Gest of Robyn Hode, A [Child 117] --- Part 06

DESCRIPTION: Continuation of the notes to "A Gest of Robyn Hode" [Child 117]. Entry continues in "A Gest of Robyn Hode" [Child 117] --- Part 07 (File Number C117F)
Last updated in version 2.6
With the above as background, let us look at the "Gest" itself, looking in detail at the contents. What follows is a sort of "Annotated Gest"; I have noted passages which might help us discover its history, or which need explanation.The notes are assembled under Child's stanza numbers; I have also supplied Knight/Ohlgren's line numbers.
This is not a commentary on the text, although I sometimes have had to make reference to textual issues. The textual commentary follows this section.
I have tried to note instances where the text of the "Gest" makes sense in historical context -- that is, where an event or statement in the "Gest" could be a reference to something which actually happened in history. Let me stress that I do not think that the "Gest" is history. But it is surely based at least in part on historical memories.
The majority of the links are to events in the reign of Edward II. This is perhaps slightly artificial -- once I had enough parallels to the reign of Edward II, I was forced to research Edward II in detail, causing me to find far more parallels. Also, I became convinced that the poem "targets" the reign of Edward II -- that is, that the poet was setting his poem in that reign. The number of Edward II references is, frankly, rather overwhelming. Most of these are probably coincidence. But I include them all because, while most of the details are coincidence, there is no way of knowing *which* of them are coincidence. And I have tried to include links to other reigns as well.
** Stanza 1/Line 1 ** The opening formula, "Lythe and listin, gentilmen..." occurs thrice more, in Stanza 144 (beginning of the third fit), Stanza 282 (second stanza of the fifth fit), and Stanza 317 (beginning of the sixth fit). The latter three mark major transitions in the poem. The break at the start of the third fit is a transition from the story of Robin Hood and the knight to the story of Little John and the sheriff; the break in stanza 282 indicates the start of the archery contest in Nottingham; the break at the start of the sixth fit marks the start of the episodes of the sheriff and King seeking to apprehend Robin.
It is interesting to ask whether these formulae were in the originals combined by the author of the "Gest," or whether he added them himself. They do not represent the most logical break points; on the other hand, those in stanzas 144 and 317 do represent roughly a third of the work. If we assume a typical recitation speed of five verses per minute, that would mean that each break comes after about half an hour. It would not be a surprise for a minstrel to take a halt after that period of time. The use in stanza 282 may have been imported from one of the sources, or an alternate break point.
As an alternative to the idea of the singer taking a break, Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 162, seems to suggest that the breaks built into the "Gest" are for phases of a feast. Ohlgren says that there "is a major meal in every fytte except fytte 6." This leads to the idea, suggested by Dean A. Hoffman (Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 163) that the meals in the "Gest" might correspond to the serving of additional courses. But the meal in fit 3 is merely a hastily-grabbed snack, and several of the other references are short. And I doubt the minstrel and the cooks could coordinate that closely. I think it far more likely that the performances were organized around the "Lythe and listin" formula than about the meals.
The use of such an introductory formula is common, though of course not universal, in minstrelsy. Old English even had a word, "Hwaet," which we might infomally translate as "Listen up and listen good!" It is the first word of "Beowulf" and "The Dream of the Rood" and doubtless much other Anglo-Saxon literature. In much later folk song, we still find opening formula along the lines of "Come all ye bold (something-or-others) and listen to my song." Even the Slavic epics, which surely have no genetic relationship to any in English, have formulaic openings (Lord, p. 45).
It is interesting to note the alliteration of "lythe" (probably the imperative of "lythen," glossed by Knight/Ohlgren as "attend," hence "pay attention"; cf. Langland/KnottFowler, p. 279) and "listen," as well as the relatively strong L sound of "gentilmen." "Lythe" and "listen," although distinct words, are almost redundant; it would have been easy to use another word instead of "lythe" -- except for the alliteration. Although the poem was probably compiled after the peak of the alliterative revival which gave us "Piers Plowman" and "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," Benson/Foster, p. 5, notes that the "Stanzaic Morte Arthur" still delighted in alliteration, and this formula may derive from some source which does so also. There are a few other alliterative formulae in the Gest, e.g. Gummere, p. 315, points out "wordes fayre and fre" in stanza 31. Burrow/Turville-Petre, p. 59, note that in the Middle English period "Rhymed verse frequently uses alliteration as an ornament of style."
Observe that the word "lythe" as a verb for "pay attention" does not appear to have been used by Chaucer (based on Chaucer/Benson, p. 1265), who rejected alliteration, but is found in "Piers Plowman" (see p. 279 in Langland/KnottFowler; p. 532 in Langland/Schmidt) and in "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" (Tolkien/Gordon, p. 196), both alliterative. The word is from Old English hlytha, listen, and appears to have been fairly common in early Middle English, but by the fourteenth century it seems to have been almost completely confined to alliterative works.
This introductory formula survives in some of the later ballads; "Robin Hood and the Beggar, I" [Child 133] opens "Come light and listen, you gentlemen all"; "Robin Hood and the Beggar, II" [Child 134] preserves the form "Lyth and listen, gentlemen."
Compare also the Romance of Gamelyn, which opens "Listeth and lestneth and hearkneth aright" (Sands, p. 156).
The outlaw ballad of "Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudesly" [Child 116] has the lines "Now lith and lysten, gentylmen, And that of myrthes loveth to here" at the beginning of stanza 5.
"The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle" opens "Lythe and listenythe the lif of a lord riche" (Hahn, p. 47; cf. Sands, p. 326, who uses a slightly different orthography).
The invocation of "gentlemen" would seem to imply an aristocratic audicene. On the other hand, the formula might simply have been imported from some other romance targeting the upper class.
** Stanza 1/Line 3 ** Right from the start we are told that Robin was a "gode yeman," i.e. a "good yeoman." This has inspired some debate. The term "yeoman" is perhaps derived from "yongman," "young man," a usage actually found in stanzas 187-288 (Pollard, p. 33, Knight/Ohlgren, p. 149); this implies the sense "low fellow on the totem pole," and hence the meaning "royal servant."
The word had two meanings in the period around 1400 -- a small freeholder or a household officer. To some extent, this influences the dating of the poem. 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.
There is logic to this. Robin seems to have a significant band (see note on stanza 229) -- and, if the poem really would have us believe that they are all yeomen, that effectively requires that the date be after 1400.
But there were always yeomen in England. It's just that the number increased after the Black Death. Robin and John and a few of the others could be yeomen, with the rest villeins. Indeed, it makes better sense to assume that most of them were villeins, and fled to the greenwood for lack of another choice (a free man could always seek work elsewhere). In the period from Henry II to Edward II, villeins -- peasants -- were bound to the land (there are cases of them being sold; Stenton, pp. 142-143).
The Black Death of 1349 (which took place about halfway through the reign of Edward III) changed that by producing a shortage of workers (Ormrod, p. 29). The nobility tried to halt the exodus of the peasants (Wat Tyler's rebellion of 1381 was largely against these restrictions; Wilkinson, pp. 158-164; Ormrod, p. 30), but more and more peasants were becoming free in the reign of Edward III, and almost all were free by the early fifteenth century. Wilkinson, p. 187, after a catalog of restrictive laws, concludes that "Nothing, in the end, could resist a movement toward greater emancipation of the peasant" -- indeed, the fact that, by the reign of Edward III, they all carried longbows made it difficult for the nobility to suppress them!
Pollard, p. 34, points out the the "Statute of Additions of 1413," which required legal documents to state the class and occupation of those entering into a deal. This in effect made "yeoman" an official legal term. This is minor evidence for the belief that the "Gest" was written after that date.
Holt, however, is convinced that "The legend is... not [about] the yeoman freeholder, but the yeoman servant of the feudal household" (p. 4). This, in a sense, gives us another link to the story of David and Saul, in 1 Samuel 25:10, Nabal complains about David, saying "There are many servants today who are breaking away from their masters."
Some support for Holt's contention comes from the "Monk," where the King makes John and Much yeomen of the crown for bringing the letter about Robin Hood (cf. Holt, p. 29).
Pollard, p. 41, also notes the interesting title of "Yeoman of the Forest," a title for foresters. On p. 43 Pollard notes that both Little John and Robin refer to Robin by the title "yeoman of the forest" (see, e.g., stanza 222). And we do find Robin called a forester's son in stanza 3 of "Robin Hood's Birth, Breeding, Valor and Marriage," as well as in "Robin Hood Was a Forester Bold," which is not included in the Child canon.
But there is no hint in the "Gest" of Robin having ever held the title officially. What's more, a typical forest had only about half a dozen active foresters, according to Pollard, p. 44. If Robin's band truly numbered in the scores, it had to be something different. And foresters had various duties, such as managing the trees, e.g. by trimming, pruning, and cutting, to make the forest yield particular types of wood (Kerr, pp. 148-149). There is no evidence that Robin's men did any of these things.
In stanza 14, Robin orders his men to spare yeomen who walk the greenwood. Pollard, p. 45, suggests that this means Robin intends his men to leave the foresters alone. If I were a forester, I probably wouldn't want to be my life on that, but it's an interesting point. Pollard, pp. 46-47, argues that Robin sees himself as a sort of King of the Foresters, even to the point of trying to employ Little John as his bowbearer (the aid to the Keeper of the Forests) in the "Monk" (stanza 9. This strikes me as a little strong; Robin is simply saying, as he often does, that he needs only Little John as a companion. In any case, this theme does not appear in the "Gest.")
Pollard also argues, p. 50, that Robin's men are fully aware of the terminology of forestry and hunting, but the examples he cites are vague enough that they might have come from the poet, or from second-hand knowledge of forestry.
By the late fifteenth century, a yeoman could be quite well-to-do; at least some earned in excess of the 40 shillings per year required to be permitted to vote for members of parliament (Pollard, p. 35; Lyon, p. 152). It is noteworthy that 40 shillings is far less than the twenty marks which were bandied about as wages at several times in the "Gest" (Stanzas 150, 170-171).
The frequent mentions of yeomen in the "Gest" may be intended to appeal to a yeoman audience (which would be much larger in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century, when the poem was probably compiled) -- but this does not mean that it is about a time when yeomen were common.
