Redcap

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The redcap (or Redcap) is a type of malevolent, murderous goblin found in Border folklore. They are said to inhabit ruined castles along the Anglo-Scottish border, especially those places that were once the scenes of tyranny or wicked deeds.[1][2] He is also known as Redcomb and Bloody Cap.[1]

Redcap is depicted as "...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.[1][2] When travellers take refuge in his lair he will fling huge stones at them, and if he kills them he will soak his cap in their blood, giving it a crimson hue. However, he may be driven away by repeating words of Scripture or holding up the cross. He will then utter a dismal yell and vanish in flames, leaving behind him a large tooth on the spot where he was last seen.[1][2] Other than these measures, human strength will do very little in overcoming him.[2]

According to the 19th century folklorist William Henderson, the dunter or powrie is distinct from the redcap. Like the redcap he inhabits old Border forts, castles and peel towers, but their main activity is to make a noise like the beating of flax or the grinding of barley in a hollow stone quern. If this sound goes on longer or louder than usual then it is considered an omen of death or misfortune. Popular tradition states that these Border castles were built by the Picts who bathed the foundation stones in human blood which often resulted in such hauntings.[3][4] The suggestion is that dunters and redcaps may be the spirits of the original foundation sacrifices.[4]

Variants[edit]

The tale of a redcap in Perthshire depicts him as a more benign little man living in a room high up in Grantully Castle. He bestows good fortune on those who see or hear him.[2]

The Kabouter (Kaboutermannekins), or redcaps of Dutch folklore, are also very different and more akin to brownies.[5][6]

The ruin of Blackett Tower, a border fortress that was owned by the Bell family in the parish of Kirkpatrick-Fleming in Dumfriesshire, was haunted by a more traditional ghost known as Old Red Cap or Bloody Bell. A description of the tower and ghost was given by William Scott Irving in the poem "Fair Helen" in which the "ghastly phantom" holds a bloody dagger beneath a red eastern moon.[7][8]

The term redcap is also used in a more general sense. For example, in the village of Zennor in Cornwall fairies were often referred to as "red-caps" (including the more benevolent trooping fairies) because of their fondness for wearing green clothing and scarlet caps.[9] This characteristic is demonstrated by an excerpt from the poem "The Fairies" by the Irish poet William Allingham: Wee folk, good folk/trooping all together/Green jacket, red cap/and white owl's feather.[10]

Robin Redcap and William de Soulis[edit]

Hermitage Castle, home of Robin Redcap

The redcap familiar of Lord William de Soulis, called Robin Redcap, is said to have wrought much harm and ruin in the lands of his master's dwelling, Hermitage Castle. Ultimately, William was (according to legend) taken to the Ninestane Rig, a stone circle near the castle, then wrapped in lead and boiled to death.[11] In reality, William de Soulis was imprisoned in Dumbarton Castle and died there, following his confessed complicity in the conspiracy against Robert the Bruce in 1320.

Sir Walter Scott in The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border records a ballad written by John Leyden entitled "Lord Soulis" in which Redcap has granted his master safety against weapons and lives in a chest secured by three strong padlocks.[12] Scott states that the Redcap is a class of spirits that haunts old castles, and that every ruined tower in the south of Scotland was supposed to have one of these spirits residing within.[13]

Popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Henderson, William (1879). Folklore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders (2nd ed.) W. Satchell, Peyton & Co. p. 253.
  2. ^ a b c d e Briggs, Katharine (1976). An Encyclopedia of Fairies. Pantheon Books. p. 339. ISBN 0394409183.
  3. ^ Henderson 1879, pp. 255–6.
  4. ^ a b Briggs 1976, p. 115.
  5. ^ Henderson 1879, pp. 250, 253.
  6. ^ Briggs 1976, pp. 247, 339.
  7. ^ Wood, J. Maxwell (1911). Witchcraft and Superstitious Record in the South-Western District of Scotland. Dumfries: J. Maxwell & Son. pp. 294-5.
  8. ^ Westwood, Jennifer and Kingshill, Sophia (2009). The Lore of Scotland: A Guide to Scottish Legends. Random House Books. p. 126. ISBN 9781905211623.
  9. ^ Bottrell, William (1880). Stories and Folk-Lore of West Cornwall, Third Series. F. Rodda, Penzance. p. 93.
  10. ^ Allingham, William (1862). Nightingale Valley: A Collection of Choice Lyrics and Short Poems. London: Bell and Daldy. pp. 42–3.
  11. ^ Mack, James Logan (1926). The Border Line. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd. p. 146.
  12. ^ Scott, Walter (1849). The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (Vol. 4). Robert Cadell, Edinburgh. pp. 235–257.
  13. ^ Scott 1849, p. 243.
  14. ^ Rowling, J. K. (1999). Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Scholastic Press. p. 141. ISBN 0-439-13635-0.
  15. ^ Rowling, J. K. (as Newt Scamander) (2001). Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Scholastic Press. p. 36. ISBN 0-439-32160-3.
  16. ^ http://www.mindkayak.com/bestiary/searchmobs.jsp?RealmID=4&MobName=redcap&LevelMin=&LevelMax=.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  17. ^ "Fable Legends:Redcaps". Archived from the original on 2015-04-16.