Athelwold, king of England dies, appointing Goodrich, Earl of Cornwall, regent. The treacherous Earl imprisons the young princess Goldborou and assumes total rule of England. Meanwhile, the king of Denmark also dies, entrusting his three children and his kingdom to Earl Godard. Godard likewise breaks his oath, murdering the two daughters and ordering a fisherman, Grim, to drown the son, Havelok.
Grim takes Havelok to his home, where he sees a heavenly light shining from the sleeping child’s mouth and discovers a royal birthmark on his shoulder. He realises that the child is the heir of Denmark and resolves to save him. His family flee the country, sailing his fishing boat to Lincolnshire. Grim sells fish in Lincoln, helped by Havelok who has grown as strong as four men. When famine strikes, Grim sends him to the town, where he finds work as a kitchen porter in Goodrich’s castle. He works hard and gains a reputation for being strong, handsome and popular. When Goodrich holds games at Lincoln, Havelok beats the champions at shot put and the Earl, believing him to be of low social status, decides to marry him to Goldborou. Despite her reluctance, the pair is married and returns to Grim’s house: he has died but his children welcome them.
At night, Goldborou also sees the light streaming from Havelok’s mouth and spies his birthmark. An angelic voice informs her that he will be king of England and Denmark, a prediction that is reinforced when he tells her of his own prophetic dreams. At her suggestion they travel to Denmark, taking Grim’s three sons, Robert, William and Huw, with them. [Disguised as merchants] they befriend Earl Ubbe, who invites them to his home. Fearing for the couple’s safety and Goldborou’s virtue, he lodges them with a knight, but when the house is attacked by sixty thieves, Havelok and Grim’s sons fight for the whole night.
In the morning, Ubbe arrives and surveys the carnage, before taking Havelok and Goldboru to his castle and placing them in a chamber next to his own. As they sleep, Ubbe and his men see the light and birthmark and realise that Havelok is their rightful king. They pledge their loyalty and Ubbe announces his identity to the Danish people, reminding them of Godard’s wicked deeds. He knights Havelok and the people accept him as their king, with much celebration. Godard is found and, when his men desert him, is bound and brought before Havelok. A jury decrees that he should be flayed alive, drawn through the streets and hung. This accomplished, Havelok sets sail for England, vowing to build an abbey in Grim’s honour.
When Goodrich hears that Havelok and Goldborou have landed at Grimsby, he assembles an army in Lincoln and convinces the English people that the Danes are invading. In the ensuing battle he wounds Ubbe and slays many men, but is eventually captured. The Englishmen welcome Goldborou as their queen and swear fealty to Havelok, decreeing that Goodrich should be humiliated and burnt as a traitor. Havelok marries Grim’s daughters to Earls and makes Goodrich’s cook Earl of Cornwall before travelling to London to be crowned. He entrusts Denmark to Ubbe and he and Goldborou rule England for sixty happy years. They have fifteen children, all of whom become kings and queens.
From: Donald Sands, Middle English Verse Romances. Exeter, University of Exeter Press, 1986.
Manuscript: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc. 108.
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