Saturday, July 25, 2015

Outlaws in Context: A Photo Post of the 2015 IARHS Conference in Doncaster

From 30 June to 2 July 2015, the International Association for Robin Hood Studies held the group's 10th Biennial Meeting. Many of our fellow outlaws could not attend, and we want to be able to connect to Robin Hood scholars around the globe! So we've curated a collection of photographs, all taken by a variety of scholars during, and after, the conference. All the photographs are copyright 2015 by their owners, who are listed in the captions. Please do not hotlink or distribute these photos; these photos may not be used for commercial purposes without express written consent of the copyright owners. This is a large post, so all photos are beneath the jump!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Notes from the Greenwood: Little John's Answer to Robin Hood and the Duke of Lancaster (1727)

Little John’s Answer to Robin Hood and the Duke of Lancaster (1727)

By Stephen Basdeo

Leeds Trinity University

“When the people find themselves generally aggrieved, they are apt to manifest their resentment in satirical ballads, allegories, by-sayings, and ironical points of low wit.”
- Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke [1]


The early eighteenth century was the golden age of satire.
Photo by Stephen Basdeo
The satirical periodicals of Sir Richard Steele and Joseph Addison, The Tatler and The Spectator, attacked the vices and follies of polite society, whilst plays such as John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728) equated those in ‘high life’ with the thieves, prostitutes, and beggars in ‘low life.’ A recurring target of many satirists’ writings was the Whig Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745). He was compared to the Thief Taker, Jonathan Wild (1683-1745), in both Henry Fielding’s eponymous 1743 novel as well as The Beggar’s Opera. [2] The Prime Minister was accused of many things including fraud, embezzlement, and it is no surprise that, with his nick-name being Robin, he was often equated with the freebooter of medieval legend, Robin Hood.  Satirical ballads were popular, and in 1727 two satires appeared. The first was Robin Hood and the Duke of Lancaster, which I will briefly speak of, and which has warranted a cursory commentary by Barrie Dobson and John Taylor. [3] Indeed, I feel that this ballad has been neglected somewhat, probably owing to John Mathew Gutch’s rather inaccurate comment that ‘it is not to be supposed that this ballad relates to any transactions in the life of our hero…it is in all probability a satire upon some courtier, who had made application to the king for the rangership of one of his forests.’ [4] After this brief discussion, however, I would like to bring to your attention an archival “discovery” that I made on 22 July 2015, the ballad Little John’s Answer to Robin Hood and the Duke of Lancaster.


Robin Hood and the Duke of Lancaster (1727)

Robin Hood and the Duke of Lancaster reads as though it is a sequel to the Robin Hood legend. The year is 1202, and Robin has been pardoned by King John and has become the King’s ‘keeper.’ He is corrupt, and in the name of the King imposes high taxes on all the noblemen of England. The Duke of Lancaster is upset with this state of affairs, and travels to see the King in order to ‘expose’ Robin Hood’s corruption:

       My good liege, quoth the Duke, you are grossly abused,
       By knaves far and near, by your grace kindly used;
       There’s your keeper so crafty, called Bold Robin Hood,
       Keeps us all but himself, my good liege, in a wood.

       He riseth ere daybreak to kill your fat dear,
       And never calls me to partake of the cheer;
       For shoulders and umbles, and other good fees,
       He says, for your use he locks up with his keys. [5]

The Duke is particularly concerned that Robin Hood is inviting his friends to serve with him in the government, and that concern rests with the appointment of one Harry Gambol:

       What is worse, he will make Harry Gambol a keeper;
       And the plot every day is laid deeper and deeper;
       Should he bring him once in, your court would grow thinner,
       For instead of a Saint, he would turn out a sinner. [6]

King John, it appears, is perfectly acquainted with the current state of affairs in his government, but has resigned himself to the fact that, even if he were to appoint anybody else as his keeper, they would be just as corrupt. And this is a view shared by the next ballad which I will discuss which is called Little John’s Answer.