** Stanza 2/Line 5 ** In addition to being a yeoman, Robin is a "prude (proud) outlaw." This does not mean he was a convicted criminal -- or not exactly. "Outlaw" was a technical term for one who failed to answer a summons for trial (Knight/Ohlgren, p. 149). Robin and his men are several times called outlaws (this being the first time; his men being called outlaws for the last time in stanza 447, when Robin returns to them after his time at King Edward's court; Robin himself is called a "good outlaw" in the very last verse (stanza 456), ironically immediately before he is said to have done much good for poor men.
it is noteworthy that nowhere are we told what Robin's original crime was.
One thing that is worth remembering is that "outlaw" was, at this time, primarily a local term. The King might, of course, send out a warrant to watch for a particular criminal, but most judgments were passed in one particular area. As Pollard notes on p. 105, "Men were frequently hounded for outlawry when they had no knowledge that they had in fact been outlawed, often in another county." It is at least possible that we see a hint of this in Stanzas 331-332 of the "Gest," in the arrest of the knight while hawking.
It is true that the "Monk" calls Robin the "kynggis felon" (stanza 21), and in the "Gest" we will eventually see King Edward intervene in the case. But the King's interest was more in rebellion than in what we would consider ordinary crime.
** Stanza 2/Line 7 ** Robin, we are told, is a "curteyse" -- that is, a courteous -- outlaw.
The very fact that this word is used shows that Robin is not a Saxon rebel; Shippey, p. 129, notes that the word is "post-Anglo-Saxon."
Courtesy in the Plantagenet period is more than manners; it is the specific rules of polite society -- and is one of the most basic elements in the description of a hero. Sir Gawain, the subject of so many romances, "achieved a reputation as the most courteous of Arthur's knights. After the late thirteenth century, courtesy became the hallmark of knighthood" (Hall, p. 4). Chaucer's Knight "loved chivalrie, Trouthe and honouyr, fredom and curteisie" (Prologue, lines 45-46; Chaucer/Benson, p. 24). Of king in "Sir Orfeo" we are told that "Large and curteis was he" (line 4; Sands, p. 187). Examples could be repeated indefinitely. The theme of courtesy will recur many times in the "Gest," as Robin is called "courteous" (implying that he is as good as a knight or member of the gentry), while those of higher station fail of their courtesy. (Observe, e.g., the abbot's treatment of the knight in stanza 103.)
Other examples: In stanza 24, we learn that Little John is courteous. In stanza 29, Robin courteously takes off his hood. In stanza 108, the knight begs the justice for courtesy (and is turned down). In stanzas 115 and 121, the knight calls the abbot uncourteous. In 151, Little John calls the knight (or maybe Robin) courteous. The sheriff's butler is uncourteous in stanza 159. John greets the sheriff courteously in 182. Robin is courteous to the monk in 226; the monk is not so courteous in return. In 256 the monk calls Robin uncourteous. The knight greets Robin courteously in 263, and offers a courtesy gift in 270. In 295, the prize arrow is accepted courteously by Robin. In 312, the knight recalls Robin's courtesy. In 383 Robin addresses the disguised king courteously.
This theme of courtesy gives a fascinating link to the Gawain romances. Robin, as Child said, was a "popular Gawain." And Gawain was the epitome of courtesy -- as Hahn notes on p. 2, even Chaucer's oh-so-particular Squire refers to Gawain as the pinnacle of courtesy (V.95, or F.85; p. 170 in Chaucer/Benson).
in the Gawain legend, courtesy and chivalry have important effects. Hahn, p. 25, declares that "Repeatedly, Gawain exhibits a willing retraint of available force or a refusal of the authority of position, which separates him from non-chivalrous opponents and also from the arbitrary bullying or domineering impertinance of Sir Kay." The result is to maintain and strengthen the social order.
Compare Robin's treatment of his victims in the "Truth or Consequences" game -- and also the contrast between the courteous Robin and the uncourteous monk in Stanza 226. Robin's courtesy, like Gawain's, allows him to sometimes restrain the force he could otherwise use. Which probably allows him to survive longer than he otherwise would, and to bring about better justice. Robin is an exceptional outlaw just as Gawain (in the British tradition) is an exceptional knight.
** Stanza 3/Line 9 ** "Robyn stode in Bernesdale." In the "Gest," there is uncertainty over whether Robin was based in Barnesdale (Yorkshire) or in Nottinghamshire (the "Gest" does not mention Sherwood in Nottinghamshire, but it was the great forest of that county; if Robin indeed worked in Nottinghamshire, Sherwood would surely have been his base). This is a complicated question discussed in the introduction; it is worth remembering that the early ballads tend to say Barnsdale. In the "Gest," the Richard at Lee portions are set in Barnsdale, the rest mostly in Nottingham (Holt1, p. 24); presumably the author combined tales without cleaning up the inconsistencies.
It has also been suggested (Baldwin, p. 44) that "Barnsdale" should be Bryunsdale in Nottinghamshire (near Basford). Tbis would obviously solve many of the problems, but it is a small and obscure place; it seems much more likely that "Bernesdale" means Barnsdale.
There is even some dispute over whether Barnsdale is in Yorkshire or Rutland. (Knight/Ohlgren, pp. 149-150, based on the research of Knight. Rutland, and the town of Huntingdon which is also associated with Robin in some of the late tales, are in east-central England south of the Wash. The one thing going for Rutland is that, according to McLynn, p. 241, and Knight/Ohlgren, p. 40, etc., Rutland's Barnsdale was in the domain of the Earl of Huntingdon, which would make sense if Robin were shadow earl of Huntingdon -- but not otherwise, since Rutland is in the wrong direction from Nottingham (to the southeast). There are some alleged Robin Hood relics in Rutland (Cawthorne, p. 34), but as usual there is no reason to think they are authentic.
The place names in the "Gest" are informative. The following list shows (I believe) every place named in the Gest, with the stanzas where it is mentioned:
Barnsdale: 3, 21, 82, 83, 134, 213, 262, 440, 442
Blythe: 27. 259
Calvary: 57
Doncaster: 27, 259 / In connection with Roger of Doncaster: 452, 455
Holderness: 149
Kirkesly, i.e. presumably Kirklees: 454 / In connection with the Prioress of Kyrkesly: 451
Lancaster or Lancashire: 53, 357
London: 253
Nottingam: 178, 205, 289, 325, 332, 337, 344, 354, 365, 369, 370, 380, 384. The Sheriff of Nottingham is given that full title in 15, 146, 282, 313,317, 329, 422, 423
Plumpton Park: 357
Saylis: 18, 20, 209, 212
St. Mary's Abbey: 55, 84, 233
Verysdale: 126
Watling Street: 18, 209
York: 84
In addition, there may be an allusion to "Wentbridge" in 135.
Calvary and London are, of course, not local cities and so do not reflect on the site of the action. Watling Street passes through many counties: Of the other names listed:
- In Yorkshire are: Doncaster, Holderness, Kirklees (near the Lancashire border), St. Mary's Abbey, Saylis, York (plus Wentbridge if that reading is accepted).
- In Yorkshire or Rutland are: Barnsdale
- In Yorkshire or Lancashire are: Plumpton Park
- In Lancashire are: Lancaster, Wryesdale (Verysdale)
- In Nottinghamshire are: Blythe (near the Yorkshire border), Nottingham
Thus we have five sites that are certainly in Yorkshire, and two more that probably are. Two, perhaps three, are in Lancashire. Other than Nottingham itself, the only place name mentioned in Nottinghamhire is Blythe, and it is just across the border from Yorkshire.
Thus we have no *specific* references to places in Nottinghamshire. All references to specific places are found in the Barnsdale section, and all are in or near Yorkshire. The detailed data in the "Gest" all points to Robin being based in Barnsdale, and specifically the Barnsdale in Yorkshire.
Holt says that Barnsdale was known as a haunt of robbers as early as 1306. This hints that there were outlaws on the scene before Robin's arrival.
Holt, pp. 73-75, does make the fascinating observation that, if we break up the material in the "Gest" into Nottingham and Barnsdale portions, the Nottingham parts are all parallels of earlier materials from the legends of Fulk and Hereward and such, while the Barnsdale portions (the tale of the knight, plus the death) are mostly original: "the nearer Robin gets to Nottingham the less authentic he becomes." This may be the best argument for a Barnsdale setting: It looks as if the Sherwood stories took older materials and just inserted Robin's name. But note that this still means that the adaption of these materials to refer to Robin must predate the "Gest" -- and must have had time to travel to Yorkshire to be combined with the Barnsdale stories.
** Stanza 3/Lines 11-12 ** Like Robin Hood, Little John is called a yeoman at the very first mention of his name. This is the only information we have about his origin in the "Gest" (unless we count his story to the sheriff, where he calls himself Robin Greenleaf of Holderness; see the notes on stanza 149). Unlike most of the other outlaws, Robin and John seem to have been connected almost from the start; Wyntoun, the very first chronicler to mention Robin, wrote
Lytill Ihon and Robyne Hode
Waythemen were commendyd gude
(so Chambers, p. 131; Knight/Ohlgren, p. 24, and Dobson/Taylor, p. 4, have very different orthographies. The version in Holt1, p. 40, is even more distinct, reading "Waichmen" for "Waythemen." This is not as absurd as it sounds; "i" and "y" were interchangeable at this time, and "c" and "t" looked almost identical in scripts of the time -- a problem which also afflicts the manuscript of "Judas" [Child 23]).
Little John has his own folklore -- that he was so-called because he was huge, or because his birth name was John Little (Baldwin, p. 64); another account give his name as John Nailor. The story that he was a giant is the one which has survived. There is, however, little evidence of this in the "Gest," where he often serves as a trickster.
Given that there does not seem to be an early story of his origin, is it possible that, instead of being a giant, he was in fact originally regarded as small, like many jesters? Note that, in stanzas 147-152 of the Gest, there is no hint that Little John is in any way unusual -- surely, if he were really a giant, the Sheriff would have asked more questions! And in Stanza 307, Much carries Little John for a mile -- hard to do if he were exceptionally large. Pollard, p. 13, calls John the "master of disguise," which also seems unlikely for a giant.
