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Hereward the Wake

Here begins the preface of a certain work concerning the exploits of Hereward the renowned knight.

      When some among us wanted to know about the deeds of the great Englishman Hereward and his famous men, and to hear with our ears his generous acts and exploits, your brethren eked out our sparse information by enquiring whether anyone had left anything in writing about such a man in the place where he used to live. For when I informed you that I had heard somewhere that a short account had been written about him in English, you were immediately kind enough to have it sought out; and soon it was translated into Latin, with the addition of things we happened to hear from our own people with whom he was familiar, living a distinguished life as a great warrior. So, wanting to satisfy your wishes, I took care to enquire in many places, yet found nothing complete -- only a few loose pages, partly rotten with damp and decayed and partly damaged by tearing. However, having taken up the pen, I have with difficulty extracted from it a few details as to his origin, his parents and reputation -- that is to say the early achievements of the most famous outlaw Hereward, written down in English by the deacon Leofric, his priest at Bourne. For it was the endeavor of this well-remembered priest to assemble all the doings of giants and warriors he could find in ancient fables as well as true reports, for the edification of his audience; and for their remembrance to commit them to writing in English. And although I'm not sufficiently expert at this, or rather, unable to decipher what is obliterated in the unfamiliar writing, nevertheless I gather that on his return to the place of his own ancestral home, he found his brother killed -- and so on. I leave this raw material, written in a rough style, to your care and to the efforts of some trained person, to be arranged and set out in a less ornate and complex manner. For I have been able to decipher nothing further than this, always hoping for more but still finding nothing in full. For a long time my assistants were deluded by a vain hope, stimulated by those who said that there was a large book about his exploits in such and such a place. But although they sent to the place they found nothing of what was promised. So giving up the search altogether, I abandoned the work I had begun. It could not have remained secret from you for long; but unexpectedly, you were kind enough to direct that at least the opening should not be denied you. Whereupon I took care, although not confident of any great ability, that your eyes might see the complete work. I took up the pen once more to unfold to you a little book in the style of a history, dealing with things I heard from our own people and from some of those who were familiar with him from the beginning and who were associated with him in many exploits. I have frequently seen some of these men -- tall in stature, well-built and exceptionally courageous. And you yourself, I hear, have also seen two of these men -- that is to say his knights Brother Siward of Bury St. Edmunds and Leofric Black, men of distinguished appearance, although having lost the beauty of their limbs due to the trickery of enemies, being deprived of certain members through envy. And from these and others whom I have seen and tested in many matters if on no other grounds, here is sufficient for you to understand how valorous their lord was, and how much greater his deeds were than those reported of him. For truly to know who Hereward was and to hear about his magnanimity and his exploits is conducive to magnanimous acts and generosity, especially in those wishing to undertake the warrior's life. So I urge you to pay attention, especially you who are concerned to hear of the exploits of brave men; listen carefully to this account of so great a man who, trusting in himself rather than rampart or garrison, alone with his men waged war against kings and kingdoms and fought against princes and tyrants, some of whom he conquered. Concerning these matters, beginning with his parents, everything has been arranged in due order, so that what is clearly set down here may be easily remembered.


Of what parents Hereward was born, and how from his boyhood he increased in the splendor of his deeds, and why he was driven forth by his father and country; whence he was surnamed "The Outlaw."

      Many very mighty men are recorded from among the English people, and the outlaw Hereward is reckoned the most distinguished of all -- a notable warrior among the most notable. Of very noble descent from both parents, his father was Leofric of Bourne, nephew of Earl Ralph the Staller; and his mother was Eadgyth, the great-great-niece of Duke Oslac. As a boy he was remarkable for his figure and handsome in his features, very fine with his long blond hair, open face and large gray eyes -- the right one slightly different from the left. However, he was formidable in appearance and rather stout because of the great sturdiness of his limbs; but despite his moderate stature he was very agile and there was great strength in all his limbs. From his childhood he exhibited such grace and vigor of body; and from practice when a youth the quality of his courage proved him a perfect man. He was excellently endowed in every way with the grace of courage and strength of spirit. And so far as generosity is concerned, he was particularly liberal with his own and his father's possessions, giving relief to all in need. Although tough in work and rough in play, readily provoking fights among those of his own age and often stirring up strife among his elders in town and village, he had no equal in acts of daring and bravery, not even among his elders. So when young, and as he grew older, he advanced in boldness day by day, and while still a youth excelled in manly deeds. In the meantime he spared nobody whom he thought to be in any way a rival in courage or in fighting. In consequence he often caused strife among the populace and commotion among the common people. As a result of this he made his parents hostile towards him; for because of his deeds of courage and boldness they found themselves quarreling with their friends and neighbors every day, and almost daily having to protect their son with drawn swords and weapons when he returned from sport or from fighting, from the local inhabitants who acted like enemies and tyrants because of him. Unable to stand this, eventually his father drove him out of his sight. He didn't keep quiet even then; but when his father went visiting his estates, Hereward and his gang often got there first, distributing his father's goods amongst his own friends and supporters. And on some of his father's properties he even appointed stewards and servants of his own to see to provisions for his men. And so his father ensured that he was banished from his homeland by King Edward, disclosing everything that he had perpetrated against his parents and against the inhabitants of the locality. And this being done, he at once acquired the name of "Outlaw," being driven away from his father and his native land when he was eighteen years old.

[During his exile, Hereward engages in various adventures. III: He slays a monstrous bear in Northumberland, and IV: a braggart in Cornwall, suitor for the hand of the princess; and V: the leader of an invading army in Ireland. VI: He returns to the Cornish princess and attends her nuptials in disguise, rescues the girl and ensures her marriage to an Irish prince. VII: Now determined to return home, Hereward is shipwrecked in Orkney, and again in Flanders where he is honorably detained by the count, changing his name to Harold. VIII-IX: Hereward fights on behalf of the Count of Flanders against the neighboring Count of Guines, and his true name is revealed. X: During the course of his sojourn, the skilled and enterprising girl Turfrida falls in love with him, and he with her, despite the violent opposition of another knight. XI-XII: Hereward takes the central role in two campaigns against rebellious Frisian armies. XIII: While in Frisia he acquires a particularly swift mare he names Swallow, and her colt Lightfoot.]


How he returned to his country and to his father's house, where he found that his brother had been slain the day before, and of the grand vengeance he took the same night.

