Gogmagog


Gogmagog
(or Gog and Magog).
   In the Middle Ages and in Tudor England, there are several allusions to a giant called Gogmagog, or a pair of giants called Gog and Magog, living in Cornwall when Brutus, legendary founder of Britain, first arrived there. Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his Historia Regum Britanniae (1136), spells the giant's name as Goemagot and says he was defeated in wrestling by Brutus's friend Corineus, who threw him off the cliffs of Plymouth Hoe at a spot called Goemagot's Leap.
   These names are biblical; in Ezekiel 38-9, it is prophesied that 'Gog from the land of Magog' will invade Israel but be defeated, while in Revelations 20 'Gog and Magog' will be among the hosts of the Antichrist. It has sometimes been suggested that the curious spelling in Geoffrey's text represents some * Celtic Cornish name which he misunderstood. It is, however, far more likely to be due to the fact that his book (first written in Latin) circulated in Norman French for about a century before being translated into English; if spoken as four syllables, Go-e-magot is identical in sound with the French form of the biblical names, i.e. Got et Magot (the ts are silent).
   At some unknown date, but before the close of the 15th century, Plymouth celebrated the defeat of Gogmagog by cutting a figure of him on the slope of the Hoe, and periodically scraping it clean; town records from 1486 onwards call it 'Gogmagog'. But Carew's Survey of Cornwall (1602) speaks of two figures wielding clubs, one bigger than the other, and divides the name as 'Gog Magog'. A few years later, however, the smaller figure was being called 'Corineus'. The site was destroyed when the Citadel was built in the reign of Charles II.
   There was another turf-cut giant at Wandle-bury Camp, near Cambridge, in 1605, but how much older it may have been is unknown; the surrounding hills were called 'the Gogmagog Hills' by Cambridge students in Elizabethan times, and they may have been the cutters of the figure. It was still visible in the 1720s.
   In Tudor times, a new version of Geoffrey's tale evolved. Brutus, it was now said, captured the Cornish Gog and Magog alive, brought them to London, and chained them to the gate of his palace as porters. Effigies of giants were used on royal occasions; a male and female pair greeted Henry V on London Bridge in 1415, while 'Gogmagog and Corineus' welcomed Mary Tudor and Philip of Spain in 1554, and Elizabeth in 1559. They regularly appeared in the Lord Mayor's pageants and Midsummer Shows, and were displayed in the Guildhall as defenders of the city, and the nation. The names alternated between 'Gogmagog and Corineus' and 'Gog and Magog', the latter gradually ousting the former.
   Naturally, the effigies had to be periodically renewed, and were not always of the same type - in 1605 they were stalking on stilts; in 1672 they were fifteen feet tall, seated in chariots, and 'moving, talking, and taking tobacco as they ride along, to the great admiration and delight of all the spectators'. In Cromwell's time they were destroyed, but at the accession of Charles II a fresh pair appeared. These, made from wickerwork, perished in the Great Fire of London; the next pair had their 'entrails' eaten up by rats; their fine wooden successors, carved in 1708, were too heavy to move, and remained in the Guildhall. Children were assured that 'every day, when the giants hear the clock strike twelve, they come down to dinner'. Portable wickerwork figures, fourteen feet high and copied from the wooden ones, were again made for the Lord Mayor's Show of 1827. The wooden giants of 1708 were destroyed in an air-raid in 1940, and replaced in 1953 by a fresh pair, which still stand in the Guildhall.
   ■ Hone, 1827: ii, cols. 609-17; F. W. Fairholt, Gog and Magog: The Giants in the Guildhall (1859); Robert Withing-ton, English Pageantry (1918-20), i. 58-64; Marples, 1949: 204-12; Westwood, 1985: 23-4, 109-12, 167-70. T. C.
   Lethbridge's reconstruction of the Cambridge figure(s) is set out in his Gogmagog: The Buried Gods (1957), but neither his methods nor his results have won acceptance.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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