Editors: George W. Tuma, Professor of English, and Dinah Hazell, Independent Scholar
Hosted by the English Department, San Francisco State University



The Vulnerable Body of Havelok the Dane

Donna Crawford


As a poetic fiction, the Middle English verse romance Havelok the Dane involves the consolidation of two kingdoms. Composed (most probably) in the very late thirteenth or very early fourteenth century,1 the poem presents a double plot that opens in England, with a rehearsal of the features of King Athelwold’s well-ordered social realm. England’s order is disrupted, though, by the king’s death and the dispossession, by the traitor Godrich, of the rightful heir, Athelwold’s daughter Goldboru. Only after telling of the English disruption does the poem recount an analogous dispossession in Denmark, Havelok’s native land, where after King Birkabeyn’s death, the traitor Godard plots the demise of Havelok, the legitimate heir to the throne. In the manner of romance heroes, Havelok survives the attempt on his life, and the narrative follows a course toward the restoration of order, with the marriage of the two dispossessed heirs bringing together the two plots. By the end of the poem, Havelok has overcome both usurpers and has taken his place first as king of Denmark, and then as ruler of England. Even though the main character is clearly the Danish Havelok, the poem’s narrative envelope, with England given the privileged positions of first and last in the telling, places a clear emphasis on the English kingdom. Indeed, it is easy to assent to the observation of W. W. Skeat in his 1868 edition of Havelok, that "from every point of view, [. . .] the story is wholly English" (iv).

In England the Nation, Thorlac Turville-Petre charts some of the ways that chronicles and other medieval writings expressed an English national identity in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, and Havelok is one of the texts he considers. The poem, he argues, works out in fictive terms the problems of Anglo-Danish relations in the Middle Ages, in the period following the Viking raids and the subsequent settlement of some of the raiders in England. Whereas the chronicles "tell only of pagan bands raping and pillaging, Havelok presents a revisionist view of the Vikings, bringing justice, peace and social integration" (Turville-Petre 152). These arguments about the poem’s ideological underpinnings clarify the broad accomplishment of its happy ending. In the most basic terms, this ending offers the traditional closure of Middle English romance, with attention to Havelok’s long reign as king and his fruitful marriage, producing fifteen sons and daughters, all of whom become kings and queens. But beyond this, Havelok unfolds as an imaginatively satisfying narrative of a kingdom integrated, with the Danish people made part of an encompassing and unified English identity. In its exploration of the parameters of Englishness, Havelok the Dane participates in an ongoing conversation of what constitutes the English nation and the identity of the English people. As Turville-Petre notes, the poem expresses its sense of harmonious English identity via "the career and person of Havelok himself, as he moves through the social hierarchy from poverty to power, [. . .] carrying fish, swilling dishes, and inheriting two thrones" (154-55).

Showing, as it does, the purposeful inclusiveness of the poem’s formulation of English identity within the context of Anglo-Danish settlement, Turville-Petre’s discussion is perhaps the most historically localized of those produced by critics who have noted how Havelok the Dane connects the ruler with his realm. But the connection between the king and those he rules has been made by others as well.2 Indeed, Havelok’s own person is central to the poem’s view of Englishness and to the view of harmonious social order it promotes. I will argue, moreover, that the linkage between Havelok and his domain extends beyond his integration of Danish identity into English and his traversing the class strata of English society. Like all heroes of romance, Havelok faces and surmounts a series of imperiling circumstances, but the poem places Havelok’s perils within a figurative representation of the social context: threats to the hero’s body make visible the vulnerability of the English kingdom. By the end of the poem, the kingdom is safely incorporated, with Havelok at its head. Throughout, the poem produces a connection between Havelok and the lands he comes to rule, a connection worked out in the imaginative representation of the body.

The central poetic factor enabling Havelok’s depiction of social harmony and its supple constitution of English identity is its evocation of different figures of the human body. These corporeal figures range in scale from the expansive to the individual and in tangibility from the metaphorical to the material. For example, the arrangement of the society presented in the poem matches the contours of the metaphor of the body politic, a model traceable to classical antiquity, invoked again in the Christian terms of the New Testament and elaborated with manifold particularity during the Middle Ages (LeGoff 13-27; Gierke 22-30; Barkan 61-90).

One of the most well-known medieval examples of the metaphor is that of the twelfth-century John of Salisbury, who, in his Policraticus, details a social body in which the position of the head is occupied by the prince, with constituent groups of the commonwealth assigned to other bodily positions: the Senate (an anachronism from the Roman empire) is the heart, for instance, while officials and soldiers are the hands, and plowmen are the feet.3 Other, later examples of the metaphor, such as that of Thomas Brinton in a fourteenth-century sermon, assign different groups to different parts of the body: the heart is occupied by citizens and burgesses, the right hand by knights, and the left hand by merchants and craftsmen.4 Despite these differences in the middle of the metaphorical body, though, the royal occupancy of the head is constant, as is the laborers’ occupancy of the feet.

That the high and low points of the metaphor remain constant suggests the essentially hierarchical organization of the body politic. At the same time, the differences in the middle emphasize that the social structure is not static and unchanging, that society’s horizontal (or comparatively horizontal) relations are as vital as its vertical ones. Moreover, the metaphor as a whole makes visible the interdependence among all the members of society. Nonetheless, the head maintains the privileged position; the king is at the top. The king’s primacy of position is developed in a related model, that involved in the political theology of "the king’s two bodies," analyzed most elaborately by Ernst Kantorowicz. One body is divinely figured and perpetual, representing the position of the king, while the other is physical, manifested in the presence of a particular occupant of the throne.

Both these models are implicit rather than explicit in Havelok the Dane, yet a third representation, one that might be called the "vulnerable body," figures prominently and overtly in the poem. Vulnerability can be considered a natural feature of the body, yet the notion of naturalness is one that must immediately be problematized, and not only because of the contemporary critical commonplace that the natural is always conditioned by social constructions. The body’s vulnerability to injury is natural–yet once it is opened by injury, especially if that injury is severe enough to result in death, the body ceases to seem natural to us. (Dying of violently inflicted injuries is not, after all, regarded as a death by natural causes.) Still, the capacity of the body to be injured is a natural condition that can be then used to naturalize a hierarchical system of social organization in which one who can both inflict and survive bodily injury is seen as superior in power. In Havelok the Dane, the body’s natural vulnerability makes possible the enactment of power relations that produce the hierarchy of the poem’s happily integrated English kingdom. The vulnerability of bodies, in Havelok the Dane, is an integral element in the displays of domination by which the superiority of one body can be asserted over others, justifying the patterns of social organization–specifically, the hierarchy of the body politic, with the king at the top–represented as natural in the romance.

In Havelok, the marking of the individual body according to differentials of power extends beyond vulnerability to encompass the divine marks of kingship as well. Havelok’s own status as king, obscured in social terms by Godard’s traitorous usurpation of Denmark, retains its intelligibility through a light emitted "als it were a sunne-bem" (593) [as if it were a sun beam] from his mouth while he sleeps, as well as through a "kynemark" (605) [birthmark], a red gold cross, on his right shoulder.5 The Middle English romance version of Havelok is extant as a separate and nearly complete romance in just one manuscript, Laud Misc. 108 of the Bodleian Library (missing one leaf in the section in which Havelok is copied),6 but the apparent popularity of the hero’s story is attested to by its survival in a number of other written versions and by the presence of the names of the story’s principals in the town seal of Grimsby.7 The two most substantial versions–both Anglo-Norman–that antedate the Middle English Havelok are Geoffrey Gaimar’s L’Estoire des Engleis and the Lai d’Haveloc: in both these narratives, the hero’s identity as heir to the Danish throne is established not only by the light from his mouth, but also by his ability to sound a horn that had belonged to his father. The omission of the horn in the Middle English, along with the inclusion of the "kynemark," suggests the extent to which the inscription of the body is integral to the Middle English poem: even if one of the "king’s two bodies" occupies symbolically the position of head of the body politic, and even if, furthermore, Havelok himself demonstrates a variety of accomplishments by moving through less elevated strata of English society before gaining the crown, his essential kingly identity is marked on his body, in the "kynemark" and the light from his mouth–not solely in his symbolic position or his abilities.

