Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

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William of Cloudeslee and his son

The Last Shot

It was an anxious moment. The throng of spectators felt sick with expectation, and many women wept and prayed for the father and his innocent son. But Cloudeslee showed no fear. He addressed the crowd gravely: “Good folk, stand all as still as may be. For such a shot a man needs a steady hand, and your movements may destroy my aim and make me slay my son. Pray for me.”

Then, in an unbroken silence of breathless suspense, the bold marksman shot, and the apple fell to the ground, cleft into two absolutely equal halves. A cheer from every spectator burst forth deafeningly, and did not die down till the king beckoned for silence.

The King and Queen Show Favour

“God forbid that I should ever be your target,” quoth he. “You shall be my chief forester in the North Country, with daily wage, and daily right of killing venison; your two brethren shall become yeomen of my guard, and I will advance the fortunes of your family in every way.”

The queen smiled graciously upon William, and she bestowed a pension upon him, and bade him bring his wife, fair Alice, to court, to take up the post of chief woman of the bedchamber to the royal children.

Overwhelmed with these favours, the three yeomen became conscious of their own offences, more than they had told to the royal pair; their awakened consciences sent them to a holy bishop, who heard their confessions, [Pg 247] gave them penance and bade them live well for the future, and then absolved them. When they had returned to Englewood Forest and had broken up the outlaw band they came back to the royal court, and spent the rest of their lives in great favour with the king and queen.

[Pg 248]



IN considering the hero-myths of Scotland we are at once confronted with two difficulties. The first, and perhaps the greater, is this, that the only national heroes of Lowland Scotland are actual historical persons, with very little of the mythical character about them. The mention of Scottish heroes at once suggests Sir William Wallace, Robert Bruce, the Black Douglas, Sir Andrew Barton, and many more, whose exploits are matter of serious chronicle and sober record rather than subject of tradition and myth. These warriors are too much in reach of the fierce white searchlight of historic inquiry to be invested with mythical interest or to show any developments of ancient legend.

The second difficulty is of a different nature, and yet almost equally perplexing. In the old ballads and poems of the Gaelic Highlands there are mythical heroes in abundance, such as Fingal and Ossian, Comala, and a host of shadowy chieftains and warriors, but they are not distinctively Scotch. They are only Highland Gaelic versions of the Irish Gaelic hero-legends, Scotch embodiments of Finn and Oisin, whose real home was in Ireland, and whose legends were carried to the Western Isles and the Highlands by conquering tribes of Scots from Erin. These heroes are at bottom Irish, the champions of the Fenians and of the Red Branch, and in the Scotch legends they have lost much of their original beauty and chivalry.

The Highland Clans

It is rather in the private history of the country, as it were, than in its national records that we are likely [Pg 249] to find a hero who will have something of the mythical in his story, something of the romance of the Middle Ages. The wars and jealousies of the clans, the adventures of a chief among hostile tribesmen, the raids and forays, the loves and hatreds of rival families, form a good background for a romantic legend; and such a legend occurs in the story of