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KING'S FOOT HOLDER
There was a curious custom in the far olden times of Wales. At the
banqueting hall, the king of the country would sit with his feet in
the lap of a high officer.
Whenever His Majesty sat down to dinner, this official person would be
under the table holding the royal feet. This was also the case while
all sat around the evening fire in the middle of the hall. This
footholding person was one of the king's staff and every castle must
have a human footstool as part of its furniture.
By and by, it became the fashion for pretty maidens to seek this task,
or to be chosen for the office. Their names in English sounded like
Foot-Ease, Orthopede, or Foot Lights. When she was a plump and petite
maid, they nicknamed her Twelve Inches, or when unusually soothing in
her caresses of the soft royal toes. It was considered a high honor to
be the King's Foot Holder. In after centuries, it was often boasted of
that such and such an ancestor had held this honorable service.
One picture of castle life, as given in one of the old books tells how
Kaim, the king's officer, went to the mead cellar with a golden cup,
to get a drink that would keep them all wide awake. He also brought a
handful of skewers on which they were to broil the collops, or bits of
meat at the fire.
While they were doing this, the King sat on a seat of green rushes,
over which was spread a flame-colored satin cover, with a cushion like
it, for his elbow to rest upon.
In the evening, the harpers and singers made music, the bards recited
poetry, or the good story tellers told tales of heroes and wonders.
During all this time, one or more maidens held the king's feet, or
took turns at it, when tired; for often the revels or songs and tales
lasted far into the night. At intervals, if the story was dull, or he
had either too much dinner, or had been out hunting and got tired, His
Majesty took a nap, with his feet resting upon the lap of a pretty
maiden. This happened often in the late hours, while they were getting
the liquid refreshments ready.
Then the king's chamberlain gently nudged him, to be wideawake, and he
again enjoyed the music, and the stories, while his feet were held.
For, altogether, it was great fun.
Now there was once a Prince of Gwynedd, in Wales, named Math, who was
so fond of having his feet held, that he neglected to govern his
people properly. He spent all his time lounging in an easy chair,
while a pretty maiden held his heels and toes. He committed all public
cares to two of his nephews. These were named for short, Gily and
The one whom the king loved best to have her hold his feet was the
fairest maiden in all the land, and she was named Goewen.
By and by, the prince grew so fond of having his feet held, and
stroked and patted and played with, by Goewen, that he declared that
he could not live, unless Goewen held his feet. And, she said, that if
she did not hold the king's feet, she would die.
Now this Gily, one of the king's nephews, son of Don, whom he had
appointed to look day by day after public affairs, would often be in
the hall at night. He listened to the music and stories, and seeing
Goewen, the king's foot holder, he fell in love with her. His eye
usually wandered from the story teller to the lovely girl holding the
king's feet, and he thought her as beautiful as an angel.
Soon he became so lovesick, that he felt he would risk or give his
life to get and have her for his own. But what would the king say?
Besides, he soon found out that the maiden Goewen cared nothing for
Nevertheless the passion of the love-lorn youth burned hotly and kept
increasing. He confided his secret to his brother Gwyd, and asked his
aid, which was promised. So, one day, the brother went to King Math,
and begged for leave to go to Pryderi. In the king's name, he would
ask from him the gift of a herd of swine of famous breed; which, in
the quality of the pork they furnished, excelled all other pigs known.
They were finer than any seen in the land, or ever heard of before.
Their flesh was said to be sweeter, juicier, and more tender than the
best beef. Even their manners were better than those of some men.
In fact, these famous pigs were a present from the King of Fairyland.
So highly were they prized, that King Math doubted much whether his
nephew could get them at any price.
In ancient Wales the bards and poet singers were welcomed, and trusted
above all men; and this, whether in the palace or the cottage.
So Gwyd, the brother of the love-sick one, in order to get the herd of
surpassing swine, took ten companions, all young men and strong,
dressed as bards, and pretending by their actions to be such. Then
they all started out together to seek the palace of Pryderi.
Having arrived, they were entertained at a great feast, in the castle
hall. There Pryderi sat on his throne-chair, with his feet in a
The dinner over, Gwyd was asked to tell a story.
This he did, delighting everyone so much, that he was voted a jolly
good fellow by all. In fact, Pryderi felt ready to give him anything
he might demand, excepting always his foot holder.
