Many a cruel and misogynist tale has been told from the past ages. The story of Theneu seems particularly horrific. A father trying to kill his pregnant daughter. He fails, tries another way and she ends up giving birth alone on a boat in the North Sea. Usually, the story focuses either on the father, because he was Loth, a powerful king. Or on the son she bore: St Kentigern of Glasgow.
Mistreated by her father, abandoned by the father of her child, alone in a boat facing childbirth – this princess certainly had no fairy tale life.
Let’s go back to the sixth century and to the question who had fathered the child and what part Aberlady played in the course of events.
Theneu was the daughter of Loth, a Pictish King, who ruled part of the Lothians. After the Romans had left, the Picts did not just stay within the boundaries of their own province, but they established themselves in various parts of Alba.
As for his father, nothing authentic is known of him at all. Legend has it that he was Eugenius II, King of the Scots. Anyhow, the infant was an un- wanted child, and shortly before his birth, his grandfather, enraged at the disgrace of his daughter, and following the cruel custom of his tribe, caused her to be thrown from the summit of Traprain Law, in the hope that the fall would kill her. The Princess escaped unhurt, however, and the King Loth, not content with this barbarity, ordered her to be taken to Aberlady Bay, and placed in a coracle, or hide-covered boat, from which the oars had been removed.
This frail craft and its unhappy occupant were then towed far out to sea, and left to their fate, which must have seemed certain destruction. But God “stood within the shadows,” and kept “watch upon his own,” for instead of being driven further out to sea, the winds and tide drifted the little boat round the Isle of May, past Inchkeith and Inchcolm, and up the narrowing Forth, till it was stranded safely on the shore at Culross.
During that eventful voyage a baby boy was born who was destined to revive the work which had been so faithfully begun by St. Ninian, and to carry the light of the Gospel from the Clyde to the Forth, and down to the borders of Wales.Elisabeth W. Grierson: Early Light-Bearers of Scotland. Purnell, London
Imagine, giving birth alone at sea after your father tried to murder you being called an “eventful voyage” – by a fellow woman.
So what demons did Theneu face, apart from her fathe? How deep did she look death into the eyes. How desperate and how alone did she feel out at sea with no means stear the boat? And how much pain did she endure? Where did she muster the strength to keep that baby and herself alive?
History doesn’t tell us. But maybe you’ll get a feel for it in Aberlady graveyard.
Liked the read? There’s more here…
The stories of this book have been discovered and gathered for my blog, Graveyards of Scotland, over many years. Find treasure all over Scotland with my latest book. I am Nellie Merthe Erkenbach, journalist and author.The fairy hill in Inverness, a nitrate murder on Shetland, a family of left-handers, wolves, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace shown in a new light, the secret bay of the writer Gavin Maxwell, a murdering poet and so many things you didn’t know about Scotland, its clans and its history.
My main sources were historical travel guides from the 18th and 19th centuries, where the finds were scary, beautiful, funny, and sometimes, cruel.
This unusual approach to a country’s history has produced amazing results. You don’t have to share my passion for cemeteries to enjoy this book; only a small number of the stories in this collection take place in graveyards, though they do all end in them, so perhaps it helps.
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