      After Hereward had spent a few days in idleness [in Flanders], thinking this disgraceful he left and immediately set out for England. He wished to visit his father's house and his homeland, now subject to the rule of foreigners and almost ruined by the exactions of many men, wanting to help any friends or neighbors who perhaps might still be alive in the place. He returned from foreign parts with his personal attendant Martin Lightfoot as his sole companion, leaving his two nephews, Siward the Blond and Siward the Red together with the wife he had just taken. He arrived back at his father's manor called Bourne one evening time, and was entertained on the outskirts of the village by a certain soldier of his father's called Osred. There he found the head of the household and his neighbors very gloomy, all full of grief and in great fear, having been given over to the subjection of foreigners. And what was worse for them, they were bewailing the fact that they were subject to those who the previous day had slain the innocent younger son of their lord. Immediately therefore Hereward, who appeared as if a stranger, asked who their lord now was, who was responsible for the death of their former lord's son, and the reason for it. And they answered him: "Although it is a help and a comfort in sadness to share one's grief, we shouldn't involve you in our misfortune, for we see that you're a great man with whom we ought to be joyful for the sake of hospitality. Nevertheless, because you appear to be in every way a great and famous man, we might look to you for some remedy for our sorrow, so we will readily explain the business to you. There was among us a certain younger son of our lord whom his father, when dying, commended to his people, together with his mother; and he was to be his heir if his brother, called Hereward, shouldn't return -- a man most vigorous and conspicuous in all courage, whom while still a lad his father had driven away from his presence by way of punishment. And now, three days ago, certain men seized his inheritance with the consent of the king and took it for themselves, destroying our light, the son and heir of our lord, while he was protecting his widowed mother from them as they were demanding from her his father's riches and treasures -- and because he slew two of those who had dishonorably abused her. By way of revenge because he had killed two Frenchmen, they cut off his head and set it up over the gate of the house -- here it still is. Alas, wretched men that we are, we have no power of vengeance! Would that his brother Hereward, a very great man so we've often heard, were here now; for then truly before the moon set and the sun sent forth its rays of light, every one of them would be lying dead like our lord's son!" Hearing this, Hereward lamented greatly, sighing inwardly. At length, being drowsy after their conversation, they all retired to rest. After lying on his bed for a while, Hereward heard some way away the voices of people singing, the sound of harp and viol and the merriment of those applauding. Summoning a lad, Hereward enquired what the sound was that echoed in his ears. He immediately declared it to be the merriment of those joining in the party given on the occasion of their entering into the inheritance of his lord's son, who had been killed by them the previous day.
      After a little while Hereward called his servant and, taking a mail-coat and helmet from beneath a black cloth -- a maidservant's cloak -- put on his tunic and took a sword. And thus, with his servant protected by light armor, he approached the party-goers who were now overcome with drunkenness, intending to pledge them for his brother's death with a draught of bitterness and wine of sorrow. Then he came near; he found his brother's head over the gate. Taking it, he kissed it and concealed it, wrapped in a cloth. This done, he advanced through the entrance of the building to search out the guests. He saw them all by the fireside overcome with drunkenness, the soldiers reclining in the women's laps. Among them was a jester playing a lute, abusing the English race and performing antics in the middle of the hall meant in imitation of English dancing, who eventually demanded in payment from their lord something which had belonged to the parents of the remarkable lad killed the previous day. At this one of the girls at the banquet, unable to tolerate these words, replied: "There still survives a distinguished soldier by the name of Hereward, brother to the lad killed yesterday and well-known in our country (that is to say, in Flanders); and if he were here, none of these would be left alive when the sun spread abroad its rays of light!" Indignant at these words, the lord of the household answered thus: "Well, I happen to know the man, and a great scoundrel he is, for he stole the gifts which were sent to the prince of our country from Frisia and distributed them unfairly after the prince had appointed him leader of the soldiers. Now he would have suffered death on the gallows, if he hadn't ensured his safety by running away, not daring to stay in any land this side of the Alps!" On hearing this, the jester continued repeatedly to abuse him as he sang to the lute. Eventually unable to tolerate this any longer, Hereward leapt out and struck him through with a single blow of his sword, and then turned to attack the guests. Some were incapable of rising because they were drunk, and others unable to go to their help because they were unarmed. So he laid low fourteen of them together with their lord, with the aid of the single attendant whom he set at the entrance of the hall so that whoever escaped the hands of one might fall to the other. And that same night he set their heads over the gate where his brother's head had been, giving thanks to the Bestower of all grace that his brother's blood was now avenged.


For what reason some fled from him in alarm; and whence he chose for himself men of war.

      In the morning, however, the neighbors and those living round about were filled with astonishment at what was done. And almost all the Frenchmen in the district were frightened, abandoning the lands assigned to them and fleeing, lest the same thing should happen to them at the hands of such a man should they have him for a neighbor. But having heard about him, the inhabitants of the country and his kinsfolk flocked to him, congratulating him on his return to his native land and to his father's inheritance, and advising him to guard it carefully in the meantime, dreading the anger of the king when he came to learn of the affair. In fact not unmindful of such matters, he lodged there forty-nine of the bravest men from his father's estate and among his kinsfolk, equipped and defended with all necessary military accouterments. Meanwhile he wanted to carry on for a few days taking vengeance on those of his enemies in the neighborhood who still remained on their manors.


For what reason he wished to be made knight in the English manner, and where he was made knight.

      When Hereward realized that he was the leader and lord of such men, and day by day saw his force growing larger with fugitives, the condemned and disinherited, he remembered that he had never been girt with the belt and sword of knighthood according to the tradition of his race. And so with two of the most eminent of his men, one named Winter and the other Gænoch, he went to the abbot of Peterborough called Brand, a man of very noble birth, in order that he might gird him with the sword and belt of knighthood in the English tradition, lest after becoming the chief and leader of so many men, the inhabitants of the country should disparage him for not being knighted. He received the accolade of knighthood from the abbot on the Feast of the Nativity of the Apostles Peter and Paul. And in his honor a monk of Ely named Wulfwine, who was both a faithful brother and prior and also a friend of Hereward's father, made his comrades knights. Hereward wanted himself and his men to be knighted in this way because he heard that it had been ruled by the French that if anyone were knighted by a monk, cleric or any ordained minister, it ought not to be reckoned the equal of true knighthood, but invalid and anachronistic. Opposing this regulation, therefore, Hereward wished almost all those serving him and under his rule to be knighted by monks. So if anyone wanted to serve under him he had to receive the sword in the manner the knight's tradition demands, from a monk at least, if from no one else. Often he would point out: "I know from common experience that if anyone should receive the knightly sword from a servant of God, a knight of the kingdom of heaven, such a man will pursue valor most excellently in every kind of military service." And hence arose the custom among those at Ely that if anyone there wished to be made a knight, he ought always to offer his naked sword upon the altar at high mass and the same day receive it back again after the gospel reading from the monk who was singing mass, the sword being placed on his bare neck with a blessing; and by making over the sword to the recruit in that way, he was made a full knight. This was the custom of abbots in those times. Later Hereward was to go to the Isle of Ely and, together with its inhabitants, defend it against King William who by that time had subjected almost the entire country to himself.


How he was sought out by a certain man who desired to kill him, and how Hereward slew him.

      Having returned to his own people, Hereward learned that a certain Frederick, who was the brother of the old Earl William de Warenne, had been making frequent enquiries for him in many places, in order that he might either take him personally into the king's presence and hand him over to punishment for what was mentioned a little earlier; or alternatively cut off his head and set it up for a sign at a cross-roads on the public highway, in the same way as he had exhibited over the gate of his house the heads of those who had stolen his inheritance and slain his brother; and further, that he might drive into exile or mutilate all those who continued to support Hereward or rendered him any assistance. But Hereward and his men immediately set about preempting him, intending to treat him in the same way if by chance they should meet with him. For Hereward had learned that Frederick was in Norfolk together with a military force, so that as soon as anything was heard of Hereward, Frederick might make his way there protected by a troop of soldiers. But what Frederick intended should happen to Hereward happened to himself instead. One evening time while he was plotting the death of Hereward, the outlaw himself arrived and slew him.


Why Hereward departed again into Flanders, where he soon performed some noteworthy deeds.

      To allow the situation to cool down after this, Hereward went into Flanders to see the wife he had recently taken, promising those whom he left in England that he would return within the year. And there at St. Omer he came to his wife and the two nephews whom he had left with her. He had not been there a fortnight before he was invited by Baldwin, a certain highly celebrated knight of that province, to join a campaign he had undertaken against the Viscount de Pynkenni. The lord of Brabant with his nobles was also to be present at this encounter. And on this expedition Hereward and his two aforementioned nephews Siward the Blond and Siward the Red, together with the aforesaid noble knight Baldwin who led them there, acted in such a way that even the opposing party did not withhold their commendation but greatly praised them, picking out Hereward especially as an object of admiration. Once when his boldness had carried him too far among the enemy, they killed his horse beneath him, and thus being alone and on foot they surrounded him on all sides. Not that this did them any good, for it proved the speedy destruction of his attackers, since he slew seven of those who rushed to seize him. At length when he was surrounded by a wall of enemies on all sides, several of the leaders of the opposing party, perceiving his spirit and courage, helped him by calling off his attackers. They said it was shameful for so many to be attacking a single man the whole day long, and scarcely finish the business in the end. "And even if he were to be eventually overcome, what sort of victory would that be for us, for one man to be overcome by so many? There would certainly be a slur on our reputation. And even though he may fall in the end, he deserves to be esteemed above everyone else." While Hereward was duly recovering a little from these attackers, unharmed by any weapon, a mounted comrade showed great enterprise, coming to his aid and snatching him up so that he was reunited with his men. Then from horseback he told everybody what had happened to him and recounted with what generosity the enemy had acted despite the fact that he had killed seven of their men who had inadvisedly attacked him. This event resulted in such good-will on both sides that, out of respect for such a knight, all those who were formerly at odds were reconciled; and they honored him with gifts.


