Havelok And Goldborough

Once upon a time there lived in England a king called Athelwold, who

ruled the land so well that everyone was rich and happy: or, if they

were not, it was their own fault. His people all loved him dearly, and

would do anything for him, and when he went to war there was no

sovereign that could count on a larger following of stout brave men. He

was quite a youth when he came to the throne, and at first all sorts of

traitors and robbers from other countries took refuge in his kingdom,

but Athelwold sought them out so carefully and punished them so severely

that they soon betook themselves and their crimes elsewhere.

Now one thing grieved the king sorely. He had no son to sit on his

throne after he was dead, to protect the poor and put down the lawless.

And how was his little daughter, who was not yet fourteen, to keep

order, or to uphold the laws?

'If she were a woman grown, it might be different,' he thought to

himself, 'for Goldborough sees clearly and acts promptly. But as yet she

has little knowledge, and her ways are those of a child. And full well I

know that my death is nigh at hand, and there is none to watch over


Long the king pondered in his mind what he could best do for his

daughter's safety and the welfare of his people, and in the end he sent

messengers with letters to all his earls and barons from Roxborough to

Dover, bidding them come to his castle of Winchester as swiftly as they

might, for he could no more mount his horse, neither could he swallow

meat or pasties.

Sadly his vassals received the summons, for each loved him as his own

father, and not one lurked behind. The king gave them a glad welcome,

but they could not forbear shedding tears when they saw his weakness and

heard his feeble voice. Athelwold let them have their way a little

while, and then he said:

'I am dying, as you see, and I have sent for you hither, to ask you all

to tell me which of you will best guard my daughter when I am dead, till

she has come to years when she can guard herself.'

And they answered as one man:

'Earl Godrich of Cornwall.'

Then the king bade the priest bring the holy vessels, and earl Godrich

swore on them that he would be faithful and true in peace and in war to

Goldborough; and, further, that he would seek out a man who was better

and fairer and stronger than all others to be her husband, so that the

land might have peace, as in the days of Athelwold.

After the earl had sworn to fulfil what the king required of him,

Athelwold made his will, and gave England into the keeping of Godrich.

This done, he lay back in his bed, and that same morning he died in the

arms of his daughter.

But bad indeed was the choice which king Athelwold's vassals had made

when they proclaimed earl Godrich as the fittest guardian for the young

princess. In the beginning, indeed, while Goldborough was still a child,

everything went smoothly. The earl appointed justices and sheriffs to

carry out the laws, and, though he took more heed to gather riches for

himself than to protect his people, yet on the whole he governed well.

Thus six years passed away, and Goldborough was twenty years old. She

had lived far away from the castle of Winchester, and had never seen her

guardian since the day that her father had been buried, and, for his

part, he had hardly remembered her, he was so busy making laws and

amassing treasures. Still, other people recollected Goldborough, if he

did not, and one Eastertide, when the princess's twentieth birthday was

at hand, an old pilgrim chanced to stop at Winchester on his way to

Canterbury. He had but lately passed through the town where Goldborough

was living, and had many tales to tell of her fair and gracious ways.

Godrich let him talk, but his face was gloomy and he answered nought.

But, though his tongue was silent, his heart was base and his thoughts

were evil.

'Have I toiled all these years for nothing?' he said to himself, 'and

shall England be ruled by a fool, a maiden? I have a son, a full fair

knave; he shall have England and be king.'

So Goldborough was brought from her woods and gardens, and shut up in

the castle of Dover, where none might visit her. And no company had she

but her foster-sister, and an old woman who had been her nurse.

* * * * *

At the time when Athelwold ruled England there reigned in Denmark a king

called Birkabeyn, who had three children, two girls named Swanborough

and Helfled and a boy called Havelok. Birkabeyn was strong and healthy,

and thought to live many years, when a wound in battle proved his

death-blow. Like Goldborough, the children were all young, and he was

forced to choose someone to protect them till they were of full age. The

man on whom Birkabeyn's choice fell was his own close friend, who had

served him all his life, and who, he thought, loved his children well.

And so perhaps the earl would have done had not such power been given

into his hands, but this he was not proof against. No sooner had the

king died than he caused the three children to be cast into prison,

where he murdered the two girls himself.

