Gest of Robyn Hode, A [Child 117] --- Part 08
DESCRIPTION: Continuation of the notes to "A Gest of Robyn Hode" [Child 117]. Entry continues in "A Gest of Robyn Hode" [Child 117] --- Part 09 (File Number C117H). This entry contains notes on Fits III-V of the "Gest."
Last updated in version 2.6
NOTES: ** Stanza 144/Lines 573-574 ** Observe the parallel to the first stanza, which also begins "Lyth and listin, gentilmen," and to stanzas 282 and stanza 317. For notes on this introductory formula, see the notes to stanza 1.
This whole fit is about Little John as servant of the Sheriff. Pollard, p. 172, suggests that it is, in a way, a parody of The Book of Nurture, which trains a masterless young man in how to be a proper servant. Little John completely overturns the conventions. The curiosity in that case is that the Sheriff hires John after John competes well at archery. Why would he hire an archer as a domestic servant?
Clawson, p. 58, points out that this fit is chronologically out of order; the proper place for it is somewhere in the second fit (he suggests stanza 130). But he suggests that it is more effective when placed here.
Clawson, p. 61, notes that the basic theme of this section -- of the hero, or his servant, taking a position in the household of his enemy -- is found also in the stories of Hereward the Wake and Eustace the Monk. But the details of both accounts differ substantially from the "Gest." Neither tale can be considered a direct source, although they may have inspired some intermediate stage.
** Stanzas 145-146/ Lines 577-584 ** This archery contest, seen by the Sheriff of Nottingham, is the first of several in the "Gest" (see stanzas 282-283, 397). An archery contest is also a key element of the "Potter," where it gains Robin access to the sheriff (Holt1, p. 34). These contests could have taken place at any time, but it is noteworthy that Edward III, to improve the quality of the archers who would be fighting in France, commanded regular competitions with the bow (Keen, p. 139) .
** Stanza 146/Line 582 ** The "bullseye" type target for archery practice is a modern invention. Later in the "Gest" (stanza 398) we read of a rose garland on a pole (wand). Here we find Little John splitting the wand on which the target rests. This is of course an exceptional -- indeed, a well-nigh impossible -- feat. John surely must have used his own bow and arrows, and they must have been exceptionally well made, although we are given no information about the source of his equipment.
** Stanza 149/Line 593 ** "Holdernes"=Holderness. A small town in eastern Yorkshire, almost on the seacoast, not far north of the Humber. It is so small that it doesn't appear even on my 1 cm.=4 km. map of northern England, but it was well enough remembered that Conan Doyle had a fictitious "Duke of Holderness" in "The Adventure of the Priory School." The nearest significant town, Patrington, lies just to the west. (At least, so the maps I've checked online. Cawthorne, p. 164, says that it adjoins Beverly, north of Kingston-upon-Hull. In either case, it is in eastern Yorkshire north of the Humber, and both locations are far from any of the places associated with Robin Hood-- although closer to Barnsdale than Sherwood or Nottingham, even if you ignore the need to cross the Humber).
Holderness was probably better known in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries than now; in hte fourteenth century, one of the most beautiful major churches in the country was built there: Patrington Church, called "The Queen of Holderness" (Kerr, pp. 180-181). Might the pious John have claimed to be from there because of its great church?
John's mention of Holderness has at least two points of interest to Robin Hood scholars. The first is because it was the alleged home of "Robin of Holderness," who led one of many small rebellions against King Edward IV. Second, Henry de Faucumberg, the Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire in 1318-1319 and 1323-1325, came from a family which had an estate in Holderness (Cawthorne, p. 199). Would John have listed his home as Holderness had he known the Sheriff came from there? Surely not.
Of course, all of this is moot if the Sheriff is not based on a real person -- and he almost certainly is not; see the note on Stanza 15.
And yet, there is another interesting point: In the early stages of the Hundred Years' War, the English feared French raids, and set up local defence systems. The local sheriffs were responsible for this (Hewitt, p. 5). Most of the sites places under defence were on the English south coast (Hewitt, p. 6) or East Anglia (Hewitt, p. 3). But there was also a warning issued in Holderness (Hewitt, p. 6). Could some side effect of this have been what caused Robin or John to turn against the sheriff?
I do have to mention one minor conceit of my own. It is well-documented that one of the seminal visions which led J.R.R. Tolkien to produce The Lord of the Rings and his other works. In a glade in Roos, he saw his wife dancing, and it gave him the vision of the tale of Beren and Luthien (Shippey, p. 244; Pearce, p. 205, quotes Tolkien's own description of the event), the most beloved of all the tales of Middle-Earth to its author.
Roos happens to be very close to Holderness. Is it possible that this spot inspired two of the three greatest myth-cycles of English history? (Those of Robin Hood and Tolkien's Middle-Earth; obviously the origin of Arthur was elsewhere.)
** Stanza 149/Line 595 ** "Reynold Greenleaf." Later on, in stanza 293, we meet a Reynold who is a member of Robin's band. Why, then, does Little John borrow his name? This is never explained. My personal conjecture is that some lost list said that Reynold was part of Robin's band (Child prints an item from Ravenscroft which might somehow be related), but no tale existed of him, so the creators of two of the component poems of the "Gest" included him in the band in difference guises, and the compiler of the "Gest" never straightened it out. But this is only conjecture.
Knight/Ohlgren suggest on p. 182 that there was a ballad of Reynold serving the sheriff, which the compiler of the "Gest" took over and, presumably, transferred to Little John, leaving a few inconsistencies such as this one. Clawson, p. 64, attributes this suggestion to Fricke and thinks this may not have been a Robin Hood ballad but just a ballad of someone infiltrating the household of an enemy.
Cawthorne, p. 163, offers a third suggestion, which is quite interesting: That "Reynold Greenleaf" was rhyming cant for "thief." But has rhyming cant been shown to exist in the North at this time?
Pollard, p. 175, notes the fascinating fact that a man named "Greneleff" was accused of acting like Robin Hood in 1503. Knight/Matheson, p. 188, mentions the same fellow, although dating it to 1502 (and reprinting the relevant chronicle entry). But this is surely too late to have influenced the "Gest" -- perhaps Greenleaf took his name based on the same forgotten legend as the one which the Gest's author was using? Dobson and Taylor, in fact, suggest on p. 4 that he took the name from the "Gest," and Ohlgren is open to the possibility.
** Stanza 149/Line 596 ** "When I am at home." This is one of the few instances of a line where we might see northern dialect inflluence: "dame" in the second line should rhyme with "hame," not "home."
The verse reminds me a little of "The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry" [Child 113], which involves, in a sense, another example of a man incognito, but that song is probably much more recent than the "Gest."
** Stanza 150/LIne 600 ** The Sheriff of Nottingham offers Little John "Twenty marke (20 marks) to thy fee." A mark is two-thirds of a pound, so this is thirteen and a third pounds per year. Recall that, in the reign of Edward III, a knight's fee was forty pounds, or sixty marks, a year! (See note on Stanza 45.)
Holt1, p. 122, cites an instance of a household yeoman (valet) earning two pounds a year. Hunter said that valets at the court of Edward II received three pence a day (Child, p. 55; cf. Holt1, pp. 122-123); this was also the wage of a foot archer in Edward III's wars (Hewitt, p. 36). This is 1095 pence per year, or not quite seven pounds. Seward, p. 269, says that "minor gentry, merchants, yeomen, and inportant artisans" could expect to earn from 15 to 20 pounds in 1436; a plowman made only 4 pounds per year. But this is after substantial inflation, plus a major increase in wages for the lower classes following the Black Death (a plowman before the plague earned between 10 shillings and a pound per year).
Hence to offer a servant twenty marks, in the period before 1350, was to offer a fee far above the prevailing rate (and, of course, is even more absurd if we go back to the period of Richard and John). Wages rose dramatically, and rents fell, after the Black Death (Pollard, p. 20; Kelly.J, pp. 205-206), but the amount still seems excessive even by post-plague standards. (Unless, by some wild chance, the source of this is Scottish, and the reference is to Scottish marks, which were only a fraction of English. But then the amount seems too small.)