What is more, in Stanza 42, we see John counting money in a style perhaps reminiscent of the practices of the Exchequer, as if he were a clerk.
One might speculate that the idea of Little John as a giant derives from the romance of "Bevis of Hampton." In this as in many romances, the hero fights a giant -- but it features the interesting twist that Bevis, after defeating the giant, takes him on as a servant (Baugh, pp. 131-132), just as Robin at one time would have John be his bow-bearer. This, obviously, is a romance idea which was not followed by the author of the "Gest."
** Stanza 4/Line 13 ** Since "Will Scarlet," or some such name, came to be one of the standard members of Robin Hood's band, it is perhaps worth mentioning that he is not here called "William" or "Will," but just by his surname (Scarlock is mentioned in 11 stanzas of the "Gest." In stanza 208, he is "Wyllyam Scarlock." Other than that, it's just "Scarlock."). There is a variant in the spelling; see the textual note.
That some such man was early associated with Robin Hood follows from the fact that "Guy of Gisborne," stanza 13, refers to "Scarlett"; the "Monk"has "Wyll Scathlok" in stanza 63, and the Percy text of the "Death" has "Will Scarlett" in stanza 2. In addition, there is a parliamentary roll for Winchester in 1432 which some joker decided to pad out with the names of outlaws. In addition to the genuine citizens, it adds the names of "Adam, Belle, Clyme, Oclaw, Willyam Cloudesle, Robyn, hode, Inne, Grenewode, Stode, Godeman, was, hee, lytel Joon, Muchette Millerson, Scathelock, Reynold" -- that is, "Adam Bell, Clym o' [the] Clough, WIlliam [of] Cloudesly," then a clear line from a Robin Hood ballad, "Robin Hood in the greenwood stood, A goodman was he," then a list of his followers, Muchette the miller's son, Scathelock, Reynold (Holt1, p. 69, with a photo on p. 70; cf. Cawthorne, p. 58).
There is also an instance in the Forresters book where a later hand has corrected "Will Stutley" to "Will Scathlock" (Knight, p. xxvi), but the manuscript also has "Scarlett" and (once) "Scarett."
Anthony Munday, who did so much damage to the tradition, made Scathelock and Scarlet into separate characters (see, e.g., the Cast of Characters on p. 303 of Knight/Ohlgren). Obviously both names were known in his time -- but there is no reason to think that they were originally anything but one person.
"Scarlock" and "Scathelock" both imply a man who is good at getting past locks. He is the only one of Robin's band whom we might accuse of an actual crime: The name implies that he was a burglar. (At least, that's the general view; Alexander, p. 266, declares that the "'Scatheloke' version of his name suggests that he was red-haired.") It also makes it likely that "Scarlet" was a correction to make him less an obvious criminal.
But there is no obvious reason to prefer either "Scarlock" or "Scathelok." I will generally use "Scarlock" because Child does. For more detail, see the textual note.
** Stanza 4/Line 14 ** Much the Miller's Son, like Scarlock, is found in several of the early ballads; in stanza 8 of the "Monk" we encounter "Moche (th)e mylner sun," who joins Little John in robbing and killing the Monk; and he occasionally turns up in the later ballads. As a personal name, "Much" has not been found elsewhere; it has been suggested that it is a nickname, although from what source is not clear (unless it's the Muchette of the Winchester parliamentary return, but that's not a common name either).
In "Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar" [Child 123], he becomes "Midge" (stanza 4 in Child's B text) or "Mitch" in the version in the Forresters manuscript (Knight, p. 72, line14).
In stanza 73, we find Much complaining that Little John is measuring cloth too generously. As a wild speculation, could he have been called some nickname such as "Not So Much," because he was tight-fisted, and could this then have been shortened to "Much"? This also makes sense in light of the famous rapacity of millers expressed in songs such as "The Miller's Will (The Miller's Three Sons)" [Laws Q21].
Much is not named in the plays of Robin Hood prior to Munday's works (see pp. 275-296 of Knight/Ohlgren), but there are parts for unnamed outlaws. Many of plays of this era used had a few types of characters who went under different names but always played much the same part -- as we see clowns in Shakespeare's plays, e.g. I wonder if Much might not have originated in such a play as a penny-pinching cheapskate who became an object of fun. It is noteworthy that Munday made him a clown (Knight/Ohlgren, p. 303).
In this first instance of his name, there is variation in the prints on whose son Much was; see the textual note.
It is interesting to note that Much is called "little Much" on several occasions (stanza 69 in some of the prints; stanza 73; stanza 77). The significance of this is unclear. It is distinctly odd that a tends to spell the word "lytell" wien applied to Much, "Litell" when applied to John. But perhaps the description "Little Much" explains the designation "Midge" used in the "Curtal Friar" -- perhaps it is used because it means a small person.
The next line says that every inch of Much's body was worth a "grome." Is this an indication that Much was short but capable? "Grome" is a difficult word; Knight/Ohlgren in this place gloss it as "man," and Gummere, p. 314, interprets the line as meaning that every inch of him was worth an ordinary man. But grome is also used in stanza 224, and there it might mean "groom" (and is so glossed in Knight/Ohlgren). The word has several meanings in Middle English. One is anger (Emerson, p. 377; "gromful" is "fierce," according to Dickins/Wilson, p. 273). Sands, p. 384, lists "grom" as meaning "man," perhaps derived from "growan," "grow."; and Langland/KnottFowler, p. 272, list "man" as the meaning of "grome"; Langland/Schmidt, p. 526, gives "fellows" as the meaning of "gromes." Turville-Petre, p. 233, suggests "servant, attendant" as a meaning for "grom" (perhaps from "groom"?). The exact meaning thus eludes us; I might suggest that the idea is that every one of Much's (relatively few) inches was worth a (taller but) lesser man -- or, alternately, that Much, being a free man, is worth more than any number of servants. Or just possibly we should emend "grome" to "grote," "groat."
It is interesting to note that, other than Robin and John, plus sundry saints, only seven people are given personal names in the "Gest" (many others, such as the Sheriff of Nottingham, the Abbot of St. Mary's, and the Prioress of Kirklees, have titles -- but no names; they are just placeholders) The list of people with names is as follows:
(King) Edward: Stanzas 353, 384, 450
Gilbert (of the White Hand): Stanzas 292, 401, 404
Much (the Miller's Son): Stanzas 4, 17, 61, 69, 73, 77, 83, 208, 214, 223, 293, 307
Reynold: Stanza 293 (also adopted as an alias by Little John in stanzas 149, 150, 157, 183, 189, but stanza 293 is the only mention of Reynold as a member of Robin's band)
(Sir) Richard at Lee: Stanzas 310, 331, 360, 410, 431
Roger (of Doncaster): Stanzas 452, 455
Scarlock/Scathelock: Stanzas 4, 17, 61, 68, 74, 77, 83, 208, 293, 402, 435
Note that Much is mentioned 12 times, and Scarlock in 11 -- and nine of the mentions of Much's name (including the first eight) are all in immediate context of the mention of Scarlock, and similarly the first nine mentions of Scarlock are in the context of Much. The only exceptions are in stanza 214-223, where Much helps John take the sheriff; stanza 307, where Robin and Much refuse to leave Little John in the hands of the Sheriff; stanza 402, where Scarlock but not Much is involved in the archery contest before the King, and stanza 435, where Scarlock stays with Robin in the King's service when everyone else except Little John abandons him. It would appear that Scarlock was found in the tale of Robin and the King, but Much was not. The rest of the time, it is almost as if they are a comedy team -- e.g. in stanza 73 Much complains about John's generosity with cloth, and Scarlock replies (in effect) "Why not? It didn't cost *us* anything."
It is interesting to note that, although Robin is said to have seven score men (stanza 229), only five of them have speaking roles, and the role of Gilbert is trivial. At this stage, we might speculate, Robin's band is quite small -- perhaps just the four we see here (Robin, John, Scarlock, and Much), or these four plus a few cooks and wiv es and craftsmen. See also the note on Stanza 17.
** Stanzas 6-7/Lines 21-28 ** Robin will not eat until he entertains a guest. Not much of a hint as to dating, but we know that this idea of not eating until something notable happens is common in romances, particularly Arthurian romances. We see it also in the ballad of "The Boy and the Mantle" [Child 29]; Child's notes to that piece list several parallels, although many are French or Latin rather than English.
One romance which contains the idea is, of course, "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." The theme is far too common to suggest literary dependence (although see the note on Stanza 185), but it is worth noting that the manuscript of "Sir Gawain" is generally dated to c. 1400 (Tolkien/Gordon, p. xxv), with the poem probably composed not too many decades before that. More interestingly, it is generally accepted, based on the language, that "Sir Gawain" comes from somewhere in the north or north-west of England, quite possibly in Lancashire (Tolkien/Gordon, p. xiii), right in the area where Robin Hood was allegedly active.
The romance of "The Turk and Gawain," which also features the pluck-buffet contest (see stanza 424) at another point sees the Turk ordering Gawain to fast (lines 48-59, 83-88 on pp. 341-343 of Hahn). This romance is also considered northern, although it is probably later than the Green Knght.
Thus we know that this motif was in circulation in the area where Robin supposedly lived, in the time when his legend was coming into being. See the section on "Sources" in the introduction.
The author of the "Gest" would probably not like the comparison, but it is noteworthy that King Saul, who could not save Israel and was overthrown by the Philistines, also had a tendency to fast and even to order his men to fast; see in particular 1 Samuel 13.
Robin will again wait for a guest in stanza 143.
** Stanza 7/Line 25 ** The line that begins Stanza 7 is lacking in all texts; see the textual note.
** Stanza 7/Line 28 ** "That dwelleth here bi west." If this line is correct, it can hardly refer to Nottingham; perhaps West Yorkshire or Lancashire is meant. Perhaps we should understand it as "from the west" -- which might (might!) refer to a follower of the Earl of Lancashire, the enemy of Edward II, and hence possibly of Robin himself.
** Stanza 8/Lines 31-32 ** According to this stanza, Robin heard "thre messis," i.e. three masses, before meals. This is the first indication of Robin's intense religious devotion. The next is in stanza 10, where we hear that he loved "Our dere Lady" above all others.
