Bourne Archive: Hereward: Appendix 2
http:// boar.org.uk/oiiwxb5HerewardAppx2.htm Latest edit 12 Mar 2011.
The Bourne Archive
Gesta Herwardi: The Hereward Story
Appendix 2. The Interpretation of Chapter VI
by F.W. Penhey
The purpose of this page is to consider the text of the Gesta Herwardi carefully and to find ways of drawing its writer’s meaning from his apparently very informal Mediæval Latin.
The Elucidation of Difficult Passages in the Text with Special Reference to Chapter VI.
Even when translated into English most of the chapters of the narrative contain one or more passages which at first sight appear to make little sense. Some of the difficulty may be due to corruption of the Latin text, but much more is probably due to the fact that its author was able to abridge statements, explanations etc. In the knowledge that his contemporaries, being familiar with the customary practices, both linguistic and social, would understand what he meant. Present day readers do not, in general, share that advantage. However, if each passage is studied carefully, taking into account all the evidence available in the chapter concerned and also in other parts of the narrative, while trying to imagine what must have been in the thoughts and attitudes of the people concerned in the circumstances related, It is usually possible to hit upon a rational explanation which fits the tenor of the narrative. The conclusion reached may not be exactly what the author had in mind, and must always be thought of in terms of probability rather than as ascertained fact; but at least it may show that the passage cannot be dismissed as nonsense, and so can help give credibility to the narrative as a whole.
This appendix is intended to demonstrate how the method might be applied to the better understanding of Chapter VI which, as it stands, is one of the more difficult in the story. The new translation is aimed at accurately representing the Latin but also at drawing out the meaning. Numerical superscripts link to footnotes concerning the translation. Alphabetical superscripts link to points of interpretation. Passages in green are discussed in the Interpretation section below.
2. An English Translation
How Hereward, being himself in disguise, was sent to a certain wedding by his lord. He went there and did a certain praiseworthy deed; having killed the bridegroom he carried off the bride so that he could take her to his lord.
So, while they (Hereward and the King
of Ireland’s son 1)
were taking their band into the outermost parts of the land (i.e. the coast of Ireland), opposite
Cornwall, a messenger from the aforementioned daughter of the kinglet of
Cornwall came to them with a letter (addressed to the king of Ireland’s son)
from her saying “Alas, alas, and why, may I ask, is it that in the end you are
so unmindful of your handmaid? Surely this girl (i.e. I) has for a long time now not
thought it possible that you would deceive a girl? Behold, I give myself
over, in your sight, into the hands of the kinglet of
Hereward however made that journey
secretly by another route with only three companions, disguised with ointments
and his golden hair transformed to a darker colour and his youthful beard to a
reddish colour. And when he at last reached that place he found the envoys of
the king of Ireland’s son in custody, and the future son-in-law of the kinglet
of Cornwall about to travel to his estate with his bride on the following day.
Hereward therefore at once entered into the wedding celebrations to investigate
and explained that he was a foreigner who had travelled a great distance and
was about to enter the service of a certain nobleman from the west (who was) in
their country. However, he was received as if he was the last of the wedding
party and with the delight of the assembled guests. He therefore sat down with
his men at the end of the table and chose for himself the place of the most
recently arrived (i.e. the lowest seat among the four new arrivals). The
daughter of the kinglet of Cornwall observed this act and his distinguished
figure, but greatly wondered at his complexion. Then because of her
recollection of the praiseworthy man Hereward, whom she had not long since
freed from prison and had sent him to the son of the king of Ireland 2, she meanwhile wept and
on account of the memory of himself (Hereward) ordered a small dish on a tray
to be taken to him, saying “Since he is a stranger and his rank is unknown to
us he sits altogether remote at the far end of he table; let him now accept
this gift, the container and its contents, and not reproach the bridegroom or a
young bride in a foreign country or pay special attention (to them) during the
rest of the wedding feast”. Meanwhile a servant approached him and held out the
tray to him. Then
Hereward, understanding what was happening, held out his hand and seized the
dish, having squeezed the fingers of both (the servant’s hands) so that blood
flowed out under the nails a. Therefore
most (of those present) abused him greatly, calling him a devil of a man and
disorderly, and (saying) that he ought not to be a participant in the feast.
