Saturday 20 September 2014

Havelok and the British kings of ‘Lincoln and Lindesi’

In contrast to other parts of eastern and southern Britain, the Lincoln region is not well served in terms of early narratives that are explicitly concerned with the post-Roman period here. Certainly, there is nothing approaching the pre-Viking legends of Ida, Hengest and their descendants recorded by Bede and the Historia Brittonum for Northumbria and Kent, nor the stories of Cerdic and the origins of Wessex found in the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’. From a purely historical perspective, this is, perhaps, not of particular concern. Although the material relating to Ida and his family in mid–late sixth-century Bernicia has often been seen as reasonably credible, the fifth- and earlier sixth-century events placed in Wessex and Kent have been the subject of considerable scholarly scepticism in recent years.(1) Nonetheless, it is still worth asking just what legends were recorded about post-Roman Lincolnshire in medieval sources, both because of the intrinsic interest of such materials and in order to ask whether the post-Roman British and Anglo-Saxon polities that once existed in this region (*Lindēs and Lindissi/Lindsey, see further below) were forgotten by later generations. In this context, one legend in particular stands out as being of especial interest, namely that of Havelok the Dane.(2)

Geoffrey Gaimar includes the earliest surviving version of the Havelok tale in his Estoire des Engleis (c. 1136–50), and both here and in the other early witnesses to the tale – the Lai d’Haveloc and the Anglo-Norman prose Brut (3) – the framing of the tale is quite clear and specific: it appears to be set in a post-Roman, British kingdom of ‘Lincoln and Lindesi’ (Nincole e Lindesi).(4) The starting point of the tale is that Edelsi, king of ‘Lincoln and Lindesi’ and ‘a Briton’,(5) has married his sister (Orwain) to the neighbouring Danish king of East Anglia, Adelbrit, with whom she then has a daughter named Argentille. Adelbrit dies and the British princess and her daughter subsequently return to Lindesi to live with King Edelsi, although Orwain herself passes away soon after. Edelsi is made regent of Adelbrit’s territory, but decides to keep it for himself by marrying his half-British niece to Havelok, a cook, in order to dishonour her and so dispossess her. The story proper develops from this point, and during the course of it Havelok learns of his royal Danish origins and travels overseas to claim and win his true inheritance, having numerous adventures as a result. At the very end of the tale he returns to Britain to win back his wife’s Danish kingdom of East Anglia from the usurping Edelsi. The British king of ‘Lincoln and Lindesi’ is defeated by Havelok and he dies five days later, leaving no male heirs, so that the kingdom of Lindesi also passes to his niece and hence out of British control and into Danish.(6)

We thus have in the Estoire des Engleis a tale which is set in a British kingdom of ‘Lincoln and Lindesi’, which involves a marriage between a British princess and a Germanic king, and which sees the British control of this kingdom coming to an end at some point in or around the sixth century.(7) It has to be said that it is difficult to avoid comparing this framework for the Havelok story with the historical situation that recent work has argued for in the Lincoln region, whereby a British territory called *Lindēs was based at Lincoln and probably survived at least part-way into the sixth century, before being taken over to form the kingdom of Lindissi/Lindsey by an Anglo-Saxon group which had potentially previously intermarried with the British elite of Lincoln.(8) Of course, we do need to be very aware of the dangers of making too much of such a comparison. Not only was Gaimar writing romance, rather than history, around half a millennium after the events he purports to describe, but he was also familiar with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae. This was a work which peopled post-Roman Britain with otherwise unknown fifth- and sixth-century British rulers, as well as reporting mixed marriages between the native British elite and the Germanic immigrants (as in the marriage between Hengest’s daughter and Vortigern).(9) As such, it is certainly possible that Gaimar’s framework was entirely his own invention, inspired by Geoffrey of Monmouth’s ‘re-imagining’ of post-Roman British history, and that its apparent appropriateness is simply the result of a coincidence. On the other hand, there are potential reasons for thinking that such a verdict may go too far and that Gaimar’s account could, in some way, derive from local Lincolnshire legends that referred to the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Lindissi/Lindsey and its British past.(10)

