The Identity of "Edwarde, our comly kynge"
Since the monarch is not precisely named, we must look closely at the allusions embedded in the text in order to discover the historical context. The search is complicated by two factors: the formulaic nature of the language, and the lapse of time that occurred between the time of composition and the time of the extant manuscripts and printed texts. Keeping these limitations in mind, the few allusions that do exist take on potentially great significance. In this section I shall focus on four allusions: "Edward, our cumly kynge" (l. 1412), "ferre beyonde the see" (l. 353), "In Englonde ryght" (l. 354), and "Saynt Quyntyne" (l. 1258).
The most important name mentioned in the Gest is "Edwarde, our comly kynge" in line 1412 of the edition by Stephen Knight and Thomas Ohlgren.6 Attempts to identify the specific monarch have frustrated scholars, such as Maurice Keen, who laments that "If any of the names could be identified, it would make the task simpler." He proceeds to survey briefly the various candidates: "Edward III, who reigned from 1327 to 1377, would seem to fill the part best; but both the warrior King Edward I, who died in 1307, and Edward IV, who came to the throne in 1461 and was known in his day as the handsomest monarch of Europe, could just fit."7 Other scholars have tried to fit the historical context to the person. In 1852 Joseph Hunter offered Edward II as a possibility because he had a valet de chambre in 1324 by the name of Robin Hood of Wakefield, but, as R. B. Dobson and J. Taylor have pointed out, "there is no direct evidence whatsoever that the Wakefield Robin Hood(s) of the early fourteenth century was ever an outlaw, or indeed a criminal, at all."8 While J. C. Holt labels Hunter's claims as a "hypothetical reconstruction" and a "jerry-built structure erected by later writers," he admits that "either the Hoods of Wakefield gave Robin to the world, or they absorbed the tale of the outlaw into their family traditions or their neighbors and descendants came to associate the two."9 Stephen Knight, finally, has suggested that the reign of Edward IV (1461-83) is not inconsistent with his dating of the Gest to the later fifteenth century, the time of Thomas Malory. 10
A new link to Edward III (1327-77) has recently been discovered in the
political poetry of Lawrence Minot, who wrote eleven poems in Middle English
commemorating English victories against the Scots and the French between
March 1333, the battle of Halidon Hill, and the capture of the French town
Guines in January 1352. As Joseph Hall and Richard H. Osberg point out,
the poems were likely written soon after the events occurred and then revised
about 1352 when Minot constructed a continuous narrative with linking stanzas
and rubrics.11 The poems
were apparently popular enough to be recopied in the reign of Henry V or
Henry VI and survive in a unique manuscript, British Library Cotton Galba
E.ix, dated 1425-50.12
Poem IV, written about 1339, commemorates Edward III's invasion of France.
The poem, written in six-line stanzas, opens as follows:
Edward oure cumly king
in Braband has his woning
with mani cumly knight.
And in that land, trewly to tell,
ordanis he still for to dwell,
to time he think to fight. (ll. 1-6)
The first line is almost identical to line 1412 of the Gest: "Of Edwarde, our cumly kynge," which strongly suggests that the king in the Gest represents Edward III. By itself the adjective + noun "cumly kynge" is a commonplace used to describe numerous fictional and real monarchs, from Arthur, Herod, and Christ to Henry V and Henry VI.13 However, in combination with the proper noun "Edwarde," I have found only the two instances in Minot and the Gest. Since there may be other as yet unidentified expressions, I cannot rest my case on this allusion alone. However, as soon as we consider the other three allusions we shall begin to see an unfolding pattern of references to the activities of Edward III and his military personnel in the early decades of the Hundred Years War.
All three allusions are linked to the identity and activities of Sir Richard at the Lee, the "dreri" knight Little John and Much waylay on the road and bring to Robin Hood in Barnsdale. As John Bellamy observes, his debt to the Abbot of St. Mary's, his second loan from Robin Hood, and his repayment of both loans form "the chief single theme."14 A close reading of the details of the poem reveals the following facts. He is from "Verysdale" (l. 504), which most scholars identify as the hamlet of Lee in Wryesdale, Lancashire. He is a knight and his ancestors have been knights for one-hundred years (ll. 187-88). He inhabits a double-ditched and walled castle, located "A lytell within the wode" (ll.1233-36). He has an annual income of £400 from his lands (ll. 193-96, 367-68). He is married (l. 1333). He has a twenty-year-old son, who killed a knight of Lancaster or Lancashire and his squire in a joust (ll. 209-10). Like his son, he has engaged in jousts and tournaments at home and in "preses" ("battles") (l. 463), presumably abroad. In order to pay compensation to the families of the slain knight and squire, Sir Richard is forced to borrow £400 from the Abbot of St. Mary's Abbey in York, and he pledges his property as security for the loan (ll. 211-16). If he is not able to repay the loan on time, he will lose his property and will be forced to leave the country by going on a crusade or pilgrimage to the Holy Land (ll. 223-26).On the day his loan is due, the Prior of St. Mary's assumes that he is "ferre beyonde the see, / In Englonde ryght" (ll. 353-54). A year after the loan from Robin Hood is due, the knight "purveyed hym" (l. 529) 100 archers dressed in "whyte and rede," leading them to Barnsdale with a "lyght songe."
Some of these details strongly suggest that during the year between his loan from the Abbot and the repayment date Sir Richard at the Lee has been abroad. J. C. Holt surmises that he has just returned from a crusade or pilgrimage (pp. 192-93). Indeed, the Prior of St. Mary's does assume that he is "ferre beyonde the see" (l. 353) and, hence, unable to repay the loan in time. And the knight does tell his men to put on your "symple wedes" (l. 387) before entering the abbey; however, when we recall that Sir Richard is feigning poverty to measure the avaricious Abbot's reaction, the mention of simple clothing need not indicate a religious journey. Instead, it was more likely a military campaign in France at the beginning of the Hundred Years War.
Although the evidence to support this claim is circumstantial, it is nevertheless revealing. No one, to my knowledge, has commented upon Sir Richard's activities at his castle just prior to returning to the greenwood to repay the loan to Robin Hood. The relevant passage is as follows:
This knight than dwelled fayre at home,As a member of the landed gentry, Sir Richard is able to raise £400 within the allotted time, presumably from rents from his sub-tenants and the sale of produce. If his annual income is £400, however, he would have had to save every penny and, as a result, he would have had nothing left to pay taxes or to live on. The money, I suspect, had to come from somewhere else. If he had served on a military campaign "ferre beyonde the see," it is likely that he was paid for his services because, as W.M. Ormrod points out, "after 1341, it became common for military commanders to draw up contracts or 'indentures' with the crown, promising to provide a specified number of soldiers for an agreed period of time..."15 Knights on active duty were paid 2 shillings a day or £36 per annum (Ormrod, p. 150), which would hardly account for the £400 needed to repay Robin Hood. Two additional ways to produce revenue are from the spoils of war and ransoming prisoners, but there is no evidence in the poem to suggest that these activities had taken place. Yet another possibility is that Sir Richard acted as a recruiting agent or arrayer for the king or his overlord. Ormrod notes that a knight, Sir John Strother, made £255 by recruiting soldiers for the Earl of March in 1374 (p. 150). Thus, being a purveyor was a very lucrative business in times of war. Interestingly, the verb "purveyed" is used twice in the passage quoted above; first, he purveys one-hundred bows and sheaves of arrows and then one-hundred well-equipped men. While the numbers may seem excessive, Ormrod observes that Edward III paid an annuity of £666 to the Earls of Warwick and Stafford in 1348 and 1353 to maintain war readiness by supplying one hundred men-at-arms (p. 105). Clearly, the one hundred archers are not Sir Richard's personal retinue. At the most, an individual knight was responsible for three other knights and seven foot when summoned for war duty.16 Instead, the archers belonged to the retinue of a magnate or baron involved in the wars in France during the early decades of the Hundred Years War. A likely candidate is Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel (1307?-76), who played an active role in almost every military campaign in Edward III's long reign. He served, for instance, at Brabant (1338)--the campaign described in Laurence Minot's Poem IV--, Sluys (1340), Brittany (1343), Crécy , and the siege of Calais (1346).17 At the battle of Crécy, he, along with the king himself and the Black Prince, led one of the three divisions of 500 men-at-arms and 1200 archers. The men-at-arms consisted of bannerets, knights, and squires, while the archers, recruited from the local butts by arrayers, were clothed, equipped, and sent to a collecting place and held ready for departure to France. It was customary to provide the archers with clothing--a gown, hood, or suit--and the uniforms had a distinctive color scheme. Those of the Cheshire archers were half green and half white, 18 whereas those of the Earl of Arundel were dressed in red and white liveries.19 It will be recalled that Sir Richard in the Gest not only armed one-hundred archers but dressed them in red and white. Of interest too is the fact that a Richard de Legh is listed in a Memoranda Roll of the Queen's Remembrance (31 Edward III) as having served "continuously in the retinue of Sir William de Cavereswelle from the date of the King's passage to Hogges in Normandy until the King's return to England."20 Unlike John Bellamy, however, I am not seeking to pin-point real-life models behind the fictional characters in the Gest.21 Instead, I am arguing that the presence of Lees or Leghs in the manorial and government records of Edward's time simply adds to the growing evidence that the poet associated some of the historical events and social practices with the first half of the fourteenth century.
