From John Major's Historia Majoris Brittaniae (1521)

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From John Major's Historia Majoris Brittaniae (1521)

[John Major was a Scottish historian and intellectual who, unlike Wyntoun and Bower, worked outside the country; he spent many years at the University of Paris, where he became well enough known to be mentioned ironically in Rabelais's Gargantua as the author of a treatise on black puddings. He returned to teach at the University of Glasgow in about 1500 but he had apparently already completed his Historia Majoris Britanniae (History of Greater Britain, though, oddly, it also translates as Major's History of Britain). Written in a newly humanist Latin, rather than Bower's old fashioned style, this also has much less Scottish sympathies than his predecessors: he cuts the discussion of Edward I's cruelty and sees him as less of a real threat to Scotland than did his predecessors -- and also his followers, Hector Boece and David Buchanan.

In addition to reducing the pro-Scottish element of other Scottish historians, Major also relocates the Robin Hood story into the late twelfth century, the much more distant time of King John. This is the first time that the outlaw is linked with the period of King Richard. In later hands this was to re-shape Robin's resistance to authority itself as an act of a noble conservatism, since bad King John could be attacked and true kingship defended at the same time. This does not appear to be Major's motif: his redating of the story in the period of John is probably due to the influence of the story of Fouke le Fitz Waryn, a noble outlaw and enemy of bad authority from that period.

Major's "exceptionally influential eulogy" of Robin (Dobson and Taylor, 1976, p. 5) presents him as a bold but moral hero, only killing in self-defense, a protector of women and the poor. This suggests that Major was familiar with the Gest and its presentation of the outlaw, and that accords with the idea that he was not only a humane robber but also a "chief." The Latin word was dux, which just means "leader," but can also, as "duke," have aristocratic implications. In this way, while not decisively creating the distressed gentleman who is to be the new "renaissance Robin Hood," Major established the basis for that figure by removing the Scottish -- or anti-English -- point of view, moralizing his deeds, elevating his character to the edge of gentrification and, perhaps the most important thing, removing any trace of Bower's hero of Catholicism.]
About this time it was, as I conceive, that there flourished those most famous robbers Robert Hood, an Englishman, and Little John, who lay in wait in the woods, but spoiled of their goods those only that were wealthy. They took the life of no man, unless he either attacked them or offered resistance in defence of his property. Robert supported by his plundering one hundred bowmen, ready fighters every one, with whom four hundred of the strongest would not dare to engage in combat. The feats of this Robert are told in song all over Britain. He would allow no woman to suffer injustice, nor would he spoil the poor, but rather enriched them from the plunder taken from the abbots. The robberies of this man I condemn, but of all robbers he was the humanest and the chief. (1892, pp. 156-67)
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