Robin Hood and the Monk [Child 119]
DESCRIPTION: Robin Hood decides to take mass in Nottingham. He quarrels with Little John after a shooting match, and proceeds alone. A monk betrays him to the sheriff. John and Much trick the king into giving them his seal; they go to the sheriff and rescue Robin
EARLIEST DATE: c. 1475 (paleographic dating of ms. Cambridge Ff. 5.48)
KEYWORDS: Robinhood clergy captivity rescue
REFERENCES (17 citations):
Child 119, "Robin Hood and the Monk" (1 text)
Bronson 119, comments only; cf. Chappell/Wooldridge II, pp. 53-54, "Oh, How They Frisk It, or, Leather Apron, or Under the Greenwood Tree"
Leach, pp. 340-349, "Robin Hood and the Monk" (1 text, probably a slightly modernized version based on Child)
Leach-Heritage, pp. 96-108, "Robin Hood and the Monk" (1 text)
Friedman, p. 327, "Robin Hood and the Monk" (1 text, based on Skeat's transcript with some modernization and emendations from Child)
Bell-Combined, pp. 52-65, "A Tale of Robin Hood" (1 text)
OBB 117, "Robin Hood and the Monk" (1 text, source not states; the spelling is modernized and some of the missing lines conjectured)
Niles 42, "Robin Hood and the Monk" (1 text, 1 tune -- another questionable JJN collection; it appears to be a modern version created from whole cloth based on a summary of the plot in Child and with a few names distorted in an attempt at disguise)
Gummere, pp. 77-89+321-322, "Robin Hood and the Monk" (1 text. Source not stated, but probably Skeat, with some modernization)
TBB 27, "Robin Hood and the Monk" (1 text, Child's text, modernized)
Hodgart, p. 81, "Robin Hood and the Monk" (1 text)
Wells, pp. pp. 25-34, "Robin Hood and the Monk" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: R. B. Dobson and J. Taylor, _Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw_, University of Pittsburg Press, 1976, pp. 115-122, "Robin Hood and the Monk" (1 text, newly edited from the manuscript)
Stephen Knight and Thomas Ohlgren, editors, _Robin Hood and Other Oudlaw Tales_, TEAMS (Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages), Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 2000, pp. 31-56, "Robin Hood and the Monk" (1 text, newly edited from the manuscript)
DIgital Index of Middle English Verse #2586
Iona & Peter Opie, The Oxford Book of Narrative Verse, pp. 22-32, "Robin Hood and the Monk" (1 text. modernized from Dobson & Taylor)
Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #148, "In Summer" (1 fragment, consisting of the first five verses)
Robin Hood and the Twenty Pounds of Gold (title used by Niles)
NOTES: This is considered by J. C. Holt (following Child and others), to be one of the five "basic" Robin Hood ballads. (For more details on the history of the legend see the notes on "A Gest of Robyn Hode" [Child 117]). It is also, in terms of the date of the manuscript, widely regarded as the oldest surviving Robin Hood piece (though in fact, except for John Jacob Niles's probable fake, it does not seem to survive outside the one manuscript). This point we will have cause to reconsider below.
Chambers, p. 153, makes another claim -- that this is, along with "Riddles Wisely Expounded" [Child 1] the oldest true popular ballad in the Child collection (both are found in manuscripts which have been dated c. 1450). All earlier ballad-like pieces he discounts as not truly folk. Since I suspect his citation of "Riddles" is actually of "I Gave My Love a Cherry," that would make this the oldest popular ballad in the Child collection.
Bronson observes that Chappell associated a tune with this piece, but that the association was Chappell's own, on weak grounds, and therefore does not cite the melody. The Opies, pp. 386-387, quote Dobson/Taylor, p. 113, to the effect that this was more likely recited than sung. This is clearly possible, and certainly the length of the piece makes it nearly sure that it is a minstrel piece rather than a true ballad.
It has several times been noted (e.g. by Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 52) that this is much the most violent of the early Robin Hood tales, with no fewer than 15 people being killed, several of them, such as the Monk's page, being apparently innocent.
The Cambridge manuscript, according to the Opies, p. 386, is sort of a do-it-yourself minstrel kit: 135 pages not only of tales but also prayers and prophecies, although Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 22, declares it as "a priest's anthology of texts which served his pastoral and personal needs."