One of these reasons is that Gaimar appears to have written the Estoire des Engleis whilst in Lincolnshire, and his version of the Havelok tale as a whole seems to have been heavily influenced by local Lincolnshire material and concerns.(11) Indeed, whether or not all surviving later literary versions of the story are derivative of Gaimar’s (as some have argued (12)), there is clear evidence that the Havelok story as a whole had a secure place in Lincolnshire storytelling, with versions existing other than those that survive, as witnessed by the medieval Grimsby seal.(13) Naturally, such a situation makes the possibility of Gaimar having some local and pre-existing legendary sources for his framing-tale more plausible, and this becomes even more the case when we turn to Gaimar’s own statements on the matter. Whilst the version of Havelok that we have in the Estoire des Engleis is certainly to some degree Gaimar’s creation, Gaimar does actually specifically mention pre-existing sources for the framing-tale of Edelsi, Adelbrit, Orwain and Argentille in the Estoire, including a reference to an oral source for the events surrounding Argentille at Lincoln (Si cum dient l’antive gent, ‘as the old people say’).(14) In this context, it would seem perfectly credible that at least some elements of the scene-setting account of the British kingdom of Lindesi, and the events surrounding the marriage of a British princess from this kingdom to a Germanic king, did derive from pre-existing Lincolnshire legends, which Gaimar encountered and utilized as part of the framework for his literary tale of Havelok.

Another reason for believing that Gaimar was influenced by a remembrance, however vague, of Lindissi/Lindsey and its British past, is provided by Robert Mannyng of Bourne’s ‘Chronicle’ (also known as ‘The Story of England’). This was completed in 1338 in Lincolnshire, perhaps partly at Sempringham Priory in south Lincolnshire and partly at Sixhills Priory in modern Lindsey.(15) Mannyng’s ‘Chronicle’ is essentially a reasonably faithful translation into Middle English of Wace’s Anglo-Norman Roman de Brut (1155) and Peter Langtoft’s Anglo-French ‘Chronicle’ (written c. 1307, in the East Riding of Yorkshire). The particular interest comes only when Mannyng deviates from his source in order to add elements which seem to derive from local Lincolnshire tradition. As Thorlac Turville-Petre has observed, ‘He [Mannyng] has a sure understanding of what will appeal to his audience, as well as an appreciation and knowledge of stories circulating among “lewed” men in the locality.’(16) One example of this is his insertion of Havelok’s adventures into the ‘Chronicle’, in a version clearly not derived from Gaimar or related texts, but rather from local written sources and oral folklore.(17) More important from our perspective, however, is the fact that Mannyng consistently alters his source (Langtoft’s ‘Chronicle’) when it speaks of the eighth- and early ninth-century Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia, so that it instead refers to the kingdom of ‘Lindsey’.

This consistent alteration is, in itself, most curious. The kings of Wessex, whose deeds Mannyng relates, remain kings of Wessex, and so too do the kings of Essex retain their kingdoms. Yet, whenever Mannyng comes across an early king of Mercia, he makes him a king of Lindsey, so that we read (for example) of ‘Offa, kyng of Lyndsay’ rather than the ‘Offa, ray de Merce’ of Langtoft.(18) When this has been noticed at all by historians of Lincolnshire, it has been simply dismissed as Mannyng getting ‘confused’, although it would seem a strange confusion and one not repeated for other kings and kingdoms.(19) To some degree, Mannyng’s unfailing substitution of Lindsey for Mercia in his account of the eighth and earlier ninth centuries (the first king to be ‘kyng of Merce’ for Mannyng is Wiglaf, who ruled in the late 820s and 830s) can be seen as an extension and standardization of Langtoft’s occasional and unpredictable use of ‘Lindesey’ for ‘Merce’ when talking about seventh-century Mercia, which is itself deserving of investigation.(20) However, the above seems – on its own – an insufficient explanation of why every early Mercian king becomes consistently a king of Lindsey for Mannyng, when they are not so in his chief source or in the authoritative medieval histories that he claims to have read, such as those of Bede, William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon.(21) One has to ask why, in this context, Mannyng did not instead standardize on Mercia as the kingdom-name, in light of Langtoft’s very irregular usage and the fact that Mercia is the name used by his other historical authorities. Given Mannyng’s demonstrable interest in local tales, a fuller explanation of this situation would perhaps most credibly involve seeing these changes as constituting further evidence for an awareness in Lincolnshire of the lost kingdom of Lindissi/Lindsey. On this basis, Mannyng’s additional alterations and standardization on Lindsey might be thought to reflect a Lincolnshire chauvinism resulting from this awareness of Lindissi, and a desire to claim – through appropriation – a place in history for this local kingdom which had none of its own recorded in the extant historical sources, aside from a few passing references by Bede. Indeed, Mannyng may have also been motivated in this by a movement in the opposite direction by the Anglo-Norman historians whom he knew with regard to even these few references. So, whilst in Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica St Oswald’s bones were taken to ‘a famous monastery in the kingdom of Lindsey called Bardney’, when William of Malmesbury retells this episode the bones are instead said to have been taken to ‘Bardney, which is in the country of the Mercians, not far from the city of Lincoln’.(22)