The sothe for to saye.
Tyll he had gete four hundred pound,
Al redy for to pay.
He purveyed him an hundred bowes,
The strynges well ydyght,
An hundred shefe of arowes gode,
The hedys burneshed full bryght;
And every arowe an elle longe,
With pecok wel idyght,
Inocked all with whyte silver;
It was a semely syght.
He purveyed hym an hundreth men,
Well harnessed in that stede.
And hym selfe in that same sete,
And clothed in whyte and rede.
He bare a launsgay in his honde,
And a man ledde his male,
And reden with a lyght songe
Unto Bernsydale. (ll. 517-36)
Additional support for the claim that Sir Richard was engaged in a military
campaign during the early years of King Edward III's reign is seen in the Gest-poet's
use of the phrase "In Englonde ryght" in line 354 and Sir Richard's oath
on "Saynt Quyntyne" in line 1258. The former phrase was a rallying cry
for Edward III's legal claim to certain territories in France, including
Gascony, and to the French crown itself. Laurence Minot uses a similar
expression four times, always in the context of Edward's territorial claims
in Scotland and France:
Now God help Edward in his right (Poem I, l. 31)The expression also appears in The Vows of the Heron (c. 1340) when Robert of Artois asks each of the guests at a royal dinner in 1338 to make a vow concerning "le droit de chest pais."22 The phrase subsequently took on a life of its own, being used later to justify territorial claims in France.23 The actual campaign in France may well be alluded to in Sir Richard's oath on "Saynt Quyntyne" (l. 1258). The name not only refers to a third century Christian martyr, Saint Quentin, but to the town in northern France that was the site of the first encounter between Edward III and King Philip VI. In September 1339 Edward moved his army from Antwerp into the Cambrésis and by mid October he was at Thierache, close to St. Quentin, near where Philip VI was encamped. Philip initially offered to encounter the English, but he changed his mind, and Edward had to withdraw to Brussels.24 In a poem so sparing of allusion, the references to "In Englonde ryght" and "Saynt Quyntyne" are significant clues to the whereabouts of Sir Richard and in turn what king he served under. The unfolding pattern of references to Edward III continues when we consider the theme of a major plot element that occurs in fitts seven and eight of the Gest.
For mani men to him er wroth
in Fraunce and in Flandres both,
for he defendes fast his right (Poem III, ll. 5-7)
Oure king and his men held the felde
stalwortly with spere and schelde,
and thoght to win his right (Poem IV, ll. 49-51)
With Edward think thai for to fight
him for to hald out of his right (Poem VIII, ll. 36-7)
King Edward III and the Subject
When one considers the genre of the final section of the Gest in which the references to the king are concentrated, the connection with Edward III receives additional support. These references fall in the last 411 lines of the 1824-line poem. The king is not identified as Edward until line 1412, the last line of fitt 6, and his name is repeated once in fitt 7 at line 1533 and again in fitt 8 at line 1799. Similarly, after line 1412, the descriptive phrase "oure comly kynge" is repeated six more times in the final two fitts. These concentrated references strongly suggest that the story of King Edward meeting Robin Hood in the forest was derived from another poem with the same theme. Francis Child and William Clawson have identified the story type as "The King and the Subject," in which there is a meeting between a king, usually unrecognized as such, and a subject of lower rank.After talking with him as an equal, the king's true identity is revealed and the subject is rewarded or pardoned.25 As analogues to a seventeenth-century ballad, King Edward IV and a Tanner of Tamworth, Child (no. 273) cites (but surprisingly does not print) two even earlier ballads, King Edward and the Shepherd (Cambridge, University Library Ff.5.48, fols. 40v-56v) and King Edward and the Hermit (Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 6922); both manuscripts are dated c. 1450.26
Works such as King Edward and the Shepherd and King Edward and the Hermyt clearly preserve the tradition that Edward III made a habit of meeting his lower-rank subjects incognito, either in disguise or impersonating an official from the court; listening to their complaints about various injustices; taking a meal from them (during which he discovers that they have been poaching his game); engaging in a drinking game involving the exchange of nonsensical toasts; and inviting the shepherd or friar back to court, where, after a meal, the king's real identity is revealed and the poacher is pardoned and rewarded. The king referred to in King Edward and the Shepherd is without question Edward III because of the allusions to his Windsor birthplace ("For in your towne borne I was," l. 43), to the Welsh birthplace of his father, Edward II ("My fadur was a Walsshe knyght," l. 96), to his mother, Isabella of France ("Dame Isabell my modur hyght," l. 98), to his steward, the Earl of Stafford ("Sir Raufe of Stafforde," l. 629), to Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster (l. 677), to John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey (l. 678), and to his son, the Black Prince (l. 972). These historical references clearly date the fictitious plot to "not long after 1340," which is, I am claiming, the same time depicted in the Gest.27 The monarch in King Edward and the Hermit is likewise called "Edwerd" and the accompanying adjective "god" suggests Edward III rather than Edward II, who was widely unpopular and deposed in 1322.
These two ballads, moreover, share a number of plot elements and verbal expressions with the Gest, which suggests that they--or similar stories like them--were the models behind King Edward's meeting with Robin Hood in fitts 7 and 8. The meal served to the king, who interestingly calls himself "Ioly Robyn" (l. 617), by Adam the Shepherd bears comparison to the one served to Sir Richard by Robin Hood in the Gest (ll. 125-32): the first course consists of white bread, two-penny ale, a pheasant, a crane, and other fowls such as heron, curlews, bitterns, mallard, and a swan. Once Adam is sure he will not be reported for poaching, he produces a second course of spiced rabbit pie, venison, and fine red wine, and they proceed to play the drinking game "Passilodion." Similarly, Robin serves King Edward a meal of white bread, venison, red wine and brown ale (ll. 1569-72), and although there is no drinking game they do play the shooting game of "buffet" (l. 1597). Another more elaborate meal is served by Robin to Sir Richard in the first fitt, and it is here that we find the swans, pheasants, and "foules of the ryvere" (ll. 125-32). Both Sir Richard and King Edward compliment their hosts after the meal.28 And both works place an emphasis on the custom of hand-washing before the meals.29 The reference to hand-washing is but one of many verbal parallels in both works.30 As for King Edward and the Hermyt, the setting in "Scherwod" provides the first of a number of close parallels in plot elements and language to the Gest. InHermyt the king is enticed into the forest by his forester's promise of a great-headed deer. Plunging into Sherwood he overrides his retinue, only to find himself alone at nightfall and searching for shelter. He then meets the hermit friar, who makes his living by poaching the king's deer and bartering them for bread and ale. This episode closely parallels the scene in the Gest (ll. 721-52) when Little John, disguised as Reynolde Grenelefe, entices the Sheriff of Nottingham into Sherwood with the promise of a "ryght fayre harte." Like the king in the Hermyt, the sheriff wishes to see that sight and rides off alone only to fall into the hands of Robin Hood, the "mayster-herte." In both episodes it is mentioned that this encounter occurs five miles from Nottingham. While all ballads share a common formulaic diction, the Gest and theHerymt seem especially close: both use "gan" as the marker for the simple past ("gan he saye/ he gan sey"; both share a similar diction ("on a rowe," "tray and tene"); and both have the identical asseveration ("by hym/God that dyed on tre").31 Thus, there is nothing in either the Shepherd or the Hermyt to preclude their having been used as the sources for the "King and the Subject" theme in the Gest.
In both poems Edward III is remembered as a king who not only is concerned about what his subjects think of him but is committed to redressing the injustices committed by his officials. This cultural memory receives further confirmation in Thomas Hoccleve's translation of Aegidius Colonna's De regimine principum, written in 1411-12, in which the London clerk adds numerous references to both his personal life and to the social and political events of his time. The poem, addressed to the young Henry, Prince of Wales, offers advice to the future Henry V under fifteen rubrics. In the section, "Of Justice," Hoccleve advises Henry to find out what his subjects think of him because he is bound to help and to relieve them; he must also discover if his officials are oppressing the people and redress their wrongs. Like the "benyngne Edward þe laste," he should go among the people "in symple array allone" in order "To here what men seide of þi persone."32
Edwardian Cultural Practices in the "Gest of Robyn Hode"
If my identification of the historical context is correct, we should be able to situate some of the Gest's other feudal, military, legal, and social practices in the reign of Edward III. This section considers four historical forces that shaped the poet's depiction of fourteenth-century culture in the poem: archery, bastard feudalism, criminal gangs, and mercantilism.