These he answered, giving his own thoughts on the matter, saying “I shall not join in the
delight of the feast or participate in the joy of the wedding until I shall
have served that man with a gift such as you now serve repeatedly (to me)” b. When these things had been told to her (the
bride) she continuously asked herself more and more who he was, and she
revealed the whole matter to her nurse (foster mother) so that she might
enquire at once whether it was, by chance, Hereward or a brother of his. She
(the nurse) declared immediately that it was he himself with the colour of his
hair changed, but advised her that it would be better to check. Now the bride,
after dinner, dressed in royal robes, as the custom of the province is, at the
end of the day went forth from her father’s house 3 with her maids to serve a drink to the
guests and servants of her father and mother, a certain man 4 going before them with a harp and playing to
each one with (every offering of) the cup, because this was a particular and
novel piece of humour 5
in those parts. One girl among them, to be sure, offered to Hereward a ladle
full of undiluted wine in the presence of the harpist. But he declined to accept
it from the womanly hand because he himself and the king of
And meanwhile he (Hereward) asked that the envoys of the son of the king of Ireland should at once be released (from their chains) and when freed, sent away. But when arrangements had been made to release them from custody, a certain man 7, who had many different motives, and who was jealous of the performers (i.e. Hereward and his three companions) approached his lord in the matter, saying “That man is from the number of those wicked messengers, and has come here to spy out your house, or rather that he may mock you, leading off your enemies (the envoys) through his own cheap game, or even because, their own band being weak, the cunning mocker, by his boldness rather than by mockery, may hold on to some of them”. This speech was good in his (the bridegroom’s) eyes, and he first ordered (them) to watch that trash (Hereward) carefully lest if he was arrested then, there might ensue a riot at the feast: on the following day he would go to the show together with the envoys or the king of Ireland’s son, he himself (then) returning to his own estate with his bride. He added that all those (the envoys) must be deprived of their right eye and thus sent away. But Hereward, having learnt of this through the kinglet of Cornwall’s daughter, took measures for flight, then when he had called his companions to him, seeking to forestall them (the bridegroom’s men) in their plan to seize his men, he lay hidden in ambush in a nearby wood near some water which surrounds and separates off part of his kingdom, awaiting their arrival and the crossing of the water by their vanguard. And so, when almost all had crossed and the bonds had been secured so that once across the river the aforesaid envoys might be deprived of the use of their eyes, Hereward and his men leapt forth from their hiding place and with a blow of his javelin he got the better of the tyrant and the others who followed (him); and meanwhile they at once released the bound men, by (some of) whom their band was not a little reinforced.
At length Hereward, having mounted
the tyrant’s horse led off his (the tyrant’s) bride with his companions,
hastening to meet the king of Ireland’s son and his army, which he had led
round to their assistance. Then, after three days 8, when all the cavalry were exhausted, except
the tyrant’s horse, upon which the young lady was being carried off, and many
of his companions being half dead with heat, hunger and (the effects of) the
retreat, they reached his camp (on the south coast) in silence in the middle of
the night. He (the king of
Footnotes to the Translation
1.^ For the sake of clarity, in this translation the three ‘kings’ are referred to thus:–
a. The father of Hereward’s friend and ally (rex
Hiberniae) is ‘the king of
b. the bridegroom’s father (regulus
Hiberniae) is ‘the kinglet of
c. the bride’s father (regulus
Cornubiae) is ‘the kinglet of
These denominations are adhered to at every occurrence, whatever term the Latin text may use.
2.^ For details of these events see Chapter IV.
3.^ This must be
a house provided by the kinglet of
4.^ ‘a certain man’. See footnote 7 below.
5.^ ‘piece of humour’. See footnote 6 below.
6.^ ‘the jester’. This does not mean a jester of the cap and bells variety, but refers to the harpist who accompanied the evening procession led by the bride (see footnote 5). The Latin word used for the ‘piece of humour’ on that occasion is ‘jocus’. Here the Latin word used is ‘joculator’, meaning ‘joker/jester’ and is here translated as jester. But from the Latin it is clear that the ‘joculator’ was the man who produced the ‘jocus’ i.e. the harpist. This is true also of subsequent occurrences of ‘jester’ in the translation.
7.^ ‘a certain man’. The Latin text does not explicitly say who this man was, but it appears likely that he too is the harpist, who was earlier introduced by this expression (see footnote 4). Moreover, he is now said to have had a grudge, not expressly against Hereward and his companions, but rather to have been ‘jealous of the performers’ (Latin ‘historionum invidendo’). This too suggests the harpist.
three days’. This gives some idea of where the wedding celebrations may
have taken place. A day’s march for a relatively small mounted force, free of
baggage, might be some 40 miles. Allowing that the route would not be in a
straight line, the kinglet of
The seven passages which present difficulties of interpretation are here discussed in their order of appearance and a rational meaning suggested for each. For ease of reference they are printed in green in the translation at Section 2 above.
a.^ ‘Then Hereward, understanding what was happening, held out his hand and seized the dish, having squeezed the fingers of both (the hands of the servant) so that blood flowed out from under the nails’.
At first sight this occurrence looks
like a senseless act of gratuitous brutality, and the
other guests clearly took it to be such. However, further consideration
suggests that Hereward understood that the bride suspected his true identity
and that in sending him the servant with the dish on a tray she was seeking a
sign from him to confirm her suspicions. When earlier he was in
b.^ ‘I shall not join in the delight of the feast or participate in the joy of the wedding until I shall have served that man with a gift such as you now serve repeatedly (to me)’.
