Gest of Robyn Hode, A [Child 117] --- Part 05

DESCRIPTION: Continuation of the notes to "A Gest of Robyn Hode" [Child 117]. Entry continues in "A Gest of Robyn Hode" [Child 117] --- Part 06 (File Number C117E)
Last updated in version 2.6
If we accept as an hypothesis that many of the early Robin Hood tales were associated with Edward II, it can potentially explain other features of the legend.
One of our most difficult questions is the place where Robin lived. Although we think of him as haunting Sherwood Forest (and indeed, 17 of the ballads place Robin in Sherwood or Nottingham), the "Gest" never actually names Sherwood, and early sources usually place him in Barnsdale. Dobson/Taylor catalog these on pp;. 18-19: The "Gest" and "Guy of Gisborne" have explicit references to the Barnsdale area, and the "Potter" mentins Wentberg, which is probably near Wentbridge in Barnsdale. On the other hand, there is the "Robyn Hod in Scherewod stod" verse, and the "Monk" places itself in "mery Scherewode" in stanza 16.
The reference to Barnsdale is not necessarily to Barndsale Forest, merely to some place called Barnsdale. Barnsdale the place is not a forest; Child, p. 50, calls it a "woodland region," and Dobson/Taylor, p. 21, say of it, "A magnesian limestone area, probably not much more heavily wooded in the later middle ages than today, Barnsdale does not appear to have ever been a forest in either the literal or legal sense." It is in west Yorkshire, somewhat east of Leeds and Wakefield, more than ten leagues to the north of Sherwood (see map in p. 101 of Holt2). Barnsdale, note, is outside the "beat" of the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Although some (e.g. Baldwin, p. 44) claim that Robin could have lived in both Barnsdale and Sherwood, the two are so far apart that an outlaw could not reasonably occupy both simultaneously. (As of 2004, in fact, this has become an issue in the British parliament, with Nottinghamshire posting signs saying "Robin Hood Country" and Yorkshire wanting them taken down.) A man could travel from one to the other in a day, but would not have time to do anything upon arriving.
It is interesting to note that the three Edwards regularly hunted in Sherwood (Baldwin, p. 44). But this doesn't help us explain the events in the "Gest," because the King there complained about lack of deer at Plumpton Park, and that assuredly is not in Sherwood.
Additional minor evidence for why Barnsdale is a more likely home for the legend comes from the fact that arrows had iron warheads. In the Middle Ages, only five counties in England were important iron-producing areas. One was Yorkshire (Hewitt, p. 70). Nottingham was not one of them. Thus it would have been easier for Robin to liberate arrows in Barnsdale than Sherwood.
We should probably demonstrate why the claim that Robin Hood was earl of Huntingdon (the correct spelling) is impossible, and the claim that he was any sort of noble is almost as bad. The last Saxon Earl of Huntingdon was Waltheof, who was a young man at the time of the Norman Conquest. Our information on this period is scanty, but he was executed for some sort of treasonous activity in 1076 (Barlow-Rufus, p. 31) -- perhaps for complicity in Malcolm Canmore's invasion of the north in that year (Douglas, pp. 232-233).
Apparently Waltheof had no male heir, but according to Tyerman, p. 21, "his heirs were not harried," so the Huntingdon earldom was allowed to pass to his daughter Matilda/Maud and her husband Simon of Senlis (St. Liz), a soldier who served William the Conqueror well; she married him probably around 1090 (in the time of, and probably at the command of, William II; Bartow, pp. 93, 172-173).
After Simon's death, Matilda (who by now was around 40) married the future King David I of Scotland (Magnusson, p. 73, says this took place in 1114; Oram, p. 65, says in 1113), meaning that David was the first of several Kings of Scotland who also were Earls of Huntingdon. Matilda had earlier children (Oram, p. 65), but is was decided that her children by David would be the heirs of Huntingdon. There was only one child, a boy Henry, who ended up as David's only son, since the king never remarried after Matilda died in 1130 (Oram, p. 73). Thus Henry of Huntingdon became both Earl of Huntingdon and ancestor of the royal line of Scotland.
For the moment, however, he was perhaps more English than Scottish. Henry in fact became a member of the English King Stephen's court (Bradbury, p. 33), and Henry's son Malcolm "the Maiden" campaigned in France with Stephen's successor Henry II as his vassal (Magnusson, p. 80).
King David before his death passed the earldom to his son Henry (it was common practice for kings to give their heirs some sort of property to manage), and this was confirmed by King Stephen in 1139 (Bradbury, p. 36, although he notes that Ranulf of Chester wanted to take Carlisle from Henry of Huntingdon. Stephen ignored this -- one reason Ranulf turned against him -- although Stephen did split off part of the Huntingdon earldom to form the earldom of Northampton; Bradbury, p. 37. Thus a person with Northampton ancestry might also claim the Huntingdon earldom -- but as far as I know, no one ever linked Robin with Northampton.).
Henry of Huntingdon however died a year before his father, so he never became king of Scotland. Henry's older sons became kings, so the third son, David, eventually was given the earldom (Bradbury, p. 177). The honor passed to David's son John in 1219. John also inherited the earldom of Chester, but died childless in 1237 (Oram, p. 90). The Earldom of Chester went back to the English crown, but the Huntingdon earldom, although Mortimer, p. 78, declares it extinct, went to the Bruces of Anandale, since they were descended from Earl David's second daughter Isabel (see genealogy on p. 301 of Oram). Isabel's son Robert Bruce, the future competitor for the throne of Scotland and grandfather of King Robert I, fought with Henry III at the Battle of Lewes and was taken captive (Powicke, p. 190), and his son Robert fought with Edward I in Wales (Prestwich1, p. 196); indeed, an earlier Bruce had fought been with the English army that defeated the Scots at the Battle of the Standard in 1138! (Young/Adair, p. 24).
It would probably have been very difficult in this period to take the Huntingdon earldom from the heirs of Waltheof, since the dead earl was by this time being informally venerated as a saint (Tyerman, p. 21).
Members of the Scots royal family thus held the Huntingdon earldom from the reign of Henry I until the reign of Edward I -- Robert Bruce #2 (the son of the competitor and the father of the future king) held to his English allegiance until his death in 1306, very probably so that he would not lose his English title. The Bruces, like their ancestors, were at least as English as Scottosh -- they had a home in London at this time (Oram, p. 117), and one of Robert Bruce's brothers bore that quintessentially English name, Edward -- an especially noteworthy point since he was born in the reign of Edward I. Another brother, Alexander, graduated from Cambridge in 1303 (Oram, p. 118).
Still, Robert Bruce, Earl of Huntingdon, was regarded by all as a Scot, not an Englishman. This brings us to the curious part. Remember Langland's link between Robin Hood and Ranulf of Chester? The last Earl Ranulf of Chester died in 1232 without a direct heir (Mortimer, p. 78, who adds that his lands were divided). The next person in line for the Chester earldom was "John the Scot," the son of David of Huntingdon (Powicke, p. 197 n.). Once he died, the English crown reclaimed the Chester earldom (Mortimer, p. 78).
Even though the English King took back the Chester earldom, if you assume that Robin really was Earl of Huntingdon, then he almost had to be Scottish, and he also had the claim to being Earl of Chester. In other words, if Robin really was an earl, then Langland's link of Ranulf and of Robin would be of cousins (probably first cousins once removed), with Robin being Ranulf's heir!