A close link between the Gest and the reign of Edward III is archery. Although archers had been used as infantry troops in battles throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, they were, as Bradbury asserts, likely crossbowmen instead of longbowmen.33 If longbows were present, they did not play an important role until the Scottish wars of independence during Edward II's reign. The turning point in the use of the longbow was the battle of Boroughbridge in 1322, when the rebel cavalry was defeated "because of the number and density of the arrows which the archers shot against them and their horses" (Bradbury, p. 87). The subsequent English victories over the Scots at Dupplin (1322) and Halidon Hill (1333) forged the standard tactic of using dismounted men-at-arms with pikes and massed groups of archers shooting arrows with longbows "as thik as motes on the sonne beme" (Bradbury, p. 90). During the Hundred Years War the longbowmen emerged as the decisive element in the English victories at Sluys, Crécy, and Poitiers. As Prestwich notes, so many archers were recruited that Edward III was forced to pardon 1800 criminals in return for military service at the siege of Calais.34 In 1341 the crown ordered that 7700 bows and 130,000 sheaves of arrows be stockpiled in the Tower of London (Prestwich, p. 192). The status of the archers increased to the point that their exploits were celebrated in the political poems and songs of the day. The hero of Laurence Minot's Poem XI, on the capture of Guisnes (1357), is John of Doncaster, an archer at Calais, who with the aid of thirty freebooters captured the French town by scaling the walls, killing the guards, and surprising the garrison at night.35 When we recall that Doncaster, located between Barnsdale, Sherwood, and Nottingham, is mentioned three times in the Gest, the link between a real yeoman archer and Robin Hood becomes plausible. Indeed, the Gest directly reflects the golden age of archery in its eleven scenes devoted to extolling the prowess of archers in hunting, tournaments, and domestic disorder.
The role of skilled archers in the Gest is easily documented because Robin and his men never lack venison with which to feed their many "guests," including Sir Richard (l. 125), the sheriff (l. 761), and King Edward (l. 1569). Deer hunting, moreover, draws Robin back to the forest after fifteen months in the king's service: "Me lyste a lytell for to shote/ At the donne dere" (ll. 1783-84), and as soon as he returns to Barnsdale he "slewe a full grete harte" (l. 1785). The poem is largely silent about the harsh forest laws of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that protected "vert" and "venison." Trespasses on "vert" (mainly cutting wood) are not mentioned at all, reflecting the fact that the boundaries of the royal forest were no longer in dispute in the fourteenth century. Offenses against venison, however, are numerous, but King Edward, who goes to investigate the disappearance of his deer in "Plomtom Parke" (l. 1427), ends up pardoning Robin Hood, which is precisely what Edward III did in June 1369, when, as Young relates, he "granted a special pardon to all except forest officials themselves who had committed forest offenses as recognition for the 'great aids' the Parliaments had granted him." 36
There are other historical overlappings as well. Edward III's arrayers held tournaments as recruiting tools to identify the local talent. At the beginning of the third fitt, Little John, disguised as Reynolde Grenelefe, demonstrates his archery prowess by splitting the wand--a slender stick stuck in the ground in front of the target. Impressed with his skill, the sheriff offers to retain him as a knight for a fee of twenty marks a year and a good strong horse (ll. 597-608). In the fifth fitt the sheriff again organizes a tournament, and this time Robin Hood takes part and wins the prize of a silver and gold arrow (ll. 1127-80). Similar competitions were ordered by Edward III to be held throughout the country. In a Close Roll, dated 1363, Edward orders the sheriff of Kent to "cause to be proclaimed that everyone in the shire, on festival days when he has holiday, shall learn and exercise himself in the art of archery, and use for his games bows and arrows, or crossbolts or bolts, forbidding all and single, on our orders, to meddle or toy in any way with these games of throwing stones, wood, or iron, playing handball, football, 'stickball,' or hockey, or cock-fighting, or any other games of this kind, which are worthless, under pain of imprisonment."37 Interestingly, the only games (other than wrestling) played in theGest are two "pick-up" shooting matches involving King Edward. In the first the archers shoot at two rose-garlands setup fifty paces apart, the loser forfeiting his archery gear and suffering a "buffet" or cuff on the head. In the first round Little John and Scarlock miss the target and Robin "smote them full sore." When Robin takes his turn, he too misses the garland and the king knocks him to the ground (ll. 1585-1630). The second game, "plucke buffet," is similar to the previous one, but in it Robin and King Edward, now dressed in Lincoln green, shoot at targets while riding on horseback towards Nottingham (ll. 1689-1704).
There are more deadly uses of archery too. Right after the archery contest in Nottingham, when Robin reveals himself by winning the silver arrow, the sheriff springs his trap by ordering his archers to attack:
Full many a bowe there was bent,Wounded in the knee by an arrow, Little John begs Robin to kill him by cutting off his head, but Robin refuses, carrying him to safety. A short time later, Robin returns to town with seven score archers, confronts the sheriff, and kills him with an arrow (ll. 1385-88). Motivated by self-defense and revenge, these woundings and killings seem to be justified, but Much's cold-blooded murder of the defenseless monk in fitt four (ll. 889-92) cannot be excused on any grounds.
And arowes let they glyde;
Many a kyrtell there was rent,
And hurt many a syde. (ll. 1193-96)
Another link between the Gest and Edward III is bastard feudalism. As J. M. Maddicott relates, the poem "speaks the language of bastard feudalism and it is the language of the fourteenth century rather than of the thirteenth."38 Michael Hicks defines bastard feudalism as "the set of relationships with their social inferiors that provided the English aristocracy with the manpower they required."39 Men were bound together by periodic payments of money rather than grants of land, and it could be a positive mechanism for stability, order, and justice, but, paradoxically, it could, in the wrong hands, lead to the perversion of justice, criminal feuds, and anarchy (Hicks, p. 2). Some of the abuses include embracery (bribing of judges, jurors, and witnesses), maintenance (support of one's own or another's legal cause instead of proper legal process), and champerty (supporting a false legal claim for a share of the profits). The key to understanding bastard feudalism lies in the nature of the indentured retainer, who served his lord in the upper and lower households, on the land as a tenant, in the courts and parliament as an extraordinary retainer, and on the battlefield as a paid man-at-arms or archer. Those retained not only received an annual fee but often wore the lord's livery, which consisted of distinctively-colored clothing. Although evidence for livery and fee can be found as early as Edward I's reign, the fourteenth century is considered the "century of unbridled livery," and from 1305 on complaints to Parliament were constantly being made. Acts and ordinances outlawing the practices were passed numerous times, but these attempts were thwarted by the powerful magnates and barons who were determined to retain jurisdiction over their own affairs.
A striking example of maintenance in the Gest occurs when Sir Richard at the Lee goes with Little John to the Abbey of St. Mary's in York to repay his loan of £400 to the abbot. Upon entering the hall, he discovers that the abbot, sheriff, and a high justice are dining together. In order to reveal the avariciousness of the abbot, Sir Richard pretends not to have the payment and begs for an extension. Upon learning this, the abbot, sensing the knight's default, proposes a toast to the justice whom he has retained to represent his financial dealings. The lawyer then retorts "Thy daye is broke...Londe getest thou none" (ll. 421-22). Whereupon when Sir Richard requests that the justice defend him from his enemies, the lawyer suddenly reveals that he has been retained by the abbot "Both with cloth and fee" (l. 426). The sheriff also refuses to help him. The justice then suggests that the abbot give Sir Richard a payment so he will release the claim to his land. The abbot offers £100 (a ridiculously low sum), which the justice raises to £200, but the knight refuses the offers saying that the abbot and justice will never be his heirs. Emptying the £400 on the table, the knight has exposed the greed, corruption, and collusion of the abbot, sheriff, and justice. The illegal nature of these activities is further revealed when we realize that Sir Richard has been denied due process under the common law. Had he not paid back the loan on the appointed day, the abbot would have had the right to seek a writ for an action of debt from Chancery. Addressed to the sheriff, the writ would have ordered the knight to appear in the king's court to answer the complaint. If found in default, he would not have lost his property but only those moveables up to the amount of the debt owed.40 It is clear, then, that the abbot, in collusion with the sheriff and justice, was trying to pull a fast one.
Although the numerous other references to livery and fee in the poem cannot be dated precisely, they point to a time, as Keen suggests, "when liveries and personal badges were in everyday use" (p. 137). As "maister" (l. 99) of a retinue or "meyne," Robin Hood dresses his recruits in scarlet or Lincoln green liveries. He gives the disheveled Sir Richard at the Lee a livery to replace his tattered clothing (l. 176) and, after capturing the sheriff, he dresses him in a green mantle (l. 775). Little John retains the sheriff's cook with two changes of livery annually (ll. 679-80). And the king himself purchases 33 yards of green cloth from Robin Hood to array himself and his men (ll. 1669-86). The offer of a livery may be accompanied by the mention of a fee. Impressed by his archery skills, the sheriff offers Little John, disguised as Reynolde Grenelefe, "Twenty marke to thy fee" (l. 600), but Little John replies that he has to obtain the permission of his master first. Little John later offers to retain the sheriff's cook by offering him twenty marks (ll. 681-82), which Maddicott notes (p. 278) is a typical fee for the period. Finally, Robin Hood, while serving as a retainer in the king's court for fifteen months, spends the 100 pounds that he received from the king as his fee (ll.1731-32).
What is generally not recognized in discussions of livery in the Gest is that Robin Hood and Little John are engaging in privileges reserved for the aristocracy--in the feudal system lords give liveries, not yeomen. Like the sumptuary laws against ostentatious apparel worn by the lower classes,41 the livery ordinances prohibited knights, squires, or "any other of less estate" from giving liveries. Even the lords were prohibited from giving liveries other than to members of their own households. In the statute on livery of 1390, lords were furthermore prohibited from giving liveries "to any 'vallet' called a yeoman archer nor to any other person of lower estate than esquire unless he is a family servant living in the household."42 These regulations, however, did not apply when the country was at war, because, as we have already seen, indentured soldiers were routinely supplied with liveries, fees, and even coats of arms. The giving and receiving of liveries and fees by and to yeomen and menials in the Gest is noteworthy, as these practices mark a time of social change when the lower classes and criminal gangs were imitating the aristocracy.
