On Certain Prodigies

A miscellany of various dead men and devils, from my commonplace books.


William of Newburgh‘s Historia rerum Anglicarum is a godsend for a certain sort of writer. Among other fascinating snippets of English history, it includes such accounts as:

The Green Children of East Anglia. A pair of green-skinned children found during the local harvest. Claimed to be from ‘St. Martin’s Land’, wherever that might be. Alternate dimension? Parallel earth?

The Buckinghamshire Vampire. A wandering corpse that required burning and absolution before it lay still.

The Berwick Vampire. A similar occurrence, near the River Tweed. The monster supposedly brought a plague with it.

The Hundeprest (‘Hound-Priest’). A former chaplain who renounced God and indulged in all manner of vileness until his demise…whereupon he returned from the grave to cause even more trouble. An MR James story waiting to happen.

Moving away from William of Newburgh, we have a more recent look at the long-abandoned village of Wharram Percy. A medieval Yorkshire village with a severe vampire problem. Or maybe zombies? Either way, lots of story potential.

And finally, a historical note of a different sort:

All the proprietors pay a prescription in lieu of tithes, except the owner of one estate, who has a total exemption, derived from a circumstance which happened about 200 years ago, almost too ridiculous to be rehearsed or credited. The ancient possessor is said to have slain a noxious cockatrice which the vulgar call a crack-a-christ at this day, as they rehearse the simple fable. There is some record [said to be dated 7th of James I], which the owner of the estate holds to testify his exemption, perhaps in a language or letter not to be understood by the villagers; and which he is too tenacious to suffer to be read by curious visitors.

History of the County of Cumberland (1794)

Cockatrices are an underrepresented monster in modern genre fiction, I feel. At some point, I’d like to rectify that.