I'd like to welcome Elizabeth Ashworth today to talk about medieval outlaws in conjunction with her recent release, An Honorable Estate. And make sure you enter the giveaway for a chance to win a signed copy!
When you think of medieval outlaws, you probably think of Robin Hood and his band of merry men, living in Sherwood Forest, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. But how much truth is there behind the legends of outlaws?
In Medieval England, men could be declared outlaws by the Manor or Forest court. Most people were declared outlaws because they failed to attend the court, either because they had no money to pay a fine or because they had been accused of a serious crime such as murder or treason, which would mean certain death if they were found guilty. In their absence they would be outlawed. This meant that they would become wanted men who were forced to live outside society. Their possessions, and lands if they owned them, would be confiscated. No one was allowed to give them food or shelter. If they did, it was a crime and they were in danger of being outlawed themselves.
Because they had nowhere else to go, outlaws were forced to go into the forest, where they would build themselves some sort of rudimentary shelter and eat whatever they could catch or poach – or steal. The only way they could return home was to pay any fine that had been imposed or to seek a pardon from the king if they had been accused of a serious crime.
The legend of Robin Hood grew up around a man who had been falsely accused of treason. In the best known story he is a victim of Prince John and must bide his time in the forest until King Richard returns from the Crusade and declares his innocence. However, the earliest stories about Robin Hood are not set in the reign of Richard the Lionheart, but mention ‘Edward, our comely king’ which seems to point to these events taking place in the reign of Edward II.
One man who is documented as an outlaw at this time is Sir William Bradshaw who features in my historical novel, An Honourable Estate. Sir William married the heiress Lady Mabel de Haigh and became Lord of Haigh and Blackrod. But around 1315, there were problems in England caused by several wet summers which led to crops rotting in the fields and a shortage of food. Many people believed that bad government was contributing to the problem and a minor lord from Lancashire, in the north of England, named Adam Banastre, decided to lead a rebellion against his overlord, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster.
Sir William joined the Banastre Rebellion and the rebels faced a battle at Preston, on the banks of the River Ribble, against the deputy sheriff of Lancashire, Sir Edmund Neville. The rebels were defeated and had to flee for their lives. Accused of treason and also wanted in relation to a murder inquiry, Sir William was declared an outlaw in his absence and the lands at Haigh, which were Mabel’s inheritance, were taken away and given to another man.
No one knows for certain what Sir William did or where he went. There is a local legend associated with his disappearance which claims he went on Crusade to the Holy Land, but as the last Crusade had taken place about thirty years before, it seems unlikely to be true. My best guess is that he hid out in the forest, unable to go home for fear of his life.
An inquest into the ownership of the lands at Haigh, dated 1318, names William as an outlaw although also records that he was granted a pardon by the king. But for some reason he did not return home. Perhaps he never received the news. In 1319, Mabel declared that he was dead and the legend tells that she married again, although there is no actual proof of a second marriage.
An Honourable Estate draws on the stories of outlaws and sheriffs, the case of William Bradshaw and the legend of Mab’s Cross. You can see the book trailer on You Tube and read some extracts on the novel’s Facebook page. An Honourable Estate is available as an ebook and in paperback from Amazon. You can also find more information at Elizabeth's website.
Thank you Elizabeth! Elizabeth has generously offered to give away one signed copy of An Honorable Estate. To enter, please complete the below form by midnight, July 27, 2012. Giveaway is open worldwide!