Gest of Robyn Hode, A [Child 117] --- Part 04

DESCRIPTION: Continuation of the notes to "A Gest of Robyn Hode" [Child 117]. Entry continues in "A Gest of Robyn Hode" [Child 117] --- Part 05 (File Number C117D)
Last updated in version 2.6
If the chronicles are useless, we can only turn back to the early ballads, especially the "Gest". These give us a surprisingly limited picture. Robin is an outlawed yeoman (see notes on stanzas 1 and 2), attended by a band of unknown size (see the notes on stanzas 4, 17, 229). Little John is certainly one of this band, but the others (Much the Miller's Son and Will Scarlock/Scadlock/Scarlett/whatever) are not really characters, just names. They live in the north of England, in Yorkshire or Nottinghamshire or possible Lancaster or Cumbria.
Holt, p. 86, makes the interesting note that Robin's band may not even have lived in the greenwood; there is, for instance, little or no mention of the King's Deer in the early sources -- but see the notes on stanzas 32-33, 357-358, 377. In the end, the King meets Robin because he's angry about the lack of deer in Plumpton Park.
The forest laws, according to Young, p. 4, protected "the red deer, fallow deer, roe deer, and the wild boar until a judicial decision in 1339 [reign of Edward III] removed the roe from the list," and points out on p. 5 that the purpose of the law was not just to protect the animals but their habitat. This was the reason, e.g., why people were forbidden to cut down trees in royal forests. But Holt does make an important point: We don't see foresters in the "Gest." It is not clear why.
As far as his character goes, Robin is genuinely religious, clearly Catholic (and devoted to the Virgin Mary; see note on Stanza 10) -- but no friend of high church officials such as abbots and bishops (see note on Stanza 19), whom he happily robs. Note too that it was a prioress who murdered him! (Stanza 451, etc.) He is willing to rescue those in need, but he does not seem to go out of his way to do so. He very likely eventually meets the King, who is coming to investigate troubles in the North (Stanzas 357-358, etc.)
What is absent from these accounts is notable. Holt1, pp. 35-38, catalogs what is missing: Maid Marian, Richard the Lion-Hearted (recall that Gest's king is Edward; Stanza 353), Robin's birth as Robin of Lockesly and/or Earl of Huntingdon (in the early legend, Robin is clearly a yeoman; stanza 1), and the theme of robbing the rich to give to the poor. Pollard, p. 188, offers a similar list of famous elements of the modern telling which are absent from the early stories: robbing the rich to give to the poor, Robin the Anglo-Saxon earl fighting the Normans, the Sheriff as agent of "Prince" John who is attempting to overthrow King Richard, and the tale of Maid Marion. (Pollard attributes all these changes to the rise of class consciousness, which I must say I find a stretch.)
Can we possibly add more details from the later ballads?
If we look at the ballads with true traditional attestation, the list is longer than the list of early ballads, but still rather thin. It appears that we can list only about fifteen songs, or fewer than half the pieces printed by Child, and only about four of these have a strong hold in tradition:
* Willie and Earl Richard's Daughter [Child 102] (traditional in US, but possibly from print)
* Robin Hood's Death [Child 120] (traditional in US)
* The Jolly Pinder of Wakefield [Child 124] (traditional attestation somewhat dubious)
* Robin Hood and Little John [Child 125] (traditional in Scotland, Canada, US)
* Robin Hood and the Tanner [Child 126] (traditional in England, US)
* Robin Hood and the Prince of Aragon [Child 129] (traditional in US, although much damaged; the tune may have come from a non-traditional source)
* Robin Hood and the Ranger [Child 131] (traditional in England)
* The Bold Pedlar and Robin Hood [Child 132] (traditional in England, Scotland, US, Canada; probably the most popular Robin Hood ballad in tradition)
* Robin Hood and the Beggar (II) [Child 134] (traditional in Scotland)
* Robin Hood and Allen a Dale [Child 138] (traditional in Scotland)
* Robin Hood's Progress to Nottingham [Child 139] (traditional in Canada)
* Robin Hood Rescuing Three Squires [Child 140] (traditional in England, Scotland, US; probably second only to #132 in popularity)
* Robin Hood Rescuing Will Stutly [Child 141] (traditional in US)
* Robin Hood and the Bishop of Hereford [Child 144] (traditional in England)
* Robin Hood Was a Forester Bold (traditional in US)
These add little useful information to the sources we already identified. Most of them are clearly late poor imitations of the basic handful -- as Keen notes (pp. 99-100), "Most, at least in the form in which we have them, are compositions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when Robin Hood's traditional world already belonged to a half-forgotten past. The cruel forest laws have fallen into desuetude; archery was no longer a national exercise; the abbeys whose monks the outlaws had robbed had been dissolved. Robin Hood's legend belonged, in fact, to a world so far away in time that almost anything could be believed of it, and as a result his story was sometimes changed out of recognition." In seeking the source of the legend, therefore, we must work mostly with the small collection of early ballads. The only one late text to which we will pay much attention is the "Bishop of Hereford."
Having catalogued our sources (such as they are), we can attempt to wring some meaning from them.
Both Munday and the late ballad "Robin Hood's Progress to Nottingham" [Child 139] offer explanations for how Robin was driven to the greenwood. Holt1, p. 44, also notes a tale transmitted by Roger Dodsworth, in which Roger Locksley killed his stepfather and was forced into the wood; in this version, it is apparenly Little John who was the disgraced nobleman.
These stories are all different -- and all late. There is no clue in the early materials how Robin came to be outlawed (Holt1, p. 9). Pollard, p. 13, points out the parallel in the tale of Gamelyn, in which Gamelyn is dispossessed by his brothers, but there is no sign of this in the "Gest" or other early ballads. In fact, we don't even know that Robin *was* outlawed, at least initially; he may simply have been forced off his land, or perhaps away from his employment. Kings and lords of this period were good at that.
