Being a Fen boy myself (the area of land around Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire in the UK that used to be boggy marshland before draining with islands scattered around) the name of Hereward the Wake has always been in the background somewhere; the Saxon rebel that held back William the Conqueror, resisting his taking of that area post 1066. Spurred on my Pendragon rpg campaign I’m putting together based in the Fens (replacing King William with King Arthur, anachronistic, but in the fine tradition of mixing things up in Arthurian legend) I picked up a cheap copy of this short book on Amazon, and have been dipping into it occasionally for inspiration and guidance.
Yesterday I finally sat down and read it from cover to cover as a piece of literature rather than as a textbook. What a fantastic story! Move over Robin Hood, Hereward the Wake is the real hero in these lands with the original band of bandits. Cast from his home, returning to find it taken, he wreaks revenge on the ‘Frenchmen’ (Normans) in a courageous manner, holding back the might of William as well as completing deeds of great daring in Ireland and Flanders. This contains it all; love, courage, conflict, tragedy and a larger than life hero. The dramatic climax is Hereward’s defence of the marsh surrounded Ely from William where he repels him twice before he is betrayed and beaten, complete with disguised visitations upon the Normans (again I wonder who the real Robin Hood is…) For those who have read Malory’s Mort D’Arthur, the style will be familiar, and worthy of reading alongside the feats of these other heroes of Britain, the Knights of the Round Table. Why he is not the legend that these other characters are is a mystery to me.
The body of Trevor Bevis’ book is a translation of the ‘De Gestis Herwardi Saxonis’ (The Exploits of Hereward the Saxon) as written by 12th Century monastry scholars, preceded by his own notes on Hereward and closed with a chapter on Conflict in the Isle of Ely.
The version I read is the 8th reprint of the 1982 edition. I see that it has been updated since then. Worth picking up a copy if you are interested in the history and legend of our land. I’ve awarded it 4 stars rather than 5 simply because the I think the notes around the central story could be better introduced so that the work becomes a more unified rather than a set of notes with De Gestis included.
Move over Robin – Hereward is my hero now!