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Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are second hand accounts of the historical period, event or moment in question that were created by someone who did not experience at first hand or participate in the events or conditions being researched. They comment, summarise, interpret or analyse information found in primary sources. Publications such as newspaper / magazine articles, encyclopaedias, textbooks and biographies, histories, analyses and commentaries are all examples of Secondary Sources.

In the Hereward legend there are five major Secondary Sources, each of which we shall review here to emphasise the value of each and the area in the Hereward story that they cover along with their veracity, reliability or otherwise.

The five Secondary Sources we shall analyse in brief are:

1). De Gestis Herwardi Saxonis

2). Liber Eliensis

3). The Peterborough Chronicle of Hugh Candidus

4). Croyland Chronicle

5) Estoire des Engleis

De Gestis Herwardi Saxonis

Commonly known as the Gesta Herwardi and translating to 'The Exploits of Hereward the Saxon' this is the most complete and complex of all the Hereward historical sources, whether Primary or Secondary.

It is written more as a story, rather than a history and the monks compiling this biography of Hereward 'the Outlaw' tell the reasons why in the prologue, that is, they could not find enough accurate detail nor could they find a more comprehensive book on Hereward that they set out to find, 'save for a few leaves (pages) damp and decayed' and difficult to decipher because of the unaccustomed language (Old English) as oppossed to Norman French, which had become the language of England in the 12th Century.

The Gesta is said to have been compiled/written by a monk 'of blessed memory' identified only as Richard of Ely, according to the later Liber Eliensis. Adjudged to have been written between 1109 and 1125 and most likely upon the foundation of the Cathedral at Ely, with the preface thought to likely have been addressed to Hervey, the first Bishop of Ely.

Written in Middle Latin with the English translation consisting of approximately 40,000 words, the compiler drew his material from an earlier source written in the Old English language by Leofric the Deacon, described as Hereward's Priest at Bourne. He also interviewed older monks at Ely Abbey who were alive at the time of the Norman Conquest and, intriguingly, two of Hereward's former companions; Siward, a Brother of St. Edmund's Monastery and Leofric the Black, described as knights who had had limbs cut off, so preseumably were among those captured by the Conqueror during the Fall of Ely on 27th October 1071 (a date stated only in the Liber Eliensis). Therefore we must assume that it is from these two of Hereward's men that the stories of his adventures as a mercenary soldier in Northumberland, Cornwall and Flanders come from, making them first hand accounts of certain events in the text. However, we do not know how reliable the claim or have any authentic identity of the two comrades in arms, though some commentators speculate that Siward, the Brother of St. Edmunds is the Siward the Red in the Gesta and the Siward Rufus of history who can be found in Domesday. Can you find Siward Rufus in Domesday?

The Gesta Herwardi takes us on 'The Heroes Journey' where Hereward is exiled at 18 by King Edward the Confessor at the behest of his parents, for being a troublesome youth around Bourne in South Lincolnshire. Anyone made an Outlaw in Anglo-Saxon England became known as a 'Wolf's Head', meaning they had no protection from the law and the price of their life had the same value as a wolf, so they could be killed by anyone without retribution from the law.

Under this shadow of death Hereward travels north with one companion, Martin Lightfoot and kills a bear who  attacks a young maiden in Northumbria. He then travels South and rescues a Princess in Cornwall from a giant of a man from the land of the Picts and Scots called Ulcus Ferrus (Iron Sore or Iron Hook in literature and legend) by killing him in a duel and then delivers her to the Prince of Ireland whom she marries. Hereward, now joined by comrades from his youth in Bourne fights for the King of Ireland against the Duke of Munster and upon victory where Hereward is instrumental in the outcome he is rewarded with two ships and he leaves with his men to return to England. However, they become shipwrecked on the Orkney Islands a major Viking stronghold of the age before becoming shipwrecked again on the coast of Flanders.

