● Colbrand the Giant vs Sir Guy of Warwick
For his many feats of valor, the celebrated warrior Sir Guy of Warwick, a son of Siward, baron of Wallingford, became a legend in his own time. The Encyclopaedia Britannica reports that after gaining much fame for his prowess in war, Sir Guy won the hand of Felicia, the daughter and heiress of Roalt, earl of Warwick. But soon after his marriage, he became stricken with remorse for the violent deeds in his past. To do penance for these, he left his wife to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. After years of absence, Sir Guy arrived back in England to find King Aethelstan of Winchester (reigned 925-940) under siege by two invading northern kings, Anelaph and Gonelaph. In the Danes’ ranks stood the enormous Colbrand. As the Danes’ champion fighter, the giant stood defiantly before Winchester’s walls and challenged Aethelstan to send out to him his most feared warrior. Sir Guy accepted. The duel, according to local tradition, took place at Hyde Mead near Winchester. It ended with Colbrand’s huge carcass lying at Sir Guy’s feet. After this duel the Danes gave up their campaign against Aethelstan and withdrew from England. Shakespeare mentions Colbrand and/or Sir Guy in Henry VIII, act v, scene 3, and King John, act 1, scene 1.
● Edmund Cornwall
Edmund Cornwall, the Baron of Burford, stood seven feet three inches. The Habingdon manuscript quoted by Nash gives the following description of Worcestershire’s royal giant: “He was in mind an emperor, from whom he descended; in wit and stile so rare, to comprise in a few words, and that so clearly, such store of matter, as I scarce ever saw any to equal him, none to excel him. He was mighty of body, but very comely, and exceeded in strength all men of his age; for his own delight he had a dainty touch on the lute, and of such sweet harmony in his nature, as, if ever he offended any, were he never so poor, he was not friend with himself till he was friend with him again; he led a single life, and before his strength decayed, entered the gate of death.”
Oliver Cromwell’s porter Daniel measured seven feet six inches. In addition to his great stature, he became widely known as a clairvoyant. But he experienced spells of insanity, too, and spent many years in Bedlam, the famous British asylum. There, on Cromwell’s orders, he was provided a room with a library and a secretary to take down his prophetic dictations. Though some of his predictions did not pan out, some did-with astounding accuracy. For example, he declared that after Charles II would come to power and begin his reign a great comet would so brighten the nighttime sky that people would be able to read a newspaper by its light. In 1658, Cromwell died, and in 1660, Charles became the new ruler. In 1665, the great comet appeared. The noted Samuel Pepys, in a letter describing its brilliance to a friend, affirmed that it was so great “that night was as day.” Daniel also said that during Charles II’s reign a great plague would befall England, only to be followed by a rampaging fire that would leave London in ruins. In 1666, a devastating plague struck London and many surrounding towns and hamlets. In September that same year “The Great Fire” began in a wooden house in Pudding Lane and burned for three days, consuming over thirteen thousand homes, ninety churches, many hospitals and libraries and government buildings.
● Derby Giant
In his Derbyshire, Glover states that while digging the foundation for some buildings in the King’s Head inn neighborhood in Derby, English workers uncovered a stone coffin containing a human skeleton of “prodigious size.”
● Donnadea Chieftain
The Annual Register for 1790 informed its readers that in July of that year some workers in a peat bog at Donnadea, near the seat of Sir Fitzgerald Aylmer, uncovered at a depth of seventeen feet the sepulchre of an Irish chieftain. Inside the coffin they found an eight-foot-two-inch skeleton with a seven-foot spear at his side. The sepulchre, according to local tradition, was built after the introduction of Christianity into Ireland.
● Elizabeth’s Giant
Following the custom of her times, Queen Elizabeth I also employed a giant as her porter. His height extended to seven feet six inches, but not much is known about him except that he came from the Low Countries. However, Zucchero painted his portrait in a Spanish costume. It hung for some years in the Hampton Court Palace.