At once, Gwyd made request to give him the herd of swine.
At this, the countenance of Pryderi fell, for he had made a promise to
his people, that he would not sell or give away the swine, until they
had produced double their number in the land; for there were no pigs
and no pork like theirs, to be bought anywhere.
Now this Gwyd was not very cunning, but he had the power of using
magic arts. By these, he could draw the veil of illusion over both the
mind and the eyes of the people.
So he made answer to Pryderi's objections thus:
"Keep your promise to your people, oh, most honored Pryderi, and only
exchange them for the gift I make thee," said Gwyd.
Thereupon, exerting his powers of magic, he created the illusion of
twelve superb horses. These were all saddled, bridled, and
magnificently caparisoned. But, after twenty-four hours, they would
vanish from sight. The illusion would be over.
With these steeds, so well fitted for hunting, were twelve sleek,
fleet hounds. Taken altogether, here was a sight to make a hunter's
eyes dance with delight.
So Pryderi gave Gwyd the swine, and he quickly drove them off.
"For," he whispered to his companion fellows in knavery, "the illusion
will only last until the same hour to-morrow."
And so it happened. For when Pryderi's men went to the stables, to
groom the horses and feed the hounds, there was nothing in either the
stables or the kennels.
When they told this to Pryderi, he at once blew his horn and assembled
his knights, to invade the country of Gwynedd, to recover his swine.
Hearing of his coming, King Math went out to meet Pryderi in battle.
But while he was away with his army, Gily, the lover, seized the
beautiful maiden Goewen, who held the king's feet in her lap.
She was not willing to marry Gily, but he eloped with her, and carried
her off to his cottage.
The war which now raged was finally decided by single combat, as was
the custom in old days. By this, the burning of the peasants' houses,
and the ruin which threatened the whole country, ended, and peace
It was not alone by the strength and fierceness of King Math, but also
by the magic spells of Gwyd, that Pryderi was slain.
After burying the hero, King Math came back to his palace and found
out what Gily had done. Then he took Goewen away from Gily, and to
make amends for her trouble, in being thus torn from his palace, King
Math made her his queen. Then the lovely Goewen shared his throne
covered with the flame colored satin. One of the most beautiful
maidens of the court was chosen to hold his feet, until such time as a
permanent choice was made.
As for the two nephews, who had fled from the wrath of their princely
uncle, they were put under bans, as outlaws, and had to live on the
borders of the kingdoms. No one of the king's people was allowed to
give them food or drink. Yet they would not obey the summons of the
king, to come and receive their punishment.
But at last, tired of being deserted by all good men and women, they
repented in sorrow. Hungry, ragged and forlorn, they came to their
uncle, the king to submit themselves to be punished.
When they appeared, Math spoke roughly to them, and said:
"You cannot make amends for the shame you have brought upon me. Yet,
since you obey and are sorry, I shall punish you for a time and then
pardon you. You are to do penance for three years at least."
Then they were changed into wild deer, and he told them to come back
after twelve months.
At the end of the year they returned, bringing with them a young fawn.
As this creature was entirely innocent, it was given a human form and
baptized in the church.
But the two brothers were changed into wild swine, and driven off to
find their food in the forest.
At the end of the year, they came back with a young pig.
The king had the little animal changed into a human being, which, like
every mother's child in that time, received baptism.
Again the brothers were transformed into animal shape. This time, as
wolves, and were driven out to the hills.
At the end of a twelve months' period, they came back, three in
number, for one was a cub.
By this time, the penance of the naughty nephews was over, and they
were now to be delivered from all magic spells.
So their human nature was restored to them, but they must be washed
thoroughly. In the first place, it took much hot water and lye, made
from the wood ashes, and then a great deal of scrubbing, to make them
Then they were anointed with sweet smelling oil, and the king ordered
them to be arrayed in elegant apparel. They were appointed to hold
honorable office at court, and from time to time to go out through the
country, to call the officers to attend to public business.
When the time came that the king sought for one of the most beautiful
maidens, who should hold his feet, Gwyd nominated to the prince's
notice his sister Arianrod. The king was gracious, and thereafter she
held his feet at all the banquets. She was looked up to with reverence
by all, and held the office for many years. Thus King Math's
reputation for grace and mercy was confirmed.