About Hereward "The Exile", Thegn of Mercia
Hereward The Wake
"le Wac" means "the Banished"
Excerpt from A Brief History of The Anglo -Saxons" by Geoffrey Hindley "With the country in turmoil, 'the English people from the Fens' had flocked to Swein of Denmark, thinking his army was planning to occupy the region. At about this time the monks of Peterborourgh heard that on of their tenants, Hereward of Bourne, was marching on the Abbey because he and his men had heard that, with the death of Abbot Brand, the Conqueror had handed the place to the Norman soldier/ churchman Turold of Fecamp. In what followed the once 'golden borough' crashed to 'wretched borough' , plundered of its treasures by foes and friends alike, claiming to save them from the alien invaders. Pirates, we are told, sailed up to the minster wharf and tried to break in. When the monks reisted the attackers set fires. THey then plundered the abbey of its gold, from t crown on the head of the crucified Christ hanging on the rood screen to many other crosses and gold and silver ornaments of all kinds, as well as precious manuscrpts. Even the talismanic arm of St Oswald was carried down to the ships and, with the rest of teh booty taken off to Ely - supposedly for safe keeping away from teh depredations of the Normans.
There Hereward, known to history and legend as Hereward the Wake , joined by Earl Morcar of Mercia and Bishop Aelfwine of Durham, held out with hundreds of desperate rebels, their hope fixed on the Danish fleet in the face of news of King William's progress, Ely Abbey, on its island among the fenland marshes was well suited for a stronghold, but as at Alfred's Athelney resitstance couldnot be infefinite.
By the spring William had flayed his rebel kingdom back to obedience. In a campaign that historian David Douglas rated 'one of teh outstanding military achievements of the age' , he was once more master. AT this pint the Danes came to terms with the Norman king and sailed away to Denmark, with much English booty in their holds. Now , too, the leaders of Ely's lost cause made what peace they could while Hereward made good his escape into the half-light begtween legend and history. The Conqueror is said to have pardoned him and he supposedly crossed over to France. There, acccording to Geoffrey Gaimar, the French historian of the English, writing his "Estoire des Agnleis" for the wife of a Norman lord in Lincolnshire, Hereward was run to ground and mudered by a party of vengeful Normans. ....."
Research sugests he is the son of the Dane Asketil
The Genealogia Fundatoris of Coventry Monastery names “Leofricum postea comitem, et Edwinum occisum per Walenses, et Normannum occisum cum Edrico duce Merciorum per Cnutonem regem” as sons of “Leofwinus comes Leicestriæ”. The De Gestis Herwardi Saxonis names "Lefricus de Brunne, nepos comitis Radulfi cognominati Scalre", when recording that he was father of "Herwardus". This "comitis Radulfi…Scalre" has not otherwise been identified nor any possible relationship with Leofric. Simeon of Durham records that King Canute appointed "Leofric" as Earl of Mercia after his brother Northman was killed in 1017, although this was apparently during the lifetime of their father. He and his wife founded the abbey of Coventry in 1043. “Leofricus comes” founded the monastery of Coventry by undated charter. ”Leofricus comes…et conjux mea Godgyve” donated property to Evesham Monastery by undated charter which names “frater meus Normannus”.
m GODGIFU, sister of THOROLD de Bukenhale, Sheriff of Lincolnshire, daughter of ---. She is named as wife of Earl Leofric by Florence of Worcester, who specifies that she and her husband founded monasteries at Leominster, Wenlock, Chester and Stowe. The Annals of Peterborough record that “Thoroldus vicecomes et frater germanus Godivæ comitissæ Leycestriæ” founded Spalding Monastery in 1052. Her family origin is also indicated by the undated charter under which “Thoroldus de Bukenhale…vicecomiti” donated Spalding monastery to Croyland abbey which names “domino meo Leofrico comite Leicestriæ et…comitissa sua domina Godiva sorore mea…et cognati mei comitis Algari primogeniti et hæredis eorum”. The De Gestis Herwardi Saxonis names "Aediva trinepta Oslaci ducis" as wife of "Lefricus de Brunne, nepos comitis Radulfi cognominati Scalre", when recording that they were parents of "Herwardus". "Oslaci ducis" could be "Oslac" recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as "earl [of Northumbria]" in 966, but any precise relationship has not been identified. ”Leofricus comes…et conjux mea Godgyve” donated property to Evesham Monastery by undated charter which names “frater meus Normannus”. Godgifu wife of Leofric granted property to St Mary's, Stow by charter dated [1054/57]. She was the Lady Godiva of legend.