This suspicion of a local awareness of the kingdom of Lindissi/Lindsey influencing the narrative of Mannyng’s ‘Chronicle’ and its references to Lindsey provides the essential context for another of Mannyng’s alterations. Not only does he make the eighth- and ninth-century kings of Mercia kings of Lindsey, but he also makes it very clear that his kings of Lindsey were considered to be at least partially British by descent. Thus we find ‘Eadbald… kyng of Lyndesay, He was of þe Bretons kynde’,(23) and a little later on we are told of Egbert of Wessex’s wars against the Britons,(24) with the comment that many of these oppressed Britons ‘fled to Lynday, socour forto haue, To þe kyng Bernewolf, þat was Breton’ – that is, they fled for support to King Bernewolf of Lindsey, who was a fellow Briton.(25) Needless to say, there is no suggestion in any of the early sources that the Mercian kings whom Mannyng was reinventing as kings of Lindsey were Britons. This concept seems only to appear in Mannyng’s ‘Chronicle’ and, as such, it is very difficult to explain. One might, of course, suggest that Mannyng was influenced here by Gaimar’s concept of a British king of ‘Lincoln and Lindesi’, but Mannyng himself makes it very clear that he had never read Gaimar nor come across his particular version of the Havelok tale, with its very specific post-Roman British framework (Mannyng’s version has a different framework, involving an Anglo-Saxon king).(26) In such circumstances, although a coincidental and spontaneous invention of a British descent for the kings of ‘Lindesay’ – and no one else – by Mannyng cannot be entirely ruled out, the easiest solution is perhaps that Gaimar’s concept of a British kingdom of ‘Lincoln and Lindesi’ did indeed have at least some genuine roots in local Lincolnshire tradition, with these roots then later independently informing Mannyng’s ‘Chronicle’ and his decision to transform the kings of Mercia into British kings of ‘Lindesay’.

In conclusion, the Estoire des Engleis of Geoffrey Gaimar and the ‘Chronicle’ of Robert Mannyng provide an interesting insight into medieval conceptions of the pre-Viking Lincoln region. In particular, when taken together these two Lincolnshire texts seem to suggest that the existence of the kingdom of Lindissi had not been completely forgotten there, and also that this remembrance included at least a vague recollection of the British origins of this kingdom. Certainly, this would help to explain the rather curious coincidence of two local and apparently well-informed authors independently telling tales of British kings of Lindesi/‘Lindesay’, with Gaimar specifically referring to an oral source for some aspects of his tale. How much more than vague legends existed before Gaimar wrote is, of course, very much open to debate and probably unanswerable, despite the fact that his tale of an Anglian–British marriage would seem to fit what can be reconstructed from the few surviving early sources. Once again, we do need to be wary of taking late romance and pseudo-history too seriously, and we have probably already gone as far as is safe. The only possible hint that such a position might be worthy of some consideration comes from the name of the British princess who is married off to the Germanic king in the Estoire des Engleis and is the mother of the half-British child that results from this union. Her name is variously given in the Anglo-Norman texts as Orwain, Orwein, Orwenne, Orewain and similar. Even though Gaimar seems to have found her in Lincolnshire oral tradition (his mention of an oral source occurs in reference to the fate of Orwain and Argentille when they return to Lincoln (27)), this name is not of Scandinavian or Old English derivation, but instead appears to be Welsh. As to its meaning, it is possible that this Anglo-Norman form derives from Archaic Welsh *Ouruenn, ‘white as gold’, the root of the Welsh name Eurwen, borrowed before the change *our- > eur-.(28) Such an etymology would certainly fit well with the name of Orwain’s daughter in both the Anglo-Norman and Middle English versions of Havelok (Argentille, Goldborow) and, if correct, would obviously be of considerable interest in the present context.


