Sliding Ducks & the Equivocation of Prophecy – November 3rd

Ducks in Winter 
Photo by <a href="">Timur Romanov</a> on <a href="">Unsplash</a>
Timur Romanov, Photo from Unsplash

Folklore is full of ways of predicting the future – mostly about the weather or love. The Perpetual Almanac by Charles Kightly features many of these in rhyme form of the ‘Sky at Night Shepherd’s Delight’ type. Here is a seasonal one.

If ducks do slide at Hallowentide
At Christmas they will swim
If ducks do swim at Hallowentide
At Christmas they will slide

From my experience, in the south of the UK, this is simply not true as we very rarely get ice in early November, and don’t get snow at Christmas that often. But maybe, the further north you go, the truer this becomes. But it’s good to remember what Macbeth said on seeing the wood moving to Dunsinane ‘(I) begin to doubt the equivocation of the fiend, that lies like truth.’ as he realises that prophecy is a double-edged sword which has led him to his doom. He had been told by the Three Witches that he:

‘shall never vanquish’d be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him’

Still, as he heads to the final battle, Macbeth knows he is invincible and that ‘none of woman born shall harm Macbeth’.

But in his savage fight with Macduff, he is told that Macduff was not of woman born, but rather ‘from his mother’s womb / Untimely ripped’. And Macbeth is killed.

In reality Macbeth, was a successful King who reigned for 17 years, and was one of the last Gaelic Kings as Scottish society was changing with contact with England.

This is a draft of the text that forms part of my best selling book ‘Divorced, Beheaded, Died’ The Kings and Queens of Britain in Bite-sized Chunks’

King Macbeth (Mac Bethad mac Findlaích) 1040 – 1057

Macbeth was nicknamed the Red King. He was a Gaelic speaker, descended from the Kings of Dal Riata. Macbeth’s father, Finlay MacRory, was Mormaer (Grand Steward) of Moray. He was murdered by Gillacomgain, who took MacRory’s title. Gillacomgain was burnt to death with 50 of his followers, probably by Macbeth, who thus not only regained the title as ruler of Moray but married his dead rival’s widow, Gruoch. She was the granddaughter of Kenneth II. Macbeth was also himself descended from the Kings of Scotland via his mother Donada probably daughter of Malcolm II.

His claim to the throne was therefore strong, and following the disasters of King Duncan’s reign, Macbeth seized the opportunity to take the throne for himself.

He ruled well for nearly 2 decades imposing a strong sense of law and order, encouraging Christianity and leading successful raids across the border into England. In 1050 he went on pilgrimage to Rome. Exiled Normans, supporters of Edward the Confessor were settled in Scotland in Macbeth’s reign. There is no evidence that Macbeth was any more evil then the rest of the early Scottish Kings.

In 1057 Macbeth was killed in battle against Duncan I’s son who became Malcolm III. Macbeth is buried on Iona. He and Gruoch had no children but Guoch’s son, Lulach, son of Gillacomgain briefly followed Macbeth as king before being assassinated by Malcolm III

‘Divorced, Beheaded, Died’ The Kings and Queens of Britain in Bite-sized Chunks’ for more details look here.

Prophecy ‘lies like the truth’ a trope that is used in many ancient tales such as Oedipus Rex.

November is the month of Blood in the Anglo-Saxon calendar, when animals returning from summer pastures were slaughtered and only those needed for work or breeding were kept alive. A period therefore of salting, drying and preserving. The 9th Month of the Roman Calendar (originally) Tachwedd in Welsh and An t-Samhuinn in Gaelic – the month of the Samhain festival.

The 3rd of November is the Hilaria, the last day of the festival of Isis, the day of the rebirth of Osiris.

First Posted on 3 November 2021. Revised 3 Novemember 2023

Digital Heritage – the Stone of Destiny yields secrets

Photo of a replica of the Stone of Destiny at Scone Abbey. This is where Scottish Kings were crowned.  The chapel is built near to Scone Palace, and on a mound of earth which was said to be made up of the dust from the shoes, and trousers of those attending coronations from all over Scotland
Replica of the Stone of Destiny at Scone Palace, Photo Kevin Flude

A study of the Stone of Destiny, the Stone of Scone, the Coronation Stone, has revealed new information. Firstly, it has some markings which look like three X’s and something like a V – perhaps Roman Numerals or more likely, crosses.

The Stone also revealed traces of copper alloy showing that a metal object had been attached to the Stone for a considerable time. The most obvious suggestion would be a relic associated with a Saint, and a Bell is one possibility.

Traces of gypsum suggested someone sometime made a plaster copy of the stone. No one knows when or why, and it has not been found.

Historic Environment, Scotland has released this fascinating 3-D scan of the stone for the public to view – it is annotated too.

You can read more at the links below, and thank you to Jean Kelly of the Britarch mailing list for alerting me to this.