Leofric & his wife had [two] children:
2. [HEREWARD . The De Gestis Herwardi Saxonis names "Herwardus" as son of "Lefricus de Brunne, nepos comitis Radulfi cognominati Scalre" and his wife "Aediva trinepta Oslaci ducis", being the "Hereward the Wake" of semi-legend.
m firstly TURFRIDA, daughter of ---. The De Gestis Herwardi Saxonis records that "Herwardus" married "Turfrida", adding in a later passage that she became a nun "in Cruland" after she was repudiated.
m secondly as her second husband, ---, widow of DOLFIN, daughter of ---. The De Gestis Herwardi Saxonis records that "Herwardus" married secondly "uxor Dolfini comitis".]
-------------------- Hereward is founder of the Howard family.
HEREWARD THE WAKE, The Last True Englishman and Hero of Britain
Hereward was the son of Leofric, the Earl of Mercia and his mother was Lady Godiva. He was the uncle of Edwin and Morcar who were the last surviving members of the English royal house and he was born at Bourne in Lincolnshire where the Domesday Book confirms that he held lands there and also in Warwickshire and Worcestershire.
Earl Leofric was very harsh and the people of Coventry suffered greatly because of him. His wife, Lady Godiva was very different, she was a gentle, pious, loving woman who had already won an almost saintly reputation for sympathy and pity by her sacrifice to save her husbands oppressed citizens at Coventry, where her pleading won relief for them from the harsh earl on the pitiless condition of her never-forgotten ride. Happily her gentle self-suppression awoke a nobler spirit in her husband and enabled him to play a worthier part in England’s history.
Lady Godiva wanted Hereward to become a monk, but Hereward would have none of it and refused to study. He was a wild wayward lad, with long golden curls, eyes of different colours, one grey, and one blue. He had great breadth and strength of limb, and a wild and ungovernable temper, which made him difficult to control. He spent his time wrestling, boxing, fighting, and all manly exercises. Despairing of making an ecclesiastic of him, his mother set herself to inspire him with a noble ideal of Knighthood. When he reached the age of sixteen or seventeen he became the terror of the Fen Country, and at his fathers Hall of Bourne he gathered a band of youths as wild and reckless as himself, who accepted him as their leader and obeyed him implicitly, however outrageous were his commands.
In all of Hereward’s lawless deeds, however there was no meanness or crafty malice. He took his punishment when it came with equable cheerfulness. He robbed merchants with a high hand, but made reparation liberally counting himself well satisfied with the fun of a fight or the skill of a clever trick. His band of youths met and fought other bands, but they bore no malice when the struggle was over. The only flaw Hereward had in his character was he would not admit anyone was stronger than he, or more handsome, but credit due, he had both attributes in abundance.
Hereward’s father could do nothing to control his son, so Leofric begged an audience with the king (Edward the Confessor), and formally asked for a writ of outlawry against his own son. This done Hereward rode away, followed into exile by Martin Lightfoot, who left Leofric’s service for that of his outlawed son. Though the king’s writ of outlawry might run in Mercia, it did not carry more than nominal weight in Northumbria, where Earl Siward (note the connection for Siward was the father of Waltheof) ruled almost as an independent lord. In Northumbria lived his godfather Gilbert of Ghent, and his castle was known as an excellent training school for young aspirants to the knighthood. Sailing from Dover, Hereward landed at Whitby (this is near Robin Hood's Bay) and made his way to Gilbert’s castle, where he was well received, since the cunning Fleming knew that an outlawry could be reversed at any time, and Leofric’s son might yet come to rule England. (This was before the Norman invasion.) He soon showed himself to be a brave warrior, an unequalled wrestler, and a wary fighter, who outdid them in all manly sports. Gilbet kept in his castle a large white Polar bear which was feared by all for its enormous strength, it was called the Fairy Bear, but it was no fairy. They said it bore some kinship to Earl Siward who had a bear on his crest and he was reputed to be as fierce as one. The bear was kept in a cage and for added security one leg was chained, but this particular day when Hereward was returning with Martin from his morning ride they heard a commotion. Inside the courtyard stood the escaped bear with the broken chain dangling, and with no way of escape stood a petrified girl called Alftruda. The bear made a rush toward the girl and Hereward sprang forward with his battleaxe in his hand. He swung it round his head and split the skull of the furious beast, which fell dead.
A romantic love story follows which results in Hereward leaving for the continent where he fought in the armies of foreign princes. While in Flanders he learned how his aged mother was suffering insults at the hands of the Normans. His father was already dead and the estates had become the property of a Norman. On his return to England he found that the new Norman owners had not only taken the land, but also slain his brother, whose head was set above the door of the house. He revealed himself to some of his relatives and friends collected an armed band and like an avenging thunderbolt, he descended upon the killers and slew them all with his famous sword Brainbiter. Next day fourteen Norman heads had replaced that of his brother above the door. News of Hereward’s exploits spread making him the hero of the countryside. Soon other armed bands joined him and he became the leader of a mixed band of English and Danish warriors, who flocked to join him at his new base at the great Abbey of Ely.(Remember, it was to Ely where the wealthy fled after the Harrowing of the North.)
Visiting the monastery at Peterborough he received from the hands of the Saxon Abbot the military belt and sword, which constituted a kind of knighthood. The Normans used to say that he whose sword had been girt on by a clerk in a long gown was not a true knight but a citizen without prowess, but they soon came to respect him when they measured swords with him. After the abbot of Peterborough died the Normans put one of their own warlike men called Turbold in his place with the intent of subduing the “Saxon rabble” around Peterborough. Hereward feeling no doubt that the treasures of Peterborough Abbey would be better in English hands than those of the hated Norman acted quickly and when Turbold finally rode into Peterborough at the head of an armed force he found that the town had been reduced to ashes and the church stripped of every valuable object it had ever contained.
Hereward made many raids against the Normans and greatly harassed them for four or five years. At last in 1072 William felt it was necessary to take vigorous measures against the English leader. Hereward had established a camp of refuge in the Isle of Ely in the midst of the Fens where it was very difficult to reach him. The ground was treacherous, affording no footing for an army, and yet there was not enough water for the warriors to approach the camp by boat. Archers could find no suitable standing place and the mailed knights dare not take their horses among the soft soil and reedy pools. What could be done?
William who was always a man of action decided to construct a causeway across the Fens at their narrowest point from Aldreth to Ely and engaged a large number of workmen to cut trenches so that the water might be drained off. Then he raised a bank of stone and turf, but all the time Hereward was on the alert and constantly stopped the operations. He raided here there and everywhere and for months and the Normans could do nothing more than blockade the English rebels. During Williams third attempt at building a causeway, he camped at Brandon. Hereward rode there on his horse, a noble beast called Swallow and on his way met a potter, who agreed to exchange clothes with him and lend him his wares. In this disguise Hereward got into William’s camp and overheard his plans. When William ordered his men to attack Ely the third time Hereward’s men hidden in the reeds set fire to the vegetation and the wind did the rest. The flames rapidly engulfed the Normans and those who tried to escape were either drowned in the marsh or picked off by English arrows.
Then some treacherous monks of Ely, growing weary of the privations they had to suffer, went in secret to the king and offered to show him a way across the Fens. William agreed and a band of Normans was led across the Fens. Hereward and his men were surprised and a thousand of them were killed and their camp captured. Hereward and five of his comrades fought on and crossed the marshes at a place where the enemy did not dare follow. Thus they escaped into Lincolnshire and were hidden by some Saxon fisherman. Still the disaffected English rallied to Hereward and he made constant raids upon the Normans greatly harassing them, killing many, putting the rest to flight and seizing their horses. Then one day he took prisoner his old enemy Ivo Taillebois and promised to give him his liberty on condition that he went to William carrying proposals of peace.
