Produced by Anne Soulard, Charles Aldarondo, Tiffany Vergon,S.R.Ellison and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
THE LAST OF THE ENGLISH
I. HOW HEREWARD WAS OUTLAWED, AND WENT NORTH TO SEEK HIS FORTUNES
II. HOW HEREWARD SLEW THE BEAR
III. HOW HEREWARD SUCCORED A PRINCESS OF CORNWALL
IV. HOW HEREWARD TOOK SERVICE WITH RANALD, KING OF WATERFORD
V. HOW HEREWARD SUCCORED THE PRINCESS OF CORNWALL A SECOND TIME
VI. HOW HEREWARD WAS WRECKED UPON THE FLANDERS SHORE
VII. HOW HEREWARD WENT TO THE WAR AT GUISNES
VIII. HOW A FAIR LADY EXERCISED THE MECHANICAL ART TO WIN HEREWARD'S LOVE
IX. HOW HEREWARD WENT TO THE WAR IN SCALDMARILAND
X. HOW HEREWARD WON THE MAGIC ARMOR
XI. HOW THE HOLLANDERS TOOK HEREWARD FOR A MAGICIAN
XII. HOW HEREWARD TURNED BERSERK
XIII. HOW HEREWARD WON MARE SWALLOW
XIV. HOW HEREWARD RODE INTO BRUGES LIKE A BEGGAR-MAN
XV. HOW EARL TOSTI GODWINSSON CAME TO ST. OMER
XVI. HOW HEREWARD WAS ASKED TO SLAY AN OLD COMRADE
XVII. HOW HEREWARD TOOK THE NEWS FROM STANFORD BRIGG AND HASTINGS
XVIII. HOW EARL GODWIN'S WIDOW CAME TO ST. OMER
XIX. HOW HEREWARD CLEARED BOURNE OF FRENCHMEN
XX. HOW HEREWARD WAS MADE A KNIGHT AFTER THE FASHION OF THE ENGLISH
XXI. HOW IVO TAILLEBOIS MARCHED OUT OF SPALDING TOWN
XXII. HOW HEREWARD SAILED FOR ENGLAND ONCE AND FOR ALL
XXIII. HOW HEREWARD GATHERED AN ARMY
XXIV. HOW ARCHBISHOP ALDRED DIED OF SORROW
XXV. HOW HEREWARD FOUND A WISER MAN IN ENGLAND THAN HIMSELF
XXVI. HOW HEREWARD FULFILLED HIS WORDS TO THE PRIOR OF THE GOLDEN BOROUGH
XXVII. HOW THEY HELD A GREAT MEETING IN THE HALL OF ELY
XXVIII. HOW THEY FOUGHT AT ALDRETH
XXIX. HOW SIR DADE BROUGHT NEWS FROM ELY
XXX. HOW HEREWARD PLAYED THE POTTER; AND HOW HE CHEATED THE KING
XXXI. HOW THEY FOUGHT AGAIN AT ALDRETH
XXXII. HOW KING WILLIAM TOOK COUNSEL OF A CHURCHMAN
XXXIII. HOW THE MONKS OF ELY DID AFTER THEIR KIND
XXXIV. HOW HEREWARD WENT TO THE GREENWOOD
XXXV. HOW ABBOT THOROLD WAS PUT TO RANSOM
XXXVI. HOW ALFTRUDA WROTE TO HEREWARD
XXXVII. HOW HEREWARD LOST SWORD BRAIN-BITER
XXXVIII. HOW HEREWARD CAME IN TO THE KING
XXXIX. HOW TORFRIDA CONFESSED THAT SHE HAD BEEN INSPIRED BY THE DEVIL
XL. HOW HEREWARD BEGAN TO GET HIS SOUL'S PRICE
XLI. HOW EARL WALTHEOF WAS MADE A SAINT
XLII. HOW HEREWARD GOT THE BEST OF HIS SOUL'S PRICE
XLIII. HOW DEEPING FEN WAS DRAINED
HEREWARD, THE LAST OF THE ENGLISH.
The heroic deeds of Highlanders, both in these islands and elsewhere,have been told in verse and prose, and not more often, nor more loudly,than they deserve. But we must remember, now and then, that there havebeen heroes likewise in the lowland and in the fen. Why, however, poetshave so seldom sung of them; why no historian, save Mr. Motley in his"Rise of the Dutch Republic," has condescended to tell the tale of theirdoughty deeds, is a question not difficult to answer.
In the first place, they have been fewer in number. The lowlands ofthe world, being the richest spots, have been generally the soonestconquered, the soonest civilized, and therefore the soonest taken outof the sphere of romance and wild adventure, into that of order and law,hard work and common sense, as well as--too often--into the sphere ofslavery, cowardice, luxury, and ignoble greed. The lowland populations,for the same reasons, have been generally the first to deteriorate,though not on account of the vices of civilization. The vices ofincivilization are far worse, and far more destructive of human life;and it is just because they are so, that rude tribes deterioratephysically less than polished nations. In the savage struggle for life,none but the strongest, healthiest, cunningest, have a chance of living,prospering, and propagating their race. In the civilized state, on thecontrary, the weakliest and the silliest, protected by law, religion,and humanity, have chance likewise, and transmit to their offspringtheir own weakliness or silliness. In these islands, for instance,at the time of the Norman Conquest, the average of man was doubtlesssuperior, both in body and mind, to the average of man now, simplybecause the weaklings could not have lived at all; and the rich anddelicate beauty, in which the women of the Eastern Counties stillsurpass all other races in these isles, was doubtless far more common inproportion to the numbers of the population.
Another reason--and one which every Scot will understand--why lowlandheroes "carent vate sacro," is that the lowlands and those who live inthem are wanting in the poetic and romantic elements. There is in thelowland none of that background of the unknown, fantastic, magical,terrible, perpetually feeding curiosity and wonder, which still remainsin the Scottish highlands; which, when it disappears from thence, willremain embalmed forever in the pages of Walter Scott. Against thathalf-magical background his heroes stand out in vivid relief; and justlyso. It was not put there by him for stage purposes; it was there as afact; and the men of whom he wrote were conscious of it, were moulded byit, were not ashamed of its influence. Nature among the mountains is toofierce, too strong, for man. He cannot conquer her, and she awes him. Hecannot dig down the cliffs, or chain the storm-blasts; and his fear ofthem takes bodily shape: he begins to people the weird places of theearth with weird beings, and sees nixes in the dark linns as he fishesby night, dwarfs in the caves where he digs, half-trembling, morsels ofcopper and iron for his weapons, witches and demons on the snow-blastwhich overwhelms his herd and his hut, and in the dark clouds whichbrood on the untrodden mountain-peak. He lives in fear: and yet, if hebe a valiant-hearted man, his fears do him little harm. They may breakout, at times, in witch-manias, with all their horrible suspicions, andthus breed cruelty, which is the child of fear; but on the whole theyrather produce in man thoughtfulness, reverence, a sense, confusedyet precious, of the boundless importance of the unseen world. Hissuperstitions develop his imagination; the moving accidents of a wildlife call out in him sympathy and pathos; and the mountaineer becomesinstinctively a poet.
The lowlander, on the other hand, has his own strength, his own"virtues," or manfulnesses, in the good old sense of the word: but theyare not for the most part picturesque or even poetical.
He finds out, soon enough for his weal and his bane, that he is strongerthan Nature; and right tyrannously and irreverently he lords it overher, clearing, delving, diking, building, without fear or shame. Heknows of no natural force greater than himself, save an occasionalthunder-storm; and against that, as he grows more cunning, he insureshis crops. Why should he reverence Nature? Let him use her, and eat. Onecannot blame him. Man was sent into the world (so says the Scripture)to fill and subdue the earth. But he was sent into the world for otherpurposes, which the lowlander is but too apt to forget. With the awe ofNature, the awe of the unseen dies out in him. Meeting with no visiblesuperior, he is apt to become not merely unpoetical and irreverent, butsomewhat of a sensualist and an atheist. The sense of the beautiful diesout in him more and more. He has little or nothing around him to refineor lift up his soul, and unless he meet with a religion and with acivilization which can deliver him, he may sink into that dull brutalitywhich is too common among the lowest classes of the Engli
But there may be a period in the history of a lowland race when they,too, become historic for a while. There was such a period for the men ofthe Eastern Counties; for they proved it by their deeds.