Since we will have to deal in time with the claim that Richard I was Robin's king, we should note Richard was particularly rapacious, because of the financial demands of his crusade -- and later of his ransom, which resulted in an almost unendurable 25% tax, according to Gillingham, p. 230. Many people must have been forced off their lands to pay for their lion-hearted, pea-brained king.
But would Robin then side with Richard? I think not. If Robin were simply dispossessed, as opposed to outlawed, a date in the reign of one of the Edwards would seem more likely even if the "Gest" didn't refer to King Edward. And if Robin's ancestors were in fact squatters (which is perfectly possible), then there is a high likelihood that they took over the land in the lawless period after the Norman Conquest, and the sooner after the Conquest they did so, the more time for them to think the land was theirs.
Even Edward I, often held up as a lawgiver, was a land-grabber in his personal capacity as king, and Prestwich1, p. 105, comments that "The methods he used did him little credit: he was devious and grasping." For more on his methods, see the discussion on stanza 47.
Edward I's queen was even worse about grabbing land (Prestwich1, pp. 124-125; on p. 124 and again on p. 262, he quotes a fragment of what sounds like a folk rhyme, although apparently it was taken down in Latin: "The king he wants to get our gold, The queen would like our lands to hold"). And if other kings weren't as concerned with updating the statute books, they certainly were just as eager to latch onto any cash they could.
Around 1298, Edward I had had a major dispute with local residents about the boundaries of the royal forests (Prestwich1, p. 518), which had been at their greatest in the reign of Henry II and since steadily been reduced (Young, p. 19). Many locals tried to encroach upon the forests, leading to the conflict with the King (Prestwich1, p. 527; Young, p. 139).
Edward I being Edward I, this might well have caused him to punish harshly anyone whom he could lay his hands on. Edward, under pressure, reduced the total area of the royal forest -- but in 1305 "laid down that those people who had been placed outside the Forest boundaries would no longer be allowed to exercise any rights of common within them." In 1306, he reneged and took back some of that forest land (Prestwich1, p. 548).
This raises an interesting possibility, that the reason we never see Robin go to the greenwood is that he never did -- he was there all along. He lived in the wood on what he thought was his personal land, until the king reclaimed it. There is a tradition (found e.g. in "Robin Hood's Birth, Breeding, Valor, and Marriage" [Child 149] , although this is a very poor source) that Robin's father was a forester. This raises the possibility that Robin was a yeoman forester, and was displaced as a result of someone eventually enforcing the 1306 law.
Prestwich1, p. 286, adds that, in Edward I's time, due to some legal changes which made legal penalties stiffer but convictions harder to obtain, "Fairs and markets were the scene of a good many crimes, as when a royal bailiff was assaulted by Thomas de Aston and his two brothers, pursued, and beaten up publicly in the market at Stafford." Several similarities to "Robin Hood and the Potter" [Child 121] will surely be evident.
Another possibility relating to the forest laws has to do with the way they treated guilt. Young, p. 107, descibes the "climate of fear" they generated: If someone was found near the dead body of a deer, that person was often punished -- severely -- for its death. It was difficult to establish innocence. So Robin might simply have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Although it is usually assumed that Robin was an ordinary yeoman, it may be that Robin might have been a *royal* yeoman, in service to the king (Holt1, p. 120, argues strongly for this). In that case, it is not unlikely that he was cast out of the royal service during a purge of the household Edward I conducted in 1300 (Prestwich1, p. 159). On the other hand, there is little sign that Robin knows about courtly manners. 1300 also seems a little early for him to be active based on him still being the active head of his band in 1322 (if we can trust the one genuine chronological peg we have in the "Gest").
"Robin Hood's Birth" also has the tradition that "his mother was neece to the Coventry knight Which Warwickshire men call sir Guy." This presumably is a reference to Guy of Warwick, a famous saga hero who indeed was credited with killed a great boar although one who is claimed to have lived in the reign of Athelstan (Simpson/Roud, p. 158, Pickering, p. 128. Don't ask me what someone named "Guy" was doing in tenth century England...).
The period of the Wars of the Roses (roughly 1455-1485) were also tough on landowners. Since the crown changed hands so many times, there was a real danger that one might be attainted if one supported the wrong side. We don't know of any great lords turning outlaw, but a yeoman might. There are, however, two problems with a date this late: First, the "Gest" was probably already in existence, and second, of the two kings who reigned for most of this period, Henry VI was not active enough for the role given him in the "Gest" and wasn't named Edward anyway, and Edward IV, while obviously named "Edward," hardly had enough time as King.
If we had to make a wild guess about how Robin came to be outlawed, Pollard's suggestion that he had been a yeoman of the forest (pp. 41-43; see also the note on Stanza 222) does make a certain amount of sense. Perhaps he -- or, more likely, his father -- had been yeoman of the forest displaced during Edward I's reign, and he stayed in the forest to maintain his claim to what he considered his home and occupation. But while reasonable, this is clearly beyond proof.
The bottom line is, we simply don't know why Robin was outlawed (or, rather, why the earliest hearers of the tradition though he was outlawed). But the circumstances of the Edwardian period certainly offer many opportunities.
Dobson/Taylor, p. 29, make the interesting comment that "the royal courts of medieval England degraded the severity of sentences of outlawry by its over-use. During the course of the fourteenth century the application of the process of outlawry to cases of misdemeanor and even civil offenses lessened its deterrent effect still further." Outlawry, intended to be a hideous sentence which drove the victim away from home or forced him to appear in court, became more like having a pile of outstanding traffic tickets -- something which might even be considered a virtue to some.
Perhaps we should just conclude, with Shippey, p. 233, "in romance it is a good rule that not everything should be explained." If we truly *knew* why Robin went to the greenwood, it would probably detract from the legend: If he committed a true crime and was outlawed, it makes him less of a good man, but if he was simply went broke, that is far too mundane. The best answer, from a dramatic standpoint, is doubtless the one adopted by modern retellers: That he was driven from his land by unjust superiors. But even this runs the risk of reducing his motives to petty jealousy....
