Bourne Archive: Hereward XX

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De Gestis Herwardi Saxonis.

XX.

Quomodo illi qui in insula Eliensi fuerunt, pro Herwardo miserunt, ubi in via insidias comites de Warenne percepit.

At vero illi qui in Eliensi insula1 erant, et qui jam illam contra regem Willelmum2, qui Angliam bello obtinuerat, tenere inceperant, tanti viri videlicet Herwardi reversionem audientes, pro eo statim miserunt, atque ei etiam per nuncios mandata exponunt, ut ad eos simul cum omnibus suis veniat, una cum eis in defensionem patriæ et paternæ libertatis3 consors effecturus, et inter illos sicut tantus miles omnibus modis honore habendus. Et hi enim nominatim ex parte abbatis Eliensis ecclesiæ Turstani et monachorum ei magis proponunt et mandant, quorum dominio insula quidem erat, et a quibus et per quos magis contra regem munietabur, quia ipse rex quendam externum monachum super eos constituere voluerat, ex eis pro quibus jamdudum miserat de gente Franchorum monachis, ut in omnibus ecclesiis Anglorum decanos constitueret et præpositos.

Ast quidem insignis miles et maritima cognoscens eorum Brumannus nomine, hoc prænoscens, in mari illos obvios habuit, et omnes in pelago mersos per saccum maximum quem ad caput navis digaverat transire fecit, sic monasteria Anglorum et cognatos ab externa dominatione tunc liberans. Qua legatione percepta gravisus est4, et suum iter illuc tandem præparatum Herwardus direxit, apud Bardeneiam5 navim ingressus. Quod audiens comes de Warenne6, cujus fratrem jamdudum ipse Herwardus occiderat7, in occursum ejus multas  insidias per occultas latebras juxta paludem insulæ exitus præparante, et circa aquas prope terram custodiam posuit caute, et absque suorum gravi cæde eum capere sperans. Tandem ista tamen Herwardo non latuerunt, offensis quibusdam ex custodibus super quosdam ex suis extentas manus habentes et telis eos etiam persequentes. Quibus adjutis, et illis invasoribus captis, ab eis didicit a comite de Warenne has insidias factas, et ipsum in crastino apud Herbeche8 esse venturum. Quo accelerans naves suas Herwardus, et suos ibi collocavit, et prope ripam fluminis armatos abscondit, et ipse cum tribus militibus et quatuor sagittariis bene armis munitis ad alvei flumen accessit, ubi etiam comes cum suis ex parte altera juxta ripam et tunc super venerat. Quibus visis quidam propius ad illos mittunt, qui ita ad illos exoritur : Nunquid et vos ex collega illius sceleratissimi Herwardi estis, qui tantos dolo oppressit, et tam multos secum ad nefanda opera contraxit? Proditus nunc domino nostro comiti utinam malignus ille sit, condignos vos cum eo mercede et honore habituro, si adquiescitis. Quæ non infesta vis inimici nos ulterius ad hoc sollicitet in invisa ista palude ultra habitare et per luteam paludem atque inter aquarum gurgites et arundinum asperitates sequi inermem, in proximo una die cum eo omnes morti tradendos. Jam enim rex totam insulam exercitu suo undique circumdedit, et terram de eo exterius co-operuit ut omnes habitatores illius perdat. His dictis, quidam ex eis adjecit : Quousque, nequissime, quanto nobis proditionem domini et dominum derelinquere instruis ? cito revertens amove pedem, ne sævis  jaculis occumbas, et domino tuo ipsum esse citra aquam interrogat refer. Comes quidem his cognitis statim adfuit, et, viso illo, suis exhortatus est ut ad eum omnes cum illo natatu aquam transcenderet, in illo fratris sanguinem vindicaturus et mortem. Id vero nequaquam posse fieri intulerunt, dicentes eum ad hoc venisse ut eos isto modo deciperet, unde ingemiscens erga illos aquam ultra positos affatur : Unitam iste vir Belial9, magister vester, meæ manui nunc subjaceret, vere ex ea pœnas gustaret et mortem. Quæ verba Herwardus intelligens, intulit : Et si soli in aliquo loco nos optanda fortuna coiret, vere non me tuis invalidis manibus subjacere peroptares, nec societatem approbares ; et modicum Herwardus inclinans se, tetendit  arcum sagittamque emisit injecto pectore ipsius comitis fortiter. Ast lorica protegente resiluit, tamen ex animis pene factus ex ictu.

