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                            Our Comly King

In the ballad A Lytell Geste of Robyn Hode, the king is referred to as "Edward our comly king" no less than seven times. Comly meant "handsome". There is no reference to King Richard I in the Gest, a widely held myth encouraged by John Major, SirWalter Scott in his  Ivanhoe and sundry mass- marketed films. Looking at their portraits which one might it have been? The three Plantagenet Edwards, the Three Neds, reigned in succession from 1272 to 1377:

Edward I
   Edward I, 1272-1307
Edward II
    Edward II, 1307-27
Edward III
 Edward III, 1327-77


There is some evidence that Edward I was at Nottingham in 1299 whilst preparing to amass troops throughout England for the siege of Caerlaverock [1300] which may have given him time to visit the forest around Nottingham.
Joseph Hunter noted that Edward II had in 1324 a "valet de chambre" with the name of Robin Hood, though there was no indication that he had been in trouble with the law. Professor James C. Holt discussed the connection with some scepticism, but also felt that some of the events in the seventh and eighth fyttes had a basis in historical fact (Robin Hood, 1989, pp. 155-56). He noted that after the execution of Thomas earl of Lancaster in 1322, the earl's supporters committed wide-spread acts of vengeance, including the pillaging of the king's deer in the royal forests, and that, as in the Gest, Edward II himself travelled to the area to investigate these disturbances. There is little doubt that Edward II was a tall, strong king who liked wrestling, swimming, and oddly, digging ditches, thatching roofs and other physical pursuits. Despite the fact that he liked acting, playing kettle drums and enjoyed fine and bizarre clothing he was certainly no effeminate as sometimes portrayed in mass-media entertainment.
Knight has suggested that Edward IV, may best fit the description our 'comly kynge' (in lines 1457, 1513, 1549, 1637, 1727), as his period of rule (1461-83) is not inconsistent with the argument that the Gest is composed much later than has usually been thought (1994, pp. 46-48).
We might identify the king in fyttes seven and eight as Edward III, because Laurence Minot refers to him as Edward, oure cumly king in line 1 of Poem IV, which was composed about 1339 to commemorate Edward III's invasion of France at the beginning of the Hundred Years War (Richard Osberg, ed., The Poems of Laurence Minot, 1333-1352, Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996)1.  
Another, almost unthinkable possibility, is that the Gest is referring to two or more 'Edwards' and these have been conflated within the ballad.
Certainly Edward I was more popular than Edward II, whilst the author of the Gest may have been purposely vague in order to impress the then incumbent, Edward III.

 8th Fyte of the Littel Gest of Robyn Hode.
"Haste thou ony grene cloth," sayd our kynge,                'Have you any green cloth' said the king'
"That thou wylte sell nowe to me?"                                 'That you will sell to me now?'
"Ye, for God," sayd Robyn,                                           'Yes for God's sake' said Robyn'
"Thyrty yerdes and thre."                                               'Thirty three yards.'

"Robyn," sayd our kynge,                                              'Robyn' said the king,
"Now pray I the,                                                           'Now I pray to you,
Sell me some of that cloth,                                             Sell me some of that cloth,                                          
To me and my meyné."1                                                To me and my many men.'                                        

"Yes, for God," then sayd Robyn,                                  'Yes, for God,' then said Robyn, 
"Or elles I were a fole: 2                                                                 'Or else I would be a fool:
Another day ye wyll me clothe,                                       Another day you will clothe me,
I trowe, ayenst the Yole."3                                              I trust against Christmas'  

The kynge kest of his cole then,4                                                Then the king cast down his cowl,
A grene garment he dyde on,                                          Putting on a green garment,
And every knyght had so, iwys,                                      And every knight did the same,
Another hode full sone.                                                   with a hood just as quickly.

Whan they were clothed in Lyncolne grene,                   When they were clothed in Lincoln green,
They keste away theyr graye:                                        They threw away their grey:
"Now we shall to Notyngham,"                                     'Now we shall travel to Nottingham'
All thus our kynge gan say.                                            was all our king could say.


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1. Meyne = many men; company

2. Fole = fool

3.Yole = for Yule = for Christmas

4. Throws off his black cowl. The king adopts Robyn's green livery. 

  The king unmasked mp4

 

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The Gest of Robin Hood - The Rochester University Project.

© Tim Midgley, 2000, revised 9th December 2018.

Robin Hood search for the Truth | Robin Hood Places | Hood surname statistics | Robin Hood of Wakefield | Robert Hood of Newton | The Pinder of Wakefield Marian | Friars | Loxley and 'Huntington' | Myriads of Robin Hoods | Ballads of Robin Hood | Kirklees | The Armytages of Kirklees | Little John | Roger De Doncaster | The Penurious Knyght | Our Comly King  | Shire Reeve | Priory of Kirklees | Wakefield Rolls | Saylis of the Geste- a new site | Robert III Butler of Skelbrooke | Barnsdale and the Geste | De Lacis of PontefractAlice De Laci and John of GauntBarnsdale Gallery | Stephen II Le Waleys a suspected compiler of the Geste