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Fouke le Fitz Waryn: Introduction

The story, written in Old French prose, survives in a miscellany of works in Latin, French, and English, dating from c. 1325-40. The manuscript, now British Library, Royal 12.C.XII, contains some sixty pieces, ranging from liturgical texts in honor of Thomas of Lancaster, parodies of church offices, hymns to the Virgin, prophesies, satirical verses, mathematical puzzles, cooking recipes, a metrical chronicle, and treatises on a variety of pseudo-scientific subjects (Hathaway, pp. xlvii-li). The text of Fouke le Fitz Waryn, occupying folios 33-61, is based on a lost late-thirteenth- century verse romance, remnants of which can be detected in two verse prophesies and in numerous verse fragments embedded in the prose (Hathaway, pp. xix-xx).


The creator of the prose version, whose identity is unknown, is usually called the compiler or remanieur ("adapter"): "it is highly likely that he inherited, or had easy access to, the manuscript of the couplet romance, and that he was himself the author of the prose remanieur which he copied" (Hathaway, p. xxxvii). E. J. Hathaway surmises that he might have been a tutor in a baronial household in Ludlow before seeking ecclesiastical preferment (p. xliv).


As M. Dominica Legge suggests, Fouke le Fitz Waryn is an ancestral romance that focuses on the fortunes of a single family from the Norman Conquest to the thirteenth century. Invented in England and Scotland, the family chronicle was popular as a genre from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries. Other examples include: Guillaume d'Angleterre (late twelfth), Waldef (late twelfth), Boeve de Haumtone (late twelfth), Fergus (thirteenth), and Gui de Warewic (thirteenth). These romances were composed by clerics, members of religious houses patronized by the parvenue families celebrated in the stories. Such stories have several elements in common: 1) the hero is the founder of the family; 2) he is exiled to foreign lands; 3) he undertakes fantastic adventures, such as fighting a dragon; 4) he is reconciled to the king in the end and reclaims his inheritance; 5) since genealogy is important, his marriage and relations are carefully recounted; and 6) he is buried in a monastery that he founded (Legge, pp. 139-75).

Historical Background

Keeping in mind that the romance "is a weird mixture of accurate information, plausible stories that lack confirmation, and magnificent flights of pure imagination" (Sidney Painter, quoted by Hathaway, p. ix), the story recounts the Norman settlement, begun by William the Conqueror, on the Welsh border, the feudal rivalries among the Marcher barons, their allies, and the native Welsh rulers, and the complex dynastic relations achieved through marriage and conquest among all these groups. On this historical continuum, which sweeps from the Norman Conquest to the mid-thirteenth century, is superimposed the changing fortunes of one Norman family--the Fitz Waryns. The first third of the story traces the history of the family from Warin de Metz to the birth of Fouke Fitz Waryn III, who is the hero of the last two-thirds of the romance. In the first part, which is omitted in the translation that follows, Warin de Metz marries the Peverel heiress, Melette, and thus gains the lordship of Whittington. Their son, Fouke le Brun, marries another heiress, Hawyse, daughter of Joce de Dynan, and thereby gains the castle and town of Ludlow. Through the treachery of the Norman Ernalt de Lyls, the Dynan holdings are lost, and Fouke le Brun, Warin de Metz, and Joce de Dynan are defeated by the Welsh prince Yervard and his Norman ally Walter de Lacy. Severely wounded, Fouke seeks refuge with King Henry I, who commands Lacy to release his prisoners, but refuses to return Whittington to Fouke, granting release instead to Morys fitz Roger. Thus, the first part ends as the Fitz Warins are dispossessed of their lands and titles. The reclaiming of Whittington will be the principal challenge of Fouke le Brun's eldest son, Fouke III, in the second part of the romance.

The second part (translated here) contains a mixture of largely accurate local history and what Hathaway calls "traditional folklore" (p. xxxiii). Among the known historical elements are "the revolt of Fouke in 1200-01 after Whittington castle had been adjudged to the Welsh castellan, Morys fitz Roger; the outlawry, terminated on 15 November 1203 by the pardon of Fouke himself and of more than forty other men who had been associated with him in his outlawry; and the marriage of Fouke III to Matilda of Caus, the widow of the Irish baron Theobald Walter" (p. xxvii). The folklore elements in the second part consist mainly of the outlaw narrative, which, as we will see, has a number of striking parallels to the later Robin Hood tradition, though there are some encounters with giants and dragons.

Relation to Robin Hood tradition

With Hereward the Wake, Eustache the Monk, and Fouke le Fitz Waryn, we come to the end of an early form of the outlaw romance in which the heroes' adventures represent a mixture of history, legend, and myth. As Maurice Keen observes, the romantic hero, who travels the world, slays dragons, and rescues princesses, and the forest outlaw, who fights against more local evil and corruption, part ways. In the later stories of Robin Hood, Gamelyn, and Adam Bell, "chivalrous adventures in a world of enchantment find no place" (p. 39). While Keen is certainly correct, there remains a continuity of plot elements and character types linking the later outlaw stories to the earlier materials. Although there are significant differences between Fouke le Fitz Waryn and the later Robin Hood legend, the works share at least three major episodes, which suggest to us that we are dealing with sources rather than analogues.

In Fouke the outlaw's brother, John, confronts a caravan of ten merchants transporting "expensive cloths, furs, spices, and dresses for the personal use of the king and queen of England" (p. 694). Likewise, in the Gest Little John and Much stop the caravan of two monks, fifty-two yeomen, and seven pack-horses transporting the goods of the abbot of St. Mary's Abbey in York. In both works, the two groups are abducted into the forest, where they are questioned about the amount and ownership of their property. The truthfulness of their answers determines whether or not they can keep their goods. Fouke asks, "Are you speaking the truth" (p. 695), while Robin queries, "What is in your cofers? . . . Trewe than tell thou me" (lines 970-71). In both works, the "guests" dine with the outlaws, and, after the meal, they are allowed to leave without their property and money.

