The legend of Gamelyn
This is an old English folk tale which shares some elements with the legend of Robin Hood.
A very long time ago, in the county of Lincolnshire, England, there lived an old gentleman, Sir John of the Bounds, who had three sons, John, Otho and Gamelyn. Gamelyn was much younger than his two brothers, having been born when his father was already in advanced years, but he was the apple in his old father’s eyes.
As the old man’s health began to decline, he decided he should draw up his will. He did not care too much for his elder sons, and he was not sure that they would be fair to their young brother. For that reason he wanted to be sure that Gamelyn got his fair share, and he decreed that all his lands and possessions should be split equally between the three.
When old Sir John finally died, his oldest son did of course inherit his title, so he became the new Sir John. As Gamelyn was still a minor, the new Sir John became his legal guardian, in control of all his possessions and wealth. With the connections he had in the church and amongst his fellow knights, and his new riches, it was not very difficult for Sir John to effectively seize all of Gamelyn’s possessions, and to use them to enrich himself.
One day Gamelyn questioned his brother about what had happened to his inheritance, which left Sir John very angry and determined to teach the young boy a lesson. However, like most bullies, Sir John was a physical coward, and he dare not engage Gamelyn himself. So he ordered some of his servants to give Gamelyn a beating. However, so strong had Gamelyn become, that he easily defeated all of them. When Sir John saw this he locked himself in his quarters until all had quietened down. The brothers then made their peace, and Sir John promised to restore Gamelyn’s inheritance to him, and to treat him with more respect in the future.
During this time in history, there were many fairs held around the English counties, and one of the attractions were the wrestling competitions. One such competition was to be held nearby, with prizes being offered to the winner. Gamelyn decided he would try his luck at one of these. His brother, Sir John, was still being friendly towards him, so he was happy to lend Gamelyn a horse to go to the fair, secretly wishing his young brother would get a good beating. After Gamelyn left for the fair, Sir John had all the entrances to his castle locked, and gave instructions to all his servants not to let Gamelyn back in.
At the fair, a large number of hopeful men, some young and some not so young, had entered the wrestling contest hoping to defeat the reigning champion, who was a massive hulk of a man, standing almost seven feet tall. Gamelyn put his name down, and set down to watch the competition. The champion was obviously an experienced wrestler and had no real difficulty disposing of his many challengers. By and by it was Gamelyn’s turn, and the champion thought he should not have too many problems disposing of one so young. However, he found the young man to be a slippery opponent, who managed to wrestle free form every grip the champion tried, and when eventually Gamelyn launched an attack of his own, he was able to lift the champion off the ground and throw him down with such force that the man was unable to rise up again.
Gamelyn now stood there as the victor, and waited for the next challenger, his appetite whetted. But nobody entered the ring. Having seen how easily he disposed of the champion, everybody decided they wanted to avoid a similar fate. Gamelyn was declared the new champion, and he happily received his prizes: a fully grown ram and a gold ring.
As he approached his home, followed by a band of admirers, his brother saw him coming and decided to keep the castle doors locked. However, Gamelyn easily broke down the door, and picking up the gate watchman who had refused him entry, threw him into the courtyard well. Gamelyn invited all his admirers and hangers on into the castle and arranged a great banquet for them, using supplies from Sir John’s cellar.
After the feast was over, and all the guests had departed in very good spirits, Sir John finally made an entrance and rebuked his young brother for being too generous with his wines and ales. “Well, dear brother”, said Gamelyn, “you’ve had the use of all my lands and possessions for many a year, so I think I’ve probably paid for this feast many times over!”
“All right”, conceded Sir John, “you’ve probably got a point there. I tell you what, brother, as you know I have no sons of my own, and to show you that I’m serious about mending my ways, I’ll make you my sole heir”. Gamelyn, of course, was a bit naive, and was always willing to believe his older brother, so he was very happy with this proposal. Then Sir John scratched his beard, and said, “There is just one thing, young brother. You know when you threw the watchman in the well, I swore that I would have you put in chains. Of course, I don’t really want to do that now, but if I don’t do something, I could stand accused of perjury, having sworn that I would do so. So for the sake of avoiding perjury, would you be so good as to consent being shackled, just for a short while?” Again, Gamelyn was unable and unwilling to see through his brother’s treacherous plan, and readily consented to being bound for a while.
So Sir John called his servants, and instructed them to tie up his brother and shackle him to the great post in the castle’s banqueting hall, which Gamelyn readily allowed them to do. Once he was thus tied and shackled, Sir John burst out laughing. “HaHaHa, I’ve got you now, you young fool!”
