1614, August: The Dragon of St. Leonard’s Forest

In 1614, a pamphlet was published in London, England, with the rather alarming news that a large serpent or dragon was apparently living in St. Leonard's Forest near Horsham (about forty miles south of London). The pamphlet, entitled "True and Wonderfull," begins with an admission that some stories printed in pamphlets previously had been false, but states that hopefully the readers would understand that this pamphlet was not one of those. It then talked a bit about some known attributes of serpents in general, and some brief mentions of historical accounts of strange serpents and/or dragons... then the pamphlet moved on to its primary topic: the strange reptile then inhabiting St. Leonard's Forest.

        There was a spot in the forest near a Connie-Warren (rabbit warren) of about three to four square miles in which the creature roamed, which encompassed a place called Faygate. The animal was also seen within half a mile of Horsham at one point. This illustration is from the first page of the pamphlet:

Dragon of St. Leonard's ForestThe dragon as illustrated in 1614. [Picture sources here]

        The animal was about nine feet long, with a thick middle and thinner neck and tail; it had two odd bumps on its back that were thought to be the start of a pair of wings. It was believed to have legs, and it was observed to be able to move about as fast as a running man... but it was also known to leave a slimy trail where it went, and this slime smelled powerfully noxious.

        The creature's neck was estimated to be 1 elle long (about 45 inches), and had a ring of white scales around it. The scales on its back were "blackish," and what little had been seen of its belly seemed to be red. The creature would lift its head straight up on its long neck to scan about whenever it was disturbed.

        The observations had to have been made at a great distance, however, as the pamphlet states the serpent/dragon could spit its poison "about four Rodde from him," and a 'rod' is a unit of measure equal to about sixteen and a half feet; so the beast is estimated to be able to project its poison up to about 64 feet! An unnamed man and woman had been walking in the forest and had apparently gotten too close to the creature, for their bodies were found in the forest poisoned and greatly swollen. In addition, one man decided he would kill the serpent/dragon by setting his two large mastiffs on it... and both died in the attempt, and the man strategically retreated. Neither the bodies of the people or the bodies of the dogs were preyed upon, so it was assumed that the beast was mainly eating the rabbits in the warren it was staying near.

        The pamphlet then ends with the names of two men who claimed to be witnesses to the creature.


        Is this a true report of an odd creature?

        Contrary to common belief, most reports of claimed actual dragons often noted these creatures were unusually poisonous, which the account above nicely reflects.

        On the other hand, no further report of this beast was ever made that I can find; and though the author stated it was a true and currently living beast, the pamphlet was published in London... forty miles away from where the animal was possibly living. This distance was such that transportation of the day would largely prevent most of the pamphlet's readers from being able to trot off to check on the veracity of the report, if they were inclined to do so at their own risk.

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