The Medieval Review 11.10.20

Jones, Timothy S. Outlawry in Medieval Literature. The New Middle Ages. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Pp. xiv, 221. $85. ISBN 978-1-4039-7616-1. . .

Reviewed by:

Alexander L. Kaufman
Auburn University at Montgomery

Since the mid-1990s or so, a number of significant monographs, edited collections, and anthologies of primary texts have focused on what Maurice Keen termed "The Matter of the Greenwood." [1] In many ways, Jones book complements Keens seminal study very well, for it re-examines a number of Keens lines of critical inquiry in light of some of the recent work of Stephen Knight, Thomas H. Ohlgren, and Jones himself. The author introduces readers to a number of medieval texts that most scholars have not considered to be outlaw narratives; in doing so, he successfully advances the study of outlawry.

In his "Introduction," Jones nicely examines the ethical concerns that surround the legal practice of outlawry and then moves on to a discussion the outlaws place within medieval society. Here, Jones rightly addresses a number of key theories that were instrumental in the early examination of outlaws and have since proven to be at times problematic though no less important: Eric Hobsbawms concept of the "social bandit" outlaw as a person who was created out of peasant societal unrest, and Keens historicist analysis of the British outlaw tradition. As Jones correctly points out, there are very few medieval outlaw narratives that have a peasant as the protagonist.

The first chapter, "Law and the Narrative of Outlawry," is the most sustained and focused of the collection. Here, Jones asserts that the "practice of outlawry is particularly open to narrative invention because the legal process rests on a number of assumptions that are subject to debate and so create openings where the story may be expanded, altered, reimagined, and rewritten" (16-17). Jones looks at a number of assumptions that are commonly found within the legal system and that pertain to sentences of outlawryguilt, the relationship between the suspect and the community, the world outside of the law, the interests of the community, and finally satisfaction or the end of the outlaws sentencethrough a close reading of a number of outlaw narratives. In particular, Jones analysis of Cain in the Old English Genesis is refreshing as is his placement of "The Nut-brown Maid" within the context of the Greenwood and the Gest of Robyn Hode.

The second chapter, "The Literature of Borders," is one that focuses on the liminal areas found within geographical and narratival spaces. Jones work on the outlawry of Earl Godwin is well known and sound, and this chapter convincingly examines the historical conflict of Godwin in light of the Anglo- Saxon and Anglo-Norman England border. The exploits of Hereward, William Wallace, Owyn Glyn Dwr, and James Douglas are also featured, and Jones provides clear historical backgrounds for each outlaw. Since this chapter focuses only on historical outlaws, a section on Eustache the Monk (ca. 1170-1217), who was in the service of both King Philip Augustus and King John, would have been welcomed. Eustache served for a number of years as a pirate who operated in the English Channel and who worked for the English and the French at various times in his career. A discussion of Eustaches ability to negotiate geographical and political boarders would seem to be appropriate. Moreover, the instability of those borders that are found within the texts of legendary and literary outlaws is a study that needs to be written, although a number of essays in Helen Phillips collection have begun to address this very issue. [2]

The final two chapters are perhaps the most enlightening of the volume, for Jones introduces us to two figures whom he sees as outlaw types. The first is David of the Old Testament. According to Jones, it is Davids narrative that, in many ways, resembles the outlaw narratives of other Greenwood denizens. The "Rise of David" is a narrative that is unstable as it originates in a caustic politically environment. Jones here focuses not on the ancient text of David but rather on the medieval versions of his life. Specifically, this chapter is enriched by the close reading of the David narrative that is found in the fourteenth-century poem the Middle English Metrical Paraphrase of the Old Testament. Jones reads David as a trickster figure, a person whose "tricks and inversions and lies do not disturb the medieval status quo when they are directed toward the Jews" (127). At the close of this chapter, Jones suggests that at this point in the Middle Ages the "literary history of David and Saul and of the tales of Robin Hood and other outlaws converge, for like David, Robin Hood has become an historically authoritative figure whose story is invoked again and again for new uses" (127). I wish that Jones would have followed up on this point, for a closer examination of the literary history of the Robin Hood legend as it relates to the literary history of "Rise of David" would have been unique. The final chapter looks at the relationship between two genres, romance and the Greenwood. Jones begins by investigating those outlaw narratives that contain elements of romance, such as Fouke le fitz Waryn and Gamelyn. The final section of this chapter seeks to place the Tristan of the twelfth- and thirteenth-century poetic texts within the outlaw tradition, for, as Jones argues, "we discover similarities of narrative structure and character with the outlaw stories of Godwin, Hereward, Fouke, Gamelyn, and Robin Hood" (143). It is a subtle reading and one that perhaps may initiate more scholarly analysis of the relationship between the Matters of Britain and the Greenwood.

This book would appeal to specialists in outlaw studies, biblical exegesis, and medieval law. Courses on Robin Hood and medieval outlaws have been taught at universities for a number of years, and unfortunately some undergraduates (and perhaps others) may have a difficult time with certain textual elements of this book. Jones' translations of the Medieval Latin and Old English passages are few in the text proper and almost non-existent in the endnotes. Likewise, the Middle English and the Early and Middle Scots are not glossed or translated to any great degree. And at times I was frustrated with the lack of cohesion between the bibliographic information in the endnotes and the entries in the bibliography. Nonetheless, this book is a fine addition to the growing field of medieval outlaw studies.



1. Maurice Keen, The Outlaws of Medieval Legend. Rev. ed. (London: Routledge, 2000), 1-8.

2. Helen Phillips, ed., Bandit Territories: British Outlaws and Their Traditions (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2008).