Jenny Kane: Coffee, cupcakes, chocolate and contemporary fiction / Jennifer Ash: Medieval crime with hints of Ellis Peters and Robin Hood

Tag: Outlaws

Criminal Inspiration: Folville Thinking

Although it cannot be categorically stated that the compilers of the Robin Hood ballads were influenced by the actual criminal gangs of the day, it is highly likely. Why wouldn’t the writers of the past be influenced by the political and local economic situation around them, just as we are today? If you study the literature and the criminal records of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries- as I did for five years- many similarities can be noted between the actions of gangs like the Folvilles, and those detailed in the ballads and political songs.

The earliest mention found (to date) of the name Robin Hood in literature appears in the poem The Vision of Piers Plowman, which was written by William Langland in c.1377. This was a protest poem complaining about the harsh conditions endured by the poor in the Fourteen Century. Not only did it mention Robin Hood, but it also makes reference to a real outlaw gang, the Folvilles.

“And some ryde and to recovere that unrightfully was wonne:

He wised hem wynne it ayein wightnesses of handes,

And fecchen it from false men with Folvyles lawes.”

In 1310, John de Folville, Lord of Ashby Folville, died, leaving his widow Alice and seven sons. The eldest son, also John, inherited the Ashby-Folville manor. Historical records show that John lived largely within the bounds of the law. However, his brothers, Eustace, Laurence, Richard, Robert, Thomas and Walter formed a criminal gang which became notorious. Between the mid 1320’s and 1330’s, the Folville brothers ran the town of Ashby Folville and its surrounds as a base for criminal activity.

The first crime that brought the Folvilles to the notice of the authorities was the murder of the Baron of the Exchequer, Roger Belers. Over the following decade, the Folville brothers’ travelled the countryside assaulting those they considered deserving of such treatment, and holding people and places to ransom. They hired themselves out as mercenaries, willing to commit crimes for the right price. In fact, if you look closely enough at the criminal activities of the Folville family and the Robin Hood ballads, you’ll see a great number of similarities. So many in fact, that I began to wonder if the ballad writers had been influenced by the actions of Folvilles – or if Folvilles had been influenced by the popularity of the ballads.

It was this latter theory that forms the inspiration behind The Folville Chronicles (The Outlaw’s Ransom, The Winter Outlaw, Edward’s Outlaw and Outlaw Justice).

These medieval murder mysteries show Robert de Folville and his brothers using the ballads of Robin and his outlaws as a code of behaviour. Be warned however- this isn’t the code of behaviour we associate with Robin Hood today. There’s no robbing the rich to give to the poor in the fourteenth century. The original ballads were all about punishing the greedy, lazy and the cruel. There was never any question of any money gained from such punishments being given away.

Perhaps it was inevitable that my doctoral research, combined with my love for the stories of Robin Hood, would eventually inspire my novels.

Writers, filmmakers and poets ever since the tales were first spoken, have all adapted the outlaw figure to fit their imagination, and to appeal to the audience of the age. The Robin Hood needed by the fourteenth century listener isn’t going to be the same one demanded of the Tudor population, and that version of the hero has been reinvented again and again ever since. From the wonderfully thigh slapping Errol Flynn, the mystical Robin’s portrayed by Michael Praed and Jason Connery in the 1980’s, to the pantomime figure presented in the late 90’s by Kevin Costner, and the PVC nightmare of the most recent incantation by Taron Egerton…perhaps each generation gets the Robin Hood it deserves?

In 1332 the Folville gang committed their most serious crime. They kidnapped the Justice of the Peace, Sir Richard Willoughby, on the road between Melton Mowbray and Grantham, near Waltham-on-the-Wolds. A ransom of 1,300 marks was demanded for his safe return. While the Folvilles’ waited for the ransom to be paid, they stole over a hundred pounds of goods from Willoughby, while they dragged him from wood to wood.

The implications of Willoughby’s kidnap were fair reaching. However, to go into them here would be to ruin the aforementioned fourth novel. I will say however, that the kidnap and ransom of nobles passing through their land, the targeting of corrupt officials, and the general gang activity employed by the Folvilles, echo similar incidents within the Robin Hood ballads, from The Lytell Geste to the later tales, such as Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne.

Rather than tell the story of the Folville brothers through their eyes, I introduced an outsider; a fictional protagonist to see their world with fresh eyes. Enter Mathilda of Twyford.