The importance of the king as head of the whole and healthy body politic is nonetheless crucial to the unfolding of the narrative in Havelok. Havelok first appears in the poem as a small boy, locked in a tower with his sisters by Godard, the children’s ill-chosen guardian turned cruel usurper. This scene in the tower suggests how the poem conjoins the vulnerability of the individual body with the threat to the social body. After Havelok complains that he and his sisters are starving, Godard brutally kills the two girls: "Of bothen he karf on two here throtes, / And sithen hem al to grotes" (471-72) [he carved the throats of both in two, and then carved them entirely to pieces]. The sisters’ savage deaths are in no way necessary to the poem’s narrative; they are fundamentally extraneous to the plot of dispossession which the rest of the poem is concerned with bringing to a resolution. Indeed, as G. V. Smithers observes in his edition of the poem, the sisters are not even mentioned in either of the Anglo-Norman versions of Havelok: "if they have been added in the ME version, as seems likely, it was presumably done to heighten the pathos of Havelok’s situation and the wickedness of Godard" (xxxvi).8 But beyond the effects of pathos, the slaying of the sisters substantiates Havelok’s own peril in the face of Godard’s treachery. Along with Havelok’s peril, the sisters’ vulnerable bodies reiterate the circumstances of the social body, now threatened by the wrongful power being wielded by Godard as its head.

Toppling the rule of Godard–and of Godrich, the corresponding English traitor–requires Havelok to depend on alliances with men who are his social inferiors. First, he depends on the help of Grim, a thrall of Godard, who is ordered by his lord to drown the boy after his sisters have been slain. Instead, Grim saves Havelok after witnessing the marks of kingship on his body, and then takes him away from Denmark to the safety of England. Later, Havelok trusts in an alliance with Grim’s children. These affiliations between Havelok and non-aristocratic men demonstrate, as did the description at the beginning of the poem of Athelwold’s well-ordered English realm, that the power of rule is established through a set of mutual relations and interconnections among the various classes that constitute the social body, rather than being located strictly in the divinely marked body of the king. Still, those mutual relations are held in place by the positioning of the ruler at the head–and the progress of the poem militates toward the restoration of the ruler owed that position by hereditary right to replace the one who has taken it wrongfully.

The movement toward this restoration is set solidly in motion after Havelok’s marriage to Goldboru, the daughter of the English king Athelwold. On what is presumably their wedding night, after the couple has gone to stay with Grim’s children, an angel appears in order to help Goldboru interpret the light that she sees emanating from her new husband’s mouth, as well as the "noble croiz" (1264) [noble cross] that she sees on his shoulder. Goldboru then helps Havelok interpret his dreams, in which he has encompassed all of Denmark with his arms (1292-1304) and enclosed England in his hand (1305-12). These dreams suggest another configuration of the king’s body, this one less commonplace in terms of its specific imagery: not simply a human body marked by divine presence in his light and his "kynemark," not simply the head of the symbolic structure of the body politic, Havelok’s body here takes a position that is both above and outside the territories that he will rule, although he is able to surround them with his own custodial arms. Materialized as an embrace and a clasp, his position is both possessive and protective.

Establishing the relations that are conveyed symbolically in the dream–that is, establishing Havelok in his place as a possessor and protector, as king–involves a series of conflicts in which the vulnerable body is written once more as the site through which the rightly ordered social body can be produced. Havelok himself is not exempt from bodily injury. In his dream, Havelok’s body is positioned above and outside the realms, but in the poem’s three episodes of battle, Havelok’s vulnerable body participates directly in the reconfigurations of power necessary to restore Denmark and England into a rightfully arranged order.

