Percy's Reliques - Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne.

Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne.

            [ 1]We have here a ballad of Robin Hood (from the Editor's folio manuscript) which was never before printed, and carries marks of much greater antiquity than any of the common popular songs on this subject.

            The severity of those tyrannical forest-laws, that were introduced by our Norman kings, and the great temptation of breaking them by such as lived near the royal forests, at a time when the yeomanry of this kingdom were every where trained up to the long-bow, and excelled all other nations in the art of shooting, must constantly have occasioned great numbers of outlaws, and especially of such as were the best marksmen. These naturally fled to the woods for shelter; and, forming into troops, endeavoured by their numbers to protect themselves from the dreadful penalties of their delinquency. The ancient punishment for killing the king's deer was loss of eyes and castration, a punishment far worse than death. This will easily account for the troops of banditti which lurked in the royal forests, and, from their superior skill in archery and knowledge of all the recesses of those unfrequented solitudes, found it no difficult matter to resist or elude the civil power.

            Among all those, none was ever more famous than the hero of this ballad, whose chief residence was in Shirewood forest, in Nottinghamshire; and the heads of whose story, as collected by Stow, are briefly these:

            "In this time [about the year 1190, in the reign of Richard I.] were many robbers, and outlawes, among the which Robin Hood, and Little John, renowned theeves, continued in woods, despoyling and robbing the goods of the rich. They killed none but such as would invade them, or by resistance for their own defence.

            "The saide Robert entertained an hundred tall men and good archers with suche spoiles and thefts as he got, upon whom four hundred (were they ever so strong) durst not give the onset. He suffered no woman to be oppressed, violated, or otherwise molested: poore mens goods he spared, abundantlie relieving them with that which by theft he got from abbeys and the houses of rich carles: whom Maior (the historian) blameth for his rapine and theft, but of all the theeves he affirmeth him to be the prince, and the most gentle theefe."-- Annals, p. 159.

            The personal courage of this celebrated outlaw, his skill in archery, his humanity, and especially his levelling principle of taking from the rich and giving to the poor, have in all ages rendered him the favourite of the common people, who, not content to celebrate his memory by innumerable songs and stories, have erected him into the dignity of an earl. Indeed, it is not impossible, but our hero, to gain the more respect from his followers, or they to derive the more credit to their profession, may have given rise to such a report themselves: for we find it recorded in an epitaph, which, if genuine, must have been inscribed on his tombstone near the nunnery of Kirklees in Yorkshire; where (as the story goes) he was bled to death by a treacherous nun to whom he applied for phlebotomy:

Hear underneath this little stean
laiz robert earl of huntingtun
nea areir ver az he sae geud
An pipl kauld him Robin Heud
sick utlawz az hi an is men
vil Engiland nivir si agen.
            obiit 24 kal. dekembris, 1247.[ 2]

            This epitaph appears to me suspicious: however, a late antiquary has given a pedigree of Robin Hood, which, if genuine, shows that he had real pretensions to the earldom of Huntington, and that his true name was ROBERT FITZ-OOTH.[ 3] Yet the most ancient poems on Robin Hood make no mention of his earldom. He is expressly asserted to have been a yeoman[ 4] in a very old legend in verse preserved in the archives of the public library at Cambridge,[ 5] in eight Fyttes or Parts, printed in black letter, quarto, thus inscribed: "C Here begynneth a lytell geste of Robyn hode and his meyne, and of the proude sheryfe of Notyngham." The first lines are,

"Lithe and lysten, gentylmen,
That he of fre-bore blode:
I shall you tell of a good YEMAN,
His name was Robyn hode.

"Robyn was a proude out-lawe,
Whiles he walked on grounde;
So curteyse an out-lawe as he was one,
Was never none yfounde." &c.