The likeliest explanation is an anachronism; at some time in the history of the poem, the pay was adjusted to a fifteenth century rate. But if we assume the reading is old, we note that twenty marks is roughly what a man-at-arms was paid to serve in the foreign armies of Edward III (Ormrod, p. 141, states a man-at-arms as earning a shilling a day; Hewitt, p. 34, says that a man-at-arms earned 6 pence a day -- which happens to work out to almost exactly 20 marks in a year). Could the Sheriff of Nottingham be recruiting soldiers? If so, nothing comes of it, since John's brief service is all served in England. Bottom line: such a large fee would imply a date after the reign of Edward I -- ideally, one after the Black Death, when wages rose.
** Stanzas 151-1522/Lines 601-606 ** "The sherif gate Litell John Twelue monethes of the knight." Could it really be that simple?Would the sheriff, who presumably was the sheriff who was present when the knight and Little John repaid the abbot, not have seen what was going on? Would he hire John under those circumstances -- and would the knight be in position to consent so freely? On the face of it, we might suspect that a stanza or two is missing here.
Of course, there is another possibility, if we assume that Little John was in fact the knight's watchdog (see the note to Stanza 80). The knight might have desired to be rid of his shadow -- or John might have been satisfied that the knight was honest, and they could have agreed that he could go on to other activities.
For "courtesy" see the note on Stanza 2.
** Stanza 152/Line 608 ** The Sheriff gives John a "gode hors." Edward III began to use mounted archers in 1330 (Chandler/Beckett, p. 19)., and used them regularly on his campaigns in France -- this was one of the secrets of his success: He mounted not only the knights but the soldiers who would fight as infantry. This let his army move much faster than one which combined horsemen and infantry. If in fact the Sheriff is recruiting John for an expedition (see note on Stanza 150), he would indeed need a horse.
** Stanza 155/Line 618 ** The sheriff goes hunting -- seemingly in the forest, and seemingly for a hart (see note on Stanza 185). This is curious, since on its face this appears to be a violation of the forest laws against taking venison. It is true that the King sometimes granted exceptions -- but these were very limited. Young, p. 133, reports that in the final ten years of Henry III's reign (i.e. 1262-1272), that king granted rights in Sherwood Forest to take ten harts and three hinds of red deer and 61 bucks and 12 does of fallow deer. The restrictions under Edward I were even stiffer; from 1272-1287 he granted only one hart, 61 bucks, and 43 does. Does this mean that the sheriff was violating the law with his hunt?
** Stanza 156/Line 624 ** There is uncertainty about the text here (see textual note), but no question that a cranky Little John demands to be fed. This demand begins the quarrel which eventually causes Little John to fight, and then recruit, the cook.
** Stanza 159/Line 633 ** For courtesy, which the butler does not show, see the note on Stanza 2.
** Stanza 163/Line 650 ** Clawson, pp. 69-70. speculates on why the cook (as opposed to the butler or other household servant) becomes the hero in this part of the saga. He mentions a parallel to the story of Hereward, and also that there were other tales of heroic cooks, although he cites no examples that seem likely to be well-known to English audiences. Cooks are commonly mentioned in folk song and lore (because sailors and cowboys and such were so dependent on their skills), but these mentions are generally much more recent than the "Gest."
** Stanza 164/Line 654 ** It is not certain wheether the last word of this line should be "hyne" or "hynde"; see the textual note. Knight/Ohlgren gloss "shrewede hynde" as "cursed servant" and do not even note the variant.
There is the faint possibility that "hynde/hinde" should be read as "hind," the female red deer, but this is extremely unlikely. The word intended is probably hyne/hine, a Middle English word not found in Chaucer but fairly common in other thirteenth and fourteenth century texts. It goes back probably to Old English hine, from hiwan, household, or higa, member of the household. The exact sense varies slightly; Sisam interprets it as servant/laborer; Emerson, p. 384, offers servant/domestic; Turville-Petre, p. 236, servant/farm-worker; Sands, p. 385, servant; Langland/KnottFowler, p. 274, peasant/servant; Langland/Schmidt, servant/thing of low worth. Thus the sense might be of a peasant who wasn't up to his job.
Every one of these sources spells it "hyne" or "hine," without a d, but Emerson notes that "hynde" was a dialect version of the word. Thus the usage might tell us a little about the point of origin of the various texts, but this is far from sure.
** Stanza 168/ Lines 669-672 ** Little John and the cook fight for as long as it takes to walk two miles (probably about 40 minutes, although it might be anything between half an hour and an hour depending on the burdens the walkers carried), then "maintained" the fight for an hour. This is a quite exceptional period to be actually engaged in swordplay -- most medieval battles lasted only a couple of hours, usually with pauses. Supposedly the Battle of Evesham in 1265, which Baldwin would have us believe involved Robin, lasted two hours (Burne, p. 170). The Battle of Crecy in 1347, the greatest of Edward III's battles, technically lasted about six hours (Seward, p. 66), but it involved almost no hand-to-hand contact. Ross-War, pp. 123-125, says that the battle of Barnet in 1471, which began at sunrise, was over before the morning mist burned off, and many of the soldiers were not engaged for large parts of the battle.
Thus for two men to fight hand-to-hand for nearly two hours is an astounding feat. It is surprising that we do not hear more of the cook in the rest of the "Gest," given his prowess. It seems evident that this scene floated in from another tale, which presumably ended with the cook joining the band; there was nothing more to say about him.
Clawson, p. 66, does point out that many of the "Robin Hood meets his match" type ballads involve extended fights of this type -- another indication that this tale came from an earlier source.
** Stanzas 170-171/Lines 679-682 ** "Two times in the yere thy clothing chaunged shulde be; And eyery yeare.. Twenty merke to thy fe." In other words, Little John offers the cook, whom he has been battling, twenty marks a year and two changes of livery. For the high fee of twenty marks, see the note on stanza 150; for the idea of livery, the note on stanzas 70-72. In stanza 420, we see Robin expecting to have two changes of clothing per year from the King.
** Stanza 174/ Line 695 ** The comment that the locks were of "good steel" is likely to be misunderstood by moderns. Carbon steels were known at this time, and sometimes someone would turn up an iron deposit with enough nickel or cobalt in it to make a fairly good steel -- but generally medieval steels were not as strong (or as corrosion-resistant) as modern steels. Plus, locks were generally rather primitive. Yes, they had keys, but the keys were not very fancy. Much of the security of medieval locks came from all the leaves and decoration which made it hard to even operate the things. These often produced weak points. It was a lot easier to smash even the best medieval lock than the modern equivalents.
** Stanza 176/Lines 704, 706 ** There is an interesting textual variant here (see textual note), but the correct reading is almost certainly that Little John and the cook took "Three hundred pounde and more" to Robin Hood "Under the grene wode hore," that is, "under the green wood hoar."
"Hore," modern "hoar," is the root word of "hoarfrost," and refers to a grey or white color. Hence, by implication, it means "old." Gummere, p. 317, claims it was a common word for a forest. Did Robin meet the sheriff under an old tree or under a grey tree? If the latter, it implies that the tree is without leaves, which in turn implies that the season is winter, or at least that it is early enough in spring that the leaves have not budded.
This despite the fact that Pollard, p. 57, says that the "Gest" takes place in "perpetual early summer"; Baldwin, p. 33, agrees, and speculates that the band must have scattered in winter. I would not consider this decisive (see the notes to Stanza 29 and 32-33; also the faint hint in Stanza 91 that it might be April) -- but it is hard to believe that the sheriff would go so far afield in winter. So the word probably means "old" in this context. There are living trees associated with Robin Hood (e.g. Holt prints a photo of the "Major Oak" in Sherwood), but any tree ancient enough to be considered old at the time of the composition of the "Gest" is almost certainly dead by now.
Although Robin's tree is probably gone, there does seem to have been a "trystel tree," mentioned in stanzas 274, 286, 298, 387, 412, in the "Monk" (Stanza 37) and "Guy of Gisborne" and also, apparently, in Henry VIII's 1515 pageant (Pollard, pp. 52-53). Pollard on p. 53 claims that this requires that Robin be understood as an outlawed forester, but this strikes me as going beyond the data -- surely any band of outlaws will have a series of recognized meeting places!
