The extraordinary tale of Prince Bladud and his pigs
01 March 2019
A diseased prince, a herd of pigs and a mysterious hot mineral spring: you just know it’s going to be a good story.
Prince Bladud and his swineherd
People come to visit Bath for the Georgian architecture, the history, the entertainment, the shopping – and of course the bathing. Prince Bladud, legendary father of King Lear, may well have been the first ever person to bathe in the naturally hot, mineral-rich waters – but he might never have started the bathing tradition at all, had it not been for his 4-legged companions.
According to legend, poor Prince Bladud was wandering the countryside in 863BC having been banished from the kingdom due to his incurable leprosy. All he had for company and a source of income was a herd of pigs – who also caught his skin condition.
Luckily, his fortunes were about to change – and it would be his herd of pigs he’d need to thank.
Pigs will be pigs
The only thing pigs love more than rolling in mud, is rolling in nice warm mud. And this is exactly what they did when, one day, roaming through the area now known as Bath, Bladud and his pigs discovered one of Bath’s hot springs, which had turned the surrounding ground to mud.
While Bladud probably didn’t take much notice of the mud-rolling, he certainly did notice when the steaming mud appeared to cure the pigs’ leprosy. Amazed at the apparent health giving benefits of the hot springs, he applied the mud to his own skin – and experienced the same miraculous cure! He was able to return to his kingdom, where he became the 9th king of the Britons, and later went on to found the city of Bath…
…well, according to legend anyway. Officially, the Romans were the founders of Bath, or as they called it, Aquae Sulis (‘The Waters of Sulis’). And yet – Bladud is referenced in a number of historical texts, and features on several old coins, one of which has inscribed upon it, ‘Bladud Founded Bath’.
So what do you think – could the Swineherd Prince have founded Bath? Or was it without a doubt the industrious, spa-loving Romans?
Where to see Bladud - or his pigs - today
Some of Bladud's Pigs ready to 'take the waters' again at Thermae Bath Spa (2008)
If you’d like to see Prince Bladud today, there are three places in Bath you can espy him: there’s an 1859 statue in Parade Gardens, a 1700s stone relief in the Cross Bath (part of Thermae Bath Spa, and available to hire privately) and the oldest statue of King Bladud, which dates back to at least 1699, at the Roman Baths. You can also visit the Bladud’s Head pub in Larkhall, or wander up to the Circus where you can see John Wood’s acorn finials – thought to be a nod to Bladud, whose pigs feasted on acorns. In 2008 there was a public art exhibition featuring Bladud’s Pigs – these have since been auctioned, but you can see the pigs here.
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