Hereward of Bourne

CharlesKingsley best cover HerewardTheWa

Kingsley's Hereward

'Probably if Charles Kingsley had never written ´Hereward the Wake', the memory of one of England's truest patriots would have passed away forever.'  

HF Abell. The Gentleman's Magazine. June 1901.

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“And what,” asked Hereward, after the first congratulations were over, “of my mother? What of the folk at Bourne?”

All looked each at the other, and were silent.

“You are too late, young lord,” said Azer.

“Too late?”

“The Norman”—Azer called him what most men called him then—“has given it to a man of Gilbert of Ghent’s,—his butler, groom, cook, for aught I know.”

“To Gilbert’s man? And my mother?”

“God help your mother, and your young brother, too. We only know that three days ago some five-and-twenty French marched into the place.”

“And you did not stop them?”

“Young sir, who are we to stop an army? We have enough to keep our own. Gilbert, let alone the villain Ivo of Spalding, can send a hundred men down on us in four-and-twenty hours.”

“Then I,” said Hereward in a voice of thunder, “will find the way to send two hundred down on him”; and turning his horse from the gate, he rode away furiously towards Bourne.

(from 'Hereward the Wake - Last of the English!' by Charles Kingsley published 1866).


In 1866 the novelist Charles Kingsley published the romantic epic, 'Hereward the Wake - Last of the English!' - a historical novel about an Anglo-Saxon warrior named Hereward who had risen to heroically defend England at the time of the Norman Conquest.

It is a story built upon the backdrop of the most cataclysmic moment in the history of the English people, a tale of '1066 and all that'. 

The book was an immediate success courting a readership imbibed on all of those Victorian virtues of patriotism, gallantry, selflessness and bravery, catapulting Hereward to folk hero status alongside the likes of King Arthur and Robin Hood.

However, while Kingsley's work gave Hereward his modern-day fame it clouded the historical figure to such an extent that even today it surprises some people that this

legendary figure did actually exist.

In this section we focus on Hereward and his connection to the small South Lincolnshire market town of Bourne, situated on the slopes at the western edge of the East of England Fenlands, the epicentre of the Hereward legend.

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The Slaughter of the Normans at Bourne

The scene above was illustrated by Henry Courtney Selous for the Charles Kingsley novel ´Hereward the Great', published in 1870 and notable because within four years of the original publication Hereward had gone from 'the Wake' to 'the Great', such was the popularity of the book and his fast rise to fame.

The image is a depiction of Hereward's revenge on the Normans who had taken over his ancestral home in Bourne, Lincolnshire, from where he had been exiled some years earlier, eventually becoming a mercenary soldier in the army of the Duke of Flanders. Hereward's return from Flanders to his homeland was precipitated after he had fought for the Duke of Flanders in a particular battle in the land of Scaldermariland. whereafter he heard news that the English army had been defeated at the Battle of Hastings and Duke William of Normandy had taken the Crown of England. As he had earlier heard from messengers that came to him while he was exiled that his father had died he decided to return to claim his inheritance.

Kingsley writes how Hereward made his way to his father's house with his man at arms, Martin Lightfoot, only to find upon arrival that the family home was occupied by a group of drunken, unarmed Normans, singing and celebrating. Worse still he discovered the dismembered head of his brother outside the door and somewhere within was his mother. He entered the house, leapt from the shadows and slaughtered them.

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'A Murdr Grim and Great' by Paul Mary Gray, the illustrator  for Kingsley's first publication of the Hereward book in 1866 on Macmillan and lso the serialisation in Good Words Magazine in 1865.

'And then began a murder, grim and great. They

fought with ale-cups, with knives, with benches:

but, drunken and unarmed, they were hewn

down like sheep.

Fourteen Normans, says the chronicler, were in

the hall when Hereward burst in. When the sun

rose there were fourteen heads upon the gable.

Escape had been impossible. Martin had laid the

ladder across the door; and the few who

escaped the master’s terrible sword, stumbled

over it, to be brained by the man’s not less

terrible axe.

Then Hereward took up his brother’s head, and

went in to his mother.'

Lady Godiva     Kingsley casts the legendary figure of Lady Godiva as Hereward's mother. As legend has it Godiva was the wife of the Earl of Coventry who took pity on the townfolk for the oppressive taxation the Earl had put upon the local people. Allegedly, her continuous remonstrations led him to say that he would only ease the burden of heavy taxation if she would ride naked through the streets of Coventry on a horse. Being a pious woman her husband thought she would refuse the challenge but she chose to take him up on his demand. A proclamation was issued that all the townfolk should remain in their homes and behind closed doors as she rode out onto the streets with only her long hair covering her. A later addition to the legend was that one man, a tailor by the name of Tom, got the better of his fear and looked through his shop window as Godiva rode past, he was soon after blinded and became a firm part of the legend as Peeping Tom.

The Lady Godiva sat crouched together, all but alone,—for her bower-maidens had fled or been carried off long since,—upon a low stool beside a long dark thing covered with a pall. So utterly crushed was she, that she did not even lift up her head as Hereward entered.

He placed his ghastly burden reverently beneath the pall, and then went and knelt before his mother.

For a while neither spoke a word. Then the Lady Godiva suddenly drew back her hood, and dropping on her knees, threw her arms round Hereward’s neck, and wept till she could weep no more.

“Blessed strong arms,” sobbed she at last, “around me! To feel something left in the world to protect me; something left in the world which loves me.”

“You forgive me, mother?”


Artists impression of Lady Godiva riding naked through the streets of Coventry by


The forgiveness which Hereward sought from his mother appertained to the events that led to him being sent into exile at the age of 18, several years earlier. 

continuation of Godiva and relationship with Hereward and his exile, his adventures abroad and then Flanders and then his return to Bourne. (and slaughter, then knighthood by Brand, then assassination of Frederick, then leaves for Flanders (again) and returns with Torfrida then his rebellion and building of a force (Bourne Woods is relevant)

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