Little John's Answer (1727)

The ballad Little John’s Answer was authored anonymously. Indeed, this was a common practice amongst the writers of eighteenth-century satire. It was a time when claiming authorship of a satirical work could sometimes land an author in a spot of bother during this century. Daniel Defoe, for example, once found himself in the pillory for publishing a satirical work that was deemed to be seditious by the authorities entitled The Shortest Way with Dissenters (1702). Little John’s Answer is not a typical broadside ballad: it is a four page pamphlet and cost 4 pence. Broadsides were typically only one sheet and cost a penny.

Little John’s Answer is a response to Robin Hood and the Duke of Lancaster. The year is 1202 and Robin has been pardoned and is now the King’s ‘keeper.’ The Duke of Lancaster travels to see the King in order to expose Robin’s corruption:
       Then soon the Duke, his tale did begin,
       How bold Robin Hood, did abuse the good King,
       By keeping his subjects, inclos’d in a wood. [7]

King John says that were the Duke of Lancaster in Robin’s position, he would be just as corrupt:

       Should I turn Robin out, that would not be all,
       You tell me, You would have no Robbing at all:
       But Robin will Robb, do all that you can,
       For he is a Wit, and a vast Cunning Man.
       I guess what your Grace, now, does mean, very plain,
       If Robin’s a thief you would be the same;
       I may as well have my keeper, a R------- that I know,
       Sir, you have your answer, and so you may go. [8]

As to the concern that Harry Gambol will be made a keeper also, the King responds in a manner that he is not one who can be played by politicians:

       Says my Liege, should I make Harry Gambol a Keeper,
       I do not think that the Plot it could be deeper:
       My Court, when he comes, shall ne’er be much thinner,
       For I’ll keep him out Sir, as I am a Sinner. [9]

The ballad concludes that the entire political system is broken. Robin and the Duke of Lancaster are the same type of people:  they are politicians, and are no better than robbers.

Robin Hood stands in for the then-current Prime Minister, Walpole, the Duke of Lancaster represents Baron Nicholas Lechmere, Harry Gambol is Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke (1678-1751), and King John is King George I (r.1714-1727). And before relating the events to which both ballads refer, it is necessary to give some background to these historical personages. In 1714 the Whigs won the election, and they ousted from officers many of the Tories who had been members of the previous administration under Queen Anne. One of their targets was the Tory Lord Bolingbroke who, wanting to avoid a Court case on spurious charges of corruption, fled to France and began to serve the exiled Pretender, James Francis Edward Stuart (1688-1766). Bolingbroke also played a major part in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715, serving as James’ Secretary of State. After the rising, James blamed Bolingbroke for its failure. Sensing he was about to fall out of favour, Bolingbroke secretly made contact with the British Ambassador in Paris and negotiated for himself a pardon, thereby allowing him to return to England. Bolingbroke returned to England in April 1723, though was still subject to some restrictions such as not being able to take up his seat in the House of Lords. [10]

Meantime, Walpole had entrenched his power in the House of Commons by ingratiating himself to the King, and also by appointing his key political allies to the top posts of the government. And by 1727 Walpole was indeed the ‘great man’ of British politics, and according to one early biographer, ‘stood in the highest estimation of King and nation.’ [11] Although supporters of the Tory opposition did not think too highly of him at the same time, as the satirical works of Fielding and Gay alluded to above indicate. In 1727 Bolingbroke also tried to effect the full restitution of his aristocratic rights, and so approached Ms. Kendal, the King’s “favourite” to see if she could have a word in the King’s ear, so to speak. She was dismissed outright by the King, and all seemed lost for Bolingbroke. However, Walpole proved to be an unlikely ally in this matter and convinced the King to at least have an audience with Bolingbroke as it was politically expedient for him to do so:
At a proper interval, Walpole besought the king to grant an audience to Bolingbroke; and urged the propriety, by observing, that if this request was rejected, much clamour would be raised against him for keeping the king to himself, and for permitting none to approach his person who might tell unwelcome truths. [12]

The King agreed, and eventually a meeting was arranged between him and Bolingbroke. 

