Gest of Robyn Hode, A [Child 117] --- Part 07
DESCRIPTION: Continuation of the notes to "A Gest of Robyn Hode" [Child 117]. Entry continues in "A Gest of Robyn Hode" [Child 117] --- Part 08 (File Number C117G). This entry contains notes on Stanza 51-Fit II of the "Gest."
Last updated in version 2.6
NOTES [14211 words]: ** Stanza 52/Lines 205-206 ** Compare the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32, although the Prodigal Son, unlike the knight's son, was not his heir. It is curious to note that, although the story of the knight is the fullest episode in the "Gest," we never find out the youth's fate. Did he flee the country, leaving his father on the hook for his bail?
** Stanzas 52-53/Lines 208-210 ** It is possible that there is a dating hint in stanza 52-53, describing how the knight's son killed a knight and a squire. Stanza 52, line four, states that this took place "In felde wolde iust full fayre." Ohlgren, p. 223, takes this to mean that the boy killed them in a tournament, reading "iust" as "joust" (the interpretation given also by Dobson/Taylor, p. 82, and Knight/Ohlgren, p. 96). This certainly makes better sense than reading it as "just."
We should note however that in stanza 116 the word "jousts" is printed "ioustes." Of course, consistency of spelling is rare in "Gest." But this may be one of the reasons why some have rejected this interpretation. Also, while the youth might have killed one man in an organized tournament, what are the odds that he killed two?
Still, if it does refer to an organized joust, it is a hint of a date in the reign of Edward I or Edward II. The first jousts, reported from the twelfth century, consisted of a man taking a spot of ground (say, the entrance to a bridge) and defending it from attackers (Reid, p. 33). They had no resemblance to the organized tilting of Malory; they were just mad scrambles. If more than two were involved, they were often called "melees." To see one man kill two in a joust is an oddity -- although killing two in a melee tournament is not impossible.
It is also possible that there is a political subtext here, since jousts were sometimes used as an excuse to raise private armies (Barber, p. 18).
Tournaments were disliked by the Church because they promoted fighting and sometimes killed people. Edward I, as a favor to the Church, banned them (Prestwich3, p. 37). This did not prevent people from organizing them, of course; they were too popular. But the fact that they were illegal made it murder to kill someone at one. That ended in the reign of Edward III, who "was a great patron of tournaments" (Prestwich3, p. 205), and indeed a highly successful competitor. So if the knight's son was accused of murder for killing people in a tournament, it implies a date in the reign of Edward I or Edward II.
See also the note on Stanza 116.
** Stanza 53/Line 209 ** Child's text, in line 53.1, says "He slewe a knyght of Lancaster;" so too Dobson/Taylor and Knight/Ohlgren. This is one of the most important variants in the "Gest," with various witnesses reading "Lancaster," "Lancashire," "Lancasesshyre," and "Lancastshyre ," which is much more likely to be the original reading than "Lancaster" (see the textual note). The distinction is potentially significant. "Lancashire" is without question a place designation. "Lancaster" might be -- but it is more likely a political designation, referring to a follower of the earl or duke of Lancaster.
** Stanza 54/Line 216 ** Gummere, p. 315, explains the odd form "Saynt Mari Abbey" as a genitive, "Mari" meaning "Mary's." There are few other such inflected forms in the "Gest"; perhaps most of the rest have been modernized. This may be one of the reasons why some scholars have suggested early dates for the "Gest."
St. Mary's Abbey was in York. It was founded by Alan the Red, a close companion of William the Conqueror, who was one of the chief rulers of the north of England (Barlow-Rufus, p. 313). William Rufus, the Conqueror's son, seems to have been present at the turf-cutting, presumably as part of his campaign to secure the throne he had just taken (Lack, p. 43). Henry I would also endow it (Barlow-Rufus, p. 432), so it was well-established and well-endowed by Plantagenet times.
After the Reformation, it naturally failed, and the buildings are in ruins; what is left can be seen in the gardens of the York Museum (Kerr, p. 187).
According to Pollard, p. 123, St. Mary's wasn't particularly popular with the local people: "There had been bitter and much publicised conflict between the abbeys of Bury St Edmunds, St Albans and St Mary's and the townsmen on their doorsteps in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries." Pollard in fact reports that the conflict between St. Mary's and York, about who controlled certain lands, was at its height in 1326-1327, at the very end of Edward II's reign.
On p. 128, Pollard adds that "St. Mary's would appear to have been one of the most active of the great Benedictine monasteries in the land and money market in the early fourteenth century."
This wasn't the only time in the reign of Edward II that St. Mary's was "in the headlines." It came to particular prominence when the King's favorite Piers Gaveston was to be housed there in 1312 while the peers decided what to do with him (Phillips, p. 188). People in the north of England would likely have been aware of this, but since no one except Edward liked Gaveston, I'm not sure what significance, if any, the fact might have had.
In addition, St. Mary's was supposed to have been the original home of the "hedge priest,' John Ball, the prophet of Wat Tyler's Rebellion of 1381 (Hicks, p. 153). Again, I'm not sure how this might relate, but perhaps it inspired our author to think of St. Mary's as producing populist outcasts.
For the act of borrowing based on land as collateral, and for St. Mary's right to acquire lands whem most abbeys were barred, see the next note.
** Stanza 55/Lines 219-220 ** The knight borrowed 400 pounds from the Abbott of Saint Mary, offering his land and holdings as collateral. The deal the knight struck with the Abbott is typical for the period. In 1093, for instance, we read of an abbott's son-in-law charged with some sort of financial crime. The abbott and others put up sureties worth 500 marks -- and lost them when the fellow fled to Flanders (Barlow-Rufus, p. 252).
Holt1, p. 75, calls the idea of the church gaining the knight's land the one original theme of the "Gest," not found in any other early romance. He observes that this violates the law of mortmain, passed by Edward I in 1279, which largely forbade the turning over of secular land to monastic organizations. He argues that, because of mortmain, the thirteenth century is a better date for the events of the "Gest" than some later time.
This need not follow. Edward I seems to have proposed mortmain as a curb on Archbishop Pecham of Canterbury (Prestwich1, p. 251). After Edward's time, kings allowed so many exceptions to mortmain that it was almost a dead letter (Powicke, p. 325). According to Smith, p. 186, "The intent of the Statute of Mortmain soon came to be widely evaded. For political and other powerful reasons, kings sometimes granted licences permitting the alienation of lands to the church." Smith also mentions a system known as "uses," where the land was handed over to a secular entity but the church enjoyed its use -- i.e. its income. The law was not rewritten to prevent this until 1391, in the reign of Richard II (Smith, pp. 186-187), and uses were not entirely stamped out until 1535, when Henry VIII imposted the Statute of Uses (Lyon, p. 170).
Pollard, p. 126, seems to suggest that the transfer of land was in fact illegal due to mortmain and that Robin was upholding the actual law. I can see no hint of this in the "Gest," and find it hard to believe that the crafty abbot would not have covered his bases.
One suspects that most kings would allow the handover -- provided they got their cut. We know that that was what was required in the 1450s, e.g., when John Fastolf was denied the right to found a chapel after refusing to pay off Henry VI's government (Castor, pp. 118-119) And a clever lawyer might have gotten around even that. Holt's real objection is that the Abbott shows no signs, in the song, of trying to evade mortmain -- but there is another point, and an astounding one: the abbot of St. Mary's Abbey -- founded in 1086, according to Tatton-Brown/Crook, p. 61, and upgraded by William Rufus in 1089 -- had unusual privileges, he was allowed to wear a mitre and had a seat in parliament like a bishop (Tatton-Brown/Crook, pp. 61-62). And he had the right to administer secular justice on his own lands (Tatton-Brown/Crook, p. 62). This made him so unpopular that the abbey had to be fortified in 1318.
(In the department of Really Strange Footnotes, I can't help but mention that I have dated the incident of Robin Hood and the Knight to 1316-1317 -- and Saint Mary's was fortified in that year. Could the abbey have been fortified to guard against Robin? Of course, the tenants -- and the Scots -- were the real reason.)
And St. Mary's had another amazing privilege: It had been given a special exemption to mortmain. Starting in 1301, they were allowed to take up to 200 pounds per year in property (Pollard, p. 128; Baldwin, p. 47). This privilege continued through most of the reign of Edward II, and we have records of the Abbot in the 1330s making loans. To be sure, the knight's lands were worth 400 pounds, which is more than 200 -- but remember that the loan was made in one year and paid in another. Given the legal nature of loans at the time (which were more like corporations pooling property), a good lawyer could certainly write the deed so that half the land was acquired when the loan was made and half when it failed to be paid.
We should also note that, in 1311, Edward II was forced to submit to the Ordinances -- a series of acts meant to control the government (and get the finances in better order). In effect, a committee of overseers -- the Ordainers -- was appointed. One of the Ordinances required "that no gifts of land, revenue, franchies, or wardship and marriages were to be made without the approval of the Ordainers" (Phillips, p. 172). The Ordinances never really worked; they contained some good ideas, but no functional enforsement mechanism (Phillips, pp. 179-180). But in the north of England, where the Earl of Lancaster (a chief sponsor of the Ordinances) had great influence, no doubt the form of the ordinances had to be followed closely.
