Home » Less-known English myths and legends
English myths and legends

Less-known English myths and legends

Some English myths and legends don’t become as popular as others and are forgotten to time or simply not told as often. English culture has some of the most famous legends known around the world. From King Arthur and Robin Hood to mystical druids and fairies. Here are a few less popular English myths and legends.

Havelok the Dane

Among the less popular English myths and legends, we may count Havelok the Dane. His story is quite an interesting one and it deserves more attention.

In England, King Athelwod dies with no male successor, only a young daughter, Goldborow. Godrich, Earl of Cornwall, promised to rule in her stead and find her the highest man in the kingdom as a husband. But Godrich betrayed his vow and imprisoned the young girl in a tower in Dover.

In Denmark, king Birkbein dies. He leaves behind his two daughters and a three-year-old son named Havelok, in the care of the regent Godard. The regent too betrays his promise, kills the two girls, and sends Havelok to a fisherman to drown him. 

The fisherman saw a bright light coming out of the boy’s mouth as he slept and a cross-shaped birthmark on his shoulder. This supposedly confirms that Havelok was the rightful heir to the throne.

The fisherman runs to England and settles in the town of Grimsby with his family. Havelok grew up and amassed enormous strength and size with a great appetite. 

During a famine they were struggling, so Havelok decided to leave and sustain himself. He walked barefoot to Lincoln, where he found a job with a cook in a noble home.

At a festival, Havelok participated in a stone-throwing competition, and Godrich noticed him.

The youth’s height is what Godrich believed to be a literal fulfillment of the vow to marry Goldborow to the “highest” man in the kingdom. Believing the boy to be a peasant, he will thus deprive her of the inheritance. 

Threatened by Godrich, Havelok agrees to marry Goldborow, and on their wedding night, she sees the light coming from his mouth, while he has prophetic dreams about embracing the Danish land and people. Realizing who he actually is, the two take Denmark back together and England’s throne after. 

Hereward the Wake

English myths and legends tend to crop up more in patriotic stories but there are so many that we forget some. One such legend follows Hereward the Wake and his less popular contribution to mythology.

Hereward was an Anglo-Saxon nobleman whose parentage is uncertain. Scholars possibly believe he’s the son of lady Godiva and Leofric, Earl of Mercia. Or the son of Edith, a descendant of Olsac of York and Leofric of Bourne, nephew of Ralph the Staller. 

Even though the exact parentage of Hereward is unknown, he remains a figure of English folklore. The resistance against the Norman Conquest of William the Conqueror comes to mind with his name. His father reportedly exiled Hereward for his disobedience and unruly behavior.

Many outlandish stories cropped up about Hereward during his exile . Such as a fight with a bear, an unwanted marriage, and the rescue of a Cornish princess. 

He took up the mantle of mercenary in his exile, and participated in conflicts and tournaments. At the time of the Norman invasion, Hereward was still in exile working as a mercenary.

When he returned he found that his family’s lands were now under the rule of the Normans. He enacted revenge on the Normans who killed his brother. Soon after, he went to Peterborough Abbey to become a knight.

Hereward then joined an army led by Morcar, the Saxon former Earl of Northumbria, ousted by William. In opposition William also sent an army to deal with the rebels, and pushed their retreat to the Isle of Ely, a predominantly marshland.

At the stronghold in Ely, again there have been speculations about Hereward’s deeds. From sneaking into the enemy camp to spy, disguised as a potter, to the Normans attempts at scaring them with a witch atop a wooden tower. Hereward burnt it with the witch still inside. 

William managed to take the Isle of Ely with betrayal. He bribed monks to show them a safe passage through the marshes. This led to Morcar’s capture and Hereward’s escape into the wild fenlands, where he continued his resistance. 

After the fall of Ely, there are many contradictions regarding the end of Hereward’s story. He might have been captured, pardoned by William, gone into exile once more, or killed by Norman knights. His existence in history is not one that has ever been put into question, the life he had, though, falls in the realm of legend sometimes. 

Drake’s Drum

Sir Francis Drake was a sea captain in Elizabethan times and carried out the second circumnavigation of the world. On this trip, he took with him a snare drum decorated with his coat of arms. 

As he lay dying, off the coast of Panama, he asked that his drum be returned to his family. The drum reached his family at Buckland Abbey. He vowed to come to the rescue of his country if ever it found itself in danger. Someone would have to beat the drum to “conjure” him. 

It is an English take on the King asleep in the mountain tale. Legend states that people have heard drums at critical moments in Britain’s history. Some say they heard the drum when Napoleon arrived as a prisoner at Plymouth Harbor. Others said they heard it in 1914 when WWI began, and during the Dunkirk evacuation. 

Drake’s drum has made its way into literature. Stories and poems use it, cementing its way into folklore and gaining cultural value.  

The Pedlar of Swaffham

A peddler from Swafftham dreamt of going to London Bridge to simply stand on it. He believed he would receive wonderful news there. So after thinking it over a few times, he decided to indeed attempt this. He arrived at London Bridge and stood there for two maybe three days, looking around and expecting his good news. 

Nothing came through, until one day a shopkeeper went up to the peddler, after having seen him there pointlessly walking and looking around the past few days. The shopkeeper asked what was the nature of his stay on the bridge since he neither sold wares nor asked for alms. After the peddler told him about his dream of receiving good news there, the shopkeeper laughed in his face at his folly, to have taken up such a journey for nothing. 

The shopkeeper then proceeded to tell him about his own dream, about a certain place called Swaffham, where he believed that behind a peddler’s house, in a particular orchard, at the foot of an oak tree he could find buried treasure. The shopkeeper told him how silly it would be for him to go searching for that treasure merely on the basis of a dream. So his advice to the pedlar is to go home. 

Which indeed he went back to Swaffham and found the treasure behind his house in the orchard under the great oak tree. His dream came true and the pedlar became rich. 

The green children of Woolpit

Two children, brother, and sister found their way near the village of Woolpit, one day during harvest season. They were found in a wolf pit.  What was bizarre about this is that they both had unusual green skin, spoke an entirely unknown language, wore strange clothes, and refused to eat any food given to them, except raw broad beans. 

They slowly adapted to eating regular food, and in doing so began to lose their green-tinted skin. Soon after their baptism the boy became very sick and died. The girl learned to speak English and said that she and her brother were from a land where the sun did not shine as brightly, a land of twilight where everything was green. This land she said was called St Martin’s Land. They got lost herding cattle and picked up the sound of the church bell in Woolpit where they arrived soon after by the wolf pit. 

The girl was named Agnes and she married a man named Richard Barre. 

As far as legends go this one sounds fantastical to its core and many agree that it probably originated from folklore, or was a true account of something that happened but told in a distorted fashion. 

Post navigation

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *