Outlaws and Highwaymen

Passage from The Governance of England, by Sir John Fortescue
Sir John Fortescue, The Governance of England, ed. Charles Plummer (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1885), pp. 141–2

between 1471 and 1476

Modern English translation

Only lak off harte and cowardisse kepen the Ffrenchemen ffro rysynge.

Pouerte is not the cause, whi the commons off Ffraunce rise not ayen thair souerayn lorde. ... but it is cowardisse and lakke of hartes and corage, wich no Ffrenchman hath like vnto a Englysh man. It hath ben offten tymes sene in Englande, that iii. or iiij. theves ffor pouerte haue sett apon vj or vij trewe men, and robbed hem all. But it hath not bene sene in Ffraunce, that vj. or vij. theves haue be hardy to robbe iij. or iiij. trewe men. Wherfore it is right selde that Ffrenchmen be hanged ffor robbery, ffor thai have no hartes to do so terable an acte. Ther bith therfore mo men hanged in Englande in a yere ffor robbery and manslaughter, then ther be hanged in Ffraunce ffor such maner of crime in vij yeres. There is no man hanged in Scotlande in vij yere to gedur ffor robbery. And yet thai ben often tymes hanged ffor larceny, and stelynge off good in the absence off the owner theroff. But ther hartes serue hem not to take a manys gode, while he is present, and woll defende it; wich maner off takynge is callid robbery. But the Englysh man is off another corage. Ffor yff he be pouere, and see another man havynge rychesse, wich mey be taken ffrom hym be myght, he will not spare to do so, but yff that pouere man be right trewe.

Sir John Fortescue


The Governance of England is a treatise on the best way to govern the English nation. This passage occurs as part of Fortescue’s attack on the argument that the king’s interests would best be served by impoverishing his subjects. Fortescue maintains that this is false: impoverishing the common people with heavy taxation might work in France, but then, the French are cowards. Englishmen, being a more courageous breed altogether, would rise in rebellion against the king.

Notes and page design © Gillian Spraggs 2001, 2007
Text added to site on 20 September 2001 | Page last modified on 28 August 2007

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