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

Chapter 41.

How Earl Waltheof was Made a Saint.

A few months after, there sat in Abbot Thorold’s lodgings in Peterborough a select company of Normans, talking over affairs of state after their supper.

“Well, earls and gentlemen,” said the Abbot, as he sipped his wine, “the cause of our good king, which is happily the cause of Holy Church, goes well, I think. We have much to be thankful for when we review the events of the past year. We have finished the rebels; Roger de Breteuil is safe in prison, Ralph Guader unsafe in Brittany, and Waltheof more than unsafe in-the place to which traitors descend. We have not a manor left which is not in loyal Norman hands; we have not an English monk left who has not been scourged and starved into holy obedience; not an English saint for whom any man cares a jot, since Guerin de Lire preached down St. Adhelm, the admirable primate disposed of St. Alphege’s martyrdom, and some other wise man — I am ashamed to say that I forget who — proved that St. Edmund of Suffolk was merely a barbarian knight, who was killed fighting with Danes only a little more heathen than himself. We have had great labors and great sufferings since we landed in this barbarous isle upon our holy errand ten years since; but, under the shadow of the gonfalon of St. Peter, we have conquered, and may sing ‘Dominus illuminatio mea’ with humble and thankful hearts.”

“I don’t know that,” said Ascelin, “my Lord Uncle; I shall never sing ‘Dominus Illuminatio’ till I see your coffers illuminated once more by those thirty thousand marks.”

“Or I,” said Oger le Breton, “till I see myself safe in that bit of land which Hereward holds wrongfully of me in Locton.”

“Or I,” said Ivo Taillebois, “till I see Hereward’s head on Bourne gable, where he stuck up those Norman’s heads seven years ago. But what the Lord Abbot means by saying that we have done with English saints I do not see, for the villains of Crowland have just made a new one for themselves.”

“A new one?”

“I tell you truth and fact; I will tell you all, Lord Abbot; and you shall judge whether it is not enough to drive an honest man mad to see such things going on under his nose. Men say of me that I am rough, and swear and blaspheme. I put it to you, Lord Abbot, if Job would not have cursed if he had been Lord of Spalding? You know that the king let these Crowland monks have Waltheof’s body?”

“Yes, I thought it an unwise act of grace. It would have been wiser to leave him, as he desired, out on the down, in ground unconsecrate.”

“Of course, of course; for what has happened?”

“That old traitor, Ulfketyl, and his monks bring the body to Crowland, and bury it as if it had been the Pope’s. In a week they begin to spread their lies — that Waltheof was innocent; that Archbishop Lanfranc himself said so.”

“That was the only act of human weakness which I have ever known the venerable prelate commit,” said Thorold.

“That these Normans at Winchester were so in the traitor’s favor, that the king had to have him out and cut off his head in the gray of the morning, ere folks were up and about; that the fellow was so holy that he past all his time in prison in weeping and praying, and said over the whole Psalter every day, because his mother had taught it him — I wish she had taught him to be an honest man; — and that when his head was on the block he said all the Paternoster, as far as ‘Lead us not into temptation,’ and then off went his head; whereon, his head being off, finished the prayer with — you know best what comes next, Abbot?”

“Deliver us from evil, Amen! What a manifest lie! The traitor was not permitted, it is plain, to ask for that which could never be granted to him; but his soul, unworthy to be delivered from evil, entered instead into evil, and howls forever in the pit.”

“But all the rest may be true,” said Oger; “and yet that be no reason why these monks should say it.”

“So I told them, and threatened them too; for, not content with making him a martyr, they are making him a saint.”

“Impious! Who can do that, save the Holy Father?” said Thorold.

“You had best get your bishop to look to them, then, for they are carrying blind beggars and mad girls by the dozen to be cured at the man’s tomb, that is all. Their fellows in the cell at Spalding went about to take a girl that had fits off one of my manors, to cure her; but that I stopped with a good horse-whip.”

“And rightly.”

“And gave the monks a piece of my mind, and drove them clean out of their cell home to Crowland.”

What a piece of Ivo’s mind on this occasion might be, let Ingulf describe.

“Against our monastery and all the people of Crowland he was, by the instigation of the Devil, raised to such an extreme pitch of fury, that he would follow their animals in the marshes with his dogs, drive them to a great distance down in the lakes, mutilate some in the tails, others in the ears, while often, by breaking the backs and legs of the beasts of burden, he rendered them utterly useless. Against our cell also (at Spalding) and our brethren, his neighbors, the prior and monks, who dwelt all day within his presence, he rages with tyrannical and frantic fury, lamed their oxen and horses, daily impounded their sheep and poultry, striking down, killing, and slaying their swine and pigs; while at the same time the servants of the prior were oppressed in the Earl’s court with insupportable exactions, were often assaulted in the highways with swords and staves, and sometimes killed.”

“Well,” went on the injured Earl, “this Hereward gets news of me — and news too, I don’t know whence, but true enough it is — that I had sworn to drive Ulfketyl out of Crowland by writ from king and bishop, and lock him up as a minister at the other end of England.”

“You will do but right. I will send a knight off to the king this day, telling him all, and begging him to send us up a trusty Norman as abbot of Crowland, that we may have one more gentleman in the land fit for our company.”

“You must kill Hereward first. For, as I was going to say, he sent word to me ‘that the monks of Crowland were as the apple of his eye, and Abbot Ulfketyl to him as more than a father; and that if I dared to lay a finger on them or their property, he would cut my head off.’”

“He has promised to cut my head off likewise,” said Ascelin. “Earl, knights, and gentlemen, do you not think it wiser that we should lay our wits together once and for all, and cut off his.”

“But who will catch the Wake sleeping?” said Ivo, laughing.

“That will I. I have my plans, and my intelligencers.”

And so those wicked men took counsel together to slay Hereward.

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