Plot synopsis by Stacy Weir of Lord Mocar of Hereward: A Romance of the Times of William the Conqueror (1829) by Julia Pardoe.
This historical novel begins with the death of the Saxon king Harold. The scene is described during the aftermath of a battle that saw the defeat of the Saxons and the rise of the Normans under William the Conqueror. Saxon nobles such as Robert Fitz-Osbert and Sir Peligrine are severely angry while the Norman royal prince Robert merely desires peace and harmony.
The battle scene is then contrasted by the second chapter of the novel which portrays noble female Saxons and their suitors talking of courtship and marriage. We are introduced to the assertive Lady Gunnhilda who is intensely patriotic and angered by the Norman usurpation. At a communal feast and bridal celebration, a minstrel who prophesies her death through song is executed. Late guests to these celebrations include Lord Walftheof and the eponymous hero Lord Morcar, who is disguised in shabby dress.
Lord Morcar has returned to England from Scotland after he heard of the battles between the Normans and Saxons. Being a successful warrior Lord Morcar realises that he could be of great use to his fellow Saxons. As a patriotic Saxon, he believes that the Normans should be forced out. When reunited with his friends Robert Fitz-Osbert ( known formally as Lord Robert of Hereford), Lord Waltheof of Northumberland and Sir Peligrine, Lord Morcar of Hereward plans to seize England from the clutches of William the Conqueror by forcing the Normans to war. The patriot Saxons plan various strategies and prepare their army for attack. Messages are sent to other countries in an attempt to enlist support. The Danish promise a naval force and Lord Morcar keeps vigil outside King William’s castle. However, William the Conqueror is politically very astute and although he despises all Saxons, he arranges for his niece Lady Judith of Lens to marry the Saxon noble Lord Waltheof of Northumberland. This ensures that William is informed of all Saxon plots against him.
We later learn that the reason Lord Morcar keeps vigil outside King William’s castle is not so that he can inform his allies of the usurper’s movements, but because he is in love with the King’s daughter Agatha. Morcar penetrates the castle and is able to converse with the princess who is obviously in love with him also. Consequently, the couple must keep their feelings a secret from family and friends due to the fact that they are supposed to be sworn enemies. Unfortunately William’s trusted friend the Archbishop of Canterbury accidentally learns of the romance between the enemies. However, due to his paternal affection for Princess Agatha, he does not inform William of the treachery.
The Normans and Saxons have a ferocious battle. The narrator evokes our pity as the patriotic and proud Saxons lose the war. Their houses are ransacked of all their family wealth. Women and children are forced to starve or surrender and gallant warriors are butchered to death or captured, held prisoner and then later beheaded for treason. The once brave Gunnhilda, wife of Fitz-Osbert, is forced to starve to death along with her sister-in-law Adeleve. Lady Judith betrays her husband and requests his execution. Waltheof is imprisoned along with Fitz-Osbert and both are beheaded.
During this time Lord Morcar is forced into exile as the Normans are hunting him. Lord Rossenville and his daughter Arela hide Morcar at their home while the Normans carry out their search. The Norman warrior Lord Gaultier De Lacy seems to hate Lord Morcar more than anyone else in the novel and is personally searching for him. Coincidentally, De Lacy has designs on Arela Rossenville and attempts to woo her while Morcar is in their home. Arela loyally allows De Lacy to court her in order to keep him away from Morcar, but unfortunately De Lacy soon realises that they are hiding the rebel and attacks the Rossenville home. Together with his Norman soldiers, De Lacy kills Lord Rossenville and seemingly captures Lord Morcar. However, it is not Lord Morcar who is imprisoned at the Norman castle, but Arela masquerading as the rebel. Soon enough the Normans realise their mistake and the search continues for Lord Morcar of Hereward himself.
Meanwhile, De Lacy plans to form an ambitiously political marriage. He not only has designs on Lady Arela, but also the widowed Lady Judith of Lens, as she is related to the King. In an amusing subplot which results in De Lacy remaining a bachelor, the arrogant Norman also seeks Princess Agatha’s attendant Eulelia.
By this time Princess Agatha is heartbroken, as she fears her beloved Morcar to be dead. Due to her heartbreak she has become extremely frail and is dying of an illness which no noble can cure. Elsewhere, Morcar is told of the execution of his friends and allies. He becomes depressed and resigned to the fact that the ‘cause’ is lost and that eventually he will be captured and killed. He decides to secretly visit William’s castle in order to thank Arela for saving his life and to say a final farewell to the woman he loves. At the end of the novel Morcar indeed shows his gratitude to Lady Arela and visits Agatha on her deathbed. As her dying wish, she requests that both Morcar and William, her father, shake hands and stand side by side before her. Then she dies.
The novel ends, however, on an optimistic note with the marriage of Lady Arela and Lord De Touars. We are not told of the death of Lord Morcar, but we know that there is no hope of William forgiving. Yet, if Morcar has been executed we would not be disappointed as he wished to join Agatha in heaven. He consoles himself with the thought that ‘"Man has sundered us on earth, but in heaven we shall be united,"’ (Vol IV:280)