Fulk Fitz Warin

The Anglo-Norman romance Fouke le Fitz Waryn (or Fulk fitz Warin in the anglicized form) has been described as a ‘weird mixture of accurate information, plausible stories that lack conformation, and magnificent flights of pure imagination’. The word fitz was used to distinguish a son from his father, literally meaning ‘son of’. There can be no doubt that this hero of legend and the Romance, Fulk III, was a real person. In his book The Reign of King John, Sydney Painter writes ‘the whole affair of Fulk fitz Warin is extremely curious. A simple knight of meagre landed power defies the king, rises in revolt, gathers a band of outlaws, and wanders about a realm for three years. Then he is pardoned at the request of two of the king’s most intimate friends, given what he had originally wanted, and later allowed to marry a rich widow’.

The Romance survives in a single manuscript that is probably early fourteenth century (British Library, Royal 12. C. xii). It contains other items as well (thirty-six in all), many in Latin, but some in French and one in English. It is generally agreed that this manuscript version is not the original tale, but a copy of an earlier lost version written in verse, probably composed in the second half of the thirteenth century. The unknown scribe who compiled the manuscript was apparently a priest, and he could have been the person who put the thirteenth-century poem into prose. He may have been a canon of Hereford who was responsible for some of the Harley manuscripts as well. In the sixteenth century a copy of the now lost verse text must have been obtained by the antiquary John Leland. In his Collectanea there is an entry with the heading ‘Thinges exerptid owte of an old Englisch boke yn Ryme of the Gestes of Guarine, and his Sunnes’. This is followed by an abbreviated translation of the lost ‘old Englisch boke’. The manuscript was first edited and translated by Thomas Wright in 1855, and reedited by Joseph Stephenson for the Rolls Series in 1875, by Louis Brandin for Les Classiques francaises du Moyen Age in 1930, and by E.J. Hathaway, P.T. Ricketts, C.A. Robson and A.D. Wiltshire for the Anglo-Norman Text Society in 1975. Another translation, based on the edition for the Anglo-Norman Text Society, appeared in Two Medieval Outlaws: Eustace the Monk and Fouke Fitz Waryn by Glyn S. Burgess in 1997.

The Romance opens with William the Bastard’s conquest of England, and his intention to give lands in the Welsh Marches to his followers. The Marches are commonly known as those parts of the English counties which lie along the border with Wales, particularly Shropshire and Herefordshire. In both the Romance and in the real lives of Fulk III and his family, the territory with the most importance is Whittington in Shropshire. The castle of Whittington, a great border castle, was probably erected by the Peverel family during the reign of Henry I. In the Romance the castle is called Blancheville and here Whittington was first acquired by the Fitz Waryns as a gift of William Peverel, presumably the William Peverel in possession of Whittington when the castle was fortified against Stephen in 1138. There is no evidence for this gift, but William Peverel did give Fulk I the manor of Tadlow in Cambridgeshire as a gift.

Although the hero of the Romance is Fulk III, the author writes a good deal about his grandfather, Fulk I, and his father, Fulk II. The two are confused in the process, and some of Fulk I’s activities are transferred to his son, Fulk II (also known as Fouke le Brun), but Fulk I is also confused with the founder of the family himself, apparently Waryn (Gwaryn de Metz). The central section of the Romance deals with Fulk III’s break with King John and his subsequent outlawry due to the disputed possession of Whittington. In reality, when Fulk III succeeded his father, Whittington was in the possession of Morys (Maurice, Meurich) de Powys, and King John’s accession to the throne in 1199 did not improve matters. In the year 1200 Fulk III fined £100 for the castle in an apparent attempt to resolve the question of Whittington once and for all. However, Morys de Powys fined the smaller sum of fifty marks, and it was his offer which John accepted. In April 1200 he confirmed him in possession of Whittington. On Morys death a few months later, John confirmed his sons, Werennoc and Wennoneo, in possession of the castle. Fulk was furious that he had been denied justice in this matter and, according to the Romance, it was as a result of the grant of Whittington to Morys that he broke with the king and became an outlaw. In the Romance it was Fulk himself that killed Morys and this could be true. If Morys was killed by Fulk, his death must have taken place before 1 August 1200, the date on which his sons received possession of Whittington. The animosity between John and Fulk III could go back earlier. According to the Romance Henry II had Fulk brought up with his own four sons, Henry, Richard, John and Geoffrey. Fulk was on good terms with all the boys with the exception of John. One day he and John were sitting alone, playing chess, when John suddenly struck Fulk with the chessboard. Fulk retaliated by kicking John so hard in the chest that he went crashing against the wall and fainted. Fulk helped John to regain consciousness, but he went to his father and complained. The king, however, supported Fulk and also had a beating administered to John for having complained. The author of the Romance considers these events to be the source of John’s later antagonism towards Fulk.