No, I don't buy a word of it either. Apart from all the assumptions we have to accept, the Scots never took to the longbow -- one of the main reasons why the English won most of the battles with the Scots from 1300 to 1513. The one major Scottish win, at Bannockburn, came about because Edward II ignored his archers -- a lesson his son was quick to learn. And yet, if we continue the speculation, we do find in "Robin Hood and the Scotchman" [Child 130] the interesting fact that Robin is willing to accept Scots into his band. But this ballad is late, and the surviving versions short -- and the "Scotchman" shows no indications of actual Scottishness. I almost wonder if this isn't some sort of strange attempt to show James I or some other Stuart king that Robin was an equal opportunity outlaw.
One last observation: Martin Parker's feeble "A True Tale of Robin Hood" [Child 154], which in stanza 3 makes Robin Earl of Huntingdon in the reign of Richard I, in stanza 83 has Robin's men flee to "the Scottish King," but not Robin himself. Parker seems to have made up much of his tale, but some might be from now-lost tradition. His tale fits badly in the reign of Richard I; Richard lived before the formation of the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France. Scotland and England were often friendly in this period. Outlaws who fled to Scotland might be turned over to the English king. It was only after Bannockburn in 1314 that Scotland would be a safe and secure refuge.
None of that is really relevant, except to prove the following: The only way that Robin Hood could have been shadow Earl of Huntingdon is if he has been a child of Matilda daughter of Waltheof by her first marriage to Simon of Senlis. But that would mean that he was born in 1107 at the latest, and probably a few years earlier. This would mean that he would have been active in the reigns of Henry I (reigned 1100-1135) and Stephen (1135-1154). And that's just plain too early.
There is one other question: If the legend early on made Robin a shadow earl (perhaps under the influence of the Tale of Gamelyn or some such), why Earl of Huntingdon? We can't really answer this, but it leads to interesting speculations.
The office of Earl was established before the Norman Conquest. In Saxon times, the number and boundaries of the earldoms were not at all fixed (e.g. E. A. Freeman, as reproduced on p. 362 of Barlow-Edward, pp. 362-363, shows eight earldoms in 1045, but only six plus a sub-earldom in 1065-1066). Our knowledge of the earldoms at the time is very limited (Walker, p. 231), but they did not correspond at all to the modern counties; indeed, counties were often swapped from earl to earl during the reign of Edward the Confessor (Walker, pp. 2333-234, tabulates the little we know about these changes).
But several earldoms always existed in the late Saxon period, based in large part on the ancient kingdoms of Britain: The earldoms of Wessex, Mercia, and Northumberland, plus apparently the smaller earldom of East Anglia. The three major earldoms had belonged to three great families under King Cnut: Godwine of Wessex, Leofric of Mercia, and Siward of Northumbria (the father of the above-mentioned Waltheof). All of them were dead before 1060, but the later earls were selected from their descendents.
Without bothering with the details of how it ended up so, in 1066 King Harold II son of Godwine retained his old Earldom of Wessex as well as being king. His brother Gyrth was Earl of East Anglia, and his brother Leofwine held an Earldom in the southeast that doesn't seem to have had a name (Barlow-Edward, p. 197). Edwin the grandson of Leofric held Mercia, and his brother Morkere/Morcar had recently been granted Northumbria (Barlow-Edward, p. 238). Waltheof, the only living son of Seward, had been very young when his father died, but around 1065 was given land in Huntingdon and Northamptonshire (Barlow-Edward, p, 194 n. 3; Walker, p. 234). It is not clear what this earldom was called at the time, but after the Conquest, it was labelled the earldom of Huntingdon.
Here is what is interesting. After the Conquest, William the Conqueror broke up the great Earldoms -- indeed, it is Douglas's opinion (pp. 295-297) that William completely redefined the office of Earl, from an administrative post to a military one -- most of his earls held marcher counties. He immediately dissolved Harold's earldom of Wessex, and when a few years later he got rid of Edwin and Morkere, he dissolved Mercia and chopped Northumbria down to the county of Northumberland (Linklater, pp. 263-264). East Anglia was divided into Norfolk and Suffolk. Leofwine's southeastern earldom also was dissolved.
Thus Waltheof's earldom of Huntingdon, although small compared to the other Saxon earldoms, was the only one to survive essentially intact. Was whoever invented the Huntingdon claim anticipating Scott's idea of Robin the Saxon survivor? No idea. However, had Robin not been claimed as shadow earl of some other county, it is not unlikely that Scott, or an earlier author, would have converted him to Earl of Huntingdon just because it was such a historically interesting title.
But if Robin Hood was not Earl of Huntingdon, which he wasn't, then he surely did not live in the Barnsdale in Rutland. So we're still trying to decide between Sherwood and the Barnsdale in Yorkshire.
Or maybe someplace to the west. Much of the material in the "Gest" parallels portions of "Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudesly" [Child 116], first published in 1536. Those three outlaws were based in Inglewood in Cumbria and Lancashire, not Barnsdale or Sherwood (though, we might note, Wynton places Robin in Inglewood). An attempt to combine the two legends produced the monstrosity that is "Robin Hood's Birth, Breeding, Valor, and Marriage" [Child 149]. Some have tried to claim "Adam Bell" as an ancestor of the Robin Hood legend. But there is in fact no reason to think the dependency does not go the other way; Chambers, p. 159, calls it "almost a burlesque of Robin Hood."
More reasonably, the reference to Inglewood might come out of Edward II's wars with Scotland. McNamee, p. 47, notes that people in southwest Scotland were hiding their cattle in Inglewood due to English raids. (We see a similar situation in England in 1345, when English herders took their cattle to Knaresborough and Galtres forests in Yorkshire due to Scottish raids; Hewitt, p. 103.) Talk about an opportunity for outlaws! -- maybe Robin made a business trip. Another possibility is that Robin originally set up in Barnsdale, but during the period of the Scots raids, pickings grew so slim in Yorkshire that he moved south, perhaps temporarily, to Sherwood in Nottinghamshire, which was south of the area devastated by the Scots.
Young, p. 99, has an interesting table calculating up the average rate of offenses against venison at several forests in the late thirteenth century. The lowest rate is two per year at Melksham in Wiltshire. Ten of the other twelve forests for which statistics were available, all in southern or central England, averaged four or five offenses per year. Only two exceeded five offences per year: Sherwood, with seven, and Inglewood, with eight. (Barnsdale is not in the list.) It would seem that both were well-known as outlaw haunts.
"Guy of Gisborne" hints at a location somewhat south of Inglewood, in Lancashire -- but close enough that Robin could be in both. Gisburn is a small town, due north of modern Burnley, relatively close to the west coast of Britain, on the Ribble river in Lancashire; it is 30 or 40 miles west and somewhat north of Barnsdale -- although, interestingly, it is directly between Barnsdale and Sir Richard's presumed home in Wyresdale. If Guy lived in Robin's locality, Robin might well have lived in Bowland Forest east of the Wyre river, roughly in the center of a triangle with vertices at Preston, the city of Lancaster, and Gisburn. The chances of anyone from Sherwood, or even Barnsdale, casually showing up in the Gisburn area are slight.
Holt1, p. 105, makes the interesting observation that, although references to Lancashire locations are relatively few, they are scattered across the several parts of the poem -- the killing of the knight of Lancaster is in fit 1, the mention of Verysdale (Wyresdale?) is in fit 2, and King Edward is near the passes of Lancashire and Plumpton Park in fit 7. Holt suggests that the Lancashire references were all added after the story was nearly finished; the other possibility, of course, is that they are very ancient and precede localization to Sherwood and Barnsdale.
