31 OCTOBER 2019

THE WARLOCK

HALLOWEEN SPECIAL · PART IV

warlock.png

Lord Soulis sat in Hermitage Castle,

     and beside him Old Redcap sly;

“Tell me oh sprite, meikle of might,

    What is the death that I must die?”

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Today's story is inspired by the legend of 'Bad Lord Soulis',  the historical Scottish nobleman whowas lord of the haunted Hermitage Castle, in the border regions of Scotland.  The tale features an appearance by a familiar face for our listeners, the folk-prophet Thomas the Rhymer, who plays a key role in Soulis' demise.

Hermitage Castle has a long and bloody history. The castle was known as the guardhouse of the bloodiest valley in Britain, and the "Strength of Liddesdale". It is said to have been constructed as a motte and bailey fort by a member of the De Soulis family around the year 1240, and later converted into a fully fortified castle. Thenceforth it was passed between different noble families. Sir William Douglas imprisoned a comrade there and starved him to death. Mary Queen Scots married the lord of Hermitage, the Earl of Bothwell, after the murder of her second husband Lord Darnley, despite the fact Bothwell was implicated in the killing. His  attempt to raise an army in support of Mary ended with his death in prison at Dragsholm Castle, where he he was said to have gone insane. His nephew Francis Setwart became the new Earl, but was arrested during King James' infamous witch hunts. King James then granted the castle to Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch, a famous border reiver.  After 1603 the castle was rendered obsolete by the union of Scotland and England and fell into disrepair. It remained an aristocratic inheritance until 1930 after which it was given into public ownership.

 

William II de Soulis was master of the castle in 1320 and fought in the Scottish Wars of Independence, before being implicated in a conspiracy to kill Robert the Bruce and elevate either himself or another nobleman, Edward Balliol, to the throne.  Local legend is said to have that a member of the Soulis family  practised black magic under the tutelage of the reputed Scots sorceror Michael Scot; that he was responsible for the disappearance of local children and overworking his tenants; and was burned by the local villagers in a pot of molten lead at Ninestane Rig, a local stone circle.  The Scots folklorists Sir Walter Scot and Dr. John Leyden identified this figure as William II de Soulis, although, as they themselves knew, this flew in the face of recorded history - William II de Soulis was imprisoned at Dumbarton Castle for his involvement in the conspiracy against the throne, where he died. Wikipedia states that 'The more likely culprit would have been Sir Ranulf (Randolph) de Soules of Liddel (born c.1150 and murdered by his servants in 1207/8)'.

 

In the ballad 'Lord Soulis', recorded in works by Scot and Leyden,  Soulis kidnaps a local woman called May and forces her into marriage, and derive his power from a captured fairy creature which he treats as his familiar, called 'Robin Redcap' or 'Old Redcap Sly'. In Scots folklore, Red Caps are described as bloodthirsty creatures which kill human beings, and dye their caps red by dipping them in the blood of their victims, and may be known as a Redcomb or Bloody Cap. 

 

William Henderson wrote that the Redcap typically resembled "a short, thickset old man with long prominent teeth, skinny fingers armed with talons like eagles, large eyes of a fiery red colour, grisly hair streaming down his shoulders, iron boots, a pikestaff in his left hand, and a red cap on his head."  He killed travellers who entered his lair with huge stones. Leyden and Scot recorded that 'Redcap is a popular appellation of that class of spirits which haunt old castles. Every ruined tower in the south of Scotland is supposed to have an inhabitant of this species.'  The chamber where de Soulis consulted with the Red Cap was said to be haunted, and to have sunk further into the ground with the foundations of the castle when de Soulis left the castle: if one inserted a branch into the crack of the door, you would draw it out to find it stripped of its bark.  There is a theory that Redcaps, along with other types of Scots castle ghouls like the dunter or powrie, were conceived as the spirits of victims sacrificed on the foundation stones of the castles by the Picts, who were said to have founded the sites of the Border castles in popular tradition.