There Gamelyn stayed for the rest of the day and night, until finally, after everybody had retired, he was able to attract the attention of the steward, and old fellow called Adam, who had been the castle steward under Gamelyn’s father and had known Gamelyn all his life. Luckily, this old servant did not like the new Sir John very much, and wasn’t very happy with the way he had been treating Gamelyn. Therefore it was not very difficult for Gamelyn to persuade this old loyal servant to help him. First Adam freed him from his ropes and shackles, and then took the young Gamelyn to his quarters, where first he served him with food and drink. Then they set down to work out a plan. At first Gamelyn proposed that he should go down to Sir John’s quarters and cut off his head, but Adam persuaded him that he had a better plan.
Adam explained to Gamelyn that Sir John had arranged a great feast to be held the next day, Sunday, to which he had invited a great many Churchmen, abbots, priors and other so called holy men. “We will appeal to them, if they agree you should be released, nobody needs to know that I’ve been helping you. If they refuse, I will help you break out of the castle.” So they agreed that Gamelyn would be bound onto the great post again, only in such a way that he would easily break free. Adam would keep an eye on the proceedings, and stand at the ready with some weapons should the churchmen refuse to play ball.
After the church service on Sunday, Sir John entered the great hall, which had been set out ready for the feast, with a great number of his guests, and as they were sitting down, Sir John explained that his young brother had gone mad. He’d killed the porter by throwing him into the well, and had attacked others in his household. “I had no choice but to put the poor lad in chains, for his own protection as well as that of my servants and my property”, explained Sir John. The churchmen expressed their astonishment at the young man’s actions, and agreed that Sir John had taken the right course of action. When Gamelyn spoke up, to try and get them to understand his predicament and to have pity on him, they just ignored his pleadings and mocked him, then carried on eating and drinking, toasting the health of their host. As they had arranged, Adam then brought in some sturdy wooden staves, and Gamelyn easily threw of his shackles, which had only been loosely fixed on him.
The poor churchmen were no match for the young, fit Gamelyn. He laid in them with his stave, knocking them over at will. They tried to escape, but Adam had locked the door to the great hall, and none of the other servants intervened. Nobody liked the churchmen very much, and they were all happy to see them get a good beating. When all the fat churchmen had been knocked down, sideways and over, Gamelyn sought out his brother, Sir John. He’d tried to escape but had found the door locked, and now Gamelyn picked him up easily, threw him down hard and struck him with his stave, breaking his back. Then he dragged him to the post, and bound his brother in the chains that had held him. “You can stay here for a while”, he said, “and cool down, while I have something to eat and drink from your sumptuous table.” Gamelyn then allowed the door to be opened so the churchmen, with their bruised and broken heads and limbs could make their way home.
Gamelyn and Adam sat down at the table and helped themselves to whatever they fancied, waited on by Sir John’s servants, some of whom were greatly impressed by the young Gamelyn’s extraordinary display of strength. After a while however, the new porter came rushing into the hall, and warned them that the sheriff was on his way, with a troop of men. One of the churchmen must have told him what had happened at Sir John’s castle. Gamelyn ordered for the gate to the castle to be locked tightly, but he knew that they would have to make a plan. Adam, again, came up with an idea. “We should retreat to the forest”, he said. “The sheriff’s men will not follow us there.”
They selected a couple of good horses from the stables, helped themselves to swords and staves, and rode away, scattering some of the sheriff’s men who tried to stop them getting away.
After wandering around in the forest for some time, the two friends eventually came upon a group of outlaws, who had made the forest their home. Their leader was known as “the king of the outlaws”, and Gamelyn explained to him why he and Adam had needed to flee to the woods. Some of the men had heard stories about Gamelyn and his wicked brother, and they welcomed him warmly. So it was that Gamelyn and Adam joined the band of outlaws, and lived in the forest undisturbed. The outlaws lived on the wildlife in the forests, but they also robbed the odd traveller. Gamelyn made it a point only to rob Churchmen, and he became known far and wide as the courteous outlaw.
