story of the Master of Nottingham's daughter is worth recounting
and so I set it down here. The fair to which the young woman repaired
was held on Matthew's Feast in Nottingham. She spent a pleasant
day, going about among the booths, making purchases of linens,
laces and spices. Sometime during the afternoon she happened to
turn suddenly to see some Italian tumblers who were behind her
and the edge of her cloak flew out and struck a passing goose.
This bad-tempered fowl ran at her, flapping its wings and screaming.
In her surprize she dropt her father's ring, which fell into the
goose's open gullet and the goose, in its surprize, swallowed it.
But before the Master of Nottingham's daughter could say or do
anything the gooseherd drove the goose on and both disappeared
into the crowd.
The goose was bought by a man called John Ford who took it back to
his house in the village of Fiskerton and the next day his wife,
Margaret Ford, killed the goose, plucked it and drew out its innards.
In its stomach she found a heavy silver ring set with a crooked piece
of yellow amber. She put it down on a table near three hens' eggs
that had been gathered that morning.
Immediately the eggs began to shake and then to crack open and from
each egg something marvelous appeared. From the first egg came a
stringed instrument like a viol, except that it had little arms and
legs, and played sweet music upon itself with a tiny bow. From the
next egg emerged a ship of purest ivory with sails of fine white
linen and a set of silver oars. And from the last egg hatched a chick
with strange red-and-gold plumage. This last was the only wonder
to survive beyond the day. After an hour or two the viol cracked
like an eggshell and fell into pieces and by sun set the ivory ship
had set sail and rowed away through the air; but the bird grew up
and later started a fire which destroyed most of Grantham. During
the conflagration it was observed bathing itself in the flames. From
this circumstance it was presumed to be a phoenix.
When Margaret Ford realized that a magic ring had somehow fallen
into her possession, she was determined to do magic with it. Unfortunately
she was a thoroughly malicious woman, who tyrannized over her gentle
husband, and spent long hours pondering how to revenge herself upon
her enemies. John Ford held the manor of Fiskerton, and in the months
that followed he was loaded with lands and riches by greater lords
who feared his wife's wicked magic.
Word of the wonders performed by Margaret Ford soon reached Nottingham,
where the Master of Nottingham lay in bed waiting to die. So much
of his power had gone into the ring that the loss of it had made
him first melancholy, then despairing and finally sick. When news
of his ring finally came he was too ill to do anything about it.
His daughter, on the other hand, was thoroughly sorry for bringing
this misfortune on her family and thought it her duty to try and
get the ring back; so without telling any one what she intended she
set off along the river bank to the village of Fiskerton.
She had only got as far as Gunthorpe when she came upon a very dreadful
sight. A little wood was burning steadily with fierce flames lapping
every part of it. The black bitter smoke made her eyes sting and
her throat ache, yet the wood was not consumed by the fire. A low
moan issued from trees if they cried out at unnatural torment. The
Master's daughter looked round for someone to explain this wonder
to her. A young woodsman, who was passing, told her, "Two weeks
ago, Margaret Ford stopt in the wood on the road from Thurgarton.
She rested under the shade of its branches, drank from its stream
and ate its nuts and berries, but just as she was leaving a root
caught her foot and made her fall, and when she rose from the ground
a briar was so impertinent as to scratch her arm. So she cast a spell
upon the wood and swore it would burn or ever."
The Master's daughter thanked him for the information and walked
on for a while. She became thirsty and crouched down to scoop up
some water from the river. All at once a woman -- or something very
like a woman -- half-rose out of the water. There were fish-scales
all over her body, her skin was as grey and spotted as a trout's
and her hair had become an odd arrangement of spiny grey trout fins.
She seemed to glare at the Master's daughter, but her round cold
fish-eyes and stiff fish skin were not well adapted to reproduce
human expressions and so it was hard to tell.
Oh! I beg your pardon!" said the Master's daughter, startled.
The woman opened her mouth, shewing a fish throat and mouth full
of ugly fish teeth, but she seemed unable to make a sound. Then she
rolled over and plunged back into the water.
A woman who was washing clothes on the riverbank explained to the
Master's daughter, "That is Joscelin Trent who is so unfortunate
as to be the wife of a man that Margaret Ford likes. Out of jealousy
Margaret Ford has cast a spell on her and she is forced, poor lady,
to spend all her days and nights immersed in the shallows of the
river to keep her enchanted skin and flesh from drying out, and as
she cannot swim she lives in constant terror of drowning."
The Master's daughter thanked the woman for telling her this.
Next the Master's daughter came to the village of Hoveringham. A
man and his wife who were both squeezed together atop a little pony
advised her not to enter the village, but led her around it by narrow
lanes and paths. From a little green knoll the Master's daughter
looked down and saw that everyone in the village wore a thick blindfold
round his eyes. They were not at all used to their self-created blindness
and constantly banged their faces against walls, tripped over stools
and carts, cut themselves on knives and tools and burnt themselves
in the fire. As a consequence they were covered in gashes and wounds,
yet not one of them removed his blindfold.
Oh!" said the wife. "The priest of Hoveringham has been
bold enough to denounce the wickedness of Margaret Ford from his
pulpit. Bishops, abbots and canons have all been silent, but this
frail old man defied her and so she has cursed the whole village.
It is their fate to have vivid images of all their worst fears constantly
before their eyes. These poor souls see their children starve, their
parents go mad, their loved ones scorn and betray them. Wives and
husbands see each other horribly murdered. And so, though these sights
be nought but illusions, the villagers must blindfold themselves
or else be driven mad by what they see."
Shaking her head over the appalling wickedness of Margaret Ford,
the Master's daughter continued on her way to John Ford's manor,
where she found Margaret and her maidservants, each with a wooden
stick in her hand, driving the cows to their evening's milking.
