Hello there, Stephen here, with just a quick update. As you have probably seen, I managed to have a chat with the Vicar, the Reverend Morgan, who was very kindly able to fill me in on some of the local traditions concerning the Flower Queans and some of the folklore behind them.
Like a lot of English traditions, these have their roots in Victorian folklore research and recreation but undoubtedly contain traces of something considerably more ancient and more traditional. It’s particularly interesting to see that Ranulph Williams became so interested in the story – I must confess that I’ve never read his book, The Labyrinthine King – in fact I think its currently out of print, but it certainly sounds interesting.
Meanwhile, I’m considerably excited by the arrival in the house of my friend and colleague Jo Cargill, who is arriving to start work on the more technical aspects of our investigation. It’s going to be great to have Jo here, in fact, its going to great just to have someone else here, even if it does mean that I’m going to have to give up sleeping in the attic room I’ve been staying in the last few nights – oddly, I’ve slept incredibly well there, although that does mean I haven’t had anything to write in my dream diary recently.
The legend of King Lucy has long been associated with the area – a small local Iron Age earthwork is traditonally known as Lucy’s Castle and a much weathered medieval statue that currently stands outside the church of St Dymphna’s is commonly called King Lucy or King Luck and touched for good fortune.
The King himself is mentioned in Malory’s Morte D’Arthur as one of the court at Camelot and the story is briefly mentioned by Holinshed and referenced by Ben Jonson. But the fullest retelling comes in Ranulph Williams’ novel ‘The Labyrinthine King’ where it forms the centrepiece of his modernisation of the Arthurian myth.
His version goes something like this:
King Lucy, convinced of the fickleness of women, wished for a woman as constant and reliable as the seasons. His wish was granted by a cunning wizard who created for him a bride made entirely of the flowers of spring.
The King made the Woman of Flowers his queen, but, as the seasons changed, so did she, falling in love not with the King but with the wizard, her creator.
Betrayed, the King swore to destroy not just his unfaithful wife, but the seasons themselves, laying waste to his kingdom and everything in it green and growing until nothing was left.
In the midst of this devastation nothing can survive and the kingdom itself is on the verge of destruction until the wizard, overcome by grief, kills himself over the body of his dead love.
The wizard’s blood revives the Woman of Flowers and with her revives nature itself. the king forgives her, she returns to her role as queen and order is once more restored.
Although Williams has embroidered greatly on the existing glimpses of the story, it is now his telling that has become the most common version in the local area.
The Harvest Festival has been an integral part of country life for millennia and many parts of the country have their own particular way of marking it. The tradition of the ‘Flower Quean’ is a celebration unique to the area around the Mazehouse
In many harvest traditions the last sheaf of wheat to be cut is honoured, sometimes being used to make a corn dolly or traditonal effigy, often being ritually buried in the fields to bless the next year’s crop. In the locality of the Mazehouse this role is taken, not by corn, but by a collection of flowers.
The flowers are gathered throughout the year and carefully dried before being assembled into specially shaped bunches known as ‘Flower Queans’. During a Harvest Supper at the parish church of St Dymphna’s the various ‘Flower Queans’ produced by members of the parish (usually, but not exclusively, the women) are judged by the vicar and the church wardens, to choose the true ‘Flower Quean’ for that year.
The Harvest Supper usually ends with a number of parlour games and contests, with the winner being awarded the honour of looking after the ‘Flower Quean’ for the rest of the year.
Although there is some evidence in parish records of similar rituals existing in the past, the current tradition has it’s roots in the last century when the vicar at the time decided to revive the local folklore, which probably also accounts for the consciously archaic spelling of the name.
It was as part of this recreation of the traditon that the ceremony became associated with the local folklore of King Lucy and the Woman of Flowers.
While the ritual may have been inspired and created from genuine local folklore, it is impossible to know how much of it has any actual antiquity despite the efforts of many antiquarians to discover pagan roots to the ceremony.