Ever since watching a charming documentary on the A303; I have wanted to hunt down the Deadman’s Plack. I have frequently travelled the length of the A303 but urgency has often prevented me from turning off and exploring. The evocative name of this monument was enough to pique my interest but the legend behind it is even better and gives a fascinating glimpse of the intrigue constantly underpinning England’s monarchic history.
Autumn is always a good time for an adventure and a vague objective makes it more interesting (I knew our target was somewhere in Harewood forest). If you know where you are going, the trek to the monument from the road is actually a short walk through mixed woodland. We did not know where the path was though, so we took a rather scenic route and arrived, more by luck than judgement.
The memorial, in many ways reminiscent of Rufus Stone, is constructed from stone and has a large plinth supporting a tall cross; it was thoughtfully commissioned in 1825, by the entertainingly named Colonel William Iremonger. The inscription on the front is much worn and states the following epitaph.
About the year of our Lord DCCCCLXIII (AD 963) upon this spot beyond the time of memory called Deadman’s Plack, tradition reports that Edgar, surnamed the peaceable, King of England, in the ardour of youth love and indignation, slew with his own hand his treacherous and ungrateful favourite, owner of this forest of Harewood, in resentment of the Earl’s having basely betrayed and perfidiously married his intended bride and beauteous Elfrida, daughter of Ordgar, Earl of Devonshire, afterwards wife of King Edgar, and by him mother of King Ethelred II, Queen Elfrida, after Edgar’s death, murdered his eldest son, King Edward the Martyr, and founded the Nunnery of Wor-well
King Edgar (the peaceable!) sent his friend, Earl Athelwold to determine whether a local lady Elfrida, who was said to be very beautiful, was a suitable marriage candidate (for the King). On meeting the striking Elfrida, the devious Athelwold was so besotted that he neglected to explain his mission to Elfrida’s folks, and accidentally married her himself. On returning to report to King Edgar he explained that she was quite plain and unworthy of his royal highness.
Probably suspecting dishonesty, Edgar arranged to meet Elfrida himself. Fearing detection, Athelwold begged Elfrida to look dowdy and dull for the visit but she ambitiously made herself as glamorous as she could for the King. Athelwold was subsequently invited on a hunting expedition, in Harewood forest, where he received a complimentary javelin in the back for his troubles, with thanks from King Edgar, who promptly married his gorgeous widow Elfrida.
Subsequently, the King and his new Queen had a son Ethelred, half-brother to the Kings eldest Edward. Shortly after Edgar’s death Ethelred and Elfrida were suspiciously close at hand when Edward was murdered by his retainers on another hunting trip near Corfe Castle, his body was apparently left in a bog, for over a year. Ethelred (later known as the Unready) then acceded to the throne but showed his Mother such lack of gratitude for her support, that she beat him senseless with a large candle! So ferocious was this beating, that he feared candles into later life. However, when he came of age he was avenged by banishing his Mother, who, in an act of apparent penitence, established a nunnery at Wherwell on the Test River, close to Harewood forest.
Many a penknife has been blunted over the years by (possibly sympathetic) visitors carving their own monograms into the ancient stone base. Next to the Deadman’s Plack, someone had also built a nice den out of long sticks, which the children immediately made a temporary camp in.
Both my daughter and son were armed with cameras that they recently received as birthday presents and they were snapping every interesting looking tree, branch and leaf they came across. I might let the kids take over this blog at some point; a child’s eye view of our winter trips could make an interesting diversion.