Bourne Archive: Hereward Name

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The Name, Hereward.


The Gesta Herwardi is Hugh Candidus’ translation and rewriting of Leofric the Deacon’s account of the events which best illustrated the character of Hereward, the renowned soldier (Chapter I). In the text, its hero is called Herwardus and described as Magister Militum.  Herwardus is the Latinized form of the English Hereward, which appears to have the same meaning as magister militum. This coincidence of meaning seems unlikely to have occurred by chance, so the following notes are intended to collect the facts as far as they are known and to draw conclusions as to their possible implications. However, it must be stated that attempting to understand thinking of 900 years ago is not an exact science.

The tentative conclusions drawn are that:

·              Hereward is unlikely to have been a Christian name or a Pagan one of the same pattern but was rather, a sobriquet arising from the man’s outstanding skill as a leader of soldiers.

·              the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s use of the name Hereward after 1116, the year of the Peterborough fire (Higham p. xviii), may have been influenced by a knowledge of the original, English, Gesta text but that by 1086, the use of the name was current to the extent of needing no explanation or qualification (DB).

Magister Militum.

As part of the sweeping reforms of civil and military organization made by Diocletian and Constantine in the third and fourth centuries, three new army ranks or posts appeared namely:-

First:                 Magister      Equitum             Master of Horse

Magister      Peditum               Master of Foot

and later:         Magister       Militum               Master of Troops

These were all commanders of mobile field armies, though the exact differences between them appear to be uncertain and are, in any case, likely to have varied with the passage of time. This is especially true of Magister Equitum which, in Latin or, in the vernacular version, Master of the Horse, is found in accounts through to even post-Medieval times and ended by including ironical use, when applied to the chief groom of a stable. However, ignoring the jocular, it does seem likely that the third ultimately superseded the first two. In time these titles came to be applied to the principal lieutenant of a dictator. By the eleventh century, the latter term had come to describe a man like the Duke of Normandy or the Count of Flanders, who was an autonomous ruler, nominally the vassal of a feudal superior. In these two cases, the superior was the king of France. The Gesta Herwardi Latin text makes it clear (Chapter XII) that Hereward was militarily, both right-hand man to Robert, who as the future Count of Flanders, could be regarded as the dictator, and the commander of his field force. So Robert as commander-in-chief of his expedition into Zeeland, would have attended to the strategy of the campaign, while Hereward would have been responsible to him for the general state and discipline of the field force and for the tactics used in any engagements.

During the course of the Gesta account, Hereward is clearly appointed to equivalent positions in the campaign in Ireland (Chapter V), and at the Siege of Ely (Chapters XX & XXII). The title ‘Master of Soldiers’ appears explicitly in Sweeting’s translation in chapters XII, XIV and XXII while ‘magister militum’ appears in chapters XII, XIV and XXIII of the Latin text. In Chapter XXII the phrase is ‘.. ab Herwardo magistro militum insulæ’, a clear statement of his position in the Isle of Ely. However, there Hereward was the lieutenant of the Abbot and the earl, Morcar. The question of Earl Edwin’s presence is ambiguous, since he is said in different places, to have been killed before he could arrive (ASC 1071) and to have been present (Chapter XXII). Since the ASC says that he was taken with William on the latter’s return to Normandy, in the spring of 1075, it seems likely Edwin was among those at Ely. This looks like a case where versions of the ASC differ and it is to the Gesta that we must turn for arbitration. Which if any, of these individuals was seen as the principal is not made clear.

Here Weard.

It is interesting to see that the Latin term, Magister Militum, clearly a job description for Hereward’s position in the Flemish the other armies, has the same literal meaning as his own name. A ward or weard was a watchman, guard, keeper or warden (OED). We may cover all these terms by using the anachronistic word ‘supervisor’. A here means an army or a military force of one size or another (OED). Just as a steward was the supervisor of the service of a household, particularly with regard to feeding it; a woodward, or wuduweard was the supervisor of the timber-production aspect of woodland, as opposed to a forester, who was more concerned with the game; and a hayward was a supervisor of the fencing of an estate or parish, so a hereward would have been the a supervisor of a military force. This raises the question of how Hereward acquired the name. Its obvious appropriateness suggests that it was a sobriquet rather than a name given in the Christian manner, on admission to membership of the Church – normally soon after birth. While Christianity was a fairly new idea for some of the English of Danish background, it was well established among them by the mid-1030s, when Hereward was born. Any able-bodied son of an earl of Mercia would have been expected to become a military officer on reaching manhood and a lowly-born man could not aspire to it. So whichever was the case with our man, it appears unlikely that he would have been selected in infancy for such a name, but might have acquired it once he began to prove himself outstanding as a young leader of men; as we are told that to his father’s discomfiture, he did (Chapter II).