In the Romance Fulk hides out in the Shropshire forests, he robs merchants that are bringing goods to the king, and many of the knights sent to capture him are killed. Along with other supporters of his outlawry, Fulk has four brothers; Philip the Red, William, John and Alan, and a cousin Baldwin de Hodnet. Fulk and his men later flee to France where they stay with King Philip. Then they become pirates in the Channel, and often they take the king’s goods. Fulk’s other adventures include rescuing the daughter of Aunflor, lord of Orkney, and saving the daughter of the Duke of Carthage (presumably Carthagena on the south-east coast of Spain) from a ferocious dragon. Upon his return to England, Fulk and his companions learn that John was at Windsor, so they head for Windsor Forest. One day, Fulk and his companions hear the blaring of horns and realize that the King is hunting, so Fulk sets off to assess the situation. Along the way he meets with a charcoal burner – Fulk takes his clothing and his triblet in exchange for money, then sits down by his fire. At length the king and his knights arrive and ask the charcoal burner (Fulk in disguise) if he has seen any good deer. Fulk replies that a huge beast had indeed passed by and he offers to take the king to where he saw it. When they arrive, Fulk offers to go into the thicket to flush out the beast, then his men dart out and capture the king and his party. The king begs for mercy and promises to restore all of Fulk’s heritage and whatever else he had taken away from him and from his people. After his release, the king does not keep his promise. He returns to his palace, assembles his knights and his courtiers, and under the leadership of Sir James of Normandy, they set out to capture the outlaws. However, one of Fulk’s men, John de Rampaigne, had spied on the proceedings and he was able to send a warning. The outlaw’s were ready for the king’s men, and after a fierce battle they were beaten. Most were killed but not their leader, Sir James. Fulk exchanges clothes, helmets and horses with Sir James, and binds his mouth so he cannot speak; then they both ride back to the King. Thinking this is Sir James with a captive FitzWarin, the King tries to kiss the knight (Fulk) before him. However, not wanting to remove his helmet to reveal his identity, Fulk claims he must quickly return to the battle in the Forest – John even gives him his own horse to speed him on his way. Fulk returns to his companions and they leave the forest, finding refuge in a wood where they tend to their wounds – Fulk’s brother William has been severely injured. Meanwhile the king (who believes he has Fulk) orders his hanging, but when the helmet is removed it is realized that it is actually Sir James. The king is furious and he swears that he will not rest until all the outlaws are captured. With a major force, the king tracks down Fulk in the wood – Ranulf Earl of Chester approaches Fulk and begs him to surrender to the king, but he refuses. The earl and his company attack and a large battle ensues. Fulk and his brothers defend themselves boldly, but Fulk is wounded – John his brother, leaps onto his horse to hold him up and they race for the coast. The Earl of Chester discovers Fulk’s wounded brother William and hides him in an abbey, however, he is soon discovered and thrown into the dungeons at Windsor. Fulk and his companions escape to an island near Spain. Fulk’s brother and his retinue go ashore, leaving Fulk asleep and alone on the ship, and it drifts to the Barbary Coast. After further adventures, Fulk and his followers return to England. His brother William is still held captive at Westminster, but he is rescued by John de Rampaigne disguised as a merchant. William is placed on a boat and returned to Fulk who is overjoyed. Fulk and his companions travel to Brittany and stay for half a year and more, then they return to England. Fulk encounters the king in the New Forest, where he is hunting a wild boar. The king is taken back to Fulk’s galley, and after much talking, he puts aside his anger and promises to restore to Fulk and his companions all their inheritance, and to proclaim peace for them throughout England.

The final section of the Romance is more incomplete than inaccurate. Fulk stays with the king for a month, then for a time with the earl Marshall, and it is true that the earl granted him the town of Wantage in Oxfordshire. Following this, the Romance tells us that Fulk joins the Earl of Chester in a large army sent to Ireland. Here, Fulk kills a giant who is among the earl’s enemies. He then returns to his wife, dame Maude de Cause, and his children, at Blanchville. In reality, Fulk’s wife was Matilda le Vavasur, the wealthy widow of Theobald Walter. She was given to Fulk in marriage in 1207 in return for a fine. The Romance tells us that after reflecting on his life, Fulk is remorseful for his sins, and it is true that he established a priory near Alberbury called the New Abbey. Soon after, his wife dies and is buried there. A good while later Fulk marries lady Clarice de Auberville, but as they lay in bed together one night, he thinks of his youth and sinful life. A great light appears and Fulk is struck blind for the rest of his life. Lady Clarice dies some years later and she also is buried at the New Abbey. Fulk joins her a year later.