The problem here is the identity of ‘that man’ (Latin ‘iste’, here Mediæval Latin dative ‘isto’ – see Sidwell B. 7(b)) whom Hereward threatens. One’s first reaction is to equate ‘iste’ with the bridegroom, but further consideration shows this to be unlikely because:–
i. The bride, who suspected the
stranger to be Hereward, had just sent him a drink, together with a message
expressly asking him not to make derogatory remarks about herself or the groom,
either at that moment or during the rest of the feast. Hereward was too greatly
indebted to her for his freedom and the recommendation to the son of the king
ii. If the guests had regarded the threat as being made against the bridegroom, their lord, they would surely have shown some serious reaction, whereas none is mentioned. Moreover, before long they are applauding him for his harping and singing, and recommending that he be rewarded.
iii. Nor did the bridegroom recognise himself as ‘iste’, as he too appears not to notice the incident. And after Hereward’s later display of minstrelsy the bride rewarded him with a mantle and the groom with an extravagant promise.
It is therefore, probably best to regard the whole incident as a storm in a teacup and see ‘iste’ as just a particularly vociferous man among the guests.
c.^ ‘But he declined to accept it from the womanly hand because he himself and the king of Ireland’s son had just taken a vow to receive nothing before they had received something for some time wished for from the kinglet of Cornwall’s daughter.
The vow mentioned sounds very much like an invention of the writer’s, slipped in to explain Hereward’s otherwise curious and not very creditable conduct. However, it is presented to the reader as a fact and must be considered along with the other evidence available. The main points appear to be:–
i. The text reveals the existence of this vow to the reader of the narrative, but the guests at the feast knew nothing of it, so their reaction to Hereward’s actions was not affected by it.
ii. The vow as given in the text
gives no hint of what those taking the vow expected to be offered or by whom,
or what they were hoping to receive from the kinglet of
iii. What was the original intent of
the vow? The general tenor of the text seems to indicate that the ‘nothing’
mentioned means ‘no strong liquor’. There is no stipulation about the manner of
serving strong drink as there is to be no strong drink. The ‘something
for some time wished for from the kinglet of
iv. Hereward’s declining of the drink offered would have been because, as stated in the text, it was undiluted wine, therefore strong drink and so forbidden by the vow. That the refusal was because the drink was offered by a woman was an unwarranted assumption made by the harpist and, possibly at his instigation, by the other guests.
d.^ ‘For by her sharpness of vision she at once recognized him, and realized that it was Hereward himself from the shape of his limbs. So she at once transferred a ring from her own hand to a fold (of his dress), …’
The ring was evidently a token that the bride had recognized Hereward, thus fulfilling the wish expressed in the vow in its secondary meaning. See c (ii) above.
e.^ ‘But the jester could find comfort in the matter only by wandering around and often, in passing Hereward, he declared that a man who, at a feast, had shown disrespect to a servant girl with the cup was unworthy to strike the harp’.
i. As explained in footnote 6 to the translation ‘the jester’ was in fact the harpist. He was evidently greatly annoyed by the partiality the bride was showing towards Hereward, and his companions because of the incident of Hereward’s refusal of the drink offered by one of the female servants.
ii. Hereward must previously have asked the harpist for the loan of his harp so that he might show his own virtuosity on the instrument. Either he was refused it, or told that he could not have it until after the harpist’s duties in accompanying the drink offerings were completed. Meanwhile the harpist stirs up his own hard feelings towards Hereward and taunts him by saying, in his hearing, that one who is so uncivil as to insult a servant (and hence the host) is not fit to handle such a noble instrument as the harp.
f.^ ‘Hereward, moved to anger towards him by this finally replied that before (repayment of) a debt is put off by a fool acting foolishly so that it becomes very great, it is better for the debtor that it is paid back, provided that time allows.
Hereward is angered by the taunts and delivers to the harpist a short lecture about the repayment of debts. This however is a veiled threat, meaning ‘You have greatly angered me by refusing my request and then taunting me before others. If you are wise you will now hand me your harp while you still have the chance. Otherwise I shall really lose my temper and you will feel the consequences. Remember what happened to the servant’s fingers!’
g.^ ‘But in truth the guests judged him well worthy of the gift, and meanwhile to have a servant. He contented himself (with the thought that), if he continually drank, perhaps it would not be realized who he was.
The grant of a servant as part of the proposed reward for the musical performance worried Hereward. Such a personal servant would stand behind his seat and refill his cup immediately it was empty, doubtless with the best and strongest liquor. Hereward was troubled that he might be forced into breaking his vow. He then realized that the wish that the vow was designed to accomplish had already been granted (in both its primary and secondary meanings) as the bride had already shown that she recognized him – see (d) above. The need of the moment was therefore to prevent the guests from recognizing him too, and he thought that this would be best achieved by drinking, as this would be normal at a feast, and so no longer drawing attention to himself by his unusual behaviour. This reconciled him to having a personal servant.
If the English translation of Chapter VI offered in section 2 above is read together with the elucidations of the seven difficult passages suggested in section 3 above, it will be found to make a reasonably coherent and convincing story.
The same method can also be applied, with advantage, to all the other chapters of the narrative.