The printer's colophon is, "C Explicit Kinge Edwarde and Robin hode and Lyttel Johan. Enprented at London in Fletestrete at the sygne of the sone by Wynkin de Worde." In Mr. Garrick's collection[ 6] is a different edition of the same poem, "C Imprinted at London upon the thre Crane wharfe by Wyllyam Copland," containing at the end a little dramatic piece on the subject of Robin Hood and the Friar, not found in the former copy, called, "A newe playe for to be played in Maye games very plesaunte and full of pastyme. C (***) D."

            I shall conclude these preliminary remarks with observing, that the hero of this ballad was the favourite subject of popular songs so early as the time of King Edward III. In the Visions of Pierce Plowman, written in that reign, a monk says,

I can rimes of Roben Hod, and Randal of Chester,
But of our Lorde and our Lady, I lerne nothing at all.
Fol. 26. ed. 155C.

            See also in Bishop Latimer's Sermons [ 7] a very curious and characteristical story, which shows what respect was shown to the memory of our archer in the time of that prelate.

            The curious reader will find many other particulars relating to this celebrated outlaw, in Sir John Hawkins's Hist. of Music, vol. iii. p. 410, 4to.

            For the catastrophe of Little John, who, it seems, was executed for a robbery on Arbor-hill, Dublin (with some curious particulars relating to his skill in archery), see Mr. J. C. Walker's ingenious "Memoir on the Armour and Weapons of the Irish," p. 129, annexed to his "Historical Essay on the Dress of the Ancient and Modern Irish." Dublin, 1788, 4to.

            Some liberties were, by the Editor, taken with this ballad; which, in this edition, hath been brought nearer to the folio MS.

WHEN shaws[ 8] beene sheene,and shradds full fayre,
And leaves both large and longe,
Itt is merrye walking in the fayre forrčst
To heare the small birdes songe.

The woodweele sang, and wold not cease,
Sitting upon the spraye,
Soe lowde, he wakened Robin Hood,
In the greenwood where he lay.

"Now by my faye," sayd jollye Robin,
"A sweaven I had this night;
I dreamt me of tow wighty yemen,
That fast with me can fight.

"Methought they did mee beate and binde,
And tooke my bow mee froe;
If I be Robin alive in this lande,
Ile be wroken on them towe."

"Sweavens are swift, Master, quoth John,
As the wind that blowes ore a hill;
For if itt be never so loude this night,
To-morrow itt may be still."

"Buske yee, bowne yee, my merry men all,
And John shall goe with mee,
For Ile goe seeke yond wight yeomen,
In greenwood where the bee."

Then they cast on their gownes of grene,
And tooke theyr bowes each one;
And they away to the greene forrčst
A shooting forth are gone;

Until they came to the merry greenwood,
Where they had gladdest bee,
There were the ware of a wight yeomān,
His body leaned to a tree.

A sword and a dagger he wore by his side,
Of manye a man the bane;
And he was clad in his capull hyde
Topp and tayll and mayne.

"Stand you still, master," quoth Litle John,
"Under this tree so grene,
And I will go to yond wight yeoman
To know what he doth meane."

"Ah! John, by me thou settest noe store,
And that I farley finde
How offt send I my men beffore
And tarry my selfe behinde!

"It is no cunning a knave to ken,
And a man but heare him speake;
And itt were not for bursting of my vowe,
John, I thy head wold breake."

As often wordes they breeden bale,
So they parted Robin and John:
And John is gone to Barnesdale;
The gates[ 9] he knoweth eche one.

But when he came to Barnesdale,
Great heavinesse there hee hadd,
For he found tow of his owne fellōwes
Were slaine both in a slade.

And Scarlette he was flyinge a-foote
Fast over stocke and stone,
For the sheriffe with seven score men
Fast after him is gone.

"One shoote now I will shoote," quoth John,
"With Christ his might and mayne
Ile make yond fellow that flyes soe fast,
To stopp he shall be fayne."

Then John bent up his long bende-bowe,
And fetteled him to shoote:
The bow was made of a tender boughe,
And fell down to his foote.

"Woe worth, woe worth thee, wicked wood,
That ere thou grew on a tree;
For now this day thou art my bale,
My boote when thou shold bee."