There is the interesting question of just what "trystel" means. fg changed "trystel-tre" to "trusty tree," which is banal but perhaps possible. The word itself is rare, and (given the lack of Middle English spelling conventions) could be from several roots. Is it from "traist," "confidence" (Emerson, p. 450, compare Turville-Petre, p. 257, "traistis," "trust"); "trist," "appointed place, rendezvous" (Emerson, p. 451), whence our "tryst" (a word which we often think of as having sexual connotations, but which simply means a meeting place where secret things happen); or "tryste," "trust" (Emerson, p. 452)="truste," "trust" or "loyalty" (Dickins/Wilson, p. 315)? The essential meaning, however, is clear: A safe place to meet.
** Stanza 181/Line 361 ** Although the third fit is all about Little John and the sheriff, Clawson, p. 70, points out that it has two parts (which we might call "Little John in the Sheriff's Household" and "Little John Traps the Sheriff" or some such), and that these two are not directly linked in any way. Clawson considers these two originally to have been independent stories, and this the dividing point (the latter being almost incontestible of the former assertion is true).
** Stanza 185/Lines 737-738 ** "a ryght fayre harte, His coloure is of grene." A green hart? And the sheriff bought this tale? (And from a deserter?) The problem was sufficient that Allingham, without manuscript evidence, proposed emending "of grene" to "full shene" (cf. Gummere, p. 317). But, of course, John is referring obliquely to Robin Hood, while trying to lure the Sheriff with the sight of a wonder; the "sixty... tyndes" -- that is, sixtry tines, or forks in the antlers -- of the next verse are also intended to make the beast seem wondrous.
Might the green hart be a hint of another link to "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?" (Again, probably not; Tolkien/Gordon, p. xx, believe the green knight came from the legend of the green man, whereas here, based on stanza 188, Robin is the green hart. Still, it's interesting to see this use of the color green.)
Child, p. 53, notes that a disguised Fulk FitzWarren lured King John into a trap using a tale of a long-horned stag. Clawson, p. 74, points out other similarities to this tale, e.g. Fulk brings in his men to trap the king. Evidently Little John wanted to go that tale one better. There is a difference in the tales, however, as we see from Cawthorne, p. 113. In the Fulk version, Fulk disguises himself as a peasant -- a charcoal-burner (itself an illegal occupation within the bounds of a forest unless one had a warrant from the king; Young, p. 110) . In the "Gest," John is incognito but does not use a new disguise.
The great hart -- that is, a buck with very large antlers -- was always the most desired trophy for a hunter; Pollard, p. 63, notes that they were becoming hard to find in the Middle Ages. (This, in fact, has happened again in the United States. In the Midwest, white-tailed deer ar so common as to be pests -- but because the rules favor hunting bucks over does, the population never goes down -- yet there are almost no large-antlered bucks left. The old males have been killed off, and the young ones are fathering the children.)
Clawson, p. 72, observes that we do find, in "Robin Hood and the Butcher" [Child 122], Robin himself, in disguise, offering to take the Sheriff to see his horned animals, which turn out to be deer. But the parallels are not close; in the "Gest," it is John, not Robin, who undertakes the deception, and John promises deer, not cattle. And the "Butcher" is widely felt to be a variation on the "Potter" andyway, and is more recent than the "Gest."
See also the note on stanza 155 about the sheriff's right to hunt in the forest.
** Stanzas 187-188/Lines 741-746 ** Little John professes to be afraid of the deer in the wood, and the sheriff insists on seeing them. Note that the sheriff, whatever the reasons for his dispute with Robin (reasons which we are never told), does not lack courage.
** Stanzas 188-189/Lines 751-756 ** The capture of the sheriff. Note that Robin also captures the Sheriff in the "Potter" (Holt1, p. 34)
** Stanza 191/Lines 762-764 ** Knight, p. 23, points out that the trick of having the Sheriff eat from his own silver also occurs in the Forresters version of "Robin Hood and the Sheriffe," i.e. "Robin Hood and the Golden Arrow" [Child 152].
** Stanza 192/Line 767 ** Robin grants the Sheriff his life "for the love of Little John." This is an interesting change from Stanza 15, where Robin gives specific orders against the Sheriff and John seemingly makes no objection. Could this be a different sheriff? This would likely be an indication of a late date, after it became the norm to change sheriffs regularly.
We see a similar situation in the "Potter," where again the sheriff is captured but spared. There, however, Robin spares the sheriff for the sake of his wife (Holt1, p. 34) rather than for the sake of LIttle John.
** Stanza 202/lLines 805-806 ** Robin makes the Sheriff swear by his "bright brand," i.e. sword. Swearing by the sword is a well-attested phenomenon; known e.g. from Malory (e.g. when Lancelot defeats three knights who are attacking Sir Kay, he makes them swear on their swords to submit to the judgment of the court; Book VI, chapter xi; Malory/Rhys, p. 169).
Some have suggested that tthe oath on the sword goes back all the way to the time when great men had swords with names and histories. Pickering, p. 281, claims that "an oath made on a sword was onde considered as binding as one made on a Bible." Normally, of course, we would expect a devout Christian like Robin to prefer an oath on the Bible -- but remember that Robin lived in a Catholic England in the era before printing. Even if Robin was literate (unlikely), Bibles were rare, and a complete New Testament (which required hundred of sheets of expensive parchment and months of scribal labor) would generally cost more than a sword. And Bibles were rarely seen outside religious foundations; even if they had been cheap, the Catholic Church didn't like lay people to read the Bible, or to see it translated into the vernacular. So a sword was surely his best bet for an oath.
Gummere, p. 317, observes that an oath upon the sword was still common lore in Shakespeare's day; see Hamlet, Act I, scene v, (lines 147-150 in RiversideShakespeare). Wimberly, p. 94, mentions three instances of swearing by or on swords in versions of other ballads: "Queen Eleanor's Confession" [Child 156], "The Bonnie House o Airlie" [Child 199], and "The Gypsy Laddie" [Child 200], although the motif is not present in all versions of any of those ballads.
Note that when Robin kills the sheriff, it is with this same bright brand (Stanza 348). Robin then calls him untrue (Stanza 349). In stanza 305, however, Little John calls it a "browne swerde."
In the final line of the stanza. Robin declares that the Sheriff shall swear not to harm him "by water ne by lande." Is this a hint that Robin is also a pirate? If so, the hint is not picked up -- although there was a Scottish ship Robin Hood. It's conceivable that this wandered in from the legend of Eustace the Monk, who was a pirate, or some other such story. Odds are, hwoever, that this is simply an oath that rhymes well.
** Stanza 204/Line 813 ** The sheriff swears an oath of friendship -- considered a very strong vow, at least unless one was a a king engaging in international diplomacy. (Some things never change....) For a possible consequence of this oath, see the note on Stanza 287.
** Stanza 204/Lines 815-186 ** The text says that the sheriff was "as full of grene wode As ever was hepe of stone"-- he was as full of (fed up with) the greenwood as was a "hepe" of stone. Knight/Ohlgren interpret "hepe" as "hip," a fruit, so the sheriff was as full as a fruit is with its seed (a suggestion going back to Ritson; cf. Dobson/Taylor, p. 93). But the ordinary meaning of "hepe" is "heap," just as you would expect, with a secondary meaning of "crowd, group, host." The more likely reading is that the sheriff was as full of the greenwood as a heap is full of stones.
** Stanza 205/Line 819 ** Althouth we tend to think of Robin leading "merry men," there aren't many references to the merry men in the "Gest"; they are usually young men, yeomen, or Robin's meinie. We do see "mery men" again in Stanzas 281, 316, 382, and the a text of 340; also his "mery meyne" in Stanza 262, and "mery yonge men" in 287.
** Stanza 206/Lines 823-824 ** Robin fears that the Virgin is "wrothe with me, For she sent me nat my pay" (or so most editors; see the textual note).