These laws very likely explain why the "justice" was present: He was to write a transfer which met the requirements of mortmain -- or, perhaps, he would be the one granted the "use" of the land. He might also have been present to grant Ordainer approval.
The passage of mortmain was a part of a war between church hierarchy and king that was characteristic of the reign of Edward I (Prestwich1, p. 253; on p. 256, he lists the clergy's grievances). This fits rather well with the attitude of Robin Hood, who was a friend of the church and of the King but who despised bishops. But this doesn't help with dating. King John had such bad relations with the church that the Pope interdicted England (an argument, in a way, against placing Robin in John's reign -- Robin would largely have agreed with the anti-episcopal John). Henry II's reign saw the murder of Becket, whom Henry had nominated Archhishop because of his trouble with other clergymen. Stephen not only arrested several bishops, he actually tried starving them (Matthew, p. 91). Conflicts between King and bishops were so common that they tell us very little.
** Stanzas 56-57/Lines 223-226 ** There is a hint in these verses that the knight is going on crusade -- he will go "ouer the salte sea And se where Criste was quyke and dede" ("over the salty sea and see where Christ lived and died"). Although Ohlgren, p. 317 n. 18, makes the unlikely suggestion that Sir Richard was going to participate in the Hundred Years' War (see the note on Stanzas 88-89), and even suggests in n. 23 that he was getting money from the crown, the text clearly implies a visit to Palestine (stanza 57 says that the knight is going to "Caluere" =Calvary).
Can we use this as a date peg? Not with certainty -- after all, people had been going on pilgrimage as early as the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great (Runciman1, p. 39), and by the tenth century, pilgrimages were common and were sometimes given as pennances (Runciman1, pp.43-44). But Stanzas 88-89 hint that the knight will not just travel to Jerusalem but fight there. If the knight were going as part of a larger English expedition, this would at first glance seem to point to either the Third Crusade, led by Richard I (hence c. 1190; this is the implication of Holt2, p. 193) or Prince Edward's crusade (c. 1270). Those were the only two occasions on which English royalty went to the Holy Land.
This is not conclusive, however; there were other times when an Englishman might reasonably expect to go crusading There weren't many English involved in the First Crusade, but one of the major leaders was Robert Duke of Normandy (Lack, p. 75), the son of William the Conqueror who arguably should have become King of England in 1087 when the Conqueror died, and who certainly should have become King in 1100 when William Rufus died The Second Crusade, almost purely a French affair, was a washout, but the Third, the Crusade of Kings, was a very large affair. Several other Crusades followed; all were flops, but all attracted at least a few zealous followers.
Although Edward I's Crusade has the advantage of being relatively late, which makes it a better fit than the First and Third Crusades, it isn't really a good candidate. It was a very small expedition. Prestwich1, p. 71, thinks Edward took fewer than 1000 soldiers, and many of those were paid at least partly by the French. Since most of those men were retainers, not knights, the number of knights involved must have been counted only in the hundreds. This out of perhaps 15,000 knights in England at the time. And Prince Edward was not yet Edward I when he set out; Henry III died while Edward was still on his way home (after a valiant but futile trip; the French crusade had bogged down outside Tunis -- Prestwich1, pp. 73-74 -- and while Edward went on to Acre, he had too few men to accomplish anything except rebuild a tower and manage a few raids.)
But although Edward I was the last serious English crusader, that was not the final end of the Crusading impulse; "The crusade was preached again and again" (Powicke, p. 232). Edward I himself took the cross a second time in 1287 (Prestwich3, p. 23), but first the fall of the last Crusader cities, Acre and its dependencies, in 1291 (Runciman3, pp. 412-423) and then internal troubles kept him from fulfilling the vow. Edward managed to send a few soldiers, according to Runciman3, p. 413, but they were too few to make a difference and the King was too occupied to come himself.
Nonetheless, toward the end of the reign of Edward I, Clement V -- who was a Gascon and hence a subject of Edward I -- became Pope, and one of his chief goals was to restart the Crusades.
Clement worked very hard to heal the problems between England and France in hopes of enabling the Crusade (Phillips, p. 108). Clement in fact appointed Anthony Bek, the Bishop of Durham at the beginning of Edward II's reign, titular Catholic patriarch of Jerusalem in 1306 (Phillips, p. 51n.), a title he held until his death in 1311 (Phillips, p. 174). If anyone had an interest in restarting the crusade, it was obviously him! And Durham (just south of Newcastle) was a northern Bishopric, and one with palatinate powers. As a wild hypothesis, what the knight might have meant is that he would have joined the retinue of Bishop Bek (or, more likely, his successor) with the eventual expectation of joining Clement's proposed crusade -- which however never got off the ground.
Edward II was at least theoretically supportive of Clement's attempts; Edward and his father-in-law Philip IV of France took the cross in 1313, as did Edward's wife and Philip's daughter Isabella (Phillips, p. 210; this actually became the subject of a manuscript illustration reproduced as plate 11 in Phillips). Nothing came of this, partly because of tensions between the two and partly because of Bannockburn, but the knight might have been expecting more. Runciman3, p. 434, in fact suggests that Philip's sole purpose in taking the cross was to get his hands on the money that would have gone into the Crusade -- and certainly his plundering of the Templars in this decade (Phillips, p. 211) had been for purposes of getting his hands on their money (Runciman3, pp. 434-438). But Edward was likely sincere.
(I have to note a very folkloric touch here: Philip IV eventually had the Grand Master of the Templars, Jacques de Molay, burned at the stake, since the Templars were being accused of being heretics. From the flames, de Molay was said to have called Philip IV and Pope Clement V to meet him at God's tribunal, and to have cursed Philip's line; Doherty, p. 58. And, indeed, Philip and Clement both died within a year -- and Philip's three sons all died without male heirs, and there is evidence that they were cuckolded anyway; Phillips, p. 222. Thus the Capetian line died out, except for Isabella the wife of Edward II. The Valois inherited the Kingdom of France -- and as a result had to fight the Hundred Years' War against Edward II's and Isabella's son Edward III and his heirs. This, as I shall argue below, was the backdrop of the latter part of Robin's legend.)
Edward II was formally committed to the crusade from 1313 to 1316. In the latter year, with his reign having been blighted by Bannockburn and crop failures and fights with his barons, he formally asked the Pope to let him put off his crusade (Phillips, p. 284); the postponement was granted in early 1317 (Phillips, p. 287). So the most likely period for a knight to consider crusading was 1313-1317.
Even this is not the last possible date. As late as the reign of Edward III, the King of England talked about going on crusade with the King of France (Perroy, p. 88; Seward, p. 28). Even after that, there were still Crusades; they just didn't go to Palestine. So, for instance, in 1385, Bishop Despenser of Norwich was allowed to use money from crusading indulgences to pay for a cross-channel expedition in Flanders; this war on fellow Catholics was called a crusade because there were two different popes at the time (Saul, pp. 105-106). Again, when Henry of Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV) was exiled by Richard II, he went to fight pagans in northeastern Europe, and was considered to have gone on crusade.
To be sure, there is no hint that the knight is joining a larger expedition. It sounds as if he plans to go on his own. This suggests the possibility that the knight, instead of going on crusade, meant to join one of the crusading orders -- the Templars or the Hospitalars. But the Templars, as noted above, were suppressed during the reign of Edward II -- and Edward II promised to take the cross to fill the void left by their destruction (Doherty, p. 56). The Hospitalars lasted much longer, but after 1291, they had no place in Palestine. Thus the Knight could not reach Calvary by joining the orders -- and besides, the members of the orders were supposed to be unmarried, and we know the knight has a wife.
The most logical guess, adding all this up: The Knight was considering joining an organized crusade (probably Edward II's), but was prepared to go even if there was no crusade.
** Stanza 59/Line 233 ** "Where be thy frendes?"The language here is again vaguely reminiscents of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32, where "no one gave [the prodigal] anything." It is probably not an allusion but just one of those things people heard repeated.
Comnpare also Wisdom of Sirach 12:8-9: "A friend is not known (i.e. shown to be true) in prosperity, nor is an enemy hidden in adversity. One's enemies are friendly when one prospers, but in adversity even a friend disappears."
Finally, Sirach 29:10 advises, "Lose your silver for the sake of a brother or a friend" -- advice which only Robin follows.
It is significantly of note that Robin never asks the knight about his feudal overlord, who would in the Norman and early Plantagenet periods have been the person to whom anyone would naturally apply. I cannot see, anywhere in the "Gest," any sign of feudal relations. Feudalism was never dismantled; it just slowly faded, and was replaced by "bastard feudalism" -- in which affinities, or personal and contract relationships, took the place of the former relationships based on tenure and social order (Wagner, pp. 19-20). By asking about friends, the text strongly implies a date in the era of bastard feudalism.
The change from feudalism to bastard feudalism was gradual, but the dividing line is usually placed in the reign of Henry III (Jolliffe, p. 331). Thus this comment fits well in the era of the three Edwards -- and fits not at all with the time of Henry II, Richard I, and John.
** Stanza 61/Lines 241-244 ** Note that only four outlaws are mentioned as hearing the Knight's story: Robin, John, Much, and Scarlock. For the possibility that these are the only members of te band, see the note to Stanza 17.
