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

Chapter 9.

How Hereward Went to the War in Scaldmariland.

It has been shown how the Count of Guisnes had been a thorn in the side of Baldwin of Lille, and how that thorn was drawn out by Hereward. But a far sharper thorn in his side, and one which had troubled many a Count before, and was destined to trouble others afterward, was those unruly Hollanders, or Frisians, who dwelt in Scaldmariland, “the land of the meres of the Scheldt.” Beyond the vast forests of Flanders, in morasses and alluvial islands whose names it is impossible now to verify, so much has the land changed, both by inundations and by embankments, by the brute forces of nature and the noble triumphs of art, dwelt a folk, poor, savage, living mostly, as in Caesar’s time, in huts raised above the sea on piles or mounds of earth; often without cattle or seedfield, half savage, half heathen, but free. Free, with the divine instinct of freedom, and all the self-help and energy which spring thereout.

They were a mongrel race; and, as most mongrel races are (when sprung from parents not too far apart in blood), a strong race; the remnant of those old Frisians and Batavians, who had defied, and all but successfully resisted, the power of Rome; mingled with fresh crosses of Teutonic blood from Frank, Sueve, Saxon, and the other German tribes, who, after the fall of the Roman Empire, had swept across the land.

Their able modern historian has well likened the struggle between Civilis and the Romans to that between William the Silent and the Spaniard. It was, without doubt, the foreshadow of their whole history. They were distinguished, above most European races, for sturdy independence, and, what generally accompanies it, sturdy common sense. They could not understand why they should obey foreign Frank rulers, whether set over them by Dagobert or by Charlemagne. They could not understand why they were to pay tithes to foreign Frank priests, who had forced on them, at the sword’s point, a religion which they only half believed, and only half understood. Many a truly holy man preached to them to the best of his powers: but the cross of St. Boniface had too often to follow the sword of Charles Martel; and for every Frisian who was converted another was killed.

“Free Frisians,” nevertheless, they remained, at least in name and in their statute-book, “as long as the wind blows out of the clouds, and the world stands.” The feudal system never took root in their soil. 11 If a Frank Count was to govern them, he must govern according to their own laws. Again and again they rebelled, even against that seemingly light rule. Again and again they brought down on themselves the wrath of their nominal sovereigns the Counts of Flanders; then of the Kaisers of Germany; and, in the thirteenth century, of the Inquisition itself. Then a crusade was preached against them as “Stadings,” heretics who paid no tithes, ill-used monks and nuns, and worshipped (or were said to worship) a black cat and the foul fiend among the meres and fens. Conrad of Marpurg, the brutal Director of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, burnt them at his wicked will, extirpating, it may be, heresy, but not the spirit of the race. That, crushed down and seemingly enslaved, during the middle age, under Count Dirk and his descendants, still lived; destined at last to conquer. They were a people who had determined to see for themselves and act for themselves in the universe in which they found themselves; and, moreover (a necessary corollary of such a resolution), to fight to the death against any one who interfered with them in so doing.

11 Motley. “Rise of the Dutch Republic.”

Again and again, therefore, the indomitable spirit rose, founding free towns with charters and guilds; embanking the streams, draining the meres, fighting each other and the neighboring princes; till, in their last great struggle against the Pope and Spain, they rose once and for all,

“Heated hot with burning fears,

And bathed in baths of hissing tears,

And battered with the strokes of doom

To shape and use,”

as the great Protestant Dutch Republic.

A noble errand it had been for such a man as Hereward to help those men toward freedom, instead of helping Frank Counts to enslave them; — men of his own blood, with laws and customs like those of his own Anglo–Danes, living in a land so exactly like his own that every mere and fen and wood reminded him of the scenes of his boyhood. The very names of the two lands were alike — “Holland,” the hollow land — the one of England, the other of Flanders.

