Wichard Saga - an Evil Dragon and a Dutch Hero
Introducing our Hero
In the year of our Lord 878, when Karel the Bald was Emperor of Rome, there lay a large field in the land below Cologne, belonging to the property of the Lord of Pont, in the area that is now called Limburg, but which used to be part of Gelder.
In the middle of this field stood a large medlar tree, below which a frightful and verminous dragon resided. This fierce animal caused a lot of harm, devouring all humans and animals within its reach. In the night one could see its fiery eyes glowing from afar and often it thundered loudly: 'Gelre! Gelre!'
The wretched creature had been cast out of hell and all living beings in the vicinity died because of its ruinous breath. Many residents of the area left because of it, and they might all have left if they hadn't been liberated from the monster.
Lord Otho of Pont had two stout sons: the eldest was called Lupold and the other Wychaert or Wichard. Wichard was secretly engaged to Margaretha, the fair daughter of Herman of Hameland1. Though of a courageous and fearless nature, Wichard had never had the opportunity to prove it.
One lovely early morning, Wichard said to his father: 'Father, I would like to ride to Hameland today, to publicly ask Sir Herman for the hand of the fair Margaretha. What do you think of this?'
'Do that, my son,' spoke Sir Otto, 'I would gladly have Margaretha as my daughter-in-law and Sir Herman is a wise and good man. Greet him for me.'
So it happened that Wichard mounted his big horse in the courtyard and cheerfully trotted out of the gate. Happy and cheerily he rode past the singing fields, which glistened from the morning dew. The sun glittered like a large jewel in a dome of light. It was the start of a beautiful day and while the horse in its daring seemed to dance along the road, its rider hummed a merry tune.
When he'd travelled quite a long way, he came across a procession. It was a large and formidable parade and Wichard reverently stood aside to let the pious priests and monks through.
After they'd passed, he asked a farmer what the purpose of this procession was and the farmer elaborately explained that the holy men were on their way to cast out the dragon with prayer.
They had tried to do this many times before, but it had never had the slightest effect; now, the bishop himself had come to do it.
In the great hall sat Sir Herman, in a finely carved armchair, close to a small fire, which crackled in the hearth.
On the other side of the hearth Wichard was seated on an oaken bench. After a while the greybeard spoke softly: 'You see Wichard, I believe you love each other well, but you are both still very young. I would not doubt your courage or underestimate your strength, but you have yet to do the deed with which you can earn your knighthood. I now that we now, thankfully, live in peace and the opportunity has yet to offer itself; but people might rightly blame me for having wed by daughter to an inexperienced boy. There are many brave knights who compete for Margaretha's hand and though she loves you only and I would gladly give my consent, believe me, come back with your request when you have proven to the world that you are as well acquainted with the knightly virtues as you are with your books.'
For a long time, the young man stared disappointedly into the fire, then he stood up, took the hand of the elder and said: ‘Sit Herman, my father always praises you as a wise and sensible man and I do not doubt that you are right in this matter, even though it greatly disappoints me. Let me go now, and I will try to make myself worthy of being your son-in-law. I will return soon or not at all.’
‘So it shall be,’ answered Sit Herman, ‘and in all honesty, I hope to see you soon.’
They heartily pressed each other’s hand and that same evening Wichard rode back to his father’s castle. A lot less cheerful and light-hearted than when he’d left that morning, he dismounted in the courtyard.
The following day, after having rested, he dressed himself in his heavy armour, buckled on his great sword, and, after having plugged both his nostrils, went on foot towards the place where the dragon usually resided. He left his fine horse at home, fearing the animal might be suffocated by the poisonous breath of the hellish monster.
The villagers, whom he met out early in the fields, looked after him in fear. Many crossed themselves and mumbled a prayer for the courageous young man. Filled with awe, they looked on from a great distance as Wichard took up his big sword and unhesitatingly went towards the creature.
The terrible being lay beneath the medlar tree as usual. The last procession hadn’t had the slightest effect. The dragon opened his awe-ínspiring maw, spewing out its foul breath in large clouds. Its great eyes glowed like balls of fire in its hideous head, while it bellowed with all its might: ‘Gelre! Gelre!’
The villagers saw Wichard fearlessly approach. They saw how the dragon attempted to pliantly wrap its claws and tail around the young nobleman. They heard the heavy wrestle, but were unable to see anything more because of the masses of clouds the animal spewed out. All they could hear was the call ‘Gelre! Gelre!’ and the powerful blows of Wichard’s mighty sword, which could be heard from time to time.
Filled with fear and trepidation all stood motionless, not even daring to whisper. One more time they heard the terrible cry, ‘Gelre! Gelre!’, when unexpectedly the brown smelly vapours lifted and Wichard appeared unharmed. The dragon lay dying at his feet.
With his dagger, which had been worn with honour by twenty-seven of his ancestors and wasn’t tainted by the slightest trace of injustice, he had finally, by aiming between the scales of the impenetrable hide, managed to stab the creature in the heart.
A Happy End
The people cheered the young hero and a few stout men carried him homewards, lifted up on his shield in triumph, where he was happily embraced by his parents and brother.
He didn’t give himself time to celebrate though, but had his horse saddled and rode to Hameland.
The news had travelled ahead of his swift horse and when he approached Herman’s castle, Margaretha and her father were already waiting for him.
Sir Herman received him as his own son and agreed to the marriage.
The feast continued for many days and when Wichard returned home with his bride, he and his father built an estate where he’d vanquished the dragon.
Soon the newlyweds moved into the new castle, which they named ‘Gelre’.
The grateful country folk of the area settled around it and thus a city of that name grew up.
From then on, Wichard carried a golden coat of arms featuring three red medlar flowers.
After Wichard’s brother Lupold and, later, his father had died, Wichard became Count of Gelre, endowed with the assets of his father, and in that manner the entire county was named after the small stronghold, ‘Gelre’.
From Legends of the Veluwe/Veluwsche Sagen by Gust van de Wall Perné, published in 1910-1912 by Scheltens & Giltay and translated by Eva Weggelaar
1. This story was largely taken from a 16th century chronicle. Hameland was part of the province of Gelderland, where the county of Zutphen was located. It is mentioned that in 1046 the Steverewold was made part of the county of Hameland by Emperor Hendrik II.