Myth: Bladud And His Pigs

[Editor’s note: Bladud And His Pigs is an old tale of the Britons. Boger, Charlotte Gilson Allen. Myths, Scenes & Worthies of Somerset. G. Redway, 1887.]

While Bladud, the only son of Lud Hudibras — the eighth king from Brute — was still young, he, by some mischance, became infected with leprosy, and, following the cruel but necessary precautions of the times, the nobles and people who frequented the court all joined in a humble petition to the king that the prince might be banished from the kingdom. Lud Hudibras had no means of evading their request, and desired Bladud to depart from his palace; the queen, his mother, on parting with her only son, whom she dared not embrace, so fearful was the infection of this deadly scourge, presented him with a ring of exquisite workmanship, as a token whereby she should know him again, if perchance he should ever be cured of the loath- some disease, and so be enabled to return.

And now we must follow the steps of the young prince, an outcast from his home from no fault of his own, but a victim to the ignorance of those sanitary laws which it took so many centuries to discover. Sad, sick, and solitary he went his way: the world was before him. He might have said with Norfolk —

“Now no way can I stray,

Save back to Lud’s town all the world’s my way.”

He was sent forth to wander he knew not whither, and chance — or an over-ruling Providence — directed his steps westward. Berries and roots, or some wild animal caught in a snare or shot with his bow and arrows, satisfied him for a time, but ere he came to the Wiltshire Downs he had begun to feel the pangs of hunger. But what could he do?

He was too proud to beg, and he had very little idea of work, but he must needs try to find some employment; but when the people to whom he applied saw the youth in his fine sheepskin raiment, elaborately stained with emblems and quaint devices, they shook their heads, and said they wanted an honest lad who knew how to work, and not some runaway servant, who had dressed himself in his master’s fine clothes. The poor peasantry on these fresh open downs knew nothing of the terrible disease with which he was afflicted, and at last he persuaded a shepherd boy about his own age to change clothes with him, and once more he set forth in search of employment and food. It is to be owned that this proceeding of my hero was undoubtedly a very selfish one; he must have known the risk, though the lad with whom he made the exchange knew nought of it.

And now in his peasant’s dress he passed into Somerset, and at Caynsham, or Keynsham, he persuaded an aged swineherd to let him undertake the charge of his pigs. — The story here is strangely like that of the prodigal son; it is likely enough that some tale-telling monk may have dressed it up with details from the parable. — But alas! in a short time he discovered that he had given the infection to his charge, and that the swine were suffering- from leprosy. Remorse preyed upon him for his selfish disregard of others, and day by day he led his herd deeper into the forest, and further from the haunts of men.

In his wanderings he came to the clear waters of the Avon, and a great desire seized upon him to cross the sparkling water, and to feed his charge on the acorns which fell from the oak trees in the forest on the other side. His old master consented, so on the next day, starting early, he discovered a shallow part of the river where they could cross without difficulty, at a spot since known, in memory of his adventure, as Swineford. Here the rising sun breaking through the clouds saluted the royal herdsman, and while he was addressing himself to the glorious luminary, which was to him the representation of Deity, and praying that the wrath of God might be averted, the whole herd of swine were seized as with a sudden madness, and, bursting from his control, took their course up the valley by the side of the river, to which their natural instinct guided them.

The scum which the water naturally emits, mixing with leaves of trees and decaying weeds, had made the land about the springs overrun with vegetation; into this the pigs plunged, and so delighted were they with wallowing in their oozy bed that hunger alone made them leave it. Enticing them with acorns, their favourite food, Bladud drew his herd to a convenient spot to wash and feed them day by day, as well as to secure them by night; he made distinct crues (cribs ?) for the swine to lie in; the prince concluding that by keeping the pigs clean and separate, the infection might be the better prevented from spreading. In this plan he was much encouraged, when, upon washing them clean from the filth with which they were covered, he observed some of the pigs to have shed their hoary marks. (It is quite evident that Bladud was far in advance of his age, and on the way to becoming a great sanitary reformer.)