In trying to date the Robin Hood legend, we must recall that we are dealing with multiple sources -- half a dozen different ballads, the most important of which, the "Gest," is itself compiled from multiple sources. Dobson/Taylor, p. 14. point out that the legend changed in the sixteenth century, and on p. 37 point out that there were at least two major periods of alteration of the story, the sixteenth century change coming at the hands of Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights and a later alteration by early nineteenth century romantics.
Pollard, p. x, points out that, since Robin's story changed completely in the sixteenth century, we cannot discount the possibility that it also changed completely between 1377 and 1450 -- and he notes on page 2 that all our extant early sources date from the fifteenth century. Thus any pattern we perceive in the various sources might be just the coincidental agreement of independent sources, or a side effect of the evolution of the legend.
I do not deny this point, but the more I looked at the scattered hints, the more I have become convinced that the intended setting of the "Gest" is a particular period: The reign of Edward II. This section tries both to present that case and to offer the evidence for other periods.
To show how confusing it all is, the "Gest" says the King is "Edward." Knight, p. xx, says that in the Forresters manuscript, three pieces name the king "Richard" (presumably Richard I). Two call him "Henry" (presumably Henry II, although Henry III is not an unreasonable possibility), and Knight thinks that one other Forresters piece also points to a King Henry -- although in this case either Henry V or Henry VIII, since his queen is Catherine.
As Baldwin points out on p. 48, we have conflicting evidence, some "suggesting an earlier date of composition [probably in the reign of Henry III or Edward I], the other later [probably the reign of Edward III]." On p. 84, Baldwin stoutly maintains that there were five kings in "what may loosely be called the Robin Hood era," referring to Richard I through Edward II. In fact, the evidence of names found by Holt shows there is every reason to think that the legend originated before Edward II. The content of the later ballads seems to indicate a date in the reign of Edward III or later. This by itself is modest support for the reign of Edward II as the meeting point, so to speak, of the two groups of evidence.
The references to Robin's skills with the bow really do seem to imply that he was a bowman from the start -- which by itself is a dating hint. The mention of the longbow requires, at the earliest, a post-conquest date for Robin; it also gives a latest possible date before the time of Henry VIII -- probably well before. Keen, p. 138, dates the decline of the longbow to the Battle of Castillon in 1453. This is accurate, in a way, although the English continued to use bows for many decades (e.g. they were a key weapon in the Wars of the Roses).
But Robin the Legendary Archer must have lived long before Castillon. Edward III, more than a century before that, commanded regular competitions with the bow (see the note on Stanzas 145-146) -- something often seen in the Robin Hood tales. And yet, once these competitions were well-established, it would be almost impossible for a band of outlaws, gathered at random, to all become master bowmen. For the longbow requires great skill (contrary to what is implied by Keen, p. 138). Longbows required more pull than short bows, but even the strongest muscles could not compete with a crossbow in power and range. To compete with crossbows, longbowmen had to aim in an arc far above their targets. This took long practice; archers, for the most part, had to be brought up to the bow, and stay with it throughout their lives -- even in the reign of Edward III, we find the king complaining that the common people weren't spending enough time with the bow (Chandler/Beckett, p. 10).
That was the main reason no one other than the English and Welsh took to the longbow.; it was too tricky. But the longbow won battles for the English at Halidon Hill (1333) and Crecy (1347) during the reign of Edward III. Featherstone in fact (p. 31) claims that archers from Sherwood Forest were given conditional pardon to serve the King at this time. It is true that Edward III gave pardons to outlaws wiling to fight in France (Ormrod, p. 57), but Ormrod says nothing of archers from Sherwood. Ormrod does tell us that this was new; no earlier King had offered such pardons (although Prestwich1, p. 561, says that Edward I pardoned soldiers who served in his campaigns. For the conditions attached to such pardons, see the notes on Stanza 439).
Hewitt, p. 30, observes that Edward III offered at least 850 pardons to those willing to serve in his wars in 1339-1340, several hundred more in 1346-1347, 140 in 1356, and 250+ in 1360-1361 -- and that very many of these were for murders. He believes that as many as an eighth of the soldiers in some English armies may have been pardoned criminals, and observes that some -- Sir Robert Knowles and Sir Hugh Calvely being obvious examples -- held quite senior commands.
We known that, as early as the reign of Edward I, longbow training was required of ordinary folk (Seward, p. 53), just as it would be in the time of Edward III.
In other words, by 1333, the longbow was a universal weapon, and the odds of Robin's men being exceptional is slight. This is evidence for a date before 1333.
It has been argued that, since the longbow was already common as early as the time of Edward I (reigned 1272-1307), we are forced to a date in the reigns of Henry II (1154-1189), Richard I (1189-1199), John (1199-1216), or Henry III (1216-1272).
This is not compelling; although Edward I had encouraged the use of the bow at times in his reign, he was not consistent. For his preparations for the invasion of Wales in 1277, Edward I ordered cartloads of crossbow bolts (Prestwich1, p. 179), leaving little if any room for arrows. Edward II (1307-1327) largely turned his back on the use of the bow. This was a major reason he lost at Bannockburn in 1314 (Phillips, pp. 236-237, who notes that a military revolution was going on at the time; both at Bannockburn and at Courtrai in 1302, mounted knights had lost to infantry, forcing a reassessment of tactics. The English learned the lesson after 1314, and Edward III began to depend on longbows; the French would need another century to learn).
Still, the use of the bow means that the only serious candidates for the Kings in the Robin Hood legend are Henry II (reigned 1154-1189), his son Richard I (1189-1199), his brother John (1199-1216), his son Henry III (1216-1272), his son Edward I (1272-1307), his son Edward II (1307-1327), and his son Edward III (1327-1377). Many would restrict the period even more -- e.g. McLynn, p. 244, would examine only the period 1215-1381.