Vague additional support for a Lancashire setting comes from stanza 53 of the "Gest," which says that the Knight's son slew a knight of Lancaster/Lancashire. Obviously Lancashire knights were most common in Lancashire -- but on the other hand, who would identify a knight as being "of Lancashire" if the setting were Lancashire?
And then there is the alternate reading "Lancaster." Although a geographic designation, it is also a political one -- could the boy have slain a knight who was a vassal of the Earl (or Duke) of Lancaster? If so, it might even explain why Robin befriended Sir Richard, since the Earl of Lancaster, as we shall see, was Edward II's strongest adversary. And Lancastrians still existed and "were unreconciled" after the earl's execution (Wilkinson, p. 128). Alternately, "Lancaster" might be an anachronism -- a supporter of the House of Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses, which began after the "Gest" was written (probably, anyway) but before the "Gest" was printed.
This is one of the most important variants in the "Gest," and I disagree withChild on purely textual grounds -- although it would be very helpful if someone could do a more serious critical analysis. But if my analysis of the text is correct, then the reading "Lancashire" is an argument, although a weak one, against placing the Robin in Lancashire.
If the "Curtal Friar" be regarded as solid evidence, the Friar is from Fountains Abbey. The abbey dates from the twelfth century (founded 1132, according to Tatton-Brown/Crook, p. 112, by the Cisterians; Kerr, pp. 193-194, says the founders wanted to adopt a stricter rule and so broke away from the Benedictines -- although Tyerman, p. 116, says that this worked only moderately well), so it is no help with dating -- but it is in west Yorkshire, near Barnsdale, not in Nottinghamshire. It was raided by the Scots in 1318 or 1319 (McNamee, p. 88) -- which might perhaps explain why the Friar was active so far from his base: the Abbey residents were scattered. (The other possibility is that he was herding sheep; Kerr, p. 195, says that the abbey at one time had 15,000 sheep!)
I do note that Fountains eventually came to start paying significant sums to visiting minstrels (Holt1, p. 137); might Fountains Abbey have come to be part of the tradition because some visiting performer zipped its name into one of his Robin Hood songs?
For the interesting relationship between Richard of Fountains and the Abbot of St. Mary's, see the notes to Stanza 88.
Minor additional support for Barnsdale comes from the fact that several Scottish chroniclers knew of Robin; they would have been more likely to know of a Yorkshire robber than one from Nottinghamshire or probably Lancashire.
Almost all the sites named after Robin Hood are much later than the earliest references to the outlaw. The one partial exception, according to Holt1, p. 107, is a Robin Hood marker in Barnsdale attested from 1422. The first known Nottingham is dated to 1485 (Holt1, p. 408).
If we allow the dubious possibility that Edward IV was the "Gest's" king, this tends to support the Sherwood hypothesis. Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III all visited the north mostly for their wars. Edward IV, since he was not born to be king (he was the son of Richard Duke of York, and gained the throne by conquest), spent much time in the north when he was young, but after winning the Battle of Towton at the very beginning of his reign, tended to stay in the south. What is interesting is that Ross-Edward, p. 271, lists several visits he made around the country in the 1470s (his last trips outside southern England). One did go as far north as York, but in most, the King visited Nottingham and then returned south. He in fact rebuilt Nottingham castle to be a more comfortable residence (Ross-Edward, p. 272). Thus he was far more often in the vicinity of Sherwood than Barnsdale.
Edward's interest in Nottingham is in sharp contrast to his predecessor Henry VI, who visited Nottinham only once in the long period from his accession in 1422 until 1450 (Wolffe, p. 94). The map on pp. 96-97 of Wolffe, however, does show Henry VI visiting Blythe and Doncaster.
If we have three Robin Hood centers, in Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Nottinghamshire, it makes slightly better sense to assume the legend originated in Yorkshire. In that case, the legend spread out from the central county. Otherwise, we have to assume that it spread from Nottinghamshire to Yorkshire to Lancashire, or vice versa, without being picked up in other counties. This could have happened -- but in general we should prefer the "middle" variant.
On the other hand, the earlier we date Robin, the more likely a Lancashire origin becomes. Of the three counties, Lancashire is the closest to Wales, where the longbow originated. Yorkshire is the most remote of the three. If we assume Robin took up the bow on his own, rather than under royal encouragement, then Lancashire makes the best sense.
Holt1, p. 53, notes that the description of Barnsdale in the "Gest" is more detailed and accurate (mentioning, e.g., Watling Street) than that of Sherwood (see the note on Stanza 3). On p. 88, he amplifies this, saying that "Barnsdale seems real. Sherwood is somewhat like the 'wood near Athens'" of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." The details of Barnsdale might, however, be from the poet rather than the legend.
Kirklees, where Robin died according to both the "Gest" and the "Death," is much closer to Barnsdale than Sherwood -- a sick man would hardly want to make the two-day journey from Sherwood to Kirklees. But from Barnsdale it is about twenty miles -- perhaps less. It is also fairly close to Lancashire.
Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, and Lancashire all fit the account of King Edward's northern visit; Edward II visited all these places.
Of the three places (Nottinghamshire, west Yorkshire, Lancashire), Lancashire would be the least likely haunt for robbers; it was a rather poor area and is far from the main routes north from London. Barnsdale and Sherwood are both near the Great North Road/Watling Street (see map on p. 82 of Holt1).
Prestwich3, p. 68, makes the fascinating note that, when Edward I was preparing to campaign against Scotland, his army consisted of knights, men-at-arms, archers -- and *slingers* from Sherwood Forest. It was apparently not unusual for the King to call on foresters to recruit forces for his wars (in fact, Edward II called out levies from the forests south of Trent in 1322 for a campaign against Scotland; Young, p. 165) -- but this is the only instance I can think of of slingers in an English army. Could this be another reason for the transfer of Robin from Barnsdale to Sherwood?
My guess is that Barnsdale was Robin's original home, and that locals in other areas adopted him, and that Sherwood and Nottinghamshire won out because Nottinghamshire and Sherwood are larger and better known (Dobson/Taylor, p. 20; most modern maps don't even show Barnsdale). The connection with the unscrupulous Sheriff John of Oxford may have helped. So might the memory of Roger Godberd, that particularly busy robber who was active in Nottinghamshire in the reign of Henry III (Holt1, pp. 97-99) who was Baldwin's candidate for the Original Robin Hood. Several scholars have suggested that the current legend is a fusion of two cycles, one based in Barnsdale and one involving the Sheriff of Nottingham which attracted Robin of Barnsdale (Dobson/Taylor, p. 14). Holt1, p. 97, seems to accept a possibility that the Godberd tale, which involved the constable of Nottingham, might have attracted the Robin Hood legend to Sherwood.
But the possibility that the attraction went the other way cannot be ruled out; since Barnsdale was known as a den of robbers by 1306 (Holt1, p. 52; Dobson/Taylor, p. 24, following Hunter), a robber in Sherwood might have been relocated to Barnsdale (perhaps also helped by the link to the Hood family of Wakefield). Once the memory of Barnsdale as a haunt of robbers faded, the Sherwood legend might re-emerge.
