The Exploits (Geste) of Robin Hood
First Fytte. Robin Hood’s philosophy.“Robin, when is it dinner time?” asked Little John. “When a guest arrives,” said Robin. “Then while we get the table ready tell us what to take and leave, where we will live, where we will rob and who we shall beat and bind.” “We rob the rich to help the poor,” said Robin, “so don’t harm the ploughman or the peasant, but the bishops; archbishops, and Nottingham’s Sheriff are so corrupt they need beating and binding (restrained and controlled).
“It’s getting late;” said Robin, “take Much and Will up the Saylis and bring back a rich churchman; abbot, earl, baron, knight, or squire.” Eventually along came a sad-looking knight. Little John bowed and said, “Welcome to the Greenwood, Sir Knight. My master invites you to dine with us.” “Do I know your master?” Asked the knight. “You may have heard of Robin Hood,” answered Little John. “I have indeed, he is a good yeoman*. I intended dining at Blyth or Doncaster, but I would like to meet him.” Tears ran down his cheeks as he spoke and Little John wondered if he’d ever smile again. Back at the lodge, Robin had bread; wine, stews, deer, swans and pheasants ready waiting.
(*A yeoman of the forest, a forest official, possibly a bailiff (Canterbury Tales). Typically skilled with the longbow and long sword. In Robin Hood and the Potter, the potter refused to pay Little John and Robin pavage tax.)
Bowing, Robin said, “Welcome, Sir Knight, welcome.” The knight thanked Robin for dinner, saying “When I come back to Yorkshire if I ever do, I will give you the best dinner you ever had.” “Thank you, Sir Knight,” said Robin; “but please, before you leave, a yeoman never pays for a knight.” “I have nothing,” said the knight. “Tell me the truth,” said Robin, “God help you if you don’t!” “I only have ten shillings,” said the knight! “If you are telling the truth,” said Robin, “I won’t take a single penny, and if you need more, I will lend it you.” “Go now, Little John and see if the knight is being honest.” Spreading out his cloak Little John counted out the money and confirmed the knight was true.
“Fill your glasses,” said Robin, “and let’s see how we can help him. His clothes are threadbare for a start. Tell me sir knight it will not go further than me, you are so shabby, you look like a scoundrel or a wastrel. Is that true?” “No sir, it is not true. My knightly ancestors lived here many winters ago. People do lose their fortunes and my neighbours robbed me of £400.” “How did you lose your wealth?” Asked Robin. “I foolishly trusted my friends, but the final blow came when my son was jailed for killing a squire and a knight at a tourney. I had to borrow £400 to bail him out and if I don’t pay it back, I shall lose everything.” “If you lose your land and home, how will you survive?” Asked Robin, “I will go to where Christ hung and died on the mountain of Golgotha and join him there. Farewell, friends, enjoy your day it will be better than mine.”
Weeping, he got ready to leave. “Farewell, friends, I cannot pay.” “Where have your friends gone?” Asked Robin. “Lord, no one knows. When I had money nothing kept them away. Now they run away as fast as deer.” Little John and Scathelock wept in sympathy. “If you have a guarantor, I will lend you the money,” said Robin. “I have nobody,” said the knight, “except Our Dear Lady, she is always by my side.” “By God,” said Robin, “if I searched all England I would never find a better guarantor than the Mother of God. Now, Little John, go to my treasury, and fetch four hundred pounds to help this noble knight.” “Master,” said Little John, “he needs new clothes, let us give the knight a livery to keep him warm. You have scarlet and green, master, and many rich things.”
“Give him three rods of every colour, and measure it well,” said Robin. John had no measure other than his archer’s bow and with every bow-length, he added three feet more. “Can’t you measure any better?” Asked Much. “There can’t be many merchants measure like you.” “Look and learn from the best master merchant in the kingdom.” Answered Little John. Then, to Robin, he said, “You need to give the knight a horse to carry everything.” “Give him a grey courser,” said Robin, “and a new saddle, he rides for Our Lady!” “And a good saddle-horse,” said Much, “to keep him in his right.” “And a pair of boots,” said Scathelock, “Suitable for a noble knight.” “What will you give John?” “I shall give golden spurs to see him on his way.” “When do you want your money back?” Asked the knight. “This day in twelve months time, under the greenwood tree.” Said Robin, “and as a knight should ride with a squire by his side, Little John will be your companion.”