Our single strongest clue, as repeatedly mentioned, is the fact that stanzas 353, 384, 450 of the "Gest" give the name of the king of England as Edward. At first glance. since we are not told which Edward, we might think this was Edward I. In many ways Edward I fits the content of the legend better than Henry II (his great-grandfather), Richard (his grand-uncle), or John (his grandfather), notably since the longbow was not used in the time of the early kings, at least outside Wales. The flip side is, there is nothing in the "Gest" which sounds specific to this reign.
Hunter, as mentioned in the notes to Stanzas 357-358, pointed out that Edward II had made a trip to the north in 1322-1323 which fits the ballad. The real problem with his reconstruction is that he then goes on to try to ring in a Robin Hood who was active around Wakefield at the time, and who was a follower of the Lancastrian rebels (Cawthorne, p. 49). This badly weakens his case, because the "Gest" implies that Robin was always loyal to the King. Hunter's full reconstruction cannot stand up, and many have rejected all of it on that basis -- but the evidence he found for the 1322-1323 visit to the north stands up. If (and this is a substantial if!) the "Gest" is supposed to be based on actual events, 1323 is an extremely strong candidate for the King's visit to Robin.
Nonetheless, Holt2, p. 192, affirms that fits 7-8 of the "Gest" *must* be based on Edward II's northern trip, and I agree.
The 1322-1323 dating is suitable on other grounds. We know that Edward II was very concerned with forests and forest management at this time (Young, p. 145).
And the context fits. There was a major famine and economic downturn in 1315-1317 (Prestwich3, p. 92; Phillips, p. 238, blames it on excessive rain beginning in 1314, adding on pp. 252-253, that the years 1315 and 1316 were unusually cold, that 1317 brought only a brief respite, and that 1318-1321 also saw bad weather and poor harvests). The problems were especially bad in the north; according to Wilkinson, p. 124, the bad harvest of 1315 was "followed by famine 'such as our age has never seen.'"
Kelly.J, p. 14, notes that worldwide conditions were so bad that some think they may have started the chain of events which led to the Black Death thirty years later. Kelly.J, p. 56, observes that large tracts of land were left unpopulated -- sometimes because they were simply no longer productive in the poor climate. On pp. 58-59, he notes that some parts of Yorkshire had all their topsoil eroded away. The rain was so heavy that in Yorkshire and Nottingham some farm fields became lakes -- he calls them "inland seas." The problem was so bad that there were widespread reports of cannibalism (p. 60).
Satin, pp. 106-107, mentions estimates that one tenth of the population of Europe died of famine in this period. J.Kelly, p. 62, thinks it may have exceeded 15% in some areas. Tenants everywhere were driven from their lands. If the knight was truly trying to repay a loan at this time, it is understandable that he failed -- it was the worst time in memory for raising money. This would surely raise the irony of the abbott serving rich food at this time, too.
To add to the misery of northerners, in the aftermath of Bannockburn, the Scots raided freely throughout the north of England. They had raided the north before, it is true, but these were larger raids, better organized, which penetrated much farther south (Phillips, p. 248). They could not capture fortified cities or castles, but they destroyed the holdings of peasants and forced them to flee (McNamee, pp. 72-74). And, of course, the lords rarely gave their tenants any sort of help if they had been raided -- if anything, their exactions increased as they gathered up food to feed their garrisons (McNamee, pp. 144-145).
As McNamee says on p. 147, "Altogether the North of England's castles ought to have been its salvation from the Scottish raids. The failure of the crown to pay and provision garrisons adequately, and to exercise control over castellans, left them to prey on those they were supposed to defend."
The Scots were relatively quiet in 1316 and 1317, but were back in 1318, when their raids reached as far south as Yorkshire (McNamee, pp. 84-86). There must have been very many refugees in the latter year -- and indeed as early as 1314, when McNamee, p. 134, says Northumberland was "descending into chaos." Plus we have reports of outbreaks of sheep murrain in 1315-1319 (McNamee, p. 107), which of course damaged the wool clip, meaning that the chief source of non-farm income for the northern provinces was much reduced. Other northern leaders were paying the Scots not to raid them, placing another demand ultimately on the peasants (McNamee, pp. 129-140).
These were the circumstances in which villeins slipped away from their lands and formed gangs. We know that the unsettled conditions of Edward II's reign weakened feudal bonds and created uncertainties for freeholders (Prestwich3, p. 109). It was the ideal situation for bands like Robin's -- which probably combined a few yeomen, such as Robin himself, with villeins -- to form.
There was actually a special word for the bands of robbers who arose in the wake of the Scottish incursions around the time of Bannockburn -- they were called schavaldores. They may well have robbed clergy; at least, a bishop told Edward II that he couldn't send tax money because of them (McNamee, p. 55). Nor was it easy to fight them, because the conditions made it hard to feed and supply a large force (McNamee, p. 81). And if a gang formed in 1316-1317, and grew larger in 1318-1319, it would allow enough time for the band to become well-known by the time Edward came north in 1322, and to make a significant dent in the deer population.
Edward II wasn't the only monarch whose reign saw near-anarchy in some parts of England. Three other kings -- Stephen (reigned 1135-1154), Henry III (1216-1272), and Henry VI (1422-1461, plus a brief restoration in 1470-1471) -- lived in times when government largely broke down. But Stephen was too early for legendary bowmen, and never had enough control to visit the forests of the north. Henry VI is far too late, and was a "useful political vegetable" in his later years (so Ross-War, p. 52; Ross-War, p. 118, notes that Henry VI was take prisoner *three times* during the Wars of the Roses). If anarchy is a criterion for dating Robin, then by far the most likely reigns are those of Henry III and Edward II. The intervening reign, of Edward I, is also possible simply because his taxes caused so much unrest.
