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Tales of Wild Edric

By Richard "Mogsy" Walker.

Published Beltane 1995

"The name of Hereward the Wake, the patriot of the Isle of Ely in the days of the Conqueror, is sufficiently famous, but that of his contemporary Edric Sylvaticus, Salvage or the Wild, the leader of revolt on the Welsh borders, has not been celebrated in romance, and is consequently comparatively forgotten". So writes Charlotte Burne at the beginning of the chapter of Shropshire Folk-Lore devoted to the Shropshire hero, and true it is, though there are still fine tales told of Edric, his wife Godda and the Wild Hunt.

I am a storyteller rather than an historian and I now live in Shropshire, close to the Wild Edric country. I want to share stories with you; stories that have come to be told about Wild Edric, and indeed this is as much about storytelling as it is about Edric himself. Tales change and grow in the telling but they do need roots so here is a little about the man in truth and legend, leading to my version of the story of "Edric the Wild and his Fairy Wife".

William the Conqueror was crowned King of England on Christmas Day 1066, and by the Spring of 1067 he felt confident enough to return to Normandy. In fact, however, he only had a firm hold on the South-East. To the North, as men began to recover resistance started, first in the Welsh borderlands - an area which already well knew Norman oppression as Edward the Confessor had settled a few Norman knights there to help suppress the troublesome Welsh. This was much resented as the foreigners (according to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle for 1051) "inflicted all injuries and insults they possibly could on the king's men in that region." It was unlikely that the men of the Marches would submit easily.

"Wild Edric" was a Saxon lord on a very big scale indeed. While there are several landowners or chief tenants of the name Edric or similar, living at the same time, it would appear very likely that the following Shropshire lands were amongst those once held by "Wild Edric" (or "Edric Salvage" as he was also known) and listed in the Domesday Book. In the south of the county: Middleton Scriven, which fell to Rainald Sherrif; Neen Savage, Eudon Savage, Walton Savage, Catsley and Overton where he was succeeded by Ralph Mortimer; Culmington and Siefton. Clun, Hopesay, Hopton Castle, in the south west which helped to form Picot de Say's barony of Clun. On the Western border: Lydham, Wentnor, Middleton Loton, Watlesborough, Yockleton and Hanwood, which went to swell the estates of the Corbett brothers; Melverley, Wooton and Halston in the hundred of Mersete. Hope Bowdler, Chelmick, Alcaston, and Acton Scott at the entrance to Apedale; Bayston, Cantlop, Pitchford, Kenley and Cressage in the fertile lowlands between the Severn and the western hills. Northward he owned Great Berwick, Loppington, Weston-under-Redcastle, Hopton and Espley. (This information, together with most of the legends that follow, is taken from Charlotte Burne's "Shropshire Folk-Lore".)

In August 1067, Edric was fighting against William the Conqueror. The presence of a Norman, Richard Fitz Scrob and his followers, who had the fortress at Richard's Castle near Ludlow, the first of its kind in England, meant that Hereford was one of the few counties that had been subdued by that time, and Richard and his men, aided by the garrison at Hereford, harried Edric's land because he refused to submit. Edric therefore made allies of the Welsh Princes Bleddyn of Gwynedd and Rhiwallon of Powys, both of whom had formerly been followers of Harold. These three attacked into Hereford as far as the River Lugg causing great distress to the garrison there and returning home with a great deal of booty.

Two years later Edric was involved in the great rising of 1069 and it wasn't until 1070 that (according to the chronicler Simeon of Durham) Edric made peace with the King. It is nowhere written that he submitted. Only the Isle of Ely still held out and that stronghold was broken up the following year.

In 1072 Edric was among the personal followers of William in his expedition against that Scottish - an arrangement which no doubt served to keep this wild man of the Marches safely under the royal eye. This is the last that authentic history has to say about him except Domesday which has his lands passing to Normans, but where "true" history ends so legend takes over.

One much told tale has it that he is not dead at all but alive and imprisoned in the mines of the wild west of Shropshire. He cannot die until all wrong is made right and England is returned to the state it was in before the troubles of his days. Meanwhile he is condemned to inhabit those lead mines as punishment for listening to the Conqueror's words and making peace with him. He lives there with his wife and his retinue and the miners used to call them "the old men" and would sometimes hear them knocking. Now and then they would show themselves and ride the Wild Hunt as a warning of war. A young woman from Rorrington, in the west of Shropshire, claimed to have seen the Wild Hunt before the Crimean War, in 1853 or 1854. She was with her father, a miner from Minsterley, when she heard the sound of the horn. They passed by her; Wild Edric had (she said) short dark hair with a green cap and white feather, a short green coat and cloak and a horn and sword hung from his golden belt. He was riding a white horse and next to him was the Lady Godda with wavy golden hair falling loosely to her waist and round her forehead a band of white linen with a golden ornament in. The rest of her dress was green and she had a short dagger at her waist.

Quite a different story is the legend of the Monster Fish of Bromere Pool. He is bigger than any fish that ever swam, he wears a sword by his side and no man can catch him. It was tried once and he was nearly netted but he drew his sword and cut himself free. Then the fisherman made a net of iron links and with this, brought him to land but again he soon freed himself with his wonderful sword and slid back into the water. The people were so terrified by the sight that they have never tried to catch him again though he has been seen in the shallows of the pool, still with the sword girded around him.

It is said that he will one day give the sword up, but not until the true heir of Corndover Hall should come to take it from him, for it is none other than Wild Edric's sword which was entrusted to his keeping and can only be restored to his heir. According to the story, Wild Edric was born at Corndover Hall and it ought to belong to his family now but his children were defrauded of their inheritance and there is no luck on the place. It must be said though that at no time has Corndover Hall belonged to Wild Edric and Domesday Book shows it as royal property before the conquest. Still, why let the facts spoil a good story!