According to Dobson/Taylor, p. 114, both these suggestions come from Fowler'sLiterary History of the Popular Ballad. At first glance, the hypothesis that it is a minstrel's book seems far more likely, since it also contains a version of "King Edward and the Shepherd" (a variant on "King Edward the Fourth and a Tanner of Tamworth" [Child 273]) and "The T[o]urnament of Tottenham," a humorous romance which Sands, p. 314, files under "Burlesque and Grotesquerie" and suggests is a spoof on chivalry. It is hard to imagine what use a priest could make of these materials.
We note in addition that the pages of the manuscript were not ruled (Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 30). The book does not appear to be the work of someone trained in a scriptorium -- an argument against a clerical source.
On the other hand, there were two main scribes involved in copying the manuscript (Ohlgren/Matheson,p. 29, although their assignment of scribes makes it appear that several folio were copied by a third scribe). This makes it effectively impossible to suppose that it is a single minstrel's collection of useful materials -- although it is possible that a later copyist took an existing book and added the final section (which contains "Tottenham," the "Monk," and several other pieces). However, the portions copied by both scribe A and scribe B are quite diverse and appear to represent similar interests. So odds are that both halves were compiled at the same time.
Ohlgren/Matheson, pp. 31-32, has a list of the manuscript's full contents; so also Hartshorne, pp. xi-xvii, with somewhat more detail. There are 28 surviving items by Ohlgren's count, 27 by Hartshorne (there are no titles, so the divisions between items can be arbitrary). Nearly half are clearly religious (Ohlgren/Matheson, p.32, counts 11 religious items, including instructions for parish priests, plus three cautionary exempla, although I question one or two of these). Five are prognostications or prophecies. A few are reference works. And then there are the romances. It's a very mixed bag, with several items a minstrel is unlikely to need.
Ohlgren has a strong argument for the view that it was assembled for a priest, in that the manuscript contains an inscription by Gilbertus Pylkyngton (Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 21). If this is indeed the priest Gilbert Pilkington ordained 1465 in Lichfield, which seems reasonable, then the argument for a priestly owner is obviously very strong.
I should note, however, that the inscription (given on p. 33 of Ohlgren/Matheson) appears to be a scribal colophon rather than an inscription of ownership -- the formula is very close to that used at the end of Biblical manuscripts to declare the end of a book and give the scribe's name. Hartshorne, p. x, for instance, declares unequivocally that Pilkington is the scribe, not the owner (while denying the statement found in some sources that Pilkington authored the material in the manuscript).
What is more, it is not unknown for such colophons to be copied verbatim from a source manuscript to a copy. Yes, including the name of the original scribe! Ohlgren, pp. 33-35, mentions earlier discussions of this, but doesn't really note how often it happened. Nor does he mention the existence of forged colophons. Colwell, pp. 142-147, demonstrates a case of a manuscript (designated 1505 in New Testament catalogs) written probably in or after 1445 C.E. which had a colophon claiming it was from the year 1084. The Latin Gospel Book of Dimma has a faked attribution to Dimma (Hopkins-James, p. xlvi). This list could easily be multiplied.
Odds are that Gilbert Pilkington was not famous enough to have manuscripts forged upon him. Still, that leaves us with three possibilities: That Pilkington owned the manuscript, that he wrote it, or that he wrote the copy of "The Northern Passion" to which the colophon is attached and which was copied verbatim into the Campbridge manuscript. Indeed, since the "Northern Passion" is a translation of a French original, it is not impossible that Pilkington was the translator.
I am not saying that Ohlgren's suggestion is wrong; he may well be right. But, sadly, the data is not sufficient to prove it.
Ohlgren/Matheson, pp. 24, 60-61, suggests that Pilkington was interested in the subject of sanctuary, which is abused in the "Monk."
It is possible that this is another dating clue, because in 1471 the topic of sanctuary could have become very hot. In the aftermath of the Battle of Tewkesbury, a number of Lancastrian lords fled to Tewkesbury abbey. Edward IV, who had firmly reclaimed his throne by winning at Tewkesbury, hauled them out, subjected them to brief trials, and executed them (Gillingham, p. 207).
There is agreement up to this point. But there is no agreement at all as to whether Edward IV had the right to behave as he did. If Tewkesbury could be considered a sanctuary, then Edward's action was contrary to church and civil law. If this viewpoint is accepted, one might even consider the "Monk" to be a sort of allegory of Tewkesbury, only with a happy ending. Certainly the timing is about right.
Unfortunately for this argument, the issue seems been more a matter of controversy to modern historians (most of them anxious to blacken Richard III, Edward's brother) than to contemporaries. Edward's contemporary apologist had pointed out that Tewkesburg abbey was not an accredited sanctuary, so Edward had the right to enter it and seize his opponents (Gillingham, p. 207; Kendall, pp. 119-120). Ross, p. 172, does not even mention the issue of sanctuary, although he does mention an oath by Edward IV to spare those inside (taken in ignorance that there were so many high-value rebels in the abbey). Warkworth's Chronicle, as cited by Dockray, p. 86, also mentions Edward's pardon but not the right of sanctuary. The Croyland Chronicle, one of the few inside sources, does not even mention the issue of the abbey (Dockray, p. 88).
On the whole, I think Ohlgren's argument is weak, particularly since the "Monk" is from Scribe B and the "Passion" is from Scribe A, meaning that they might not have had the same interests. Yes, some churches had the right of sanctuary, and yes, there are instances of its abuse (both by those falsely claiming sanctuary and by those who forcibly took them out of sanctuary). But the Nottingham church is unlikely to have had this right.
Ohlgren (Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 62, devotes considerable detail to the wording of stanza 30/line 120, just before the first break in the text. He is convinced it reads that the first hand wrote that Robin ran into the STREET, but that this was corrected to into the CHURCH, implying that he sought sanctuary. But this is based only on visual scans. Someone really, really, needs to photograph the manuscript under ultraviolet light!
On pp. 64-65 of Ohlgren/Matheson, Ohlgren suggests that the relationship between Robin and Little John has Biblical analogies, even mentioning Jesus and John the Baptist as an analogy. I firmly agree that there is much Biblical material adopted into the Robin Hood legend, especially the "Gest" (see the notes to the "Gest" regarding sources), but I really don't see any analogy in this instance, and even Ohlgren admits it is "not fully developed."
Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 47, suggests the inclusion of the Tottenham material in the manuscript on the grounds that the Church disapproved of tournaments and so would like a joke about them. Ohlgren on p. 55 points out that there are several Marian items in the Cambridge manuscript, so Robin's devotion to the Virgin might also explain why a priest would want such a piece.
Other notes about the manuscript: Sands, p. 313, says that "Tottenham" (which exists in two copies, both bad) is in a northern dialect, which is perhaps significant given that it is in the same manuscript as a Robin Hood poem. Matheson, in studying the "Monk" itself, notes that A Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English declares another part of the manuscript, the "Northern Passion," to be in the dialect of west Derbyshire (Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 194). On p. 199 of Ohlgren/Matheson, Matheson also declares for west Derbyshire as the source of the dialect int he "Monk" -- although we must always keep in mind that the dialect features might be from the author or from the scribe; all we can really say about the poem is that this seems to affirm a northern origin.
Although several sources have dated the manuscript c. 1450, as mentioned above, this dating is dubious -- sufficiently so that I have changed the "earliest date" from c. 1450 to c. 1475. . Dobson/Taylor, p. 114, declare that the cursive style used in the book "would appear to date from the period after rather than before c. 1450, the date customarily assigned to it." And while I do not accept Ohlgren's hypothesis that Gilbert Pilkington wrote the volume, the fact that he was a scribe and is named in a colophon makes it highly likely that the book was written after his 1465 ordination. This means that a date of 1450 is impossibly early.
Hartshorne, p. xii, writing of the "Tale of King Edward and the Shepherd" in the volume, says that the language may be "as old as Edward IV." Of course there is very little to distinguish the language of the time of Edward IV from that of his immediate predecessors, but if the poem is truly of the time of Edward IV, then the poem can hardly have been copied before that!