When the men of Wessex, the once conquering race of Britain, fell atHastings once and for all, and struck no second blow, then the men ofthe Danelagh disdained to yield to the Norman invader. For seven longyears they held their own, not knowing, like true Englishmen, whenthey were beaten; and fought on desperate, till there were none left tofight. Their bones lay white on every island in the fens; their corpsesrotted on gallows beneath every Norman keep; their few survivors crawledinto monasteries, with eyes picked out, or hands and feet cut off,or took to the wild wood as strong outlaws, like their successors andrepresentatives, Robin Hood, Scarlet, and John, Adam Bell, and Clym ofthe Cleugh, and William of Cloudeslee. But they never really bent theirnecks to the Norman yoke; they kept alive in their hearts that proudspirit of personal independence, which they brought with them from themoors of Denmark and the dales of Norway; and they kept alive, too,though in abeyance for a while, those free institutions which werewithout a doubt the germs of our British liberty.
They were a changed folk since first they settled in thatDanelagh;--since first in the days of King Beorhtric, "in the year 787,three ships of Northmen came from Haeretha land, and the King's reeverode to the place, and would have driven them up to the King's town, forhe knew not what men they were: but they slew him there and then"; andafter the Saxons and Angles began to find out to their bitter bale whatmen they were, those fierce Vikings out of the dark northeast.
But they had long ceased to burn farms, sack convents, torture monksfor gold, and slay every human being they met, in mere Berserker lustof blood. No Barnakill could now earn his nickname by entreating hiscomrades, as they tossed the children on their spear-points, to "Na killthe barns." Gradually they had settled down on the land, intermarriedwith the Angles and Saxons, and colonized all England north and east ofWatling Street (a rough line from London to Chester), and the easternlowlands of Scotland likewise. Gradually they had deserted Thor and Odinfor "the White Christ"; had their own priests and bishops, and builttheir own minsters. The convents which the fathers had destroyed, thesons, or at least the grandsons, rebuilt; and often, casting away swordand axe, they entered them as monks themselves; and Peterborough,Ely, and above all Crowland, destroyed by them in Alfred's time with ahorrible destruction, had become their holy places, where they deckedthe altars with gold and jewels, with silks from the far East, and fursfrom the far North; and where, as in sacred fortresses, they, and theliberty of England with them, made their last unavailing stand.
For a while they had been lords of all England. The Anglo-Saxon race waswearing out. The men of Wessex, priest-ridden, and enslaved by theirown aristocracy, quailed before the free Norsemen, among whom was not asingle serf. The God-descended line of Cerdic and Alfred was worn out.Vain, incapable, profligate kings, the tools of such prelates as Odoand Dunstan, were no match for such wild heroes as Thorkill the tall, orOlaf Trygvasson, or Swend Forkbeard. The Danes had gradually colonized,not only their own Danelagh and Northumbria, but great part of Wessex.Vast sums of Danegelt were yearly sent out of the country to buy offthe fresh invasions which were perpetually threatened. Then Ethelred theUnready, Ethelred Evil-counsel, advised himself to fulfil his name,and the curse which Dunstan had pronounced against him at the baptismalfont. By his counsel the men of Wessex rose against the unsuspectingDanes, and on St. Brice's eve, A.D. 1002, murdered them all withtortures, man, woman, and child. It may be that they only did to thechildren as the fathers had done to them: but the deed was "worse than acrime; it was a mistake." The Danes of the Danelagh and of Northumbria,their brothers of Denmark and Norway, the Orkneys and the east coast ofIreland, remained unharmed. A mighty host of Vikings poured from thenceinto England the very next year, under Swend Forkbeard and the greatCanute; and after thirteen fearful campaigns came the great battle ofAssingdown in Essex, where "Canute had the victory; and all the Englishnation fought against him, and all the nobility of the English race wasthere destroyed."
