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

Chapter 32.

How King William Took Counsel of a Churchman.

If Torfrida was exhausted, so was Hereward likewise. He knew well that a repulse was not a defeat. He knew well the indomitable persistence, the boundless resources, of the mastermind whom he defied; and he knew well that another attempt would be made, and then another, till — though it took seven years in the doing — Ely would be won at last. To hold out doggedly as long as he could was his plan: to obtain the best terms he could for his comrades. And he might obtain good terms at last. William might be glad to pay a fair price in order to escape such a thorn in his side as the camp of refuge, and might deal — or, at least, promise to deal — mercifully and generously with the last remnant of the English gentry. For himself yield he would not: when all was over, he would flee to the sea, with Torfrida and his own housecarles, and turn Viking; or go to Sweyn Ulfsson in Denmark, and die a free man.

The English did not foresee these things. Their hearts were lifted up with their victory, and they laughed at William and his French, and drank Torfrida’s health much too often for their own good. Hereward did not care to undeceive them. But he could not help speaking his mind in the abbot’s chamber to Thurstan, Egelwin, and his nephews, and to Sigtryg Ranaldsson, who was still in Ely, not only because he had promised to stay there, but because he could not get out if he would.

Blockaded they were utterly, by land and water. The isle furnished a fair supply of food; and what was wanting, they obtained by foraging. But they had laid the land waste for so many miles round, that their plundering raids brought them in less than of old; and if they went far, they fell in with the French, and lost good men, even though they were generally successful. So provisions were running somewhat short, and would run shorter still.

Moreover, there was a great cause of anxiety. Bishop Egelwin, Abbot Thurstan, and the monks of Ely were in rebellion, not only against King William, but more or less against the Pope of Rome. They might be excommunicated. The minster lands might be taken away.

Bishop Egelwin set his face like a flint. He expected no mercy. All he had ever done for the French was to warn Robert Comyn that if he stayed in Durham, evil would befall him. But that was as little worth to him as it was to the said Robert. And no mercy he craved. The less a man had, the more fit he was for Heaven. He could but die; and that he had known ever since he was a chanter-boy. Whether he died in Ely, or in prison, mattered little to him, provided they did not refuse him the sacraments; and that they would hardly do. But call the Duke of Normandy his rightful sovereign he would not, because he was not — nor anybody else just now, as far as he could see.

Valiant likewise was Abbot Thurstan, for himself. But he had — unlike Bishop Egelwin, whose diocese had been given to a Frenchman — an abbey, monks, and broad lands, whereof he was father and steward. And he must do what was best for the abbey, and also what the monks would let him do. For severe as was the discipline of a minster in time of peace, yet in time of war, when life and death were in question, monks had ere now turned valiant from very fear, like Cato’s mouse, and mutinied: and so might the monks of Ely,

And Edwin and Morcar?

No man knows what they said or thought; perhaps no man cared much, even in their own days. No hint does any chronicler give of what manner of men they were, or what manner of deeds they did. Fair, gentle, noble, beloved even by William, they are mere names, and nothing more, in history: and it is to be supposed, therefore, that they were nothing more in fact. The race of Leofric and Godiva had worn itself out.

One night the confederates had sat late, talking over the future more earnestly than usual. Edwin, usually sad enough, was especially sad that night.

Hereward jested with him, tried to cheer him; but he was silent, would not drink, and went away before the rest.

The next morning he was gone, and with him half a dozen of his private housecarles.

Hereward was terrified. If defections once began, they would be endless. The camp would fall to pieces, and every man among them would be hanged, mutilated, or imprisoned, one by one, helplessly. They must stand or fall together.

He went raging to Morcar. Morcar knew naught of it. On the faith and honor of a knight, he knew naught. Only his brother had said to him a day or two before, that he must see his betrothed before he died.

“He is gone to William, then? Does he think to win her now — an outcast and a beggar — when he was refused her with broad lands and a thousand men at his back? Fool! See that thou play not the fool likewise, nephew, or —”

“Or what?” said Morcar, defiantly.

“Or thou wilt go, whither Edwin is gone — to betrayal and ruin.”

