Robert Southey’s “Wedding of Robin Hood and Maid Marian”

By Stephen Basdeo

Dr Mark Truesdale and I are currently transcribing Robert Southey’s ‘Harold; or, The Castle of Morford’ (Bodleian MS Eng. Misc. e. 21), which was originally written in the summer of 1791.

Robin Hood and Maid Marian, as printed in Life and Ballads of Robin Hood and Robin Hood’s Garland (Halifax: Milner and Sowerby, 1859)

Although in the marketing for our edition we have designated it as a novel, Southey’s text should be read more as a romance, a curious blend of the Gothic (which predominates whenever the outlaws leave the safety of Sherwood) and the pastoral, for in Sherwood an outlaw’s life is idyllic and divorced from the cares of the outside world.

Depiction of Robin Hood, Little John, Will Scarlet, and Allen-a-Dale, as printed in Joseph Ritson’s Robin Hood (1795). Towards the end of the eighteenth century, life in Sherwood was always pictured as a pastoral idyll. 

In Southey’s text, the usual stock characters from Robin Hood tales can be found: Little John, Will Scarlet, Maid Marian, the Bishop of Hereford; there are also several new characters, many of whom are taken from early modern plays such as Ben Jonson’s The Sad Shepherd (1641).

In keeping with previous portrayals of the outlaw legend, Robin Hood and Maid Marian are in love. Yet they are star-crossed lovers: Marian is the daughter of the wicked Baron Fitzosborne—the man who murdered the good Harold’s father—and the Baron, the main villain of the tale, naturally objects to his daughter’s marrying an outlaw.

Another ‘romantic’ portrayal of Robin Hood from Joseph Ritson’s Robin Hood (1795)

With such an impediment to their match, Robin kidnaps Marian when a jousting tournament is held at the Baron’s castle. The pair of them escape to Sherwood and immediately marry each other, presumably by Friar Tuck, although the marriage scene is not recorded in the novel and we jump to the post-nuptial feast scene.

After feasting on venison and ale—Southey has clearly done his Robin Hood homework—Robin asks for music to be played. What follows is the first of many instances throughout the novel where the young, barely 16-year-old Southey, exercises his budding poetical talents. In praise of the union between Robin and Marian, the Sherwood minstrel sings the following ballad:

Behold yon elm high towering lift his head

How brightly his foliage and how cool his shade

His branches wide and towering how they spread

And cast a grateful shadow o’er the glade.

Yet though he lift his head luxuriant high

And proudly seems to threat the neighbouring sky

Useless he flourishes there barren stands

Till doom’d to perish by the woodman’s hand.

Yet should some tender joy-inspiring wine

From some robuster tree that seeks support

Round his base trunk her circling arms entwine

The elm with pendant clusters black we see

The baron once now rich with choicest

Useless and barren were the elm alone

The vine unaided barren too had grown

Mutual assistance each to the other goes

And each by mutual kindness friended lives

Emblem expressive this of human life

The elm the husband and the vine the wife

How blest indeed the faces who truly know

The never ending bliss of wedded love.

Boudeville ended and received the applause of the whole company. Come Aeglamour, said Little John, try your skill and [illegible] happiness of the life we lead here. Were you once to experience the pleasures we enjoy, turning to Richard, you would love to die in the forest of merry Sherwood what are all the pleasures of a court to the pure entertainment of a country life! Richard was preparing to answer him when Aeglamour arose and began

Rises now with orient ray

Bright the gold on the orb of day

Aw’d by his effulgent light

Swiftly they the shades of night

On the leaves with silver hue

Glittering shines the pearly dew.

Scar’d by the hunters now the deer awakes

And swiftly scuds along through o’er bushes and o’er brakes.

What pleasures can the palace yield

Equal to these woodlands give

How blissfully the outlaws live.

Who roams at will [o’er] field and hill

How happily dwell we in the wood

And o’er the flowery field

How happy live we in the wood.

Beneath the sway of Robin Hood.

The deer with spreading antlers crowned

Stalks stately o’er the bower.

The bowman fits his dart

And fixes the sharp point within the victim’s heart

He falls upon the ground

We hail the prize with choral strain

Feast on his flesh and Nottingham brown ale

List to the minstrels song and merry outlaws tale

What pleasures can the palace yield?


Now we with sober mien comes

And darkness hides the sky

The labour of the day is done

And home the outlaws hie.


The cheerful dance and minstrels sing

The pleasures of the time prolong

We beat the ground with skilful [illegible]

With skill we separate with skill we meet

The wholesome beverage goes around

At last by calm repose the happy day is crown’d

What pleasures can the palace yield?

Low shouts of applause proclaimed the universal approbation. This is the life, said Robin Hood turning to Marian, this is the life we lead. You have exchanged pomp and pageantry for the wild uncultivated pleasures of simple nature. But they are pleasures which art can never equal. I have exchanged a life of trouble and of care replied Marian sweetly smiling for one of happiness of liberty of love. She looked tenderly upon her husband and blush’d. Robin kiss’d her to hide it. In the meantime Richard enquired of Little John who sat next to him the manner in which Marian had been so successfully carried off.[i]

Mark and I are, to put it mildly, very excited at the prospect of seeing Southey’s unpublished novel finally in book form. For now, let’s hope that this ‘sneak preview’ of it has whetted your appetites.

In the meantime, see some of my work on other eighteenth century portrayals of Robin Hood:

“If they must have a British Worthy, they would have Robin Hood”: Joseph Addison’s remarks on Robin Hood.

John Winstanley’s Robin Hood poems from 1742.

Portrayals of Robin Hood in eighteenth-century true crime literature.

From Joseph Ritson’s Robin Hood (1795)

[i] Robert Southey, ‘Harold; or, The Castle of Morford’ (1791). Bodleian MS Eng. Misc. e. 21, ff. 11r–13r.

“If they must have a British Worthy, they would have Robin Hood”

By Stephen Basdeo

This post originally appeared on the IARHS website

Amongst the great writers of eighteenth-century literature, the names of two men stand out: Sir Richard Steele (1672-1729) and Joseph Addison (1672-1719). These two quintessentially “Augustan” [1] writers dominated the literary marketplace between 1709 and 1715 through their essay periodicals The Tatler and The Spectator. Due to the expiration of the Licensing Act in 1695, which saw the end of government censorship, there was an explosion of printed material, [2] and Addison and Steele’s periodicals were part of this expansion in the availability of print culture.

Addison and Steele’s periodicals

The public appetite for literature it seemed could not be sated. Although these periodicals had a seemingly modest circulation of just 3,000 copies, Addison claimed a readership for The Spectator that was somewhere approaching 60,000. [3] The fame of The Tatler and The Spectator also spread overseas: James Madison (1751-1836), the fourth President of the United States, recalled having read these periodicals daily (which by his time had been bound into 8 volumes and gone through numerous editions). [4] Addison’s high estimate for the number of readers is not unreasonable, for periodicals such as The Tatler, like many of the other periodicals available in the early eighteenth century, were designed to be read and debated in public arenas such as the coffeehouse and the tavern, and periodicals, or “moral weeklies” as Jurgen Habermas calls them, contributed to the birth of the bourgeois public sphere, or as we might phrase it today, public opinion. [5] Through the essays in these periodicals these authors promoted a culture of aristocratic politeness among urban readers, in which learning and self-improvement were the order of the day. [6]

Frontispiece of Joseph Addison, from Robert Cochrane, ed., The English Essayists: A Comprehensive Selection from the Works of the Great Essayists from Lord Bacon to John Ruskin (London: William P. Nimmo, 1876).