Second Fytte. The impoverished knight regains his lands.
Talking to his convent at St. Mary’s, the abbot said, “Twelve months ago a knight came and borrowed four hundred pounds using his land and property as security. If he doesn’t come today he will be disinherited.” “Give him time,” said the Prior, “the knight may still be across the sea, suffering hunger, cold, and many troubles. Do you think you should make him destitute? It will be on your conscience.” “Get out of my hair,” said the abbot, “by God and Saint Richard!” In came a stubborn monk, the High Cellarer. “His property will belong to us by nightfall if he got drowned or hanged.”
At the abbey gates, the knight changed into his old threadbare clothes. Going into the abbot’s hall, he knelt as he greeted those present. Immediately the abbot asked, “did you bring the money?” “Not a penny,” said the knight, testing their attitude towards the destitute. “Why did a cursed debtor like you, come here?” “To ask for more time.” Said the knight.
“You have no time,” said the abbot. “You have nothing.” The knight answered, “Well, judge, be my friend and defend me.” “I answer to the abbot,” said the judge. “Well, good sir sheriff, you be my friend!” “No, no, not me,” the sheriff said. “Well, good Abbot, you be my friend, please hold my land until I meet your demands. I will be your true servant and serve you well.” The abbot swore a full oath: “Through him crucified, get your land where you want, because you will not get it from me! Now get out of here you false knight.”
Standing up, this noble knight exclaimed, “You insult me by making me kneel all this time, and you call me a false knight! In tournaments, I fought every challenger and won every time, and by God, I will win over you!” Going to the table, he shook out four hundred pounds from a bag in his pocket. Handing it to the Prior he said, “Take the gold. I intended giving extra for the abbot’s kindness, but now I realise he, a rich man, planned to rob me, a destitute man of my lands. For the rich to rob the poor and keep it for themselves is reprehensible. You are nothing but a bunch of crooks.
The abbot sat still and did not eat despite his royal fare. Throwing back his head he shouted at the Prior, “Give me my gold.” “Mr Prior,” said the knight, “I gave the gold to you, so it could be deposited into the abbey treasury instead of going into the abbot’s pocket.” Slamming the door behind him, the knight left the building, leaving his worries behind. Outside, he put on his best clothes Robin and his men had given him and off he rode for home singing a merry tune. His good wife was waiting for him at the gate in Uttersdale, “Welcome dear husband,” she said, “do we still have a home?” “Good news, my dear, without Robin Hood and his kindness, we would be beggars now, but instead our land and property are safe.” The abbot had been “beaten and bound.”
Uttersdale/Verysdale. V was a late addition to the alphabet.
Third Fytte. Robin beats and binds the Sheriff of Nottingham.
On a bright day when young men liked to shoot; Little John took his bow and went to the butts. Three times he shot and three times he split the wand. Unable to believe his eyes, the arrogant Sheriff of Nottingham exclaimed, “My God, you are the best archer ever except for Robin Hood. Tell me your name and your place of birth young man, he ordered.” “I was born in Holderness. Men there call me Reynold Greenleaf.” “Come and work for me, Reynold Greenleaf, twenty marks a year I pay.” “Not without my lord, a courteous knight, gives permission,” said Little John. Robin agreed to let Little John go for just twelve months, provided the sheriff gave him a good strong horse. Now Little John works for the sheriff, but his loyalty belongs to Robin. Being unhappy he decided to be the worst servant ever. His chance came one Wednesday morning when the sheriff went hunting, leaving Little John behind. At midday, Little John asked for his dinner. The butler told him they did not eat until the sheriff got home. Feeling rejected Little John told the cook, “If you don’t bring my dinner this minute, I shall crack your skull.”
The butler ignored him and so did the cook. Little John, strode into the kitchen and pushing the cook aside, went into the pantry. The cook, a fat man, and a daredevil in his kitchen hit Little John between the eyes. “You do not order me about in my master’s house,” he shouted. “Either you’re a brave man or an idiot to try it on with me,” said Little John. Both men grabbed a sword. They fought an hour or more without landing a blow. Little John said, “You are good enough to be one of Robin Hood’s men, come with me and let’s go back to Robin Hood.” “Drop your sword;” said the cook, “and we shall be companions.” Bringing Little John the calf of a doe, good bread and plenty of wine, they ate and drank their loyalty together.
When it got dark they broke into the treasurer’s house and took the silver vessel, other pieces of silver, maple-bowls, spoons, and three hundred and three pounds and more. Come daylight they went straight to Robin Hood. Little John introduced the sheriff’s cook and told him everything they had. Then, having an idea Little John ran into the forest till he found the sheriff hunting with hound and horn. “Reynold Greenleaf,” said the Sheriff, “Where have you been?” “I have been looking for deer like you master. I saw a master hart the colour of green and seven score more in a herd, so I came to tell you.” “Take me to them,” said the Sheriff. “This way,” said Little John, “quick.” The Sheriff rode, and Little John ran by his side. When they saw Robin, Little John pointed to him and said, “There stands the master hart!” The arrogant sheriff stood stock still, an anxious man: “You traitor Reynold Greenleaf! You betrayed me.”
“Master,” said Little John to the sheriff, “You should look after your men better. Because I did not get my dinner, we have your silver and three hundred and three pounds.” “Look on the bright side sheriff,” said Robin. “You could be dead.” After their meal when the sun was setting, Robin told Little John to change into his green coat. Taking off his trousers, shoes and tunic, he put on his fur-lined coat and laid down to sleep. The others did the same. The arrogant sheriff in his breeches and shirt got colder and colder through the night. “Make glad cheer,” said Robin, “In our order, we live this way when we sleep under the greenwood tree.” “This is a hard order,” said the Sheriff, “even hermits and friars don’t suffer this way. I would not stay here for all the gold in merry England.” “You will live in the forest with me and my men,” said Robin, “for the next twelve months and I shall teach you, you arrogant sheriff, about life as an outlaw.” “Robin, now I pray you,” said the sheriff, “Let me go, for Saint Charity and I will be the best friend, you ever had.” “You will swear me an oath,” said Robin, “On my bright sword, and promise me you will never plan to harm me, either on water or on land. And you will promise to help my men at all times.” The Sheriff swore his oath and began his journey home. Robin had “beaten and bound” the sheriff of Nottingham.
Fourth Fytte. Robin Hood restores the knights fortune at the expense of the Abbott.
The Sheriff hurried back to Nottingham, leaving Robin and his men in peace. “Shall we have dinner now?” Asked Little John: “No,” replied Robin, “Our Lady seems angry with me, my money from the knight hasn’t come.” “Do not fear, good master,” said Little John; “I know the knight you loaned the money to will keep his word.” “Take your best bow,” said Robin “and go with Much and Will to the Saylis. Wait till someone comes and should he be poverty struck, we shall help him.”Off the three went up the Saylis. Soon along came a Benedictine Monk riding a good saddle-horse. Little John said to Much and Will, “It looks as though he brings our money.” “Prepare your bows, he has over fifty men and seven pack-horses with him.” “Brethren,” said Little John. “We three men invite you to dinner. We will not return to our master until you agree to come with us.” “Make your men stand down or they will die;” the Monk said. “Stay, churl Monk!” Said Little John, “No further shall you go. If you do, then by precious God, you may die.” “Tell me your master’s name,” said the Monk. “Robin Hood,” Little John replied. “That thief,” said the Monk, “Of him, I hear no good.” “You lie,” said Little John, “And for that, you will be in trouble; a yeoman of the forest, bids you dine with him.”
