1563 - Foxe, John - Actes and Monuments (3)

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Date 1563
Author Foxe, John
Title Actes and Monuments
Mentions Tales of Robin Hood
John Foxe, unknown painter / National Portrait Gallery; Wikipedia (public domain).
Edward Seymour, unknown artist / Wikipedia (public domain).
Stephen Gardiner, unknown artist / Wikipedia (public domain).

By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2017-02-15. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2021-01-07. Based on information from Robert Lynley.


Writers write their fantasy, my lord, and preachers preach what either liketh them, or what God putteth in their heads. It is not by and by done, that is spoken. The people buy those foolish ballads of Jack-a-Lent. So bought they in times past pardons, and carols, and Robin Hood's tales. All be not wise men, and the foolisher a thing is, to some (although not to the more part) it is the more pleasant and meet. And peradventure of the sermons there is (and indeed there is, if it be true that we have heard) otherwise spoken and reported to you, than it was of the preachers there and then spoken or meant. Lent remaineth still, my lord, and shall, God willing, till the king's highness, with our advice and the residue of his grace's council, take another order, although some light and lewd men do bury it in writing; even as the king's majesty remaineth head of the church, although, through sinister ways, and by subtle means, some traitors have gone about, and daily do, to abuse the king's majesty's supremacy, and bring in the bishop of Rome's tyranny, with other superstition and idolatry.[1]

Source notes

The quoted passage is part of a letter written by Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset (c. 1500–1552), in response to a letter of 21 May 1547 from Stephen Gardiner (c. 1483–1555), bishop of Winchester, 1531-55. Seymour was Lord Protector of England during the minority of his nephew, Edward VI (1547–49).

IRHB comments

"The people buy those foolish ballads of Jack-a-Lent. So bought they in times past pardons, and carols, and Robin Hood's tales". At this time there was certainly nothing new about the claim that tales of Robin Hood were the literature or entertainment of the foolish and ignorant. Nonetheless this allusion is significant for at least two reasons. The tales of Robin Hood were "bought", i.e. they were cheap, mass-produced literature rather than what a much later romantic age would term "folk" songs or "folk" literature. The coupling with "foolish ballads" and "carols" is also very interesting, even if terminology at this time was still so vague that we cannot be certain the "foolish ballads of Jack-a-Lent" would have been like the kind of ballads we find in Child[2] or the carols like the kind of songs we now understand that term to refer to. The passage suggests that Robin Hood tales were then, unlike "ballads of Jack-a-Lent", a thing of the past. I am not quite sure what to make of this, but we should remember that Seymour's main concern here was with the 'bad old days' of Catholicism as he saw it; hence the mention of pardons, and tales of Robin Hood evidently seemed to him sufficiently old-fashioned and foolish to be connected with Catholicism. On the other hand, it may be noted that the early printings of A Gest of Robyn Hode all seem to date from the early years of the reign of Henry VIII or perhaps in some case slightly earlier, while William Copland's and Edward White's reprintings are both almost certainly later than Seymour's letter (1547), and so there may not have been a Robin Hood block buster on the market in the last twenty or twenty-five years.




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