The king was only too glad, for he had come to respect Hereward and preferred to have the brave English leader as a friend rather than as a foe. Hereward went to Winchester where he swore allegiance to William and gained the king’s favour who restored his lands. This is confirmed by the Domesday book. One night however he was set upon by a band of envious Normans and although he managed to kill fifteen of them with his famous sword Brainbiter he was stabed in the back and fell dying, a hero to the end.
The author of the Gesta, writing no more than fifty years after William’s assault on Ely, tells us that he remembers seeing fishermen dredging Norman skeletons, still in their rusty armour, out of the fen. Songs were being sung about Hereward in taverns a hundred years after his death; and in the thirteenth century people still visited a ruined wooden castle in the Fens which was known as Hereward’s Castle. But later he was supplanted by another outlaw-hero, Robin Hood, as a symbol of resistance to oppression.
PICTURE-Hereward the Wake leaving home after being outlawed.
Awake the Hereward (written by Emma Borley for BBC Legacies)
Famed through folklore, immortalised through myth, Hereward the Wake, The Banished, has been depicted as an action-hero of Anglo-Saxon descent. It is believed that he was born around 1032 and spent the best years of his life resisting the mighty force of "William the Bastard" (or "Conqueror" as he is perhaps more formally known!).
His adventures and escapades were recorded in prose and verse within just 40 years of his death (ie. De Gestis Herwardi Saxons – "The Exploits of Hereward the Saxon", researched and compiled in the 12th century by monastic scholars and the Domesday book).
However, exactness and detail may well have been lost in the enthusiastic endeavour to remember a hero, so we have to be careful in presenting such history today as time often merges fact and fiction. However, based on the documents listed above, we can perhaps assume the following picture of Hereward the Wake, The Banished.
The Normans were not the only invaders England had to endure. About 150 years earlier, Danish forces occupied the Eastern part of England, ousting the Anglo-Saxon rulers. It was not until the King’s School, Ely, old boy, Edward the Confessor became King that Anglo-Saxon rule resumed. After Edward’s death, leaving no heir, an unlikely truce was forged between the Danes and the Anglo-Saxons as they united against the foreign invasion led by William, Duke of Normandy.
William introduced a continental-style feudal system and the Norman and French invaders took over from their Anglo-Saxon and Danish counterparts in all positions of power across the land.
He had a personal vendetta to settle
The new rulers spoke a different language, brought new customs and a new legal system which heavily favoured the invaders.
The invasion, however, was by no means an overnight success. Lincolnshire and parts of East Anglia were densely populated areas at that time. Rich and fruitful soils meant that landowners fought hard to retain their property and their rights. The neighbouring Isle of Ely became the headquarters of the resistance against the Normans - it was a great hiding place with its swamps and marshy terrain providing an almost impenetrable fortress to William’s army.
It was here, at Ely, that Hereward joined the resistance "prompted into action by personal vendetta and patriotism” ('Hereward of the Fens – The Battle of Ely and Involvement of Peterborough and Ely monasteries incorporating De Gestis Herewardi Saxonis', Trevor Bevis 1995).
As a young man, Hereward gained a reputation as a hell-raiser, hanging around in gangs, challenging his father’s authority, and generally upsetting the neighbouring nobility. Worn down by his son’s behaviour, his father eventually banished the young Hereward to the continent with the blessing of King Edward.
Legend recalls that he occupied his time there in battles of honour and love and taking down the odd bear and giant too. However, all was not well on the home front. Word reached the young warrior of tragedy at home. Both his father and brother had been murdered, his mother had been raped and his lands had been seized – all at the hands of the Normans.
To make matters worse, the patriotic Hereward returned to find his beloved country undermined by foreign rule. He learned of a band of resistance fighters holed out in the Isle of Ely and swiftly joined their fight. He quickly won their respect and became their leader, heading a series of damaging attacks against the Normans.
