The Guild Hall pictured alongside belonging to the “Company of Merchant Adventurers of York” was built in 1357 courtesy of King Edward III by a group of influential men and women who came together to form a religious fraternity called the “Guild of Our Lord Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary” which may account for Robin’s frequent mentions of the Blessed Virgin?
They were a religious and charitably based mutual association having on their premises a hospital for the care of the poor, feeble and orphans and as we can see there is a strong religious element in both the Gest and in real life. They were free to risk, or 'adventure' their money wherever they wished which is where the name came from and as York is on the River Ouse with easy access to the sea they were able to trade around England and on the continent including Holland, Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Iceland and the Baltic.
John Gisbourne traded in wool, cloth, wine and lead and other commodities were fish, food, iron, wood, dyes, fur and salt. When Thomas Grissop died in 1446, he left a will showing that his shop was filled with wonderful imported goods leather, furs, purses, hats, paper, glasses, spices and sugar. Basically they were importing and exporting and interestingly there is a record of a ship in Aberdeen c.1438 named "Robin Hood."
Once a year the various Guilds produced a Corpus Christi play that was appropriate to their particular trade, the man playing Noah was probably a shipwright and the dyers which was Robin’s trade acted out the trial of Jesus by Herod and provided the white robe Jesus wore that speaks of purity. The Gest was a notable adventure or exploit presented as a comic interlude in which apocryphal and satirical elements were added in an account of "things done."
During Robin's travels through Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire as a journeyman and later as a tradesman it would be strange if nothing ever happened to provide the basis for the stories in the Gest and an example from real life is Gisbourne himself who flees the city of York for his own safety not once but twice. Paving the way for future Hollywood productions the "Ballad of Robin Hood and Guy of Gisbourne" ends with Robin Hood dramatically killing Gisbourne, no doubt to rousing cheers from players and audience alike with the Sheriff of Nottingham (Robert-de-Morton) being shot through the heart as he flees for home back to Conisborough Castle with a well aimed arrow from Gisbourn’s bow shot by Little John.
Membership increased until in 1564 the master had 24 assistants and in 1603 there were at least 200 members. It isn’t known how many there were in the beginning but the figures aren’t dissimilar from the “Merry Men” which means “famous men” and many of its members are equally prominent today. There are four honorary members who are Prince Phillip, who has been a member for 50 years, Prince Charles, the Ex-Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, now Lord Carey of Clifton and Margaret Thatcher, the only woman member.
Today the Adventurers Guild are busier than ever and the Bristol Venturers have a nursing home, accommodation for old mariners and clergymen and they have donated money and buildings to several homelessness projects including the Cold Weather Shelter, a youth housing scheme and The Big Issue.