** Stanza 62/Line 248 ** Although we usually say that Jesus died on the cross, the New Testament contains a number of places where he is said to have died on a tree (Greek xylon, which means both "tree" and "wood"): Acts 5:30, 10:39, 13:29, 1 Peter 2:24.
** Stanza 63/Line 252 ** Robin's refusal to accept Peter, Paul, or John as a guarantor of a loan is rather ironic, although probably not intentionally so. There isn't much mention of commerce or moneylending in the New Testament, but what there is mostly involved with Peter and Paul. Paul, when the slave Onesimus ran away from his owner Philemon, tried to induce Philemon to free Onesimus voluntarily on the grounds that Philemon owed him for bringing salvation, but if Philemon refused, Paul promised, "I will repay it" (Phillemon 19).
The case of Peter is not so explicit, but when the question of the Temple Tax came up, Jesus told Peter to take a hook and catch a fish, which would contain the money to pay the tax (Matthew 17:24-27). And when Ananias and Sapphira tried to cheat the church, it was Peter who called them out, resulting in their deaths (Acts 5:1-11). Thus Peter and Paul, whom Robin disdains, are the primary New Testament examples of financial integrity. Mary -- who as a woman would have had no control over money -- is never mentioned in a financial context.
** Stanza 65/Line 259 ** Having admitted that he has no other securities (a strange statement, since if he could pay his debt to St. Mary's Abbey, he would have his land back, and the land would be security), the Knight offers "Our dear Lady," i.e. the Virgin Mary, as security -- a guarantee which Robin at once accepts. Knight/Ohlgren, p. 82, declare that this must be based on the common motif of Miracles of the Virgin, for which see the introduction, although a precise parallel to this particular tale has not been found. Knight/Ohlgren, p. 153, mention a tale, "The Merchant's Surety," which similar themes although the plot details are rather different.
Similar in another way is the German tale of "Schimpf und Ernst," described on pp. 35-36 of Clawson, in which a man is captured, then released to raise his ransom based on a promise held by "got den herren" -- "God the Lord." The man cannot raise the funds, but his captor meets a monk who says God is his Lord. The captor robs the monk and takes what he finds as the ransom. The similarity in plot to the tale of Robin and the monk in Fit Four is obvious, but the transfer from God as guarantor to Mary as guarantor significantly reshapes the story.
For more on Robin's devotion to the Virgin, see the note on Stanza 10.
It is just possible that this Miracle of the Virgin is a dating hint. As noted in the section on sources, Miracles of the Virgin were often anti-Semitic. But that theme does not show up here at all -- the "Gest" is anti-church hierarchy, not anti-Jews. This makes sense, because Edward I had expelled the Jews from England in 1290. (For this, see the notes to "Sir Hugh, or, The Jew's Daughter" [Child 155], or Powicke, p. 322, or Prestwich1, p. 346). The absence of Jews in the tale may be because the author lived in a time after the Jews were expelled, but it might also be because the original tale came from a time after the Jews were expelled.
There is also the matter that, at this time, very few people other than clerics and some merchants and nobles were literate. What knowledge of Christianity most people had came partly from sermons and partly from performances such as the mystery plays. This definitely could cause people to develop peculiar notions. And Robin, as an outlaw, might not have much access to the regular clergy (despite the "three masses" of Stanza 8), but probably could see the Mystery Plays.
I mention this because the Mystery Plays seem to have been particularly popular in Yorkshire. Happe, p. 10, notes that we have four cycles of mystery plays plus odds and ends. Two of the cycles are from Yorkshire: The York cycle itself, and the so-called Towneley cycle, which is from Wakefield (a well-known Robin Hood site); this is the cycle which contains the famous Second Shepherd's Play. A third cycle is from Chester, not too far from Robin's haunts (the source of the fourth is uncertain). So Robin might have derived much of his knowledge of theology from this limited source -- one in which the Virgin Mary is one of the few female players to come off well.
(It should probably be noted, however, that we have no evidence of the use of mystery plays before about 1375; Happe, p. 13. Indeed, the plays were associated with the feast of Corpus Christi, and that was not promulgated until 1311 and did not become common in Britain until 1318, according to p. 19 of Happe. Thus the "real" Robin is unlikely to have learned anything from the mystery plays -- but the author of the "Gest" might well have.)
** Stanza 67/Line 268 ** The "modernization" of the "Gest" by Maud Isabel Ebbutt, quoted on p. 176 of Mersey, interprets the phrase "well tolde it be" to mean "well counted, with no false or clipped coins therein." This obviously assumes coinage (see the note on Stanza 49). And coin clipping certainly happened in Edwardian times (there were actually pennies that were designed to be cut into quarters!), and there were poor imported coins with less silver content than English pennies. But all Robin says is that John is to be sure the knight gets the right amount.
** Stanza 68/Lines 271-272 ** Here we see the actual loan paid out. The method is curious; see the textual note.
** Stanzas 70-72/Lines 276-286 ** Little John points declares to Robin that they must give the threadbare knight "a lyueray" (livery), suggesting scarlet and green. Robin gives him three yards of "euery colour." Despite this, Knight/Ohlgren, p. 281, suggest that the original reading should be "scarlet in graine," i.e. "scarlet dyed in the grain," a high grade scarlet cloth. There seems little point to this emendation.
A better explanation may come from Finlay, p. 147, who says of scarlet that "A fashion statement in medieval Europe was to wear clothes made of a new cloth, imported from central Acia. The new cloth was called 'scarlet'... vastly popular... but... extremely expensive -- at least four times the price of ordinary cloth. But the curious thing is, scarlet was not always red. Sometimes it was blue or green or occasionally black, and the reason that in English 'scarlet' means 'red' and not 'chic-textile-that-only-socialites-can-afford-but-we-all-aspire-to' is because of kermes [a red dye made from insects]." So perhaps the best explanation is that John suggests scarlet-type cloth dyed green, and Robin says scarlet-type cloth in all colors.
Green cloth will appear as Robin's color in Stanza 422. The reference to scarlet is more interesting, since the standard red dye of this period was kermes, "a red coloring obtained from insects living on evergreen oak trees in lands bordering the Mediterranean," according to Backhouse, p. 32; it is related to carmine and cochineal, and is said to be the origin of the word "crimson." It was expensive even in southern Europe, since harvesting it was labour-intensive, and very expensive in places such as England where it had to be imported. If scarlet is genuinely meant, as opposed to a poorer grade of red, this is an indication that Robin is giving gifts like a nobleman, and perhaps taking the role of a liege lord.
Knight, p. xix, makes the interesting observation that no fewer than nine of the ballads in the Forresters Manuscript refer to Robin's men wearing green; two also refer to Robin himself wearing scarlet.
We might note as a sidelight that we find the Paston family also debating the use of a red dye in their livery (Castor, p. 75).
The gift of cloth hints at the granting of livery (although we note that the knight is not given a livery badge, just cloth). It is interesting to note that, when the knight comes to return Robin's money, he wears white and red (stanza 133). The red might be Robin's color, but the white seemingly is not.
Is this a dating hint? Keen (pp. 137-138), referring to the general greenwood legend, strenuously argues that it must date from the fourteenth or fifteenth century, because of references such as this (as well as in some of the other early ballads) to livery and its misuse. As documentation of the problem he points, e.g., to certain sections in "Richard the Redeless" on this theme.
There is no question but that this was a much-discussed issue; Barr, pp. 19-20, says that "Richard the Redeless" goes so far as to identify various characters by their livery badges. Saul, pp. 200-201, says that the commons regularly petitioned about this in the reign of Richard II -- this even though Richard at one time withdrew the use of his own livery (Lyon, p. 116). One petition asked that "all liveries called badges, whether given by the king or the lords, of which use has begun since the first year of King Edward III (1327), and all lesser liveries, such as hoods, shall henceforth not be given or worn but shall be abolished upon the pain specified in this document."
The attempt at a fix did not work; parliament would still be bugging the crown about abuses of livery in the reign of Edward IV (Ross-Edward, p. 349).
The nature of the petition to Richard II implies that the problem was not believe to go back more than a reign or two. And Robin was legendary by 1377. Thus Keen's argument agrees with the "Gest" in dating Robin to the reign of one of the Edwards -- with Edward II and Edward III being the best bets. Livery was simply not an issue in the reign of Henry III, let alone the earlier kings.
The green and red cloth have another dating significance: They are another argument against the reign of Richard I. That king so despised common people that he restricted those of lower classes to gray clothing; colors were reserved to the upper (Finlay, p. 365). Thus if this incident took place in the reign of Richard I, giving the knight colored cloth might be making him guilty of a crime. And Richard, if he came to see Robin, would probably refuse to see a man clothed in Lincoln Green.
Robin also acts as a cloth merchant in stanza 418, and Ohlgren thinks this ties him to one of the cloth guilds; see the note on Stanza 10.
