Vulnerable Body of Havelok the Dane
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 Athelwolds well-ordered social realm.
Englands order is disrupted, though, by the kings death
and the dispossession, by the traitor Godrich, of the rightful heir,
Athelwolds daughter Goldboru. Only after telling of the English
disruption does the poem recount an analogous dispossession in Denmark,
Haveloks native land, where after King Birkabeyns 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 poems 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 poems 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 Haveloks 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 poems
formulation of English identity within the context of Anglo-Danish
settlement, Turville-Petres 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, Haveloks own person is central to the poems
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 Haveloks
perils within a figurative representation of the social context:
threats to the heros 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 Haveloks 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 societys
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 kings primacy of position is developed in a related model,
that involved in the political theology of "the kings
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 bodys vulnerability to injury is naturalyet 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 bodys natural vulnerability
makes possible the enactment of power relations that produce the
hierarchy of the poems 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 organizationspecifically, the hierarchy of the body
politic, with the king at the toprepresented as natural in
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. Haveloks own status
as king, obscured in social terms by Godards 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 heros story is attested
to by its survival in a number of other written versions and by
the presence of the names of the storys principals in the
town seal of Grimsby.7 The
two most substantial versionsboth Anglo-Normanthat antedate
the Middle English Havelok are Geoffrey Gaimars LEstoire
des Engleis and the Lai dHaveloc: in both these
narratives, the heros 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 "kings 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 mouthnot 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 childrens
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 poems 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
Haveloks situation and the wickedness of Godard" (xxxvi).8
But beyond the effects of pathos, the slaying of the sisters substantiates
Haveloks own peril in the face of Godards treachery.
Along with Haveloks 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 Godardand of Godrich, the corresponding
English traitorrequires 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 Grims children. These affiliations between
Havelok and non-aristocratic men demonstrate, as did the description
at the beginning of the poem of Athelwolds 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 headand 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 Haveloks 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 Grims children, an angel
appears in order to help Goldboru interpret the light that she sees
emanating from her new husbands 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 kings 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, Haveloks 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 dreamthat is, establishing Havelok in his place as a possessor
and protector, as kinginvolves 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, Haveloks body
is positioned above and outside the realms, but in the poems
three episodes of battle, Haveloks vulnerable body participates
directly in the reconfigurations of power necessary to restore Denmark
and England into a rightfully arranged order.
In combat, Haveloks 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 beginand indeed, this physical superiority is
instrumental to his marriage to Goldboru. Like his light and his
"kynemark," Haveloks 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 cooks helper, competes with great
success in a stone-putting contest against the champions gathered
for games at the time of a parliament at Lincoln. Godrichs
misreading, taking Havelok for "sum churles sone" (1093)
[some churls 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 Haveloks 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
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 hearts 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 Haveloks first
test in battle, and what John Ganim has described as the "exaggerated
scale" of the violence (30) here functions to establish Haveloks
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 Haveloks 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 poems 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. Haveloks
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 Haveloks 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 Grims 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, Haveloks
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 riskif
only, in the end, to be reaffirmedby the exigencies of armed
conflict. Moreover, Haveloks 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 Haveloks
In the poems second battle, for instance, Havelok is
not even directly involved in the fight; instead, Grims son
Robert leads the attack against Godard, the Danish traitor. Havelok
has deployed numerous men in the search for Godard, and Roberts
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
Grims sons and makes them barons. These ceremonial procedures
of loyalty and reward attest to the bonds that connect Havelok with
his followers, and Roberts central role in the fight against
Godard suggests the strength of these bonds even in the leaders
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
woundedalthough they do return, only to be killed, when he
implores their aid. Unlike the poems 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 Haveloks men and their leader substantiate
the greater strength of this political formation.
The presence of Haveloks 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 poems 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 Godrichs
hand. The injury forecloses for Godrich the possibility of performing
the relations between land and ruler epitomized in the symbolic
medium of Haveloks wedding-night dream: whereas Havelok could
hold England in his hand, the severing of Godrichs 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 Haveloks 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 Grims 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 Goldborus 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 poems 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 poems
title character can be seen as standing for the disrupted and eventually
restored social order of the kingdoms over which he reigns. Moreover,
in Haveloks 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 poems link between Haveloks body
and the body politic gains emphasis through the heros 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
poems date between 1295-1310, see Smithers, Havelok
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 Haveloks 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 Brintons 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.
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
See also the discussion of Brintons sermon in Strohm 3-5.
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.
8 See also Liuzza, who, in making an
argument about the poems strategies for involving its audience
emotionally in the story, observes that Haveloks 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 readers heart as it obviously does in Haveloks"
9 The central inconsistencies have
to do with the motivation for the attack and the identity of the
attackers. In the Anglo-Norman Lai dHaveloc, 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 Goldborus
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 Ubbes "sergaunz, the best that mithen gon"
(1930). Weiss attributes the inconsistencies to the intentional
reduction of Goldborus role in the Middle English: "The
writers 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 episodes
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 poems
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 Haveloks affinities with medieval epic, while Baugh
discusses the poems romance conventionality (see especially
Baughs 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 "Godards
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 poems author was somehow connected with
the Crown [i.e., Edward I]" (364).Return.
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