Gest of Robyn Hode, A [Child 117] --- Part 03

DESCRIPTION: Continuation of the notes to "A Gest of Robyn Hode" [Child 117]. Entry continues in "A Gest of Robyn Hode" [Child 117] --- Part 04 (File Number C117C)
Last updated in version 2.6
Child included the "Gest" among the ballads. As a result, it tends to be discussed among the ballads. But this is really a mistake. The "Gest" is not a ballad. It is a romance.
Of course, this mostly a matter of definition. But the similarities of the "Gest" to the romances are strong and its similarity to the common ballads slight. Dobson/Taylor, p. 8, say it is "not strictly a ballad in any conventional sense" and add on p. 10 that 'the 'curteyse outlaw' of the Gest has many of the attributes of the well-born chivalric hero of medieval tradition. In other words the contents as well as the form of the early Robin Hood ballads reveal the strong influence upon them of the conventions of late medieval English romance."
Wilgus, p. 36, declares explicitly, "the Robin Hood ballads [combine] the features of the chanson de geste and the literary romance." CHEL1, p. 300, says, "Of Robin Hood [presumably the "Gest"] and Adam Bell and many more, it is hard to say whether they are to be ranked with ballads or with romances." Clawson, p. 49, looks at the first 15 stanzas of the "Gest," which provide a thumbnail description of Robin and declares, "The combination of a direct opening wtith characteristic description is not a ballad, but an epic construction."
And yet, these scholars do not take the next step and move the "Gest" to the romance category. They probably should have. For this, a comparison of the "romance" of Gamelyn and the so-called "ballad" we call the "Gest" is instructive.
If you see "Gamelyn" and the "Gest" on a printed page, they may at first glance appear rather different (see, e.g, the version of Gamelyn on p. 194 of Knight/Ohgren, or that on p. 156 of Sands) -- but this is because "Gamelyn" is printed in long lines, with each pair of lines rhyming, and is not divided into stanzas. The "Gest" is usually written in short lines and with stanza division. But the choice between long and short lines is arbitrary, and the stanza division found in Child does not derive from the sources -- b, c, d, epq, and f all print it without stanza divisions, and a not only lacks stanza divisions, it doesn't even have line breaks in the first portion.
The similarities are many -- the first long line of the "Gest" is "Lythe and listin, gentilmen That be of frebore blode"; the first line of "Gamelyn" is "Listeth and lestneth and herkneth aright." Some copies of "Gamelyn" are divided into Fitts, like the "Gest" (so the edition of Knight/Ohlgren although not the edition of Sands). And the "Gest" as printed by Knight/Ohlgren has 1824 short lines = 912 long lines; "Gamelyn" has 902 long lines in Sands, 898 long lines in Knight/Ohlgren -- in other words, it is almost exactly the same length as the "Gest."
And it is the "Gest," not "Gamelyn," which does not fit its alleged category -- the "Gest" is five times longer than the longest non-Robin Hood ballads in Child's collection. But if we look at the dozen romances in Sands (whose collection includes most of the best of the English romances), we find that their lengths are 1542 lines (King Horn), 3001 lines (Havelok the Dane), 810 lines (Athelston), 902 lines (Gamelyn), 580 lines (Sir Orfeo), 1044 lines (Sir Launfal), 408 lines (Lay Le Friene), 1131 lines (The Squire of Low Degree), 1083 lines (Floris and Blancheflour), 234 lines (The Tournament of Tottenham), 855 lines (The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnall, although this is damaged and must have been much longer), 660 lines (Sir Gawain and the Carl of Carlisle). The median lenght of these dozen romances is 879 lines -- just less than the length of the "Gest." The mean (average) is 1020 lines, or just more than the "Gest."
The fact that the length of the "Gest" is typical of romance does not make it a romance, of course. But the style of the Gest is the style of the romance: Sands, p. 1, says "Very generally, one can say that the Middle English romance is usually metrical, and the most favored prosodic convention is the iambic tetrameter couplet. The narrative concerns a series of incidents often very loosely strung together" -- a description which, except for the length of the lines, perfectly fits the "Gest.'"
Baugh also says, p. 141, that "the weakest point in medieval romance is characterization." The characters in romance are mostly stock -- gallant knights, hostile giants, beautiful princesses. The "Gest" succeeds in giving us new types, but mostly they are just sketched out. We have some insight into the behavior of Robin, John, the knight, perhaps the Sheriff, and the King, but very little of Scarlock or Much, and none at all into the others -- we don't know why the Prioress of Kirkless did what she did, for instance.
Hahn, p. 10, lists as characteristics of the contents of romances "chivalry, Arhturian legend, prowess in combat, personal love, intrigue, encounters with the marvelous, and the decisive resolution of every real or personal conflict." Of these seven, the "Gest" has at least four and arguably as many as six.
Some, to be sure, demand that a romance be "concerned with love' (so Hollister, p. 275). And the "Gest" certainly does not have a love interest. On the other hand, Robin's love of the Virgin Mary particularly suffuses the tale of Robin, the knight, and the abbot.
This is not to say that the "Gest" is a typical romance. It assuredly is not. A typical romance is a courtly tale, usually about knights, stressing certain themes such as physical prowess and loyalty to one's superiors and duties (Baugh, pp. 123). Mortimer, p. 27, observes that "The fine sentiments of loyalty were what the aristocracy liked to hear about and be told they possessed" -- in other words, loyalty tales were what they wanted in their romances. Little wonder, then, that they enjoyed tales like "Floris and Blancheflour," of a couple who were loyal even when threatened with death, or "Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnall," where Gawain marries a hag out of loyalty to Arthur -- and is rewarded for it.
Ohlgren declares on p. 136 of Ohlgren/Matheson that "the creators of the early Robin Hood poems deliberately cloaked them in courtly ideology, not because of 'ideology lag' but because the poems themselves marked a stage in the dialectical process of transforming the knightly adventurer to merchant adventurer." This whole chapter of Ohlgren/Matheson -- the longest in the book -- is an argument that Robin should be seen as "the 'marchaunt' of Sherwood" and the target audience is the guilds. He offers many cases of actions taken by Robin which fit with guild practice -- although almost all of them have other significance as well, and many of them were forced on him by his outlaw status. There is nothing in Ohlgren's list which forces us to consider Robin a guildsman.
I truly don't think it's as simple as any of the suggestions above -- but it is certainly true that the "Gest" is not like other romances. As Holt1, p. 66, declares, "The ballads are not bred in simple fashion from the romances. Mutation has intervened."
The "Gest" takes all the standard romance themes and diverts them from the gentry to the yeomanry -- perhaps because more minstrels were being forced to cater to the common people rather than the nobility (Loomis, p. ix, suggests that this is because the nobility was becoming literate -- all Kings of England from at least Edward III on could read and write -- so minstrels had to find someone still illiterate to hear their tales). Robin is not the greatest knight; he is the greatest archer. He is not loyal to his superiors; he is loyal to his fellows, as when he rescues Sir Richard from the Sheriff, or refuses to abandon Little John to be killed.
To accomplish this change of type, the "Gest" naturally must include new themes and perhaps some unusual materials, and at times the result is rather clumsy (as witness the fact that the "Gest" never figures out whether Robin is based in Barnsdale or near Nottingham). But overall it does a good job of reinventing the romance form .
As an aside, we might note that this was an early step in what became a general trend. In 1957, Northrup Frye wrote The Anatomy of Criticism, in which he classified literature into "myth" (a very poor term; he means supernatural tales, not ancient traditions which explain something), "romance" (which I would summarize tales of extraordinary but not fully divine creatures) "high mimesis (tales of exceptional men)," "low mimesis (the typical mode of modern fiction about rather ordinary people)," and "irony." (Summarized on pp. 33-34 of Frye.) Shippey, p. 211, points out perhaps the most important fact of Frye's analysis -- that fiction has tended to move down the scale over the centuries.
Shippey wanted to make the point that J. R. R. Tolkien was bucking the trend (which he assuredly was), but his discussion helped me to see that the "Gest" is like Chaucer in accelerating the trend. As Chaucer took the format of the "Decameron" and changed it to a tale of ordinary people, the author of the "Gest" took the romances (most of which fit Frye's "romance" genre) and -- while retaining the form -- converted it to a tale of high mimesis. Robin is a great archer, and an honest judge -- but there is no magic in the tale (by contrast, e.g., to Hereward, whose magical power was so great that they hired a witch against him; Alexander, p. 130), no Gawain whose courtesy overcomes all, no Roland so mighty that he can die only by blowing a horn so hard that he causes himself to suffer internal injuries!
(To be sure, Wimberly, p. 216, is convinced that there is a witch active in the Percy version of the "Death." But this is beyond proof -- the old woman is banning Robin, but we have no evidence that anyone thought she actually was a witch or had the power to make curses stick. And this element in any case is missing in the "Gest." This seems to be the only reference in all of Wimberly of magic in the Robin Hood ballads. All the magical elements we hear about today -- hobgoblins and the like -- seem to be modern inventions.)
The "Gest" in fact turns a common romance trope upside-down. In romance, a knight often goes hunting in the forest (this is the opening action of many of the Gawain romances, e.g.; Hahn, p. 169, and occurs even in some of the Welsh romances, such as the tale of Pwyll; Ford, p. 35). In the "Gest," a knight is hunted in the forest!
This is in many ways a dramatic improvement in the romance genre; CHEL1, p. 319, complains of their general trend: "Sated with the sight of knights and ladies, giants and Saracens, one longs to meet an honest specimen of the citizen class, but such relief is never granted." Never granted, that is, as long as one definces the romances as containing only knights, ladies, giants, and Saracens, but not Robin Hood.
It is noteworthy that Frye, p. 34, says that the hero of a tale of high mimesis is "a leader" -- of an outlaw band, say. Frye also suggests, pp. 36-37, that many tales of myth, romance, and high mimesis end with the death of the hero -- and that, in the first two, the death seems to imply the coming of a new, but probably inferior, age. This is what is called "thinning" in fantasy circles. Clute/Grant mention on p. 942 the most famous example of this: "The passing away of a higher and more intense REALITY provides a constant leitmotif in the immensely detailed mythology created by J. R. R. TOLKIEN. The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955) comes at the end of aeons of slow loss." What's more, it ends with the departure and loss of much that came before: The destruction of the Rings of Power brings the end of Sauron -- but also the devastation of the power that created Rivendell and Lorien, and the passing of the Elves; it hastens the decline of the Ents and the fading of the dwarves.
Even the word "romance" ceases to refer to a tale of honor and wonder and becomes simply a word for a love affair.
The Norse gods fail, and fall, at Ragnarok. Brien Boru wins at Clontarf, but dies in the battle. The death of Beowulf ends the heroic age of the Geats and leaves them exposed to outside attack. The death of Arthur means the end of Celtic Britain. The books about them end in elegy.
The tale of Robin ends in death and elegy, but the world is not changed. Not only did the prioress kill him -- the final triumph of the organized church over its tormenter -- but, according to the "Death," she is not even slain in her turn. In the long run, Robin has made little difference.
The romances most often connected with the tales in the "Gest" are the aforementioned romance of Gamelyn, plus those of Hereward the Wake, Fulk FitzWarin, and Eustache the Monk.
Hereward "the Wake" lived around the time of the Norman Conquest, although "Nothing certain is known of [his] background or of his early life" (Linklater, p. 238). Supposedly he was rebellious from his youth, and was an outlaw even before the Normans came (Cawthorne, p. 136) -- advantageous from the standpoint of the tale, because he was untainted by the conquest (Ohlgren, p. 17). In 1070 he apparently joined a Danish invasion in an attempt to regain lands he thought were his.
When the Danish invasion failed, he based himself on the easily-defended island of Ely until the monks of the island betrayed him (Baldwin, p. 35; Ohlgren, p. 13). He reportedly escaped, but is not heard from again in sober history (Linklater, p. 239, although Ohlgren, p. 13, mentions some reports that he was eventually reconciled with William the Conqueror). As Douglas, p. 222, puts it, "Hereward, having escaped with difficulty, passed out of history into legend.'
StentonEtAl, p. 106, notes that "Hereward and a few companions cut their way out to further adventures, in which Normans and English came before long to find a common interest." But we cannot really tell which of these are based on actual events and which are pure fiction; the Gesta is very bad history at its best (e.g. it never mentions the Danes who helped Hereward establish his base at Ely; Ohlgren, p. 15), and mixed with that bad history are many items which, flatly, are not history at all -- if the exploits described in Cawthorne, pp. 137-145, were even partly true, we would have learned of it from the chronicles!
In addition to his Gesta, which claims to be based partly on materials left by his priest Leofric (Ohlgren, p. 14; Wilson, pp. 124-125 says that it does appear that there were two sources used), the fourteenth century Croyland Chronicle says that women mentioned Hereward in their songs and dances (Chambers, p. 73). Knight/Ohlgren, p. 633, quote Charles Plummer's 1889 quip that Hereward had a brief life in history and a long one in romance. Indeed, Charles Kingsley wrote about him in the nineteenth century (Benet, p. 498). It is possible that he was eventuallly reconciled with William (Ohlgren, p. 13), but clear proof is lacking; the hypothesis is based on a short reference in Gaimar plus some references to Herewards (not necessarily the same Hereward) in Domesday Book (e.g. a Hereward held property in Marston Jabbett in Warwickshire at the time of Domesday, and held it in the reign of Edward the Confessor also; Domesday, p. 658; there was also a Hereward with land in Lincolnshire; Holt1, p. 63).
