Stephen Cooper’s riposte is pitifully lame and not in good faith

Constructive comments, new angles / points, corrections, counter arguments, etc, are most welcome in response to the analysis of the Dragon of Wantley legend: even one in bad faith, with evidently spiteful motivation, as is that by one Stephen Cooper of Thorpe Hesley — ironically appearing at chivalryandwar.co.uk — who mistakes my full account of a long misunderstood legend for some sort of attack personally on the late David Hey, that he appears to feel needs avenging. I knew and liked David Hey, appreciated his local history work, and own copies of all of his books. In any case, the standard interpretation of the ballad is not by Hey, who simply re-presented it. My interest in the Dragon of Wantley lore is purely in unraveling the mystery of its actual basis, which I have long pondered, growing up and now again continuing to live directly opposite Wharncliffe (Wantley) Crags. The satisfaction I get out of cracking it is the usual one in solving a conundrum, not in some point-scoring existing only in the mind of Stephen Cooper’s unkind imagination. Getting the history and mythology right is its own reward, as David Hey would well recognise.

Cooper makes no attempt to uphold the interpretation of the ballad as a local tithe dispute, which in every particular bar none is not a literal fit, and, furthermore, is not only shown to be a forced fit but not even a choice candidate as the basis of the ballad as an allegory. He claims to have “serious objections” to the clear conclusion that the ballad relates instead to a dispute between George More of Sheffield and George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, by trying to pretend that the ballad somehow cannot be an allegory, when it hardly could be anything else, even if the tithe dispute interpretation is favoured. The handful of empty points based on Cooper’s apparent failure to grasp the notion of allegory are joined by the odd point and/or misrepresentation so weak and daft as to confirm its just an exercise in throwing chaff in hope of bamboozling the reader — in the manner of an advocate in court trying to distract from his case that he well knows has no merit yet is obliged to put forward (a scenario of which Stephen Cooper will have professional experience before his retirement).

He first challenges with the risible statement that I make my case as a one-sentence assertion when the entire exposition is my case, self-evidently. His charge rather backfires when applied reflexively to himself. If he were to look at one particular sentence of his own, he should see by his own criteria it destroys his case. In stating “If the origin of the story was in a Sheffield law suit, it seems most unlikely that the ballad would not have made this clear”, Cooper reveals his complete failure to understand the very nature of the Wantley ballad. The function of an allegory is to eschew direct reference in favour of a more potent similar scenario, thereby to point up the otherwise relatively mundane seeming instance at issue, and/or (and most importantly in the case here) to sufficiently obscure what actually is being alluded to in order to escape the target’s wrath (which here would have been sequestration of assets and/or imprisonment or execution). Obviously, therefore, the ballad writer does not make — explicitly avoids — a connection with the Sheffield lord or the lawsuit against him, given in particular its Counter-Reformation reference and symbolism.

Cooper’s Point 1 is that the ballad would have to be explicit in reference supposedly for my analysis to be right. I’ve just explained why this is completely false; and likewise why it should be expected for there not to be mention specifically of a George More, nor for the ballad to be “tied to Sheffield in terms of topography”.

Point 2 is a continuation of the same crucial misapprehension. It’s particularly and explicitly to be anticipated that there is “no connection between the facts of the 1573 litigation, involving George More and the Earl of Shrewsbury and those which appear in the ballad; and the 1573 litigation does not relate to Wantley or Wortley or Wharncliffe or More Hall”. If there were such connection then the allegorisation by the ballad’s author would not have succeeded. The entire point of the ballad is to obscure any link at the same time as mischievously alluding to it in a disguised yet pointed manner.

Point 3 is yet more continuation of Cooper’s non-reasoning in his Points 1 & 2. Now a complaint similarly of no mention in the ballad of religion, dissolutions, etc. These of all things would not be expected to be mentioned. To do so would have been political dynamite. It begs the question: has Cooper more than cursorily read the analysis? As an ex-solicitor he should recognise the serious problem of not being in command of his brief. If the ballad were explicit in its meaning then it hardly would be the continuing mystery it has been for the past three or four hundred years, with various interpretations and questions about major anomalies pertaining to any particular interpretation; all of which prompts new analysis.

