Изображения страниц

Yett neither Robin Hood nor sir Guy

Them fettled to flye away.ı You see Guy the yeoman is as brave as Robin Hood; he came to seek him in the wood, and drew the bow almost as well as he. This old popular poetry is not the praise of a single bandit, but of an entire class, the yeomanry. “God haffe mersey on Robin Hodys solle, and saffe all god yemanry." That is how many ballads end. The brave yeoman, inured to blows, a good archer, clever at sword and stick, is the favorite. There were also, redoubtable, armed townsfolk, accustomed to make use of their

Here they are at work:


“O that were a shame,' said jolly Robin,

“We being three, and thou but one,'
The pinder 2 leapt back then thirty good foot,

'Twas thirty good foot and one.

“He leaned his back fast unto a thorn,

And his foot against a stone,
And there he fought a long summer's day,

A summer's day so long.

“Till that their swords on their broad bucklers

Were broke fast into their hands." 3

Often even Robin does not get the advantage :

“I pass not for length,' bold Arthur reply'd,

My staff is of oke so free;
Eight foot and a half, it will knock down a calf,

And I hope it will knock down thee.'

“Then Robin could no longer forbear,

He gave him such a knock,
Quickly and soon the blood came down

Before it was ten a clock.

“Then Arthur he soon recovered himself,

And gave him such a knock on the crown,
That from every side of bold Robin Hood's head

The blood came trickling down.

“Then Robin raged like a wild boar,

As soon as he saw his own blood :

i Ritson, Robin Hood Ballads, v. 145-152.

2 A pinder's task was to pin the sheep in the fold, cattle in the penfold or pound (Richard. son).—TR.

3 Ritson, ü. 3, V. 17-26.

Then Bland was in hast, he laid on so fast,

As though he had been cleaving of wood.

"And about and about and about they went,

Like two wild bores in a chase,
Striving to aim each other to maim,

Leg, arm, or any other place.

“ And knock for knock they lustily dealt,

Which held for two hours and more,
Till all the wood rang at every bang,

They ply'd their work so sore.

""Hold thy hand, hold thy hand,' said Robin Hood,

•And let thy quarrel fall;
For here we may thrash our bones all to mesh,

And get no coyn at all.

666 And in the forrest of merry Sherwood,

Hereafter thou shalt be free.'
"God a mercy for nought, my freedom I bought,

I may thank my staff, and not thee.'»i

" Who are you, then ? ” says Robin :

“I am a tanner,' bold Arthur reply'd,

•In Nottingham long I have wrought;
And if thou'lt come there, I vow and swear,

I will tan thy hide for nought.'

«God a mercy, good fellow,' said jolly Robin,

“Since thou art so kind and free;
And if thou wilt tan my hide for nought,

I will do as much for thee.'2

With these generous offers, they embrace; a free exchange of honest blows always prepares the way for friendship. It was so Robin Hood tried Little. John, whom he loved all his life after. Little John was seven feet high, and being on a bridge, would not give way. Honest Robin would not use his bow against him, but went and cut a stick seven feet long; and they agreed amicably to fight on the bridge until one should fall into the water. They fall to so merrily that “their bones ring.” In the end Robin falls, and he feels only the more respect for Little John. Another time, having a sword with him,

1 Ritson, ü. 6, v. 58–89.

2 Ibid. v. 94-10I.

he was thrashed by a tinker who had only a stick. Full of admiration, he gives him a hundred pounds. Again he was thrashed by a potter, who refused him toll; then by a shepherd. They fight to wile away time. Even now-a-days boxers give each other a friendly grip before setting to; they knock one another about in this country honorably, without malice, fury, or shame. Broken teeth, black eyes, smashed ribs, do not call for murderous vengeance: it would seem that the bones are more solid and the nerves less sensitive in England than elsewhere. Blows once exchanged, they take each other by the hand, and dance together on the green grass :

“Then Robin took them both by the hands,

And danc'd round about the oke tree.
“For three merry men, and three merry men,

And three merry men we be.'Moreover, these people, in each parish, practiced the bow every Sunday, and were the best archers in the world; from the close of the fourteenth century the general emancipation of the villeins multiplied their number greatly, and you can now understand how, amidst all the operations and changes of the great central powers, the liberty of the subject survived. After all, the only permanent and unalterable guarantee, in every country and under every constitution, is this unspoken declaration in the heart of the mass of the people, which is well understood on all sides: “If any man touches my property, enters my house, obstructs or molests me, let him beware. I have patience, but I have also strong arms, good comrades, a good blade, and, on occasion, a firm resolve, happen what may, to plunge my blade up to its hilt in his throat.”