The problem of criminal gangs was especially acute in the early years of the reign of Edward III. In his study of the Folville gang, which operated with impunity for twenty years from 1326 to 1346, E. L. G. Stones remarks:
...we have in the trailbaston commissions, the general commissions of oyer and terminer, the peace commissions, and elsewhere, a more or less stereotyped picture of the work of bands of felons who are active (it seems to be implied) all over England: disturbers of the peace are said to gather together daily to do evil; they ride in force by day and night taking and robbing people at their will, imprisoning some of them until they have made grievous (or sometimes 'intolerable') ransoms. They form congregations and illicit conventicles, and wander in woods and other public and private places, ambushing wayfarers whom they rob and sometimes slay. In all these things they are aided and abetted by local people, who incite them to their evil deeds and shield them after they are done.43
The leader of the Leicestershire gang, Eustace Folville, was accused of five murders, including that of Roger Bellers, a baron of the exchequer, in 1326, and a host of robberies, rapes, beatings, extortions, and ransomings, notably that of Richard Willoughby, a justice of the King's bench in 1331 (Stones, 118-24). Another gang, led by James Coterel and his brothers, terrorized Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, including Sherwood forest, from 1328 to 1332. These were no common criminals but "gentlemen," probably the younger sons of landed gentry, who, when they were not committing crimes such as robbery, extortion, and murder, often by hire, were serving in Edward III's wars in Scotland and France while holding public office as bailiffs and even M.Ps.44 These gangs also had lieutenants, recruits, organization, division of labor, maintainers, and laws. Eustace Folville is called "capitalis de societate" (Stones, p. 131), while one of James Coterel's lieutenants, Roger de Sauvage, referred to the group as "la compagnie sauvage" (Bellamy, p. 707). A jury transcript reveals that James Coterel was accused of recruiting twenty members in the Peak district and Sherwood forest (Bellamy, p. 705). In addition to committing robberies and murders, the gangs extorted money by sending threatening letters to their enemies, and these blackmail attempts were written in a "stilo regio" or royal style. One of these letters has survived from the time of Edward III, and it clearly reveals that the gang leaders styled themselves as "kings" of an alternative society. Addressed to Richard de Snaweshill, parson of the Yorkshire church at Huntington, the letter, written in French in 1336, commands in the name of "Lionel, King of the Rout of Raveners" that the parson remove a priest from his office in the vicarage of Burton Agnes and replace him with a rival claimant. This remarkable letter deserves to be printed in full.
Lionel, King of the rout of raveners salutes, but with little love, his false and disloyal Richard de Snaweshill. We command you, on pain to lose all that can stand forfeit against our laws, that you immediately remove from his office him whom you maintain in the vicarage of Burton Agnes; and that you suffer that the Abbot of St. Mary's have his rights in this matter and that the election of the man whom he has chosen, who is more worthy of advancement than you or any of your lineage, be upheld. And if you do not do this, we make our avow, first to God and then to the King of England and to our own crown that you shall have such treatment at our hands as the Bishop of Exeter had in Cheep (Bishop Stapledon was murdered there in 1326); and we shall hunt you down, even if we have to come to Coney Street in York to do it. And show this letter to your lord, and bid him to cease from false compacts and confederacies, and to suffer right to be done to him whom the Abbot has presented; else he shall have a thousand pounds worth of damage by us and our men. And if you do not take cognizance of our orders, we have bidden our lieutenant in the North to levy such great distraint upon you as is spoken of above. Given at our Castle of the North Wind, in the Green Tower, in the first year of our reign.45This letter, as E. L. G. Stones asserts, is an extraordinary document "with its allusions drawn at one extreme from romance and at the other from the harsh realities of contemporary legal process" (p. 135). In addition to being written in the "royal style"-- "King of the Rout of Raveners," "We command you," "in the first year of our reign"-- the letter expresses moral indignation at those who use "false compacts and confederacies" to advance the career of a relative at the expense of fairness and equity. And, since the law is no remedy, Lionel appeals to a higher law in order to justify his threats, which, significantly, are not directed at the King of England but to corrupt church officials. The attempted intimidation is, however, less than admirable because Lionel's services have been paid for by a real Abbot of St. Mary's York, whose literary counterpart in the Gest tried to despoil Sir Richard at the Lee.
Thus, the existence of criminal gangs in the second and third decades of the 14th century provides yet another connection with the early Robin Hood ballads, in which the same kind of "gentrified" behavior, coupled with brutal violence, obtains. In addition to giving liveries and fees, Robin Hood is repeatedly described as acting in a "courteous" manner (the word "curteyse" is used 17 times). He will not eat his dinner until he is visited by an "unkouth gest," preferably a knight or a squire (l. 22-24). Before sitting down to a dinner of swans, pheasants, and venison, Robin and his guest wash and wipe their hands (l. 125). After the meal, Robin outfits his guest, Sir Richard at the Lee, with a horse, boots, spurs, and a scarlet livery (ll. 277-312). After Sir Richard is captured by the sheriff, his wife goes into Sherwood to ask Robin for a boon (ll. 1335-44). Robin shows respect to his social superiors by lowering his hood and kneeling (115-16), whereas the high cellarer refuses to lower his hood (ll. 903-04).
Although Robin's behavior here is based on the social imagery of the gentrified criminal gangs, it also likely reflects other societal changes as well, notably the emergence of criminal behavior associated by Richard Tardif with urban yeoman guilds, which arose in towns early in the reign of Edward III.46 The origins of these guilds or fraternities can be traced to the changing economic conditions in the early fourteenth century. Beginning in the reign of Edward II wage-labor and money-rents were increasingly replacing customary labor and villein services. As McKisack observes, land was being purchased "by knights, gentry, free peasants, and pushful villeins" and the legal and social distinctions between freemen and villeins were becoming blurred (p. 328). The practice of commuting labor services for money-rents was further encouraged by the European famine of 1315-17, dismal weather conditions, political chaos, and Edward III's war taxation in the years 1335-45 (McKisack, pp. 329-31). Following the first wave of bubonic plague in 1348-49, the resulting population decrease produced a labor shortage, which affected wages, prices, and farm production, and led to a population shift from manors to villages and towns, where the mobile freemen and villeins sold their trades to the highest bidders. The flood of new laborers came into conflict with the established craft guilds or livery companies, which monopolized each craft by restricting the number of new members, by controlling the trade in their towns, and by requiring members to pay dues and buy expensive liveries. Excluded from membership, the workmen or journeymen formed their own inferior guilds, called yeoman guilds.47 It is from this new underclass of urban workers, Tardif claims, that many of the fourteenth-century criminal bands emerged. Accusations against these groups included both felonies (homicide, burglary, larceny) and trespasses (conspiracy, extortion, intimidation by threat of violence, rioting, assault). In 1364, for instance, when the drapers attempted to control the sale of cloth in London, the lesser misteries, who also wanted to engage in wholesale trade, rioted in the City. The rumor, which turned out to be false, was spread that "10,000 Londoners would rise and kill all the best people, and the great folks and officers of the City."48 Moreover, a new type of trespass emerged in the mid-fourteenth century having to do with the economic offenses of "the taking of excessive prices, the giving or receiving of excessive wages, quitting one's master or normal locality of residence, refusing to work at the proper wage rates or even to work at all."49 Most of the examples cited by Tardif are in fact drawn from these types of offenses: journeymen laborers--carpenters, skinners, cordwainers, armorers, weavers--violating both the guild ordinances and parliamentary statutes such as the Ordinance of Labourers (1349) and the Statute of Labourers (1351).
Tardif (pp. 139-42) finds in these yeoman fraternities links to the depiction of the social ideology of Robin Hood with its good yeomanry (Gest, l. 3) and "felaushyp" (Gest, l. 914); recruitment of working class members (the Sheriff's cook in the Gest, ll. 676-84); emphasis on giving of liveries and fees; idea of training new apprentices (Robin offering to teach the Sheriff the craft of outlawry, ll. 793-96); economic function (Robin selling cloth to King Edward, ll. 1669-72); and patronage by the Virgin Mary (Robin's special devotion to the Virgin, ll. 35-38).
There are other similarities as well, making it clear that the poet has appropriated the ideology of the urban livery companies, not just the yeoman fraternities, in his depiction of the outlaw gang's organization, goals, and activities. According to William Herbert, the chief officer of a guild was called "master" or "warden," and the organization was a "brotherhood" or "fellowship" of freemen.50 In the Gest Robin is addressed as "maister" (ll. 19, 99, 101, 277, 601, 825), while his associates are "brethern" (ll. 106, 865), "felowes" (ll. 56, 684), and "companye" or "meyné" (ll. 124, 560, 1048, 1054, 1204, 1228, 1242, 1342, 1656). Each guild was governed by both a royal charter and a set of ordinances. Seven of the twelve Great Livery Companies of London were chartered by Edward III, revealing a close tie between commercial interests and royal favor.51 Generally speaking, the guilds were pro-monarch and pro-war as long as their monopolies were protected.52 In the Gest we see the same adulation of monarchy. When King Edward, disguised as an abbot, displays the king's targe, Robin drops on his knees and exclaims: "I love no man in all the worlde / So well as I do my kynge" (ll. 1541-42). And as soon as the king is recognized, he pardons Robin Hood and his men of their crimes (including the murder of the sheriff) and invites them to serve him at court.
