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Hereward The Wake
by [?]

Through the mist of the far past of English history there looms up before our vision a notable figure, that of Hereward the Wake, the “last of the Saxons,” as he has been appropriately called, a hero of romance perhaps more than of history, but in some respects the noblest warrior who fought for Saxon England against the Normans. His story is a fabric in which threads of fact and fancy seem equally interwoven; of much of his life, indeed, we are ignorant, and tradition has surrounded this part of his biography with tales of largely imaginary deeds; but he is a character of history as well as of folk lore, and his true story is full of the richest elements of romance. It is this noteworthy hero of old England with whom we have now to deal.

No one can be sure where Hereward was born, though most probably the county of Lincolnshire may claim the honor. We are told that he was heir to the lordship of Bourne, in that county. Tradition–for we have not yet reached the borders of fact–says that he was a wild and unruly youth, disrespectful to the clergy, disobedient to his parents, and so generally unmanageable that in the end his father banished him from his home.

Little was the truculent lad troubled by this. He had in him the spirit of a wanderer and outlaw, but was one fitted to make his mark wherever his feet should fall. In Scotland, while still a boy, he killed, single-handed, a great bear,–a feat highly considered in those days when all battles with man and beast were hand to hand. Next we hear of him in Cornwall, one of whose race of giants Hereward found reserved for his prowess. This was a fellow of mighty limb and boastful tongue, vast in strength and terrible in war, as his own tale ran. Hereward fought him, and the giant ceased to boast. Cornwall had a giant the less. Next he sought Ireland, and did yeoman service in the wars of that unquiet island. Taking ship thence, he made his way to Flanders, where legend credits him with wonderful deeds. Battle and bread were the nutriment of his existence, the one as necessary to him as the other, and a journey of a few hundreds of miles, with the hope of a hard fight at the end, was to him but a holiday.

Such is the Hereward to whom tradition introduces us, an idol of popular song and story, and doubtless a warrior of unwonted courage and skill, agile and strong, ready for every toil and danger, and so keenly alert and watchful that men called him the Wake. This vigorous and valiant man was born to be the hero and champion of the English, in their final struggle for freedom against their Norman foes.

A new passion entered Hereward’s soul in Flanders, that of love. He met and wooed there a fair lady, Torfrida by name, who became his wife. A faithful helpmeet she proved, his good comrade in his wanderings, his wise counseller in warfare, and ever a softening influence in the fierce warrior’s life. Hitherto the sword had been his mistress, his temper the turbulent and hasty one of the dweller in camp. Henceforth he owed a divided allegiance to love and the sword, and grew softer in mood, gentler and more merciful in disposition, as life went on.

To this wandering Englishman beyond the seas came tidings of sad disasters in his native land. Harold and his army had been overthrown at Hastings, and Norman William was on the throne; Norman earls had everywhere seized on English manors, Norman churls, ennobled on the field of battle, were robbing and enslaving the old owners of the land. The English had risen in the north, and William had harried whole counties, leaving a desert where he had found a fertile and flourishing land. The sufferings of the English at home touched the heart of this genuine Englishman abroad. Hereward the Wake gathered a band of stout warriors, took ship, and set sail for his native land.