A tale of Wade: The Anglo-Saxon origin myth in an East Saxon setting
Phillip Heath-Coleman (Independent Scholar)
The Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe Issue 15 (October 2012)
In his De Nugis Curialium , written towards the end of the twelfth century, Walter Map relates a curious tale set in Colchester which tells how “King Offa” is treacherously besieged in Colchester by the “Emperor of Rome” after wedding the latter’s daughter, but is saved by the appearance (in fantastic circumstances) of his friend Gado (Map De Nugis Curialium).
A certain Gado, son of a king of the Vandals, from love of adventure leaves his home as a boy and wanders through the world redressing wrongs. At last he comes to the court of King Offa who has just married the daughter of the Roman emperor. On their return home the Roman guests urge an attack on Offa, but the Romans are deterred by fear of his friend Gado. But when Gado has been called off to the Indies the Romans send a mighty army and refuse all Offa’s terms for peace. In the meantime Gado, having completed his task, is returning home when his ship, much against his will, carries him to Colchester. He greets Offa there, and accompanied by a hundred chosen knights goes to the headquarters of the Romans in an attempt to make peace but is repulsed. Thereupon he arrays the English forces, placing Offa with the main body in the market-place of the town, Offa’s nephew Suanus with five hundred men at one gate, and himself with a hundred men at the other. The Romans avoid Gado and concentrate their attacks on Suanus who, at the third assault, appeals for help. Gado refuses, but as Suanus prepares for the third attack, commands him to fall back. The enemy rush in and are met by Offa in the market place, whilst their retreat is cut off by Gado. A great slaughter of the Romans follows until quarter is offered to the survivors, who return to Rome with their dead.
In the past Walter Map’s tale of Gado (“De gradone milite strenuissimo”) has aroused scholarly interest by virtue of the fact that it is the only surviving insular narrative of any substance to describe an exploit of the otherwise shadowy Germanic hero, Wade (OE Wada), of whose name Gado is a Latinised form.
Want more medieval? Take a look at our digital magazine – The Medievalverse – Click here to see our latest issues