I'll admit that I've had some pretty strange thoughts about this. For example, the fact that there seemed to be Robin Hood legends in three places -- Barnsdale, Sherwood, and Inglewood -- gave rise to the thought that Robin invented the idea of "franchising." The image is of a guy who sleeps and eats at home, then goes to his day job of Robinbooding. Robin set up his first outlaw band in Barnsdale. Then he granted a license for the name to someone (Young Gamwell, perhaps?) in Sherwood. Then he opened a third franchise in Inglewood -- perhaps selling the rights there to Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudesley. Robin, after all, must have employed a very good bowyer, and Robin's fletcher must also have been good. They, and perhaps other specialists in his band, could potentially serve several outlaw bands.
It is interesting to note that two of the ballads describe Robin as robbing the Bishop of Hereford: "Robin Hood and the Bishop of Hereford" [Child 144] and "Robin Hood and Queen Katherine" [Child 145]. The former is of course all about the robbery. The latter mentions it only in passing (stanza 23 of Child's "A" refers to Hereford, as does line 177 of the Knight/Ohlgren text based on the Forresters manuscript; see also Knight, p. 39, second stanza; Knight, p. 58). "Robin Hood and Queen Katherine" is partly based on the "Gest," and may also have influence from one of the various tales of Robin robbing bishops. In any case, "Queen Katherine" cannot be an early legend -- England did not have a Queen Katherine from the time of William the Conqueror until Henry V married Catherine of Valois in 1420.
"Robin Hood and the Bishop of Hereford" is another matter. The plot comes from Eustace the Monk, and it is so similar in concept to "Robin Hood and the Bishop" [Child 143] that Knight/Ohlgren do not seem even to distinguish them. But while copies of "The Bishop of Hereford" are fairly recent, it is noteworthy among the late ballads in placing Robin in Barnsdale, not Sherwood -- a strong hint a token of older content. And Child considers it superior to most of the later ballads, plus it is fairly well attested in tradition.
Admittedly the action in "Hereford" is probably a doublet of the robbing of the abbot in the "Gest," or the monk in the "Monk." But why the Bishop of Hereford? Hereford is nowhere near any of Robin's known haunts. Nor, we note, is it a rich bishopric. Barlow-Rufus, p. 262, has a table of the values of sundry bishoprics. The list is not complete. but Hereford, with a farm of 270 pounds per year in the time of Henry II, is the poorest see listed except for Chichester. Even allowing for inflation (there reportedly was heavy inflation in the early 1200s; Mortimer, p. 51), it's hard to see how a Bishop of Hereford could have 300 pounds in cash to haul around.
Almost all ot these problems are solved if we assume that the Bishop involved is Adam Orleton, Bishop of Hereford at the end of the reign of Edward II. Although he was only Bishop of Hereford at that time, he soon after was translated to Worcester (in 1327), and then to Winchester (in 1333); according to Hicks, p. 60, he was among the very first bishops to be translated (moved from one bishopric to another), a practice which had been frowned on in the early church.
Winchester was the richest diocese in England (with a farm of 1440 pounds per year in Henry II's time, or more than five times the value of Hereford, according to Barlow-Rufus, and on the order of 4000 pounds per year by the time of Henry III, according to Mortimer, p. 81), and was still considered "the richest of English sees" (Wolffe, p. 67) and a "lucrative" bishopric in the time of Henry VI (Wolffe, p. 56).
And, if we assume that Robin was a supporter of Edward II, then he had a particular reason to go after Orleton -- and to call him Bishop of Hereford even after his translation. Doherty describes Orleton (p. 86) as "ruffianly," while Hutchison, p. 128, calls him "unamiable and self-serving." Even the less pro-Edward Harvey declares (p. 160) that he was one of several bishops who "counted treason as nothing."
The most positive assessment I can find of him is in Hicks, p. 61, who thinks the Pope liked and promoted Orleton because Orleton -- a man of "exceptionally obscure" origins -- believed in a strongly hierarchical church (a church, thus, which might promote men like Orleton!). Hicks also notes that he seems to have made genuine efforts to manage his diocese well, and says that his reputation has suffered because of the works of one particular chronicler. This argument does not seem to have been convincing; few other historians have anything better to say of Orleton than Ormrod, p. 28, who merely calls him a "political prelate" (although, interestingly, he would later play a role in claiming the kingdom of France for Edward III) and Barber, who on p. 14 calls him "far from incompetent."
Orleton was unusual in that he was not the monarch's pick for his see. Edward II had opposed Orleton's appointment in the first place (Prestwich3, p. 105; Hicks, p. 61). Phillips, p. 450, says that Edward II had sent him on a mission to Avignon in 1317, and that Orleton managed to obtain the Bishopric of Hereford while there, presumably by intrigue. Edward tried to have the Pope set him aside. Orleton would more than have his revenge:
Edward II had trouble with several of his bishops at one time or another, but Phillips, pp. 453-454, says that Orleton was the one bishop with whom he was never reconciled -- he was actually called before judges in 1324 (Phillips, p. 453). Doherty, p. 86, declares that Orleton of Hereford was a friend of Roger Mortimer (who became Isabella's lover and later led the rebellion against Edward II) and helped Mortimer escape from the Tower. Edward, not surprisingly, took away his temporalities (Hutchison, p. 130). Later, Orleton would preach against Edward II's favorites the Despensers (Doherty, p. 91), and Hutchison, p. 135, declares that he "preached treason" at Oxford.
"The bishop of Hereford declared in the parliament of 1326 that if Isabella rejoined her husband [Edward II] she would suffer death at his hands. Soon after, we find the Bishop of Hereford allied with Queen Isabella against the King; he was one of those who joined her party in France" (Prestwich3, p. 97; although Phillips, p. 504, says that Orleton joined the rebels after they landed in England. Doherty also supposts the claim that Orleton saved Isabella from being reunited from her husband, allowing her to stick with her lover Mortimer).
Phillips, p. 98, says that Orleton was the first to openly declare Edward II a sodomite -- although it must have been whispered earlier; he also called Edward a tyrant (Phillips, p. 523, who notes however that Orleton later claimed -- once the political tide had turned -- that he was using the words about Hugh Despenser the Younger rather than Edward. Phillips, pp. 523-524, n. 22, does add that the charge of sodomy was widely reported on the continent but occurs rarely in English chronicles).
Once the anti-Edward rebellion succeeded, Isabella and Mortimer had to figure out what to do with Edward. They finally decided on trying to get him to publicly give up his throne -- and Orleton was one of those sent to talk him into it (Doherty, p. 110. Edward of course refused to go along). Orleton did manage to retrieve the Privy Seal (Hutchison, p. 137). When Parliament met, Orleton presented most of the arguments for Edward's deposition (Doherty, pp. 110-111; Hutchison, p. 138, says that on January 13, 1327, he preached on the theme "A foolish king shall ruin his people"). In Hutchison's view, in the period immediately after Edward's deposition, three people ran the country: "the adulteress Isabella, her paramour Mortimer and the execrable Orleton" (p. 140).
Orleton would later, once Edward III was firmly in control, be accused of ordering the death of Edward II. He was able to prove his innocence -- he was both out of favor and out of the country at the time of the murder (Doherty, pp. 130-131) -- but surely friends of the king would be those most likely to listen to such rumors.
We know Orleton ended up with a reputation for sneakiness. A late source, demonstrably false, told of him sending a message to Edward II's guards, "Edwardum occidere nolite timere bonum est" (Doherty, p. 130). If punctuated with a comma after timere, this becomes "Do not be afraid to kill Edward; it is good"; if punctuated with a comma before timere, it is "Do not kill Edward; it is good to be afraid." We know it's not true because, first, Orleton wasn't in the country to send the message, and second, the story was originally told of someone else (Hutchison, p. 142; Doherty, pp. 130-131). But it is probably a valid example of how Orleton was seen at the time.
