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2010 articles 2010 articles

A Lost Manuscript of the 'Rymes of [] Randolf Erl of Chestre'

John Spence (notes)


The first ever reference to Robin Hood as a literary character, in William Langland’s Piers Plowman, refers to ‘rymes of Robyn Hood and Randolf Erl of Chestre’. The reference to ‘Randolf’ has intrigued literary historians, as no medieval narrative verse is known to survive which features Ranulf, earl of Chester, as the protagonist. This article discusses a previously unnoted catalogue entry recording an early lost manuscript copy of verses about the deeds of Ranulf, earl of Chester. The lost copy once existed in Cotton MS. Otho B. III, which was badly damaged by fire at Ashburnham House in 1731.

The article describes the evidence for the lost manuscript copy, analyses what can be learned from the surviving catalogue entry, discusses possible analogues for parts of the lost text, and considers what this evidence suggests about the interpretation of the reference in Piers Plowman and the early Robin Hood tradition. The article also identifies those historians and antiquaries who saw and made notes from the manuscript before it was damaged.

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