That same year saw the mysterious death of Edmund Ironside, the lastman of Cerdic's race worthy of the name. For the next twenty-five years,Danish kings ruled from the Forth to the Land's End.
A noble figure he was, that great and wise Canute, the friend of thefamous Godiva, and Leofric, Godiva's husband, and Siward Biorn, theconqueror of Macbeth; trying to expiate by justice and mercy the darkdeeds of his bloodstained youth; trying (and not in vain) to blend thetwo races over which he ruled; rebuilding the churches and monasterieswhich his father had destroyed; bringing back in state to Canterbury thebody of Archbishop Elphege--not unjustly called by the Saxons martyrand saint--whom Tall Thorkill's men had murdered with beef bones andox-skulls, because he would not give up to them the money destinedfor God's poor; rebuking, as every child has heard, his housecarles'flattery by setting his chair on the brink of the rising tide; and thenlaying his golden crown, in token of humility, on the high altar ofWinchester, never to wear it more. In Winchester lie his bones unto thisday, or what of them the civil wars have left: and by him lie the bonesof his son Hardicanute, in whom, as in his half-brother Harold Harefootbefore him, the Danish power fell to swift decay, by insolence anddrink and civil war; and with the Danish power England fell to pieceslikewise.
Canute had divided England into four great earldoms, each ruled, underhim, by a jarl, or earl--a Danish, not a Saxon title.
At his death in 1036, the earldoms of Northumbria and East Anglia--themore strictly Danish parts--were held by a true Danish hero, SiwardBiorn, alias _Digre_ "the Stout", conqueror of Macbeth, and son of theFairy Bear; proving his descent, men said, by his pointed and hairyears.
Mercia, the great central plateau of England, was held by Earl Leofric,husband of the famous Lady Godiva.
Wessex, which Canute had at first kept in his own hands, had passedinto those of the famous Earl Godwin, the then ablest man in England.Possessed of boundless tact and cunning, gifted with an eloquence whichseems, from the accounts remaining of it, to have been rather that ofa Greek than an Englishman; himself of high--perhaps of royal--Sussexblood (for the story of his low birth seems a mere fable of his Frenchenemies), and married first to Canute's sister, and then to his niece,he was fitted, alike by fortunes and by talents, to be the king-makerwhich he became.
Such a system may have worked well as long as the brain of a hero wasthere to overlook it all. But when that brain was turned to dust, thehistory of England became, till the Norman Conquest, little more thanthe history of the rivalries of the two great houses of Godwin andLeofric.
Leofric had the first success in king-making. He, though bearing aSaxon name, was the champion of the Danish party and of Canute's son,or reputed son, Harold Harefoot; and he succeeded, by the help of the"Thanes north of Thames," and the "lithsmen of London," which citywas more than half Danish in those days, in setting his puppet on thethrone. But the blood of Canute had exhausted itself. Within seven yearsHarold Harefoot and Hardicanute, who succeeded him, had died as foullyas they lived; and Godwin's turn had come.
He, though married to a Danish princess, and acknowledging his Danishconnection by the Norse names which were borne by his three most famoussons, Harold, Sweyn, and Tostig, constituted himself the champion ofthe men of Wessex and the house of Cerdic. He had murdered, or at leastcaused to be murdered, horribly, Alfred the Etheling, King Ethelred'sson and heir-apparent, when it seemed his interest to support the claimsof Hardicanute against Harefoot. He now found little difficulty inpersuading his victim's younger brother to come to England, and becomeat once his king, his son-in-law and his puppet.
