Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 3


First published August 1910
by George G. Harrap & Co.
39-41 Parker Street, Kingsway, London, W.C.2
Reprinted: October 1910
September 1911
December 1914
May 1916
December 1917
February 1920
June 1924

Printed in Great Britain at The Ballantyne Press by
Spottiswoode, Ballantyne & Co. Ltd.
Colchester, London & Eton




[Pg ix]


IN refashioning, for the pleasure of readers of the twentieth century, these versions of ancient tales which have given pleasure to story-lovers of all centuries from the eighth onward, I feel that some explanation of my choice is necessary. Men’s conceptions of the heroic change with changing years, and vary with each individual mind; hence it often happens that one person sees in a legend only the central heroism, while another sees only the inartistic details of mediæval life which tend to disguise and warp the heroic quality.

It may be that to some people the heroes I have chosen do not seem heroic, but there is no doubt that to the age and generation which wrote or sang of them they appeared real heroes, worthy of remembrance and celebration, and it has been my object to come as close as possible to the mediæval mind, with its elementary conceptions of honour, loyalty, devotion, and duty. I have therefore altered the tales as little as I could, and have tried to put them as fairly as possible before modern readers, bearing in mind the altered conditions of things and of intellects to-day.

In the work of selecting and retelling these stories I have to acknowledge with most hearty thanks the help and advice of Mr. F. E. Bumby, B.A., of the University College, Nottingham, who has been throughout a most kind and candid censor or critic. His help has been in every way invaluable. I have also to acknowledge the generous permission given me by Mr. W. B. Yeats to write in prose the story of his beautiful play, “The Countess Cathleen,” and to adorn it with quotations from that play.

The poetical quotations are attributed to the authors [Pg x] from whose works they are taken wherever it is possible. When mediæval passages occur which are not thus attributed they are my own versions from the original mediæval poems.


Barnt Green
July 1910

[Pg xi]


Introduction xvii
I. Beowulf 1
II. The Dream of Maxen Wledig 42
III. The Story of Constantine and Elene 50
IV. The Compassion of Constantine 63
V. Havelok the Dane 73
VI. Howard the Halt 95
VII. Roland, the Hero of Early France 119
VIII. The Countess Cathleen 156
IX. Cuchulain, the Champion of Ireland 184
X. The Tale of Gamelyn 204
XI. William of Cloudeslee 225
XII. Black Colin of Loch Awe 248
XIII. The Marriage of Sir Gawayne 265
XIV. King Horn 286
XV. Robin Hood 314
XVI. Hereward the Wake 334

[Pg xiii]