The Master's daughter went boldly up to Margaret Ford. Upon the instant
Margaret Ford turned and struck her with her stick. "Wicked
girl!" she cried. "I know who you are! My ring has told
me. I know that you plan to lie to me, who have never done you any
harm at all, and ask to become my servant. I know that you plan to
steal my ring. Well, know this! I have set strong spells upon my
ring. If any thief were foolish enough to touch it, then within a
very short space of time bees and wasps and all kinds of insects
would fly up from the earth and sting him; eagles and hawks and all
kinds of birds would fly down from the sky and peck at him; then
bears and boars and all kinds of wild creatures would appear and
tear and trample him to pieces!"
Then Margaret Ford beat the Master's daughter soundly, and told the
maids to put her to work in the kitchen.
Margaret Ford's servants, a miserable, ill-treated lot, gave the
Master's daughter the hardest work to do and whenever Margaret Ford
beat them or raged at them -- which happened very often -- they relieved
their feelings by doing the same to her. Yet the Master's daughter
did not allow herself to become low-spirited. She stayed working
in the kitchen for several months and thought very hard how she might
trick Margaret Ford into dropping the ring or losing it. Margaret
Ford was a cruel woman, quick to take offence and her anger, once
roused, could never be appeased. But for all that she adored little
children; she took every opportunity to nurse babies and once she
had a child in her arms she was gentleness itself. She had no child
of her own and no one who knew her doubted that this was a source
of great sorrow to her. It was widely supposed that she had expended
a great deal of magic upon trying to conceive a child, but without
One day Margaret Ford was playing with a neighbour's little girl,
and saying how if she ever were to have a child then she would rather
it were a girl and how she would wish it to have a creamy white skin
and green eyes and copper curls (this being Margaret Ford's own colouring.)
Oh!" said the Master's daughter innocently, "The wife of
the Reeve in Epperstone has a baby of exactly that description, the
prettiest little creature that ever you saw."
Then Margaret Ford made the Master's daughter take her to Epperstone
and shew her the Reeve's wife's baby, and when Margaret Ford saw
that the baby was indeed the sweetest, prettiest child that ever
there was (just as the Master's daughter had said) she announced
to the horrified mother her intention of taking the child away with
As soon as she had possession of the Reeve's wife's baby Margaret
Ford became almost a different person. She spent her days in looking
after the baby, playing with her and singing to her. Margaret Ford
became contented with her lot. She used her magic ring a great deal
less than she had before and scarcely ever lost her temper.
So things went on until the Master of Nottingham's daughter had lived
in Margaret Ford's house for almost a year. Then one summer's day
Margaret Ford, the Master's daughter, the baby and the other maids
took their midday meal upon the banks of the river. After eating,
Margaret Ford rested in the shade of a rose-bush. It was a hot day
and they were all very sleepy. As soon as she was certain that Margaret
Ford was asleep the Master's daughter took out a sugar-plum and shewed
it to the baby. The baby, knowing only too well what should be done
to sugar-plums, opened its mouth wide and the Master's daughter popped
it in. Then, as quick as she could and making sure that none of the
other maids saw what she did, she slipped the magic ring from Margaret
Then, "Oh!Oh!" she cried. "Wake up, madam! The baby
has taken your ring and put it in her mouth! Oh, for the dear child's
sake, undo the spell. Undo the spell!"
Margaret Ford awoke and saw the baby with its cheek bulging out,
but for the moment she was too sleepy and surprised to understand
what was happening. A bee flew past and the Master's daughter pointed
at it and screamed. All the other maids screamed too. "Quickly,
madam, I beg you!" cried the Master's daughter. "Oh!" She
looked up. "Here are the eagles and hawks approaching! Oh!" She
looked into the distance. "Here are the bears and boars running
to tear the poor little thing to pieces!"
Margaret Ford cried out to the ring to stop the magic which it did
immediately, and almost at the same moment the baby swallowed the
sugar-plum. While Margaret Ford and the maids begged and coaxed the
baby and shook it to make it cough up the magic ring, the Master
of Nottingham's daughter began to run along the river bank towards
The rest of the story has all the usual devices. As soon as Margaret
Ford discovered how she had been tricked she fetched horses and dogs
to chase the Master's daughter. Upon several occasions the Master's
daughter seemed lost for sure -- the riders were almost upon her
and the dogs just behind her. But the story tells how she was helped
by all the victims of Margaret Ford's magic: how the villagers of
Hoveringham tore off their blindfolds and, in spite of all the horrifying
sights they saw, rushed to build barricades to prevent Margaret Ford
from passing; how poor Joscelin Trent reached up out of the river
and tried to pull Margaret Ford down into the muddy water; how the
burning wood threw down flaming branches upon her. The ring was returned
to the Master of Nottingham who undid all the wrongs Margaret Ford
had perpetrated and restored his own fortune and reputation. There
is another version of this story which contains no magic ring, no
eternally-burning wood, no phoenix -- no miracles at all, in fact.
According to this version Margaret Ford and the Master of Nottingham's
daughter (whose name was Donata Torel) were not enemies at all, but
the leaders of a fellowship of female magicians that flourished in
Nottinghamshire in the twelfth century. Hugh Torel, the Master of
Nottingham, opposed the fellowship and took great pains to destroy
it (though his own daughter was a member). He very nearly succeeded,
until the women left their homes and fathers and husbands and went
to live in the woods under the protection of Thomas Godbless, a much
greater magician than Hugh Torel. This less colourful version of
the story has never been as popular as the other but it is this version
which Jonathan Strange said was the true one and which he included
in The History and Practice of English Magic.