It is Addison’s reference to Robin Hood in the eighty-first issue of The Tatler which I would like to bring to your attention. He opens his essay with a quotation from Virgil’s Aeneid:

Hic Manus ob Patriam pugnando Vulnera passi,Quique pii Vates & Phaebo digna locuti, Inventas aut qui Vitam excoluere per Artes,Quique sui memores alios fecere merendo.

Here are the hands that suffered wounds by fighting for their country and those devoted poets, who spoke words worth of Phoebus or those who improved life through learned arts and those who by their merits caused others to remember them. [7]

Credit: Phoebus, or Apollo, from the Victoria and Albert Museum

Addison tells his reader that he was musing upon the notion of immortality:

“There are two Kinds of Immortality; that which the Soul enjoys after this Life, and that imaginary Existence by which Men live in their Fame and Reputation.” [8]

Marble bust of Alexander the Great

It is with the second type of immortality that Addison concerns himself with in his essay, and he says that he spent the whole afternoon mentally cataloguing the various heroes and “military Worthies” that have appeared throughout world history. [9] He was so preoccupied with this matter, he says, that after many hours awake thinking it over, he fell into a deep sleep and proceeded to have a dream in which he was invited into a great hall in which a number of prestigious persons entered:

The first who step’d forward, was a beautiful and blooming Hero, and as I heard by the Murmurs round me, Alexander the Great. He was conducted by a Crowd of Historians. [10]

Other ancient worthies enter: Xenophon, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Julius Caesar, Cicero, Hannibal, Cato, Pompey the Great, Augustus; it is all very classical, which of course ties into the neoclassical modes of the eighteenth century.

Augustus of Prima Porta

All of these worthies sit at a table, but it is revealed that there is an empty seat at the table where these illustrious heroes are seated. They begin to whisper among themselves and discuss who, from British history, is worthy to join them at their table. Would they choose King Arthur? He had, after all, been called a “British Worthy” only a few years prior in John Dryden’s opera King Arthur; or, the British Worthy (1691). How about King Alfred, the only English King ever to have been given the epithet “the great”? No—neither of these men are good enough in the estimation of men such as Caesar and Augustus. They conclude by saying that,

“if they must have a British Worthy, they would have Robin Hood.” [11]

An outlaw who (supposedly) lived in the thirteenth century was greater than all of the other heroes of English history, and worthy enough to take his place amongst the likes of Alexander and Caesar.


In Addison’s essay all of the ancient worthies are from the Classical period, with the exception of Robin Hood. Indeed, Addison’s placing of Robin Hood—a medieval figure—among all those classical heroes seems incongruent. In the early part of the eighteenth century, whilst it was recognised that the Middle Ages were integral to Europe’s past, the period was “not much liked” by scholars and thinkers.[12] And 1750 is the date that Peter Raedt cites as having been the year when eighteenth-century scholars stopped being dismissive of the Middle Ages as a barbaric interlude between antiquity and the “enlightened” eighteenth century and the period began to be appreciated in its own right.[13] Raedt concentrates his article on Germany, and while some of his points are applicable to England, at the same time England seems to have never truly “lost” an appreciation of its medieval past during the early part of the eighteenth century. Dryden’s and Purcell’s King Arthur has already been cited, and Dryden also “translated” (into perfectly rhyming couplets) parts of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in his Fables: Ancient and Modern (1700). Handel also produced a medievalist opera Rinaldo (1711) set during the time of the First Crusade (1096-1099). Thomas Arne and James Thomson also authored the libretto for the opera Alfred (1740), known most famously today for its finale Rule Britannia! An appreciation for England’s medieval past also manifested itself in architecture, most famously in the Temple of British Worthies at Stowe, designed in 1734 by William Kent. Whilst the marble busts of most of the great men on display there are mostly from the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, there are two medieval figures present: King Alfred and Edward, the Black Prince.

Temple of British Worthies at Stow Gardens

Yet Addison’s idealisation of Robin Hood as a British Worthy is an anomaly when compared to the works of Arne who venerated a King, Alfred, and the establishment figures that were sculpted in marble by William Kent. Robin is different to these other illustrious persons because he is an outlaw. And Addison’s reference to Robin Hood is certainly more positive than the one which would appear in Alexander Smith’s A Complete History of the Lives and Robberies of the Most Notorious Highwaymen (1719) only a few years after Addison was writing, where Robin is described as a “wicked, licentious” individual. [14] This makes it seem odd that Addison would choose Robin Hood to make a point in a “moral weekly.” I have two theories about this. Firstly, it would seem that Robin Hood was by the early eighteenth century gentrified enough in the public consciousness for him to be used in such a way. The gentrification process had begun with Anthony Munday’s two plays The Downfall of Robert Earl of Huntington and The Death of Robert Earl of Huntingdon (1597-98) where Robin is recast firmly as an establishment figure. [15] The second is that an idealisation of Robin Hood fits in with eighteenth-century contemporaries’ love of liberty. In a later issue of The Tatler, Addison wrote about another vision he had in which he witnessed the goddess of Liberty presiding over the prosperity of the nation. [16] Although crime was increasingly viewed as a problem during the eighteenth century, as indicated by Fielding’s lament that the streets of London would soon become impassable except “without the utmost hazard,” [17] liberty-loving men of Georgian England resisted any attempt by the government to form a professional police force. In a rather odd sort of way, highwaymen (and Robin is the original highwayman) were loved by the people because to many they were seen to embody liberty. [18] People of all ranks held a degree of admiration for highwaymen. At the trial of the “Gentleman Highwayman,” James Maclaine (1724-1750), for example, “many persons of rank of both sexes attended his examination, several of whom were so affected with his situation that they contributed liberally towards his support.” [19] This admiration of outlaws and highwaymen perhaps then explains why Smith, whose Highwaymen is a heavily moralist text, is so keen to recast Robin Hood in a negative light, for he evidently disagrees with the prevailing admiration for both Robin Hood and contemporary criminals.

Addison’s and others’ representations of Robin Hood raise questions as to whether the so-called ‘medieval revival’ of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century was actually much of a ‘revival’ at all. In the eighteenth century, however, the Robin Hood tradition has a neoclassical overlay, in a similar manner to Ben Jonson’s play The Sad Shepherd; or, a Tale of Robin Hood (1631), where the story of Robin Hood is portrayed as a classical and quasi-tragic story of lost pastoral love. [20] Drawing further connections with antiquity, in the play Maid Marian is equated with the goddess Diana. [21] After Addison was writing, Ely Hargroves, in Anecdotes of Archery (1792), catalogues all of the greatest archers in history, highlighting many of the illustrious archers of history such as Pandarus, Ulysees, Aeneas, and Robin Hood. [22] As Robin Hood scholars we are often told that the credit for popularising the medieval period rests largely with Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (1819), a novel which, in the words of John Henry Newman (1801-1890),

‘first turned men’s minds in the direction of the Middle Ages.’ [23]

Whilst Scott’s historicist vision of the Robin Hood tradition was different to the neoclassical eighteenth-century interpretations of it discussed above, a sustained interest, admiration even, for medieval figures can be traced throughout the eighteenth century, not just from the Gothic Revival of mid-to-late part of the century onwards.

In conclusion, whilst many early eighteenth-century appropriations of Robin Hood are negative, Addison’s elevation of Robin Hood into the status of a “worthy” in the face of negative interpretations is interesting for it confirms to us that the gentrification process was not a linear process but an uneven one. Addison’s essay is the only “gentrified” representation of Robin Hood (gentrified in the sense that he is elevated into someone equal to the heroes of antiquity) which I have managed to find between c.1700 and c.1730 and is certainly deserving of consideration. It is often fleeting comments about Robin Hood in later texts such as The Tatler which allow us to map and construct an idea of how people in past ages interpreted the legend at various points in its history. By 1709 it seems that Robin’s status was firmly gentrified in public consciousness for Joseph Addison to speak about him in a “moral weekly.”