His saga contains two extremely close parallels to Robin Hood tales, one in which he disguised himself as a potter, as in the "Potter," and one in which he fought with a cook, as Little John fights the Sheriff's cook in the "Gest" (Baldwin, p. 36). Hereward also quarrels with an abbot, although Ohlgren, p. 16, notes that in this saga abbots are not all wicked; foreign abbots are distinguished from native. We also see an instance where he finds himself in trouble when his sword breaks (Cawthorne, p. 148), which resembles what happens to Robin in the "Monk."
It's possible that we see even older folklore in the story of Hereward: Hereward, we are told, was holding out on the island of Ely, and William the Conqueror built a causeway out to the island to attack him (Cawthorne, p. 134). This is reminiscent of the well-known story of how Alexander the Great took Tyre fourteen centuries earlier.
Ohlgren, p. 17, observes that the saga of Hereward is too early to really partake of the greenwood legend, but some of its elements may have contributed to the eventual formation of that legend.
The story of Hereward survives in only one copy (Ohlgren, p. 13).
Although the story of Eustace the Monk is often compared to that of Robin Hood, its parallels in the "Gest" are often to the story of Little John taking service with the Sheriff of Nottingham in Fit 3. Eustace, like John, quarrelled with his master (in this case, the Count of Bolougne) and turned outlaw, taking particular care to hunt the Count (Cawthorne, p. 120). In this, he was noteworthy for his use of disguise, as well as for playing the "Truth of Consequences" game with those he robbed (Cawthorne, p. 125).
In addition, Eustace eventually went to sea as a pirate. I wonder if this part of his story didn't inspire an equivalent story about Robin, which became "The Noble Fisherman, or, Robin Hood's Preferment" [Child 148]. He was in fact a servant for a time of King John, "and well known in the streets of WInchelsea" (Powicke, p. 10). But he then went to serve the French, and was a vital supporter of the French invasion of England.
Ironically, the man who is said to have tricked so many opponents finally succumbed to a trick; at a sea battle in 1217, an English ship seemed to be falling behind their fleet, and the lords Eustace was carrying in a last bid to retrieve the English position in France insisted on attacking it. The English threw powdered lime into the wind and incapacitated the French. Eustace's ship was captured. Although the nobles aboard were ransomed, Eustace was executed on the spot (Powicke, pp. 12-13).
Although Eustace's robberies are somewhat like Robin's, the differences in his story are very great. Whereas Robin served only himself, Eustace's services as a mercenary were available to the highest bidder (DictPirates, p. 115). His success is attributed to necromancy (Ohlgren, p. xviii), which Robin of course never would have considered. He was executed as a pirate in about 1217 (Cawthorne, p. 122). And he felt no qualms about exposing innocent bystanders to questioning and even beatings by the authorities (Cawthorne, p. 127). Plus his use of disguise was far more complete -- he even disguised himself as a woman and lured a man with sex (Cawthorne, pp. 128-129).
It strikes me as highly ironic that the story of Robin, who detested monks and abbots, would be based on the story of Eustace, who was a Benedictine monk (Cawthorne, p. 121), although one who had little use for his vows.
There is only one copy of the story of Eustace, and thiat is in Old French (Ohlgren, p. 61).
Fulk FitzWarin (sometimes FitzWarrene or Fitz Waryn) was the name of three post-conquest barons. The romance of "Fouke le Fitz Waryn" (found in translation in Knight/Ohlgren and Ohlgren) is about the third of these, and conflates the careers of the first two (Cawthorne, pp. 96-97). Fulk the third was a rebel against King John, and became the subject of a romance similar in theme to the tale of Robin's forgiveness by the King -- although with many unrelated elements (such as a tale that Fulk and John grew up together, but quarreled over a game of chess, causing John to hate Fulk; this is possible, since it fits John's youthful temper and we know little of the prince's childhood, but completely unverifiable; Warren-John, pp. 96-97).
Interestingly, Fulk, like Robin, has a giant sidekick -- in this case, his brother Alan (Cawthorne, p. 101). I also note with interest that the tale of Fulk contains an incident in which the outnumbered FitzWarins fight off their attackers, killing many and leaving only one whole (Cawthorne, p. 99). The similarity to ballads from "Earl Brand" [Chilld 7] to "Johnie Cock" [Child 114] to "The Dowie Dens o Yarrow" [Child 214] will presumably be obvious.
Keen hints that the tale of Robin, which probably started as a story of one of the Edwards, was attracted to the Richard I/John period by the similarity to the plot of Fulk. On the other hand, Fulk's tale is full of supernatural elements (Keen, p. 39; Ohlgren, p. xix points out conflicts with giants, serpents, and dragons); Robin's tale has none. Fulk's tale also has a number of elements which are historically impossible (e.g. the great battle with King John described on p. 106 of Cawthorne). Either the compiler of the "Gest" knew a version of Fulk's tale which omits all the falderol, or he ruthlessly cut it out. Although any conclusion must be tentative because we know so little of the historical Fulk, I would be more inclined to see Fulk's tale as deriving from the same elements as Robin's but elaborated in a different direction -- especially since (as Keen admits on p. 50) Fulk was a nobleman seeking noble position; Robin was a yeoman trying to survive a justice system which did not respect him.
As Cawthorne says on p. 120, "Certainly Robin of Locksley, the dispossessed earl of Huntington, bears a closer similarity to Fulk FitzWarren than he does to the Robin Hood of the ballads."
Like the tales of Hereward and Eustace, there is only one copy (British Library, Royal MS. 12.C.XII) of the romance of Fulk (Knight/Ohlgren, p. 687), which is in Anglo-Norman although we have a partial summary of a Middle English version (Ohlgren, p. 106). The manuscript, which is clarly not the original was written in the first half of the thirteenth century, making it clearly older than the "Gest."
We've already mentioned the romance of Gamelyn, which is perhaps from around 1350 (Holt1, p. 71). Pollard, pp. 13-14, suggests that the Tale of Gamelyn is a sort of a link between the Robin Hood tales and the aristocratic romances; CHEL1, p. 298, offers it as an example of native English romance without French influence and calls it "As You Like It" without Rosalind or Celia, adding tht Thomas Lodge used it as the basis of a novel.
Gamelyn was the youngest of three brothers. When his father died, the oldest brother seeks to dispossess Gamelyn, who is still a minor. Gamelyn rebels and flees to the greenwood with the sheriff in pursuit. His brother then becomes sheriff, and Gamelyn submits but is condemned along with the middle brother. Gamelyn and his outlaws then free the middle brother, kill the eldest, and are pardoned by the King, who appoints Gamelyn a royal official (Baldwin, p. 178).
"Gamelyn" helped inspire, at several removes, Shakespeare's "As You LIke It.
The parallels to the Robin Hood story are obvious; Gamely kills the sheriff (in this case, his brother), and he is pardoned by the King -- but "Gamelyn" is largely about family dynamics (a topic of intense interest to the aristocracy), not outlawry. Plus the tale of Gamelyn is extremely violent -- at least as violent as the "Monk" or "Guy of Gisborne," and over a longer period; it is much more bloody than the "Gest," where Robin only uses actual violence when attacked by the sheriff.
There are textual similarities between the "Gest" and "Gamelyn"; both are in rhymed couplets (although Gamelyn has shorter lines; it almost seems to hint at Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse) and they open with similar sterotyped invocations (see the first line in Sands, p. 156).
It is far from clear how popular "Gamelyn" actually was; it owes its survival to an odd chance. In the Canterbury Tales, the Cook's Tale is only a stub; either Chaucer never finished it (the more likely explanation) or his intended tale has been lost. Some scribe, sensing a need, plugged in the Tale of Gamelyn (Chaucer/Benson, p. 1125, although Sands, p. 154, and CHEL1, p. 298, mention with approval Skeat's suggestion that Chaucer might have planned to convert it into a tale for the Yeoman; perhaps it was among his papers). This means we have dozens of copies of Gamelyn, but odds are that every copy derives from the original manuscript copied into the Canterbury Tales.
In "Robin Hood Newly Revived" [Child 128], Robin welcomes Young Gamwell into his band; Sands, p. 155, suggests that Gamwell is Gandelyn.
These four romances -- Hereward, Fulk, Eustace, and Gandelyn -- are the tales most often linked to the "Gest." But these are not the only romances which share elements with the "Gest." We should also note several links between the "Gest" and the Gawain legend. Child's "A" version of the late ballad "Robin Hood and Queen Katherine' [Child 145] goes so far as to state that SIr Richard Lee comes from "Gawiin's blood" (stanza 22; cf. Holt1, p. 164), but this is too late to have any value.
The list of common elements is long, although none of the parallels are close. Robin's refusal to eat dinner before something interesting happens(Stanzas 6-7) is also found in "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." Gawain, like Robin, has a strong reliance on the Virgin Mary (Tolkien/Gordon, p. xxi.) The fragmentary romance of "The Turk and Gawain" hints at a hitting game such as the "pluck-buffet" of Stanza 424. And Hahn, p. 26, notes that more than half his Gawain tales "begin with a forest episode." Hahn suggests that these were interludes to, in effect, let the audience settle into their seats -- but it would be no great stretch to create a romance which never left the greenwood.
Hall, pp. 12-13, observes that, although the Gawain tales seem mostly to have been committed to writing in the fifteenth century, the equipment they describe is mostly fourteenth century -- the era of the three Edwards, and hence the presumed era of the "Gest."
In referring to the Gawain romances, Hall, p. 10, says that four of his seven romances are in Scottish dialect, and five of seven are set in Inglewood or Carlisle. Hahn, whose definition of a "Gawain romance" is distinctly broader, notes on p. 4 n. 6 that seven of his Gawain works are set in Carlisle but that only five other Middle English romances, all with some Arthurian links, even mention Carlisle! And Gawain was said to be the son of the King of Orkney, who was also Lord of Lothian near the Anglo-Scottish border (Hahn, p. 4). Was Gawain some sort of local hero in Cumbria or Northumbria? Obviously this is close to Robin Hood's haunts.
Child called Robin Hood "a popular Gawain" because of his courtesy (a remark which seems to have been noticed only by Gummere, p. 314), but he did not pursue the matter. Still, courtesy is a key component of both the Gawain cycle and of the "Gest" (see the note on Stanza 2). It seems reasonable to assume that the author of the "Gest" was familiar with the various Gawain stories floating around the north of England, and that they influenced his writing.
Clawson, in fact, compares the compiler of the "Gest' to the Gawain/Pearl poet (Clawson, p. 128). This is about like comparing Spike Jones to Stephen Foster -- too absurd even for consideration. But it is another token of the similarities in genre.
The "Greenwood Legend" is such a broad term that is can hardly be considered a source; it is more a theme. But English tales of a forest as a refuge go back at least to "Beowulf," where we find people using it to hide from the dragon (Young, 2). Young (p. 164) firmly declares that the Robin Hood legends can only be understood in the light of the forest laws -- although he also says on p. 170 that the conflicts over the forest were between the King and the nobles, not the upper and lower classes.
The "King in Disguise" is a commonplace now best known from the (later) tale of the Scottish King James V, but which also occurred in a late Middle Scots romance, "The Taill of Rauf Coilyear," which is probably from about the same time as the "Gest" (Sands, p. 2).
Knight/Ohlgren, pp. 2-3, and Ohlgren, p. 316 n. 12, point out that the "truth or consequences" game of outlaws asking travellers how much they have, and being robbed only if they lie, is also found in the tales of Eustac(h)e the Monk (where the Abbot of Jumieges claims to have four marks but turns out to have 30; Baldwin, p. 38; Cawthorne, p. 126) and Fulk FitzWarren.
The reconciliation with the king motif is found in the tales of Fulk and of Hereward the Wake.
The Outlaw in Disguise, used especially in the "Potter" and in "Guy" but also implicit in Robin's and Little John's dealings with the Sheriff (cf. Holt1, p. 35), is found, in much fuller form, in the tales of Eustace, Fulk, and Hereward.
Several sources even compare Robin to William Wallace, especially as portrayed after the fact by Blind Harry, who makes Wallace a great archer (Baldwin, pp. 39-40; Keen, pp. 75-76). But Blind Harry is more recent than the earliest reports of Robin Hood.
Less often mentioned as a possible source, but with real parallels to the story of Robin and the King, are the stories of "King Edward and the Hermit" and "King Edward and the Shepherd," with the former being particularly interesting. It exists in only one copy, in Codex Ashmole 61, and that is defective at the end (Shuffleton, paragraph 1). Ashmole 61 is of the fifteenth century (Sisam, p. 13), meaning that it was probably written within a few decades of the composition of the "Gest." And the manuscript's contents are very intriguing; it also has copies of "Sir Orfeo" and other romances such as "Sir Isumbras" and "Sir Cleges," plus several dozen other miscellaneous items.