** Stanza 71/Lines 283-284 ** John declares that no merchant in England is as rich as Robin. This screams for an early date, before "bastard feudalism" and the rise of the merchant princes. An obvious example is the de la Pole family of Hull. William de la Pole's birth was so obscure that we don't even know his father's name (Hicks, p. 93), but his wealth was great enough that he became a major financier of Edward III's campaigns in the Hundred Years' War (OxfordCompanion, p. 758) and still had enough left over to found major memorial institutions at his death while leaving his family well-off (Kerr, p. 159); it eventually allowed his son to become Earl of Suffolk in the reign of Richard II (Saul, p. 117) -- although he was chased from the country just two years lated (Reid, p. 506).
By 1386, Michael de la Pole was earning more than 400 marks per year (Maxfield/Gillespie, p. 229), and while some of this was from lands Richard had granted him, much was from his merchant activity. The de la Poles were not the only merchants to (in effect) buy their way into the gentry (although Hicks, p. 94, does say that they were "the only great noble family based on trade in the later middle ages"); if John is right and no merchant can compare with Robin, this strongly implies a date before the time of Edward III.
Ohlgren/Mathison, p. 25, claims that the reference to merchants is evidence that the poem was created for one of the merchant guilds. But how would the guild have reacted to Robin being richer than they?
** Stanza 72/Lines 287-288 ** For the use of a "bowe-tree" as a measure, see also the end of the Percy version of "Robin Hood's Death": "Lay my yew bowe by my side, My met-yard [measuring rod] wi..." (Stanza 27 of the A text).
** Stanza 73/Lines 291-292 ** For a (just barely possible) explanation of Much the Miller's Son's complaint about Little John's generosity, see the note to Stanza 4 about Much.
Ohlgren, p. 24, suggests that reference to John as a "drapar" -- i.e. a draper -- is another indication that the "Gest" was intended for an audience of a guild, perhaps the guild of drapers. I would be more inclined to think the line is a joke.
** Stanzas 75-77/Lines 297-308 ** It is interesting to see Robin keeping horses -- fine horses, in fact -- in the greenwood. This may be an indication of date; it was not until the reign of Edward III that it became customary to mount archers. But how could the outlaws keep them fit while living in a forest?
Also, where could Robin have come across such fine beasts as these were said to be (in stanza 100, the porter praises the animals highly)?At this time, even horses were divided into yeoman's horses and gentleman's horses (Pollard, p. 36). One suspects that the animals had recently been taken from some relatively high-ranked person, and that Robin was willing to give them away because he had no good way to keep them.
Note that he gives the knight both a courser and a palfrey. To oversimplify, the courser or destrier was a fighting horse and the palfrey a riding horse (often a woman's riding horse, but a knight when not expecting battle might well ride a palfrey to avoid overburdening his warhorse). We may see this palfrey again in stanza 263.
The fact that the knight apparently lacks a good horse may possibly be an indication of just how hard he has been squeezed by his creditors. Mortimer, p. 26, notes that "When a knight's creditors foreclosed on him and his belongings were sold, he was to be left a horse -- unless he was a figting knight... in which case he was to be left his armour and several horses."
A quality horse, incidentally, was a significant addition to Robin's gifts. In the reign of Edward III, horses which were taken to France for the war were assessed before being shipped, and the minimum assessment was eight marks and the maximum ten pounds (Hewitt, p. 87) -- vastly more than the annual income of a plowman, e.g. Given that the horse is said to be extremely fine, it presumably is worth at least ten pounds.
** Stanza 80/Lines 317-320 ** Robin offers Little John as a servant on the grounds that a good knight should have one. This is fair enough -- but why pick his right-hand man, who (if he is indeed a giant) is highly recognizable, a very good fighter, and the man who counts the money? Is it possible that Robin chose John to watch over the knight and make sure he wasn't pulling a fast one?This might explain the curious events of stanzas 151-152.
Clawson, p. 56, suggests that the purpose of having Robin appoints John to the post so that John would be in better position to insinuate himself into the Sheriff's entourage. But given how little emphasis there is in the third fit on the knight being John's master, this hardly seems necessary.
** Stanza 84/Line 334 ** Clawson, p 45, makes the interesting observation that, although Little John has been made the Knight's servant, this is the last time John is mentioned in the second fit. The Knight rinds an entourage to come with him as he repays his loan (see the note on stanza 97), but there is no indication that John is part of the group. (And the comic potential of having John present are obvious.) Clawson therefore suggests that most of the scene between the Knight and the abbot is based on the tale of a crusading knight rather than a Robin Hood story.
Clawson also suggests on pp. 45-46 a comparison to "The Heir of Linne" [Child 267]. In the latter, the Heir is rescued from his profligacy by a gift from his forethoughtful father; there isn't much real similarity except that a surprise legacy allows the Heir to pay off debts otherwise beyond his ability to pay.
** Stanza 88/Line 349 ** Ritson, cited by Gummere, p. 88, notes that the prior of an abbey was the most senior official after the abbot, and hence the one in best position to cross the abbot -- which would explain the abbot's complaint in stanza 91 that the prior is always in his beard.
I do make one interesting note: Tyerman, p. 116, observes that the founder of Fountains Abbey (the supposed home of Friar Tuck), Richard of Fountains, was prior of Saint Mary's Abbey before breaking away. In the second fit of the "Gest," the Abbot is against the Knight, the Prior approves of him. Could the tale in the "Gest" be a faint echo of the conflict between the two which took place in 1132, and could this explain how a friar of Fountains came to be friendly with Robin Hood?
** Stanzas 88-89/Lines 351-356 ** The last two lines of stanza 88 make nonsense and are likely corrupt; Knight/Ohlgren, p. 154, suggest that the Prior means "*If it were me, I would rather pay the hundred pounds right away." But this must be taken in the light of the next stanza. The knight, according to the Prior, has been beyond the sea -- another hint at a crusade. Or might the Prior -- the one sympathetic person at St. Mary's -- have known that the knight was considering going on crusade? But one of the rules of the crusades was that the Crusader's lands and debts were to be safe while he was on Crusade -- even if he was delayed. So the Prior might be saying, "We have to wait." Alternately, perhaps, "Better to take a hundred pounds than get nothing" -- which might be what happened if the Abbot forced the knight on crusade and he died there.
There is one other interesting possibility: The church generally forbade usurious mortgages -- but was likely to allow them for Crusaders, because it was the only way Crusaders could raise cash quickly (Barlow-Rufus, p. 363, who points out that William the Conqueror's son Robert of Normandy was one so victimized.) Could it be that the knight claimed he was going on crusade in order to get the loan he had to have, on usurious terms, since he could not raise the money any other way? And then, when he failed to earn the money he needed to pay off the load, did he consider going crusading anyway?
The second line of stanza 89 is also probably troubled, and has caused several editors to emend the text (see textual note). Surprisingly, given the uncertainty of the text, scholars have tried to hang large conclusions on the meaning of this line.
The reading "In Englonde is his ryght," if original, is probably to be understood "fighting for England's cause" (although Pollard, p. 250, thinks it refers to the knight's English estates) This is the one piece of supporting evidence for Ohldgren's claim (for which see Stanzas 56-57) that the knight had been fighting in the Hundred Years' War -- a battle in France was far more a battle on behalf of England than a battle in the Holy Land. And a knight could hardly hope to go to Palestine and back in a year, whereas it was at least possible to make a one year trip to France. But, first, the Knight is in fact in England, not France or Palestine; second, the knight never mentions any fighting in France; third, while a man might bet his land on the proceeds of war (which often had a large payoff in booty), he would never risk a one year loan; there was too much risk that he could not get back in time. Ohlgren's explanation is not quite impossible, but this one conjectured line is not a sufficient basis for an understanding which causes so many difficulties.
Clawson, p. 43, considers there to be a contradiction here: He argues that the original source had the knight actually going on crusade, which of course is impossible in light of his meeting with Robin in the first fit. Clawson suggests that this has floated in from some lost ballad. However, the simplest explanation would appear to be simply that the knight in the first fit had talked about crusading, and that the prior (who presumably had heard of the knight's plans from some other source *before* the knight met Robin) thought he had actually made the trip.
** Stanza 91/Line 362 ** The abbott swears by "Saint Richard" (see textual note). Ohlgren, p. 224, expands this to refer to "Saint Richard of Cichester," described in a note as Richard de Wych, 1197-1253.
The only real support for suggestion is the fact that there is no important saint named Richard (see p. 977 of the list of saints in Benet or pp. 211-212 of DictSaints; Gummere, p. 316, observes that Ritson managed to find three Saints Richard, but all are quite obscure. There was a Saint Richardis who lived in the ninth century, according to DictSaints, p. 211, but she had no obvious English connections.).
Richard of Chichester is the only Saint Richard likely to have been known in England. He was canonized in 1262 (OxfordCompanion, p. 806; Dobson/Taylor, p. 85). Obviously the use of such an oath implies a date after 1262 (late in the reign of Henry III). This is more evidence for a date in the reign of one of the Edwards. But I have no idea why the abbott would swear by Saint Richard -- he was not a Northern saint, being associated (naturally) with Chichester and Sussex. Maybe it's just that "Richard" is a Southern (indeed, a French) name, and the poet wanted to suggest that the Abbot wasn't a local?
Alternately, perhaps it's supposed to be ironic, since Richard of Chichester spent time in poverty, and "denounced nepotism and simony, insisted on strict clerical discipline, and was most at home in the company of the poor and needy" (DictSaints, p. 211).
