Gunilda;Or, the Woeful Chase

A joyful train left Lucy's halls
At morning, cheer'd with bugle calls,
That long ere eve, a mournful train,
Returned to Lucy's halls again.

They went with hound and spear and bow,
To lay the prowling wild-wolf low.
They came with hound and bow and spear—
And one fair daughter on her bier.

Her prancing palfrey starting wide,
She gallop'd from Lord Lucy's side,
A shining huntress, gay, and bold,
And fair as Dian's self of old.

The quarry cross'd her lover's view;
He led the chace with shrill halloo,
Through brake and furze, by stream and dell,
Nor stopp'd until the quarry fell.

Far off aloud rang out his horn
The triumph on the echoes borne,
Long ere the listening maid drew rein
To woo it to her ear in vain.

Bright as a phantom, far astray,
She stood where broad before her lay
Wilton's high wastes and forest rude,
And all the Copeland solitude.

Far off, and farther, rang the horn:
Farther the echoes seem'd to mourn.
"Now, my good Bay, thy frolic o'er,
Thy swiftest and thy best once more!"

By Hole of Haile she turned her steed:
Coursed gaily on by Yeorton Mead;
Glanced where St. Bridget's hamlet show'd;
And down into the coppice rode.

And singing on in gladness there,
She pass'd beside the she-wolf's lair;
When furious from her startled young
The wild brute on Gunilda sprung.

From frighted steed dragg'd low to ground,
The she-wolf, with her cubs around,
Made havoc of that peerless form,
And heart with bounding life so warm.

Clearer rang out their horn, to cheer
Their lost one; and proclaim'd them near.
Proudly they said—"Gunilda's eyes
Will brighten when she sees our prize!"—

They found her; but their words were "Woe!"
"Woe to the bank where thou liest low!
Woe to the hunting of this day,
That left thy limbs to beasts, a prey!"

With downcast faces, eyeballs dim,
They bore her up that mount—to him
A Mount of Sorrow evermore,
Too faithful to the name it bore.

They made in Bega's aisle her tomb,
And laid her in the convent gloom;
And carved her effigy in stone,
And hew'd the she-wolf's form thereon—

In pity to this hour to wake
The pilgrim's sorrow for her sake,
And his who blew the lively horn,
Expecting her—and came to mourn.

Notes to "Gunilda; Or, the Woeful Chase."

A traditional story in the neighbourhood of Egremont relates the circumstance of a lady of the Lucy family being devoured by a wolf. According to one version this catastrophe occurred on an evening walk near the Castle; whilst, a more popular rendering of the legend ascribes it to an occasion on which the lord of the manor, with his lady and servants, were hunting in the forest; when the lady having been lost in the ardour of the chase, was after a long search and heart-rending suspense, found lying on a bank slain by a wolf which was in the act of tearing her to pieces. The place is distinguished by a mound of earth, near the village of Beckermet, on the banks of the Ehen, about a mile below Egremont. The name of Woto Bank, or Wodow Bank as the modern mansion erected near the spot is called, is said to be derived by traditionary etymology, from the expression to which in the first transports of his grief the distracted husband gave utterance—"Woe to this bank."

Hutchinson is inclined to believe "that this place has been witness to many bloody conflicts, as appears by the monuments scattered on all hands in its neighbourhood; and by some the story is supposed to be no more than an emblematic allusion to such conflicts during the invasion of the Danes. It is asserted that no such relation is to be found in the history of the Lucy family; so that it must be fabulous, or figurative of some other event."

There are, however, yet to be seen in the burial ground attached to the Abbey Church of St. Bees, the remaining parts of two monumental figures which may reasonably be presumed to have reference to some such event as that recorded by tradition. The fragments, which are much mutilated, are of stone; and the sculpture appears to be of great antiquity. Common report has assigned to these remains the names of Lord and Lady Lucy.

