By Danielle Coyle
Hohunu: A Journal of Academic Writing, Vol. 3 (2005)
Introduction: The medieval outlaw has become an important part of the modern mythos. In the guise of Robin Hood, the men who directly defied medieval law in order to serve the greater justice have been elevated to a heroic status. Modern audiences still embrace stories of men who broke the law as a way of life. In reality, the outlaws of medieval England had much more in common with a modern Mafiaso than they did with the gallant hero of Anglo-Saxon legend. Outlaws often survived by exploiting the peasantry, and the most successful often relied upon powerful connections to shelter them from prosecution. The professional criminal was more likely to be a member of the landed gentry than a champion of the downtrodden peasants and often acted in concert with local nobility, usually as a hired thug. Life on the fringes of medieval England could indeed be a difficult one, but the true outlaw was able to thrive both outside of society and within it. The men who made their living defying the law of the realm remain a fascinating aspect and have left a legacy of lawlessness that is well worth investigating.