If Richard of Chichester is indeed meant, then we might guess that the visit to St. Mary's took place on April 3, Richard's feast day. And there is no other significant saint associated with that day (DictSaints, p. 290).
Two other possibilities occurs to me. One is Richard, Archbishop of Canterbury following Becket. Warren-Henry, p. 536, declares that "Richard of Dover was no time-server, and was to be one of the leaders in a remarkable efflorescence of interest in the development of canon law in England... he gave first place to the reform of the clergy."
Johnson, p. 211, declares that he "gave first place to the reform of the clergy and cooperation with the State." He of course was not canonized -- but canonization was rarely formal at this time (Richard of Chichester was noteworthy mostly because a real pope canonized him). People were called saints who never made it into the calendar of the church. Richard of Dover seems to have been a reasonably good man -- and it strikes me that the compiler of the "Gest" might have been subtly ironic to have the very unholy Abbott of Saint Mary's swear by a reforming bishop.
Tyerman, p. 231, says that he was an "unlikely choice as Becket's successor. A previously obscure mediocrity, he nonetheless demonstrated, to the dismay of the Becketeers, that effective cooperation with the king was possible," and adds on p. 232 that "it was Richard's policies, not Becket's, which charted the relationship between the English church and state for the rest of the Middle Ages."
The other is a radical emendation -- from "Saint Richard" to "Saint Robert." Robert of Knaresborough (in Yorkshire!) lived in the forest with a fugitive knight (Young, p. 59), and according to web sources, he died in 1218. The resemblance to the situation in the "Gest" is obvious. Indeed, I wonder if his situation might not have been one of the things that attracted the Robin Hood tale to the era of Richard I and John. If the Abbot did swear by Robert of Knaresborough, the irony would be exquisite.
Whoever the abbot is swearing by, it is interesting to see a churchman utter so many oaths (in stanza 91, he swears by God and Saint R....; in 92, by God that bought him dear, in 110, by God that died on a tree). The form of the oaths is pious, but the way the abbot omits them comes close to blasphemy.
** Stanza 92/Line 368 ** "Four hundred pounde by yere." Usually understood as "four hundred pounds per year," i.e. land yielding an income of 400 pounds annually. This is likely an error, perhaps for 40 pounds annually, perhaps for 400 pounds total value of the land. See note on stanza 49.
** Stanza 93/Line 369 ** The "hy selerer," or "high cellarer," was respondible for provisioning the abbey, and for bringing in supplies from outside. This position would vary in importance -- some abbeys raised most of their own food. But, clearly, the abbot of St. Mary's is fond of fine food, meaning that the cellarer would be responsible for getting him what he wants. This doubtless means that he is responsible for a large budget as well. We will meet the cellarer of St. Mary's again in Stanza 233, in very interesting circumstances.
** Stanza 93/Line 371 ** Child's text reads "The [hye] iustyce of Englonde"; the better text is probably to omit "hye," making it the "iustice of Englonde." This is one of the more significant textual problems of the "Gest" (see the textual note), because neither reading makes good sense. (Clawson, p. 52, who thinks that this scene was adopted from an existing ballad by the compiler of the "Gest," suggests that the justice was an insertion by the compiler, which might help explain the confusing reference.) In this case, we probably need to consider possible meanings of both readings.
If we omit "high," this fails to explain why this man is called THE "justice of England." To be sure, Knight/Ohlgren, p. 155 (note on line 416) explain that the title "justice," without a descriptive, refers simply to a "professional lawer... the agent of a powerful lord -- the abbot in this case," and note that justices had many functions in local courts. This would also explain why the justice has taken "clothe and fee," i.e. livery, from the abbot (stanza 107) -- the chief justice would never wear another's livery. But that still leaves us with the problem of "the justice of England."
We might speculate that the line is meant to be understood that the abbot had control of justice in England, but this doesn't wash because we see in stanzas 94, 96, etc. that this justice was an actual person.
But "the high justice of England" is no better. There was no such office. The number of courts and jurisdictions was extremely high in the early Plantagenet period -- a side effect of the fact that, until the reign of Edward I, legislation was essentially ad hoc. Edward I finally settled on the statute as a method of imposing laws, but even he had no standard legal format; some statutes were in Latin, some in French (Prestwich1, p. 268. English did not become the standard language of law until the reign of Edward III).
Although we begin to see a professional class of judges starting around 1200 (Mortimer, p. 73), the title Lord Chief Justice did not evolve until later. There was a court coram rege ("with the king") from an early date (Mortimer, p. 53), which became the King's Bench came in 1268, but did not operate independently of the king until the time of Edward III (OxfordComp, p. 548). What's more, in the reign of Edward IV, the Chief Justice of the King's Bench was paid 215 pounds in a year (Ross-Edward, p. 329). Even allowing for inflation, could the Abbot have taken a big enough cut from the profit of the knight's land to make it worthwhile to bribe such an official? This seems unlikely.
To be sure, the Chief Justice of the King's Bench would have been in the north frequently during the Scottish wars of Edward I and Edward II, so perhaps the Abbot could have borrowed him. But, since the Justice followed the King, the Abbot couldn't count on that. He might give the Justice a fee, but livery?
The other major early court was the Court of Common Pleas, but it was permanently based at Westminster (Mortimer, p. 61); a justice of Common Pleas would have had no actual jurisdiction in Yorkshire. By the time, in the fifteenth century, that there were special judges with particular jurisdictions, the expectation would have been that they also had to be addressed with some particular ceremonial which is absent here (Lyon, p. 155).
There was the justiciar in the early Plantagenet period (the office seems to have been made prominent by Henry I, although it may have been established earlier; Barlow-Rufus, p. 202. Barlow-Rufus, p. 204, adds that "the post of chief justiciar... hardly ever acquired a certain title," which is interesting). According to Jolliffe, p. 298, the barons felt the justiciar was "'to amend according to the law the wrongs done by all other justices and bailiffs and earls and barons', in short, to be the guardian of common right." Obviously it would make sense to call a person in this office the "high justice," but only if the correct title had been forgotten.
Not all justiciars were honest (Richard I, for instance, immediately after taking the throne deposed Henry II's justiciar Ranulf de Glanville for dishonesty ; Gillingham, p. 129; Tyerman, p. 237, adds that he was fined an incredible 15,000 pounds). But Henry III left the office of justiciar vacant after 1234, revived it only under pressure decades later, then let it lapse, never to be revived (Prestwich1, p. 25). There was never a justiciar under a King Edward (even when Edward II appointed his favorite Piers Gaveston as regent, he called him "custos regni" rather than justiciar; Phillips, p. 133), and since in earlier years the purpose of the office was mostly to serve as a viceroy, the justiciar is not likely to have been involved in a legal dispute.
(Edward I did appoint a justiciar of North Wales after he conquered the territory; Prestwich1, p. 206. But the post was specific to Wales; in England, the Welsh justiciar -- initially Otto de Grandson -- seems still to have been known by his English titles. Certainly the justiciars carried none of their Welsh authority in England.)
Pollard, p. 102, thinks the justice might be the chief justice of the forests north of the Trent. (This seems to be a variation on a suggestion by Valentine Harris that John de Segrave, Justice of the Forests North of Trent and Constable of Nottingham Castle in the time of Edward II, was the original Sheriff of Nottingham; Dobson/Taylor, p. 15.) This produces a title which fits -- but why would the Abbot need to buy his support? The Abbot is not trying to dispossess Robin Hood, who lives in the greenwood; he is going after the Knight.
In earlier times, there had been a single chief justice of the forest (Young, p. 74), but from 1239 onward, and at certain times before, the office was divided and there were two chief justices, one for north and one south of the Trent. This, from 1239, even if "justice" means "justice of the forest," he could not be the justice of all England. (Unless we emend "Englonde" to "the forest" or some such.) In addition, from 1311 until 1397, the forest officials were formally known as "gardiens," not "justices" (although it would be no surprise if people still called them justices). They were certainly not all honest; in the reign of Henry III, a chief forester ended up paying a thousand marks to the King as a punishment for misdeeds (Young, p. 77), and John de Neville, son of John's chief forester, was known to have abused his office (Young, p. 112).
It is fascinating to note that, toward the end of the reign of Edward II, Edward's much-favored councilor Hugh Despenser the Elder was Justice of the forests south of Trent (Young, p. 146). The Despensers were hated by almost everyone else (see the notes to "Hugh Spencer's Feats in France" [Child 158]), and many contemporaries regarded them as Edward's evil geniuses. As justices south of Trent, they probably wouldn't affect Robin, but the fact that Despenser had been a forest justice might influence how he is regarded.
In the period between the decline of the justiciar and the independence of the King's Bench, the Lord Chancellor (an officer which came into existence no later than 1069; Douglas, p. 293, although the Chancery did not really become separate from the King until the reign of Edward I; Lyon, p. 69) was generally in charge of justice.
