BoAr: FNQ: Hereward V         Latest edit 19  Jul 2009.   

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De Gestis Herwardi Saxonis.


De bello quod in Hibernia factum est, et quomodo Herwardus ducem adversarii exercitus cum solalibus [sodalibus] septem in medio suorum interfecit.

Igitur Herwardus a filio regis Hiberniæ et a rege, his cognitis, honorifice susceptus est, et eum secum aliquantis diebus, licet invitum, commanere fecerunt, quoniam ad paternam domum legatione præcepta functa, et ad matrem viduam repedare voluit, duobus præclarissimis viris, Siwardo albo et Siwardo rufo1, ipsius patrui filiis jamdudum inventis, patrem obiisse nunciantes et suam matrem in hæreditate sibi2 tradita solam esse. Ubi non multo ipse demoratus, mox imminere proximum bellum contra ducem3 de Munestre regi nunciatur. Accepto siquidem die omnes vicinius regi adhærentes Herwardum cum suis consortem in prælio et adjutorem fieri exorbant et deprecabantur, quoniam multa insignia fortitudinum de eo audierant, et nunc quia in modico tempore ipsi etiam plurima prædicanda de eo compererant. Igitur Herwardus illorum deprecationibus et verbis obtemperans cum majoribus ad bellum et in bello statuta die cuncta strenuissime perordinavit et disposuit, aciesque instruxit et conduxit4, constitutis interim septem sodalibus inter dubiabelli ducem adversarii exercitus in medio suorum aggredi debere, si manus eorum aliquantum deficeret. Quod et fecerunt in mediis hostium cuneis interficientes a dextris et a sinistris, ad ducis tentorium usque pervenientes, illum in foris cum duobus suis senibus concubantem repererunt5. Cui cito Herwardus adventus causam dixit, domino suo statim ut cedat et honorem conferat, alioquin scitote sciret, eos in eum irruituros. Nec acquievit, suos viriliter agere sciens, propria manu interdum defendens sese occisis duobus senibus suis paulumper protexit, clamans a suis hostibus præventum adjuvari. Tunc illum solitarie Herwardus aggrediens stravit, aliis introitus tabernaculi custodientibus. Qui repente per cohortem reversi, accepto ense ducis pro signo et lituo, circumdederant enim eos graviter, et unum e suis regis videlicet nepotem prostraverant, ipsis in reversione pene subactis, duobus adhuc admissis sociis et ambobus nepotibus Herwardi graviter vulneratis, tandem ad socios reversi lituum ducis personant, unde nimis territi terga verterunt. Hinc inde nomen Herwardi in omni regno valde laudabile erat, et fama illius in circuitu vicinarum gentium quotidie crescebat. Qua de re namque multi robustissimi ac filii potentum comperto de eo, ad illum confluebant, cum eo armis et liberalitatibus instruendi. Verum ipse porro cum filio regis recollecta militari manu, omnem locum et terram regi adversariam atque in circuitu inimicos ejus in uno anni spatio sibi subjugavit ; cujus medietatem nec ulla ipsius antecessorum virtus aggredi quievit.

The Exploits of Hereward the Saxon.


Of the war which took place in Ireland, and how Hereward slew the leader of the opposite army with seven comrades in the midst of his men.