How on his return to England his men gathered themselves together to him, on his giving the signal which he had arranged at his departure.

      But as he had promised his men, Hereward, now eminent in all military matters, returned to England together with his two nephews and his loving wife Turfrida who was already superior to the usual feminine weaknesses and regularly proved capable in every exigency which befell her celebrated husband. There also came with him a certain chaplain of his, Hugo the Breton by name, who although a priest, was no less trained in arms than endued with virtue, and Wivhard his brother, a splendid knight of soldierly courage. He obviously also brought with him those in his service. Some of these Hereward immediately sent to explore his own area and his father's house, so as to make careful enquiries as to what had been decided about him by the king's majesty, and with the utmost caution to find out from friends in his father's territory where those men whom he had left in England now were. When they eventually got there, they found his inheritance entirely undisturbed, no one having dared to enter it. Some of his men they found in hiding, thus ensuring their safety. And these, instantly delighted at his return, hastened to join him, namely: a certain Winter, a distinguished knight who was short in stature but particularly robust and strong; and Wenoth and Ælfric Grugan notable in all courage and bravery for they were as powerful in action as they were big and tall. In addition to these were three of Hereward's nephews: Godwine Gille, who was called Godwine because not dissimilar to Godwine the son of Guthlac who is so celebrated in stories of olden days; and Duti and Outi, two twin brothers similar in character and appearance and both praiseworthy soldiers. The remainder of his band of followers, however, was scattered over the entire kingdom. At his departure he had arranged a signal for them -- to set in flames three villages on Brunneswold near to Bourne; and so he set fire to them and retired into the forest until his men were gathered around him.
      And when they were all assembled, they were all the most eminent men, not one among them being counted of knightly rank without first having achieved some notable deeds. These are their names (with those mentioned above making up the number): Wulfric the Black, who got his name because he had once daubed his face with charcoal and gone unrecognized into a garrison, laying low ten of them with a single spear. And his friend was a certain Wulfric Rahere, or "The Heron," so-called because he once happened to be at Wroxham Bridge where four brothers were brought who, although innocent, were to be executed; and terrifying the hangmen who had called him "heron" in mockery, he manfully caused the innocent men to be released and killed some of their enemies. Others too were numbered among the more distinguished of Hereward's knights: Godric of Corby, a nephew of the Earl of Warwick; and Tostig of Daveness, kinsman of the same earl and whose name he received at baptism; and Acca Hardy, the son of a gentleman from the outskirts of Lincoln who was personally responsible for one of the towers of the city; and Leofwine Mowe, that is "The Sickle," who got his name because, chancing to be alone in a meadow cutting grass, he had been set upon by a score of local peasants with iron pitchforks and spears in their hands, whereupon quite alone with only his sickle he wounded many and killed some, charging among them like a reaper, and finally putting them all to flight.
      In company with these was also a certain Tunbeorht, a great nephew of Earl Edwin, and Leofwine Prat, that is "the Dodger," who was called this because although often captured by enemies he had astutely escaped, frequently killing his guards. And in addition to these must be numbered others also very experienced in warfare: Leofric the Deacon, the Bailiff of Drayton; Thurcytel Utlamhe -- that is to say, "the Outlaw"; Hereward's cook Hogor; Hereward's kinsmen Winter and Leofred, two distinguished men; and Rapenald, steward of Ramsey. These were leaders; so also: Wulfric the Black and Wulfric the Blond, Ælfric Grugan, Yiardus, Godwine Gille, Outi -- and the other Outi I mentioned before -- and those two splendid men, Siward and the other Siward the Red, who were Hereward's nephews. Then with these there were other most eminent knights: Godric of Corby, the Norman priest Hugo and his brother Yiardus, Leofric the Deacon, Tostig of Rothwell, Leofwine Prat, Thurcytel, and the Bailiff of Drayton. All of these were among the most distinguished and splendid knights in the whole kingdom; and there were not a few others, whom it would take too long to name and describe separately.


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

      Now when those who lived in the Isle of Ely, then beginning to hold out against King William who had gained England in battle, heard of the return of such a man as Hereward, they directly sent to him and negotiated through messengers for him to join them with all his men, to take part together with them in the defense of the homeland and their fathers' liberties, assuring him that such a knight as he was would have the foremost position among them. This message was delivered especially in the name and on behalf of Thurstan, abbot of the church at Ely, and his monks, who had lordship of the Isle, and by whom it was put in a state of defense against the king, in particular because William intended 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 priors in all the churches of the English.
      However, having previous knowledge of this, a certain well-known knight and seaman, Brunman by name, being familiar with the coast, intercepted them at sea, ducked them in the ocean in a large sack that he had tied to the prow of his ship, and sent them back, thus freeing the English monasteries from foreign domination for the time being. Hereward was delighted to receive this envoy and finally directed his men to make preparations for the journey, boarding ship at Bardney. Hearing of this, the Earl de Warenne, whose brother Hereward himself had recently slain, prepared many ambushes along his road in secret hiding-places near the routes out from the Isle through the swamp, cautiously placing a guard round the waters on the land-side and hoping to capture him without serious loss to his own men. In the event, however, this was not hidden from Hereward. Certain of the guards stumbled across some stragglers from his force and assailed them with missiles. Coming to their aid and capturing their attackers, he ascertained from these that the ambush was laid by the Earl de Warenne who was himself coming to Earith the following day. Whereupon, hastening with his ships, Hereward assembled his men there. Concealing his troops near the river bank, Hereward himself with three knights and four archers well equipped with arms drew close to the edge of the river opposite to where the earl and his men had just arrived. Upon seeing them, one of the earl's men approached and said this to them: "Are you from the company of that great scoundrel Hereward who has ruined so much by trickery and has drawn so many to help him in his nefarious deeds? Would that the villain could be betrayed to our lord the earl. Anyone who agreed to do so would be well worth payment and honors. For this hostile band, although not dangerous, may eventually force us to live in this detestable swamp, and to chase them unarmed through muddy marsh, swirling water, and sharp reeds. Every one of them is destined to an early death, for the king has already surrounded the whole island on all sides with his army, and has closed off the area so that he may destroy its inhabitants." At these words, one of them retorted: "You good-for-nothing! How much longer are you going to incite us to betray our lord and desert our leader? Run off back; shift your feet, before you go down under fierce javelins. And tell your lord that the man he's asking for is here on this side of the water." Learning this, the earl immediately approached and, catching sight of Hereward, urged all his men to swim across the water with him to avenge the blood and death of his brother. But they insisted that it wasn't possible, saying that Hereward had come there just to trap them in that very way. Whereupon, snarling, he railed against those lying across the water: "Oh, would that your master, that limb of Satan, were in my grasp now; he should truly taste punishment and death!" Understanding these words, Hereward declared: "But if by good luck we two happened to be by ourselves anywhere, you wouldn't be so keen to have me in your feeble grasp nor be glad that we met!" And leaning forward a little, Hereward stretched his bow and shot an arrow with force against the earl's breast. Although it rebounded from the protecting mailcoat, the earl was rendered almost lifeless by the blow. Whereupon his men, very anxious on their lord's account because he had fallen from his horse at the blow, quickly carried him away in their arms. Meanwhile Hereward went away and that very day withdrew his men into the Isle of Ely, where he was now received with the greatest respect by the abbot and monks of the place. And he was honored by the important men in the Isle, that is to say by the former Earl of Leicester, Edwin, and his brother Morcar Earl of Warwick, and by another earl called Tostig, all of whom had fled to join those in the Isle having suffered many wrongs at the hands of the aforesaid king and being harassed by many demands. Not a few of the country's distinguished men had fled and were led to the place for the same reason.


How the king attempted to take the Isle, where he nearly lost his entire army; while no man, except one brave knight, entered it.

