Bourne Archive: FNQ: Hereward III
http:// boar.org.uk/ariwxo3FNQsupIII.htm Latest edit 4 Mar 2011.
Web page © 2007 R.J.PENHEY With thanks to the trustees of the Willoughby Memorial Library
The Bourne Archive
This thread begins with the title page
De Gestis Herwardi Saxonis.
Qualiter maximum Ursum Herwardus interfecit. Unde locum cum militibus ubi manebat promeruit.
Quod ubi quidem Gisebritus de Gant comperit, scilicet expulsionem ejus, pro illo misit. Filiolus enim erat divitis illius. Et profectus ultra Northumberland ad eum pervenit, solus ex propria provincia et paterna hæreditate, cum solo servo Martino, cui cognomen erat Levipes. Ubi non multis commoranti diebus quiddam laudabile contingit [contigit]. Mos1 autem illi diviti fuit in Pascha, in Pentecosten [Pentecoste], et in Natale Domini, ex claustris eductis sævis feris juvenum vires et animos temptare, qui militare cingulum expectabant et arma. Cum quibus Herwardus in primordio sui adventus, videlicet in Natale Domini, associatus, rogavit sibi unum e feris aggredi licere, aut saltem illum maximum ursum qui aderat, quem incliti ursi Norweiæ fuisse filium, ac formatum secundum pedes illius et caput fabulam clavorum affirmabant, sensum humanum habentem, et loquelam hominis intelligentem, ac doctum ad bellum ; cujus igitur pater in silvis fertur puellam rapuisse ; et ex ea Biernum regem Norweyæ genuisse. Nec obtinere potuit : domino illius magnanimitatem juvenis percipiente, et pubertatem ejus pertimescente. Altera autem die bestia ruptis vinculis exobseratis claustris prorupit, omne dilanians et interficiens vivum quod consequi potuit. Mox autem, ut dominus rem comperit, milites præparare se et illum cum lanceis aggredi jubet, nisi mortuum capi non posse adjugens. Interim Herwardus feram cruentatam ad thalamum domini sui propter voces trepidantium revertentem, ubi uxor illius et filiæ ac mulieres timide confugerant, obvium habuit, ac in illum confestim irruere voluit. Ipsum iste prævenit, gladium per caput et ad scapulas usque configens. Atque ibi spatam relinquens, bestiam in ulnis accepit, et ad insequentes tetendit. Quo viso plurimum mirati sunt. Verum non minimam gratiam apud dominum et dominam suam promeruit, et grave odium et invidiam cum militibus et pueris domus. Hujus ergo rei gratia locum et honorem cum militibus obtinuit. Licet tunc militem fieri distulit, dicens melius se virtutem et animum suum probare debere. Qua de re provinciales eum in laudibus præferebant, et mulieres ac puellæ de eo in choris canebant, quod gravius inimicis erat, et quod crescebat quotidie, ut corporis et ætatis gratia, ita in magnanimitatum virtutibus et fortitudinum, nullum parem sibi in captione et venatione nec in lusibus vulgaribus et liberalibus relinquens. Propterea tempus opportunum et locum illum perimendi inquirebant : et quodam die quum dominus illorum forte abesset in silvis ad venationem, milites memoratæ domus obrutum jaculo eum tentabant dare a quodam suo familiarissimo, quem ante nudiustertius hostibus præventum a morte liberaverat. Hoc autem Herwardo per servum suum pæne tarde comperto, in ictu jaculi lancea invasorem suum transfodit. His ergo dominæ suæ patefactis, et tantas denique insidias declinans, discessit. At illa lacrimans et multum deprecans ut saltem suum expectaret dominum, aut filii sui languentis exitum, si non evaderet, ipse adoptatus filius hæres illorum fieret : quod impetrare non potuit.
The Exploits of Hereward the Saxon.
How Hereward slew a great bear, from which he earned a position amongst the Knights where he was staying.