[1] “Augustan,” named after the Roman Emperor, Augustus, is the term usually applied to “high” culture in England which flourished during the reigns of Queen Anne and George I. It is so called because artists and writers imitated Classical styles in their works, e.g. Alexander Pope’s Dunciad (in imitation of the Iliad), or his Imitations of Horace.

[2] Julian Hoppit, A Land of Liberty? England, 1689-1727, The New Oxford History of England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 177.

[3] Joseph Addison, “The Spectator, Number 10.” [1711] The Spectator: A New Edition, Reproducing the Original Text, Both as First Issued and as Corrected by its Authors. Ed. Henry Morley (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1880), 19.

[4] Ralph Ketcham, James Madison: A Biography (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1971), 39.

[5] See Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (London: Polity, 1989).

[6] James V. H. Melton, The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe, New Approaches to European History 22 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 96.

[7] “No. 81,” in The Tatler, ed. Donald F. Bond. 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 2: 13-21. Bond notes that but “for the last two sentences, this number is by Addison,” 13. The Latin verse from Virgil included at the beginning of Addison’s article for my essay is translated by Richard Thomason (Ph.D. student at the University of Leeds).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 2: 19.

[10] Ibid., 2: 17.

[11] Ibid., 2: 20.

[12] Peter Raedt, “Representations of the Middle Ages in Enlightenment Historiography,” The Journal of Medieval History 5, no. 1 (2002): 1-20 at 1.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Alexander Smith, A Complete History of the Lives and Robberies of the Most Notorious Highwaymen. Ed.  Arthur Heyward (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1933), 412.

[15] Stephen Knight, Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003), 44.

[16] “No. 161,” in Bond, The Tatler, 2: 397-401. This issue is also authored by Addison.

[17] Henry Fielding, An Enquiry into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers (Dublin: G. Faulkner, 1751), 1.

[18] Lucy Moore, Conmen & Cutpurses: Scenes from the Hogarthian Underworld (London: Penguin, 2001), xiii.

[19] Andrew Knapp & William Baldwin ed. “JAMES MACLANE Called ‘The Gentleman Highwayman.’ Executed at Tyburn, 3rd of October, 1750, for Highway Robbery.” The Newgate Calendar. (accessed 26 August 2015).

[20] Stephen Knight, “‘Meere English Flocks’: Ben Jonson’s The Sad Shepherd and the Robin Hood Tradition,” in Robin Hood: Medieval and Post-Medieval, ed. Helen Phillips (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005), 129-44 at 131.

[21] Ibid., 134.

[22] Ely Hargroves, Anecdotes of Archery from the Earliest Ages to the Year 1791 (York: Printed for E. Hargroves, 1792), 1-17.

[23] Alice Chandler, “Sir Walter Scott and the Medieval Revival,” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 19, no. 4 (1965): 315-32 at 315. 

John Winstanley’s Robin Hood Poems

By Stephen Basdeo

This article originally appeared on the IARHS Website)

Rosemary Mitchell argues that during the eighteenth century, artists and writers when representing the medieval period did not strive for historical authenticity but instead sought to present a neoclassical or Shakespearean view of the past.[1] Classical imagery is present in some literary representations of Robin Hood from the eighteenth century. In a previous post for this website, it was pointed out that Joseph Addison (1672-1719) thought that Robin Hood was equal to classical heroes such as Achilles and Caesar.[2] The “classicisation” of Robin Hood is even stronger in two mid-eighteenth-century poems entitled “An Invitation to Robin Hood” and “Robin Hood’s Answer” (1742).

Winstanley Image 1
John Winstanley

These two Robin Hood poems appeared in John Winstanley’s Poems Written Occasionally, Interspersed with Many Others by Several Ingenious Hands(1742). Winstanley (c.1677-1750) was born in Ireland, but he is a minor figure in the eighteenth-century literary world, and virtually nothing is known of his life.[3] However, there is a good chance that the poems were not written by Winstanley, as the subtitle indicates that several writers contributed to the volume. His collection should therefore be viewed as one of the many poetic miscellanies that were published throughout the period. As Robin Hood scholars are unlikely to have come across this poem before, it is transcribed below in full. The original spelling, italicisation, and capitalisation of each word in the original book are retained, with the exception of long [∫].

“An Invitation to Robin Hood”

SIR, Thursday next, the Archers dine,

On Round of beef, if not Sir Loin;

Though Round suits best, at B—r’s House,

A Glass to drink, and to carouse,

And is, to Marks-men, you’ll allow,

For each his Arrow, and his Bow,

Much fitter to determine Lots;

The Center shewing nearest Shots:

The Day then, Sir, to celebrate,

And crown each Archer’s lucky Fate,

The Muse your Company bespeaks,

To shoot, at least, for Ale and Cakes;

And, Sir, whoever wins the Prize,

To do him Justice to the Skies.

“Robin Hood’s Answer”

Untouch’d by Phoebus’ scorching Rays,

And his poetick Fire,

Victorious Laurel, not the Bays,

Is all my Soul’s Desire.

Soon will the rash Apollo know,

The Danger of inviting,

An Archer armed with his Bow,

And Impliments for fighting.

The Round of Beef with all it’s [sic] Charms,

Will small Protection yield,

Against an Archer’s conquering Arms,

Tho’ turn’d into a shield.

His Butt he’ll make it, which shall feel,

The Marks of his Disdain,

His Arrows tipt with Blades of Steel,

Shall pierce thro’ ev’ry Vein.

The Vict’ry gain’d, he scorns to boast,

For gen’rous Deeds renown’d;

Then to the Round around we’ll toast

‘Till all the World turns round.

Thus writeth in a merry mood,

Your humble Servant Robin Hood.[4]


The classical imagery in the poem is self-evident: Apollo (also known as Phoebus), is the Greek god of music, poetry, art, and archery, and he is holding a feast for all legendary archers. The feast will feature an archery contest in which all of the bowmen will test their skills. Winstanley will also be in attendance. He desires Robin Hood to be present, so Winstanley writes him an invitation. Robin responds that he will attend, but he will come to win the contest, outshining even Apollo himself. After Robin has won the contest, he will then feast with the rest of the archers.

There are several reasons why neoclassicism became prevalent in art, literature, and architecture in Britain during the eighteenth century. Joseph M. Levine argues that it was the result of several factors: antiquity was viewed as a “refined,” “polished,” and “civilized” age in which men enjoyed political liberty. This was perfect for England’s polite and commercial elites who viewed themselves as the vanguard of civilisation and liberty.[5] Moreover, classicism was linked to ideals of heroism during the eighteenth century.[6] Winstanley and even the “Augustan” Addison believed that Robin was a hero, one who surpassed even Apollo in his skill and bravery.

Politeness epitomised: Rev. D’Ewes Coke and Family

In general, the ancient Greeks did not consume great quantities of meat. The references to beef, in contrast to the classical imagery present in the play, lend an air of Englishness to the poems. Perhaps this is Winstanley’s attempt to provide continuity with earlier Robin Hood texts. The outlaws in both the medieval and post-medieval tradition are frequently seen feasting. Feasting occurs in the first and seventh ‘fyttes’ of A Gest of Robyn Hode, and illustrates the truth, honor, and fellowship of the outlaws’ society.[7]

Smith, James H., active 1781-1789; Sir Thomas Egerton, Bt, as an Archer in Heaton Park
Thomas Egerton as Apollo Belvedere (c) Manchester Museums and Galleries.

