Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 116

Literary Influence of the “Gamelyn” Story

The story of “Gamelyn” has two great claims to our attention: it is, through Lodge’s “Euphues’ Golden Legacy,” the ultimate source of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, and it seems to be the earliest presentment in English literature of the figure of “the noble outlaw.” In fact, Gamelyn is probably the literary ancestor of “bold Robin Hood,” and stands for an English ideal of justice and equity, against legal oppression and wickedness in high places. He shows, too, the love of free life, of the merry greenwood and the open road, which reappears after so many centuries in the work of Robert Louis Stevenson.

The Story

In the reign of King Edward I. there dwelt in [Pg 205] Lincolnshire, near the vast expanse of the Fens, a noble gentleman, Sir John of the Marches. He was now old, but was still a model of all courtesy and a “very perfect gentle knight.” He had three sons, of whom the youngest, Gamelyn, was born in his father’s old age, and was greatly beloved by the old man; the other two were much older than he, and John, the eldest, had already developed a vicious and malignant character. Gamelyn and his second brother, Otho, reverenced their father, but John had no respect or obedience for the good gentleman, and was the chief trouble of his declining years, as Gamelyn was his chief joy.

The Father Feels his End Approaching

At last old age and weakness overcame the worthy old Sir John, and he was forced to take to his bed, where he lay sadly meditating on his children’s future, and wondering how to divide his possessions justly among the three. There was no difficulty of inheritance or primogeniture, for all the knight’s lands were held in fee-simple, and not in entail, so that he might bequeath them as he would. Sir John of the Marches, fearing lest he should commit an injustice, sent throughout the district for wise knights, begging them to come hastily, if they wished to see him alive, and help him. When the country squires and lords, his near neighbours, heard of his grave condition, they hurried to the castle, and gathered in the bedchamber, where the dying knight greeted them thus: “Lords and gentlemen, I warn you in truth that I may no longer live; by the will of God death lays his hand upon me.” When they heard this they tried to encourage him, by bidding him remember that God can provide a remedy for every disease, and the good knight received their kindly words without dispute. “That God can send remedy for an [Pg 206] ill I will never deny; but I beseech you, for my sake, to divide my lands among my three sons. For the love of God deal justly, and forget not my youngest, Gamelyn. Seldom does any heir to an estate help his brothers after his father’s death.”

How Shall he Dispose of his Estate?

The friends whom Sir John had summoned deliberated long over the disposal of the estate. The majority wished to give all to the eldest son, but a strong minority urged the claims of the second, but all agreed that Gamelyn might wait till his eldest brother chose to give him a share of his father’s lands. At last it was decided to divide the inheritance between the two elder sons, and the knights returned to the chamber where the brave old knight lay dying, and told him their decision. He summoned up strength enough to protest against their plan of distribution, and said: