What is known of the Gesta Herewardi's earlier history comes from its prologue, according to which the original text was written in Old English by Leofric, a priest of Hereward's household, who became one of his companions in arms during Hereward's resistance against William the Conqueror. Leofric's work may have been precipitated by Hereward's death. The prologue also reports that the earlier, Old English version was badly damaged, though not destroyed: the author of the Gesta Herewardi had been instructed by his superior to seek out the remains of Leofric's work and to translate it into Latin. This he did, but, owing to its damaged condition, he filled in the resulting lacunae from oral history, at his superior's insistence. It has been argued that the author of Gesta Herewardi was Richard of Ely, and that his superior was Bishop Hervey of Ely, who held that office from 1109 to 1131. The version of the Gesta Herewardi which exists today is a transcription of this work, which was incorporated into a book containing charters and other material relating to the abbey at Peterborough known as the "Register of Robert of Swaffham", though variant descriptions such as "Robert of Swaffham's Book" are also found. According to Janet D. Martin, the book was created in "about 1250", and originally ended with the Gesta Herewardi, but further material, unrelated to the Hereward story, was added in the 14th century.
A 19th-century edition of the Gesta Herewardi was published serially by W. D. Sweeting, from 1895, as a supplement to Fenland Notes and Queries: this was a quarterly magazine, published at Peterborough, of which Sweeting was editor at the time. Sweeting used a transcription of the Gesta Herewardi by S. H. Miller to produce an edition in which the transcription and translation appear in parallel columns.
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