We also note that a copy of "King Edward and the Shepherd" is found in the same manuscript as "Robin Hood and the Monk" [Child 119] (Dobson/Taylor, p. 9), MS. Cambridge Ff. 5.48 (a fact that Child curiously failed to mention).
"King Edward and the Hermit" is summarized on pp. 418-423 of Briggs-DIctionary. In the story, the king is on a hunting party (in Sherwood no less), and gets lost, and meets a hermit who does not recognize him and eventually treats him to a meal of the King's own deer. In the end. presumably, the hermit goes to the court and the king is revealed (Shuffleton, paragraphs 2-3).
Child prints relatives of this tale under the title "King Edward the Fourth and a Tanner of Tamworth" [Child 173], but the Ashmole version, in which the King is an anonymous Edward, seems to me to fall closer to the "Gest" in feel as well as in date, and is long enough to count as a romance rather than a ballad -- Shuffleton prints it in twelve-line stanzas (although the aabccbddeffe rhyme scheme is far more complex than the "Gest"), and it is 520 lines long, implying a total length of probably about 600-700 lines. My guess is that "King Edward and the Hermit" and "King Edward the Fourth and a Tanner of Tamworth" are a romance-and-ballad pair, similar to "Sir Orfeo" and "King Orfeo" or "King Horn" and "Hind Horn." So the compiler of the "Gest" very possibly knew this other romance of a King Edward.
There is also a version of this, known as "John the Reeve," found in the Percy Folio; according to Clawson, pp. 107-108, Edward I is the hero of this version. But the plot is generic to tales of this type and could apply to any king. Clawson, pp. 109-111, cites several other tales of the type, but most of these are either too late to be relevant or are tales unlikely to have been known in northern England (e.g. one is about Charlemagne).
Ohlgren/Matheson, pp. 148-149, classes all of these as "Tke King and the Subject," a genre name going back to Child, and observes that the king of "King Edward and the Shepherd" is clearly Edward III, while the "Tanner of Tamworth" is of course referred to the reign of Edward IV. The lineage of these poems may be one of the reasons why the "Gest" sets itself in the reign of a King Edward. But, treated collectively, the "King and Subject" tales are an amalgam of many reigns -- and many Edwards.
We might hypothesize that there was a romance, now lost, of Ranulf Earl of Chester which also contributed to the "Gest." This would make sense in the light of Langland's link between Robin and Ranulf (discussed extensively below), but unless it should somehow come to light, this remains pure speculation. Still, one story of Ranulf sounds a little like a part of the story of Robin and the knight: Ranulf was leading an army into Wales, but in the face of superior forces had to take refuge in Rothelan castle. He was rescued by a crowd of locals, supposedly led by minstrels (Wilson, pp. 128-129). We have this tale only from a rather fictional-sounding chronicle (Dugdale's Baronage); perhaps there is a more Robin Hood-like version in the original source.
Some of the aspects of the "outlaw tale" may predate the Norman Conquest and go back to Old Norse elements. IcelandicFaulkesJohnston, p. xxv, says that "there are some similarities between the outlaw sagas of Iceland and English outlaws like Robin Hood." If these actually go back to common roots, they would almost have to stem from the period of the Danish invasions of the late tenth and early eleventh centuries.
IcelandicFaulkesJohnston, p. xxv, makes the interesting observation that "Although Gisli spends his outlawry in solitude or being sheltered by his wife, and Grettir on remote heathland or island with an occasional male companion, and they only occasionally attract other outlaws, Hord gathers together a band of outlaws and lives with his wife and children in a community with a hierarchy resembling that of society in general. Both Gisli and Grettir employ tricks to escape their enemies, often disguising themselves or impersonating other people, and Grettir, like Robin Hood, attends assemblies of his people in disguise, obtaining safe-conduct from them, and competing in games (which he of course wins). Grettir, again like Robin Hood, manages to get on good terms with the king (of Norway), though he fails to become integrated back into society."
The analogies between Robin and the Biblical King David perhaps don't get enough attention from folklorists. Like Robin, David was regarded as a mannered outlaw -- according to the Bible, he never raided Israel, but only Geshurites and Girzites and Amalekites and other non Hebrews (1 Samuel 27:8-10, although few Biblical scholars actually believe this). He remained loyal to his king, having refrained from killing Saul when he had the chance (there are two versions of this, in 1 Samuel 24 and 26). Like Robin, David was famous for piety. Even the story of Nabal, Abigail, and David (1 Samuel 25) has some parallels to the tale in the "Potter," although the differences are too great for them to be truly considered related.
We should remember that, although literacy was becoming more widespread in the time the "Gest" was written, for many centuries the only people who could read and write were clergy, and what they read was mostly the (Latin Vulgate) Bible. The authors who wrote this tale would certainly have a lot of Biblical stories and quotations stored up in their heads.
The other religious element underlying the "Gest" is the form known as the "Miracles of the Virgin." The best-known English example of this is Chaucer's Prioress's Tale (Burrow/Turville-Petre, p. 306). In this, a young boy neglects his other studies to give all his attention to learning a song of the Virgin Mary, which he is able to sing beautifully. A group of Jews, despising the singing, cut his throat and throw his body away. But -- here is the miracle -- even having taken a death wound, the boy continues to sing the Virgin's song. As a result, he is found, the Jews are punished, and the boy finally given release and taken to heaven.
It is sometimes claimed that "Brown Robyn's Confession" [Child 57] is a Miracle of the Virgin (Wimberly, p. 381), but it would better be described as a song offering the possibility of such a miracle than one in which it actually happens.
Ohlgren/Matheson, pp. 152-153, and Clawson, p. 31, offer a parallel to this tale from the Vernon MS. (Bodleian MS. Eng. poet.a.1), "The Merchant's Surety," in which one Theodorus seeks a loan from a Jew, Abraham, offering the Virgin Mary as guarantee. An image of Mary reveals gold hidden by Abraham from Theodorus. (For more on this, see the note on Stanza 65.) Clawson, pp. 35-36, also points to the German tale of "Schimpf und Ernst," which is much like the story of Robin, the Knight, and the Monk, but is not a Miracle of the Virgin; again, see the note on Stanza 65.
Clawson, pp. 25-30, notes a number of tales in which making a loan to a man with poor security is rewarded supernaturally, although not all of these are Miracles of the Virgin. One of these, described on p. 26, describes an instance, similar to the "Gest," in which the creditor is paid back twice, once rather miraculously -- but it is an Arabic tale that surely is not a source of the "Gest." His next two examples are Arabic and Russian. The only one of his examples which might be an actual source is a variant of "The Merchant's Surety."
Chaucer/Benson, p. 913, notes that Miracles of the Virgin were often violently anti-Semetic (like the tale in Chaucer). Yet, here again, our poet has transformed the type. We still see a conflict between religious groups -- but the conflict is not between Christians and Jews, it is between true Catholics and the wealthy church hierarchy.
The "Gest" may also have some elements derived from stories of actual historical outlaws. There is a genuine tale of a man who gave support to a King of England while based in the woods. Early in the reign of the boy king Henry III, the French were occupying much of southeast England. Most of the barons who opposed the invasion were of course in the north and west -- but in the heart of the Rrench-occupied territory was the great forest of the Weald. William of Kensham, a local bailiff, organized resistance to the French in the forest, and came to be known as "Williken of the Weald" (Powicke, p. 10). He played a significant part in the expulsion of the French, and I wonder if this might not have vaguely influenced the tale of Robin.
Baldwin, pp. 104-106, mention a band of criminals, the Coterels, who lived in the early to mid fourteenth century; they were active during the reign of Edward III, and according to Bellamy "poached, ambushed, had a spy in Nottingham, ill-treated clerics, were pursued by bounty hunters and the sheriff, operated in Sherwood, entered royal service, had as an ally a member of the gentry who had lost his inheritance [Sir Williiam Aune], and were pardoned by the King" (quoted by Baldwin, p. 111; see also Dobson/Taylor, p. 27).
On the other hand, Cawthorne, p. 196, says that Sir Richard Ingram, sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, was in league with them, which doesn't sound much like Robin Hood!
Dobson/Taylor, pp. 27-28, although mentioning the Folvilles and the Coterels, think a closer parallel to Robin Hood is the band which William Beckwith led in Knaresborough forest in Lancashire in the period 1387-1392. Bellamy had much to say about this group, but of course their date is very late -- after Langland's first mention of Robin Hood.
Dobson/Taylor, p. 28, add that there is one very strong difference between the Robin Hood cycle and the actual outlaws: "the early Robin Hood ballads lack the theme of feuding between neighbours which seem to have been such a dominant element in the exploits of fourteenth-century gangs."
Keen, p. 101, regards the "Gest" as a combination of elements from four other ballads or tales, which he titles "Robin Hood and the Knight," "Robin Hood, Little John and the Sheriff," "Robin Hood and the King," and "Robin Hood's Death." He derives this list from Child (page 42), slightly changing the name of the first. Except for the last, they do not correspond to any extant ballads, although some of them were imitated in the later legends. Keen also notes that, for all its length, the "Gest" opens with Robin already in the greenwood; he simply appears there, almost like a wood sprite. There is no early legend of where Robin came from.
Pollard's list of components of the "Gest," on p. xvi, is "Robin Hood and the Knight," "Robin Hood and the Sheriff," " Little John and the Sheriff" (a tale which he suggests is for comic relief; p. 6) "Robin Hood and the King," and "The Death of Robin Hood."
Brandl sees three different components, consisting (according to Clawson, p. 7 n. 4) of fits I+II+IV, V+VI, and III+VII+VIII -- which we might perhaps call "Robin and the Knight," "Robin and the Archery Contest," and "Little John, the Sheriff, Robin, and the King."
Holt1, pp. 24-25, suggests that the "Gest" is based on at least two cycles, one being the account of the indebted knight and the other being the rest -- although Lord, p. 206, reminds us that even the creators of modern epics often produce tales which are episodic, with stories of the same hero all being jumbled together. He cites as an early English example the case of "Beowulf," with the episodes of Grendal and the Dragon. On p. 13, Lord explicitly contrasts the performers of epics with those of folk singers (although, we should note, an epic is not precisely the same as a romance -- and Lord was not speaking of actual folk singers anyway but of professionals who called themselves "folk" performers.)
Clawson digs even deeper than the other scholars, seeking to identify individual ballads which became components of the "Gest." His analysis strikes me as too detailed -- he assumes too many ballads which have the same form as the "Gest." But some of them may be real:
* A ballad of Robin Hood and the Knight, in which Robin, upon learning of the Knight's difficulties, pays his debts (Clawson, p. 24, 41), which forms the primary basis of the first fit.
* A possible tale of the knight going to Calvary and/or repaying the Abbot (Clawson, p. 42), which is the main element of the second fit, although Clawson was not certain this was in ballad form. He does suggest that there was, at minimum, a ballad about a knight on crusade (Clawson, p. 44). He says on p. 125 that the compiler treated it very freely, and compares it to "The Heir of Linne" [Child 267].
* A ballad about a wrestling (Clawson, p. 47), which underlies the wrestling at the end of the second fit. This may be somehow related to the tale of Gamelyn (Clawson, p. 48).
* A ballad about someone infiltrating an enemy's household, which underlies the tale of Little John becoming a servant of the Sheriff and then convincing the cook to desert at the beginning og the third fit (Clawson, pp. 63-64).
* A ballad about a robber in disguise tricking a high official into the forest and then robbing him, which underlies the tale of Little John tricking the sheriff with the tale of the green hart at the end of the third fit (Clawson, p. 75). He also suggests a "Robin Hood Meets His Match" ballad was used here (Clawson, p. 126).
* A ballad of Robin Hood robbing two monks, which in the "Gest" is turned into a tale of Robin robbing the High Cellarer (Clawson, pp. 19-20), which is the primary source of the fourth fit (Clawson, pp. 23-24, 41).
* A ballad of Robin Hood and his men participating in a shooting contest in Nottingham, being recognized, and fighting their way out (Clawson, p. 80), which provided the bulk of the fifth fit. He compares this not only to the tale of Fulk but of William Wallave.
* A ballad of Robin Hood organizing a rescue and killing the Sheriff, which occupies most of the sixth fit from stanza 329 on (Clawson, p. 86). Clawson, pp. 86-87, notes that many of the elements of this are similar to "Robin Hood Rescuing Three Squires [Child 140]," although that song contains many details not found in the "Gest." Clawson also notes on p. 89 a similarity to the story of Wulric the Heron, an ally of Hereward the Wake, as well as of Gamelyn's rescue of his brother Ote. These are, however, parallels of theme only, with no detailed similarities.
* A ballad in which the Sheriff places a price on Robin's head (Clawson, p. 96). Clawson does not attribute any portion of the "Gest" to this ballad but hypothesizes it to explain the enmity between the two. That there was such a tradition seems likely; there is no evidence that it was in ballad form.