Admittedly, it is venison that the outlaws eat in earlier Robin Hood texts. The consumption of beef in Winstanley’s connects the recurrent motif of feasting in the Robin Hood tradition with eighteenth-century British patriotism. During the eighteenth century in which Britain was involved in many wars and a number of these were fought either directly or indirectly against France, beef became a patriotic symbol.[8] It was assumed that the beef fed to English soldiers made them hardy and strong, in contrast to the slim and underfed continental soldiers.[9] The image of the strong Englishman fed on a diet of beef appeared numerous times in contemporary popular culture. In Henry Fielding’s very popular play The Grub Street Opera (1731) contained a patriotic ballad entitled The Roast Beef of Old England. The same theme that was taken up by William Hogarth in an eponymous painting completed in 1748. Fielding’s song was soon set to music and became a military anthem. Later in the century, especially during the Napoleonic Wars, the portly/stocky John Bull, one of England’s national symbols, was often depicted as gorging himself on beef.[10]

Why Winstanley chose to author this poem is unclear. As so little is known of his life, his reasons can only be speculated at. Perhaps he had grown up reading a version of the frequently reprinted eighteenth-century ballad collections known as Robin Hood’s Garland or The English Archer. As a whole, Winstanley’s book appears to have received a favorable reception from some major eighteenth-century cultural figures, such as Jonathan Swift, Colley Cibber, and Alexander Pope.[11] Miscellany collections of poetry, such as Winstanley’s volume, were extremely popular during the eighteenth century. They were not published in order to create a canon of poetic taste but instead were published to provide a snapshot of the popular literary tastes of the moment.[12] And this is why their content is often diverse, explaining why the text of a cheap seventeenth-century broadside ballad such as A Ballad of Bold Robin Hood, Shewing his Birth, Breeding, and Valour (which also features a Christmastime feast on beef) appears alongside poetry written by John Dryden in the same volume.[13]

In conclusion, R. B. Dobson and J. Taylor were quite dismissive of texts from this period, and they included one eighteenth-century Robin Hood ballad in their anthology, for instance, only to illustrate what in their words was

“the imaginative poverty as well as stylistic debasement that overtook the legend of the greenwood during the course of the eighteenth century.” [14]

Similarly, while Stephen Knight’s research is substantial concerning earlier texts and post nineteenth-century sources, there is still a relative neglect of eighteenth-century works in all three of his monographs. Thus Robin Hood’s appearance in eighteenth-century texts certainly is an area which requires more research.


[1] Rosemary Mitchell, Picturing the Past: English History in Text and Image, 1830-1870 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 9.

[2] Stephen Basdeo, “If They Must Have a British Worthy, They Would Have Robin Hood.” Robin Hood Scholars: IARHS on the Web – The Web Presence of the International Association for Robin Hood Studies, accessed August 12, 2016,

[3] Bryan Coleborne, “Winstanley, John (1677?–1750)” in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004,

[4] John Winstanley, Poems Written Occasionally, Interspersed with Many Others by Several Ingenious Hands (London, 1742), 210-212.

[5] See Joseph M. Levine, “Why Neoclassicism? Politics and Culture in Eighteenth-Century England,”Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 25, no. 1 (2002): 75-101; and Paul Langford, A Polite and Commercial People: England 1727-1783 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).

[6] See A. D. S. Smith, “Patriotism and New-Classicism: The ‘Historical Revival’ in French and English Painting and Sculpture, 1746-1800.” PhD diss., University of London, 1987.

[7] Basdeo, Stephen, Robin Hood: The Life and Legend of an Outlaw (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2018); Douglas Gray, “The Robin Hood Poems,” in Robin Hood: Anthology of Scholarship and Criticism, ed. Stephen Knight (Cambridge: Brewer, 1999), 3-37 at 26-27. See also Stephen Knight, “Feasts in the Forest,” in Telling Tales and Crafting Books: Essays in Honor of Thomas H. Ohlgren, eds. Alexander L. Kaufman, Shaun F. D. Hughes, and Dorsey Armstrong. Festschriften, Occasional Papers, and Lectures XXIV (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2016), 161-75.

[8] For example, the wars that Britain fought either directly or indirectly against France include The Great Northern War (1700-1721), The War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), the Jacobite Rebellion (1715), Drummer’s War (1721-25), The War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748), The Second Carnatic War (1749-1754), The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), The War of American Independence (1776-1783), and the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815).

[9] Hannah Velton, Cow (London: Reaktion Books, 2007), 132-133.

[10] See Mark Bryant, The Napoleonic Wars in Cartoons (London: Grub Street Publishing, 2009).

[11] John Winstanley, Poems Written Occasionally, xv-xxv.

[12] “Miscellanies and Eighteenth-Century Print Culture.” Digital Miscellanies Index, accessed August 13, 2016,

[13] ”A Ballad of Bold Robin Hood, Shewing his Birth, Breeding, and Valour,” in The Sixth Part of Miscellany Poems, Containing a Variety of New Translations of the Ancient Poets, Together with Several Original Poems by the Most Eminent Hands. Publish’d by Mr. Dryden (London: J. Tonson, 1716), 346-352.

[14] R. B. Dobson and J. Taylor, eds., Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw, 3rd ed. (Stroud: Sutton, 1997), 183.

Image Credits: Frontispiece to John Winstanley’s Poems Written Occasionally (Dublin: Powell, 1742). Digitised by University of Michigan and Made Available via The Internet Archive.

Anon. ‘Robin Hood’ (1828)

The following poem, written anonymously and titled simply as ‘Robin Hood’, appeared in The Oriental Observer and Literary Chronicle in 1828.

The newspaper, printed in Calcutta during the rule of the East India Company, went through a number of name changes during its run (which was not unusual for a newspaper at this time). Its alternative names were:

  • Oriental Observer. 
  • Oriental Literary Observer.
  • Oriental Observer.
  • Oriental Observer and Literary Chronicle.

As some of the names indicate, the paper had a literary focus and often published anonymous pieces of poetry.

‘Tis merry, ‘tis merry, in green Sherwood,

To wind the horn,

When breaks the morn,

O’er the leafy bed of bold Robin Hood.

And the welkin sounds,

And the roebuck bounds,

Through copse, and fallow, and brake, and flood.

The chase is o’er, the merry men all

In their Lincoln green,

Are gather’d at e’en,

To tell of the gallant roe-buck’s fall:

And the bowl is crown’d,

And the toast goes round,

To the grey goose shaft and the bugle call.

‘Robin Hood’, The Oriental Observer, 3 February 1828, p. 407.

The History of Thomas Walsingham’s Historia Anglicana traced through Reappearances of Jack Straw’s Last Dying Speech

A paper delivered at the International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, 1–5 July 2019 by Stephen Basdeo

The so-called Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 was widely reported in various chronicles. The Anonimalle Chronicle—based here in Leeds—is said to be one of the best sources for historians of the rebellion, along with histories written by the likes of John Froissart, Henry Knighton, and Thomas Walsingham. The latter’s chronicle is highly interesting; although modern editions of Walsingham’s writings are published under general titles such as The St Albans Chronicle, these are actually compilations of what, until the work of V. H. Galbraith in the early twentieth century, were actually viewed as three separate and distinct works: Historia Anglicana, Annales Ricardi II et Henrici IV, Chronicon Angliae. The first of these, Historia Anglicana, is what I would like to focus on today because it contains something very interesting: the purported last dying speech and confession of Jack Straw, one of the ringleaders of the Peasants’ Revolt. Obviously, we have to take Straw’s confession, as recorded in Walsingham’s Historia Anglicana, with more than a pinch of salt. R. B. Dobson tells us that it appears at a point in Walsingham’s narrative in which he ‘gladly relieves himself of the need to adhere to the facts and gives free rein to his powerful imagination’.[1] At the same time, Dobson notes that Straw’s confession ‘is unlikely to be a mere figment of Walsingham’s imaginative powers’.[2] Whatever the truth of the matter, later chroniclers took it at face value and the speech reappears in narratives of the revolt up to the year 1715, after which, very oddly, it disappears completely in print until Henry Riley transcribed the Walsingham’s works for the Rolls Series in 1863. So, I set out to find out why this was so. So, I’d like to tell you a story of how and why Jack Straw’s speech and, by extension, the two manuscripts of the Historia Anglicana ‘disappeared’ between 1715 and 1863. So, although I originally planned a kind of ‘textual’ interpretation of the speech (the primary sources weren’t saying what I wanted them to say), tracing the history of a manuscript still fits within the idea of ‘materialities’ and I hope you’re not disappointed!