It is worth asking who officiated at the masses, however. In "Robin Hood and the Monk," we find Robin deciding to go to Nottingham because he has not heard mass for two weeks (Holt1, p. 28). Did Robin at some point acqure a priest? How, and who was it? Or does the reference in the "Monk" refer to a high mass (Missa solemnis, featuring deacon and subdeacon and others singing and performing ancilliary tasks), whereas the "Gest" refers to a low mass, requiring only an officiating priest? (Davies, p. 364).
I do note the curious fact that Henry VIII heard three masses a day when he went hunting, and sometimes as many as five on other days (Williams, p. 40). Since Henry VIII did not take the throne until 1509, we know the "Gest" cannot refer to him -- but since Henry played at Robin Hood, could he have been influenced by it?
** Stanza 10/Lines 37-40 ** For love of "Our dear Lady," i.e. the Virgin Mary, Robin will never hurt a woman. We also see this paralleled in the "Monk" (in stanza 34, Little John says that Robin has "servyd Oure Lady many a day" and expects that she will protect him; cf. Holt, p. 29) and "Guy" (stanza 39; Robin, who has tripped, calls on the "deere Lady" and is saved; cf. Holt, p. 32).
There is an even fuller parallel in the "Death"; in stanza 25 of Child's "A" text, from the Percy folio, Robin declares that he will not hurt any widow at his end; in stanzas 15-16 we read, even more explicitly, "I never hurt woman in all my life, Nor men in woman's Company.... I never hurt fair maid in all my time, Nor at mine end shall it be."j
The protection of women was a common theme in the period; Mortimer, p. 23, notes that 'Those accused of murdering women were noticeably less likely to be acquitted than those accused of killing men -- there seems to have been a strong disapproval of violence by and against women, while that among men was normal."
Reverence of Mary was also frequent; the Virgin was often loved with a desperate, sometimes surprisingly erotic, love. The well-known poem "I Sing of a Maiden That Is Makeless" (Luria/Hoffman, p. 170) is a typical example. Mary is makeless -- both matchess and without a mate (Steven Manning, in Luria/Hoffman, p. 331). There is a strong sense of physical intimacy (Thomas Jemielity, in Luria/Hoffman, p. 326), even if the intimacy is with God. Other poems of this period have lines such as "Upon a lade my love is lente" (Luria/Hoffman, p. 177) and "WIth all my lif I love that may" (Luria/Hoffman, p. 183). Idolatrous, and even perverted, as the idea seems to Protestants, it was (and is) deeply ingrained in many Catholics.
Robin's devotion to the Virgin is even more explicit and significant in "Guy of Gisborne": in stanza 38, Guy succeeds in wounding Robin in the side, and seems to have won their battle. But in stanza 39, Robin invokesthe "deere Lady" who is "both mother and may" -- and goes on to win the fight. This "mother and maid" theme is quite common in Middle English poetry; it occurs explicitly in "I Sing of a Maiden (last stanza) and implicitly in much of the vast quantity of Marian poetry (see pp. 170-189 of Luria/Hoffman)
There is, of course, no basis in the Bible for Mariolatria such as Robin exhibits, and it developed in the Catholic Church only slowly (and was ruthlessly pruned out of most Protestant sects). We see some hints of it in Irenaeus at the end of the second century (WalkerEtAl, p. 192), but the creeds barely mention the Virgin Mary -- both the Apostles' and the Nicene Creeds mention her only as the mother of Jesus, and both starting only in about the fifth century (in the case of the Nicene Creed, Mary was introduced when the Council of Chalcedon rewrote it; in the case of the Apostles' Creed, the creed only dates from about the fifth century. See Bettenson, pp. 21-26).
But it was not until the time of Duns Scotus, who died in 1308, that we see Mariology become clearly defined (McGrath, p. 52). This brought about a debate over whether Mary was a co-redemptrix along with Jesus -- a view with absolutely no scriptural basis, but which Robin seems to share.
This was typical of Scotus's views; Scotus, in his opposition to Thomist Aquinas, came to a position of extreme doubt toward the power of thinking; "he according enlarges the number of doctines already recognised as capable of being apprehended by faith alone" (CHEL1, p. 211). Mariolatreia, for which there was no evidence even in the Thomist sense (and a modern empiricist finds even Aquinas far removed from rational thought, with Scotus being pretty close to incomprehensible), was a typical Scotist doctrine.
Once the cult took off, though, it took off like wildfire. To give a semi-random example, Hewitt, pp. 182-186, gives a list of the ships impressed by the British government to take an expedition to France in 1345. In all, 148 ships participated -- and 23 of them were named Seynt Marie or some variant!
Thus, the later the "Gest," the better the fit for Robin's extreme devotion to the Virgin. Still, the "Gest" shows no hint of (e.g.) the Immaculate Conception, another non-Biblical belief which was popularized by Duns Scotus but which did not become official Catholic doctrine until 1854 (McGrath, pp. 46-47; WalkerEtAl, p. 351). So we cannot absolutely rule out an early date; we can only say that Robin's views are more typical of a late date than an early.
It is interesting to note that there are several sites in Yorkshire with strong Marian associations. St. Mary's Abbey is the most obvious, but Kerr, p. 185, notes a bridge chapel of St. Mary's at Wakefield -- a place which Robin must surely have been tempted to haunt! It was built and consecrated in the reign of Edward III, however.
Ohlgren, who is convinced that the "Gest" has ties to the English guild system, notes that four important guilds chose Mary as their patron saint (Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 151; the guilds were drapers, clothworkers, mercers, skinners). And we see John as a draper in stanza 73, and Robin offering up cloth in stanzas 70fff. and in 418. Interesting, but I don't find it as compelling as Ohlgren.
For more on Robin's piety, see the note on stanza 8. For a further example of Robin's devotion to the Virgin, see the note on stanza 65.
** Stanzas 11-12/Lines 41-48 ** In these stanzas, Little John asks instructions on how to live his life -- an oddity for someone who presumably has been part of Robin's band for some time. The whole business reminds me a bit of the way the disciples questions Jesus in the New Testament (see, e.g., the way in which they ask how to pray in Luke 11:1), but this is probably just a coincidence, the result of people who have heard Catholic preachers read the same lessons over and over again.
** Stanza 14/Line 49 ** Robin disclaims force here, but he will certainly use it, e.g., against the Sheriff; see Stanza 348.
** Stanza 14/Line 56 ** Robin's instructions say not to bother knights or squires who would be "a gode felawe." "Felawe"/"Fellow" is a word which occurs relatively rarely in the "Gest," but, as Pollard points out on p. 144, is extremely common in the "Potter." Pollard, pp. 134-142, extensively discusses Middle English uses of the word "fellow," but his conclusion boils down to the fact that it was even more ambiguous then than it is now. It might mean a servant or low-born person (compare the usage in some texts of the "Edward/Lizie Wan" type in which the mother fears that the son has done "some fallow's deed"), or even a member of a gang of robbers, but typically it means something like a comrade or equal.
On p. 142, Pollard points out the common equation between a fellowship and a meine/meyne, a band of followers -- a word of course used in the title of the "Gest" in some of the prints.
"Felawe" occurs in stanzas 14, 171, and "felaushyp"in 229. "Meyne" is in 31, 95, 97, 262, 419. Pollard, p. 143, appears to suggest that "fellow" refers to someone willing to join Robin's band, but it seems to me that Robin's actual followers are his "meyne," and his "fellows" are allies but not close followers.
** Stanza 15/Line 59 ** It is in this stanza that we first meet the Sheriff of Nottingham, who eventually became the primary bad guy of the cycle.
There is no explanation offered for why the sheriff is Robin's enemy (Holt1, p. 9), unless it's just the fact that he is a sheriff. This hardly seems sufficient in a Barnsdale context -- perhaps the Sheriff of Yorkshire, or the Sheriff of Lancashire, might be Robin's enemy, but why Nottingham?
Clawson, pp. 90-96, discusses some possibilities, most of which center around the events of fits III, V, and VI, including the Sheriff's breaking of his oath to be Robin's friend (see notes on stanzas 202, 204, 287). But these events, in the context of the "Gest," took place after this speech.
Pollard, p. 106, comments that "[W]e are never told why Robin Hood was outlawed. It is implied that he is the victim of malicious litigation by others for personal gain, in which the sheriff has colluded." This certainly would explain the hostility, but I must confess that I fail to see where this is implied.
Alternately, if we accept the idea that Robin was a forester or descendant of foresters, found in some of the late ballads although not the early, it might be that the hostility derives from the confilct between forest and non-forest officialdom. When a murder was committed in the forest, it led to problems between sheriff and forester, and disagreements over authority also arose when it was unclear whether a lesser crime had been committed inside or outside the forest (Young, p 93). Perhaps we might envision the sheriff stepping on Robin's family's perceived rights one too many times.
Holt mentions that Robin might have been outlawed by a group of false jurors, which would have been assembled by the Sheriff. This closely resembles a key element of "The Outlaw's Song of Trailbaston," a piece written c. 1305 and surviving in a unique copy of c. 1341 (Ohlgren, p. 99), copied perhaps in response to Edward III's attempt to use Trailbaston as a source of revenue for his wars (Ohlgren, p. 102).
It is written in French, and is the complaint of a many who claims to have served under the King (presumably Edward I), but who was hauled before the judges allegedly for hitting his servant a few times (Prestwich1, p. 286). Edward I's trailbaston law , promulgated in 1305 (Powicke, pp. 345-346), was designed to control thugs who went around beating and intimidating people (a "baston" is a club), so the idea of trailbaston courts was good (apparently this sort of thing was extremely common in 1304, and the trailbaston courts did a good job of cleaning it up, according to Prestwich1, pp. 285-286) -- but, in the Outlaw's Song, the singer declares that anyone is subject to fine or imprisonment by the courts. Being an archer, he faced a forty shilling fine or imprisonment (Prestwich1, p. 287), and so was forced to the woods instead. He recorded his complaint in writing and tossed it onto a highway so that the wider world might hear it.
The similarity to the conception of Robin Hood is obvious: An archer, probably a yeoman, forced into outlawry without cause, who flees to the woods. (Although he does threaten to kill his judges in stanza 10 -- Ohlgren, p. 103 -- which doesn't exactly make him sound like the image of meekness).
