Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
The novel was published on the eight hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, and its subtitle identifies Hereward as the “Last of the English” because the race subsequently included a French strain, associated with the softening effects of civilization. In contrast, Kingsley regarded the preconquest invasions as a happy marriage, and he uses the imagery of gender to characterize them: the Anglo-Saxon woman impregnated by the Norse Viking, the “great male race.” Kingsley believed that such revitalization was urgent for a Victorian England weakened by effete indulgences. Hereward’s battle cry “A Wake!” proclaims his salient quality of alertness, and Kingsley called upon his nation to “awake” and rise from their decline.
Kingsley gives to England’s early Anglo-Danish nobility, who lived in a hard but “cheerful” landscape, a mythic status as gallant–though not always efficient–warriors. Their proud personal independence and the free institutions that inform British liberty derive from the northern races of Denmark and Norway who came as invaders but achieved a stable society. This argument is crucial in the Victorian invention of the Vikings, whose history is defined by the need for more agricultural lands, skill as shipbuilders and the love of the sea, and a passion for personal freedom. Much of the novel’s matter comes from Icelandic sagas, and Hereward’s heroes are Harold Hardraade, Ragnor Lodborg, and Frithiof. Going into exile, he sails close to Orkney and encounters a “witch-whale”; as on many occasions Hereward’s singing of Viking songs gives confidence to his followers.
Kingsley makes a sharp distinction between Hereward’s northeastern homeland and the southern home of the men of Wessex and the Godwinssons who claim to be all of England. These counties, even before the Norman Conquest, were the most civilized and most French. The breadth of separation is evoked by several pages that describe Hereward’s journey to meet King William at Winchester to seek peace after he concludes that further resistance is pointless.
*Greenwood. Region stretching from the fens to the Scottish border, for two hundred years the refuge of outlaws, including the famous Robin Hood. Hereward spends time in the greenwood before he acknowledges King William’s superiority. Both a real landscape and a mythic place, the greenwood transforms lives of despair and poverty into something that is not only tolerable but pleasant. As with the fenland, this less cultivated place is superior to the overly civilized and developed parts of England. In the forest, lawless men soon form an ordered society, defined by hard knocks, strict rules, fair play, and equal justice for high and low–the English ideal, advocated especially in the public schools and fostered by popular historical novels like Hereward the Wake, of which there are several juvenile versions.
*Crowland Minster. Most significant of several religious houses in the novel, used by Hereward as a place of refuge. After richly describing its buildings and their functions, Kingsley subsequently notes its destruction and later rebuilding, a sign of Norman development. The local monks start a little school in a nearby town that eventually becomes Cambridge University.