* Some sort of ballad about Robin and the King (Clawson, p. 119), probably built around a visit to the royal court (Clawson, p. 127).
* The tale of Robin Hood's Death, which he merely excerpts to provide the last half-dozen verses (Clawson, pp. 123-124).
* In addition, Clawson posits elements which he does not claim existed in ballad form: The tale of a miraculous repayment of a loan (Clawson, p. 36), an exemplum about the Virgin Mary (Clawson, p. 38).
All of these sections have at least some stanzas by the compiler of the "Gest." In all, he attributes all or parts of stanzas 1-16, 44-61, 69-78, 80-85, 126-134, 143, 144, 150-153, 205-207, 253-254, 266-269, 276-280, 281, 309-328, 354-364 (see list on pp. 125-127 of Clawson). But Clawson, p. 86, suggests that only one major section -- stanzas 309-328, in which the Knight takes Robin Hood into his castle, thus setting up the confrontation with the King -- is a really independent part of the "Gest" supplied by the compiler.
There are two problems withClawson's view. One is primarily a matter of terminology: The sections he claims are from "ballads" often include stanzas with highly irregular meter. These can hardly be from ballads as we would understand the term, although they could well be from metrical romances, where the metrical rules are looser. The other problem is that his hypothesis simply requires too many sources. Holt2, p. 200 n. 11, says cautiously, "Clawson may have been a little to ready to multiply the number of separate components which must have underlain the Gest and to assume that those components already took the form of ballads." I would go farther: To postulate as many different ballads as he does is possible but too complicated to be convincing.
(In Clawson's defence, he was simply following in a venerable tradition that goes all the way back to the great Karl Lachmann's analysis of Homer, which also split that epic into smaller oral pieces; Lord, p. 10. Lachmann was a great textual critic, perhaps the greatest innovator in that field. As a folklorist... eh....)
Personally, I agree with Keen: there are at least four different parts, which (with the exception of the story which became "Robin Hood's Death") survive largely intact in the "Gest" but with a little glue to hold them together. This is not necessarily incompatible with Holt's two-source hypothesis, because the five component stories could have been gathered into smaller cycles. The one thing that we must keep in mind is that any particular feature we find might come from the source or the compiler or from some other stage in this complex history.
If it be objected that this scheme is incredibly complex and that this use of sources is more than a composer could normally juggle, it is worth noting that the Odyssey -- universally acclaimed as one of the greatest of epic poems -- is generally considered to be just such as composite, combining multiple sources in a continuous narrative (Finley, p. 35). The difference lies not in the nature of the combination but in the skill with which the elements were combined.
Comparisons of Robin to other figures of folklore can be tricky. Robbers are just robbers -- but Keen, p. 128, suggests that the Robin Hood of legend, from the very start, was completely unlike an outlaw such as Dick Turpin or Jesse James: Robin "was the enemy of the existing order, not a parasite on it." Similiarly, Cawthorne, p. 71, says that he represented anarchy in the May Games -- "a rebel against the normal order of things." On this basis he allegedly acted as a control on social unrest. (Although we should note that Pollard, p. 109, declares that Robin uses "righteous violence to maintain true justice precisely when the officers of the law have failed." Pollard, pp. 157-158, follows Hobsbawm in seeing Robin as the "Noble Robber." It is hard to deny that this is what the Robin Hood tale became, but it is far less clear in the ballads than in modern folklore.)
Perhaps it would be clearer to say that Robin stood outside the existing order than that he was its enemy, but he was certainly something unusual. Jones-Larousse, p. 371 goes so far as to maintain that "it seems likely that he is an entirely fictitious character, in whom was embodied the rebellious disquiet during the turbulent years from the end of the 12th century, which culminated in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381." Keen, in his chapter "The Outlaw Ballad as an Expression of Peasant Discontent," also invokes (pp. 166-167) Wat Tyler's 1381 rebellion, although he does not mention Robin Hood in this immediate context, and on p. 173 denies a direct connection. Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 144, even compares him with the later rebel Jack Cade.
Holt objected to the connection on the grounds that Robin was a northern hero, with no connection with the southern rebels, and Dobson/Taylor, p. 30, agree. In any case, we know from Langland that the legend was already in existence in some form. We might even speculate that later poets wanted to explicity deny a connection between Robin and Wat Tyler -- Tyler, after all, failed to accomplish anything.
Ashley, p. 86, believes Robin represents a different sort of protest: "Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest was to become a popular hero because he defied the forest laws."
But to create a legend needs more than a feeling of discontent. John Ball, who actually preached the sort of message that Jones-Larousse describes (Ball's catch phrase was "When Adam delved and Eve span, who then was the gentleman?"), is barely remembered -- and, as Dobson/Taylor point out on p. 32, "The strong sense of Christian fraternity expressed in the mysterious letters (possibly written by ohn Ball)... has left little imprint on the outlaw ballads.". Similarly, the Lollards, who represented many of these same ideals and who were as much against wealthy clerics as was Robin, never had any great success.
Some moderns have even more extreme speculations -- to then, Robin became a wood spirit: "Robin Hood, whom modern criticism has transformed from a forester into a forest elf, a kinsman of Herne the Hunter. It can hardly be considered a dry or destructive criticism which thus metamorphoses Robin Hood and Maid Marian into Oberon and Titania!" (Garnett/Gosse, p. 305). Child (p. 47) mentions a scholar who claimed he was a manifestation of Woden, the Anglo-Germanic chief god, and CHEL1, p. 218, says explicitly that in the period around 1200 "the ancient figure of Woden was being slowly metamorphosed into the attractive Robin Hood." Pollard, p. 78, mentions scholars who have equated him with figures of legend such as the Green Man, or even Robin Goodfellow! Frye, p. 196, proposes that "The characters who elude the moral antithesis of heroism and villainy generaly are or suggest spirits of nature....Kipling's Mowgli is the best known of the wild boys; a green man lurked in the forests of medieval England, appearing as Robin Hood and the knight of Gawain's adventure."
If you think that's bad, consider this: Wilgus, p. 315, mentions a whole movement -- the "Cambridge School" -- which make the claim that Robin was "the grand master of a witch coven and therefore the survival of a pagan god."
Happily, Child declared (p. 48) that he could not 'admit... even the shadow of a case" for any such interpretation. Similarly Anderson, pp. 147-148: "Efforts to attach Robin Hood to the tradition of the Huntington family or of the family of Ralph [sic.] of Chester. as well as efforts to give him a purely mythological kinship with Woden, come to nothing." As a result, this sort of silliness has largely faded.
Much more likely is W. E. Simone's conclusion, quoted on p. 316 of Wilgus: "A historic figure may be at the matrix, and he may wear the tatters of a god, but certainly the legend has been built, ballad by ballad, overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, by the ballad maker. His imagination wove a rich diversity into the ballads which, surprisingly enough, will support almost any theory for the origin of the great English outlaw."
As Wilgus summarizes on pp. 316-317, "Simone has restored Robin Hood to his rightful place in a pattern, not of ritual myth, but of the outlaw from before Hereward the Saxon to Jesse James and beyond -- "a story that has been created before and will undoubtedly be created again." Pringle, p. 14, is even more succinct: "The psychology of Robin Hood is very plain. There was no Robin Hood, so it was necessary to invent one."
(It appears, in fact, that one recounting of the Jesse James story actually borrowed from the "Gest." It was told by Homer Croy in 1949, and is found on pp. 79-81 of Dellinger. The James Gang came upon a woman who was about to lose her land. They give her the money to redeem the property, tell her to get the receipt, then as the mortgage agent leaves her land, rob him and take the $800. Note that this not only is the basic plot of the story of Robin, the Knight, and the Monk in the "Gest," but the sum of money involved even matches, in a different currency, that stolen from the Monk!)
The audience of the tales has been much debated. The very first line of the "Gest" calls on "gentilmen" to listen to it (pointed out by Pollard, p. 173), yet follows that up by speaking of those of freeborne blood -- much more likely to be a reference of yeomen and guildsmen than the aristocracy or gentry. And CHEL1, p. 276, observes that our surviving medieval epics gradually become more popular: "Beowulf was composed for persons of quality, Havelok [the Dane] for the common people."
Dobson/Taylor, p. 10, declare that "'yeoman minstrelsy' remains the most appropriate description for the Gest" as well as the two other earliest poems, the "Monk" and the "Potter" -- but they hardly explain the term; as Holt1, p. 110, declares, "the words leave much to be defined."
Dobson/Taylor add on p. 32 that "An unprejudiced reading of the Gest leads one to the inescapable conclusion that the outlaw leader's famous acts of liberality derive less from any notion of social distribution of wealth than from the aristocratic virtues of largesse and display," which seems to imply an audience of people trying to climb the social ladder. But they go on to add on p. 33 that "in the last resort it is the differences between Robin Hood and his counterparts [such as Hereward the Wake and Fulk] rather than their similarities which deserve most attention." Robin, they point out, shows no desire to take a high place in the legitimate social hierarchy. This even though, we should note, he is described as having enough money and followers to be a baron (see the notes on stanzas 49 and 229).
Holt1, p. 128, believes the legend as a whole was addressed to the various clerks and other officials of feudal households, many of whom would have borne the title "yeoman." Yet he also notes that Robin Hood plays were at least known to, and very likely performed before, the Pastons (Holt1, p. 142) -- who were of the gentry, and fairly substantial even by the standards of that class. He also has a throwaway comment, on p. 157, that the tales were targeted to "young men without responsibility" (this on the basis of the lack of women in the early stories).
Ohlgren suggests, p. 220, that the target audience of the "Gest" was the rising class of merchants and guildsmen. Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 25, claims that "another ideological subtext promotes the interests of the London guilds by portraying Robin as a cloth merchant. The poem, I believe, was originally commissioned in the mid-to-late fifteenth century... [for use] at the election dinner of one of London's major cloth guilds."
The logic strikes me as a stretch -- yes, there are some points of contact between Robin's acts and the behavior of the guilds. But Robin is too much the critic of society for him to be a close fit with the guilds. The lack of business-like language in the "Gest" is no proof, since most of the modern terms such as "profit" did not come into English until quite late (Shippey, p. 85) -- but Robin doesn't *think* like a merchant, as his refusal to make a profit on his dealings with the Knight show. The contacts Ohlgren sees arise, I think, because the "Gest" poet came from a mercantile background, not because they were his audience.
Ohlgren/Matheson, pp. 26-27, also mentions a widespread belief that Robin Hood plays and legends were an "outlet valve" created by the upper classes to keep the lower classes from getting out of hand. This strikes me as even more improbable -- for one thing, the many ballads in which a lord marries a commoner seem to imply that the primary goal of the lower classes was to move up the social scale, not overthrow it. And would even the stupidest lord be tempted to give his villeins encouragement to run off? I strongly doubt it.
Pollard, although pointing out on p. 29 that the "Potter" is clearly written for a yeoman audience, on p. xi, suggests that from a very early time the legend "appealed to both gentry and the commons. There are elements of both chivalric romance and lewd ribaldries" in the extant materials. He suggests on pp. 8-9 that the "Potter," the "Monk," and "Guy of Gisborne" were addressed to common people, but that different portions of the "Gest" were addressed to gentle and humble audiences.
Anderson, p. 148, says that "Robin Hood is, in his prime, a fine archer and woodsman; he is something of a socialist, even a communist; he is an outlaw, but a beloved outlaw who represents the commoner's itch for opportunity at the expense of his feudal masters. He is decent, self-respecting, and chivalrous (though not chivalric); he is God-fearing, devout, but carefree; he has, in short, all the middle-class virtues." This obviously would seem to imply a middle-class (yeoman) audience.
Ohlgren, on p. 112 of Ohlgren/Matheson, suggests that the "Gest" has a "pro-Yorkist bias" and so would have appealed to the Yorkist exiles in France and Burgundy in the period after Richard III was overthrown in 1485. There were Yorkist exiles, of course, and it is not impossible that the Lettersnijder edition was produced for them -- but I'm somewhat pro-Yorkist myself, and I completely fail to see evidence of a "Yorkist bias" in the "Gest." And, if the Tudors had seen even a hint of such a thing, how could so many printers working under the Tudors (Pynson, de Word, Copland, and -- if Ohlgren is right -- Goes and Notary) have produced editions?
It is obvious that printers of the period thought the tale would appeal to an educated audience; were it not so, the "Gest" would not have been printed. The fact that it was printed, and repeatedly, proves that either the business classes or the aristocracy read it. The initial invocation also sounds rather like that in a lot of the romances, hinting at al attempt to appeal to the sasme audience. Still, it seems likely that it originated with the people. It seems even more likely, as Knight/Ohlgren observe on p. 82, that the ultimate audience was mixed.
