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Biographica Incognita

BI: Hereward the Wake

I have just updated and republished my Biographica Incognita article on Hereward the Wake.

I almost certainly havent done this incredible figure from history justice. In my retelling of his tale but my aim is to make people curious and to inspire further reading around some of histories more fascinating forgotten characters.

Having read a number of works by modern historians a few years ago as research for this article, as well as translations of the Gesta Herewardi and the few relevant parts of the Anglo Saxon Chronicles. I found myself reviewing some of the materials for this update and reflecting on Guy Halsall, an incredible historian who has remarked on the folly of reviewing history in search of a single person.

He is absolutely right, there is so little reliable information on Hereward that any work on him has to be largely conjecture. Its more revealing to look at the world he inhabitted and the shifting cultures in England shortly after the Norman Conquest.

Its also quite telling that William didnt have the smooth transition I remember hearing about in my childhood. The first few years of his reign were rife with rebellion and insurrection. It is a testament to the man that he not only managed to take England (although as I said in the article there was more than a little luck involved) but also that he managed to hold and mostly introduce stability to a country which had experienced only Saxon rule for a significant period of time prior to his invasion.

I have absolutely marginalised the importance of the northern Earls, in particularly Morcar who had been a key figure in the politics and military efforts for a long time even before William decided to take England. Frankly he probably deserves an article in his own right.

I mention my frustrations with my education in history. Particularly at secondary school. I am not exaggerating when I say that there was no focus on any events prior to 1939. Which in itself is extremely discouraging as the factors that led to World War Two took place in the years, decades and in some cases centuries before the outbreak of war. However the focus was on teaching us only what we needed to know to pass our exams and not provide us the tools to analyse complex events and perspectives. This unfortunately seems endemic in the British education system. This is not the fault or responsibility of the teachers but of the exam boards.

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