We see in the notes to stanza 93 that we cannot identify the official or office the "Gest" means when it refers to a "justice." But the Edwardian period was one of extreme rapaciousness. Note during Edward II's reign the Earl of Lancaster, who held four earldoms after 1311 (McNamee, p. 51) and was chief counselor after 1316; and the Despensers, who largely ran the government when not in exile. The younger Despenser -- the ally of Robert Baldock the extortionist chancellor (for whom, again, see notes on Stanza 93) -- used just the sorts of methods described in the "Gest" to obtain lands formerly held by the Earl of Gloucester, killed at Bannockburn (Hutchison, p. 104).
Recall also the case of the Bishop of Durham being robbed by outlaws led by Gilbert de Middleton in the reign of Edward II (see notes on stanza 292 of the "Gest").
Edward II, as mentioned in the notes on Stanza 357, was the one king who seems to have made a hunting trip similar to that in Fit 7 of the Gest.
It is interesting to note that Edward II was the first king to request that his retainers recruit infantry as well as cavalry (Chandler/Beckett, p. 19). Every previous army of course included infantry, but they were incidental. It makes sense to imagine Edward II trying to hire a group of top bowmen. It makes far less sense to try to imagine the haughty Richard I or the foolish Henry III trying it.
Note also that the King talks to the outlaws with no hint of a translator (see note on Stanza 379). This is an argument for one of the Edwards, although it is little clue to which.
It is interesting to note that Robin and his men spend most of their time on foot, but that in Stanza 152 the Sheriff offers Little John a horse. This hints at a date after 1330, when Edward III mounted his archers. This was a major change -- it made archers (and hence armies) more mobile, but the greater need for horses also meant that armies were smaller. The fact that mounted archers aren't common probably argues for a date before the middle of the reign of Edward III, but probably not too much earlier, since the idea of mounting archers was obviously in the air.
There is nothing unusual about common folk who respect the King but reject lesser authorities. Campaigns to rid a King of his "evil councilors" were almost routine, and were the main excuse for the revolts against Edward II (e.g. Prestwich3, pp. 82-84). Somewhat later, in Wat Tyler's rebellion, the rebels respected Richard II but wanted the heads of many others (Saul, p. 68). They actually killed Archbishop Sudbury of Canterbury (Saul, p. 69). Pollard, p. 216, notes that campaigns against "evil councilors" waere common for centuries -- Jack Cade's 1450 rebellion was loyal to Henry VI, as were barons who began the Wars of the Roses, and even the sixteenth century Pilgrimage of Grace were theoretically loyal to Henry VIII -- just not to his religion.
By the end of his reign, Edwawrd II seems to have been very unpopular in the south of England, but was perhaps not so unpopular in the north. Phillips, pp. 532-533, gives a partial list of those who supported his deposition. They include many southern bishops and barons, but relatively few northerners. Henry of Lancaster supported the move, but he was a special case -- and apparently the only earl with major lands north of the Humber to support the deposition. The bishops of Coventry and of Lincoln supported the move, but the Archbishop of York signally did not, nor did the Bishop of Carlisle (Phillips, p. 536), and the Bishop of Durham is also missing from the list. The opinions of northern lords may not reflect those of commoners, of course, but it is reasonable to assume that northerners were more sympathetic to this otherwise-disliked King.
"Robin Hood and the Monk" [Child 119] offers us little in the way of datable evidence, but we note that the king in the song is extremely foolish. Since the manuscript is from c. 1450, this might be a veiled allusion to the King at that time (Henry VI, who was never very clever and eventually went mad), but if we assume the song is older, then we must look for an easily-fooled King. The best candidates for this arer Henry III or Edward II, with Edward being the better bet.
To be sure, John also had a very bad reputation, and in his earlier days was prone to bad mistakes. Warren-John, pp. 46-47, admits that John "stood in 1194 as a traitor and a fool. Such a reputation long clung to him, and in some quarters was perhaps never entirely displaced; but, in fact, the real John had not yet emerged.... As a king he was to show a grasp of political realities that had eluded the young Henry [John's oldest brother], a more fierce determination than even Geoffrey could boast of, as sure a strategic sense as Richard displayed and a knowledge of government to which the heroic crusader never even aspired. Only the Old King himself [Henry II] is comparable to the later John in his powers of organization...."
This is probably too kind to John. Tyerman, p. 296, is probably more balanced when he says John was "the most notorious English king, one of the most unfairly maligned but also one of the least successful. THe legend of his awfulness as a person as well as a ruler dates from his own lifetime. Even now, when his positive qualities as a conscientious judge, a careful administrator, a man of culture and a ruler of energy are widely recognized, his personality and style leave a nasty taste in the mouth." John was simply too sneaky to be on the list of possible Kings for the "Monk."
If we try to bring in Richard I, we have a timing problem.. Gillingham, p. 242, observes that Richard I did visit Sherwood Forest -- for one day, in 1194. He spent it hunting; clearly, in Richard's time, the forest had not been hunted out. Gillingham notes, however, that this was "the nearest [Richard] ever came to... Robin Hood," and that he promptly headed back to Nottingham to get some work done.
That visit to England lasted two months. Richard would never again return (Baldwin, p. 86).
Richard I might qualify as a fool -- he was a *terrible* king, despite his legend (as Warren-John says on p. 38, "Everything was sacrificed to raising money for [the Third Crusade], even good government." On p. 41, he adds that "Richard was no judge of men," so friendship with Robin Hood would have been no compliment to Robin anyway. Jolliffe, p. 227, notes that "With the accession of Richard we come to an new phase... in which the community begins to realize the potentialities of bureaucracy for oppression."
Runciman3, p. 75, compares his performance at home and on crusade and says "He was a bad son, a bad husband and a bad king, but a gallant and splendid soldier"). But Richard spent only about six months of his reign in England (Gillingham, p. 5). As Baldwin says on p. 84, "Richard I is unique among English monarchs in that he was a figure of European standing yet played only a small part in the affairs of his own kingdom." Thus it might be possible to fit him into the "Gest" (though even that is a squeeze), but not into the "Monk."
