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The Spaces of Exile in the Gesta Herewardi and Fouke Le Fitz Waryn

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 December 2023

Stephen D. Church
Affiliation:
University of East Anglia
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Summary

The Gesta Herewardi and Fouke le Fitz Waryn are frequently mentioned in the same breath by historians and literary scholars due to their similarities. Both texts are based on the lives of real historical figures, Fulk III and Hereward the Wake, who each spent time in opposition to their king; both texts offer accounts of the exile of the dispossessed protagonists; both texts blend their historical narratives with fantastic episodes, featuring motifs that echo French romance and Scandinavian literary traditions. Yet despite their parallels, the Gesta Herewardi (henceforth the Gesta) and Fouke le Fitz Waryn (henceforth Fouke) were composed in very different times and spaces: the Latin Gesta is thought to have been written in Ely between 1109 and 1131, and the original French verse text of Fouke in the Shropshire area during the second half of the thirteenth century. The Gesta and Fouke are, therefore, ideally placed for comparison, offering an insight into how similar subject matters might be treated differently as a result of the socio-political and geographical circumstances in which they were written. The two texts have generated similar types of scholarship, including attempts to identify historical material in the text, studies of ethnicity and the nation, and explorations of youth and development. Scholars have tended to discuss the Gesta and Fouke in the context of outlawry, emphasising their generic similarities or discussing their place in the development of the Robin Hood character. In this article, I consider the texts outside of this teleologically-minded outlawry framework, shifting the focus onto the representation of exile and the geographical spaces in which it takes place.

Exile, a state of absence from one's home or country, can be discussed in multiple contexts in the Middle Ages. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, political exile in the Anglo-Norman world was predominantly a temporary form of banishment, designed to allow a period of appeasement and reflection for the parties involved. Sovereigns used exile to punish their subjects for crimes such as murder or treason. Exile could be a voluntary choice, a preventative measure taken to avoid facing the anger and punitive measures of the sovereign. Yet exile was also a symbolic state that might describe the emotional hardship felt by an individual when obliged or voluntarily choosing to leave their home and family, whether for marriage, education, or work.

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Anglo-Norman Studies XLV
Proceedings of the Battle Conference 2022
, pp. 19 - 34
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2023

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