Edward the Confessor, if we are to believe the monks whom he pampered,was naught but virtue an
Civil wars, invasions, outlawry of Godwin and his sons by the Danishparty; then of Alfgar, Leofric's son, by the Saxon party; the outlaws oneither side attacking and plundering the English shores by the help ofNorsemen, Welshmen, Irish, and Danes,--any mercenaries who could be gottogether; and then,--"In the same year Bishop Aldred consecrated theminster at Gloucester to the glory of God and of St. Peter, and thenwent to Jerusalem with such splendor as no man had displayed beforehim"; and so forth. The sum and substance of what was done in those"happy times" may be well described in the words of the Anglo-Saxonchronicler for the year 1058. "This year Alfgar the earl was banished;but he came in again with violence, through aid of Griffin (the kingof North Wales, his brother-in-law). And this year came a fleet fromNorway. It is tedious to tell how these matters went." These were thenormal phenomena of a reign which seemed, to the eyes of monks, aholy and a happy one; because the king refused, whether from spite orsuperstition, to have an heir to the house of Cerdic, and spent his timebetween prayer, hunting, the seeing of fancied visions, the uttering offancied prophecies, and the performance of fancied miracles.
But there were excuses for him. An Englishman only in name,--aNorman, not only of his mother's descent (she was aunt of William theConqueror), but by his early education on the Continent,--he loved theNorman better than the Englishman; Norman knights and clerks filled hiscourt, and often the high dignities of his provinces, and returned asoften as expelled; the Norman-French language became fashionable;Norman customs and manners the signs of civilization; and thus all waspreparing steadily for the great catastrophe, by which, within a year ofEdward's death, the Norman became master of the land.
Perhaps it ought to have been so. Perhaps by no other method couldEngland, and, with England, Scotland, and in due time Ireland, havebecome partakers of that classic civilization and learning, the fountwhereof, for good and for evil, was Rome and the Pope of Rome: butthe method was at least wicked; the actors in it tyrannous, brutal,treacherous, hypocritical; and the conquest of England by William willremain to the end of time a mighty crime, abetted--one may almost saymade possible, as too many such crimes have been before and since--bythe intriguing ambition of the Pope of Rome.
Against that tyranny the free men of the Danelagh and of Northumbriarose. If Edward, the descendant of Cerdic, had been little to them,William, the descendant of Rollo, was still less. That French-speakingknights should expel them from their homes, French-chanting monks fromtheir convents, because Edward had promised the crown of England toWilliam, his foreign cousin, or because Harold Godwinsson of Wessex hadsworn on the relics of all the saints to be William's man, was contraryto their common-sense of right and reason.
So they rose and fought: too late, it may be, and without unity orpurpose; and they were worsted by an enemy who had both unity andpurpose; whom superstition, greed, and feudal discipline kept together,at least in England, in one compact body of unscrupulous and terribleconfederates.
But theirs was a land worth fighting for,--a good land and large: fromHumber mouth inland to the Trent and merry Sherwood, across to Chesterand the Dee, round by Leicester and the five burghs of the Danes;eastward again to Huntingdon and Cambridge (then a poor village on thesite of an old Roman town); and then northward again into the widefens, the land of the Girvii and the Eormingas, "the children of thepeat-bog," where the great central plateau of England slides into thesea, to form, from the rain and river washings of eight shires, lowlandsof a fertility inexhaustible, because ever-growing to this day.
They have a beauty of their own, these great fens, even now, when theyare diked and drained, tilled and fenced,--a beauty as of the sea, ofboundless expanse and freedom. Much more had they that beauty eighthundred years ago, when they were still, for the most part, as God hadmade them, or rather was making them even then. The low rolling uplandswere clothed in primeval forest: oak and ash, beech and elm, with hereand there, perhaps, a group of ancient pines, ragged and decayed, andfast dying out in England even then; though lingering still in theforests of the Scotch highlands.
Between the forests were open wolds, dotted with white sheep and goldengorse; rolling plains of rich though ragged turf, whether cleared by thehand of man or by the wild fires which often swept over the hills.And between the wood and the wold stood many a Danish "town," with itsclusters of low straggling buildings round the holder's house, stone ormud below, and wood above; its high dikes round tiny fields; its flocksof sheep ranging on the wold; its herds of swine in the forest; andbelow, a more precious possession still,--its herds of mares and colts,which fed with the cattle in the rich grass-fen.
