Hereward, the Last of the English (Hereward the Wake), by Charles Kingsley

Chapter 7.

How Hereward Went to the War at Guisnes.

The dominion of Baldwin of Lille — Baldwin the Debonair — Marquis of Flanders, and just then the greatest potentate in Europe after the Kaiser of Germany and the Kaiser of Constantinople, extended from the Somme to the Scheldt, including thus much territory which now belongs to France. His forefathers had ruled there ever since the days of the “Foresters” of Charlemagne, who held the vast forests against the heathens of the fens; and of that famous Baldwin Bras-defer — who, when the foul fiend rose out of the Scheldt, and tried to drag him down, tried cold steel upon him (being a practical man), and made his ghostly adversary feel so sorely the weight of the “iron arm,” that he retired into his native mud — or even lower still.

He, like a daring knight as he was, ran off with his (so some say) early love, Judith, daughter of Charles the Bald of France, a descendant of Charlemagne himself. Married up to Ethelwulf of England, and thus stepmother of Alfred the Great — after his death behaving, alas for her! not over wisely or well, she had verified the saying:

“Nous revenons toujours

À nos premiers amours,”

and ran away with Baldwin.

Charles, furious that one of his earls, a mere lieutenant and creature, should dare to marry a daughter of Charlemagne’s house, would have attacked him with horse and foot, fire and sword, had not Baldwin been the only man who could defend his northern frontier against the heathen Norsemen.

The Pope, as Charles was his good friend, fulminated against Baldwin the excommunication destined for him who stole a widow for his wife, and all his accomplices.

Baldwin and Judith went straight to Rome, and told their story to the Pope.

He, honest man, wrote to Charles the Bald a letter which still remains — alike merciful, sentimental, and politic, with its usual ingrained element of what we now call (from the old monkish word “cantare”) cant. Of Baldwin’s horrible wickedness there is no doubt. Of his repentance (in all matters short of amendment of life, by giving up the fair Judith), still less. But the Pope has “another motive for so acting. He fears lest Baldwin, under the weight of Charles’s wrath and indignation, should make alliance with the Normans, enemies of God and the holy Church; and thus an occasion arise of peril and scandal for the people of God, whom Charles ought to rule,” &c., &c., which if it happened, it would be worse for them and for Charles’s own soul.

To which very sensible and humane missive (times and creeds being considered), Charles answered, after pouting and sulking, by making Baldwin bona fide king of all between Somme and Scheldt, and leaving him to raise a royal race from Judith, the wicked and the fair.

This all happened about A. D. 863. Two hundred years after, there ruled over that same land Baldwin the Debonair, as “Marquis of the Flamands.”

Baldwin had had his troubles. He had fought the Count of Holland. He had fought the Emperor of Germany; during which war he had burnt the cathedral of Nimeguen, and did other unrighteous and unwise things; and had been beaten after all.

Baldwin had had his troubles, and had deserved them. But he had had his glories, and had deserved them likewise. He had cut the Fossé Neuf, or new dike, which parted Artois from Flanders. He had so beautified the cathedral of Lille, that he was called Baldwin of Lille to his dying day. He had married Adela, the queen countess, daughter of the King of France. He had become tutor of Philip, the young King, and more or less thereby regent of the north of France, and had fulfilled his office wisely and well. He had married his eldest son, Baldwin the Good, to the terrible sorceress Richilda, heiress of Hainault, wherefore the bridegroom was named Baldwin of Mons. He had married one of his daughters, Matilda, to William of Normandy, afterwards the Conqueror; and another, Judith, to Tosti Godwinsson, the son of the great Earl Godwin of England. She afterwards married Welf, Duke of Bavaria; whereby, it may be, the blood of Baldwin of Flanders runs in the veins of Queen Victoria.

And thus there were few potentates of the North more feared and respected than Baldwin, the good-natured Earl of Flanders.

But one sore thorn in the side he had, which other despots after him shared with him, and with even worse success in extracting it — namely, the valiant men of Scaldmariland, which we now call Holland. Of them hereafter. At the moment of Hereward’s arrival, he was troubled with a lesser thorn, the Count of Guisnes, who would not pay him up certain dues, and otherwise acknowledge his sovereignty.

Therefore when the châtelain of St. Omer sent him word to Bruges that a strange Viking had landed with his crew, calling himself Harold Naemansson, and offering to take service with him, he returned for answer that the said Harold might make proof of his faith and prowess upon the said Count, in which, if he acquitted himself like a good knight, Baldwin would have further dealings with him.

So the châtelain of St. Omer, with all his knights and men-at-arms, and Hereward with his sea-cocks, marched northwest up to Guisnes, with little Arnulf cantering alongside in high glee; for it was the first war that he had ever seen.

And they came to the Castle of Guisnes, and summoned the Count, by trumpet and herald, to pay or fight.

Whereon, the Count preferring the latter, certain knights of his came forth and challenged the knights of St. Omer to fight them man to man. Whereon there was the usual splintering of lances and slipping up of horses, and hewing at heads and shoulders so well defended in mail that no one was much hurt. The archers and arbalisters, meanwhile, amused themselves with shooting at the castle walls, out of which they chipped several small pieces of stone. And when they were all tired, they drew off on both sides, and went in to dinner.

