The Outlaws of Inglewood Forest and the Hidden Feminine Influence


This article was first published on on September 26, 2019, under the title British Legends: The Outlaws of Inglewood and the feminine Influence, by zteve t evans

Adam, Clym and Wyllyam

The story of William of Cloudesly is found in a 16th century ballad, Adam Bell, Clym of the Cloughe and Wyllyam of Cloudeslee, but may be older. It was included in the influential 19th century collection, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, as ballad 116, by Francis James Child. Although it is a male dominated, rip-roaring, all action story, three women play a significant part, emerging at points to influence events. Presented here is a short retelling followed by a brief discussion on the influence of the three females on the story.

Outlaws of Inglewood Forest

After falling foul of the authorities for poaching deer, William of Cloudesly, Adam Bell and Clym of Clough ranged Inglewood Forest as outlaws. William had a wife and three children and began to miss them badly. They lived in Carlisle and he knew it would be dangerous to visit them, but told his friends that he had to take the chance. They were aghast, and tried to dissuade him, but he would not listen, and, promising to be careful, set off for Carlisle.

William and Alice

As night fell, William made his way to the family home and tapped quietly on the door. His wife, Alice, let him in, and William joyfully embraced her and his children. It was a very happy family that evening — but there was one in the home who was not family, yet  terribly interested to see William’s return. Before William was outlawed, purely from the goodness of his heart, he had taken an old woman into his home, giving her food and a bed for free. Seeing he was back, she crept out and reported his presence to both the Magistrate and Sheriff of Carlisle, who rewarded her with a scarlet dress.


The Sheriff enlisted a gang of men and besieged William’s home. William, with stout support from Alice, defended the house, keeping the attackers at bay.  The Sheriff ordered the place to be set on fire, forcing the man to lower his children through the upstairs windows to safety using knotted sheets. Alice at first refused to go, wanting to die at his side, until William pointed out the children would have no one to take care of them, so she reluctantly agreed.

Once alone, William put up a fierce resistance, shooting many of the attackers with arrows. Eventually, the smoke and flames forced him to jump through the window into the crowd below, where he was overpowered. Taking no chances, the Sheriff ordered that all the city gates be locked to deter any possible escape, and instructed carpenters to build a gallows.

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Those Crafty Wise Men of Gotham!


The Merry Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham

Gotham is a village in Nottinghamshire, England that has acquired remarkable reputation for the villager’s ingenuity.  The inspiration for this came from a series of short, amusing, stories called, ‘The Merry Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham’ that describe the villagers performing a number of peculiar tasks.   This was first published in a chapbook during the reign of King Henry VIII in 1540. Chapbooks were cheap publications that were written to appeal to the common people.  Rather than mad the people of Gotham became known as the Wise Men of Gotham and for good reason.  The chapbook does not give reasons for their absurd behavior but medieval legend and tradition say there are at least two versions of how this came to be.    

King John

The first says that King John wanted to build a hunting lodge, or castle and make the surrounding area subject to strict Forest Laws for hunting and its use.  The people of Gotham would probably have not welcomed this as it would have place restrictions on the use of the forest and its resources.  The second says that  King John wanted  to travel through the parish, but any road the king traveled on in those days became a Royal Highway. Its maintenance and upkeep became the responsibility of the parishes it passed through.  This was perceived as bad news by the people of Gotham who not surprisingly, really did not want to pay for the privilege of maintaining it.

Gotham madness!illus241

To dissuade the king from his plan the people of Gotham hatched a remarkable plan of their own.  In those days madness was believed to be catching so the villagers came up with a plan where they would be carrying out a series of acts of apparent madness.  When the King’s riders arrived ahead of the main party they were astonished to find a group of men hard at work building a fence around a small bush growing on top of a mound.  The conversation between the king’s men  and the villagers may have been something along the following lines:-

Fencing in the cuckoo

“Why are you doing that?” inquired the king’s man.  “To fence the cuckoo in.” said their leader.

“And why would you want to do doing that?” said the King’s man.

“Because the cuckoo brings the spring and we shall keep the spring with us forever if we fence her in.”  said the leader as the last piece of fencing was fixed in place.  With that the cuckoo flew out of the bush and away over the countryside.

“Darn!” cried the leader, “we should have made the fence higher!”   Perplexed, the king’s man rode on.

Drowning an eel and more madness

Wherever they went they found the people engaged in some absurd or hopeless task.  At a local pond they found a group of villagers trying to drown an eel.

“What ever are you doing?” asked the king’s man.

“This eel has eaten all the fish we put in the pond we kept for our own use. We are drowning it to teach it a lesson!” they told him.

Puzzled the king’s man rode on until he came upon a group of men dragging carts onto a barn roof.  “Why are you doing that?” asked the king’s man.

“To shade the barn from the sun!” they replied.

Astonished the king’s man rode on and soon came on another group of villagers rolling cheeses down a hill towards Nottingham.  Reluctantly the king’s man asked them what they were doing.illus236“We are rolling our cheeses down the hill to Nottingham that they may find their own way to market, saving us the trouble of taking them ourselves!” they replied.

The bemused king’s men rode into Gotham but wherever they went they found the people engaged in an impossible or absurd task.

The  madness of Gotham

The King’s men, as was the belief at the time,  believed madness to be a contagious disease.  From what they saw of the villagers they were convinced they had all fallen sick with it.  They returned to King John and reported that the whole population was afflicted with madness.  Not wanting to risk catching their affliction King John decided not to go to Gotham and either found a way round the village, or decided to have his hunting lodge elsewhere.

The Wise Men of Gotham

So the people of Gotham managed to avoid the consequences of a Royal Forest or  expense for the upkeep of public road. The villagers became known as the Wise Men of Gotham and the people would often be heard to  say, “we ween there are more fools pass through Gotham than remain in it”.

© 12/07/2015 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright zteve t evans