Read Part I here if you have not already done so.
The story of Ingeld and Freawaru
From Beowulf, we know:
—Ingeld married Freawaru, who was a daughter of Hroðgar.
—Ingeld was a Heaðobard, son of Froda who was killed by the Danes, when a Wiðergyld is killed on the battlefield.
—An old warrior provokes Ingeld with memories of his defeat by Freawaru’s father.
—The ‘noble sons of the Danes’ are splendidly entertained. One of Freawaru’s thanes is killed, “because of the father’s deeds”. Possibly he was the son of the killer of Froda or of Wiðergyld, but more likely it is her father, the king. The other of her two thanes escapes, because he knows the land.
—Ingeld’s love for his wife cools.
From Widsith, we know:
—Ingeld was defeated by the Danes Hroðgar and Hroðulf at Heorot. We don’t know if he outlived the battle, although the wording of the poem suggests this.
—From the Gesta Danorum, we learn:
—The Danish king Frotho (Froda) was killed through treachery by a Saxon named Swerting (Swertingus), who also dies. (This treachery is not part of the AS tradition.)
—Frotho’s son Ingeld (Ingellus) became King and lived a life of gluttony, marrying one of Swerting’s daughters, given to him as a peace offering by Swerting’s sons.
—As Ingeld continued his sinful life and did not do his duty to avenge his father, the old hero Starkad appeared during a banquet that Ingeld had with the sons of Swerting, his father’s slayer. Starkad strongly admonished Ingeld and humiliated his queen who tried to calm Starkad with kindness and gifts.
—Starkad succeeded in inciting Ingeld to kill Swerting’s sons and thereafter suggested he divorce his Saxon bride “lest the she-wolf bring forth a litter like herself, and a beast spring from thee that shall hurt its own father.” However, tradition has it that he in fact had 4 sons with her. This implies that he went back to her.
Here Swerting occupies the place of Hroðgar and the brothers the place of the thanes. The sons have been added – in the English story they are not required, the father Hroðgar being still alive. In Beowulf her brothers are named and are already fated to be killed by Hroðulf. (Note the name Swerting occurs in Beowulf as an ancestor of Beowulf’s mother.)
The Exeter Book Elegies
—The unnamed couple were happy together and swore to stay together forever. Then her husband goes away (no reason given).
—She goes looking for support (of her own accord?)
—Relatives plot to keep them apart
—He stops loving her (when?)
—He tells her to live somewhere in the place where she had few kin. Where is this place?
http://www.english.ox.ac.uk/oecoursepack/wifeslament/notes/note15a-15b.html explains the issue thus:
‘min herheard niman’ – A major crux. The scribe wrote min her heard niman. Most editors, including ASPR and M-R, override his word division and print min herheard niman, and translate ‘take up abode in a herh’, defining herh as ‘grove, pagan shrine or sanctuary’. Leslie and Muir read min her eard niman, ‘take up abode’. Finally, Klinck takes her as an adverb and heard as an adjective, translating ‘my lord commanded, cruel, to seize me here’.
While the reading herheard is plausible, and the idea of a grove/temple fits the description, there are a few reasons against it:
The compound is not found elsewhere.
The verb niman doesn’t really mean live in, it means take, receive. It can mean ‘take up’ in the sense of ‘occupy’ when referring to a noun representing a position. Note that, unlike eard, herheard couldn’t really be the object of niman, unless it really means “sanctuary”. Examples of this use from B-T:
eard, wintersetl , setl, wicstowa niman
Perhaps the whole phrase is a scribal error for min in herhe eard niman, with the errors caused by the repeat of the letters ‘in’ and ‘e’. Accordingly, while I believe it is better to read her eard niman, it is not safe to draw any conclusions from the presence of the word her. However, on either reading, the place her lord orders her to stay in and the grove are in the same place, either because her is where she is now, or because herh = (later) bearu.
She is living in a sacred grove under an oak tree. This tree may present us with a connection with The Husband’s Message (see below).
