The Legend 3

Medieval life would not have been easy, rubbish and human waste were simply thrown out of windows onto the streets, and there were frequent outbreaks of typhoid and yellow fever. The workers earned little, and they had to pay rent to their landlords and taxes to the crown. It is easy to understand how tales of Robin Hood became popular with the common man; this is how he would like to have lived, a carefree life in the forest with a feast every day and money to boot. The ballads were not concerned with the politics or problems of medieval England, they are adventure stories meant to entertain and amuse. Although there were plays and songs of Robin, it is unlikely that the early ballads were ever actually sung, and they may be the expansion of an earlier written tradition, this must be the ‘rhymes of Robyn Hood’ mentioned in Langland’s Piers Plowman of c. 1377.

The romance Fulke le Fitz Waryn is about a rebel baron who was outlawed on a charge of treason in 1200. It was transcribed into prose around 1325, but the date of the original poem, which appears to be a eulogy to the late baron, is most likely to be around 1260. Fulk died around 1256, so this allowed little time for an oral tradition to develop, and this is probably what happened with Robin Hood. It is possible that rhymes were originally written down in the fourteenth century, and were known only to those who were literate. While the romance of Fulk was written in Anglo-Norman, there is no evidence the tales of Robin Hood were in any other language than English. The poem on Richard of Cornwall was already in English by 1264, probably composed a few months after his defeat at the battle of Lewes, however English was not widely used as a literary language until the middle of the fourteenth century; and it is not long after this, that ‘rhymes of Robin Hood’ came to light. Geoffry Chaucer (1340-1400) created a new literary standard with his Canterbury Tales, but prior to this the literary culture was French and Anglo-Norman.

The similarities between the Gest and the romance Fulke le Fitzwaren occur frequently, and in some parts are identical. Both Fulk’s and Robin’s main companions are called John, in both stories John brings a party of travellers back to the camp to dine, and towards the end of both stories, Robin and Fulk are united with their Kings. The Gest does not appear to be earlier than 1400, and has clearly borrowed from Fulke, which was originally written down in the thirteenth century.

There are links with other earlier outlaws: Eustace the Monk, and Hereward the Wake. Eustace lives as an outlaw in the forest, Hereward regains favour with the king, and they both show skill with arms. Both Eustace and Robin ask those they capture how much money they are carrying, if they tell the truth, they are allowed to keep it. Fulk fitz Warin, Eustace the Monk, and Hereward the Wake were real-life outlaws, but there were other legendary outlaws: Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudesley. Their adventures are based in Inglewood in Cumberland and Carlisle. These yeomen live off the royal deer in the greenwood and outwit the sheriff. They also have great skill with the bow, and their adventures are described in a long poem of 170 stanzas.

The bow in its many forms, has been used both in hunting and in battle long before recorded history, and has been part of English warfare since Roman occupation. Its full potential as the longbow may not have been realized in England until the thirteenth century, when it was to become a deadly weapon in battle. The longbow stood as tall as a man and could shoot an arrow more than two hundred yards. The arrows were carried in the archer’s belt, not in a quiver slung over the shoulder; this is the weapon traditionally used by Robin Hood.