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Wade (folklore)

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Wade (folklore)

Wade (from the Old English Wada), is the English name for a common Germanic mythological character who, depending on location, is also known as Vadi (Norse) and Wate (Middle High German).


  • Overview 1
  • Thidrekssaga 2
  • Wades boat in Chaucer 3
    • Guingelot 3.1
  • Old English fragment of Wade 4
  • Folklore 5
  • Footnotes 6
    • Explanatory notes 6.1
    • Citations 6.2
  • References 7
    • Further reading 7.1


The earliest mention occurs in the Old English poem Widsith.[1] According to the Þiðrekssaga, he was born between king Vilkinus and a mermaid. His famous son is Wayland, and grandson Wudga. Though not explicitly given as such, Egil and Slagfin may be Wade's sons, since they are Wayland's brothers according to the Poetic Edda.[2]

The medieval English romance about Wade once existed, for Chaucer alluded to the "Tale of Wade" in one of his works, Troilus and Criseyde[3] and used the phrase "Wade's boat" (Middle English: Wades boot), meaning some sort of trickery, in The Merchant's Tale.[4] The tale and the boat was apparently familiar, at the end of 16th century, to an editor of Chaucer's works Thomas Speght, who remarked that Wade's boat bore the name Guingelot. To the Angles, Wade was the Keeper of the Ford, and acted as both ferryman and protector.


Wade has always had a strong association with the sea or water. In the saga about Wade's family, the Vilkina saga (also known as the (Þiðrekssaga), it is said that Wade (Vadi; Old Norse: Vaði) was born between King Vilkinus and a mermaid (gen. Old Norse: siokononar lit. "sea woman").[5][6][7]

Wade first apprenticed his son Wayland (Old Norse: Völundr) to Mimir, from age 9 to 12, and later to two dwarfs living in mount Kallava. He went from his home in Sjoland (=?Zealand) to Grœnasund sound (in Denmark), and finding no ship sailing out, he waded across the sound in waters nine ells deep while carrying his young son Wayland on his shoulder.[6][8][1] After the boy studied for two stretches of 12 months, Wade came to fetch his son from the reluctant dwarfs, and was killed in a landslide caused by an earthquake.[6]

In the aftermath, the son (Wayland) slays the dwarfs and sets off in a boat he crafts, windowed with glass, reaching the land of king Nidung.[1][6]

Wades boat in Chaucer

In Chaucer's, Merchant' Tale occurs the following reference to Wade's boat:

And bet than old boef is the tendre veel...
And eek thise old wydwes, God it woot,
They konne so muchel craft on Wades boot,
So muchel broken harm, whan that hem leste,
That with hem sholde I nevere lyve in reste...
And better than old beef is tender veal...
and also these old widows, God did wot,
They can play so much craft on Wade's boat,
So much harm, when they like it,
That with them should I never live in rest....

It is clear that, in this context, Wade's boat is being used as a sexual euphemism. However, it is debatable whether this single indirect reference can be taken to demonstrate fertility aspects are a part of his character.


Thomas Speght, an editor or Chaucer's works from the end of 16th century, made a passing remark that "Concerning Wade and his bote called Guingelot, and also his strange exploits in the same, because the matter is long and fabulous, I pass it over"[9] There may have been widespread knowledge of Wade's adventure in his time, but it has not been transmitted to the present day, and Speght's omission has been deplored by subsequent commentators.[13] "Wingelock" is Skeat's reconstructed Anglicized form of the boat's name.[14]

Old English fragment of Wade

In the 19th century, three lines from the lost Old English Tale of Wade was found, quoted in a Latin homily in MS. 255 in the Library of Peterhouse, Cambridge:[15]

Ita quod dicere possunt cum Wade:

Summe sende ylves & summe sende nadderes,
sumne sende nikeres the biden watez wunien.
Nister man nenne bute ildebrand onne.

"The homilist cites some comments made by Wade in the Tale:

Some are elves, some are adders,
and some are nickers that (dwell near water?).
There is no man except Hildebrand alone."
—Wentersdorf tr.[16]

On the same passage, Gollancz gave the following alternate translation: "We may say with Wade that [all creatures who fell] became elves or adders or nickors who live in pools; not one became a man except Hildebrand"[17][2]

The context of the quote has been variously conjectured. Rickert speculated that the situation resembled the scene in the Waldere fragment, "in which Widia, Wate's grandson, and Hildebrand rescue Theodoric from a den of monsters".[18] Karl P. Wentersdorf stated that "Wade is here boasting of his victorious adventures with many kinds of creatures".[16] Alaric Hall ventures that some antagonistic force has magically "sent" (and other beings) to beset Wade is beset by monsters, though he cautions that the fragment is too short for certitude.[19][3]


Stones at Mulgrave near Whitby were said to be the grave of the dead sea-giant (they were known as "Waddes grave").[20] A tale was told of Sleights Moor in Eskdale, North Yorkshire. During the building of Mulgrave Castle and Pickering Castle Wade and his wife Bell would throw a hammer to and fro over the hills (the Roman road that was called "Wade's Causey" or "Wade's Wife's Causey" locally, was also said to have been built in this manner[21]). One day Wade's son grew impatient for his milk and hurled a stone that weighed a few tonnes across Eskdale to where his mother was milking her cow at Swarthow on Egton Low Moor. The stone hit Bell with such force that a part of it broke off and could be seen for many years until it was broken up to mend the highways.[21][22]


Explanatory notes

  1. ^ This ability is one which is also ascribed to Thunor, and was the cause of a friendship which grew up between them.
  2. ^ By italicizing, Gollancz suggests the homilist is quoting the Tale of Wade and not necessarily the speech by Wade's character.
  3. ^ Gollancz and Wentersdorf evidently identify the verb here as wesan "to be" thus translating as "became" or "are", whereas A. Hall construed the verb as sendan "to send".


