The Court of Beast and Bough: Contesting the Medieval English Forest in the Early Robin Hood Ballads
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After King William created the New Forest in the twelfth century, the English monarchy sought to define the vert, both legally and ideologically, as a site in which the king’s rights were vigorously enforced. In the romance literature of England, the forest was treated as an exclusive chivalric testing ground, as the site of the aristocracy’s self-validation. The folk reaction against the privatization of this common space and its resources finds a strong literary articulation in the first Robin Hood ballads centuries later. The outlaw reclaims the forest by inhabiting it, appropriating the symbols of its governance, and establishing within it a court that is both legal and social, decked out in the trappings and traditions of romance chivalry and the forest administration. This thesis examines the ideological impulses behind Robin’s occupation of the forest, discussing their relationship to the legal and literary history of the English forest.