Knight/Ohlgren, p. 159, say that "commercial interests" are invading Robin and his band, but this does not follow. Robin accepted the Virgin as surety on his loan to the knight; her failure to pay is thus a theological, not a monetary, issue. Robin uses the identical words in Stanza 235. Of course, all will turn out well....
Given the emphasis on the Virgin Mary in this section, I am tempted to suggest that Robin's meeting with the knight, and the repayment, might both have happened on one of the Mariological feast days. Davies, p. 349, lists these as:
2 February -- the Purification of the Blessed Virgin (Candlemass)
25 March -- the Annunciation
July 2 (later moved to 31 May)-- the Visitation
15 August -- the Assumption of Mary
8 September -- the Birthday of the Blessed Virgin ("a very old feast," although the reason for the date is not known)
Of these, 8 September seems the most logical, since the weather in the day would still be fine, but it would be getting chilly at night, explaining the sheriff's uncomfortable night in stanza 200. It would also help explain Robin's three masses in Stanza 8.
I emphasize that this is purest speculation. There are no indications in the text that the events took place on a feast day.
** Stanza 207/Lines 825-828 ** For the running account of Mary sending Robin his payment via the monk of St. Mary's Abbey, see the note on stanza 214.
** Stanza 208 (and following) / Lines 209 (and following) ** Clawson, pp. 9-13, prints parallel texts of (most of) stanzas 17-44 with stanzas 208-251. The similarities between the two are too significant to be regarded as coincidence; clearly the poet designed them to be parallel.
The more noteworthy similarities will be pointed up in the notes below.
Clawson, p. 15, follows Fricke in suggesting that one of these tales was originally an independent ballad, which was taken over by the author of the "Gest" and then duplicated. But on p. 16, he allows the possibility of two source ballads. As supporting evidence, Clawson points out on p. 16 that the story of Eustace the Monk has two versions of the tale of Eustace taking a traveller, one in which the victim tells the truth and is spared, while in the other, the man Eustace captures lies and is robbed. But, as Clawson points out, these incidents are told in very different ways; they cannot be seen as the direct inspiration of the "Gest's" account.
Clawson's considered suggestion, on p. 17, is that the tale of Robin and the Knight originally existed in a short (ballad?) version in which Robin captured the knight and then, being generous, paid off the Knight's debt. The difficulty with this suggestion is that we have no evidence, in any extant source prior to Ritson, of this theme of Robin giving to the poor.
** Stanza 209/Lines 832-833 ** "Sayles"and "Watlynge-Street." See note on stanza 18.
** Stanza 212/Lines 845-848 ** Note the precise parallel in stanza 20 to the language about seeking a victim. The parallel extends to the first line of stanza 213 (but see the next note)
** Stanza 213/Line 850 ** In the parallel in stanza 21, instead of ofserving the highway, John and his men observe a "derne [secret] strete." See the note on stanza 21. See also the tale of "Schimpf und Ernst," about the robbing of a monk to pay another man's debt; this is summarized in the notes to stanza 65.
** Stanza 213/Line 852 ** Here again we see men riding palfreys, as in Stanzas 75-77. Of course, monks were not fighters, so it is less surprising to see them riding a type of horse usually associated with a woman.
** Stanza 213/Line 851 ** Child, p. 53, notes that the "black monks" are Benedictines -- possibly significant, because the Benedictines were "the richest and most worldly" order of monks (Pollard, p. 131). And, yes, St. Mary's was a Benedictine house (Pollard, p. 124). I note in addition that Edward I, his wife Eleanor of Castile, and Edward II had Dominincan confessors; Phillips, p. 65. On p. 73 Phillips tells of a Dominican priory founded by Edward. Phillips, p. 507, notes that the London Dominicans were so close to Edward II that, when London turned against the King, the monks felt it necessary to flee. After Edward's deposition, many Dominicans seem to have been involved in trying to bring him back (Phillips, p. 545). So it's possible that the Dominicans were the pro-Edward friars, which might make the Benedictines the allies of the anti-Edward party. But this is an extremely long stretch. The Benedictines were well established in Yorkshire -- the first Benedictine monasteries in England may well have been those founded at Ripon and Hexham, by Wilfred of York in the late seventh century (OxfordCompanion, p. 95).
It is ironic to note that Eustace the Monk, considered to be a source of the "Gest," was a Benedictine (Cawthorne, p. 121), meaning that Robin was attacking a member of the order to which the hero of one of the source legends belonged.
It probably isn't very significant in the way Robin treats these monks, but I will note that Duns Scotus, the pioneer of extreme Mariolatreia (see the note on Stanza 10) was associated with the Franciscans (WalkerEtAl, p. 349).
Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 166, notes as an apparent inconsistency the fact that we see two monks here, but after this, only one monk is mentioned. Of course, the junior monk might have fled with the guards, but we have no indication of this. Clawson, p. 19, cites several instances of the number shifting, and thinks(pp. 19024) the references to two monks represents a survival of an older ballad: In this ballad, Robin had robbed two monks; the compiler of the "Gest" took this ballad and mixed it up with elements taken from the tale of Robin and the Knight, producing a confused amalgam. It is a noteworthy point, particularly given other signs that the "Gest" is composite, but beyond proof.
** Stanza 214/Lines 853-856 ** This stanza is the first clear part of a runnng gag which occupies most of the fourth fit: That this monk of St. Mary's Abbey (stanza 233) has brought the payment of the loan for which the knight offered the Virgin Mary as guarantor. The monk of course would not see it this way, but in in stanza 207, John had told Robin he was sure the knight would pay; in this stanza, John suggests that the monk is bringing it; in stanza 236, John firmly states that "this monke it hath brought"; in 242 Robin agrees that the monk has brought it; and in 248 John counts the monk's money and finds that it is twice what the knight owes; "Our Lady hath doubled your cast." This causes Robin to affirm, in 249-250, that Mary is the truest woman and best security he has found. In 271, the knight shows up to pay the debt, and Robin refuses the gift, because Our Lady brought the payment.
** Stanza 215/Line 858 ** In Child's text, Little John tells his subordinates to "frese your bowes of ewe (yew)." There are several possible variants, but this is the most likely reading. What it means is another question; see the discussion in the textual notes.
** Stanza 216/Lines 861-862 ** The monk's company has seven "somers" -- i.e. sumpters, pack horses. Sumpters generally were not fast but could carry large burdens for a long time. At least two and probably three would be required to carry the eight hundred pounds of silver (stanza 247). That leaves four to carry the baggage of the company -- which would be substantial for a company of 52 guards, two monks, and two servants. This presumably would be mostly food, plus perhaps some spare arrows or such; the soldiers would carry their own clothing and weapons. Unless the company has carts (which are not mentioned), this means that they carried food for only about three days -- evidence that they would need money to buy food along the way.
** Stanza 219/Line 873 ** John orders, "Abyde, chorle monke." This is less an insult than it sounds today -- "churl" derives from Old English "ceorl," who was simply a peasant farmer. In Chaucer, e.g., it means both "common man"and "boor," but the former meaning is more common, in the opinion of Chaucerr/Benson, p. 1228 (under "cherl"). But one thing is certain: it means a person at the bottom of the social scale. Many monks, especially senior monks, were in fact younger sons of aristocrats whose families had purchased them a comfortable position. By calling the lead monk a churl, John (who is said in Stanza 3 to be a yeoman) appears at minimum to be asserting superior social status. A modern equivalent might be something like, "Hold it right there, low--life."
John will use "chorle" again, with stronger force, in Stanza 227.
** Stanza 222/Line 887 ** Note that Little John here calls Robin a "Yeoman of the Forest." This might, of course, mean simply "a yeoman who lives in the forest." But it was also an office in the Edwardian period; see the note on Stanza 1.
** Stanza 223/Line 889 ** Child's text says that Much had a"bolte" ready. There is a variant here (see the textual note); probably because the usage is imprecise; Ritson noted that a "bolt" from a bow was usuallly used to shoot birds (Gummere, p. 318); also, of course, crossbows fired bolts and longbows arrows. The text is probably correct, however, since an arrow could casually be called a bolt.