      Consequently when the king heard about this he was moved to enormous anger and, goaded by deep indignation, furiously applied himself to taking the Isle by storm. In fact, he moved his whole army to Aldreth where the surrounding water and swamp was narrower, the breadth there extending only four furlongs. Having brought there tools and fitments of timber and stone, and heaps of all kinds of things, they built a causeway through the swamp, although it was narrow and quite useless to them. Moreover, close to the big river near this place, that is to say Aldreth, they assembled in the water large tree-trunks joined together with beams, and underneath tied whole sheep-skins, flayed and reversed and fully inflated so that the weight of those going over it might be better borne. When this was finished such a multitude rushed onto it all at once, greedy for the gold and silver and other things, not a little of which was thought to be hidden in the Isle, that those who went hurrying in front were drowned together with the road itself they had made. Those who were in the middle of the company were swallowed up in the watery and deep swamp as well. A few of those who were following at the rear got away with difficulty, flinging down their weapons, wallowing in the water and making their way through the mud. Thus in this way, with hardly anybody pursuing them, great numbers perished in the swamp and waters. And to this day many of them are dragged out of the depths of those waters in rotting armor. I've sometimes seen this myself. And out of this entire company I've talked of, not one got into the Isle, except by chance a single eminent knight called Deda who went on in front of everybody. But in any case, nobody from the Isle was caught in the trap. For some of them had made a heap of turves on the bank of the aforesaid river in front of the bulwarks and ramparts, laying ambushes to both right and left. The king, observing all these things from a distance, evidently saw where his men in front were swallowed up in the swamp and water; wherefore, groaning with deep, heartfelt sorrow, he left together with those of his men who still survived -- very few compared with the number of those who were drowned -- setting aside all hope of making any further attack on the Isle. Nevertheless, he set a guard there and positioned soldiers round about lest the islanders should have free passage to lay waste the district.


Of a soldier who went into the Isle, and resolved to be the first to give information to the king about the Isle and its inhabitants.

      Now the cunning soldier whom I mentioned a little while ago as having got into the Isle, was captured and led before the chief men and dignitaries in the Isle of Ely. When he was asked his name and the reason for his coming, they found out from him that he went by the name Deda, and the reason was this. The king, in the presence of his men, had made a bargain that whoever was first to make his way into the Isle and inflict injury there, might ask him for any property in the Isle, and the king promised he should have it for sure. When they heard this, the islanders praised his boldness and courage and had him stay with them for a few days so that he might get to know their valor from personal experience and realize what a secure position they held, being provided with the protection of a strongly fortified location and strengthened in no small way by companies of distinguished soldiers. For, as he often declared in their presence, he had heard many times that they were less proficient in war and less skilled in military affairs than other races. But before he left he recognized that they were quite excellent in all matters, and proficient in the art of warfare. And so he was given permission to leave on these terms: that he should report about them nothing other than what he had seen and heard -- and this he had to affirm with an oath. Enriched with a gift, he eventually got to the court of the king. On his arrival everyone together there heartily congratulated him, and indeed the king himself was delighted, for he was the most renowned among the more distinguished of the king's knights. When questioned before the whole court, Deda explained how by some lucky chance he had entered the Isle unharmed. As related above, great numbers perished while going along the road which they had made. He said that out of all of them he alone had been brought alive into the Isle by Hereward, the leader of the soldiers in the island. He affirmed that through Hereward he had been given an honorable place amongst the more distinguished of the troop of soldiers. Then at Hereward's enquiry he had told them of the reason for his coming -- explaining to him the king's promise that the first man to enter the Isle and inflict injury there should be rewarded with a very great honor. On the king's closely questioning Deda still further, he went through the ranks of the chief men in the island and their names, and recounted the splendid nature of their activities in defense of the Isle, and how well strengthened they were by troops of distinguished soldiers, and in no small measure protected by groups of the toughest men. Those he ascribed to the first rank were: the three earls mentioned earlier, namely Edwin, Morcar and Tostig, and the two noblemen Ordgar and Thurcytel "the Lad."
      And in talking about them he extolled Hereward and his men more highly than themselves and above all the knights he had seen among the French, or in the German Empire, or at Byzantium for valor and courage in all matters; and although some might be equal to Hereward, none, he said, could surpass him. At this the Earl de Warenne, whose brother Hereward had recently killed as I explained above, moved to anger and goaded by deep indignation declared: "Well, it's quite evident from what you say that you're not a little deceived, in that you would induce our lord king to show kindness by extolling his enemies with false praise and arguments of this sort. Besides are you going to set up that great scoundrel Hereward for courage and bravery? Now leave off burdening his respected majesty the king with such frivolous talk!" To whom the aforesaid soldier replied, saying that he had not been seduced by a bribe or gift, nor was he persuaded by any consideration; he had only to tell the truth about them without fear or favor, and having taken an oath to this effect he had been allowed to leave. And in replying, he asked how he could keep silent about such things when they demanded to know what he had seen with his own eyes and had himself experienced, without either offending the lord king or violating his oath by falsely reporting other than the truth. So the king directed that he should tell them, but that he should be considered without offence in this, declaring that he had long known him to be a truthful soldier, and reckoned that he was not exaggerating in this now. Once more, therefore, the aforesaid soldier was closely questioned, not only by the king but by many others, asking if the enemy were in need of provisions or any other necessaries, or if there were any further experienced men than those he had previously related, so as to find him out in any contradiction in his account, or rather that they might learn something to assist them in the siege. To this he made just one reply: "Well, if you are still anxious to hear their cause it is, as I understand it, as follows: It is because his respected majesty the king had given instructions that monks from overseas should be appointed deans and priors in all the churches of the English -- and for whom your eminence had just recently sent, that is to say those whom a certain distinguished English knight called Brunman intercepted at sea because of this, ducking them in the ocean in a big sack and sending them back, thus freeing his kindred from foreign domination for the time being. For this cause, fearing subjection to foreigners, the monks of that place risked endangering themselves rather than be reduced to servitude, and gathering to themselves outlaws, the condemned, the disinherited, those who had lost their parents, and such like, they put their place and the island in something of a state of defense. There's no pressure on account of the numbers of the army over there, and they aren't oppressed by the enemy. For although besieged by four kings and their subjects, the ploughman doesn't take his hand from the plough, nor does the right hand of the reaper hesitate in reaping; the hunter doesn't neglect his hunting spears, nor does the fowler stop lying in wait for birds by the banks of rivers and in woods, so those in the Isle are well and plentifully supplied with almost all living things. At the time when the water-fowl are molting and changing their appearance, I've commonly seen trappers there bringing in lots of small birds: very often a hundred, sometimes two hundred or more, and occasionally not far off a thousand from one stretch of water. Similarly from the woods that are in the Isle there is at one time of the year a good supply of heron, quite apart from the abundance of wild and domesticated animals. And certainly the waters which surround the Isle abound with all kinds of fish. What more need I say? Indeed, every day during the time I spent there we made ourselves sick with the sumptuous English-style feasts in the monks' refectory -- soldier and monk always going to dinner and supper together, at the high table the abbot with the three earls mentioned earlier, seated side by side with the two most distinguished men, Hereward and Thurcytel the Lad. Above each and every knight and monk there hung against the wall a shield and lance; and down the middle of the hall from top to bottom on the bench were placed mailcoats, helmets, and other arms, for the monks as well as the soldiers never scorned to take their turn and go out on a military patrol. Indeed, in what I noticed there, this one thing above all others struck me as remarkable, that almost all the monks of that place are so well-versed in warfare -- a thing I've certainly never heard of before, nor have I come across such anywhere else. Certainly I don't know that they are in need of anything as regards defense, let alone in spirit, when they have a fruitful island, so productive of every kind of grain and growing things, and so well fortified by waters and swamp, much stronger than any castle surrounded by walls. Nevertheless, I hope that my lord king will not cease attacking them, and then he will find that I haven't deviated from the truth, and will realize that in the end it would be better to make peace with them than be continually attacking them and getting absolutely nowhere."


What they did when they were disheartened about the Isle, and how the king was disposed to make peace with them, unless some of his own men had dissuaded him.

