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18 June 2014
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Myths and Legends
Actress dressed as a moonperson

© Mick Riley
Wise men of Gotham

Method in their madness

No reason is given in the chap book for the bizarre antics of the Gotham villagers – the only reasons that exist have survived as folklore surrounding the legend, however, the most plausible explanations involve King John and his legendary greed.

Actress dressed as a Wasp Lady
Actress from the "Wasps' Nest" tale
© Mick Riley
King John is approaching the village, complete with full regalia and a forward party of herald men. During this period, whichever route was taken by the King automatically became a public road. Eager to avoid paying out for the maintenance of a road, the villagers feigned madness when the king’s party of scouts arrived. In 12th Century England, insanity was believed to be contagious, so when the King heard accounts of the mad inhabitants via his heralds, he changed his course to avoid being infected.

In the second myth, King John is planning to build a hunting lodge or castle near Gotham. Forest Laws of the time were notoriously strict and forbade commoners from hunting anything but roe; violation resulted in fines and punishment. Keen to prevent Royal competition for local game, the villagers’ madness convinced the King to think again about the lodge’s location.

In both versions, the Gotham villagers are portrayed as common day heroes whose artifice and cunning outwit the unsuspecting monarch and enable them to avoid paying out unnecessarily.

The tales of Gotham’s wise men belong to a genre of folk tales which developed in reaction to the onerous taxation of King John. The best known of these is Robin Hood, an outlaw who evaded paying taxes, thus also outwitting the apparently greedy monarch. It is through the Robin Hood legend that the reputation of King John as a money-grabbing monarch has become engrained in the public perception - but is this reputation justified?

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