** Stanza 224/Line 895 ** The word "grome" appears twice in the "Gest," here and in Stanza 4. The meaning in stanza 4 is uncertain; here, it clearly means "groom." "Groom" was the lowest of three levels of servants in noble households in the late fifteenth century, the two above it being squire and yeomen (Dobson/Taylor, pp. 34-35; Pollard, p. 37; observe that "groom" was the only one which was never an independent social rank).
** Stanza 226/Lines 901-904 ** For Robin Hood and his hood, see the note to Stanza 29. Here, as there, the hood is simply used as a demonstration of courtesy (for which see Stanza 2): Robin is mannered enough to take off his hood. But in contrast to the well-mannered knight of Stanza 29, the monk has not the courtesy to remove his hood in response to Robin's gesture. He will call Robin uncourteous in stanza 256.
** Stanza 227/Line 905 ** For John's use of the word "chorle," see the note on stanza 219.
** Stanza 229/Line 915 ** Could Robin really have fed and supplied seven score men in Barnsdale? This is an astonishing number of outlaws -- but the poet will give this number several times (stanzas 288, 342, 389, 416, 448, and by implication in 342, where the reference is to seven score of bows, implying a similar number of bowmen). Possibly the number is derived from the tale of Gamelyn, where Gamelyn encounters seven score men in the forest when he and his brother's steward Adam flee there (Cawthorne, p. 171).
Ohlgren, on p. 154 of Ohlgren/Matheson, suggests instead that 140 is the approximate number of members of a guild at the time. This fits his suggestion that the poem is aimed at the guilds.
Pollard, pp. 93-94, discusses outlaw bands in the fifteenth century and notes that large bands did not hold together -- men would join and leave in short order. Probably it is just a matter of the poet exaggerating again. But if we take it seriously, the time is obvious: The Scots wars of Edward II, when raiders and robbers were everywhere. At minimum, it must be before the Black Death; if it were after, there would be enough land available that there would be no need for hundreds of men to go off and be outlaws.
It is interesting that none of the references to this large band are in the section of the "Gest" devoted to Robin, the Knight, and St. Mary's abbey; all might derive from the other tales used by the author of the "Gest." In the take of Robin and the Knight, there are hints that Robin's only followers are Little John, Scarlock, and Much (see the notes on Stanzas 4 and 17 ).
** Stanza 230/Line 918 ** There is disagreement as to the meaning of "raye." Ritson suggested undyed cloth; Gummere, p. 318, prefers Halliwell's explanation "striped cloth," which is also accepted by Knight/Ohlgren. We might also consider the possibility of emending to something like "scarlet and ryche arraye."
** Stanza 231/Line 921 ** For Robin's custom of washing before dinner, see the note on Stanza 32.
** Stanza 233/Line 932 ** The "Hye Selerer," or High Cellarer, was present when the knight went to St. Mary's (see the note to Stanza 93). This makes Stanza 239 particularly interesting.
** Stanza 235/Lines 939-940 ** These lines are the same as those at the end of Stanza 206; see the note there.
** Stanza 236/Lines 943-944 ** For the running account of Mary sending Robin his payment via the monk of St. Mary's Abbey, see the note on stanza 214.
** Stanza 237/Line 947 ** "A lytell money" -- clearly a joke; 400 pounds was a lot of money. See the note on Stanza 49.
** Stanza 239/Lines 955-956 ** The cellarer denies having heard of Robin's loan guaranteed by the Virgin Mary. Formally and legally, he is absolutely correct; he was not a witness to the meeting between Robin and the knight. But we know from Stanza 93 that the cellarer of St. Mary's was present when the knight paid the abbot. Unless a new cellarer has been appointed in the last year (possible, but unlikely, particularly in a story as well-worked-out as this), he should know about the loan to the knight. To give him his due, he might have no particular reason to recall that that little fiasco happened exactly a year before. But recall that Little John was serving as the knight's yeoman in Fit 2. Might not the cellarer have recognized him? (At least in fiction.)
** Stanza 240/Lines 959-960 ** "For Gode is holde a ryghtwys man" -- perhaps an echo of the Nicene Crede ("one Lord Jesus Christ, who for us men and for our salvation came down from the heavens and was made flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man") or even John 1:14 ("and the word became flesh and dwelt among us"). The righteousness of God is a very common theme in Paul (see, e.g. Romans 3:25-26). The righteousness of Mary ("his dame") is not explicitly stated in the New Testament, but is vaguely hinted at in the creeds.
The text of these lines is rather messed up; see the textual note.
** Stanza 242/Lines 965-966 ** For the running account of Mary sending Robin his payment via the monk of St. Mary's Abbey, see the note on stanza 214.
** Stanza 243/Line 969 ** As in Stanza 37, Robin asks his guest to tell how much money he is carrying; see the note on that stanza.
** Stanza 243/Line 971** The monk claims, falsely, to have only "twenty marke" -- 20 marks, or 13 and a third pounds sterling, or 3200 pence. This is, by interesting coincidence, the amount the Sheriff offered Little John in Stanza 150, and which Little John offered the cook (stanza 171). It is a significant sum, which would surely have been enough to take the Monk to London had he travelled with a small company.
But the monk had 52 men in his company (stanza 216), and he did not have enough horses to supply their needs for more than a few days (stanza 216 again). If we assume he is paying each one three pence a day (a suitable rate, and one which would allow them to buy their own food), that's 156 pence per day for the whole company. Even if we assume no expenses other than paying the company, that means that the entire 20 marks would be used up in 21 days. In practice, he would presumably have other expenses -- if nothing else, his own food and lodging, which we can assume would cost more than the guards'. Even if we assume that the monk was very cheap about such things (which would explain why most of the men abandoned him so easily), in practice 20 marks probably would not maintain the company for more than about ten days. To bring so many from Yorkshire to London (stanza 253) really calls for a budget of more than 20 marks; he just doesn't have enough reserve. So he stands convicted by implication from the start.
** Stanza 247/lines 985-986 ** Little John spreads his mantle "As he had done before" -- in stanza 42, when he counted the knight's money.
** Stanza 247/Line 988 ** The monk allegedly carried "eyght [hondred] pounde" -- 800 pounds. For this extremely high total, see the note on stanza 49. See also the textual note.
** Stanza 248/Lines 991-992 ** For the running account of Mary sending Robin his payment via the monk of St. Mary's Abbey, see the note on stanza 214. Here John jokes that the monk is true -- true not in his statement (Stanza 243) that he had twenty marks, but true in his delivery of Robin's pay.
Compare this to the factually accurate statement in Stanza 43 that the knight is "trewe inowe" because he had only the handful of change that he said he had.
Although I doubt that the poet was thinking of this, there is an interesting analogy to the account of Joseph in Egypt in Genesis 40. In that tale, Pharaoh's baker and butler are imprisoned for having displeased Pharaoh, and Joseph interprets their dreams, telling both that Pharaoh will "lift up your head." As John says the knight is true because he is true and the monk is true in a completely different sense, so Joseph tells the butler that Pharaoh will lift up his head and restore him (Genesis 40:13), but he will lift up the baker's head and hang him (Genesis 40:19).
In the final line of the stanza, b says the Virgin Mary has doubled Robin's "cast," fg read "cost." This probably doesn't really mean "cost," since such usage is primarily modern, but even if it did, the reading of b is preferable -- Robin gambled on the knight's honesty (or on the Virgin's, if you will), as he might gamble on dice -- and he has been repaid double, as he might in gambling on dice.
** Stanza 251/Lines 1003-1004 ** Robin here promises to be "a friend" to the Virgin "yf she haue nede." Arguably she calls in this promise in stanza 336, where the knight's wife asks Robin for help "For Our dere Ladyes sake."
** Stanza 252Line 1005 ** Note that here Robin says that he will provide silver, but not gold, if the Virgin needs it. See the note on Stanza 49; it is somewhat curious to see silver promised here but gold paid out there.