      Well, just then while he was relating this, one of those soldiers the king had sent to effect the blockade at Reach Dyke came in, and as soon as the story was finished, expostulated: "Don't you believe it? Does it seem so unlikely? Only yesterday I saw several men coming out of the Isle -- not many -- only seven, but dressed for battle and girt with proper war-equipment -- all but two of whom were manifestly monks, and like the others well-versed in warfare. And exercising the rights of the military, they set fire to the village of Burwell and did damage everywhere -- and not only these men but often others as well, rushing in all directions. Some of our men, ten in number who were engaged in the blockade, dashed in front of us all without consideration for themselves, thinking to capture them because they were fewer in number than us. Anyway, they finally intercepted them opposite the aforesaid dyke, within mutual lance-throwing distance. And after a long struggle all our men finally succumbed except for one distinguished soldier called Richard, who took his surname from his uncle Sheriff Osbeorht. One of the outlaws called Wennoth, leaving the main body, had stuck closely to Richard in order to take him. While these two continued to struggle, those who had come out from the Isle stood by for a long time and could see neither of them prevailing. And observing us approaching from a distance with a force of soldiers, the leader of their soldiers, Hereward, had them separated and allowed no one to offer violence against Richard, saying that it was shameful for two or three to fight against one man, and would in no way allow such a thing to be done by his men; and this we learnt from the mouth of Richard himself. However, we finally pursued them right up to their ships, killing one of their boatmen with a javelin and capturing another who told us their ranks and described who they were, adding their names: the leader of the soldiers Hereward, Wennoth, young Thurstan who was afterwards named prior, Brother Siward of St. Edmunds, Leofric, and Acca Hardy, so named because he was hardy in enduring pain. Although monks, these were certainly most highly distinguished in all military matters and had frequently undertaken deeds of valor with Hereward and were well-tried in their experience of battle.
      However, the king made no reference to this, no word either good or bad, saying to himself that it was unworthy to abuse men who had acted generously, and equally so to favor his enemies with praise in front of his own men. He contemplated making peace with them, knowing the Isle to be strongly defended both by nature and by the finest of men, and realizing that he could in no way prevent their coming and going there. So summoning the magnates and counsellors, he explained to them what was in his mind, to make peace with those in the Isle, declaring that it would be very serious to leave such men in the middle of the land at his rear, when they ought already to be marching against the Danish army and after that to go directly to Normandy. Whereupon several of the leaders who were present and were most intimate with him, hearing this, hastily dissuaded the king from doing it, because the islanders had invaded many of their estates and taken their property, sharing it all out among themselves. They said: "If you let them off with impunity -- those who have rebelled against your sovereignty so forcibly and for so long -- and are persuaded to make peace with them without their humbly begging and pleading for it, and even concede them privileges, then everyone will laugh at your supremacy and no one will be afraid to act likewise in your kingdom." To this the king angrily replied that he could not take the Isle or any place so naturally fortified by the power of God. To which one of those present, Ivo de Taillebois by name, indignantly answered: "Well, for a long time now I've known a certain old woman who could by her art alone, if she were present, crush all their courage and defense and drive them all out of the island in terror." And moreover he declared that he was willing to send for her, if the king agreed. On hearing this, all those who were present earnestly urged this on the king, saying that they should not oppose but rather assist such a work, and enrich with the greatest rewards anyone who could by art, invention, or any way whatever, crush the enemies of the lord king. And so the king, complying with their words and arguments, ordered the hag to be brought directly; but it was to be done in secret though, not openly. Afterwards he had his army again gather to surround the Isle, guarding it closely on all sides, personally appointing sentries here and there and arranging a blockade, lest anyone should come out from the island and discover what action they were taking towards assaulting it, whereby they might contrive some opposing art or invention.


How Hereward dressed up as a potter and went to the king's court to spy out what they meant to do; and how he cheated them, and slew some in the king's court, and returned unharmed.

      These matters being put in hand by the king therefore, the entrances to the Isle were so blocked up that it was quite impossible to enter or leave it. This was an unexpected cause for despondency and alarm to them, not knowing what action was to be taken against them, or what kind of attack, inasmuch as they heard that the king had learned of some new method of making war. So they decided that they ought, somehow or other, to send a man out to reconnoitre. Finding no one quite suitable however, at length it seemed best to Hereward to go out himself to reconnoitre in disguise, although everyone objected strongly, resisting his inclination. But in the end he set off, taking with him his mare called Swallow, who was perpetually drooping and awkward in appearance but whose great speed and willing endurance I have mentioned before. As he left he changed his clothes, cut his hair and beard and donned a greasy cloak. Coming across a potter, he took his jars and, pretending to be a potter, made his way to the king's court at Brandon. Arriving there the same evening, he happened to spend the night at the house of a widow where there lodged the witch whom I mentioned earlier had been brought in to destroy those who were in the Isle. There that same night Hereward heard them discussing in French how they were going to bring about the downfall of the Isle. (They supposed him to be a peasant and unfamiliar with the language.) Then in the middle of the night Hereward saw them go out silently to a spring of water which flowed to the east near the garden of the house. So he promptly followed them, and at a distance heard them talking, questioning some unknown guardian of the spring and awaiting replies. In the end he decided to deal with them on their return, but their lengthy delay prevented this plan, although leading to even greater and more daring adventures.
      Early next morning Hereward took up his pots and left. Wandering all round the king's court, he called out in the manner of a potter: "Pots, pots, good pots and jars! All first-class earthenware!" Now in the course of this he was led into the king's kitchen by some servants so that they might buy some pots. And one of the town bailiffs coming in by chance immediately exclaimed on catching sight of him that he had never seen a man so much like Hereward in his appearance, nor so much like him in his bearing -- insofar as a poor man could resemble a man of noble birth, or a peasant a knight. Hearing this, some people came to look at one who so resembled Hereward; and thus he was led into the king's hall among the knights and squires so they could see him. And looking at him closely, some of them declared that a man of such moderate height could scarcely boast so much bravery and valor as popular rumor attributed to him. And others asked him if he knew or had ever seen the scoundrel Hereward. To which he replied: "Would that I had that limb of Satan here among us now; then I'd get my own back! He's more detested by me than anybody, for he stole a cow of mine, four sheep, and everything I had, except for my pots and my nag, which up to now have been the livelihood of me and my two boys!"
      Now in the meantime orders were given for the king's dinner to be prepared, and Hereward returned to the kitchen. Then after dinner the servers, cooks, and kitchen-boys together plied themselves with wine and strong drink, with the result that they got drunk and made great fun of Hereward. In the end, sodden with wine, they tried to shave his head and pluck out his beard; and they blindfolded him and put his pots down on the ground all around so that he broke them. When he refused to submit to their buffoonery, one of them came up and hit him hard. But Hereward hit him back under the ear so that he fell to the ground insensible, as if he were dead. Seeing this, the man's friends all rose up and attacked Hereward with two- and three-pronged forks. So snatching a piece of wood from the fireplace, he defended himself against them all, killing one of them and wounding many. This was immediately made known throughout the palace, with the result that he was seized and taken prisoner.
      Then while he was in custody, the king having gone out hunting with his retinue, one of the guards approached, carrying in one hand iron shackles with which he intended to load Hereward, and in the other an unsheathed sword. Hereward promptly seized him and attacked him with his own sword, so that he tasted death; and after him he dealt out destruction to several others. And so, setting himself free, he went down over fences and ditches into the lower courtyard of the house, where he found his horse. As he mounted, one of the king's pages caught sight of him and accosted him with foul language, warning his friends and the king's servants to give chase to him; but the pursuit of one and all was so slow, and Hereward's flight so effective that, crossing the island of Somersham and travelling throughout that evening and at night by the light of the moon, he came secretly to the Isle in the early hours of the dawn. Out of all those who had given chase, none heard any word of him, or saw any sign, except for one man who chanced to go deeper into the forest, where his horse unexpectedly succumbed to fatigue and he himself could hardly stand on his feet. Coming across him by chance, Hereward immediately asked him who he was, and he replied: "One of the servants from the king's retinue who have been pursuing a fugitive peasant who by guile today killed his guard and one of the king's pages. So if you've seen or heard anything, for God's sake, and of your kindness, tell me!" "Well," said Hereward, "since you ask for God's sake, and appeal to my kindness, let me tell you that I am myself the man you're looking for. And now, so that you'll know me better, and will the more truthfully declare to your lord the king that you've spoken with me, you can leave behind your sword and lance as a token and, if you want to keep your life, promise me that you'll tell them the way it was!" And so this aforesaid servant eventually got back and, as he had promised, told the king about Hereward. Everybody listened in amazement; and the king declared that Hereward was a generous and most remarkable knight.