Another argument about date comes from the contents of the book. Stephen Knight opined that the "cumly King" of stanzas 83-84 must be Edward IV; others have argued that Edward III was known as the "Comely King" (a description also used in stanza 353 of the "Gest"). For reasons described in the notes to the "Gest," I do not consider this at all compelling. Neither is "King Edward and the Shepherd" a guaranteed reference to Edward IV, since there seem to be versions of this pointing to kings as early as Henry II. But it is very often connected to Edward IV, who reigned 1461-1470 and 1471-1483. The combined indications are that the manuscript dates not from c. 1450 but from some decades later, during the reign of Edward IV or one of his successors. Certainly there is nothing in the writing to preclude this.
The primary manuscript is in very poor shape; not only have two sections of the poem been entirely lost, but most of the rest is badly stained (a photo can be found on p. 63 of Ohlgren/Matheson). Dobson/Taylor, p. 114, say that the damp which so affected the page has not really made the manuscript illegible -- but it wasn't just damp. The manuscript had already been damaged in the time of Jamieson, and he responded by applying chemicals to the text (Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 30).
It appears Jamieson didn't know just which glop he was putting on the manuscript -- he just bought it from a bookseller. This is extremely unfortunate. Some of the reagents used in the nineteenth century include ammonic sulphydrate, potassium nitrate, potassium bisulfate, and Gioberti tincture -- successive coats of hydrochloric acid and potassium cyanide (!).
Supposedly (according Thompson, p. 65), the "most harmless [reagent] is probably hydro-sulphuret of ammonia." Similarly, M. R. James wrote that "ammonium bisulphide... unlike the old-fashioned galls, does not stain the page" (unfortunately, I have lost the exact source of this quote). This will tell you how damaging were the other dozen or so reagents used in the nineteenth century. Hydro-sulphuret of ammonia is a hair dye, with acid properties. It is certainly capable of damaging manuscripts.
Whatever Jamieson used, it clearly stained the pages.
On top of everything else, Jamieson didn't know how to apply the reagent he was given. Reagents should never be painted or brushed onto the manuscript; they should be patted on. But Jamieson clearly brushed his glop across the page, smearing the ink. If he hadn't called himself a scholar, the word "vandalism" would surely have applied.
Ohlgren, who had access to the manuscript, laments that it hasn't been given a better examination. Any Bible scholar, who has had to deal with numerous damaged manuscripts and palimpsests, can second this; I really wish someone would give it a good going-over with infrared and ultraviolet photos and all the other tools of modern manuscript studies.
In an incidental footnote, this poem is quoted as the headnote of Chapter 24 ("Nuthanger Farm") in Richard Adams's beloved novel Watership Down. - RBW
Last updated in version 3.0
- Chambers: E. K. Chambers, English Literature at the Close of the Middle Ages, Oxford, 1945, 1947
- Colwell: Ernest C. Colwell, "Method in Validating Byzantine Date-Colophons: A Study of Athos, Laura B.26," 1937; reprinted in Studies in Methodology in Textual Criticism of the New Testament, Eerdmans, 1969
- Dobson/Taylor: R. B. Dobson and J. Taylor, Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw, University of Pittsburg Press, 1976
- Dockray: Keith Dockray, Edward IV: A Source Book, Sutton, 1999
- Gillingham: John Gillingham, The Wars of the Roses, Louisiana State University, 1984
- Hartshorne: Rev. Charles Henry Hartshorne, M.A., editor, Ancient Metrical Tales Printed Chiefly from the Original Sources, William Pickering, 1929 ("Digitized by Google")
- Hopkins-James: Lemuel J. Hopkins-James, The Celtic Gospels: Their Story and Their Text, Oxford, 1934 (I use the 2001 Oxford reissue)
- Kendall: Paul Murray Kendall, Richard the Third, 1955, 1956 (I use the undated but post-1975 Norton edition)
- Ohlgren/Matheson: Thomas H. Ohlgren, Robin Hood: The Early Poems, 1465-1560, Texts, Contexts, and Ideology, with an Appendix: The Dialects and Languages of Selected Robin Hood Poes by Lister M. Matheson, University of Delaware Press, 2007
- Ross: Charles Ross, Edward IV, 1974 (I use the 1997 paperback edition in the Yale English Monarch series with a new introduction by R. A. Griffiths)
- Sands: Donald B. Sands, editor, Middle English Verse Romances, Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1966
- Thompson: Sir Edward Maunde Thompson, An Introduction to Greek and Latin Paleography, Oxford, 1912 (I use the recent reprint, undated but probably from the 1990s)
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2017 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.