Now begins the events to which Little John’s Answer refers. Another man, Lechmere (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancashire, hence the 'Duke of Lancaster' in the ballad), got wind of this and thought that Walpole was inviting someone who had previously been a traitor to serve in the government. On the day appointed for the meeting between the King and Bolingbroke, Lechmere travelled to see the King upon the flimsy pretence of getting him to sign some papers. When Lechmere asked to see the King he was told that he must wait for he was in an interview with Bolingbroke. At that moment Bolingbroke exited the King’s apartment, and this happened:
Lechmere instantly rushed into the closet, and without making any apology, or entering upon his own business, burst out into the most violent invectives against Walpole, whom he reviled as not contented with doing mischief himself, but as having introduced one [Bolingbroke] who was, if possible worse than himself, to be his assistant. [13]

The King was bemused as Lechmere had completely misunderstood the situation, and asked Lechmere if he would like to be Prime Minister, to which Lechmere did not answer, which accounts for the phrase in the ballad:

       Sir, would you succeed him? pray let us dispute,
       Obedience and silence, answer’d the Duke;
       The King turn’d about, and he smil’d for to hear. [14]

Lechmere left the King’s apartment, muttering to himself and having achieved nothing. Walpole, slightly confused, asked the King what had just happened, to which the King simply replied ‘Bagatelles! Bagatelles!’ [15] To the King, the entire situation was simply amusing. 

In the political climate of the eighteenth century, however, a funny event such as this was easily picked up on by satirists in the press to lampoon politicians. The events between Lechmere, Bolingbroke, Walpole, and the King would have needed to be current enough in the gossip of the town for people to get the joke, so it is primarily a London-based politically-informed audience that this ballad was written for.  I also think that the author of Little John’s Answer is appealing to a wider plebeian audience. For instance, it is evident that he intends his work to be sung, as a traditional ballad would be, because the title page reads ‘to the Tune of The Abbot of Canterbury.’ [16] Hence Little John’s Answer features the well-known ‘derry derry down’ refrain common to many folk ballads. Although it is evident that the ballad has relatively little to do with the Robin Hood legend, I think the author, in choosing Robin Hood as a subject, is appealing to people who would have been familiar with contemporary Robin Hood ballads such as Robin Hood and the Tanner (which also features the ‘derry down’ refrain). Indeed, all classes in the early modern period participated in what we would term ‘popular’ culture, [17] and as the research of Jurgen Habermas shows, furthermore, it was through the print culture of the early eighteenth century that contributed to the creation of the public sphere, in which the political issues could be debated. [18] Little John’s Answer is part of this critique of contemporary politics that was fueled by the press.  Whilst a lot of eighteenth-century political commentary is divided along party lines, however, this ballad is critical of corruption in the political system as a whole. This is perhaps why the author has chosen the medieval period; in his own supposedly enlightened times, the statesmen who run the country are no better than medieval lords.



The events which the ballad relates are often a mere humorous footnote in eighteenth-century political history books. And you are probably wondering why we, as Robin Hood scholars, should pay attention to Little John’s Answer. Robin Hood emerges from the ballad with a tarnished reputation; he is a thief and ‘a vast cunning man.’ [20] Although this description in reality refers to Walpole, it is the fact that Robin Hood can be used in such a way that is significant. In Robin Hood studies, there is currently a narrative, explained most excellently in Stephen Knight’s Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography (1994), which holds that the legend, throughout the course of its history, became gradually gentrified. It is a process that began, according to Knight, with Anthony Munday’s two plays entitled The Downfall of Robert, Earle of Huntington (1598), and The Death of Robert, Earle of Huntington (1601). Now taken alone, these two Duke of Lancaster ballads do not invalidate the entire narrative of gentrification which the legend clearly underwent. However, when taken together with eighteenth-century criminal biographies, in which Robin is described as a ‘sinner’  who gave into his ‘wicked inclinations,’ and led ‘a wicked, licentious course of life for above twenty year’ [21] (and criminal biography was one of the most popular forms of reading entertainment in the early eighteenth century), it is evident that such un-gentrified representations of Robin Hood co-existed for a time with the more ‘safe’ depictions and appropriations of Robin Hood, such as Moses Mendez’ play Robin Hood: A New Musical Entertainment (1751), or Francis Waldron’s The Sad Shepherd (1783). I have not been able to find any gentrified representations of Robin Hood between c.1700 and c.1730; this indicates that the process of gentrification paused, at least for a few decades. This could be explained by the fact that, as property and money were sacrosanct to the aspirational middle classes during the early eighteenth century, it is no surprise that they did not wish to identify with, or think highly of a man, who stole from the rich.