In the meantime, after the sheriff had arrived at the castle, he’d found Sir John tied to the post in the great hall. He freed him, and summoned for a doctor to treat the man’s wounds. Sir John recovered soon enough from his injuries and went about making a plan to trap his brother and have him done away with once and for all. He made a deal with the old sheriff, who was getting on in years and wanted to retire anyway, and bought himself the position and title of Sheriff. Then he proclaimed that Gamelyn was a murderer, and put a price on his head. Posters were put out all over the county, listing Gamelyn’s crimes and offering a reward for his capture. News of this soon spread to the outlaws in the forest and to Gamelyn’s ears. The young man was so angry that he decided to go and visit his brother and challenge him. Adam tried to advise him against this, being sure that if Gamelyn went to the castle on his own, he would surely be arrested, and maybe even killed. But the young man was stubborn and refused to listen to reason. So he went off on his own, to the castle to confront his brother. But it transpired as Adam had predicted. The sheriff’s men overpowered him, chained him and threw him in the prison. Sir John was happy, he was sure he would now have the last laugh, and set about preparing for a trial at which he would make sure that his young brother would be found guilty and sentenced to be hanged.
Gamelyn’s other brother, Otho, had been living quietly on his own lands, not really aware of the fights between his older and younger brother, but now news reached him of the quarrel between these two, and that Sir John was planning to have Gamelyn hanged. This so saddened Otho, that he went to see Sir John, to plead for his young brother’s life. Of course Sir John would not listen, but then Otho suggested that he would stand surety for Gamelyn, if Sir John agreed to release him into his custody. Sir John thought he could not really refuse this offer, but he warned Otho that if Gamelyn did not turn up at the trial, he himself would be given the punishment that Gamelyn would have received. Otho agreed to this, and so it was that Gamelyn was released and delivered into Otho’s custody.
After they arrived safely at Otho’s home, Gamelyn related to him all that had happened between him and Sir John, and how he had taken shelter in the forest, in the company of the outlaws. Gamelyn asked Otho’s permission to go back to the forest, and to see how his friends, especially Adam, were getting on. Otho was reluctant for Gamelyn to go; he pointed out what would happen if Gamelyn did not appear before the judge at the arranged date. But Gamelyn assured him that he would be there, and Otho, being kind and trusting, relented and allowed him to go to the forest.
Gamelyn had a good time with his old friends and fellow outlaws, and the days and weeks just flew by. One morning he realised that the day of the trial must be approaching, and he started to make preparations for his journey back into town. But by now Gamelyn had learned a few things, and he knew he could not trust his brother, the sheriff, or the judge, who he suspected would already have been bribed by Sir John to find him guilty of all the crimes he was accused of, whatever the evidence might say. So he got together a band of willing young outlaws to accompany him, all heavily armed. The loyal old servant Adam was sent ahead as a scout, to find out what the situation was in the town and the courthouse. Gamelyn and his troop of merry outlaws rested a few miles outside of the town, waiting for Adam to bring the news. When Adam turned up, Gamelyn could see immediately that his servant was very upset. It appeared that the Judge was already there, and had Otho arrested and put in jail. Adam was so furious that for once he urged Gamelyn to ride into town and slay everybody who got in the way. But now Gamelyn had a better idea. “We will ride into town, yes,” he said, “but we will arrest the judge and his clerks, and we will appoint me as the judge, and you, Adam, will be my clerk. Then we will meet out some justice.”
So they rode into town. Gamelyn sent a few of his men to the jail, where they freed Otho. He himself and the rest of the men rode into the hall where the judge was sitting. The Sheriff’s men tried to put up a fight, but Gamelyn and his outlaws were far too strong, and disarmed them fairly easily. They arrested the judge and the sheriff, Sir John, and put them in chains. Gamelyn then took his place in the judge’s seat, with Otho beside him, and Adam taking the seat reserved for the clerk of the court. “Now we shall see some justice done”, shouted Gamelyn. He called twelve of his young outlaws, and swore them in as jurors. Then he proceeded to lay charges against his brother and the judge: the false imprisonment and attempted murder of his brother Otho and himself. The twelve jurors were unanimous in their verdict: Guilty on all counts. Gamelyn did not want to waste any time, and had Sir John and his corrupt judge hanged there and then.
Gamelyn and Otho knew that in order to live peaceful lives they would have to go and see King Edward, and get his sanction for their actions. They travelled to London, with Adam and a number of the outlaws, and put their case before the king. The king was known to be unhappy with corrupt officials, having had a few problems himself, so after he’d heard their story and the testimony of Adam, he readily pardoned them, and made Otho the new sheriff, and gave Gamelyn the post of royal forester, to look after all the free forests in the county. In return Gamelyn and Otho promised the king their lifelong support and loyalty. So the brothers could return to their homes, with the king’s blessings. Gamelyn married a beautiful young maiden, they had many children and lived a long, happy and joyful life.