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Saturday, 14 May 2011

English Hero - Hereward the Wake (Fighting William the Conqueror)

Hereward attacks from the marshy Fenland

Much of Hereward's story has become myth, even though he was known to have existed. There were a few prominent things that were attributed to him on record, but what became of him is not known. It is probable that the Normans never brought him to justice because there is no record. Therefore it is unlikely that he died at the hands of the Norman enemy. There are rumours that he regained his lands from William I (William the Conqueror) after the Norman king was forced to come to terms with the Anglo Saxon outlaw. This is also very doubtful as the Norman king was never forced to come to terms with any of his enemies. He was too powerful and resolute a person for this and he never needed too.

Herewald was born in Lincolnshire to a noble woman called Godiva who was married to an Earl from Mercia called Leofric. It was during the time of King Edward the Confessor that young Herewald was exiled over seas. This was because he quarrelled with his father. It is probable that the confessor king endorsed Earl Leofric's wishes and outlawed the rash 18 year old as a lesson. Herewald went into an armed service in Flanders. He was there for many years and when the confessor king died, Hereward missed the battles for power in England between Harold and the Norwegians and then against the Normans under Duke William of Normandy. This was in the year of 1066 and as most people know; King Harold was killed by the Normans during the Battle of Hastings.

There was further resistance from the late King Harold's mother, Gytha. She had managed to muster a force in Exeter, but it was defeated by the Norman invaders. Another resistance in the North of England was crushed too.

Herewood came home to find his father's lands had been confiscated and with a group of Saxon followers, he retreated into the fenland in the counties of Cambridgshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk. These marshy grasslands were very inaccessible to people who did not know the lay of the land and the Normans had a very difficult time policing the area. There was also vast areas of forest land in this age.

He was aided (probably in secret at first) by the Abbot of Ely. The years of known activity are from 1067 to 1071. Hereward was named Hereward the Wake, which meant; the watcher. He would use the fenlands to hide and ambush the Normans when ever possible. He is believed to have used guerrilla tactics of hit and run.

The king of Denmark called Sweyn Estrithson sent a small supporting force of soldiers to Cambridshire, using the broads to navigate into the fenland. In a joint operation the Anglo Saxons under Hereward and the Viking Danes decided to attack the town of Peterborough. They stole religious treasures from the church among other things. When the Normans responded and sent a force, Hereward was left to fight alone because the Danes returned to their ships with their booty and left the country.

Hereward retreated to the Isle of Ely. In this time, the Cathedral city we know of today was different. It still sat upon a big mound with an Abby on the top, but it was surrounded by watery marshlands. This was a huge natural moat. The Abbot had been giving sanctuary to the Anglo Saxon resisters for some time and among Herewards followers was a Northumbrian Earl called Morcar. He had his lands confiscated too and tried on many occasions to combat the Normans.

The Normans lay siege to Ely and tried to build a huge bridge across the marshland towards the mound where Ely stands to this day. Hereward was able to disrupt this construction and attack the builders and soldiers, thwarting the attempted siege.

However, some of the Abby's monks made a pact with the Normans and showed them a secret path across the marsh. This resulted in the Normans storming Ely and capturing the Abbot and Earl Morcar. Herewald was able to escape into the marshy fenland to continue with his guerrilla campaign. It went on for a short time then stopped. Hereward faded into obscurity and legend. The local people continued to call him by his mythical name of Hereward the Wake (Hereward the Watcher) and maybe this enigma played on the minds of the Norman patrols long after the Anglo Saxon warrior had gone.

Another likely cause for his fading into obscurity, is that he may have left the country and returned to mainland Europe like many of the Anglo Saxon noblemen who were driven from the estates. This is the most plausible for his disappearance from historical record.


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