And some Chancellors were pretty sleazy. Mortimer, p. 65, notes that "The beneficiary had to pay for charters and writs; the chancellor had ample opportunity to feather his nest." Powicke, pp. 335-339, generally praises Edward I's chancellors, but Prestwich1, p. 110, says that one of them,Robert Burnell, was sustained by Edward despite charges of corruption. (Edward, in fact, proposed Burnell for Archbishop of Canterbury in 1278 -- and the Pope turned it down flat; Prestwich1, p. 249; Hicks, p. 10. Edward later tried to have Burnell made Bishop of Winchester; that too was shot down; Prestwich, p. 255.) Burnell died in 1292, according to Prestwich1, p. 293, so if he is the corrupt official involved, the Richard at Lee episode would have to have taken place by about 1290.
To give him his due, Powicke, p. 338, thinks Burnell played a major role in shaping Edward's legislation and softening the king's justice. Hicks, p. 10, declares that Burnell was not a reformer (which is why the Pope didn't want to make him archbishop), but "he probably was not guilty of the immorality, homicide, usury, or simony with which he was charged." And he seems to have been generally accessible; Prestwich, p. 234, sums him up as "affable, but slippery." In any case, Hicks, p. 9, says that he was rarely separated from the King.
If our criterion is simply a corrupt senior judge, we do see an instance in the reign of Edward I when a justice of the King's Bench, William Bereford, was accused of corruption (Prestwich1, p. 167). Bereford nonetheless continued to serve in various posts until 1326 -- almost the end of the reign of Edward II. That might imply he was honest -- but more likely implies that he knew which side of his bread was buttered. If the Justice of the "Gest" is to be identified with an actual person (a position I would not wish to defend), Bereford is a good candidate. Not the only one, however....
Another possibility in the reign of Edward I was Walter Langton, Keeper of the Wardrobe after 1290. The Wardrobe was responsible for paying for Edward's wars, so it had both financial and judicial responsibilities, and Prestwich1, pp. 139-140, says that Langton was "a man of great ability and little principle" -- a man who, in fact, was accused of killing his mistress's husband with his own hands. Phillips, p. 3, says that he fell "spectacularly" as soon as Edward I was dead, and was accused of "murder, adultery, simony, pluralism, and intercourse with the devil."
As a wild speculation, Langton, in addition to his office of Keeper of the Wardrobe, was Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield. Obviously the Archbishop of York had jurisdiction over Barnsdale and the Yorkshire area, but Coventry isn't that far south of Nottingham (it's closer to it than is Barnsdale!). Could it have been Langton who forced Robin off his lands? There is absolutely no evidence for this, but it would explain why Robin so disliked high church officials, and why he would approve of Edward II who got rid of Langton.
Not even Edward I could stomach Thomas de Weyland, his chief justice of Common Pleas, who covered up for two murderers (Prestwich1, p. 339). Or what about Ralph Hengham of the King's Bench? Edward deposed him in 1289 and fined him heavily (Prestwich1, p. 293).
Perhaps Edward I's problem was that he didn't pay his officers much, according to Prestwich1, p. 154, so they had to gather money in other ways.
Prestwich1, p. 561, points out that the reign of Edward I saw "the virtual demise of the system of judicial eyres under an ever increasing weight of business, but there was no really effective replacement for them ever devised.... [I]t is clear that the pressures of war from the mid-1290s aggravated an already difficult situation. Few criminals were brought to book, and of those who were, many received pardons for good service on the king's campaigns." (For more on these pardons, see the note on Stanza 439.) This situation continued in the reign of Edward II, and was the perfect situation for abusive justice such as we see in the Richard at Lee story.
Prestwich1 states (p. 294) that starting around 1290 "[t]here was a change coming over the character of the judicial benches." Until that time, most of the judges and judicial officials had been clerics. But "[t]here was an increased secularization of the judicial profession evident by the end if Edward [I]'s reign." In other words, professional clerics -- who would generally have some other income, and no official family to support (although many of course had mistresses) -- were giving way to professional lawyers, who had no other source of income and who did have families. The latter would naturally be more aggressive in trying to crank up their income, often by inflicting harsher punishments. Which increases the odds of a man losing his land.
There is a tale of Edward II's chancellor Robert Baldock that sounds very much like the "Gest." "One favorite technique of the Despensers and their allies the Earl of Arundel and Robert Baldock was to compel men to acknowledge large fictitious debts to them.... William de Boghan lost some lands when payment was demanded after he acknowledged a debt of [4000 pounds]" (Prestwich3, pp. 94-95). There are records of them actually imprisoning Edward II's niece to extort her to give up lands! (Phillips, pp. 446-447, who reports that "the appearance of legality hid the reality of fraud, threats of violence and abuse of legal process").
(When Edward fell, in fact, Baldock was taken and tried along with the Despensers. Only the fact that he was a clergyman saved his life -- and even so, he ended up in prison and died soon after; Phillips, p. 516.)
A polemic of the time of Edward II was very upset about the conditions; "The church, from popes and cardinals to parish priest, is corrupt. Money rules in the ecclesiastical courts, the parson has a mistress, abbots and priors ride to hounds, friars fight for the corpses of the rich and leave the poor unburied. Chivalry is in decay; instead of going on crusade, earls, baron and knights war among themselves. Justices, sheriffs, and those who raise taxes for the king are all bribable" (from the "Poem on the Evil Times of Edward II," quoted on pp. 17-18 of Phillips).
J. R. Maddicott proposed (Holt1, p. 59) that the justice involved is Geoffrey le Scrope, Chief Justice of the King's Bench at the end of Edward II's reign and the beginning of Edward III's, whom Prestwich3 (p. 232) called "a remarkable political survivor" and who has the advantage, from our standpoint, of being one of the Scropes of Bolton, a family based in Yorkshire (Ormrod, pp. 99-100). Much Internet searching, however, seems to reveal that Scrope was -- by the standards of the time -- relatively honest.
Another interesting point, made by Prestwich3, p. 105, was that there was an extremely high rate of official turnover in the reign of Edward II -- in twenty years, he had fifteen treasurers and ten keepers of the privy seal. This might explain why the official involved is so vaguely titled -- no one remembered who played what role in Edward II's reign. Alternately, by the fifteenth century, the Signet was used as s third seal (Lyon, p. 151), so by the time the "Gest" was written, there might have been some confusion of terminology.
In the end, none of this is decisive. Jolliffe, p. 236, suggests that in general the Angevin legal system broke down whenever the King wasn't actively keeping it in line. But this fits a great many reigns: Richard I, especially early in his reign (because he wasn't around), John (because he just had too many plates to juggle), Henry III (first because he was a minor and then because he was incompetent), Edward II (incompetent), Henry IV (weak on his throne and so unable to assert himself), and Henry VI (incompetent).
** Stanza 97/Lines 387-388 ** Somehow, the knight has acquired a group of followers (meyne) whom he instructs to dress in the clothes they wore over the sea. This hints at a company going on a crusade (Clawson, pp. 42-44, suggests that this has floated in from some sort of crusading ballad), but there are several problems:First, how could an impoverished knight maintain a company, and second, when did he have time to go overseas? Plus the meinie is ignored in the next several verses. This looks as if it floated in from somewhere else (but see stanza 125). Perhaps the text is defective; see the note on the text of stanza 98.
** Stanza 99/Line 396 ** The irony of this line is obvious. The abbott evidently told his friends what he was up to, but not the porter. Thus not all monastics are evil -- it is the leaders who are under fire.
** Stanza 100/Line 399 ** For the surprising quality of the horse Robin gave the knight, see the note on Stanzas 75-77. The word "coresed" is unattested; some glossaries suggest that it means something like "dressed" (perhaps "corseted"), but the more likely meaning is that it is well-built -- i.e. thorougly capable of running a course; so e.g. Dobson/Taylor, p. 86.
** Stanza 102/Line 405 (and many stanzas following) ** The abbot is at meat. As we shall learn in stanza 122, it is "royal fare." Note that, in Stanza 103, the abbot does not ask the knight to join them, or even greet him; he just asks for his money.
This is not a direct Biblical allusion, but it is reminiscent of a scandal in Corinth that drew a rebuke from Paul (1 Corinthians 11:20-21): "When you gather, it is not really to eat the Lord's supper. For when the time comes to eat, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one is hungry and another one is drunk." Of course communal meals had ceased to be part of the church's practice long before Robin's time (the mass was something completely different), but the lack of hospitality is blatant.
** Stanza 103/Lines 411-412 ** Note the abbot's complete lack of courtesy: He says no words of welcome or bring the knight into the feast. For courtesy see the note on Stanza 2; also the knight's request for courtesy in stanza 108, and the note on 102 for the theological implications of this.
** Stanzas 106-109/Lines 423-436 ** This scene makes me think a little of the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:26-36). In the parable, the man falls in among thieves; so too the knight is in the presence of a thief (the abbot). The man in the parable appeals, mutely, for the help of a priest and Levite, who are responsible for helping the people. Similarly, the knight appears first to the justice and then to the sheriff, who are supposed to uphold justtice. A second appeal to the abbot also fails. It is Robin, the outlaw, who supplies justice, just as the Samaritan -- a foreigner despised by Jews -- who helped out the Jew betrayed by those who should have rescued him.
For the knight's actions, compare also Proverbs 6:1-3: "My son, if you have stood surety for your friend/neighbour... go, hasten, and importune your neighbour.'