At the dreadful fate of his sisters, Havelok, who was the youngest, fell

on his knees and implored the wicked earl to spare him.

'If it is Denmark you want, it shall be yours,' cried the boy, 'and

never will I seek to take it from you. Nay, give me a ship, and to-day I

will leave the country for ever.'

Even the earl's heart was for a moment softened by the child's tears and

prayers, and at first he thought that he would let him go, as it would

be many years before he would be old enough to be an enemy. But then he

remembered that, if Havelok died unwedded, he and his sons would be

heirs to the crown, for he was the king's cousin. However, he pretended

to grant the child's prayer, and bade him follow him down to the shore,

where dwelt an old fisherman. Havelok wandered down to the water, and

wondered which of the ships drawn up on the beach he should set sail in,

and where he would go. He was still terrified at the death of sisters,

and shook with fear as long as their murderer was in sight.

Meanwhile the earl was speaking to the fisherman, who stood at the door

of his cottage, which was built just out of reach of the waves.

'Grim,' he said, 'to-day you are my thrall, but to-morrow you shall be a

free man if you will do my bidding. Take the boy that stands there, and

throw him into the sea, that he drown. Fear nothing: the penalty will be

mine, not yours.'

'Your bidding shall be done,' answered the fisherman, 'though the deed

is but little to my liking.'

'So be it,' said the earl, and went home to hold counsel with his family

how best to take possession of the crown.

Grim took down a cord from a hook in the roof, and went out to the

child, who screamed with terror as he drew near, but there was no one to

help him, and Grim thrust a cloth in his mouth to stifle his cries,

while he bound his hands behind his back with a cord. When this was

done, he put the boy in a black bag, and carried him to his wife, who

flung him on the floor, where he lay for many hours, thinking every

moment that he would be thrown down a well or stabbed by a dagger.

* * * * *

At midnight, when all was still, and the men in the ships were sleeping

soundly, Grim arose, and told his wife to kindle a fire and to light a


'Why, there is a light in the room already,' said she, 'and it seems to

come from the farthest corner, and to shine as brightly as if it were

the sun itself'; and with that she sprang out of bed and ran over the

floor, calling to Grim to follow her.

And in truth it was as she had said, for round the bag which held the

boy a brilliant light was shining.

'If we touch him we shall rue it all our lives,' she whispered to her

husband; then, stooping, she cut the knots which held the bag, and drew

out Havelok, who was well-nigh dead with fright and suffocation. Next

she stripped him of his clothes, and on his shoulder she found the mark

of a tiny cross, from which the light came.

'He is born to be king,' said Grim softly, 'and surely it is he and no

other who is the son of Birkabeyn, and who some day shall come to his

own. It is easy to see that he will grow into a man, tall and strong,

who shall come back from over the sea where I shall send him, and avenge

himself on the traitor.' Then Grim fell on his knees before Havelok and

prayed his forgiveness.

'You shall stay here awhile,' he said, 'till I can fit out a ship, and

in it we will all set sail, you, and I, and my wife and my three sons,

but it must be done in secret, lest the earl should come to know of it.'

So they gave Havelok bread to eat and milk to drink, and laid him in a

bed in a dark corner, where no man could see him, and the next day Grim

set out for the traitor's castle to ask for the reward that had been

promised him.

'Your bidding is done, and I have come to claim my freedom,' said Grim

when he stood in the presence of the traitor. But the earl made answer:

'Who is there to know what lies betwixt us? Go home, and be my thrall,

as you have ever been.'

Full of rage though he was, Grim dared say no more, lest his head should

pay forfeit; but the earl's words had filled him with fear, and he

hastened to get ready a ship and to fill it during the night with food

enough to last them for three weeks. By that time, he thought, they

would reach the shores of England.

When all was finished, Grim and his wife, his three sons and two

daughters and little Havelok, stole away very early one morning before

the sun was up, and set sail southwards. A north wind soon sprang up and

drove him, in ten days, to the mouth of a great river called the Humber.

Here he steered his ship on to the beach, and then they all got out and

set up a tent, till they could look about for a little and see what best

to do.