In combat, Havelok’s body becomes a site for playing out the contest for dominance within the body politic. His superior physical capacities have been proved earlier in the poem, before the battles begin–and indeed, this physical superiority is instrumental to his marriage to Goldboru. Like his light and his "kynemark," Havelok’s stature and strength signify for external view the interior characteristics of his nobility, at least for those able to read his body correctly. However, the English usurper Godrich misreads the physical signs when Havelok, who has been working as a cook’s helper, competes with great success in a stone-putting contest against the champions gathered for games at the time of a parliament at Lincoln. Godrich’s misreading, taking Havelok for "sum churles sone" (1093) [some churl’s son], leads him to imagine an opportunity to uphold the letter of his promise to marry Goldboru to "the hexte man that mithe live" (1081; cf 199) [the highest man that might be alive]; unbeknownst to him, of course, Havelok is in fact the "highest" man, not only in his height, but also in his lineage. The physical stature of Havelok’s body works, then, even if in ways initially hidden from Godrich and Goldboru, to secure a suitable marriage for the dispossessed heirs, and thus also to help restore the disrupted social order.

Physical stature and divine markings, though, are not enough to set Havelok at the head of the social hierarchy; he must also establish himself in battle. The first of these status-affirming battles occurs not against either of the usurpers, but instead against a band of thieves who attack the house where Havelok is staying after his return to Denmark. Using a "dore-tre" (1807) [door bar] as his weapon, Havelok takes on the thieves in a vivid and violent battle. He kills the first three with a blow so severe that there "was non of hem that his hernes / Ne lay ther ute ageyn the sternes" (1809-10) [there was none of them but that his brains lay out there exposed to the stars], and when he encounters the fourth:

Wit the barre so he him grette
Bifor the heued that the rith eye
Vt of the hole made he fleye [. . .]. (1812-14)

[He attacked him on the front of the head with the
bar so that he made the right eye fly out of the socket.]

The fifth is struck so that "he speu his hert-blod" (1820) [he spewed his heart’s blood]. Brains exposed, an eye dislodged from its socket, blood spurting: the bodies of the combatants in this conflict are memorable in their capacity to yield their integrity, to be vividly opened and dismembered. This is Havelok’s first test in battle, and what John Ganim has described as the "exaggerated scale" of the violence (30) here functions to establish Havelok’s identity as a victor, as a superior in the hierarchy. Any battle, after all, imperils the bodily integrity of its participants. Yet the need to loft the status of the victor above that of the vanquished impels an exaggeration of the injury and humiliation that the victor can inflict: the spectacle of the thieves’ injuries emphasizes the dominating capacity of Havelok’s own body, and thus the rightfulness of its place at the top of the social body.

Yet even though Havelok is the victor, his body also yields its integrity in this battle and suffers injuries so grievous, according to another of the poem’s characters, "that of the altherleste wounde / Were a stede brout to grunde" (1979-80) [that a steed would have been brought to the ground from the least of his wounds]. The episode of this first battle is characterized by a number of inconsistencies in the motivation of its action,9 but what is consistent is the degree of disintegration in the wounds inflicted in it. The representation of bodies opened and broken with wounds, divested of the boundaries of their forms, calls attention once again to the connection between the vulnerability of individual bodies and the social body in the poem. The identification of the attackers as "thieves" serves as a reminder of the ideal of social order proposed at the beginning of the poem: the English kingdom of Athelwold, where "vtlawes and theues" [outlaws and thieves] were dealt with harshly under the law. Havelok’s battle with the thieves occurs in post-Birkabeyn Denmark rather than post-Athelwold England, but one implication is that the dispossession of the rightful heir has inflicted an injury on the body politic which enables lawbreakers to thrive, at least until they meet the Havelok. The wounds to Havelok’s vulnerable body reiterate the injury to the social body, and the defeat of the thieves represents a step toward a renewal of order and security that the poem holds up as a social ideal.

