Peace Weaving and Gold Giving: Anglo Saxon Queenship in Havelok the Dane

in Remembering the Present: Generative Uses of England’s Pre-Conquest Past, ed. Brian O’Camb and Jay Paul Gates (Leiden: Brill, forthcoming 2019).

By Larissa Tracy

The late-thirteenth century Middle English romance Havelok the Dane reworks earlier Anglo-Norman versions of a male-Cinderella tale of exile and return that unites the kingdoms of Denmark and Anglo-Saxon England. Several critics, namely Robert Allen Rouse,[1] have remarked on the elevation of the idea of Anglo-Saxon England in the poem as a model of sound justice enacted by good kings. Matter of England romances, including Guy of Warwick, King Horn, Horn Childe and Maiden Rimnild, and Havelok are particularly concerned with the pre-Conquest English past—the Anglo-Saxon past—the construction of which is an ongoing process of cultural appropriation in these texts.[2] According to Rouse this process began from the first moment that William I “stood among the slain Anglo-Saxon nobles after the Battle of Hastings.”[3] Despite the Anglo-Saxon setting of these romances, the world of these English heroes is essentially that of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries with traces of the twelfth-century milieu of their Anglo-Norman sources.[4] Thus, the construction of gendered roles in these romances reflects later medieval sensibilities, especially those regarding women, who are generally expected to be passive or subordinate within the action of the poem. Havelok is different. As a hero, Havelok embodies many of the traits associated with his wife’s father, the Anglo-Saxon king Athelwold, an exemplary king, to whom the poem returns time and again, and the values he represents—justice and “gode lawes” (28). However, Havelok’s wife Goldeboru—Athelwold’s dispossessed heir—is not merely a prop nor a passage to uniting these two kingdoms, unlike many contemporary romance heroines. In the poem, Goldeboru is active, intelligent, and resourceful. Her body is the locus of legitimate rule in England,[5] but her wit and her willingness to both wage war and weave peace make Havelok’s conquest possible. In her concern for the process of law and the restoration of justice to England, Goldeboru echoes the qualities of queenship exhibited by historical women and female figures in Old English poetry who provide a model of female rule unique in Middle English romance that is grounded in a reverence for the Anglo-Saxon past.

[1] Robert Allen Rouse, The Idea of Anglo-Saxon England in Middle English Romance (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2005) and ‘English Identity and the Law in Havelok the Dane, horn Childe and Maiden Rimnild and Beues of Hamtoun’, in Cultural Encounters in the Romance of Medieval England, ed. Corinne Saunders (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2005), 69–84. In the same volume see: Rosalind Field, ‘The King Over the Water: Exile-and-Return Revisited’, 41–54 and Tony Davenport, ‘Chronicle and Romance: The Story of Ine and Æthelburgh’, 27–40. See also: Diane Speed, ‘The Construction of the Nation in Medieval English Romance’, Readings in Medieval English Romance, ed. Carol M. Meale (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1994), 135–57.

[2] Rouse, The Idea of Anglo-Saxon England, 54.

[3] Rouse, The Idea of Anglo-Saxon England, 1.

[4] Rouse, The Idea of Anglo-Saxon England, 55.

[5] Rouse, The Idea of Anglo-Saxon England, 154.