“Why so? He has been kind enough to Waltheof and Gospatrick, why not to Edwin?”

“Because,” laughed Hereward, “he wanted Waltheof, and he does not want you and Edwin. He can keep Mercia quiet without your help. Northumbria and the Fens he cannot without Waltheof’s. They are a rougher set as you go east and north, as you should know already, and must have one of themselves over them to keep them in good humor for a while. When he has used Waltheof as his stalking-horse long enough to build a castle every ten miles, he will throw him away like a worn bowstring, Earl Morcar, nephew mine.”

Morcar shook his head.

In a week more he was gone likewise. He came to William at Brandon.

“You are come in at last, young earl?” said William, sternly. “You are come too late.”

“I throw myself on your knightly faith,” said Morcar. But he had come in an angry and unlucky hour.

“How well have you kept your own, twice a rebel, that you should appeal to mine? Take him away.”

“And hang him?” asked Ivo Taillebois.

“Pish! No — thou old butcher. Put him in irons, and send him into Normandy.”

“Send him to Roger de Beaumont, Sire. Roger’s son is safe in Morcar’s castle at Warwick, so it is but fair that Morcar should be safe in Roger’s.”.

And to Roger de Beaumont he was sent, while young Roger was Lord of Warwick, and all around that once was Leofric and Godiva’s.

Morcar lay in a Norman keep till the day of William’s death. On his death-bed the tyrant’s heart smote him, and he sent orders to release him. For a few short days, or hours, he breathed free air again. Then Rufus shut him up once more, and forever.

And that was the end of Earl Morcar.

A few weeks after, three men came to the camp at Brandon, and they brought a head to the king. And when William looked upon it, it was the head of Edwin.

The human heart must have burst up again in the tyrant, as he looked on the fair face of him he had so loved, and so wronged; for they say he wept.

The knights and earls stood round, amazed and awed, as they saw iron tears ran down Pluto’s cheek.

“How came this here, knaves?” thundered he at last.

They told a rambling story, how Edwin always would needs go to Winchester, to see the queen, for she would stand his friend, and do him right. And how they could not get to Winchester, for fear of the French, and wandered in woods and wolds; and how they were set upon, and hunted; and how Edwin still was mad to go to Winchester: but when he could not, he would go to Blethwallon and his Welsh; and how Earl Randal of Chester set upon them; and how they got between a stream and the tide-way of the Dee, and were cut off. And how Edwin would not yield. And how then they slew him in self-defence, and Randal let them bring the head to the king.

This, or something like it, was their story. But who could believe traitors? Where Edwin wandered, what he did during those months, no man knows. All that is known is, three men brought his head to William, and told some such tale. And so the old nobility of England died up and down the ruts and shaughs, like wounded birds; and, as of wounded birds, none knew or cared how far they had run, or how their broken bones had ached before they died.

“Out of their own mouths they are condemned, says Holy Writ,” thundered William. “Hang them on high.”

And hanged on high they were, on Brandon heath.

Then the king turned on his courtiers, glad to ease his own conscience by cursing them.

“This is your doing, sirs! If I had not listened to your base counsels, Edwin might have been now my faithful liegeman and my son-in-law; and I had had one more Englishman left in peace, and one less sin upon my soul.”

“And one less thorn in thy side,” quoth Ivo Taillebois.

“Who spoke to thee? Ralph Guader, thou gavest me the counsel: thou wilt answer it to God and his saints.”

“That did I not. It was Earl Roger, because he wanted the man’s Shropshire lands.”

Whereon high words ensued; and the king gave the earl the lie in his teeth, which the earl did not forget.

“I think,” said the rough, shrewd voice of Ivo, “that instead of crying over spilt milk — for milk the lad was, and never would have grown to good beef, had he lived to my age —”

“Who spoke to thee?”

“No man, and for that reason I spoke myself. I have lands in Spalding, by your Majesty’s grace, and wish to enjoy them in peace, having worked for them hard enough — and how can I do that, as long as Hereward sits in Ely?”

“Splendeur Dex!” said William, “them art right, old butcher.”

