage known as Green Dragon Alley they noticed someone standing in an angle of the alleyway. At the time Lucy was walking to the fore with her sister following behind. She noticed the person was wearing a large dark cloak.

Just as she came to pass him by she claimed “a quantity of blue flame” issued from his mouth into her face blinding her. Terrified she fell to the floor and began having fits which were to last for several hours.

Her brother told of how he had heard screams and realising it was his sisters had run after them. On finding them he found Lucy on the floor convulsed in a fit with his other sister supporting and holding her. Her brother and sister took Lucy safely home.

Once there Lucy’s sister explained to her brother what had happened. She told him that the assailant had the appearance and air of a gentleman. He was tall and thin in stature and wore a large dark cloak. He was holding in his hand a bull’s eye lantern or lamp like those used by police constables. He did not utter a word and he did not try to grab hold of them. Instead he turned and walked swiftly away from the scene vanishing in the shadows.

The police made an intensive search of the area for the culprit of this and similar attacks. They apprehended and questioned many people but they were all released.

An arrest is made

On the 2nd of March 1838 “The Times” ran a report on the Jane Alsop incident. They led with the headline, “The Late Outrage at Old Ford,” which was followed by an account of the trial of Thomas Millbank. The police had arrested Millbank who had been bragging in the Morgan’s Arms public house that he was Spring-heeled Jack.

The policeman who arrested Millbank was James Lea who had earlier tracked down and arrested William Corder who had murdered his lover, Maria Marten, in what became known as the “The Red Barn Murder.”

Millbank had been wearing a greatcoat over white overall. He had dropped the greatcoat and a candle both of which were found.

He was tried at Lambeth Street court but was not convicted because Jane Alsop steadfastly claimed that her assailant had exhaled fire from his mouth. Of course Millbank could do no such thing and he was acquitted.

Incidents around the country

File:Jack4.jpg From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia – Public Domain Image

These incidents were to catapult Spring-heeled Jack into the British public awareness. Alleged incidents were reported and attributed to him across the country. He became a popular character for plays and Penny Dreadfuls. He was in all the newspapers and even replaced the devil in many Punch and Judy Shows of the time.

Oddly, even though he was becoming more well known the incidents attributed to him became less though more widespread across Britain. In an incident in Northamptonshire he was described as having flaming eyes and horns on his head like the Devil.

From East Anglia an increase in attacks of mail coach drivers was reported and Spring-heeled Jack was accused of being the culprit.

An investigation in Teighnmouth, Devon, in the July of 1847 led to a conviction to a Captain Finch for assault on two women. It was claimed he dressed in skin coat and a skull cap with horns and that he wore a mask.

Spring-heeled Jack is linked to other phenomena

Links were also made to a strange phenomenon that occurred in 1855 called the “Devil’s Footprints.” After a heavy snow marks appeared in the snow that looked like hoof prints. The prints could be seen for many miles.

Reports of incidents became scarcer for a number of years and then in November of 1872 the “News of the World” ran a story about the “Peckham Ghost” claiming that it was non other than Spring-heeled Jack returned. Similarly reports were published in April and May in 1873 reporting about the “Park Ghost” in Sheffield. Local people blamed Spring-heeled Jack.

Aldershot Barracks

During August in 1877 one of the most extraordinary incidents was reported to have been witnessed by soldiers at Aldershot Barracks. According to reports a soldier on night time sentry duty challenged a strange figure that advanced towards him. The challenge was ignored and the figure approached the sentry and slapped his face several times.

Another sentry is said to have fired shots at the figure but there is confusion as to whether the shots were blanks, warning shots, or simply missed the target. What ever the case they had no effect on the attacker who with great leaps and bounds disappeared quickly into the night.

There were several more sightings at Aldershot Barracks and also Colchester. It is said the army responded by ensuring sentries had live ammunition and were ordered to shoot intruders on sight. However, no more incidents were recorded by the army.

An incident in Lincolnshire

A report was made in Newport Arch, Lincoln, Lincolnshire where he made an appearance but was chased by and furious mob who shot at him but could cause him no harm. They managed to corner him but
He escaped by using great leaps to leave the crowd behind.

Last seen in Liverpool

An incident was reported in Liverpool at the end of the 19th century of Spring-heeled Jack making appearances. First, in 1888, in the district of Everton he was seen on the top of the roof of St Francis Xavier’s Church in Salisbury Street. Later in 1904, he was seen nearby in William Henry Street.


All sorts of theories abound about who or what he was. Some say he was a paranormal phenomenon such as the bogeyman or a ghost. Others say he was an alien from another planet. Others say it was a case of mass hysteria claiming that witnesses exaggerated what had been seen or were just mistaken.

Others point back to the anonymous letter received by John Cowan, Lord Mayor of London that claimed the Spring-heeled Jack incidents were the result of a bet by a group of young aristocrats.

Many think sensationalism by the press and mass public hysteria had snowballed into creating some kind of superhuman bogeyman. Copycat incidents across the country may have further exaggerated the reputation of Spring-heeled Jack.

Henry de La Poer Beresford, 3rd Marquess of Waterford

One of the chief suspects as the original perpetrator was Henry de La Poer Beresford, 3rd Marquess of Waterford. The Marquess had a reputation for public brawling, drunken behaviour and had rather a macabre sense of humour. Known as “the Mad Marquess” he was known to be disrespectful to women and police officers and was always willing to take on a bet. He was known to be in London when the incidents first began to be reported.

In 1880, the Reverend Dr. Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, compiler of “Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable,” accused the Marquis of being the perpetrator. He referenced his liking of jumping out and frightening unsuspecting travellers, claiming that others had also copied his pranks.

What ever the truth in these accusations the Marquess is known to have married and resided in Curraghmore House in County Waterford in 1842. There he lived respectably and flawlessly until his death in 1859 in a riding accident.

Although Captain Finch was convicted of attacking two women in 1847, it seems to have been more of a copycat incident or something different. The Marquess died in 1859 and incidents of Spring-heeled Jack continued to be reported up to 1904.

Concluding the case

Most of the evidence seems to be both exaggerated by terrified witnesses and embellished by the press of the day. The most likely explanation seems to be that a foolish prank carried out by a young aristocrat grew out of proportion by word of mouth and by an over enthusiastic press. Similar incidents were then routinely attributed to a shady figure known as Spring-heeled Jack and the incidents snowballed with each report, spreading beyond London to many other parts of the land.


Urban Dictionary
Spring-heeled Jack

Spring-heeled Jack
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

BBC Legacies