Quo facto, sui erga suum dominum valde solliciti quod ex ictu de proprio inclinaverat equo, cum in ulnis velociter asportarunt. At Herwardus interdum discessit, et in Eliensi insula eadem die cum suis secessit, ubi nunc maxima cum veneratione ab abbate ejusdem loci et a monachis suscipitur, et a majoribus ejusdem insulæ veneratur, silicet a quodam comite de Leycestre Adwino10, et a fratre ipsius Morkere comes de Warwic11, et ab alio comite Tosti12 nomine, qui ad eos in insula confugerant, a prædicto rege multis injuriis passi, a plurimis exactionibus angariati, cum nonnullis insignioribus patriæ ipsius, quos eadem causa illuc conduxerat et fuga.


The Exploits of Hereward the Saxon.

XX.

How the men in the Isle of Ely sent for Hereward ; and how on the road he found out an ambush of the Earl of Warenne.

But the men in the Isle of Ely1, who had begun to hold it against King William2, who had won England in war, hearing of the return of such a man as Hereward, sent for him, and by their messengers desire him to come to them with all his men, and take part with them in defence of their country and the liberty3 of their fathers, assuring him that he would in every way be most highly esteemed among them. And these messages they deliver more especially in the name and on behalf of Thurstan, Abbot of the Church of Ely, and his monks, whose dominion was the Isle, and by whom it was put in defence against the King, more particularly because he had designed to set a certain foreign monk over them ; one of those monks for whom he had already sent from the French nation, to set as deans and heads in all the churches of the English.

But a famous soldier, Brumannus by name, well acquainted with the coast, having knowledge of this, met them by sea, dipped them all in the sea in a large sack that he had attached to the prow of his vessel, and sent them back ; thus, for the time, delivering the monasteries of the English and their friends from foreign rule. On receiving the message Hereward was delighted4, and at once set out on the journey, embarking at Bardney5. Hearing this, the Earl of Warenne6, whose brother Hereward had lately slain7, prepared several ambushes by his road in secret places near the marsh, and with caution put a guard round the waters by the side of the land, hoping to take Hereward without serious loss of his own men. But these designs were not hid from Hereward, some of the guards having fallen in with some stragglers of Hereward’s force, and attacked them. Sending to their assistance and capturing the attacking party, Hereward ascertained from them that the ambush was formed by the Earl of Warenne, and that he himself was coming to Herbeche8 the next day. Whereupon Hereward made haste, and stationed his ships and men at the spot, and hid some armed men near the river bank ; and he himself with three knights and four archers all well armed went close to the bank of the river, where the Earl with his men had just arrived on the other side. On seeing them one of the Earl’s men drew near and spoke thus : “Are you of the company of that scoundrel Hereward, who by his cunning ruined such numbers, and has drawn so many to himself to help his nefarious deeds? I wish the rascal could be betrayed to our lord the Earl : if you will connive at this he will deem you worthy of reward and honour. For this force of the enemy, though not dangerous, may drive us to this, to dwell in a dismal swamp, and to pursue one without arms through a muddy marsh, and among the eddies of the waters and the sharp reeds, every one of them destined to death together with the leader at an early date. For now the King has entirely surrounded the whole Isle with his army, and has closed in the whole land, that he may destroy all its inhabitants.” At these words one of Hereward’s men replied : “How much longer, you wretch, will you try to persuade us to betray and desert our master? Make haste and withdraw, lest you fall beneath our fierce javelins ; and tell your lord that the man for whom he is asking is on this side of the water.” At this intelligence the Earl immediately presented himself, and at sight of Hereward urged all his men to swim across the water with him, to avenge the death of his brother. But they declared that this could not possibly be done, declaring that he had come there for the very purpose of beguiling them in that manner ; whereupon with a groan he addressed the men across the water : “Oh! that that man of Belial9, your master, were here now in my hands ; he should of a truth taste his due punishment, death.” Hearing these words Hereward replied : “Yes ; and if by good fortune we two were by ourselves in any place, you would not obtain your wish that I should be in your weak hands, nor would you have reason to be glad of our meeting.” And Hereward, leaning a little forward, stretched his bow and discharged an arrow with great strength upon the breast of the Earl. And though it glided off the corslet that protected him, yet he was almost killed by the blow.