Other than the ballads, the first literary reference to Robin Hood -- and the first source to explicitly treat him as a figure of legend -- is in Langland's Piers Plowman. In the "B" text, Passus V, lines 395-396, we read
I kan [ken, know] noght parfitly my Paternoster as the preest it syngeth,
But I kan [ken] rymes of Robyn Hood and Randolf Erl [Earl] of Chestre
(so Langland/Schmidt, p. 82, but there are no major variants in these lines -- although the numbering varies; Dobson/Taylor on p. 1. n. 1 call these lines 401-402). It is believed that this was written around 1377, at the very end of the reign of Edward III or early in the reign of Richard II, implying that by that date the Robin Hood legend had already entered the ballad tradition. In the C text, according to Dobson/Taylor, p. 1, the reference is found in passus VIII, line 11.)
There is no particular reason to think that Langland means that Robin and Ranulf of Chester were contemporary with each other. We do find a statement in the Forresters manuscript text of "Robin Hood's Progress to Nottingham" [Child 139] that "Randolph kept Robin fifteen winters" (Knight, p. xvii, with the actual text on p. 2), but there is no reason to think that that Randolph is the Earl of Chester (a point even Knight admits on p. 2). Even if it were, it isn't much help. Several Earls of Chester were named Ranulf, with the second and the sixth being probably the most important (Child, in his note on p. 40, seems to refer to the sixth earl).
The first Ranulf became Earl of Chester in 1121 when his uncle died in the famous sinking of the White Ship (Tyerman, p. 146). His son, the second Ranulf, succeeded to the Earldom in 1129 (Tyerman, p. 146) but did not become heavily inolved in politics until the time of King Stephen (reigned 1135-1154). Bradbury, p. 144, calls him the fourth earl of Chester, and notes on p. 175 that he died in 1153.
Warren-Henry, p. 25, says of him: "In the extent of lands he held and the number of his vassals, Earl Ranulf de Gernons eclipsed all the other barons of the realm. The marcher lordship of Cheshire was only one element, and not the most important, in an honor which embraced wide estates throughout the midlands, major holdings in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, and manors scattered over most of the southern counties. In addition he held important lordships and hereditary fiefs which made him a dominating influence in western Normandy as far as the confines of Brittany."
According to Bradbury, p. 37, "Ranulf de Gernons (the mustachioed) was a vitriolic individual." During the civil war between Stephen and the rightful queen Matilda, he had reason to dislike Stephen, but generally stayed neutral -- until Stephen made an attack on his position. Ranulf called on the forces of the Empress Matilda and her half-brother Robert of Gloucester. The combined armies routed and captured Stephen (Warren-Henry, p. 26); had Matilda's behavior been even slightly more reasonable, she might have been able to assume the throne. When she failed, Ranulf went back to Stephen's side -- only to be arrested by that King (Bradbury, p. 137). This forced Ranulf back into rebellion, and prolonged the civil war -- which, until that moment, Stephen had been winning.
There is an interesting sidelights on this Ranulf. First, we know that he had an ongoing quarrel with the constable of Nottingham, William Peverel, whom he accused of poisoning him (Bradbury, p. 164).
A later Ranulf of Chester -- the "third Randle" of Child, p. 40 -- became earl in 1181 and held the dignity for half a century. He thus was active at the end of the reign of King John. He seems to be the standard nominee for Langland's earl.; Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 50, notes several other recent scholars who have accepted this link. And he does have a link of sorts with the tale of Robin Hood, since this Ranulf is mentioned in the story of Fulk FitzWarren (Knight, p. 2; Cawthorne, p. 114), which is considered a source of the "Gest." For once this is historically possible, since Ranulf was alive in the reign of King John.
Baldwin, p. 28, says that "The only thirteenth-century Randolf (more usually Ranulf), Earl of Chester, was Ranulf 'de Blundeville' (i.e. of Oswestry), who died in 1232" -- although he is honest enough to add that "it is unclear if he was associated with Robin in some way." Nor, of course, can we arbitrarily assume that Robin lived in the thirteenth century, although this is Baldwin's position.
Powicke, p. 2, observes that when the barons wished to make the Earl Marshal regent over the new King Henry III in 1216, who was still a young boy, "The marshal was reluctant. In any case he felt that they should await the coming of Ranulf de Blundevill, earl of Chester, the greatest baron of the realm." Only when Ranulf arrived did the marshal finally accept the office of protector -- although, interestingly, when an attempt was made to bring him into the Marshal's government in 1217, the barons rejected it (Jolliffe, p. 267). Eventually they drove Ranulf to the brink of rebellion (Jolliffe, p. 268; Powicke, pp. 24-25 has a confusing story of him beseiging foreigners in the Tower of London)-- which makes a certain amount of sense for an associate of Robin.
Langland/Schmidt, p. 427, thinks this is the Ranulf that Langland meant, since his note on the verse refers to the Earl who lived from 1172-1232. Langland/Goodridge, p. 274, says "The Earl of Chester may be the one who married Constance [of Brittany], the widow of Geoffrey Plantagenet and mother of Prince Arthur (Earl from 1181 to 1231). Though his exploits are known, no ballads about him have survived."
Although the ballads are lost, Wilson, p. 128, says that Dugdale's Baronage has a "long unhistorical story, ascribed to an 'old mon of Peterborough,'" of the deposition of King John, with Ranulf of Chester defeating a French invasion and crowning Henry III -- obviously something that sounds a lot like a romance.
His career was certainly ballad-worthy. How often, for instance, do you hear of a man kidnapping *his own wife*? Yet Ranulf did so (Gillingham, p. 260). When in 1199 the throne of England became vacant, he had to decide whether to support John or Ranulf's own stepson Arthur of Brittany as the new King of England -- and he chose John. Arthur's mother, Constance of Brittany, who was now his wife, obviously wasn't happy with that. She preferred to be separated from him, and to live in Brittany, while Ranulf preferred England, so he had to capture her to assert control over her (Cawthorne, p. 32; according to Tyerman, p. 333, the marriage was finally dissolved in 1199).
Late in his life, according to Tyerman, p. 334, Ranulf was a participant in the Fifth Crusade (the one that attacked Egypt). And crusaders always tended to attract romantic tales.
Apart from the mention of "rhymes of Robin Hood," there are two other comments in Langland that may have some very tangential interest to the Robin Hood legend (cf. Holt1, p. 156). In the A-text, V.234 (Langland/KnottFowler, p. 82), we read
Roberd the robbour on Reddite [making restitution] lokide.
In the B-text, V.462 (Langland/Schmidt, p. 85), this becomes
Roberd the robbere on Reddite loked.
Despite the disagreement on the spelling of "robber," (and the fact that the C-text changes "robbere" to "ryfeler"; Mustanoja, p. 62), there is no question but that Langland's Robert was one. And Robin is the diminutive of Robert. It may be coincidence -- Piers the Plowman is alliterative, and Langland may have simply wanted a name beginning with "R" -- but it is of note that this robber has the same name as Our Hero. Indeed, one manuscript actually reads "Robyn" for "Roberd" (MS. W, according to Mustanoja, p. 61; this is at Trinity College, Cambridge, MS. B.15.17, according to Langland/Schmidt, p. liv., which James, volume 1, p. 480, dates to the fourteenth century; the binding contains fifteenth century materials)
In addition, Langland mentions "Folvyles Laws" (Passus XIX, line 248 in Langland/Schmidt). According to Baldwin, pp. 107-108, and Holt1, p. 155, this is a reference to the Folville Gang, a band of robbers active in the reigns of Edward II and Edward III who in 1332 robbed a justice of the King's Bench (Baldwin, p. 106). Baldwin, p. 105, says that they eventually made peace with the authorities (perhaps because they were willing to fight for Edward III in France), and says on page 107 that they were admired in certain quarters. Despite Langland's reference, which seems to imply that "Folville Laws" were instances of "might makes right," the account of their deeds and their pardon could have influenced the Robin Hood legend.
John Ball, the hedge priest who helped incite Wat Tyler's 1381 rebellion, told his listenerds to bid "Piers Plowman go to his work and chastise wel Hobbe the Robbere" (for full text of the remark, from John Ball's Letter to the Peasants of Essex, 1381, see Sisam, pp. 160-161). Since there is at least one instance of a man being called both "Hobbehod" and "Robehod," Cawthorne, p. 40, thinks this might be a reference to Robin. It is interesting to note that the letter's salutation says it is from "Iohan Schef, som tym Seynte Marie prest of (Y)ork" -- the very religious house with which the knight of the "Gest" was involved. But Sisam's extensive notes on this verse do not link it Robin Hood; the one historical figure he cites is Robert Hales, the Treasurer of England who was killed in 1381 -- although Sisam thinks even that link unlikely. Sisam also notes that "lawless men" were called "Robert's men" starting in the fourteenth century.
Curiously, from about the same time as Langland and John Ball comes a mention of a yeoman archer, clad in much the same forest costume we see in most Robin Hood stories: lines 101, 103-105, 108 of the prologue to the Canterbury Tales read as follows (Chaucer/Benson, p. 25):
A YEMAN [yeoman] hadde he and servantz namo...
And he was clad in cote and hood of grene.
A sheef of pecok arwes, bright and kene,
Under his belt he bar ful thriftily....
And in his hand he baar a myghty bowe....
In line 118, Chaucer goes on to call the yeoman a "forster" = forester.
For the peacock feathers, see the note on stanza 132 of the "Gest." For foresters, see the note on stanza 1. On this basis, Dobson/Taylor, p. 35, suggest that "this may have been Chaucer's own portrait of Robin Hood," and Pollard seems convinced (pp. 47-48) that Chaucer's yeoman is patterned on Robin, although we of course have no proof that Robin was called a forester, or even was considered to live in the forest, at this time.
Keen also mentions a line in Troilus and Criseyde which reads "From haselwode, there joly Robin pleyde" (V.1174 in Chaucer/Benson), which Keen -- without manuscript support that I can see -- converts to "hazellwood there Jolly Robin plaid."
Keen thinks this passage a reference to Robin Hood, and Knight/Ohlgren, p. 1, call it "probably a glimpse of the outlaw at a distance." Chaucer/Benson, p. 1054, mentions the possibility but regards it as improbable, noting that "Joly Robin was a common name for a shepherd or rustic." Mustanoja, p. 64, appears to think it a reference to the French Robin-and-Marion traditions. Cawthorne, p. 31, seems to accept it as a reference to Robin, and Baldwin, p. 28, mentions it without even quoting the doubts. Chaucer/Mills, p. 274, states that it refers to the shepherd hero of "Robin and Marion" type romances. Chaucer'/Warrington's notes don't even mention Robin Hood. Chaucer/Benson and Chaucer/Warrington both think the hazelwood is a place divorced from contact with society -- an otherworld -- rather than part of the greenwood.
What is certain is that Chaucer never mentioned Robin Hood by name, though the Miller and several others in the Canterbury Tales are named Robin. However, some manuscripts *do* mention Robin. In a piece called The Reply of Friar Daw Topias (Wilson, p. 139; Chambers, p. 130) we read
And many men speken of Robyn Hood,
And shotte nevere in his bowe.
Cawthorne, p. 40, also notes this proverb in an edition of Dives and Pauper, which he cites as being a few years older than Friar Daw Topias. Dobson/Taylor, p. 2, observe that Dives was published by Pynson in 1493, but never really critically edited; it refers elsewhere to Robin Hood as a figure of song.
What Wilson believes to be a variant this proverb, minus the name of Robin, is found in Troilus and Criseyde, iii.859-861 (actually ii.861). And two manuscripts of Chaucer, H4 and Ph, make the line to refer to Robin (although neither manuscript is considered very good; Chaucer/Benson, pp. 1161-1162. Holt1, p. 141, also thinks this a de-Robinized version of the proverb).
For full discussion of this proverb, see Dobson/Taylor, p. 289. This is their section on proverbs of Robin Hood, but this appears the only true proverb of the bunch.
Robin occurs in several chronicles, but they place him in very diverse contexts. At one time it was believed he was mentioned by Fordun c. 1386 (Benet, p. 934), but Fordun's Chronicle was continued by Bower, and it is now accepted that Bower interpolated the reference to Robin (Keen, p. 177). Bower himself (c. 1445, according to Holt1, p. 40) called Robin a "famous murderer" and links him to Little John; he dates them to 1266 (reign of Henry III; Holt speculates that this might make him one of the defeated followers of Simon de Montfort; compare Keen, p. 177; Chambers, p. 130; Dobson/Taylor, p. 16; Cawthorne, p. 36).
Pollard, p. 3, makes the interesting observation that Bower's tale of Robin is not attested elsewhere. There is a Latin text in a footnote on p. 41 of Child, and a translation on p. 26 of Knight/Ohlgren. It involves Robin being trapped while hearing mass and managing to escape. Bower thus is in the odd situation of calling Robin a murderer and saying he was saved because of his religious devotion!
Baldwin, in fact, makes Bowyer's dating the basis for his whole book. He thinks Robin is based on Roger Godberd and Little John on Walter Devyas. Godberd was a rather rambunctious member of the yeomanry who fought for de Montfort, and Devyas was his ally (their biography occupies pp, 153-166 of Baldwin). The knight of the "Gest" is Sir Richard Foliot (Baldwin, p. 169), one of whose castles resembled the description of Sir Richard's in the "Gest" (Baldwin, p. 170), and who did shelter Godberd for a time (Holt1, p. 99).
