Hereward the Wake Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Hereward is the son of the powerful lord of Bourne, a Saxon nobleman of a family close to the throne. A high-spirited, rebellious youth, he is a source of constant worry to his mother, Lady Godiva. Hereward lacks a proper respect for the Church and its priests and lives a boisterous life with boon companions who give him their unquestioning loyalty.

One day, a friar comes to Lady Godiva and reveals that Hereward and his friends attacked him and robbed him of what the priest insists was money belonging to the Church. Lady Godiva is angry and hurt. When Hereward admits his crime to her, she says that there is no alternative but that he be declared a wake, or outlaw, for his own good. Upon Hereward’s promise not to harm his mother’s messenger—for Hereward really does not mind being outlawed, as he wishes to see more of the world—Lady Godiva sends Martin Lightfoot, a servant, to carry the news of Hereward’s deed to his father and to the king. Hereward is then declared an outlaw subject to imprisonment or death upon capture.

Before Hereward leaves his father’s house, he releases his friends from their oath of allegiance. Martin Lightfoot begs to be allowed to follow him, not as his servant but as his companion. Then Hereward sets out to live among the rude and barbarous Scottish tribes of the north. His first adventure occurs when he kills a huge bear that is threatening the life of Alftruda, ward of a knight named Gilbert of Ghent. He achieves much renown for this valorous deed. The knights of Gilbert’s household, however, are jealous of Hereward’s courage and his prowess, and they try to kill him. Although he escapes the snares laid for him, he decides that it would be best for him to leave Scotland.

He travels to Cornwall, where he is welcomed by the king. The king’s daughter is pledged to be married to a prince of Waterford, but a giant of the Cornish court has become so powerful that he has forced the king to agree to give his daughter in marriage to the giant. With the help of the princess and a friar, Hereward slays the giant, freeing the princess to marry the prince whom she loves.

After leaving Cornwall, Hereward and his companions are shipwrecked on the Flemish coast. Hereward stays there for a time in the service of Baldwin of Flanders and proves his valor by defeating the French in battle. Torfrida, a lady wrongly suspected of sorcery, schemes to win Hereward’s love, and they are wed after Hereward fights in a successful campaign against the Hollanders. A daughter is born of the marriage.

Meanwhile, King Edward has died, and Harold reigns in England. A messenger comes to Hereward with news that Duke William of Normandy has defeated the English at the Battle of Hastings and that King Harold has been killed. Hereward then...

(The entire section is 1147 words.)