The Outlaws of Medieval Legend

The Outlaws of Medieval Legend

The Outlaws of Medieval Legend

The Outlaws of Medieval Legend

Excerpt

Since this book first appeared in 1961, there has been a good deal of interest displayed by English historians in the subject of medieval outlaws and the Robin Hood legend. My book, and the views that I have expressed in it, have been the subject of criticism, some of it harsh and much of it, as I now recognise, fully justified. This criticism has forced me to do more than modify some of my opinions: on certain quite central matters I have had to change my view completely. For this reason it is not really feasible to revise the book: I could not revise it without rewriting the whole ab initio, and since my historical interests are no longer centrally concerned with its subject, I am unwilling to attempt this. I do however owe it to the reader that I should make it clear where I think I went wrong in 1961, and where I stand now on the issues that I raised then. To this end the publishers have kindly allowed me to write a new introduction.

In 1961 I argued, emphatically, that the Robin Hood story rose to popularity in the later middle ages because it gave expression to the social grievances of the 'common people', and I equated the 'common people'-over-exclusively, I think-- with the rural peasantry. The arguments with which I supported this view, in particular in Chapters XI and XIV, do not now seem to be satisfactory. In the first place I assumed too readily that the ballad form in which the Robin Hood story first found literary expression was a sure indication of its popular origin (pp. 96-7). In fact, there are good arguments for supposing that the origins of narrative 'ballads' such as those of Robin Hood are not to be sought, as I then thought they should be, in the communal story telling of country people-the accompaniment of their song and dance at rustic festivals--but were composed for recitation by professional minstrels. The materials on which such minstrels drew was diverse, but it certainly . . .

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