Basque sailor

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The Great Armada of 1588

In 1588, when tempests destroyed the Great Armada of Philip of Spain, three sailors whose ship had formed part of that vast fleet were wrecked upon the coast of Northern England. They fled inland and took shelter one night in what they thought was an empty stone barn, situate on a bare hillside; and as they slept one of them, a Basque sailor, had a dream in which it seemed to him a king watched him. He awoke. It was the time just before dawn, and there in the dim light at the farther end of the barn appeared a dais, on which there was a throne, on which there was a still figure. The Basque later described the figure as that of a man, pale-skinned but with long dark hair and wrapped in some sort of black robe.

At this point the frightened sailor woke his companions, who also saw the man upon the throne. Alarmed by his very stillness they fled out onto the hillside and wandered away. One died later, one made his way further south, but the Basque sailor remained in Cumbria and was taken in by some compassionate inhabitants. He settled there and later married. When he told his new friends of his dream, they assured him he must have seen their absent king, John Uskglass. But the sailor was never again able to find the stone barn upon the barren hillside.

This tale, like that of the Yorkshire farmer and the Glovemaker's Daughter of Newcastle, is sometimes put forward as evidence that the Raven King never fully withdrew from his former kingdom. Gilbert Norrell however dismissed it as mere hearsay and superstition, pointing out that all the Basque sailor himself claimed to have seen was a dark figure in a barn: others later told him that what he had seen was the Raven King. It was Mr. Norrell's firm belief that after his departure from England, John Uskglass had lost all interest in his former realm, and consequently he disputed the truth of any story tending to shew otherwise[39].