The work of yeoman varied depending on the job they were doing. The word yeoman initially described the middle class ‘yonger men’ who were charged with keeping the law in both forest and manor. They were to protect the vert and venison of the forest for the gentry whether they be lord, king, baron or knight and were to uphold the law of the manor after the fashion of bailiff or constable having a duty of care towards such places as bridges and the local church.
Then in 1252 King Henry III introduced the Assize of Arms that required all landowners with an annual income between 40 to a 100 shillings to be armed and trained with a longbow (warbow). The more wealthy yeomen were also required to possess a sword, buckler, dagger and to be trained in their use. Neither must we forget the new class of yeoman farmer who came into his own after the Black Death (1338-50) and although Robin had a great deal of respect for the farmer Robin is described as a yeoman archer.
Further development occurred to the word “yeoman” when the vernacular English became the national language c. 1363 and the French word valet was superseded by the word yeoman which came to include such duties as Yeoman of the Chamber, Yeoman of the Crown, Yeoman Usher, King’s Yeoman, Yeomen of the Guard and of course Yeoman archer, the bow always being the weapon of the forester.
Yeomen were described as virtuous, cunning, skilful, courteous, and experts in archery, all of which describes Robin Hood. They acted as porters guarding baggage trains to protect them from robbers and they acted as escorts to the great nobles of the land including of course the king on their journeys across the realm and across sea including any pilgrimages they might make and this may be what Robin was doing when he rode with the King to Nottingham, “shooting arrows as they went.”
Yeomen of the Chamber were described as virtuous, cunning, skilful, courteous, and experts in archery, all of which describes Robin Hood. Yeomen of the guard acted as porters guarding baggage trains to protect them from robbers, they also acted as escorts to the great nobles of the land including of course the king on their journeys across the realm and across sea including any pilgrimages they might make. This along with Robin’s later business activities may explain his travels around the country.
Due to their military training yeomen became known as ‘yeomen archers’ and John of Gaunt who was the grandfather of King Henry IV and uncle to King Richard II retained 1,000 of the 4,500 men-at-arms and 3,000 of the 9,144 archers that composed the royal host. The famous ‘yeoman archers’ drawn from the Macclesfield Hundred and the Forest districts of the Cheshire region who were specially appointed as bodyguard archers for King Richard II.
The livery of archers associated with royalty is Lincoln Green. King Edward II had his men all clothed in green and after his death Roger Mortimer who ruled England for nearly four years as regent alongside Queen Isabella the wife of Edward II did the same. Queen Catherine the wife of King Henry VIII had her yeomen guard wear Lincoln Green and for travelling they wore grey as described in the Gest of Robin Hood. When Queen Elizabeth II is in Scotland her personal bodyguard is the “very antique Royal Company of Archers. Green-liveried and armed with longbows. Robin Hood and his men are said to have worn Lincoln Green and the Gest tells us Robin was in the service of the king.
Robins most famous accoutrement’s, his bow, arrows, and horn were the recognised tools and insignia of the local foresters that distinguished them from other bailiffs. (Holt) This would be when Robin left the service of the king and set out for Barnsdale to build a chapel to Mary Magdalene. Pictured above is Campsall Church which is dedicated to Mary Magdalene. It is two miles from Robin Hood’s Well at Barnsdale and replaced an earlier Saxon wooden church.
|Robin stood in the greenwood|
And leaned against a tree,
And by him stood Little John,
A good yeoman was he.
|You lie,” then said Little John,|
“And for that you will be sorry.
He (Robin) is a yeoman of the forest
And has invited you to dinner.”
|“Who is thy master?” Said the knight.|
John said, “Robin Hood.”
“He is a good yeoman,” said the knight.
“Of him I have heard much good.
The Hollywood image of Robin Hood is derived from Geoffrey Chaucer’s description of a knight’s yeoman in the Canterbury Tales as having a “cropped” head (long hair got caught in the bowstring), wearing a coat and hood of green, a sheaf of peacock arrows on his belt and a mighty bow in his hand. On his arm a bracer (arm band), by his side a sword and buckler (a small round, metal shield used in hand-to-hand combat) and on the other side a dagger. He also wore a silver Christopher on his breast, a horn and the baldric (a bag slung over the shoulder) was of green.
Chaucer worked as a page, a soldier, an esquire, a diplomat, a customs controller, justice of the peace, member of Parliament, Clerk of the Works of Westminster, Commissioner of Walls and Ditches, and Deputy Forester of the Royal Forest and like Chaucer Robin Hood had several strings to his bow. According to professor Holt the kings yeomen could look forward to honourable retirement in some forest office like Robert de Maulay who was made steward of Sherwood for life in 1334 and according to the Gest, Robin Hood and his men also became yeomen of the forest.