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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Age Of Chivalry - C. HERO MYTHS OF THE BRITISH RACE - Hereward the Wake
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The Age Of Chivalry - C. HERO MYTHS OF THE BRITISH RACE - Hereward the Wake Post by :daveb Category :Nonfictions Author :Thomas Bulfinch Date :January 2011 Read :3254

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The Age Of Chivalry - C. HERO MYTHS OF THE BRITISH RACE - Hereward the Wake

In Hereward the Wake (or "Watchful") is found one of those heroes
whose date can be ascertained with a fair amount of exactness and
yet in whose story occur mythological elements which seem to
belong to all ages. The folklore of primitive races is a great
storehouse whence a people can choose tales and heroic deeds to
glorify its own national hero, careless that the same tales and
deeds have done duty for other peoples and other heroes. Hence it
happens that Hereward the Saxon, a patriot hero as real and actual
as Nelson or George Washington, whose deeds were recorded in prose
and verse within forty years of his death, was even then
surrounded by a cloud of romance and mystery, which hid in
vagueness his family, his marriage, and even his death.

Briefly it may be stated that Hereward was a native of
Lincolnshire, and was in his prime about 1070. In that year he
joined a party of Danes who appeared in England, attacked
Peterborough and sacked the abbey there, and afterward took refuge
in the Isle of Ely. Here he was besieged by William the Conqueror,
and was finally forced to yield to the Norman. He thus came to
stand for the defeated Saxon race, and his name has been passed
down as that of the darling hero of the Saxons. For his splendid
defence of Ely they forgave his final surrender to Duke William;
they attributed to him all the virtues supposed to be inherent in
the free-born, and all the glorious valor on which the English
prided themselves; and, lastly, they surrounded his death with a
halo of desperate fighting, and made his last conflict as
wonderful as that of Roland at Roncesvalles. If Roland is the
ideal of Norman feudal chivalry, Hereward is equally the ideal of
Anglo-Saxon sturdy manliness and knighthood.

An account of one of Hereward's adventures as a youth will serve
as illustration of the stories told of his prowess. On an enforced
visit to Cornwall, he found that King Alef, a petty British chief,
had betrothed his fair daughter to a terrible Pictish giant,
breaking off, in order to do it, her troth-plight with Prince
Sigtryg of Waterford, son of a Danish king in Ireland. Hereward,
ever chivalrous, picked a quarrel with the giant and killed him in
fair fight, whereupon the king threw him into prison. In the
following night, however, the released princess arranged that the
gallant Saxon should be freed and sent hot-foot for her lover,
Prince Sigtryg. After many adventures Hereward reached the prince,
who hastened to return to Cornwall with the young hero. But to the
grief of both, they learned upon their arrival that the princess
had just been betrothed to a wild Cornish hero, Haco, and the
wedding feast was to be held that very day. Sigtryg at once sent a
troop of forty Danes to King Alef demanding the fulfilment of the
troth-plight between himself and his daughter, and threatening
vengeance if it were broken. To this threat the king returned no
answer, and no Dane came back to tell of their reception.

Sigtryg would have waited till morning, trusting in the honor of
the king, but Hereward disguised himself as a minstrel and
obtained admission to the bridal feast, where he soon won applause
by his beautiful singing. The bridegroom, Haco, in a rapture
offered him any boon he liked to ask, but he demanded only a cup
of wine from the hands of the bride. When she brought it to him he
flung into the empty cup the betrothal ring, the token she had
sent to Sigtryg, and said: "I thank thee, lady, and would reward
thee for thy gentleness to a wandering minstrel; I give back the
cup, richer than before by the kind thoughts of which it bears the
token." The princess looked at him, gazed into the goblet, and saw
her ring; then, looking again, she recognized her deliverer and
knew that rescue was at hand.

While men feasted Hereward listened and talked, and found out that
the forty Danes were prisoners, to be released on the morrow when
Haco was sure of his bride, but released useless and miserable,
since they would be turned adrift blinded. Haco was taking his
lovely bride back to his own land, and Hereward saw that any
rescue, to be successful, must be attempted on the march.

Returning to Sigtryg, the young Saxon told all that he had
learned, and the Danes planned an ambush in the ravine where Haco
had decided to blind and set free his captives. The whole was
carried out exactly as Hereward arranged it. The Cornishmen, with
the Danish captives, passed first without attack; next came Haco,
riding grim and ferocious beside his silent bride, he exulting in
his success, she looking eagerly for any signs of rescue. As they
passed Hereward sprang from his shelter, crying, "Upon them,
Danes, and set your brethren free!" and himself struck down Haco
and smote off his head. There was a short struggle, but soon the
rescued Danes were able to aid their deliverers, and the Cornish
guards were all slain; the men of King Alef, never very zealous
for the cause of Haco, fled, and the Danes were left masters of
the field.

Sigtryg had in the meantime seen to the safety of the princess,
and now, placing her between himself and Hereward, he escorted her
to the ship, which soon brought them to Waterford and a happy
bridal. The Prince and Princess of Waterford always recognized in
Hereward their deliverer and best friend, and in their gratitude
wished him to dwell with them always; but the hero's roving and
daring temper forbade his settling down, but rather urged him on
to deeds of arms in other lands, where he quickly won a renown
second to none.

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