1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Horn (hero)

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HORN, English hero of romance. King Horn is a heroic poem or gest of 1546 lines dating from the 13th century. Murry (or Allof), king of Sudenne[1] (Surrey and Sussex?) is slain by Saracen pirates who turn his son Horn adrift with twelve other children. The boat drifts to Westernesse[2] (Cornwall?), where the children are received by King Aylmer (Aethelmaer). Presently Horn is denounced by one of his companions as the lover of the king's daughter Rymenhild (Rimel) and is banished, taking with him a ring, the gift of his bride and a talisman against danger. In Ireland, under the name of Godmod, he serves for seven years, and slays in battle the Saracens who had killed his father. Learning that Rymenhild is to be married against her will to King Mody, he returns to Westernesse disguised as a palmer, and makes himself known to the bride by dropping the ring into the cup she offers him, with the words “Drink to Horn of Horn.” He then reconquers his father's kingdom and marries Rymenhild.

The other versions of the story, which are founded on a common tradition, but are not immediately dependent on one another, are: (1) the longer French romance of Horn et Rimenhild by “mestre Thomas,” describing more complex social conditions than those of the English poem; (2) a slightly shorter Middle English poem, Horn Childe and Maiden Rimnild; (3) the Scottish ballad of “Hind Horn;” (4) a prose romance founded on the French Horn, entitled Pontus et Sidoine (Lyons, 1480, Eng. trans, pr. by Wynkyn de Worde, 1511; German trans. Augsburg, 1483).

There is a marked resemblance between the story of Horn and the legend of Havelok the Dane, and it is interesting to note how closely Richard of Ely followed the Horn tradition in the 12th century De gestis Herewardi Saxonis. Hereward also loves an Irish princess, flees to Ireland, and returns in time for the bridal feast, where he is presented with a cup by the princess. The orphaned prince who recovers his father's kingdom and avenges his murder, and the maid or wife who waits years for an absent lover or husband, and is rescued on the eve of a forced marriage, are common characters in romance. The second of these motives, with almost identical incidents, occurs in the legend of Henry the Lion, duke of Brunswick; it is the subject of ballads in Swedish, Danish, German, Bohemian, &c., and of a Historia by Hans Sachs, though some magic elements are added; it also occurs in the ballad of Der edle Moringer (14th century), well known in Sir Walter Scott's translation; in the story of Torello in the Decameron of Boccaccio (10th day, 9th tale); and with some variation in the Russian tale of Dobrynya and Nastasya.

King Horn was re-edited for the Early English Text Soc. by G. H. McKnight in 1901; Horn et Rimenhild was edited with the English versions for the Bannatyne Club by F. Michel (Paris, 1845); Horn Childe and Maiden Rimnild in J. Ritson's Metrical Romances, vol. iii.; and “Hind Horn” in F. J. Child's English and Scottish [ 697 ] Popular Ballads (vol. i., 1882), with an introductory note on similar legends. See also H. L. Ward, Catalogue of Romances, vol. i., where the relation between Havelok and Horn is discussed; Hist. litt. de la France (vol. xxii., 1852); W. Söderhjelm, Sur l'identité du Thomas auteur de Tristan et du Thomas auteur de Horn (Romania, xv., 1886); T. Wissmann, “King Horn” (1876) and “Das Lied von King Horn” (1881) in Nos. 16 and 45 of Quellen und Forschungen zur Spr. und Cvlturgesch. d. german. Völker (Strassburg and London); Reinfrid von Braunschweig, a version of the legend of Henry the Lion, edited by K. Bartsch (Stuttgart, 1871); and a further bibliography in O. Hartenstein, Studien zur Hornsage (Heidelberg, 1902).


  1. There was a barrow in the Isle of Purbeck, Dorsetshire, called Hornesbeorh; and there are other indications which point to a possible connexion between Horn and Dorset (see H. L. Ward, Cat. of Romances, i. 451).
  2. Sudenne and Westernesse are tentatively identified also with Isle of Man and Wirral (Cambridge Hist. of Eng Lit., i. 304).