How Hereward disguised himself as a fisherman, and cheated the king a second time; and how the king attacked the Isle, and about their means of defense.

      Then when the war-engines were prepared as he had arranged, and in furtherance of which he had travelled there, the king began the attack, leading his entire army to Aldreth. He had also brought heaps of wood and stone and all materials for building ramparts there. And he ordered all the fishermen in the district to come with their boats to Cottenham so that they could ferry across what had been brought there, and with it construct mounds and hillocks at Aldreth from the top of which they might fight. Among these came Hereward, like a fisherman with a boat along with the rest. They diligently ferried across everything that had been brought there. Finally on the same day -- the sun not going down without some damage done -- Hereward finished his work and before he left set fire to it. As a result it was entirely burnt, and several men killed and swallowed up in the swamp. He had shaved his beard and head so as not to be recognized, employing various disguises to encompass the death of enemies and the destruction of foes, preferring to look bald for a while and forego his finely-styled locks, rather than spare his opponents. When it was learned that Hereward had again escaped with impunity, the king declared that it was shameful to be so frequently ridiculed by him. However, the revered king, among other things, gave instructions commanding his men that above all Hereward should be brought to him alive, and that they should keep him unharmed. And taking warning from the damage done on this occasion, they set a day-and-night guard over all their property and operations.
      Thus struggling for a week they just about completed one mound and set up four wooden bastions on which to site the war-engines. But those in the Isle resisted vigorously, building outworks and ramparts to oppose them. And then on the eighth day they all advanced to attack the island with their entire force, placing the witch I mentioned earlier, in an elevated position in their midst, so that being sufficiently protected on all sides, she might have space in which to practice her art. Once mounted, she harangued the Isle and its inhabitants for a long time, denouncing saboteurs and suchlike, and casting spells for their overthrow; and at the end of her chattering and incantations she bared her arse at them. Well, when she had performed her disgusting act three times as she wished, those who had been concealed in the swamp all around to right and left among the sharp reeds and brambles of the marshland, set fire to part of it so that, driven by the wind, the smoke and flames surged up against the king's camp. Spreading for as far as two furlongs, the fire ran hither and thither among them, making a horrible sight in the swamp, and the roar of the flames and crackling of twigs in the brushwood and willows making a terrible noise. As a result, stupefied and greatly alarmed, the king's men fled, each man for himself. But they could not go far along those watery paths through the wastes of the swamp, and they could not keep to the track easily. In consequence very many of them were suddenly swallowed up, and others, overwhelmed with arrows, drowned in the same waters, for in the fire and in their flight they were unable to use their lances against the bands of those who came cautiously and secretly out from the Isle to repel them. Among them the aforesaid woman who practiced her abominable art, fell down in the greatest terror head-first from her exalted position and broke her neck.
      And among the few who escaped -- compared with the number of the fallen -- the celebrated king himself carried right back to his men's camp an arrow stuck deep in his shield. Seeing which, his men were alarmed, thinking him wounded and bewailing the fact. To banish their hesitancy and fear, the king declared: "I've no wound to complain of, but I am pained that I didn't adopt a sounder plan from all those that were suggested to me; for which reason almost all our men have fallen, deceived by the cunning of an abominable woman and encouraged by our ignorance as to her detestable art -- even to listen to whom ought to be damnable! In fact, we've deserved what's happened to us."
      About this time Earl Ralph Guader, having secretly assembled a very large army, invited certain persons from among the English people to his wedding and by force and trickery compelled them to bind themselves to him by an oath. And he laid waste and subjected to himself the entire country between Norwich, Thetford, and Sudbury. Wherefore, thinking he was making a bid for the kingdom and nation, the three well-known earls and all those of high birth who were in the Isle now went off to join him, leaving Hereward and his men to guard the Isle alone.


How and wherefore the men of Ely made an agreement with the king; upon which Hereward wanted to burn the church and town.

      At length the king recognized that despite all these preparations, his efforts to take the island by war or by force were to no avail. And considering how many of his men he had just lost on this one occasion, and also what great numbers he had lost previously, he decreed that the external lands of the church and the property of the monks should be divided among his more eminent followers, who only had to guard the island from outside. In consequence therefore, several people appropriated the church lands in the vicinity, claiming them for themselves. Hearing this, the monks of the church in question adopted a more prudent plan in their activities; and upon the return of the abbot, who together with the aforesaid earls had fled in disguise to Bottisham with the ornaments and treasures of the church, asked the king for peace-terms, on condition that he would freely and honorably restore to them all the lands of the church. This was done one day in secret though, so that Hereward should not know of it They were received graciously by the king; and they arranged for the king to come to the Isle rapidly and secretly at a certain time when Hereward was out foraging with his men, in order that it might be managed without bloodshed and serious slaughter. However, one of the monks, Eadwine son of Ordgar, went to tell him that they had already been received by the king and had struck a bargain with him. He met Hereward already en route, marching with his men from the river bank, carrying brands to set fire to the church and town as a result of what they had heard. The monk with many prayers and entreaties stood out against him, warning him rather to look to his safety by flight, if he was unwilling to join them in securing peace, adding that the king with all his army was within a furlong at Witchford. Eventually he yielded to his words and arguments because he had been a friend to him and a good comrade in war and of practical help in many of his needs. Thus he was persuaded. He decided upon immediate action and, with his boats which he had well defended with arms to guard the waters surrounding the Isle, withdrew to a certain mere called Wide near Upwell, a large expanse of water with ample channels and having an easy way out. And because he had dispatched some of his men to inflict damage at Soham and lay waste the land with fire there, he intended to wait there until the scouts that he secretly sent should lead them to him quickly to prevent their being captured. When at length they were found in a little island called Stuntney, they thought Hereward's messengers were chasing them, and hid themselves among the reeds some distance away in the swamp. In fact, two of them lurking together, a certain Starcwulf and Broga, reckoned it might give them a better chance of safety if they had a tonsure like monks. And so they gave each other a tonsure as best they could with their swords. But in the end a shouted exchange brought mutual recognition, and assembled together they made their way back to their leader.


How Hereward was reduced to such straits that he slew with his own hands his excellent horse; and how next he overcame the army of five provinces.