straw 1
Victorian image of Jack Straw

Straw’s confession occurs at a point in Walsingham’s narrative after Wat Tyler has been put to death. The Lord Mayor, William Walworth, bribes Straw to confess his reasons for stirring up the commons to rebellion. There are two reasons for this: it will ensure that prayers are said for him after his death, and serve for a useful moral to the country at large.[3] We are also told the rebels ‘true’ motivations:

Our plan was to kill all the knights, esquires, and other gentlemen … then we would have killed the king and driven out of the land all possessioners, bishops, monks, canons, and rectors of churches … We would have created kings, Wat Tylere in Kent and one each in other counties.[4]

To begin, we should note that what we now call Historia Anglicana with Straw’s Last Dying speech appears on two surviving manuscripts: The Chronica Maiora, or Corpus Christi College Cambridge manuscript 195, and the Historia Anglicana, Arundel Manuscript No. VII. The former, as the name suggests, was held in the library of the Cambridge College;[5] during the Reformation, manuscripts from St Albans found their way into the hands of a number of private book collectors.[6] It was John Bale (1495–1563)[7] who originally “owned” or “took” the Corpus Christi manuscript which then made its way into the possession of the famous Matthew Parker (1504–75). It was Parker’s collection of Walsingham’s chronicles which paved the way for their first printing; Parker combined Historia Anglicana with Walsingham’s Ypodigma Neustriae into Historia Brevis, first published in 1574 and again in 1594.[8] Historia Brevis was then incorporated into William Camden’s Anglica, Normanica, Hibernica, Cambrica, a Veteribus Scripta, published in Frankfurt in 1603.[9]

One man who clearly had read Walsingham’s chronicles was John Stow (1524–1605). We have a brief summary of the Peasants’ Revolt and of Straw’s confession in Stow’s A Summarie of the Chronicles of England (1565): ‘Jacke Strawe being taken confessed all the conspiracie & lost his head at London’.[10] He definitely would have had access to Walsingham’s works because his patron was the aforementioned Matthew Parker, who asked Stow to translate and edit the so-called Matthew of Westminster’s Flores Historiarum, published in 1567 and to work with Parker on the 1574 Historia Brevis. After collaborating with Parker, Stow wrote his own Annales of England— reworked from Stow’s much shorter Chronicles of England (1580)—published in 1592, 1601, and 1605. In the Annales, Straw’s confession is reproduced faithfully: the aims of the rebels are the same as in Walsingham’s version, to kill the gentlemen and set themselves up as kings; these details were probably taken from the reprint of Straw’s confession in Holinshead’s Chronicles, published in 1577.[11] In Walsingham’s original text Walworth convinces Straw to confess his crimes in return for masses to be said for him after his death.[12] This obviously reflected the idea of death as a discrete event, of purgatory and the necessity of prayers to be said after a sinner’s passing on.[13] There is one variation in the text of the speech: obviously as a result of the Reformation, Straw in Stow’s account will no longer have masses said for him after his death but his confession, William Walworth tells Straw, should simply be said ‘for thy soules health’.[14]

Regarding the second—and I will only briefly talk about it here as I’ll come on to it later:—in 1589, Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, purchased many of Walsingham’s texts from the Abbey at St Albans. Howard died in 1646, after which the manuscript collection was held by Howard’s son, Henry Howard, and then his grandson, also Henry Howard. The grandson then divided the manuscripts between the Royal Society and then the College of Arms in 1666, with the Historia Anglicana given to the latter.[15] Howard’s donation to the College of Arms was likely a philanthropic gesture: in 1666, the College of Arms was a victim of the Great Fire of London and, although a number of members of the public and the public themselves saved as many manuscripts and rolls as they could, many were lost.

The idea that Straw needed to die with a clean conscience or soul reappears in The Iust Reward of Rebels, published at the beginning of the English Revolution in 1642.[16] The source text for this work, which aimed to show the folly of rebelling against one’s king through providing a true account of the rebellion, was likewise, as much of Stow’s work before, Walsingham’s ‘Chronicle of St Albones’.[17] It is merely a politicised appropriation of the events of the revolt and Straw’s speech completed with the aim of criticising the parliamentarians who were waging war against their king. In a similar vein is a book which sees the final time that Straw’s speech appears in popular culture: The History of all the Mobs, written by Robert Ferguson in 1715.[18] All references to ‘souls’ and ‘spirits’ is absent but the text of the speech itself is largely faithful to that of John Stow’s (although Ferguson was not that great a researcher, declaring that the revolt occurred in 1383 and not 1381).[19]

After The History of all the Mobs, Jack Straw’s speech disappears—as far as I can ascertain—from all new retellings of the revolt (I have listed these in my bibliography on this paper should anyone be interested in consulting them). It is referenced nowhere in cheap eighteenth-century chapbook histories of the revolt, or the many ‘Historical Gleanings’ sections of newspapers and periodicals which appeared throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (many of which appeared in the lead up to the Peterloo Massacre at Manchester in 1819). They often reference Froissart’s chronicles but neglect Walsingham, much as William Hone does in his preface to Robert Southey’s Wat Tyler, published in 1817.[20]

The Iust Reward of Rebels published at the height of the English Revolution to show the folly of rebelling against one’s lawful king

The question remains, therefore: why, when other medieval chroniclers were referenced in a variety of ‘popular’ historical essays, was Walsingham neglected? By extension, we might count Stow, Holinshead, and Parker’s Historia Brevis among those chronicles which were likewise, if not forgotten, then at least less privileged. The short answer is: I have absolutely no idea why Walsingham’s Historia Anglicana ceased to be consulted as a source for the revolt after the mid-eighteenth century, although I do have a few suppositions which, at this stage, may be either right or wrong. Having searched some, although not all, catalogues of rare book libraries from the eighteenth century, Stow’s works are rarely mentioned and, if they are, it is usually in general terms such as ‘Stow’s Chronicles’, which does not contain the speech. Where Walsingham is mentioned, again it is in general terms such as ‘Saint Alban’s Chronicle’, many variants of which do not contain the speech.[21] Walsingham enjoys a very brief (one sentence) footnote in Antiquitates Culinariæ (1791), although the particular chronicle referred to is not mentioned, being simply a ‘Walsingham tells us’.[22] Again we find one brief reference to Walsingham in a pamphlet written by the antiquary Joseph Ayloffe, but whether he had actually read the Historia Anglicana is unclear, as he just refers to ‘Walsingham’ and not any specific manuscript.[23] To me, this suggests that, by the mid-eighteenth century, Walsingham’s Historia Anglicana and Stow’s Annales were perhaps left to languish in various libraries and were no longer being consulted by those who wished to retell the revolt.