** Stanza 253/Lines 1009-1012 ** Apparently the monk is being sent to London to try to get the King to deal with the Knight and give his lands to the abbot. (Something that formally should be done by Parliament with a bill of Pains and Penalties, but that's too complicated to put in a ballad.) This is obviously similar to a portion of the plot of the "Monk," which also involves St. Mary's. Here, as there, the monk is intercepted -- in each case, by John and Much. But here there is no rescue, just a preemptive strike.
That the monk's action is a legal one is proved by the word "mote" in the second line of the stanza. "Mote," or "moot" as we would usually spell it (think of "Entmoot," Tolkien fans), is a term "constantly associated with law," according to Gummere, p. 318.
Clawson, pp. 21-22, thinks that stanzas 253-254 contradict each other somewhat, and are out of place after stanza 252. He would move 253-257 to a location around stanza 232. Clawson's arrangement makes sense, and could possibly have arisen if the common ancestor of our prints had an arrangement of five stanza per page and became disarranged, but I do not think the disorder enough to justify such a drastic change.
** Stanza 256/Line 1021 ** The text of this line is troublesome and probably damaged (see textual note); the sense is probably that Robin asks what, or how much money, the monk is carrying on another horse.
** Stanza 256/Line 1024 ** "That were no curteysye." For the importance of courtesy, see the note on Stanza 2; for Robin's courtesy to the Monk, see Stanza 226.
** Stanza 257/Lines 1026-1027 ** Could Shakespeare have known this little bit of casuistry? Compare Falstaff's justification of his less-than-honourable ways: "Why, Hal, 'tis my vocation, Hal, 'tis no sin for a man to labor in his vocation" (1 Henry IV, I.ii, lines 104-105 in RiversideShakespeare).
** Stanzas 259-260/Lines 1035-1040 ** The monk has enough self-possession enough to try a little irony:, saying in effect, "The food is cheaper in Blythe and Doncaster." Robin, not to be outdone, in effect praises the abbot for sending such a profitable victim.
** Stanza 259/Line 1036 ** "Blith or...Dankestre", i.e. Blythe or Doncaster, for which see the note to Stanza 28. In this case, since we are absolutely certain the monk is going to London (stanza 253), this is strong evidence that the scene is Barnsdale, not Sherwood. This reinforces the sense that the knight was heading south in stanza 28.
** Stanza 263/Line 1049 ** Is this the palfrey Robin gave the knight in Stanza 77? We cannot say.
** Stanza 263/Line 1051 ** For courtesy see the note on Stanza 2. The knight again shows courtesy in 270.
** Stanza 265/Lines 1059-1060 ** Robin, having pretended that the monk was bringing the knight's money, perhaps continues the pretense here -- since Robin has been paid, the knight has no necessary reason to show up.
** Stanza 266/Line 1063 ** For the difficult problem of the "hye iustice" see the note on Stanza 93. Here, however, there is no textual variant.
** Stanza 268/Line 1069 ** There are very many problems with the text of this verse; several lines are probably missing. See the textual mote. Kittredge suggests that "a grefe" should be read as "a-grefe," in other words, don't take a grievance, don't hold a grudge.
** Stanza 270/Line 1079 ** Twenty marks of interest. See note on stanza 121.
** Stanza 271/Line1081-1084 ** For the story of Mary's repayment of the knight's loan, see the note on Stanza 214. This particular passage is reminiscent of the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 42-44. Jospeh's brothers, jealous of the fact that he was his father's favorite, sold him into Egypt. There Joseph became the vizier. When famine hit Canaan, the brothers had to go down to Egypt for food. They brought money, but Joseph (who knew them although they did not recognize him) played a trick on them, causing the money to be placed in their sacks of grain. The famine was long, and eventually they were forced to come to Egypt again. When they came, they tried to explain, and Joseph declared (Genesis 43:23) "your God and the God of your father must have put treasure in your sacks for you; I received your money." (After some additional testing of his brothers, Joseph finally concluded that they had reformed, and all lived happily every after, but that has no parallel in this tale).
** Stanza 272/Lines 1085-1086 ** Note that Robin, in these lines, refuses to commit usury by accepting more than what he is owed. Admittedly he took the payment from the wrong source -- but he does not collect more than his due. It is a peculiar form of honesty, but considering the behavior of modern bankers (with their careful scheduling of payments to generate overdraft fees, and their concealment of loan terms), perhaps we ought not criticise.
** Stanza 274/Line 1096 ** For Robin's "trystel tre(e)" see the note on Stanza 176.
** Stanza 275/Line1102 ** There is a variant here, probably caused by the fact that "tresure" does not appear to rhyme with "me." " But "treasure" is doubtless to be pronounced "treasury."
** Stanzas 280-281/Lines 1117-1124 ** Although the copies all place the end of the fourth fit after stanza 280, internal evidence clearly indicates that the fits should be divided after stanza 281 (observe the use of the "lythe and listen" formula at the beginning of 282).
Of course, it is a genuine question whether the fits are authorial or editorial. The latter strikes me as more probable, in which case the fits have no authority anyway. My guess would be that the fits were marked by the editor who produced the first printed edition, and all the later printers followed that first ediiton -- and the editor marked "Fyfth Fytte" in the margin of the source manuscript alongside stanza 281, meaning it to follow 281, but hte compositor set it before.
** Stanza 282/Lines 1125-1126 ** Observe the parallel to the first stanza, which also begins "Lyth and listin, gentilmen," and to stanzas 144 and 317. For notes on this introductory formula, see the notes to stanza 1.
** Stanza 282/Lines 1125-1128 ** In Fit 5, as in Fit 3, the Sheriff of Nottingham is Robin's chief opponent, and there is no indication that a new sheriff has been appointed. But the Sheriff of Fit 3 is a relatively incompetent figure of fun. The Sheriff of Fit 5 comes close to destroying Robin (Holt1, p. 25). In Stanza 15, Robin had warned against the Sheriff; one suspects the warning was against the Sheriff of Fit 5, not the one of Fit 3. For more about the status of sheriffs, and why the new sheriff might have been closer to the king than the old, see the notes on Stanza 15.
This is the second archery contest of the "Gest"; for the first, see the note to Stanzas 145-146. Robin and his men will stage their own in stanza 397. But this one is different; it is supposed to bring in all the best archers of the North. Given that Robin's men in Stanza 301 almost fall victim to an ambush, this raises the possibility that the contest was intended to lure Robin into a trap. We see this made explicit in the Forresters version of "Robin Hood and the Golden Arrow" [Child 152] (Knight, p. 23).
** Stanza 285/Lines 1137-1140 ** The golden arrow as a prize for an archery contest. This strikes me as a rather strange prize; in a time when life was relatively short and people were poor, mementos like this were not popular; in the absence of another prize, the winner would probably have to melt it down. Nor would it be an effective arrow, since the gold would blunt and the silver break. Nonetheless the idea seems to have inspired "Robin Hood and the Golden Arrow" [Child 152].
Estimating the value of the arrow is difficult, because we don't have its dimensions. It probably wasn't a full "cloth yard." A reasonable assumption is that it would be the length of a war arrow -- about 28 inches (Featherstone, p. 65), or 70 centimeters. The shaft, by implication, had a diameter of about .3 inches, or .75 cm. The point would be a pyramid 2 inches (Featherstone, p. 66), or 5 cm., long and with sides about 75 cm. So the golden arrowhead would have a volume of about 1 cubic centimeter. Add perhaps 50% for the golden feathers and we get 1.5 cc. The density of gold is 19 grams per cubic centimeter. So the weight of gold is 28.5 grams -- a hair over one ounce; the difference is well within our margin of error, which is on the order of 50% even assuming we've guessed the right kind of point for the arrow.
The volume of silver is a little more than 30 cubic centimeters. The density of silver is 10.5 grams per cubic centimeter. So the total mass of silver is about 325 grams, or 11.5 ounces. So the total value, in silver equivalent, is about 30 oz. of silver. That's about 2.5 pounds sterling. It's a substantial sum to a yeoman, but one a royal official could probably afford. This makes rather more financial sense than many of the figures in the "Gest."
** Stanzas 287-288/Lines1145, 1151 ** "Yonge men" may be an archaism, the root form of "yeomen." (Or not; the point is disputed.) For yeomen note on Stanza 1.