  1. ^ a b Wentersdorf 1966, p. 275
  2. ^ Vigfusson, Gudbrand; Powell, F. York, eds. (1883). Corpus Poeticum Boreale 1. Clarendon Press. p. 168. 
  3. ^ Troilus and Criseyde: With sobre chere, although his herte pleyde: / And in the feld he pleyde tho leoun; / He song; she pleyde; he tolde tale of Wade./ But natheles, he japed thus, and pleyde, / And on the walles of the town they pleyde, / From haselwode, there joly Robyn pleyde.
  4. ^ a b c Wentersdorf, Karl P. (1966). "Chaucer and the Lost Tale of Wade". Journal of English and Germanic Philology 65: 274–286. 
  5. ^ Motz, Lotte (1993), Pulsiano, Phillip; Wolf, Kirsten, eds., Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia (Taylor & Francis): 713,  
  6. ^ a b c d Haymes, Edward R. (1988). The Saga of Thidrek of Bern. Garland. pp. 40–.   (Part: Story of Velent the Smith)
  7. ^ Bertelsen, Henrik, ed. (1905). Þiðriks saga af Bern 1. S.L. Møllers bogtrykkeri. 
  8. ^ Imperfectly told in: Grimm, Jacob (1880). "XV. Heroes". Teutonic mythology 1. James Steven Stallybrass (tr.). W. Swan Sonnenschein & Allen. pp. 376ff. 
  9. ^ Wentersdorf, p.274 (and note 3)[4] taken from R. W. Chambers, Widsith: A Study in Old English Heroic Legend (Cambridge, 1912), p.96
  10. ^ Tyrwhitt, Thomas. The Canterbury Tales 4. London: T. Payne. p. 284. ; repr. W. Pickering (London, 1830)
  11. ^ "That he should have so little care in a business of so great import!" in: Robertson, William (1829). A Dictionary of Latin Phrases. A.J. Valpy. p. 140. 
  12. ^ Or translated as "that he should so thoughtlessly conclude an affair of such importance" in Henry Thomas Riley's translation of Andria; orig. Edward St. John Parry ed., Terence, Andria, I. v., "Pamphilus: Tantam rem tam neglegenter agere!"
  13. ^ Wentersdorf 1966, p. 274 (and note 4),[4] quoting Tyrwhitt's remark "tantamne rem tam negligenter" or ""Such a great thing [handled] so negligently""[10][11][12]
  14. ^ "Guingelot.. is merely a French spelling of some such form as Wingelok" in:Skeat, Walter W. Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer: Notes to the Canterbury Tales.  (Reprint: Cosimo, Inc. 2008 ISBN 1-60520-524-9, page = 191). Skeat objects to Michel's conjecture that the name reduces to Ganglate "going slowly" (Michel, Francisque (1837). Wade: Lettre à M. Henri Ternaux-Compans sur une tradition angloise du moyen âge. Silvestre. p. 9. )
  15. ^  
  16. ^ a b Wentersdorf, Karl P. (1966). "Chaucer and the Lost Tale of Wade". Journal of English and Germanic Philology 65: 279. 
  17. ^  
  18. ^ Rickert, Edith (1904). "The Old English Offa Saga". MP 2: 73. , cited in McConnell 1978, p. 80
  19. ^ Hall, Alaric (2007). Elves in Anglo-saxon England: Matters of Belief, Health, Gender and Identity. Boydell Press. p. 104.  .
  20. ^ Chambers, Raymond Wilson (1912). Widsith: A Study in Old English Heroic Legend. Cambridge University Press. p. 96. 
  21. ^ a b Miall, James Goodeve. Yorkshire illustrations of English history. 1865. p. 215. 
  22. ^ Leyland, John. The Yorkshire Coast and the Cleveland Hills and Dales. BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2008. p. 84. ISBN 0-559-59276-0, ISBN 978-0-559-59276-8. 


  • McConnell, Winder (1978). The Wate Figure in Medieval Tradition. P. Lang. p. 80. 
  • Wentersdorf, Karl P. (1966). "Chaucer and the Lost Tale of Wade". Journal of English and Germanic Philology 65: 73. 

Further reading

  1. Branston, "The Lost Gods of England", 1957
  2. Chaucer, "Troilus and Criseyde"
  3. Ellis Davidson, H. R. "Gods and Myths of the Viking Age", 1996
  4. Jordsvin, "Wayland Smith", Idunna, Fall 2004
  5. Poetic Edda, Völundarkviða
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