Sunday, 17 April 2011

An excerpt from Chapter One : The Home-Coming

Wulfhere approached the strong wooden palisade that surrounded his longhall. He reached for the blowing horn that hung on a leather thong around his neck. Putting it to his lips he blew a couple of short notes, then a long shrill high one to sound his approach. Wulfhere was answered by the appearance of his blacksmith’s nephew, Yrmenlaf. The sandy-haired lad shouted a hearty greeting as his red-cheeked face peered above the rampart before swiftly disappearing to run down the steps to open the gates.
The horse’s weary hooves trudged across the wooden planks of the ford, clattering as they crossed the defensive ditch. Wulfhere looked up proudly at the familiar sight of his formidable twin-towered lookout structure, made by his own hands from the strongest timber. He passed through the gate, opened eagerly by the boy and gave a contented whisper of thanks to the Lord for his safe arrival. The sight of his longhall was welcoming, standing as a symbol of safety from the outside world. It was surrounded by smaller out buildings that served as sleeping bowers, work sheds, animal byres and storage huts. 
The little wooden chapel comforted Wulfhere as he passed it. He crossed himself piously, grateful to be home and safe at last. The stallion’s ears pricked at the clanking of Aelfstan’s smithy hammer as they passed the forge and Wulfhere breathed in the familiar aroma that wafted from the   stables nearby As he approached the house he imagined that Ealdgytha might be tending her garden to the rear where she grew herbs and vegetables; or perhaps she was in the orchard where the sweet succulent apples grew abundantly.  He heard the recognisable laughter of children at play and knew he was finally home in the place he thought he would never see again.

Monday, 4 April 2011

An investigation into the true Lineage of Hereward "the Wake"

There has long been a tradition that Hereward, the English rebel who lead a stance against the Normans in the Fens around Ely in 1070, was the wayward son of Leofric of Mercia and Lady Godiva of the naked horse ride fame. But Peter Rex has done extensive research in his book Hereward, the Last Englishman, which disproves this theory and sends old ideas of his parentage into the archives of myth and legend.... Well it should do at any rate if Rex’s delving is anything to go by.  For me at least, his thoroughly analysed and researched thesis on Hereward’s true lineage produces a plausible and well argued conclusion  that Hereward was really the grandson of a wealthy Anglo-Danish magnate and dispels the other two main theories that had been followed for several centuries. 
That the idea that Leofric of Mercia had fathered this much loved outlaw of legendary fame had been preceded by another Leofric, is nothing new.  Domesday  had shown that this other Leofric, Lord of Bourne did not exist and so it would be quite reasonable to assume that writers of chronicles in seeking an easier explanation, deemed that Leofric of Mercia could possibly have been the one they were looking for.  If we look at the major source for his roots, the Gesta Herewardi is one of the first mentions of his parents being Edith of York and Leofric of Bourne, a supposed nephew of Ralph the Staller. This does not tie in with an account by Abbott John of Peterborough that states that Brand, Abbott of Peterborough was his uncle on his father’s side:

‘There died paternal uncle  of the said Hereward the Wake, to whom by the king’s choice there succeeded Turold’ –Rex (2005)

  Later writers later believed Herward to be the son of Earl Leofric of Mercia, whose son Alfgar was exiled more than once and by all accounts a difficult son who brought shame and embarrassment on his father. Contemporary records seem to omit Earl Leofric as having another rebellious son called Hereward and surely if Hereward had been born into such a notable family, there would have been some mention of it around the time of his existence, especially given the heroic activities he was later to have been purported to have been involved in.
Hereward was said to have been exiled to Flanders after his unruly behaviour and  the suggestion that he was a ringleader who encouraged the bad behaviour of others, had caused his father to request that he be exiled.   He was also said to have participated in military activity on the continent as a mercenary during this enforced exile. There is plenty of evidence to show that there was such kind of activity the like of which would have attracted mercenaries like Hereward between the years of 1060-70.  As the Gesta informs us that Hereward was exiled in 1054 at the age of 18, it would seem that the dates are out of sync with the military activity he is believed to have participated in. If the Gesta is to be believed and he was 18 at the time of his exile, he might well have been on the continent around the early 1060’s and returning home to England  some time after the conquest making him available to take part as a leader in the rebellion and siege of Ely 1069-70.
So why does this not make him son of Leofric of Bourne or Leofric of Mercia? Firstly, the Gesta  and  The History of Crowland Abbey both contain discountable errors. In Gesta Herward is described as being son of Leofric of Bourne, son of Earl Ralph, the Crowland version has him written down as  son  of Leofric, Lord of Bourne, nepos of Radin Earl of Hertford whose wife is Goda, sister of King Edward. I shall discount the mother as it is of no consequence here. In the first case of the Gesta account, Ralph is meant to be Ralph the Staller and there is not a shred of evidence to say he had a son called Leofric who was Lord of Bourne. In the latter account, Radin is a mistake for Ralph and Earl of Hertford is an error and is meant to be referring to Earl Ralph of Hereford, King Edward’s nephew who was son of Goda not her husband; she was King Edward’s sister. He certainly did not have a son called Ralph. He did have a son called Harold who would not have been old enough at the time to have fathered a man called Leofric, let alone be grandfather to Hereward.  Furthermore, there is no record of a Leofric of Bourne.  So where did the Bourne element come from? What is the source of this confusion? Well, perhaps that would be for another post at another time.
 As for Leofric of Mercia, we can also discount him, as we know his son was called Alfgar and Alfgar’s sons were Burghred, Edwin and Morcar. There was never a contemporary record of a Hereward there and Leofric did not hold any land that was called Bourne.
So who was his father then?
It seems that the answer may lay with Brand the abbot of Peterborough, who, as stated earlier, was said to have been Hereward’s uncle.  Peter Rex, in his research has uncovered the truth about Hereward’s lineage and it would appear that if the abbot was indeed his uncle then Hereward’s father must be one of Brand’s brothers, Asketil, Siward, Siric or Godric. Their father was a man called Toki of Lincoln whose own father was Auti the Moneyer of Lincoln. They were an established wealthy family of Danish descent which would make  Hereward an Anglo-Danish hero like Harold Godwinson, but nonetheless and Englishman all the same. Rex, by careful elimination has pinpointed the brother that would have been his father: Asketil Tokison.
I have tried to be brief but concise in my explanation of why I believe Peter Rex’s theory. I have not covered every aspect of research that needed to be done to arrive at this conclusion. If you would like to learn more Rex’s book will give a more in-depth insight into the story.
What do you think? Do you think that the Leofric of Mercia myth has been dispelled?