He had not been settled many days in the place, which from the number of crues took the name of Swinewick, before he lost one of his best sows, nor could he find her during a whole week’s diligent search, till, passing by the place where the hot springs were continually bubbling up, he observed the strayed animal wallowing in the mire about the waters, and on washing her found to his joy and surprise that she was perfectly cured. The prince now began to consider that the same means might effect his own cure, so, stripping himself and plunging in, he wallowed as the pigs had done, and with the same effect; in a few days the loathsome scales fell off, he was cured of his leprosy, and ” his flesh became again as the flesh of a little child.”

No sooner did Bladud make this happy discovery than he returned to his aged master. He told him his story, and with some difficulty persuaded him of its truth, for naturally enough it seemed incredible to the old man that he had a prince as his swineherd. At last, however, he was induced to accompany him to his father’s court. Arrived at the palace, whither he was followed, not only by his aged master, but by his favorite pig, it was no wonder that the weak and sickly young prince was not recognized in the healthy and stalwart peasant lad who was so strangely attended. He found the king and queen keeping the feast of acorns, and, as was their custom at that festival, dining in public. Bladud found means unperceived to drop the ring his mother had given him into her goblet of hippocras, which the queen perceiving as she drank, cried aloud that her son had returned. Immediately, to the astonishment of all, Bladud discovered himself, and was received with trans- ports of joy, not only by his parents, but by the whole assembly as the heir to the throne, given back to them as from the grave.

When the rejoicings were over, and the young prince had sent back his old master loaded with presents, he began to solicit his father for permission to travel into foreign parts. To this the king at last consented, and Bladud set out for Greece to study literature and science.’ The king would have sent him abroad with a numerous retinue, as befitted his state and dignity, but the prince preferred to travel as a simple student, that he might find no hindrance to his desire to acquire all the learning to which he could possibly attain. He chose Athens for his residence, and remained abroad eleven years, studying philosophy, mathematics, and necromancy, or what the simple folk of that age thought to be such; so that when he returned he was of great use to his father in the government, and on the death of Lud Hudibras succeeded to the throne, and became a wise and beneficent king. In fact, could Bladud only have claimed to be a native of Somerset, we might have ranked him as first among the philosophers of that county. It seems worth noting that in this legend we find the first mention of the debt our learning and literature owe directly to Greece — a debt renewed again and again in later years.

Bladud’s first care on receiving the kingdom was to found at the hot springs a city which went by the name of Carbren, and was the beginning of the beautiful city of Bath. He built a temple to the goddess Minerva, who, however, seems scarcely to have guarded her votary well. For himself he built a grand palace and houses for his chief nobility, and it became the main seat of the power of the British kings.

After this Bladud sent for his old master and gave him a handsome estate, upon which he built a mansion, which he settled on his family forever. From the circumstances the place was called Hog’s Norton, or, as it now stands, Norton Malreward, from a tradition that the king’s bounty was looked upon in the same light as Hiram regarded King Solomon’s.

In spite of state duties Bladud did not neglect his studies, which he pursued with so much assiduity that he even taught necromancy in his kingdom. He pursued his magical or scientific operations till he persuaded himself that he could fly with wings which he had invented for the purpose, but, unfortunately, falling from a temple in the city of Trinovantum (London), dedicated to Apollo, he was dashed to pieces.

Such is the curious legend of Bath, which, in spite of its bearing evidence of being, at least in some degree, of modern growth, yet who will venture to dispute the main facts, for is there not yet to be seen, close above the hot spring that has been bubbling up with its health-restoring properties for at least three thousand years, a piece of sculpture representing a forest in which swine are feeding? and is not the head of Bladud still to be seen in the square of one of the Bath rooms? He was succeeded by his son King Leir, the original of Shakespeare’s Tragedy.

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2 Comments

  1. Interspersal typo:
    “In fact, could Bladud only have claimed to ‘ It seems worth noting that in this legend we find the first mention of the debt our learning and literature owe directly to Greece — a debt renewed again and again in later years. be a native of Somerset, we might have ranked him as first among the philosophers of that county.”

    Should be:
    “In fact, could Bladud only have claimed to be a native of Somerset, we might have ranked him as first among the philosophers of that county.”
    With this separate:
    “It seems worth noting that in this legend we find the first mention of the debt our learning and literature owe directly to Greece — a debt renewed again and again in later years.”

    1. Thanks.

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