1 For example, B. Yorke, ‘Fact or fiction? The written evidence for the fifth and sixth centuries AD’, Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History, 6 (1993), 45–50; D. Rollason, Northumbria, 500–1100. Creation and Destruction of a Kingdom (Cambridge, 2003), p. 6; N. J. Higham, The Kingdom of Northumbria, AD 350–1100 (Stroud, 1993), p. 79.
2 See Green, ‘The British kingdom of Lindsey’, Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies, 56 (2008), 38–43, for an earlier version of this discussion.
3 A. Bell (ed.), Le Lai d’Haveloc and Gaimar’s Haveloc Episode (Manchester, 1925); J. Marvin, ‘Havelok in the Prose Brut tradition’, Studies in Philology, 102 (2005), 280–306.
4 The form Nincole reflects the regular Anglo-Norman spelling of Lincoln. For the dating of Gaimar’s text, see A. Bell (ed.), L’Estoire des Engleis (Oxford, 1960), pp. li–lii; I. Short, ‘Gaimar's epilogue and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Liber vetustissimus’, Speculum, 69.2 (1994), 323–43; P. Dalton, ‘The date of Geoffrey Gaimar’s Estoire des Engleis, the connections of his patrons, and the politics of Stephen’s reign’, Chaucer Review, 42.1 (2007), 24–47. The events of the story are said to have taken place in the reign of King Arthur’s successor, Constantine, which is to say in the mid-sixth century, given that Geoffrey of Monmouth dates Arthur’s death to 542 (Historia Regum Britanniae, XI.2) and Gaimar’s framework here is based on Geoffrey’s work. Note, however, that Gaimar later seems to imply (line 817 onwards) that the arrival of Cerdic in 495 took place after Havelok’s deeds, which does confuse the issue somewhat.
5 Gaimar, L’Estoire des Engleis, ed. Bell, lines 48, 59.
6 Gaimar, L’Estoire des Engleis, lines 1–816.
7 Above, note 4.
8 See Green, ‘British Kingdom’; Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons: Lincolnshire AD 400–650 (Lincoln, 2012), especially pp. 56–162. Note, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Lindissi is often known as Lindsey, although it is likely that it encompassed a much larger area than the modern Lincolnshire district of Lindsey does.
9 Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae, VI.12–13.
10 See G. V. Smithers (ed.), Havelok (Oxford, 1987), pp. xxxii–xxxiii, for some tentative thoughts in this direction.
11 S. Kleinman, ‘The legend of Havelok the Dane and the historiography of East Anglia’, Studies in Philology, 100 (2003), 245–77; Smithers, Havelok, especially pp. lxxviii, lxxxix; Bell, L’Estoire des Engleis, pp. ix–xi, li – note, the later Middle English version of the tale was probably also composed in Lindsey, and the tale is linked to the foundation-legend of Grimsby. I am highly sceptical of attempts to hypothesize an origin for the Havelok tale in the north of England purely on the basis of the name Haveloc and his nickname Cuaran, which are claimed to reflect a tenth-century Viking called Anlaf Cwiran found in the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’. If this speculative connection is pursued then, in light of the fact that there are no obvious links between Anlaf Cwiran’s life and Havelok’s tale other than the name, the connection ought to be seen as simply one of a name being borrowed and substituted into a tale and cast of characters with which it had no previous relationship, as Kleinman suggests (264–5; A. Bell, ‘Gaimar’s early “Danish” kings’, Proceedings of the Modern Language Association, 65 (1950), 632–5).
12 Smithers, Havelok, pp. xxxii–lvi; Kleinman, ‘Legend of Havelok’.
13 See N. M. Bradbury, ‘The traditional origins of Havelok the Dane’, Studies in Philology, 90 (1993), 119–25, supported recently by Marvin, ‘Prose Brut Tradition’, 305.
