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© Copyright ~ 2020

The Romance of
Fulk fitz-Warin

In essence the anonymously written Romance of Fulk fitz Warin is a Robin Hood type of tale, indeed some believe it influenced by the legend of the Sherwood rebel - a fanciful story of the outlaw banditry of Fulk fitz Warin. After John, King of England granted the Lordship of Whittington within the March, to Meurig (Maurice), son of Roger of Powys in around 1201, Fulk III responded to this perceived dispossession of his believed hereditary right by taking to the hills of the March with his brothers and supporters and beginning a campaign of rebellion against the English crown. In the years that followed, Fulk caused sufficient problems upon the border between England and Wales to warrant a sizeable military intervention. Fulk was pardoned, along with his followers in 1203 and was granted his inheritance of the Lordship of Whittington.

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The 13th century Whittington Castle - ancestral home of the fitz Warines, and source of someconsiderable medieval angst.

What then does this tale of Fulk have to do with Castell Dinas Bran? Well, whatever else it is, the Romance of Fulk fitz Warin seems to have been a tale written to legitimise the hereditary right of Fulk to the Whittington lands and castle there. And that right seems to hinge on a favourite of William I, Duke of Normandy and king of England - Payn Peverel. The Norman knight, an ancestor of Fulk, plays a significant role in the Romance, spending a rather exciting night amongst the ruins of Dinas Bran.

 

The tale tells a story told to William the Conqueror as he moved into the Vale of Llangollen, in the hunt for Owain Gwynedd who was making a nuisance of himself in the March.

 

‘When King William the Bastard approached the hills and valleys of Wales, he saw a large town, formerly inclosed with high walls, which was all burnt and ruined; and in a plain below the town he caused his tents to be raised, and there he said he would remain that night.’

Thomas Wright, The History of Fulk Fitz Warine, (1885), p.5

 

This town was identified as ‘Chastiel Bran’ by a local and was apparently haunted by a devil possessed giant - Geomagog, previously killed by Corineus, follower of Brutus, the mythical founder of Britain. According to the pseudo history of Geoffrey of Monmouth, the Historia regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain), the Trojans and their allies, having migrated from Aquitania found Albion full of giants and set about killing them. Th largest of them, Geomagog was kept alive in order to wrestle with Corineus, known as a fearsome warrior, if a modest man in matters of council. To cut a short story shorter, Corienus ended up lifting up Geomagog, rushing to the cliff edge above Plymouth Hoe and hurling the unfortunate giant onto the rocks below and killing him, the sea red with foaming blood. It was at this point that Geomagog’s body was possessed by a devil. For reasons that will become apparent, this demonic husk moved north, seizing the lands around Llangollen, including ‘Chastiel Bran’.

 

Payn Peverel (a cousin to William) declared that he would travel to Dinas Bran to defeat the giant and free the land from its devilish thrall.  Accompanied by 15 knights and an entourage, Payn, ‘armed himself very richly and took his shield shining with gold and a cross of azure indented.’

 

That night a foul, black storm of thunder and lightning broke upon the castle, and Peverel’s knights and attendants all feared for their lives.  Falling to the ground, they cowered and would not move. Although fearful himself, Peverel was made of sterner stuff, it seems. As a good Christian he made prayer to God and asked for strength and protection from the devil.

 

The giant, Geomagog attacked from the dark, enraged by the piety of the knight. Breathing out great clouds of smoke and fire, the flames of which were quite visible in the town below, illuminating the summit.  Peverel trusted in the Lord, and more vitally his sword and battle was met. Despite Geomagog’s great size and strength, the cross upon Peverel’s shield quite enfeebled the giant, and finally Peverel was able to mortally wound the fiend.

 

Recognising the power of Christ, Geomagog submitted. Peverel demanded to know who the giant was and why he resided at Dinas Bran. The giant was forthcoming, confirming the tale originally told to William of his death, of entering the body of the giant, who had given over his soul to the devil on his death. Once the spirit had been an angel, but having offended God had become a demonic spirit. Having given his soul to the devil, the spirit returned to the Vale and Dinas Bran to protect the treasure hoard collected by the giant and hidden at the castle. His interest piqued by the mention of treasure (the Normans ever were), Peverel demanded to know more of it. He was told of a fabulous wealth of golden pagan figurines, including the mythological stalwart of a golden bull which seemed to be the object of worship by the evil spirits which congregated in the Vale until expelled by St. Augustine.

 

Cutting to the quick of the matter, Peverel demanded to know the whereabouts of the treasure, but was told in no uncertain terms to, ‘speak no more of that for it is destined for others’. But in a convenient bit of prophecy, the devilish giant also stated that Payn would rule over the White Land (Whittington), as would his kin. And at that, the spirit of the giant hissed out of Geomagog’s corpse and left behind such a stink that Peverel was almost overcome.

 

William was, of course, much impressed with this tale, and kept the giant’s mace as a source of wonder, ‘on account of its marvellous magnitude.’ Geomagog’s corpse was unceremoniously thrown into a ditch somewhere outside of the town.  True to form, William rewarded Peverel by granting him an awful lot of somebody else’s land, including that of the White Land, Whittington, just some 13 miles down the road from Llangollen.

 

The treasure of Geomagog is said to lay somewhere on Dinas Bran to this day, waiting to be found, it is said, by a white dog whose silver eyes can see the wind.

 

While anonymous, the Romance of Fulk fitz Warine is believed to have been copied down by a clergyman, known as the Ludlow Scribe, possibly based at Leominster Priory. It is obvious from the text that the writer, or the copiest, possibly both had a very clear knowledge of the geography of the March, from north to south. It is not entirely clear when the work was written, and has variously been ascribed to the middle of the 13th century, predating the building of the medieval castle of Dinas Bran in the 1260s, or sometime in the early 14th century. The latter date seems more likely, given that the writer would seem to know of Castell Dinas Bran, and of it being a burnt ruin.

 

Further Reading

 

Thomas Wright, The History of Fulk Fitz Warine, London, (1885)

Alice Kemp-Welch, The History of Fulk Fitz-Warine, Ontario (2001)

 

Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain, trans. Louis Thorpe, London, (1973)

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