At which Hereward’s men, who were accustomed to a more serious fashion of fighting, stood by, mightily amused, and vowing it was as pretty a play as ever they saw in their lives.

The next day the same comedy was repeated.

“Let me go in against those knights, Sir châtelain,” asked Hereward, who felt the lust of battle tingling in him from head to heel; “and try if I cannot do somewhat towards deciding all this. If we fight no faster than we did yesterday, our beards will be grown down to our knees before we take Guisnes.”

“Let my Viking go!” cried Arnulf. “Let me see him fight!” as if he had been a pet gamecock or bulldog.

“You can break a lance, fine sir, if it please you,” said the châtelain.

“I break more than lances,” quoth Hereward as he cantered off.

“You,” said he to his men, “draw round hither to the left; and when I drive the Frenchmen to the right, make a run for it, and get between them and the castle gate; and we will try the Danish axe against their horses’ legs.”

Then Hereward spurred his horse, shouting, “A bear! a bear!” and dashed into the press; and therein did mightily, like any Turpin or Roland, till he saw lie on the ground, close to the castle gate, one of the châtelain’s knights with four Guisnes knights around him. Then at those knights he rode, and slew them every one; and mounted that wounded knight on his own horse and led him across the field, though the archers shot sore at him from the wall. And when the press of knights rode at him, his Danish men got between them and the castle, and made a stand to cover him. Then the Guisnes knights rode at them scornfully, crying —

“What footpad churls have we here, who fancy they can face horsed knights?”

But they did not know the stuff of the Danish men; who all shouted, “A bear! A bear!” and turned the lances’ points with their targets, and hewed off the horses’ heads, and would have hewed off the riders’ likewise, crying that the bear must be fed, had not Hereward bidden them give quarter according to the civilized fashion of France and Flanders. Whereon all the knights who were not taken rode right and left, and let them pass through in peace, with several prisoners, and him whom Hereward had rescued.

At which little Arnulf was as proud as if he had done it himself; and the châtelain sent word to Baldwin that the new-comer was a prudhomme of no common merit; while the heart of the Count of Guisnes became as water; and his knights, both those who were captives and those who were not, complained indignantly of the unchivalrous trick of the Danes — how villanous for men on foot, not only to face knights, but to bring them down to their own standing ground by basely cutting off their horses’ heads!

To which Hereward answered, that he knew the rules of chivalry as well as any of them; but he was hired, not to joust at a tournament, but to make the Count of Guisnes pay his lord Baldwin, and make him pay he would.

The next day he bade his men sit still and look on, and leave him to himself. And when the usual “monomachy” began, he singled out the burliest and boldest knight whom he saw, rode up to him, lance point in air, and courteously asked him to come and be killed in fair fight. The knight being, says the chronicler, “magnificent in valor of soul and counsel of war, and held to be as a lion in fortitude throughout the army,” and seeing that Hereward was by no means a large or heavy man, replied as courteously, that he should have great pleasure in trying to kill Hereward. On which they rode some hundred yards out of the press, calling out that they were to be left alone by both sides, for it was an honorable duel, and, turning their horses, charged.

After which act they found themselves and their horses all four in a row, sitting on their hind-quarters on the ground, amid the fragments of their lances.

“Well ridden!” shouted they both at once, as they leaped up laughing and drew their swords.

After which they hammered away at each other merrily in “the devil’s smithy”; the sparks flew, and the iron rang, and all men stood still to see that gallant fight.

So they watched and cheered, till Hereward struck his man such a blow under the ear, that he dropped, and lay like a log.

“I think I can carry you,” quoth Hereward, and picking him up, he threw him over his shoulder, and walked toward his men.

“A bear! a bear!” shouted they in delight, laughing at the likeness between Hereward’s attitude, and that of a bear waddling off on his hind legs with his prey in his arms.

“He should have killed his bullock outright before he went to carry him. Look there!”

And the knight, awaking from his swoon, struggled violently (says Leofric) to escape.

But Hereward, though the smaller, was the stronger man; and crushing him in his arms, walked on steadily.

“Knights, to the rescue! Hoibricht is taken!” shouted they of Guisnes, galloping towards him.

“A bear! a bear! To me, Biornssons! To me, Vikings all!” shouted Hereward. And the Danes leapt up, and ran toward him, axe in hand.

The châtelain’s knights rode up likewise; and so it befell, that Hereward carried his prisoner safe into camp.

“And who are you, gallant knight?” asked he of his prisoner.

“Hoibricht, nephew of Eustace, Count of Guisnes.”

“So I suppose you will be ransomed. Till then — Armorer!”

And the hapless Hoibricht found himself chained and fettered, and sent off to Hereward’s tent, under the custody of Martin Lightfoot.

“The next day,” says the chronicler, “the Count of Guisnes, stupefied with grief at the loss of his nephew, sent the due honor and service to his prince, besides gifts and hostages.”

And so ended the troubles of Baldwin, and Eustace of Guisnes

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 21:44