Having given his sword to a fish and gone into the leadmines, there seems no reason why (according to Shropshire folklore) Wild Edric is also said by some to haunt the Stretton Hills as a large black dog with fiery eyes. However, as I've said, there are those who would see his imprisonment in the Shropshire mines as a punishment for making peace with the Conqueror and this could also reflect in his appearance in this form - the black dog being a figure of evil.

However it is as a folk hero that he is mostly remembered and indeed, in the first story we find of Edric is in a volume entitled The Book of Courtier's Trifles compiled by Walter Map in the 1180s which sees him very much in this light. I have to confess that I have only recently found a version taken from that book and the one I want to share with you is a little different in places. I think much of it I owe to Brian Wright who was brought up in Shropshire and inherited his father's love of lore and legend.

Having said that it has grown and changed in my telling for such is the oral tradition. As you'll see the Wild Hunt how comes into it though Map made no mention of it, however I think that happened before I got involved!

The Story of Wild Edric

WILD EDRIC ..... Edric the Wild..... was lord of the manor of much of Shropshire. Lord of the manor at time when to be so gave him great rights over his people - perhaps even the right of life and death. He was a strong man and lived up to his name The Wild, but he was also a fair man and never misused his rights.

He had two great loves; one was to spend a night carousing with his friends, a full night of drinking and merrymaking. Then in the morning it was time for his second love - and that was to spend a day hunting. He loved to hunt around the Long Mynd, the Stiperstones and especially through the great Forest of Clun.

One day, a hot, sticky day, he'd been out a-hunting with his friends. With the evening came a refreshing breeze and a coolness that touched his brow, his cheeks, his lips. He told his companions to make their own way back to the great manor house at Lydbury North and he set his horse to pick its way through the forest. He rode for a while and then it seemed to him as though there was music on the breeze. At first he thought it was in his imagination but then he noticed his mount was pricking up its ears and had plainly heard it as well, so he told his horse to find where the music was coming from.

The came to a clearing amongst the trees, a clearing that Edric had never seen before, and in it a strange cottage .. and from that cottage came the music.

He got down from his horse and made his way across the clearing and looked through a tiny window into the cottage. There he saw six of the most beautiful maidens dancing, and they were dancing a graceful measure around a seventh who was more beautiful than any of them. He saw her and was filled with love for her ... she was the one he would have for a bride. The decision made, and having the right of the lord of the manor of that land, he was in through the door and seized the girl around the waist to make off with her.

As he did so, however, the other six beautiful girls changed into wild and savage beasts, and it was all he could do to draw his sword and fight them off as he struggled out of the cottage and across the clearing. He threw the girl over the back of his horse, leapt on behind her, and with the savage beasts snarling at his heels he galloped away to his beloved Lydbury North.

When he arrived at the manor house the girl, who'd been thrown over the back of the horse like a sack of potatoes, slid to the ground calmly and serenely as though she'd been riding side-saddle on her own favourite mount. She walked into the manor house ahead of him and when Edric came into the great hall she was sitting quietly in a corner, watching.

There she sat through the rest of the day and for all I know, through the night as well, for when he arose in the morning she was still there, watching all that he did. She didn't move throughout that day nor, for I all know, through the next night as well, because in the morning she was still there, watching and saying not a word. It wasn't until the evening of that third day that she spoke.

"I know who you are" she said, "you are Edric, the one they call the Wild, but I have watched you these days and I have not seen a wild man but rather one straight and true, and I know you would marry me. Well, I will marry you but first you must know who I am.

"My name is Godda and I am the queen of the fairy folk and it is from my six sister fairies that you have stolen me, but I will marry you and live with you the life of a human, provided you never reproach me. You must never reproach me with who I am, where you found me or with my sisters from whom you stole me. Should you do so I'll return to fairy land and you'll never see me again. Now, do you swear?"

Edric swore the oath as Godda wished and the two of them were wed, and what a fine wedding it was and what a wonderful couple they became. The whole of the kingdom knew of Edric and of Godda his fairy wife and that there was none finer in the land.

Word even got to William the Norman, against whom Edric had fought but with whom he'd made peace. The king invited Edric and Godda to his court and there he declared that they were truly the fairest couple in his land. He asked them to stay, but the Shropshire hills were calling and soon they rode back - with William's blessing - to Lydbury North.

There they lived happily and had a son, Alned, son of the fairy wife. All should have been well, but one day Edric made his mistake. It had become accepted between them that Godda would serve his breakfast and on that day she was just a minute or two late. When she came into the room Edric, in a fit of temper, shouted "Where have you been wife? Was it your sisters kept you from me?"

The moment he said the words of reproach he remembered his vow, but it was too late. Godda vanished from his sight and he never saw her again.

From that day he became a truly wild man and he rode to hounds, hunting for his beloved Godda, but he never found her and he died, not long after, a sad and broken man. But, although he died, the hunt continued and to this day his ghost still rides the wild hunt through those Shropshire hill - still hunting for his beloved fairy wife.

Many have seen the hunt and some do say that now he rides with Godda at his side but others say no, he is alone. Sight of the hunt is said to be a sign of war and there are people who saw it before the First and Second World Wars. If you should hear the horn of the huntsman, the galloping of horses and the baying of hounds, look away, look away until the hunt goes by. For that is the tale of Edric the Wild, the fairy wife Godda and the wild hunt - one of the oldest fairy tales of this land of England.