The Story of Havelok the Dane
T HE good king of whom we read in the last chapter was called Athelwold, and the poet tells us that there were happy days in England while he reigned. But at length he became sick unto death. Then was he sore grieved, because he had no child to sit upon the throne after him save a maiden very fair. But so young was she that she could neither "go on foot nor speak with mouth." So, in this grief and trouble, the King wrote to all his nobles, "from Roxburgh all unto Dover," bidding them come to him.
And all who had the writings came to the King, where he lay at Winchester. Then, when they were all come, Athelwold prayed them to be faithful to the young Princess, and to choose one of themselves to guard her until she was of age to rule.
So Godrich, Earl of Cornwall, was chosen to guard the Princess. For he was a true man, wise in council, wise in deed, and he swore to protect his lady until she was of such age as no longer to have need of him. Then he would wed her, he swore, to the best man in all the land.
So, happy in the thought that his daughter should reign after him in peace, the King died, and there was great sorrow and mourning throughout the land. But the people remained at peace, for the Earl ruled well and wisely.
Meanwhile the Princess Goldboru grew daily more and more fair.
And when Earl Godrich saw how fair and noble she became, he
sighed and asked
Then, full of his evil purpose, Godrich thought no more of his
oath to the dead king, but cast Goldboru into a darksome prison,
where she was poorly clad and
Now it befell that at this time there was a right good king in Denmark. He had a son named Havelok and two fair daughters. And feeling death come upon him, he left his children in the care of his dear friend Godard, and so died.
But no sooner was the King in his grave than the false Godard took Havelok and his two sisters and thrust them into a dungeon.
After a time the traitor went to the tower where the children were, and there he slew the two little girls. But the boy Havelok he spared.
So the wicked Earl spared the lad for the time. But he did not
mean that he should live. Anon he called a fisherman to him and
Grim, the fisherman, rejoiced at the thought of being free and rich. So he took the boy, and wound him in an old cloth, and stuffed an old coat into his mouth, so that he might not cry aloud. Then he thrust him into a sack, and thus carried him home to his cottage.
But when the moon rose, and Grim made ready to drown the child, his wife saw a great light come from the sack. And opening it, they found therein the prince. Then they resolved, instead of drowning him, to save and nourish him as their own child. But they resolved also to hide the truth from the Earl.
At break of day, therefore, Grim set forth to tell Godard that his will was done. But instead of the thanks and reward promised to him, he got only evil words. So, speeding homeward from that traitor, he made ready his boat, and with his wife and three sons and two daughters and Havelok, they set sail upon the high sea, fleeing for their lives.
Presently a great wind arose which blew them to the coast of England. And when they were safely come to land, Grim drew up his boat upon the shore, and there he built him a hut, and there he lived, and to this day men call the place Grimsby.
Years passed. Havelok lived with the fisherman, and grew great and fair and strong. And as Grim was poor, the Prince thought it no dishonor to work for his living, and he became in time a cook's scullion.
Havelok had to work hard. But although he worked hard he was always cheerful and merry. He was so strong that at running, jumping, or throwing a stone no one could beat him. Yet he was so gentle that all the children of the place loved him and played with him.
At last even the wicked Godrich in his palace heard of Havelok in the kitchen. "Now truly this is the best man in England," he said, with a sneer. And thinking to bring shame on Goldboru, and wed her with a kitchen knave, he sent for Havelok.
"Master, wilt wed?" he asked, when the scullion was brought before him.
"Nay," quoth Havelok, "by my life what should I do with a wife? I could not feed her, nor clothe her, nor shoe her. Whither should I bring a woman? I have no cot, I have no stick nor twig. I have neither bread nor sauce, and no clothes but one old coat. These clothes even that I wear are the cook's, and I am his knave."
At that Godrich shook with wrath. Up he sprang and began to beat Havelok without mercy.
Then seeing that there was no help for it, and that he must either be wedded or hanged, Havelok consented to marry Goldboru. So the Princess was brought, "the fairest woman under the moon." And she, sore afraid at the anger and threats of Godrich, durst not do aught to oppose the wedding. So were they "espoused fair and well" by the Archbishop of York, and Havelok took his bride home to Grimsby.
You may be sure that Havelok, who was so strong and yet so
gentle, was kind to his beautiful young wife. But Goldboru was
unhappy, for she could not forget the disgrace that had come upon
her. She could not forget that she was a princess, and that she
had been forced to wed a
And of all that afterward befell Havelok and Goldboru, of how they went to Denmark and overcame the traitor there, and received the kingdom; and of how they returned again to England, and of how Godrich was punished, you must read for yourselves in the book of Havelok the Dane. But this one thing more I will tell you, that Havelok and Goldboru lived happily together until they died. They loved each other so tenderly that they were never angry with each other. They had fifteen children, and all the sons became kings and all the daughters became queens.
I should like to tell you many more of these early English
metrical romances. I should like to tell you of
Books To Read
The Story of Havelok the Dane, rendered into later English by Emily Hickey.
The Lay of Havelok the Dane, edited by W. W. Skeat in the original English.