The Dun Cow's Rib Bone

The Warwick Cup, presented at Warwick Races 1854.
Photo courtesy of Warwick Castle, where the cup is on display in the State Dining Room.

The Dun Cow was an important local folklore that told of an enormous cow in Shropshire that was owned by a giant. The cow had an inexhaustible supply of milk and so he allowed people to collect milk from it. One day the cow was milked dry by an old woman who after filling her bucket tried to fill her sieve. The cow became very angry and broke free, setting out on a rampage.

The cow devastated Dunsmore Heath and the hero, Guy of Warwick was called to solve the problem. Guy, a brave knight and veteran of the crusades rode forth and the killed cow. Two relics remain from this great feat, one, a bone said to be its rib in Warwick Castle and one of its horns in Harwich Castle. These two artefacts shed some light on the fable from a zoological viewpoint.

Actually a whale bone… or an elephant bone?

The ‘rib bone’ on closer analysis was revealed to be a whale bone so obviously not connected to the Dun Cow at all, the horn however was more interesting. The horn at Harwich Castle is in fact an elephant’s tusk. This could well be discounted like the rib, however it is possible that the Dun Cow could in fact have been an elephant.

Elephants were no strangers to our shores, in fact Julius Caesar brought with him War Elephants in his invasion of Britain in 54 BC and elephants were present in Henry III’s menagerie in the Tower of London in 1255. The everyday peasant would likely never have seen one and if one were to run amok then a hero would most likely be needed to stop it. It is often in this way, ignorance, excitement, elaboration and misunderstanding can lead to a rich and poetic folklore.

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