The Glorious Trio: Robin Hood, Wat Tyler, and Hereward the Wake

I recently had the honour to have a chapter appear in a book edited by Mike Sanders (Twitter @bronterre1) and David Matthews titled Subaltern Medievalisms: Medievalism ‘from Below’ in Nineteenth-Century Britain (2021) (my own contribution examined Wat Tyler’s appearances in Chartist poetry during the 1840s and 1850s.

I’m also thankful to Sanders—who is the expert on Chartist poetry—for pointing me in the direction of this “new” poem he found recently titled “The Glorious Trio.” Written by the Chartist and National Reform League activist John Bedford Leno (1826–1894), the poem celebrates the three greatest heroes of medieval England: Robin Hood, Hereward the Wake, and Wat Tyler.

The poem first appeared, as far as I can ascertain, in Leno’s collection titled Drury Lane Lyrics and Other Poems (1867). The poem may actually have appeared before this in one of the many Chartist newspapers, although I’ll need to do some further digging through the archives to find out.

While the title of Leno’s collection does not scream “radical,” a quick look inside the contents reveals that this is actually a collection of radical poems.

The volume was dedicated “TO THE TOILERS OF ALL NATIONS” and the titles of several poems have decidedly radical overtone such as “King Labour,” “Song of the Spade,” “Song of the Slopworker.” Other poems are historical. “England’s Glory” ironically mock patriotic views of history in which working people died for the vanity of rulers, while “A Glorious Trio” presents readers with more admirable historical working-class figures than the warlike kings of old celebrated in history books.

As I argued in my chapter on Wat Tyler’s appearances in Chartist poetry, the appropriation of figures such as Wat Tyler in the Chartist and radical press were an attempt to build a kind of ‘nationalism from below’ in which the ancestors of Victorian working-class men were glorified. While I wish I had found Leno’s poem while I was writing my chapter, I think it still fits with my general thesis.

*

To find out more about Mike Sanders’s research, his book is titled The Poetry of Chartism: Aesthetics, Politics, History (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

To read more about Victorian working-class medievalism, see: David Matthews and Michael Sanders, ed. Subaltern Medievalisms: Medievalism ‘from Below’ in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Boydell, 2021).

There is also my open access article on ‘The Chartist Robin Hood’: Thomas Miller’s Royston Gower; or, The Days of King John (1838).

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A Glorious Trio.[1]

I

To brigands and robbers I care not to toast,

While piratical knaves I abhor;

But Bold Robin Hood of the Merry green wood,

Fought the battle of England’s poor;

‘Twas not plunder that led him to foray and fight,

Nor to dwell in the merry green wood:

But a burning desire to stand by the right,

And contest with the foeman each rood.

So fill up your can—drink, drink, every man,

In remembrance of brave Robin Hood

II

I’ve another toast yet, so be wary, my boys,

Of the depths of each can that ye take;

I’ve a hero as good as the brave Robin Hood—

Here’s the almost forgotten Le Wake.

When the coward knelt down to the Norman in fear,

He crouched in the deep-bosomed glen,

Yet, not like the coward, devoid of his spear,

But armed to the teeth like his men.

So drink the can dry to his brave memory,

Here’s Hereward, Lord of the Fen.

III.

Hold, hold, my brave boys, I’ve another toast left,

Do not drink as though toasting was o’er;

I’ve a hero whose name shall be rescued from shame,

By the freemen who people our shore;

Here’s Tyler, brave Tyler, of poll tax renown,

Who slew the king’s minion one day,

Then marched with his friends up to famed London town,

And kept the king’s army at bay.

Drink, drink to the dregs, till you’re weak in the legs,

For a glorious trio were they.


[1] John Bedford Leno, Drury Lane Lyrics, 2nd edn (London: Published by the Author, 1868), pp. 88–89.

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