      After some respite from serious pursuit in the aforesaid mere, Hereward was more severely besieged by those in the region and by the king's men, and so hard-pressed that in despair he slew with his own hands his splendid horse, so that no lesser man should boast that he had got Hereward's horse. But at length he escaped from this danger with his men, passed over Brunneswold and went to live in the great forests of Northamptonshire, laying waste the land with fire and sword. Eventually therefore at the king's command an army was assembled from the counties of Northampton, Cambridge, Lincoln, Holland, Leicester, Huntingdon and Warwick, which all came together on a pre-arranged day and with a host of soldiers tried to capture Hereward and his men, searching for him everywhere in the forests near Peterborough where he was staying at the time. And there, when surrounded by enemies and unable to avoid their hands, he moved about from place to place in the more remote parts of the forests in the district, waiting for his men and friends whom he had summoned to help him. Meanwhile he had the shoes on his horses' feet put on back-to-front, so that it could not be discovered from their tracks where they were or where they were going. He gave instructions that the friends and fellow-soldiers for whom he had just sent were to do the same. These arrived one by one as best they could. Now that Hereward knew that there was no place to turn to, because warfare closed in on him on all sides, it seemed best to him to make an attack on his pursuers with a small number from the rear, front or flank, before they were prepared for battle, since he now had a hundred picked soldiers with him, and among them some of the toughest men, besides a few archers and slingmen. For in those days Hereward happened to have many men, both from that region and further afield, who came to him for military training and who, in order to be instructed in this, left their lords and friends and joined Hereward, having heard of the fame of his men. Several even came from the king's court to find out whether what they had heard of him could possibly be true. Hereward received these with caution, however, and with an oath of fidelity. For there was a very great number of knights and foot-soldiers from the regions there, and Turold, abbot of Peterborough, and Ivo de Taillebois were leading the king's army to deal death to them all. Then Hereward and his men, not frightened by their numbers although they were seriously beset on all sides, made preparations. They concealed all their archers and slingmen positioned in the trees, standing unseen among the branches to discharge their missiles from above, so that when fighting they might be shielded from below and defended in this way lest they were unable to endure the force of a charge in any way. And thus they advanced from beneath the woodland trees under cover of their archers, Hereward always leading the way in everything. Immediately following him came Regenweald, steward of Ramsey, who always acted as standard-bearer to his army. And other celebrated soldiers shared positions given them to right and left, the names and valor of which most distinguished men in so famous a battle it would be proper to record, in memory of what the few achieved against so many. And the most famous of them, and rightly held foremost both for warfare and courageous spirit, one Winter by name, was on the left flank. These had advanced on horseback, not without due consideration, to take the brunt of the attack. And becoming separated from the rest in the foray, these daring men charged the enemy, broke through their front line and killed many. And having inflicted some damage thus, they retired to the forest for protection, lest they should be unable to withstand the host of the enemy if they attacked in force. Finding their feet however, they retraced their steps again -- and again and again, all day long, advancing and retreating, attacking great numbers, their friends continually covering them with missiles hurled from above and ensuring their safety in retreat. As they strove in this way into the afternoon, the horses of their adversaries as well as the heavily-clad soldiers were greatly irritated, pursuing them in their flight, and waiting in armor all day long for them to come out again. Eventually they left off besieging the camp. And then Hereward with all his men immediately came on them from the rear in a single rush, engaging in a significant encounter, capturing and taking prisoner several men including five of some importance. Among these the aforesaid abbot of Peterborough was captured, as well as others of great distinction. Then, learning of this, the enemy ceased fighting, although they were at close quarters, lest they should ill-treat or kill those whom they had taken. I have recounted the remarkable course of their battle up to this point. This last engagement proved a great blow and no little destruction to the enemy, who were completely worn down with fatigue; and being cut off from their camp, they now began to retreat.


How Hereward took vengeance upon the abbot of Burgh.

       Afterwards the aforesaid abbot of Peterborough was released from captivity by Hereward for a ransom of thirty thousand pounds. And one of Hereward's kinsmen called Siward the Blond set free the abbot's nephew and others whom they had captured, all of whom he had treated with honorable hospitality out of respect for the abbot. But remembering neither their kindness nor their agreement, they repaid Hereward by once more making war on him and his men. To this purpose, the aforesaid abbot distributed many of the estates of his church to knights on condition that they gave military assistance to subdue Hereward, on account of the trouble he had given the abbot. He arranged that they should attack Hereward as a duty in return for their lands. However, when Hereward heard reports of this, and that a punishment hung over him in return for his kindness, he did not long delay, but the same night went with his men to Peterborough to avenge themselves. And laying waste the whole town with fire, they plundered all the treasures of the church and chased the abbot, although he and his men managed to escape by hiding themselves.


Of a vision and a marvelous occurrence seen by Hereward.

      In his sleep the following night, Hereward saw standing before him a man of indescribable appearance, in old age, fearsome of countenance, and more remarkable in all his clothing than anything he had ever seen or imagined in his mind, now menacing him with a great key which he brandished in his hand, and with a fearful injunction that if he wished to ensure his safety and avoid a miserable death the next day, he should restore in their entirety all those possessions of his church which Hereward had taken the previous night. Indeed, on waking he was seized with holy dread, and that very hour carried back everything he had taken away, and then moved on with all his men. On their journey they unexpectedly went astray, losing the right path. A marvelous thing happened to them while they were astray thus -- a miracle, if such things can reasonably be said to happen to flesh and blood. For while in the stormy night and gloom they were wandering hither and thither through the forests, not knowing where they were going, a huge wolf came in front of them, fawning on them like a tame dog and walking along in front of them down the path. In the obscuring gloom they mistook it for a white dog because of its grey coat, and urged one another to follow the dog closely, declaring that it must have come from some village. This they did. And in the midst of the night, while they discovered that they had succeeded in getting out of the by-way and recognizing the road, suddenly there appeared burning lights clinging to the soldiers' lances -- not very bright, but like those popularly called will-o-the-wisps. No one could get rid of them, or extinguish them, or throw them away. Whereupon, greatly marvelling amongst themselves, although they were stupefied they could see their way, and went on led by the wolf. And then with dawning day they all eventually found to their astonishment that their guide had been a wolf. And while they were at a loss to know what had happened to them, the wolf disappeared, the lights vanished, and they had got to where they wanted, beyond Stamford. And realizing that their journey had been successful, they gave thanks to God, marvelling at what had happened to them.


How Hereward pursued an enemy and granted him mercy.

      Hereward had not been there more than three days when he heard that an enemy of his would be in the aforesaid town, a man who had often tried to ruin him and hand him over to those enemies who had lately broken faith with him. Whereupon to see if what he had heard was true, he set out with just two men. And when the fellow realized that Hereward was on his way, he immediately resorted to flight. Hereward hastily followed his track from house to house, from garden to garden, with a naked sword and a small shield in his hand, right into the great hall where many men from the man's own district were assembled at a club dinner. But having nowhere to turn, Hereward being so close on his heels, he left, fleeing into the interior of the house where, putting his head through the hole in a lavatory seat, he begged for mercy. And moved by a generous spirit, for he was always most gracious in all his ways, Hereward did not touch him there, nor inflict any injury in word or deed, but returned the way he had come, passing rapidly through the middle of the house. And being astonished, none of those feasting there ventured to grumble or upbraid him about what had happened, since they had nothing in their hands but just drinking-horns and wine-cups.


How Hereward's wife assumed the habit of a nun at Crowland.

      In the interval, however, Turfrida, the aforesaid wife of Hereward, had already begun to turn away from him because at the time he was receiving frequent envoys from a woman asking him to marry her. She was the widow of Earl Dolfin and particularly powerful on account of her wealth. She should obtain a license from the king which, as she had heard from the king's mouth, she could have for the asking if Hereward were peaceable and willing to pledge faith with him. For this reason, therefore, charmed with the beauty of the woman, Hereward gave his consent, for there was nobody more lovely nor more beautiful in the realm, and scarcely anybody more eminent in their wealth. Consequently, he sent messengers to the king and asked for the aforesaid woman, saying that he was willing to be reconciled with the king's majesty. He received Hereward's messengers graciously and, accepting what he proposed, appointed a day to meet him, adding that he had for a long time been wishing to receive him into his favor. In consequence Hereward's own wife, about whom I spoke a little earlier, went to Crowland and chose the better life, taking the holy veil. As a result of this many unfortunate things happened to him later on, because she had been very wise and good with advice in an emergency. For subsequently, as he himself often admitted, much happened to him which would not have done in his rise to success.


How Hereward overcame a certain very eminent knight in single combat.