It was a wild place where they landed, and for many miles there was not

even a hut to be seen, but Grim liked it well, and he built houses for

himself and his family, and by-and-by more people came thither also, and

a town was built and was called Grimsby, after Grim. But that happened


Fish were plentiful at the mouth of the river--lampreys and sturgeon and

turbot and great cod--and Grim and his sons were good fishers, both with

net and line, and Havelok soon learned to fish too, and was as happy as

any boy could be. Sometimes he stayed at home with the women while the

others carried fish round the country in baskets.

Twelve years passed in this manner, during which Grim had prospered

greatly, but he began to get old, and the long journeys with heavy

panniers on his back tried him sorely. This Havelok perceived, and one

day he spoke:

'I am a man grown, and shall I sit at home idle mending nets while my

father travels over the whole country-side carrying weights too heavy

for him to bear? Not so! To-morrow I go forth, and my father shall take

his seat by the fire, and shall mend the nets.'

Whatever Havelok said he did, and early the next morning he took the

panniers on his shoulders, and started for the houses where Grim was

wont to sell his fish. But soon, none could tell why, a bad time came,

and there was no corn in the land, and no fish in the sea. And Grim felt

pity in his heart for Havelok, who was young and strong, and needed more

meat than other men. So one day Grim spoke:

'Havelok, dear son, you have come upon evil days, and must stay with us

no longer. Go to the city of Lincoln. It is a rich town, and there you

may find work for all you need. But, woe is me! no clothes can I give

you, save this old sail, which the women shall fashion into doublet and

hose for you.'

The sail was soon cut and fashioned by Grim's wife and daughters, but

there was nothing to make into shoes, and Havelok walked into Lincoln

barefoot, and he fasted from meat for two or three days; at length the

earl's cook took him into his service as porter, and his chief duty was

to carry the earl's fish into the castle. But the cook had many porters

besides Havelok, and when the cry of 'barmen' was heard they all tried

one to outdo the other in obtaining the pot in which lay the hot fish.

However, Havelok was taller and stronger than the rest, and generally

was able to thrust the others on one side.

Besides bearing the cauldron of fish, Havelok had many things to do. He

had to fill a huge tub in the kitchen with water, and to cut wood for

the fire, and to do anything the cook told him. And, whatever happened,

he was full of mirth, and would jest and play with the children who ran

about the back of the castle.

At last his clothes, which had been fashioned out of the old sail, fell

into holes, and the cook, out of pity and liking, bought him some new

ones, and when he put them on there was no man, be he who he might, that

was fairer to see. Then folk began to notice that he was taller than any

man in the castle, and that he was very strong. Very soon a chance came

to him to prove his strength.

Godrich the earl--or the king, as he called himself--now held his court

at Lincoln, and summoned a parliament to be held there to settle the

affairs of the nation. They came in great companies, and everyone had a

following, and so many were they that they were forced to dwell in tents

outside the city walls. It was not long before they fell to wrestling

and such sports.

* * * * *

For a while Havelok looked on, and bided his time. He took no part in

the wrestling, though there was not a champion on the ground that he

could not easily have overcome.

When they were tired of throwing each other, someone proposed that they

should put the stone, and a large smooth piece of rock was chosen. Man

after man came forward, but hardly one could raise it from the ground,

far less cast it any distance from him. At this moment the cook strolled

up and saw his scullion standing there.

'It is your turn,' he said to Havelok; 'show them what you can do, for

the honour of Lincoln,' and Havelok obeyed him. He lifted the mighty

stone to the height of his shoulder, and sent it spinning through the


'Measure the cast,' said the cook proudly; and when it was measured it

was found to be twelve feet beyond the cast of any other man.

Little was talked of that day but the wonderful throw of the young

scullion, and soon it reached the ears of the knights at court, and in

time, Godrich himself. As he listened to the tale, there flashed across

his memory the words of the dying Athelwold: 'Find out the man who is

better and fairer and stronger than any man in the world, and give him

to be husband to my daughter.' Was there any man living stronger than

this Havelok? and could he himself be ill-spoken of if he should carry

out Athelwold's dying wish? So thought Godrich; but far back in his

heart he knew that once Goldborough was wedded to a scullion there would

be small chance of her becoming queen.

