The Slaying of the Dun Cow
9x12, pencil and digital
Guy of Warwick was a celebrated hero who, along with king Arthur, numbered among the Nine Worthies and was said to have lived in the reign of the Saxon king, Athelstan. Already by the 1600s, the line between the historical Guy and the legendary traditions that had sprung up around him were thoroughly confused. A saying, “ He is the black Bear of Arden,” referred to him, and connotes someone who was an object of terror. The allusion was partly to the Warwick crest - a bear and a ragged staff - and partly to his character, said to be “Grim of Person and Surly of resolution.” He was a poor boy, the son of a steward who made good, and embarked on chivalric adventures to win the hand of a woman far above his station. In his travels, he battled many monsters, the most celebrated of which was the Dun Cow.
The fable holds that the Dun Cow of Dunsmore belonged to a giant or a fairy, and freely produced milk that would supply exactly the pail that was brought to it. One day, an old woman or a witch sought to fill a sieve with milk, and thus was able to milk the magical cow dry. Now cursed, it rampaged across the countryside until Guy dispatched it. Isaac Taylor, in his Words and Places (1864), claims that the Dun Cow is a corruption of “Dena Gau” meaning “Danish Settlement” which was erected outside Warwick. If this explanation is correct, the defeat of the cursed beast was an allegorical victory over the Danish and their removal from the area.
Various bones, including elephant tusks and whale ribs, have been attributed to multiple dun cows.