Hidden symbols and ‘anomalies’ (Live Science)

Cutting-edge digital technologies (Historic Environment Scotland)

The Stone has been moved from its permanent home at Edinburgh Castle for the first time since 1996, to be placed under the Coronation Chair for Charles’s May 6 Coronation at Westminster Abbey.

Coronation Chair, with Stone of Scone under the seat.
black and white photo
Coronation Chair, with Stone of Scone under the seat.

The Stone was kept at Scone before it was stolen by Edward 1 of England, who placed it under the Coronation Chair, at Westminster, to sanctify English Kings and to make the point that he was the overlord of the Scottish. In the 1950’s Scottish students stole it back, hid it for a few weeks and then left it at Arbroath Abbey. They did this because the so-called Declaration of Arbroath (1320) is a letter to the Pope asking for his endorsement of Scotland’s claim to be independent of England. The Pope agreed.

The Stone was recovered from Arbroath taken back to Westminster. The Labour Party under Tony Blair, granted Scotland back their own Parliament and as a symbol of their regained independence, the Stone of Destiny was taken back to Scotland.

Newspaper cutting showing the Stone being taken from Arbroath Abbey
Photo of six people, including policemen carrying away the Stone of Scone from Arbroath Abbey
Newspaper cutting showing the Stone being taken from Arbroath Abbey

To my mind it should be in Scone, which is where Macbeth and most other Scottish Kings were crowned, but perhaps they thought it should be in the Capital and in the safety of the Castle. At Scone, the Stone was placed on a mound of earth which was said to be made up of the dust from the feet of those attending Coronations symbolising the consent of all of Scotland for the new King.

April 6th Maundy Thursday

Maundy Money Pouches. and cover of the Order of Service for Royal Maundy service 1974 Photo Wehwalt
Maundy Money Pouches. and cover of the Order of Service for Royal Maundy service 1974 Photo Wehwalt

This is the last day of Lent, and the day before the Passion. Its also called Holy Thursday when Christians remember the Washing of the Feet, and the Last Supper.. Maundy is thought to be from the ‘Latin word mandatum, or commandment, reflecting Jesus’ words “I give you a new commandment.’ (Wikipedia). But I much prefer the derivation that it comes from the custom of the English Kings giving alms to poor people on this day.

English name “Maundy Thursday” arose from “maundsor baskets” or “maundy purses” of alms which the king of England distributed to certain poor at Whitehall before attending Mass on that day. Thus, “maund” is connected to the Latin mendicare, and French mendier, to beg.

Royal MaundyWikipedia

The monarch gives out money in special red and white pouches to old people. In modern times the money is specially minted for the occasion. It is now more symbolic than a practical gesture. It dates back to the 13th Century.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip Wakefield Cathedral after the 2005 Royal Maundy Ceremony.  Photo Runner1928
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip after the 2005 Royal Maundy Ceremony at Wakefield Cathedral. Photo Runner1928

In 1572 Queen Elizabeth 1 washed one foot of a group of poor women, then wiped, crossed and kissed them. In fact, the women had first had their feet washed by the laundress, then the sub-almoner, then the almoner, and finally the Queen. (The Perpetual Almanac of Folklore by Charles Kightley’

One scholar, Prof Humphreys author of ‘The Mystery Of The Last Supper’, believes that there is far too much going on between the Last Supper on Thursday and the Crucifixion on Good Friday. He suggests an old Jewish Calendar was used and therefore the Last Supper was on the Wednesday not the Thursday and the date he favours is:

Wednesday, 1 April AD33

March 31st The Moon on the Aventine Hill

Cycle of the Moon, sketched from photo.

The Moon rules the months: this month’s span ends
With the worship of the Moon on the Aventine Hill.

Fasti by Ovid

I wrote extensively about Selene, recently, in this post.

The Aventine Hill is one of the seven hills of Rome, named after a mythical King Aventinus. Hercules pastured his cattle on the hill, and according to Virgil in his Aeneid, the monstrous Cacus lived in a cave on a rocky slope near the River Tiber. Cacus is killed by Hercules for stealing the cattle. The worship of Minerva also took place here. You can take a Google Earth fly past if you follow this link – also some nice photos, and a link to Wikipedia.

Aventine Hill, Rome Google Earth

The Hill is famous in the mythology of Rome because it is associated with Romulus. He and his twin Brother Remus, were born to the vestal virgin, Rhea Silvia, in the pre-Roman City of Alba Longa, not far away. Rhea was the daughter of former King Numitor, and in her sacred grove she was seduced by the God Mars, and gave birth to the twin boys. They had to be hidden from the wrath of their Granduncle, who had usurped the throne from their Grandfather. During this time they survived, saved by the River God Tiberinus and then by being suckled by a Wolf in a cave called the Lupercal, which is/was at the foot of the Palatine Hill in Rome.