Next morning a knight mounted on a big bay horse, and attended by two

men-at-arms, might have been seen riding southwards through the fair

county of Lincoln, and in twenty days' time he returned, bringing with

him the princess. Godrich greeted her with tokens of great joy, and told

her that, as her father had bidden him, he had found at last the fairest

and strongest man in the world, and he should be her husband.

Goldborough listened quietly to his words, and when he had ended she

looked at him.

'Let him be as strong and fair as he may,' she said, 'but if he is not a

king or a king's son he is no husband for me.'

At this Godrich waxed wrath, and his whole body trembled with anger.

'Your father bade me swear to him when he was dying that you should

marry the strongest man in the world, and none other,' cried he, 'and,

by the Rood, it is he you seek to disobey, and not me. The man who is to

be your husband is the servant of my cook, and to-morrow we will have

the wedding.'

The heart of Goldborough was filled with horror when she heard the fate

that was in store for her, and she fell weeping on her knees before the

earl to implore him the rather to let her enter a convent; but Godrich

answered her nothing, and strode out of the hall.

The bells were ringing next day when Havelok woke, and before he was

dressed a message came ordering him to go at once to the earl's

presence. He wondered for what cause he was wanted, for never yet had he

had speech of the earl, and still more surprised was he to find Godrich

clad in his most splendid robes, as if for a festival. But if Havelok

was astonished at all this, he was nearly struck dumb by the words which

he heard.

'Master, will you take a wife?' and the young man gazed at him in

silence; for why should the ruler of all England take heed whether his

scullion was wedded or not?

'Will you take a wife?' asked Godrich again, in tones of impatience;

then Havelok found his voice.

'No, by heaven I will not,' he cried; 'what should I do with a wife? I

could neither feed, nor clothe, nor shoe her! For myself, I should have

no clothes either, had it not been for the bounty of your cook.'

In his rage Godrich seized a thick staff and laid it across his

scullion's shoulder.

'Promise me that you will wed her within an hour, or I will hang you on

the nearest tree,' he cried; and Havelok, who had no liking for death,


His purpose thus gained with Havelok, the earl now summoned Goldborough,

whom he threatened to burn if she withstood him. All night the princess

had wept and pondered how to escape so dreadful a doom, but at last she

took comfort in the thought that in accepting this husband, however

lowly born he might be, she would be fulfilling her father's wishes. So

as soon as Godrich gave her a chance to speak she said she would resist

him no longer.

Then Godrich for the first time in six years felt that he was indeed

King of England.

'You are a wise maiden,' cried he, his face glowing with joy; 'and, to

show you how well I love you, I will give you much gold, and you shall

have an archbishop to bless your marriage.' And so it was done.

Both Havelok and his wife felt that they could stay in Lincoln no

longer, and the next day they bought two horses and set forth for

Grimsby. To Havelok's great grief he found that the fisherman had died

just before, after a few days' illness, but his sons and daughters gave

them a glad greeting, and bade them stay in their house, promising that

they themselves would be their servants.

Weary with travel, Havelok soon went to bed, but Goldborough knelt

praying before the window, when suddenly a bright light filled the room.

She turned to see what it might be, and beheld it issuing from a cross

on Havelok's shoulder. While she gazed wondering, she heard a voice

saying, 'Goldborough, let sorrow depart from you, for your husband is no

scullion, but the son of a king, and he shall rule over England and

Denmark.' At that her heart grew light again, and she kissed Havelok and

woke him, and told him what the voice had said.

'Let us sail at once,' added she, 'for who knows when Godrich the

traitor may change his mind? And bid the sons of Grim sail with us.'

Goldborough's counsel seemed good to Havelok, and he rose in haste and

sought Grim's sons, whom he found setting forth to fish. He begged them

to wait, and to listen to his story, which Grim had always hidden from

them, and when they heard it, they said that they would go with him, and

help him to slay the murderer of his sisters and the robber of his


'You shall be rich men the day he dies,' vowed Havelok; and the boat was

made ready for sea.

