Fouke le Fitz Waryn is an ancestral romance or chronicle that focused on the fortunes of a single family from the time of the Norman Conquest to the thirteenth century. The author was unknown. The original manuscript was written in French and reflects French literary style of the era. The author was more than likely a guy who compiled the various Fulk III stories that were circulating at the time. E. J. Hathaway surmises that “the author may have been a tutor in a baronial household in Ludlow before seeking ecclesiastical preferment,” (Hathaway, p. xxxvii). I have no idea what “ecclesiastical preferment” means but I suspect the tutor dreamed of being a monk or priest, certainly not a guy running the fry rack at an early version of a fish and chips truck.
The ancestral romance evolved in Britain from the 12th to the 14th century. It provided a family chronicle. Something rich people could get their hands on and say, “Hey, look at Uncle Fulk, he was quite the dude!” There are a number of other similar chronicles written during the time. They were typically written by clerics, members of religious houses who were patronized by the very aristocratic families celebrated in the stories. It was one way to earn a living, pay for an ale and put tiles on the roof of the abbey. These old stories have several elements in common:
1) the hero is usually the founder of the family lineage; 2) he is exiled to foreign lands; 3) he undertakes fantastic adventures, such as fighting a dragon or getting to the front of a queue at a Rent a Car stand; 4) he is reconciled to the king in the end and reclaims his inheritance; 5) since genealogy is important, his marriage and relations are carefully recounted; and 6) he is buried in a monastery that he founded (Legge, pp. 139-75).
This 6 step pattern is found in tales related to several other characters in our family including the very late, great Sir Roger de Montgomery, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury (1022-1094).
The romance chronicle “is a weird mixture of accurate information, plausible stories that lack confirmation, and magnificent flights of pure imagination” (Sidney Painter, quoted by Hathaway, p. ix). If you have followed the link I provided to the 13th Century tale of Fulk you got all the ingredients related to the Norman settlement (bludgening) of Britain: William the Conqueror, Welsh border lords, feudal rivalries, Marcher barons, native Welsh rulers, and the incredible power plays that were achieved through marriage and the conquest among all these groups. You found the changing fortunes of your Norman ancestors –the fitz Warins, many of whom are identified by name: Warin de Metz, Fulk fitz Warin III, Melette Peverel, the lordships of Whittington, Fouke le Brun, heiress Hawyse, daughter of Joce de Dynan. You found the castle and town of Ludlow and the castle of Whittington, which we toured in September.
The chronicle contains a mix of fact, fiction and what Hathaway calls “traditional folklore” (p. xxxiii). I have verified that all of the people mentioned are indeed in our family tree. History records much of what you have read as factual including details related to the Whittington Castle, the Fulk’s life on the run, and battles with the king’s men and other border lords. I am particularly interested in his marriage to Matilda of Caus, the widow of the Irish baron Theobald Walter (p. xxvii). The Walter family reappears in the Whittington family tree in 1550.
We visited the burial vault of Edmund Walter and his wife Maria Hakluyt, many times great grandparents in the family tree and key figures in the development of Ludlow, Shropshire. The Hakluyt family played a major role in the British colonization of America. The story of entreprenuer Uncle Richard Hakluyt and his adventures as a venture capitalist rival those of Dick Whittington. That will be a topic for another day. God willing.
The folklore elements found in the chronicle of Fulk fitz Warin has a number of striking parallels to the tales of Robin Hood, which evolved several centuries later.
Relation to Robin Hood tradition
There are significant differences between the life story of Fulk fitz Warin and the later Robin Hood legend. But the works do share three major episodes, which provide evidence that the authors of the Robin Hood legend were well aware of those tales related to the Fulk.
Our translator and literary scholar, Thomas Kelly, points out the similarities.
In Fouke the outlaw John confronts a caravan of ten merchants transporting “expensive cloths, furs, spices, and dresses for the personal use of the king and queen of England”. In The Gest, A Tale of Robin Hood, Little John and Much stop a caravan of two monks, fifty-two yeomen, and seven pack-horses transporting the goods of the abbot of St. Mary’s Abbey in York. In both works, the two groups are abducted into the forest, where they are questioned about the amount and ownership of their property. The truthfulness of their answers determines whether or not they can keep their goods. Fouke asks, “Are you speaking the truth” (p. 695), while Robin queries, “What is in your cofers? . . . Trewe than tell thou me” (lines 970-71). In both works, the “guests” dine with the outlaws, and, after the meal, they are allowed to leave without their property and money.
In another pair of episodes, disguise and deception are used to lure the victims into the outlaw’s lair. Again I will let the scholar (Thomas Kelly) articulate his observations:
Hiding in the forest of Windsor, Fulk observes that King John is hunting deer (p. 711). Disguising himself as a collier, Fulk greets the king and kneels before him. Upon being asked if he has seen any deer, Fulk, lying, replies that he has seen “One with long horns” and offers to guide the king to it. Going into the thicket, the king is captured by Fulk’s men. Fearing that he will be killed, King John begs for mercy, and, after swearing an oath that he will restore Fulk’s inheritance and grant him love and peace, he is released unharmed. Returning to the court, the king breaks his oath and plots to capture Fulk. In the parallel episode in the Gest, Little John, disguised as Reynolde Grenlefe, greets the sheriff who is hunting in the forest and “knelyd hym beforne” (line 729). When Little John tells the sheriff that he has just seen “a ryght fayre harte” (line 738) and a herd of deer, he foolishly asks to be taken to the spot where Robin, “the mayster-herte” (line 753), awaits him. After dining with the outlaw band, the sheriff is stripped of his clothing and forced to sleep on the ground. Begging to be released the next morning, he swears an oath that he will not harm Robin or his men in the future. Upon being released, he, humiliated but unharmed, returns to Nottingham where he breaks his oath by plotting to capture Robin at the archery tournament.
In the final pair of similar episodes, one of the gang members is wounded in a fight and begs the leader to kill him. Again, in Mr. Kelly’s words:
Fulk’s brother, William, is severely wounded by a Norman soldier and, rather than be captured, he begs Fulk to kill him by cutting off his head. Fulk replies that he would not do this for the world (p. 713). In the Gest (lines 1206 ff.), Little John is wounded in the sheriff’s ambush after the archery tournament, and he begs Robin to kill him by cutting off his head. Robin refuses and carries him to safety.
Another scholar, Maurice Keen, admits that some of the episodes are “almost identical” and “substantially the same,” but he refrains from identifying Fulk as the man who inspired the creation of Robin Hood. J. C. Holt also comments upon the shared themes, but, like Keen, he dismisses a direct linkage between Robin Hood and the Fulk. Holt is quick to point out that Robin Hood moved about in a different time and place, and was never a dispossessed feudal landowner. While the assertion may hold true for some tales of Robin Hood, Holt ignores the Robert Hood who appeared in later tales, the disinherited and dispossessed Earl of Huntington.
Keen and Holt stress the differences that are found when comparing the French tale of Fulk and that of the British Robin, rather than the similarities. It is conceivable that a bit of cultural bias has come into play in their critiques. The British are loathe to admit that the French could have contributed anything of worth to British literature.