One very minor support for the reign of Henry II or Richard I is that the "Gest" never mentions a coroner -- an office created by RIchard I (Lyon, pp. 43-44). But this is at best quite indirect testimony; although coroners were royal officials responsible for looking into deaths and retaining suspects, there is no incident in the "Gest" which directly requires a coroner to be present.
The versions of the story which place Robin in the reigns of Richard and John have other problems. These tales often involve an incredible anachronism, as they refer to "Prince John." But John never held the feudal title "prince" -- indeed, England did not *have* princes until Edward I created the title of Prince of Wales a century after the reign of Richard I. John's feudal title was Count of Mortain. He was Count John, not Prince John.
What's more, the common picture of Richard as a fine king and John as a grasping tyrant are simply untrue. John fought with his barons, and one of the points of conflict was the forest law (Young, p. 60), but "how far [John] was a tyrant to common men is doubtful. At least he knew where Angevin government pressed them, and in 1212... he bid high for the support of the counties and boroughs, restoring the forest custom of his father" (Jolliffe, p. 247). On p. 248, Jolliffe adds that John investigated some of the worse abuses of sheriffs, and for the first time made them serve at pleasure rather than at farm (Jolliffe, pp. 269-270), which eliminated the main incentive to extort the locals.
Jolliffe adds that when the barons rose against John, the towns and the people generally stood with the king. What's more, John consulted with the locals about forest laws (Jolliffe, p. 307), which none of his predecessors had done.
Richard would never have done any of those things -- he *needed* to farm out sheriff's duties so as to raise the cash for his wars. Richard might, perhaps, have pardoned Robin in return for money, but only John would have pardoned him for right.
Also, if the reign were that of Richard I and John, would we not hear of the much-reviled chief forester Hugh de Neville (Young, p. 49), or of John's forester of Nottingham and Derby, Brian de Lisle (Young, p. 51). It has been claimed that, in this period, the four chief officials of England were the justiciar, chancellor, treasurer, and chief forester (Young, p. 49). The first and last would decline in importance in the reigns of Henry III and after; it is hard to imagine the a forest outlaw being able to ignore the chief forester in the early Angevin period.
On the other hand, a date in the reign of Henry II, Richard I, John, Henry III, or even Edward I has the advantage that it give time for tales to grow around Robin. This is more problematic if we accept a date in the reign of Edward II or Edwawrd III. Could a Robin Hood who was active in 1323 or later have become a legendary figure as early as the time Langland wrote in 1377?
This may not be quite as unlikely as it sounds. A similar situation occurs in the great Spanish epic The Poem of the Cid. This in fact has many similarities to the Robin Hood legend. Northup, p. 47, tells us that "The poet interpreted history imaginatively, but his imagination is restrained. Magic does not appear.... We lack completely the exaggeration so common in the French epic, where, as in the Chanson de Roland, whole armies fall in a faint. The Cid's personal exploits are no greater than those recorded of many knights...." This is the same mode of "high mimesis" as in the "Gest": Robin is an exceptional but not superhuman character.
The general feel of the "Cid" resembles the "Gest" in other ways: "There is no element of romantic love.... The poet is interested neither in in his hero's youth nor in his death. The Cid is presented in his prime, engaged in his greatest achievements" (Northup, p. 47). "The Cid figures as a loyal vassal ever seeking a reconciliation with his lord" (Northup, p. 44), and eventually he gains this reconciliation. The Cid is an outlaw, and his first act in the extant portion of the poem is to commit a robbery (Cid/Simpson, p. v). The Cid is "pious... loyal to his companions and even to his King... and... endowed with a saving peasant humor" (Cid/Simpson, p. vi). There is even a similarity in meter: The "Gest" is metrically irregular, and the "Cid" has so many different line formations that scholars, according to Northup, p. 48, cannot agree whether it is intended to be in ballad meter (eight syllables in four feet, then a caesura, then six syllables in three feet) or in Alexandrines (sixteen syllables with a caesura in the middle).
And when was the "Cid" written? Many authorities believe it was c. 1140 (Cid/Simpson, p. vii; Northup. p. 42). That date has been questioned in more recent times, but the sole extant manuscript seems to have been taken from an exemplar, not the original, which was written in 1207 (Cid/Michael, p. 16). Therefore the story must date from the twelfth century. The Cid died in 1099. it is likely that the time gap between the life and the tale of the Cid is no greater than that between Edward II and Langland. And the "Cid," although grounded in reality, contains a fair amount of non-historical material; it is proof that legends can quickly gather about a sufficiently extraordinary figure.
And Robin Hood wasn't even real -- anything could be added to his legend! The question is not what could be said about him, but what could be said about his context. There is nothing in the "Gest" that cannot be made to fit reasonably well in the context of the Edwardian period.
Another objection to a date in the reign of Edward II is that that king was deposed and murdered in 1327; is it possible that the legend would take no notice of this? (To be sure, the "Gest" says that Robin left the King's service after only a year; see the note on stanza 435. This would have allowed him to avoid Edward's debacle. But would it not be mentioned?) And why no mention of the war between Edward and Robert Bruce of Scotland, which was the main business of Edward's northern visit? (And in which Edward's forces suffered defeats at the hands of Bruce's raiders; Hutchison, p. 119.)
Keen, p. 186, suggests that Edward's unpopularity would argue against him being the good King of the "Gest." This would certainly be true if the audience of the poem was aristocratic; it is less of an objection in the case of the common people. Wilkinson, p. 132, observes that "after Edward's death it was the manner of his dying rather than his ruling which tended to be remembered. It was his cruel death and not his foolish life which made his tomb at Gloucester the centre of a cult." Being an ally of Edward II might be considered a failing in 1325; twenty years later, it might be a reason to make Robin a hero, for supporting Edward II when few others would.