Helping to achieve the victory against the attackers in this first battle are Grim’s sons, who, after seeing Havelok wounded, step in to inflict their own catalogue of injuries:

He broken armes, he broken knes,
He broken shankes, he broken thes,
He did the blod there renne dune
To the fet rith fro the crune,
For was ther spared heued non. (1903-7)

[They broke arms, they broke knees, they broke
shanks, they broke thighs, they caused the blood
there to run down to the feet right from the crown,
for not one head there was spared.]

Their assistance exemplifies the interdependent social relationships essential to the reestablishment of the traditional order. Havelok occupies the top position, the head, but in order to rule, he must also depend on his alliances with other men. Above all, Havelok’s leadership manifests the fundamentally vertical structure of these relations. Yet at the same time, these relations take their force through actions carried out by those from less socially elevated ranks as well as Havelok himself, whose status can be put at risk–if only, in the end, to be reaffirmed–by the exigencies of armed conflict. Moreover, Havelok’s companions must themselves be ready to step into roles in which the power of leadership runs both through and from them, as they act in the name of Havelok’s cause.

In the poem’s second battle, for instance, Havelok is not even directly involved in the fight; instead, Grim’s son Robert leads the attack against Godard, the Danish traitor. Havelok has deployed numerous men in the search for Godard, and Robert’s confrontation with the usurper is presented as if it were a matter of coincidence that he rather than Havelok should act as the leading participant in the battle: "He was the firste that with Godard / Spak [. . .] (2389-90) [He was the first that spoke with Godard]. But there is more to the encounter than coincidence, since the battle with Godard occurs directly after Havelok, the divine marks of his lineage having been recognized, is installed as king of Denmark. The kingdom at large has sworn him fealty, pledging to stand with their leader against anyone who would harm his body:

O bok ful grundlike he swore
That he sholde with him halde,
Both ageynes stille and bolde
That euere wold his bodi dere. (2308-11)

[On the book they solemnly swore that they
would hold with him, against both the quiet
and the bold who would ever harm his body.]

During the forty days of feasting that follow, Havelok knights Grim’s sons and makes them barons. These ceremonial procedures of loyalty and reward attest to the bonds that connect Havelok with his followers, and Robert’s central role in the fight against Godard suggests the strength of these bonds even in the leader’s absence.10

In contrast to the broad support that Havelok enjoys, Godard seems to be attended by only a small number of men when he meets Robert, and these men initially desert him after seeing their leader wounded–although they do return, only to be killed, when he implores their aid. Unlike the poem’s other battle scenes, this one is desultory in its attention to the details of wounding, with the concrete injuries concentrated in just a few initial lines: after being hit in the teeth by Godard, "Robert kipt ut a knif long / And smot him thoru the rith arum" (2408-9) [Robert pulled out a long knife and smote him through the right arm]. The purpose of this scene seems to lie less in representing the vulnerability of individual bodies than in drawing a contrast between two competing political bodies: the kingdom of Denmark under the right hereditary rule of Havelok against the apparently paltry band of followers who only hesitantly support the usurper Godard. The stronger bonds of loyalty between Havelok’s men and their leader substantiate the greater strength of this political formation.

The presence of Havelok’s body in the victory over the thieves affirms the degree of injury that his dispossession has wrought in the body politic; the absence of his body in the battle against Godard affirms the solidarity among the members of the renovated body politic that he has established. The first battle, against the thieves, has been called "the true ‘epic’ struggle of the poem" (Weiss 253), yet the poem’s final battle, against the English traitor Godrich, is the longest and most developed in terms of medieval epic style and conventions of romance combat.11 This battle, like the one against the thieves, is marked from the start by a radical disintegration of bodies: a head is immediately severed (2627) and soon after, an arm (2636); another head is cleaved in two (2644), while a sword cuts from the shoulder blade to the breast into the heart (2645-47). Blood flows profusely:

Ther was swilk dreping of the folk
That on the feld was neuere a polk
That it ne stod of blod so ful
That the strem ran intil the hul. (2685-88)

[There was such dropping of the folk that on
the field there was not a spot but that it stood
so full of blood that the stream ran into the hollow.]

