While redcaps may be an innocent-sounding name for a mythical creature, this couldn’t be further from the truth. These malignant faeries of Scottish folklore aren’t creatures you’d want to come across while exploring the hidden grottos and glens of Scotland. Luckily, if you’re not planning to visit one of Scotland’s ruined castles, you’ll probably avoid these little villains.

But what is a redcap exactly? Well, that’s exactly what this article aims to inform you about. We’ll cover everything you need to know about redcaps, from their characteristics, stories involving redcaps, and where you can find them today.

What is a Redcap?

A redcap is a type of malevolent, murderous spirit or faerie that originates from the Scottish Borders. They’re also sometimes called Redcombs or Bloody Cap (you’ll understand why in a bit). According to Border folklore, redcaps would kill regularly, using their fingers armed with talons and long prominent teeth.

Description of Redcaps

A redcap mythical creature typically has a shorter stature with a thickset frame and eyes of a fiery red colour. They usually have very elvish or gnomish features, along with prominent teeth, skinny fingers, and grisly hair streaming from their head. The most iconic descriptor to instantly recognise a redcap is its large red caps (who would’ve guessed!).

As the legend goes, these caps are soaked with their victim’s blood, giving it an eerie crimson hue. Sometimes, redcaps are also equipped with weaponry and armour, such as their iron-shod boots. Several stories describe their skinny fingers armed with heavy iron pikes or spears.

Where Do Redcaps Come From?

Where do Redcaps Come From

Redcaps are deeply rooted in Scottish folklore, specifically the Scottish borders. It’s theorised that the wars that plagued the region between Scotland and England were what spawned the tale of the redcaps, as well as their bloodthirsty.

The region isn’t filled with redcaps that would murder travellers, however, and some were actually a sign of good fortune. There’s a tale of a redcap in Perthshire that instead paints a picture of a happy little old man living in Grantully Castle who bestows good fortune. Spot him, and you’ll be blessed with favourable luck!

Sometimes, people referred to faeries in general as redcaps, even if they were benevolent creatures. In Dutch folklore, redcaps were more similar to brownies – another type of faerie.

William Henderson and Redcaps

A popular Scottish folklorist called William Henderson offers more insight into the redcap. His description of the creature is the one that many of us use today:

“He is depicted as a short, thickset old man, 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”

Taking on a redcap is never recommended. Despite their iron boots, you’d be hard-pressed to outrun one. Only two possible defences pop up often in folklore.

You can either quote the Bible at him or hold up a Cross. Either of these actions should drive them away. If you’re successful, the redcap disappears with a yell in a flash of flames and leaves behind a large tooth.

Stories of Redcaps

Stories of Redcaps

The Anglo-Scottish border is filled with unique stories about redcaps, which were supposedly impossible to kill without using words of scripture or with a crucifix. Here are some of the most famous stories involving redcaps:

Robin Redcap and William de Soulis

One of the most famous stories involving a redcap was Robin Redcap, the familiar of Lord William de Soulis. While Robin Redcap was familiar to Lord Soulis, he was far from a helpful entity in the lord’s life. The redcap supposedly would wreak havoc on the lands around Hermitage Castle, where the Lord lived.

The story then recites that Lord Soulis was taken to a stone circle near the castle called Ninestane Rig and boiled to death. Historical records, however, cite that William de Soulis was instead imprisoned in Dumbarton Castle and shortly died there.

Walter Scott’s Version

In another version of the story, which originates from a ballad recorded by Sir Walter Scott, the redcap granted Lord Soulis safety against weapons within the castle. This redcap lived in a chest secured by three strong padlocks.

Scott also mentioned the idea that redcaps are a type of spirit that haunts ruined castles and towers in the southern reaches of Scotland.

The Origins of the Redcap

The origins of redcap may originate from a similar spirit that haunts the Border ruins, including the dunter and powrie. These noisy sprites can be identified by the sound of beating flax, which can predict death if the noise goes on longer than expected.

From these superstitions, William Henderson notes that the Picts that originally built the Border castles would often use human blood in order to purify the stones. The belief was that this grisly act would actually create resident ghosts and redcaps. Lord Soulis could have gained his familiar redcap using this method.

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