Robin Hood and the Bishop of Hereford [Child 144]
DESCRIPTION: The Bishop of Hereford enters Barnsdale and finds Robin Hood killing a deer. He tries to convince Robin Hood to come before the king. Robin refuses, gives the Bishop dinner, and then extracts the price -- several hundred pounds, plus a dance or a mass
EARLIEST DATE: c. 1670 (Forresters manuscript)
KEYWORDS: Robinhood hunting clergy money
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South))
REFERENCES (9 citations):
Child 144, "Robin Hood and the Bishop of Hereford" (2 texts)
Bronson 144, "Robin Hood and the Bishop of Hereford" (3 versions)
BronsonSinging 144, "Robin Hood and the Bishop of Hereford" (2 versions: #2.1, #3)
WElls, p. 39, "Robin Hood and the Bishop of Hereford" (1 text, 1 tune)
Leach, pp. 411-413, "Robin Hood and the Bishop of Hereford" (1 text)
OBB 120, "Robin Hood and the Bishop of Hereford" (1 text)
PBB 70, "Robin Hood and the Bishop of Hereford" (1 text)
DT 144, RHOODBSH*
ADDITIONAL: Stephen Knight, editor (with a manuscript description by Hilton Kelliher), _Robin Hood: The Forresters Manuscript_ (British Library Additional MS 71158), D. S. Brewer, 1998, pp. 39-43, "Robin Hood and the Bishopp" (1 text, longer than Child's text based on the garlands)
cf. "Robin Hood and the Bishop" (plot, lyrics)
NOTES [1063 words]: For background on the Robin Hood legend, see the notes on "A Gest of Robyn Hode" [Child 117]. The notes to that ballad also detail some reasons why Robin might be particularly likely to pick on the Bishop of Hereford, who might (on this line of argument) have been Adam Orleton. who was bishop in the 1320s: "Although Orleton had prospered under [Pope] Clement [V]'s regime and might have been elevated to the episcopal bench in any case, it was John XXII who regarded him with special favor, advncing him from one see to another and standing by his appointee in the teeth of Edward II's wrath" (Haines, p. 16).
In an interesting development, Orleton was in Rome negotiating with the Pope on behalf of Edward II that "during his return journey from Avignon [where the pope was then based] that the Earl of Pembroke [part of the same embassy] suffered the indignity of being waylaid at Etampes" (Haines, p. 17). It wasn't Orleton himself, but it was a member of his party.
Then, "on 15 March 1317 Richard Swinfield, bishop of Hereford, died. Exactly two two months later Pope John, claiming the reservation of the see, appointed Adam Orleton in his place" (Haines, p. 17). Edward, who had another candidate in mind, went ballistic, going so far as to order Orleton to refuse the post. It's a moot point whether Orleton would have obeyed; it is likely that he had been consecrated before Edward's order reached him (Haines, p. 18). Still, Edward had his eye on Orleton thereafter -- and Orleton would be a key factor in Edward's 1327 deposition. Soon after, the Bishop of Worcester (a richer see than Hereford) died; once again, the English had a candidate, but once again, the Pope gave the post to Orleton (Haines, p. 29). And then, when the diocese of Winchester -- the richest bishopric in England -- came open, the Pope again translated Orleton despite English opposition that meant the didn't gain the full perks of the diocese until 1334-1336 (Haines, pp. 36-37).
Since the king in the "Gest of Robyn Hode" was an Edward, probably Edward II, the king of that piece, at least, would certainly have regarded Adam Orleton of Hereford as his enemy -- and Robin, the loyal ally of Edward, would likely have done the same.
What's more, in the 1320s, Orleton's properties were raided by outlaws (Haines, p. 49), although the circumstances do not resemble those in this song. At least some of these raids happened in 1322 when Orleton was in Yorkshire (Haines, p. 140) -- which happens to be Robin Hood where Robin Hood was based in the "Gest," and 1322 happens to be just when Edward II was visiting that part of the country (and meeting Robin, if one assumes that the king did indeed meet Robin). Haines, p. 65, thinks that Orleton's bishopric was particularly troubled by outlaws in the 1330s and 1340s as well, although he admits that the point is hard to prove. Still, it sounds as if there might have been some outlaw with a vendetta against Orleton.
