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Outlawry In Medieval Literature by Timothy S. Jones (review)
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Timothy S. Jones’s efficient and rewarding survey continues a steady scholarly stream of editions and criticism on outlaw literature over the past twenty years that includes Stephen Knight’s monographs on Robin Hood; Knight’s and Thomas Ohlgren’s TEAMS edition, Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales; Ohlgren’s collected translations, Medieval Outlaws, to which Jones is a contributor; and, most recent, John Appleby’s and Paul Dalton’s essay collection, Outlaws in Medieval and Early Modern England. Jones aims to “move beyond the idea that the outlaw primarily represents economic injustice or dissatisfaction” (p. 4), a common reading in literary and historical criticism on the topic since Eric Hobsbawm’s 1959 study Primitive Rebels and the more specifically medieval inquiries of the 1950s and 1960s by Rodney Hilton and Maurice Keen, among others. Jones’s own study seems most specifically to expand upon Keen’s well-used Outlaws of Medieval Legend (1961; latest edition 2000). Indeed, Jones pulls outlawry into a less rigidly defined space where it may apply to various movements and, perhaps most important for his study, where it can be adapted to new conflicts. In this way, Jones attends to the ongoing reinvention of outlaws over the course of the Middle Ages.

Chapter 1 explains the “narrative development” (p. 16) of the legal definition of outlawry, the way that law and precedent are narrative by nature. This legal story of crime, flight, pursuit, capture, and punishment depends on several assumptions that Jones explores through a variety of early English texts including the story of the outlaw Wulfbold from the Book of Hyde. Explaining the assumption of the outlaw’s guilt, Jones aptly traces the lexicon of outlawry such as the blood feud and wergeld, as well as the use of the terms flieman (put to flight) and adrifan (to drive out) (p. 21) as they emerge in northern Germanic, Frankish, Anglo-Saxon, and early Norman law codes. Assumption of guilt leads to the outlaw’s separation from his community, exemplified in what was, in the tenth century, a new Anglo-Saxon legal term: utlah (p. 26). The Lex Salica records the term wargus, a word that conflates the outlaw and the hunted wolf, the definition of which is repeated in the Leges Henrici Primi (p. 26). Jones explains the intervention of Christianity into law through the figures of Lucifer, “the father of all outlaws” (p. 28), as he is termed in the Old English Gospel of Nicodemus, and the first criminal, Cain, the “father of the outsider” (p. 29). As with excommunicates, outlaws find themselves in a “space outside the human community . . . defined as dangerous, alien, and impure” (p. 35). Reading the outlaw’s place outside the law through Bede’s account of King Eadwin and Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale, Jones explains the physical and emotional pain of such a space but also how that world could be “empowering” (p. 42). Communal interest was determined by the strength or weakness of local law to control outlawry, by the involvement of the outlaw’s own kinsmen in his affairs, and by the developing practice of bondsmen and the “rhetorical invention of the common cause” (p. 46) to fight against abuse and neglect of the laws of the land. Satisfaction of the outlaw’s case came either through financial compensation to the injured parties, royal pardon, or, in the case of William Wallace, the execution of the offender in a spectacle of royal power.

Jones’s exploration of outlaw narratives as border literature in Chapter 2 proves compelling given recent studies of medieval nationhood and regionalism. Looking to the Welsh and Scottish marches, Jones reads a series of texts including John Barbour’s Bruce, Blind Hary’s Wallace, Geoffrey Gaimar’s Lestoire des Engleis, the Gesta Herewardi, and early Norman accounts of Earl Godwin including those found in the Vita Aedwardi and the Peterborough Chronicle. Though Bruce’s life is that of a fugitive for much of Barbour’s epic, Jones contends that “the adventures of [James] Douglas are much more in keeping with the outlaw tale” (pp. 54–55). While Bruce negotiates the pitfalls of kingship, fighting the invading English and quelling rebellion at home...

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