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A most strange and true report of a monsterous fish, who appeared in the forme of a woman, from her waste upwards by P.G.

This unique pamphlet tells the story of an alleged sighting of a mermaid near Pendine, Carmarthenshire in 1603. The creature was first seen by Thomas Raynold, a yeoman from Pendine, who then summoned others to keep watch for three hours. William Saunders of Pendine later examined Raynold and some of the other witnesses.

Stories of mermaids were fairly common during the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and there is even reference to a sighting in the journal of Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) for 9th January 1493. It was believed that mermaids could save sailors from drowning but could also lure ships to their doom. Belief in mermaids, fairies and other mythical creatures persisted in many areas of Britain until the eighteenth century and sometimes even later. Gradually opposition by the Protestant Church, greater levels of literacy, and industrialisation led to a demise of the belief in such creatures, although many stories have survived.

It was the invention of the printing process in the fifteenth century and growing levels of literacy among the general population that spawned the trade of the pamphleteer. These tradesmen often printed their own pamphlets and sold them cheaply in the street for a few pence. The pamphlets contents were often of a religious or political nature.

The general public also had a thirst for lighter and more entertaining fare and stories of strange creatures, monstrous births, etc accounted for a significant portion of the produce of pamphleteers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Many such stories were printed as ballads which could be sung as a form of entertainment.

Further reading

For more on 16th and 17th century oddities and folklore:

  • David Cressy. Agnes Bowker's Cat : travesties and transgressions in Tudor and Stuart England. Oxford : University Press, 2001.
  • Keith Thomas. Religion and the Decline of Magic : studies in popular belief in sixteenth and seventeenth century England. London : Weidenfield & Nicholson, 1991.

For more on pamphlets:

  • Joad Raymond. Pamphlets and pamphleteering in early modern Britain. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2003.