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The Queen of Elphame

Updated: Feb 27

'I'm not the Queen of Heaven, Thomas,

That name does not belong to me;

I am but the Queen of fair Elphame

Come out to hunt in my follie.

'Thomas Rhymer' by Robert Graves

Queen Elphame by The Coventina Press

The Queen of Elphame is an ancient fairy queen renown on the border of England and Scotland. There are many an old folktale in the British Isles describing a woman by the side of the road. Sometimes she is a fine white lady upon a horse or desperately beautiful seductress, and sometimes she is a decrepit old lady in need of help. However she appears to the traveler, she is there for one reason alone, and that is to whisk the human off to the realm of the fairies. One of the most well known tales of the Queen of Elphame is of Thomas Rhymer.

Old illustration of the Queen of Elphame
The Queen of Elphame by Katherine Cameron

Thomas the Rhymer, lived in the 13th Century and was a Scottish laird. This much we know for fact. The story goes that one day Thomas fell asleep under the Eildon tree. When he awoke, his eyes fell upon a beautiful lady dressed in green riding a white horse. She leaned down to him and kissed him. He was enchanted by her beauty and followed her to the elven realm. He spent seven years in the Land of the Elves and came back a changed man. He had the power of prophecy and was gifted with awen - poetic inspiration. And then after seven years he disappeared once again. This historical man, and the stories of his powers became the starting point for many similar tales all across the country, such as the story of Tam Lin. The Queen of Elphame appeared in them all. Sometimes she was a kind and good elven queen and sometimes she was malevolent. Perhaps has with most fairies, she was both these things.

La Belle Dame sans Merci

I met a lady in the meads,

Full beautiful—a faery’s child,

Her hair was long, her foot was light,

And her eyes were wild.

Ballad by John Keats

Another interesting fact regarding the Queen of Elphame is that she was mentioned throughout the Scottish witch trials. She was described has a devil type figure who would lead the women astray and cause them to do all kinds of evil things. She was not only the Queen of the fairy realm it seems but also the queen of the witches.

The Queen of Elphame, hand printed original linocut is available to buy here


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