The parallels to the story of Robin, the Knight, and the Abbott are impressive enough that Holt allows the possibility that Godberd's story was a source for the "Gest." Baldwin, p. 172. compares several of their actions to the events in the "Monk." They even operated in Sherwood Forest (Baldwin, p. 182).
There are difficulties, however. Even Baldwin admits, p. 168, that Roger Godberd was not known as an archer -- and, surely, if there is one thing Robin Hood must be, it is an archer! Nor was Godberd notably pious, and he had a wife and children (Baldwin, p. 174). Plus he was taken into custody in 1272 (Cawthorne, p. 152), and stayed there long enough to plead a case (Baldwin, pp. 183-184, 187). And Holt1, p. 98, observes that the association of Godberd with Sherwood was a misreading of the source manuscript; it actually reads "Charnwood."
Plus the story of Gilbert de Middleton has parallels to the story of the Knight which are about as close as those of Roger Godberd (see note on Stanza 292) -- and allow us a more consistent chronological framework. And, if the story of Roger Godberd is so carefully preserved that even the description of the Knight's castle is accurate, why does the "Gest" not tell more of the early parts of Roger Godberd's story?
I observe that Powicke's immense history of the thirteenth century never mentions Godberd. If he really did anything important enough to inspire the Robin Hood legend, that would seem unlikely.
And Baldwin, p. 172, quotes a section in Bower about Robert Hood, who was one of the rebels against Henry III -- but in a context separate from his mention of Robin Hood. Bower's information about Robert Hood may be from a historical source, but his information about Robin Hood is from legend, and there is no reason to equate the two.
Admittedly, some secondary support for Bower's date in the reign of Henry III comes from the fact that Henry, in his 1251 Assize of Arms, includes bowmen for the first time; men with property of 40 to 100 shillings were to bear a sword, dagger, and bow (Featherstone, p. 26; in the first assize, of 1181, a freeman with land worth 16 marks was supposed to have a hauberk, helmet, shield, and lance, according to Mortimer, p. 54). Thus this is the period when the longbow was first coming to prominence.
It is true that Gerald of Wales refers to what sounds like a longbow in 1188 (Baldwin, p. 46). But we are referring to English, not Welsh, use of the longbow. Even Henry III's son Edward I still took mostly spearmen when he fought in Wales in the 1280s, and archers do not seem to have been important at the great battles of Lewes and Evesham in the 1260s (Chandler/Beckett, p. 9). In any case, Lewes and Evesham were battles between the barons and Henry III; it doesn't make much sense for Robin to be a follower of Earl Simon unless he was at least of the gentry.
This does not mean that Roger Godberd's exploits could not have contributed to the general outlaw legend; they might well have. But that does not make him the Original Robin, or even a direct source.
Chandler/Beckett, p. 9, claims that it was "not until the 1330s that [longbowmen's] full value began to be recognized." This is a strong argument that Robin should be dated between about 1251 (when bows were becoming common) and 1330 (when they were all but universal).
The Scotsman Andrew de Wynton/Wyntoun (c. 1415, according to Holt1, p. 40; Knight/Ohlgren, p. 24, dates him c. 1420; EncycLiterature, p. 1218 gives his dates as c. 1350-c.1423) mentions Robin and John; see the note on Stanza 3. Wyntoun -- who was an old man at the time he wrote his octosyllablic chronicle, and so would probably have known had the legend arisen in recent decades (Baldwin, p. 59) dates Robin to 1283-1285 (reign of Edward I), and places him in "Ynglewode and Bernysdale" or "Ingilwode and Bernnysdaile" ("Inglewood and Barnsdale"). Keen, p. 176, thinks the mention of Inglewood, not normally associated with Robin, may be by confusion with "Adam Bell" -- although we there is no evidence that Adam's tale existed at this time.
It is interesting to note that Young, p. 118, shows a chart of forest receipts for Inglewood in the 1300s, and it reveals a decline in the 1320s, hitting bottom in 1323, followed by a sharp spike in 1324 and rising to a peak in 1328 before declining again. In the chronology below, the low point corresponds exactly to the time when Robin was most active in the greenwood, and the ascent begins the year below. Of course, the most likely explanation is that all this has to do with Edward II's wars with Scotland and the Duke of Lancaster, not with Robin Hood.
Alternately, Knight/Ohlgren, p. 24, suggest that the linkage of Inglewood and Barnsdale derives from the Barnsdale in Rutland, associated with the Earls of Huntingdon, who were Kings of Scotland. Except that the Scots king had lost the Huntingdon earldom a century before Wynton's time.
From about the same time is a scrap of poetry beginning
Robyn Hod in Scherewod stod,
Hodud & hathud, hosut & schod.... (Wilson, p. 140. cf. Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 18).
The fragment is only four lines, with no details, and the date of the handwriting is only a guess Baldwin, p. 28, would place it around 1410; but Wilson says only that the most likely date is early fifteenth century. Ohlgren/Matheson place in c. 1425 based on the fact that it uses linguistic forms which were just coming into use.
Dobson/Taylor, p. 18, go so far as to call it "the very first poem on the subject of Robin Hood," but it tells us nothing. Its main significance, apart from being a very early bit "ryme of Robyn Hood," lies in the fact that it places him in Sherwood (a name which is not mentioned even in the Nottingham portions of the "Gest") rather than Barnsdale. On the other hand, the mention of Sherwood is the only reason to assume the Robin Hood of this poem is the legendary outlaw.
Balancing that reference is a 1429 mention (supposedly as a legal maxim!) "Robin Hode en Bernesdale stode" (Dobson/Taylor, p. 18). Given the uncertainty of the date of the Sherwood reference, we really cannot say whether the Sherwood or Barnsdale reference is earlier.
Dobson/Taylor, p. 23, point to a chartulary of (probably) 1422 which mentions a Robin Hood's Stone; it seems to be on the same site as one of the places now known as Robin Hood's Well (in Barnsdale, on the Great North Road about four miles south of Sayles and Wentbridge).
A 1439 petition to parliament compares a certain Piers Venables to "Robyn-hode and his meyne" (Dobson/Taylor, p. 4Chambers, p. 130). The next year, we find a gang making some sort of demonstration and declaring that they were "Robynhodesmen" (Baldwin, p. 28).
A ship Robyn Hude was at Aberdeen in 1438 (Chambers, p. 131, Dobson/Taylor, p 40), although we don't know why it was so named. Perhaps vaguely linked to this is a report of an "early fifteenth century sermon" which mentions prophecies of "Thomas of Asildowne [Thomas of Ercildoune, i.e. Thomas the Rhymer] and Robyn Hoode" (Pollard, p. 163. This seems to be the only early mention of a supernatural side to Robin -- and, at that , it might not by prophecies by, but rather prophecies about, Robin. It would appear that this is the sermon mentioned by Ohlgren/Matheson, pp. 50-51, which was preached to parliament by Chancellor Robert Stafford in 1433.).
Our next mention of Robin probably comes from the ballads themselves; the earliest Robin Hood ballad manuscript is "Robin Hood and the Monk" [Child 119], which occurs in ms. Cambridge Ff. 5.48 of about 1450. Soon after, we find a dramatic fragment of the story of "Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne" [Child 118] scribbled on the back of a slip of financial receipts dated 1475/6 C.E. (Note, incidentally, that Guy is *not* "Sir Guy"; he is a yeoman, not a knight.) This is not the ballad itself, but it is clearly the same story. The Complaynt of Scotland (1549), which mentions many ballads, also mentions shepherds' tales of "Robene Hode and litil ihone" (Chambers, p. 165).
A note in the margin of a reference work, Higden's Polychronicon, mentions Robin Hood as a robber. The Polychronicon was written by Ranulf (or Ralph) Higden (or Hyden, or Hygden), about whom little is known except that he probably diedi n 1364. It was a seven-book history of the world, popular enough to exist in about a hundred copies. In its original form, it seems to have ended with the year 1327, although there were continuations, including a common one taking the history to the year 1342 (Kunitz/Haycraft, p. 269). As a history, it is of slight significance, and it does not itself mention Robin Hood. But because it was so common, it would easily pick up glosses about other historical events. That seems to be the case with this particular note.
The note is not contemporary with the text; it is believed to have been written in about 1460. It gives no date and few other details, but it is written in a part of the Polychronicon dealing with the late period of Edward I's reign (implying a date for Robin c. 1295). Although the newspapers at the time made a lot of noise about the discovery of this note (Baldwin, pp. 60-61), the uncertainty about its date dramatically reduces its value. Its interest lies in the fact that it is in a history copied in England (Baldwin, p. 62). Every previous mention is either Scottish (Bower, Wyntoun, Major; see Holt1, p. 51) or literary rather than historical (Langland). (Indeed, Pollard, p. 64, makes the curious comment that, although the Robin Hood legend is clearly northern, the references to it in historical sources are all from southern England.)
During the Wars of the Roses, a certain Robin, surname unknown, led a gang in Yorkshire which supported the Earl of Warwick in 1468 (Ross-Edward, p. 119). One Robin of Redesdale raised a rebellion against Edward IV in 1469. This fellow also called himself "Robin Mend-All" (Ross-Edward, p. 126). The name is patently a disguise (Warkworth's Chronicle declares that Robin was really Sir William Conyers; Dockray, p. 69), and he was commissioned by the Earl of Warwick and other rebels, but Scott/Duncan, p. 531, calls him an "avatar" of Robin Hood, and I agree that the name seems a clear attempt to invoke Robin's legend. This marks an interesting change; in the early 1400s, rebels called themselves "Jack' -- in 1450, it was Jack Cade, and a rebel of the 1430s called himself Jack Sharp (Wolffe, p. 66).
On the other hand, another rebel of the period was called Robin of Holderness, and although Holt1, p. 58, links both Robin of Redesdale and Robin of Holderness with Robin Hood, the rebel of Holderness had few Robin Hood characteristics; it seems much more likely that "Robin" was just a common name for "ordinary folks." Note, however, the fact that Little John in stanza 149 of the "Gest" claims to be from Holderness.
It is fascinating to note that Robin of Redesdale's rebellion prompted Edward IV to come north to try to suppress him (Ross-Edward, p. 129), just as the king in the "Gest" came north to deal with Robin Hood. Edward, in fact, seems to have based himself at Nottingham for a time (Ross-Edward, p. 131). And, somewhat later, Edward formally pardoned Conyers/Robin (Ross-Edward, p. 144).
Edward IV's attempt to deal directly with Robin of Redesdale was, however, a complete flop; Redesdale was an open rebel, and Edward's attempt to suppress him never got off the ground; Edward in fact was captured soon after by the Earl of Warwick and temporarily removed from power (Ross-Edward, p. 133). And Redesdale beat forces sent by Edward to deal with him at the battle of Edgecote (Dockray, p. 65)
At least, that is the best reconstruction we can give today. Our historical sources for this period are extremely poor (Ross-Edward, pp. 130-131). Ross-Edward devotes an appendix to the sources for the various Robin-the-rebels (pp. 439-440), noting that they are so confused that different scholars have proposed four different explanations:
1. That there was a single rebellion, by Robin of Redesdale;
2. That there was a single rebellion, bu Robin of Holderness (or "Robert Hulderne");
3. That there were two rebellions, one by Redesdale and one by Holderness;
4. (and this is the one that Ross tentatively follows) That there were three rebellions, by Redesdale, by Holderness, and a revived rebellion by Redesdale. Reid, pp. 431-432, has a variant on this in which Robin of Holderness came first, then Robin of Redesdale, who was "suppressed" but then revived his rebellion.
About all we can say for certain is that one of the rebellions seemed to invoke Robin Hood.
At almost this same time, Child notes a mention of Robin Hood in the Paston Letters (1473) -- the legend inspired one or more Paston servants (the stableboy W. Wood, according to Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 57; Holt1, p. 142, mentions a "Kothye Plattyng") to run off to Barnsdale! It may be that the servant was inspired by that play of Guy of Gisborne; it has been suggested that the play came from the Paston correspondence (Dobson/Taylor, p. 204; Pollard, pp. 12, 164), and the glue on the back of the paper seems to imply that it was extracted from a larger collection of materials (Cawthorne, p. 68). Dobson/Taylor, p. 18, suggest that Paston's reference to Barnsdale is a joke, but it still links Robin with Barnsdale.
(It is interesting to note that the two earliest Robin Hood manuscripts, Cambridge MS. Ff.5.48 containing "Robin Hood and the Monk" [Child 119] and Cambridge MS. E.e.4.35 containing "Robin Hood and the Potter" [Child 121], was owned by someone who gave the Latin version of his name as Ricardo Calle, whom Ohlgren believes was Richard Call, a servant of the Pastons of Norfolk (Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 21). Thus we have four substantial Paston links to Robin Hood: The "Monk," the "Potter," the play of Guy, and the servant who ran away. It seems Robin was very well known in the Paston area of Norfolk by the 1460s.)