** Stanza 107/Lines 425-426 ** Child, p. 52, notes that the justice is bound to the abbott "with cloth and fee," i.e. by livery and payment, and that to hire someone to help deprive another of property was defined as conspiracy in the reign of Edward I. However, we have no indication that the justice was hired solely for this purpose, so this does not preclude a date after Edward passed his statute. Indeed, we find an instance late in Edward I's reign where one Margaret of Hardeshull appealing to the chancellor not to turn her case over to Ralph Hengham because Hengham was in the pay of her opponent in the case (Prestwich3, pp. 22-23).
The one firm date we have regarding this issue is that in the reign of Edward III judges were forced to take an oath not to accept livery (Pollard, p. 194). Thus a date before 1346 is strongly indicated -- but it is also possible that the arrangement is illegal, or that the justice in fact was a lawyer or otherwise not bound by the laws preventing judicial corruption. In light of the uncertainty about who the justice really was, this probably cannot be used as a dating hint.
For the whole issue of corrupt judges, see also the note on stanza 93.
** Stanza 108/Line 430 ** For courtesy see the note on Stanza 2.
** Stanza 109/Lines 433-436 ** Here the knight promises to "trewely serue" the abbot until his debt is paid. This is a tall order. Recall from the note on Stanza 49 that a knight bachelor was paid 35 pounds per year in the reign of Edward III, meaning that it would take 12 years to pay off the debt as a servant being paid a knight's wages. Given the inflation in that era, we can probably assume it would have taken at least 15 years to pay off the Abbot based on wages in the reign of Edward I or Edward II -- and that's if the Abbot accepts the knight's service at the full military rate, which is, obvioucly, unlikely. Odds are that the knight (who, after all, has an adult son) would be dead by the time he could pay off the debt. Our tentative conclusion must be that the knight is nof offering his personal service but his feudal loyalty -- he is offering to be the Abbot's vassal.
** Stanza 112/Lines 447-448 ** "For it is good to assay a frende Or that a man have need." Compare Wisdom of Sirach 6:4: "Gold is tested in the firre, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation." Sirach 9:10 adds a warning not to trade old and trusted friends for new. Sirach is, of course, one of the apocryphal/deuterocanonical books, but this would not matter to a Catholic.
** Stanza 114/Line 455 ** To the statement here that the knight was never a "false knyght," compare the statement in Stanza 320 that he is "a trewe knyght."
** Stanza 115/Line 460 ** For courtesy see the note on Stanza 2.
** Stanza 116/Line 461 ** "In ioustes and in tournement." Tournaments, in the sense of mock battles, were quite old, and are not a dating hint. The joust -- the formalized passage of arms -- is altogether another matter. Of course it was well-known by the time the "Gest" was published (imagine Malory without jousts!), and in its more French form "juste" it occurs in Chaucer (Chaucer/Benson, p. 1260) and Langland (Langland/Schmidt, p. 528). But the idea was rare before the reign of Edward III, and the highly organized tournament we think of as a joust flatly did not exist in the early Plantagenet era. If not an anachronism, this is another hint of an Edwardian date, and the later the better.
See also the note on Stanzas 52-53, about the knight's son killing a knight and a squire, perhaps in a tournament.
** Stanzas 117-119/Lines 465-476 ** Although, theoretically, the abbot should own the land if the knight cannot repay, the justice apparently advises him to give the knight some consideration to induce the knight to sign away the land -- or, perhaps, to have him openly sell it to the abbot, since this would make the issue of ownership more certain. (This, at least, is the obvious interpretation of the lines; Mersey, p. 181, thinks that the justice is trying to extort a higher fee from the abbott. But this would not address the danger of the knight being willing to attack his dispossessor.)
The abbot, nettled, offers a hundred pounds; the justice suggests 200 -- a sum which would actually leave the knight fairly well off. Presumably the purpose is to keep the knight from turning outlaw and preying upon the new legal owners of the land (so, implicitly, the last line of stanza 117). But the knight refuses any such offer outright (stanza 119). This is, in one sense, standard knightly defiance. But what would he have done had he not had 400 pounds available to pay off the loan?
The justice's warning is probably wise. Note that, in stanzas 360-361, the King gives away the Knight's land, and in Stanzas 362-363, a counselor warns that no one will be able to enjoy the land while Robin is alive.
** Stanza 120/Lines 479-480 ** Here the knight repays the abbott by shaking four hundred pounds out of a bag. Difficult, if the money is in the form of silver; we are told that 100 pounds sterling of silver pennies filled a barrel (Barlow-Rufus, p. 365, and see note on Stanza 49). It would probably be a small barrell -- 100 pounds sterling is roughly 35 kilograms, and the density of silver is 10.5 kilograms per litre, so 100 pounds sterling takes up a bit more than three litres, and 400 pounds sterling is just about 13 litres. If melted down, that's a cube about 23 centimeters on a side. But if supplied in the form of coin, it will be much bulkier -- coins cannot be stacked perfectly . My rough calculation is that, in the form of coin, 400 pounds sterling would take up about17 litres (possibly more, if the pile contains coins of different sizes and thicknesses, such as farthings and groats as well as silver pennies).
In all, you're looking at 300 pounds/ 135 kilograms, and a cube 26 centimeters (just over 1 foot) on a side. The man who shakes that out of a bag isn't a middle-aged knight with an adult son, it's the Incredible Hulk. And even if the man could carry such a sack, what sort of cloth made in the Middle Ages could bear the strain?
And isn't it odd that no one counts the coin?
But give the Justice and Sheriff credit: Once the loan is repaid, they follow the law.
** Stanza 120/Line 481 ** "Have here thi golde, sir abbot." Here the poet resolves the problem of the incredible quantity of silver by telling us the knight gave gold. It solves the problem of weight; it leaves the problem of either coming up with enough gold coin (if we are in the late reign of Edward III) or of testing the weight and purity of the gold (if the knight gives raw metal).
The most likely explanation is anachronism: The poet simply did not realize that there were no gold coins prior to the reign of Edward III (see thenote on Stanza 49), and that it was not until roughly the Lancastrian Era that there were enough of them in circulation for a scene like this to be possible. This is strong evidence for dating the composition of the poem relatively late.
** Stanza 121/Lines 483-484 ** The knight declares that, had the abbot been courteous, he would have been rewarded. For the concept of courtesy, see the note on stanza 2. The rest of the verse reflects the church's attitude toward lending, interest, and usury. Exodus 22:25 explicitly forbids the people of Israel to lend at interest to each other. Leviticus 25:36-37 forbids interest and taking advantage of another's poverty. Deuteronomy 23:20 grants that "on loans to a foreigner you may charge interest," but 23:19 forbids charging interest to Israelites.
The church therefore forbid lending at interest. Since lending is sometimes necessary, Thomas Aquinas developed a doctrine of mutual risk, in which both the borrower and the lender were considered to be involved in whatever activity required the loan. It wasn't until the Protestant Reformation that this attitude began to shift (Bainton, pp. 237-249).
For one who truly needed a loan, this left only two choices. One was to borrow from the Jews, who were allowed to lend to Christians at interest. But Edward I had passed a strict anti-usury law in 1275, and -- having wrung every cent out of the Jews that he could -- expelled them from England in 1290 (Powicke, p. 322; Prestwich, pp. 343-346; Stenton, p. 197). This might be an indication of date: the knight probably could not have borrowed from Jews after 1275, and certainly not after 1290.
After 1290, that left only the possibility of borrowing from Christians. All such borrowing followed informal rules. Officially, the lender simply gave the borrower the money, expecting to be paid back, without interest, at the end of the loan period. Unofficially, it was understood that the lender would receive the money -- and also a gift from the borrower. In law, it was two separate transactions. In practice, the gift was the interest on the loan. In this case, the knight says that he will not pay the gift because of the abbot's vile behavior -- and, under the law, he had every right to do so. Hence his statement in stanza 124 that "shall I haue my londe agayne."
It is not clear how much interest would have been expected. Child, p. 52, points out that in stanza 270 the knight repays Robin with a gift of 20 marks on a 400 pound loan. Since 400 pounds is 600 marks, this is one part in thirty, which out to three and a third percent interest (with no compounding, of course). But the knight also gave the gift of bows and arrows (see notes on Stanzas 131 and 132).
** Stanza 122/Lines 485-486 ** For the abbot and his fine meal see the note on Stanza 102.
** Stanza 123/Lines489-492 ** The Abbot, having failed to gain the knight's land, demands that the justice repay the fee mentioned in stanza 107. However, the fee is not a contract as we would understand it -- the justice is the Abbot's man, but owes only certain duties. He has done these (presumably by showing up and witnessing the transaction), and sees no need to repay the fee. Perhaps a more honest man might return the fee -- but a more honest man would never have taken it in the first place. It is ironic that the Abbot, who tried to hold to the letter of the law, himself requested more than the letter of the law when the tables turned.
** Stanza 124/Line 495 ** On the knight's right to reclaim his land see the note on Stanza 121.
** Stanza 125/Lines 499-500 ** The knight puts on his good clothing, referring back presumably to the "symple wedes" of stanza 97, although that stanza and this seem to be the only references to what amounts to a disguise. (Could this be a reference to one of the sources? The tales of Fulk and Eustace and such are much taken with disguise, an element largely downplayed in the "Gest.") Note that the fact that he left his poor clothing behind when he changes into his richer attire is a strong argument that the "symple wedes" are not crusading garments.