** Stanza 287/Lines 1147-1148 ** Robin decides to participate in the Nottingham archery contest, declaring he "wyll wete [test] the shryues fayth, Trewe and yf he be." Ohlgren, p. 282, interprets this to mean that Robin will test whether the sheriff is true to the oath he swore in stanza 204 to be Robin's friend. This raises questions -- for starters, after that embarrassment, would the Sheriff still be sheriff?
But there is another point. The spelling in this line is not ""sherif," as in (for instance) stanzas 204 and 205, nor "sheryfe," as in stanza 282. Terminal e in middle English was often an optional syllable, for rhyme or meter, and i and y were really the same letter, so "sherif" and "sheryfe" were genuine variants. But "shryues"? That's about as close to "shreward," "rogue" (Dickins/Wilson, p. 306) as to "sherif"; also consider "shryn," "shrine" -- perhaps Robin made a pilgrimage and made some sort of conditional vow and wanted to see the effects?
It's just a feeling, but I suspect textual corruption here.
Even if "shryues" means "sherif," there is the possibility that Robin is not testing the Sheriff's oath of friendship but his promise to give the prize to the best archer no matter who it be -- that is, will he give the award to one of Robin's men? As it turns out, he will not -- a hint, it seems to me, that in fact it is a new sheriff.
Note however that in stanzas 296-298, Robin complains that the sheriff is untrue.
These lines give us another, very vague, parallel to the story of David and Saul., this time to 1 Samuel 20. By this time Saul is so jealous of David that he wants David dead. He had tried to have David killed by demanding that he kill a hundred Philistines as a bride-price for his daughter Michal -- but David, instead of dying, produced the hundred Philistine foreskins (the Hebrew text of 1 Samuel 18:27 in fact says that David killed two hundred, although the Greek says only one hundred). In 1 Samuel 19, Saul tries to take David in his bed, but David escapes.
In 1 Samuel 20, David and his friend Jonathan, Saul's son, agree to test Saul. David will be absent from Saul's monthly banquet. Saul will ask where he is. Jonathan will explain that he has gone to a family sacrifice, and has asked Jonathan for permission to do so. If Saul accepts the explanation, then David and Jonathan will know that David is safe; if Saul does not accept the explanation, then David must flee.
As it turns out, in 1 Samuel 20:30, Saul refuses Jonathan's explanation and even reviles Jonathan's mother, Saul's own wife.
Thus David tested Saul just as Robin tests the Sheriff, and just as Saul failed the test, so too does the Sheriff. And, in the end, Saul's lack of faith probably cost him his life (although it is not David who kills him), and certainly the Sheriff's lack of faith results in Robin killing him.
** Stanza 288/Line 1151 ** For Robin's seven score followers, see the note on Stanza 229.
** Stanza 292/Line1166 ** There is a variant here, over which outlaws hit the target, and whether they sliced or clave it; see the textual note. Knight/Ohlgren suggest, p. 161, that stanza 292 refers to a sort of "tiebreak" between Robin and Gilbert, the winners of the preliminary round, but the description of the contest is too brief for us to really assess what happened.
** Stanza 292/Lines 1167-1168 ** "Gylberte With the whyte hande." Until this point, the only outlaws given any real mention are Little John, Much the Miller's Son, and Scarlock, and John is the only one who has done much of anything. We have no background on Gilbert of the White Hand. (We do note that fg call him Gilbert of the "lylly white" hand.) As mentioned above, there was a 1501 mention of Gilbert by Gavin Douglas, but it tells us nothing except that he was associated with Robin by that year.
Is there any possibility that the name "Gilbert" was traditionally used for foresters? Young, p. 49, mentions a case in the time of Henry II when four knights were tried for killing a group of men including Gilbert the forester. But I know of no other foresters named Gilbert.
It is probably coincidence, but we find an instance in the reign Edward II of the bishop-elect of Durham and two cardinals being robbed by outlaws in the north of England (Hutchison, p. 88) -- a situation quite similar to "Robin Hood and the Bishop of Hereford" [Child 144] as well as to portions of the "Gest." Prestwich3, p. 103, and McNamee, p. 84, say that the crime was committed by Gilbert de Middleton in 1317 -- exactly halfway into the reign of Edward II (and, astonishingly, exactly the time we would have expected Robin to have robbed the Monk if the knight had been talking of going on crusade in 1316). Phillips, p. 299, says that Middleton was one of Edward's household knights, as was one of his fellow robbers, Sir John de Lilburn.
Apparently all of this involved a local resident, John d'Eure, acknowledged a debt of 100 marks to John de Sapy, the keeper of the tenporalities of Durham, an agreement overseen by the Prior of Durham. This debt was only supposed to be paid if Louis de Beaumont was consecrated as Bishop of Durham (Philipps, p. 300). It's not the story of Robin, the Knight, and the Abbot, but it's surprisingly close.
According to Phillips, p. 299, the two cardinals were quickly released, but Bishop Louis of Durham, along with his brother Henry de Beaumont, were held for more than a month. The result was a political crisis, with Edward and the Earl of Lancaster each suspecting the other.
All this causes us to ask, Could "Gilbert de Middleton" have become "Gilbert of the White Hand"?
To be sure, Gilbert de Middleton's story does not end happily. He was captured in 1318, taken to London, tried, and executed (Phillips, p. 302).
As a really, *really* wild additional stretch, I'm going to mention the existence of a royal yeoman listed as "Robert le Ewer." The description on p. 437 of Phillips is astonishing: "One chronicler even described him as 'the prince of thieves'.... He appears to have served in the Scottish campaign but in September 1322 left the king secretly without permission and headed for his home county of Hampshire, where he allegedly acted like a Robin Hood, distributing the good of executed contrairants to the poor as alms for their souls."
As an alternate explanation for the name "white hand," Baldwin, p. 66, notes that Robert Earl of Leicester (1168-1190) was known as "Blanchemains," French for "White Hand." There is no reason to think Gilbert related to the Beaumonts of Leicester, however. Baldwin suggests that the name may have arisen because Earl Robert had vitiligo, which causes a sort of localized albinoism. But if we are getting speculative, we can wonder if there might not be a reason why Gilbert did not have a tan on his hands -- perhaps he had been a clerk or some such.
Some versions of the Tristam legend refer to "Isuelt of the White Hand" (CHEL1, p. 310), but I strongly doubt this is related.
** Stanza 293/Line 1170 ** Reynold. For Little John's use of the name Reynold Greenleaf, see the notes to Stanza 149. This is the only time in the "Gest" that Reynold is mentioned as an archer separate from Little John. (Although we do find Reynold listed amongh Robin's men in the list in the Winchester parliamentary roll of 1432; see the note on Stanza 4/Line 14). Scholars often treat this as a sign of inconsistency, and it surely is, but I wonder if, in the source, Little John did not compete under the name Reynold, and the compiler of the "Gest" failed to notice this.
** Stanza 295/Line 1179 ** For courtesy see the note on Stanza 2.
** Stanzas 296-298/Lines 1181-1192 ** For Robin's decision to test the value of the Sheriff's oath, see the note on Stanza 287. For the oath itself, see Stanza 204.
The first line of stanza 296, "They cryed out on Robyn Hode," is interesting. Who is doing the crying? The townsfolk of Nottingham? This is the suggestion of Knight/Ohlgren, p. 162, which obviously implies that Robin was not as popular with the townsfolk as some would have us think. It would also explain their fear of Robin and his men in Stanza 428. If it does mean the townsfolk, of course, it relieves the Sheriff of some of his guilt. But see the note on Stanza 301.
** Stanza 298/Line 1190 ** For Robin's "trystel tre(e)" see the note on Stanza 176.
** Stanza 301/Line 1201 ** The fact that an ambush has been laid in would seem to imply that the whole shooting contest was a trap -- not a legitimate contest but a way of luring Robin from the greenwood (see also the note on Stanza 282). This would seem to contradict the passage in stanza 296 implying that the townsfolk, not the sheriff, initiated the attack on Robin.