In Flanders Hereward becomes revered during the early jousting tournaments in the region which was a hotbed for dissenting counties to the French king. Practicing the art of the new style of orderly warfare on horseback at tournaments and festivals became a popular gathering of the elites and their champions. With William the Duke of Normandy becoming ever more powerful in the region, mercenaries became wealthy protecting the Lords across the northern counties and countries that bordered or were close to the North Sea. Flanders became fashionable and popular as a golden age swept across  Europe and the new knightly classes evolved into the age of Chivalry and Courtly Love. It was here at St. Omer Hereward met and married Torfrida. Eventually Hereward, soon a renowned knight with a big reputation joined the army of Baldwin V, the Duke of Flanders, fighting as a Magister Militum (Military Commander) under the leadership of Baldwin V's son, Count Robert 'Le Frisson',  (the Frisian) who himself would become the Duke of Flanders in 1071.

Food for thought: If you are wondering if Hereward and King William knew each other when 'the Conqueror' advanced upon the Isle of Ely, bear in mind that Robert's only sister, Matilda, was the Conqueror's wife and that Hereward fought in Scaldermariland as one of Count Robert's leading commanders in his army.

There was a time this early part of the text was said to be wholly fabricated by the author and the Gesta was not taken seriously by historians, claiming it as much more story than history. However, revisionist historians in recent times have reviewed the text. The works of David Roffe ' Hereward the Wake and the Barony of Bourne' and Elisabeth van Houts 'Hereward and Flanders' are now essential reading in understanding the Hereward legend and bringing it out of that misty world of folklore and legend and into historical authenticity.

Examples: The Gesta says Hereward is the Lord of Bourne, yet in consulting Domesday Earl Morcar held the Manor of Bourne in 1066. Roffe argues that Morcar held Bourne by forfeiture after Hereward's father dies and Hereward was still in exile and demonstrates how the Lord in 1086, Ogier (the Breton) succeeded Hereward in Hereward's other holdings, which then suggests Bourne was the land of Hereward in 1066.

Van Houts traces Hereward across Flanders even to the point of discovering a 'Miles Heravardi' (Hereward the Soldier or Hereward the knight) and nine other 'Milites' signing the foundation charter of Cambrai Monastery with Bishop Leitbert of Cambrai a year or so before the Norman Conquest. This is believed to be our Hereward and could well be described as the 'we got him' moment in Hereward research. 

Also of value is Rolf Bremer's text, which articulates the motivation and audience behind the writing of the Gesta.

The Gesta then has Hereward return to England within a few days of the death of Duke Baldwin V, who died on September 1st 1067. So Hereward returned to his hometown of Bourne around the first week of September 1067, giving us a specific date for the beginning of his rebellion. On his return to Bourne he went to his now deceased father's estate to claim his inheritance and found a group of unarmed Normans partying and celebrating, as he approached his younger brother's head was stuck on a spike above the entrance to the estate. Incensed, Hereward leapt from the shadows and slaughtered them all, the next morning 14 Norman heads were hanging at the entrance to his father's estate. His legend grew..

The Gesta then develops into the more reliable part of the story, where he is called to Ely by Abbot Thurstan to defend the abbey against the Norman advance. It is noticeable that Hereward's notorious raid on Peterborough Monastery on 2nd June 1070 is not recorded in the Gesta. This is probably because the Gesta is attempting only to tell the good deeds of Hereward, not the bad, as they are trying to give him a good reputation. There is an abundance of stories. After the Slaughter of the Normans at Bourne Hereward and his companions 'hole-up' in the ancient tract of forest known as the Brunneswald which ran in alignment with the modern A1 motorway from the area around the modern Bourne Wood in the north down to Northamptonshire in the area of Leighton Bromswold, the latter bearing its name. Hereward assassinates Frederick a famous knight and brother in law of the Earl William de Warrenne. According to the Warrenne Chronicle this took place at de Warrenne's caput at Castle Acre in West Norfolk. Then there is the controversial story of Hereward's knighthood at Peterborough by Abbot Brand (who some claim was Hereward's uncle). Here he was 'Girt with Sword and Belt', along with his comrades before heading to defend Ely. Hereward is quoted as making a big statement about this, can you find it in the text? 

