A tale of Coel Hen the Winter Heart

A tale of Coel Hen the Winter Heart, Great King of the Fells, progenitor of many Royal Lines of Britannia, and forebear of Clan Winterheart – as set down by Wyndrake Winterheart, of the Noble House of Winterheart, Duke of Keswick and Lord of the Fells

The myths and legends surrounding Coel Hen are many.

How Coel Hen came known as the Winter Heart is not certain. Some tales suggest it was due to his calm, cool demeanour in battle, and some in the way he dispatched his enemies. Some ancient tales describe a more fanciful and grand explanation, in which Coel Hen went to war with the spirit of Winter.

A Spirit of Winter, it is said, had become angry with Coel Hen over the way he provided for his people in the dark, cold months. Since Coel Hen had become King, this Spirit of Winter had, year by year, claimed fewer and fewer sacrifices, as the people were kept well, warm, hale, and hearty under Coel Hen’s governance. Finally a season came when the Spirit could find no sacrifices to claim, and had gone to Coel Hen’s hall to complain to him – he raged against Coel Hen, chided him for the disrespect he gave to the Spirit by denying him his sacrifices. Coel Hen raged back, chiding the Spirit for the disrespect he gave to the Coel for trying to kill his people.

The Spirit challenged Coel, but Coel was wise. Coel knew that to fight Winter was to die. He knew, just as he had taught his people, that to live, to last, meant to accept winter for what it was, to let winter reign, and to endure.

So Coel accepted the duel, and as the Spirit of Winter raged and swirled and cursed and tried it’s hardest to destroy his enemy, Coel Hen merely stood, and let the rage of Winter wash over him. Seeing that Coel would not strike the Spirit heartened the Spirit’s resolve, and he unleashed everything that he could at Coel Hen.

Coel Hen accepted this, and let the force of winter surge about him, whilst he remained centred, and endured. When the Spirit was all but spent, and lay exhausted in the snow drift of his own making, Coel Hen began to move. He walked towards the spirit, explaining what he knew, and telling the spirit that he had the wrong of it. The people knew winter, the people respected winter, the people paid tribute to winter, but by living, not by dying. They spent the season together, cheered, and merry, knowing that the winter had come to purge the land, and to bring them together.

Coel Hen told the Spirit of Winter that the people of the fells had a healthy respect for winter, and that no matter how hard, and how cold, winter could rage, he would continue to teach his people to respect winter, but to outlast winter, to endure. He told the spirit that he had taken winter into his heart, and seen the right of it. And that was what he did then to the spirit – he absorbed the spirit into his own pattern, and took winter into his heart. This, the tale tells us, is how Coel Hen, the Fell King, became known as the Winter Heart, and this is how Clan Winterheart  were named.

‘Hen’ is old tongue, which in modern Albione means ‘Old’ – several tales claim Coel Hen lived until he was 170, which is a magnificent age for a human, though as the old folk say “fire consumes, cold preserves”, if Coel Hen did indeed take winter into his heart, his great age is no surprise.

Evidence suggests that he was king of an area which now incorporates much of the Duchy of Keswick, as well as parts of Caledonia and Cymrija. It has been suggested that he may have ruled from the fell known as the Heart of Britannia, but this is merely scholarly conjecture. The Winterheart coat of arms depicts a high fell, with a shining star atop it, which, when compared to ancient maps and carvings, is similar to some markings denoting the Heart of Britannia.

What we think we know, through various pieces of evidence, is that many houses and lines can trace their descent back to Coel Hen. These include the line of Imperial Governors of Britannia, House Pendragon, and of course Clan Winterheart.

One remaining piece of written evidence surrounding Coel Hen refers to him, if translation is correct, as “a merry old soul.” Through this, we can make the educated guess that Coel Hen is one and the same as Old King Cole, of the Albione children’s nursery rhyme.

“Old King Cole was a merry old soul, and a merry old soul was he;

He called for his pipe in the middle of the night

And he called for his fiddlers three.

Every fiddler had a fine fiddle, and a very fine fiddle had he;

Oh there’s none so rare as can compare

With King Cole and his fiddlers three.”