Robin Hood and the Black Monk (William Sewell) Frontispiece
To face page
“The demon of evil, with his fierce ravening, greedily grasped them” (J. H. F. Bacon, A.R.A.) 4
Beowulf replies haughtily to Hunferth (J. H. F. Bacon, A.R.A.) 12
Beowulf finds the head of Aschere (J. H. F. Bacon, A.R.A.) 22
Beowulf shears off the head of Grendel (J. H. F. Bacon, A.R.A.) 26
The death of Beowulf (J. H. F. Bacon, A.R.A.) 40
The dream of the Emperor (Byam Shaw) 46
The Queen’s dilemma (Byam Shaw) 60
They filled the great vessel of silver with pure water (Byam Shaw) 70
“Havelok sat up surprised” (J. H. F. Bacon, A.R.A.) 78
“Havelok again overthrew the porters” (J. H. F. Bacon, A.R.A.) 82
“With great joy they fell on their knees” (J. H. F. Bacon, A.R.A.) 88
Olaf and Sigrid (J. H. F. Bacon, A.R.A.) 98
Howard leaves the house of Thorbiorn (J. H. F. Bacon, A.R.A.) 106
“The silver rolled in all directions from his cloak” (J. H. F. Bacon, A.R.A.) 110
“Thorbiorn lifted the huge stone” (J. H. F. Bacon, A.R.A.) 116
Charlemagne (Stella Langdale) 120
“Here sits Charles the King” (Byam Shaw) 124
“Ganelon rode away” (Byam Shaw) 130
“Charlemagne heard it again” (Byam Shaw) 144
Aude the Fair (Evelyn Paul) 154
“Day by day Cathleen went among them” (W. H. Margetson, R.I.) 162
[Pg xiv] The peasant’s story (W. H. Margetson, R.I.) 172
“Thieves have broken into the treasure-chamber” (W. H. Margetson, R.I.) 176
“Cathleen signed the bond” (W. H. Margetson, R.I.) 180
“All three drove furiously towards Cruachan” (W. H. Margetson, R.I.) 190
“Three monstrous cats were let into the room” (W. H. Margetson, R.I.) 192
“The dragon sank towards him, opening its terrible jaws” (W. H. Margetson, R.I.) 196
“The body of Uath arose” (W. H. Margetson, R.I.) 200
“Go and do your own baking!” (W. H. Margetson, R.I.) 206
“Lords, for Christ’s sake help poor Gamelyn out of prison!” (W. H. Margetson, R.I.) 214
“Then cheer thee, Adam” (W. H. Margetson, R.I.) 218
“Come from the seat of justice!” (W. H. Margetson, R.I.) 222
“William continued his wonderful archery” (Patten Wilson) 232
Adam Bell writes the letter (Patten Wilson) 234
The fight at the gate (Patten Wilson) 238
William of Cloudeslee and his son (Patten Wilson) 244
“Wait for me seven years, dear wife” (Byam Shaw) 252
“The King blew a loud note on his bugle” (W. H. Margetson, R.I.) 268
“Now you have released me from the spell completely” (W. H. Margetson, R.I.) 282
Queen Godhild prays ever for her son Horn (Patten Wilson) 288
Horn kills the Saracen Leader (Patten Wilson) 298
Horn and his followers disguised as minstrels (Patten Wilson) 312
“Little John caught the horse by the bridle” (Patten Wilson) 316
“I have no money worth offering” (Patten Wilson) 320
“Sir Richard knelt in courteous salutation” (Patten Wilson) 324
[Pg xv] “Much shot the monk to the heart” (Patten Wilson) 330
“Her pleading won relief for them” (Gertrude Demain Hammond, R.I.) 334
Alftruda (Gertrude Demain Hammond, R.I.) 340
Hereward and the Princess (Gertrude Demain Hammond, R.I.) 344
Hereward and Sigtryg (Gertrude Demain Hammond, R.I.) 348

[Pg xvii]


THE writer who would tell again for people of the twentieth century the legends and stories that delighted the folk of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries finds himself confronted with a vast mass of material ready to his hand. Unless he exercises a wise discrimination and has some system of selection, he becomes lost in the mazes of as enchanted a land,

“Where Truth and Dream walk hand in hand,”[1]

as ever bewildered knights of old in days of romance. Down all the dimly lighted pathways of mediæval literature mystical figures beckon him in every direction; fairies, goblins, witches, knights and ladies and giants entice him, and unless, like Theseus of old, he follows closely his guiding clue, he will find that he reaches no goal, attains to no clear vision, achieves no quest. He will remain spell-bound, captivated by the Middle Ages—

“The life, the delight, and the sorrow
Of troublous and chivalrous years
That knew not of night nor of morrow,
Of hopes or of fears.
The wars and the woes and the glories
That quicken, and lighten, and rain
From the clouds of its chronicled stories
The passion, the pride, and the pain.”[2]

Such a golden clue to guide the modern seeker through the labyrinths of the mediæval mind is that which I have tried to suggest in the title “Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race”—the pursuit and representation of the ideal hero as the mind of Britain and of early and mediæval England imagined him, together with [Pg xviii] the study of the characteristics which made this or that particular person, mythical or legendary, a hero to the century which sang or wrote about him. The interest goes deeper when we study, not merely

“Old heroes who could grandly do
As they could greatly dare,”[3]


Heroes of our island breed
And men and women of our British birth.”[4]

“Hero-worship endures for ever while man endures,” wrote Thomas Carlyle, and this fidelity of men to their admiration for great heroes is one of the surest tokens by which we can judge of their own character. Such as the hero is, such will his worshippers be; and the men who idolised Robin Hood will be found to have been men who were themselves in revolt against oppressive law, or who, finding law powerless to prevent tyranny, glorified the lawless punishment of wrongs and the bold denunciation of perverted justice. The warriors who listened to the saga of Beowulf looked on physical prowess as the best of all heroic qualities, and the Normans who admired Roland saw in him the ideal of feudal loyalty. To every age, and to every nation, there is a peculiar ideal of heroism, and in the popular legends of each age this ideal may be found.