In another pair of episodes, disguise and deception are used to lure the victims into the outlaw's lair. Hiding in the forest of Windsor, Fouke observes that King John is hunting deer (p. 711). Disguising himself as a collier, Fouke greets the king and kneels before him. Upon being asked if he has seen any deer, Fouke, lying, replies that he has seen "One with long horns" and offers to guide the king to it. Going into the thicket, the king is captured by Fouke's men. Fearing that he will be killed, King John begs for mercy, and, after swearing an oath that he will restore Fouke's inheritance and grant him love and peace, he is released unharmed. Returning to the court, the king breaks his oath and plots to capture Fouke. In the parallel episode in the Gest, Little John, disguised as Reynolde Grenlefe, greets the sheriff who is hunting in the forest and "knelyd hym beforne" (line 729). When Little John tells the sheriff that he has just seen "a ryght fayre harte" (line 738) and a herd of deer, he foolishly asks to be taken to the spot where Robin, "the mayster-herte" (line 753), awaits him. After dining with the outlaw band, the sheriff is stripped of his clothing and forced to sleep on the ground. Begging to be released the next morning, he swears an oath that he will not harm Robin or his men in the future. Upon being released, he, humiliated but unharmed, returns to Nottingham where he breaks his oath by plotting to capture Robin at the archery tournament.

In the final pair of similar episodes, one of the gang members is wounded in a fight and begs the leader to kill him. Fouke's brother, William, is severely wounded by a Norman soldier and, rather than be captured, he begs Fouke to kill him by cutting off his head. Fouke replies that he would not do this for the world (p. 713). In the Gest (lines 1206 ff.), Little John is wounded in the sheriff's ambush after the archery tournament, and he begs Robin to kill him by cutting off his head. Robin refuses and carries him to safety.

Previous critics have been reluctant to assert a direct connection between the French outlaw genre and the later English Robin Hood. While Maurice Keen admits that some of the episodes are "almost identical" and "substantially the same," he is largely quiet about the "French connection." J. C. Holt also comments upon the shared themes, but, like Keen, he largely dismisses any direct linkage because the Robin Hood tradition lacks an emphasis on the restitution of inheritance which "plays a fundamental role" in Hereward, Eustace, and Fouke. He asserts that "there is nothing of this in Robin Hood," who "moves in a different world from that of the dispossessed feudal landowner" (p. 65). While the assertion may hold true for the early cycle of tales, it applies neither to Gamelyn, the earliest outlaw tale in Middle English, nor to the later Tudor Robert Hood, the disinherited and dispossessed Earl of Huntington. By stressing the differences, rather than the similarities -- some strikingly close, both Keen and Holt have fostered the illusion of a native English outlaw tradition immune from outside influences.

Note on the Translation

The translation is based on the Anglo-Norman Texts edition, edited by Hathaway, Ricketts, Robson, and Wilshere. The starting point occurs on p. 22, line 23, of that edition. Bracketted material marks either the Norman French form or material added for clarificattion. I have usually translated names as they appear in the Anglo Norman, but in some instances have regularized them. For instance, Blauncheville I have transcibed as Whittington; Bretaigne le Menour (Little Britain) as Brittany. Fouke's wife Mahaud (Maud) or Mahaud de Caus I have translated as Matilda, since Robert Eyton's Antiquities of Shropshire (1861) VII 73, n. 28, identifies Fouke's wife as Matilde le Vavasour. It is perhaps coincidence that Marian, Robin Hood's finacée, is referred to as Matilda Fitzwater in Munday's two plays, The Downfall of Robert, Earle of Huntington and The Death of Robert, Earle of Huntington.

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Select Bibliography


British Library, Royal 12 C. XII, folios 33-61.


Hathaway, E. J., P. T. Ricketts, C. A. Robson, and A. D. Wilshere, eds. Fouke Le Fitz Waryn. Anglo-Norman Text Society. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1975. [Base text for Kelly's translation.]

Stevenson, Joseph, ed. and trans. The Legend of Fulk Fitz-Warin. In Rerum Britannicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores, or Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland during the Middle Ages. Rolls Series. Vol. 66. London: Longman and Co., 1857, 1875; rpt. Kraus Reprint, 1965. Pp. 275-415. [The selection included here occurs on pp. 323-415. Stevenson's translation is, according to Hathaway, creditable and servicable but "not impeccable" (p. cxxi).]

Commentary and Criticism

Brandlin, Louis. "Nouvelles recherches sur Fouke Fitz Warin." Romania 55 (1929), 17-44.

Francis, E. A. "The Background to Fulk Fitzwarin." In Studies in Medieval French Presented to Alfred Ewert in Honour of his Seventieth Birthday. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961. Pp. 322-27.

Hathaway, E. J., et al. See above.

Holt, J. C. Robin Hood. Revised and enlarged edition. London: Thames and Hudson, 1989.

Jones, Timothy Scott. "Redemptive Fictions: The Contexts of Outlawry in Medieval English Chronicle and Romance." Ph.D. diss. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1994. [Section on Fouke le Fitz Waryn.]

Keen, Maurice. The Outlaws of Medieval Legend. Revised paperback edition. London and New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1987.

Legge, M. Dominica. Anglo-Norman Literature and Its Background. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963.

Painter, Sidney. The Reign of King John. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1949.