Friday, September 10, 2010

The Merman of Orford

Around 1197, Orford in Suffolk was not only a center for fishing but was developing into a thriving port where imports of wine and exports of wool would have been a daily event.
The tale of a wild merman comes to us from Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles, published in 1697. (I have edited the spelling and shortened the account just a bit.)

"In this first year of King Johns reign, at Orford in Suffolk, a fish was taken by fishers in their nets resembling in shap a whild or savage man whom the presented to Sir Bartholomew de Glanville who was in charge of the Castle of Orford. He was naked and everything about him was in the correct proportion of a man. His head was bald, his beard was long and rugged and his breast hairy. The knight had him kept under watch for many days and nights, not allowing him to return to the sea. He was fed all manner of food and ate everything including fish both cooked and raw. He would go to bed at the setting of the sun and rise again at the rising of the sun. He could not, or would not utter any speech. They had him hung up by his heels and horribly tormented and still he would not speak'
'One day they took him to the shore and allowed him to go into the sea. To be sure they would not escape they put three sets of nets in the water in order to catch him again when they were ready but he easily evaded them.  He was able to dive down under the nets and come up on the other side. He dove and splashed about repeatedly seeming to mock the observers on the shore. At length after playing a great deal in the water and just as it seemed there was no hope of his return, he came back of his own accord. He remained in the castle for two months after, but finally, when he was neglected, he secretly fled to the sea and was never seen nor heard of again."

Ralph Coggeshall, a monk at the Cisterian Abbey reports the story in his book the Chronicum Anglicanum with the exception that he places the capture of the man in the days of Henry the II and adds that the merman was taken to church but made no attempt at genuflection and did not bow his head but he did appear to understand that something holy and important was going on around him.

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