Christie Cleek (or -Cleek or of-the-Cleek), is a legendary Scottish cannibal, somewhat in the vein of the better-known Sawney Bean. According to folklore, his real name was Andrew Christie, a Perth butcher. During a severe famine in the mid-fourteenth century (Hector Boece records floods, morrain and plagues of 'myce and ratonis' throughout Scotland in 1340), Christie joined a group of scavengers in the foothills of the Grampians. When one of the party died of starvation, Christie put his skills to work on the corpse, and provided his companions with a ready meal. The group obviously developed a taste for human flesh as, under Christie's leadership, they began to ambush travellers on the passes of the Grampians, feeding on their bodies and those of their horses. It is alleged that before attacking, Christie would haul his victims from their mounts with a hook on a rod: this implement was the 'cleke' (i.e., 'crook') from which he took his sobriquet. Thirty riders apparently died at Christie's hands. Eventually the company were defeated by an armed force from Perth, except for Christie himself, who supposedly escaped and re-entered society under a new name. The earliest versions of this narrative are much less detailed, recording only Christie's cannibalism and his methods of trapping prey. No mention is made of his accomplices or eventual fate.
The parallels between Christie and Sawney Bean are obvious and insistent. One story may well have given rise to the other, or both may have been derived from a common source. While Bean far exceeds his counterpart in terms of notoriety, the Christie legend does appear to be the older of the two. Whereas tales of the Bean family do not appear before the eighteenth century, Christie's exploits are documented from the fifteenth century onwards. For instance, Andrew of Wyntoun's Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland (c.1420) refers to a figure called 'Chwsten Cleek' who, during a time of 'sae great default...that mony were in hunger dead', set up traps with the intent 'children and women for to slay,/ And swains that he might over-ta;/ And ate them all that he get might'. A little later, in an entry for 1341, Holinshed's Chronicles (c.1577) reports that:In the same year (as some do write) or (according unto other) in the year following, there was such a miserable death, both through England and Scotland, that the people were driven to eat the flesh of horses, dogs, cats, and such like unused kinds of meats, to sustain their languishing lives with all, yea, in so much that (as is said) there was a Scottish man, an uplandish fellow named Tristicloke, spared not to steal children, and to kill women, on whose flesh he fed, as if he had been a wolf.
Cheviot's Proverbs (1896) mentions some folklore about the character:They resorted to cannibalism at the instigation of their leader, Andrew Christie, a Perth butcher. This monster lay in wait for passing horsemen, and dragged them from the saddle with a large iron hook fixed to a long pole, hence his nickname. It is said Christiecleek died many years after, a married man and prosperous merchant in Dumfries. For centuries the mere mention of the word Christiecleek was sufficient to silence the noisiest child.
- Raphael Holinshed, The first and second volumes of Chronicles comprising 1 The description and history of England, 2 The description and history of Ireland, 3 The description and history of Scotland (London: Henry Denham, 1587)
- John Mackay Wilson, Tales Of The Borders, And Of Scotland (Edinburgh: James Gemmell, 1883)
- Andrew of Wyntoun, The Original Chronicle, ed. by F.J. Amours, 6 vols, Scottish Text Society 63 (Edinburgh: William Blackwood for The Scottish Text Society, 1908–14)
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