Being ready with an arrow Much shot the monk in the breast. The monk fell to the ground and all his men fled. Taking the monk to Robin’s lodge they made him wash before they served dinner. “Where do you live?” Asked Robin. “Saint Mary’s Abbey,” said the Monk, “I answer to no man here.” “What office do you hold?” Asked Robin; “Sir, the High Cellarer.” “You are very welcome.” Said Robin, “ever may I prosper; fetch the best wine, this Monk shall drink with me. To think, I feared our Lady, the Patron Saint of Saint Mary’s Abbey would fail me.” “It looks as though this Monk of her Abbey, brings your pay,” said John. “And she is the guarantor of the money I loaned the knight,” said Robin.
“You High Cellarer serve Our Lady every day, and as her messenger, you bring my pay. Thank you for coming. How much have you brought me?” Asked Robin. “Twenty marks,” the High Cellarer said, “just enough for my daily expenses.” “If you only have twenty marks, I won’t take a penny; and if you need more, I shall lend it you. But if I find more,” said Robin, “Make no mistake you will have it no longer, for, by your own admission, you only need twenty marks. Check him out, Little John.” Little John spread his mantle on the ground and counted out the monk’s wallet, eight hundred pounds and more. Little John let it lie full still and going to his master in haste he said, “Our Lady doubled your pay.” “By precious God,” said Robin Hood, “Our Dear Lady is the best guarantor in all the world.” The monk jumped on his horse and galloped away saying, “dining in Blyth or Doncaster would have been cheaper.” “Greet well your Abbot,” said Robin, “And your Prior I pray, and bid the Abbot send a monk to dine with me every day.”
While the light still held, Sir Richard at the Lee: rode up. Dismounting, he knelt on one knee. “May God save you, Robin Hood, and all your company!” “Welcome be thou, noble knight, have you still your land, the truth, tell me?” “Yes, thanks to you, good sir. Don’t be angry with my lateness, I came by a tournament and helped a poor cheated yeoman.” “Sir Knight,” said Robin, “Any man who helps a yeoman is a friend of mine.” “I have the four hundred pounds you loaned me,” said the knight, “and another twenty marks for your kindness.” Refusing the money Robin said, “nay, for Lady by her High Cellarer has sent me my pay.” After Robin finished telling his tale the knight laughed and exclaimed, “By my pledge, your money is ready here! “Yes,” said Robin, “the monks paid your loan with interest, I have the £400 I loaned you plus an additional £400, so your debt to me has been paid. The £400 you earned during the last year replaces the £400 you lost to your friends, your son is out of jail, you have £400 you did not have 12 months ago and we are both £400 richer than this time last year.
Fifth Fytte. Robin Hood is given protection by Sir Richard
As the knight turned for home, Robin told his men they were going to a tournament in Nottingham between themselves and the Sheriff’s men. Each archer got six shots, and the winner got a silver arrow. Three times Robin sliced the wand as did good Gilbert, with the white hand. Robin got the silver arrow, but during a fracas, an arrow hit Little John in the knee. Unable to walk or ride a horse he pleaded with Robin not to let him fall into the hands of the Sheriff of Nottingham, saying: “Get your brown sword and chop off my head.” “No way.” Said Robin. “Not for all the gold in England.” With that Robin hoisted Little John on his back and carried him as far as he could go. Taking a rest Robin continued on until they came to a fair castle double ditched, within a wood where dwelt the noble knight Sir Richard at the Lee. Once in the castle, Sir Richard shut the gates and drew up the bridge. Ushering them into the main hall, they feasted like kings for twelve days. The knight had given Robin and his men the meal he promised at the Saylis and much more besides while beating the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Sixth Fytte. The sheriff meets his end.
The Sheriff accused Sir Richard of being a traitor knight, “you protect the King’s enemies and break the law.” “Sir, I will support everything I did, go away, sir, be on your way, and don’t come back till you find out the king’s will.” Straightway the sheriff went to London town to see the King. There he told of Robin Hood and how the knight protected them. “My king,” said the sheriff, “the knight said he supported everything he did to protect the outlaws, making you my king powerless in your northern kingdom.”