Upon this his men, very anxious for their lord because he had fallen from his horse at the blow, quickly carried him away in their arms. And Hereward went away, and the same day arrived with his men in the Isle of Ely, where he was received with the greatest respect by the Abbot of the place and the monks ; and much honoured by the principal men of the Isle, namely, by Adwin Earl of Leicester10, and his brother Morkere, Earl of Warwick11, and another Earl, Tosti12 by name, who had all fled to the men in the Isle, having suffered many wrongs at the hands of the aforesaid King, being worried with many grievous exactions, with some eminent men of the country, whom the like reason had drawn to the place.


Commentary.

1.     From 970, the Isle of Ely was a liberty governed by the Abbot of Ely but that included large areas which were in Hereward’s time, the fen surrounding the geographical island on which the town and its abbey were built. In 1070, the abbey had not yet become also, the cathedral, the diocese of which was established in 1109

2.      William I of England (William the Conqueror).

3.       The use of this word looks modern but it means here an area of country under local government which was in specified ways independent of the king. In this instance, the abbot had broad civil powers. For example, until 1837, the abbot and latterly, the bishop ran the police force, court and jail.

4.     Gravisus would make better sense as gavisus (perfect participle active of gaudeo I rejoice).

5.       Bardney was the site of another abbey in the fens, this time on the River Witham in Lincolnshire (grid reference TF1170). Since the early eleventh century, the course of the Witham had been such as to lead him via Boston and The Haven, to the southern shore of the Wash.

6.      William, Earl Warenne. Later, under William II, he was made Earl of Surrey. See the section, Estates and their management in article William Warenne, First Earl of Surrey (DNB 2007).

7.       The ‘brother’ was Frederick, William’s brother-in-law. For his place in the story see Chapter XVII.

8.     While certainty is not possible, Holbeach (TF3625) would be in a likely position for a landfall for someone sailing from Bardney towards Ely. Also, his brother Ælfgar had held 14 carucates of land there, a holding, likely to have left a significant number of people feeling beholden to his family (MorrisJ31 12,83-84). Indeed, it is not impossible that it had belonged to Hereward before his family took it over when he was exiled. It is still at some distance from Ely but trying incautiously, to approach Ely too closely by river might be asking for trouble. The ‘bech’ element in its name implies a tidal river through the silt bank known as the Townland but to go from Holbeach to Ely in a day in the face of hostile patrols and potential ambush would be very rapid progress.

Perhaps the place of the meeting between the two leaders was already some way on from Holbeach. It is not obvious that there should have been a fresh water connection across Fleet, Gedney and Sutton fens to Lady Nunn’s Old Eau, for a route to Ely but it is certainly not impossible. The text does not rule out the possibility of his having coasted round to Wisbech and then to have met Earl Warenne on the Well Stream, though this is not a natural interpretation of what it does say.

 Holbeach appears in the Domesday Book as Holebech, Holoben, Holobec and Holobech. In abbreviated Latin (com Algar), it calls Hereward’s half-brother Ælfgar, Earl of Mercia, ‘Earl Algar’.

9.      This is a Biblical word deriving from Hebrew meaning worthless but it developed into being a name for a personification of evil – Satan. (OED)

10.   This will be Edwin, Earl of Mercia, Ælfgar’s son. The question of the earldom of Warwick has been met already, in Chapter XVIII. This looks like another instance of an earldom’s having developed within Mercia before The Conquest. Perhaps they were courtesy titles held by sons of the former Earl of Mercia; perhaps they were used anachronistically by the later writers.

11.     This is the younger brother of Edwin. By this time he was Earl of Northumbria by election.

12.     The well-known Earl Tosti(g) had been deposed from the earldom of Northumberland, in favour of Morkere. They would not have been likely to trust each other but that Tostig had been killed in 1066. I have not been able to trace another Earl Tostig. Dropping the final g of a Danish name would be natural for an English writer as to his ear, it would be silent.


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