A number of the guild ordinances are also echoed in the Gest. One of the primary functions was charity or alms toward less fortunate members. In addition to founding almshouses, the guilds collected dues for a common fund, out of which members were paid who had become impoverished due to "adventures on the sea, or by the advanced price of merchandize, or by borrowing and pledging, or by any other misfortunes." The affected members were given a daily stipend, "meat, drink, and clothing." Moreover, members could borrow money from the guild, but they had to promise to repay the loan "on a given day."53 In the Gest, after discovering Richard at the Lee's financial plight, Robin orders Little John to go to his "tresouré" and count out £400 because "It is almus to helpe a gentyll knyght, / That is fal in poverté" (ll. 275-76). Robin's generosity, however, is tempered by customary mercantile practice because, as we will see shortly, he expects Sir Richard to repay the loan in twelve months. Another guild ordinance concerning perjury may be related to the game of "truth or consequences" in the Gest. If a guild member makes an oath contrary to the truth, he "shall be put out of the feliship for evrmore with[out] any redempcion" (Herbert, I, 49). If a guest in the poem lies about the amount of money in his possession, he is robbed, but if he tells the truth he is allowed to keep his money. It will be recalled too that the sheriff swears an oath not to injure Robin or harm any of his men (ll. 806-13), but after the archery contest he attacks the outlaws and severely wounds Little John. Robin is horrified because the sheriff has broken the oath he made in the forest (ll. 1185-88).
The guild ordinances also governed the company's ceremonies, such as feasting, pageants and "shews," and "ridings" or processions, all of which have parallels in Robin Hood. Each guild held an annual feast on its patron's feast-day, during which elections were held and officers--the master, wardens, assistants, and clerk--were chosen. The grocer's feast was held on St. Anthony's day in 1345, and the brothers, wearing their liveries, assembled "to commune and dine together" (Herbert, I, 75). The surviving bills of fare indicate that the election-dinners were lavish affairs with multiple courses of swan, capons, venison, partridges, bread and wine. Each member was assessed a fee that went toward the cost of the meal, and non-attending members were fined. (Herbert, I, 75-77). As we have already seen, in the Gest Robin will not eat until he is accompanied by a "guest" or a newly-recruited member and, following the meal, the newcomer is assessed a fee. The guests include Sir Richard (ll. 125-32), the sheriff (ll. 761-64), the high cellarer of St. Mary's (ll. 921-24), and King Edward (ll. 1565-72). In addition, after Little John recruits the sheriff's cook, the two of them sit down to a fine meal (ll. 685-88). Sir Richard's meal is especially grand as his bill of fare includes "brede and wyne," "noumbles of the dere," "swannes" and "fessaunts," and "foules of the ryvere" (ll. 125-32). The guilds also sponsored pageants, minstrels, and "shews" or plays. After the feasting in the guild hall, the election ceremonies took place, followed by entertainment and plays. Minstrels, often accompanied by musicians, performed dumb shows or mummings and even plays.54 For evidence of entertainment in the Gest we need only look at the poem itself with its opening formula, "Lythe and listin, gentlemen...I shall you tel of a gode yeman"; its frequent use of speech designations, "sayde Lytil Johnn"; its oral transitions, "Now lete we that monke be styll / And speke we of that knyght"; and the large amount of dramatic dialogue (the ratio of dialogue to narrative being 3 to 1). Thus, it may not be far-fetched to suggest that poems like the Gest were recited or even dramatized by minstrels in the guild halls of the merchant companies.55 Another important function of the guilds was to participate in processions on horseback to welcome and escort dignitaries, including the monarch, into London. During the coronation procession of Henry IV in 1399, the "new king was escorted by prodigious numbers of gentlemen, with their servants in liveries and hoods; and the different companies of London, led by their wardens, were clothed in their proper liveries, and bore banners of their trades" (Herbert, I, 90). A similar "riding" or mounted procession occurs at the end of the Gest when Robin and his company, all wearing Lincoln green liveries, accompany King Edward from Sherwood into Nottingham (ll. 1687-1708).
Additional links with mercantile practice are seen in three episodes
in the Gest in which
Robin Hood plays the role of a "merchaunt" and a money-lender. In the first
fitt, as we have seen, Robin offers to help the impoverished knight, Sir
Richard, by lending him £400 to pay off his loan to the Abbot of
St. Mary's. Moreover, Little John suggests that they give him a "lyveray"
because his clothing is "full thynne" (ll. 277-80). Robin can well afford
the gift because there is "no marchaunt in mery Englond / So ryche, I dare
well say." Robin replies by commanding Little John to "Take hym thre yerdes
of every colour" and warns him to make sure it is well measured (ll. 285-86).
Little John proceeds to measure out the cloth with the stave of his longbow,
adding three additional feet with each handful. Concerned about the display
of excess, Muche the Miller's Son exclaims: "What devylles drapar...Thynkest
thou for to be?" (ll. 291-92). Will Scarlok then laughs, saying that John
can afford to give him "gode mesure" because it isn't costing him anything
(ll. 295-96). The roles played by Robin and Little John are those of "merchaunt"
and serving-man or apprentice, and it is John who recklessly miss-measures
the cloth, not Robin. The scene has nothing to do with Robin's "largesse,"
as Douglas Gray suggests; instead, the scene dramatizes the friction between
a master guildsman and his lesser tradesman.56
Furthermore, by using the bow-stave to measure the cloth, Little John is
resisting the authority of the established cloth guilds--the Draper's Company
and the Merchant Tailors--to impose the standard measure or "Silver Yard"
on cloth dealers in the provincial towns. These guilds, which had absolute
jurisdiction over the manufacture and sale of cloth, wielded their royally-chartered
power by searching shops in order to make sure that the proper yard measure
was used. Fraudulent cloth merchants were punished by fines and even imprisonment.
(Herbert, I, 46-48). Thus, when Little John uses the bow-stave, which is
some 67 inches in length instead of 36 inches, as a measure, he is challenging
the right of the guild merchants, symbolized by Robin Hood himself, to
intimidate the lesser tradesmen. That Robin is cast as cloth merchant occurs
again in the scene at the beginning of the eighth fitt in which King Edward
asks Robin if he has any green cloth to sell:
"Haste thou ony grene cloth," sayd our kynge,Robin replies:
"That thou wylte sell nowe to me?"
"Ye, for God," sayd Robyn,Although the text does not depict the actual sale, it does imply that a deal was made and coin exchanged for Lincoln green cloth.
"Thyrty yerdes and thre." (ll. 1669-72)
Sharp business practices also characterize Robin's loan to Sir Richard. Before agreeing to lend him £400, Robin asks for a "borowe" or guarantor, and when the knight pledges God himself, Robin turns him down flat, demanding a "better borowe...Or money getest thou none" (ll. 255-56). The knight next offers the Virgin Mary as his "co-signer," and Robin, who is devoted to Our Lady, heartily accepts and orders Little John to get the gold from his "tresouré." The fact that this is a loan and not a gift is made clear when Robin states that the £400 is to be repaid in twelve months to the day. A year later, Robin impatiently waits for the knight to arrive, but he is late because he stopped to help a yeoman at a wrestling match. Twice Robin expresses concern that the Virgin Mary, who guaranteed the loan, is angry at him because she has not sent him his payment (ll. 822-24, 939-40). When Sir Richard finally arrives with the payment, Robin forgives the amount because he has just robbed the high cellarer of St. Mary's Abbey of £800, twice the amount owed by Sir Richard. The Virgin has not let Robin down after all because, as Robin claims, the monk is Mary's messenger. Even Robin's language reveals his obsession with money: "pay," "money," "sylver," "cofers," "marke," "peny," "pounde" (ll. 941-92). Moreover, when we compare the episode to its probable source, we are surprised to learn that the Gest poet has cast Robin Hood in the role of Abraham, the Jewish money-lender in The Merchant's Surety, two versions of which survive in Middle English, dating from c. 1390 and c. 1450.57 These dates may give us an insight into the Gest's date of composition, which we will turn to next.
