The Strange Cross of St. Donat’s

The castle of St. Donat’s is a little outside the area dealt with in this book, but Sir Thomas Stradling, the lord of the manor, owned land stretching as far westward as Merthyr Mawr; and the tree which is the subject of the story may very well have grown not far from Porthcawl, Anyway this story is such a strange one that it is a pity to leave it out. Here it is, told from the records of the time.

Sir Thomas Stradling, Lord of St. Donat’s and descendant of the Norman Le Esterling family, was committed to the tower in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I for the following reason:

In his woods was found a cross ‘rather larger than a man’s foot’ down by a gale. There is no mention of the substance which the cross was made:  whether it was wooden or metal we do not know, but Sir Thomas clearly believed it to be miraculous, for he took it to London and displayed it. What is more, he made copies of the cross and sold them. It was this selling that brought him to the attention of Queen Elizabeth, who had spies in every quarter.

He was seized and charged but maintained that the story of the tree was true ‘in the very hert whereof was a picture of a cross of xiiij inches long apparent and pleyn to see.’ Stradling added that he was sorry ‘for yf he had knowen or thought that yo’r Highnes or yo’r Counsell wolde have been offended there wth or takenin yll harte, he wolde not for anything have done it.’

His protestations had some effect.  A Commissioner was sent to Glamorgan to examine the tree whilst Sir Thomas cooled his heels in the Tower.  The Commissioner took his time, cut down the offending tree, tore it apart and brought it back to London. Nothing miraculous was found. Sir Thomas protested his innocence again but this did not prevent him being fined 1000 marks ‘to punish massmongers for the rebating of their humours’. From that time until the end of his life he was constantly under the surveillance of Elizabeth’s agents. The cross was never seen again. 

Illustration by Margaret Wooding

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