14 Gaimar, L’Estoire des Engleis, line 93. Kleinman (‘Legend of Havelok’) demonstrates that Gaimar played a key role in creating the literary tale, but this does not mean that Gaimar invented the actual story, especially as he cites pre-existing written and oral tales. Rather, he seems to have created the literary tale out of already existing stories, materials and traditions. Laura Ashe argues for key elements of the Havelok narrative deriving from Anglo-Saxon story-telling (‘“Exile-and-return” and English law: the Anglo-Saxon inheritance of insular romance’, Literature Compass, 3 (2008), 300–17). Gaimar’s other stated source for his framing-tale is of written origin and looks to have been a lost version of the ‘Gildasian recension’ of the Historia Brittonum – a text that Gaimar does seem to have used elsewhere in his Estoire des Engleis – which apparently included a section telling of Adelbrit and Edelsi (Gaimar, L’Estoire des Engleis, line 39 onwards; A. Bell, ‘Further glossarial notes on Gaimar’s “Estoire des Engleis”’, The Modern Language Review, 49 (1954), 316–17).
15 See R. Crosby, ‘Robert Mannyng of Brunne: a new biography’, Proceedings of the Modern Language Association, 57 (1942), 15–28, and E. Seaton, ‘Robert Mannyng of Brunne in Lincoln’, Medium Ævum, 12 (1943), 77, for what we can know of Mannyng’s life and movements around Lincolnshire.
16 T. Turville-Petre, ‘Poetry and politics in the early fourteenth century: the case of Robert Manning’s Chronicle’, Review of English Studies, 39 (1988), 22.
17 T. Hearne (ed.), Peter Langtoft's Chronicle, as Illustrated and Improv'd by Robert of Brunne (2 vols, Oxford, 1725), vol. 1, pp. 25–6; Turville-Petre, ‘Poetry and politics’, 22–3; W. W. Skene and K. Sisam (eds.), The Lay of Havelok the Dane, 2nd edn (Oxford, 1915), pp. xvi–xvii.
18 Robert Mannyng, Chronicle, 1, p. 10 for Offa, and see also pp. 8, 9, 14; T. Wright (ed. and trans.), The Chronicle of Pierre de Langtoft (2 vols, London, 1866–8), vol. 1, pp. 294–5.
19 G. Platt, Land and People in Medieval Lincolnshire (Lincoln, 1985), p. 292.
20 Pierre de Langtoft, Chronicle, 1, pp. 232, 250, 256.
21 Mannyng mentions Bede and others throughout his work: for example, Robert Mannyng, Chronicle, 1, pp. 1, 6, 25–6.
22 Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica, III.11; William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum Anglorum, ed. R. A. B. Mynors et al (Oxford, 1998), I.49.8. That Mannyng was not an impartial translator, but rather one with agendas of his own, has been demonstrated by Turville-Petre (‘Poetry and politics’). See also R. Knight, ‘Stealing Stonehenge: translation, appropriation, and cultural identity in Robert Mannyng of Brunne’s Chronicle’, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 32 (2002), 41–58.
23 Robert Mannyng, Chronicle, 1, p. 8. Eadbald = Æthelbald of Mercia, king AD 716–57.
24 See the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, s.a. 815, 825, and perhaps 830 (trans. D. Whitelock et al in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: A Revised Translation (London, 1961), pp. 39–40); William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum Anglorum, I.106.3.
25 Robert Mannyng, Chronicle, 1, p. 14. Bernewolf = Beornwulf of Mercia, king AD 823–6; see N. P. Brooks, The Early History of the Church of Canterbury (London, 1984), pp. 136–7, 352–3, on Beornwulf and his dates.
26 Robert Mannyng, Chronicle, 1, pp. 25–6. Mannyng’s framework appears to be similar to that of the early fourteenth-century Middle English Havelok, which has been argued to reflect a revisionist account of the Viking settlements (T. Turville-Petre, ‘Havelok and the History of the Nation’ in C. M. Meale (ed.), Readings in Medieval English Romance (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 121–34).
27 Gaimar, L’Estoire des Engleis, line 93; see Kleinman, ‘Legend of Havelok’, 252.
28 Green, ‘British Kingdom’, 43 fn. 167; P. Sims-Williams, The Celtic Inscriptions of Britain. Phonology and Chronology, c. 400–1200 (Oxford, 2003), p. 226; P. Schrijver, Studies in British Celtic Historical Phonology (Amsterdam, 1995), pp. 271–2. K. H. Jackson, Language and History in Early Britain (Edinburgh, 1953), p. 698, assigns the change to the ‘later tenth century’. See Bell, L’Estoire des Engleis, p. 208, for an alternative theory involving a literary borrowing of the name from a Celtic-Latin source by Gaimar, though this might seem difficult to reconcile with the implication that Gaimar derived his knowledge of the fate of Orwain and Argentille from a pre-existing oral source.

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