His shoote it was but loosely shott,
Yet flewe not the arrowe in vaine,
For itt mett one of the sheriffes men,
Good William a Trent was slaine.

It had bene better of William a Trent
To have bene abed with sorrowe,
Than to be that day in the green wood slade
To meet with Little Johns arrowe.

But as it is said, when men be mett
Fyve can doe more than three,
The sheriffe hath taken little John,
And bound him fast to a tree.

"Thou shalt be drawen by dale and downe,
And hanged hye on a hill."
"But thou mayst fayle of thy purpose," quoth John,
"If itt be Christ his will."

Let us leave talking of Little John,
And thinke of Robin Hood,
How he is gone to the wight yeoman,
Where under the leaves he stood.

"Good morrowe, good fellowe," sayd Robin so fayre,
"Good morrowe, good fellow," quoth he:
Methinkes by this bowe thou beares in thy hande
"A good archere thou sholdst bee."

"I am wilfull of my waye," quo' the yeman,
"And of my morning tyde."
"Ile lead thee through the wood," sayd Robin;
"Good fellow, Ile be thy guide."

"I seeke an outlawe," the straunger sayd,
"Men call him Robin Hood;
Rather Ild meet with that proud outlawe,
Than fortye pound so good."

"Now come with me, thou wight yemān,
And Robin thou soone shalt see:
But first let us some pastime find
Under the greenwood tree.

"First let us some masterye make
Among the woods so even,
Wee may chance to meet with Robin Hood
Here att some unsett steven."

They cut them downe two summer shroggs,
That grew both under a breere,
And sett them threescore rood in twaine
To shoot the prickes y-fere:

"Lead on, good fellowe," quoth Robin Hood,
"Lead on, I doe bidd thee."
"Nay by my faith, good fellowe," hee sayd,
"My leader thou shalt bee."

The first time Robin shot at the pricke,
He mist but an inch it froe:
The yeoman he was an archer good,
But he cold never shoote soe.

The second shoote had the wightye yemān,
He shote within the garlande:
But Robin he shott far better than hee,
For he clave the good pricke wande.

"A blessing upon thy heart," he sayd;
"Good fellowe, thy shooting is goode;
For an thy hart be as good as thy hand,
Thou wert better then Robin Hoode.

"Now tell me thy name, good fellowe," sayd he,
"Under the leaves of lyne."
"Nay by my faith," quoth bolde Robin,
Till thou have told me thine."

"I dwell by dale and downe," quoth hee,
"And Robin to take Ime sworne;
And when I am called by my right name
I am Guye of good Gisbōrne."

"My dwelling is in this wood," sayes Robin,
"By thee I set right nought:
I am Robin Hood of Barnesdale,
Whom thou so long hast sought."

He that hath neither beene kithe nor kin,
Might have scene a full fayre sight,
To see how together these yeomen went
With blades both browne[ 10] and bright.

To see how these yeomen together they fought
Two howres of a summers day:
Yet neither Robin Hood nor Sir Guy
Them fettled to flye away.

Robin was reachles on a roote,
And stumbled at that tyde;
And Guy was quick and nimble with-all,
And hitt him ore the left side.

"Ah deere Lady," sayd Robin Hood tho,
"Thou art both mother and may;
I think it was never mans destinye
To dye before his day."

Robin thought on our ladye deere,
And soone leapt up againe,
And strait he came with a backward stroke,
And he Sir Guy hath slayne.

He took Sir Guys head by the hayre,
And sticked itt on his bowes end:
"Thou hast beene a traytor all thy life,
Which thing must have an ende."

Robin pulled forth an Irish kniffe,
And nicked Sir Guy in the face,
That he was never on woman born,
Cold tell whose head it was.

Saies, "Lye there, lye there, now Sir Guye,
And with me be not wrothe,
If thou have had the worst strokes at my hand,
Thou shalt have the better clothe."

Robin did off his gowne of greene,
And on Sir Guy did it throwe,
And hee put on that capull hyde,
That cladd him topp to toe.