Thus thought Sir John Fortescue, Chancellor of England under Henry VI., exiled in France during the Wars of the Roses, one of the oldest prose-writers, and the first who weighed and explained the constitution of his country. He says :

“It is cowardise and lack of hartes and corage that kepeth the Frenchmen

i The Difference between an Absolute and Limited MonarchyA learned Commendation of the Politic Laws of England (Latin). I frequently quote from the second work, which is more full and complete.


from rysyng, and not povertye; 1 which corage no Frenche man hath like to the English man. It hath ben often seen in Englond that iij or iv thefes, for povertie, hath sett upon vij or viij true men, and robbyd them al. But it hath not ben seen in Fraunce, that vij or viij thefes have ben hardy to robbe iij or iv true men. Wherfor it is right seld that Frenchmen be hangyd for robberye, for that they have no hertys to do so terryble an acte. There be therfor mo men hangyd in Englond, in a yere, for robberye and manslaughter, than ther be hangid in Fraunce for such cause of crime in vij yers. This throws a startling and terrible light on the violent condition of this armed community, where sudden attacks are an everyday matter, and every one, rich and poor, lives with his hand on his sword. There were great bands of malefactors under Edward I., who infested the country, and fought with those who came to seize them. The inhabitants of the towns were obliged to gather together with those of the neighboring towns, with hue and cry, to ursue and capture them. Under Edward III. there were barons who rode about with armed escorts and archers, seizing the manors, carrying off ladies and girls of high degree, mutilating, killing, extorting ransoms from people in their own houses, as if they were in an enemy's land, and sometimes coming before the judges at the sessions in such guise and in so great force that the judges were afraid and dared not administer justice.3 Read the letters of the Paston family, under Henry VI. and Edward IV., and you will see how private war was at every door, how it was necessary for a man to provide himself with men and arms, to be on the alert for defense of his property, to be selfreliant, to depend on his own strength and courage. It is this excess of vigor and readiness to fight which, after their victories in France, set them against one another in England, in the butcheries of the Wars of the Roses. The strangers who saw them were astonished at their bodily strength and courage, at the great pieces of beef “which feed their muscles, at their military habits, their fierce obstinacy, as of savage beasts."4 They are like

1 The courage which finds utterance here is coarse; the English instincts are combative and independent. The French race, and the Gauls generally, are perhaps the most reckless

of life of any.

2 The Difference, etc., 3d ed. 1724, ch. xiii. p. 98. There are now-a-days in France 42 highway robberies as against 738 in England. In 1843, there were in England four times as many accusations of crimes and offenses as in France, having regard to the number of in. habitants (Moreau de Fonnès).

3 Statute of Winchester, 1285; Ordinance of 1378.

4 Benvenuto Cellini, quoted by Froude, i. 20, Hist. of England. Shakespeare, Henry V.: conversation of French lords before the battle of Agincourt.

their bulldogs, an untamable race, who in their mad courage “cast themselves with shut eyes into the den of a Russian bear, and get their head broken like a rotten apple.” This strange condition of a militant community, so full of danger, and requiring so much effort, does not make them afraid. King Edward having given orders to send disturbers of the peace to prison without legal proceedings, and not to liberate them, on bail or otherwise, the Commons declared the order “horribly vexatious ;” resist it, refuse to be too much protected. Less peace, but more independence. They maintain the guarantees of the subject at the expense of public security, and prefer turbulent liberty to arbitrary order. Better suffer marauders whom they could fight, than magistrates under whom they would have to bend.

This proud and persistent notion gives rise to, and fashions Fortescue's whole work:

[ocr errors]

“ Ther be two kynds of kyngdomys, of the which that one ys a lordship callid in Latyne Dominium regale, and that other is callid Dominium politicum et regale.” The first is established in France, and the second in England.

" And they dyversen in that the first may rule his people by such lawys as he makyth hymself, and therefor, he may set upon them talys, and other impositions, such as he wyl hymself, without their assent.

The secund may not rule hys people by other laws than such as they assenten unto; and therfor he may set upon them non impositions without their own assent.” 1 In a state like this, the will of the people is the prime element of life. Sir John Fortescue says further :

A king of England cannot at his pleasure make any alterations in the laws of the land, for the nature of his government is not only regal, but po. litical.'

In the body politic, the first thing which lives and moves is the intention of the people, having in it the blood, that is, the prudential care and provision for the public good, which it transmits and communicates to the head, as to the principal part, and to all the rest of the members of the said body politic, whereby it subsists and is invigorated. The law under which the people is incorporated may be compared to the nerves or sinews of the body natural.

And as the bones and all the other members of the body preserve their functions and discharge their several offices by the nerves, so do the members of the community by the law. And as the head of the body


i The Difference, etc., p. i.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »