Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Review: James Wilde – The Legend of Hereward

Hereward yields to William the Conqueror
With his first novel "The Time of the Wolf: A Novel of Medieval England" (also titled as "Hereward"), author James Wilde has presented us with a new take on the legend that is Hereward the Wake.  Hereward has been represented in the past as something of an ideal anti-hero along the lines of Robin Hood – he is the saviour of the Anglo-Saxons from the terrors of the Norman invaders. His use of violence is but a means to an end and is – on par - most acceptable according to the constructs of the time.

James’ Hereward takes on a darker persona (think modern-day Batman) where the legend is given a more human face and not one many may find themselves comfortable with.  He is a man who in the heat of battle is more akin to a Viking Berserker than family friendly superhero. 

Essentially the first book is set in the immediate years leading up to the Norman invasion 1060s – England is beset still from Viking raiders and the Anglo-Saxon Earls are jockeying for power around the aged Edward the Confessor.  The House of Godwin is in the ascendant but is not without its rivals. And it is into this scenario we find Hereward the outlaw – a man who is no longer under the protection of the community.  

In the Common Law of England, a "Writ of Outlawry" made the pronouncement Caput gerat lupinum ("Let his be a wolf's head," /  "May he bear a wolfish head") with respect to its subject ..  and equating that person with a wolf in the eyes of the law: Not only was the subject deprived of all legal rights of the law being outside of the "law", but others could kill him on sight as if he were a wolf or other wild animal.” (source: Wikipedia) - and hence the title is rather apt.

Hereward  travels to and is welcomed at the court of Tostig Godwinsson, Earl of Northumbria and brother of Harold Godwinsson, the most powerful man in England.  But in a turn of events, both are forced to flee to Flanders where Hereward becomes a mercenary.  He returns to England after the Battle of Hastings and so we are lead onto Book Two.

A crash course in pre-Conquest England politics is a must for those for whom this period in history is not their forte - for this is a period of violence, political scheming, personal ambitions and deadly rivalries.  It is also a time when the Church is attempting to flex its political arm by trying to curb the violence of the era (see Peace and Truce of God).

Synopsis - The Time of the Wolf: A Novel of Medieval England:
To some a brilliant warrior, to others a devil in human form, Hereward is as adept in the art of slaughter as the enemies that gather to claim England's throne. But in his country's hour of greatest need, he has been declared an outlaw. To stay alive - and a freeman - he must carve a bloody swathe from the frozen hills of Northumbria to Flanders' fields and the fenlands of East Anglia. The tale of a man whose deeds will become the stuff of legend, this is also the story of two mis-matched allies: Hereward the man of war, and Alric, a monk and a man of peace. One will risk everything to save the land he loves, the other to save his friend's soul... 

Synopsis - Hereward: The Devil's Army:
The battle of Hastings has been lost. Harold Godwinsson is dead. The iron fist of William the Bastard has begun to squeeze the life out of England. But there is one who stands in the way of the invader's savagery. He is called Hereward. He is a warrior and master tactician and as adept at slaughter as the imposter who sits upon the throne. And he is England's last hope.

Further Reading:
Hereward the Last English Gentleman - Peter Rex
Hereward the Last of the English - Charles Kingsley
Hereward the Wake - trans Michael Swanton 
Hereward the Wake - Scared Texts

Some Links:
Article from the Independent in 2005 in which David Keys writes of the new evidence on the ancestry of Hereward - and it is this theory that Wilde adopts for his Hereward.
One of history's "greatest Englishmen" wasn't really English at all. Hereward the Wake, the guerrilla leader who fought William the Conqueror for five years from 1066, was, according to new research, a high-ranking Dane.

The research by the historian Peter Rex sheds a fascinating light on the political circumstances of the time. Ever since the late ninth-century Viking raids, parts of eastern England had often come under Danish control - and for some of the 11th century the whole of England became part of a vast Danish empire, which also included Norway, southern Sweden.

England became the subject of a geopolitical tug-of-war between the Scandinavians and the Normans. The half-Norman English king Edward the Confessor was intensely pro-Norman, while his half-Danish successor Harold was supported by the Anglo-Danish community.

In 1066 the country was invaded by both the Scandinavians and the Normans, both of whom were determined to seize permanent control of England.

As an ethnic Dane, Hereward was intensely anti-Norman, probably even more so than many Anglo-Saxons.

He was able to enlist military support from Denmark itself, the new research reveals, and in 1069 the Danish royal family and the Danish church sent a small army across the North Sea to assist Hereward.

As a result of his long guerrilla campaign and by avoiding the attentions of the William's soldiers he earned the popular title "the Wake", meaning "the watchful".

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