"The bowe, the arrowes, and litle horne,
Now with me I will beare;
For I will away to Bārnčsdale,
To see how my men doe fare.

Robin Hood sett Guyes horne to his mouth,
And a loud blast in it did blow.
That beheard the sheriffe of Nottingham,
As he leaned under a lowe.

"Hearken, hearken," sayd the sheriffe,
"I heare now tydings good,
For yonder I heare Sir Guyes horne blowe,
And he hath slaine Robin Hoode.

"Yonder I heare Sir Guyes horne blowe,
Itt blowes soe well in tyde,
And yonder comes that wightye yeomān,
Cladd in his capull hyde.

"Come hyther, come hyther, thou good Sir Guy,
Aske what thou wilt of mee."
"O I will none of thy gold," sayd Robin,
"Nor I will none of thy fee:

"But now I have slaine the master," he sayes,
"Let me go strike the knave;
This is all the rewarde I aske;
Nor noe other will I have.

"Thou art a madman," said the sheriffe,
"Thou sholdest have had a knights fee:
But seeing thy asking hath beene soe bad,
Well granted it shale be."

When Litle John heard his master speake,
Well knewe he it was his steven:
"Now shall I be looset," quoth Litle John,
"With Christ his might in heaven."

Fast Robin hee hyed him to Litle John,
He thought to loose him belive;
The sheriffe and all his companye
Fast after him did drive.

"Stand abacke, stand abacke," sayd Robin;
"Why draw you mee soe neere?
Itt was never the use in our countrye,
Ones shrift another shold heere.

But Robin pulled forth an Irysh knife,
And losed John hand and foote,
And gave him Sir Guyes bow into his hand,
And bade it be his boote.

Then John he took Guyes bow in his hand,
His boltes and arrowes eche one:
When the sheriffe saw Little John bend his bow,
He fettled him to be gone.

Towards his house in Nottingham towne
He fled full fast away;
And soe did all his companye:
Not one behind wold stay.

But he cold neither runne soe fast,
Nor away soe fast cold ryde,
But Litle John with an arrowe soe broad
He shott him into the backe-syde.

*** The title of Sir was not formerly peculiar to knights; it was given to priests, and sometimes to very inferior personages.

            Dr. Johnson thinks this title was applied to such as had taken the degree of A. B. in the universities, who are still styled Domini, "Sirs," to distinguish them from Under-graduates, who have no prefix, and from Masters of Arts, who are styled Magistri, "Masters."


1. Ritson notes that Gisborne is a market town in the West Riding of the county of York, on the borders of Lancashire.-- Editor.

2. See Thoresby's Ducat. Leod. p. 576. Biog. Brit. vi. 3933.

3. Stukeley, in his Palæographia Britannica, No. II. 1746.

4. See also the following ballad, ver. 147.

5. Num. D. 5,2.

6. Old Plays, 4to. K. vol. x.

7. Serm. 6th before K. Ed. Apr. 12. fol. 75. Gilpin's Life of Lat. p. 122.

8. For shaws the MS. has shales: and shradds should perhaps be swards: i.e. the surface of the ground: viz. "when the fields are in their beauty:" or perhaps shades. Mr. Halliwell, however, defines shale as husk; "The shales or stalks of hemp;" and shradd as a twig.

9. i.e. ways, passes, paths, ridings. Gate is a common word in the north for way.

10. The common epithet for a sword or other offensive weapon, in the old metrical romances is brown: as "brown brand," or "brown sword: brown bill," &c and sometimes even "bright brown sword." Chaucer applies the word rustie in the same sense: thus he describes the Reve:

And by his side he bare a rustie blade.
Prol. ver. 620.

And even thus the god Mars:

And in his hand he had a rousty sword.
Test. of Cressid. 188.

Spenser has sometimes used the same epithet. See Warton's Observ. vol. ii. p. 62. It should seem, from this particularity, that our ancestors did not pique themselves upon keeping their weapons bright: perhaps they deemed it more honourable to carry them stained with the blood of their enemies.


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