Mobs 1

Even early radicals’ and reformers’ late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century publications avoided Walsingham. This was probably due to the fact that they disliked ‘party historians’ whose sympathies were always with Walworth and Richard II.[24] Thomas Paine, in his invoking of Wat Tyler’s name, hit upon the same sentiments in reference to the establishment’s views of the rebel.[25] Even in hardbound history books, such as The Life of Wat Tyler published in 1851, which acknowledges its debt to various sources such as Froissart and Knighton, there is no debt paid to Walsingham—poor Walsingham! These nineteenth-century popular history books often took the bare facts of the revolt but put their own spin on it (ahem—see chapter five of my book for further details). Southey’s Wat Tyler play is referenced more in magazines and newspapers such as Bronterre’s National Reformer, The Northern Star, and the Red Republican more than any medieval chronicler ever was when they printed accounts of the revolt (again, I hate to do this ‘cause it is rather vain but: see my book for any nineteenth-century Wat Tyler query). Not even Pierce Egan the Younger’s—he’s a real favourite of mine—well-researched novel contains Straw’s last dying speech.

19thc slide
Poor Walsingham is not referenced in any of these popular publications

So, would Walsingham’s Historia Anglicana ever be rescued from languishing unnoticed? All I’ll say here, as someone who is more Victorian than medieval, is: Thank God for the Victorians! Walsingham’s history would soon be ‘rediscovered’ thanks to Victorian lawmakers’ passage of the Public Record Office Act in 1838, which aimed to

rescue from oblivion … valuable collections of papers the contents of which are now unknown even to the possessors which are … of the highest value on account of the information which they afford in matters of history, law, legislation, biography, and several other important subjects.[26]

Riley worked from Arundel MSS No. VII to produce his critical edition of Historia Anglicana, which he collated with Chronica Maiora in Corpus Christi College’s archives in Cambridge. Now, since the mid-eighteenth century, the College of Arms had been left to languish; it could barely afford to rebuild after the Great Fire and after the Hanoverian succession, the Georgian kings showed little interest in the college, refused to grant it any money, and even refused to renew its royal charter. In a situation that I’m sure we can all identify with, they kept applying to the government for money and kept getting rejected—history really does repeat itself! By the 1830s, the college was dilapidated and at risk of fire but the government ordered the college, with some financial incentive, to make a list of all the records and manuscripts which they held to comply with the Public Record Office Act.[27] This suggests, as the Public Record Act itself recognised, that the College of Arms simply did not know what they had. A small team of researchers was assembled by the government to collect information about Britain’s records and, where necessary, publish them. Among these was Henry Thomas Riley. Little is known of Riley’s life except for the fact that he was a lawyer, called to the bar in 1847, but his legal career not paying well, he took odd jobs editing and translating old manuscripts for the Public Record Office. But Riley published Walsingham’s chronicles as distinct, separate works which is arguably better practice than some modern translators who compile all of them together into one generalised Chronica Maiora. Riley accepted that the Historia Anglicana was ‘based upon’ or ‘derived from’ a larger and more complete Walsingham text, Royal MS. 13. E. ix—this omits Straw’s speech—but was hesitant to view all of Walsingham chronicles as one large ‘whole’, and his position was disputed in the 1930s by V. H. Galbraith.[28]

College 1
College of Arms in the 1840s

While Galbraith’s conclusions—that each Walsingham chronicle was part of a larger St Albans Chronicle—have become accepted scholarly ‘fact’—based on identifying these manuscripts’ repetitions and references to each other—his publication of the St Alban’s Chronicle comprising Historia Anglicana, Annales Ricardi II et Henrici IV, Chronicon Angliae, a practice carried on by modern editors, has obscured the history of the manuscripts to some extent. Sometimes, when studying the reappearance of a specific passage such as Straw’s speech and why it disappeared from ‘popular’ understanding of the Peasants’ Revolt, the history of one chronicle needs to be disentangled from the rest with which it has been ‘lumped together’. I do, of course, need to do further research; Walsingham’s Historia Anglicana may have been one of those manuscripts in need of being ‘rescued from oblivion’, but this does not account for the lack of citations to John Stow and Holinshead and their versions of Jack Straw’s last dying speech.

Riley’s publication of Walsingham’s Chronicles


[1] R. B. Dobson, ed., The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 (London: MacMillan, 1970), p. 363.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Thomas Walsingham, ‘The Confession of John Straw’, in The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, ed. by R. B. Dobson (London: MacMillan, 1970), pp. 365–6 (p. 365).

[4] Ibid., p. 366.

[5] James G. Clark, ‘Thomas Walsingham Reconsidered: Books and Learning at Late-Medieval St. Albans’, Speculum, 77: 3 (2002), 832–60 (p. 837): ‘There is an important group of St. Albans manuscripts containing material attributed to Walsingham all of which can be dated to the second quarter of the fifteenth century, that is, within a generation of his death. This includes Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 195; and Bodl., MSS Bodley 585, Douce 299, Rawlinson B 152, and Rawlinson D 358’.

[6] J. Clark, ‘Reformation and reaction at St Albans Abbey, 1530-58’, The English Historical Review, 115: 461 (2000), 297–328 (p. 321): the chief instigator in this respect was Richard Boreman, the last Abbot of St Albans, who sold a thirteenth-century anthology of astronomical treaties to John Dee in 1553, while the previous abbot, Robert Catton, also retained a number of books from St Albans’s library for his own personal use, as did Boreman.

[7] Thomas Walsingham, The Chronica Maiora, MS Cambridge CCC 195; Thomas Walsingham, The Chronica Maiora of Thomas Walsingham, 1376–1422, Trans. David Preest (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2005), p. 22.

[8] For a fuller account of medieval books in early modern England and specifically of Matthew Parker, see the following: Jennifer Summit, Memory’s Library: Medieval Books in Early Modern England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008); R. I. Page, Matthew Parker and his Books (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1993); Anthony Grafton, ‘Matthew Parker: The Book as Archive’, History of Humanities, 2: 1 (2017), 15–50.

[9] John Foxe, Actes and Monuments (London, 1570), pp. 702–3: John Foxe in Acts and Monuments, first printed in 1653, likewise drew upon Walsingham’s chronicles, although Straw’s speech does not appear in Foxe’s work and the only information of the revolt first appeared in the 1570 edition, and what Foxe included was relatively short: ‘But let vs consider yet further of these xx. thousand souldiours so sodenly without wages, without vitall, or other prouision congregated together, what they were, from whence, out of what quarter, countrey, or countreys they came. MarginaliaIn other kynges dayes, when soeuer any rebellion is against the kyng, moued by the commōs, as when Iacke Straw, and Wat Tyler of Kent, and Essex rose in þe tyme of kyng Richard. 2. Whē William Mandeuill of Abyngdon, Iacke Cade of Kent, in þe tyme of kyng Henry the 6. In the tyme of kyng Henry the 8. when the commotion was of rebels in Lyncolshyre, thē in Yorkeshyre, when in kyng Edward the 6. tyme Humfrey Arundell in Deuonshyre, Captayne Kyte in Northfolke made styrre agaynst the kyng, the countrey and partes from whence these rebels did spryng, were both noted and also diffamed. In this so traiterous commotion therfore let vs nowe learne, what men these were, and from what countrey or countreis in all Englande they came. If they came out of any, let the Chronicles declare what countreys they were. If they came out of none (as none is named) then let them come out of Outopia, where be lyke this figment was first forged, and inuented. Wherefore seyng neither the countreys from whence they came, nor yet the names of any of all these thousand do appeare what they were eyther in Chronicle or in recorde, but remaine altogether vnknowen, I leaue it (gentle reader) to thy iudgemēt, to thinke therupon, as thy wisedome shall lead thee’. There is little variation upon these words in successive editions of Foxe’s works which were published in 1576 and 1583.

[10] John Stow, A Summarie of the Chronicles of England (London: Richard Bradocke, 1598), p. 149.

[11] Ralph Holinshed, et al., The Chronicles of England, 4 vols (London: Lucas Harrison, 1577), IV, p. 1036.

[12] Walsingham, ‘The Confession of John Straw’, p. 365. See also Thomas Walsingham, Chronica Monasterii S. Albani. Thomae Walsingham, Quondam Monachi S. Albani, Historia Anglicana, ed. by Henry Thomas Riley, 2 vols (London: Longman, 1864), II, p. 10.