Therefore Hereward, when these things were known, was honourably received by the son of the king of Ireland ; and they made him remain with them for several days ; although he was unwilling, because he wished, after delivering his message to return to his father’s house and to his widowed mother ; for he had found two very distinguished men, Siward the White and Siward the Red1, sons of his own uncle, who told him that his father was dead and that his mother was by herself in the inheritance consigned to him2. When he had been there no long time it was announced to the king that a war against the Duke3 of Munster was imminent. And so on an appointed day all the adherents of the king in the neighbourhood begged and entreated Hereward with his men to take part in the battle and to help them, since they had heard many instances of his bravery, and how even in the short time he had been with them they themselves had found out vary many things worth relating of him. And therefore Hereward complying with their entreaties, with his elders most actively arranged and disposed all things for the war, and in the very day of battle ; and he drew up the lines and led them4, seven of his comrades meanwhile being assigned the duty of attacking the leader of the opposing army in the midst of his men, if the battle were doubtful, and if their forces were at all giving way. And this they did : in the midst of the wedges of the enemy, killing to right and left, they made their way up to the leader’s tent, and found him lying down at the entrance with two old men5. To him Hereward quickly explained the cause of his coming, that he must at once yield and give honour to his lord, or else he must know that he would fall upon him. But he did not consent, knowing that his men were acting bravely ; and defending himself with his own hand, he protected himself for a short time, after the two old men had been killed, shouting for help as he was surrounded by enemies. Then Hereward attacked and slew him by himself, while others guarded the entrance of the tent. These suddenly returned through the cohort, having the leader’s sword for a signal and a trumpet, for they had closely surrounded them and had laid low one of their men, namely the king’s grandson, in their retreat being almost overwhelmed, having as yet lost two comrades and both of Hereward’s nephews being grievously wounded, at length reaching their allies they blow the leader’s trumpet, upon which in great alarm the enemy retreat. From this the name of Hereward in all the kingdom was highly praised, and his fame round the neighbouring tribes increased daily. Wherefore many very mighty men, and sons of powerful men, at the news hastened to him to be instructed in arms and courtesy. But he himself next with the king’s son, having gathered together a band of soldiers, subdued the whole place and land that was opposed to the king, and his enemies in the neighbourhood in the space of one year : nor could the valour of any of his ancestors reach half way to his.


Leofric, Hereward’s father died in September 1057 (ASC) (The Chronicle for 1057 includes: ‘The same year died Earl Leofric, on the second before the calends of October; who was very wise before God, and also before the world; and who benefited all this nation. He lies at Coventry: and his son Elgar took to his territory.’) (With thanks to the Gutenberg Project). So, these events are dated shortly after that. Time must be allowed for the news to travel but Leofric was Earl of Mercia, an important figure in England and its environs. The informants need not have sought Hereward specifically; the event was of interest to all. If the two Siwards were looking for him, which seems a possibility, since they were relatives, they must have been well informed if they arrived in Ireland before Hereward. Chapter IV says that he left Cornwall secretly on an errand. Their presence may simply indicate the extent and facility of communications.

As a matter of context: in 1054, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches had separated. On October 24 1055 an alliance of Gruffyd, Prince of Wales and Hereward’ half-brother, Ælfgar sacked Hereford in opposition to Harold Godwinson. In 1057, William, Duke of Normandy asserted Norman power by defeating a Franco-Angevin expedition on the River Dives in Normandy. On 15 August 1057, Macbeth died in the Battle of Lumphanan. Iceland’s first bishopric was set up. The Seljuk Turks were beginning their attacks on The Byzantine Empire and in Byzantium, Michael VI, the last of the Macedonian emperors, was ousted by Isaac I, the first of the Comnenians (Komnenoi). The previous October, the six-year-old Henry IV of the Holy Roman Empire had come to the throne beginning a period of instability under the necessary regency.  See Palmer and French Wikipedia (1056 and 1057). Change and political instability were present all across Europe and beyond.

There were several kings in Ireland. It is likely though not certain, that the present one was of Norwegian extraction, though by this time, he will have been influenced by the Irish culture. See a summary of the period. The date would mean that he was Mirchad mac Diarmata mac Mael na mBo 1052-70. Therefore, despite this Irish form of his name, he will have arisen from a culture well understood by Hereward, who had been brought up in the ambience of Danish Mercia, of a father installed in his earldom as a result of his association with Canute (Knut), who was the Danish King of England, Denmark and Norway at the time when Leofric took charge of Mercia. Hereward was born in about 1038-9, some two or three years after Canute’s death.

1.     These two, as sons of Hereward’s uncle were of his generation but perhaps significantly older, if they were on his father’s side of the family. Leofric had two known brothers, Northman (died 1017) and Edwin (died 1039). The Siwards may of course, have come from his mother’s side: whether she had a brother is not recorded.

