HEREWARD THE WAKE
HEREWARD THE WAKE
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 constitut