Alternately, the hostility might be a side effect of the tale of Gamelyn, where Gamelyn's older brother becomes sheriff and uses his authority against Gamelyn (Baldwin, p. 178).
Or maybe it's just the idea that a hero must have a worthy adversary (cf. Ohlgren, p. 109). In the early ballads, Robin has only two real adversaries: The sheriff, and Guy of Gisbborne. Guy, while a valiant fighter, is only a yeoman, meaning that he belongs to Robin's social class. Plus he winds up dead. The sheriff winds up dead, too, but since he doesn't have a name, he is replaceable. And he is also probably of the gentry or higher. So he becomes Robin's most available opponent -- even if he is in the wrong county!
The office of Sheriff (Shire-Reeve) went back to Saxon times, and gained in importance under the Normans -- "Norman kings, like Anglo-Saxon rulers, needed a link between the central power and local authorities.... It was upon the sheriff, so similar to the Norman vicecomes on the continent, that the mantle of local power fell.... Usually the strong central authorities appointed outstanding feudal barons in the shires as sheriffs" (Smith, p. 73). Bradbury, p. 128, notes a case in the reign of King Stephen, during which Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, was sheriff of Essex, Hampshire, London, and Middlesex! In the time of William II, many counties did not have a baron or earl; it was the sheriff who ran the county (Barlow-Rufus, p. 160).
At their peak, they were without doubt the most important royal officials. Barlow-Rufus, p. 72, believes that in the near-civil-war between William II and his older brother Robert Curthose, it was the support of the sheriffs that allowed William to keep his throne. On p. 190, Barlow-Rufus describes them as responsible for "Revenue, justice, defence and the execution of many administrative orders.'
After Norman times, the office declined. By the fifteenth century, the rewards were so small that it became a post to be avoided at all costs. The clipping of its powers began with the creation of the Justices of the Peace -- figures who do not appear in the early ballads in any form (Dobson/Taylor, p. 14). First created in the early fourteenth century, they were given broad powers by parliament in 1361 (Prestwich3, p. 234; Lyon, p. 154). Sheriffs began to be locally appointed in 1338, and in 1371 Edward III finally gave in to pressure and accepted that sheriffs should be appointed annually (Ormrod, p. 146). There was some backsliding on this (Richard II started appointing his own sheriffs in 1397; Saul, pp. 383-384), but there was no going back to the days of the over-powerful Sheriff.
Smith, p. 75, says that "the golden age of the sheriff was in the early part of the twelfth century. The thirteenth century saw many of his duties distributed among other men or abolished entirely. In still later times, especially under the Tudor monarchs (1485-1603), the lords lieutenant of the counties and the justices of the peace... assumed the main burdens of local government. The once proud sheriffs found that their stepping stones to power were cracked and crumbled by the new forces and new men." Similarly Pollard, p. 103: "By the fifteenthcentury the sheriff's remit was much reduced from earlier times. The great era of sheriff as the king's viceroy had been the twelfth and thirteenth centuries."
Pollard, p. 104, does however note that, even in the fifteenth century, the sheriff's office was important enough that corrupt sheriffs could be a real problem -- this was one of the complaints during Jack Cade's rebellion. But Pollard cannot accept Robin's sheriff as a fifteenth century official: "He is, anachronistically, the king's viceroy, occupying the office at the King's pleasure, and in regular communication with him. He resides, it seems permanently, not as a fifteenth-century sheriff would, but in the royal castle of Nottingham. He displays many of the characteristics of a great lord. He keeps a great household, under the direction of his steward and butler. He retains on a grand scale..." (Pollard, p. 106). Pollard, who wishes to place every attribute of the "Gest" in the fifteenth century, simply rejects the description of the sheriff -- but what he really proves is that the portrayal looks back to an earlier time.
The fact that the sheriff of Nottingham is a powerful official is, therefore, an argument that Robin must date from the reign of Edward III or earlier. However, there is a secondary argument against Robin living in the time of Richard and John or earlier. He could not have lived in Norman times -- if he had, the sheriff of Nottingham would have been called by his feudal title, not "sheriff." Smith, p. 73, implicitly notes that the barons were still sheriffs in the era of the earlier Plantagenets, but that "in John's reign (1199-1216) considerable confusion in the counties resulted when no strong man would take the office of sheriff. After all, many barons in John's day were among the king's enemies."
Another change began in 1236, when the various counties were carefully surveyed and re-valued. This allowed Henry III to force the sheriffs to operate on what we would now call a "percentage basis" -- instead of paying the king a flat fee and then being allowed to collect whatever they could make the county yield, they had to pay the king a fraction of the revenue (Mortimer, p. 43). It took some time for this to become permanent, but this once again made the office of sheriff less popular with the nobility.
Holt, p. 25, notes that we meet the sheriff twice, in fits 3 and 5, and his character seems to change dramatically: "The sheriff of fytte five is menacing and villainous. The sheriff of fytte three is a laughing stock." This might just be an indication of different sources, but it might be an indication of the high turnover of sheriffs which often happened in periods of unrest -- although we should also note that Robin seems to treat the sheriff as the same man (see the notes on stanzas 204 and 287).
Hence the role of the Sheriff, as seen in the "Gest" and elsewhere, argues for a date in the reign of Henry III, Edward I, or Edward II; prior to the reign of Henry III, the sheriff was a noble, and after Edward III, the sheriff simply didn't have the power to act as the sheriff does in the "Gest" and elsewhere.
The fact that the sheriff is, supposedly, a bad official is no argument as to date. Edward I had at one time made a top-to-bottom survey of his officials. We have only partial results, but they are indicative. Prestwich1, p. 95: "The Lincolnshire returns are particularly full. In the wapentake (the local equivalent of the hundred) of Aswardhurn the jurors listed eleven recent sheriffs and eighteen lesser royal officials, along with five seigneurial officials, and accused them of a range of offenses." Prestwich1, pp. 95-96, notes that much of the official misbehavior came as a result of government revaluing of the land to increase revenue (since land worth more was supposed to bring in more tax).
At least some of them were creative. According to Prestwich1, p, 95, one thieving sheriff claimed that he had confiscated chickens to prevent them being used to drop incendiaries on London!
As time passed, the sheriffs became more closely tied to the court. Wolffe, pp. 98, notes that "in 1448 alone fourteen of the thirty-six counties of England had household men as sheriffs." This might explain why the sheriff of Nottingham, in the latter part of the "Gest" and in the "Monk," has such access to the King: Perhaps, after getting rid of the sheriff of the early part of the "Gest" and of the "Potter," the King replaced him with a man who was closer to him.
It is worth noting that, in the year after Bannockburn, King Edward II replaced no fewer than thirty sheriffs -- although, surprisingly, the sheriffs he chose often were not closely tied to him; in 1326-1327, when Isabella and Mortimer were trying to clear out Edward's adherents, they saw need to replace only nine of 24 sheriffs (Phillips, p. 446).
Baldwin, p. 70, says that during some of the period in which we are interested, there was no actual sheriff of Nottingham (compare Pollard, p. 106, who declares that the title should have been "sheriff of Nottingham and Derby"), but on pp. 70-71 he lists a number of officials who might have been treated as the sheriff: Philip Mark, sheriff of Nottingham and Derbyshire 1209-1224, Brian de Lisle, chief forester of those shires 1209-1217 and with other local posts of importance (including sheriff of Yorkshire) until 1241 (these first two were first suggested by Holt; Holt1, p. 60); Eustace of Lowdham, sherrif or under-sheriff of Yorkshire 1225-1226 and of Nottingham and Derby 1232-1233; Robert of Ingram, of Nottingham and Derby intermittendtly from 1322-1334 and occasional mayor of Nottingham (cf. Dobson/Taylor, p. 15); and Henry de Fauconberg, to whom we shall return.
On the other hand, Holt found few Sheriffs of Nottingham with any responsibility for forests (Dobson/Taylor, p. 15).
Of course, the title "sheriff of Nottingham" might be a disguise. I note that, in the second reign of Edward IV, Lord Hastings became Constable of Nottingham Castle and steward and keeper of Sherwood Forest. Close enough to a sheriff for a ballad. And Hastings was also Edward IV's chamberlain -- meaning that he controlled who had access to the king. It is possible that Robin might have been a Lancastrian outlaw -- perhaps even Robin of Redesdale or Robin of Holderness -- whom Edward IV tried to suppress and then offered a pardon. Possible -- but highly unlikely; there just aren't enough specifics in the "Gest" to suggest that the poet was writing about current political controversies.
"A strong argument has linked the fictional sheriff of Nottingham in the Robin Hood stories with the real holder of that office in the 1330s [reign of Edward III], John of Oxford. He was guilty of a long catalogue of acts of arbitrary imprisonment, extortion, fraud and other offenses" (Prestwich3, p. 232). Baldwin, p. 72, refers to him, under the name "John de Oxenford." Holt1, p. 60, also mentions this identification (first made by Maddicott, who thinks the "Gest" referred to events of 1334-1338) with some approval (while expressing strong doubts about Madicott's other identifications), and Pollard alludes to it on p. 185, although without enthusiasm. Hicks, p. 83, declares that "John Oxenford's 'eccentric and yet typical career' so vividly illustrates the scope for corruption in local government that he has been proposed as the model for the sheriff ofNottingham in the ballads of Robin Hood."
Hicks, p. 84, lists among his offences accepting a bribe to set a prisoner free, extortion of various types (charging more than the accepted rate for receipt of writs, collecting fees twice, etc.), and having himself fraudulently elected to parliament. Despite this, he seems to have died in poverty and obscurity (Hicks, p. 85). Hicks, p. 85, concludes, "His origins and fate are thus unusual, but his misconduct in office was exceptional only in scale and fully explains why 'men still had a justifiable distrust' of sheriffs.
I am inclined to think, however, that memories of the vile Oxenford are more likely to have caused the Robin Hood legend to be transplanted to Nottinghamshire and Sherwood Forest, where it was not native, than to have originated the legend.