These eighteenth-century satirical appropriations deserve attention from Robin Hood scholars. The appropriations nuance the narrative of gentrification and allow us to see the legend, and particularly its later components, as carefully using the past to make sense of the present. In the context of other contemporary documents and source, it becomes clear that the Robin Hood of the most popular forms of eighteenth-century print culture was not a man to be admired or respected. And the fact that Robin Hood can be equated with an embezzling and corrupt Prime Minister is evidence of this.



[1] Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, The Craftsman, 10 Feb. 1733 cited in Kathleen Wilson, The Sense of the People: Politics, Culture and Imperialism in England, 1715-1785 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 27.

[2] In an age before the establishment of a professional police force, the detection and prosecution of crime fell to the office of thief taker. They were private entrepreneurs who charged a fee to victims of robbery for the recovery of their stolen goods. The posts were open to corruption, and Jonathan Wild (1682-1725) became the head of a criminal network whilst functioning as London’s chief law-enforcer. He was finally caught out in 1725 when he lost his grip of power on London’s underworld and his henchmen began to turn against him. For more information see Lucy  Moore, The Thieves’ Opera (London: Penguin, 1997). 

[3] Barrie Dobson & John Taylor, Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw (Stroud: Sutton, 1976), pp. 191-194.

[4] John Mathew Gutch, ‘Introduction: Robin Hood and the Duke of Lancaster’ [1727] ed. by John Mathew Gutch in A Lytell Geste of Robin Hode with other Ancient and Modern Ballads and Songs Relating to this Celebrated Yeoman (London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longman, 1847), pp.396-400 (p. 397)

[5] Anon. ‘Robin Hood and the Duke of Lancaster’ ed. by John Mathew Gutch, A Lytell Geste of Robin Hode, p. 397.

[6] Anon. ‘Robin Hood and the Duke of Lancaster’ p. 397.

[7] Anon. Little John’s Answer to Robin Hood and the Duke of Lancaster. A Ballad, to the Tune of The Abbot of Canterbury (London: Printed by T. White in Chancery Lane, 1727), pp. 1-4 (p.4).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] H. T. Dickinson, ‘St John, Henry, styled first Viscount Bolingbroke (1678–1751)’ The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) [Internet Accessed 8 April 2015].

[11] William Coxe, Memoirs of the Life and Administration of Sir Robert Walpole, Earl of Oxford (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Earl and Brown, 1816), p. 250.

[12] Coxe, Memoirs, pp. 252-253.

[13] Coxe, Memoirs, p. 253.

[14] Anon. Little John’s Answer, p.4.

[15] Coxe, Memoirs, p. 253.

[16] Anon. Little John’s Answer, p.1.

[17] Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (London: Temple Smith, 1978). 

[18] Jurgen Habermas The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Trans. By Thomas Burger (Cambridge, MS: MIT Press, 1982).

[19] Anon. ‘Robin Hood and the Duke of Lancaster’ p. 398.

[20] Anon. Little John’s Answer, p.4.

[21] Alexander Smith, A Complete History of the Lives and Robberies of the Most Notorious Highwaymen, Footpads, Shoplifts, and Cheats [1719] ed. by Arthur Heyward (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1933), pp. 408-412.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Announcing New Journal: The Bulletin of the International Association for Robin Hood Studies

The International Association for Robin Hood Studies (IARHS) is pleased to announce the creation of a new, peer-reviewed, open-access journal, The Bulletin of the International Association for Robin Hood Studies. The journal will be published bi-annually beginning in Fall 2017 and will be available on the IARHS’ website, Robin Hood Scholars: IARHS on the Web: Scholars are invited to send original research on any aspect of the Robin Hood tradition. The editors welcome essays in the following areas: formal literary explication, manuscript and early printed book investigations, historical inquiries, new media examinations, and theory / cultural studies approaches. We are looking for concise essays, 4,000-8,000-words long. Submissions should be formatted following the most recent edition of the Chicago Manual of Style. Submissions and queries should be directed to both Valerie B. Johnson ( and also Alexander L. Kaufman (

Friday, July 17, 2015

CFP: IARHS and Leeds 2016

CFP: IARHS and the IMC, Leeds, 4-7 July 2016

The IARHS is proposing two sessions for next year's Leeds, whose conference theme is "Food, Feast, and Famine."

