Finberg expressed scepticism about the legend, which he said:
‘as handed down is improbable and indeed self contradictory. The body is carried off ‘with all convenient speed’ yet there is time for a party to come up from Plymstock. There are also time and materials to build a bridge over the river, while the men of Plymstock conveniently stand waiting at a distance.’He also pointed out that a document of 1651 referred to Tavistock’s Guildhall as ‘Guilehall’, ‘so that Guile Bridge is probably Guild Bridge, so called because constructed or maintained by a guild.’ Finberg dismissed ‘Guile’ Bridge as ‘a folk – etymology’.
He explored inconsistencies in a couplet that was said to be written on the monument, presumably repeating Childe’s note. Risdon (c.1630) quoted:
‘They fyrste that fyndes and bringes mee to my grave,
The priorie of Plimstoke they shall have.’
Apparently there was never a priory at Plymstock, though there was one nearby at Plympton. Fuller (1662) wrote that the rhyme was written with the horse’s blood, and has a slightly different version:
‘He that finds and brings me to my tomb,
The land of Plymstock shall be his doom.’
These rhymes are both in Prince’s Worthies of Devon (1701) but by this time Risdon’s second line has been changed to:
‘My lands, which are at Plimstock, they shall have.’
Despite his doubts about some aspects of the legend, when Finberg compared it with the death of ‘the second Ordulf’, he found that numerous similarities were ‘too striking to be overlooked’. Finberg pointed out that ‘Childe’ was probably derived from ‘Cild’ – the Saxon word for ‘Young Lord’. He established that the legend of Childe was based on Ordulf, son of Ordgar, who was the Saxon Earl of Devon in the 11th century. Finberg’s conclusion was that:
‘……in the light of this interpretation, the old Dartmoor legend becomes credible enough……a beautiful example of the way popular tradition may at once preserve and disguise matter of authentic fact.’
The answer to the question – fact or fiction? A bit of both!