When they grew up they helped their Grandfather reclaim the throne (as they were obviously very good at the art of war). They decided to found their own City but they could not decide upon which hill to build it or who to name it after (accounts vary!). Remus favoured the Palatine, Romulus the Aventine (or vice versa). They decided to let the Gods decide. Remus claimed to have won when he saw a flight of 6 auspicious birds but Romulus saw 12 declared himself the winner. The City was named Rome in his honour, and it was founded on the Palatine Hill, with the Aventine originally outside the circuit.

The two fell out and Remus was killed. The story was first written down in the Third Century BC but Rome claimed to have been founded in 753BC so there is a lot of dispute about the creation myths of Rome.

But they continue to be told and celebrated in a way that we have forgotten in Britain as we ignore our creation myths of King Brutus, relative of Romulus and Remus, merely because they are unlikely to be true!

Coltsfoot & London Stone February 24th

Coltsfoot by Andreas Trepte Wikipedia

Coltsfoot is a daisy-like plant which is flowering about now and Gerard’s Herbal of 1633 suggests that the ‘fumes of the dried leaves taken through a funnel’ is good for those with coughs and shortness of breath. He suggests that it is smoked like tobacco and it ‘mightly prevaileth.’

This idea, Mrs Grieves says in her herbal, is endorsed by ‘Dioscorides, Galen, Pliny and Boyle’. and Coltsfoot is ‘nature’s best herb for the lungs’. (This is historic information re herbs not current medical advice!).

engraving of a man smoking
Lobspruch deß edlen hochberühmten Krauts Petum oder Taback Nuremberg, 1658 New York Public Library Public Domain
Lobspruch deß edlen hochberühmten Krauts Petum oder Taback Nuremberg, 1658 New York Public Library Public Domain

My grandson and parents found a 19th Century pipe bowl by the Thames and, yesterday I had a walk along the River at Rotherhithe including a time on the foreshore where there were many fragments of clay pipe. For more on 17th Century smoking have a look here

Blossom is also coming out in London, a little early. (2022 we had a false spring when Cherry Blossom came out and I think we are now just getting used to it so I don’t think it is being noted so much in 2024). Blackthorn (I think) is coming out in profusion in my local park. Left February 2022, Right Feb 23.

London Stone

On February 18th I wrote about the famous London Stone as one of London’s palladiums i.e. an object that keeps a place safe from invasion. The story I told was about an ‘ancient proverb’ surfacing in 1862.:

“So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long shall London flourish”

But it was attributed to Richard Williams Morgan, and so I followed the prevailing belief that Morgan made it up. Then, through my inbox came a copy of an article from which addresses the issue! Published in 2018 (when I must have read it!) It is by John Clark who is the Emeritus Curator at the Museum of London and an excellent academic who checks his facts much more scrupulously than either Morgan or I.

Brut Sett London Stone’: London and London Stone in a 14th-Century English Metrical Chronicle‘ This article tells the story of Morgan’s London Stone claim but notes that a medieval reference to Brutus setting up London stone exists. John says ‘In the 1330s an anonymous London author, in a versified history of England‘ (the Short Metrical Chronicle) wrote:

Brutus set up London Stone
And these words he said anon:
‘If each king that comes after me
Makes this city wide and roomy
As I have in my day,
Still hereafter men may say
That Troy was never so fair a city
As this city shall be.’

(Burnley & Wiggins 2003b, lines 457—64 (John Clark’s modern English version))

So, the Medieval quotation doesn’t claim London Stone is the base of the Palladium but it does say it was set up by the legendary Trojan founder of London and is part of the City’s history that would lead to it becoming fairer than Troy. Clark thinks it possible that Morgan came across this reference, but its significance is that it shows there was speculation about London Stone in Medieval London.

Googling yourself to find your book is no 4 in a list of ‘Top Ten History Books’ of 2015!

Now here is the sort of thing you find out about yourself only if you

a. google yourself
b. go down to page 8

And there I find that thebookbag had my book as no 4 in its top ten history books of 2015, with Mary Beard at no 2.

And this is their review:

‘Divorced, Beheaded, Died…: The History of Britain’s Kings and Queens in Bite-Sized Chunks by Kevin Flude


History lives. Proof of that sweeping statement can be had in this book, and in the fact that while it only reached the grand old age of six, it has had the dust brushed off it and has been reprinted – and while the present royal incumbent it ends its main narrative with has not changed, other things have. This has quietly been updated to include the reburial of Richard III in Leicester, and seems to have been re-released at a perfectly apposite time, as only the week before I write these words the Queen has surpassed all those who came before her as our longest serving ruler. Such details may be trivia to some – especially those of us of a more royalist bent – and important facts to others. The perfect balance of that coupling – trivia and detail – is what makes this book so worthwhile.’

135,000 copies to date in 7 editions and formats. I did suggest a new updated edition to add a section on King Charles III but they said ‘they had no plans.’