This spectacle of vulnerability emphasizes once again the body as the site through which power relations are played out; both Havelok and Godrich, the principal players in these relations, are wounded, but the battle comes to a close when Havelok cuts off Godrich’s hand. The injury forecloses for Godrich the possibility of performing the relations between land and ruler epitomized in the symbolic medium of Havelok’s wedding-night dream: whereas Havelok could hold England in his hand, the severing of Godrich’s hand makes visible his inherent ineligibility to lead.

With Havelok having inflicted this injury on Godard, the narrative offers an evaluation posed as a question: "Hw mithe he don him shame more?" (2754) [How might he do him more shame?]. Although the battle with Godrich operates on a much larger scale, it ends, like the battle against Godard, with the traitor being captured, bound, judged, and punished, and the punishment delivers with concrete certainty a shame greater than defeat in combat. Both men must ride backward, Godard on a scabbed mare and Godrich on an ass; Godard is eventually flayed and then hanged from the gallows, while Godrich is burned at the stake.12 The punishments subject the traitors to a maximum of humiliation and pain, and the subjection of their vulnerable bodies to torture once again verifies the superiority of the traditional hierarchy, the system of hereditary rule, which they have violated.

After Godrich has been burned and Havelok has received homage from the English people, the social order represented in this narrative resolution is further consolidated through Havelok’s pronouncement of two marriages. These arranged unions represent both another instance of reward for loyalty and an example of strengthening the heteronormative bonds that provide for the reproduction of the body politic. In both cases, the women are daughters of Grim, with their status, as the children of a man born a thrall, elevated through marriage to an earl. In the second marriage, though, the earl is himself newly elevated to his position. These matters of social elevation have inspired the assertion (much repeated, if only for the sake of then refuting it) that Havelok is a "peasant fantasy."13 The social mobility of Grim’s children suggests a system in which the relations among different classes are at least to some degree fluid rather than fixed. But only to some degree: the poem is ultimately conservative, and as Ganim comments, "For all the mixing of classes in the poem, the normal state of things, in both the beginning and the end of the poem, is communicated in a style that suggests a rigid class order" (28). The changes in social status are conferred by the king, and then only on those who have shown him their loyal concern for his well-being and political advancement. The end of the narrative remarks the copious progeny produced by Havelok and Goldboru’s marriage, noting that of their fifteen children, "the sones were kinges alle, / [. . .] And the douhtres all quenes" (2981, 83) [the sons were all kings, and the daughters all queens]. This conventional observation demonstrates the poem’s commitment to the traditional arrangements of social hierarchy, yet at the same time, its improbability intimates the limits of such vertical arrangements for the body politic: only one may occupy the position at the top of a given hierarchy, and the rest of the poem attests to the violence that results when the occupancy of that position is contested.

The anthropologist Mary Douglas has written that "the body is a model which can stand for any bounded system. Its boundaries can represent any boundaries which are threatened or precarious" (115). In Havelok the Dane, the boundaries of the social body are threatened not by invaders from without, but rather by traitors from within. The boundaries they threaten are the relations of interdependence and mutuality holding together the body politic. In a straightforward analogy, the vulnerable body of the poem’s title character can be seen as standing for the disrupted and eventually restored social order of the kingdoms over which he reigns. Moreover, in Havelok’s person as one ruler, Danish origins are encompassed by and unified with an overarching English identity.

But beyond the correspondence between ruler and realm, the bodies represented in the poem serve to naturalize a traditional view of social hierarchy. The poem’s link between Havelok’s body and the body politic gains emphasis through the hero’s vulnerability: that Havelok can be injured reiterates the precariousness of the English nation, its susceptibility to treachery. At the same time, his capacity to survive his injuries and to out-injure his opponents in battle affirms his rightness for the role to which he was born. The injured others, their embattled bodies opened with wounds, suggest that relations can easily slip into the disorder of violence, at least when the body politic is wrongfully headed. The violence can be averted, the poem proposes, by a return to the traditional order, with the rightful hereditary ruler taking his dominating place as head and his subordinates taking their positions of loyal support. Thus the final containment of the narrative, its happy ending with Havelok firmly established as king of England and Denmark, heralds a consolidation into safety of a once vulnerable social body.


