The redcap (or Redcap) is a type of malevolent, murderous goblin found in Border folklore. He is said to inhabit ruined castles along the Anglo-Scottish border, especially those places that were once the scenes of tyranny or wicked deeds, and is known for soaking his cap in the blood of his victims. He is also known as Redcomb and Bloody Cap.
Description and behaviour
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. 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. Other than these measures, human strength will do very little in overcoming him.
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. The suggestion is that dunters and redcaps may be the spirits of the original foundation sacrifices.
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.
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. 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.
Robin Redcap and William de Soulis
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. 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. 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. Robin Redcap should not be confused with the mischievous hobgoblin known as Robin Roundcap of East Yorkshire folklore.
In popular culture
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- Redcaps are mentioned in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling as goblin-like creatures that lurk in places where blood has been shed. They also appear in the eponymous video game and the book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
- Redcaps play a major role in Tales of Wychwood, a novel by Daniel Martin Eckhart. Imprisoned in modern-day Wychwood Forest, elves and humans fight headhunting redcaps.
- Redcap is a mob genus found within the Dark Age of Camelot realm of Midgard.
- In the video game Fable Legends there is an enemy creature named the Redcap. Instead of dyeing its hat with the blood of victims, it is dyed with their own, through the nails that they hammer into each other's skulls.
- In the Dresden Files novel Cold Days by Jim Butcher, The Redcap is a vassal of Maeve (The Winter Lady) and a major antagonist in the story.
- In the Harmatia Cycle novel The Sons of Thestian by M. E. Vaughan, The Prince Jionathan fights a Red Cap in a Korrigan nest.
- In the TV series Supernatural, an unnamed fairy chases down Dean Winchester while sporting a red cap.
- On the Blue Öyster Cult's eponymous debut album Blue Öyster Cult from 1972, "Before the Kiss, A Redcap" is Track 5, the final track on the original Side One of the vinyl disc.
- In the Merry Gentry novels by Laurell K. Hamilton, Merry creates an alliance with the Redcaps by bringing them back to their full original power.
- In the roleplaying game Changeling: The Dreaming published by White Wolf Publishing, Redcaps are one of the kiths of Changelings that inhabit the bodies of humans in the modern World of Darkness.
- In the comic book series Fables by Bill Willingham, Red Cap is a "fable" (character) that resides at The Farm and first appears in Fables Vol 7.
- The whole Saga of the First King by R. A. Salvatore teems with powries/redcaps, some of them even befriending humans.
- A redcap is featured as a card for Magic: the Gathering.
- Villains in the novel Doc Sidhe by Aaron Allston include Angus Powrie, stated to be a redcap. One of his favorite tactics in a fight is to drop to his knees, pleading for mercy, and then punch his adversary in the groin.
- Henderson, William (1879). Folklore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders (2nd ed.) W. Satchell, Peyton & Co. p. 253.
- Briggs, Katharine (1976). An Encyclopedia of Fairies. Pantheon Books. p. 339. ISBN 0394409183.
- Henderson 1879, pp. 255–6.
- Briggs 1976, p. 115.
- Henderson 1879, pp. 250, 253.
- Briggs 1976, pp. 247, 339.
- Wood, J. Maxwell (1911). Witchcraft and Superstitious Record in the South-Western District of Scotland. Dumfries: J. Maxwell & Son. pp. 294-5.
- Westwood, Jennifer and Kingshill, Sophia (2009). The Lore of Scotland: A Guide to Scottish Legends. Random House Books. p. 126. ISBN 9781905211623.
- Bottrell, William (1880). Stories and Folk-Lore of West Cornwall, Third Series. F. Rodda, Penzance. p. 93.
- Allingham, William (1862). Nightingale Valley: A Collection of Choice Lyrics and Short Poems. London: Bell and Daldy. pp. 42–3.
- Mack, James Logan (1926). The Border Line. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd. p. 146.
- Scott, Walter (1849). The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (Vol. 4). Robert Cadell, Edinburgh. pp. 235–257.
- Scott 1849, p. 243.
- Gutch, Eliza (1912). County Folklore (Vol. 6). David Nutt. p. 54.
- Nicholson, John (1890). Folk Lore of East Yorkshire. London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co. pp. 80–1.
- Rowling, J. K. (1999). Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Scholastic Press. p. 141. ISBN 0-439-13635-0.
- Rowling, J. K. (as Newt Scamander) (2001). Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Scholastic Press. p. 36. ISBN 0-439-32160-3.
- DAoC Bestiary: Redcap
- "Fable Legends: Redcaps". Archived from the original on 2015-04-16.