However, many ghosts and fairies called red-caps in the British isles and Dutch folklore are described very differently. Red caps, like red and green vests, seem to have been characteristic clothing for the good folk.

Seb: The Ballad of Lord Soulis tells how the Warlock cannot be bound or killed by conventional means, and the Redcap tells him that he will die only if he is confined with 'ropes of twisted sand'.  However, the ballad then relates how Thomas the Rhymer, despite possessing a spell-book written by Soulis' teacher Michael Scot, is unable to to work the required spells to create these 'ropes of sand'; subsequently, he dies when he is dropped into a  pot of boiling lead.  This seemed like an unsatisfying conclusion to the the tale and the Redcap' prophecy.  To address this my telling of the tale sees the Warlock burned not in a pot of lead, but in a glass-maker's furnace, where sand is melted into liquid glass.

 

According to John Leyden, however,  the failed attempt at crafting ropes of sand was intended to explain the origins of 'the vermicular [worm-like] ridges of the sand on the shore of the sea'.

 

Leyden claimed the burning of Soulis  had a historical parallel, when a Sheriff of the Mearns was supposedly boiled in a pot on Garvock Hill above Lawrencekirk by three Scottish lairds. The irritated King James supposedly responded to complaints about the Sheriff's misconduct with the words ""Sorrow gin the sheriff  were sodden, and supped in broo!"  and the three lairds took this as license to kill him.  The place was subsequently called the 'Sheriff's Pot' and the 'savage' lairds were said to have eaten some of the "hell-broth" afterwards. This legend has obvious parallels with that surrounding the death of Thomas Beckett.

 

The  prophecy that Soulis cannot be harmed by most conventional weapons, and that his defeat will be heralded only by the seeming impossibilities of being bound in ropes of sand and trees approaching him have obvious parallels in the legend of Macbeth, as related by Scots historians and used by Shakespeare in his famous play:  Macbeth can be killed by no man of woman born, and only when the trees come to Dunsinane Castle.  The legends that Soulis practicised black magic and preyed on children are also very similar to the historical claims laid against the  French Baron Gilles de Rais, who was convicted of having kidnapped, abused, and sacrificed children to the devil in exchange for earthly power and fortune.

EPISODE CREDITS

Story interpreted and performed by Sebastian Odell.
Sound editing, audio design and original illustrations by Rick Scott.
Lore & Legend Series Theme composed and performed by Robert Bentall.
Original incidental music and chords also by Robert Bentall.

Podcast hosting by Anchor. Video and audiogram creation using Headliner.

AUDIO CREDITS


Additional incidental music, background ambience and sound effects by multiple authors sourced from Freesound.org.

 

Special thanks to Freesound community members toiletrolltube , Setuniman and PhonosUPF , whose material has played a central role in our audio work.

See below for the full list of audio files and attribution credits:

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  • S: wood bell by PhonosUPF | License: Creative Commons 0

  • S: singing wood 2 by PhonosUPF | License: Creative Commons 0

  • S: inertia-in-a-mist by toiletrolltube | License: Creative Commons 0

  • S: drum sticks sequence by PhonosUPF | License: Creative Commons 0

  • S: wood sequence 4 by PhonosUPF | License: Creative Commons 0

  • S: wood percussion 5 by PhonosUPF | License: Creative Commons 0

  • S: creaking door by PhonosUPF | License: Creative Commons 0

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  • S: wood remix 2 by PhonosUPF | License: Creative Commons 0

  • S: wood percussion 12 by PhonosUPF | License: Creative Commons 0

  • S: anklung by PhonosUPF | License: Creative Commons 0

  • S: anklung remix by PhonosUPF | License: Creative Commons 0

  • S: Metal - Air/Ventilation shaft kicked open 2 by PITCHEDsenses | License: Creative Commons 0

  • S: Creepy Hellish Bubbling by NicknameLarry | License: Creative Commons 0

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  • S: heartbeat.loop.ogg by xUMR | License: Creative Commons 0

Sebastian Odell
STORYTELLER

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