Keen, p. 140, thinks that the frequent mentions of Robin as a yeoman implies a late date (p. 140), presumably after Edward III, since this was the period when villeins were becoming free yeomen. Keen, pp. 141-142, adds that the lack of offences against "vert" (the plants of the forest) dates Robin to the time of Edward III or later -- but poaching was a worse offence than three-cutting Young, p. 108. The typical forest eyre adjudicated far more offenses against "vert" than venison, although the penalties for the latter were higher -- despite which, Pollard, p. 85, says that even poaching was little punished in the fifteenth century).
It was not until very late, when the English navy needed every tall tree it could find for ship's masts, that tree-cutting became a serious crime. In any case, it was often difficult to prosecute offences against "vert" -- Henry VI, for example, granted so many exceptions that the laws became simply unenforceable (Wolffe, p. 111). It was only under Henry VII, whose goal was to bring the entire nation under his thumb, that the forest laws really revived (Pollard, p. 86).
To be sure, Ohlgren, p. 220, argues that Robin "imitates knightly behavior by giving liveries and fees to his retained men" (e.g. he notes on p. 317 that Robin's men wore a uniform of scarlet, not green, although later, they give the King green cloth; Ohlgren, p. 319 n.35) -- behavior typical of what is now called "bastard feudalism," which was largely a product of the Hundred Years' War (OxfordComp, p. 84). But Robin was not a king that he would be able to give out lands and titles; his behavior was quite typical of what a local Lord of the Manor would have done even in the height of the feudal era.
It was in 1296 that Edward I made a decision which completely changed the nature of military service in England. In that year, he conducted a census seeking men wealthy enough to perform knight service. In the past, such a demand had been made only of knights. After 1296, the qualification was simply wealth (Prestwich, p. 406). The barriers had fallen; a rich yeoman or an esquire could now do the work of a knight. This would obviously make it easier for a former yeoman such as Robin to enter royal service.
Looking at the case for other monarchs, we see that the main evidence for the reigns of Richard I and John comes from a strong mass of later legend, supported by late songs such as "The King's Disguise, and Friendship with Robin Hood" [Child 151], which explicitly gives the king the name "Richard." However, this ballad is probably an eighteenth century rewrite of the last two fits of the "Gest," and is certainly a hack job; it has no independent value. There are no hints in the early ballads which directly support a date in the period 1189-1216, except for the suggestion that Sir Richard at Lee might be going on crusade (see note on Stanzas 56-57), and this is neither a clear reference nor a decisive link to Richard I. Nor is there any sign, in the "Gest," of the difficult relations between Richard and John which so affected England in the mid-1190s (Warren-John, pp. 40-45) -- there isn't even a hint that the King had a brother. If Robin and Richard I actually met, it is almost inevitable that the Gest would have mentioned his troublesome brother.
We might add that, although Richard became a hero of folklore, he does not seem to have been popular in his own time. According to Warren-John, p. 31, the only son of Henry II to be popular with his contenporaries was Henry the Young King, who died before his father and never exercised power.
The "Gest," and several other song of Robin, show the outlaw, although a devoted Catholic, as opposed to the clerical establishment -- he happily robs bishops and abbots. Such a man would be unlikely to approve of Richard I, who financed his crusade largely by selling lands and rents to the bishops (Kelly.A, p. 252). Many of the abuses which Robin fought against were actually the result of Richard's actions. He might well have gotten along with Edward I, however, who went so far as to appeal to the Pope for the ouster of Archbishop Winchelsea of Canterbury (which he obtained; Prestwich, p. 541. It was yet another phase in Edward's attacks on the church). Edward II also had trouble with his bishops, notably Orleton of Hereford (more on this below), but Orleton wasn't the only one.
I can't help but note an irony: One folkloric account of the death of Richard I has the Greek Fates cut off his life. Why? Because he introduced the crossbow into France (Gillingham, p. 12). Not the longbow, note, the *crossbow*. For the evidence that Robin's weapon was the true longbow, which came later, see the note on Stanza 132.
The best argument for the reign of Henry III is that this is the period when the longbow was first becoming a respected weapon in the royal muster. The rebellion of Simon de Montfort could tie in with the traditions of conflict in the legends. Plus it was a long reign, giving lots of opportunities for potential Robins. And, for the very little it's worth, it ties in with Langland's reference to Ranulf of Chester, since one of the Ranulf of Chester was active early in the reign. And the reign of Henry III of course saw the activities of Roger Godberd, Baldwin's original Robin Hood.
I should probably mention that Keen sees links between the legend of Robin Hood and the stories told of William Wallace in the centuries after Wallace's death (Keen, pp. 75-76). Wallace was executed by Edward I in 1305, shortly before Edward II took the throne. So there is a theoretical possibility that the links to Edward II arise because the Wallace legend arose in Edward II's time, and that the Wallace legend was then converted to the Robin Hood legend. I really don't think this likely, however; first, the legend of Wallace (as opposed to Wallace the man) seems more recent than the Robin legend, and second, the Wallace legend and the Robin legend are dependent on very different monarchical situations, and I see no hint of Wallace's situation in Robin's legend or vice versa.
Holt seems to argue (Holt1, p. 115) that the fourteenth century feel in the legends is because Robin Hood is an English vernacular hero, and that it was only in the fourteenth century that the English vernacular again became common. In effect, he's arguing that Robin Hood must be from the fourteenth century because the fourteenth century allowed great men like Chaucer. This oversimplifies. First, French was still the language of the upper class in the early fourteenth century. Second, there was plenty of English vernacular writing prior to 1300 (e.g. Layamon's "Brut," "King Horn," "Havelock the Dane," "The Owl and the Nightingale"). None of this compares to Chaucer in quality -- but neither was there any quality Anglo-French literature in this period, and the fifteenth century produced no great English literature either. Chaucer was Chaucer because he was a genius, not because he lived in the fourteenth century! And Chaucer's contemporary Gower wrote as fluently in French and Latin as English.
