The Wake

By Paul Kingsnorth

A post-apocalyptic novel set in 1066

Wednesday, 21 November 2012


This is the second appendix to the novel: the first, on the book's language, can be found below, in another post. This one explains the story's historical context, and lists the sources consulted in the process of researching it.


A note on history

The Norman invasion and occupation of England was probably the most catastrophic single event in this nation’s history. It brought slaughter, famine, scorched-earth warfare, slavery and widespread land confiscation to the English population, along with a new ruling class who had, in many cases, little but contempt for their new subjects. It wasn’t until 1399, over three centuries after Duke Guillaume of Normandy (his name later Anglicised to William and glorified by the appelation ‘conqueror’), that England again had a king who spoke English as his first language.

The cataclysm of 1066 sparked nearly a decade of risings, rebellions and guerrilla warfare across the country, as populations in north and south struggled unsuccessfully to repel the invaders. This resistance finds contemporary parallels in the struggles of the Viet Cong against the US army or the French against the Nazis, yet today the English are remarkably ignorant of this period of our history. This is all the more regrettable as the effects of Guillaume’s invasion are still with us. In 21st century Britain, 70% of the land is still owned by less than 1% of the population; the second most unequal rate of land ownership on the planet, after Brazil. It is questionable whether this would be the case had the Normans not concentrated all of it in the hands of the king and his cronies nearly 1000 years ago.

Other Norman legacies remain with us too, or have only recently been purged from our society. Hereditary monarchy, the ‘ownership’ of a wife by her husband, the inheritance of land and titles by the first-born son, the legal ownership of all land by the monarch: all are Norman introductions. Historians today tend to sniff at the old idea of the ‘Norman Yoke.’ History, like any academic discipline, has its fashions. In my view the Yoke was very real, and echoes of it can still be found today.

Though any resemblance between most of this book’s characters and any person living or (more likely) dead is coincidental, the narrative is hung carefully on the known facts about the history of the period and the religion and mythology of the Old English. The green men are not a fiction, and Buccmaster’s tale is built around the known timeline of post-1066 resistance to the Norman occupation. Events like the northern rebellion of 1068, the rebellions of Eadric and Hereward and the construction of the castles were all realities. The various instances of atrocities committed against the English by the Normans are either taken from or are in keeping with contemporary reports.

There are, however, three deliberate historical anomalies in the text (I leave it to readers to spot the accidental ones.)

The first is Buccmaster’s name: it is not an Old English name. But it came to me and refused to yield to anything more historically correct, and so, it stays.

The second anomoly is the allusion to the word wake (wacan or waecnan, meaning awake, or to become awake) in reference to Hereward, leader of the Ely resistance, who is popularly referred to today as Hereward the Wake. While Hereward was certainly real, as is the tale of his remarkable last-ditch stand against the Norman king, there is no evidence that this nickname was. ‘Hereward the Wake’  does not appear in any contemporary records; the name appears to have surfaced late in the twelfth century, when the Wake family of Lincolnshire began claiming ancestry from Hereward, and it was later popularised by Charles Kingsley’s patriotic Victorian novel Hereward The Wake. Novelists can do that sort of thing.

The third and final anomaly is the timing of the kidnap of Bishop Turold. Unlike the other speaking characters in this novel, Turold was a genuine historical figure, and his kidnap and eventual ransom is said to have occurred (it was claimed for Hereward and his men) in 1070. I have taken the liberty of bringing it forward two years, along with his accession to the bishopric of Peterborough. Since historians seem to agree that the kidnap tale is of dubious veracity in any case, I consider this to be merely a continuation of the original storyteller’s artistic licence.

I swam through a deop mere of books and articles in piecing this tale together, as well as as spending time tramping and mapping the fens, and exploring their landscape. Key among the written sources were Peter Rex’s The English Resistance, and his companion volume Hereward: the last Englishman. For the myths and religious beliefs of the pre-Christian English, I looked to the two Brians, Branston and Bates, whose The Lost Gods of England and The Way of Wyrd were invaluable. In developing the language of the novel, I referred extensively to Stephen Pollington’s Wordcraft, J.R. Clark Hall’s A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary and Douglas Harper’s Online Etymology Dictionary (

A full source list follows for those who want to explore further. Naturally any errors which remain in this book after all this digging are mine alone.




Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
Chronicle of Battle Abbey
Domesday Book
Gesta Herewardi
Liber Eliensis

Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People.
Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain.
Hugh Candidus, Peterborough Chronicle.
Orderic Vitalis, Ecclesiastical History.
Simeon of Durham, History of the Kings.
William of Malmesbury, Deeds of the Kings of the English. 