Thus, while Robin Hood disliked bishops in general, if he lived c. 1327, the bishop he would surely hate above all would be Orleton of Hereford.
The most likely time for the robbery might be the period in 1327-1328, when memories of Orleton's part in the deposition of Edward II were fresh and Orleton was Lord Treasurer and hence would be dealing with large sums of money. Toward the end of the latter year, Orleton lost his post of Treasurer because he disagreed with the forced regency of Roger Mortimer (Ormrod, p. 15).
So while it would be unlikely that a bishop would carry 300 pounds, let along the 800 pounds allegedly taken from the cellarer of the "Gest," Orleton, if taken after 1333, or during his time as treasurer, would be good for the sum. And Robin and his men might call him "Bishop of Hereford" even after he was translated, because the translations took place under a regime they disapproved of. And Orleton lived until 1345, so there was plenty of time to rob him after his translations.
It is perhaps slightly ironic to note that it has been suggested that the compiler of the tale of Fulk FitzWarin was a member of Orleton's clerical family (Ohlgren, p. 106).
Orleton went blind by 1340, and died in 1345 (Hicks, p. 62).
Holt1, p. 36, declares, "Nothing has so confused the story of Robin so much as the imposition of modern anacrhronism on the medieval legend." The observations above and below surely show how true this is. If the original stories of Robin Hood are so clearly linked to the period of the Edwards, how did the later Robin Hood come to be so associated with the time of Richard I? As Dobson/Taylor point out on p. 16, "there is no evidence whatsoever" that Robin lived in the time of Richard and John, adding in note 3, "The only serious scholar to accept a twelfth-century date for Robin Hood in recent years was Professor W. Entwistle."
So why Richard I?
Some of it may have been the curious similarity between the story in the "Gest" of Robin and the Knight and that of Saint Robert of Knaresborough (see note on Stanza 91). Also, there was a tale, in Roger of Wendover's chronicle (1232?) which Briggs-Folktales prints on pp. 219-220, called "King Richard and the Penitent Knight," about a knight condemned for killing deer. This has some similarities to the tale in the "Gest," and might have caused the two to become attracted.
Probably a bigger part of it is just the wild guesses of the earlier chroniclers. It is interesting that many of the early reports about Robin are Scottish; Pollard, p. 190, suggests that the Scots chroniclers might have transferred Robin from the reign of the Edwards, who oppressed Scotland, to Richard, who granted Scotland independece. And Munday, and later Walter Scott, strengthened the suggestion.
But those early guesses -- which, after all, are probably based in part on materials we no longer have -- could also have been influenced by the many similarities (some trivial, some quite significant) between Edward II and Richard I:
* Both have been charged with homosexuality (although Edward managed to father children, which Richard did not. Edward was not openly accused of homosexuality until Tudor times; Philipps, pp. 25-26. But Edward's obsession with Piers Gaveston was a major issue even before Edward took the throne; Hutchison, p. 30). To be sure, Richard's homosexuality is disputed (see the notes to "Richie Story" [Child 232]). But the only other seemingly-homosexual pre-Tudor English king was William Rufus, who never married and apparently dressed his courtiers in effeminate styles (Barlow-Rufus, pp. 102-104). No one wanted to imitate Rufus, who was not admired. (Although, interestingly, he, like Richard, died of an arrow shot probably by a vassal.) In any case, Rufus was known for his poor relations with the church (Barlow-Rufus, p. 110) and his appropriation of funds from bishoprics he refused to fill (Barlow-Rufus, p. 181); although Barlow-Rufus on p. 113 denies that Rufus was actually non-Christian, the pious Robin probably would not have liked him.
* Both Richard and Edward were younger sons of overbearing fathers who did not initially expect to succeed to the throne (Edward II's older brother Alfonso was heir at the time Edward was born; Alfonso did not die until 1284, when he was 11 years old; Hutchison, pp. 5-6. Richard's brother was Henry the Young King, who died in 1183, when Richard was already 25 or 26).
* Both suffered severe financial difficulties (not that that is unusual for an English King).
* Neither held true to his word (Hutchison, p. 69, notes Edward's repeated flouting of the Ordinances to which he agreed; one of the reasons Richard fought his father was that neither could be trusted).
* Both were considered to have inherited the overlordship of Scotland from their fathers, and both lost it (Richard sold it to finance his crusade, Edward forfeited it at Bannockburn).
* Both died violently when rather young -- around 43. Richard was still on the throne when he died, whereas Edward II had been deposed earlier in the year, but Richard had sown a wind which would be reaped by his brother John, and which brought John to the brink of deposition.
Plus, Richard I is often said (somewhat exaggeratedly) to have been in conflict with his younger brother and successor John. This is a particularly common theme in the Robin Hood stories. And Edward II had been in conflict with his nobles long before his deposition -- notably with his cousin Henry of Lancaster.
Lancaster wasn't Edward II's brother -- but Edward II had no living full brothers, and his two half-brothers were young, and his only male heirs in 1318 were two boys under the age of seven. Apart from those boys, Henry of Lancaster was the heir in male line of Edward II; both were grandsons in male line of King Henry III. Close enough to a brother for ballad purposes (Wilkinson, p. 119, calls him the "first lord of the royal blood"); had Edward II died accidentally around 1315, the temptation would have been strong to give the throne to Lancaster.
Indeed, when Edward was deposed, Henry of Lancaster (the brother of the executed Thomas of Lancaster) became the nominal head of the government as regent for the young Edward III (Hutchison, p. 140). Plus, when Edward II was overthrown, Henry of Lancaster was part of the force which turned against him. And the Scots seem to have addressed a letter to Lancaster in which they called him "King Arthur" (Phillips, p. 406, although of course Arthur was not his name.)
In the end, even his real brother would betray Edward II: in the final rebellion which overthrew the king, Edward's half-brother the Earl of Norfolk gave support to the invaders led by Edward's wife, although he was not a leader (Hutchison, p. 134; Phillips, p. 504). The sons of Edward I all seem to have been pretty useless. Edward II never managed peace with his barons. His half-brother Edmund of Woodstock, earl of Kent, was disastrously defeated in Gascony; Hutchison, p. 125. And the other half-brother, Thomas of Brotherton, Earl of Norfolk, was a non-entity until the rebellion of 1326).
I also note that Richard at the Lee in the "Gest" and Richard I in the later legend are alleged to have been held up, then released, by Robin. Might confusion of names have somehow contributed to the assignment of Robin to the reign of Richard I? Particularly with the legend of Fulk FitzWarren also attracting Robin to the reigns of Richard and John? Keen, pp. 46-48, seems convinced that the story of Fulk lies at the roots of most of the "Gest." I would be more inclined to say that the same motifs went into both -- indeed, the fact that Fulk (who is historical) was firmly dated to the reign of Richard and John would be a reason to date Robin to the same period.
It must have b een tempting to dissociate Robin Hood the hero from Edward II the disaster. Richard I was a failure as a king, but he was a glorious failure -- a crusader, a figure of romance, a fighter to the end. But "No other English king has received such unanimous disapproval as Edward II," according to Hutchison, p. 145. I'm not sure that's true -- Henry VI was pure disaster -- but certainly Edward II was the worst in the century before Langland wrote "Piers Plowman," and retains a poor reputation to this day.
