Magna Carta & the Bleeding Wolf

The anniversary business comes around with all too depressing regularity. The clue must be in the name. This year we have Waterloo, Agincourt and Magna Carta.  We shoukld be grateful for those which escaped notice, though I regret the frozen pea. But, each anniversary generates local interest as communities look to connect themselves with the celebrations. This is all grist to the ‘Queen Elizabeth had a gin & tonic here’ school of history. So, ‘Staffordshire soldiers at Agincourt’ has already featured in at least one lecture slot for my colleague, Dr Simon Harris. And, amongst the Magna Carta connections in the north Midlands, leaving aside that Cheshire had its own version, is the story of the well-known public house in Scholar Green known as ‘The Bleeding Wolf’. In the story the founder of the Lawton family, Adam, rescues king John who has become separated from his companions and attacked by a wounded wolf whilst hunting. In gratitude for the rescue the forester is rewarded with a grant of lands which formed part of the later Lawton estate. The pub sits on the estate and commemorates the incident.


BBC Radio Stoke featured three slots on Magna Carta and the Bleeding Wolf 16-18 June. On the 18 June Dr Philip Morgan was asked what truth there was to the pub story? The short answer is, as one might expect. none. In King John’s reign all Cheshire was held by the earl of Chester, Ranulf III, along with the county’s forests. So, the king could make no grant of Lawton. But, in the sixteenth century the Lawton family registered their arms and crest with the college of heralds. It included the bleeding wolf, and that sign was widely held to have belonged to the first Earl of Chester, Hugh of Avranches, much later given the nick-name ‘lupus’ or wolf. Cheshire gentry families were fond of looking for connections to the earls of Chester in order to demonstrate their ancient lineage.

So, the pub sign and name, like many, probably commemorates a coat of arms, in this case those of the earls of Chester and the Lawton family in 1572. That is one reason why all of the pubs with that name (in Scholar Green, Northwich and Hale) are in Cheshire. In the same fashion the name Cross Keys is mostly found in areas where the Bishops of Winchester (whose badge was the crossed keys) held lands.

Does it matter, asked the Radio Stoke programme presenter, Perry Spiller? The answer here is again complicated. Public history, the way in which succeeding generations consume the past, is as important as academic history, perhaps even more so, since academic history has the slighter grip on the popular imagination. And that is why public history is now regularly part of academic curricula. That, and the excuse to discuss history in a public house.