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

Chapter 38.

How Hereward Came in to the King.

After these things Hereward summoned all his men, and set before them the hopelessness of any further resistance, and the promises of amnesty, lands, and honors which William had offered him, and persuaded them — and indeed he had good arguments enough and to spare — that they should go and make their peace with the King.

They were so accustomed to look up to his determination, that when it gave way theirs gave way likewise. They were so accustomed to trust his wisdom, that most of them yielded at once to his arguments. That the band should break up, all agreed. A few of the more suspicious, or more desperate, said that they could never trust the Norman; that Hereward himself had warned them again and again of his treachery. That he was now going to do himself what he had laughed at Gospatrick and the rest for doing; what had brought ruin on Edwin and Morcar; what he had again and again prophesied would bring ruin on Waltheof himself ere all was over.

But Hereward was deaf to their arguments. He had said as little to them as he could about Alftruda, for very shame; but he was utterly besotted on her. For her sake, he had determined to run his head blindly into the very snare of which he had warned others. And he had seared — so he fancied — his conscience. It was Torfrida’s fault now, not his. If she left him — if she herself freed him of her own will — why, he was free, and there was no more to be said about it.

And Hereward (says the chronicler) took Gwenoch, Geri, and Matelgar, and rode south to the King.

Where were the two young Siwards? It is not said. Probably they, and a few desperadoes, followed the fashion of so many English in those sad days — when, as sings the Norse scald,

“Cold heart and bloody hand

Now rule English land,”—

and took ship for Constantinople, and enlisted in the Varanger guard, and died full of years and honors, leaving fair-haired children behind them, to become Varangers in their turn.

Be that as it may, Hereward rode south. But when he had gotten a long way upon the road, a fancy (says the chronicler) came over him. He was not going in pomp and glory enough. It seemed mean for the once great Hereward to sneak into Winchester with three knights. Perhaps it seemed not over safe for the once great Hereward to travel with only three knights. So he went back all the way to camp, and took (says the chronicler) “forty most famous knights, all big and tall of stature, and splendid — if from nothing else, from their looks and their harness alone.”

So Hereward and those forty knights rode down from Peterborough, along the Roman road. For the Roman roads were then, and for centuries after, the only roads in this land; and our forefathers looked on them as the work of gods and giants, and called them after the names of their old gods and heroes — Irmen Street, Watling Street, and so forth.

And then, like true Englishmen, our own forefathers showed their respect for the said divine works, not by copying them, but by picking them to pieces to pave every man his own court-yard. Be it so. The neglect of new roads, the destruction of the old ones, was a natural evil consequence of local self-government. A cheap price, perhaps, after all, to pay for that power of local self-government which has kept England free unto this day.

Be that as it may, down the Roman road Hereward went; past Alconbury Hill, of the old posting days; past Wimpole Park, then deep forest; past Hatfield, then deep forest likewise; and so to St. Alban’s. And there they lodged in the minster; for the monks thereof were good English, and sang masses daily for King Harold’s soul. And the next day they went south, by ways which are not so clear.

Just outside St. Alban’s — Verulamium of the Romans (the ruins whereof were believed to be full of ghosts, demons, and magic treasures)— they turned, at St. Stephen’s, to the left, off the Roman road to London; and by another Roman road struck into the vast forest which ringed London round from northeast to southwest. Following the upper waters of the Colne, which ran through the woods on their left, they came to Watford, and then turned probably to Rickmansworth. No longer on the Roman paved ways, they followed horse-tracks, between the forest and the rich marsh-meadows of the Colne, as far as Denham, and then struck into a Roman road again at the north end of Langley Park. From thence, over heathy commons — for that western part of Buckinghamshire, its soil being light and some gravel, was little cultivated then, and hardly all cultivated now — they held on straight by Langley town into the Vale of Thames.

Little they dreamed, as they rode down by Ditton Green, off the heathy commons, past the poor, scattered farms, on to the vast rushy meadows, while upon them was the dull weight of disappointment, shame, all but despair; their race enslaved, their country a prey to strangers, and all its future, like their own, a lurid blank — little they dreamed of what that vale would be within eight hundred years — the eye of England, and it may be of the world; a spot which owns more wealth and peace, more art and civilization, more beauty and more virtue, it may be, than any of God’s gardens which make fair this earth. Windsor, on its crowned steep, was to them but a new hunting palace of the old miracle-monger Edward, who had just ruined England. Runnymede, a mile below them down the broad stream, was but a horse-fen fringed with water-lilies, where the men of Wessex had met of old to counsel, and to bring the country to this pass. And as they crossed, by ford or ferry-boat, the shallows of old Windsor, whither they had been tending all along, and struck into the moorlands of Wessex itself, they were as men going into an unknown wilderness: behind them ruin, and before them unknown danger.

On through Windsor Forest, Edward the Saint’s old hunting-ground; its bottoms choked with beech and oak, and birch and alder scrub; its upper lands vast flats of level heath; along the great trackway which runs along the lower side of Chobham Camp, some quarter of a mile broad, every rut and trackway as fresh at this day as when the ancient Briton, finding that his neighbor’s essedum — chariot, or rather cart — had worn the ruts too deep, struck out a fresh wandering line for himself across the dreary heath.

