Gest of Robyn Hode, A [Child 117] --- Part 09
DESCRIPTION: Continuation of the notes to "A Gest of Robyn Hode" [Child 117]. Entry continues in "A Gest of Robyn Hode" [Child 117] --- Part 10 (File Number C117I). This entry contains notes on Fits VI-VIII of the "Gest."
Last updated in version 2.6
NOTES: ** Stanza 317-318/Lines 1265-1272 ** Here again we have the "Lyth and listin, gentilmen" formula of stanzas 1, 144, and 282. For notes on this introductory formula, see the notes to stanza 1.
These stanzas, however, contain several additional curious readings (see the textual notes). As they currently stand, Stanza 317 ends in mid-sentence. This is unusual although not entirely unknown in the "Gest."
Observe also that, as it is written, we learn that the "proude shyref... full cam to the hye shyref." This on its face implies TWO sheriffs. Possibly the poet is simply using "hye" to refer to any senior official, as some texts refer to the "hye justice" in stanza 93. But this still seems to leave us with two sheriffs. And there is no such office as the "hye shyref." Possibly the poet uses this title to contrast with the under-sheriff (since the sheriff was for long the chief royal official of a county, he necessarily had many subordiates -- Mortimer, p. 66, lists deputy sheriffs, summoners, clerks, sergeants, "ministers," and bailiffs).
But the reference to a separate high sheriff would, on its face, make Robin's enemy the under-sheriff. It was unlikely enough that a sheriff was a lord with a castle and many servants. It is frankly unbelievable that an under-sheriff would have such. Presumably the intent of these lines is that the Sheriff raised some sort of hue and cry.
** Stanza 319/Line 1274 ** "Traytour knight." To charge the knight with treason is formally false; even after Edward III broadened and clarified the statute of treason in 1352, it included only plotting the death of the monarch, levying war against the monarch, raping the King's eldest daugher, killing royal justices in performance of their duties, and importing forged coins (Prestwich3, pp. 230-231). Clearly the knight had done none of these. However, the laws of treason were easily stretched -- Edward I had executed William Wallace on a charge of treason, even though Wallace never acknowleged Edward as his king (Prestwich, p. 503). Edward II, similarly, had a great many men executed on treason charges in 1322 (Phillips, p. 410). Some, like the Earl of Lancaster, were guilty to a degree, but some, like Bartholomew Badlesmere, had merely disagreed with the King until Edward forced him into open rebellion. Edward then arranged that he suffer an unusually harsh execution (Phillips, p. 411).
One suspects that the Sheriff was using the threat of a treason charge to frighten the knight into giving up Robin. The penalty for treason, as suffered by William Wallace, was drawing and quartering, one of the most painful and horrid deaths possible. This was similar to what was suffered by Badlesmere. (And probably why Little John begged for a quick death in Stanza 305.) If the Sir Richard gave up Robin, the likely penalty for harboring a fugitive would have been merely a fine. So the sheriff offered a strong incentive.
If the King is in fact Edward II, and if this in fact takes place about a year before Edward's visit north in 1323, then the charge becomes particularly telling: "Give up Robin Hood, or the King will do to you as he just did to Badlesmere and all the other rebels who fought with Lancaster."
Here again we have a Biblical parallel from the story of David, this one told in 2 Samuel chapter 20. After the rebellion of Absalom failed, Sheba son of Bichri rebelled against David. The rebellion quickly failed, and Sheba fled to Abel-Bethmaacah. David's army, under Joab, demanded the surrender of Sheba, implying that the city would be sacked if Sheba was not surrendered, but spared if Sheba were turned over. The outcome, however, was different: The residents of Abel gave up Sheba, throwing his head over the wall to Joab.
** Stanza 320/Line 1280 ** Sir Richard declares himself "a trewe knyght." Compare Stanza 47, where the knight declares that he is a proper knight; Stanza 109, where he promises to be a true servant if treated properly; Stanza 114, where he says he is not a false knight.
**Stanza 321/Line 1283** The Knight appeals to the King's will. Robin will do the same in stanza 353. This touchingly naive faith in the King's justice is somewhat reminiscent of the actions of Paul in Acts 25:11-12, where Paul, having been arrested and kept in prison for a long time without charge, appeals to Caesar (rendered "the Emperor" in some versions), to escape local justice. It is highly unlikely that this was a direct source for the "Gest," but might underlie it at some removes.
** Stanzas 331-332/Lines 1321-1328 ** If we need proof that the knight was in good financial shape by this time, these stanzas prove it: Hawking was an expensive and aristocratic sport. Knight/Ohlgren, p. 163, point out that the knight would not be properly armed while hawking (which requires special gloves and such rather than armor), making the sheriff's behavior in arresting him at this time somewhat improper. This is dubious, but the sheriff's decision to bind him hand and foot (stanza 333) is certainly improper behavior toward a member of the gentry who, as far as we can tell, has not been outlawed. Although the King had said in stanza 325 that he would take Robin Hood, that is not by itself a jury finding -- and Magna Carta had guaranteed the right to trial by jury long before Edward I took the throne.
The intent of the last line of 331 is not entirely clear (due in part to a textual variant), but if we are to understand that the sheriff let the hawk(s) fly loose, it means that he has done the knight monetary damage in addition to arresting him.
Clawson, p. 89, points out an inconsistency here: That the knight should have known better than to go hawking in public when he knew the Sheriff would be after him. He thinks this indicates that the compiler has shifted sources. However, this does not really fit his source-critical analysis. Probably the Knight just didn't think the Sheriff would watch him that closely.
** Stanza 336/Line 1343 ** Note that knight's wife invokes the Virgin Mary in asking Robin for help. This might be an appeal to Robin's known love for the Virgin -- but it also recalls his promise in Stanza 251 the if Mary has "nede to Robyn Hode," he will be her friend.
** Stanzas 338-339/Lines 1352-1353 ** These lines are missing in all the early prints, making this one of the most important defect in the "Gest"; see the textual notes.
There is a bit of a hint at the career of David here. David, after Saul tried to murder him, entered the service of the Philistines. The Philistines were preparing the the climactic campaign against Saul which ended in the Battle of Mount Gilboa (for which see the note to Stanzas 303-305). David and his company (supposedly 600 men) were preparing to serve on the Philistine side against Israel. But a majority of the Philistine leaders did not want an Israelite serving in their army at the great battle; they feared he would turn on them. They sent David to his home in Ziklag (1 Samuel 29).
When David got home, he found that Amelekites had raided Ziklag, and taken the wives, children, and relatives of David's soldiers prisoner (1 Samuel 30:1-2). David, frightened of his own men (who were brigands, after all), asked an oracle whether he should pursue them, and was told "Pursue, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue" (1 Samuel 30:9). And, indeed, even as Saul was being killed at Gilboa (very conveniently for David), David overtook the raiders and rescued his wives and his followers' families.
** Stanza 342/Line 1366 ** For Robin's seven score followers, see the note on Stanza 229.
** Stanza 345/Lines 1379-1380 ** Note that Robin here asks the Sheriff for tidings of the king. This is perhaps an indication that Robin, despite being an outlaw, still is devoted to the King. We will see many more such indications in the seventh fit, where Robin honors the monk who comes from the king.
** Stanza 346/Lines1381-1382 ** Robin says that he has not moved this fast on foot in seven years. Probably this is just a conventional statement -- but it is interesting that it was seven years from 1316, which for various reasons seems to be roughly the time the knight went into debt, to 1323 when Edward II made his trip to the north.
** Stanzas 347-348/Lines 1385-1392 ** Why did not Robin's arrow kill the sheriff itself? Although improvements in plate armor meant that a longbow could no longer piece armor at long range by the mid-1400s (Reid, p. 353), the two were within speaking range, and an arrow fired at that range could still pierce armor. Probably the sheriff was dead and Robin simply made sure. But there is also a symbolic element: in Stanza 202, the sheriff swore on Robin's "bright brand"; since he broke the oath, the bright brand is used to execute him.
Pollard, pp. 107-108, sees a symbolic element to the whole episode of the sheriff: Killing the corrupt official is one half of restoring true justice (the other half being the receipt of the King's pardon). He adds that there was an "inextricable link between violence and the law in fifteenth century society." This is unquestionably true -- one of the major causes and side effects of the Wars of the Roses was that nobles settled their differences in battle rather than in the courts -- but it was hardly held up as ideal. And fifteenth century, which opened with the overthrow of Richard II and also saw the overthrows of Henry VI (twice), Edward IV (temporarily), and Richard III, was a period when the king's power to grant pardon and justice was hardly taken seriously -- a man pardoned by one king could expect to be subject to severe persecution by the next. In any case, Pollard's case is based on a fifteenth century date.
The cutting off of the head really sounds more like the Robin Hood of "Guy of Gisborne" than the Robin of the rest of the "Gest," however -- and surely he would not have been so crude to a man who supposedly was the husband of the Sheriff's wife of the Potter. Note that Robin accuses the sheriff's body of falsehood in the next stanza.
Child gives the last line of stanza 348 as "With his bright[e] bronde." "Brighte" is the reading of bdfg; a has "bright." In stanza 202, both a and b read "bright." We must at least allow for the possibility that the copyist of a assimilated this verse to that. "Brighte" is also better metrically. Although Knight/Ohlgren, p. 163, prefer to read "bright," the case for "brighte" appears slightly better.
Note that this isn't the only time in the early ballads that Robin kills the Sheriff. He does so also in "Guy of Gisborn" (cf. Holt1, pp. 32-33). Does this mean that there were several traditions of how Robin killed the sheriff, or that there were none and that different sources came up with different means? We cannot really say.
** Stanza 351/Line 1402 ** In this stanza Robin cuts... something... in two to free the knight. It may have been his "hoode" or his bonds; see the textual note. Perhaps the the guards could have tied the knight's hood over his eyes to prevent him from seeing. Also, "hode" sometimes seems to be used to refer to the head, or the contents of the hood, but this hardly helps. In practical terms, of course, it does not matter; what counts is that Robin cut the knight free.
If the original reading was "hoode," it is interesting to see that it is spelled with a double o, while Robin's name is spelled "Hode," with only one o.
** Stanza 352/Lines 1405-1406 ** Robin bids the knight to abandon his horse (the horse Robin gave him?) and run with the outlaws. For residents of an actual forest, this is always good advice -- but it makes less sense if Robin inhabits open land that is only nominally forest (which was the case for much of Barnsdale).
This may be a dating hint, sine it was not until the reign of Edward III that archers were mounted. So it makes sense, if we are in the reign of Edward II or earlier, for archers to be unmounted. On the other hand, this seems to contradict the situation in Stanza 152, where the Sheriff offers John a horse.