So they laid their heads together to slay Hereward. And after they had talked awhile, then spoke William’s chaplain for the nonce, an Italian, a friend and pupil of Lanfranc of Pavia, an Italian also, then Archbishop of Canterbury, scourging and imprisoning English monks in the south. And he spoke like an Italian of those times, who knew the ways of Rome.

“If his Majesty will allow my humility to suggest —”

“What? Thy humility is proud enough under the rose, I will warrant: but it has a Roman wit under the rose likewise. Speak!”

“That when the secular and carnal arm has failed, as it is written 35— He poureth contempt upon princes, and letteth them wander out of the way in the wilderness — or fens; for the Latin word, and I doubt not the Hebrew, has both meanings.”

35 I do not laugh at Holy Scripture myself. I only insert this as a specimen of the usual mediaeval “cant,”— a name and a practice which are both derived, not from Puritans, but from monks.

“Splendeur Dex!” cried William, bitterly; “that hath he done with a vengeance! Thou art right so far, Clerk!”

“Yet helpeth He the poor, videlicet, His Church and the religious, who are vowed to holy poverty, out of misery, videlicet, the oppression of barbarous customs, and maketh them households like a flock of sheep.”

“They do that for themselves already, here in England,” said William, with a sneer at the fancied morals of the English monks and clergy. 36

36 The alleged profligacy and sensuality of the English Church before the Conquest rests merely on a few violent and vague expressions of the Norman monks who displaced them. No facts, as far as I can find, have ever been alleged. And without facts on the other side, an impartial man will hold by the one fact which is certain, that the Church of England, popish as it was, was, unfortunately for it, not popish enough; and from its insular freedom, obnoxious to the Church of Rome, and the ultramontane clergy of Normandy; and was therefore to be believed capable — and therefore again accused — of any and every crime.

“But Heaven, and not the Church, does it for the true poor, whom your Majesty is bringing in, to your endless glory.”

“But what has all this to do with taking Ely?” asked William, impatiently. “I asked thee for reason, and not sermons.”

“This. That it is in the power of the Holy Father — and that power he would doubtless allow you, as his dear son and most faithful servant, to employ for yourself, without sending to Rome, which might cause painful delays — to —”

It might seem strange that William, Taillebois, Guader, Warrenne, short-spoken, hard-headed, hard-swearing warriors, could allow, complacently, a smooth churchman to dawdle on like this, counting his periods on his fingers, and seemingly never coming to the point.

But they knew well, that the churchman was a far cunninger, as well as a more learned, man than themselves. They knew well that they could not hurry him, and that they need not; that he would make his point at last, hunting it out step by step, and letting them see how he got thither, like a cunning hound. They knew that if he spoke, he had thought long and craftily, till he had made up his mind; and that, therefore, he would very probably make up their minds likewise. It was — as usual in that age — the conquest, not of a heavenly spirit, though it boasted itself such, but of a cultivated mind over brute flesh.

They might have said all this aloud, and yet the churchman would have gone on, as he did, where he left off, with unaltered blandness of tone.

“To convert to other uses the goods of the Church — to convert them to profane uses would, I need not say, be a sacrilege as horrible to Heaven as impossible to so pious a monarch —”

Ivo Taillebois winced. He had just stolen a manor from the monks of Crowland, and meant to keep it.

“Church lands belonging to abbeys or sees, whose abbots or bishops are contumaciously disobedient to the Holy See, or to their lawful monarch, he being in the communion of the Church and at peace with the said Holy See. If, therefore — to come to that point at which my incapacity, through the devious windings of my own simplicity, has been tending, but with halting steps, from the moment that your Majesty deigned to hear —”

“Put in the spur, man!” said Ivo, tired at last, “and run the deer to soil.”

“Hurry no man’s cattle, especially thine own,” answered the churchman, with so shrewd a wink, and so cheery a voice, that Ivo, when he recovered from his surprise, cried —

“Why, thou art a good huntsman thyself, I believe now.”