Go to Works Cited



1 For a discussion that situates the poem’s date between 1295-1310, see Smithers, Havelok lxiv-lxxiii. Return.

2 Crane, for instance, links the poem with other Middle English romances that have Anglo-Norman antecedents and observes that Havelok "carries the destiny of his people and provides them with a sense of common purpose" (40). Similarly, Liuzza describes Havelok’s representation of a social order with "an almost utopian harmony of king and commons" in which "both the top and the bottom of society have important functions in the well-being of the kingdom" (518). Return.

3 The passage is presented in Book 5 of the Policraticus as a paraphrase of a letter from Plutarch to Trajan with instruction on how a commonwealth is properly constituted:

Princeps uero capitis in re publica optinet locum uni subiectus Deo et his qui uices illius agunt in terris, quoniam et in corpore humano ab anima uegetatur caput et regitur. Cordis locum senatus optinet, a quo bonorum operum et malorum procedunt initia. Oculorum aurium et linguae officia sibi uendicant iudices et praesides prouiciarum. Officiales et milites manibus coaptantur. Qui semper adsistunt principi, lateribus assimilantur. Quaestores et commentarienses (non illos dico qui carceribus praesunt, sed comites rerum priuatarum) ad uentris et intestinorum refert imaginem. Quae, si immensa auiditate congesserint et congesta tenacius reseruauerint, innumerabiles et incurabiles generant morbos, ut uitio eorum totius corporis ruina immineat. Pedibus uero solo iugiter inherentibus agricolae coaptantur, quibus capitis prouidentia tanto magis necessaria est, quo plura inueniunt offendicula, dum in obsequio corporis in terra gradiuntur, eisque iustius tegumentorum debetur suffragium, qui totius corporis erigunt sustinent et promouent molem. ( Ioannis 282-83)

The place of the head in the body of the commonwealth is filled by the prince, who is subject only to God and to those who exercise His office and represent Him on earth, even as in the human body the head is quickened and governed by the soul. The place of the heart is filled by the Senate, from which proceeds the initiation of good works and ill. The duties of eyes, ears, and tongue are claimed by the judges and the governors of provinces. Officials and soldiers correspond to the hands. Those who always attend upon the prince are likened to the sides. Financial officers and keepers (I speak now not of those who are in charge of the prisons, but of those who are keepers of the privy chest) may be compared with the stomach and intestines, which, if they become congested through excessive avidity, and retain too tenaciously their accumulations, generate innumerable and incurable diseases, so that through their ailment the whole body is threatened with destruction. The husbandmen correspond to the feet, which always cleave to the soil, and need the more especially the care and foresight of the head, since while they walk upon the earth doing service with their bodies, they meet the more often with stones of stumbling, and therefore deserve aid and protection all the more justly since it is they who raise, sustain, and move forward the weight of the entire body. (John of Salisbury, trans. Dickinson 65) Return

4 Brinton’s sermon 28 connects the mystical body of the Church to the body politic:

Huius mistice corporis multa sunt membra, quia capita sunt reges, principes, et prelati; oculi sunt iudices sapientes et veraces consiliarii; aures sunt religiosi; lingua doctores boni; manus dextra sunt milites ad defendendum parati; manus sinistra sunt mercatores et fideles mechanici; cor sunt ciues et burgenses quasi in medio positi; pedes sunt agricole et laborantes quasi totum corpus firmiter supportantes. (111)

Of this mystical body there are many members, for kings, princes, and prelates are at the head; the eyes are wise judges and true counselors; the ears are the clergy; the tongue is made up of teachers; the right hand is made up of knights prepared to protect; the left hand is made up of merchants and conscientious craftsmen; the heart, in the central position, is made up of citizens and burgesses; the feet, which firmly support the whole body, are peasants and laborers.