Suppose, then, that there was a tale of an outlaw who met with and supported Edward II. Perhaps he was one of those who conspired to restore Edward II after his deposition. Would not the temptation be to transfer his exploits to another time -- perhaps a time when there was a romantic king otherwise similar to Edward? After all, "More than any other King of England[,] Richard the Lionhearted belongs, not to the sober world of history , but to the magic realm of legend and romance. The picture we have of him is still shaped by the images of a child's view of the Middle Ages" (Gillingham, p. 4. He adds on pp. 5-6 that "Once we look a little more closely at some of the stories about Richard it soon becomes obvious that the coat of legendary paint which conceals him is a very thick coat indeed").
There might be another reason for the transfer. Richard I, after he went on crusade, was captured by Leopold of Austria, and was in captivity for more than a year. Since he had been out of the country for about four years in all, there were sporadic rebellions on his return. Most of these collapsed quickly. The very last town to hold out was Nottingham (Gillingham, p. 241). Since the sheriff of Nottingham was Robin's foe, and the town of Nottingham opposed Richard, mightn't that have helped attract Robin to Richard's time? Or, perhaps, explain a transfer from Barnsdale to Sherwood in Nottinghamshire.
In the earliest stage of the legend, Robin's band seems to have consisted of Robin himself, Little John, Scarlock, and Much (see the note on Stanza 4). Others -- Allen a Dale, Will Stutely, perhaps Friar Tuck -- came from one-off ballads. But no one is more closely associated with the late legend than Maid Marian.
The link between Robin and Marion/Marian perhaps comes from French romances -- Simpson/Roud, p. 223, note that Robin and Marion were stock lovers in French tradition starting in the thirteenth century, and Holt1, p. 160, observes that Gower knew this tradition circa 1380. Dobson/Taylor, p. 42, declare that it is "virtually certain that by origin whe was the shepherdess Marion of the medieval French pastourelles, where she was partnered by the shepherd Robin."
Mustanoja, p. 53, suggests that equivalent native English lovers would be Jankin and Malkin, citing e.g. the thirteenth century "Lutel Soth Sermun." They are, he suggests on p. 54, the names of "'any frivolous young man' and 'any flighty girl.'" (It is perhaps of interest to note that "Malkin" is connected by different scholars variously to the name Mary=Marion and Matilda, both of which are alleged as the true name of Maid Marion; Mustanoja, p. 55.) He also notes on p. 53 an English tradition linking men named Robin with women named Gill. If the link derived from English folktales, we almost certainly would not see Robin and Marian together.
Marian's link to Robin Hood may have been cemented by the May Games, where Marian was queen (and supposedly very lusty indeed, according to Dobson/Taylor, p. 42 -- a strong contrast to the aristocratic, chaste Marian of the Munday plays). This would also explain why there is no Scottish tradition about them (Chambers, p. 121).
In light of their role in the Games, it is interesting to note that Marian was often said to be as good a fighter as Robin himself (see "Robin Hood and Maid Marian" [Child 150]), and in the May Games she was usually played by a man (Benet, p. 675) or boy (Dobson/Taylor, p. 42).
Child says categorically that she should be linked sexually with Friar Tuck, not Robin (p. 218, in the notes to Child 150).
The data for this is somewhat ambiguous. The first mention of Robin and Marian in the same immediate context, made by Barclay around 1508, seems to contrast them, not link them: "Yet would I gladly hear some merry fytte Of Maid Marian, or else of Robin Hood" (Cawthorne, p. 181; Dobson/Taylor, p. 41). Henry Mackyn in his description of the May Games says that after the play of Saint George and the dragon, and various dances, there appears "Robyn Hode and lytull John, and Maid Marian and frere Tuke" (Dobson/Taylor, p. 40).
Observe that "Robin Hood and Maid Marian" is the only ballad that is really about her; two others mention her, but in a context such that she might be associated with any of Robin's band, or none.
Knight/Ohlgren note on p. 58 (compare Pollard, pp. 26-27) the almost complete absence of women in the early ballads (if you exclude the Virgin Mary). There is the prioress of Kirkless in the "Death," and we briefly see the Knight's wife in the "Gest," but the only woman who is at all a character is the Sheriff's wife in the "Potter," who gives hints of being interested in Robin. Pollard, p. 27, comments that she seems to be drawn from the same sources as the Wife of Bath and Noah's wife (who, in the plays of this period, was usually a shrew).
Pollard, pp. 14-15, suggests that, after the Reformation, Robin's devotion to Mary (which of course is idolatry to Protestants) was diverted to Marian instead.
It is worth noting that in Robin's death scene (in both the "Death" and the "Gest"), Robin makes no mention of a wife, and certainly none of children. There is no early hint that he was married. (To be sure, Munday had Marian die, poisoned by an agent of King John, shortly after Robin's death; Knight/Ohlgren, pp. 426-428. But this is entirely out of Munday's head.)
The many ballads in the Forresters Manuscript mention Marion only once, and not in a love context (Knight, p. xx). This implies that, even as late as the seventeenth century, Robin and Marion were not strongly linked.
Munday's plays invented a love triangle between Robin, Marian, and Prince John (Simpson/Roud, p. 299). This gives me the mad image of Robin courting Marian in English and John in Norman French, but this is patently an accretion. It is true that Robert FitzWalter, who in legend was the mother of Matilda=Marian (Holt, p. 162), was a genuine enemy of King John (Tyerman, p. 307), and that "There is a story of Robert arriving at the trial of his son-in-law for murder with five hundred armed men, a reflection if not of the truth then of his reputation for violence and wealth" (Tyerman, p. 312). That would need a lot of twisting to turn into the Robin and Marian legend, though.
Holt1, p. 162, gives Munday much of the blame for fixing the notion of a date in the reign of Richard I as well as for ennobling Robin -- but it probably comes ultimately from the fact that Fulk FitzWarrene married a woman, Matilda, whom John had sought after (Keen, p. 51; the plot as summarized by Cawthorne, p. 103, is almost identical to the Munday tale). The story of Marian is, to me, the clearest indication of the Robin legend borrowing from the Fulk legend (or, rather, of Munday using the Fulk tale) -- but Marian's entry into the Robin Hood corpus did not occur until both traditions were past their prime.
The case of Friar Tuck is more mysterious. Both as the Curtal Friar and as Friar Tuck (if, indeed, these two are the same), he seems to be a native English figure. But is he truly a part of the Robin Hood saga? Dobson/Tarlor on p. 41 point out the complications of this legend: "Many ingenious attempts to trace the origins of the Friar Tuck of the Robin Hood legend seem to have foundered on a failure to appreciate that he was the product of a fusion between two very different friars." They add that he did not become a key part of the Robin Hood legend until Scott reshaped him in Ivanhoe.
We should keep in mind that public opinion of friars waxed and waned dramatically. One of the main topics of "Pierce the Ploughman's Crede" is the corrupted state of various friars (Barr, p. 6), but in early Lancastrian times friars were given exclusive rights to preach in some settings. Edward I seems to have approved of them, and his queen liked them a lot (Prestwich1, pp. 112-113). But the ballad of the Curtal Friar is not clear enough to tell us whether the friars were "in" or "out" in Robin's time.