“All things to all men, if by any means — But to return. If your Majesty should think fit to proclaim to the recalcitrants of Ely, that unless they submit themselves to your Royal Grace — and to that, of course, of His Holiness, our Father — within a certain day, you will convert to other uses — premising, to avoid scandal, that those uses shall be for the benefit of Holy Church — all lands and manors of theirs lying without the precincts of the Isle of Ely — those lands being, as is known, large, and of great value — Quid plura? Why burden your exalted intellect by detailing to you consequences which it has, long ere now, foreseen.”

“——” quoth William, who was as sharp as the Italian, and had seen it all. “I will make thee a bishop!”

“Spare to burden my weakness,” said the chaplain; and slipt away into the shade.

“You will take his advice?” asked Ivo.

“I will.”

“Then I shall see that Torfrida burn at last.”

“Burn her?” and William swore.

“I promised my soldiers to burn the witch with reeds out of Haddenham fen, as she had burned them; and I must keep my knightly word.”

William swore yet more. Ivo Taillebois was a butcher and a churl.

“Call me not butcher and churl too often, Lord King, ere thou hast found whether thou needest me or not. Rough I may be, false was I never.”

“That thou wert not,” said William, who needed Taillebois much, and feared him somewhat; and remarked something meaning in his voice, which made him calm himself, diplomat as he was, instantly. “But burn Torfrida thou shalt not.”

“Well, I care not. I have seen a woman burnt ere now, and had no fancy for the screeching. Beside, they say she is a very fair dame, and has a fair daughter, too, coming on, and she may very well make a wife for a Norman.”

“Marry her thyself.”

“I shall have to kill Hereward first.”

“Then do it, and I will give thee his lands.”

“I may have to kill others before Hereward.”

“You may?”

And so the matter dropped. But William caught Ivo alone after an hour, and asked him what he meant.

“No pay, no play. Lord King, I have served thee well, rough and smooth.”

“Thou hast, and hast been well paid. But if I have said aught hasty —”

“Pish, Majesty. I am a plain-spoken man, and like a plain-spoken master. But, instead of marrying Torfrida or her daughter, I have more mind to her niece, who is younger, and has no Hereward to be killed first,”

“Her niece? Who?”

“Lucia, as we call her — Edwin and Morcar’s sister — Hereward’s niece, Torfrida’s niece.”

“No pay, no play, saidst thou? — so say I. What meant you by having to kill others before Hereward?”

“Beware of Waltheof!” said Ivo.

“Waltheof? Pish! This is one of thy inventions for making me hunt every Englishman to death, that thou mayest gnaw their bones.”

“Is it? Then this I say more. Beware of Ralph Guader!”


“Pish on, Lord King.” Etiquette was not yet discovered by Norman barons and earls, who thought themselves all but as good as their king, gave him their advice when they thought fit, and if he did not take it, attacked him with all their meinie. “Pish on, but listen. Beware of Roger!”

“And what more?”

“And give me Lucia. I want her. I will have her.”

William laughed. “Thou of all men! To mix that ditch-water with that wine?”

“They were mixed in thy blood, Lord King, and thou art the better man for it, so says the world. Old wine and old blood throw any lees to the bottom of the cask; and we shall have a son worthy to ride behind —”

“Take care!” quoth William.

“The greatest captain upon earth.”

William laughed again, like Odin’s self.

“Thou shalt have Lucia for that word.”

“And thou shalt have the plot ere it breaks. As it will.”

“To this have I come at last,” said William to himself, as they parted. “To murder these English nobles, to marry their daughters to my grooms. Heaven forgive me! They have brought it upon themselves by contumacy to Holy Church.”

“Call my secretary, some one.”

The Italian reentered.

“The valiant and honorable and illustrious knight, Ivo Taillebois, Lord of Holland and Kesteven, weds Lucia, sister of the late earls Edwin and Morcar, now with the queen; and with, her, her manors. You will prepare the papers.

“I am yours to death,” said Ivo.

“To do you justice, I think thou wert that already. Stay — here — Sir Priest — do you know any man who knows this Torfrida?”

“I do, Majesty,” said Ivo. There is one Sir Ascelin, a man of Gilbert’s, in the camp.”

“Send for him.”

“This Torfrida,” said William, “haunts me.”