In reality, King John was in Normandy for most of the time when Fulk was an outlaw, so his encounters with the king in the Romance are fictitious. He and his men were actually pardoned by the king on the 11 November or a few days later in 1203. The pardon was instigated at the command of William of Salisbury and John de Gray, Bishop of Norwich. Thirty-eight men who had become outlawed because of their support for Fulk and fourteen men who had joined Fulk’s band as outlaws were also pardoned. Two of those were Fulk’s brothers and two were his cousins. The rest were minor figures about whom nothing is known. The full text of the pardon is contained in the Rotuli litterarum patentium (p. 36). By the autumn of 1204 a certain amount of Fulk’s lands had been returned to him, and in October King John gave instructions to the sheriff of Shropshire to restore to him the castle of Whittington. In the years following his pardon Fulk made an effort to improve his relations with the king. In 1210 he accompanied John on his visit to Ireland and was with him at Allerton and Durham in September 1212. In April 1213 the king gave Fulk a gift of twenty marks. In June 1213, in a letter, the king ordered that a ship and the armaments from a Norwegian galley be given to Fulk. In May 1214 he sailed to France with King John and assisted him in his conflict with King Philip of France. By December 1214 Fulk was back in England, but in the spring of 1215 he joined forces with the barons opposed to the king and assembled with them at Stamford. Later he defied the king at Brackley. When John issued Magna Carta, Fulk was one of the barons for whom it was intended and he was one of those who were excommunicated by Innocent III’s bull of 16 December 1215. Fulk seems to have been in two minds in respect of the rebel cause, because in 1216 he signed a letter of truce with William Marshall, the royalist leader. On the other hand Fulk wished to maintain his alliance with Llywelyn Prince of Wales, a leading supporter of the rebels. However from 1216 there was a period of intense hostility between them, culminating in Llywelyn’s capture of Whittington in 1223. After John’s death in 1217, Fulk still maintained his resistance to the crown. In 1217 Henry III acting through his regents, ordered the seizure of all Fulk’s lands in that county. However in February 1218, Henry ordered the return of lands belonging to Fulk and Matilda. The crown refused to allow Fulk to strengthen Whittington Castle, which undoubtedly contributed to its fall in 1223. In July of that year the sheriff of Shropshire was ordered to give full possession of it to Fulk. In 1228 Fulk made a truce with Llywelyn but he declined to oppose King Henry, who gave him a number of gifts, and also a good deal of help in paying of his debts to the crown. Fulk also made more than one visit abroad in the king’s service, and in the 1230s he and his younger brother William had responsibility for the maintenance of the truce between Henry and Llywelyn. In 1245, Fulk was chosen by the barons assembled at Dunstable and Linton to act as their spokesman. He was to order the papal legate, Martin, to leave England. Fulk’s last public act seems to have been to serve as arbitrator for the king regarding a dispute arising from the Welsh truce. It is generally agreed that Fulk did not die until around 1258, but his birth date is uncertain. According to Janet Meisel, he was probably born no later than 1170. During the last few years of his life, it was his son Fulk IV, who carried out his public duties and he held some of the lands of his father. Fulk IV continued his father’s support for Henry III, and on 14 May 1264 he was on the losing side at Lewes with Henry, who was facing the army of Simon de Montfort. Fulk died on that day and on 20 December, Simon de Montfort ordered Whittington Castle to be handed over to Peter de Montfort. Fulk IV’s son Fulk V, a minor at the time, fell into Peter’s hands. He was only rescued in 1265 when Henry regained control of the kingdom. It was not until 1273 that Fulk V took over his father’s lands. He continued to offer loyal service to the crown until hid death in 1315. A. C. Reeves in his book The Marcher Lords, points out ‘ For nearly three hundred years there was a Fulk fitz Warin as a Marcher lord, until the eleventh Fulk died in 1420 without a son to succeed him’. Fulk III was more than just a minor figure, he served more than one king and was involved in important events in English history. Also, some unmistakable similarities from the Romance can be found in the legend of Robin Hood (see, The Legend 3). This page contains information found in Barons of the Welsh Frontier: The Corbet, Pantulf, and Fitz Warin Families, 1066-1272, Janet Meisel, University of Nebraska Press, 1980; Two Medieval Outlaws: Eustace the Monk and Fouke Fitz Waryn, Glyn S. Burgess, Cambridge, 1997.