** Stanza 353/Line 1411 ** For this "appeal to Caesar," see the note on stanza 321.
Clawson, p. 113, makes an interesting point here: unlike almost all stories of penitents being helped by the King, Robin does not make a direct appeal, even though Robin in this verse strongly implies that he is seeking pardon. Robin will not leave the greenwood, which he loves, to go to the King. So the King must come to Robin. Clawson implies that a large part of this section is rewriting designed to turn a story of a normal appeal to the King into a case of the King coming to the suppliant.
** Stanza 353/Line 1412 ** "Edwarde, our comly kynge." Although there have been references to the King before this (stanzas 319, 321, 322, 325, 326, 345), this is the first one which gives him a name -- and it isn't William, Henry, Richard, or John, it's Edward.
There were six Kings Edward in English history before the first certain reference to Robin Hood as a figure of folklore: Edward the Elder (reigned c. 899-925), Edward the Martyr (c. 973-978), Edward the Confessor (1042-1066), Edward I (1272-1307), Edward II (1307-1327), and Edward III (1327-1377). There was another Edward, Edward IV (reigned 1461-1470 and 1461-1483) who lived before the "Gest" was published, and in some ways he fits the ballad -- but the piece would almost certainly have had to have been rewritten to refer to him, and this would likely have taken place in Tudor times. Not likely when Henry VII was trying to make a claim that he was the legitimate King (which he simply wasn't).
We can instantly reject the first three Edwards (the Elder, the Martyr, and the Confessor), because they lived before the Norman Conquest. The very fact that Our Hero is named "Robin" -- diminutive of "Robert" -- proves that he must be post-Conquest. The name "Robert" is Franko-Norman; William the Conqueror's father was named Robert, as was his eldest son. Checking multiple histories, I can find *no* pre-Conquest Englishmen named Robert; the index in Swanton lists 16 men named Robert -- and only one lived in England pre-conquest, and he was Robert Archbishop of Canterbury, and seems to have been an import from France (this was the period when Edward the Confessor was favoring Normans over Englishmen). Barlow-Rufus , p. 164, notes that Robert was, after William, the most common name among post-Conquest Norman office-holders.
The introduction discusses the matter of which Edward is meant. The only help we have in this verse is the fact that this Edward is called "comely." (A description also used for the king in line 331 of the "Monk," although this does not necessarily imply dependence; it was probably conventional).
Keen, p. 143, reminds us that Edward IV (reigned 1461-1470 and 1471-1483) was, in his prime, considered the handsomest man in Europe (cf. Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 150, which attributes the observation to Knight, not Keen). Knight/Ohlgren, p. 163, and Pollard, p. 200, point out that Edward III was called "our cumly King" in Laurence Minot's Poem IV; Ohlgren is convinced (and Pollard, p. 201, seems to accept the argument) that this means the "Gest" is about Edward III. This even though Ohlgren admits (Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 147) that there is "no direct evidence" that the author of the "Gest" knew Minot. Nor was Minot popular; only one copy of his works survived (British Library, MS. Cotton Galba IX, according to CHEL1, p. 356). Although the author of the "Gest" would have had access to Minot if anyone did; Minot's verse shows signs of northern dialect and he seems to have known a lot about Yorkshire (CHEL1, p. 357).
Ohlgren then goes on (Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 148) to suggest that the allusions, originally to Edward III, were then adapted to Edward IV.
The argument is however neutral; Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III were all tall and majestic, if not quite so handsome as Edward IV. The chronicles call Edward II "Fair of body and great of strength" and "Of a well proportioned and handsome person" (Doherty, p. 35). The anonymous author of the Life of Edward II, in speaking of the new King Edward III, hoped that he would have the traits of his ancestors: The energy of Henry II, the bravery of Richard I, the long life and reign of Henry III, the wisdom of Edward I -- and the good looks of Edward II (Ormrod, p. 47). In any case the phrase "comely king" is probably just a customary description.
There is another problem with making Edward IV the King of the "Gest," and that is that there is no hint in the "Gest" of the context of the Wars of the Roses. This even though the greatest of the battles in the Wars (indeed, believed to be the biggest battle ever fought in Britain) was the 1461 Battle of Towton (Reid, pp. 410-412). The preliminaries included two fights at Ferrybridge (Wagner, p. 272), which is right in the middle of Robin Hood country and might even be where the Knight saw the wrestling (see note on Stanza 126). The Towton battlefield itself is just a little north of there, between Ferrybridge and Tadcaster on the river Cock (see map on p. 428 of Reid). There was also a battle at Wakfield (see the map on p. 317 of Wagner). And, in 1469, Edward IV planned to gather his armies at Doncaster, although he never made it there (Castor, p. 203).
The conclusion is inevitable: If Robin Hood lived in Barnsdale in the reign of Edward IV, there would surely be some mention of these events. (To be sure, it's different if Robin lived in Sherwood.)
Plus, before we can say that the "Gest" refers to Edward IV, we have to prove that its current form comes from the reign of Edward IV. This has been asserted but not demonstrated.
To sum up: If we are to figure out which Edward is Robin Hood's king, we shall have to use other arguments than just the fact that he is here called "comely."
** Stanza 354/Lines 1413-1414 ** It is extremely unlikely that the King would come all the way to Nottingham simply to deal with an outlaw band and a disobedient knight. Edward I, it is true, spent some time chasing after William Wallace, but that is almost the only instance. Presumably he had other business. Unfortunately, Nottingham was a place English kings visited fairly often -- it was roughly the northern limit of their usual circuit. So this by itself is not a dating hint -- although there are several hints in the following stanzas.
** Stanzas 357-358/Lines 1425-1427 ** "Lancasshyre... Plomton Parke... He fauled many of his dere." In other words, the King went to a hunting reserve in Lancashire, called Plumpton Park, but was upset to find it almost devoid of deer. (A common problem, apparently; by the fifteenth century, red deer were nearly gone throughout the south and midlands, according to Pollard, p. 60, and presumably even the fallow deer were badly threatened in some places.)
It is interesting to note that Plompton Park is also mentioned in "King Edward the Fourth and a Tanner of Tamworth," stanza 38 -- Child's version of the family of ballads referred to above as "King Edward and the Hermit." Knight/Ohlgren, p. 164, point out that Plumpton/Plompton is also mentioned in The Noble Fisherman, or, Robin Hood's Preferment" [Child 148] (stanza 13) -- Simon in that song wishes he were hunting deer in the park. It is not clear whether there is literary dependence.
Several locations have been proposed for "Plumpton Park"; Holt lists them on p. 101. His own preference is for Plumpton Wood in Lancashire, near the forest of Myerscough. Child, pp. 54-55, mentions a couple of possibilities, listing first Camden's suggestion of a location on the bank of the Petterel in Cumbria east of Inglewood; this was also Ritson's preferred site (Knight/Ohlgren, p. 164). Dobson/Taylor, p. 105, prefer Hunter's suggestion of Plumpton Park near Knaresborough in Yorkshire (about halfway between York and Harrowgate), a choice also mentioned, rather disapprovingly, by Child, and with strong approval by Baldwin, p. 23. I note that the Plumpton family was still based in the West Riding of Yorkshire in the reign of Edward IV (Ross-Edward, p. 200). Knight/Ohlgren, p. 164 are convinced it is in Inglewood Forest, where there was a Plumpton Hay. But it hardly matters which one is meant. It is a northern forest which has been hunted out, and Robin Hood is thought to be to blame.
Holt1, p. 156 quotes a document describing "great destruction of the game" in the lands which had formerly belonged to Thomas of Lancaster, which is extremely interesting in connection to Edward II's northern trip of 1322-1323, although it does ot tell us which Plumpton is involved.
It is certain that there was a Plumpton Park in existence from a very early date; we know that Geoffrey de Neville in 1279-1281 was repairing a paling and hiring men to guard a park and lawn within in (Young, p. 115). This Plumpton was in Inglewood (Young, p. 116).
There is a summary of the forest laws in Knight/Ohlgren, pp. 164-165, and much detail (naturally) in Young, who notes on p. 3. that "the royal forest of first of all an area in which a special kind of law --the forest law -- applied." On pp. 28-29, Young lists twelve major points of the laws as enforced by Henry II. Several of these are of great significance to the Robin Hood legend, including #2, that no one should have bows, arrows, or dogs in the royal forest; #3, that wood could not be taken from the forests; #4-#7, assuring that foresters guarded the forest; #7, charging the foresters with guarding venison (game) and vert (trees and habitat); and #8, that a forester was responsible for any unexplained destruction in the forest (making the forester responsible for suppressing people like Robin)
The forest laws before the Norman Conquest were relatively mild, but William the Conqueror started putting lands into royal forests, eventually including about a quarter of England (Young, p. 5), meaning that much "forest" was not woodland but merely land designated for the King's purposes. The primary purpose of the laws was to preserve trees and game where they existed. They also brought in some revenue from the farming out of the office of forester (Young, p. 14; on p. 52, Young mentions a case of a man paying 900 marks=600 pounds to become forester of Cumbria!), so Robin's band might be costing the King money as well as game.
The punishments for violating the laws varied over time, at least in practice if not officially; item #30 or so in the lengthy list of proofs that Richard I was not Robin's king comes in the fact that Richard ordered poachers of the deer to be blinded and castrated. Only in the period of the Magna Carta were these penalties relaxed --the forest charter of 1217 declared that no one would be executed or mutilated for violation of the forest laws (Young, p. 67).
Even before that, fines were a more typical punishment, and even those were often forgiven (Young, p. 30) -- but even a fine could destroy a serf. And the fines could be huge -- one year, forest eyres brought in 12,000 pounds, although between 1000 and 2000 was more typical (Young, p. 39). Even these often were kept on the books for decades because they went unpaid (Young, p. 40). A man who failed to pay could, under the later forest laws, be imprisoned for a year and a day and then exilded (Young, p. 68).
There is another footnote: "Park," like "Forest," was an officially designated area. The forest laws applied, but with some modifications (Young, p. 45). The custodians of a park were not foresters but, logically, parkers. A park was fenced to keep the game within (or without), and one of the tasks of the parker was to maintain the fence -- a park could be seized by the king if the enclosure was not tight (Young, p. 96). I gain the impression that parks were much more closely controlled than forests, so for Robin to be raiding a park was a significant accomplishment.
This hunting episode is by far the strongest dating hint in the "Gest." Almost all kings of England hunted deer, but they rarely went as far as Lancashire to do it; it was too long a trip, and the north of England too unsettled and uncomfortable.
As it turns out, all three Edwards spent time in the north of England -- but Edward I and Edward III were fighting the Scots, not hunting.
Of the kings of England in this period, we know that Richard I liked hunting -- indeed, we know that his one approach to Sherwood Forest was to hunt there (Gillingham, p. 242). John's son Henry III was "indifferent to hunting" (Baldwin, p. 114).
In 1852, Joseph Hunter (probably the first quality Robin Hood scholar, and the one who, according to Holt1, p. 179, restored the "Gest" to its rightful place in the legend) showed that the only King Edward who made a progress to northern England which resembled that of the "Gest" was Edward II, who visited Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Nottingham in 1323 (Holt1, p. 45). This was in the aftermath of one of the myriad baronial conflicts of Edward II's reign. He had finally managed to defeat and execute his long-time enemy the Earl of Lancaster (Hutchison, p. 114), and spent a period of months in the north of England trying to deal with the aftermath of the baronial conflict and with Scotland. While this was going on, he naturally spent time hunting and otherwise amusing himself.
Phillips, p. 73, says that Edward II had only an "occasional" interest in hunting, but most of his other biographers seem to think he was very keen for the hunt; his huntsman wrote the first English hunting manual (Hutchison, p. 10), and Edward himself spent great sums upon related activities, importing horses from Lombardy and buying a dead earl's entire stud and delighting in hounds (Doherty, p. 28). We also know that, in a conflict over forest laws, he gave in but reserved the right to hunt in the lands which he allowed to be disafforested (Young, p. 144). Even his wife Isabella is said to have engaged in hunting (Doherty, p. 176). Whereas Prestwich1, p. 115, thinks that Edward I was more interested in falconry (compare Powicke, p. 228).
In any case, even if Edward himself did not hunt, he would need a steady supply of meat for his table --and for the pet lion he kept (Phillips, p. 93). So he would be concerned if a forest had been hunted out even if he did not intend to hunt it himself. Plus parks reportedly brought in income as well as game (Young, p. 96; Barber, p. 39 notes that in the reign of Edward III, bad park management resulted in a shortfall of no less than a thousand pounds), so a hunted-out park might cost the treasury much-needed income.
To be sure, Child, p. 55, tartly comments, "Hunter, who could have identified Pigromitus and Quinapallus, if he had given his mind to it, sees in this passage, and in what precedes it of King Edward's trip to Nottingham, a plausible semblence of historical reality. Edward II, as may be shown from Rymer's Foedera, made a progress in the counties of York, Lancaster, and Nottingham, in the latter part of the year 1323. He was in Yorkshire in August and September, in Lancashire in October, at Nottingham November 9-23." (He also visited Nottingham in March/April, Baldwin, p. 57. Baldwin, like Child, does not think Edward's visit the source of the legend, but notes that many were made outlaws in Edward II's time, and thinks the visit might have led to tales of outlawry which contributed to the legend; Baldwin, pp. 58-59.)
Child is surely correct in thinking that Hunter wrang much more out of the historical data than is justified -- as Holt1, p. 47, points out, Hunter's argument was circular in that he started with the "Gest," found some people who might just possibly have been those mentioned in the "Gest," and then used the "Gest" to try to prove what he had assumed. But Holt1, p. 56, concedes that Child did "less than justice to Hunter's case" -- and I agree. *If* the "Gest" is to be linked to any actual historical events, this is the key date. The King Edward of these stanzas is Edward II. Our only hesitation about this conclusion is that the "Gest" is composite, or not intended to be based on history. This could be an isolated fragment associated with Edward II, with other parts of the piece deriving from other contexts.
** Stanza 359/Lines 1433-1434 ** Wild rages were characteristic of all the Plantagenets (except the feeble-minded Henry VI and the forgiving Edward IV and Richard III), and are no key to dating. On p. 94 of McLynn, for instance, we find reports of both Henry II and John biting their fingers when in a rage. Edward I was supposed to have once torn out his son's hair in anger (Phillips, p. 120, who doubts that it actually happened. More significant is the fact that people were willing to believe that it happened.)
There are hints, too, that Edward II's rages grew worse after his triumph over Lancaster in 1322. In 1323, he ordered the execution of Andrew de Harclay, who had won the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322 which gave Edward the win over Lancaster. After Boroughbridge, Edward made Harclay Earl of Carlisle. When word came that Harclay was negotiating with the Scots -- something fairly necessary in his position, although Harclay did go a little far in proposing a draft treaty -- Edward not only had him executed but also degraded from both earldom and knighthood (Phillips, pp. 432-433). A few weeks later, he sent a councilor to prison for disagreeing with him (Phillips, p. 435). The picture we get, in the 1323 period, is of a man who had lost all patience with opposition, even friendly opposition.
But we note that, although Edward vows a particular punishment (confiscation of lands) for the knight, he does not promise anything in particular for Robin. No doubt the implication was clear: Robin would suffer a traitor's death. This of course did not happen. But note the blow the king inflicts upon Robin in stanza 408. If called out to fulfill a vow to punish Robin, the King could say he had done so -- with his own hand!
** Stanza 363//Lines 1449-1452 ** The king is warned that no one will be able to safely occupy the Knight's land because of Robin Hood. This is similar to the situation in Stanza 117 in which the Justice warns the Abbot of the danger of simply confiscating the Knight's lands.
** Stanza 364/Lines 1453-1454 ** The warning to the king continues: The person who occupies the knight's land will lose "the best ball in his hode." Knight/Ohlgren, p. 165, suggest that this is a reference to ancient games which use a human head as a ball. I personally doubt this. It is true that tthere are many accounts of warriors collecting heads as trophies, and the Grimm Brothers story "The Boy Who Set Out to Learn What Fear Was" has a tale of spirits playing ninepins using skulls for balls, and there are various accounts of men being executed after losing some sort of game -- but I do not know of any real uses in British history of a head or skull for a ball. Neither would suit the purpose at all well; the human head is neither round enough to roll well nor consistent enough in its components to bounce well.
I note that Wimberly, who has much discussion of heads and bones in ballad folklore, never mentions this idea.
Gummere, p. 319, explains the phrase as "a jocose expression of old standing" -- but offers no evidence or parallel citation.
I'm reminded a bit of the drawing of lots by pulling colored balls from a hood. But I can see no reason why that would apply here.
The line is in any case over-long. Perhaps we should emend to something like "At honde of Robyn Hode" or similar.
** Stanza 365/LInes 1457-1458 ** These lines line reports that the King's stay specifically in Nottingham lasted half a year. This doesn't fit any of the Edwards -- although Edward II was in Nottingham in early 1323 (March or April), and again from November 9-23 (Baldwin, pp. 55, 57), which makes about half a year from the time he first arrived to the time he finally left the area. He never stayed in one place for any lenght of time, however In any case, the King couldn't visit Plumpoton Park if he never left Nottingham.
The king's base in Nottingham may be genuine history (Edward II did spend time there), or the author may have placed him there because the story is associated with Sherwood -- but it is interesting to note that Nottingham, until the time of Edward I's northern wars, was generally as far north as a Plantagenet king would go on his regular travels (Mortimer, p. 17).
If we absolutely have to find a fit for spending a long spell continuously in Nottingham, it was probably Richard III in the period shortly before his death. With his wife and his son dead, and Henry Tudor about to invade, Richard chose Nottingham as the "castle of his care," and stayed there for much of 1485 until Henry Tudor finally landed.
** Stanza 367/Line 1465 ** A forester suggests the king's next act. If had been is a forester in Barnsdale or Sherwood, he might well know Robin (recall that in Stanza 14, Robin told John, Much, and Scarlock not to harm a yeoman who walked "the grene wode shawe," which probably means a forester). Could the whole situation be a set-up?
** Stanza 368/Line 1470 **"Gete you monkes wede," i.e. "disguise yourself as a monk." The motif of a king in disguise is rather common in folklore; we find it in "King Estmere" [Child 60] and in "King William and the Keeper," and in the Robin Hood cycle it occurs also in "The King's Disguise, and Friendship with Robin Hood" [Child 151], plus there were many later tales of James V of Scotland doing this sort of thing. In "Queen Eleanor's Confession" [Child 156], we even find the King and a companion disguised as clergymen, although for a rather different purpose. Indeed, Pollard, p. 201, reminds us that Shakespeare used the gimmick in "Measure for Measure." Clawson, p. 107, points out evidence gathered by Kittredge that people in the late fourteenth century believed that Edward III had visited people in disguise.
It didn't happen often in reality -- certainly there is no hint that the haughty Edward III went incognito. Interestingly, we do find Richard I trying to disguise himself to cross central Europe on his way home from the Crusade (Gillingham, p. 223). But this did not happen in England, or any land the Plantagenets ruled -- and the disguise was a failure anyway; Richard was taken prisoner and was not released until he had paid a huge ransom. Like most of Richard's ideas that didn't involve fighting, it was a really dumb thing to do. Bonnie Prince Charlie also disguised himself, on his voyage to Skye, but that was long after the "Gest."
One account of the life of Henry VI says that he often dressed as a "townsman" or a "farmer" (Wolffe, p. 10), and it is certain that he was often in disguise in the early 1460s when he had been overthrown and was trying to avoid capture. But the 1460s are a late date for the composition of the "Geste," and in any case Henry at this time had no power, and would not date reveal himself so openly -- and was not forceful enough to play the role of the king in the "Gest."
There is an account of Edward II in disguise reported from about the 1360s, which cannot be true but which might have fostered the idea of the concealed King: In about 1305, when Edward II and his father Edward I were quarrelling, Edward I was supposedly riding along a muddy, dangerous road in winter -- and Edward II, in disguise, came out and led his father's horse through the mud, so that his father did not fall (Phillips, p. 603).
Plus Edward II reportedly liked hanging around with monks and friars (Philipps, p. 602). The idea of dressing as a monk would probably appeal to him.
The idea of adopting a cleric's disguise would be particularly good in 1323, because Edward II had ordered them to gather, separately from parliament, early in that year. He summoned them to Lincoln to discuss a war subsidy (Phillips, p. 432). Thus Robin and his men, in that year, might have been keeping a particularly close watch for high church officials.
Also, there were several tales of Edward II having escaped his execution in 1327 and wandering around Europe. The probability of this is exceptionally low, but the stories usually describe him in the guise of a hermit of some sort (Phillips, pp. 582-592, 612, who doesn't believe it; Doherty, pp. 185-215, who takes one version seriously without being absolutely convinced). The story is in fact extremely implausible -- but it might have influenced the idea of Edward II disguising himself as a monk.
There is also an interesting tale from 1234, in the reign of Henry III: The King was going to visit Windsor Forest, and an outlaw named Richard Siward was attacking travellers in the area. If I understand the tale told on p. 105 of Young, it seems that only the King's presence kept Siward from attacking his party. Siward was not pardoned, however; attempts were made to take him as he moved toward Wales.
** Stanzas 368-369/Lines 1471-1476 ** The King is told to go from an abbey to Nottingham. This is pretty typical of what happened when Kings stayed in the north. They often stayed in abbeys, which were usually much wealthier than anything else in the vicinity and used to taking in guests. Also, the King could not stay in one place for very long; no place in the north had food and other supplies enough to provide for the king and all his entourage for more than a few days.
The idea that the King wandered about in the north fits far better with the history of Edward II (see Stanza 365) than the idea of him staying in one place for all that time.
** Stanza 369/Line 1473 ** The forester offers to be the king's ledes-man, i.e. guide, leader, but emendations to this line have been proposed; see the textual note.
** Stanza 373/LIne 1490 ** "Forsooth as I you say." This phrase occurs here, in Stanza 375, in and in stanza 424, but nowhere before this (although there are a few other uses of "forsooth"). This is a curious pattern of occurrences which may indicate the use of a source.
** Stanza 373/Line 1491 ** The king is said to have sung as he rode. Sadly, this is not much help with identification. There was a famous early story about Richard I making himself known to his minstrel Blondel by a song he sang (Gillingham, p. 224, although he notes that it can hardly be true). As late as the reign of Richard III, probably the last king to die before the "Gest" was printed, we find bishops complaining that the King was too interested in music and dance (Ross-Richard, pp. 141-142). But we know that Edward II was interested enough in music to send a courtier to the Welsh marches to learn the crwth (Phillips, p. 37), and Hutchison, p. 10, reports that "he was to be a keen patron of musicians and minstrels." Given that he was also fond of "theatricals," it would be no surprise to find him a singer as well as a hearer of music.
** Stanza 373/Line 1492 ** Since the "monks" wear grey, not black, they are not portraying themselves as Benedictines -- incidentally meaning that they are not from St. Mary's. Nor are they Cisterians, the white monks.
** Stanza 375/LIne 1500 ** "For this line see the note on stanza 373.
** Stanza 377/Lines 1505-1507 ** Here Robin in effect admits to living by poaching, despite claiming to be a yeoman of the forest. But see the note on Stanzas 32-33.
** Stanza 378/Line 1512 ** There is a textual variant in the spelling of the worde "saynt"; it is possible that this is a difference between the meanint "saint" and "saintly," but we really cannot tell. There is no well-known saint named "Charity"; the idea here seems to be "for holy charity."
** Stanza 379/Lines 1501-1504, etc. ** Note that the King and Robin speak to each other, seemingly in English, certainly without a translator. This implies a King who speaks English. William the Conqueror could not, nor could most of the kings between William I and Henry III. Richard I certainly could not (OxfordCompanion, p. 802. As Gillingham points out on p. 24, Richard had almost no English blood -- only one of his great-grandparents, Edith the wife of Henry I, could be considered English. The rest were all Normans or French or other "foreigners." Gillingham, p. 33, says Richard could write songs in Norman French and Provencal, and crack jokes in Latin -- but never mentions English. Markale declares on p. 57 that "never has an English king been so French").
The situation changed in the century after that. It is universally agreed that English was the first language of all kings from Henry VI (ascended 1422) on. Henry IV (1399-1413) is often said to be the earliest English King whose first language was English (Burrow/Turville-Petre, p. 17), Richard II (1377-1399) was clearly also fluent, having been able to casually converse with Wat Tyler's rebels while still in his early teens (Saul, p. 68ffff.). Edward III certainly knew English, and Edward I spoke it as a second language (Prestwich1, p. 6); so it is not unreasonable to assume Edward II did also; Hutchison, p. 9, thinks he did. So does Phillips, p. 60, although he finds no English documents at all among Edward II's letters; over 90% were in French, with the rest in Latin.
** Stanza 380/Lines 1517-1518 ** A subtle and artful statement, this: It gives the strong impression of being a statement by a clergyman, and yet it is basically the truth: The King has been in Nottingham in the company of the king. He is the head of the King's company, but he has been with it.... And a good King should not lie.
** Stanza 381/Line 1524 ** The text here is uncertain (see textual note). Child's text "I wolde vouch it safe on the" means that, if the king/abbot had a hundred pounds, he would trust it to Robin Hood. The reading of b is, however, "I vouch it half on the," that is, he would turn half over to Robin if his budget were in better shape.
** Stanza 382/Lines 1525-1528 ** This should be Robin's cue to search the King's party (see the note on Stanza 28), yet he fails to do so. Is this another hint that this is a set-up?
** Stanza 384/Lines 1533-1536 ** "The greteth Edwarde." For King Edward see note to stanza 353. Actual instances of a King inviting an outlaw to meet him are not unknown -- it happend a lot in Scotland -- but many monarchs could not be trusted to keep their safe conduct.
The royal seal was of course the means of validating official documents -- many of the early Norman and Plantagenet kings could not read or sign their names, and even if they could, the commoners could not read it. Thus developed the custom of sealing official documents. The King might have as many as three seals, and always had two, the Great Seal and the Privy Seal.
The Great Seal was generally kept by the Chancellor, who from the time of Edward I was housed at Chancery, often away from the court (Lyon, p. 69). Hence the Privy Seal, kept by the keeper of the Privy Seal, but which tended to move with the King (unless, as was common, he used a third seal to move the privy seal). A complication in the case of Edward II was that he had lost the privy seal at Bannockburn (Phillips, pp. 233-234) -- and, astonishingly, managed to misplace it again a decade later, during his time in the north (although, that time, it was found after a few days; Phillips, p. 320).
The song of course does not make it clear whether the seal was the great or the privy seal. Given the situation, the privy seal seems more likely. But we cannot be sure; the usage of the seals varied (Jolliffe, p. 278); indeed, if we knew which seal was involved, it would be a dating hint.
We also see the use of the King's seal in the "Monk" (Holt, p. 29), although there it is not addressed to the outlaws.
Knight/Ohlgren, p. 166, claims that the seal itself was revered. Too much weight probably should not be given to this; the English monarchy had not yet developed, for instance, the Tudor habit of calling the monarch "Your Majesty." The King was not a near-divine being -- as witness the fact that Edward II, and later his great-grandson Richard II, would be deposed....
** Stanza 385/Lines 1537-1540 ** This is a crux (see the textual note). The last word of 385.1 may be "tarpe" or "targe" or possibly "seale" -- the latter the easiest word, but then the other readings would not have arisen. The actual text of b says that the king showed his broad "tarpe." There seems to be no such word in Middle English. Child's suggestion is "targe." The normal meaning of "targe" is "shield." A shield would not bear a seal. A shield might well show the King's colors, to help identify him in battle, but in that case he would not give it to a monk.
Knight/Ohlgren, p. 166, note that the OED lists "targe" as a word for the privy seal in the Edwardian period, based perhaps on the use of a shield in the seal at the time; and Dobson/Taylor, p. 107, also gloss "targe" as "seal."
This raises two difficulties. First, the seals of the Edwards did *not* contain shields -- all were quite similar, with the King mounted and wearing armor on one side, and enthroned on the other. The exchequer seal did have a shield -- but the exchequer seal isn't going to cause anyone to get all excited. Plus the use of "targe" for "seal" was obscure even at that time, and probably effectively vanished by the time the "Gest" was written. The only justification for assuming the targe is a seal, rather than a shield, is that Robin refers to the seal in the next stanza.
Robin for "curtesy" then gets down on one knee at the sight of whatever-it-is. This, if nothing else, demonstrates his respect for the king.
** Stanza 387/Line 1548 ** For Robin's "trystel tre(e)" see the note on Stanza 176.
** Stanza 389/Line 1555 ** For Robin's seven score followers, see the note on Stanza 229.
** Stanza 390/Line 1560 ** "Saynt Austyn." This is usually stated to be Augustine of Canterbury, who converted Britain to Catholicism, not the more famous Augustine of Hippo. I am not absolutely convinced, however. The Dominicans (who first came to England in 1221; Powicke, p. 24) followed the rule of Augusting of Hippo (OxfordCompanion, p. 301). And Edward II seems to have been fond of the Dominicans (see note to Stanza 213). Might he have picked up this oath from his Dominican confessor? In any case, this cannot he be regarded as an indication of date. Augustine was sent to Kent by Pope Gregory the Great in 597 (Benet, p. 967).
There is a passage in one of Gower's French works (Mirour de l'omme) mentioning Saint Augustine and an unknown "Robyn" in consecutive lines (20886-20887, as given in Mustanoja, p. 64). I doubt that this is significant, however.
** Stanza 391/Lines 1563-1564 ** The king observes that Robin's men are "more at his byddynge" than are the King's own. This again hints at a date in the reign of Edward II. Nobody crossed Edward I -- at least not for long! Edward III had more trouble with his subordinates, especially about taxes, but his soldiers were quite obedient. Whereas orrders from Edward II were quite regularly ignored.
Discipline was not a widely-stressed virtue at this time. Reid, p. 32, notes that we have absolutely no records of soldiers training as a body. They learned their weapons, of course, but they do not seem to have practiced unit maneuvers -- certainly not at a scale larger than the company. So if Robin had his men firmly in hand, he really did have unusual control over his forces.
** Stanza 397-398/Lines 1585-1589 ** About an archery contest in which Robin's men shoot at garlands at great distance. This is another indication that Robin's weapon must be the longbow, not a short bow. For another indication, and supporting evidence, see stanza 132.
** Stanza 402/Lines 1606, 1608 ** The rhyme here, in all the prints, is spare... sore. It seems likely that the poet intended the rhymes to be pronounces "spare... sair." This is perhaps a hint of northern origin -- and of editing by a non-northern typesetter.
** Stanza 405/Lines 1619-1620 ** Robin has had each man who loses pay off to his master -- presumably, for others in the competition, another archer who wins a head-to-head contest. But here he treats the king/abbot as his master, for no obvious reason. Is this another hint that Robin actually already knew it was the King?
** Stanza 406/Lines 1621-1622 ** Many religious orders rejected shedding blood, with the interesting effect that we see fighting churchmen inventing weapons such as the mace and the war hammer so they could kill without letting blood. Probably most would not absolutely reject the striking of blows. It's a good bit of disguise, though.
** Stanza 408/Lines 1629-1630 ** The strength of the disguised king fells Robin. All three Edwards were tall and strong (as was Edward IV later on), but Edward II in particular seems to have had a reputation for exception physical strength. Barbour, the author of the Bruce -- obviously no fan of Edward -- wrote that he was "the strongest man of any that you could find in any country" (Phillips, p. 83), although this was written half a century after Edward's reign. When he was overtaken by the enemy at Bannockburn, every blow he struck was said to have felled its victim (Phillips, p. 233); his strength was regarded as being responsible for his escape. We also read in "Adam Davy's Dreams about Edward II (written probably early in that king's reign) that Edward was a "kni(3)t of mychel mi(3)ht" (Emerson, p. 227, although CHEL1, p. 356, says that we do not know why Davy wrote; there might be an element of flattery).
The king in stanzas 359-360 had been very angry with Robin Hood, without, it seems promising him any particular punishment (he said he would take the knight's lands, but merely wished to see Robin). If he vowed punishment for Robin, he could at least technically use this blow as a basis for saying he had fulfilled the vow. Fulfilled it with his own hand, in fact.
** Stanza 411/Lines 1643-1644 ** "Now I know you well" -- somehow, Robin and Sir Richard recognize the King. Possibly Sir Richard had met him -- but Robin? Was it just by the strength of the King's arm (this is the explanation of Baldwin, p. 24, but is surely inadequate) Or by his face on his seal? Robin saw the seal, but seals are not very detailed. The only likely way for ordinary people to know the king (unless he wore a crown or the like) was coin portraits. This argues for one of the Edwards rather than an earlier King (see note on Stanza 49), and the later the better; it argues very strongly indeed against Richard I and John, who made so little change to the old molds that their coins still used the name of Henry II (OxfordCompanion, p. 224).
** Stanza 412/Lines 1645-1648 ** Note that Child had two versions of the first two lines of this stanza (see the textual note). In his original edition, he printed
'Mercy then, Robyn,' sayd our kynge,
'Vnder your trystyll-tre,
In a correction (volume V., p. 297 in the Dover edition) he amended this to follow ing:
'Mercy,' then said Robyn to our kynge,
'Vnder this trystyll-tre.'
The former reading, however, is very much to be preferred.
Does the reading really mean what it says? Did the King expect that Robin would attack him if he became known? It sounds like it. Hunter hypothesized that Robin was one of Lancaster's rebels against Edward II. But here we again see evidence that Robin was not a rebel against a king, but an outlaw of some other sort.
Under what context might we find a man who does not consider himself a rebel, but who is regarded as a rebel by the King? It is reasonable to assume that Robin was opposed to one of the King's retainers -- or, in the case of Edward II, one of that king's traitorous vassals. I find myself wondering if Robin might have been one of the followers of Adam Banaster, one of Lancaster's vassals who rebelled against his lord. (Prestwich3, p. 92; Prestwich3, p. 96 refers to a period of "virtual civil war" in Lancashire).
Hicks, p. 48, is even more harsh, declaring, 'Lancaster's misuse of his power reflects 'the repulsive nature of the man. A generous almsgiver and pious benefactor, perhaps more than conventionally devout', he was also sexually immoral, quarrelsome, selfish and vindictive. He was rapacious to his tenants, maintained his retainers beyond the legitimate bounds of lordship, and seized what he wanted in defiance of right and the law. He readily resorted to brutality, violence, in his Thorpe Waterville dispute with Pembroke, his suppression of Adam Banaster's rebellion, his feud with Warenne, Sir Gilbert Middleton's kidnapping of two cardinals, and when wasting Damory's lands."
What would *you* do if he had been your overlord?
There is in fact a printed item (I hesitate to call it a song, or even a poem; it makes most doggerel look good) called "Robin Hood and the Duke of Lancaster: A Ballad," set to the tune of "The Abbot of Canterbury," which purports to treat of a quarrely between Robin and the Duke of Lancaster. It is printed in Dobson/Taylor (pp. 191-194), and there are several copies in the Bodleian collection (Douce Prints a.49(1), G. Pamph. 1665(8), Johnson c.74; reprinted on p. 398 of GutchII).
It apparently was printed in 1727 (GutchII, p. 397). But it is almost beyond belief that it represents an actual tradition; it claims to have taken place in the year 1202, when John was King -- but there was no Duke of Lancaster in 1202; there were no Dukes in England at all (Edward III created the first English dukes, beginning by making his son Edward the Duke of Cornwall in 1337; Barber, p. 20). So you don't have to look up that piece. And, believe me, you don't want to. Gutch suggests that it is a satire about a courtier who wanted a job as a royal forester, presumably in the reign of George I or George II; Dobson/Taylor, p. 192, are even more specific, declaring it to refer to Lord Lechmere, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the reign of George I.
** Stanza 412/Line 1646 ** For Robin's "trystel tre(e)" see the note on Stanza 176.
** Stanza 413/Lines 1651-1652 ** Here Robin formally asks the King's pardon, for himself and his men -- yet we still do not learn what his crime was!
It is interesting to note that, although Edward II seems rarely to have given out pardons as King, when Isabella and her rebels seemed to be in danger of taking over the country, Edward is reported to have given pardon to more than a hundred outlaws if they would join his forces (Phillips, p. 505 n. 307). This did not take place during Edward's northern excursion, but it might have figured into the legend somehow.
** Stanza 414/Lines 1654-1655 ** The king here tells a truth, although an ironic one: He intended to have Robin and his men leave the woods by taking them prisoner; instead he chooses to induce them to leave the woods by pardoning them.
For the effects of the offer of pardon and a place at the court, see the note to Stanza 435. For conditional pardons, see the note on Stanza 439.
** Stanza 416/Lines 1661-1664 ** Robin promises to come to court to be the King's servant (parallel, in a small way, toJohn and Much becoming yeomen of the crown in the "Monk"; cf. Holt1, p. 29). But he also promises to bring at least some of his men. To me, this seems to imply either that Robin wants pardon for all his men, or that he is promising to bring them all to be the King's soldiers (or bodyguards? If the year is 1323, Edward II might well have wanted a loyal bodyguard).
Knight/Ohlgren, p. 166, say however that "The idea of Robin holding an alternative lordship, with his own retinue, is clear." What is not clear is what is meant by an "alternative lordship." Certainly Robin, if were gentrified, would want to keep a retinue, but there is no hint whatsoever that he is being offered any sort of title -- merely a position.
For Robin's seven score followers, see the note on Stanza 229. In this verse we see Robin with "seven score and three" followers. Probably this is just poetry, but it might be that the three are Little John, Scarlock, and Much, and the seven score are all the other unnamed archers who exist mostly to supply "alarums and excursions."
** Stanza 417/Lines 1665-1668 ** Baldwin, p. 41, follows Pollard in pointing out that no outlaw could dictate the conditions of his own pardon. This is true in the sense that it was up to the King to grant the pardon and set the conditions. On the other hand, outlaws could decide whether to take the pardon -- and so could negotiate what it would take for them to give up their rebellion. I would consider this to be a warning by Robin to the King -- and, as it turns out, it was a warning Edward would have been wise to heed.
** Stanzas 417-418/Lines 1668-1669 ** This is marked as the beginning of the eighth and final fit. Knight/Ohlgren, p. 166, point out that there is no reason for a break here -- there is no scene change, and no break in the action. They suggest that the insertion of the heading is editorial. This seems likely -- unless, perhaps, there was damage either following 417 or preceding 418 (more likely, I suspect, the latter) and the material has been lost which would justify the break between fits.
** Stanza 418/Lines 1669-1672 ** Robin had earlier acted as a cloth merchant in stanzas 70-73, and Ohlgren thinks this ties him to one of the cloth guilds; see the note on Stanza 10. In fact, Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 180 accuses him of violating the law against "forestalling," but this law is not mentioned in either of my constitutional histories of England; I doubt it was really an issue.
** Stanza 420/Lines 1677-1680 ** Robin agrees to clothe the King in green, and expects the King to give him clothing in return at Yule (Christmastide and year's-end). In other words, Robin is accepting the King's livery. Since Robin does not expact a change of clothing until then, the date is presumably after midsummer's day (June 25).
The king's acceptance of green, and his calling forth of Robin's men while wearing green, is a strong argument against the king being Richard I; see the note on Stanzas 70-72.
** Stanza 421/Lines 1681-1684 ** Knight/Ohlgren, p. 167, says that the King's wearing green livery "acknowledges forest values." It also gets the king out of dirty (sweaty? flea-infested?) garments, so he might simply have wanted to change clothes. Nonetheless it does seem symbolic -- a symbol much more likely from Edward II than either his father or son; see the note on Stanza 424.
** Stanza 422/Line 1685 ** "Lyncolne grene," or Lincoln Green, and Kendall Green, were famous colours in the middle ages -- probably because greens were hard to make (Finlay, p. 275). There were few good dyes at the time -- and none at all that allowed cloth to be dyed green in one step. Paintings typically used copper compounds for greens -- but these were not good dyes. Green cloth was made by mixing the blue of woad (indigo, or modern FD&C blue dye #2) with any of several organic yellows. Supposedly Lincoln Green used a yellow dye called "weld" (Finlay, p. 276) -- usually applying the dyes serially.
Incidentally, weld fades faster than indigo, so if by chance you come across a piece of green cloth from that era, it will now appear blue (Finlay, p. 276).
Why Lincoln Green? Gummere, p. 319, quotes someone (Ritson?) as explaining that it was good at letting the outlaws hide from the deer. Neither Ritson nor Gummere could know it, but this is rather unlikely. Deer do not see as we do. Human vision is trichromatic -- red, green, and blue. But trichromatic vision, among non-marsupial mammals, is exclusive to primates (Dawkins, pp. 146-150). Deer, and all the other mammals of English forests, have dichromatic vision -- green and blue sensors only. We do know that dichromats can see through various forms of camoflage which fool trichromats (Dawkins, p. 151), and there are certainly concealment schemes which will fool a dichromat and not a trichromat. Without knowing the exact shade of green, we can't say just how a deer or rabbit would perceive a man in Lincoln Green, but based on the way it was made, I don't think it would be ideal camoflage. Brown or black would be better.
Others argue that Lincon Green was camoflage against human intruders. This makes some sense. Lincoln Green is a little too olive to be ideal forest coloration -- but there was no good leaf green available.
Finlay, p. 276, suggests instead that Robin dressed his men Lincoln Green "to show off," because green cloth was expensive due to the need for multiple dying steps. However, the evidence is that Lincoln Green was not that expensive -- certainly not when compared with, say, scarlet red based on kermes. The Welsh soldiers in Edward III's wars, for instance, were clothed in white and green (Hewitt, p. 39) -- and it is certain that no one would have spent much on clothing the Welsh!
Nonetheless, Kendall Green is a good symbolic color for outlaws, because Kent was famously considered a rebellious county (Cawthorne, p. 78) -- e.g. most of Wat Tyler's rebels came from there. This is probably somewhat exaggerated; Kentish rebels tended to be noticed more often in London because rebels in Kent could reach the city far more easily than those in, say, Lincolnshire. But Kent did have fewer villeins and more free men (OxfordComp, p. 959), so the people probably were somewhat more rowdy.
Wimberly, p. 178, says that green "is a fairy color and of ill omen," but points out that it is one of the most common colors of clothing in the ballads. Despite all those attempts to link Robin with the Green Man or the like, I doubt that the color has any mystical significance.
For more on cloth offered by Robin, see the notes on Stanzas 70-72.
** Stanza 424/LIne 1694 ** "For this line see the note on stanza 373.
** Stanza 424/Line 1695 ** The plucke-buffet, believed to be a contest in which the players exchange blows as forfeits, is attested in many forms. The extreme form is the beheading game of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." It also occurs in the tale of "The Turk and Gawain," found in the Percy folio, although we cannot tell the exact details because the folio is so damaged at this point (Tolkien/Gordon, p. xix). It also features in two other Gawain romances, the related "Syre Gawene and the Carle of Carlyle" and "The Carle off Carlile" (Lacy, p 154), although the latter of these is almost certainly later than the "Gest" and the former may be.
As a sport, it is sometimes known as an "Irish Stand-Down." Child, in his notes on this stanza (page 55) mentions a romance in which Richard the Lion-Hearted himself engaged in this game, but this is one of those stories (like Richard killing a lion with his bare hands by tearing out its heart -- and then eating it raw; Gillingham, pp. 7-8) which is demonstrably false.
Knight/Ohlgren, p. 167, seem to think that the contest between Robin and the King was also more serious than some casual shooting with the bow, followed by a blow to the loser, but they offer no reason for this hypothesis.
More interesting is the question of whether any English king would engage in such a contest with his subjects.
Holt1, p. 61, argues that the legend of the King being reconciled with Robin is derived from Fulk, or Hereward, or maybe (who knows?) Alfred and the Cakes (an idea going back at least to Clawson, p. 104, who on p. 105 mentions a similar story told of Henry II), all involving an incognito king. This is of course a common theme of folklore (see the note on stanza 368) but the fact that the motif is legendary does not preclude a reconciliation between King and outlaws -- several rebellions ended that way, because it was easier for the King to befriend the rebel than run him down!
This motif does however argue against a date in the reigns of Richard I or Edward I -- they were strong grudge-holders. Prestwich1, p. 202, says explicitly, "Clemency towards his enemy was not in Edward [I]'s character." What's more, Edward I had a strong streak of violence when crossed (Prestwich1, p. 3); he just wasn't the sort to go off and negotiate with rebels.
There is an actual recorded instance of Edward I accidentally ending up in single combat with an enemy because a ditch cut Edward off from his supporters, and Edward did formally forgive the other man -- "but there is no evidence that he was ever regarded with any special favor" (Prestwich1, p. 56, although Baldwin, p. 146, says that "There is nothing to substantiate Nicholas Trivet's story" of this encounter, and Pollard, p. 196, flatly declares it fiction. Clawson, pp. 107-108, points to the tale of John the Reeve, in the Percy Folio, in which Edward I is separated from his followers, but this is not the same tale).
Baldwin, p. 95, has a good summary when he says that "Edward [I] was respected b his barons, but he was a man of violent temper far removed from the jovial and understanding 'King Edward' of the ballads."
Richard I was, if anything, worse; he was aloof and generally lacked the common touch; according to Kelly.A, p. 173, "Richard was less affable in crowds than Henry [II], more selective in his friendshps, and less accessible to general company. He lacked the charm that attracted a large personal following... He often ruffled his peers with an overweening brusqueness."
He was such a snob that, when he heard a hawk shriek in a commoner's house, he went in and attacked the owners (even though they were not his subjects) -- and was forced to take to his heels when they fought back (McLynn, p. 144). During the conquest of Cyprus, he insulted the island's inhabitants by shaving off the men's beards just because they were ruled by his enemy (McLynn, p. 157). At Acre, he demeaned the Duke of Austria so badly that he left the crusade -- and Leopold of Austria was a *duke*, almost as high on the social scale as Richard himself. Richard didn't have subjects; he had two kinds of slaves, the chained and the unchained. The notion of him even talking to a commoner, other than one of his soldiers, is absurd.
Henry II had a way with common people, and was relatively accessible to them -- Dahmus, pp. 148-150 -- but even if we can accept such an early date for Robin, Henry was another grudge-holder.
Henry III, according to Baldwin, p. 118, "was often tempermental but he did not bear grudges."
By contrast, Edward II had a strange interest in common tasks and men, according to Hutchison, pp. 148-149 -- he liked woodworking and metalwork, kept company with craftsmen, and worked at thatching. A story tells of him engaged in hedging and ditching when he might have been at mass (Prestwich3, p. 80), and there are records of him ordering plaster so that he might build walls (Prestwich3, p. 81). Phillips, p. 13, quotes his best contemporary biographer as saying, "If he had practiced the use of arms, he would have exceeded the prowess of King Richard. Physically this would have been inevitable, for he was tall and strong, a handsome man with a fine figure.... If only he had given to arms the attention that he expended on rustic pursuits...." After Bannockburn, a member of his household declared that the king could not win battles if he "appl[ied] himself to making ditches and digging and other improper occupations' (Phillips, p. 15).
Even Hutchison, almost his only defender, admits on p. 2 his "rather odd personality." Although most instances of him engaging in a form of common labor are attested by only one source, Phillips, p. 72, mentions four source attesting his love for ordinary men's work, and the reports of him spending time rowing are well-attested. Phillips goes on to note that Edward II "enjoyed the near-presence of the low-born," and mentions an instance in 1325 of sailors and carpenters eating in the royal chamber.
What's more, Edward II liked games, including gambling games, and did not insist upon winning (Phillips, p. 75). This fits the stanza's indication that Robin out-shot the king and so was entitled to beat up his monarch. (Possibly the King felt this to be safer than to have his half dozen men fight all of Robin's band.) The wonder is that the King decided to participate, having seen Robin's prowess. He was probably a good archer with a hunting bow, but a longbow was a different matter.
And where Edward I, for instance, tended to look down his nose even at the higher nobility, Edward II displayed very little snobbishness. In Edward I's last years, there was a quarrel between the King and his son over the size and expense of the Prince's household. According to Phillips, p. 99 and note 131, there were four men the Prince really wanted to keep around him. Two were of gentle blood -- Piers Gaveston and Gilbert de Clare -- but the other two were yeomen.
Jolliffe, pp. 369-370, declares that "like several of our more incompetent kings, Edward II was inclined to advance popular principles" -- meaning, in this case, the principles of ordinary people rather than the high nobility; Edward increased the role of the commons in parliament (presumably to reduce the power of the barons).
It is true that Edward II was a man who never changed his mind, and he certainly held grudges. His best early biographer wrote in the Life of Edward II that, in 1322 when Edward finally seemed to have defeated his enemies, "the earl of Lancaster once cut off Piers Gaveston's head, and now by the king's command the earl of Lancaster had lost his head" (quoted by Phillips, p. 409). But Edward's grudges were very specific and pointed. A man who had not directly offended him or joined his enemies was forgivable. (To be sure, Hunter thought that the original Robin Hood served the Earl of Lancaster, and that this was why he needed the King's pardon. But the subtle hints in the "Gest" all point to an outlaw who was loyal to the King all along, as several mentions in the "Gest" demonstrate; Mark Ormrod also apparently pointed this out in an unpublished paper; Pollard, p. 253 n. 58.)
If ever there had been a king likely to meet with outlaws, it was Edward II. Doherty, pp. 23-24, explains this oddity based on the way his father neglected him: "Left to his own devices, bereft of a father and a mother-figure, the young Edward naturally looked for friendship from others, whether they were ditchers, rowers, sailors or boatmen." Doherty, p. 26, also thinks that Edward II had "a desperate yearning to be liked."
Edward's willingness to hang around with common people became so proverbial that, according to pp. 60-61 of Doherty, a pretender actually showed up during this reign claiming to be the real King Edward; he had been swapped with a peasant boy after a nurse had allowed him to be injured and was afraid to reveal the truth. The "proof" of this was that Edward showed tastes such as only a peasant would have, and thus must be an imposter. Naturally this pretender was executed (as was his cat, which obviously was innocent), but the whole story shows what Edward's reputation was like.
The only other Plantagenet I can imagine hanging around with common folks was John. However, we have already read, in stanzas 403-409, tells of an Irish stand-down between Robin and the King, in which the King gives Robin a blow which floors him. The Plantagenets were mostly very tall -- Edward I was called "Longshanks," and when his skeleton was measured, he was found to have been 6'2" (Prestwich, p. 567). Edward III is said to have been 6'3". Richard is said to have been tall, well-built, and with unusually long arms and legs (McLynn, p. 24). The only exceptions were Henry II, who was of average height, and John, who at 5'5" was perhaps the shortest Plantagenet known to us (Warren-John, p. 31). Henry II was strong despite his height. But John does not seem to have been a mighty man.
To be sure, the last King Edward to live before the publication of the "Gest," Edward IV, was so open to commoners that he became the hero of "King Edward the Fourth and a Tanner of Tamworth" [Child 273]. Edward IV's brother Richard III seems to have tried -- seemingly for the first time -- to actually build a government out of men who were not members of the nobility; Cheetham, pp. 161-162. But both of these are almost certainly too late.
In connection with the King's fist-fight with Robin, see the note on Stanzas 429-430 regarding Edward II's fondness for horseplay and practical jokes.
** Stanza 428/Lines 1709-1712 ** Upon seeing what appears to be a mass invasion by Robin Hood's men, the people of Nottingham are very afraid (though without reason, as it turns out). This may very well connect with their hostility to him in Stanzas 296.
** Stanzas 429-430/Lines 1713-1717 ** The king laughs at the rout of the townsfolk, as people try by any means possible to flee the coming of Robin Hood. This too fits well with what we know of Edward II, who seems to have been fond of practical jokes and rough humor (Doherty, pp. 50-51). One can imagine him staging this little scene to see how the folk of Nottingham would respond; indeed. Mersey, p. 188, calls this "a jest on the king's part." For another instance of his fondness for low games and roughhousing, see the note on Stanzas 429-430.
Knight/Ohlgren, p. 167, compare this to the story of "Robin Hood's Progress to Nottingham" [Child139], in which the people of Nottingham also fear and attack the outlaw. They see this as a contrast between "forest and urban values," but "Robin Hood's Progress to Nottingham" is a later writing and not a source for the "Gest." And while there doubtless is a contrast between town and outlaw morals, the fear of the people of Nottingham more likely derives from the fact that Robin has already had two conflicts with them, one at the time of the archery contest when they attacked him and once when Robin attacked and killed the sheriff.
** Stanza 433/Line 1731 ** It is interesting to observe that Robin, who in Stanza 68 had been able to lend 400 pounds, apparently has only 100 pounds at his disposal here. (For more on the value of this money, see the notes to Stanzas 49 and 120). In stanza 150 we see the sheriff offer Little John 20 marks per year; in Stanzas 170-171, Little John offers the cook 20 marks per year to join Robin's band. Since 100 pounds is 150 marks, Robin's 100 pounds would pay only seven men for a full year at their old wage. If he truly had seven score men (Stanza 416), he could have paid them only one mark each -- or enough for three weeks at their old rate. See also the note on Stanza 435.
The implication, obviously, is that either Robin left much of his money behind, or that he had lost it in the interval between his intervention on the knight's behalf and the time he met the king. (Or, of course, that this section is from another source with more reasonable ideas of what money was worth.) It seems more likely that Robin's fortune would have declined; traffic would have learned to avoid Barnsdale if Robin became a truly successful robber (note the fear of him shown by the people of Nottingham in Stanza 428), plus his band probably grew in that time, meaning that he had to pay more in wages.
One wonders if Robin might not have accepted the King's offer because he was going broke.
Holt1, p. 118, makes the interesting observation that, by the time the "Gest" was probably written, "local society fell, in descending order, into knights, squires, gentlemen, yeomen and husbandmen.... Only the first two, knight and squire, had distinguishing qualifications. The gentleman, particularly, was sometimes simply he who claimed to be a gentleman, or lives like a gentleman, perhaps especially one who got into debt like a gentleman." That certainly sounds like Robin's behavior.
** Stanza 434/Lines 1733-1736 ** Gummere, commenting on Robin's prodigality, says on p. 319, "This liberal expenditure was the proper thing for knights and men of rank...." But his chief expense was likely just paying his men. In stanza 52, we perhaps saw a hint of the Tale of the Prodigal Son. This too mayhave been influenced by that tale (in chapter 15 of Luke); the Prodigal takes his inheritance, spends it on loose living, and then has to go home in disgrace.
It is interesting, although perhaps not very relevant, to note that Grafton declared that Robin went to the greenwood because of excess generosity (Knight, p. 1; Knight/Ohlgren, p. 28).
** Stanza 435/Line1737 ** After a year at the King's court (literally fifteen months, but the author is always adding threes to things), Robin has used up his resources. This is not really unusual. The King's senior officers often did not enjoy actual payment for their work; rather, the King granted them some sort of compensation. A cleric would get a certain number of "livings"; a secular lord would be given an office or the rent from sundry manors. We note that the King's offer of a place at his court (stanzas 414-415) contained no such offer. Perhaps Robin assumed one would be forthcoming (see stanza 420, where he seems to accept the King's livery); perhaps he did not realize the need for such a grant; perhaps the King simply did not live up to his promise.
This would fit well with either Edward I, who was notably stingy with pay for his officials, or with Edward II after his victories of 1322-1323 -- Phillips, p. 421, reports that in this period "Like the archetypal miser Edward [II] not only gathered every penny he could but was remarkably loath to spend any more than he had to." One almost wonders if he mightn't have brought Robin to court to try to get a hand on Robin's treasure.
As mentioned in the notes on Stanza 433, Robin's 100 pounds would pay only seven men for a full year at their old wage -- little wonder they deserted. Even if he paid only the three pence a day expected by valets (see the note on Stanza 150), that would allow him to maintain only about twenty men for a year.
** Stanza 436/Line 1742 ** There is a variant here which perhaps affects Robin's feelings about watching the archers; see the textual note.
** Stanza 437/Lines 1745-1748 ** Robin, in the King's service, recalls being a successful archer. Clearly he is not spending much time practicing with his bow at this time. This, it seems to me, is exceptionally strong evidence that this is not happening during the reign of Edward III. That king won his victories with the bow, and would not put the best bowman in England out to pasture!
One wonders if Robin might not have been disappointed with the court in other ways. This was the period when Edward's favorites the Elder and Younger Hugh Despensers were dominating -- and corrupting -- the government. (For more on them, see the notes on Stanza 93, or on "Hugh Spencer's Feats in France" [Child 158].) It was a period when no one's money or land was safe if the Despensers wanted it. Phillips, p. 448, notes that Edward II was deeply if indirectly involved in their extortion -- it couldn't have happened without his consent. But the attitude at this time seems always to have been "It's not the King, it's his evil counselors." Robin could have been -- would have been! -- disgusted by the Despensers, and might not have blamed the King. But he would doubtless wish to get away.
** Stanza 439/Lines 1753-1756 ** Robin determines to leave the King's service. This is an interesting decision if he had taken the King's pardon, because most pardons in the Edwardian period were conditional: "Though a few pardons were granted in advance, for the great majority of men indicted of murder or other serious felonies, charters of pardon were withheld till the [military] services had been performed and attested by the leaders in whose companies the men had served. Even then the pardons were frequently subject to further conditions" (Hewitt, p. 29).
For a man hired as a solder, Hewitt (p. 30) lists four typical conditions of a pardon, of which Robin arguably violates three: He must put up surety for his behavior (which Robin, one he is broke, can no longer do); that he be available for service to the King for up to a year at a time (Robin initially fulfulls this, then violates it -- and since most of his men deserted him before he himself quit the court [Stanzas 433-435], they would have violated it immediately upon desertion), and that he stay in the King's service while still in the vicinity of the conflict (which, if the King is Edward II and the conflict is that resulting in Edward's overthrow, he failed to do). Thus Robin, in all likelihood, violates the conditions of his pardon.
Pollard, p. 206, sees this as a sort of allegory: He believes that the King is Edward III, considered responsible for restoring justice -- but even this ideal king could not restore justice enough to satisfy Robin.
The difficulties with this hypothesis are myriad: First is the internal inconsistency -- if Pollard is going to claim that the "Gest' is set in the reign of Edward III because Edward III is a paragon of justice, then he can't really have it both ways. Nor is there any hint of this sort of allegory anywhere else in the "Gest." Plus Robin doesn't complain of injustice; he complains of being broke and of not being used as an archer.
In any case, Robin had to leave the King's service. Since the "Gest" and the "Death" tell the same general story, the story of Robin's death almost certainly existed before the "Gest" was composed. So Robin had to be in the greenwood in order to die. That means he had to leave the court.
** Stanza 440/Line 1759 ** Robin (claims to have) founded a chapel to Mary Magdalene. Given his piety, his ill management of his money, and his magnanimity, it seems not unlikely that Robin would have endowed a chapel -- it was a common thing to do in this period, when the prayers of the faithful were thought to shorten one's time in purgatory. The dedication to St. Mary Magdalene is interesting -- the first genuinely approprate mention of a saint in the "Gest." Robin would naturally have wanted a female saint, and Mary Magdalene was the saint of penitents (Benet, p. 975).
We have another faint parallel to the story of David here, although in the case of David and Saul, David was already in trouble with the King, whereas Robin is merely dissatisfied. David (thought Jonathan) tells Saul that he must go home for a family religious celebration. Having left the court, he flees and becomes an outlaw.. The core of this story is in 1 Samuel, chatper 20.
** Stanza 442/Line 1767 ** "Barefote and wolwarde" -- i.e. barefoot and with wool next to the skin. Walking barefoot was the standard token of a pilgrimage or penitant -- e.g. when Raymond of Toulouse set out to lead the Christian army on the last stage of the journey to Jerusalem in the First Crusade, he walked barefoot (Runciman1, p. 261). When Jane Shore was forced to do penance for her adultery with Edward IV,"on a Sunday, wearing nothing but her kirtle, she was led barefoot through the streets, a taper in her hand" (Jenkins, p. 166). Wearing wool next to the skin -- i.e. presumably a hair shirt -- is an even stronger sign of penitence; a hair shirt irritated the skin, and also held lice, so it was painful -- and it could be worn under other garments so that one could suffer a penance without parading one's piety before men. Becket, for instance, was said to have been wearing a hairshirt when he died (OxfordCompanion, p. 90).
Gummere, p. 120, notes a similar reference in Piers Plowman (B.xviii.1 in Skeat's edition): "Wooleward and wete-shoed went I forth after," which Langland/Schmidt, p. 306 (which spells the third word "weetshoed"), glosses as "With my skin toward the wool [i.e. with no shirt toward my cloak] and with wet feet [with feet shod with wet rather than with wet shoes]." Gummere also finds such a penance in v. 3512f. of "The Pricke of Conscience" by Hampole (that is, Richard Rolle, died 1349, known as the "Hermit of Hampole"; Benet, p. 941 -- although, according to Sisam, pp. 36-37, his authorship of "The Pricke of Conscience" has been strongly questioned. NewCentury, p. 940, calls the "Pricke" the most popular poem of the fourteenth century but notes that there is no evidence that Rolle wrote it).
As Knight/Ohlgren emphasize on p. 168, this is a sign of penance, not poverty.
** Stanza 445/Lines 1777-1780 ** As Robin arrives in the greenwood "on a merry morning," he hears the birds singing. Pollard, p. 72, notes this as an invocation of the legend of the merry greenwood. It does seem to indicate that Robin returned to the forest in late spring or summer.
** Stanza 448/Line 1791 ** For Robin's seven score followers, see the note on Stanza 229.
**Stanza 450/Line 1798 ** Robin spent "Twenty yere and two" in the greenwood after leaving the King. This would seem as if it might be a dating hint -- but it isn't much of one. Edward I reigned 35 years (1272-1307), Edward III reigned for fifty (give or take a few months; his official reign was 1327-1377), and Edward IV, from first to last, reigned just about exactly 22 (1461-1483, although with a hiatus in 1470-1471). Only Edward II fell short of this total -- he reigned twenty years, 1307-1327.
Thus Edward I or Edward III might be meant, or the number might be a later adjustment to the reign of Edward IV. But there is another intriguing possibility, which gives us a prefect chronological dovetail.