If John of Oxenford is the actual sheriff of the source story, then Thomas de Multon was perhaps the Abbot of St. Mary's and Geoffrey Scrope the justice (Baldwin, p. 73; Pollard, p. 185-186, who observes that Ohlgren and Aytoun also thought these events contributed to the legend; Holt1, p. 60). But I suspect that this is being too specific, and Holt agrees, particularly with respect to Scrope; had the author of the "Gest" known all these details, he would have used them. John of Oxford may have been the model of the sheriff, but it is unlikely that he actually was the sheriff.
Pollard, p. 107, proposes that the fifteenth century model for the sheriff might be Ralph, Lord Cromwell of Tattershall, who in 1434 became Constable of Nottingham Castle and Steward of Sherwood Forest. A veteran of Agincourt, he also was Chancellor in 1433 (Kerr, p. 131).
This again strikes me as highly unlikely. Cromwell would have been mostly an absentee landlord; he was for many years treasurer of England (Wolffe, p. 73), and had to deal with the financial disasters of Henry VI's reign. And he had lands far outside Nottinghamshire -- Tattershall is in Lincoln, he built a fine manor at Wingfield in Derbyshire (Kerr, p. 131), and his manors of Wressle and Burwell were in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire (Gillingham-Wars, p. 77). It is true that Wolffe, p. 274, calls him acquisitive, which fits, and Wolffe, pp. 121-123, shows how badly justice was distorted in the reign of Henry VI -- but Cromwell lived until 1456, and his death was natural (Wolffe, p. 357). And he would have been a contemporary of the author of the "Gest" -- yet the author of the "Gest" gives us almost no personal details about him. It is, I suppose, possible that the author wanted to slander him and be safe from persecution, but it just doesn't fit.
If we assume that the actual sheriff involved is the man who was sheriff of Nottingham and Derbyshire in 1323 when Edward II came north, that seems to have been Sir Henry de Faucumberg/Fauconberg, Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire in 1318-1319 and 1323-1325, and sheriff of Yorkshire 1325-1327, 1328-1330 (Cawthorne, p. 198). Cawthorne speculates that Fauconberg was actually transferred from Nottinghamshire to Yorkshire when Robin left court, in order to keep track of the outlaw. But, of course, he didn't end up dead while fighting Robin. He does appear, based on Cawthorne, p. 199, to have had sticky fingers, and to have been sustained by Edward II because he had fought against Thomas of Lancaster. This, theoretically, might have made him Robin's ally if we think (as I do) that Robin was an enemy of Lancaster. But this isn't really the right sheriff. It appears to me that we want the sheriff of 1317 and 1322, not 1318 and 1323.
It is interesting to learn that Fauconberg came from Holderness (see the note on Stanza 149).
But the bottom like is, I really don't think we should seek too hard for the historical sheriff. Unlike the King, there were few chronicle stories about sheriffs that our poet could use as a reference! The Sheriff probably derives primarily from the poet's imagination.
** Stanza 17/Line 68 ** "And no man abide with me." Robin has just ordered out Little John, Much the Miller's Son, and Scarlock. Does sending forth these three indeed leave him with no other men? Or has Robin sent all the others elsewhere? In Stanza 61, we also find references to Robin, John, Much, and Scarlock as if they are the only ones present. We cannot tell, but this is another indication that Robin's band may at this time have been small; see also the note on Stanza 4/Line 14.
** Stanza 18/Lines 69-70 ** "Saylis" and "Watling Street." "Saylis" is presumed to be Sayles, near Pontrefract, in the Barnsdale area, a holding listed by Baldwin, p. 43, as a tenth of a knight's fee. This identification was first made by Hunter (Dobson/Taylor, p. 22). Other than localizing Robin to Barnsdale rather than Sherwood, it has no evident significance, but Baldwin does say that "its value as a look-out position over the Road is apparent, even today." In particular, it overlooks the bottleneck at Wentbridge (Holt1, p. 83). According to Dobson/Taylor, p. 22 n. 4, it is fully 120 feet above the plain, making it not only a good place to watch Watling Street but anyone who would approach Barnsdale from the north or east.
It is in teresting that in every use (stanzas 18, 20, 209, 212) it is "the Saylis," not "Saylis." This sounds like it refers to a residence, not a village -- which would make sense if it were someone's holding. And, indeed, Dobson/Taylor, p. 22, note that the spot is still known as "Sayle's Plantation."
Watling Street was the single most important Roman Road in England, running from London to the north. Its mention is no help as to location, since it runs through both Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire. Holt1, pp. 84-85, observes that Watling Streetchanged route in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and the "Gest" seems to match the situation in the latter. This is more evidence for an Edwardian date, although it might come from the poet rather than the legend.
Knight/Ohlgren, p. 151, object that this section of the Great North Road -- now the A1 -- was properly called Ermine Street. and that Watling Street in fact runs to Chester (a point first noted by Ritson), but Dobson/Taylor, p. 22, point out that the name was used for many Roman roads -- and was used for the road toward Pontrefract in Yorkshire was referred to as "Watling Street" from at least the thirteenth century. The key is probably that it was the Roman Road running from London to Yorkshire.
The use of the name is a minor dating hint; Weinreb/Hibbert, p. 934, say that the name "Watling Street" is first attested in1230 for the road that in Anglo-Saxon times was known as Athelyngestrate. The road of course is older than this, but the use of the name "Watling Street" is strong evidence that the poem cannot be earlier than the reign of Henry III. Of course, the internal evidence in any case makes it much more recent than that.
Robin's men are again ordered to Sayles and Watling Street in stanza 209, and they reach Sayles in 212.
** Stanza 19/Lines 73-74 ** "Erle or ani baron, Abbot, or ani knyght." It may be coincidence, but the list of titles (Earl, Baron, Knight) is interesting. The titles "Earl," "baron," and "knight" went back to Norman times (although it took some time to establish fixed duties and titles). Note the absence of what became the two highest titles of the nobility, Duke and Marquis.
Edward III created the first dukes, beginning with his son the Black Prince (Barber, p. 20) and notably including Henry of Grosmont, the nephew of the enemy of Edward II, who became the first Duke of Lancaster -- significant because he had power in the region near Barnsdale and was given palatinate powers (OxfordCompanion, p. 557). York also became a dukedom at an early date; Edward III's fourth son Edmund was Duke of York. Richard II created the title of marquis in 1385 for the de Vere Earl of Oxford (OxfordCompanion, p. 621).
The failure to mention the titles of duke and marquis does not require us to accept a date prior to the reign of Edward III -- dukes were not common, and marquises were very rare. But the lack of those titles is at least a minor support for a date before Edward III.
It is interesting to note that we don't actually *see* any Earls in the "Gest." The title exists, but they aren't coming out of the woodwork they way they are in the twenty-first century. It is perhaps worth noting that the number of earls declined significantly in the reign of Henry III (Jolliffe, p. 283) -- and that neither Nottinghamshire nor Yorkshire had an earl at the end of that reign, nor generally in the next few decades; York became an earldom in the late Edwardian period.
Turning to abbots, we observe in the Tale of Gamelyn a scene where Gamelyn, who is pretending to be a prisoner, is ignored by a number of clergymen. Gamelyn then curses all abbots and priors (Cawthorne, p. 171). Could that passage have influenced this?
It's also interesting to note that secular law generally did not apply to clergy in the middle ages -- except, by special agreement with the Pope, forest law *did* apply (Young, p. 24). This is significant in light of the fact that Robin made his own version of forest law apply to high-ranked monks.
Clawson, p. 17, claims that "Hostility to wealthy and powerful churchmmen was a natural attribute of the mediaeval English outlaw," but as evidence he cites only the fight of Hereward the Wake against a Norman abbot, plus the tale of Gamelyn and the later Robin Hood ballads. Other than the case of Hereward, which was political and far too early, he seems to have no historical examples.
There is an interesting footnote in the forest laws: "Every archbishop, bishop, earl, or baron travelling through the forest may take one or two beasts by view of the foresters or he may blow a horn to give notice if they are not present" (Young, p. 68). Thus one might argue that the higher clergy and nobility were given the right, first, to interfere with Robin's livelihood, and second, that they used his patented horn calls. One wonders if Robin's use of the horn (in the Gest, found in stanzas 229, 389, 447 -- and far more common in the "Robin Meets His Match" class of ballads) might not have been inspired by this.
The fact that Robin so dislikes the higher clergy is perhaps another slight argument against the king of the "Gest" being Edward IV. Bishops in the middle ages were political figures, and often appointed from noble families -- e.g. the Bishop of York in 1470 was John Neville, the son of the late Earl of Salisbury and the brother of the Earl of Warwick (Wagner, p. 174) and the Archbishop of Canterbury was Thomas Bourchier, brother of the Earl of Essex and half-brother of the late Duke of Buckingham (Wagner, p. 35). But both these two were made bishops before Edward IV came to the throne (George Neville became Bishop of Exeter at the age of 23!). According to Ross-Edward, p. 320, the bishops appointed by Edward were, almost without exception, highly educated, and from gentle rather than noble families. This does not mean that they were saints, but certainly they set a much higher standard than the bishops of previous reigns.
Given Robin's hostility to the clergy, we should perhaps also note that the Catholic church was in rather bad shape in this period. The reigns of Edwrd II and Edward III almost exactly overlapped the so-called "Babylonian Captivity" (1305-1377), when the Popes, instead of being based in Rome, were living at Avignon, and hence unduly influenced by France. (This was in some ways better than being influenced by the Italian mobs, but to an Englishman, the French would presumably be The Enemy, and Rome just some faraway place.) There was also a papal schism in the 1180s, and various schisms in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It is easy to imagine an outlaw, who could not possibly know which Pope was actually canonically elected (especially since, in this period, the elections were often anything but honest), thinking something like "a plague on both your episcopal hierarchies."
It is perhaps worth adding that the Black Death decimated the clergy to a greater extent even than the population as a whole (Ormrod, p. 116; Kelly.J., p. 191), dealing a severe blow to monasticism in England and even weakening the bishops. The strong disdain of the higher clergy shown in the "Gest" appears to make more sense in the half century before the Black Death than in the period immediately after (although the hierarchy of course went back to its bad old ways thereafter).
** Stanza 20/Lines 77- 80 ** Note the precise parallel in stanza 212. The parallel continues through the first line of stanza 21 and stanza 213, except for a textual variant; see the note on stanza 213.