We first meet Mathilda in Book One of the Chronicles, The Outlaw’s Ransom.  A nineteen year old unmarried woman, Mathilda’s life revolves around looking after her father and brothers, running the home and the family pottery business since the death of her mother. Her life changes abruptly when she is forced to get to know the notorious Folville family rather better than she would have liked – and Mathilda finds herself surrounded by criminals and under a very frightening type of suspicion…

Blurb- The Outlaw’s Ransom

When potter’s daughter Mathilda is kidnapped by the notorious Folville brothers as punishment for her father’s debts, she fears for her life. Although of noble birth, the Folvilles are infamous throughout the county for using crime to rule their lands—and for using any means necessary to deliver their distinctive brand of ‘justice’.

Mathilda must prove her worth to the Folvilles in order to win her freedom. To do so, she must go against her instincts and, disguised as the betrothed of Robert de Folville, undertake a mission that will send her to Bakewell in Derbyshire, and the home of Nicholas Coterel, one of the most villainous men in England.

With her life in the hands of more than one dangerous brigand, Mathilda must win the trust of the Folville’s housekeeper, Sarah, and Robert Folville himself if she has any chance of survival.

Never have the teachings gleaned from the tales of Robyn Hode been so useful…

Extract from The Outlaw’s Ransom

…The Folville didn’t say anything else, but satisfied himself with watching Mathilda as she stood, half bowed, before him. She wasn’t shaking now. He’d noticed how hard she had fought within herself to still her external reactions to his news of her change in circumstance and had admired her self-control. It was almost as if she had an offended dignity about her rather than terror; an unusual reaction from a prisoner in the presence of a Folville.

He wondered if she’d been taught her letters. Most families didn’t waste their time teaching their womenfolk such things, but Mathilda of Twyford was clearly sharp and capable. With her mother gone, she’d run the household, and he imagined she did that job well. He saw that his family’s plan for this girl might work, but only if she kept that nerve. Otherwise… well, she wouldn’t be the first to die during his family’s quest to maintain their position.

Breaking the silence that had stretched out between them he said, ‘I recall you have questions for me. I can see your head jarring with them.’

‘If I may, my Lord?’

‘You may, although I should caution you, I may not choose to offer a reply.’

Mathilda licked her lips and ran her clammy palms down her grubby belted surcoat, which largely hid her brother’s leather hose, and flexed her numb bare toes.

‘Please, my Lord, who are you?’

This produced a bark of laughter, ‘You are well-mannered despite the indignity of being thrust, if only for a short while, into our cell. I am Robert de Folville, one of seven brothers of this manor.’

Mathilda curtsied, more out of natural impulse than any feelings of reverence towards this man, whom she knew for certain, had been party to at least one murder. ‘You are kin to my Lord Eustace, my Lord?’

‘Yes, girl, I am.’ He cocked his head to one side. ‘That worries you?’

‘He is a man I have been taught to fear, forgive my impudence, my Lord.’

He snorted. ‘I would rather have honest impudence than bluff and lies. So, you have been instructed by your father to be wary of us?’

‘Not only my father, sir.’ Abruptly worried that her boldness might place her family in more danger, Mathilda clamped her mouth shut. Seeing, however, that the Folville wasn’t cross, but had an expression of acceptance on his face, Mathilda braved a further question.

‘Where is my father, my Lord, and Matthew and Oswin, my brothers?’

Robert de Folville paused and, after a moment’s consideration, gestured for the servant boy to bring her a chair. Mathilda was glad to be allowed to sit down, but was puzzled at the equal status she was being afforded after her earlier abuse, as Folville sat next to her, leaning uncomfortably close to her slight, tense frame….


I never dreamt, back when I was a medieval history student at the University of Leicester, that I’d be a writer one day. Nor did I think I’d use all the research I did back then to create fictional adventures based on historical events.

I honestly can’t believe my luck.


The Outlaw’s Ransom – The Folville Chronicles Book One

The Winter’s Outlaw – The Folville Chronicles Book Two

Edward’s Outlaw – The Folville Chronicles Book Three

Outlaw Justice – The Folville Chronicles Book Four

The first three novel are also available as an e-boxset

You can also find the Robin of Sherwood audio scripts I’ve written here –

Happy reading,

Jen x

That ‘almost at the end’ tingle…

I felt it today- that feeling – the one you get when your novel is ever-so-almost drafted. The strange zingle that creeps through the fingers, and flows on into the keyboard. The one that starts when you can see all the threads of your imagination knotting together so the final curtain can come down upon your story, and after months and months of work, you can type the words ‘The End.’


It is an odd sensation- and a very physical thing. My fingers can never type fast enough, and yet I have to stop often, pause for breath- recheck everything- and all the time my brain is egging me on. ‘You’re nearly there- keep going…just 10,ooo words and your done…’

As follows of this blog will know, I have been writing under a new name recently- Jennifer Ash. My first novella under this new pen-name comes out next month (The Outlaw’s Ransom– 7th Dec), and I’ve been very busy working on a full length novel to follow it.

