Bourne Archive: FNQ: Hereward XXI
http:// boar.org.uk/ariwxo3FNQsupXXI.htm Latest edit 25 Apr 2010.
Web page & commentary© 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.
Quomodo rex aggressus est expugnare insulam, ubi pene totum suum exercitum perdidit, quum nullus præter unum militem fortem in eam ingressus sit.
Postquam ergo rex1 ista cognovit, nimium est præ ira commotus, et, gravi indignatione extimulatus, vehementius aggressus est expugnare insulam, verum omnem suum ad Alrehede2 amovit exercitum, [ubi] minus aquis et palude præcingitur : tantum latitudo ibi quatuor stadiorum extenditur3. Ubi adductis instrumentis et structuris4 lignorum et lapidum et ex omni genere struis, aggregationem in palude, viam licet nimis sibi perinutilem et angustam, straverunt, ad magnum quippe flumen5 apud prædictum locum, silicet Alrehede, etiam in aqua maximas arbores et trabes conjunctas collocaverunt, subterius connexis pellibus bidentium integre et versipelles6 excoriatis et aere plene infusis, ut onus supereuntium melius sustentaretur et pondus. Quo facto, tanta multitudo irruens super congressa est, inter alia auro et argento sitabundi quod in insula non parum putabatur absconsum, quatenus illi qui ante festinantes processerant cum ipsa via quam fecerant demersi sunt, et qui in medio comitatu erant in palude aquosa et profunda etiam absorpti sunt. Pauci quidem et ex his qui retro sequuti sunt, pene egressis et projectis armis, ex unda volutantes per lutum7 evaserunt. Sic ergo, nemine vix persequente illos, in palude et aquis innumerabiles perierunt, ex quibus isti usque in hodiernum diem multi adhuc de profundis illarum aquarum in armis putrefactis abstrahuntur. Quod nonnunquam ipsi vidimus8. Et ex illis omnibus de quibus supra mentionem fecimus, nec unus quidem in insulam ingressus est præter unum insignem militem fortuiter, Deda9 nomine, qui ante omnes processit, nec aliquis ex insulanis saltem plaga percussus est. Fecerant enim eis quidam et acervationem cespitum super ripam prædicti fluminis ante muralia et propugnacula, nec non a dextris et a sinistris ponentes insidias. Prædictus quoque rex hæc omnia etiam eminus considerans, vidit videlicet ubinam sui ante cum in palude et aqua absorpti sunt, unde ex alte cordis dolore ingemiscens cum suis paucissimis qui adhuc supererant ad numerum tantorum qui demersi sunt discessit, omni spe deposita ulterius debellare insulam. Tamen custodiam ibi et in circuitu milites constituit, ne liberos exitus ad devastandam provinciam haberent.
How the King attempted to take the Isle, where he nearly lost his entire army ; while no man, except one brave knight, entered it.
And so after the King1 heard of these things, he was excessively angry, and impelled by great indignation, urgently attempted to take the Isle ; but he moved all his army to Alrehede2, where it was not so wholly surrounded by waters and swamp : the breadth of the position extended only four furlongs3. After bringing instruments and engines4 of logs and stones, and piles of all sorts, they constructed a causeway in the swamp, though it was comparatively useless and narrow, near to a great river5 by the aforesaid place, namely Alrehede : they also put into the water very large trees and beams bound together, and beneath them sheep-skins tied together, turned6 after flaying and inflated with air, so that the weight of men going over it might be better borne. When this was done, so great a multitude rushed and came together on it, eager, among other things, for the gold and silver which was thought to be hidden in plenty in the Isle, with the result that those men who in their hurry had taken the lead were drowned together with the road itself that they had made ; and those who were in the middle of the company also were swallowed up in the watery and deep swamp. A few indeed of those who followed last with the loss of their arms, escaped with difficulty, tumbling out of the water through the sand7. And so, though hardly a man pursued them, they perished in great numbers in the waters and in the swamp ; and of them many, up to this very day, are drawn out from the depths of those waters, in rotten armour. And this we have sometimes ourselves seen8. And of all those of whom we have above made mention, not one got into the Isle, except by chance a single eminent knight, Dada9 by name, who went in the very front ; but no man of the Isle was caught in the snare, for some men had made a heap of sods on the bank of the river in front of the bulwarks and ramparts, laying ambushes on the right and on the left. And the King observing all these things from a distance, saw how his men in front were swallowed up in the swamp and in the water ; and groaning from deep heartfelt sorrow with those of his men who still survived, very few compared with the number of those that were drowned, departed, laying aside all hope of making any further attack on the Isle. But still he put a guard on there, and soldiers round about, lest they should have free access to lay waste the district.
2. Aldreth: the village is on the southern extremity of the Isle of Ely at grid reference TL4473, in the south-west of the Isle. William was presumably on the mainland facing it, in the vicinity of Belsar’s Hill and Hempstals Fen. TL4270 to TL4471 (OS Landranger 154)
3. As translated, this is 805 metres or half a mile. A stadium was a race-course but also a distance of about 600 feet which is about 183 metres. The army was therefore on a front of about 730 m. (Langenscheidt)
4. ↑ Here, the word is used in an old way – devices produced by ingenuity, though when discussing medieval warfare, ‘siege engines’ is the term used for the equipment today. Strictly, the Latin translates as ‘Having brought there tools, structures of timber and of stones, and heaps of every kind, they laid down a causeway in the fen ...’ Thus, the structures of timber may have been brought in ready-assembled so that Sweeting’s view of them as (siege) engines would be reasonable. However, this is not likely in the case of the stones. Either the stone and the timber structures were separate or they were composite and largely, assembled on the site.
5. The River Great Ouse, which at that time passed to the south, east and north of the Isle; from Earith to Wisbech.
6. Versipelles would make better sense without the final s.
8. This reads as though Hugh Candidus is not translating Leofric the Deacon’s damaged English text but summarizing what he sees as sufficiently common knowledge in his own time, as not to need further explanation. This would mean that people reporting a hundred years after the event had seen these remains in their lifetimes. It is quite reasonable to think that skeletons and armour, preserved in the peat would be recognizable.
9. Here, Miller’s Latin calls him Deda but he is Dada in both Latin and English, in Chapter XXII.