The "Gest" says that Robin served the King for about fifteen months, then returned to the greenwood for 22 years before being killed by the prioress at Kirklees. In that tine he presumably assembled a new band, who on his death would need a new leader or job. If the King is Edward II, and the year he met Robin is 1322/1323, then one year plus 22 years later is in the period 1345-1346 -- just in time for Robin's excellent archers to win the Battle of Crecy in 1346! The problem, of course, is that Robin stayed in the greenwood all that time "For all drede of Edwarde our Kinge." If this is read as meaning Edward was king for 22 years and more, Edward II cannot be meant. On the gripping hand, if the 1346 date be accepted, would it not make sense for Edward III to pardon the underlings if their leader was now dead?
** Stanzas 451-455/Lines 1801-1820 ** These five stanzas summarize, or rather hint at, the tale of betrayal which is the theme of "Robin Hood's Death" [Child 120]. Dependence on the same legend (although not on the same actual text) seems sure. Is this an indication of how the author of the "Gest" used his other materials? Probably not; it seems likely that he made fuller use of earlier sources for the cycle of the knight and the abbott, e.g.
The tale of Robin's end as told in the fuller versions of the "Death" has one more parallel to the tale of Fulk FitzWarin, in that Fulk, in one of his innumerable conflicts with King John, finds himself in a fight. Sir Ber(n)ard de Blois attacks him from behind; Fulk spins around and kills him -- nearly cuts him in half, in fact (Cawthorne, p. 145). This is much like what happens with Red Roger in the "Death." But Fulk, unlike Robin, survives (although so severely wounded that he falls into a coma and has to be taken from the field; Cawthorne, p. 146).
It does appear that Munday, in rewriting the legend, knew some relative of the story in the "Gest" but not the full tale in the "Death." Robin is poisoned, not bled to death, by his uncle, the prior of York, and a "Sir Doncaster" (Cawthorne, p. 80; and see the Cast of Characters on p. 303 of Knight/Ohlgren).
Although the "Gest" does not tell the tale of the last arrow found in the "Death," that account is another indication of a date in the reign of Henry III or later. Robin, in his weakness, needs help to fire the last shot. But if his bow were a crossbow, as it would have been in the time of Richard I, then one person could crank it for him and even a dying man could aim and fire it. The last arrow can only have come from a longbow.
Child in his notes on the "Death" suggests a parallel to "Sheath and Knife" [Child 16], where the girl asks her brother to shoot her and bury her at a spot she chooses. It seems to me, however, that this in fact reverses the motifs. In "Sheathe and Knife," she chooses the spot, and the bow is relatively incidental (perhaps he uses the arrow so that he does not have to slay her with his own hand). In the "Death," the bow and arrow is essential and the spot trivial. If anything, the analogy is to something such as "John Henry" [Laws I1], who dies with his hammer in his hand.
** Stanzas 451, 454/Lines 1803, 1815 ** The place where Robin Hood was killed is somewhat uncertain. Child prints "Kyrkesly" in stana 451, "Kyrke[s]ly" in 454; for the evidence, see the textual note. In the "A" (Percy folio) text of the "Death," it is "Churchles" or "Churchlees" ("church Lees" A.1.3, "Churchlees" A.11.3, "Churchlee" A.11.4, "church lees" A.12.1 Churchlee A.24.4), aligning "Church-Lee" with the more northern words for the same thing, "Kirk-Lee." The broadside versions of the "Death" (Child's "B") give "Kirkly" or "Kirkly-Hall" ("Kirkly-hall" broadside title, "Kirkly" B.3.1, "Kirkly-hall" B.4.1, "Kirkly" B.12.1, "Kirkly-hall" B.12.3, "Kirkly-hall" B.14.3, "Kirkleys" B.19.4; also "Kirkleys" and "Kirkley Monastery" in the end matter to B.b), which is also the reading of the Davis text from Virginia. The retelling of this tale in "Robin Hood and the Valiant Knight" [Child 153] has a tail note which reads "Birkslay," perhaps derived from the reading "Bircklies" of Grafton (for which see below).
The region of Kirklees on modern maps is south and somewhat west of Leeds, northeast of Manchester, and west of Wakefield. Knight/Ohlgren, p. 168, following Child, point specifically to the priory of Kirklees in west Yorkshire. According to Holt, pp. 87-88, it is twenty miles west of Barnsdale (far enough west that some might even have thought it to be in Lancashire, which has also been suggested as its location). Or, perhaps, it really is a generic name, "the Lee of the [unnamed] Kirk."
There is also a Kirkby not far north of modern Liverpool (one of quite a few Kirbys scattered about England), but it is rather far west of Robin Hood's usual haunts.
The "Gest" merely says that the prioress of Kirklees "nye was of hys kinne," i.e. a close relative, but stanza 10 of Child's "A" text of the "Death" calls him his aunt's daughter, i.e. first cousin, and in the "B" text of the "Death" he refers to her as his cousin in stanza 2, and she calls him cousin in stanza 5. Davis's text of the death also has him murdered by his cousin, although it is not said that she is the prioress.
In Grafton's Chronicle of 1569, which wemet in the introduction, we find the first dated mention of the claim that Robin was bled to death (Knight/Ohlgren, p. 29). Grafton lists the place as "Bircklies," which I do not find on any map of England (there is a "Birtley" in the Newcastle area, but that's pretty far from Robin's haunts). Knight/Ohlgren suggest that "Bircklies" is a misreading of "Kircklies," which seems likely. Grafton's account does seem to confirm the antiquity of the details in the "Death," although he adds the curious statement that the prioress of the place set up a memorial stone for Robin, "wherein the names of Robert Hood, William of Goldesborough and others were graven" (Knight/Ohlgren, p. 29).
Grafton's explanation for why she set up the stone was so that travellers would no longer fear being robbed by Robin (Baldwin, pp. 74-75). Of course, were that the actual reason, she might well have set up the stone withough possessing Robin's actual body.
Drayton also knew the story that Robin died at Kirkley (Gummere, p. 322).
Hunter suggested that the Prioress of Kirklees was one Elizabeth Staynton, possibly related to the Hoods of Wakefield (Cawthorne, p. 49). But the few details we have about Staynton do not really support the legend of Robin -- e.g. Baldwin, p. 74, says that she was indeed a nun at Kirklees in 1344 (which fits brilliantly with the reconstruction we gave above), but there is no evidence that she was the prioress.
Pollard, p. 120, suggests that the fact Robin is killed by a prioress is significant -- that it is the last token of the conflict between Robin and the church; he compares on p. 121 Chaucer's monk who "loved venerye." And we certainly are told in stanza 452 that the prioress loved Sir Roger, implying unchastity, and in 455 that he lay by her. This is not quite proof that she betrayed her vows (they might have been friends, and she might have allowed him to stay in hiding at the nunnery), but it is a strong indication.
The caution is that the parallel in the "Death" does not show the theme infidelity at all clearly. The prioress's unchastity might be in the missing sections of the Percy version, but Robin's anti-clericalism is not evident. That the Catholic hierarchy was corrupt in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries is obvious -- Chaucer's Pardoner is even better proof than his Monk, and "Pierce the Ploughman's Crede" has much to say about the degraded nature of various friars (Barr, p. 6). But condemnation of the Church does not seem to be an essential part of the Robin Hood legend although it is a major theme of the "Gest."
** Stanza 452/Line 1806 ** "Donkesley" is the reading of the prints, but two stanzas later we read "Doncaster," which is a real place; Knight/Ohlgren, p. 168, suggest that Donkesly is a mistaken conflation of "Kirklees" and "Doncaster."
It is interesting to note that that, of the nine characters in the "Gest" to be given a personal name (Robin Hood, Little John, King Edward, Scarlock/Scathelock, Much the Miller's Son, Gilbert of the White Hand, Reynold, Sir Richard, and Roger of Doncaster), only Roger of Doncaster is Robin's enemy. All his other enemies -- the Sheriff, the Abbot of St. Mary's and his associates, the Prioress of Kirklees -- are given titles only. Unfortunately, the name doesn't help, since we have too few details about Roger of Doncaster to offer a secure identification.
Cawthorne, pp. 202-204, mentions several Rogers who are possibilities. There was a Roger of Doncaster at Wakefield in service to the earl Warenne, although this is rather early. There is a Roger son of William of Doncaster who was given eight acres of land at Crigglestone (now a parish in Wakefield) in 1327. Cawthorne on p. 203 sums up the case for one Roger of Doncaster (identified by Hunter) who fits well in the reign of Edward II: "In 1306, he was sent by the Archbishop of York to be priest at the church in Ruddington near Nottingham. According to the records, he was still the parish priest there in 1328.... What's more, Roger the chaplain also seems to have been a knight -- and a knight with a chequered sexual history. In June 1309, a 'Sir Roger de Doncastria' was charged with adultery with Agnes, the wife of Philip de Pavely."
Throw in the fact that, as a chaplain, Roger would have easier access than most to a nunnery, and the fact that there were "scandalous" rumours that the nuns of Kirklees in Yorkshire in 1315 (Cawthorne, p. 203), and we have a surprisingly good fit.
But it is by no means clear that all these mentions in fact describe one man; Holt, p. 61, declares that they in fact refer to at least two distinct Rogers.
** Stanza 454/Lines 1809-1812 ** This verse raises the question, Why was it the concern of the Prioress and Sir Roger of Doncaster to kill Robin? Why not the authorities? One possibility is that there was a reward, another is that Sir Roger was a local under-sheriff or the like. Or maybe he had been robbed by Robin. But I suspect it is a theme we also see in the Jesse James story: "He said there was no man with the law in his hand Who could take Jesse James when alive." Or catch Robin Hood while alive -- note that we saw this in Stanza 365, etc., that no outsider could catch Robin Hood.
** Stanza 455/Line 1818 ** This is the most explicit indication of the prioress's unchastity; see the note on Stanza 452. It is, however, just possible that the statement that Sir Roger lay by the prioress means that he lay in wait.
** Stanza 456/Lines 1823-1824 ** "For he was a good outlawe, And dyde pore men moch god." Pollard, pp. 192-193, compares this with the final stanzas of "The Outlaw's Song of Trailbaston," for which see the note on stanza 15.
The last line of the next-to-last stanza of the "Outlaw's Song" is rendered "Nor a thief out of malice to do people harm" on p. 10 of Ohlgren, and "Nor was I wicked robber to do people harm" on p. 192 of Pollard; this is the line Pollard thinks parallels the "Gest." It seems clear, however, that there is no literary dependence between the two.
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The Ballad Index Copyright 2017 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.