When Gisebritus of Gant heard of this, namely his banishment, he sent for him, for Hereward was the godson of that rich man2, and he set out beyond Northumberland and came to him, abandoning his own province and paternal inheritance, with a single servant, Martin, whose surname was Lightfoot ; and after he had been there not many days an occurrence worthy of praise took place. For that rich man had a custom for Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas, to test the strength and courage of the young men who were waiting for the belt and arms of knighthood, by leading savage beasts from cages. And Hereward, having associated with these young men, at the commencement of his visit, namely at Christmas3, asked that he might be allowed to attack one of the wild beasts, or at least that very large bear which was there, which men said was the offspring of a famous Norwegian bear, and fashioned, as to his feet and head, in shapes of perfect monstrosity, having the sense of a man, and understanding the speech of man, and skilled in war : whose sire is reported to have ravished a girl in the woods and to have become by her father of Biernus4, King of Norway ; but Hereward could not get permission, the lord perceiving the bravery of the young man, but fearing for his youthfulness. But on he next day the beast burst asunder its chains and rushed forth form the bars of its cage, rending and slaying every living thing it could reach. But soon, when the lord heard of the circumstance, he ordered the soldiers to get ready and attack it with lances, adding that it could not possibly be taken alive. Meanwhile, Hereward came across the blood-stained beast as he was returning to the lord’s chamber, because of the shouts of the alarmed people, whither his wife and daughters and the women had in fright fled, and the beast immediately wanted to rush upon him. But Hereward anticipated it, driving his sword through its head down to the shoulder-blades, and leaving the blade there he took up the beast in his arms and held it out to those that followed. At which sight they were much amazed. And truly he earned no little favour with his lord and lady, as well as grievous hate and envy with the knights and boys of the house. Therefore by reason of this deed he obtained position and honour with the knights, although at the time he delayed being made a knight, saying that he ought to make better trial of his valour and courage. And so the country-folk extolled him, and the women and girls used to sing of him in their dances, which was a greater grievance to his enemies ; and because he daily increased, as in grace of body and age, so also in the virtues of courage and hardihood, leaving none to equal him in the chase and hunting, nor in games either of the common people or gentlefolks. And so they sought for a fitting time and place of killing him ; and when on a certain day their lord was by chance absent hunting in the woods, the knights of the aforesaid household attempted to slay him with a javelin hurled by one who was very intimate with him, and whom, three days before, he had delivered from death when he was caught by some enemies. Having learnt this plot only just in time through his servant, Hereward pierced with his lance the man who attacked him in the very act of throwing the javelin. Having disclosed this to his lady, and desiring to avoid such snares, he went away. But she in tears, and with many entreaties that he would at least wait for the lord, or for the death of their sick son, declared that if he would not go away he should become their adopted heir: but he would not grant her request.
3. ↑ The
date can be estimated from the information given here as December 1056 or at
the earliest, 1055. Leofric died in September 1057 and Hereward had travelled
to Gilbert’s house and to
4. ↑ This is Bjørn. The connection with bears is made clear by the Norwegian Wikipedia page about the bear family of mammals. However, it is not easy to find mention of a Norwegian king by this name, even on this list. But Bjørn Stallare is mentioned there, in the paragraph about Olav 2. Haraldsson den hellige (St. Olaf). Bjørn died at the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030. His title of Staller is found in England in this period, cf. Ralph the Staller or Constable, who is listed as Radulf Stalre in the Domesday book (for example Morris 12,21). The title originates from the job description of bodyguard, apparently the capacity in which Bjørn worked for the winner of the battle, King, later Saint Olav. In earlier Norwegian history and during some periods later, there were numerous men who might have been called ‘king’ on their own patches.
There was a Beorn Estrithson who
was a son of Ulf and Estrith, Cnut’s sister, also nephew of Godwin’s wife,
Gytha. He was made a minor earl in eastern
There is a danger that the account of Bjørn’s parentage may be taken as fantastic invention on the part of the writer of the Gesta and used to cast ridicule on the text as a whole. However, the text clearly includes the word ‘fertur’ — ‘it is reported’, thereby acknowledging this little aside as fabulous.
This will be December 1055 or 56.
Gilbert of Ghent is a well-known name from the post-Conquest period but it is
difficult to track one down in
Part of map 9 from Gardiner’s Historical Atlas.
This dates from nearly a decade after Hereward was ‘Ultra Northumberland’.
‘Northumberland’ is a concept
which arose early in the period of Anglian settlement in
Its latinized name, Northumbria comes down to
us through Bede’s work and
Marsden calls it ‘Northanhymbre’ so distinguishing between it, the comparatively
small county and the intermediately-sized, modern region called Northumbria
(the counties of Northumberland, Tyne & Wear and Durham). At its largest, it
extended inland from the North Sea coast, between the Humber and the
Hereward will have arrived beyond
Northumberland at the time in 1055-6 when Tostig Godwinson was
quite newly installed as earl of
We may therefore assume that,
although Gilbert is named as coming from
It is intriguing to study the map
of the distribution of the surname, ‘Gant’ in
In view of the captive bear in the story and its association
with a notable man called Bjørn (footnote
4), the seeming
coincidence that the arms of Berwickshire showed a bear chained to a tree may be
one of the many hints that the story is not entirely invented; if only to the
extent that the writer knew something about Berwick. The formal granting of
this coat of arms was made to Berwickshire in 1890 but it arose from a longer
tradition. The arms of the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed
included the same device before 1482, when the town was in
A Speculative Digression
In view of what has
come out of this chapter, there arises a possibility which is too intriguing
not to be mentioned. If Berwick-upon-Tweed was, in the eyes of its Scandinavian
settlers, founded by Bjørn, on the inlet where the Tweed entered the