“Pray Heaven she have not bewitched your Majesty.”

“Tut! I am too old a campaigner to take much harm by woman’s sharpshooting at fifteen score yards off, beside a deep stream between. No. The woman has courage — and beauty, too, you say?”

“What of that, O Prince?” said the Italian. “Who more beautiful — if report be true — than those lost women who dance nightly in the forests with Venus and Herodias — as it may be this Torfrida has done many a time?”

“You priests are apt to be hard upon poor women.”

“The fox found that the grapes were sour,” said the Italian, laughing at himself and his cloth, or at anything else by which he could curry favor.

“And this woman was no vulgar witch. That sort of personage suits Taillebois’s taste, rather than Hereward’s.”

“Hungry dogs eat dirty pudding,” said Ivo, pertinently.

“The woman believed herself in the right. She believed that the saints of heaven were on her side. I saw it in her attitude, in her gestures. Perhaps she was right.”

“Sire?” said both by-standers, in astonishment.

“I would fain see that woman, and see her husband too. They are folks after my own heart. I would give them an earldom to win them.”

“I hope that in that day you will allow your faithful servant Ivo to retire to his ancestral manors in Anjou; for England will be too hot for him. Sire, you know not this man — a liar, a bully, a robber, a swash-buckling ruffian, who —” and Ivo ran on with furious invective, after the fashion of the Normans, who considered no name too bad for an English rebel.

“Sir Ascelin,” said William, as Ascelin came in, “you know Hereward?”

Ascelin bowed assent.

“Are these things true which Ivo alleges?”

“The Lord Taillebois may know best what manner of man he is since he came into this English air, which changes some folks mightily,” with a hardly disguised sneer at Ivo; “but in Flanders he was a very perfect knight, beloved and honored of all men, and especially of your father-in-law, the great marquis.”

“He is a friend of yours, then?”

“No man less. I owe him more than one grudge, though all in fair quarrel; and one, at least, which can only be wiped out in blood.”

“Eh! What?”

Ascelin hesitated.

“Tell me, sir!” thundered William, “unless you have aught to be ashamed of.”

“It is no shame, as far as I know, to confess that I was once a suitor, as were all knights for miles round, for the hand of the once peerless Torfrida. And no shame to confess, that when Hereward knew thereof, he sought me out at a tournament, and served me as he has served many a better man before and since”

“Over thy horse’s croup, eh?” said William.

“I am not a bad horseman, as all know, Lord King. But Heaven save me, and all I love, from that Hereward. They say he has seven men’s strength; and I verily can testify to the truth thereof.”

“That may be by enchantment,” interposed the Italian.

“True, Sir Priest. This I know, that he wears enchanted armor, which Torfrida gave him before she married him.”

“Enchantments again,” said the secretary.

“Tell me now about Torfrida,” said William.

Ascelin told him all about her, not forgetting to say — what, according to the chronicler, was a common report — that she had compassed Hereward’s love by magic arts. She used to practise sorcery, he said, with her sorceress mistress, Richilda of Hainault. All men knew it. Arnoul, Richilda’s son, was as a brother to her. And after old Baldwin died, and Baldwin of Mons and Richilda came to Bruges, Torfrida was always with her while Hereward was at the wars.

“The woman is a manifest and notorious witch,” said the secretary.

“It seems so indeed,” said William, with something like a sigh. And so were Torfrida’s early follies visited on her; as all early follies are. “But Hereward, you say, is a good knight and true?”

“Doubtless. Even when he committed that great crime at Peterborough —”

“For which he and all his are duly excommunicated by the Bishop,” said the secretary.

“He did a very courteous and honorable thing.” And Ascelin told how he had saved Alftruda, and instead of putting her to ransom, had sent her safe to Gilbert.

“A very knightly deed. He should be rewarded for it.”

“Why not burn the witch, and reward him with Alftruda instead, since your Majesty is in so gracious a humor?” said Ivo.

“Alftruda! Who is she? Ay, I recollect her. Young Dolfin’s wife. Why, she has a husband already.”

“Ay, but his Holiness at Rome can set that right. What is there that he cannot do?”