** Stanza 126/Line 504 ** The knight's home is listed as "Verysdale." Ritson declared that there was a Lancashire forest named "Wierysdale" (Gummere, p. 336), and Mersey, p. 181, offers "Uterysdale" (a reading supported by several online sources but with no attestation in the prints and not found on any map I've seen). I'm somewhat tempted by "Weardale," the region along the Wear in Durham -- after all, a knight coming from Weardale would have to pass along the Great North Road to reach London orYork (the problem being that a man going from Weardale to York would never get as far south as Doncaster).
These problems have led most scholars to believe that the name "Verysdale" refers to Lee in Wyresdale; (Holt2, photo 15 facing p. 97; Ohlgren, p. 316 n. 9).The Wyre river is in Lancashire, somewhat north of the Ribble; Lee is not far from the town of Lancaster, being somewhat to the south and east at the crossing of the Wyre.
This fits with the statement in stanza 53 that the knight's son slew a Lancashire/Lancaster knight; presumably the boy killed someone close to home. Holt1, p. 103, notes that the lands around Wyresdale were divided among the Earls of Lancaster and the de Lacys of Lincoln -- but that all of them came into the Earl of Landcaster's hands when the last de Lacy earl died in 1311. Thus, if Wyresdale is meant and the period is, as I contend, the reign of Edward II, there is an intimate connection between Wyresdale and the Earl of Lancaster.
It should be noted, however, we also find the knight, in Stanza 310, having a castle somewhere between Nottingham and Robin's home. This may be the result of the "Gest" blending together two different accounts.
I must admit that I am tempted, instead of reading "Verysdale," to read "Ayredale." The river Aire, which naturally passes through the Airedale, flows east into the Ouse between York and Doncaster. Indeed, Ferrybridge over the Aire is on the Great North Road. In other words, it is right on the knight's path. This would fit well with the situation in stanza 310.
Another faint possibility is the valley of the river Ure, which however is not nearly as well known; I've never found a reference to "Uredale."
As a further interesting footnote, we observe that, in the time of Edward IV, there was an outlaw called "Robin of Redesdale," also known as "Robin Mend-All." As we shall see, he seems to have tried to invoke the spirit of Robin Hood -- and "Redesdale" is rather similar to "Wyresdale." Although the significance of the name "Mend-All" is rather uncertain -- one of the names Jack Cade had used in his 1450 rebellion was "Jack Amendalle" -- "Jack Amend-all" (Wagner, p. 133) -- or perhaps "John Amend-All" (Hicks, p. 279; the latter name seems also to have been used by a Norfolk rebel a few years later; Castor, p. 88).
** Stanza 131/Line 521** A hundred bows. It's worth noting that the best bows were made of yew, with the best yew coming from the Iberian peninsula. The knight, who is a legal citizen, could acquire imported yew bowstaves; Robin, as an outlaw, very possibly could not.
This may also be a dating hint. The Hundred Years' War led to a much-increased demand for munitions -- every archer in France needed a bow and several sheafs of arrows. During periods of heavy campaigning, this led to significant supply bottlenecks; in 1356, for instance, it was reported that no arrows at all were available inEngland (Hewitt, p. 66). This does not preclude a date in the reign of Edward III, since there were truce years and years of light campaigning during the War, but it is an argument against the years of the major battles.
** Stanza 132/Lines 525-526 ** The knight gives Robin arrows which are "an elle long." The ell, or "cloth yard" (hence the famous "clothyard arrow") was 45 inches long, or about 1.15 meters.
Holt and others think that Robin's weapon could have been a short bow., and it is true that few of the ballads mention the longbow specifically. Holt1, p. 79, even denies that there is a distinction. Similarly, Bradbury, p. 35, argues that longbows were used at the Battle of the Standard in 1138 -- but by "longbows" he means "non-crossbows." But a short bow could be fired facing forward, while a longbow was fired from the side, with the head over the shoulder and, for a long range shot, the left hand above the head. Some short bows, it's true, were longer than some longbows; the difference is one of technique.
But Robin's exploits imply a weapon of superior range and accuracy (see also Stanza 398). This clearly requires the longbow. What's more, a short bow would not require a clothyard arrow -- and most short bows were too short to be very effective with such a long arrow. The reference to these arrows strongly implies a longbow. And, indeed, the Lettersnijder edition of the "Gest" is illustrated with a picture of a longbowman, although this is canned clip art -- it had in fact been used earlier to illustrate an edition of Chaucer! (Baldwin, plate 40 facing p. 160; the image is also in Ohlgren, plate 21 after p. 222 and precedes p. 1 in Dobson/Taylor).
We are also told that the arrows were fletched with peacock feathers. Chaucer's yeoman archer also had arrows with peacock feathers (Prologue, line 104; , or see the section quoted above).
This is one of several indications that Robin must date after the time of Richard I and John. Chandler/Beckett, pp. 20-21, note that Richard and John's archers were crossbowmen. Indeed, according to Gillingham, p. 276, Richard suffered his fatal wound because he himself decided to take a turn shooting at the defenders of Chalus-Chabrol -- with a crossbow. This surely comes close to proof positive that Richard and Robin did not know each other -- Richard was too good a soldier to be fiddling around with crossbows if longbows had been available.
** Stanza 132/Line 527 ** The arrows had silver on them -- somewhere (see textual note). It hardly matters where, in practice; the point is, they were fancy and expensive.
** Stanza 133 /Line 529** An escort of "a hundred men." This sounds similar to the indenturing of soldiers, used particularly during the Hundred Years' War. This again implies a date during or after the reign of Edward I, with Edward III using indentures most heavily of all. A force of a hundred men is, we should note, very substantial at the time; it is hard to determine the actual size of armies in this period, but this is quite a few for a mere knight (at the great battle of Crecy, for instance, the ratio of knights to ordinary soldiers seems to have been less than 20:1). This is another hint that our knight had more resources than most.
** Stanza 133/Line 432 ** The knight returns to Robin wearing colors of red and white -- not green (and the red might not be the scarlet of Stanzas 70-72; we cannot tell). Thus he does not seem to be wearing Robin's colors.
** Stanza 135-142/Lines 537-570 ** The story of the "wrestling. Holt1, p. 23, considers the incident of the wresting an incidental insertion, arguing that it is not necessary to the plot. Certainly it seems to interrupt the action. But he offers no reason for the insertion; it seems more likely that such an oddity would be original than that it would be added later on.
Wrestling was considered a rather low-class sport at this time (Knight/Ohlgren, p. 157, note that Chaucer's Miller was a successful wrestler, and that his prize was a ram). The amazingly large prize in stanzas 136-137 (a white bull, a saddled courser with gold trimming, gloves, a gold ring, and a pipe of wine) suggests a special contest -- and yet, there seems to be no one to enforce the rules, forcing the knight to step in. This causes a delay, which is useful in terms of the plot because it allows time for Robin Hood's men to rob the monk of St. Mary's. Perhaps this strange wrestling was included in the Miracle of the Virgin tale that underlies this plot segment.
Alternately, we see Robin himself engaged in wresting in some of the later ballads, including the very first ballad of the Forresters manuscript, where Robin fights the crowd that drives him to turn outlaw (Knight, p. 1). He also wrestles in the play of c. 1475 which parallels "Guy of Gisborn" (Holt1, p. 33).
Another possibility is that this is some sort of side effect of the Tale of Gamelyn, which shares some elements with the "Gest." Gamelyn's story includes a tale of Gamelyn wrestling with a local champion -- a tale which occupies about a hundred lines (Clawson, p. 48).
I am also vaguely reminded of the romance of "The Tournament at Tottenham," one copy of which happens to be included in the same manuscript (Cambridge Ff. 5.48) as the sole witness to Robin Hood and the Monk" (Dobson/Taylor, p. 9). This is the farcical tale of a potter named Perkin who wishes to win a bailiff's daughter, and is told to take part in a tournament to earn her hand. He proceeds to win the tournament but nearly loses the girl when another entrant proceeds to make off with her (Sands, pp. 313-314). It does not appear parallel to this story, but several motifs are the same: A competition featuring low-born men rather than gentry, a richer-than-usual prize for such an event, and an attempt to cheat the winner.
If we accept the conjectural reading "Ayredale" for the location of the knight's castle (see note to Stanza 126). then it is reasonable to assume that the wrestling took place a Ferrybridge on the Aire, a convenient meeting point.
** Stanza 138/Line 551 ** A yeoman, apparently not a local, wins the wrestling match, and this causes a disturbance. The reason is not clear (see textual note). The likely meaning is something like "And he was far from home and friendless," but the line may be corrupt.
** Stanza 142/Line 565 ** Five marks: As we shall see in Stanza 150, twenty marks per year is an extremely generous allowance for a yeoman. Five marks thus represent at least a 25% bonus on a man's yearly pay, and probably more.
** Stanza 143/Lines 571-572 ** For Robin waiting to dine until a guest arrives, see the note on Stanzas 6-7.
Last updated in version 2.6
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2021 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.