Hereward the Wake

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Hereward the Wake (c. 1035 – 1072), known in his own times as Hereward the Outlaw or Hereward the Exile, was an 11th-century Anglo-Danish leader (cited by author Peter Rex- hence the rebel leader's ability to call upon Scandinavian aid in 1069) involved in resistance to the Norman conquest of England.

According to legend, Hereward's base was in the Isle of Ely, and he roamed The Fens, covering North Cambridgeshire, Southern Lincolnshire and West Norfolk, leading popular opposition to William the Conqueror. The name Hereward is composed of Old English roots here = army, and weard = guard,[1] and is cognate with Old High German Heriwart and modern German Heerwart. The title "the Wake" (meaning "watcher") was popularly assigned to him many years after his death.

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Sources of our information

There is a wide variety of secondary sources of information, but the complexity of his story, as it has come down to us, has led to flights of fancy on the one hand and deep scepticism on the other. One of the difficulties is that most of the people who know the story have learned it from fictionalized versions, usually that of Charles Kingsley.[2] Another is the fact that the early writers were living in a culture which was, in many respects, very different from ours. In some instances, by applying modern rules of living to things described more than nine hundred years ago, modern writers baffle themselves. For example, in the part of England in which Hereward originated, the old Danish Law then applicable permitted bigamy.

Primary sources exist but are either brief or a little enigmatic. They are the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (ASC), the Domesday Book (DB), the rather less brief Liber Eliensis (Book of Ely), and much the most detailed, the Gesta Herwardi (Gesta). To a small extent, they are sometimes mutually contradictory.[3] This probably arises principally from partisan bias in the early writers. For example, the ASC version was written some fifty years after the events described, in a monastery which he was said to have sacked and well after his enemies had taken control.[4] On the other hand, the original version of the Gesta was written explicitly as a eulogy,[5] by a former colleague in arms and member of his father's former household.[6] Nonetheless, the enigmatic aspect arises largely from two things: firstly, the old ways of thinking combined with the inflexibility of modern minds and secondly, the eulogistic nature of the work: it was not intended as a history.

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