** Stanza 21/Line 82 ** John and his companions know a "derne" (hidden) street -- an indication that they know the forest well. This is a curious contrast to Stanzas 11-12, where Robin gives his men their instructions as if for the first time.
Pollard, pp. 58-59, objects that this makes little sense, because the forests of England in the Middle Ages were relatively tame places, often filled with little towns and farms, and easy to travel. This is, of course, true, but that is little help to a traveler who does not live in the forest and know these side paths.
In the parallel in stanza 213, John and his men look down the highway, i.e. Watling Street. Does the difference matter? Perhaps; the knight, who is alone, can travel a path, but the monk of stanza 213, who has a large company, needs to follow the road.
** Stanza 24/Line 94 ** For courtesy see the note on Stanza 2.
** Stanza 27/Line 108 ** "Blith or Dancaster" -- towns along Watling Street/the Great North Road, now typically spelled "Blythe" and "Doncaster." We will meet Roger of Doncaster at the end of the "Gest," when he is involved in Robin's murder. The two towns are between Nottingham and Yorkshire (Doncaster is now a fairly major town, Blythe a hamlet somewhat to its south), so they are no help on the question of whether Robin is based in Barnsdale or Sherwood -- although, if the knight is truly planning to go on crusade (see the notes on Stanzas 56-57), hewould presumably head south to London to start. If he is indeed headed south, that is additional support for Robin being in Barnsdale, not Sherwood.
We will meet these two places again in Stanza 259, where the implication of a setting in Barnsdale is even stronger.
The mention of Doncaster supplies some vague evidence against the contention (highly unlikely on other grounds) that the King Edward of the song is Edward IV. During the 1470 conflict that led to his temporary deposition, the Marquis of Montague was moving to attack Edward IV at Doncaster when Edward fled the country (Wagner, p. 179). This being Edward's strongest connection to Doncaster, and surely well-known at the time, could a contemporary author have failed to note it were Edward IV the hero of the Gest?
** Stanza 28/Line 151 ** Robin orders Little John to search the knight's baggage. This is a standard stage of the "truth or consequences" game, and will happen again in Stanza 246 (searching the Cellarer of Saint Mary's); oddly, we do not see the King searched in stanza 382.
Ohlgren on p. 158 of Ohlgren/Matheson says that guilds had the right of search of their members, and -- given his strenuous efforts to prove that the "Gest" is targeted at the guilds -- claims this as evidence of origin. But, as noted above, the source tales of Hereward and Eustace involve searches of prisoners, and we also see it (e.g.) in the later tales of Dick Turpin. An outlaw who did not search his victims would not be very successful!
** Stanza 29/Line 113 ** Robin and his men are here described as having a "lodge." Pollard thinks this is the same place as the trystel tree (for which see the note on Stanza 176), which is possible but by no means automatic; indeed, it would make sense for outlaws to have several meeting places in the forest and not bring outsiders to their man base. The existence of a lodge does indicate that Robin and his men have been here for a while (again making stanzas 11-12 seem odd), and also argues against the claim (for which see Stanza 176) that it is always summer at his camp -- a lodge is far more important in winter than summer.
Note also the sheriff's statement in stanza 198 that the life of the outlaws is harder than the requirements of "any" order of anchorites or friars. If it is always summer, it's not a very comfortable summer.
A faint possibility is that the Barnsdale/Sherwood confusion is caused by seasonal change -- Robin lives in one in the summer and the other in winter (probably Barnsdale in summer and Sherwood in winter, since Nottinghamshire would have better weather, and more travellers, in winter). But the much higher likelihood is that the confusion is just that: Confusion.
If the lodge is an actual building, its construction is probably another violation of the forest laws; Young, p. 109, says that the usual penalty in the early medieval period was twelve pence (still a large fine for a villein) but that in some cases the building might be razed.
** Stanza 29/Line 115 ** Note that, although Our Hero is called Robyn Hode/Robin Hood, this is very nearly the only reference to him wearing a hood. Hood is, of course, an English surname, and Hoods did live in the north country in Edwardian times; Hunter located records of several, and even tried to contend that one was "the" Robin Hood (Holt1, pp. 45-46). We really have no evidence whether the author of the "Gest" thought "Hode" a surname, or a name given for Robin's apparel -- or whether he even considered the question. Here, the hood is simply used as a demonstration of manners: Robin is courteous enough to take off his hood. (For "courtesy" see the note on Stanza 2.
We will again see Robin doff his hood to a guest in Stanza 225.
** Stanza 32/Line 125 ** Knight/Ohlgren, pp. 76, 152, suggest that the act of Robin and the knight washing together (paralleled in stanz 231, and also the "Potter," Stanza 41), is a demonstration of "civilized" or courtly behavior: People eating at a communal meal were expected to have clean hands. They add that the custom became increasingly common in the fourteenth century -- in other words, it is a custom from the reign of Edward II or later. It should be kept in mind, however, that washing of hands is a custom which goes back to pre-Christian times -- although one which Jesus declared not necessary from a religious standpoint (see, e.g., the first part of chapter 7 of the Gospel of Mark).
** Stanzas 32-33/Lines 127-132 ** Although outlaws are usually said to poach deer, and indeed the state of the king's deer park becomes an issue in Stanzas 357-358, and Robin admits in 377 to living by the King's deer, note that the menu here consists of bread, wine, "noumbles" of the deer (i.e. probably organ meat), swan, pheasant, and other birds (probably including duck). Mortimer, p. 19, says of the Plantagenet period that "Wild birds were an important component of the diet; the number of species and quantity of bones found archaeologically in medieval contexts is 'considerably greater than in any earlier period since the advent of farming. Species excavated or known to have been sold include swans, cranes, rooks, pipits, larks, crows, jackdaws and plovers, as well as wild ducks and, of course, quantities of blackbirds which were presumably baked in a pie."
On the evidence, the outlaws were not particularly reliant upon deer. It is interesting to note that the no plant matter of any kind is mentioned except bread and wine -- both of which can be stored for long periods (at least, flour and wine can). It sounds like a scurvy-inducing diet (assuming the deer organs are cooked, anyway), and makes me wonder if the meeting really took place in summer (see note to Stanza 176). This is winter food.
We also note that rabbit is not mentioned in this extensive catalog of animals which could be caught in a forest. This is not proof of anything, but rabbits were not brought to England until the thirteen century. Had they been mentioned, it would have been a strong hint of a late date.
** Stanza 37/Lines 145-148 ** Robin, to be blunt, shakes down the knight, on the grounds that a yeoman should not pay for a knight's meal. (Ironic, since, of course, tenant farmers raised the food that the gentry and nobility ate every day.) In Robin's case, this becomes a "truth or consequences" game -- those who admit their wealth are not robbed. (Of course, as Holt points out on p. 11, only the rich had any reason to lie about their wealth, so the social justice aspect of this can be exaggerated.)
Child, p. 53, notes that in the tale of Eustace the Monk, Eustace too asked, more directly, how much money his victims had. He then searched them, and confiscated everything above the amount they confessed to (e.g. the Abbot of Jumieges claimed to have four marks but turned out to have 30; Baldwin, p. 38). A summary of Eustace's methods is found on Cawthorne, p. 125. The parallel to the tale of Eustac(h)e is also mentioned on Knight/Ohlgren, pp. 2-3, and Ohlgren, p. 316 n. 12, plus they note something parallel in the tale of Fulk FitzWarren.
We shall see Robin ask this question again in Stanza 243; in that case, he will receive a false answer.
** Stanza 42/Lines 165-166 ** Little John will also spread out his mantle and count in Stanza 247. Might this be an indication that John is the most educated of the band? We don't really have any evidence either way, but it is interesting that he seems to be in charge of calculations.
What's more, the use of his mantle for counting seems to relate to the practice of the Exchequer (which presumably would have been used by others doing counting). According to Mortimer, p. 66, the Exchequer was so-called because its offers sat at a table with a checkered cloth when they examined the accounts of sheriffs and other officers.
Mortimer, p. 67, adds, "The calculations were performed by using the columns of the checked cloth to represent pence, shillings, pounds and so on; little heaps of coins representing the sum due were piled on one row of squares, and others representing sums atually paid put in the row below.... This means of calculation had the advantage of easing the problem of easing the problems of doing elementary arithmetic in roman numerals, by introducing what amounted to a zero."
** Stanza 43/Line 172 ** To the factually correct statement here that the knight is "trewe inowe," compare the ironic statement in stanza 248 that the monk is "trewe ynowe" not because the monk told the truth but because he has brought twice the payment Robin Hood expected from the knight.
** Stanza 45/Line 179 ** In this verse, Robin, trying to understand why the knight is so poor, remarks, "I trowe thou warte made a knyght of force" -- in other words, that the knight was compelled to become a knight.
This is clearly a reference to the phenomenon called "distraint of knighthood" (cf. Child, p. 45), under which the King forced a man with sufficient income to become a knight. (Realize that the picture of a knight from King Arthur television shows bears little relation to reality -- a knight was not a chivalrous soldier; a knight was a person with certain clearly-defined duties within the state.) This was primarily a revenue-raising measure -- during a war, the King could demand feudal service of a knight, or payment in lieu of it. Urban, p. 38, puts the situation bluntly: The duty of a knight to the king "was first to pay the fees that accompanied the ceremony [of knighthood], and second to pay scutage [the fee in lieu of service]. Whether they ever appeared in person, equipped for battle, hardly mattered."
According to OxfordCompanion, p. 298, it was Henry III who first used the proceedure, demanding that those with income of twenty pounds per year become knights (cf. Ohlgren, p. 316 n. 13). The standard soon became 40 pounds (Prestwich3, p. 138; Ormrod, p. 151, says that land valued at 40 pounds was the standard in the reign of Edward III), which better suited the genuine demands of knighthood.
Even as late as 1471-1472, in the reign of Edward IV, an examination of the tax rolls showed that the annual cost of a knight's household was 100 pounds, a baron's 500 pounds, and a viscount's 1000 pounds (Ross-Edward, p. 262). Magna Carta had fixed the "relief" owed to the crown for a knight's fee at five pounds (Mortimer, p. 46. The "relief" was the amount a new possessor had to pay the monarch to enter his estate -- in effect, an inheritance tax). A baron, by contrast, owed 100 pounds. This is further evidence that a knight's normal income was in the range of a few tens of pounds.
