The Fearsome Redcaps of The Scottish Borders

You see, Red Caps live in the ruined and abandoned castles and forts in the Borders, especially ones where battles and particularly grisly events happened.

By Kieran of Generally Spooky

A part of the Unseelie Court, Redcaps are fearsome creatures who most certainly wish harm upon humans. I’m almost glad I live in the highlands because I’ll have a pretty slim chance of running into one.

You see, Red Caps live in the ruined and abandoned castles and forts in the Borders, especially ones where battles and particularly grisly events happened. 

They hide in wait for travellers or people visiting the ruins… And when they come across lonely people, they throw stones from the ruins themselves and murder them.

But here’s the kicker.

Once he’s killed them, he takes off his cap and soaks it in their blood. That’s what gives it its red colour. And in some of the legends, the Red Cap has to kill regularly to keep his cap soaked in blood, if the cap dries up then the Red Cap will die.

Now if you’re going to try and see a Red Cap, not something I’d advise, you’ll need to know what it looks like. William Hendsworth, a folklorist writing in the 1800s described them best:

“A short, thickset old elf with long prominent teeth, skinny fingers armed with talons like eagles, large eyes of a fiery red colour, grisly hair streaming down his shoulders, iron boots, a pikestaff in his left hand, and a red cap on his head.”

Not someone you’d look at for long without feeling extremely uncomfortable!

But the best story we know about a Redcap is the story of Robin Redcap and William de Soulis:

William de Soulis was a very powerful lord who ruled from Hermitage Castle, which is south of Selkirk and really close to the border. 

William was a very cruel landlord, his tenants hated him. Worse than that… William was lured into practising the Black Arts.

He was a terror to the community. He would steal children from the local farmers to use in his sacrificial rituals, not caring about the hurt he was creating. He would go out of his way to cause harm.

All of his bloody and cruel tendencies apparently attracted the attention of a Redcap: Robin Redcap or Redcap Sly.

He was a terrifying creature, who appeared at the castle looking like an old man with long fangs.

Robin had an irresistible offer for William. In return for his support and free reign of the land around Hermitage Castle, Robin would give William complete protection from harm.

William agreed.

Robin said that no one would ever be able to hurt or injure William, unless they bound him with a three-stranded rope. Not just any rope however, it had to be a three-stranded rope had to be made of sand. 

William’s tenants were now completely at their wits’ end, it seemed like he would never be stopped. He was invulnerable, nothing could hurt him any more and he was carrying on with black magic. His ego and confidence had only grown, he had begun to see himself as god-like.

The end of this story has a few different versions but this is my favourite.

Not knowing what else to do, William’s tenants went to someone for help with bringing down the dark wizard.

And they went to none other than Thomas The Rhymer, who once rode to fairyland with the Queen of Elphame herself.

They went to him for help and he agreed. He had to be clever… but Thomas managed to come up with a solution.

He made a three-stranded belt made of lead for the tenants to take back with them, and this belt was hollow… so it could be filled with sand.

The villagers brought the belt back to their homes and launched an attack on the castle. They managed to capture William and bound him using the belt. He was at their mercy. And Robin Redcap was nowhere to be seen…

The villagers boiled William alive, in revenge for the crimes he’d committed against them.

After William’s brutal death, Robin Redcap completely disappeared. But legends persisted that Robin had stashed an enormous treasure hoard during his time at Hermitage Castle. But he’d left it behind, hidden it, and no one was able to find it. 

Lots of people in the years afterwards reported seeing Robin Redcap around the ruined castle and they think that he was returning to try and find his treasure. 

Eilidh and Kieran discuss the story of Robin Redcap over on the Generally Spooky Podcast as part of an episode titled the Bloodthirsty