The Outlaw's Ransom

My love of medieval history is no secret – and it has been an absolute joy picking up my old PhD research papers again to use as the backbone of this latest novel in the making.

Entitled The Winter Outlaw, this new medieval mystery will come out in winter 2017 (I like to get ahead of myself!). It stars, like The Outlaw’s Ransom does, Mathilda, a potter’s daughter from Twyford in Leicestershire- and the Folville criminal family/gang she has become embroiled with…


I’m saying no more for now…except I’m so near the end of the draft, that right now all I can think about is medieval dagger types, how many miles there are between Ashby Folville and Melton Mowbray, and how long it takes to walk from Sherwood to Charnwood…These are just some of the facts I will be triple checking once the story is complete.

You’ll know when that happens- when the final full stop has landed upon the page- because you’ll hear a shout of YIPPEE, followed by thud of my not so dainty footsteps, as I hurtle towards the café bar to treat myself to an extra cup of coffee!

Happy reading,

Jen xx

Guest Post from N.B. Dixon: Heir of Locksley

 Today I’m delighted to welcome a fellow Robin Hood fan to my site. Please welcome N.B. Dixon, who has come along for a cuppa and a chat about her latest Robin Hood story, The Heir of Locksley; which forms part of her Outlaw’s Legacy series.


I’ve been fascinated by the character of Robin Hood for most of my life. When I decided to write a series of my own in 2013, there were two things which particularly interested me.

One was that, no matter how much the story of Robin Hood has varied over the centuries, one thing that never changes is the Love Robin has for his men, and the love they have for him. I will admit, that captured my imagination far more than Robin’s relationship with Marion. The idea of having a hero who also had a secret, aside to him he was unwilling to let people know about, grabbed my imagination. The contrast of having a man living in medieval England and struggling with the often barbaric lifestyle of the time, compared with the modern struggle men are going through today of coming to terms with their own sexuality, was a strong lure for me. Given the fact that Robin and his men depend on each other completely for their own survival, and live together in a closed, secret community, a relationship between Robin and another man did not require a great leap of the imagination.

I then had the problem of Marian. Marian does not in fact enter the Robin Hood story until much later. She is not in the earliest ballads and tales. It’s not in fact until more modern tellings of the story that she begins to acquire more of a role than simply Robin’s love interest. Her character has never particularly jumped out at me. However, I was reluctant to leave her out. I then began exploring the different possibilities for a relationship between Robin and Marian. It could never be straightforward. It was then I had the idea of making Robin bisexual rather than gay. Why not have him try to pursue a relationship or perhaps more than one with women in an effort to hide his own secret preference? After all, it’s what many men of his time would have had to do. In England, homosexuality was shunned and sometimes worse. Depending on the decree of the church, men could look forward to hanging, burning or castration. This was practised more abroad, but it would still not have been something a man would have been keen to parade. Many of them would have married and had children and suppressed that part of their nature. So my idea for the Outlaw’s Legacy Series was born.

The second thing that intrigued me about the Robin Hood legend was how little we know about the outlaw before and after he took to the Forest. With this in mind, I decided to write a series about his life, following him through his childhood, through his crusading and outlaw days and beyond. It’s been an ambitious undertaking and a real labour of love. I only hope my readers will come to love Robin and my take on his story as much as I do.




Robin of Locksley is a rebel, more comfortable roaming Sherwood Forest with his longbow and courting the village girls than learning how to run a manor.

An innocent flirtation with a peasant girl soon lands Robin in trouble, and worse, he finds himself inexplicably attracted to Will Scathelock, his best friend since childhood. Robin must decide whether to follow the rules of society or his own conscience.

Meanwhile, his neighbour, Guy of Gisborne, is anxious to get his hands on the Locksley estate and he will do anything to make it happen—even murder.



Robin found Will in the stable’s polishing tack.

“Your face is bleeding.”

Will swiped at his cheek with a sleeve. A long gash ran down from just below his eye to the edge of his jaw.

“It’s nothing.”

“What do you mean, ‘it’s nothing’? Who did this to you?”

Will glowered at him. “What do you care? You’ve been out courting your lass while I’ve been here taking abuse just like a good little serf.”

Robin was horrified. “My father did this?”

“Guy’s sister. She was here looking for you. Got all cross, she did, when I wouldn’t tell her where you were. She had a riding crop and she used it.”

“I see.” Robin realised his fists were clenched. He wished Katrina was here right now. He would like to have paid her back in kind, but he could hardly hit a girl. Katrina was as bad as her brother. She would never have dared to strike Will if he’d been there. “I’ll speak to her.”