Leeds will only consider fully formed sessions. Please send 300-word abstracts for either proposed session by 15 September 2015 to Lesley A. Coote ( AND Kristin Bovaird-Abbo (

"Food and Feast in Medieval Outlaw Texts"
The romances of medieval England are full of scenes of feasting and eating. Food, its preparation, and its consumption are present as central points of human interaction, community, and fellowship, providing opportunities to examine and analyze agricultural and mercantile practices as well as trade, economics, and the social standing of its producers and consumers; and feast scenes perform a wide variety of functions, serving as a cultural repository of manners and behaviors, a catalyst for the adventure, a “cute-meet” for the lovers, a moment of regrouping and redirecting the narrative, a testing ground for the chivalric and courteous skills of the attendees, an occasion on which some important revelation is made, and a culminating moment of narrative resolution, for instance. But what about in medieval outlaw tales? How important are food and feasting in the tales of Robin Hood, Gamelyn, Hereward the Wake, Eustache the Monk, and Fouke le Fitz Waryn, for example? This session will consider the presence and function of food and feast in medieval outlaw tales, with an eye to considering whether and how instances of food preparation and eating in these tales can be said to display, to develop, or to subvert the conventional ideas of community and fellowship most commonly associated with foods and feasts in secular medieval literature.

"Ecocritical Outlaws"
At an ICMS session in 2015, a panel posed the question "What Can Medieval Studies Bring to Ecocriticism?" Although the responses were diverse, none touched on the specific subgenre of outlaw literature, and this absence is reflected in much of the published ecocriticism scholarship. This panel seeks to initiate conversations about ecocritical issues in various outlaw tales, including but not limited to Robin Hood, Gamelyn, Fouke Fitz Waryn, and Án Bow-Bender. Given the liminal spaces which these tales occupy, as well as their frequent movements from greenwood into urban spaces, these tales are rich for ecological study. What do these stories reveal about medieval forest practices or perspectives towards animals (and their relationships and/or kinships to humans)? To what extent do these tales critique medieval ecological beliefs or offer alternative perspectives (that is, do they reveal a plurality of attitudes towards nature co-existing during the medieval period)? Given that Rebecca Douglass, in “Ecocriticism and Middle English Literature,” argues that “[E]cocriticism is . . . informed by a desire to understand past and present connections between literature and human attitudes regarding the earth,” what does the study of medieval outlaw tales offer to ecocritical studies? This panel welcomes a variety of approaches, including ecofeminist perspectives, cultural ecology, deep ecology, animal studies, ecolinguistics, and other innovative approaches.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Notes from the Greenwood: Stephen Basdeo on Robin Hood and Little John (1840)

Pierce Egan’s Robin Hood and Little John (1840)

