Part IV:  A Forgotten English Hero, Hereward the Wake (circa 1035 – c.1072)

hrwd1Hereward the Wake was known as Fenland’s most famous hero, a leader who led a revolt against Duke William the Bastard of Normandy or also known as William the Conqueror, who had seized the English throne after defeating the English army at the Battle of Hastings, and killing the last king of the English, Harold Godwinson, and the flower of the English nobility in the process. The real Hereward held lands in Warwickshire andWilliam the Conqueror Lincolnshire at the time of Edward the Confessor, left England sometime after 1062, and later reappeared to plunder the Abbey of Peterborough around 1070.

So where is Feland?  Feland locates in Cambridgeshire, England; however, the origin of the name Hereward was Danish. The word ‘Wake’ means Wary or Watchful. Hereward the Wake was born in Bourne, Lincolnshire to an Anglo-Saxon lord named Earl Leofric of Mercia and his wife Lady Godiva. And yes, his mother was the famous Lady Godiva who rode through Conventry naked and you can read about her legendary story in my other post.

Hereward the Wake Map

According to history, Hereward the Wake was wild in his youth and eventually, his father persuaded King Edward to make him an outlaw. He came back to England because of the news of the Normans had seized his father’s estates. Upon his return, he found not only the land was taken by the new Norman owners, his brother was murdered by them. With rage, he avenged for his brother and killed all fourteen Normans and later became a leader of a mixed band of English and Danish warriors.  Many joined him at his new base at the great Abbey of Ely.  William the Conqueror led his army to Ely, then an island in the Fens, and was stopped three times by Hereward in the attempt to build a causeway across the marshes. But the monks of Ely grew tired of the siege and let the Normans in by a secret path. Hereward rode his horse, a noble beast called Swallow, escaped with a handful of men and was soon leading a new resistance. Legend has it whilst mounting an attack on Stamford, Hereward the Wake and his followers got lost in the Rockingham Forest. St. Peter sent a wolf (a St. Peter animal) to show them the way out.  In addition, as darkness fell, lighted candles appeared on every tree and on every man’s shield as darkness fell.  The candles burned steadily without disturbed regardless how the wind blew. This was a token of the apostle’s gratitude for Hereward the Wake in sparing the abbot and returning part of the treasure to the saint’s own abbey of Peterborough.

Eventually William and Hereward made peace.  However, various versions of how Hereward the Wake story ended.  One version from Doomsday Book stated that Hereward the Wake lived as outlaws in the forests of the Fens for some time and held out against the Normans until King William was persuaded to make peace with him. Hereward the Wake was given his lands back.   Another version of the story was less happy that stated Hereward was betrayed by a chaplain, whom he had asked to keep watch while he slept. He let sixteen Normans broke into the house. Though Hereward killed fifteen of his attackers with his lance, a famous sword Brainbiter, and sixteenth with his shield, he was stabbed in the back by spears of four more knights entered his house.

No matter what was Hereward the Wake’s true fate in history.  He was greatly admired because he was a symbol of resistance to oppression and an English hero. Songs were sung and stories were told about him in taverns even a hundred years after his death.  Many people still visited his ruined wooden castle in the fens, known as the Hereward’s Castle during the 13th century.  However, he was ousted by another outlaw hero, Robin Hood, an English hero also resisted the oppression.


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