Point 4 by Cooper is bereft of the most basis reasoning. The identification of George More of Sheffield with the George More of More Hall is weak, Cooper claims, in that More was a common surname. Besides being beside the point — how would this matter? — it’s anyway demonstrably false. The surname was not common at the time in Sheffield or the wider area. The fact that the men were further linked in both being prominent in local affairs strongly suggests they belonged to the same family, with the only question being the distance of branching. Most of all, that they were not just both named More but George More naturally would mean that people in general would mutually identify them. Cooper then misrepresents in the classic manner of pretending a point made in the exposition he attacks instead somehow is his own. I cited the alternative recording of More and Moore of the same surname (and same person with the surname), yet Cooper attempts to chastise that I’m unaware there were no set spellings at the time! As this is precisely my point, how can he claim that somehow I am not taking this into account? Extraordinary silliness. In any case, as I’ve just pointed out, irrelevant.

In point 5 Cooper then questions, but on no stated grounds, something that has nothing at all directly to do with the issue of the basis of the ballad in the Wortley lord or the Earl of Shrewsbury, but of localised ancient mythology that may underpin the localised medieval mythology (explaining why it took hold), that again in turn may underpin the source of the allegory used. This is the Gaelic etymology of local place-names, which anyway is now abundantly clear (see sections on Gaelic vestiges in England on this website). What his point is he fails to say. The key point is that the locale featured a dragon legend from medieval times because of very well-documented the presence of the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, who are associated with a legend of a knight slaing a dragon.  This overlaid ancient ‘Celtic’ folklore still extant, which acted as a foundation of the the later dragon legend to take hold. No counter whatsoever is offered other than the silliest nit-picking of just a couple of typos as supposed evidence of non-facility with languages! [Just two in an exposition of this long length is up there with the proof-reading standards of major publishing houses, with their specialist proof-readers.]

Point 6 shows Cooper’s ignorance of the relevant history. Wharncliffe Lodge was a residence of the Wortley lord and no-one else throughout the whole time-frame in which the ballad conceivably could have been written, yet Cooper proffers that it could have been resided in by someone else — by which he’s implying someone by the name of Matthew, to fit with the ‘Matthew’s House’ mentioned in the ballad. But he has already pulled the rug from under his own stance here in conceding this indeed is the Biblical reference I point to, and then ignores that I discuss that in the Bible Matthew was a tax collector, and that this clearly is the allusion in the ballad. He pretends that somehow I’m assuming in the ballad this is considered “a holy place”. [?!] I do no such thing, and it boggles the mind how Cooper could so misconstrue unless by deliberate misrepresentation. Cooper has the added gall to say that I and not himself “read(s) the poem too literally”! That well describes Cooper’s own foolishness in taking a line in the ballad with a Biblical reference to have a concrete meaning: his claim that someone called Matthew lived at Wharncliffe Lodge. The allusion to Matthew’s house, the ballad’s author well knew immediately would be understood by everyone (at that time everyone being highly familiar with Bible stories) as a reference to the abode of someone high-up and greedy. It hardly could be “the poet’s way of referring to a haven, especially in winter-time” as Cooper here claims. My exposition is perfectly clear here, so Cooper has no excuse for his misrepresentation.

In Point 7, his last, Cooper pretends that I assert that a particular individual, Sir Richard Fanshawe, is the author of the ballads, but I do no such thing. I leave completely open the question of authorship, and merely conjecture the possibility of either Sir Francis Wortley himself or Sir Richard Fanshawe, citing circumstantial reasons, but stressing there are a number if not a plethora of other possible authors. It is for the very reason of the necessary anonymity, given the nature and function of the ballad, that there is no actual evidence (other than the circumstantial) in favour of either of these men, otherwise my analysis would have ended with a provisional conclusion instead of what I state is just an informed guess.

Unintelligent, at best wilfully obtuse if not strangely cantankerous, gratuitous commentary as is Stephen Cooper’s is not as fun to field as relevant additional information, novel points or constructive counters. Evidently he doesn’t have any. If he could eventually come up with anything then it would be incorporated in the exposition, just as will  cogent counters from any other source.

Steve Moxon