Old Men at Pevensey

These notes are based on those written by Donald Mackenzie for the OXFORD WORLD’S CLASSICS edition of Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies (1995) with the kind permission of Oxford University Press. Except where stated otherwise, the page numbers below refer to the Macmillan Uniform Edition of Rewards and Fairies (1910, and frequently reprinted since).


This story was first published in the Strand Magazine of April 1906, and the Ladies’ Home Journal for the same month. It was collected in Puck of Pook’s Hill in 1906 and in numerous subsequent editions of that collection. It was accompanied by the poem “The Runes on Weland’s Sword “.

Historical Background

Henry, youngest of William the Conqueror’s sons, succeeded to the throne of England on 5 August 1100, three days after the death of William Rufus (see the note to ‘The Knights of the Joyous Venture”). Their elder brother, Duke Robert Curthose, who had inherited Normandy, invaded England to claim the throne. Several of the leading barons defected to him (see notes below), but Henry, supported by a number of his barons, most of them Anglo-Saxons, and Archbishop Anselm, achieved a settlement by which Robert relinquished his claims in England, receiving Henry’s Norman territories in exchange.

Robert’s subsequent misrule in Normandy gave Henry a justification for invading the duchy and reuniting his father’s dominions under one ruler. Robert’s army was routed at Tinchebrai, south-western Normandy, in 1106, and he himself captured and kept prisoner for the rest of his life.

The story

Richard and Hugh are living with De Aquila at Pevensey Castle, guarding the gateway of England. It is a time of great tension and danger, and De Aquila is in a state of high alert against the danger of an invasion by Robert of Normany. Then, as a result of a plot, De Aquila is summoned away from Pevensey to the King’s camp. But he detects the plot, seizes the messenger, Fulke, a treacherous baron, and forces him to have the order countermanded. Robert is foiled and England is safe.

Notes on the Text

[Page 106, line 16] an English wife Matilda, a Scottish princess and of the Anglo-Saxon royal line.

[Page 106, line 26] Odo older son of William the Conqueror’s mother, by Herluin of Conteville. He received the bishopric of Bayeux from his half-brother William at the age of 13, fought prominently at Hastings, and was a leading figure in the government of England for much of William’s reign. After the Conqueror’s death he was at the centre of the conspiracy to depose William Rufus. Defeated by the latter, he fled to his brother Robert of Mortain at Pevensey, but was forced to surrender after a six-week siege (April-June 1088) and, eventually, to leave England.

[Page 107, line 31] a well in the thickness of the wall As Kipling mentions in Something of Myself (Page 189, line 13) he had imagined that there must have been such a well in Pevensey Castle, and was delighted when the remains of one were later discovered. [See William R. Power, “Pevensey Castle and Puck”, Kipling Journal, September 1935 pp.85-86.]

[Page 109, line 12] with hawk and with hound A knight would ride out for sport with his hawk on his wrist, for birds, and his hounds at his heel for game such as hares or rabbits.

[Page 109, line 26] jongleurs itinerant minstrels who sang and composed ballads, told stories, and otherwise entertained.

[Page 109, line 27] sutlers camp followers selling provisions to soldiers.

[Page 110, line 27] shield mark In the Middle Ages, to identify armoured knights in battle, they would bear a device on their shields or banners or surcoats. These ‘bearings’ were jealously guarded and handed down from father to son.

[Page 111, line 20] Battle Abbey on the eve of Hastings, William vowed, if successful, to build an abbey on the site of his victory. It was consecrated in 1094.

[Page 111, line 25] penner case or sheath for pens, carried at the girdle.

[Page 112, line 30] Cerdic fifth-century founder of the kingdom of the West Saxons.

[Page 112, line 30] Lady of Mercia daughter of Alfred the Great. She united with her brother, King Edward the Elder, in recovering the whole of Mercia, East Anglia, and Essex (the English Midlands and Eastern Counties) from Danish control; described in Freeman [History of the Norman Conquest (1867-79) i. 54] as ‘her brother’s close ally rather than his sister’.

[Page 117, line 22] Sacristan The sacristan was formally responsible for keeping the sacred vessels and vestments of a church or religious house. In an Abbey he was an authoritative figure, sometimes second only to the Abbott.

[Page 118, line 20] Mortain Count Robert Mortain, brother and ally of Odo.

[Page 119, line 27] ‘We Barons follow the Church, and, like Anselm…’ Anselm, one of the greatest medieval philosopher-theologians, had been Archbishop of Canterbury since 1093. Involved in controversy with William Rufus over the right or otherwise of a secular ruler to invest ecclesiastical authorities with the symbols of office, he left England in 1095. Recalled by Henry at the beginning of his reign, he continued to uphold his position in the investiture controversy and was exiled again from 1103 to 1106.

[Page 120, line 20] fisk to move briskly, to scamper about.

[Page 120, line 21] flyte to contend, to strive.

[Page 121, line 10] Wheatears These were little birds, not ears of wheat.

[Page 125, line 21] Tours An important city in central France, south-west of Paris on the river Loire.

[Page 125, line 29] the Dane’s King This was Canute, or Cnut, King of the Danes, who ruled England from 1016 to 1035. Legend had it that he once set his chair on the seashore and commanded the tide not to come in. He was not obeyed.

[Page 127, line 28] Angevin belonging to Anjou, a province of north-western France.

[Page 128, line 31] rood measure of land; strictly about 30 square yards, but with local and other variations.

[Page 129, line 2] one master cf. Matt. 6, 24.

[Page 133, line 4] dortoirs sleeping-rooms, especially those of a monastery.

[Page 133, line 20] The King’s Clerk One of the King’s senior officials, responsible for clerical appointments.

[Page 134, line 2] Tenchebrai A decisive battle in Normandy in 1106 at which Henry I of England defeated his brother Duke Robert of Normandy, and ended his pretensions to the English Crown.

[Page 134, line 15] ‘The Slave’s Dream’ This poem is by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1842).