Wade (folklore)

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Wade (Old English: Ƿada [ˈwɑdɑ]) 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).


The earliest mention occurs in the Old English poem Widsith.[1] According to the Þiðrekssaga, he was born between king Wilkinus and a serpent-legged mermaid named Wachilt, who was a goddess of the sea and sometimes referred to as a "sea witch". 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,[a] and used the phrase "Wade's boat" (Middle English: Wades boot), meaning some sort of trickery, in The Merchant's Tale.[3] The tale and the boat was apparently familiar, at the end of the 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 (normalized spelling, Old Norse: sjókona; text: gen. siokononar, lit. "sea woman").[4][5][6]

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 (=Sjælland,[7] i.e., Zealand[5]) to Grœnasund sound (in Denmark),[8] 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.[5][9][b] 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.[5]

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][5]

Wade's boat in Chaucer[edit]

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.[citation needed]


Thomas Speght, an editor of 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"[10] 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.[11] "Wingelock" is Skeat's reconstructed Anglicized form of the boat's name.[12][c]

The boat's name closely resembles Gringolet, the name of Sir Gawaine's horse. Gollancz tries to make a reconstruction on the Germanic origins of the name, but it is based on a lot of assumptions: that Wade's boat was a winged boat, whose Germanic name was Wingalet or Wingalock, confused with Wade's son Wayland's feathered flying contraption. And while he concedes that the better form of the horse's name is "Guingelot" without the "r", he was dismissive of the view the name was of Celtic in origin, as expressed by Gaston Paris.[14]

Old English fragment of Wade[edit]

In the 19th century, three lines from the lost Old English Tale of Wade were 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 nixies 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][d]

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" monstrous beings to beset Wade, though he cautions that the fragment is too short for certainty.[19][e]


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. (A possible Roman road, called "Wade's Causeway" 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]

In local folklore, the Hole of Horcum in North Yorkshire was formed where Wade scooped up earth to throw at his wife.[23]


The Middle-earth character Eärendil sails the sky in a ship named Vingilot or Wingelot, which scholars note is close to the name of Wade's boat Guingelot. In one of his linguistic writings, Parma Eldalamberon 15, the creator of Middle-earth, J. R. R. Tolkien, explicitly noted "Wade = Earendel".[24] Tolkien's biographer Humphrey Carpenter remarked that Eärendil "was in fact the beginning of Tolkien's own mythology".[25]


Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ 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."
  2. ^ This ability is one which is also ascribed to Thunor, and was the cause of a friendship which grew up between them.[citation needed]
  3. ^ Skeat objects to Michel's conjecture that the name reduces to Ganglate "going slowly".[13]
  4. ^ Note that while Wentersdorf above had interpreted (and interpolated) that these words were spoken "by Wade in the Tale", Gollancz allowed for narrator or any character in the tale entitled Wade to have spoken, not necessarily Wade himself.
  5. ^ 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. Vol. 1. Clarendon Press. p. 168.
  3. ^ Wentersdorf 1966.
  4. ^ Motz, Lotte (1993), "Völundr", in Pulsiano, Phillip; Wolf, Kirsten (eds.), Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia, Taylor & Francis, p. 713, ISBN 0824047877
  5. ^ a b c d e Haymes, Edward R. (1988). "Part: Story of Velent the Smith. Ch. 57–Ch.60 The death of the giant Vadi". The Saga of Thidrek of Bern. Garland. pp. 40–41. ISBN 0824084896.
  6. ^ Bertelsen, Henrik, ed. (1905). Þiðriks saga af Bern. Vol. 1. S.L. Møllers bogtrykkeri.
  7. ^ Paff (1959), pp. 51–53.
  8. ^ Paff (1959), pp. 35, 73.
  9. ^ Imperfectly told in: Grimm, Jacob (1880). "XV. Heroes". Teutonic mythology. Vol. 1. James Steven Stallybrass (tr.). W. Swan Sonnenschein & Allen. pp. 376ff.
  10. ^ Wentersdorf 1966, p. 274 (and note 3) taken from R. W. Chambers (1912). Widsith: A Study in Old English Heroic Legend. Cambridge. p. 96.
  11. ^ Wentersdorf 1966, p. 274 (and note 4), quoting Tyrwhitt's remark "tantamne rem tam negligenter".
     • Translated as "such a great thing [handled] so negligently" in Tyrwhitt, Thomas (1775). The Canterbury Tales. Vol. 4. London: T. Payne. p. 284.; repr. W. Pickering (London, 1830)
     • Translated as "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.
     • 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!"
  12. ^ Skeat, Walter W. (1894–1900). Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer: Notes to the Canterbury Tales. Clarendon Press. p. 357. (Reprint: Cosimo, Inc. 2008 ISBN 1-60520-524-9, p. 191). "Guingelot... is merely a French spelling of some such form as Wingelok."
  13. ^ Michel, Francisque (1837). Wade: Lettre à M. Henri Ternaux-Compans sur une tradition angloise du moyen âge. Silvestre. p. 9.
  14. ^ Gollancz (1906), pp. 106–108.
  15. ^ Israel Gollancz read a paper to the Philological Society in 1896, which was summarized in: Jannaris, A. N. (15 February 1896). "The Tale of Wade". Academy (1241): 137.
  16. ^ a b Wentersdorf 1966, p. 279.
  17. ^ Gollancz (1906), p. 108.
  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. ISBN 978-1843832942..
  20. ^ Chambers, Raymond Wilson (1912). Widsith: A Study in Old English Heroic Legend. Cambridge University Press. pp. 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 978-0-559-59276-8.
  23. ^ "The hero's hole, Hole of Horcum, North Yorkshire". The Guardian. 10 June 2009.
  24. ^ Flieger, Verlyn (2022). "A Lost Tale, A Found Influence: Earendel and Tinúviel". Mythlore. 40 (2). Article 7.
  25. ^ Carpenter, Humphrey (2000). J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography. New York: Houghton Mifflin. p. 79. ISBN 978-0618057023.


Gollancz, Israel (1906). "Gringolet, Gawain's horse". Saga Book of the Viking Society for Northern Research. London. 5: 104–109.

  • Wentersdorf, Karl P. (1966). "Chaucer and the Lost Tale of Wade". Journal of English and Germanic Philology. 65: 274–286.

Further reading[edit]

  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