History Middle Ages: Outlaws

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Outlaw Victims

Gangs of outlaws were feared.

They stole from anyone, including villagers, frequently stealing food, pots and clothes. Poor villagers were easier to rob as they had less protection. 

Outlaws mostly kept their money and didn't necessarily divide it equally between members. John Drestes, an outlaw, testified in court that he and nine other men robbed a fisherman called Robin Wyot of cloth and money valued at 50 shillings. John got 15 shillings. In a 3 way split of 18 shillings, one man only got 1s 6d.

Churches were also favoured targets as they had lots of gold and silver ornaments and money which had been given for the care of the poor. Court rolls record that a gang 'armed for war' wounded the vicar at Stanford and stole goods worth £10.

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Outlaw Methods

Outlaws threatened their victims in many different ways!

They threatened their victims with arson, extorting money or goods in return for not burning homes down. This was a serious threat from 1300s onwards when many peasants were growing richer and employed carpenters and other crafstmen to build their homes. 

Outlaws regularly used violence. They didn't invite the victim for a meal and gently take their money. They held a knife to the victim's throat and made him choose between his money or his life. Sometimes, they didn't even leave a choice and just killed their victims

Around 10% of murdered victims were killed during robberies, usually by these roving bands. The typical was a shepherd going alone to the fields and later found dead or wounded, and often naked because his clothes had been stolen.

These crimes explain why juries found violent robbers guilty and were glad to see them hang. Juries did not find the excuses for them that they did for fellow-villagers, even those accused of murder.

Ordinary people had little sympathy for outlaws!

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Outlaws and Daring Rescues

In the legends, Robin Hood and his men rescue each other from the gallows. There is real life evidence of similar daring rescues!

Nicholas Tailor and his gang cut down from the gallows Nicholas' brother, Henry, who was being hanged for burglary. They took him to church where he promised to go into exile, leaving the country in 40 days.

In one case in Bedfordshire the gang got there too late and so they killed the hangman instead.

Gangs found other ways to avoid hanging. All 38 members of gang in Yorkshire were handed over to the Church for punishment when they each read the 'neck verse'. As proffesional criminals, they had learnt it to save their lives!

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A Typical Outlaw Gang

Gangs often stayed together for a long time!

They often had strong leaders and a mix of members including priests (useful for writing letters) and knights.

One such gang was the Folville gang which rampaged around Leicestershire for 20 years, led by Eustace Folville and his brothers. Their father was a knight and a lord of a manor in Leicester. They were never captured.

Without a police force, it was impossible to check every hidden area but just as importantly, they may well have been protected from capture by wealthy friends. Local people warned them of danger when they murdered unpopular royal officials. As sons of a knight, they would have been well used to wearing armour and using weapons effectively so that merchants had no chance of escape.

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Outlaws compared to the Robin Hood Legend (1)

These are points which prove the possibilities and faults with the Robin Hood Legend!

Robin Hood was a noble - this could've happened as the Folvilles were nobles also however some gangs were made up of peasants and priests

Robin became an outlaw as he disagreed with authorities - Folvilles killed unpopular royal officials however, most were due to knights being greedy and wanting more money

Robin lived in Sherwood Forest - outlaws did live in a forest in Nottinghamshire however, there were gangs also in Bedfordshire and Yorkshire

Robin stole from the rich, nobles and wealthy church members - outlaws often stole from church as ornaments cost a lot however, nobles weren't often stolen from as they had protection

Robin gave to the poor - no evidence proves this claim. Most outlawskept their money

Robin was a strong leader - Eustace Folville was a strong leader and they were never captured.

Robin treated his victims with respect - no evidence proves this claim. However, a typical victimwas left dead and naked after a robbery


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Outlaws compared to the Robin Hood Legend (2)

These are points that support and disprove the legend of Robin Hood!

Robin had a band of loyal followers - gangs often stayed together for a long time and often rescued each other. However, John Drestes betrayed his friends and took a robbery to court.

Robin did not work for other nobles because he hated them - Folvilles killed many unpopular officials however, they were also protected by wealthy friends

Robin and his friends rescued each other - Nicholas Tailor managed to save his brother from being hanged. However, they didn't always succeed in saving each other in case they were too late

Robin wanted to protect England against the King and his nobles - they supported each other in raids however, the Folvilles were involved with at least 3 murders, a **** and 3 robberies which is not protecting!

Locals supported Robin and his men - Folvilles were protected by wealthy friends and warned of any danger coming by locals. However, when outlaws ere caught, the juries showed little sympathy and were glad to see outlaws hanged!

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