—He goes into exile (or he comes back and she curses him from her exile)
Here we confront the difficult question of the meaning of the final lines. Are they a curse, or do they express sympathy with the husband’s current plight? Niles makes out a powerful case that this is a curse. The trio of subjunctives scyle … sy … sy could certainly be optatives and þæt could introduce a clause of result. But why does she call him geong mon and why does she say that he habban sceal bliþe gebæro? These make it look like she feels sorry for him. And the next phrase isn’t grammatically a clause of result but a statement of fact:
Dreogeð se min wine
micle modceare; he gemon to oft
Her friend is very unhappy and misses his happy home.
Wa bið þam þe sceal
of langoþe leofes abidan.
And this is a general statement about separated lovers which applies to both of them. If he hates her and she is cursing him, it makes no sense.
In any case, the whole thing seems too weak to be a curse. Why doesn’t she wish he’d drop dead or something really nasty? Thorpe for one translated this as a series of questions and maybe he was onto something, even though he misconstrued the identity of the speaker.
With Thorpe, I read these passages as “must the young man forever….?” “will he always be…?”
As this is not a curse, it must be a description of the husband’s current situtation.
The geong mon is geomormod, heard heortan geþoht, suffers from breostceare, sinsorgna gedreag, is æt him sylfum gelong eal his worulde wyn, is ful wide fah feorres folclondes, he siteð under stanhliþe storme behrimed, is werigmod, wætre beflowen on dreorsele. He suffers micle modceare and remembers too often the wynlicran wic.
This is almost verbatim the situation in lines 1-32 of The Seafarer, which perhaps paint his exile experience. For example:
hu ic earmcearig iscealdne sæ
winter wunade wræccan lastum,
The Seafarer seems to many observers to be a composite, however well articulated. It has been thought that a later christian addition begins at line 64b. But there is also a clear change at line 32, where the speaker starts to speak of the lure of the sea in a positive way. In the first part, the speaker, an exile (wræccan lastum), experiences bitre breostceare and is clearly not happy at all. Dorothy Whitelock, in the introduction to the piece in Sweet’s AS Reader alludes to the possibility of a dialogue between two different sailors, presumably an attempt to deal with the same difficulty. Perhaps the first part was borrowed from the Ingeld story.
The Husband’s Message
—The unnamed couple ruled together and promised never to part
þenden git moston on meoduburgum
eard weardigan, an lond bugan
(“while you two could live in the royal compound, rule the country, live in one land”)
—He had to go away because of a feud (Hine fæhþo adraf of sigeþeode)
—He knows where she is. We have no reason to believe she lives anywhere strange, but it is significant that she can hear the cuckoo singing “in the grove”. The reference to the runes being caved in a ‘tree’ could also match the oak tree in the grove in TWL.
—He has overcome his problems and has established a new life somewhere else.
Now he sends a secret message telling her to join him. Why and from whom is it secret?
—She gets a runic message written on a “tree”. The poem as it now stands is now a puzzle and the answer seems to be that the words are written on the mast of a ship. But originally, the runes could have been written on the oak tree which grows over the caves in her grove.
Note that if the runes of the husband’s message are on the mast of a ship, then she must be near a harbour.
Also, if the message is part of a ship, or the messenger has travelled extensively on ships, then the husband may have done a lot of seafaring, which matches the picture of waterlogged exile in TWL and the Seafarer.
Are the stories compatible?
All the stories are generally compatible with each other, in that we have a couple who live together happily and are then separated with the man going away.
But at first sight there are some minor difficulties.
In WL the husband first goes away and the relatives then start to plot against them, while in B-S the plot happens while the husband is at home.
ærest min hlaford gewat heonan of leodum ofer yþa gelac
ongunnon þæt þæs monnes magas hycgan …. þæt hy todælden unc
The word ærest makes it look like his departure was the start of all the problems. But these passages are actually describing the stages of her wræcsiþe. Which started when her lord left and she had to go looking for support. Any other unpleasantness, including the killing of her thanes, isn’t actually part of her exile. So from the wife’s POV, there are two plots of the relatives – first to restart the feud and second, to send her away. She only mentions the second.
Next, the two stories might differ as to when he stopped loving her. In Beowulf it must be pretty soon after he kills her thane. In TWL she says:
Bliþe gebæro ful oft wit beotedan
þæt unc ne gedælde nemne deað ana
owiht elles; eft is þæt onhworfen,
is nu …… swa hit no wære
freondscipe uncer. Sceal ic feor ge neah
mines felaleofan fæhðu dreogan.
The issue is when do we place the start of ‘eft’ when the friendship was changed? We know it continues up to today (is nu). But feor ge neah seems to imply that he stopped loving her when they were still together (neah), or perhaps only that even if she was with him he would hate her.
‘Eft‘ is completely non-specific in this regard, and could refer back to the time he went away. In this case the sequences can be made to match.
When was she ordered to move? In the Saxo story, it seems she is to be sent away immediately and this seems implied in Beowulf. In TWL there are two mentions of orders to move. However, on either reading of herheard niman the two moves are the same. Either her in the first move refers to where she is now, or the herh refers to the later bearu.
In addition, when the speaker’s lord is gone, she seeks folgað, which may mean support at another court, looking for her own supporters, or even her own lord’s retinue. Maybe she was looking for her escaped thane and his men. How this fits in with the order to move to the sacred grove is not clear. But presumably she only ends up in the grove when her quest is unsuccessful. If her husband is still in exile, then he must have sent a message to her or to his kin. Perhaps becoming a priestess in the sacred grove was the best he could come up with to save her.
The current situation in TWL could correspond to the position after Ingeld’s defeat by Hroðgar and Hroðulf, where the killing of the thanes is ancient history, but the repudiation continues. If the final section is not a curse, then the young husband (this fits) is in exile, a very damp one.
Perhaps lines 1-32 of The Seafarer paint his exile experience. However this passage, if included, adds nothing to the structure of the story.
The story in The Husband’s Message is also compatible on the face of it.
The opening lines where the riddling speaker speaks of his childhood would most likely have been added later to frame the piece. In this regard, it is perhaps no accident that line 13 in the MS starts with a large initial letter and the word hwæt, which often starts a poem. However, the lines back to line 5b present no narrative shift. Either lines 5 to 12 have been so written to ease the transition, or the large initial may be mere coincidence. The husband had to leave his people because of a feud. The natural meaning of this is that he was feuding with someone in his country. But it could also mean that he had to leave and fight the Danes and lost, never coming back. At least a feud is mentioned here, unlike in TWL. If the riddle frame is a later addition, the original significance of the beam would have been the oak tree growing over the caves.
Putting the Pieces Together:
The speaker in The Wife’s Lament is Freawaru. She is the daughter of the Hroðgar, King of the Danes, given in marriage to Ingeld the Heaðobard, whose father was killed in battle by the Danes, together with the hero Wiðergyld .
Things go well for a while in the Heaðobard court, until Ingeld, provoked by an old warrior from among his own followers, kills one of Freawaru’s thanes. He then leaves his wife behind and goes off to fight the Danes, by whom he is defeated and subsequently goes into exile. During his exile he is a seafarer for at least part of the time.
Meanwhile Freawaru goes looking for supporters, but finds none. Ingeld, from his exile organises for her to live in the sacred grove, where she will be safe from his kin, in the same way as later cast-off queens were sent to a nunnery. She lives in a cave under an oak tree.
The story is completed in The Husband’s Message, with Ingeld sending Freawaru a secret message carved in runes on the oak tree in the grove. The message is encoded because he doesn’t want his kin to find out. He has overcome his troubles and established himself somewhere safe from the Danes. When the cuckoo sings in the grove, marking spring, she is to sail south and rejoin him.