Will shrugged. “Serfs like me are just dogs to the likes of her. You nobles are all the same.”

It was what Peter had said.

“That is not true and you know it.”

“Do I? Tell me, My Lord, what am I to say to His Lordship when you go sneaking off tomorrow? He’s also come asking questions. He mentioned something about the stocks if I didn’t tell him where you’d gone.”

Robin scraped fingers through his hair. “You’re right. This isn’t a game. I should never have involved you. Let me look at that cut.”

 “It’s not that bad—” Will began, but Robin held up a silencing finger. Without a word, Will subsided onto a stool. Robin went to fetch a clean rag and dipped it in a bucket of water pulled fresh from the well. Crouching at Will’s side, he reached up and touched the cold compress to Will’s face.

“Damn, that hurts!”

“Hold still.”

The cut was a nasty one. As gently as he could, Robin stroked the rag down Will’s cheek, wiping away the trickling blood. His skin was warm and slightly rough with stubble. Robin’s heart gave an unsteady lurch. He cleared his throat, which had gone suddenly dry, and searched for something to say. “I met Sir Richard on the way home. It seems my father was worried and asked him to find me.”

Will swore, though that might have been due to Robin’s ministrations.

“It’s all right. He said he would keep silent. I trust him. The next time my father asks where I am, don’t lie on my account.”

“I could tell him you’re off drinking at the Blue Boar,” Will suggested. “He’d like that a good deal better than the truth, I reckon.”

“Let me deal with him. You don’t need any more injuries.”

Will’s face softened. He leaned a little into Robin’s hand. Their eyes met and held. They stayed like that for a few seconds, neither moving, neither looking away. Robin had never noticed before how long Will’s eyelashes were. They were a shade darker than his hair, as were his eyebrows. His lips curved in a slight smile, and Robin’s heart did that odd, painful lurch again.

“You know I’ll help if I can,” Will said. “What’s a couple of rotten vegetables between friends?”

Robin tore his gaze away with an effort. The strength of his reaction surprised and unsettled him. Abruptly, he got to his feet, tossing the bloody rag aside.

“You should let Martha look at that. It may scar, but she is sure to have a salve that will help.”


Buy links

Smashwords – https://­­books/view/­666724?ref=b10track

All Romance eBooks –

Amazon UK (Kindle) –­2cCroRV (Kindle) –­2cketGd







N.B. Dixon is an author of historical fiction. Her love for the Robin Hood legend began in a neglected corner of the school library and has continued ever since. She is a self-confessed bookworm and also a musician.

She began work on the Outlaws Legacy Series in 2013, and was accepted by Beaten Track Publishing in 2016. Outlaws Legacy is a historical series based around the Robin Hood legend. The author describes it as Exciting Historical Adventure with GLBT romance. Book 1, Heir of Locksley, will be released in paperback and ebook on December 1 2016.






Many thanks for visiting today.

Happy Robin Hood reading,

Jenny xx


Review: Knights of the Apocalypse- Robin of Sherwood as you’ve never heard it before

For those of you who follow this blog, or who know me in what is laughingly called “real life,” you won’t be at all surprised to know that I loved the brand new Robin of Sherwood audio episode from the very start.

“But you were bound to love it!” I hear you cry – well no actually. Robin of Sherwood was a formative and important part of my life, and if this production had not done its predecessors justice, I would most certainly have said so.

RoS 2016 KOTA

The Knights of the Apocalypse stars the original cast of Robin of Sherwood, with Jason Connery as Robin, bar the late and much missed Robert Addie and Jon Abineri.

Addie was ably replaced as Guy of Gisborne by Freddie Fox, and the Lord of the Trees himself, Abineri, had his role taken on by his son. His voice is so spookily similar to Herne’s, that it was nigh on impossible to tell father and son apart.

The Knights of the Apocalypse was written after the end of the original series by the creator of Robin of Sherwood, Richard ‘Kip’ Carpenter, but it was never filmed. In tribute to Kip, who died in 2012, every penny in profit from the sales of #KOTA will go to his favourite charities


As I donned my headphones- chocolate and drink to my side- ready to indulge in this two part episode of nostalgic heaven, I will confess to a slight increase in heartbeat as the first few sounds hit my ears.

Hoof beats…fast…through shadows…and there were voices…and then…the theme music! (The original series theme music, provided by Clannad, introduced both episodes) A smile passed over my face that felt just as broad as it did every time I settled down on a Saturday evening at 5.35pm, 30 years ago.