The spoils of war
One of the most famous of those attacks involved the plunder of Peterborough Abbey. At the Abbey, some 24 miles from the Isle of Ely, Abbot Brand (possibly Hereward’s uncle) died and word got out that William was to replace him with the Norman, Turold, reputed to have a stern reputation and strong military leanings. Hereward got wind of this appointment and led his men onto the Abbey to plunder
Peterborough Abbey, now the Cathedral, was plundered its many riches (indeed, prior to the attack, Peterborough was renamed "Gildenburgh" meaning "Golden Borough" a reflection of its vast treasures).
Hereward and his men escaped with hordes of loot from the Abbey back to the waiting cover of the fens. They defended their actions by declaring that they were protecting the religious artefacts from the sacrilegious Norman hands, and acting on behalf of their people.
The Isle of Ely itself was an 11th Century Vietnam. Guerrilla warfare ruled as dense marshland covered tracks, thick reeds absorbed telltale sound and canny knowledge of the layout offered the only guarantee against drowning. Added to that, the land provided well for its protectors: food was plentiful as was wood and water, and with full support of the Monks at the Ely Monastery and the resistance was a credible force.
One of the first things that William did after the invasion was to erect motte and bailey castles in key positions around the country to provide power-bases for his rule. The one at Cambridge gave his soldiers easy access to the Midlands and the North. The fen approach still remained impassable and threatened the Norman strategy with the resistance easily able to target the foreign soldiers on the open road and withdraw quickly back to their inaccessible base.
The Monks at Ely Cathedral supported Hereward with food and water: William knew that he had to act against this band of fen-men. He ordered many attacks on the Isle of Ely, with little success (even going so far as to employ a witch, who bared her bottom at William’s foe in an act of repulsion!). Finally, he found the resistors’ Achilles heel: the Ely monastery whose monks fought along side and gave succour to the rebels.
'Betrayed' Accepting that the Isle of Ely was virtually impenetrable, he decreed that surrounding lands owned by the church and the monks be divided up to eminent Normans who would simply guard the perimeter of the Isle and so starve out the resistance. It is said that the monks got to hear of William’s plan and fled to Bottisham (just outside of Cambridge) taking with them all the treasures of the church. They then sought a peace treaty with the King in return that he honoured their ownership of their lands and possessions.
The church shifted their allegiance and lost the support of their hero. Little more is reported of Hereward other than he escaped from the stranglehold around the Isle of Ely, earned a begrudging respect from the King (who was well aware of Hereward's reputation as a first-class strategist and soldier) and lived the rest of his life resisting the Normans in battles carried out near Peterborough.
Hereward was no myth, but indeed was quite a legend: So, a hero and legend, Hereward will go down in history as the Robin Hood of the fens and the blur between fact and fiction will perhaps never be resolved. Winners always write the history books and so it is hard to find the truth almost 1,000 years on (the Normans had control of the literate section of the community, i.e. the Monks and so a certain amount of spin would have been injected into the recorded histories).
The last true Englishman However, we can report that a Hereward did indeed exist and was a landowner in the Lincolnshire area (according to Domesday entries) and that a Hereward led the resistance movement based at Ely against the Normans on a mission to reclaim his families land. And, according to Trevor Bevis, it is a Hereward who is depicted as "the strategists dream and an ideal leader of men". Perhaps then, we can best sum up Hereward the Wake as all three – hero, myth and legend, indeed "the last true Englishman".
Hero Myths of the British Race
III. Hereward the Wake
IN Hereward the Wake (or “Watchful”) is found one of those heroes whose date can be ascertained with a fair amount of exactness and yet in whose story occur mythological elements which seem to belong to all ages. The folklore of primitive races is a great storehouse whence a people can choose tales and heroic deeds to glorify its own national hero, careless that the same tales and deeds have done duty for other peoples and other heroes. Hence it happens that Hereward the Saxon, a patriot hero as real and actual as Nelson or George Washington, whose deeds were recorded in prose and verse within forty years of his death, was even then surrounded by a cloud of romance and mystery, which hid in vagueness his family, his marriage, and even his death.