For always, from the foot of the wolds, the green flat stretched away,illimitable, to an horizon where, from the roundness of the earth, thedistant trees and islands were hulled down like ships at sea. The firmhorse-fen lay, bright green, along the foot of the wold; beyond it, thebrowner peat, or deep fen; and among it, dark velvet alder beds, longlines of reed-rond, emerald in spring, and golden under the autumn sun;shining river-reaches; broad meres dotted with a million fowl, while thecattle waded along their edges after the rich sedge-grass, or wallowedin the mire through the hot summer's day. Here and there, too, upon thefar horizon, rose a tall line of ashen trees, marking some island offirm rich soil. Here and there, too, as at Ramsey and Crowland, the hugeashes had disappeared before the axes of the monks, and a minster towerrose over the fen, amid orchards, gardens, cornfields, pastures, withhere and there a tree left standing for shade. "Painted with flowersin the spring," with "pleasant shores embosomed in still lakes," as themonk-chronicler of Ramsey has it, those islands seemed to such as themonk terrestrial paradises.
Overhead the arch of heaven spread more ample than elsewhere, as overthe open sea; and that vastness gave, and still gives, such "effects"of cloudland, of sunrise, and sunset, as can be seen nowhere else withinthese isles. They might well have been star worshippers, those Girvii,had their sky been as clear as that of the East: but they were like tohave worshipped the clouds rather than the stars, according to thetoo universal law, that mankind worship the powers which do them harm,rather than the powers which do them good.
And therefore the Danelagh men, who feared not mortal sword, or axe,feared witches, ghosts, Pucks, Will-o'-the-Wisps, werewolves, spirits ofthe wells and of the trees, and all dark, capricious, and harmful beingswhom their fancy conjured up out of the wild, wet, and unwholesomemarshes, or the dark wolf-haunted woods. For that fair land, like allthings on earth, had its darker aspect. The foul exhalations of autumncalled up fever and ague, crippling and enervating, and tempting,almost compelling, to that wild and desperate drinking which was theScandinavian's special sin. Dark and sad were those short autumn days,when all the distances were shut off, and the air choked with foulbrown fog and drenching rains from off the eastern sea; and pleasantthe bursting forth of the keen north-east wind, with all its whirlingsnowstorms. For though it sent men hurrying out into the storm, to drivethe cattle in from the fen, and lift the sheep out of the snow-wreaths,and now and then never to return, lost in mist and mire, in ice andsnow;--yet all knew that after the snow
Such was the Fenland; hard, yet cheerful; rearing a race of hard andcheerful men; showing their power in old times in valiant fighting, andfor many a century since in that valiant industry which has drained andembanked the land of the Girvii, till it has become a very "Gardenof the Lord." And the Scotsman who may look from the promontory ofPeterborough, the "golden borough" of old time; or from the tower ofCrowland, while Hereward and Torfrida sleep in the ruined nave beneath;or from the heights of that Isle of Ely which was so long "the camp ofrefuge" for English freedom; over the labyrinth of dikes and lodes, thesquares of rich corn and verdure,--will confess that the lowland, aswell as the highland, can at times breed gallant men. [Footnote: Thestory of Hereward (often sung by minstrels and old-wives in succeedinggenerations) may be found in the "Metrical Chronicle of GeoffreyGaimar," and in the prose "Life of Hereward" (paraphrased from thatwritten by Leofric, his house-priest), and in the valuable fragment"Of the family of Hereward." These have all three been edited by Mr.T. Wright. The account of Hereward in Ingulf seems taken, and thatcarelessly, from the same source as the Latin prose, "De GestisHerewardi." A few curious details may be found in Peter of Blois'scontinuation of Ingulf; and more, concerning the sack of Peterborough,in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. I have followed the contemporaryauthorities as closely as I could, introducing little but what wasnecessary to reconcile discrepancies, or to illustrate the history,manners, and sentiments of the time.--C. K.]