But it was Edward I, not Henry III, who really made distraint of knighthood common, starting in 1278 (Ohlgren, pp. 316-317, n.13). This was part of a massive housecleaning campaign which Edward embarked upon to regularize the government and improve his revenue; he also replaced almost all the sheriffs (Prestwich1, p. 278) so that he could more easily enforce the changes -- and also better learn who had the money to become a knight.
Dobson/Taylor, following Child and an article by Holt, argue that distraint of knighthood points to the reigns of Henry III or Edward I. But in 1316, Edward II followed in his father's footsteps: "On 28 February every landholder with land worth [fifty pounds] or more was ordered to take up knighthood" (Phillips, p. 268).
Thus Robin's remark is clear evidence for the reign of Henry III or later -- and probably the reign of Edward I or later. In fact, it is a pretty strong argument for the reigns of Edward I or Edward II, because Edward III didn't bother with making many knights. The evidence of the campaigns in the Hundred Years' War is that the number of knights fell dramatically in his reign (Prestwich3, p. 139; Reid, p. 219, argues that there were 870 knights on Edward III's expedition of 1359, but this seems to be too many knights compared to the number of archers).
** Stanza 47/Line 187 ** The knight'sstatement that his family had held his land for "a n hundred wynter" is significant in the context of land tenure (and, perhaps, Robin's outlawry). At first glance, this requires only that the year be 1166 or after (since effectively no Englishmen continued their land tenure after the Norman Conquest; it all was given to Frenchmen). This means the date could be as early as the reign of Henry II. And, indeed, we see proclamations at the beginning of Henry II's reign saying, in effect, that tenants had to prove that they had held their land at the end of Henry I's reign in 1135; changes in the two decades since were illegitimate (Mortimer, p. 7)..
However, William the Conqueror's writ ran only weakly in northern England -- indeed, Cumbria and Northumberland were considered part of Scotland in this period. William just didn't have enough followers to control the area (Barlow-Rufus, p. 297). A few Normans were established in Lancashire and Yorkshire, but the English kings did not really begin to assert control until the reign of William Rufus beginning in 1087. And Henry II died in 1189. Thus, while not impossible, it is highly unlikely that a knight from Lancashire or Yorkshire could have claimed a century's tenure in the reign of Henry II.
But the hundred year tenure becomes dramatically significant if we assume that the time is that of Edward I or after. Even as Edward I was making new knights, he was also doing his best to regain land for the crown. Edward clawed back land using something called "Quo Warranto" proceedings (Prestwich1 has many pages on this, e.g. p. 347). This required landholders either to show a valid deed *or* to show actual possession of the land for the period from 1189 to 1290 (when the proceedings took place). Theoretically this was an advance in law -- Hollister, p. 260, observes that Edward was converting England from government by custom to government to government by written law and record -- but the conversion was difficult.
Edward also made changes to something called "novel disseissin" (Prestwich1, p. 271). Combining what Prestwich1 says with what Smith says on p. 167, it appears that the changes made it easier to update an old writ -- and, hence, use out-of-date charges to dispossess a landowner. Since a deed might have been lost in the interim, the re-issuing of the writ, and the convening of a jury, would make it easier to evict the tenant.
Thus, for the knight to claim a hundred years' possession was to say that he had met the requirements of Edward I's land tenure requirements. An owner might speak with pride of a century's possession before Edward I came along -- but after Edward I's time, he was making a *legal* claim of right.
Edward I's laws were very hard on smallholders. To an illiterate peasant, the papers would easily be lost, and a century of possession was hard to prove. Many tenants must have lost their land. (This apart from the fact that many lineages failed to produce male heirs. I read somewhere that there were five thousand tenured knights mentioned in the Domesday Book, and that not one of those lineages is still in tenure. To maintain a line for a hundred years -- probably four generations -- was not insignificant.)
Corrupt officials made the problem of maintaining tenure worse; Edward I eventually tried to clean this up in 1298 (Prestwich1, pp. 431-432), but the bad precedent would continue for the rest of his reign and into the next. The victim of this fast dealing might not be a criminal -- but with no land, he had no livelihood. We have no information on how Robin Hood came to be displaced from his property -- but it is quite possible that he lost it due to one of Edward I's land-grabbing tricks. Kelly.J, p. 56, notes a substantial decrease in the area of land being cultivated starting around 1300; land laws and bad weather were driving tenants away.
** Stanza 48/Lines 189-190 ** In effect, the knight declares that he is poor because "time and chance happen to them all" (Ecclesiastes 9:11). There is nothing at all unusual about this view of fate; this was the standard pre-modern attitude. It is the whole theme of the Book of Job; who was a "blameless and upright man... who feared God and turned away from evil' (Job 1:1).
What is noteworthy is not the knight's attitude but the fact that Robin does not say something to the effect that it happened to him, too. This is additional clear evidence, were it needed, that Robin in the "Gest" is not a fallen nobleman. The result also differs from the Book of Job, where Job's three friends start out trying to comfort him and then turn on him when he persists in declaring himself innocent (in 16:20 Job openly declares that "my friends scorn me"). Robin asks pointed questions to get to the heart of the matter -- but, having been satisfied with the answers (as Job's friends were not), he resolves to help the knight.
** Stanza 49/Line 195 ** "Four hundred pound of gode money."
We see large sums of money at several points in the "Gest" -- in stanza 247, the monk carries eight hundred points. In stanza 120, we see that the knight and Little John between them could carry "Four hundred pound" (stanza 120). In stanza 176, John and the cook carry off three hundred pounds plus plate.
But no horse can be expected to carry 800 pounds of silver, even taking into account the fact that the pound sterling is only three-quarters of a pound Avoirdupois. For the weight and volume of a sum of 400 pounds, see the note on Stanza 120.
And, even though the knight in Stanza 121 tells the abbot "have here thi golde," money almost had to be kept in the form of silver. Prior to the reign of Edward III, the only coinage in England was the silver penny (Mortimer, p. 68), which went back all the way to King Offa in around 770 (Brooke, p. 59). There had been a brief attempt to introduce gold coins in the reign of Henry III, but it was withdrawn due to being undervalued (OxfordComp, p. 224). But to carry value equivalent to 800 pounds would seem to require gold coinage (the exchange rate of silver and gold varied, but it is safe to say that 800 pounds sterling of silver would be no more than 50 pounds avoirdupois of gold).
There is also the problem of counting 400 pounds, or even more extremely, 800 pounds. 800 pounds at 240 silver pence to the pound is 192,000 pennies. Even 20 marks, the amount the monk claimed in stanza 243, is 3200 pence. (Could Little John count that high? If he could, is this the reason why he is always the one who counts the cash?)
The number 400 pounds does have a peculiar significance. Tyerman, p. 245, shows a diagram of the checkered tablecloth used by exchequer clerks to count money. Based on this layout, the maximum that could be counted was 400 pounds (properly, 439 pounds and some change, but 400 pounds in round numbers). It was the largest amount that could be counted in one sitting.
It is true that, early in the reign of Edward IV, we hear of travellers being robbed of 200 pounds, 300 pounds -- even, in two unusual cases, of 700 pounds and 1000 pounds (Pollard, p. 92). But even if these reports are accurate, this is almost a century after the death of Edward III, and a century and a half after the reign of Edward II. Given inflation, those amounts appear to be less than is being bandied about here. Plus, by then, there were gold coins.
Odds are that the figures bandied about are simply exaggeration and that most of the money the knight used was actually letters of credit or something equivalent. Otherwise, it would be hard even to find that much coin. Prestwich1, p. 408, estimates that the total currency in *all of England* at only about a million pounds in the 1290s. No one but the crown and a few of the very richest earls could have hundreds of pounds -- even the King had only about 25,000 pounds of revenue in the twelfth century (Barlow-Rufus, p. 224).
But we need only assume the monk was carrying a substantial amount of money (even the 20 marks, or 13 and a third pounds, he claimed at the outset) for this to be a dating hint. Smith, p. 126, says that "coined money had become more widely available in the twelfth century," leading to more use of coinage in the reigns of Richard and John, but the first real reform of the coinage came under Edward I in 1279-1280, who introduced the farthing and groat and regularized other coinage (OxfordComp, p. 224). And coining was carried out only periodically, meaning that there was often shortage of coin. This was true for much of Henry III's reign, and late in Edward I's reign because of the high taxation for his wars (Prestwich1, p. 405). And Edward I hit the church particularly hard, because that is where the money was (Prestwich1, p. 418). Prestwich3, p. 236, and Ormrod, p. 156, also note currency crises in the early reign of Edward III. Thus, if there really was money being used in Robin Hood's time, the reign of Edward II is a very good bet.
On the other hand, it wasn't a bad rule of thumb to assume that the value of land was ten times the income -- in other words, if the knight had 400 pounds of land, then he would have income of forty pounds a year. Which matches the 40 pounds of income eventually expected of a knight. The knight may even have had a little more than 400 pounds of land, since the abbott (based on his behavior) very likely wanted securities worth more than the amount he was lending.
To put this in perspective, Mortimer, p. 80, says that in the reign of Henry II, "few lords" earned as much as 500 pounds per year. Tyerman, p. 305, estimates the average baron's income in the reign of John as 200 pounds. According to Ormrod, p. 141, a knight bachelor in Edward III's armies in the Hundred Years' War was paid 4 shillings a day (about 70 pounds per year), and a knight bachelor 2 shillings a day (35 pounds per year). Seward, p. 269, gives figures for expected incomes in 1436: 865 pounds for a baron, 208 pounds for a "well-to-do knight," 60 pounds for a lesser knight, 24 pounds for an esquire. Prices had of course inflated substantially in the period since the reign of Edward III; it is safe to assume that these values would have been at least a third less in 1345.
Which makes it curious to see the monk in stanza 92 declares the knight's lands to be worth 400 pounds per year. As the above numbers show, that is the income of a baron (if a rather impoverished one), not a knight. It is probably an error -- either by the monk or the poet.
Last updated in version 2.6
File: C117E

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

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

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