The great thing about half-truths is working out which half is the truth and which is the embroidered part. Of course, the fancy bits take a run-of-the-mill story and make it a legend. And Dark Ages England was full of them.
One involved a little prince called Kenelm. His father was the Mercian king Coenwulf and when he died, around about 819, Kenelm became king. But he was only seven years old and so his sister and foster father said that they would look after him.
But they were envious of all the power this little boy would have and they wanted in on that. So, between them, they plotted to kill him. They tried poisoning first, but that failed. The next idea was to take him hunting where he would suffer a hunting 'accident'.
The night before the trip, Kenelm had a dream where he climbed a large tree that was covered with lanterns and flowers.High up in the tree Kenelm could see over the four quarters of his kingdom. Three quarters bowed before him but the fourth quarter chopped at the large tree until it fell down. Kenelm changed into a white bird and flew away.
When Kenelm woke up, he told his nanny about his dream. The lady was a wise one and interpreted the dream to mean that the little boy was going to die. This made her cry. Kenelm, however, was accepting of his fate (as many people were in those days). He went with his evil sister and foster father to the hills where the hunt was supposed to take place.
While Kenelm was kneeling in prayer, he was beheaded by his foster father. His body was hidden under a thorny tree. His spirit rises from his corpse in the form of a dove and it carries a scroll to Rome. There, the dove drops the scroll at the feet of the pope.
"Low in a mead of kine under a thorn, of head bereft, lies poor Kenelm, king-born."
The pope writes to the Archbishop of Canterbury and tells him the tale. Then a party of Mercian missionaries go to the hills to search for Kenelm's body and see a pillar of light. It shines over a thorny thicket and they dig under it and find the little boy's body. When they lift it up a fountain of pure spring water springs up.
Another version says that Kenelm's sister forbade anyone to mention her murdered brother's name and so God placed a cow by the thorny bush to remember him. The cow never ate any grass or drank any water but was always full of milk. People called this place Cowbach.
Kenelm is mentioned by Chaucer in The Nun's Priest's Tale and by Shakespeare. Sir Francis Brett Young wrote a poem called The Ballad of Saint Kenelm. He was a real Mercian prince but evidence suggest that he died at aged twenty-five or so. He was made a saint and his Feast Day is 17 July. As for his 'nasty' sister, records show that she became a nun when her father died and therefore was nowhere near her little brother when he met his end.
There you go then.