In their original state, the figures were of gigantic size. The features and legs are now destroyed. The Lord is represented with his sword sheathed. There is a shield on his arm, which appears to have been quartered, but the bearings upon it are entirely defaced. On the breast of the Lady is an unshapely protuberance. This was originally the roughly sculptured limb of a wolf, which even so lately as the year 1806, might be distinctly ascertained. These figures were formerly placed in an horizontal position, at the top of two raised altar tombs within the church. The tomb of the Lady was at the foot of her Lord, and a wolf was represented as standing over it. The protuberance above mentioned, on the breast of the Lady, the paw of the wolf, is all that now remains of the animal. About a century since, the figure of the wolf wanted but one leg, as many of the inhabitants, whose immediate ancestors remembered it nearly entire, can testify. The horizontal position of the figures rendered them peculiarly liable to injuries, from the silent and irresistible ravages of time. Their present state is, however, principally to be attributed to the falling in of the outer walls of the priory, and more particularly to their having been used, many years since, by the boys of the Free Grammar School, as a mark to fire at. There can be little doubt that the limb of the wolf has reference to the story of one of the Ladies Lucy related above.

It may not however be unworthy of remark, that the Lucies were connected, through the family of Meschines, with Hugh d' Abrincis, Earl of Chester, who in the year 1070 is said to have borne azure a wolf's head erased argent, and who had the surname of Lupus.

The wife of Hugh Lupus was sister to Ranulph de Meschin.

The family of Meschines has been said to be descended from that at Rome called by the name Mæcenas, from which the former one is corrupted. "Certainly," says a recent writer, "it has proved itself the Mæcenas of the Priory of St. Bees, not merely in the foundation of that religious house, but also in the charters for a long course of years, which have been granted by persons of different names, indeed, but descended from, or connected with, the same beneficent stock." This is shown in the following extract from a MS. in the Harleian Collection:—

"Be y t  notid that Wyllyam Myschen son of Ranolf Lord of Egermond founded the monastery of Saint Beysse of blake monks, and heyres to the said Meschyn y s  the Lords Fitzwal, the Lord Haryngton, and the Lord Lucy, and so restyth founders of the said monastery therle of Sussex the Lord Marques Dorset, therle of Northumberland as heyres to the Lords aforesaid."

The religious house thus restored, consisting of a prior and six Benedictine monks, was made a cell to the mitred Abbey of Saint Mary, at York. And under this cell, Bishop Tanner says, there was a small nunnery situated at Rottington, about a mile from St. Bees.

At the dissolution, the annual revenues of this priory, according to Dugdale, were £143 17 s. 2 d.; or, by Speed's valuation, £149 19 s. 6 d.; from which it appears there were only two religious houses in the county more amply endowed, viz. the priory of Holme-Cultram, and the Priory of St. Mary, Carlisle; which latter was constituted a cathedral church at the Reformation.

The conventual church of St. Bees is in the usual form of a cross, and consists of a nave with aisles, a choir, and transepts, with a massive tower, at the intersection, which until lately terminated in an embattled parapet. This part of the building is now disfigured by an addition to enable it to carry some more bells. The rest of the edifice is in the early English style, and has been thoroughly restored with great taste and feeling. On the south side of the nave there was formerly a recumbent wooden figure, in mail armour, supposed to have been the effigy of Anthony, the last Lord Lucy of Egremont, who died A. D. 1368. The Lady Chapel, which had been a roofless ruin for two centuries, was fitted up as a lecture-room for the College established by Bishop Law in 1817.

The priors of this religious house ranked as barons of the Isle of Man; as the Abbot of the superior house, St. Mary's, at York, was entitled to a seat amongst the parliamentary barons of England. As such he was obliged to give his attendance upon the kings and lords of Man, whensoever they required it, or at least, upon every new succession in the government. The neglect of this important privilege would probably involve the loss of the tithes and lands in that island, which the devotion of the kings had conferred upon the priory of St. Bees.

In the library of the Dean and Chapter of Carlisle is the following curious account of the discovery of a giant at St. Bees:—

"A true report of Hugh Hodson, of Thorneway, in Cumberland, to S r  Rob Cewell (qy. Sewell) of a Gyant found at S. Bees, in Cumb'land, 1601, before X t  mas.

"The said Gyant was buried 4 yards deep in the ground, w ch  is now a corn feild.

"He was 4 yards and an half long, and was in complete armour: his sword and battle-axe lying by him.

"His sword was two spans broad and more than 2 yards long.

"The head of his battle axe a yard long, and the shaft of it all of iron, as thick as a man's thigh, and more than 2 yards long.

"His teeth were 6 inches long, and 2 inches broad; his forehead was more than 2 spans and a half broad.

"His chine bone could containe 3 pecks of oatmeale.

"His armour, sword, and battle-axe, are at Mr. Sand's of Redington, (Rottington) and at Mr. Wyber's, at St. Bees."—

Machel MSS. Vol. vi.