A fair wind blew them to Denmark, and Havelok left his wife with his

three foster-brothers, and betook himself to the house of Ubbe the earl,

whom his father had loved dearly. He said no word as to his birth, but

asked him leave to trade on his lands, offering a ring as


Ubbe looked at the ring, and then at the young man who gave it.

'You look fitter to do a knight's work than to buy and sell,' he said,

and Havelok answered:

'That will come, fair sir, but I must first go softly. Meanwhile I have

left my wife Goldborough under the care of her foster-brothers, and can

tarry here no longer.'

'Bring her hither,' said Ubbe, 'and dwell with her in this castle, and

if no man has dubbed you knight I will take that upon me.'

And so it was done, and the heart of Goldborough rejoiced, for by this

time she loved her husband dearly.

That same midnight Ubbe was wakened by a great light, which seemed to

fill the castle. He rose from his bed, and went from room to room, and

all were bright as day, though he could not tell why. Then he came to

the room where Havelok and Goldborough lay asleep, and out of Havelok's

mouth came a flame like that of a hundred and ninety-seven candles. And

on his shoulder was the cross of kingship, and that was shining too.

When Ubbe saw that, he knew that Havelok was indeed the son of

Birkabeyn, his friend, and the rightful king of Denmark; and, waking the

sleeping man, he bade him sit up and receive his homage. After that he

sent for his lords, and commanded that they should swear fealty to their

king. And when the lords had sworn, Ubbe summoned the people, and told

them, what many had known before, that the earl had betrayed his trust,

and that now he should pay forfeit of his wickedness.

Blithe were Havelok and Goldborough that day as they moved amidst the

groups of men who shared in the sports which the people of Denmark ever

loved, and once more Havelok cast the stone further than any one there

could throw it. His first act, after he had been proclaimed king, was to

make Grim's three faithful sons barons with fair lands. Then he bid them

go and seek the earl, and bring him back with them.

This was not done without a hard fight, for the earl and his men

defended themselves stoutly; but at length he was bound and placed upon

an old horse and carried before Havelok, who was waiting in the castle

with his lords about him.

'What judgment will ye pass on him, fair lords?' asked the king.

'That he may be hanged as beseems a murderer and a traitor, and that his

head be planted over the chief gate of the town as a warning to all,'

they said with one voice, and this was done also.

* * * * *

For a while Havelok stayed in Denmark to see to the affairs of the

kingdom, and then, leaving Ubbe to rule, he set sail for England with

Goldborough his wife, and a large army, in many ships with high carved

prows. Once again he landed at the mouth of the Humber, and his first

act was to found a church in memory of Grim. Next, he placed his army in

order of battle, and awaited the attack of his enemy. Godrich the earl

had heard that he had come, and had hastily collected a great host, with

which he marched upon Lincoln. The attack was begun by the English, and

fierce was the fight. Many were killed, both of English and Danes. At

last, just as the English were being beaten slowly back, Havelok and

Godrich came face to face with each other. Bitterly the earl then rued

the day when he had married Goldborough to the strongest man in the

world, scullion though he were! Many times Havelok might have slain him,

but such was not his purpose, and, taking a cord from his waist, he

bound the traitor's arms, and bade one of his knights ride and fetch

Goldborough, whom he had left under a guard at a little distance.

When she drew near, Havelok commanded that a flag of truce should be

waved, so that the fighting might cease. Then, taking his wife by the

hand, he led her forward, and told her story to them all, and how

Godrich the earl had wronged her. And the English fell on their faces

and did obeisance, and vowed to serve her faithfully all the days of

their lives.

'And what is the law of England respecting a traitor?' asked Havelok,

when Goldborough had been proclaimed queen with trumpets and shouting.

'That he be laid on an ass and burned at the stake,' cried they. And

this was done also.

After this, Havelok gave his two foster-sisters in marriage to great

lords, and made the cook to whom he had owed his good fortune earl of

Cornwall in place of the wicked Godrich. He left Ubbe to rule in

Denmark, while he and Goldborough remained in England, but every two

years he sailed across the sea to be sure that all went well in the

country of his birth.

And for sixty years Havelok and Goldborough lived happily together and

had many children, and wherever Havelok went, Goldborough went too.

[_The Lay of Havelok the Dane._ Early English Text Society.]

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