Presented here is a retelling of an old folktale collected by Thomas C. Middleton and published in his book “Legends of Longdendale.” The story centers around Longdendale, a long valley in the Peak District, Derbyshire and is set in the time of King Henry II, after he had bestowed the monks of Basingwerke Abbey in Wales the nearby town of Glossop. Longendale is situated just north of Glossop. In earlier times it was part of the Royal Forest of the Peak and home to wolves, boar, deer and smaller animals.
The Abbots Chair
The tale begins at a place called the Abbot’s Chair, which originally was a large stone cross situated on a highway known as the Monk’s Road. All that can be seen today is the stone socket which held the cross. According to this tale the Abbot of Basingwerke Abbey held court and received the rents and tithes of his tenants in the area while sitting on the stone. He also heard the petitions and grievances of the people of his estates and other such administration.
A Tale of Woe
On one such occasion there came to him an old widow full of misery and woe shedding bitter tears. Tearfully, she told the Abbot that she lived in fear of a very powerful witch who was skilled in the black arts and sorcery. This evil witch had caused the death of her husband and all of her children and was now seeking to murder her. The widow told him she was all alone in the world and had no one she could go to for help and shelter. Furthermore, her enemy was a cunning shape-shifter who could change her physical appearance into that of any animal or bird to commit crimes and escape capture and punishment. She could also change herself to resemble any man, woman or child she desired that may suit her own evil purposes.
The Abbot’s Curse
The Abbot being a good and kindly man was outraged at the plight of the old widow and very angry with the witch. He distributed bread and alms to her to ease her poverty and then laid a terrible curse upon the wicked old witch who persecuted her,
“The eye of God that sees all shall see this wicked woman in whatever form she may be wearing here and now. From this moment on she will remain in that form never being able to revert to human or other form until the time justice is done and she has paid for her sins!”
He declared that he foresaw the wrath of heaven falling upon the old witch and foretold she would face a cruel death shortly.
The Royal Hunt
On that very morning at that exact time the witch had transformed into a werewolf and was out in the forest seeking victims. Moreover, King Henry II was visiting the Baron of Ashton-under-Lyne accompanied by his son, Prince Henry. These three along with the Baron of Aston, the Lord of Longdendale and other nobles and dignitaries were out hunting in the Royal Forest.
It was the practice of the Royal hunting party to hunt every corner and every nook and cranny of the forest. Beaters were sent into the densest parts of the forest to drive the game into the paths of the hunters. They were unaware of the alleged crimes of the witch and were not seeking her but this practice increased the chances of her being driven before them.
Her shape-shifting abilities had allowed her in the past to simply transform into human form and send pursuers on a wild goose chase looking for her. Other times she would transform into a bird and fly away.
And so as the Abbot was uttering his curse the Royal Hunt was out in the forest. The star of the day was the Lord of Longdendale who slew an exceedingly large and ferocious wild boar after it had given a fierce battle.
The young Prince Henry desperately wanted to match the feat of the Lord of Longdendale to prove his own valor. He went off alone and sought out the wildest and remotest part of the forest hoping to find some worthy test of his courage and skill. As he was roaming through the forest he was suddenly attacked by the werewolf and was almost killed. Fortunately his trusty steed sensed the impending attack and veered sharply to the right as the werewolf sprang. This allowed Prince Henry to push away the attacker and with his spear deliver a wound in its side. He thrust hard, blood spurted and the beast wailed a savage but almost human cry. In its desperation it managed to seize the spear and bite the weapon in two with its great jaws. The prince quickly drew his long hunting knife to defend himself as best he could.
With the beast uttering unearthly but almost human-like cries it grasped his legs trying to pull him from his horse. Quickly Henry stabbed the beast in its shoulder but in its frenzy it succeeded in dragging him to the ground.
With his knife stuck in his foe’s shoulder Henry managed to grasp the beast around the throat. Although he fought hard and bravely he could feel his own strength ebbing as he wrestled cheek to jowl with the attacker.
He thought it was his end but as he was slipping into death the Baron of Ashton, who had heard the commotion arrived. Seeing the dire peril of the king’s son he immediately sprang to his aid and engaged the werewolf in a deadly fight that was long and vicious. Finally, he managed to deliver a killing blow to its skull.
The Baron of Ashton received great praise and honor not just from Henry but from the king and the rest of the Royal hunting party when they caught up. The body of the slain beast was given as a trophy to the baron who returned with it to his castle. As the beast was being prepared for exhibition it was cut open and the heads of three babies that it had eaten earlier were found in its stomach.
This again caused much talk about the ferocity and evil nature of the beast. Prince Henry emphasized again and again it’s savagery and the wild human-like cries it had uttered as it had attacked him.
The Forester’s Testimony
On hearing the news of the slaying of this savage beast a forester stepped forward to give a most strange testimony to the lord’s and ladies saying,
“If it may please my lords I have something to say that may be of interest to you concerning this strange and wild beast.As one of his Royal Foresters it was my duty to seek out and put a stop to those who dare to poach my king’s game.Having concealed myself in thick bushes I lay quietly in wait hoping to catch a certain poacher in the act. As I lay waiting I was startled by strange and ghoulish wailing. On creeping through the forest to its source I was astounded to see a werewolf tearing and clawing at its very own skin. It was as if it desired to shed it quickly such as a person would undress themselves.It’s cries were both hideous and pitiful and I thought it sounded like a twisted version of an old woman’s voice. Human or other, it was a cracked and hideous cry that it uttered. I am afraid that on seeing and hearing this my courage failed. I fled as fast and as far as I could from the frightful thing before its attention should fall upon myself.”
Then one by one other witnesses appeared who bore similar testimony concerning the beast.
That same evening a banquet was held in the hall of the Baron with the king, prince and the rest of the Royal hunting party in attendance. Also invited was the good Abbot of Basingwerke Abbey who was informed of the strange events of the day and inspected the body of the slain beast. The Abbot had absolute faith that the werewolf was the wicked witch he had cursed earlier and evidence was brought that showed this to be true and she was never seen again. The good Abbot took the old widow under his protection and from then on she lived the rest of her life in safety and comfort.
© 28/10/2020 zteve t evans
References, Attributions and Further Reading
Copyright 28, October, 2020 zteve t evans
- Legends of Longdendale by Thomas C. Middleton
- Longdendale – Wikipedia
- Abbot’s Chair – Wikipedia
- Basingwerk Abbey – Wikipedia
- Werewolf – Copyright 28/20/2020 zteve t evans