Astbury, A. K., The Black Fens. London, 1958.
Atherton, M., Old English. London, 2006
Barlow, F., The English Church 1000 – 1066. London, 1963.
Bates, B., The Way of Wyrd. London, 2004.
Branston, B., The Lost Gods of England. London, 1957.
Cantor, L. (ed), The English Medieval Landscape. London, 1982
Clanchy, C., From Memory to Written Record: England 1066 – 1307. London, 1993.
Clark Hall, J. R., A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. Cambridge 1960.
Darby H. C., The Medieval Fenland. Cambridge, 1940.
English Companions, The, Members Handbook. Leek, 1998.
Faith, R., The English Peasantry and the Growth of Lordship. Leicester, 1999.
Frazer and Tyrell (eds), Social Identity in Early Medieval Britain. London, 2000.
Griffiths, B., Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Magic. Swaffham, 1986.
Hare, R., Without Conscience. New York, 1993.
Hadley, D. M., The Northern Danelaw: its social structure, c.800-1100 AD. Leicester, 2000.
Harper, Douglas, Online Etymology Dictionary., 2001 – 2012
Hill, D., Atlas of Anglo-Saxon England. Toronto, 1981.
Hill, P., The Anglo-Saxons: the verdict of history. Stroud, 2006.
Hooke, D., The Landscape of Anglo-Saxon England. Leicester, 1998.
Lees, C. and Overing, G., A Place To Believe In: locating medieval landscapes. Philadelphia, 2006.
Leyser, H., Medieval Women: a social history of women in England 450-1500. London, 2005.
Millar, R., The Green Man. Seaford, 1997.
Myers, J. N. L., The English Settlements. Oxford 1986.
Owen-Crocker, G., Dress in Anglo-Saxon England. Manchester, 1986.
Owen-Crocker, G., Rites and Religions of the Anglo-Saxons. Newton Abbot and Totowa, 1981
Pelteret, D., Slavery in Early Medieval England. New York, 1995.
Pollington, S., Anglo-Saxon FAQs. Swaffham, 2008.
Pollington, S., Leechcraft: Early English charms, plantlore and healing. Swaffham, 2008.
Pollington, S., Wordcraft. Swaffham, 2006.
Rathbone, J., The Last English King. London, 1998.
Rex, P., Hereward: the last Englishman. Stroud, 2007.
Rex, P., The English Resistance. Stroud, 2004.
Reynolds, A., Later Anglo-Saxon England. Stroud, 2002
Samson, R., Social Approaches to Viking Studies. London, 1991.
Shadrake, D. and S., Barbarian Warriors. London, 1997.
Stenton, F,. Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford, 1971.
Stenton, F,. The Free Peasantry of the Northern Danelaw. Oxford, 1969.
Thomas, H. M., The English and the Normans: Ethnic hostility, assimilation and identity 1066 - c.1220. Oxford. 2005.
Ward, J., Women in England in the Middle Ages. London, 2006.
Wilson, D. M., Anglo-Saxon Art from the Seventh Century to the Norman Conquest. London, 1984.
Williams, A., The English and the Norman Conquest. London, 2000.
Wood, M., Domesday: a search for the roots of England. London, 1987
Wood, M., In Search of England. London, 2000.


Abels, R., ‘Interpretations: bookland and fyrd service in late-Saxon England’, Morillo, S. (ed), The Battle of Hastings : sources and interpretations. New York, 1996.
Briggs, A., ‘Saxons, Normans and Victorians’. Hastings and Bexhill Historical Association Lecture, 1966.
English Companions, The, Widowinde. Ongoing.
Frank, R., ‘Viking atrocity and Skaldic verse: The Rite of the Blood-Eagle’, English Historical Review XCIX, 1984.
Hill, C., ‘The Norman Yoke’, Puritanism and Revolution. London, 1958.
Horsman, R., ‘Origins of racial Anglo-Saxonism in Great Britain before 1850’, Journal of the History of Ideas 37, 1976.
Reynolds, S., ‘Eadric Silvaticus and the English Resistance’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 54, 1981.
Vann, R. T., ‘The free Anglo-Saxons: a historical myth’, Journal of the History of Ideas 19, 1958.
Wormald, P., ‘Engla Lond: the making of an alleigance’, Journal of Historical Sociology 7, 1994.
Young, M., ‘History as myth: Kingsley’s Hereward The Wake’, in Studies in the Novel, Vol. 17, 1985.


Battle Abbey and battlefield, West Sussex.
Bayeux Tapestry, Bayeux, France.
Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire.
Greensted Anglo-Saxon church, Essex.
The Staffordshire Hoard.
Waltham Abbey, Essex.
West Stow Anglo-Saxon village, Suffolk.
Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve, Cambridgeshire.

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