By Stephen Basdeo

Leeds Trinity University

Pierce Egan the Younger (1814-1880) was an author with a penchant for historical rebels. His novel Robin Hood and Little John; or, the Merry Men of Sherwood Forest (1840) portrays a ‘gentrified’ version of the legend. Robin is a respectable young man, the Earl of Huntingdon, and he steals from the rich and gives to the poor. It is seen by Robin Hood scholars as a ‘safe’ version of the legend. [1] But was it always viewed as a safe text? Egan’s other novels such as Wat Tyler (1841), a romanticised tale of the eponymous leader of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, and Paul Jones (1842), the tale of a privateer in the days of Elizabeth I, present similarly respectable and romanticised accounts of these ‘heroes’ lives. But was Egan’s Robin Hood always viewed as a ‘safe’ text? While as Robin Hood Scholars we must, if we are studying the development of the legend as a whole, take account of the undeniable gentrification of the tradition which occurred from the seventeenth century onwards, sometimes it is good to also take a step back and view certain sources within their immediate cultural context. This is what I aim to do briefly in this short post by examining Egan’s novel.
Egan’s novel is one of my favourite pieces of Robin Hood literature. In his work it as though all of the different strands of the Robin Hood legend that had been gathering converged in this epic 400,000 word story. Egan pays homage in his novel to all of the main Robin Hood scholars and storytellers who had gone before him. The first character that the reader meets is a man called Ritson, named after the eighteenth-century antiquary, Joseph Ritson, who published Robin Hood: A Collection of All the Ancient Poems, Songs, and Ballads, Now Extant, Relative to that Celebrated English Outlaw (1795). Egan also retains the Saxon versus Norman theme of Sir Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe (1819), whilst interspersing his narrative with stanzas from various Robin Hood ballads. After the action-packed narrative draws to a close (at one point Robin and 12 of his men fight off over 100 Normans), Egan closes his narrative by paying homage to the poet, John Keats, by repeating the last lines of Robin Hood: To a Friend (1818):
Honour to Bold Robin Hood!
Sleeping in the Underwood!
Honour to Maid Marian!
And to all the Sherwood Clan! [2]
Stephen Knight in Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography (1994) engages in a witty commentary upon this novel, and has given Egan his rightful place as the heir of Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) in the Robin Hood tradition. One thing that Knight does not seem to have accounted for, however, is the fact that Egan’s story was one of those controversial penny bloods, or as they were later termed, penny dreadfuls (for American readers, the equivalent in the U.S. was the ‘dime novel’). Penny bloods are some of the most fascinating pieces of Victorian print culture. Titles appeared either as standalone works issued in weekly parts, and often featured as their heroes historic criminals, hence the proliferation of titles such as Henry Downes Miles’ Dick Turpin (1839), the anonymously-authored Black Bess; or, the Knight of the Road (1866) and the 1863 serial The New Newgate Calendar, which adapted stories from the eighteenth-century Newgate Calendar. As far as readership goes, whilst they are often viewed as juvenile reading matter, it was not uncommon for adults to read them also. Indeed, titles such as A String of Pearls (known more popularly now as Sweeney Todd) originally appeared in The People’s Periodical and Family Library when first published in 1845. 
Egan’s novel was profusely illustrated, with many of the illustrations done by him, and images were central to the marketing of these penny serials.
Fig. 1
They enticed readers with a representation of the most violent scene on the front cover, whilst the clumsy and melodramatic plot satisfied readers’ demands for drama. [3] The violent content of Egan’s novel can be gauged in Fig. 1, for example, where one of Robin’s enemies receives an arrow through the eye.
Similarly, in Fig. 2, Robin thrusts a sword into Guy of Gisborne’s chest. Such images were seen by Victorian moralists as ‘[ministering] to the morbid cravings of the uneducated for the horrible and the repulsive.’ [4]
It was the violent images, combined with the fact that many of these novels’ heroes were thieves, which accounts for the moral panic over them in the Victorian press.
Fig. 2
And the criticism of penny dreadfuls corresponded to public fears towards the perceived rise in juvenile crime and delinquency during the nineteenth century. Whilst there had in previous centuries been an understanding that certain youths, could be unruly and turn to crime, it was only during the nineteenth century that the ‘juvenile offender’ became a distinct legal category, and the year 1816 saw the first Select Committee Report into the causes of juvenile delinquency. [5] Many of these parliamentary investigators heard what they wanted to hear in regards to the supposed connection between penny dreadfuls and juvenile crime. The 1852 Select Committee Report into Criminal Juveniles, for instance, recorded the thoughts of one young offender who:
Thought this ‘Jack Sheppard’ was a clever fellow for making his escape and robbing his master. If I could get out of gaol I think I should be as clever as him…I have had the book [Jack Sheppard] out of the library at Dole Field. I paid 2d a book for three volumes. I also got ‘Richard Turpin’ in two volumes for the same price. [6]
In the minds of officials and moralists in the press, penny dreadfuls were seen as one of the causes of juvenile crime, enticing impressionable young boys’ minds into a life of crime. Burglary and theft were the offences that were most often linked to the reading of penny dreadfuls. When 12 year old George White found himself in court for theft in 1869, for instance, the magistrate remarked that:
[I am] very sorry that the prisoner had access to the pernicious literature of the present day, where the most notorious and brutal ruffians and thieves were deified and made heroes of to the injury of the morals of young men and the detriment of society generally.[7]
The crimes which the Victorians connected to the reading of penny dreadfuls included murder, arson, and forgery, and the perpetration of these crimes by young men was often depicted as an addiction to reading these publications. When Arthur and Hector Smith, for instance, appeared in court for assaulting an old woman in 1868, their defence counsel tried to mitigate the sentence by saying that ‘they had for some time [been] addicted to reading trashy publications of the Jack Sheppard class’ (Jack Sheppard was a notorious eighteenth-century criminal). [8] 
The assumption that the reading of penny dreadfuls was one of the principal causes of juvenile crime meant that many Victorian commentators missed the most appealing feature of these works: the criminals portrayed in them were at heart good chaps, and there was nothing in them that really criticised the establishment. [9] Indeed, Robin Hood in Egan’s novel is a man who is the epitome of Victorian respectability. He is ‘an honest, open-hearted lad,’ and although he was ‘a little wayward and wilful,’ he is ‘never wicked.’ [10] Indeed, the Sherwood Forest that is depicted in the novel is a ‘curiously bourgeois’ one in which Robin and Marian marry, settle down for some time in the forest, and have children. [11] Robin even looks Victorian, sporting a typical early Victorian mutton-chop style beard. Thus Egan’s novel mixed, as all the penny dreadfuls seemingly did, a healthy dose of violent entertainment with a dramatic plot with a protagonist who, although a criminal, was not all that bad a person. But it was the violent content of these novels which was focused upon by middle-class moralists, and hence they were seen as trashy stories catering to the vulgar tastes of the working classes.
To conclude, I think it is best by saying that, whilst we as Robin Hood researchers might place Egan’s text within the gentrified Robin Hood tradition, [12] it should be remembered that Egan’s novel is actually part of a whole genre that was denounced by nineteenth-century judges, lawyers, parents, and moralists in the press.
Fig. 3: Pierce Egan the Younger
This would have made the story seem most definitely un-respectable by Victorian standards when it was first issued in penny parts. Egan’s text, and others of its class, was an example of vulgar and violent entertainment for young readers. It is true that penny dreadfuls featuring eighteenth-century highwaymen came in for the most censure from moralist critics, but it should not be forgotten that, towering above all the thieves and outlaws of nineteenth-century print culture was Robin Hood, ‘the patron saint’ of robbers as he was described by one penny dreadful reader. [13] And this is why I think that it is good to take a step back from our study of the whole legend sometimes. Primary sources such as Egan’s novel of course need to be contextualised within the study of the Robin Hood tradition, but they should also be examined within their immediate social and cultural milieu.