● Ewelm’s Giant Bones
While digging in the chancel of the church of Ewelm, near the Duchess of Suffolk’s tomb, in January, 1763, workers unearthed several human bones that once belonged to a giant, reports the Annual Register for that year.
In its August 1, 1732, issue, the Daily Post thought it worth a paragraph to let its readers know that “about the middle of July, an Irishman named Fitzgerald who was seven feet high and a lieutenant in the King of Prussia’s Guards, came to London.” (See Potsdam Giants)
● Fullwell-hills’ Giant
Both the Gentleman’s Magazine, in November, 1757, and the Annual Register for the same year reported that while English workers were removing a ridge of limestone and rubbish in the lime quarries near Fullwell-hills, close to Durham, they unearthed a human skeleton nine feet six inches long with some teeth still in the skull.
● Bernardo Gigli
By his nineteenth year, when he came to England, Bernardo Gigli already stood to a height of eight feet. “His equal,” proclaimed a 1755 handbill, “has never been seen, nor any come higher than his armpit.” The following year a newspaper carried this ad: “The Italian giant, a giant indeed! who tho’ but nineteen years of age, is eight feet high, and of admirable symmetry, is to be seen from ten in the morning till eight at night, at a commodious apartment, the bottom of Pall-mall, near the Haymarket. Price 1s. each person.
● Glastonbury Giant
In 1190, on orders of King Henry II, who had heard that the legendary King Arthur was buried there, workers began digging between two ancient, pyramid-shaped pillars located at Glastonbury, in Somerset. At a depth of seven feet they found a leaden cross which was engraved with this inscription: HIC JACET SEPULTUS INCLYTUS REX ARTURUS IN INSULA AVALLONIA (“Here lies buried the renowned King Arthur in the Isle of Avallon”). Excited over this find, the excavators doubled their efforts. At sixteen feet their shovels struck a large oaken tree trunk which had been hollowed out to serve as a coffin. Breaking the trunk coffin open, they found the skeleton of a man who once measured close to nine feet tall. Beside him lay the remains of a woman of average height, whom the excavators took to be Arthur’s queen, Guinevere. About a century later the bones of the two were reinterred in the great church before the altar in the presence of King Edward I. “From that time,” says the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “the Isle of Avalon has been identified with Glastonbury and romances connecting Arthur and Glastonbury are still being written.”
● Robert Hales, Norfolk Giant
In December, 1848, Robert Hales, son of a respected Somerton farmer, sailed into New York for a two-year American tour. Billed as the “Norfolk Giant,” he rose to a height of seven feet six inches, weighed four hundred an sixty pounds, had shoulders thirty-six inches broad, measured sixty-two inches around his chest, and sixty-four around his waist. On his return to England, he was commanded to appear before Her Majesty Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and six of the royal children at Buckingham Palace. He later bought and operated the Craven Head Tavern in Drury Lane.
● Harald, Giant Viking King
In the year 1066, following the death of Edward the Confessor, Harold Godwinson came to the throne of England, but his brother Tostig contested him. For this struggle Tostig enlisted the help of the giant Viking ruler Harald Sigurdsson, nicknamed Hardraada.
● Isle of Man Giants
Among the many megaliths on the Isle of Man is one called the Cloven Stones, located in the little village of Baldrine a few miles north of Douglas. In the Swarbreck Manuscript, written in 1815 and on exhibit at the museum in Douglas, there appears this statement concerning the Cloven Stones: “Mr Millburne informed us that about seven years since, he with two or three other miners opened the mount to a depth of five feet and discovered a human skull and some thigh bones, which from their uncommon size, must have belonged to a person of Gigantic stature.” Also, according to Roy Norvill, the isle was home to the giant Arthur Caley, who grew to a height of eight feet two inches. Born in 1819, Caley and his six-foot-two wife lived for years at the Sulby Glen Hotel in the northern part of the island.
● John of Gaunt
A suit of armor worn by seven-footer John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, in the fourteenth century, was displayed many years in the Tower of London’s armory, along with his sword and lance, which were also of enormous size.
Giants in English History (Part 2)
● Colbrand the Giant vs Sir Guy of Warwick