Lucks are objects, such as ornate dishes, cups or goblets, which are kept by families for generations as tokens of good luck and protection against evil. Lucks were once common throughout the British Isles among the gentry and nobility; as long as they remained intact, so tradition goes, the family line would prosper.
Most lucks are fragile objects that have required careful preservation throughout the generations. They have romantic legends attached to them to explain how they came to be in the possession of the family. Lucks cannot be purchased, but must be given to a family. The custoMary bestowers are royalty, supernatural beings such as Fairies (see Fairy), or magical individuals such as witches. It is possible that some lucks originally were tokens of tenure. In days when few people could read or write, tenancy and land ownership was acknowledged by the bestowal of an identifying possession of the landlord or owner.
One of the most famous lucks is the Luck of Edenhall, a cup made of thick yellow-brown glass decorated in blue, red and gold enamel, and kept in its own leather case. Edenhall, located in Cumberland, northern England, was the property of the Musgrave family since the middle of the 15th century. There are various versions of how the luck came into the possession of the family. The most popular version is that one day the butler went down to draw water from a fairy well named after St. Cuthbert. There, he found a group of fairies dancing and drinking around the well. His intrusion caused the fairies to scatter, and they left behind their intriguing drinking cup, which the butler picked up. As they departed, the fairies called after them:
If this Cup should ever break or fall,
Farewell the Luck of Edenhall
The exact date of the appearance of the luck is not known. There is a written reference to an unusual cup at Edenhall in 1689. The fairy legend, however, did not emerge until 1791. The luck was made famous in the 18th century by the Duke of Wharton, who visited Edenhall in 1721 and nearly broke the luck by letting it fall during a drinking bout. The butler prevented disaster by catching the cup in a napkin. Wharton later immortalized the luck in a ballad, The Drinking Match.
Different theories have been put forth on the origins of the Edenhall cup. It has been described as Moorish in design. The leather case, inscribed with the letters IHS, has led to speculation that the cup was once a Spanish Communion vessel. According to another theory, it may have been drafted in or near Damascus in the 13th or 14th century, as its style and composition is consistent with glasswork done there at that time. The IHS may have been added to the case much later, perhaps as a superstitious charm to keep the fairies from returning to reclaim their possession. Still other theories hold that the cup is of French or English origin from the 13th or 14th century.
Another famous luck in the Cumberland region is the Luck of Muncaster, kept by the Pennington family in Muncaster Castle. The luck is a small bowl made of green glass and decorated in gold and white enamel. According to legend, it was bestowed upon Sir John Pennington by King Henry VI, one of the most luckless of monarchs. During the Wars of the Roses (1455–85), Henry was forced to leave his throne in 1461 and flee into the countryside with only one companion. Either in that year or in 1464, he was in Cumberland, and one night sought shelter at Ireton Hall but was turned away. As he and his companion stumbled about in the middle of the night, they came upon shepherds who guided them to Muncaster Castle, where Pennington took them in. In gratitude, Henry gave the cup to his host and declared that as long as the family preserved it unbroken, they would prosper and never lack a male heir. Henry allegedly claimed that the cup was his own holy water stoup.
The king’s own luck had nearly run out, however. He had already gone insane in 1453. When he was restored to the throne in 1470, his reign lasted only a year before his son, Edward V, retook the throne. Henry was sent to the Tower of London, where he was murdered.
Nonetheless, the Luck of Muncaster lasted until the 18th century, when the family died off without male heirs. Although Henry did stay at the castle during his flight, the luck legend may not have been born until much later, in the 18th century, at the doing of Sir John Pennington, the first Lord Muncaster. He is most likely responsible for a painting of Henry holding the cup, and for the inscription of the legend on the tomb of his ancestor, Sir John Pennington.
Another luck, the Luck of Burrell Green, a shallow brass dish, is said to have been given to the Lamb family by a witch, who intoned,
If this dish be sold or gi’en
Farewell the Luck of Burrell Green.
With the decline of the great families of aristocracy, lucks have been sold at auction. See AMULET.
- Lockhart, J. G. Curses, Lucks and Talismans. Detroit: Singing Trees Press, 1971.