Over the Blackwater by Sandhurst, and along the flats of Hartford Bridge, where the old furze-grown ruts show the track-way to this day. Down into the clayland forests of the Andredsweald, and up out of them again at Basing, on to the clean crisp chalk turf; to strike at Popham Lane the Roman road from Silchester, and hold it over the high downs, till they saw far below them the royal city of Winchester.

Itchen, silver as they looked on her from above, but when they came down to her, so clear that none could see where water ended and where air began, hurried through the city in many a stream. Beyond it rose the “White Camp,”’ the “Venta Belgarum,” the circular earthwork of white chalk on the high down. Within the city rose the ancient minster church, built by Ethelwold — ancient even then — where slept the ancient kings; Kennulf, Egbert, and Ethelwulf the Saxons; and by them the Danes, Canute the Great, and Hardicanute his son, and Norman Emma his wife, and Ethelred’s before him; and the great Earl Godwin, who seemed to Hereward to have died, not twenty, but two hundred years ago; — and it may be an old Saxon hall upon the little isle whither Edgar had bidden bring the heads of all the wolves in Wessex, where afterwards the bishops built Wolvesey Palace. But nearer to them, on the down which sloped up to the west, stood an uglier thing, which they saw with curses deep and loud — the keep of the new Norman castle by the west gate.

Hereward halted his knights upon the down outside the northern gate. Then he rode forward himself. The gate was open wide; but he did not care to go in.

So he rode into the gateway, and smote upon that gate with his lance-but. But the porter saw the knights upon the down, and was afraid to come out; for he feared treason.

Then Hereward smote a second time; but the porter did not come out.

Then he took the lance by the shaft, and smote a third time. And he smote so hard, that the lance-but flew to flinders against Winchester Gate.

And at that started out two knights, who had come down from the castle, seeing the meinie on the down, and asked —

“Who art thou who knockest here so bold?”

“Who I am any man can see by those splinters, if he knows what men are left in England this day.”

The knights looked at the broken wood, and then at each other. Who could the man be who could beat an ash stave to flinders at a single blow?

“You are young, and do not know me; and no shame to you. Go and tell William the King, that Hereward is come to put his hands between the King’s, and be the King’s man henceforth.”

“You are Hereward?” asked one, half awed, half disbelieving at Hereward’s short stature.

“You are — I know not who. Pick up those splinters, and take them to King William; and say, ‘The man who broke that lance against the gate is here to make his peace with thee,’ and he will know who I am.”

And so cowed were these two knights with Hereward’s royal voice, and royal eye, and royal strength, that they went simply, and did what he bade them.

And when King William saw the splinters, he was as joyful as man could be, and said —

“Send him to me, and tell him, Bright shines the sun to me that lights Hereward into Winchester.”

“But, Lord King, he has with him a meinie of full forty knights.”

“So much the better. I shall have the more valiant Englishmen to help my valiant French.”

So Hereward rode round, outside the walls, to William’s new entrenched palace, outside the west gate, by the castle.

And then Hereward went in, and knelt before the Norman, and put his hands between William’s hands, and swore to be his man.

“I have kept my word,” said he, “which I sent to thee at Rouen seven years agone. Thou art King of all England; and I am the last man to say so.”

“And since thou hast said it, I am King indeed. Come with me, and dine; and tomorrow I will see thy knights.”

And William walked out of the hall leaning on Hereward’s shoulder, at which all the Normans gnashed their teeth with envy.

“And for my knights, Lord King? Thine and mine will mix, for a while yet, like oil and water; and I fear lest there be murder done between them.”

“Likely enough.”

So the knights were bestowed in a “vill” near by; “and the next day the venerable king himself went forth to see those knights, and caused them to stand, and march before him, both with arms, and without. With whom being much delighted, he praised them, congratulating them on their beauty and stature, and saying that they must all be knights of fame in war.” After which Hereward sent them all home except two; and waited till he should marry Alftruda, and get back his heritage.

“And when that happens,” said William, “why should we not have two weddings, beausire, as well as one? I hear that you have in Crowland a fair daughter, and marriageable.”

Hereward bowed.

“And I have found a husband for her suitable to her years, and who may conduce to your peace and serenity.”

Hereward bit his lip. To refuse was impossible in those days. But —

“I trust that your Grace has found a knight of higher lineage than him, whom, after so many honors, you honored with the hand of my niece.”

William laughed. It was not his interest to quarrel with Hereward. “Aha! Ivo, the wood-cutter’s son. I ask your pardon for that, Sir Hereward. Had you been my man then, as you are now, it might have been different.”

“If a king ask my pardon, I can only ask his in return.”

“You must be friends with Taillebois. He is a brave knight, and a wise warrior.”

“None ever doubted that.”

“And to cover any little blots in his escutcheon, I have made him an earl, as I may make you some day.”

“Your Majesty, like a true king, knows how to reward. Who is this knight whom you have chosen for my lass?”

“Sir Hugh of Evermue, a neighbor of yours, and a man of blood and breeding.”

“I know him, and his lineage; and it is very well. I humbly thank your Majesty.”

“Can I be the same man?” said Hereward to himself, bitterly.

And he was not the same man. He was besotted on Alftruda, and humbled himself accordingly.

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