But all this was hidden from Hereward. To do as he would be done by was a lesson which he had never been taught. If men had invaded his land, he would have cried, like the Frisians whom he was going to enslave, “I am free as long as the wind blows out of the clouds!” and died where he stood. But that was not the least reason why he should not invade any other man’s land, and try whether or not he, too, would die where he stood. To him these Frieslanders were simply savages, probably heathens, who would not obey their lawful lord, who was a gentleman and a Christian; besides, renown, and possibly a little plunder, might be got by beating them into obedience. He knew not what he did; and knew not, likewise, that as he had done to others, so would it be done to him.

Baldwin had at that time made over his troublesome Hollanders to his younger son Robert, the Viking whom little Arnulf longed to imitate.

Florent, Count of Holland, and vassal of the great Marquis, had just died, leaving a pretty young widow, to whom the Hollanders had no mind to pay one stiver more than they were forced. All the isles of Zeeland, and the counties of Eonham and Alost, were doing that which was right in the sight of their own eyes, and finding themselves none the worse therefor — though the Countess Gertrude doubtless could buy fewer silks of Greece or gems of Italy. But to such a distressed lady a champion could not long be wanting; and Robert, after having been driven out of Spain by the Moors with fearful loss, and in a second attempt wrecked with all his fleet as soon as he got out of port, resolved to tempt the main no more, and leave the swan’s path for that of the fat oxen and black dray-horses of Holland.

So he rushed to avenge the wrongs of the Countess Gertrude; and his father, whose good-natured good sense foresaw that the fiery Robert would raise storms upon his path — happily for his old age he did not foresee the worst — let him go, with his blessing.

So Robert gathered to him valiant ruffians, as many as he could find; and when he heard of the Viking who had brought Eustace of Guisnes to reason, it seemed to him that he was a man who would do his work. So when the great Marquis came down to St. Omer to receive the homage of Count Eustace of Guisnes, Robert came thither too, and saw Hereward.

“You have done us good service, Harold Naemansson, as it pleases you to be called,” said Baldwin, smiling. “But some man’s son you are, if ever I saw a gallant knight earl-born by his looks as well as his deeds.”

Hereward bowed.

“And for me,” said Robert, “Naemansson or earl’s son, here is my Viking’s welcome to all Vikings like myself.” And he held out his hand.

Hereward took it.

“You failed in Galicia, beausire, only because your foes were a hundred to one. You will not fail where you are going, if (as I hear) they are but ten to one.”

Robert laughed, vain and gratified.

“Then you know where I have been, and where I am going?”

“Why not? As you know well, we Vikings are all brothers, and all know each other’s counsel, from ship to ship and port to port.”

Then the two young men looked each other in the face, and each saw that the other was a man who would suit him.

“Skall to the Viking!” cried Robert, aping, as was his fancy, the Norse rovers’ slang. “Will you come with me to Holland?”

“You must ask my young lord there,” and he pointed to Arnulf. “I am his man now, by all laws of honor.”

A flush of jealousy passed over Robert’s face. He, haplessly for himself, thought that he had a grievance.

The rights of primogeniture —droits d’ainesse— were not respected in the family of the Baldwins as they should have been, had prudence and common sense had their way.

No sacred or divine right is conferred by the fact of a man’s being the first-born son. If Scripture be Scripture, the “Lord’s anointed” was usually rather a younger son of talent and virtue; one born, not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit, like David and Solomon. And so it was in other realms besides Flanders during the middle age. The father handed on the work — for ruling was hard work in those days — to the son most able to do it. Therefore we can believe Lambert of Aschaffenbourg when he says, that in Count Baldwin’s family for many ages he who pleased his father most took his father’s name, and was hereditary prince of all Flanders; while the other brothers led an inglorious life of vassalage to him.

But we can conceive, likewise, that such a method would give rise to intrigues, envyings, calumnies, murders, fratracidal civil wars, and all the train of miseries which for some years after this history made infamous the house of Baldwin, as they did many another noble house, till they were stopped by the gradual adoption of the rational rule of primogeniture.

So Robert, who might have been a daring and useful friend to his brother, had he been forced to take for granted from birth that he was nobody, and his brother everybody — as do all younger sons of English noblemen, to their infinite benefit — held himself to be an injured man for life, because his father called his first-born Baldwin, and promised him the succession — which indeed he had worthily deserved, according to the laws of Mammon and this world, by bringing into the family such an heiress as Richilda and such a dowry as Mons.