“I will take care of Robin Hood and the knight when I get there. Go home sheriff, do as I say and get the best archers in England.” By this time Little John could walk and run again on his injured knee. The sheriff planned how to capture Sir Richard as he hunted with hawks by the river bank, while at the same time preventing Robin and his men interfering. His plan succeeded and with the help of his own stalwart archers, he took Sir Richard, tied hand and foot to Nottingham. Next, he planned on capturing Robin Hood, who he wanted more than he wanted £100. When the knight’s wife heard about her husband, she mounted her horse and rode into the greenwood. Finding Robin and his men under the greenwood tree, she said, “God bless you good Robin, and your company, for the sake of our Lady, a request I pray you will grant. The sheriff has my wedded lord bound fast in Nottingham for his loyalty to you.”
Up jumped Robin, “come on men, let’s go rescue our friend from the sheriff,” he said. They soon found the sheriff in Nottingham, “Stay, you horrible man,” Robin said, “stay and talk and tell of our king.” Robin bent a full good bow, an arrow he drew at will. He hit the Sheriff in the heart and on the ground, he lay full still. Should he not be dead, Robin struck off the Sheriff’s head. “Lie there you obnoxious man, you evil lump of dirt. Nobody could trust you while alive, but now you are gone, we all shall thrive.” The sheriff had been permanently “beaten and bound.” Drawing their bright, sharp swords Robin’s men attacked the Sheriff’s men. Robin ran to the knight, and cutting his ropes gave him a bow, saying, “Leave your horse behind and learn to run; for you will come to the Greenwood through mire, moss, and fen, till I have us the grace of Edward, our comely King.”
Seventh Fytte. Robin and the King meet face to face
The King and his knights went to Nottingham and Lancashire to hunt; capture Robin Hood and seize his lands. In Lancashire Robin herded and killed deer at will, but search as he might the king struggled to find a single one. Furious with Robin Hood, he said, “Whoever brings his head to me, will have the knight’s lands.” Up a fair old loyal knight spoke: “Ah! My liege lord the King, a word with you if I may, while ever Robin rides a horse and carries a bow, there will be trouble in the north if you give his lands to another.” After half a year or more, Robin still evaded the king. Then, spoke a proud forester standing nearby: “If you want to see good Robin Hood, take five of your best knights and go to the abbey in the valley below, put on monks habits and I will lead you to him provided you dress like an abbot.
”The king processed to Nottingham dressed in abbot’s clothes. His ’monks’ wore grey and his horses followed on. Under a linden tree, they met Robin surrounded by archers bold. Taking the king’s horse Robin said “Sir Abbot, please stay a while, we yeomen have nothing. You have churches, rents, and gold. Please help.” Then, spoke our comely King straight-way saying, “the king and I spent much in Nottingham and all that’s left is forty pounds. If I had a hundred pounds, I guarantee you could have half.” Robin took the forty pounds, saying while sharing it with his men, “you said we could have fifty, thank you, sir, forty will do until we meet another day.” “Thank you!” Said our King.
A little while later, preparing the food Robin invited the ’Abbot’ to dine under the trysting tree. Taking his full great horn Robin gave a loud blast. Seventy strong young men quickly came and knelt before him in a row. The King was impressed and said to himself. “His men obey him better than mine!” Getting ready to eat. Robin and Little John served the King with fattened venison, good white bread, red wine, and fine brown ale. “Make good cheer,” said Robin,“ Abbot, for charity, I make the same plea, Sir, blessed art thou be.”
After eating their fill, Robin entertained the abbot with an archery contest. Bending their bows, our King fearing he might lose, said to make the marks closer. Twice Robin shot and both times he split the wand as did good Gilbert with the white hand. Little John and good Scathelock did less well and when they failed Robin hit them sore. When Robin shot his last, it missed the target by three fingers and more. Then spoke good Gilbert, saying: “Master, your shot failed. Stand forth and take your punishment like a man.” “Yes,” said Robin. “Here Sir Abbot I give you my silver arrow, and because I lost to you, I pray, sir you serve me with a blow.”
