The Elliotts were one of the great border clans, also known as "reivers". The reivers were such a problem throughout the Borders that even the church became involved in their bloody wrangles. In 1525 they had become such a nuisance that the then Archbishop of Glasgow, Gavin Dunbar, put a curse upon all the reivers of the borderlands (and in particular upon the Elliotts). The curse was apparently at the behest of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and Dr. Thomas Magnus.
- "I curse their head and all the hairs of their head; I curse their face, their brain (innermost thoughts), their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their forehead, their shoulders, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their womb, their arms, their leggs, their hands, their feet, and every part of their body, from the top of their head to the soles of their feet, before and behind, within and without. I curse them going and I curse them riding; I curse them standing and I curse them sitting; I curse them eating and I curse them drinking; I curse them rising, and I curse them lying; I curse them at home, I curse them away from home; I curse them within the house, I curse them outside of the house; I curse their wives, their children, and their servants who participate in their deeds. I (bring ill wishes upon) their crops, their cattle, their wool, their sheep, their horses, their swine, their geese, their hens, and all their livestock. I (bring ill wishes upon) their halls, their chambers, their kitchens, their stanchions, their barns, their cowsheds, their barnyards, their cabbage patches, their plows, their harrows, and the goods and houses that are necessary for their sustenance and welfare."
- "May all the malevolent wishes and curses ever known, since the beginning of the world, to this hour, light on them. May the malediction of God, that fell upon Lucifer and all his fellows, that cast them from the high Heaven to the deep hell, light upon them. May the fire and the sword that stopped Adam from the gates of Paradise, stop them from the glory of Heaven, until they forebear, and make amends. May the evil that fell upon cursed Cain, when he slew his brother Abel, needlessly, fall on them for the needless slaughter that they commit daily. May the malediction that fell upon all the world, man and beast, and all that ever took life, when all were drowned by the flood of Noah, except Noah and his ark, fall upon them and drown them, man and beast, and make this realm free of them, for their wicked sins. May the thunder and lightning which rained down upon Sodom and Gomorra and all the lands surrounding them, and burned them for their vile sins, rain down upon them and burn them for their open sins. May the evil and confusion that fell on the Gigantis for their opression and pride in building the Tower of Babylon, confound them and all their works, for their open callous disregard and opression. May all the plagues that fell upon Pharoah and his people of Egypt, their lands, crops and cattle, fall upon them, their equipment, their places, their lands, their crops and livestock. May the waters of the Tweed and other waters which they use, drown them, as the Red Sea drowned King Pharoah and the people of Egypt, preserving God’s people of Israel. May the earth open, split and cleave, and swallow them straight to hell, as it swallowed cursed Dathan and Abiron, who disobeyed Moses and the command of God. May the wild fire that reduced Thore and his followers to two-hundred-fifty in number, and others from 14,000 to 7,000 at anys, usurping against Moses and Aaron, servants of God, suddenly burn and consume them daily, for opposing the commands of God and Holy Church. May the malediction that suddenly fell upon fair Absolom, riding through the wood against his father, King David, when the branches of a tree knocked him from his horse and hanged him by the hair, fall upon these untrue Scotsmen and hang them the same way, that all the world may see. May the malediction that fell upon Nebuchadnezzar’s lieutenant, Olifernus, making war and savagery upon true christian men; the malediction that fell upon Judas, Pilate, Herod, and the Jews that crucified Our Lord; and all the plagues and troubles that fell on the city of Jerusalem therefore, and upon Simon Magus for his treachery, bloody Nero, Ditius Magcensius, Olibrius, Julianus Apostita and the rest of the cruel tyrants who slew and murdered Christ’s holy servants, fall upon them for their cruel tyranny and murder of Christian people. And may all the vengeance that ever was taken since the world began, for open sins, and all the plagues and pestilence that ever fell on man or beast, fall on them for their openly evil ways, senseless slaughter and shedding of innocent blood."