Judi Trott and Nickolas Grace

Judi Trott and Nickolas Grace

Listening with closed eyes throughout, I could hear and see every image. The visuals in my head were conjured by the sounds I heard as crisply as it would have been if I’d been watching on television. It was as if time had stopped and, to quote Alfred Noyes, “…the dead where coming back again, the years had rolled away- in Sherwood, in Sherwood, about the break of day….”

Yet, time hasn’t stopped. 30 years really has passed since we last left Robin and his men without Marion, who’d entered a nunnery in a turmoil at the end of the final televised episode. We have been left on a cliffhanger all that time…until now.

RH- RoS 2

Once Clannad’s theme of ‘Robin…the Hooded Man….’ had faded away, the audio tale begins with Robin giving a role call- yes, all the outlaws are there- even Marion.

I am keen to give no spoilers, and so will hold back from a detailed- or even vague- account of the story. I will say that every cast member was outstanding- that Nasir (played by the ever excellent Mark Ryan), spoke more in these 2 audio episodes than he did in the entire 3 televised shows, and that the show was very much stolen by Nickolas Grace as the Sheriff and Ray Winstone as Will Scarlett- partly because their lines were so clever, and partly because they delivered them with such humour.

Colin Baker and Barnaby

Colin Baker and Barnaby

There was humour, menace, tension, and a wonderful star studded support cast. Michael Craig returned as Robin’s father, the Earl of Huntingdon, and Philp Jackson reprised his role as the Sheriff’s brother, Abbot Hugo. Colin Baker and Anthony Head were superb guest stars. Head really has cornered the market in evil, almost pantomime, villains! It’s the laugh- he just has the evil laugh off to a tee!!

Directed by Robert Young, the original TV director, produced by Barnaby Eaton-Jones,  and put together by the executive producers, Spiteful Puppet Entertainment, who are an award-winning audio production company (BBC Drama Awards, New York Radio Festival); The Knights of the Apocalypse was excellent from start to finish.

There really is only one question left to ask…

When will there be another one?

Oh- and can I help write it/be in it/do something….? OK, so that’s a lot of questions…

If you don’t have your copy yet you can buy one here- and find out my details here –

Happy reading- or in this case- listening, everybody.

Jenny x



Robin Hood Research Heaven!!

I am so near to the end of drafting my second full length Jenny Kane novel, Romancing Robin Hood, that my fingers simply can’t move across the keyboard fast enough. I can actually taste the words as they hit the screen. Yet, with just two chapters left to draft I’ve pressed the pause button.

Before I go any further and tie up all the plot threads, it’s time for me to go right back to the beginning and make sure I haven’t contradicted myself, or accidently changed a character’s eye colour (I once read a novel where the leading lady had blue eyes at the beginning and green eyes at the end once- not good!).

Although Romancing Robin Hood is 60% modern contemporary romance, the remaining part is a Fourteenth century adventure. This is the first time I have written any historical fiction, albeit as only part of a story- or a story within a story, to be more precise. Although I am always paranoid about making factual errors within my work, this time I feel the need to be especially careful. As a result my dining table currently can’t be seen beneath this lot!!

RH books 2a

I’m in Robin Hood ‘double checking my research’ heaven! Ever since I was a teenager with a serious outlaw obsession, thanks to Anthony Horowitz’s  wonderful Robin of Sherwood, I have been reading books about Robin Hood- an interest which took me through an A’ level history project, a degree, and a Phd in Medieval ballad literature and crime!

For the past twenty years I’ve been looking for an excuse to go back through all of my old books and notes- and at last I have it!!

I just hope you enjoy reading about Dr Grace Harper and her medieval hero mania, as much as I’m enjoying putting it all together.

romancing robin hood

Here’s the blurb for you…

Dr Grace Harper is a researcher and lecturer in Medieval History- obsessed about the legend of Robin Hood from an early age, she is in the process of writing her magnum opus- a book all about a real medieval criminal gang, who Grace firmly believes gave birth to the Robin Hood legend. She is also writing a novel about the same subject- but so far only her best friend Daisy knows what she’s up to. If her Head of Department finds out Grace isn’t spending her non-teaching time entirely on her text book, he will not be pleased.

Life, students, and Daisy’s unexpected wedding- for which Daisy has ordered Grace to be bridesmaid- keep getting in the way of Grace’s research into the life of her fourteenth century protagonist – Mathilda.

To add to her distractions, Dr Robert Franks, a new lecturer at a rival University has asked Grace to be an examiner for one of his PhD students. Grace reluctantly agrees- but only because he has access to some original documents that she hopes will take her deeper into Mathilda’s world…


I’d better get back to it, or you’ll never find out what happens next!

Happy reading,

Jenny x





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