The Tollet Window, mentioned above in connection with Friar Tuck, is only one of many pieces of evidence showing that, by the late fifteenth century, Robin Hood was a character in the May games -- Holt2, p. 194, thinks that this was how most people knew him around 1500. And most scholars, including Dobson/Taylor, p. 41 and Holt1, p. 160, think this is how he came to be associated with Maid Marian.
The first known instance of Robin in the games comes from Exeter in 1427 (Keen, p. 228),. But, except that he was a bowman associated with Little John, little can be learned from these early games. Although we do read that Robin collected tolls for the games, which might link to the notion of robbery (so Holt2, pp. 195-196). Supposedly playing the role of Robin Hood was very popular, and men had to wait years for the chance, at least in the town of Yeovil (Cawthorne, p. 70).
Pollard, p. 91, seems to suggest that the revival of the forest laws under Henry VII Tudor (reigned 1485-1509) would have renewed interest in that most noteworthy of poachers, Robin Hood -- which might be why the "Gest" was printed at least twice around this time. But the number of mentions of Robin in the century before 1485 rather reduces the force of this argument.
The Scotsman Gavin Douglas in 1501 mentions "Roene Hude, and Gilbert with the quhite hand" (Dobson/Taylor, p. 5) -- the first mention of Gilbert. Dobson/Taylor think this an allusion to the "Gest," but this seems unlikely -- why link Robin to such an obscure character?
Supposedly Henry VIII played around at being an outlaw in 1510 -- "he made a carefully prepard invasion of Queen Catherine's chamber one morning, with a dozen companions, all in short coats of Kentish Kendal with hoods on their heads, each with his bow and arrows, sword, and buckler, 'like outlaws, or Robin Hood's men, whereof the Queen, the ladies, and all others there were abashed.'" Only after dancing did the men reveal their identity (Williams, pp. 46-47).
Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 186, suggests that this was associated with the 1515 publication of Julian Notary's edition of the "Gest," but since we cannot prove either that Notary produced an edition or that he did it in 1515, this is obviously speculation.
Dancing with women, of course, is utterly unlike the early legend, but the gear is Robin Hood-like. Indeed, our source Edward Hall compares them to Robin Hood's men (Cawthorne, p. 72; Dobson/Taylor, p. 42; the textof Hall's report is in Ohlgren/Matheson, pp. 127-128) -- but he was writing a third of a century later and is not a very reliable author. Ohlgren suggests on p. 128 of Ohlgren/Matheson that there is some sort of link between Hall's account and the events of the last two fits of the "Gest."
Kendal Green was a color associated with outlaws, see the note on stanza 422.
We shouldn't make too much of Henry's games; Mattingly, p. 129, says of this event, "Once when the court was at Greenwich, a party of masked invaders, all in Kendal Green, burst into the Queen's apartments, conveniently followed by a band of music." It was obviously evident at once that this was Henry VIII -- and the fact that he chose outlaws is not unusual, because he and his fellow revelers did this sort of thing regularly, invading the Queen's appartments in the guise of "Turks or Moors or Germans."
Later, in 1515, Henry saw a Robin Hood pageant (Knight/Ohlgren, p. 9; Williams, p. 47; Cawthorne, pp. 72-73), although we have few details; it seems to have involved a longbow exhibition. This is perhaps most significant because Anthony Munday (of whom more below) used this as a framing device for his plays: The opening phase of "The Downfall of Robert, Earle of Huntington" features actors playing Henry's courtiers presenting a play before King Henry, with the courtiers then taking the roles of Robin and colleagues, making it a "play within a play" (Dobson/Taylor, p. 221; Knight/Ohlgren, p. 298, plus the cast of characters on p. 303, etc.).
In 1521, John Major (according to Holt1, p. 41) dated Robin to 1193/4 (reign of Richard I), although he called this an "estimate" (Keen, p. 177; Knight/Ohlgren, p. 27, quotes him as saying that Robin lived "About this time... as I conceive"). Major confirms that tales -- and songs -- of Robin were widespread (Dobson/Taylor, p. 5), that he defended women, that he robbed abbots, and that he had a large band of a hundred men (compare Stanza 229, where Robin is credited with seven score followrs). Major condemned his acts but called him the "humanest" of robbers.
Baldwin, p. 29, points out that Major credited Robin with helping rather than robbing the poor. Major also calls Robin the "dux" of robbers, which Knight/Ohlgren render as "chief." Cawthorne, p. 38, points out that "dux" was also the root of the English word "duke," and suggests that this was the first attempt to link Robin to the nobility -- which is perhaps possible, but the context seems to imply merely that Robin was the foremost robber. And to call Robin a shadow duke, rather than a shadow earl, is impossible in Major's context -- the first English Dukes were not created until the reign of Edward III (OxfordCompanion, p. 557; Barber, p. 20), and it was not until some time later that England saw its first non-royal duke.
In any case, Major published his work *after the "Gest" was published*, and probably long after it was written, so we have no reason to believe that the author of the "Gest" had even heard of a date in the era of Richard and John.
Major's date was followed by John Leland (fl. 1530) and later by Richard Grafton (fl. 1550), who claims to have found records of Robin in the exchequer rolls -- records which, however, cannot now be found. Grafton, who seems to have published in 1569 (Knight/Ohlgren, p. 27) also claimed an "ancient pamphlet" (but what are the odds that he would have an unprinted pamphlet? And if it was printed, then it wasn't very ancient.) Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 187, suggests that the pamphlet was a copy of the "Gest," but if this were so, why would Grafton have dated Robin to the reign of Richard I?
Grafton's claims of documentation seem to have given his claims extra weight (Knight/Ohlgren, p. 28), but there is every reason to think the claims were false. For more on Grafton, see the notes to Stanzas 451, 454.
Baldwin, p. 30, observes that Grafton claimed Earl Robin was outlawed for debt -- and points out that this is extremely unlikely. Earls certainly went bankrupt from time to time, but they didn't get outlawed, they just had to forfeit properties.
William Tyndale, the first man to translate the Bible from Greek into English, in 1528 denounced Robin Hood stories as "ribabldries" (Pollard, p. 10).
Around 1550, Bishop Hugh Latimer mentions "Robin Hood's Day" in a sermon to Edward VI (reigned 1547-1553), and gripes that he cannot find people to preach to on this day (Dobson/Taylor, p. 39), this is probably a reference to the May Games (Hazlitt, p. 519).
The Scottish parliament, in the course of the reformation, banned the May Games and Robin's role in 1555 (Cawthorne, p. 73).
The Stationer's Register for 1557-1558 contains a mention of the "ballett of Wakefylde and a grene" (Dobson/Taylor, p. 47). If, as seems likely, this is an early printed version of "The Jolly Pinder of Wakefield," that would make it perhaps the first Robin Hood piece printed after the "Gest," and the first true broadside print. There was also a "ballett of Robyn Hod" entered in 1562-1563, but this we cannot identify at present. Dobson/Taylor, p. 48, observe that Robin Hood broadsides are commonly registered starting in 1624; a handful of these survive today.
In 1560, William Copeland registered a Robin Hood play in the Stationer's Register (Cawthorne, p. 74). This is very likely the play which appears at the end of the "f" print of the "Gest," although the matter cannot be proved.
Our first tune associated with Robin, according to Bronson, comes from the period from 1575-1591, but as it is simply called "Robin hoode," and has no lyrics, we do not know whether it was for one of the extant ballads or is something else.
Knight/Ohlgren, p. 5, observe that a "remarkable number of plays and games of Robin Hood" are attested, from all parts of Britain, by 1600. Indeed, in 1577-1578, the Scottish Kirk felt the need to go beyond its action of 1555 and suppress "playes of Robin Hood, King of May, and sick others, on the Sabboth Day," and later to ban them entirely (Child, p. 45). He even begins to appear on the London stage in the 1590s (Cawthorne, p. 77) -- at least once in association with the pindar of Wakefield (Cawthorne, p. 78). One of these plays includes the unlikely stage direction "Enter Robin Hood in Lady Faukenberg's nightgown, a turban on his head" (Cawthorne, p. 80).
But these are only mentions; we do not have the scripts of the plays themselves, and cannot know what state of the legend they reveal. Knight/Ohlgren think Robin is used in them to raise money for community projects. On p. 6 they suggest that the surname "Robinhood," mentioned also by Holt, arose because it became hereditary in some families for someone to play Robin in village pageants. Knight/Ohlgren, p. 7, suggest that the plays may have preceded and given rise to the ballads. Chronologically this is certainly possible -- but the difficulty is that it is much easier for a ballad to spread than a play. The first play might have preceded the first ballad -- but in general, it seems likely that the ballads preceded the legend and the plays followed.
The London stage had certainly seen Robin in drama by 1593, when George Peele's Edward the First, sirnamed Edward Longshanks was published (Dobson/Taylor, pp. 43-44).
We do not kow the exact date when Anthony Munday started working on Robin Hood plays, but we know that he was paid five pounds for one in February 1598 (Knight/Ohlgren, p. 296).
Munday died in 1633; he born 1553 according to his tombstone, although there are indications that he was younger, according Kunitz/Haycraft, pp. 370-371; Boyce, p. 453, gives his birth date as "c. 1560."
Munday had apparently been a printer and an unsuccessful actor before turning his limited talents to writing. Kunitz/Haycraft, p. 371, give an amazing summary of his early career: "First he imitated the Mirror for Magistrates in two gloomy poems, The Mirror of Mutability and The Pain of Pleasure. Then he imitated Lyly's Eupheues in his prose romance Zelauto. Next, he turned informer against his Catholic friends and was instrumental in having several of them executed. In 1581-82 he wrote several anti-Catholic pamphlets and The English-Roman Life...." It was apparently around 1585 that he turned his talents to drama.
His two dramatic works on the Robin Hood theme were "The Downfall of Robert, Earle of Huntington" and "The Death of Robert, Earle of Huntington." Knight/Ohlgren suggest that this was originally intended to be one play, but was too long, Henry Chettle was called upon to break it into two items (making it one of the small handful of items we still have from Chettle's pen; Kunitz/Haycraft, pp. 104-105), although Dobson/Taylor, p. 221, think the plays are substantially as Munday wrote them.
The pair of plays seem to have been produced in 1599, although Kunitz/Haycraft, p. 371, date them to 1601 (the date they were printed) and Boyce, p. 453, to 1598 (apparently on the basis that Philip Henslowe commissioned "antony monday" to write a Robin Hood play in that year; Dobson/Taylor, p. 221).
Whether one play or two, monograph or collaboration, a primary source seems to have been Michael Drayton's 1594 poem "Matilda, the Fair and Chaste Daughter of Lord. R. Fitzwater" (Dobson/Taylor, p. 222) -- a long work now almost impossible to find. But Monday used his sources with "a freedom which occasionally bordered on violence" (Dobson/Taylor, p. 222, quoting the Malone Society edition of Munday).
It has been suggested (Knight/Ohlgren, p. 296) that the Robin Hood plays inspired Shakespeare to write "As You Like it." However, of the four Shakespeare references I checked, only one even mentioned the possibility, and only as a possibility. Perhaps the Munday plays suggested a play in the greenwood -- but Shakespeare also used the greenwood in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" without evident extermal prompting. Such vague thematic links as exist probably derive from the fact that Shakespeare's source for "As You Like It" used "The Tale of Gamelyn" for his plot.
There is an actual link between Munday and Shakespeare (as well as Chettle), but it is quite indirect: Munday seems to have been the primary scribe, as well as the primary author (perhaps with Chettle), of the play "Sir Thomas More," which Shakespeare (and three or four others) were called upon to rewrite because it was so lousy (RiversideShakespeare, p. 1683).
Although he had a modest success as a translator of French and Spanish romances, Munday seems to have been a hack; only one other of his unquestioned plays survives ("John a Kent and John a Cumber," written in 1594 according to Craig, p. 187), although Kunitz/Haycraft, p. 371, also credit him with "Fidele and Fortunio" (1585) and "Sir John Oldcastle" (1600).
Few of these products is regarded as memorable; Craig, p. 109, is the most charitable, and praises the Robin Hood plays and the poem "I serve a mistress whiter than the snow'" (which does absolutely nothing for me), yet even Craig admits that Munday was "not a great author." FordEtAl, p. 126, quotes an early source which calls him a "dismal draper of misplaced literary ambitions" (a wisecrack that is widely quoted but somehow never attributed). He would be almost completely forgotten were it not for his work on the Robin Hood plays and "Sir Thomas More."
It is an interesting comment on the power of Elizabethan theater that such a lousy work as Munday's plays could have so much influence on tradition. Admittedly Shakespeare's so-called "history" plays, which have about as much history in them as Hitler had friendship for Jews, have distorted people's understanding of the Plantagenets for centuries -- but that's Shakespeare. Knight/Ohlgren, p. 10, describe Munday's works as the best of the "gentrified" stories of Robin Hood, but grant that the Munday version "lacks an inner thematic and political tension," resulting in the enfeebling of the tradition.
