The Hand of Guenevere

  • August 4, 2012
  • Category: Family

My great-grandfather Skinner, like his Skinner ancestors, was rather short. Indeed, when we went to visit our Skinner roots near Barnstaple in England, my wife had to put Post-It notes saying “Duck!” on all the door frames because I was too tall and kept bumping my forehead.

My great-grandfather, back in the mid-1800s in Canada, married into the Watson clan from Scotland, to Elizabeth “Bessie” Watson, and the tall gene in her family must’ve been dominant because all of their male descendents, like Bessie’s brothers, have been “strapping young bucks.”

According to family records, the Watsons came from an area of Scotland a couple of miles northeast of Meigle, from a farm known as “Lang Logie”.

But now to the real story.

On that trip, I also discovered that some of the King Arthur legends also center on this same area. And while my researches have turned up no royal bones in my family tree (so far), at least we can say we may have rubbed elbows, emptied their chamber pots, or … well, here’s the story.

Queen Guenevere was kidnapped by some of the Highland Scots and carried away to the Grampian Mountains just north of this area. She was held captive for two years. During that time – I’m told this happens in such circumstances – rather than hating her captors, let’s just say her affections changed.

In the meantime, of course, King Arthur was scouring the countryside trying to find his poor, kidnapped wife while undoubtedly imagining all sorts of horrible things. When he finally rescued her however, his relief was short: she revealed her unfaithfulness and I guess it was just too much for King Arthur because he tied her to a rock and left her to the wolves.

The next morning, all that was left was her hand.

That grisly remnant was buried in the church graveyard in Meigle and is marked with the name, Guanora (elsewhere Vanora).

That’s what the history books say, albeit with many variations. Here’s but one.

“The early sixteenth-century chronicles of Hector Boece, translated by John Bellenden in 1531, give the story that ‘Guanora’, Queen of Britain and wife of King Arthur, is buried here [in Meigle churchyard], adding that any woman who walks on her grave will be barren, ‘and quhether this be of verite or nocht’, he vouches for the fact that ’euery woman, except nunnys, aborris to stampe on that sepulture.’” (The Lore of Scotland: A Guide to Scottish Legends, by Jennifer Westwood and Sophia Kingshill, Arrow Books, an imprint of Random House, London, 2011, p.94)

In this map, follow the long road that traces the diagonal and you’ll find “Long-Logie” near the upper-right with most of its buildings on the south side of the road. That’s the farm where the Watsons lived before crossing the Atlantic on the sailing ship, Shepherdess, in 1855. And that’s where you’ll find the “LANGLOGIE” sign today.

The town of Meigle where Guenevere’s hand is buried is in the middle of the map. Click the map for a bigger image and look carefully and you might be able to read, “Vanora’s Monum’t in the Churchyard”.

Off the map to the upper-right a couple of miles is Glamis Castle where some of the Watsons were, according to family stories, employed as maids and man-servants. Glamis Castle is “… said to be the most haunted house in Scotland, perhaps in all Britain. Ghosts encountered there have included a grey lady, a black pageboy, and a ’tongueless woman’, while the ‘secret chamber’ of Glamis remains a mystery to this day.” [ibid., p.324, picture caption]

Shown in the map near its bottom left corner is where James Stobie placed the “Stone of Arthur” back in the mid-1700s. This is where the wolves, centuries before, had their savage feast one dark Scottish night. From there to the farm at Lang Logie is not quite four miles, no doubt an easy trot for a wolf taking a snack back to its lair for the cubs.

Genealogy is more than bones, but it does include them.

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