[1] Stephen Knight, Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), pp. 127-128.
[2] Pierce Egan, Robin Hood and Little John; or, The Merry Men of Sherwood Forest [1 Volume Edn.] (London: W. S. Johnson, 1840).
[3] Rosalind Crone, Violent Victorians: Popular Entertainment in Nineteenth-Century London (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012), p.181.
[4] Francis Hitchman, “The Penny Press,” MacMillan’s Magazine, March 1881, pp. 839-849.
[5] Robert J. Kirkpatrick Wild Boys in The Dock: Victorian Juvenile Literature and Juvenile Crime (London: Children’s Books History Society, 2013), p. 5.
[6] Heather Shore, Artful Dodgers: Youth and Crime in Early Nineteenth-Century London (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1999), p.8.
[7] Select Committee Report into Criminal Juveniles, Parliamentary Papers, 1852, vii, Appendix 2, p. 421.
[8] Anon. The Nottinghamshire Guardian, 18 June 1869, p. 2.
[9] Anon. The Times, 9 July 1868, p. 2.
[10] John Springhall, “Pernicious Reading? The penny dreadful as scapegoat for late-Victorian juvenile crime,” Victorian Periodicals Review 27: 4 (1994), p. 344
[11] Egan, Robin Hood and Little John, p. 6.
[12] Knight, Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography, p. 128.
[13] Jonathan Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (New Haven, 2001), p. 368.