It looks then, as though, in his original work, writing in English, Leofric the Deacon, will have used the term hereweard both as a sobriquet and as a job description, depending on context. When Hugh Candidus was seeking an appropriate, known, Latin term to express Hereward’s status in Robert’s army he chose ‘magister militum’ to describe his subject’s function, while retaining the Latinized English Herwardus as the personal name. While Hugh does admit that he is not fully familiar with English (Chapter I), Leofric’s two ways of using of the term hereweard would have been fairly distinct. Any use by Leofric of the English article, Ƿe (the) to differentiate between his two meanings, master of soldiers and The Master of Soldiers, will have been lost in Hugh’s translation into Latin, and not re-introduced in connection with the word, hereward, by the reverse translation because Sweeting understandably, saw Herwardus as a Christian name rather than as a sobriquet.

 We are left having to explain why the Anglo Saxon Chronicle (1070 and 71) and Domesday Book refer to a man or men called Hereward or Hereuuard. If it was a sobriquet, it tends to confirm that those references are all to our man and that by 1086, the name was widely associated with him. The name would then represent what the French would call his surnom, by which is meant nickname, or in the case of a king or hero, the English equivalent is ‘name’ (Collins Robert). The outcome of the subsequent English adoption of the word, surnom is its development into the modern meaning, surname. In other words, people nowadays called Carpenter for example, have an ancestor who was notable as a carpenter. Rather than being so-and-so Leofricson (the Gesta text, Chapter II, tells us that he was the son of one Leofric; Lefricus de Brunne), our man was sufficiently outstanding from the crowd as a leader of soldiers, to be thought of as ‘Ƿe hereuueard’ (The Hereward).

In the present text, there is no hint of the epithet applied to him later, ‘The Wake’. It appeared in Peterborough, the mid thirteenth century (DNB Hereward). Its use seems to have developed well after he died, when his descendants through marriage into the Wake family, felt that his kudos made it worth their claiming him as an ancestor. So it seems, he was but it was only in the fourth generation after his, that the link with the Wakes was made (Trollope. 1st. Genealogical table). This would indicate that, after the expiry of this time, his kudos was still alive though he was not. Hugh Wake, who married Hereward’s descendant, Emma, died in 1172; about the time when Hugh Candidus was working on the script.

Ostensibly, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle’s yearly accounts were roughly contemporary with the events, so indicating a date by which the man had acquired the name. But, we need to check that the version of the ASC from which the information was taken, was not a subsequent rewriting of the text, after loss by fire, or for some other reason. For example, the E, or Peterborough Chronicle was written in the eleventh to twelfth centuries and originally based on an earlier one from Canterbury (Savage p. 12) but beyond this, the account given by Savage is insufficient to answer the present question.

The Wikipedia article on the Peterborough Chronicle draws attention to the way in which the document shows that its rewriting drew upon several sources. During this process, a well-known name for the Hereward character might have been substituted for a more obscure Christian name. Since the Gesta text was kept in the place where the Peterborough Chronicle was written, in Peterborough Abbey, the Gesta may have influenced the Chronicle: but for the fact that the relevant Peterborough fire happened in 1116 and Hugh Candidus’ Gesta was written in around 1170.

On the other hand, Leofric the Deacon’s English text had been written around 1110. By 1170, the monks had largely forgotten it (Chapter I) but they still had access to it. In 1116, the existence of what was then a relatively recently-written text would have been known about by the current generation but this was in English so its readers would have found the English article (Ƿe) had it been there. Like Leofric, the writer of the Peterborough Chronicle was writing in English. The available modern translations of the Old English do not include that article. Given that they accurately represent the original and have not been influenced by the modern scholars’ preconceptions, it looks as though our man may have been widely known as ‘Hereward’ by the time Leofric the Deacon (or perhaps we should now call him Leofric Deacon) was writing (ca. 1110).

The modern popular editions of the Anglo-Saxon chronicles are a conflation of several.  If it is not in the Peterborough Chronicle but in some other of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles that the name occurs, the above reasoning may seem to fall down. In any case, if the name is found only elsewhere, we still need to note whether it is accompanied by an article (Ƿe). However, insofar as the above argument holds up, it would do so still, given a non-Peterborough source. A more distant source of the ASC reference would mean only that the man’s reputation had spread further. But we know that this had happened well before 1116, since the Domesday Book compilers, probably in Winchester, had accepted the use of the name in around 1086 when field workers reported it from Lincolnshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. The Lincolnshire connection with the present Hereward is consistent with the Gesta story. Similarly, the other two west Midlands counties seem to have been those of his father’s family roots. We are not likely to find proof of the identity of the Herewards in the three counties but so far as it goes, the evidence is consistent with a view of the three men as one.

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