But Robert, who thought himself as good as his brother — though he was not such, save in valor — nursed black envy in his heart. Hard it was to him to hear his elder brother called Baldwin of Mons, when he himself had not a foot of land of his own. Harder still to hear him called Baldwin the Good, when he felt in himself no title whatsoever to that epithet. Hardest of all to see a beautiful boy grow up, as heir both of Flanders and of Hainault.

Had he foreseen whither that envy would have led him; had he foreseen the hideous and fratracidal day of February 22d, 1071, and that fair boy’s golden locks rolling in dust and blood — the wild Viking would have crushed the growing snake within his bosom; for he was a knight and a gentleman. But it was hidden from his eyes. He had to “dree his weird,”— to commit great sins, do great deeds, and die in his bed, mighty and honored, having children to his heart’s desire, and leaving the rest of his substance to his babes. Heaven help him, and the like of him!

But he turned to young Arnulf.

“Give me your man, boy!”

Arnulf pouted. He wanted to keep his Viking for himself, and said so.

“He is to teach me to go ‘leding,’ as the Norsemen call it, like you.”

Robert laughed. A hint at his piratical attempts pleased his vanity, all the more because they had been signal failures.

“Lend him me, then, my pretty nephew, for a month or two, till he has conquered these Friesland frogs for me; and then, if thou wilt go leding with him —”

“I hope you may never come back,” thought Robert to himself; but he did not say it,

“Let the knight go,” quoth Baldwin.

“Let me go with him, then.”

“No, by all saints! I cannot have thee poked through with a Friesland pike, or rotted with a Friesland ague.”

Arnulf pouted still.

“Abbot, what hast thou been at with the boy? He thinks of naught but blood and wounds, instead of books and prayers.”

“He is gone mad after this — this knight.”

“The Abbot,” said Hereward, “knows by hearing of his ears that I bid him bide at home, and try to govern lands in peace like his father and you, Sir Marquis.”


The Abbot told honestly what had passed between Hereward and the lad, as they rode to St. Bertin.

Baldwin was silent, thinking, and smiling jollily, as was the wont of the Debonair.

“You are a man of sense, beausire. Come with me,” said he at last.

And he, Hereward, and Robert went into an inner room.

“Sit down on the settle by me.”

“It is too great an honor.”

“Nonsense, man! If I be who I am, I know enough of men to know that I need not be ashamed of having you as bench-fellow. Sit down.”

Hereward obeyed of course.

“Tell me who you are.”

Hereward looked out of the corner of his eyes, smiling and perplexed.

“Tell me and Robert who you are, man; and be done with it. I believe I know already. I have asked far and wide of chapmen, and merchants, and wandering knights, and pirate rascals — like yourself.”

“And you found that I was a pirate rascal?”

“I found a pirate rascal who met you in Ireland, three years since, and will swear that if you have one gray eye and one blue —”

“As he has,” quoth Robert.

“That I am a wolf’s head, and a robber of priests, and an Esau on the face of the earth; every man’s hand against me, and mine — for I never take but what I give — against every man.”

“That you are the son of my old friend Leofric of Chester: and the hottest-hearted, shrewdest-headed, hardest-handed Berserker in the North Seas. You killed Gilbert of Ghent’s bear, Siward Digre’s cousin. Don’t deny it.”

“Don’t hang me, or send me to the Westminster miracle-worker to be hanged, and I will confess.”

“I? Every man is welcome who comes hither with a bold hand and a strong heart. ‘The Refuge for the Destitute,’ they call Flanders; I suppose because I am too good-natured to turn rogues out. So do no harm to mine, and mine shall do no harm to you.”

Baldwin’s words were true. He found house-room for everybody, helped everybody against everybody else (as will be seen), and yet quarrelled with nobody — at least in his old age — by the mere virtue of good nature — which blessed is the man who possesseth.

So Hereward went off to exterminate the wicked Hollanders, and avenge the wrongs of the Countess Gertrude.

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