An anonymously written song from 1839 urging the Victorian working classes on to revolution: Awake! the torpor of this dream, / This icy weight on Feeling’s stream— / This dull yielding to your foes / Invites and justifies their blows!.
What would a Chartist republic look like in practice? Very few Chartist novelists discussed this question in depth, as most of them merely shined a light on social issues of the day. G W M Reynolds, however, used the fictional Italian state of Castelcicala in The Mysteries of London as a ‘laboratory’ in which his progressive theories of government might be tested.
The strongest sympathy was manifested by the men of Saxon origin for Robin Hood, whom they looked upon as their chieftain and defender,—“I would rather die,” said an old woman to him one day—I would rather die than not do all I might to save thee; for who fed and clothed me and mine but thou and Little John.”
The “Glorious Trio” first appeared in Leno’s collection titled Drury Lane Lyrics and Other Poems (1867). It celebrates three of England’s greatest medieval heroes: Robin Hood, Wat Tyler, Hereward the Wake.
In 1832, the publisher Charles Knight had a bright idea: every Saturday he would publish a new magazine which whose aim was to educate working-class readers about their world. It would not contain news, and would therefore be exempt from the Stamp Tax (the much-hated “tax on knowledge”), meaning that its retail price would be very low at only 1d.
Robin Hood is significant, not because of the life of any real person but because he is a symbol. So, appropriations of his name in later centuries are significant because they highlight what the name meant to people like you and I in times past.
I recently came into possession of a book written by Thomas Cooper (1805-92), a famous Chartist activist, which he gave to his friend, the newspaper proprietor and fellow Chartist, John Cleave (1790-1847).
Chartists writers loved drawing inspiration from England’s medieval past; in their campaign for political reform, which better figure could they choose than England’s famous outlaw from the Middle Ages?
“I only strive to arouse the grovelling spirit of the industrious millions to a sense of the wrongs under which they labour.”
“A plebeian fighting for the poor and rewarded with poverty.”
My book on Wat Tyler in medieval and post-medieval literature is now available for preorder on Amazon!
In Thomas Miller’s novel ‘Royston Gower’ (1838), Robin Hood is portrayed as a medieval Chartist activist.