      Once when Hereward was off on a journey across Brunneswold, he met with a certain Saxon soldier, a man of great courage and tall stature called Letold, who was well-known and highly praised in many regions for his skill and valor in war. Highly courteous as usual, Hereward promptly first wished him well, and then enquired his name, rank and family. Not taking his words and questions in good part, Letold answered haughtily, calling him a simpleton and peasant. So finally moved to anger, they came to blows. And not only they but their soldiers grappled at the same time -- five on the side of the aforesaid knight and three on Hereward's side, namely: Gærwig, Wennoth, and Mæthelgar. As they fought, Gærwig soon laid low one soldier and turned to attack one of his comrades. Soon afterwards the other two also overcame their adversaries. Meanwhile, however, the aforesaid famous knight did not cease fighting with Hereward although his men were overcome. Nevertheless, Hereward would not allow any of his men to assist him, saying then as always when anyone was fighting with one of his men or with himself, that it was shameful for two to fight against one, and that a man ought to fight alone or else surrender. While these two continued to fight, the result of the combat between them being in doubt for some time, Hereward's sword unexpectedly broke off at the hilt, whereupon hesitating for a moment he stumbled over a helmet, the other standing thunderstruck. Immediately one of his soldiers, Gærwig, speaking in a friendly manner, asked him if he had forgotten what he had close by his side for such an emergency, adding that he wished Hereward would let him take over his place in the fight. Greatly encouraged by this, Hereward drew from its sheath a second sword which he had forgotten, and attacked his opponent more vigorously. And at the first blow, while feigning an attack on the head, he struck the man in the middle of his thigh. Still the soldier defended himself for some time on his knees, declaring that for as long as there was life in him he would never be willing to surrender or look beaten. Admiring which, Hereward praised his bravery and courage and stopped attacking him, leaving him and going on his way. And talking further about him to his men, he said: "I've never found such a man, nor did I ever meet with his equal in courage! Nor have I ever been in such danger when fighting anybody, nor had so much difficulty in conquering anyone."


How Hereward went to the king's court with his soldiers.

      He was making his way to the king's court with these three men, but when at length he approached, he reflected that it would not be a distinguished way to meet the king, and immediately retraced his steps. And on his return he brought with him forty other most distinguished soldiers, all very big and tall in stature and proficient in warfare, and remarkable for their mere appearance and equipment in arms, if nothing else. He and his men were received by the king with great kindness and honor. However, the king would not allow Hereward's band to stay along with his courtiers, but gave instructions for them to be entertained at the next town, lest by chance any disturbance should break out between them and his own men. Nevertheless he took Hereward with just three soldiers into the palace, so as to deal the next day with his proposal. On the following day, however, the revered king himself went to see Hereward's soldiers and had them stand and march before him, both armed and unarmed. And he was greatly delighted with them and praised them, complimenting their handsome appearance and stature, and added that they ought all to be really very distinguished in warfare. After this, however, Hereward allowed them all to go home, except for two soldiers in addition to those already with him. And after having paid homage to the king, Hereward waited to receive his father's estate undiminished.


How he fought with a soldier of the king's court, and overcame him.

      Now some of the king's soldiers at court, indignant at this, felt aggrieved that strangers and enemies should suddenly have come into favor with the king's majesty like this, and attempted to do him some harm. In fact they had a discussion in secret with a certain very eminent soldier of their company called Ogga, and arranged that he should challenge Hereward to single combat, knowing that he could not keep his hands off anyone if impudently or haughtily provoked to a fight or test of courage. They were afraid to raise a hand against him in the presence of the king, but reckoned to get some remedy for their jealousy even if he refused, for they were optimistic that he would be beaten by such a soldier, since he was taller than Hereward and seemed very much stronger just from the look in his eyes. And so they incited this man against Hereward, as though he had been insulted. And he was to do it secretly, lest it should become known to the king before the combat took place. After being repeatedly abused, Hereward eventually consented. So they directly went some distance away to a woodland, together with just three companions on either side under agreement on oath that nobody should assist either of them but just stand by in case they wished for a truce or should prefer to fight it out. Thus they grappled and fought for a long time. Meanwhile, Hereward repeatedly urged him to desist from the attempt, pointing out that it was a very stupid thing to do to go on fighting the whole day long for nothing. The soldier paid no attention to his words, but instead became more confident of himself, assuming that Hereward kept harping on this out of fear or feebleness of body, and resolving rather to see him defeated. And so he attacked him increasingly; at which Hereward over and over again gave way, so that the vain hope constantly deceived him. But finally unwilling to put up with this, Hereward made a stand. And as it was his custom in tournament and battle always to fight to a finish like a man, he stood bravely against him and did not stop until he had conquered him, his own right arm being seriously wounded.


How Hereward was accused by Robert de Horepol and put into prison.

      When therefore these things came to the notice of certain of his enemies, jealous of his success, they came to court and made many false reports about him to the king, and deceitfully urged him not to have near him such men any longer, traitors and enemies of his realm; just so they ought neither to be received at his court nor afforded a truce, but ought rather to be handed over to punishment or else be kept in perpetual imprisonment. The revered king did not take much notice of these words; nevertheless, in order to satisfy them, he gave orders for him to be taken into custody within the hour, making him over to a certain respected man, Robert de Horepol, at Bedford, where he remained for nearly a whole year, merely bound with fetters. But the Earl de Warenne and Robert Malet and Ivo de Taillebois remained hostile to him, dissuading the king from setting him free from custody, declaring that it was because of him that the country was not pacified. When they heard about this, Hereward's men dispersed. Nevertheless, they often sent in disguise to their lord a certain clerk of his called Leofric the Deacon, who was always astute in all his doings, and able to feign foolishness in place of learning -- and cleverly so. On one occasion there went with him Utlah the cook, a man who was cautious at all points yet very witty at the expense of the foreigners. In the presence of these men one day, Hereward's aforementioned warder, pitying him together with the rest, exclaimed: "Alas, alas! Soon now, through the machinations of Ivo de Taillebois, this man once renowned for hosts of soldiers and the leader and lord of so many very eminent men, is to be taken from here and delivered into the hands of a detestable man and sent to the castle of Rockingham. Would that those whom he formerly enriched with gifts and raised with honors, or who were on the Isle, would follow the tracks of their master and intercept us en route, so as to set their lord and master free!" Hearing this, and after receiving signs from their lord, Hereward's two men described what they had heard to his soldiers and all his men. So having secretly reconnoitered a forest through which the convoy would have to pass, they picked out a place and all assembled there on the day it was due to arrive. Upon their arrival, Hereward's men immediately rushed on them by surprise, overthrowing many of them before they could even take up their light arms. When they had recovered their arms, however, they resisted bravely, for there were a lot of them -- in fact all of the soldiers from the castles round about. In the end it nearly proved the death of all of these; for when they could escape they wouldn't, and yet in the end they couldn't be seized. And then from the midst of several of them who still survived, Hereward shouted out that they should be careful not to injure the troops of his respected warder, and that Robert himself with his men should be allowed to go unharmed. Being set free from ten chains, Hereward moved here and there among those of his men who were still fighting, declaring that Robert had saved his life, so they immediately ceased from the pursuit. On the march Robert's men had come last, forming a rearguard, while Hereward was led in chains in the midst of those in front. At last his aforesaid warder wished to leave together with those of his comrades who survived, and Hereward returned him repeated thanks, for he had kept him in custody with courtesy and carefully treated him with honor. And Hereward asked Robert to make representations on his behalf to the lord king.


How Robert of Horepol made a good report of Hereward to the king.

      After this the aforesaid Robert de Horepol immediately went to the court of the king, informing him of everything that had taken place, and how Hereward's men had set him free. Finally, he added the request he had carried: that Hereward might avail himself of the king's clemency, remembering how he had come to his court under his protection and safe-conduct, and has thus been unjustly put in prison and under custody. However, if the king would even now carry out what he had then promised him, Hereward would in every way serve his most dear lord, knowing that this injury had not been perpetrated by him but through the persuasion and machinations of enemies. After reflecting on these words a little, the revered king replied that Hereward had not been justly treated. And when Robert realized that the king had taken his words well, he promptly recounted to the king many commendable things about Hereward and his men, adding that such a warrior in whom there might be found great sincerity and fidelity, ought not to be lightly banished from him and from his realm for so trivial a reason. And he declared that if there was any new disturbance in the country, Hereward would certainly prefer to rely on his former resources unless he could find favor rather than servitude in the king's eyes, and should in the king's kindness receive back his father's estates. At this the king instantly said that he ought by rights to have it, giving a document addressed to Hereward and the men of the district stating that he was to receive his father's estate and enjoy quiet possession of it; but if he wished to retain the king's friendship hereafter, he must henceforth be willing to pursue peace rather than folly.
      And so Hereward, the famous knight, tried and known in many places, was received into favor by the king. And with his father's land and possessions he lived on for many years faithfully serving King William and devotedly reconciled to his compatriots and friends. And thus in the end rested in peace, upon whose soul may God have mercy.

Go to Eustache the Monk: Introduction