Bourne Archive: FNQ: Hereward XXIX
http:// boar.org.uk/ariwxo3FNQsupXXIX.htm Latest edit 25 Apr 2010.
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De Gestis Herwardi Saxonis.
In sequenti siquidem nocte in somnis Herwardus vidit assistere sibi inestimabilis formæ virum, ætate senem, vultu terribilem, a toto amictu corporis specialiorem cunctis rebus quas viderat aut in mente conceperat, comminantem sibi eum 1 magno clave quem in manu gestabat et terribili præcepto, ut omnes res ecclesiæ suæ quas præterita nocte acceperat confestim ex integro restitutas repartiri faceret, si saluti suæ providere optaret, et in proximo miserabilem mortem evadere 2. Verum expergefactus divino terrore corripitur omnia quæ abstulerat eadem hora reportavit, et sic cum suis omnibus ultra progrediens discessit 3. In qua via repente rectam callem perdiderunt errantes. Quibus deviantibus quoddam mirabile eis contigit et miraculum, si sane dici poterit talia viris sanguinem evenire posse. Dum enim intempesta nocte 4 et caligine per devia silvarum hinc inde ubi se verterent nescirent, immanis lupus ante eos affuit, sicut canis domesticus congratulans eis, et in via secedens proprius ante eos ibat. Quem tamen in caligine tenebrarum canem album propter canitiem æstimantes, alternatim sibi invicem exhortati sunt ut canem sequerentur proprius de villa illum asserentes. Quod et fecerunt, et in medio noctis silentio dum se prosperatos ex tramite intelligerent, et suam viam agnoscerent, subito candelæ ardentes et adhærentes lanceis omnium militum apparuerunt 5, quæ tamen non valde lucidæ sed velut illæ quæ vulgus appellant candelæ nympharum. Nec enim aliquis eorum evellere aut extinguere omnino eas potuit vel de manu projicere. Unde valde sibi invicem admirantes, et, licet obstupescerent, suam viam cernentes semper duce lupo perrexerunt. Lucescente siquidem die, omnes, quod eis mirabile fuit, ductorem suum lupum esse tandem comperere. Et dum inter se de his quæ contigerant sibi hæsitarent, lupus non comparuit et candelæ evanuerunt, atque ipsi ubi ire disposuerant ultra Stanford pervenerunt, et suum iter prosperatum intelligentes, gratias egerunt deo, admirantes de his quæ sibi evenere.
The Exploits of Hereward the Saxon.
Of a vision and a marvellous occurrence seen by Hereward.
In the following
night in his sleep Hereward saw standing by him a man of indescribable form,
old, terrible of aspect, in all his clothing more remarkable than anything he
had seen or imagined, threatening him with a great key which he carried in his
hand, and with a terrible injunction that he should cause to be restored in
their entirety all those belongings of his church which he had taken on the
past night, if he wished to provide for his own safety and to escape a
miserable death on the next day 2. On waking he was seized with holy terror,
and the same hour took back everything he had taken away, and so with all his
men took his departure 3. And on their
journey they went astray, and lost the right road. And a marvellous thing
happened to them as they were thus straying, a miracle, if in truth it can be
said that such things can happen to men. For while in the stormy night 4 and darkness wandering hither and thither through
the woods they knew not whither they were going, a huge wolf came in front of
them, fawning upon them like a tame dog, and coming nearer on the path walked
before them. Thinking him, in the darkness, to be a white dog, because of his
white skin, they encouraged one another to follow the dog closely, declaring that
he had come from some town. And so they did, and in the midst of the silence of
the night, while they found that they had succeeded in getting out of the
by-way, and recognised their road, of a sudden there appeared burning flames
attached to the lances of the soldiers 5,
but still not very bright, but like those which the common people call Fairies’ Lights. Nor
could any man get rid of them or put them out, or throw them away. Whereupon in
great wonder, though they were stupefied, knowing their road, they proceeded
under the guidance of the wolf. At dawn they all, to their astonishment, found
out at last that a wolf had been their guide. And while they were in doubt
about what had happened to them, the wolf disappeared, and all the flames went
out, and they came to the place they had intended, beyond
2. ↑ There is no difficulty in explaining this in modern terms.
He was having a nightmare fed by a guilty conscience. The saint of the
dedication of Peterborough Abbey was Peter, hence the change in the name of the
town from Medeshamstede to Borough, then
3. The description is vague but despite what one might expect in
the circumstances, Hereward seems not to have withdrawn far from
4. As translated, these are the conditions consistent with the St. Elmo’s fire of note 5 but intempesta nocte is probably intended to mean ‘in the dead of night’.
5. This will be St. Elmo’s fire, a manifestation of a form of electrical discharge related to lightning. Away from a marine context, candelæ nympharum (fairies’ candles) are sometimes confused by modern writers with ignis fatuus. The latter is will of the wisp, small amounts of marsh gas which become ignited and show in the dark, as a moving light, low over a fen. The former are an electrical discharge around upstanding pointed objects; typically mastheads but here, lances. A nymph is a bride or a spirit envisaged as a young woman; in a word, a fairy. Nymph reached English via Latin and French but is ultimately Greek. For other names on the candelæ nympharum theme, see Wikipedia.
chapter reads as though Hereward and his men had found some magic mushrooms but
it is also consistent with its being the story of some very tired men who are
beginning to hallucinate. This appears to have been combined with an
electrically charged atmosphere and a sense of guilt. The sky, obscured by the
wet and stormy atmosphere consistent with the St Elmo’s fire, combined with the
weariness could account for the poor navigation which would otherwise be
surprising given the general competence of the men and their leader. The stars
were obscured and the night dark. There was no loom (glow) from sodium vapour
street lights in
This story appears to have been told by someone who was present. The simplest explanation is that Hereward told his chaplain, Leofric who recorded it so that it was found by Hugh Candidus as described in Chapter I. Hereward will have known better than anyone else, what dreams he had experienced. In any case, the heading says ‘vidit’ – ‘he (Hereward) saw’. So Hereward would have agreed with us in thinking that these events were very unusual: even barely credible. That will have been why he had them and his perception of them recorded.
story has thus, some credibility, though the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC:
reading both Savage and Online Medieval & Classical
accounts) has a distinctly different version. That places the raid on
ASC version of the
to the ASC, it was in 1071 that Edwin was murdered, Morcar went to Ely and he
and Hereward were ousted by William’s attack via a causeway. Hereward then went off, out of the ASC’s record.
Meanwhile, William went to
to the present chapter, rather than going to Ely by ship, Hereward went overland,
in the opposite direction, towards
The ASC’s dates would mean that the present chapter, XXIX is out of sequence and chronologically, comes before chapter XX. But, as has been emphasised elsewhere (Chapter I, Commentary note 3.), the writers were concerned with demonstrating Hereward’s qualities rather than with writing a modern-style or an ASC-style history.
normally resolve this conflict between the evidence of the ASC and the present,
document by accepting the testimony of the ASC but the men who wrote the two
documents were very much alike. The ASC is capable of having Edwin go to