See also the discussion of Brinton’s sermon in Strohm 3-5. Return.

5 All references are to Smithers’ edition of Havelok. I have silently amended the Middle English thorn to "th." Return.

6 Bits of the Middle English Havelok are also extant in Camb. Univ. Add. 4407, fragments d, e, g. See Dunn 22, 211. Return.

7 Smithers includes a detailed discussion of the other extant versions of the Havelok story in the introduction to his edition of the poem; see Havelok xvi-lvi. Bradbury has argued, in an article and more expansively in a book chapter, in favor of giving greater weight to local legend, which would have been orally transmitted, as a source of the Middle English version. Return.

8 See also Liuzza, who, in making an argument about the poem’s strategies for involving its audience emotionally in the story, observes that Havelok’s vulnerability and suffering, especially as a boy at the hand of the evil Godard, serve "to draw the audience into the emotional matrix of the story" and that the "terror [of the sisters’ deaths] resonates in the reader’s heart as it obviously does in Havelok’s" (513). Return.

9 The central inconsistencies have to do with the motivation for the attack and the identity of the attackers. In the Anglo-Norman Lai d’Haveloc, for instance, the attackers are men of Sigar (Ubbe in the Middle English) who intend to rape Argentille (Goldboru in the Middle English). In the Middle English poem, the attack is aimed instead at Bernard Brun (though there are nonetheless several references to Goldboru’s dangerous feminine allure) and the attackers are variously identified as "laddes" (1768, 1787, 1842, 1862, 1875, 1898, 2028) or "theues" (1781, 1957, 2005), but also as more than sixty of Ubbe’s "sergaunz, the best that mithen gon" (1930). Weiss attributes the inconsistencies to the intentional reduction of Goldboru’s role in the Middle English: "The writer’s wish to diminish her part may well explain the contradictory and confused motivation given for the attack on Havelok by the thieves" (254). Bradbury sees in the contradictions evidence of the episode’s origins in local legend, where the attack might have been orchestrated by Ubbe as a test of Havelok ("Traditional Origins" 133-39). Mills attributes the discontinuities in the episode to its interpolation of structure and incident from the thirteenth-century French romance Richars Li Biaus, which also has a hero with "a miraculous light in his face and a cruciform birthmark" (26). Return.

10 Purdon discusses the poem’s careful treatment of the rites that symbolically determine relations between the king and his people, noting that the rite of vassalage must include "the initial element of homage"–what the poem calls "manrede"–if it is "not only [to] protect against depredation, malfeasance, and misappropriation of wealth and power, but [. . .] also [to] insure a social and political cohesiveness, providing a foundation for the establishment of a kingdom of vassals" (35). Return.

11 In "Style," Smithers discusses Havelok’s affinities with medieval epic, while Baugh discusses the poem’s romance conventionality (see especially Baugh’s Appendix 440-54). Return.

12 See Melinkoff for a discussion of the tradition of the backward ride. Although the punishments of Godrich and Godard seem to be designed for a cumulative effect, critics have been willing to evaluate variously the comparative harshness that the traitors meet. Weiss judges that "Godard’s punishment is crueller" (248), while Staines pronounces that "Godrich receives a more severe sentence" (619). Return.

13 The claim that Havelok is a "peasant fantasy" was made by Halverson (149-50). The point raised by Levine, that it would be "useful to ask who was interested in producing and distributing ‘peasant fantasies’" (99), is a particularly salient one. Likewise, Hirsh suggests that the poem shows "not so much what the lower classes thought of the upper as what the upper classes liked to think the lower classes thought of them" (343). Staines argues that the poem presents "a warning to the thirteenth-century English monarchy of the needs and the demands of the lower classes" (602). Stuart goes even further, arguing that "we should not discount the possibility that the poem’s author was somehow connected with the Crown [i.e., Edward I]" (364).Return.


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Updated 9/30/02