Redcaps

Redcaps DCedcaps are the counterpart to the friendly household Brownies of Scottish folklore, and can be found in the ruins of castles and towers in the Borders, especially those that have played host to bloody battles. Popular tradition attests that the foundation stones of the old Border castles were bathed in human blood by the Picts in order to draw malevolent spirits to protect the buildings.

The Redcap is usually depicted as a short, stocky old man with long sharp teeth, wiry fingers and razor sharp nails, great red eyes, and long, straggly hair. He wears boots made of iron and carries a pike in his left hand. His red cap is stained with the blood of his victims, and it is said that if he allows the blood in his cap to dry out, he will die.

Any weary travellers who seek refuge in the haunts of a Redcap are quickly dispatched, either being crushed by the huge boulders that the Redcap rolls at them, or, if he’s feeling particularly vicious, the unfortunate victim is ripped to pieces by the Redcap’s teeth and nails. Despite the heavy pike and iron boots that the Redcap is lumbered with, it is impossible to outrun him and he can overcome even the strongest man. The only way to escape is to quote Scripture to him, causing the Redcap to vanish in a burst of flame, leaving behind only a large tooth on the spot where he was last seen. 

The most famous of the Redcaps in Scottish folklore is Robin Redcap, the familiar of William de Soules, Lord of Liddesdale and Butler of Scotland in the early fourteenth century. Lord Soules was a cruel and violent man, and was deeply unpopular with the people. He lived in the foreboding Hermitage Castle, once described in a Radio Scotland broadcast as the embodiment of the phrase ‘sod off’ in stone. 

Redcap: Hermitage Castle

Soules made a deal with the devil who appeared to him as a Redcap and promised him protection from his enemies, as told in the poem by John Leyden:

Lord Soules he sat in Hermitage castle,
And beside him Old Redcap sly; 
“Now, tell me, thou sprite, who art meikle of might,
The death that I must die!” 

“While thou shalt bear a charmed life, 
And hold that life of me,
’Gainst lance and arrow, sword and knife,
I shall thy warrant be.

“Nor forged steel, nor hempen band,
Shall e’er thy limbs confine,
Till threefold ropes of sifted sand
Around thy body twine.

In 1320, Lord Soules attempted to kidnap a young woman from her home, and when her father tried to stop him Soules killed him on the spot. Local people had witnessed the incident and were on the verge of lynching Soules when the Laird of Mangerton intervened, calming the crowd before advising Soules to return to Hermitage Castle without his captive. Far from being grateful Soules invited the Laird of Mangerton to a banquet at Hermitage. When the Laird arrived, Soules stabbed him in the back, killing him.

Countless complaints had been made about Lord Soules over the years and by 1321 more and more were reaching the ears of the king, Robert the Bruce. When news of Soules’s latest atrocity reached Bruce he called for him to be put to death. Unfortunately Soules was protected by his Redcap and could not be bound by rope nor injured by steel. Instead his rather ingenious executors rolled him up in a sheet of lead and boiled him to death in a cauldron on Ninestane Rig, a ring of standing stones near Hermitage Castle. 

On a circle of stones they plac’d the pot,
On a circle of stones but barely nine;
They heated it red and fiery hot,
Till the burnish’d brass did glimmer and shine.

They roll’d him up in a sheet of lead,
A sheet of lead for a funeral pall;
They plunged him in the cauldron red,
And melted him, lead, and bones and all.

At the Skelf-hill, the cauldron still
The men of Liddesdale can show;
And on the spot, where they boil’d the pot,
The whin and the deer-hair ne’er shall grow.

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  • Tarkabarka

    Well, this could go on my “ways to die in the middle ages” list… I am also writing tomorrow about someone who couldn’t be killed with any weapons… Allegedly :D

    Also, I knew Redcaps from the old Changeling game. Never played one, but they seemed fun…

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
    MopDog – 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

    • http://weewhitehoose.co.uk Fee

      The only other time I’d heard of Redcaps outside of Scottish mythology was in a series of books by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, one of which was also called Changeling – is the game based on the books?

      • Tarkabarka

        I wonder. I’ll have to look them up!

  • Anabel Marsh

    All new to me! Spikes is a very nasty piece of work indeed.

    • http://weewhitehoose.co.uk Fee

      He certainly is!

  • Anabel Marsh

    Thank you iPad for correcting Soules to Spikes!

    • http://weewhitehoose.co.uk Fee

      Auto correct is the bane of my life!

  • LeAnne

    Leave it to the Scots to have the scariest folklore creatures! Yikes! Not someone I’d like to meet on a dark and scary night!

    • http://weewhitehoose.co.uk Fee

      Definitely not! :)

  • Samantha Mozart

    Thank you, Fee. These are really fascinating stories. This is my first visit here to your Wee White Hoose, via Sara Snider. I will read more, and give the link to a friend of mine, a writer and a Scot living in New Zealand who is intrigued by Scottish history, folklore and myth.
    Nice to meet you on the A-Zs.
    Samantha Mozart
    http://thescheherazadechronicles.org

    • http://weewhitehoose.co.uk Fee

      Hi Samantha,
      Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind comments. I hope your friend enjoys the blog too :)

  • http://www.patgarciaschaack.com Pat Garcia

    Hi Fee,
    First, thank you for visiting my blog. Your article intrigues me because I believe I have Scottish blood in me. I am from Georgia, USA and many of the first settlers were Scottish. Needless to say, with slavery there was a lot of mixing and my great grandmother had very long hair and had light skin. One of my sisters has natural red hair which she dies and freckles.
    I myself visited Scotland for 10 days in 2010, touring around the country and fell like I was at home immediately. I loved the mountains. So, that’s enough of me.
    Just wanted to let you know that Scottish folklore interest me very much and I’ll be back.
    Shalom,
    Patricia

    • http://weewhitehoose.co.uk Fee

      Hi Pat,
      What an interesting family history you have! My daughters have red hair and freckles too, definitely a sign of Scottish blood! :) I hope you make it back to Scotland one day x

      • http://www.patgarciaschaack.com Pat Garcia

        Hi Fee,
        I do plan to visit Scotland again. I live as an American ExPat at the moment in Germany. I speak fluent German and am now learning Italian because that’s where I want to live out my life.
        Shalom,
        Patricia

  • lv2trnscrb

    Visiting from A/Z; wow I don’t think I ever want to run into a Redcap! They do sound scary indeed!

    betty
    http://viewsfrombenches.blogspot.com/

    • http://weewhitehoose.co.uk Fee

      You probably wouldn’t want to run into one on a dark night, Betty! Thanks for visiting :)

  • Heidi Dahlsveen

    Brilliant, love the stories between the lines too! Best from Heidi in Norway.

    • http://weewhitehoose.co.uk Fee

      Thanks Heidi! :)

  • Sara C. Snider

    Wow, that’s pretty grim. But, then, I guess that’s what you get for teaming up with a Redcap and being a nasty lout. ;)