Nursery Rhymes

Hereward the Wake

Middle Ages - Lords and Ladies

Short Biography profile and facts about the life of Hereward the Wake of England
The following biography information provides basic facts and information about the life and history of Hereward the Wake a famous Medieval character of the Middle Ages:

  • Nationality: English
  • Origins of his name: Hereward is a Danish name. The word 'Wake' means Wary or Watchful

  • Lifespan: The date of Birth and Death of Hereward the Wake is unknown
  • Place of Birth: He was born in Bourne, Lincolnshire
  • Family connections : He was the son of an Anglo-Saxon lord named Earl Leofric of Mercia and his wife Godiva
  • Character of Hereward the Wake: Hot tempered, determined and brave
  • Accomplishments or why Hereward the Wake was famous: He led the final major rebellion against William the Conqueror and the Normans
  • Hereward the Wake was seen as an English hero and as a symbol of resistance to oppression. It is therefore not surprising that some of the legends about Hereward the Wake were later incorporated into the legends about Robin Hood.

Hereward the Wake Biography
The story, facts, legend and biography of Hereward the Wake have merged into one. It is difficult to separate fact from legend. The exact date of his birth is unknown but he was a Saxon, with Danish ancestry, who was born into a wealthy Saxon family who held lands in Lincolnshire prior to the Norman invasion. Hereward the Wake was believed to have been a hot-headed young man who argued with his father, became involved in a dispute with the English King Edward the Confessor and was subsequently exiled to Europe at the age of 14.

Hereward the Wake Biography - the Norman Invasion
The death of Edward the Confessor left England in disarray with various claims to the English throne and open to an invasion from both the Normans and the Vikings. The Vikings were defeated by King Harold but his victory was short lived and he had to fight the Normans shortly after. William the Conqueror became King of England and the Normans owned England. The feudal system imported by the Normans was based on an Oath of Fealty and military support in exchange for a reward of lands. English lands were given to to Norman supporters of William. The seizure of lands and property was brutal. Only two Saxon Englishmen were left as the only Saxon landowners in England, both of whom had turned traitor and supported William against the Saxons. Thorkill of Arden was one of these Saxons and he had his land taken during the reign of William Rufus.

Hereward the Wake Biography - the Norman Invasion
The news of the defeat of King Harold brought Hereward the Wake back to England. The Normans had seized his father's estates. The new Norman owner had not only taken the land, but had also slain his brother, whose head was set above the door of the house. Hereward the Wake exacted revenge on as many Normans as he could and then nailed the Norman heads above the door of the family house - he is said to have killed 14 Normans single-handed. Hereward the Wake had no alternative but to leave his lands and rebel against the Normans. He fled into the fens, where he was harboured by Abbot Thurstan of Ely. The Fens are an area of former wetlands in the counties of Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk in eastern England - they were thickly forested in the Middle Ages.

Hereward the Wake Biography - the English Rebellions
In February 1067 the English, led by King Harold's mother Gytha, resist the Normans at Exeter but were defeated by the Normans. Another rebellion in the North also resulted in the defeat of the English. It is possible that Hereward the Wake joined these Saxon English rebellions. He was certainly in contact with the Saxon rebels and the family of King Harold.

Hereward the Wake leads the Final English Rebellion against the Normans
In 1070, four years after the Battle of Hastings,  Hereward the Wake made plans for another rebellion with the brother of King Harold, Earl Morcar of Northumbria. The Danish king Swein Estrithson sent a small army to England and established a stronghold on the Isle of Ely, where they were joined by the English rebels including Hereward the Wake and Earl Morcar. The Isle of Ely is centred in Cambridge. The name Isle comes from the high ground amid the fens and Ely supposedly refers to the eels formerly in the waters. Hereward the Wake then led a raid on  Peterborough Cathedral as he wished to save the treasures and relics from the Normans. He shared the gold he had taken with the Danes, who then deserted Hereward the Wake and returned to their homelands. The Normans tried to gain access to the Isle of Ely across causeways at Stuntney, Little Thetford and Aldreth but were ambushed by Hereward the Wake and his followers and failed to reach the rebels base. 

Hereward the Wake is betrayed
The threat posed by Hereward the Wake was seen as serious. Abbot Thurstan of Ely, fearing for the future of his abbey, betrayed Hereward the Wake and showed the Normans the secret way across to the Isle of Ely. Earl Morcar was captured. Hereward the Wake and a handful of his men managed to escape. They hid from the Normans in the forests of the Fens.

Hereward the Wake
It is not known how long Hereward the Wake lived as outlaws in the forests of the Fens. But he apparently held out against the Normans until King William was persuaded to come to terms. Hereward the Wake was given his lands back and reference to his lands are made in the Domesday Book.

Hereward the Wake and Robin Hood
Hereward the Wake was seen as an English hero and as a symbol of resistance to oppression. It is therefore not surprising that some of the legends about Hereward the Wake were later incorporated into the legends about Robin Hood.

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