Briefly it may be stated that Hereward was a native of Lincolnshire, and was in his prime about 1070. In that year he joined a party of Danes who appeared in England, attacked Peterborough and sacked the abbey there, and afterward took refuge in the Isle of Ely. Here he was besieged by William the Conqueror, and was finally forced to yield to the Norman. He thus came to stand for the defeated Saxon race, and his name has been passed down as that of the darling hero of the Saxons. For his splendid defence of Ely they forgave his final surrender to Duke William; they attributed to him all the virtues supposed to be inherent in the free-born, and all the glorious valor on which the English prided themselves; and, lastly, they surrounded his death with a halo of desperate fighting, and made his last conflict as wonderful as that of Roland at Roncesvalles. If Roland is the ideal of Norman feudal chivalry, Hereward is equally the ideal of Anglo-Saxon sturdy manliness and knighthood.
2 An account of one of Hereward’s adventures as a youth will serve as illustration of the stories told of his prowess. On an enforced visit to Cornwall, he found that King Alef, a petty British chief, had betrothed his fair daughter to a terrible Pictish giant, breaking off, in order to do it, her troth-plight with Prince Sigtryg of Waterford, son of a Danish king in Ireland. Hereward, ever chivalrous, picked a quarrel with the giant and killed him in fair fight, whereupon the king threw him into prison. In the following night, however, the released princess arranged that the gallant Saxon should be freed and sent hot-foot for her lover, Prince Sigtryg. After many adventures Hereward reached the prince, who hastened to return to Cornwall with the young hero. But to the grief of both, they learned upon their arrival that the princess had just been betrothed to a wild Cornish hero, Haco, and the wedding feast was to be held that very day. Sigtryg at once sent a troop of forty Danes to King Alef demanding the fulfilment of the troth-plight between himself and his daughter, and threatening vengeance if it were broken. To this threat the king returned no answer, and no Dane came back to tell of their reception.
3 Sigtryg would have waited till morning, trusting in the honor of the king, but Hereward disguised himself as a minstrel and obtained admission to the bridal feast, where he soon won applause by his beautiful singing. The bridegroom, Haco, in a rapture offered him any boon he liked to ask, but he demanded only a cup of wine from the hands of the bride. When she brought it to him he flung into the empty cup the betrothal ring, the token she had sent to Sigtryg, and said: “I thank thee, lady, and would reward thee for thy gentleness to a wandering minstrel; I give back the cup, richer than before by the king thoughts of which it bears the token.” The princess looked at him, gazed into the goblet, and saw her ring; then, looking again, she recognized her deliverer and knew that rescue was at hand.
While men feasted Hereward listened and talked, and found out that the forty Danes were prisoners, to be released on the morrow when Haco was sure of his bride, but released useless and miserable, since they would be turned adrift blinded. Haco was taking his lovely bride back to his own land, and Hereward saw that any rescue, to be successful, must be attempted on the march.
Returning to Sigtryg, the young Saxon told all that he had learned, and the Danes planned an ambush in the ravine where Haco had decided to blind and set free his captives. The whole was carried out exactly as Hereward arranged it. The Cornishmen, with the Danish captives, passed first without attack; next came Haco, riding grim and ferocious beside his silent bride, he exulting in his success, she looking eagerly for any signs of rescue. As they passed Hereward sprang from his shelter, crying, “Upon them, Danes, and set your brethren free!” and himself struck down Haco and smote off his head. There was a short struggle, but soon the rescued Danes were able to aid their deliverers, and the Cornish guards were all slain; the men of King Alef, never very zealous for the cause of Haco, fled, and the Danes were left masters of the field.
Sigtryg had in the meantime seen to the safety of the princess, and now, placing her between himself and Hereward, he escorted her to the ship, which soon brought them to Waterford and a happy bridal. The Prince and Princess of Waterford always recognized in Hereward their deliverer and best friend, and in their gratitude wished him to dwell with them always; but the hero’s roving and daring temper forbade his settling down, but rather urged him on to deeds of arms in other lands, where he quickly won a renown second to none.