Date of Compilation and the Fifteenth-Century Political Context
As noted earlier, the Gest is constructed from a variety of pre-existing sources, including ballads, a miracle of the Virgin, and romance elements. Although the poet-compiler showed considerable skill in interweaving some of the plot elements, he created a number of inconsistencies that can only be explained by the process of "compilatio," or the stringing together of multiple sources.58 To his sources the poet, as Clawson argues, added a quantity of bridgework derived from now-lost poems or his own invention.59By date we are referring to the time when the extant poem was constructed or compiled, and not the time it was set in black type. The dates of the printed versions appear to be too late for the collation of the text because the activities of Edward III would have long lost their meaning and force. Some textual deficiencies and misprints in the early printings point to the existence of an earlier copy text that has not survived.60 An early date in the fourteenth century is not plausible because we would expect to find some contemporary references to the poem or to the legend itself, and there are none. With the exception of some surnames in court records, 61 the earliest mention of the "rymes of Robyn Hood" is in the B-text of Langland's Piers Plowman, dated 1377.62 As Maddicott clearly demonstrates, the references to Robin Hood multiply considerably between 1377 and 1450, proving "that by the mid-fifteenth century Robin Hood was a universally known figure, and one literally proverbial."63
The case for a fifteenth-century Gest rests on the following points. As we have already seen, Middle English inflectional forms continued well into the fifteenth century, so their presence in the poem need not indicate a fourteenth-century date. Furthermore, in order for the allusions "In Englonde ryght" and "Saynt Quyntyn" to be intelligible to the audience, they had to connect to some popular cultural memory within, let us say, one or two generations of Edward III's death in 1377, or sometime in the reigns of Henry V (1413-22) or Henry VI (1422-61). As late as 1436 (14 Henry VI) the author of theLibel of English Policy claims that there were "olde knyghtes" still living who witnessed Edward III's victories in France.64 This cultural memory was triggered by parallel political and economic events such as the revival of the Hundred Years War in Henry V's reign and the continuing economic concerns over keeping the English Channel open for the wool trade. Like his great grandfather Edward III, Henry V claimed that he was the rightful king of France; and like Edward, he invaded France with men-at-arms and archers and won great military victories, such as Agincourt in 1415, Harfleur in 1416, La Hogue and Caen in 1417, Falaise in 1418, and Rouen in 1419.
To keep the memory of Edward III alive, poets and chroniclers, such as John Lydgate, Thomas of Elmham, and Thomas Walsingham, recounted his glorious victories over the French. In The Kings of England sithen William Conqueror, Lydgate calls Edward "enheritour of Fraunce," having "gat Caleis bi his prudent devis."65 In the De Henrico Quinto, Thomas of Elmham reconstructs Henry V's speech on the eve of Agincort in which he exhorts his men to remember the deeds of Edward III.66 And Thomas of Walsingham, in Ypodigma Neustriæ, gives a detailed account of Edward's reign, including his military prowess.67 Moreover, in the popular poems of the day, both Edward III and Henry V were lionized by the merchant class for their maritime policies of protecting the trade routes to the continent and for their bellicose support of Calais as the mercantile bridgehead. When Calais was threatened by the duke of Burgundy's defection to the French cause in 1436, a flood of popular patriotic poetry reminded Henry VI of the exploits of his famous predecessors.68
Given the mercantile ideology embodied in the Gest, it seems probable that the poem was commissioned by one of the fifteenth-century guilds -- possibly the Drapers or the Merchant Tailors in light of the numerous references to cloth and liveries -- to commemorate Edward III not only as the protector of the English Channel but as the founder of seven of the twelve Great Livery Companies. The Gest then appears to register what Michael Nerlich calls a "change in consciousness" from the courtly-knightly ideology of adventure to a new mercantile self-awareness (and self-fashioning), where the virtues--martial prowess, active risk-taking, solidarity, patriotism, and largesse--previously embodied in the landed nobility have been conserved, imitated, and adapted by the urban merchant classes, who are the producers and consumers of the early poems and plays of Robin Hood.69
Thanks are due to Ann W. Astell, James Cruise, Stephen T. Knight, and Melinda Zook, who read earlier drafts of this essay. Research for this study was conducted at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, the British Library, and the Institute for Historical Research in London during a sabbatical leave from Purdue University in fall 1996.
1. The manuscripts are: Cambridge, University Library Ff.5.48, folio 128v (Robin Hood and the Monk); Cambridge, University Library Ee.4.35, folio 14v (Robin Hood and the Potter).
2. Seven printed editions and fragments of the sixteenth century are
listed by Francis James Child, The
English and Scottish Popular Ballads, III (New York: The Folklore
Press, 1957), pp. 39-40. William Hall Clawson, in The
Gest of Robin Hood (Toronto: Univ. Of Toronto Studies, 1909), adds
some significant textual information, pp. 1-3 A fuller analysis is provided
by R. B. Dobson and J. Taylor, eds., Rymes
of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw (Wolfeboro,
NH: Alan Sutton, 1989), pp. 71-74, 312. All subsequent citations to these
works will be parenthetical. The printed editions are:
a) A Gest of Robyn Hode, lacking date, place, or printer's name, now in the National Library of Scotland. Usually attributed to the Antwerp printer Jan van Doesborch, c. 1510. Also known as the "Lettersnijder" edition. This version preserves 202 stanzas out of 456.
b) A lyttel geste, of Robyn Hode and his meyne, and of the proude sheryfe of Notyngham. Printed at London by Wynkyn de Worde, c. 1500-34. The unique copy is now Cambridge, University Library, Sel.5.18. The colophon mentions that it was "Enprented at London in fletestrete at the sygne of the sone"; Clawson, noting that Wynken de Worde did not move to Fleet Street until the latter part of 1500, concludes that the terminus a quo should be 1500, not 1492 as suggested by Child.
c) Douce fragments in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (e.12, f.1, f. 51), probably sixteenth century.
d) A mery geste of Robyn Hode and of hys lyfe, wyth a newe playe for to be played in Maye games very plesaunte and full of pastyme. Printed at the Three Cranes Wharf, London, by William Copland, c. 1560.3. J. M. Gutch, ed.,A Lytelle Gest of Robin Hood, I (London: Longman, 1847), p. vii; Child, p. 40; Clawson, pp. 3-6; Maurice Keen, The Outlaws of Medieval Legend, 2nd. ed. (London and New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1987), p. 100; P. R. Coss, "Aspects of Cultural Diffusion in Medieval England: The Early Romances, Local Society and Robin Hood," Past and Present, 108 (1985), 68; and J. C. Holt, Robin Hood, 2nd. ed. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1989), p. 15.
e) Edward White's reprinting of Copland, London, c. 1590.
4. All of the Middle English inflectional forms from the Gest listed by Clawson, pp. 4-5, are also found in the fifteenth-century Winchester manuscript of Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur: a) singular nouns ending in e ("kynge," "nyghte," "herte," "bedde"); plural nouns ending in es ("dayes," "enemyes"); genitive nouns ending in es ("kynges hooste," "knyghtes record"); adjectives ending in e ("grete," " passynge"); infinitives ending in e ("brynge," "nourisshe"); present indicatives in e ("counceille," "departe," "ryde"). The Works of Sir Thomas Malory, ed., Eugene Vinaver (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1954), pp. 2-4.
5. David C. Fowler, A Literary History of the Popular Ballad (Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press, 1968), pp. 10, 72-80; R. B. Dobson and J. Taylor, p. 74; Douglas Gray, "The Robin Hood Poems," Poetica, 18 (1984), 23; Stephen Knight, Robin Hood: A Complete Study of the English Outlaw (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), p. 47.
6. Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales, eds. Stephen Knight and Thomas Ohlgren (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997).
7. Maurice Keen, The Outlaws of Medieval Legend, p. 143. There were four kings named Edward: Edward I, 1272-1307, Edward II, 1307-27, Edward III, 1327-77, and Edward IV, 1461-83.
8. Joseph Hunter, "The Great Hero of the Ancient Minstrelsy of England: Robin Hood, his period, real character etc. investigated," Critical and Historical Tracts, IV, (London: Smith, 1852), pp. 28-38; Dobson and Taylor, p. 13.
9. J. C. Holt, Robin Hood, pp. 47 and 51.
10. Stephen Knight, Robin Hood, pp. 47-48.
11. The Poems of Laurence Minot, ed. Joseph Hall (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1914); The Poems of Laurence Minot, ed. Richard H. Osberg (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996). All textual citations are to Osberg's edition. Not much is known about Minot's life other than that he was from a prominent Yorkshire family, members of which performed military service as knights against the Scots. A relative may have been Sheriff of Northumberland in the 1330's; a Michael Myniot was the king's wine merchant in 1338; and Thomas Minot was Archbishop of Dublin from 1363 to 1375 (Hall, pp. x-xii).
12. The poems occupy folios 52-57v. While the section begins on a new leaf, it ends in the middle of the first column of text on folio 57v where the next poem, the Gospel of Nicodemus, begins, proving that Minot's poems were copied from another, presumably earlier, source. The renewed interest in Minot's poetry, written almost a century earlier, is due, according to Osberg, not only to "the interest awakened in the exploits of Edward III by Henry V's successes in France" but also to the propagandistic efforts of the Dukes of Bedford and Gloucester to support young Henry VI's claims in France (p. 2). Osberg locates several links specifically to Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, who was Henry VI's uncle. On folio 3 a later scribe added seven lines from the poem, On the Siege of Calais, 1436, which also appears in full on the fly-leaf on folio 113v. This poem falsely exaggerates the actions of Gloucester in raising the siege at Calais (Osberg, p. 3).
