21 November 2011

Hereward? The Real Robin Hood?

by Helen

When I started writing – back in the days of being a short-sighted teenager who lived in her own very naive cocoon, with the rest of the world being unfocused, confusing and rather scary – I happily wrote pony stories and the occasional “fan fiction” spin-off to TV programs. Robin Hood (the Richard Greene version) Arthur of the Britons (Oliver Tobias) and a few westerns. All of them fitted well because being horse-mad I could also write about the horses.
Apart from my Dad and, eventually, my first boyfriend, men were alien beings. I was short sighted shy, and very successful in the Wallflower department. Back then I would never have believed I could write intimate scenes as a male character.

My interest wavered towards science fiction, and I wrote numerous stories from the heroine’s point of view, but becoming interested in King Arthur, Guinevere’s story became a new passion. It eventually occurred to me – can’t remember how or where now - that the story would be better written third person and with Arthur as the lead character. Cut a long story short (LOL – my novels are somewhat large!) I have written comfortably from the man’s view ever since. From Arthur via King Harold II to my pirate, Jesamiah Acorne.

The one novel I have written as a female lead, A Hollow Crown – to be entitled Forever Queen in the US – I had difficulty with. Initially, I could not get into Queen Emma’s head. Æthelred, her first husband, I had no respect for and it was only when starting to write the scenes with Edmund Ironside and Cnut that the whole thing at last began to gel.
I have been bogged down with re-editing Crown/Queen in preparation for the US release in November 2010, and have had to set aside my beloved pirate for a while – working on one book at a time while dealing with my elderly mother’s death, sorting out getting my cataract seen to, and running a household is enough of a plateful.

Because Crown/Queen is about to be launched with Harold the King being published in the US in March 2011, I have also been working on a synopsis for the follow-on to Harold. An idea I have been toying with for several years but not had the motivation to pursue (and being engrossed with my Jesamiah, who hijacked my imagination without quarter, the rogue!)
The plan, now, is to finish the next voyage in the Sea Witch series, Ripples In The Sand, then research and write this next serious historical fiction novel. It was to be about the years after the Battle of Hastings, 1066, the aftermath of Conquest. Which is why I have not wanted to write it. I loathe Duke William. I had a tough time writing his scenes in Harold the King. Author Sharon Penman gave me some advice at the time, when I wailed that I was having difficulty. “Think of his good points.”

Sharon, that was over ten years ago and I still can’t think of anything good about the man! So to write a whole novel with him as a central character? No way. Hence there has been no novel. Yet.

There is one other historical character for that period who is interesting. Hereward, made famous in Kingsley's Hereward The Wake. Based in the Fenlands around Ely in modern Cambridgeshire, he led a rebellion against William. Now that I can write about! In fact Hereward was not the only one to raise rebellion – William’s son and wife, Robert and Mathilda, and his half brother Odo all decided they’d had enough of him. (all cheer)

The little research I have done for ‘Hereward – A Lost Kingdom’ (working title) has proved intriguing, and I intend to write Hereward’s story, which will compliment A Hollow Crown/Forever Queen and Harold The King, weaving in an out of the two stories that are already written, and filling in the background gaps of what was going on through the years from circa 1040 - 1087.

Hereward, it seems, was the son of a Saxon Earl; Leofric of Mercia. His mother was a woman you may have heard of – Godgiva, or more commonly, Godiva. Yes, her. The one who reputedly rode naked through the streets of Coventry. Hereward had been exiled by Edward (the Confessor) at some time prior to 1052 and little is known of him until 1071 when he became a thorn in William’s backside. Very probably he rebelled against William because he felt he had a right to his father’s estates in Mercia, which covered the vast area of what is today the English Midlands: Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Sheffield, Lincolnshire and Leicestershire – spreading from the east coast to the River Hafren (the Severn)and the border of Wales. Hereward very nearly succeeded in defeating William but the monks of Ely betrayed him by showing the Normans the secret ways through the marshy fens. (You may Boo and Hiss here if you wish.)

Hereward escaped, his wife was killed. He became an outlaw and wandered for several years, a desolate failure, in the dense forests. The niece of a bishop took pity on him, became emotionally involved and begged King William to grant a pardon. The two were wed, and may have lived happily ever after, although William’s men, resentful of Hereward, accused him of treachery. We do not know if he was then executed for treason, died a natural death, or lived to a ripe old age. You will have to read my novel to discover what I eventually unravel or decide.

But it struck me that some of this story sounds familiar.

Son of a nobleman Earl? Comes back from being abroad for a long time? Rebels against the King and lives as an outlaw in the Forest… a forest that, then, spread from the east coast to Wales - and remains today as what we call Sherwood.


All stories start with a spark, a flame of an idea. Was Hereward of Mercia, the last Englishman to defy the despised Normans and William the Conqueror, the basis of the tales of Robin Hood?

I wonder…
The one surety. Hereward was definitely English. Not Australian.  *

Image photograph: Fire From the Fens a painting of Hereward’s campaign against the Normans by artist Chris Collingwood.

* The Robin Hood movie released 2010 - starring Australian Russel Crowe - hope you got the jest!