Holt in his first edition made much of the links to the era of Edward II. His discovery of many "Robinhoods" in a period prior to that, already alluded to, caused him to back away from this in his second edition (Holt2, p. 189). This causes him to bring up a Robert Hod/Hobbehod, who seemingly was in trouble in two different shires in 1225-1226. He suggests, very vaguely, that this man might have been active in the 1190s, an outlaw in 1225, and dead in 1247 -- a version of the legend owing much to Ritson. This places him in the reigns of Richard I, John, and Henry III. But Holt is not convinced. Indeed, he thinks the first Robin Hood may have been earlier still.
Benet, p. 934, offers a similar speculation: "It is doubtful whether [Robin] ever lived -- the truth probably being that the stories associated with his name crystallized gradually around the personality of some popular local hero of the early 13th century."
Several scholars have strongly suggested that the "Gest" is targeted at the reign of Edward III. These include Ohlgren, who treats a date in the reign of Edward III as established fact, and Pollard. The chief evidence in Knight/Ohlgren seems to be the reference in the "Gest" to the "comely King," which title we know was used of Edward III (see note on Stanza 353). Pollard (pp. 202-204) bolsters the argument that Edward III must be meant with the claim that Edward III restored justice after a period when it was lacking, or at least was considered to have done so. This is true but a poor argument -- note that the single most substantial element in the "Gest" is built around an injustice which Robin has to correct because royal justice cannot.
Remember too that Edward II was proposed for Richard II (Phillips, pp. 600-606). True, Edward did not deserve it, but the idea was obviously "in the air" about the time the elements of the "Gest" were coalescing. And saints were generally considered just but unworldly -- a perfect fit for the King in the "Gest," who has a weak grip on what is going on but tries for justice once he finds out.
Yet even Holt2, p. 192, thinks that Edward II's trip north was a key component in the legend. I tend to agree.
Can we make something out of all this conflicting data? If we sit down and list all our various points of evidence, and fit which kings they match, we get this list (in alphabetical order by trait):
* King during a crusading period: Henry II, Richard I, John, Henry III, Edward I, Edward II
* King who used distraint of knighthood: Henry III, Edward I, Edward II
* King during whose reign high clerical officials were known to have been robbed by outlaws: Edward II
* King during whose reign longbows were a common weapon: Henry III, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, Edward IV
* King during whose reign longbows were used but not widely encouraged: Henry III, Edward II
* King during whose reign social unrest would encourage outlawry: Henry III, Edward I, Edward II, Henry IV, Henry VI
* King during whose reign there could be a connection between Robin and Ranulf of Chester: Henry III, Edward I
* King named Edward: Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, Edward IV
* King went to the north of England and was concerned with deer herds: Edward II
* King who lived during the period of problems with livery: Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, Richard II, Edward IV
* King who was clearly not up to the job, but who was regularly in England, fitting the situation in "Robin Hood and the Monk": Henry III, Edward II
* King who would be relatively likely to personally deal with ordinary outlaws: John, Edward II, Edward IV
* Kings whose reigns were early enough that Robin might be legendary by 1377: Henry II, Richard I, John, Henry III, Edward I, Edward II
* Kings in whose reign a sheriff would be powerful but not a noble: Henry III, Edward I, Edward II
* Kings in which coins were available for the counting of money: Henry III (briefly), Edward I, Edward II, Edward III (after 1344), Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI
* Kings who used a gold coinage: Henry III (briefly), Edward III, Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, Edward IV
* Kings who spoke English: John (?), Edward I, Edward II (?), Edward III, Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, Edward IV
* Kings who reigned more than 22 years: Henry II, Henry III, Edward I, Edward III, Henry VI
The archetype of the legend need not fit all these traits, but certainly should fit most of them. Note that Edward II fits probably 15 of the 18, and the only three he doesn't fit (a gold coinage, a reign of 22 years, and a tie to Ranulf of Chester) are the weakest on the list. Richard I fits only *two* of the traits.
Second place after Edward II is Edward I, who fits twelve traits (I will admit that I am sorely tempted to link Robin to the disorder and breakdown of law at the end of Edward I's reign. But the visit of the King implies a still-strong monarch. By 1290, when things started to come unglued, Edward I was too old). Henry III had eleven or (briefly) twelve traits. Edward III had seven; no one else had more than six.
For the reign of Henry II (three traits) there is no direct evidence except a sort of historical reconstructionism: "If Robin was around during the short reign of Richard I, he must have been around in the long reign of Henry II." But given Robin's problems with bishops, could he possibly have lived in the time of Henry II without mention of Becket? Or of Becket's rival for the Archbishopric of Canterbury, Gilbert Foliot -- who just happened at the time of Becket's election to have been Bishop of Hereford? (Dahmus, p. 160).
Adding to the case for Edward II is the fact that he seems to have been unusually pious. This is not to say that the other Plantagenets were not (with the likely exception of John, who was very possibly a freethinker). But Edward II was particularly fond of religious observance and religious men, according to Phillips, p. 66. What's more, when Edward was in danger after Bannockburn, he is said to have vowed to the Virgin Mary to found a college if he were spared (Phillips, p. 68). Edward II was also devoted to (St.) Edward the Confessor -- but when he upgraded the chapel of St. Edward at Windsor, he set it up to say two masses a day, one for his father Edward I and one for the Virgin (Phillips, p. 69). Edward's devotion to Mary probably did not match Robin's -- but it was evidently stronger than most.
Thus the clear preponderance of evidence points to the reign of Edward II as the period in which the "Gest" is set. Almost everything fits, and no other reign fits as well. I emphasize that this is not proof -- the "Gest" is clearly an assembly from older materials, and those older materials might have come from diverse reigns. But *if* there was some chronological setting used as backdrop for those early legends, it is likely that the context was the reign of Edward II -- or possibly spanned the reigns of Edward I and Edward II (since Edward I also fits at several points), or Edward II and Edward III. It is morally certain that it did not arise out of the reign of Richard I.
Holt's conclusion, on p. 190, is that "The answer then to the question 'Who was Robin Hood?', must be 'There was more than one.'" This suggestion is, I think, undeniable. But the legend, if not the man, was born in the reign of Edward II.
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