“when our happy credulity in all things is woefully abated, and our faith in the supernatural fled, we still retain our taste for the adventurous deeds and wild lives of brigands.”
1660: England’s great republican leader, Oliver Cromwell, had died. A new king ascends the throne. Theatres had reopened. What better way to enjoyn yourself than watching the latest Robin Hood play?
As Du Vall approached the carriage he and looked into the window flashing his huge pistol, he exclaimed: “Those eyes of yours, madam, have undone me. I am captivated with that pretty good-natured smile.”
In 1824, the lawyer, Andrew Kapp, asked, “Do not these creatures, when they are bruised and wounded, shew an equal sense of pain with ourselves? Are not their shrieks and mournful cries, as so many, calls upon their tormentors for pity? And do not their dying pangs, and the painful convulsions of their tortured bodies, cause uneasiness in every human spectator?”
Capt. Alexander Smith’s “A History of the Lives and Robberies of the Most Notorious Highwaymen, Footpads, Shoplifts, and Cheats” (1714) | Stephen Basdeo
Alexander Smith’s A History of the Lives and Robberies of the Most Notorious Highwaymen, Footpads, Shoplifts, and Cheats (1714), with its combination of excessive moralism and sensational reporting, set the tone for all successive ‘true’ crime writing.
In 1867 William Knipe authored “The Criminal Chronology of York Castle” – the most comprehensive survey of crime in Yorkshire from the medieval period to the Victorian era.
Crime historians often pay little regard to medieval outlaw literature, but my paper aims to use the history of crime in the early modern period to add a new context to their study. The ballad A Lytell Geste of Robyn Hode was first printed in the early sixteenth century. Around the same time also we see other outlaw ballads printed such as Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudesly (c.1530). My paper explores one reason why the figure of the outlaw hero became popular in print during the sixteenth century. Could it be that the idealisation of the outlaw occurred during the sixteenth century because another, more sinister criminal figure was also emerging in print: the ‘rogue’? Whilst outlaws such as Robin Hood were ‘curteyse’ and ‘dyde pore men moch god’, the figure of the rogue was more menacing. The word ‘rogue’ was first coined in 1561. Unlike the relatively good greenwood outlaw who lived apart from mainstream society, however, rogues were part of it, describing somebody who would rob, cheat, and swindle people indiscriminately, all the while effecting the disguise of a law-abiding citizen. Thus there was a need for people to believe in a good outlaw, because real-life offenders were ultimately more menacing. Hence the proposed paper explores the dichotomy between outlaws and rogues in print, in the process highlighting how changes in the nature of crime in the early modern period might have affected medieval outlaw myths.
A paper read at Chethams Library, Manchester – 20 May 2016.
A forthcoming public talk to be delivered at Pontefract Castle on 8 May 2016.
The lives of murderers, ravishers, thieves, highwaymen, burglars, forgers, Pirates, and Street Robbers adorned the pages of “The Newgate Calendar”.
Johnson’s Lives of the Highwaymen was part of one of the most popular genres of early eighteenth-century literature: the criminal biography.
The word ‘rogue’ was not invented until the 1560s.
Criminal biographers were so committed to historical accuracy that they gave us The Life of the notorious highwayman, Sir John Falstaff.
“The Noble Birth and Gallant Atchievements of that Remarkable Out-Law Robin Hood. Together with a True Account of the Many Merry and Extravagant Exploits he Play’s in Twelve Several Stories” (1662)
In 1863 a reporter decided to experience what it was like to spend Christmas Day amongst the felons in Newgate.
William Harrison Ainsworth’s novel Rookwood (1834) is the work which, along with Edward Bulwer Lytton’s lesser novel Paul Clifford (1830) imbued eighteenth-century highwaymen to legendary status. Ainsworth wanted to write a novel […]
Did any women ever rob people in the 17th and 18th centuries?
Do we read ‘books,’ or do we read texts? What is a book?
This is a copy of the paper that I presented at the International Association for Robin Hood Studies ‘Outlaws in Context’ Conference, 30 June – 1 July 2015.
In 1637 Ben Jonson began work on a Robin Hood play, “The Sad Shepherd; or, a Tale of Robin Hood,” and presented an idealised, pastoral outlaw world.
The Downfall of Robert, Earle of Huntington (1598) & The Death of Robert, Earle of Huntingdon (1601) by Anthony Munday and Henry Chettle.
Robin Hood first became an Earl in the 16th century; two relatively unknown plays had a dramatic effect upon later interpretations of the legend.
Exorbitancy and Necessity frequently compelled him to perpetrate Villainy; And no wonder, since he lived in the most infectious Air of the worst of most Licentious Times.
By Stephen Basdeo. In 1977, the horror movie The Hills Have Eyes was released, but it was based upon a 17th-century Scottish folk tale and was then immortalised in 18th-century criminal biography
The ‘long eighteenth century’ (c.1688-c.1837) is not a period that people usually associate with medievalism…but the subject of this post is the play “King Arthur, or the British Worthy” (1691) by John Dryden and Henry Purcell.