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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Cambridgeshire

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Myths and Legends
Awake the Hereward


Accepting that the Isle of Ely was virtually impenetrable, he decreed that surrounding lands owned by the church and the monks be divided up to eminent Normans who would simply guard the perimeter of the Isle and so starve out the resistance. It is said that the monks got to hear of William’s plan and fled to Bottisham (just outside of Cambridge) taking with them all the treasures of the church. They then sought a peace treaty with the King in return that he honoured their ownership of their lands and possessions.
Hereward the Wake
Hereward was no myth and quite a legend
© Courtesy of Trevor Bevis
Hereward and his men were sold out.

The church shifted their allegiance and lost the support of their hero. Little more is reported of Hereward other than he escaped from the stranglehold around the Isle of Ely, earned a begrudging respect from the King (who was well aware of Hereward's reputation as a first-class strategist and soldier) and lived the rest of his life resisting the Normans in battles carried out near Peterborough.

So, a hero, myth and legend, Hereward will go down in history as the Robin Hood of the fens and the blur between fact and fiction will perhaps never be resolved. Winners always write the history books and so it is hard to find the truth almost 1,000 years on (the Normans had control of the literate section of the community, i.e. the Monks and so a certain amount of spin would have been injected into the recorded histories).

However, we can report that a Hereward did indeed exist and was a landowner in the Lincolnshire area (according to Domesday entries) and that a Hereward led the resistance movement based at Ely against the Normans on a mission to reclaim his families land. And, according to Trevor Bevis, it is a Hereward who is depicted as "the strategists dream and an ideal leader of men". Perhaps then, we can best sum up Hereward the Wake as all three – hero, myth and legend, indeed "the last true Englishman".

Words: Emma Borley

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The search for Hereward the Wake
Hereward and the Isle of Ely
The taking of Ely
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