“There are limits, I fear, even to his power. Eh, priest?”

“What his Holiness’s powers as the viceroy of Divinity on earth might be, did he so choose, it were irreverent to inquire. But as he condescends to use that power only for the good of mankind, he condescends, like Divinity, to be bound by the very laws which he has promulgated for the benefit of his subjects; and to make himself only a life-giving sun, when he might be a destructive thunderbolt.”

“He is very kind, and we all owe him thanks,” said Ivo, who had a confused notion that the Pope might strike him dead with lightning, but was good-natured enough not to do so. “Still, he might think of this plan; for they say that the lady is an old friend of Hereward’s, and not over fond of her Scotch husband.”

“That I know well,” said William.

“And beside — if aught untoward should happen to Dolfin and his kin —”

“She might, with her broad lands, be a fine bait for Hereward. I see. Now, do this, by my command. Send a trusty monk into Ely. Let him tell the monks that we have determined to seize all their outlying lands, unless they surrender within the week. And let him tell Hereward, by the faith and oath of William of Normandy, that if he will surrender himself to my grace, he shall have his lands in Bourne, and a free pardon for himself and all his comrades.”

The men assented, much against their will, and went out on their errand.

“You have played me a scurvy trick, sir,” said Ascelin, “in advising the king to give the Lady Alftruda to Hereward.”

“What! Did you want her yourself? On my honor I knew not of it. But have patience. You shall have her yet, and all her lands, if you will hear my counsel, and keep it.”

“But you would give her to Hereward!”

“And to you too. It is a poor bait, say these frogs of fenmen, that will not take two pike running. Listen to me. I must kill this Hereward. I hate him. I cannot eat my meat for thinking of him. Kill him I must.”

“And so must I.”

“Then we are both agreed. Let us work together, and never mind if one’s blood be old and the other’s new. I am neither fool nor weakly, as thou knowest.”

Ascelin could not but assent.

“Then here. We must send the King’s message. But we must add to it.”

“That is dangerous.”

“So is war; so is eating, drinking; so is everything. But we must not let Hereward come in. We must drive him to despair. Make the messenger add but one word — that the king exempts from the amnesty Torfrida, on account of —— You can put it into more scholarly shape than I can.”

“On account of her abominable and notorious sorceries; and demands that she shall be given up forthwith to the ecclesiastical power, to be judged as she deserves.”

“Just so. And then for a load of reeds out of Haddenham fen.”

“Heaven forbid!” said Ascelin, who had loved her once. “Would not perpetual imprisonment suffice?”

“What care I? That is the churchmen’s affair, not ours. But I fear we shall not get her. Even so Hereward will flee with her — maybe escape to Flanders, or Denmark. He can escape through a rat’s-hole if he will. And then we are at peace. I had sooner kill him and have done with it: but out of the way he must be put.”

So they sent a monk in with the message, and commanded him to tell the article about the Lady Torfrida, not only to Hereward, but to the abbot and all the monks.

A curt and fierce answer came back, not from Hereward, but from Torfrida herself — that William of Normandy was no knight himself, or he would not offer a knight his life, on condition of burning his lady.

William swore horribly. “What is all this about?” They told him — as much as they chose to tell him. He was very wroth. “Who was Ivo Taillebois, to add to his message? He had said that Torfrida should not burn.” Taillebois was stout; for he had won the secretary over to his side meanwhile. He had said nothing about burning. He had merely supplied an oversight of the king’s. The woman, as the secretary knew, could not, with all deference to his Majesty, be included in an amnesty. She was liable to ecclesiastical censure, and the ecclesiastical courts. William might exercise his influence on them in all lawful ways, and more, remit her sentence, even so far as to pardon her entirely, if his merciful temper should so incline him. But meanwhile, what better could he, Ivo, have done, than to remind the monks of Ely that she was a sorceress; that she had committed grave crimes, and was liable to punishment herself, and they to punishment also, as her shelterers and accomplices? What he wanted was to bring over the monks; and he believed that message had been a good stroke toward that. As for Hereward, the king need not think of him. He never would come in alive. He had sworn an oath, and he would keep it.

And so the matter ended.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56