1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Havelok the Dane

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HAVELOK THE DANE, an Anglo-Danish romance. The hero, under the name of Cuheran or Cuaran, was a scullion-jongleur at the court of Edelsi (Alsi) or Godric, king of Lincoln and Lindsey. At the same court was brought up Argentille or Goldborough, the orphan daughter of Adelbrict, the Danish king of Norfolk, and his wife Orwain, Edelsi’s sister; and Edelsi, to humiliate his ward, married her to the scullion Cuaran. But, inspired by a vision, Cuaran and Goldborough set out for Grimsby, where Cuaran learned that Grim, his supposed father, was dead. His foster-sister, moreover, told him that his real name was Havelok, that he was the son of Gunter (or Birkabeyn), king of Denmark, and had been rescued by Grim, who though a poor fisherman was a noble in his own country, when Gunter perished by treason. The hero then wins back his own and Goldborough’s kingdoms, punishing traitors and rewarding the faithful. The story exists in two French versions: as an interpolation between Geffrei Gaimar’s Brut and his Estorie des Engles (c. 1150) and in the Anglo-Norman Lai d’Havelok (12th century). The English Havelok (c. 1300) is written in a Lincolnshire dialect and embodies abundant local tradition. A short version of the tale is interpolated in the Lambeth MS. of Robert Mannyng’s Handlyng Synne. The story reappears more than once in English literature, notably in the ballad of “Argentille and Curan” in William Warner’s Albion’s England. The name of Havelok (Habloc, Abloec, Abloyc) is said to correspond in Welsh to Anlaf or Olaf. Now the historical Anlaf Curan was the son of a Viking chief Sihtric, who was king of Northumbria in 925 and died in 927. Anlaf Sihtricson was driven into exile by his stepmother’s brother Æthelstan, and took refuge in Scotland at the court of Constantine II., whose daughter he married. He was defeated with Constantine[1] at Brunanburh (937), but was nevertheless for two short periods joint ruler in Northumbria with his cousin Anlaf Godfreyson. He reigned in Dublin till 980, when he was defeated. He died the next year as a monk at Iona. Round the name of Anlaf Curan a number of legends rapidly gathered, and the legend of the Danish hero probably filtered through Celtic channels, as the Welsh names of Argentille and Orwain indicate. The close similarity between the Havelok saga and the story of Hamlet (Amlethus) as told by Saxo Grammaticus was pointed out long ago by Scandinavian scholars. The individual points they have in common are found in other legends, but the series of coincidences between the adventurous history of Anlaf Curan and the life of Amlethus can hardly be fortuitous. Interesting light is thrown on the whole question by Professor I. Gollancz (Hamlet in Iceland, 1898) by the identification of Amhlaide—who is said by Queen Gormflaith[2] in the Annals of Ireland by the Four Masters to have slain Niall Glundubh—with Anlaf’s father Sihtric. The exploits of father and son were likely to be confused.

The mythical elements in the Havelok story are numerous. Argentille, as H. L. Ward points out, is a disguised Valkyrie. Like Svava she inspired a dull and nameless youth, and as Hild raised the dead to fight by magic, so Argentille in Havelok and Hermuthruda in Amleth prop up dead or wounded men with stakes to bluff the enemy. Havelok’s royal lineage is betrayed by his flame breath when he is asleep, a phenomenon which has parallels in the history of Servius Tullius and of Dietrich of Bern. Part of the Havelok legend lingers in local tradition. Havelok destroyed his enemies in Denmark by casting down great stones upon them from the top of a tower, and Grim is said to have kicked three of the turrets from the church tower in his efforts to destroy the enemy’s ships. John Weever (Antient Funerall Monuments, 1631, p. 749) says that the privilege of the town in Elsinore, where its merchants were free from toll, was due to the interest of Havelok, the Danish prince, and the common seal of the town of Grimsby represents Grim, with “Habloc” on his right hand and Goldeburgh on his left.

The English MS. of Havelok (MSS. Laud Misc. 108) in the Bodleian library is unique. It was edited for the Roxburghe Club by Sir F. Madden in 1828. This edition contains, besides the English text, the two French versions. There are subsequent editions by W. W. Skeat (1868) for the E.E. Text Society, by F. Holthausen (London, New York and Heidelberg, 1901), and by W. W. Skeat (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1902, where further bibliographical references will be found); and a modern English version by Miss E. Hickey (London, 1902). Gaimar’s text and the French lai are edited by Sir T. D. Hardy and C. F. Martin in Rerum Brit. med. aev. scriptores, vol. i. (1888). See also the account of the saga by H. L. Ward (Cat. of Romances, i. 423–446); for the identification of Havelok with Anlaf Curan see G. Storm, Englische Studien (1880), iii. 533, a reprint of an earlier article; E. K. Putnam, The Lambeth Version of Havelok (Baltimore, 1900).

  1. H. L. Ward (Cat. of Romances, i. 426) suggests that it was the mention of Constantine in the Havelock legend which led Gaimar to place the tale in the 6th century in the days of the Constantine who succeeded King Arthur. Gaimar voices more than once an Anglo-Danish legend of a Danish dynasty in Britain anterior to the Saxon invasion.
  2. A different person from the second wife of Anlaf Curan, also Gormflaith, who forms another link with Amlethus, as she was a woman of the Hermuthruda type and married her husband’s conqueror.