13. As an adjective or noun, "comly" has three principal meaning in the Middle English Dictionary (s.v.): 1) referring to appearance: beautiful, fair, handsome, stately; 2) referring to noble birth or bearing; 3) referring to behavior, manner, or dress. Of the 43 citations, ranging in date from 1225 to 1500, the adjective + noun combination, "comly king," occurs seven times, ranging from "comlokest kyng" (referring to King Arthur) in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (c. 1390) to "þe comle kynge in the Wars of Alexander (c. 1500). Middle English Dictionary, ed., Hans Kurath (Ann Arbor: Univ. Of Michigan Press, 1954-). This listing, however, is incomplete as I have located additional examples: in the 1413 Digby poem, God kepe oure kyng, Henry V is "Oure comely kyng"; in the Agincourt Carol (1415), Henry V is called "þat kny3t comely"; and in Willikin's Return (1470), Henry VI is "houre combely kyng hary." The verse, "Þe crowne of þat comely kyng," also appears in Somer Soneday, but the king in this elegiac poem is not named. Robbins speculates that the dead king is Edward II, who, in spite of his misdeeds, was a sympathetic figure to some of his supporters. For the texts of the four poems, see Historical Poems of the XIVth and Xvth Centuries, ed., Rossell Hope Robbins (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1959), pp. 45, 91, 98, 198 and the note on 301-3.
14. John Bellamy, Robin Hood: An Historical Enquiry (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1985), p. 73.
15. W. M. Ormrod, The Reign of Edward III: Crown & Political Society in England 1327-1377 (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1990), p. 103. The standard period of service was forty days, but it could be extended to "as long as the king desires"; see also H. J. Hewitt, The Organization of War under Edward III 1338-62 (Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 1966), p. 34.
16. J. R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster 1307-1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1970), p. 45.
17. For a detailed account of Richard II Fitzalan's career, see The Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 7 (Oxford, 1967-68), pp. 96-7. See also M. A. Tierney, History and Antiquities of the Castle and Town of Arundel (London, 1834), pp. 225-40.
18. Robert Hardy, "The Longbow," in Arms, Armies and Fortifications in the Hundred Years War, eds. Anne Curry and Michael Hughes (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1994), p. 166.
19. Elizabeth Hallam, ed., Four Gothic Kings (New York: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987), p. 277.
20. Sir William de Caverswalle is listed in Wrottesley's account as one of the knights in Edward III's division at the battle of Crécy, not Arundel's. And, although Richard at the Lee is not specifically identified as a knight, he was probably a man-at-arms or hobelar. The index to Wrottesley's volume lists a total of eight Lees and Leghs [alternate spellings of the same name; see P. H. Reaney and R. M. Wilson, A Dictionary of English Surnames (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1995), p. 274] as having served in the French campaigns, but only one Richard. See George Wrottesley,Crecy and Calais from the Original Records in the Public Record Office (London: Harrison & Sons, 1898), p. 186. In an early fourteenth-century survey of Earl Arundel's estates, we find a Robert atte Lee, who held one-sixth of a knight's fee, and a Richard atte Lee, who is simply described as a tenant; see Marie Clough, Two Estate Surveys of the Fitzalan Earls of Arundel, Sussex Record Society, 67 (1969), 134, 136. There is, in addition, a Legh connection with Nottingham: in 1265 John de Grey, who married the de la Legh heiress, Nicholaa, was appointed sheriff of Nottingham and constable of Nottingham castle. The de la Legh family owned extensive estates in Befordshire, Buckinghamshire, and Hertfordshire; see William Farrer, Honors and Knight's Fees, 3 vols. (London: Spottiswoode, 1923), I, pp. 70-71. There is, finally, Sir John de Legh, knight of Shropshire, who was not only an outlawed member of the fourteenth-century Coterel gang but a soldier who went on various military campaigns by order of the Crown in 1314, 1330, and 1333. His maternal grandfather was Richard de Legh, lord of High Legh. See J. G. Bellamy, "The Coteral Gang: an Anatomy of a Band of Fourteenth-Century Criminals," English Historical Review, 79 (1964), 698-717. All any of this proves, I think, is that the Lee/Legh name was sufficiently familiar to the Gest compiler to allow him to construct a composite fictional character.
21. In Robin Hood: An Historical Enquiry, John Bellamy treats the Gest as a historical document, mining it for nuggets of empirical "truth" in his attempts to locate real-life models behind the Sheriff of Nottingham, Sir Richard at the Lee, the Abbot of St. Mary's, Sir Roger of Donkesly, Little John, and Robin Hood himself. The Gest, however, is not aCalendar of Close Rolls or a Rotulus Parliamentorum--it is a work of literature in which social reality has been transformed and rearranged by the human imagination. It is at best a palimpsest, in which the historical script lies buried beneath other scribal hands.
22. Political Poems and Songs Relating to English History Composed during the Period from the Accession of EDW. III to that of RIC. III, ed. Thomas Wright (Rolls Series, vol. 14, part 1), pp. 12-13.
23. To celebrate King Henry V's victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, a popular song, On the Battle of Azincourt, quotes the young king as saying to his troops: "for as I am trew kynge and knyght, for me this day schalle never Inglond rawnsome pay; erste many a wyght man schall leve is weddes, for here erste to deth I wil be dyght, and therfore, lordynges, for the love of swete Jhesu, helpe mayntene Inglondes ryght this day" (Wright, Political Poems and Songs, II, p. 124; my italics).
24. May McKisak, The Fourteenth Century, p. 127. The noun "quintain" may have also had special resonance because, according to the MED (s.v.), it is an object for tilting at and a target for arrows.
25. Francis Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, V, pp. 67-75; William Clawson, The Gest of Robin Hood, pp. 102-17. Early examples of this genre include the famous story in Asser's Life of King Alfred in which the king takes refuge with his cowherd and is scolded by his wife for burning her cakes. In the Speculum Ecclesiae of Giraldus Cambrenisis (about 1216), King Henry II, separated from his hunting party, spends the night in a monastery.
26. Both texts are in Ancient Metrical Tales, ed., Charles H. Hartshorne (London: William Pickering, 1829), pp. 35-80, 293-315.
27. Another edition of "King Edward and the Shepherd" is in Middle English Metrical Romances, eds. Walter Hoyt French and Charles B. Hale (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1930), pp. 949-85. Interestingly, the poem is preserved in the same Cambridge manuscript as Robin Hood and the Monk, the earliest datable Robin Hood text.
28. Sir Richard compliments Robin by saying: "Such a dinere had I nat/ Of all these wekys thre" (ll. 135-36), which, incidently, suggests that he has been traveling, presumably from abroad. Likewise, King Edward praises Adam the Shepherd, "Here is better þen þou he3tist me" (l. 299).
29. Before Robin and Sir Richard sit down to eat, they "wasshed togeder and wyped bothe" (l. 125), while in Shepherd, the ritual occurs before the meal at court (l. 887), but Adam, who also fails to surrender his staff and mittens and lower his hood, does not participate. For the custom of hand-washing, see Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process: The History of Manners (New York: Urizen Books, 1978).
30. To give but a few examples: use of "did of" (Gest, l. 115) and "did adowne" (Shepherd, l. 757) hoods; use of "can" or "con" + infinitive to indicate preterite, as in "can gone"/ "can gon" (Gest, l. 892, Shepherd, l. 217); use of metrical slot fillers and rhyme tags, such as "without any lesynge" (Gest, l. 1286, Shepherd, l. 81), "for soth as I the say" or "tell the" (Gest, l. 1354, Shepherd, l. 99), and "God lende us well to spede" and "so God me spede" (Gest, l. 610, Shepherd, l. 137).
31. They also share the expressions "So mote I the," "by hym that me made/ bouht," "an elle long," and "I shall you tel of a gode yeman" / "Off a kyng I wyll you telle."
32. For the full text of this passage, see The Regement of Princes, vol. III. Hoccleve's Works, ed. Frederick J. Furnivall (London: Kegan Paul, 1897), pp. 92-93. See also Child, V, 71.
33. Jim Bradbury, The Medieval Archer (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1985), p. 77.
34. Michael Prestwich, The Three Edwards: War and State in England 1272-1377 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980), p. 193. For a discussion of the charters of pardon, see H. J. Hewitt, The Organization of War under Edward III, pp. 29-31.
35. Joseph Hall, The Poems of Laurence Minot, p. 96.
36. Charles R. Young, The Royal Forests of Medieval England (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1979), p. 147.
37. English Historical Documents 1327-1485, ed. A. R. Myers (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1969), p. 1182.
38. J. R. Maddicott, "The Birth and Setting of the Ballads of Robin Hood," English Historical Review, 93 (1978), 278.
39. Michael Hicks, Bastard Feudalism (London and New York: Longman, 1995), p. 1.
40. Arthur R. Hogue, Origins of the Common Law (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1966), pp. 12-13. See also Theodore F. T. Plucknett, A Concise History of the Common Law. 5th ed. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1956), pp. 362-65. For an account of an action of debt, see English Historical Documents 1327-1485, pp. 1075-79.
41. For a translation of the sumptuary law in the Statutes of the Realm (1363), see English Historical Documents 1327-1485, pp. 1153-55.
42. English Historical Documents 1327-1485, pp. 1116-17.
43. E. L. G. Stones, "The Folvilles of Ashby-Folville, Leicestershire, and Their Associates in Crime, 1326-1347,"Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th series, 77 (1957), p. 131. See also Andrew McCall, The Medieval Underworld (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1979), pp. 104-7.