[13] Katherine Royer, The English Execution Narrative, 1200–1700, 2nd edn (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016), pp. 51–3.

[14] John Stow, Annales of England (London, 1601), p. 465.

[15] H. T. Riley, ed., Chronica Monasterii S. Albani: Thomae Walsingham, Quondam Monachi S. Albani, Historia Anglicana, London Rolls Series, 2 vols (London: Longman, 1872), I, p. x.

[16] The Iust Reward of Rebels (London: F. Couls, 1642), pp. 14–15: ‘The Lord Mayor againe thus seconded it; I speake to thee as a dying man who now ought to study for the peace of thy soule, and not dissemble at all either with God, or man’.

[17] Ibid., p. 3.

[18] Stephen Basdeo, The Life and Legend of a Rebel Leader: Wat Tyler (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2018), pp. 61–3.

[19] Robert Ferguson, The History of All the Mobs, Tumults, and Insurrections in Great Britain (London: J. Moore, 1715), pp. 12–13.

[20] Robert Southey, Wat Tyler: A Dramatic Poem (London: Printed for William Hone, 1817), p. xvii.

[21] John Berkenhout, Biographia Literaria; or, a Biographical History of Literature, 2 vols (London: J. Dodsley, 1748), I, p. 48.

[22] Richard Warner, Antiquitates Culinariæ; or Curious Tracts Relating to the Culinary Affairs of the Old English (London: R. Blamire, 1791), p. xxxi.

[23] Joseph Ayloffe, An Account of the Body of King Edward the First (London: Printed in the Year 1775), p. 21.

[24] ‘Historical Gleanings’, The English Chartist Circular, 28 (n. d.), 28.

[25] Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man: Part the Second, 8th edn (London: J. S. Jordan, 1792), p. 111.

[26] Roger Ellis, ‘The historical manuscripts commission 1869–1969’, Journal of the Society of Archivists, 2: 6 (1962), 233–42 (p. 233).

[27] Anthony Wagner, Heralds of England: A History of the Office and College of Arms (London: HMSO, 1967), p. 167.

[28] V. H. Galbraith, ‘Thomas Walsingham and the Saint Albans Chronicle, 1272–1422’, The English Historical Review, 47: 185 (1932), 12–30.

Further Reading:

Ailesbury, Charles Bruce, A Catalogue of the Books of the Right Honourable Charles Viscount Bruce of Ampthill (London: Printed at the Theatre, 1733)

Ayloffe, Joseph, An Account of the Body of King Edward the First (London: Printed in the Year 1775)

Basdeo, Stephen, The Life and Legend of a Rebel Leader: Wat Tyler (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2018)

Berkenhout, John, Biographia Literaria; or, a Biographical History of Literature, 2 vols (London: J. Dodsley, 1748)

Bibliotheca Hollandiana (Norwich: Henry Crosgrove, 1733)

Bloch, Maurice and Jonathan Parry, ‘Introduction: Death and the Regeneration of Life’, in Death and the Regeneration of Life, ed. by Maurice Bloch and Jonathan Parry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), pp. 1–45

Brie, F. W. D., ‘Wat Tyler and Jack Straw’, The English Historical Review, 21: 81 (1906), 106-111

Bronterre’s National Reformer

A Catalogue of Books (Thomas and John Egerton, 1787)

A Catalogue of the Harleian Collection of Manuscripts, Purchased by Authority of Parliament, 2 vols (London: Dryden Leach, 1759)

Chaucer, Geoffrey, ‘The Canterbury Tales: The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’, in The Canterbury Tales and Faerie Queene, ed. by D. Laing Purves (Edinburgh: W. P. Nimmo, Hay and Mitchell, 1897), pp. 165–77

Clark, James G., ‘Reformation and reaction at St Albans Abbey, 1530-58’, The English Historical Review, 115: 461 (2000), 297–328

————, ‘Thomas Walsingham Reconsidered: Books and Learning at Late-Medieval St. Albans’, Speculum, 77: 3 (2002), 832–60

Cleveland, John, The Rustick Rampant; or Rurall Anarchy Affronting Monarchy (London: F. C., 1658)

The Complaint and Petition of the Whole Kingdome of Englande (London: W. Webb, 1643)

A Dialogue Between Mischievous Tom, Wat Tyler, and an English Farmer (London: John Stockdale, 1793)

Dobson, R. B., ed., The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 (London: MacMillan, 1970)

Ellis, Roger, ‘The historical manuscripts commission 1869–1969’, Journal of the Society of Archivists, 2: 6 (1962), 233–42

The English Chartist Circular

Evans, Thomas, ed., Old Ballads, Historical and Narrative, 2 vols (London: T. Evans, 1777)

Ferguson, James, Robert Ferguson the Plotter; or, The Secret of the Rye-House Conspiracy and the Story of a Strange Career (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1887)

Ferguson, Robert, The History of All the Mobs, Tumults, and Insurrections in Great Britain (London: J. Moore, 1715)

Foxe, John, Actes and Monuments (London, 1570)

Galbraith, V. H., ‘Thomas Walsingham and the Saint Albans Chronicle, 1272–1422’, The English Historical Review, 47: 185 (1932), 12–30

Godfrey, Walter H., and Anthony Wagner, An Account of the College of Arms in Queen Victoria Street (London: Guild & School of Handicraft, 1963)

Goldsmith, Oliver, Goldsmith’s History of England: From the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Death of George II (Paris: Baudry’s European Library, 1844)

Gordon, Stephen R., ‘The Walking Dead in Medieval England: Literary and Archaeological Perspectives’ (Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Manchester, 2013)

Grafton, Anthony, ‘Matthew Parker: The Book as Archive’, History of Humanities, 2: 1 (2017), 15–50

Graham, Timothy, ‘Matthew Parker’s Manuscripts: an Elizabethan library and its use’, in The Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland, ed. by Elisabeth Leedham-Green, et al., 3 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 322–42

The History of Wat Tyler and Jack Straw (London: [n. pub.], 1788)

The History of Wat Tyler and Jack Straw (London: Edward Midwinter [n. d.])

Holinshed, Ralph, et al., The Chronicles of England, 4 vols (London: Lucas Harrison, 1577)

The Iust Reward of Rebels (London: F. Couls, 1642)

The Life and Death of Iacke Strawe (London: Iohn Danter, 1593)

Northern Star

Page, R. I., Matthew Parker and his Books (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1993)

Paine, Thomas, The Rights of Man: Part the Second, 8th edn (London: J. S. Jordan, 1792)

Phillpott, Matthew, The Reformation of England’s Past: John Foxe and the Revision of History in the Late Sixteenth Century (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2018)

‘The Rebellion of Wat Tyler and Jack Straw’, in Old Ballads, Historical and Narrative, ed. by Thomas Evans, 2 vols (London: T. Evans, 1777), I, pp. 280–84

Royer, Katherine, The English Execution Narrative, 1200–1700, 2nd edn (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016)

‘Some Account of Wat Tyler’s Rebellion’, The Universal Magazine, June (1780), 322

Southey, Robert, Wat Tyler: A Dramatic Poem (London: William Hone, 1817)

Stow, George B., ‘Bodleian Library MS Bodley 316 and the Dating of Thomas Walsingham’s Literary Career’, Manuscripta, 25: 2 (1981), 67–76

————, ‘Richard II in Thomas Walsingham’s Chronicles’, Speculum, 59: 1 (1984), 68–102

Stow, John, Annales of England (London, 1601)

————, A Summarie of the Chronicles of England (London: Richard Bradocke, 1598)

Summit, Jennifer, Memory’s Library: Medieval Books in Early Modern England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008)