** Stanza 302/Lines 1205-1206 ** Little John's injury in the knee is similar to an event in the tale of Fulk FitzWarren, where Fulk is wounded in the leg (Baldwin, p. 37); also similar is the fact that both find shelter with a friendly knight.. Note however that in the tale of Fulk it is the hero himself, not his chief lieutenant, who is wounded. There is also a somewhat similar instance where Fulk's brother is wounded (Cawthorne, p. 115). Clawson, pp. 81-83, also notes a parallel in the story of William Wallace -- in which Wallace in fact executes the man, but another where Wallace rescues a man by carrying him on his back.
** Stanzas 303-305/Lines 1209-1220 ** The instances of an injured man pleading not to fall into the hands of an enemy are of course very old. Child, p. 54, has an eastern analogy involving one Giphtakis, but completely ignores the 3000 year old appeal of Saul of Israel, wounded by the Philistines on Gilboa, that his armor-bearer kill him rather than letting the Philistines capture him. This tale is told in 1 Samuel 31 -- the immediate follow-up to the raid on Ziklag., for which see Stanzas 338-339. There is, of course, the difference that there was no one to rescue Saul, who (when his armor-bearer could not bring himself to do the dead) fell on his own sword.
** Stanza 305/Lines1217-1220 ** Little John, if taken by the sheriff, would be tried and surely convicted -- and sentenced to death by torture. Very likely drawing and quartering -- castration, half-hanging, and evisceration, with his dead body cut into parts which would be displayed outside the gates of local towns. Given the sheriff's reasons to dislike John, we can hardly doubt that the punishment would be even more severe than usual. Little wonder that he begged for a quick, clean death!
It is interesting to see John call Robin's blade a "browne swerde"; elsewhere (Stanzas 202, 348) it is a "bright bronde."
** Stanza 309/Lines 1233-1236 ** Robin and his men come to a castle, which we learn in the next stanza belongs to Sir Richard at the Lee. This stanza describes it as a "fair castle, a little within the wood," walled, and with a double ditch.
This isn't much of a description -- after the Norman Conquest, the Normans studded England with what were called motte-and-bailey castles (Douglas, p. 216, who notes that this was one of the chief methods by which the Normans beat the English), which consisted of a ditch enclosing a palisade (wall), with the dirt used in digging the ditch carried inside to build a hill. Later, many of these had the palisade walls rebuilt in stone, but still, it would be hard to find a castle that didn't have a wall and ditch, and the addition of a second ditch was a cheap additional precaution.
Nonetheless Baldwin, p. 170, makes this description one of the keys to his identification of Sir Richard in the ballad with the historical Richard Foliot and his castle of Fenwick.
Clawson, p. 84, notes that the Sheriff probably could not expect to have enough men to overwhelm Robin and his seven score men, which is probably true. On this bases, Clawson (who regards this fit as an expansion of a ballad of Robin escaping the Sheriff) thinks the business with the castle an expansion. On the other hand, there is no guarantee that the original of this story assumed that Robin had so many followers.
** Stanza 310/Line 1238 ** "Syr Rychard at the Lee," or Sir Richard at Lee, as it is usually modermized. Note that, although Sir Richard is linked with the knight of the first four fits, this is the first time he is named -- an indication, presumably, of the composite nature of the "Gest." The poet has combined two tales, and claimed the knight of one is the knight of the other. Nonetheless the tale hints that they are distinct -- Sir Richard is close at hand when Robin and his men flee the Sheriff of Nottingham, which implies that he lived near Barnsdale or Sherwood. But the knight of stanza 126 lives in Verysdale, believed to be in Lancashire.
This is not as strong an objection as it sounds. We know from stanza 49 that the knight has land worth 400 pounds. The value of an ordinary manor would be measured in the tens of pounds in the fourteenth century. The knight almost certainly has at least three manors, and six to ten is a better bet. So there is no reason why he should not have manors in both Lancashire and south Yorkshire -- or, if we accept "Ayredale" for "Verysdale" in stanza 126, then he could have manors in north and south Yorkshire.
The real issue is the use of the name "Richard at Lee." One suggestion is that the name is derived from a Lord Mayor of London in Edward IV's time, Richard Lee (Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 134). This possibility cannot be ruled out, but neither is there really anything to commend it.
Clawson's hypothesis (p. 101) regarding the origin of the "Gest" involves a very large number of sources, and he suggests that the compiler inserted the name here from a portion of one of the sources he used later on. But why, then, not introduce it in the first fit as well?
It is interesting to note that, in "The Noble Fisherman, or, Robin Hood's Preferment" [Child 148], Robin takes service with a fisherman under the name "Simon over the Lee" (stanza 7 in Child's text) -- the name "Simon" likely being suggested by the fact that Simon Peter was a fisherman, and became a fisher of men (Matthew 4:18-19 and parallels). It is even more interesting to observe that, in the Forresters Manuscript version of this ballad, which in this case seems to preserve an earlier form, Robin becomes "Simon of the Lee," (Knight, p. xvi), exactly paralleling the form in the "g" print of the "Gest." This late ballad would seem to imply that Robin was taking the knight's title.
Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 167, has a rather far-out suggestion for the use of the name at this point, based on the existence of the "other" Munday Robin Hood play, "Metropolis Coronata, The Triumphes of Ancient Drapery." Ohlgren mentions this piece and dates it to 1615. Then Ohlgren makes one of his flying leaps into quicksand. On p. 168, Ohlgren makes the observation that the fact that the "Metropolis Coronata" was written for a Lord Mayor means that the Robin Hood story was thus freely adapted to the situations of specific persons.
Because this happened once, Ohlgren, p. 169, speculates that the "Gest" might have been written for the London Mayor Sir Richard Lee, made Lord Mayor in 1460 and 1469 -- although not knighted until 1471. This would make a lot more sense if Sir Richard's name had been used throughout, rather than only in the latter half of the "Gest," and if the name had been "Richard Lee," not "Richard at the Lee," and if he had been a knight at the time Ohlgren would have us believe the "Gest" was performed.
Ohlgren, p. 169, explains the concealment of the Knight's name by analogy to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, where Sir Bertilak is not named until the end. This hypothesis of course suffers from the substantial problem that Gawain could not be allowed to know that Bertilak is the Green Knight, whereas there is no reason to hide the Knight's name.
** Stanza 312/Line 1246 ** For courtesy see the note on Stanza 2.
** Stanza 313/Line 1251 ** For Child's reading "proud[e]" see the note on Stanza 282.
** Stanza 315/Lines 1258-1259 ** Saint Quentin was an early martyr, slain in Gaul. His dates are unknown, but it was early enough that he was in conflict with Roman authorities (DictSaints, p. 206). He was not well-known in England; his cult was centered in France. He was not the patron saint of anything in particular. It is curious to find Sir Richard invoking him, unless he was a family saint dating back to the time before the Conquest. This is a strong argument against the idea that Robin Hood was a pro-Saxon rebel; he would not in that case be friends with a guy swearing by Norman saints.
Knight/Ohlgren, p. 162, suggest that Sir Richard swears by Saint Quentin because he is promising to spare Robin from Quentin's fate. Alternately, we might suggest that the day is October 31, Quentin's feast day.
The "forty days" of the next line (in Child's text; see the textual note) was the traditional annual period of feudal military service. It might also be an allusion to something such as the forty days and forty nights of rain during Noah's Flood in Genesis 7:4, etc., or the forty days Moses was on the mountain in Exodus 24:18, or the forty days Jesus fasted in the wilderness in Matt. 4:2, etc. The most likely explanation, however, is to the traditional right of sanctuary in a church: a wrongdoer was allowed protection there for forty days before being expelled into exile or civil custody (Lyon, p. 160). Hence the knight would seem to be offering Robin the same sanctuary that he would get from a church.
If the correct reading is, as I believe, "twelve days," there is no obvious source for the reading. Perhaps the twelve days of Christmas/Epiphany? But there is no hint of this in the text.
** Stanza 316/Line 1261 ** Gummere, p. 318, interprets "Bordes were layde" to mean that tables were set up by laying boards on trestles, although one might also understand this as meaning that the sideboards were filled (laden).
Last updated in version 2.6
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 2017 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.