There were a lot of outlaw gangs rampaging Medieval Europe, but here we will focus on the two most notorious gangs in British Medieval history: The Coterel Gang and The Folville Gang.
The Coterel Gang
The Coterel Gang, or otherwise known as “la compagnie sauvage”. They terrorised Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, including Sherwood Forest, from 1328 to 1332. Their leader was James Coterel and when he wasn’t busy controlling the gang’s blackmail rackets and acts of robbery and murder (sometimes by hire), he was, along with his fellow members, serving Edward III in his wars against the Scots and French.
In 1335 Nicholas Coterel was made the queen’s bailiff for the High Peak District of Derbyshire. It wasn’t long, however, before he was charged with interfering with tax collections. A jury transcript reveals that James Coterel was accused of recruiting twenty members in the Peak district and Sherwood Forest. Three outlawed associates of the gang, Sir William de Chetulton, Sir John de Legh and notorious gangster James Stafford, were pardoned and commissioned to capture a couple of robbers but only months later they were in Nottingham goal over charges of attempted rape. They subsequently served King Edward III in his Scottish wars in 1336 and were instructed to recruit archers in Cheshire and lead them north into Berwickshire. A notable ally of the Coterel Gang was no less than the Sheriff of Nottingham himself, Sir Robert Ingram.
The Folville Gang
Eustace, Laurence, Richard, Robert, Thomas and Walter were the brothers that formed core of the notorious Folville gang.Eustace was the tyrant gang leader or “capitalis de societate” as he was also called. John Folville, being the eldest of all the sons, inherited the manor of Ashby Folville and unlike his brothers he seems to have lived within the law. The Folville gang murdered Roger Bellars in 1326 whilst he was travelling with his large retinue between his manor of Kirby Bellars and the city of Leicester. Roger was a known oppressor of his neighbours, both religious orders and others, due to his greed for possessions for his chantry. The fact that the gang was successful against Roger and his fifty companions, according to Henry of Knighton, showed that God was on their side.
In 1332 the Folvilles kidnapped Sir Richard de Willoughby. Henry of Knighton writes in the Leicester Chronicle:
“…the trailbaston judges sat throughout England, and many outlaws were made in every place. For this reason Richard de Willoughby, a king’s justice, was taken prisoner after Christmas, while he was travelling towards Grantham, by Richard de Folville, rector of Teigh in Rutland, who was a wild and daring man, and prone to acts of violence. He was led into a nearby wood to a company of confederates and there, under compulsion, paid a ransom for his life of ninety marks, after swearing on oath that he would always comply with their instructions.”
A noted accomplice of the Folville gang was Sir Robert de Vere, constable of Rockingham Castle in Northamptonshire. At night the castle was a vipers nest of criminality as armed gangs gathered. No one else was allowed to enter the castle lest theydiscovered what was going on.
Despite the criminal activities of the Folvilles, involving extortion, robbery, murder, kidnapping and ransoming, which spanned over sixteen years, all the brothers were pardoned. In fact Eustace was even knighted for his services to the king. A generation later after their deaths, the Folvilles were celebrated as Robin Hood-like outlaws who righted the wrongs of bad government.