44. J. G. Bellamy, "The Coterel Gang," p. 716.
45. Maurice Keen, The Outlaws of Medieval Legend, p. 200.
46. Richard Tardif, "The 'Mistery' of Robin Hood: A New Social Context for the Texts," in Words and Worlds: Studies in the Social Role of Verbal Culture, ed. Stephen Knight and S. N. Mukherjee. (Sydney: Sydney Association for Studies in Society and Culture, 1983), pp. 130-45.
47. English Historical Documents 1327-1485, p. 943.
48. Pamela Nightengale, A Medieval Mercantile Community: The Grocers' Company & the Politics & Trade of London 1000-1485 (New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1995), p. 219.
49. John Bellamy, Crime and Public Order in England in the Later Middle Ages (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973), p. 33.
50. William Herbert, The History of the Twelve Great Livery Companies of London, 2 vols. (London: Published by the Author, 1836-37; reprint, New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1968), I, p. 51. In the records of the Guild of Garlekhith , founded in London in 1375, the chief officer is called "maistre," the members are "bretheren." and the organization is a "bretherhede"; see also Toulmin Smith, ed., English Gilds. EETS, O. S. 40 (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1870; rpt. 1963), pp. 3-5. For a history of London guilds, see George Unwin, The Gilds and Companies of London (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1908).
51. Herbert I, xiv-xv. Goldsmiths, Merchant Tailors, Skinners 1 Edw. III (1326/7); Grocers 27 Edw. III (1352/3); Salters 37 Edw. III (1362/3); Drapers, Vintners 38 Edw. III (1363/4).
52. To raise the vast funds needed for his war-machine, Edward carefully cultivated the London merchants and financiers, such as Reginald Conduit and William Pole, who acquired "unprecedented importance" and formed "a separate estate of the realm"; see George Unwin, ed., Finance and Trade Under Edward III (New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1918; rpt. 1962), p. 142.
53. Herbert I, 49. The ordinance of the Guild of St. Katherine, Aldersgate, London contains the following provision regarding poverty, old age, illness, and loss: "Also, 3if it so befalle þat any of þe bretherhede falle in pouerte, or be anientised thorw3 elde, þat he may nat helpe hym-self, or thorw3 any other chaunce, thorw fyr or water, theues or syknesse, or any other happes, so it be nat on hym-selue along, thorw3 his owne wrecchednesse, þat he schal haue, in þe wyke, xiiij.d." (Smith, English Gilds, pp. 6-7). As for loans, the Guild of the Smiths of Chesterfield stipulated the following conditions: "When any one has borrowed any money from the guild, either to traffic with or for his own use, under promise to repay it on a given day, and he does not repay it, though three times warned, he shall be put under suspension, denunciation, and excommunication,--all contradiction, cavil, and appeal aside,--until he shall have wholly paid it" (Smith, p. 170).
54. Herbert I, 84-85. See also Lawrence M. Clopper, ed., Chester. Records of Early English Drama. Toronto: Univ. Of Toronto Press, 1979, pp. lix-lx.
55. Although the guilds are chiefly identified with the production and performance of the major cycle plays or "mysteries" during the Feast of Corpus Christi in Chester, Coventry, Wakefield, and York, they also participated in other dramatic performances throughout the year, including the Christmas plays of St. George, the Hock Tuesday plays, mummeries, and the Whitsuntide king games and combat plays. Few scripts of the play-games survive because they were largely improvisational in nature. A rudimentary 21-line fragment from East Anglia, dated 1475-76, does survive, and it indicates the kind of lesser plays that were performed all over England and Scotland throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; for a recent edition and discussion, see Paul W. White, Robyn Hod and the Shryff off Notyngham, pp. 267-78 in Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales. For a gazetteer of references to Robin Hood plays before 1600, see David Wiles, The Early Plays of Robin Hood (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1981), pp. 64-66; see also Stephen Knight,Robin Hood, pp. 262-88, and Ian Lancashire, Dramatic Texts and Records of Britain: A Chronological Topography to 1558 (Toronto: Univ. Of Toronto Press, 1984), numerous entries under "Robin Hood" and individual guilds in the General Index.
56. Douglas Gray, "The Robin Hood Poems," p. 29. Little John is clearly reacting to Robin's command to make sure that the cloth is "well mete" (l. 286), which suggests that the solidarity of the outlaw band is being threatened from within by conflict. Similar strife between Little John and Robin is seen in Robin Hood and the Monk (ll. 35-62) and Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne (ll. 31-46).
57. Although there are significant differences between the version in the Gest and the Middle English miracle, the opening plot elements and language are strikingly close: both the knight and the merchant love the Virgin; both are impoverished (due to differing circumstances); both are asked to pledge security for a loan; both offer the Virgin as their "borowe"/ "borwe"; in both it is proclaimed that the Virgin will never "fayle"; both swear that they will repay the loans on a certain day; and, finally, Little John and the Jew make sure that the money is "wel tolde"/ "wel itold." For the text of "The Merchant's Surety," see pp. 44-49 in Beverly Boyd, The Middle English Miracles of the Virgin (San Marino, CA: The Huntington Library, 1964). Another edition is in Carl Horstmann, The Minor Poems of the Vernon MS, EETS, O.S. 98 (1892), 157-61.
58. Into the story of Robin Hood and the Knight, which is developed in five separate episodes in the first four fitts, the poet intercalates the stories of Little John and the Sheriff (ll. 573-816) and Robin Hood and the Monk of St. Mary's (ll. 849-1040), thereby delaying the resolution of the main plot. There are also major inconsistencies, proving that the poet-compiler was stringing together disparate sources: there are two separate characters named "Reynolde Grenelefe" (see ll. 597, 1171); there is confusion about the location of Robin's abode in the forest (Barnsdale or Sherwood?); and, similarly, there are contradictions concerning the location of Sir Richard's home ("Verysdale" in Lancashire or near Nottingham?). Critics have also been puzzled by the fact that the Sheriff of Nottingham exercises his jurisdiction in Yorkshire, suggesting that there were originally two different cycles of outlaw stories. For a discussion of the episodic interlaced structure of the Gest, see J. B. Bessinger, Jr., "The Gest of Robin Hood Revisited," in The Learned and the Lewed, ed. Larry D. Benson (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1974), pp. 363-68.
59. Clawson credits the compiler with the creation of fifteen episodes out of a total (by his count) of twenty-seven. Eight of the invented scenes concern Sir Richard at the Lee. See Clawson, pp. 125-27.
60. For a list, see Child, III, p. 40. It is of course not possible to ascertain the manipulation of the copy text by the compositor, but it can be assumed, as N. F. Blake observes, that the compositor of William Caxton's translation of The History of Reynard the Fox exercised some freedom in changing spelling and word order as well as in adding or omitting material. See N. F. Blake, ed. The History of Reynard the Fox (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1970), pp. xlviii-xlix.
61. Knight, Robin Hood, pp. 262-63.
62. The often quoted confession of Sleuthe (Sloth) in Passus V, ll. 401-03, is as follows:
I can nou3te perfitly my pater-noster as þe prest it syngeth,From Piers Plowman, ed. J. A. W. Bennett (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972), p. 49. Langland had not apparently read the Gest because, as we have seen, a miracle of the Virgin Mary is at the heart of the poem. Since it is hard to miss Robin's almost obsessive devotion to the Virgin in the earliest surviving ballads, it is unclear what rymes Langland had in mind.
But I can rymes of Robyn Hood and Randolf erle of Chestre,
Ac neither of owre Lorde ne of owre Lady þe leste þat euere was made.
63. J. R. Maddicott, "The Birth and Setting," pp. 277-78. See also the list of references up to 1600 in Stephen Knight,Robin Hood, pp. 262-88.
64. Thomas Wright, Political Poems and Songs, II, p. 198.
65. The Minor Poems of John Lydgate, Part II Secular Poems, ed. Henry N. MacCracken. EETS, 192 (1934); rpt. 1961, 715, 720.
66. The relevant part of Henry V's speech is as follows:
Rex dixit reliquis, "Consortes, arma parate;("The King said to those remaining, 'Prepare for battle, comrades-in-arms! The English rights must, indeed, be brought before God. They point to several battles fought in the memory of King Edward--Edward the leader. With few select Englishmen a great victory is being marked. This could never been done with their forces.'"] Charles A. Cole, ed.,Memorials of Henry the Fifth, King of England. (Rolls Series, vol. 11) (London: Longman, 1858), pp. 120-21.
Anglica jura quidem sunt referenda Deo;
Edwardi Regis, Edwardi principis isto
Jure notant memores prælia plura data.
Cum paucis Anglis victoria multa notatur:
Hoc nunquam potuit viribus esse suis."
67. Ypodigma Neustriæ a Thoma Walsingham, ed. Henry T. Riley (Rolls Series, vol. 28, part 7), pp. 265-323, especially 277-92.
68. See "The Siege of Calais," pp. 78-83, "Mockery of the Flemings," pp. 83-85, and "Scorn of the Duke of Burgundy," pp. 86-89, in Robbins, Historical Poems, as well as "On the Siege of Calais," pp. 151-56, and "The Libel of English Policy," pp. 157-205, in Wright II.
69. Michael Nerlich, Ideology
of Adventure: Studies in Modern Consciousness, 1100-1750, vol. 1(Minneapolis,
MN: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1987), pp. 60-69.