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  • 2019jonesphd

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Long Meg of Westminster: women, waives and outlaws in premodern England

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Published
Publication date2019
Number of pages251
QualificationPhD
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Thesis sponsors
  • AHRC North West Consortium
Publisher
  • Lancaster University
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This thesis is the first sustained study of Long Meg of Westminster, a figure of Henrician England featured in premodern literature and folklore. Famous for her ‘excesse in height’, she features in a wide selection of popular narratives and, by the seventeenth century, provides a name for a gun, a cannon, and the Bronze Age Stone Circle ‘Long Meg and her Daughters’ in Little Salkeld, Cumbria. While earlier critics such as Patricia Gartenberg (1983) and Bernard Capp (1998) have noticed similarities between Long Meg and Robin Hood’s characterisation as an outlaw, I argue that Long Meg’s ‘merry prankes’ engage with the discourses of gender, law and popular culture. In its consideration of women beyond their marginal roles in outlaw narratives, this thesis interrogates the exclusion which uniquely underpins the lost legal term waive through the conceptual vocabulary of biopolitics. The distinctive contribution of my research thus lies in three key areas: it provides a detailed critical analysis of Long Meg of Westminster, a literary account of the premodern waive, and offers an intervention in Agamben studies.

Bringing legal materials such as Magna Carta (1215) and Henry de Bracton’s in De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Angliae [On the Laws and Customs of England] (c.1235) into dialogue with literary texts concerned with Long Meg (1590-1640), I show how the waive – the woman’s terminological equivalent to the outlaw – is characterised by a suspension in law and language. The introduction traces the textual and critical history of Long Meg alongside the early English law from which the waive first emerges. This discussion concludes with an outline of the overarching biopolitical framework of the thesis. The first three Chapters provide a comparative account of Long Meg alongside the jesting communities of Robin Hood and John Skelton. Chapters One and Two encompass their overlapping traditions as jestbook heroes in The Gest of Robyn Hode (c.1450), The Merie Tales of Skelton (c.1567) and The Life of Long Meg (1635). Using their shared stage presence as a cultural index to investigate the lost Long Meg of Westminster play (c.1594), Chapter Three examines dramatic works such as Anthony Munday’s The Downfall of Robert Earl of Huntington (c.1598) and Ben Jonson’s court masque The Fortunate Isles and their Union (c.1624). Chapters Four and Five turn to Meg’s absorption into alternate communities of women in Thomas Deloney’s prose narrative The Gentle Craft, the second part (c.1598) and the pseudonymous pamphlet ascribed to Mary Tattlewell and Joan Hit-him-home, The Womens Sharpe Revenge (1640). Distinct from the outlaw, the premodern waive illuminates the gendered difference which underpins Long Meg of Westminster’s tradition.