While at Ely he was joined by a number of leading nobles, including the Earls Edwin and Morcar. Although the Gesta is not reliable in the description of some of Hereward's adherents some can be found as being historical figures. One of the compelling questions today is how did William the Conqueror gain access onto the Isle of Ely. The Gesta suggests he makes two attempts to build a causeway and gain access onto the Isle of Ely. The Aldreth Causeway still exists today and can be visited from Aldreth itself, where a plaque is fixed onto the wall of the village hall saying 'his actions at Aldreth passed into legend'. The causeway is about two miles long, you cross the River Ouse after one mile and Belsars Hill is at the southern end almost two miles away. It is said in the Gesta that the Conqueror based his troops at Belsars Hill. But the big question is, did William get onto the Isle of Ely at Aldreth or did he take the secret pathway after Hereward was betrayed by the monks. What do you think?

It is in the Liber Eliensis that we are informed of the date of Hereward's Last Stand and the Fall of Ely as 27th October 1071. The Gesta tells us that Hereward and a few of his men managed to escape. His adventures in the Brunneswald and beyond, after the fall of Ely can be read about in the Estoire des Engleis and the Gesta says he lived a long life and was buried at Crowland Abbey, making the Croyland Chronicle essential reading. The Liber Eliensis gives greater detail on the events that occured during Hereward's defence of Ely, some contradicting others, including the Gesta Herwardi.

The Hereward story is full of contradictions and passages that are difficult to match in historical record, however there were monks from three of the monastic houses in the Fens (Ely, Peterborough and Crowland) writing eulogies and biographies about him within the following century of his death, that alone suggests we are dealing with a truly great warrior who can be classed as a true legend marking him as the Folk Hero of the Fens

So let's briefly look at some of the other sources. 

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Click on the link to go to an online transcript of the Gesta Herwardi translated by Michael Swanton.

'Hereward and Flanders'

Elisabeth van Houts (1999)

'Hereward the Wake and the Barony of

Bourne-Reassessment of a Fenland Legend'

David Roffe (1994)

'The Gesta Herewardi - Transforming an

Anglo-Saxon into an Englishman'

Rolf H. Bremmer

Extracts from the Gesta Herwardi

 1) A eulogy by the monks to Hereward's greatness

 2) Describing him as a child and youth in looks

and behaviour before his exile

3) Hereward's knighthood at Peterborough

4) The end of the Hereward story in the Gesta

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Hereward Gesta extract end of story.jpg

Click on the 'Back' link to return to the Primary Sources Page

Liber Eliensis

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The Liber Eliensis (Book of Ely) is a history of the Isle of Ely centred on Ely Cathedral compiled by a monk of Ely in the late twelfth century. Some suggest a date of (approximately) 1175, marking it as a celebration of 500 years since the foundation of a religious house at Ely by Etheldreda (aka St. AEthelthryth) Queen of Northumbria and the first Abbess of Ely who founded a double monastery at Ely in AD 673. A Latin transcript book was not published until 1962 (by E.O. Blake) and an English translation was not published until 2005, meaning that the history written around Hereward within the Liber Eliensis was rarely referenced before the 1960's (if at all) and only became accessible to non-Latinists well into the new millenium. This has meant that judgement on the Hereward legend has been somewhat subdued until recent times and his actions at Ely within the text are still rarely accounted for. It must be said that it was the WakeHereward Project who were the first to publicise the 27th October 1071 as the 'Fall of Ely', no ther source recognised the date previously, which actually serves to give a beginning and end date of Hereward's rebellion across the Fens.

The text in the Liber that refers to Hereward is drawn from many different sources and it is thought that it may be, in part, the original text of what became the Gesta Herwardi. Its value is in the greater description of the actions that took place on the Isle of Ely as the Conqueror and his army sought to defeat Hereward and his cohorts. The Liber suggests that as many as 3000 warriors, and more refugees, were housed on the island. While, like the Gesta, it states that the Isle was plentiful of food and resources it later refers to the famine and hardship taking place on the Isle of Ely. It also states that the inhabitants on the Isle were awaiting the return of around 8000 English warriors along with Danish allies from Denmark. This, of course, failed to materialise but gives a view of the hope they held and intentions they had, while highlighting Ely as a refugee camp and a transit camp.

The Liber Eliensis and the Gesta Herwardi contradict and support each other in the recounting of the Hereward legend, marking the Liber as an invaluable source to our understanding of Hereward's rebellion and giving invaluable information as to what likely happened as the widespread English resistance to the Conqueror's rule was finally extinguished.

Peterborough Chronicle of Hugh Candidus

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The Peterborough Chronicle of Hugh Candidus is one of the most important medieval documents from the monasteries in the Fens and has a section that devotes much to the story of Hereward ransacking Peterborough Monastery that was collected from oral tradition among the monks of Peterborough.

It's conjectured that the chronicle was written over a number of decades from around 1120 (Hugh was present when the monastery caught fire in 1116) to around 1155 at the accession of William de Waterville to the abbacy.

It is particularly valuable in its detailed account of Hereward's raid on Peterborough on 2nd June 1070, though not always entirely accurate. For example Hugh states the year of the raid as 1069, yet it occured following the death of Abbot Brand, who died at the end of November 1069.

It serves to support the veracity of the interpolated entry for the year 1070 in the Peterborough 'E' version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, giving much more detail of the items stolen from the monastery by Hereward and the Danes. Commentators are divided on whether it was Hugh who actually wrote the interpolated entry in the ASC.

One story it does cover that is not written about elsewhere is that of Prior Athelwold, who, after being kidnapped by Hereward and the Danes along with all but one of the monks of Peterborough and taken to Ely, soon stole back some of the treasure and secretly made his way to Ramsey Abbey, where the treasure was secretly stashed. However, the new Norman Abbot, Turold, soon heard about this and went to Ramsey and ordered the delivery of the treasure otherwise the abbey would suffer consequences.

Hugh also writes about the rise in economic fortunes at Peterborough under Abbot Leofric from 1057 to 1066 (then known simply as Burgh, or Burch in Old English) as it became known as Gylldenburgh, the 'Golden Borough' one of the three wealthiest monasteries in all England alongside Ely and Glastonbury.

Along with the entries in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Peterborough Chronicle of Hugh Candidus serves to give an account of Hereward from the Peterborough point of view, where he is perhaps viewed more as a villain than a hero. 

So what is your opinion was Hereward a hero or a villain? Maybe you have to study these sources more deeply before you can make a judgement.

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Aerial view model of Peterborough Monastery on 2nd June 1070 and the burning Bolhithe Gate whereby Hereward and the Danes entered. Note the twin towers and the outer fortifications of the Burgh.

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Hugh Candidus, depicted in a window at Peterborough Cathedral.

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Croyland Chronicle

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The Croyland Chronicle is the most controversial of the Hereward related texts and also the most unreliable. Also known as Ingulph's Chronicle or the 'Pseudo Ingulph' the problem with the chronicle arose when it was discovered the early 12th Century writings were made by a 14th or 15th Century hand.

This fared particularly poorly for the history written at the time of Hereward which is regarded as spurious, including the passage that says he is buried at Crowland Abbey alongside his wife Torfrida.

However, in recent years it has been suggested that the forgery claiming to be by the early 12th Century Abbot Ingulph may have actually been copied from a previous text, now lost. 

