Havelok the Dane

Havelok the Dane

"Havelok the Dane", also known as "Havelok" or "Lay of Havelok the Dane", is a Middle English romance story. The story, however, is also known in two earlier Anglo-Norman versions. Most scholars place "Havelok the Dane" at the end of the thirteenth century, between 1280 and 1290. [Cite web |url=http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/daneint.htm |title=Havelok the Dane: Introduction |accessdate=2008-07-24 |publisher=University of Rochester Libraries] The name “Havelok” also has many variations in spelling, and can found as “Haveloc” or “Havelock.” Early versions also use the Welsh form of "Abloec."


The story of "Havelok" is first attested in lines 37-818 of Geoffrey Gaimar's Anglo-Norman "Estorie des Engles" of about 1135-40. This was the basis for another Anglo-Norman poem, which in turn may have influenced "Havelok the Dane". "Havelok" is the second oldest surviving romance written in English. It is often categorized in the so-called Matter of England. It is believed to have been composed somewhere between 1295-1310. The romance survives in one imperfect version, as well some fragments. A copy of the 3,001 line poem is available to view in Grimsby Public Library. A new publication of the late 19th-century translation by Walter Skeat is available as "The Lay of Havelock the Dane" - ISBN 1-84384-108-8

The story of "Havelok" has had a rich textual life and must have held great fascination for readers of many nationalities. There is good evidence that the story was popularly read, as the town of Grimsby depicted the story's characters on its town seal in the early 13th century. The story unites the local interest of the founding of Grimsby in Lincolnshire to a cosmopolitan acknowledgment of the complex national identity of England in the Middle Ages, bringing together Anglo-Saxon, Norman, Danish and British influences. The romance also features a genuine interest in working-class life in 13th century Lincolnshire.

Even today, the town seal of Grimsby still names Grim, Havelok, and Goldborow. One can also visit the “Grim-stone” and the “Havelok-stone” at Grimsby and Lincoln, respectively. A statue of Grim and Havelok stands outside the main site of Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education.

Plot summary according to Gaimar

This plot summary is based on the translation of Hardy and Martin. [Cite book |last=Gaimar |first=Geffrei |title=Lestoire des Engles |coauthors=ed. and trans. Thomas Duffus Hardy and Charles Trice Martin |publisher=Rolls Series, 91, 2 vols |volume=2 |pages=1-26]

King Adelbrit is a Dane ruling Norfolk under Constantine, King Arthur's nephew, along with a slab of Denmark (71-74). King Edelsie is a Briton and King of Lincoln and Lindsey. His sister Orwain marries Adelbrit, and their child is Argentille. Orwain and Adelbrit die at much the same time (lines 1-94). When Adelbrit dies, Edelsie marries his niece to a serving lad called Cuheran in order to clear the way for taking over Adelbrit's kingdom himself (93-104, 165-80).

Cuheran is handsome, magnanimous and the freemen and nobles of the household would have given him anything he wanted if only he weren't so humble that he asks for nothing (95-154). In something of a blind motif which does, however, serve to suggest Cuheran's boorishness, it takes a few nights for Cuheran to get round to having sex with Argentille (177-94). Argentille has a crazy prophetic dream (195-240). Argentille awakes to find Cuheran sleeping on his back, with a flame burning at his mouth; she wakes Cuheran up and explains the dream as a prophecy of the feast he will be cooking the next day and adds that he doesn't know why a flame burns at his mouth when he sleeps (241-310). Argentille decides she would rather live with Cuheran's family than in shame with her uncle (301-28). Cuheran believes he has two brothers (who are in fact not his brothers, 155-60) and a sister Kelloc, and that they are all the sons of a fisherman and salt-seller called Grim (330-34) and his wife Sebrug (369-70). But Kelloc and her husband Alger, a fisherman (331) and a merchant (455-62, 481-84), resolve to tell Cuheran that he is actually called Havelock and is the son of King Gunter of Denmark and Queen Alvive daughter of King Gaifer; Kelloc and her brothers are in fact the children of Alvive by one of her retainers, Grim. Gunter was killed by King Arthur; Alvive fled with Grim, their children, and Havelock/Cuheran, but was herself killed by pirates on the way (426-40, 582-85). Kelloc's husband trades with Denmark and reckons that the people would be happy if Havelock came to claim his inheritance (334-468). Havelock and Argentille sail to Denmark with the merchants (469-504).

