Many areas of Britain have stories of local heroes that have entered national legend; Bodmin Moor has King Arthur’s Hall and Dozmary Pool (into which Excalibur was thrown after “the Strife of Camlann in which Arthur and Medraut perished”, the battle having taken place on the banks of the nearby River Camel), but two of the many sites throughout Britain with Arthurian associations; Sherwood Forest has Robin Hood and The Fens have Hereward the Wake – but Hereward’s contemporary, Wild Edric of Shropshire, has never really entered the national imagination to the same extent; which is a pity, because his legend is every bit as remarkable.
Historically, Eadric Cild (or “Childe”, also known as Eadric Sylvaticus and Eadric the Forester) was one of the richest thegns in Shropshire at the time of the Norman Conquest, and, like Hereward, he became one of the leaders of the Saxon Resistance. Allied with Bleddyn ap Cynfyn, Prince of Powys and Gwynedd, he unsuccessfully attacked the Norman castle at Hereford, then took his army northwards, burning a castle in the Teme Valley along the way. He then burned down the town of Scrobbesburh (Shrewsbury), but again was unable to take the castle. The rebel army and its Welsh allies were defeated by King William in a battle at Stafford in 1069. Eadric fled into the wild wood and became an outlaw, finally submitting to William in 1070. In return for his oath of fealty, he was granted a small manor near Offa’s Dyke, but his extensive holdings in Shropshire and Herefordshire were confiscated and given to Norman lords.
And now for the legend…
Thegn Edric Aelfricson was famous for his love of hunting and fishing, spending so much time in the pursuit of game that he earned the sobriquet “Wild”. One day, Wild Edric was hunting in the forest near Clun, when he became separated from his fellows. Lost, he wandered among the trees until twilight descended, whereupon he saw a light. Approaching, he discerned that the light came from the window of a small cottage. He peered in and spied a group of beautiful women dancing together. Entranced, Edric forced his way into the cottage and seized the most beautiful of them, dragging her to his horse as the others screamed and clawed at him. Once back at his hall, the captive woman refused to speak for three days and three nights, but on the fourth day she broke silence; her name was Godda, she was a princess of the Fey and, yes, she would marry him, but on one condition – that she be permitted to visit her sisters in the forest as often as she pleased and that Edric must never rebuke her for the time she spent away. He agreed and they were wed.
Rumour of the beauty of Wild Edric’s bride spread throughout the land, coming eventually to the ears of Duke William, styled “the Conqueror”. William wished to see this woman, and so arranged a truce with Edric that they might meet. When William witnessed Godda’s otherworldly beauty for himself, he swore that it would be a shameful thing to rob such a woman of her husband, and so Edric and William made peace (although it is remembered that Edric did not kneel). So Edric and Godda lived happily until one day, when she had been gone even longer than usual, Edric snapped, “I suppose you have been off frolicking with your sisters in the forest!” Too late he bit back his words, for Godda instantly vanished. In vain he sought her for many years, but he could not find her, nor even the cottage where he had first seen her, and, wasting away for love of his faery wife, he eventually died of despair.
But Wild Edric is not truly dead. For the treason of surrendering to William the Bastard, he was shut up with his wife’s folk in the ancient lead mines at Snailbeach, there condemned to remain until the Normans have been hurled back in to the sea. Miners would often say that they had heard Edric and his faery kin tapping at the walls of the deepest tunnels, seeking escape from imprisonment. Only on the eve of war is the disgraced Saxon thegn allowed out of the mine. Then he heads for The Stiperstones, there to muster the Fey and his long-dead warriors for the Wild Hunt, which he and Godda then lead shrieking pell-mell through the county of Shropshire. A miner’s daughter from Rorrington claimed to have seen Wild Edric leading the Hunt in 1854, just before the Crimean War, just as her father had seen him preceding the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars. Other sightings were reported before the Boer War, the Great War, and as recently as the beginning of World War Two. Despite his sorcerous incarceration and its anachronistic condition of release, it would seem that Wild Edric may still indulge his love of the hunt.
By rj krijnen-kemp.