2.     In Chapter XIV, ‘his father’s lodging’ (ad sui patris mansionem) is placed at Bourne. The phrase ‘to his father’s house’ (ad paternam domum) is used here. That difference may carry significance, implying that Bourne was a local caput while Edith was at the central caput in somewhere like Coventry. We are told that Leofric, the writer was associated with Bourne so this commentary assumes that lodging and house were the same and in Bourne. The principles of the argument apply anywhere in England.

Sweeting has translated sibi as ‘to him’ (Hereward) but it could equally well mean ‘to her’ (Adeva) except in as far as inheritance implies membership of a succeeding generation. In other words, it seems the property may have been set aside for Adeva, Leofric’s widow (more danico). He was exiled so that in England, he was an outlaw and if she was in Bourne, she was in England. The law would have no interest in supporting any claim to property which Hereward may have had. Though, it is just possible that she might be holding it pending Hereward’s legal ability to take it in his name, it looks as though Sweeting’s view of the meaning would only complicate an otherwise simple fact.

It is here made quite clear that Adeva was Hereward’s mother and by implication, Leofric’s widow. If this is accurate, we might expect his mother to have been the lady known today as Godiva. However, Adeva’s marriage to Leofric will have been according to more danico: see the discussion under Chapter II. Here we have an indication that his family had set Bourne aside for her. She may have needed Hereward’s support, despite his outlawry, because Edwin and Morcar, Hereward’s nephews by his half brother, Ælfgar may have been more concerned about their mother and Godiva, their grandmother. The Domesday Book tells us that, on the death of King Edward, the major holding in Bourne was in the ownership of Morcar (MorrisJ 42,1) but this does not contradict the sentiment of the text’s statement, merely the legal arrangements; the writer was a priest, not a lawyer. Whatever the views of his family in 1057, Hereward could not formally own Bourne because he was an outlaw. If it was legally in the hands of Morcar, a family understanding could set it aside for Hereward as a place in which to accommodate his mother, Adeva and from which she could obtain a livelihood. Possibly they were hoping to apply to king Edward to have Hereward’s exile ended but the process moved too slowly and was overtaken by events. In the first instance, after Leofric’s death in 1057, Bourne was probably put into the name of Ælfgar, Morcar’s father and Hereward’s half brother.

In Chapter II, we are told that Adiva was the great-great-granddaughter of ‘Duke’ Oslac. Venables reports that according to the pseudo Ingulph, Oslac was lord of Bourne in 960. If we calculate a generation length of eighteen years and take Adiva’s birth as being in 1020, Oslac’s child would have been born in 966. It therefore seems possible that Leofric’s connection with Bourne arose from his connection with Adeva’s family; so it would be appropriate that it should have been seen as hers. Though the pseudo Ingulph may contain some errors and needs therefore to be treated with some caution, it may also contain many truths. Oslac seems to be an Anglicization of the Scandinavian Aslakar, a name represented in later and in modern Lincolnshire in Aslacoe and Aslackby respectively.

3.     Sweeting’s translation calls the leader of Munster ‘Duke’ but the Latin text says ‘contra ducem de Munestre’: ‘against the leader of Munster’. He will have been Donnchad mac Briain.

4.     Hereward is acting here as he will in the later Flemish campaigns against elements of the Holy Roman Empire and in the campaign around Ely. He is not the nominal leader but ‘master of soldiers’ that is, war leader, dux bellorum or executive officer. On a smaller scale, relative to the Irish king, he is playing the role of Marlborough in relation to the English (subsequently British) head of state, Queen Anne. When the king had decided to adopt the strategy of going to war, Hereward saw to the tactics of how the war was conducted.

5.     Clearly, since he was lying about his tent during the battle, like Hereward’s ‘King of Ireland’ the ‘Leader of Munster’ was employing a ‘master of soldiers’ as Hereward’s counterpart. This chapter’s description of the way in which an eleventh century war was organized gives a very useful insight into understanding what was to be happening later, around Ely.

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