In addition, Robin in the "Gest" had trouble with the Abbot of St. Mary's in Yorkshire, and one of the foundations in Orleton's diocese was that of St. Mary's in Winchester, and like St. Mary's in Yorkshire, it had a bad reputation for licentiousness (Haines, p. 75). It's not the same house -- indeed, the one in Winchester was a nunnery -- but it's easy to see how a confusion could have arisen.
What's more, the vendetta against the Orleton could have continued after he was translated -- two of his nephews later became Bishops of Hereford (Haines, p. 88).
All this is, of course, purest speculation; we have no reason to think this song has any relation to the "Gest." But maybe a legend arose that the Bishop of Hereford was Robin's particular enemy. And, after his translation to Winchester, he was a particularly good target for robbery.
Orleton reported in 1338 that he was losing the sight in his left eye, became a semi-permanent resident of Farnham Castle in 1339, and died there in July 1345 (Haines, pp. 64-65)
The choice of the Bishop of Hereford is one of several hints that this song, although seemingly late in form, may be based on older materials than most of the late Robin Hood ballads. The fact that Robin is here based in Barnsdale, not Sherwood, is another. Although the attestation for the ballad is late (first known from the Forresters manuscript of c. 1670, and first published in the Aldermary garland of c. 1750), the contents of the song give evidence of being early.
Another possibility for the Bishop of Hereford involved is John Stanbury, Bishop of Hereford from 1453 to 1474, or possibly one of his immediate predecessors. Stanbury was a member of the royal council of King Henry VI, and apparently attended council meetings regularly; (Wolfe, p. 275).
The significance of this is indirect. Henry VI's inept government had lost all its territories in France, except Calais, in the 1440s and early 1450s (Seward, pp. 242-262). Plus Henry had let government finances go to ruin. The crown was technically bankrupt by the 1440s, and in 1450, the royal debt was equivalent to at least eleven years' income (Ross, p. 26).
By 1450, this ineptitude resulted in the popular rising known as Jack Cade's Rebellion (Wagner, p. 133). And popular protests continued over the next decade. By 1461, Henry VI had been overthrown.
What is interesting is that, in 1469, there was a rebel who was called Robin of Redesdale, who also called himself Robin Mend-All (Wagner, pp. 234-235). Scott/Duncan, p. 531, calls him an "avatar" of Robin Hood, This is a little deceptive; he was almost certainly a political agent operating on behalf of the Earl of Warwick. But the name does seem to suggest that he was trying to equate himself with Robin Hood.
And if a rebel of 1469 could allude to Robin Hood, so could an outlaw of (say) 1454. So it is just possible that the real Hereford of Henry VI's reign had a run-in with "Robin Hood" -- such things certainly happened in those lawless times, and an associate of Henry VI would be particularly vulnerable. We know, in fact, that the town of Hereford was captured by associates of the Duke of York (who was Henry VI's enemy and potential heir) in 1452 (Wolffe, pp. 303-304).
This is all pure speculation. I know of no instance of such a robbery in the 1450s. Nor have I any reason to think this ballad is historical. The pieces fit, but that's all we can say. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.1
- Haines: Roy Martin Haines, The Church and Politics in Fourteenth-Century England: The Career of Adam Orleton, c. 1275-1345, Cambridge University Press, 1978
- Ross: Charles Ross, The Wars of the Roses, 1976 (I use the 1977 Thames and Hudson paperback edition)
- Scott/Duncan: Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe, edited with an introduction by Ian Duncan, [Oxford] World Classics, 1996
- Seward: Desmond Seward, The Hundred Years War: The English in France, 1337-1453, 1978 (I used the 1982 Atheneum paperback)
- Wagner: John A. Wagner, Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses, ABC-Clio, 2001
- Wolffe: Bertram Wolffe, Henry VI, 1981 (I use the 2001 paperback edition in the Yale English Monarch series with a new introduction by John L. Watts)
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