- "I sever and part them from the church of God, and deliver them immediately to the devil of hell, as the Apostle Paul delivered Corinth. I bar the entrance of all places they come to, for divine service and ministration of the sacraments of holy church, except the sacrament of infant baptism, only; and I forbid all churchmen to hear their confession or to absolve them of their sins, until they are first humbled / subjugated by this curse. I forbid all christian men or women to have any company with them, eating, drinking, speaking, praying, lying, going, standing, or in any other deed-doing, under the pain of deadly sin. I discharge all bonds, acts, contracts, oaths, made to them by any persons, out of loyalty, kindness, or personal duty, so long as they sustain this cursing, by which no man will be bound to them, and this will be binding on all men. I take from them, and cast down all the good deeds that ever they did, or shall do, until they rise from this cursing. I declare them excluded from all matins, masses, evening prayers, funerals or other prayers, on book or bead (rosary); of all pigrimages and alms deeds done, or to be done in holy church or be christian people, while this curse is in effect. And, finally, I condemn them perpetually to the deep pit of Hell, there to remain with Lucifer and all his fellows, and their bodies to the gallows of Burrow moor, first to be hanged, then ripped and torn by dogs, swine, and other wild beasts, abominable to all the world. And their candle (light of their life) goes from your sight, as may their souls go from the face of God, and their good reputation from the world, until they forebear their open sins, aforesaid, and rise from this terrible cursing and make satisfaction and penance."
The final lines of the "curse" bear some passing similarity to the Bell, book, and candle method of excommunication by anathema, introduced by Pope Zachary around the middle of the 8th century. This can be avoided by the "Dove and Mirror" technique discussed in Blish.
The Elliott's are not, in any known way, related to the ancestry-obsessed Cheshire gentry, but do turn up in interesting bits of history. Wee Jock ("No Lugs") Elliott, who had presumably lost his ears for some crime famously stabbed James Hepburn, and his words have been suggested as the origin of the term "Nemo me impune lacessit". At least one branch of the Elliot clan - the Eliots of Cornwall - is reputedly descended from a Breton or Norman knight named William de Aliot, who shot the arrow into the eye of Harold Godwinsson. Harold is said by some to have survived and taken up residence in the Hermitage at Chester - as well as later haunting the area around St Johns.
The curse has never been "lifted". It is one of the few instances of a "transmissible excommunication" which can be passed on down the generations and even to others having any dealing with those it relates to. Much of their genealogy was lost or scrambled when they were forced to resettle in Ulster. There is even a rumor that the name "Elliott" was generically applied to many of these emigrants because of its sheer notoriety, whether they were really "Elliotts" or not (rather like "Hooligan"). The curse and the scrambled ancestry gave rise to a poem which exists in several variants:
- The double L and single T / Descend from Minto and Woolflee.
- The double T and single L / Mark the old race in Stobs that dwell,
- The single L and single T / The Eliots of St Germains be,
- But double T and double L / Drove the De'il out of Hell.
The fictional Elliott's turned up in the US. In 1946, cartoonist Charles Addams met science fiction writer Ray Bradbury after drawing an illustration for Bradbury's short story "Homecoming" in Mademoiselle magazine, the first in a series of tales chronicling a family of Illinois monsters, the Elliotts. Bradbury and Addams became friends and planned to collaborate on a book of the Elliott Family's complete history, with Bradbury writing and Addams providing the illustrations; but it never materialized. Bradbury's Elliott Family stories were anthologized in "From the Dust Returned" (2001), with a connecting narrative, an explanation of his work with Addams, and Addams's 1946 Mademoiselle illustration used for the book's cover jacket. Although Addams's own characters were well established by the time of their initial encounter, in a 2001 interview, Bradbury states that Addams "went his way and created the Addams Family and I went my own way and created my family in this book."
It's unlikely that Bradbury had ever heard of the Elliott's, but he just might have. An early Victorian guidebook records the following lines:
- To they that were curst, youv'e done your worst, and their ashes are washed down the burn,
- But their sword did not rust, and from shadows and dust, by night they shall return.