Dobson/Taylor, p. 44, point out ironically that another alleged Munday play, "Metropolis Coronata, The Triumphes of Ancient Drapery," completely changes the scenario and makes Robin the son-in-law not of Lord Fitzwater but o Henry Fitz-Aylwin, the first Lord Mayor of London. However there seems to be significant doubt about whether Munday wrote the 1615 pageant. In any case, it had far less influence than his earlier work. For Ohlgren's suggestions about this piece, see the notes to Stanza 310.
Dobson/Taylor's conclusion about Munday is that "No English writer has ever handled the Robin Hood legend in a more high-handed and cavalier fashion" (p. 45) -- which does not alter the fact that he completely altered the shape of the story.
From around the same time as Munday is the biography of Robin found in British Library MS. Sloane 780. This seems to agree with Munday in making Robin a nobleman (Holt1, p. 42, although damage to the manuscript at the key point, and the fact that it is generally quite hard to read, make this unsure).
(Briggs, in her summaries of the Robin Hood tales, notes on p. 474 of volume A.2 that there is "no satisfactory treatment of the subject of the noble outlaw" in the various motif indices, which is truly unfortunate in examining tales such as this.)
In 1632, Martin Parker published "The True Tale of Robin Hood," which lists Robin's death date as December 4, 1198, very late in the reign of Richard I (Holt1, p. 41).
The first of the garlands was published in 1663 (and, according to Dobson/Taylor, p. 52, it cannot have been the first); it is the primary basis for many of Child's texts. Another garland followed in 1670. It has been suggested that the Forresters Manuscript was intended as the copy text for a garland. Eventually the garlands ran 80-100 pages and included 16-27 ballads (Dobson/Taylor, p. 51), although hardly what we would consider the best of them. We might note the comment of Dobson/Taylor (p. 50) that "generally, the Robin of the broadsides [and hence the garlands] is a much less tragic, less heroic and in his last resort less mature figure than his medieval predecessor." This was the Robin Hood of the middle seventeenth and eighteenth century.
The Percy Manuscript, the earliest source for, among others, "Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne," "Robin Hood's Death," "Robin Hood and the Butcher," "Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar," "The Jolly Pinder of Wakefield," "Robin Hood Rescuing Three Squires," and "Little John A Begging," is thought to date from the mid-seventeenth century; so is the Forresters manuscript, discovered in 1993, with texts, often edited or expanded, of 22 Robin Hood ballads (Knight/Ohlgren, p. 13). Knight, p. xviii, suggests that it might have been compiled as the basis for a new and improved garland.
In 1661, the town of Nottingham was publishing a play, "Robin Hood and His Crew of Souldiers" (Dobson/Taylor, p. 237). This obviously implies that Robin was well known by then -- and that Nottingham thought him worth claiming, even though the tale heavily rewrites the legend and is really quite poor.
The papers of Thomas Gale (d. 1702) say that the inscription on Robin's alleged tombstone dated his death to 24 Kalends of December 1247 (this is not a legitimate Roman date, but may mean December 24; in any case the language of the inscription is far too modern for 1247 and Keen, p. 180, notes clear evidence of fakery: "Neither [English] spelling nor its pronunciation were ever so hideously mauled as here." (This was, of course, written before the days of Nigerian scams and sex sites pretending to be by illiterate Asians.) Those wishing to see the absurd thing for themselves may see Percy-Wheatley I, pp.103-104, or -- with a different spelling which is doubtless revealing -- Holt2, p. 42. Cawthorne, p. 44, does point out that Gale had the education to know better than to use a date of 24 Kalends. Ritson accepted this death date (Cawthorne, p. 45), even though it forced him to make Robin 87 years old at the time!
Other sources report a grave at Kirklees, with the inscription "Here lie Roberd Hude, William Goldburgh, Thomas" (names not otherwise found in Robin Hood lore, unless William Goldburgh was the real name of the man known in tradition as William Scarlock/Scathelock/Scarlett. We do find the names in Grafton; see the notes on Stanzas 451, 454. It has been suggested that the stone's inscription was taken from Grafton rather than the reverse). This was copied by Johnston in 1665, but was no longer legible in the time of Gough (1786), apparently because people had been chipping off portions as souvenirs or maybe even relics with curative powers (Cawthorne, p. 45; Balswin, p. 75), although Gough reprinted Johnson's version.
Today the grave slab can no longer be found -- presumably because the artifact-hunters and seekers of toothache cures kept pounding on it -- and Keen, pp. 180-182, notes conflicts in our sources regarding it. Gough did report that the ground under the slab was undisturbed, meaning that the slab was either a trick or had been moved (Holot1, p. 44). Holt1, p. 41, is convinced that the slab was real, because so many witnesses reported it, but while the actual stone might have given us some useful information, the stories about it don't.
There are many other alleged relics. We know of a "Robin Hood's stone" in Barnesdale, which apparently was seen by Henry VII in 1486 (Pollard, p. 70; Baldwin, p. 79, observes that this is the first spot which can be documented to have been named for Robin), "Robin Hood's Well," mentioned in 1622 (in fact, there are at least two Robin Hood's Wells, according to Baldwin, p. 78, one near Nottingham and the other near Barnsdale; Betts, Legends, p. 17, says they are near Doncaster and Fountains Abbey); etc.
Bett, pp. 16-17 in the "Legends" volume, gives a catalog of (mostly unlikely) sites and objects associated with Robin, such as Robin Hood's Penistone, a great rock which he is said to have kicked from the next town; a Robin Hood's Tower at Richmond Castle in Yorkshire; Robin Hood's Picking Rods in Derbyshire; and even Robin Hood's Bog in Northumberland.
Some may have been named for him long ago, but they are simply too widely scattered to have been originally associated with his legend. Indeed, Dobson/Taylor, pp. 295-311, give a catalog of artifacts and places traditionally associated with Robin Hood, and while the great majority are in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, and Yorkshire -- but there are items in some two dozen counties, scattered from Kent to Essex to to Shropshire to Cumberland to Northumberland to Norfolk.
In addition to Robin's alleged gravestones, Keen, p. 182, notes *three* graves for Little John, one English (plates 7 and 36 in Baldwin offer a photo and an enhanced sketch of the English gravestone, which is in Derby), one Scottish, one Irish (where one legend says he was executed; Cawthorne, p. 80, who also notes a piece of wood at Barnsley alleged to have been John's bow). Will Scarlet's grave is said to be at Blidworth in Nottinghamshire (Carthorne, pp. 80-81). But all such relics are either lost or too-recent inventions. And, of course, some could refer to other people named Robert Hood.
Percy's Reliques was published in 1765, which published "Guy of Gisborne" -- the first publication of one of the older ballads since the White edition of the "Gest." Plus, of course, it sparked the "ballad mania" which eventually let to much more serious scholarship (Dobson/Taylor, p. 53).
In 1795, Joseph Ritson published his "Robin Hood." It is to him that Dobson/Taylor, p. 54, give credit for the "rehabilitation" of Robin -- and in one sense his is invaluable, as it contains a vast amount of Robin Hood material not accessible elsewhere (note how many of the Child references are to Ritson; Dobson/Taylor, p. 54, note that he published versions of all the major ballads except the "Monk"). On p. 55, they mention some evidence that Ritson's work actually influenced the later tradition.
Ritson also marked an important change -- for the first time, we see analysis of tradition. Kunitz/Haycraft, p. 437,. say of him "Ritson was the first 'scientific' editor of such material, and he was savagely critical of editors who (like Percy) 'improved' their originals or (like Pinkerton) wrote spurious folk poetry."
Unfortunately, his skills did not match his ambitions; his editions of Robin Hood material retail a lot of late rubbish, making little attempt to separate early from late. Ritson, e.g., says that Robin was born in 1160, in the reign of Henry II (Holt1, p. 45), providing what seemed like a basis for the Gilberts and Reads who "retold" the legend.
It was Ritson, too, who is largely responsible for the notion of "robbing the rich to give to the poor"; Major in 1521 had hints of it (Holt1, p. 154), but it is not mentioned in the ballads. (Although Holt2, p. 194, thinks it not unlikely: The poor weren't worth robbing, and by helping them even a little, Robin would build a support system). Dobson/Taylor, p. 55, suggest that this is a consequence of Ritson's radicalism -- he was one of the few British supported of the French Revolution, and was a follower of Tom Paine.
It is hard to imagine how such an idea could have arisen out of history. Almost all historical highway robbers were in it exclusively for the money. Sharpe, pp. 49-50, notes the case of James Hind, or "Captain" Hind, who lived in the time of the English Civil War and boasted that "most of the robberies he committed had parliamentarians as their victim" (making him a curious parallel to the oh-so-loyal-to-the-monarch Robin Hood) -- but the main reason that Hind was so noteworthy was that a robber with a political agenda was such a rare thing.
Interestingly, Hind was eventually to be credited to refusing to rob the poor (Sharpe, p. 54). It may well be that he was credited with this trait before Robin Hood was.
The lack of the theme of giving to the poor, so vital to the legend today, raises an interesting question: Why the Robin Hood legend became so widespread? If it wasn't due to transferring wealth from rich to poor, then why was he remembered? Perhaps for being free when few were? But this would not explain his survival after the reign of Edward III. It is yet another point on which we have no clear answer.)
Sir Walter Scott was apparently the first to suggest that Robin was a Saxon opposed to the Norman Conquest. In 1820, he made Robin an opponent of the "Norman" dynasty of Henry II, Richard I, and John (Holt1, p. 183). But as Holt observes, the Saxon/Norman dichotomy was false by 1189 -- and to place Robin in, or before, the actual Norman period (which ended in 1154) is absurd; prior to William the Conqueror, there were no forest laws (Keen, p. 26)
Knight/Ohlgren, p. 164, mention that forests were in the law codes of Ine, Alfred, and Cnut, but these rules were not onerous; Young, p. 7, says that the Norman creation of royal forest and forest law "provoked more negative comments from chroniclers than any of their other acts") and the longbow was not in use. It is true that Cawthorne, p. 134, sees an antagonism between "the Saxon peasantry and the Norman gentry" in the Robin Hood tales -- but there is absolutely no sign in the "Gest" of a distinction between Saxons and Normans, or even between those who speak England and those who speak French.
Robin's place as a Saxon rebel seems to be a confusion with the tale of Hereward the Wake (itself mostly legend) -- a suspicion strengthened by the parallels between "Robin Hood and the Potter" and a similar tale of Hereward's disguise, as well as by the fact that Hereward, like Robin, is said to have eventually reconciled with the King. Keen, p. 21, calls Hereward the "lineal ancestor of Robin Hood." But, although the link is obvious, Hereward was a political rebel, Robin an economic rebel. Robin has no quarrel with the King, only with the King's laws.
The forest laws offer additional evidence against an eleventh or early twelfth century date. There is no evidence that either Barnsdale or Sherwood was royal forest in Norman times. Young, p. 10, says "there is no mention of Sherwood forest [in Norman times], and its condition in the eleventh century can only be a matter of speculation." On p. 9, Young shows a map of known Norman forest sites. There are many along the Welsh border, and in the New Forest area in Hampshire and Suffolk. There are scattered sites in south-central and east-central England. There are none in Nottinghamshire or Yorkshire.
By the thirteenth century, we know that Sherwood was a royal forest (see map on pp. 62-63 of Young). So were Inglewood and Allerdale in Lancashire, plus Farndale, Pickering, and Galtres in Yorkshire and vicinity -- but not Barnsdale. In the early years of Edward III's reign, Sherwood, Inglewood, Galtres, and and Pickering were still forest, and Farndale had transformed into Spaunton. There is still no report of Barnsdale as a forest -- although Knaresborough in Yorkshire, which is very close to Barnsdale (according to Holt1, p. 86, it was the closest royal forest to Barnsdale), is now on the list.
A noteworthy point about the forests and forest law is how much the enforcement fell off during the Edwardian period. After all Edward I's attempts to take advantage of the forest, things slipped under Edward II and Edward III. Young, p. 154, notes an extreme decline in forest eyres in the fourteenth century, with typically only a few counties visited year by year. He notes that "Only Yorkshire had as many as four eyres in the fourteenth century (1334, 1336, 1337, and 1339)." It is fascinating to note that this would be the period when Robin Hood might have been lurking in Barnsdale after fleeing Edward II's court, if the "Gest" is treated as an historical source.
The one thing that comes out clearly in looking at the early chroniclers is how much they *disagree*. Clearly they have no more reliable data than we do. Holt1, p. 185, compares the accretions of Scott and Ritson to an ivy strangling the old oak of the Robin Hood legend. This is partly false -- in many ways the modern version is in better shape than when the seventeenth century broadsides made Robin a buffoon. But Scott and Ritson made permanent the false image of Robin the nobleman of the time of Richard ; we can dismiss it and pass on to more useful speculation as we seek the date. For example, Robin Hood is Catholic, so we can obviously eliminate the period of Henry VIII and all later kings; the official religion in the legend is clearly Catholicism.
Last updated in version 2.6
File: C117B

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List

Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography

The Ballad Index Copyright 2018 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.