Simpson/Roud, p. 135, cautiously declare, "Tuck may have been an independent comic figure based on the medieval stereotype of a disreputable friar -- fond of fighting, hunting, and wenching." Copland's play seems to indicate that Tuck was lusty indeed; Dobson/Taylor, p. 209, observes that Child cut a dozen extremely bawdy lines from the end. Based on one of these lines, it appears that he wore an artificial phallus (Cawthorne, p. 75). Certainly Robin offers him "a lady free" as part of his fee (line 111 on p. 289 of Knight/Ohlgren). This does not, however, eliminate the likelihood that the outlaw of 1417 was the first "Friar Tuck."
Robin Hood's friar may not be a version of this particular figure of fun, but that Tuck originated separately seems very likely -- indeed, Holt1, pp. 58-59, described an actual outlaw of 1417 who called himself Friar Tuck. According to Baldwin, p. 68, he actually was in holy orders; his name was Robert Stafford, and he was chaplain of Linfield in Sussex. Stafford was like Robin in at least one regard: He was good at evading capture. He avoided the authorities for more than a dozen years (Pollard, p. 95).
Dobson/Taylor, p. 4, suggest that Stafford took the name "Friar Tuck" in imitation of Robin Hood's association, and Holt seems to think (p. 16) that Robin and the Friar were connected from the start.
On the other hand, Alexander, p. 99, notes Tuck's strong history outside the Robin Hood legend: "In the May Day entertainments Friar Tuck took on the role of the Fool while at Christmas he became the Abbot of Misrule in charge of the celebrations."
On this evidence, whatever the age of the ballad of the Curtal Friar, it draws upon tales not integral to the Robin Hood legend. The friar, like Maid Marian, may have come to be associated with Robin via the May Games.
Keen, p. 134, suggests that Marian and Tuck have no analogies in the early ballads because they were "inappropriate" to the natural situation of an outlaw. Knight/Ohlgren, p. 10, suggest that Marian was made a major character by Munday because he made Robin a nobleman, and a nobleman needs a wife so that he can have heirs. McLynn, p. 243, offers the wild suggestion that "Maid Marian underlies the link to fertility cults"!
If Munday helped establish Maid Marian,and retained Friar Tuck, he is even more important in the establishment of Robin as a nobleman. It is little surprise to see this sort of "promotion"; it happened with Hereward the Wake as well. The claim that Robin was well-born was made by Grafton, and was supported by the Gale inscription, paraphrased by Parker in 1598. Dr. William Stukeley, in 1746, combined inaccurate records of the peerage with a good deal of imagination (such as a "marriage" which took place after one of the participants was dead; Cawthorne, p. 47) to convert Robin into "Robert fitz Ooth" (an unattested name; read perhaps Fitzhugh?), third earl of Huntingdon, giving his death date as 1274, just after the accession of Edward I (Holt1, pp. 42-43). This even though the Huntingdon earldom was then in the hand of the Bruce family.
The ballad "Willie and Earl Richard's Daughter" [Child 102] makes Robin the (bastard) grandson of an Earl -- but Child declares the piece to be no part of the Robin Hood legend, and Bronson calls it a rehash of Child 101. It is a late ballad, plus Child's "A" text does not say which earldom Richard held ("B," which makes him Earl of Huntingdon, is patently literary). What's more, the mention of Robin Hood looks like a paraphrase of the proverb of Robin's bow in "Friar Daw Topias." Besides, the bastard descendent of an earl had no claim to nobility in English law. The Bruce claim to the Huntingdon earldom was valid, and Robin's claim, if he made one, would not have been upheld.
Since we don't know how Robin came to be outlawed, we certainly can't say where he was born! The common story that he was from Locksley (presumabed to be near Sheffield, and thus a bit north and a bit west of Nottingham but well south and west of Barnsdale and south and east of Lacashire) is found in "Robin Hood and Queen Katherine" [Child 145] and in one manuscript biography probably based on the ballads (Cawthorne, pp. 42-43), but it is probably best known because Scott used the name in Ivanhoe.
Suggestions for the "original" Robin Hood are many. Baldwin, as we've mentioned several times, liked Roger Godberd. Hunter famously held out for the Robert Hood of Wakefield who lived in the reign of Edward II. Owen in 1936 found an outlaw named Robert Hood who was pursued by the Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1230 (Dobson/Taylor, p. 16; Holt1, pp. 53-54). But, for all that scholars try to make these characters fit the legend, they simply cannot be the same person as the hero of the "Gest." To try to flesh out the legendary Robin, we must look to the tales, not the chronicles.
Cawthorne, p. 46, offers a "shadowy biography" of Robin based on the combined legends: Born in Locksley around 1160, active as a robber around 1193-1194, outlawed again 1225, died 1247. Cawthorne claims this conforms to the 22 years Robin spent away from the court in the "Gest," although I fail to see how Robin could go to the greenwood for fear of King Edward when the King from 1216 to 1272 was Henry III.
Nor is this the only such reconstructed biograply; Cawthorne, p. 46, goes on to describe a biography suggested by Dodsworth in the seventeenth century. In this, Locksley was apparently Robin's surname. He had to flee after wounding his stepfather with a plow, met Little John in Derbyshire -- and suggested that John, not Robin, was the nobleman!
Most of these reconstructions fall down under their own weight, which should perhaps be a warning to me and other modern reconstructors. As Holt1, p. 61, says, "no one ever put a name to the abbot or the sheriff or... even to the prioress of Kirklees. They are lay figures. They contributed to the legend as types, not as individuals." But these attempts try to reconstruct based on the whole tradition -- as if all of it had equal value. This is clearly hopeless; many of the ballads are just made-up add-ons.
By restricting our aim, we can perhaps produce better results. As Holt1 says on p. 40, even though Robin Hood is essentially fiction, "From the first he was believed to be a real historical person." Dobson/Taylor, p. 11, make the even stronger statement that "the geographical allusions in the Early Robin Hood ballads, and especially in the Gest, are sufficiently specific to suggest the exploits of a real Barnsdale outlaw lay behind the later Robin Hood saga."
I think this statement is too stong; Holt's belief that there was no single source of the legend is clearly correct. But Holt's suggestion that Robin was *believed* to be historical is the more important point. This means that anyone writing about him would try to create a real world setting. I think there could be a historical framework underlying the "Gest" -- even though its hero is not himself historical. If I had to guess, I would guess that the first elements of the legend started to coalesce in the reign of Henry III -- but that the legend came to be set in other periods. Probably in different periods in the various early ballads. We know that, by the time the "Gest" was written, chroniclers were already producing conflicting dates (see the information above on Wyntoun and Bower and such).
But this means that anyone writing a tale of Robin had what amounted to free rein to choose a time. So we should not ask when Robin Hood lived, but *when the author of the "Gest" believed he lived.*There is, of course, an assumption here, which is that there is a chronology imposed on the materials -- which in turn assumes that Clawson is wrong and the "Gest" is made of only three or four component elements, not from dozens of ballads. This assumption is very weak, but it is stronger than Clawson's alternative.
We can, on this basis, create a "biography" of Robin Hood -- the biography used in the "Gest" (and only in the "Gest," note). Again, keep in mind that I do not claim that what follows is the story of an actual outlaw. I do not believe it is. I am not even sure that the author of the "Gest" worked from a chronological framework -- very likely he did not. But most authors, when they write novels, compile mental histories of their major characters. *If* the author of the "Gest" had such a framework -- a tremendous "if"! -- then this is my reconstruction of what the author of the "Gest" thought was Robin's story.
