Monday, February 8, 2010

Leofric's family...a digression

Before the dirty deeds and misdeeds of 1065…
One of the problems of 11th century history (or one of its delights) is the dearth of available records.

Within a hundred and fifty years of the conquest the number of people who could read an Anglo-Saxon manuscript may have been less than the number who can do so today. Add to that the problems caused by the monastic habit of “Creative Copying” of older charters and documents, outright forgery, destruction and loss of manuscripts over time and then accelerated by the dissolution of the monasteries and what we can know of whole decades is pitifully small.

As the earliest story of Lady G attests, the problem is compounded because the Normans of the 12th century and those who came after weren’t that well informed about the Anglo-Saxons of the Eleventh.

We know Earl Aelfgar was exiled twice. The first time is mentioned in three of the versions of the chronicle although each gives a slightly different version of the story and none gives much of an explanation.

But almost all that is known about the second time is contained only in the Worcester version of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle for 1058.
Here Earl Alefgar was expelled, but he soon came back again, with violence, though the help of Gruffydd. And here came a raiding ship-army from Norway. It is tedious to tell how it all happened. [the entry continues with the actions of Bishop Aldred and other ecclesiastical figures.)

It is tedious to tell how it all happened. It was cold, he was bored, hungry, his fingers hurt and his back and eyes ached. How was he to know anyone would care in a thousand years time?

Hereward the Wake is a hero of Romance, the epitome of English resistance to the Norman invaders, a subject of ballads (he was?) but all the Chronicle says about him is in the entry for 1071 which begins…Here Earl Edwin and Morcar ran off and travelled variously in woods and in open country…Edwin is killed by his own men and the surviving rebels, holed up in Ely, surrender…”except Hereward alone, and all who wanted to be with him; and he courageously lead them out.”

Now, the gaps are so huge you are free to fill them any way you wish.

If you want to argue that he must have been a three toed Nergle from the planet ZIpthith who landed in Ely by mistake, thinking the monastery was a rest and recreation area and the monks were organic orgasmatrons (mark 4 ambulant) you are welcome to do so. It’s about as sensible as arguing that he must have been a son of Earl Leofric. Summarised and possibly supported by Heard in his biography of Hereward, the arguments, based on the novel by Charles Kingsley and a "history" written by a Lieut-General Thomas Netherton Harward in 1896, who thought he was his descendant. make my Nergel thesis seem a model of rational argument.

1 comment:

Anne Gilbert said...

I have to laugh about this, because one of the very first things I found out when I was doing background research for the (historical) part of my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece was, just how little documentation for events in the 11th century there actually are. Hereward plays an important part in my story, but since he was real, but half-legendary, I felt relatively comfortable following what's known(not very much) for a structure, but combining both the known and the "legendary" in order to create a decent and exciting story. BTW, I really appreciate these posts.
Anne G