Anne Gilbert said...
Helen: A lot of people have the same idea about the connection between Robin Hood and Hereward. From my own research on Hereward(such as it is; where I live, there's a lot of stuff just not available to me, which is one reason my trilogy is "romantic science fiction") suggested this to me quite early. The truth is, however, that the Robin Hood legends seem to have taken hold fairly late -- probably about 200-300 years after Hereward's activities. It's hard to tell, though there are some signs of this legend beginning to take hold in some form in the middle of the 13th century. By that time, there were a number of other English outlaw tales in ciruclation that appear to follow a very similar pattern to the Robin Hood tales. The Hereward legends were just among the earliest, and while they definitely had an influence, they were not the only things that had an influence on the Robin Hood tales. The fact(and I didn't know this until fairly recently), that Hereward actually existed, makes him, to me, a much more interesting figure than Robin Hood, assuming he's wholly legendary. As to your having trouble with women characters such as Emma, and more especially "loathing" King William, I would offer one piece of possible advice: Keep your mind open and flexible. It may be "easier" for you to write male characters than female(and some women prefer doing this, oddly enough), but being a writer, you need to deal with all sorts of characters, even ones you don't like. King William was certainly one of the more unpleasant historical characters you are ever likely to come across, especially given the fact that his spiritual descendants appear to be people like Slobodan Milosovich of Balkan war infamy and for many of the same reasons, I don't see exactly, how you can "loathe" a person who has been dead for over 900 years. This doesn't make him any more unpleasant to me, but my background, so to speak, makes it impossible for me to deal with him as anything more than a rather extreme product of his own time and circumstances. It's also painfully obvious he didn't really understand the way the English did things. His manner of rule worked fairly well on the Continent, but the English, for a variety of reasons, had learned to do things a bit differently, and this showed in the way the English, including Hereward, reacted to William's rule. King Harold was far more likeable, and he had a far better instinctive grasp of how to manage his subjects. But be that as it may for now. I've rattled on too long, Anne G
Helen said...
Anne, I do feel the Robin Hood story started somewhere - and that Hereward was the foundation. Look at the Arthur legends - they "began" in the 6th Century but were not turned into popular stories until a good few hundred years later. As for loathing William - I do. Utterly and completely, as do many of Harold's "followers". Please don't think I'm daft or anything, but I am English, my great x ?many grandparents were English. I have a very firm conviction that somehow my ancestors were connected to Harold, or Hastings - or maybe just the despised Normans, either way I know that loathing William is in my blood. It's not one of those things I can explain as scientific fact - I just "KNOW" it. I have not yet been down to the battle site at Hastings without feeling a huge sense of rage against the Normans - right down to the depth of my soul. So this is a "soul" thing, a deep ancestral emotion that has been passed down through the genes along with the shape of my nose, my blue eyes and fair hair. And I primarily write for my own pleasure, if I can share my pleasure with other people all the better - but writing is hard enough without forcing yourself to write about people you can't stand! LOL. I will do my best for this novel though, I promise! H p.s. What do other authors think, I wonder? How do you deal with characters you don't like?
Anne Gilbert said...
Helen: I can understand "where you're coming from". Maybe my feelings aren't quite as intense, because I live and grew up on the other side of the Pond, where people just threw off their relationships to kings anyway. I don't know. Still,like you, I muhc prefer Harold to William, and William comes off pretty unpleasant and unreasonable in my book(yes, he puts in an appearance or two and he's, well, difficult to deal with). Anne G
Archivist777 said...
Helen, i saw your topic and just had to put in something. i have long been a fan of Robin Hood (and King Arthur), and have been reading anything i could get my hands on concerning a new take on the tale. In fact, in my student/intern teaching stint that just ended, i was teaching about the Middle Ages of Europe and so going back through some of my resources, as well as grabbing the last of a trilogy of books of a new take on the Robin Hood legends. apparently, there is some written record of a real person having the name "Robyn Hode" and similar spellings back as far as the late 1200s - so there was a real person by that name, and he was listed as an outlaw. i think you are on a good track with linking Hereford. i was just gifted with a new book, "Great Tales from English History" by Robert Lacey, wherein i have been learning a lot about these people you mention that i have never heard of or never knew that much about! i'm loving it, and finally understanding a lot of the interaction and connections of events and people and places around England! at risk of being really rude here, and i hope it isn't, but i thought you might want to take a look at the Raven King trilogy by Stephen R. Lawhead. He also saw some connection between the legend of Robin Hood and Wales. now that i am done with school and have more time for my own reading i plan on catching up with all of your books that i am missing! and i'm looking forward to your coming projects! can't wait for your next book!
Helen said...
Archivist777 thanks for your comment and interest. No I haven't read the Raven King series - but I did meet Lawhead once. A very charming man who helped a nervous new writer (me) when we were on a panel at an Arthurian conference in Cardiff. But I have read Lacey's book! Anne - glad I am not the only one to find William "difficult!
Anne Gilbert said...
Helen: The only way I could really deal with King William at all, at least to begin with, was (a)to take a kind of "fly on the wall" approach and so I made a decision to be as completely even-handed as possible. As I continued my writing, this approach changed somewhat, because I became very "invested"in my main characters, and identified in various ways with all of them, both male and female. In this way, I'm "equal opportunity". I can write from both a male and female pov if I've learned something about them, which is what has happened as I've been in the process of writing this work. King William has less of a role, but what role there is remains menacing and unpleasant(which was the only wya I could deal with it.
Helen said...
Anne - I set out to be unbiased when writing Harold the King. My intention was to let the reader decide who should have won at Hastings. By the second scene of William's though, I had already changed my mind. I had slightly disliked the man but as the story started writing itself I ended up loathing him. Every time I go to the Battle of Hastings re-enactment in October at Battle the loathing gets worse and worse. I utterly detest William now! I am convinced an ancestor of mine must have crossed paths with the b*stard!

1 comment:

  1. It saddens me to announce that dear Anne passed away not long after the above discussion. She was a mine of information and is very much missed on the social networks.


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