“Hit me hard,” said Robin, “I give you leave.” The King rolled up his sleeve and so strong was his blow Robin to the ground did fall. “You are a stalwart friar.” Said Robin, “Your arm is strong enough to kill. I know thou canst well shoot …” Robin’s voice faded as he realised the true identity of the abbot and he knelt before the King. Our King and Robin met this way. After confirming his identity, Robin, and Sir Richard at the Lea looked into the King’s face. They and all the wild outlaws knelt. Robin said, “My Lord the King of England, now I know you well! Of thy goodness and thy grace under your trysting-tree, I beg for my men and me! Yes, for God,” said Robin Hood. “Please God, he saves me! I ask mercy, my lord, the King, and for my men, I crave.” “Mercy then, Robin,” said our King, “Yes, for God,” then, said our King, “Now you leave the Greenwood and your company, and come to my court and there you shall dwell with me.” “I made my support to God,” said Robin, “And right so shall it be. I will be there in your court, your service for to see and bring my men seven score and three. Unless I dislike your service, then I will return and shoot the dunnè deer (brown deer), as I always do.”
Eighth Fytte. Robin lived with the king, but returned to Barnsdale.
“Do you have any green cloth to sell me?” Asked Our King. “Yes,” said Robin, “Thirty poles and three.” “Robin,” said our King, “Sell me your green cloth, so I can dress my archers good and true.” “Yes Sir,” said Robin, “and knowing what I do, I think you will clothe me in green before Christmas too.” The king threw off his cloak, and Lincoln Green, the same as his knights, he put on. “To Nottingham, we go.” Said our King, and bending their bows, and shooting together, off they went. Our King and Robin rode side by side playing pluck buffet on the way. After suffering many buffets the king said, “God help me, you have nothing to learn Robin, my man, I have little chance of beating you, even if we played all year.”
The people of Nottingham stood and stared, mantles of green covered the field. They said, “Our king must have died and Robin Hood has come to town. He leaves no one alive.” Panicking, they fled. Yeoman, knaves, and old women hobbled on their sticks as fast as they could go. The King roared with laughter and ordered them back; they rejoiced to know their king still lived and celebrated with food, wine, and boisterous singing. Then, the King spoke to Sir Richard at the Lee and returned his land, bidding him loyal be. Robin thanked our comely king and knelt on one knee.
Robin lived in the king’s court for twelve months and three. His money and property went as he sought to earn favour in the king’s court. Even his own men deserted him except for Little John and William Scathelock. Robin saw the young men shooting way off target; “I used to be the best archer in all Merry England,” thought Robin, “but now my strength and money have gone. If I stay any longer with the king, I will die of sadness.”
His mind made up, our Robin went to see the king: “My lord, the king of England, grant me, I pray! I made a beautiful chapel in Barnsdale to Mary Magdalene. I cannot eat or sleep a wink for thinking of it. I need to go there barefoot, wearing a hair shirt as penance for all my sins. I promised to go there and hate the fact I cannot.” “Then I will allow it,” said the king. “Seven nights I give you, no longer to leave me on my own.” “Thank you, sir,” said Robin, on his bended knee. Saying goodbye he headed to the Greenwood.
Arriving on a bright and sunny morning when bird-song filled the air, Robin felt young again. “I miss this place,” said Robin, “It pleases me to shoot the Dunne deer.” He shot a full noble heart, his horn he blew so the outlaws of the forest knew he was back. All seven score strong men came, ready standing in a row, their hoods removed, kneeling on bended knee: “Welcome,” they said, “our dear master, under the greenwood tree!” Robin lived in the Greenwood twenty years and two; till his kinswoman, the wicked prioress of Kirklees betrayed him for the love of her special lover, the knight Sir Rogers of Doncaster. Much evil did they plot in secret together, how best to kill him, and by their foul play, they betrayed the noble Robin Hood. Christ, have mercy on his soul.
Prose and translation into modern English copyright © 2018, Graham Kirkby NEXT PAGE