Robyn and Gandelyn

Historians often slip into their various tomes on Robin Hood, the ‘ballad’ Robyn and Gandelyn and then try to dismiss it; by saying that ‘no way can the Robyn of the lyric be identified with the outlaw Robin Hood.’ But I feel it cannot be ruled out-but more on that later. In the meantime let’s look at this controversial and enigmatic tale.The unique manuscript dated from about 1450 was preserved in the Sloane MS 2593 and was first published by Joseph Ritson in 1790, and has been reprinted many times since. Francis. J. Child in his monumental English and Scottish Ballads (1858) (Vol. III, pp.12-13) pointed out that in regards to Robyn and Gandelyn, 'thought is free'. Child also goes on to quote Thomas Wright in his Songs and Carols, who remarks on the similarity of the name Gandelyn to Gamelyn in the tale assigned to the Cook in some manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales, and on the resemblance of the ‘Tale of Gamelyn’ to the Robin Hood story.
Walter Skeat (Oxford, 1893, p. ix) believed that the Robyn of this poem was Robin Hood, and that Gandeleyn is a mere corruption of Gamelyn from the Tale of Gamelyn. Douglas Gray, in his The Robin Hood Poems (1984) just described the ‘carol’ as ‘mysterious and evil’.
Below is a modern translation:


Robin lies in the greenwood wrapped in a shroud.
I heard the singing of a clerk,
All at the yonder wood's end,
Of good Robin and Gandelyn;
There was no other company.
Strong thieves those children were not,
But bowmen good and honorable;
They went to the woods to get some meat,
If God would send it to them.
All day went those children two,
And flesh they did not find,
Until it was again evening;
The children desired to go home.
Half a hundred of fat fallow deer
They came upon,
And all were fair and fat enough,
And blemishes there were none;
"By dear God," said good Robin,
"Of these we shall have one."
Robin bent his jolly bow,
Therein he set an arrow;
The fattest deer of all,
Its heart he cleft in two.
He had not flayed the deer,
Not half out of the hide,
When there came a shrewd arrow out of the west,
That felled Robin's pride.
Gandelyn looked east and west,
Be every side:
"Who has slain my master?
Who has done this deed?
I shall never go out of the greenwood
Till I see his sides bleed."
Gandelyn looked east and looked west,
And sought under the sun;
He saw a little boy
They call Wrennok of Donne.
A good bow in his hand,
A broad arrow therein,
And four and twenty good arrows,
Tied in a bundle:
"You beware, beware,
You shall have some of the same.
"Beware, beware, Gandelyn,
Of this you will get plenty.
""Ever one for another," said Gandelyn;
"Misfortune have he who should flee."
"Where shall our mark be?"Said Gandelyn.
"Each at the other's heart,"
Said Wrennok again.
"Who shall give the first shot?" Said Gandelyn:
"I shall give the one before."Said Wrennok again.
Wrennok shot a full good shot,
And he shot not too high;
Through the clothes of his breeches,
It touched neither thigh.
"Now you have given me one before,"
All thus to Wrennok he said,
"And through the might of our Lady
A better one I shall give you."
Gandelyn bent his good bow,
And set therein an arrow;
He shot through his green kirtle,
His heart he cleft in two.
"Now shall you never boast,
At ale nor at wine,
That you have slain good Robin,
And his knave Gandelyn."
"Now shall you never boast,
At wine nor at ale,
That you have slain good Robin,
And Gandelyn his servant."

Robin lies in the greenwood wrapped in a shroud.

No matter how many times I read this ballad- or carol as it sometimes called, I see something different in it. There is certainly an intoxicating mixture of elements. I love it. It takes us right back to our medieval past and possibly earlier. There are many who link it with the ancient ritual of hunting the Wren. Robert Graves (English and Scottish Ballads, 1957, pp. 149-50) thought that: 'Although this seems to be a ballad about Robin Hood the Archer, its real subject is the ‘New Year's hunting of the wren in vengeance of the robin murdered at midsummer'

The ‘Annual Wren Hunt’ is an ancient tradition wrapped in folk-lore and mythology, best described thus:

“At Yule, the Robin, symbolic of the waxing year, Kills the Wren, the bird symbolic of the waning year, A wren used to be sacrificed at midwinter solstice. It would be carried on a bed of holly and taken from house to house to ask for money. (To bury the wren) meaning to bury winter.”

So the wren was the symbol of the old year, a tradition that has possibly descended from Celtic mythology, killed by the robin, representing the new year. In Ireland, the men would hunt the wren on St. Stephen's Day, the day after Christmas. Christian legend said that the wren gave away the Christian martyr, St. Stephen as he hid in the furze from the Jews. This mythological association with treachery is a probable reason why in past times the bird was hunted by Wrenboys on St. Stephen's Day.

The boys would chase down the birds, beating them from bushes with long sticks and general carousing. Once the bird was dead, the boys would carry it around the town, singing. The song, of which there are many variations, asked for donations from the townspeople. Often, the young men gave a feather from the bird to patrons for good luck. The money was used to host a dance for the town, held that night. The Wren was then put on top of a pole which was decorated with ribbons, wreaths, and flowers and was the centre of the dance.

So in this haunting ritualistic piece I believe we can not only see glimpses of our ancient past, but also-from the shrouded ‘ good and honorable’ Robin, poaching deer in the forest with his ‘jolly bow’ -we also witness the evolution of the legend of the outlaw Robin Hood.
What do you think?

1 comment:

Clement of the Glen said...

Robyn and Gandeleyn

Robin Hood Ballads