The work purports to be written by Ingulph, who was the abbot of Crowland in Lincolnshire from 1087 to 1109 and it traces the history of St Guthlac and of the monastery dedicated to him by King AEthelbald on the island of Crowland, through the ravages of the Danish invasions of the late ninth century and its refoundation in the middle of the tenth century, to the Norman Conquest and its aftermath. There are few sources for the period that can match its detail, and from its first publication the Historia was widely accepted as an authentic history. However, doubts began to be raised. The pre-Conquest charters were the first parts to be questioned, and by the late nineteenth century the whole work was treated as suspect. W. G. Searle's analysis of I894 finally established that the Historia was a late 14th or early 15th Century forgery, while the three anonymously written "continuations" that span the periods 1144–1469, 1459–1486 and 1485–1486 are genuine.

Recent studies by David Roffe have begun to bring an air of credibility back to the pre-1117 entries and the works concerning Hereward are now considered to be copied by different hands from a genuine source, perhaps Ingulph himself.

Clearly drawing in part from the same source as the Gesta Herwardi as well as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for 1070 it states that Abbot Brand of Peterborough is Hereward's uncle, thereby acknowledging the entry in the 14th Century Chronicon Angliae Petriburgense and exposing its later provenance as a source.

Whilst much of what is written about Hereward in the Croyland Chronicle is drawn from other known sources there are some inclusions that have an air of originality and credibility about them. The story about Hereward's daughter marrying the Norman knight Hugh D'Envermue and bringing her patrimonial inheritance of Brunne (Bourne) into the marriage has an air of authenticity about it. Particularly as the passage then describes how Torfrida passed four years previously and Hereward was buried beside her after living a prosperous life. The Estoire des Engleis says that D'Envermue was one of the Norman knights who killed Hereward, so he taking Hereward's daughter as his marriage 'prize' would fit the usual routine of post-Conquest Norman/Saxon marriage.

Likewise the Chronicle mentions twice about songs being sung in the streets about Hereward, as does the Gesta. Surely for a man of this kind of repuation as a local folk hero, this would be the case, as it is known to be in similar cases with folk heroes around the world. However, like the Gesta it says he eventually came to terms with the king and his patrimonial estates were restored to him. But Domesday states that in 1086 Ogier (the Breton) held Bourne and other lands that previously belonged to Hereward, although there was a Hereward holding land in Warwickshire in 1086. Could this be our Hereward? Not according to the Estoire des Engleis , according to the author Geffrei Gaimar Hereward was attacked and killed by a group of Normans...  

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Estoire des Engleis

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Estoire des Engleis (History of the English) is the oldest surviving work of historiography written in the French vernacular. The original began with the mythical Trojan origins of British history, the version extant today begins with the arrival of Cerdic in Britain in 495 and closes with the death of William Rufus in 1100. The early part follows the annalistic model of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle while introducing a number of interludes from other sources.

Ian Short regards Gaimar's work as 'in general a conscientious historical narrative'. Written for a Lincolnshire audience around sometime between 1136 to 1140, the chronicle is written in eight-syllable rhyming couplets running to 6,526 lines.

Within this framework is the story of Hereward which Gaimar casually introduces as part of the response to the Harrying of the North with the arrival of Bishop Athelwine and Siward Barn meeting with Earl Morcar at the Humber Estuary before faring into the Fens by ship where Hereward is introduced as the leader of the Outlaws and one of the most important figures in the region. They then plunder the Norman occupied parts of the region before setting up their camp at Ely.

Gaimar then tells the story of how William surrounds the Isle and builds a causeway and the rebels are captured while Hereward and a few adherents escape. Eventually Hereward comes to terms with William and is granted safe passage to fight in William's army, with both English and French, as they cross the channel to Le Mans. At some point Hereward is alone and unarmed and is attacked and killed by Normans.

This episode contradicts the Croyland Chronicle and the Gesta Herwardi, each of which state that he comes to terms with William, has his own lands restored, and lives a prosperous and peaceful life. Herein he dies a heroes death at the hands of several rapacious Normans out for revenge.

Like so many episodes in the Hereward sources, it seems the more we read, the less we know.

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Hereward comes to terms with King William & Hereward killed by Normans

Illustrations by Henry Courtney Selous 1870

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