Robin Hood was born in the reign of Edward I, perhaps between 1290 and 1295. He was the son of a yeoman, perhaps in eastern Lancashire, the property of that "rapacious, grasping and cruel landlord," the Earl of Lancaster (Hutchison, p. 115), although we cannot rule out the possibility that he was born in Yorkshire -- perhaps in the area of Pontrefract, which is near Barnsdale; Lancaster's wife, Alice de Lacy, held the honor of Pontrefract from her father (Holt1, p. 53), and inherited it from her father in 1311 (Hutchison, p. 66) -- although Alice walked out on her husband in 1317! (Hutchison, p. 92).
It was a very unsettled period -- Edward I and his barons had been on the brink of civil war when the Scottish situation forced them to cooperate (Prestwich1, pp. 424-427). At this time, common men were expected to practice the longbow, and Robin took up this weapon at an early age. But Edward took fewer infantry on his later campaigns in Scotland (Prestwich1, p. 513, who argues that this was one reason the campaigns failed), and after the death of Edward I in 1307, the laws about the bow were relaxed. Some gave up the bow; Robin, the best of the local boys, continued to practice, and became better still as he grew older.
The reign of Edward II was a time of unrest. Probably sometime between 1310 and 1315, Robin found himself in trouble with the authorities in Lancashire. Perhaps it was in 1311, when the Earl of Lancaster succeeded to the de Lacy holding of Pontrefract (as well as to lands around Wyresdale). Perhaps Robin supported Edward II against the Earl of Lancaster -- dangerous in Lancashire even in normal times, a county where the Earl had palatinate powers even in peacetime. And Lancaster's power increased during the Scots Wars, since he became regional commander after Bannockburn (Phillips, p. 250). The possibility that Robin was one of the rebels against Lancaster is discussed in the notes to Stanza 412.
Another possibility is that the depression that had started in the 1290s forced him off his lands. Maybe it was an effect of the inflation of the period, caused by the appearance of cheap coins designed to look like English pennies but with rather less silver content; Edward I had been unable to prevent the import of these coins -- and later did a reminting allowing him to pick up cash but at the cost of jacking up prices for others (Prestwich, p. 531-532). Maybe it was an after-effect of Edward I's forest laws. Or perhaps it was the result of the 1315 famine, which would explain why his band was so small at the beginning of the "Gest" (see the notes to stanzas 4 and 17). We don't have enough detail to know.
Whatever the reason, Robin fled (over the border) to Yorkshire. Perhaps he went directly to the greenwood; perhaps, given the poor economy of the time, he sought work and only fled society when he could not find it. But by 1316 -- perhaps much earlier -- he was in Barnsdale. He likely joined an existing band of outlaws -- and rose to the top because of his superior leadership skills and ability with the bow. The early events of the "Gest," such as the encounter with Sir Richard atte Lee, happened in the period between 1313 and 1322 -- probably toward the middle ot the period, when Edward II still wanted to go on crusade, with 1316-1317 the most likely dating.
In 1322/1323, Edward II visited Robin during his northern trip. He gave Robin a (probably conditional) pardon -- very possibly because Robin had supported Edward against the Earl of Lancaster. But Robin -- a yeoman born and bred -- did not enjoy court life, and especially court life in the corrupt court of Edward II. He returned to the north, and to the greenwood. Possibly he spent some time in Sherwood at this time -- and possibly suffered enough pressure from the Nottinghamshire authorities that he returned to Barnsdale.
If the robbery of the Bishop of Hereford was part of the legend from the beginning, it probably took place in the years after 1327, when Orleton of Hereford had helped depose Edward II. Perhaps some of Robin's exploits in archery contests took place around 1330, when Edward III was starting to revive the practice but before Robin grew too old.
In 1345, Robin -- now well into his fifties -- grew ill. Although he had lived in Yorkshire for most of the last thirty years, his family was in Lancashire or on the border between Lancashire and Yorkshire. He therefore went to Kirklees, near that border, to be treated. But three decades had weakened the family ties, and there he was tricked and died. Many of his men, now leaderless, took the pardon of Edward III (Hewitt, p. 30, says that hundreds of outlaws were pardoned around 1346); some very likely served at Crecy (we cannot prove this either way, because none of the indentures for soldiers at Crecy has survived; Hewitt, p. 35).
There are a few other historic events which might tie in with this (call this the "hints for the historical novelist" section). For instance, if Robin joined Edward II's court in 1323, then he probably left it in 1324. It is interesting to note that this was a period when Robert Baldock and the Despensers were passing a series of changes in the government. Most of these were good reforms (Hutchison, p. 122), but Robin might not have trusted a change made by Baldock, given his (possible) involvement in the Richard atte Lee situation (see the note on Stanza 93). Or perhaps, with the Despensers sucking up all the available grants, there were no properties left for Robin (see the note on stanza 435).
When Edward II was taken into custody, the Earl of Lancaster (the brother of the man Edward had executed) originally had custody of him, but eventually turned him over to others. Was this because of the conspiracy in early 1327 which arose to free Edward (Doherty, p. 115)?
Given the timing and location, Robin and his band might have been part of the conspiracy. Doherty, p. 121, speaks of a "Dunheved gang," said to be "irrepressible," which tried to rescue Edward. Might this be Robin and his men? It is true that two of their raids were in Berkeley and Cirencester, far from Robin's home, and that Dunheved (or Dunhead) was said to be from the vicinity of Kenilworth in Warwickshire (Phillips, p. 542), but another Dunheved raid was in Chester, which wasn't too far away from Yorkshire (Doherty, p. 122). The counter-argument is that most of the raiders were allegedly captured (Doherty, pp. 124-125) and killed with torture (Hutchison, p. 141). It does appear that Edward was briefly loose, but not long enough to make any difference.
Neither that nor even Edward II's death stopped the rescue attempts, however -- supposedly a "demon-raising friar" said Edward was still alive (Doherty, pp. 147-150). An Italian priest claimed to have talked to Edward II as late as 1340 (Doherty, p. 185). And, if people could believe a dead king alive, they could certainly believe he could be rescued..... (Doherty, p. 217, thinks there is an actual possibility that Edward II escaped. But this section of Doherty is so fantastic that I came away with the idea that maybe, after escaping, Edward II would have gone on to join Robin Hood's band -- maybe, given his height, he was the original version of Little John. And no, I am *not* advancing this hypothesis; I use it to demonstrate how far-fetched Doherty's hypothesis is.) What is certain is that the cause of Edward II inspired great passion -- so much of it that there was a serious attempt to have him canonized (Phillips, pp. 600-604).
We also note that the new Earl of Lancaster died in 1345 (Ormrod, p. 27). Might this have freed Robin to visit his family in Lancaster -- and resulted in his fatal willingness to go to Kirklees?
It is a sad tale. Not only did Robin die by violence, but he failed in his goals. Holt, p. 10, declares that the tale of Robin is "all very satisfying," since Robin brings proper justice -- as well as being true to his word (unlike the sheriff), devout (unlike, seemingly, the established clergy), generous (unlike the abbot), courteous (unlike the cellarer). Holt sees Robin as winning the fight with oppression.
But the actual record is depressing. Edward II ended up deposed and murdered. The church would have to wait two more centuries for reform of the monasteries and the episcopal system -- and, when Henry VIII did all that, he left the episcopal system largely intact and did away with the practice of extreme reverence for Mary shown by Robin. Yeomen did gain in rights after his time -- but that was due to the Black Death, not to the work of outlaws. Robin's story is one of a long, slow defeat. But that was the way of the Middle Ages. If he could not change the world, at least he "dyde pore men moch god."
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