 ‘Tax Has Tenet Us Alle (Corpus Christi Coll. Cambridge MS 369 fol. 46v)’, in Medieval English Political Writings, ed. by James M. Dean (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996), pp. 147–9

Trokelowe, Johannis and Henrici de Blandeford, Chonrica Monasterii S. Albani. Monachorum S. Albani, Necnon Quorundam Anonymorum Chronica et Annales, ed. by H. T. Riley, London Rolls Series (London: Longman, 1866)

Turner, Victor, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (Chicago, IL: Aldine, 1969)

Wagner, Anthony, Heralds of England: A History of the Office and College of Arms (London: HMSO, 1967)

Warner, Richard, Antiquitates Culinariæ; or Curious Tracts Relating to the Culinary Affairs of the Old English (London: R. Blamire, 1791)

Walsingham, Thomas, Chronicon Angliae, 1328–88, ed. by E. Maunde Thompson, London Rolls Series (London, 1874)

————, The Chronica Maiora of Thomas Walsingham, 1376–1422, Trans. David Preest (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2005)

————, Chronica Monasterii S. Albani: Thomae Walsingham, Quondam Monachi S. Albani, Historia Anglicana, ed. by H. T. Riley, London Rolls Series, 2 vols (London: Longman, 1872)

————, ‘The Confession of John Straw’, in The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, ed. by R. B. Dobson (London: MacMillan, 1970), pp. 365–6

‘Wat Tyler’, The Republican, 29 March 1817, 65–80

‘Wat Tyler’, The Weekly Entertainer, 19 May 1817, 390–91

Zook, M., ‘Turncoats and Double Agents in Restoration and Revolutionary England: The Case of Robert Ferguson, the Plotter’, Eighteenth-Century Studies, 42: 3 (2009), 363–78


Opium; or, How it Became a “Dirty Drug”

By Stephen Basdeo

We live in an era in which, increasingly, governments in many western countries are realising that they are losing the so-called “War on Drugs”. Some countries have completely decriminalised certain substances, while in some states in the USA, you can buy marijuana over the counter for both medicinal and recreational use. Our attitude to illicit substances is increasingly looking not too dissimilar from that held by many people in the early nineteenth century.

Stephen Carver and Sharon Ruston discussing 19th-Century Opium use.

To find out more about historical attitudes to drug use, in particular opium, I attended Bradford Literature Festival on Sunday 30 June and sat in on a panel entitled “The Opium Eaters”, featuring two experts on the subject: Professor Sharon Ruston and Dr Stephen Carver. Ruston is Professor of Literature at Lancaster University and specialises in Romantic-era literature, and Carver is a former “recovering” academic (self-described) who has spent a lifetime researching many things Victorian and particularly the “underworld”.

Thomas De Quincey

The format of the discussion was just that: an informal chat about all things to do with nineteenth-century opium use and, importantly, its relationship to literature. During the discussion I learnt a lot from Ruston and Carver and I hope, if you’re reading this, that from the notes I took at the panel you will too!

Opium has been used by people as far back as Neolithic times, but it was a hot commodity in the nineteenth century; the British Empire fought two wars against China for the right to sell the substance in that country. And it was a popular substance with Britons as well: you could smoke it or eat it, or, you could drink laudanum, which is a mixture of strong alcohol and opium. It was an excellent form of pain relief; people took it to cure stomach upsets, toothache, back-aches, and nervous disorders. Its euphoric effects meant that it soon became a popular substance with literary and artistic types in the nineteenth century.

De Quincey’s Opium Eater book

The writer who was one of the first to chronicle his experiences as an opium “addict” (I use the word carefully here as in this period there was little awareness that one could become addicted to opium) was Thomas De Quincey, who wrote Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1821). De Quincey was born in Manchester in 1785 to fairly affluent parents but was a bit of a cad: constantly in debt, went through bouts of homelessness while evading creditors—he even lived with the Wordsworths for a while—and cavorted with 15 year old prostitutes. His book, written after a lifetime of opium eating, sought to give a readers a taste of both the pleasures of opium and the pain of opium.

Laudanum might be used for a variety of complaints

De Quincey originally began eating opium to relieve toothache but he really enjoyed the “hit” that it gave him; the experience he described as “sublime”, which means beautiful, awe-inspiring, yet unnerving. It certainly made his nights on the town more enjoyable, often taking it before going out to the opera. His opium and alcohol infused nights did not always end well, however, for sometimes he was unable to find his way home. While under the influence, he was often known for starting random conversations with members of the public.

After his book was published, De Quincey came in for a lot of criticism: fans of opium were displeased as well: Dorothy Wordsworth (of all people) objected to De Quincey’s having demonized a drug which, quite frankly, everyone enjoyed.

The medical profession objected to the book’s glorification of a drug which, while not illegal, was certainly harmful and, given that these were nineteenth-century folks, certainly immoral. And the doctors at the time were fond of moralising; they had to break the stereotype of sinister crooks which had gathered around their profession since the Burke and Hare murders of the early 1800s, when a doctor in Scotland had employed the services of two murderers to acquire cadavers for his use.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

When De Quincey was writing, opium could be purchased over the counter from an apothecary. It was not only the doctors who criticised the use of opium; Frederich Engels in the 1840s complained in The Condition of the Working Class in England that the working classes were being ‘enfeebled’ by ‘soothing syrups’, a by-word for opium.

It was surprising to learn from the discussion the extent to which the influence of and references to opium taking pervade nineteenth-century texts. My own favourite author, Walter Scott, was, I learnt for the first time, not averse to a dose or two of laudanum to calm his stomach. For a stomach complaint, laudanum was the worst thing Scott could have taken because it makes you constipated, and would have made the ageing Scot’s bowel complaints even worse. Apparently Scott wrote The Bride of Lammermore (1819) pretty much in an opium induced haze—having visited Abbotsford recently, I’d never have guessed that Scott’s grand old house was the site of drug taking!

Scott’s famous home Abbotsford — evidently a site of drug-taking!

When De Quincey met Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), the pair of them recognised fellow users in each other. Coleridge’s life had pretty much followed a pattern similar to De Quincey’s; a fellow creative, the former was likewise heavily in debt and moved around a lot to avoid creditors—Coleridge likely had bipolar disorder, however, and probably used opium to relieve the symptoms. One of the panellists said that often nineteenth-century writers who used opium often had wonderful ideas but sometimes failed to carry them through to completion; this is very evident in the staggering number of unfinished works Coleridge left, many of which were published as ‘fragments’ after he died.

The tide soon turned against opium; the pharmacists were often looked at by the local community as being of equal weight to medical doctors; however, it was the medical profession’s desire to make themselves respectable in the public eye that led to their campaigning for the passage of the Pharmacy Act in 1868, which ruled that, from then on, dangerous drugs like opium had to be prescribed by a medical doctor.

fatal facility.jpg
Buying drugs in the nineteenth century.

Thereafter, opium becomes something, not indulged in by artistic and literary bohemians but a thing that was taken in seedy opium dens, a borderline criminal act. There were actually very few opium dens in Britain in the nineteenth century, even if literary works like Charles Dickens’s Edwin Drood (1870) and Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray (1890) made it seem like they were on every street corner of London’s East End—a contemporary joke was that more opium dens existed in literature than in real life.

The major change in both the government’s and the public’s attitude can be seen in the passage of Dangerous Drugs Act (1928), a time when the community of opium takers was fairly small compared to numbers of people who took it in the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, as the panellists pointed out, drug taking, particularly hard drugs, continued to be a part of the creative process into the 1960s, in spite of the criminalisation of most major substances. What you could buy over the counter in the 1810s would, by the 1960s, land you with a potential criminal conviction.

Carver signing copies of his book: The Nineteenth-Century Underworld (2018)