Denmark is ruled by the evil King Odulf/Edulf, brother of King Aschis, one of Arthur's knights (510-28). On arrival, Havelock is attacked and Argentille seized; Havelock defeats the attackers but he and Argentille then have to flee to a church tower where they defend themselves (533-54). Fortunately, Sigar Estalre, Gunter's one-time steward, sees Havelock's resemblance to Gunter, and rescues him from his predicament (505-9, 555-70). Sigar hears Havelock's story and checks its veracity by looking for the flame when he sleeps (571-645), and then by getting Havelock to sound a horn which only the rightful heir of Denmark can sound, whereupon everyone takes Havelock as their lord (646-734). Havelock defeats Edulf in battle (735-758) and then Edelsi (by the tactic, taught to him by Argentille, of propping up the corpses of his army to make it look like he has more men than he does); moreover, Edelsie dies a few days later, allowing Havelock and Argentille to inherit both Edelsie's and Adelbrit's old lands. Havelock rules for twenty years (735-818).

Plot summary of the Middle English romance

Havelok is intricately constructed, consisting of a double arc of usurpation and restoration of rightful heirs through their marriage. The poem starts in England, with the reign of Athelwold, described extensively as just and lawful, but is then imperiled when Athelwold dies without an adult successor. His daughter Goldborow is still a child, and Athelwold appoints Godrich, the Earl of Cornwall, to rule as regent until she can be married (to the “highest man in England”). When Athelwold dies Godrich immediately betrays his oath, imprisoning Goldborow in a remote tower in Dover.

The poem then shifts to Denmark, where a similarly virtuous king, Birkabein, dies leaving behind two daughters, Swanborow and Helfled, and his son, Havelok. Godard, a wealthy retainer, is appointed regent. Another betrayal, and Godard brutally murders the daughters and hands the three-year old Havelok over to a thrall, the fisherman Grim, to be thrown into the sea. Grim recognizes Havelok as the rightful heir when he sees a pair of miraculous signs: a bright light that emerges from the boy’s mouth and blazing red-gold “kynemerk,” a cross-shaped birthmark on his shoulder. Sparing the boy, Grim flees with Havelok and his family to Lincolnshire. There they raise Havelok as their own and fish the North Sea. Havelok, during this time has grown into a very tall and strong lad, with a huge appetite. (Several versions tell that Havelok was raised under a false name, Cuaran, in order to protect his identity, though the Middle English version omits this detail)

During a famine, Havelok is forced to leave home to seek his subsistence in Lincoln. There he is taken in by Bertram, a cook in a noble house. During a festival, Havelok bests the other servants and kitchen-boys in a shot-putting contest. This victory brings him to the attention of Godrich, who notices Havelok’s height and strength. Godrich then decides to marry off Goldborow in order to dispossess her once and for all. Havelok protests the wedding, because he is too poor to support a wife, but submits to the union after being threatened and abused by Godrich. Later, Havelok and Goldborow flee back to Grimsby, where they are taken in by Grim’s children. That night, Goldborow is awakened by a bright light, and sees Havelok’s mouth glowing. She is then told by an angel of Havelok’s lineage and destiny.

Havelok returns to Denmark with Goldborow and Grim’s three eldest sons in order to reclaim his kingdom. In disguise as a merchant, Havelok is sheltered by Ubbe, a Danish nobleman. Ubbe sees the light and immediately pledges his support to Havelok in overthrowing Godard. Godard is defeated and Havelok invades England to overthrow Godrich and restores Goldborow. Now king of Denmark and England, Havelok rules justly and assures his realm’s stability through siring fifteen children, of whom "the sons were all kings and the daughters were all queens."


External links

*' [http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/daneint.htm Havelock the Dane] ', in "Four Romances of England", ed. by Ronald B. Herzman, Graham Drake, and Eve Salisbury, (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 1999). Fully glossed online text with introduction and bibliography.
* [http://www.english.vt.edu/~baugh/Medieval/havelock1.htm Text extract with translation help]
* [http://homepage.ntlworld.com/nigel.portas/ Website of the Grim & Havelok Association]
*Dr. Anthony Colaianne, Chris Baugh - [http://athena.english.vt.edu/~baugh/Medieval/ Medieval English Narrator ] - recorded excerpts of Medieval English literature with text for translation.

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