Medieval Romance

Havelok the Dane

13th century Middle English, unique manuscript copy dating to early 14th century, Oxford.

They loosened the ropes that were binding him and immediately saw a birthmark on his shoulder that marked him out as a king’s son.

'Havelok is the son of the King of Denmark,' said Miranda.

'But in the middle of the story,' said Quintin: 'When he arrived at the fine city of Lincoln, Havelok realised that he had nowhere to go. He spent two days looking for work, and didn’t eat anything during this time. But on the third day he heard a shout of: ‘Bearers, bearers, come here, we’ve some work for you!’

'Havelok muscled his way to the front of a crowd of men, pushing nine or ten of them into the mud, and took up the load that the chief cook at the castle had bought at the bridge over the river and wanted transported. He took it to the castle, leaving all the others behind, and earned a cake for himself.

'The next day: ‘Bearers, bearers, come quickly!’ Havelok saw the earl’s cook on the bridge again, with a consignment of fish from Cornwall and pushed his way through the crowd, knocking over sixteen young lads who got in his way. He left all these young men toppled in a heap, filled his basket full of fish until he had almost a cartload to carry – salmon, plaice, squids, eels and Great Lampreys – then hurried with all the speed that he could muster until he arrived at the castle and gave his burden over to the porters there. The porters lifted the consignment from his head while the cook looked on with pleasure, impressed with the young man’s strength and enthusiasm.

‘Will you work for me?’ the cook asked. ‘I’ll feed you well, and give you fair wages.’

'Goodness,’ replied Havelok. ‘Sir, I won’t require anything else except the food that I need, and I’ll fetch water and fire for you, wash dishes and do anything else that you want me to.'

'But Grim and his wife know who he is from the very start.' said Miranda: 'Grim's wife did as her husband asked, but as she prepared to fetch his clothes and stir the fire, she saw, surrounding the little boy as he lay there, a light that was as bright as day. It was coming out of his mouth, like a sunbeam. The room was illuminated by this light, as though there were candles burning there.

‘Jesus Christ!’ exclaimed Dame Leve. ‘What have we brought into our hut? Get up, Grim. Come and see this!’

'They both went up to the child, took him out of the sack, loosened the ropes that were binding him and immediately saw, as they pulled back his shirt, a birthmark on his shoulder that marked him out as a king’s son.'

Story fragments retold in Modern English from: Herzman, Ronald B, Drake, Graham and Salisbury, Eve (Eds), 1997. Four Romances of England: King Horn, Havelok the Dane, Bevis of Hampton, Athelston. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Western Michigan University for TEAMS. The Middle English text of HAVELOK THE DANE from Bodleian MS Laud Misc MS 108.

See for yourself

Havelok the Dane – TEAMS Medieval text, Middle English with an introduction.

Havelok the Dane – Wikipedia

Four Romances of England – edited by Ronald B. Herzman, Graham Drake and Eve Salisbury, including the Middle English text of Havelok the Dane, with an introduction

Hidden origins

Metropolitan Line

artwork, clay figures ascending from the ground, badly out of focus
three standing stones against a blue sky

Navigate the tunnel