King Bladud of Bath - Ancient Britain's pioneer aeronaut



From the second edition of Portraits des Roys d'Angleterre
engraved by Leonard Gaultier


Bladud was a descendant of Brute the Trojan and the father of King Lear, and is the traditional founder of the English city of Bath and its hot medicinal springs. He was also the first recorded casualty of an aeronautical accident while flying over Troja Nova (New Troy) or Trinavantum, now known as London.


He was the tenth ruler of Britain and the ninth king, the third ruler being Gwendoline, the widow of Locrine, one of the three sons of Brute. Bladud ascended to the throne in 863 B.C.,(1) succeeding his father Rudhudibras or Rhun Paladr-fras. 


Effigy of King Bladud
overlooking the King's Bath, Bath
The circumstances of Bladud succeeding to the throne are clouded by the years. According to one story, he was sent to Athens by his father to be instructed in philosophy, and, after his father's death, returned home with four philosophers and founded a university at Stamford in the county of Lincolnshire. But another story contends that he spent 11 years in Athens and returned a leper and was placed in confinement. He escaped in disguise and made his way to his father's court and offered his services for any mean employment available. He was employed to take care of the pigs in Swainswick, a small village near the place where Bath was later located. He noticed that some of the pigs would wallow in the mud even in the depths of winter, and he wondered why. So he followed them and discovered that the mud was warm, and noticed too that the pigs that wallowed in the mud did not have eruptions on their skin like the other pigs. So he tried it himself, and cured himself of his leprosy. He then returned to the court, declared who he was, and was crowed king of Britain on the death of his father.


King Bladud, as he now was, was a practitioner of necromancy or magic, and had it taught throughout his kingdom. He founded a temple in Bath dedicated to Minerva, where he placed inextinguishable fires. He performed wondrous and spectacular tricks, and created a flying machine made from the wings of birds. But it was while he was testing his invention, by attempting to fly at New Troy, that his magic powers momentarily failed him, and he fell on the temple of Apollo, which had been founded by his ancestor Brute, and was dashed to pieces, after reigning 20 years. He was buried at New Troy and succeeded by his son, King Lear, who, like his father, had a life prone to misfortune.


(1) In 1749 the architect John Wood fixed the date of Bladud about 500 B.C., a date more recent than various chronicles such as Geoffrey of Monmouth's Chronicle of History (1508); Chronicles of England by John de Wavrin, Lord of Forestel (written 1445-1471 and in print 1864); A Manuscript Chronicle from the Creation to Edward IV (c.1480).

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