The Geste of Robin Hood (Paraphrased)
First Fytte, Robin's philosophy.
“Robin, when is it dinner time,” asked Little John. “When a guest arrives,” said Robin. “Then let’s get the table ready while you tell us where we will live, and who we shall beat, rob and leave.” “We shall live in the Greenwood and beat (subdue) the corrupt churchmen and sheriffs whose money we shall take to help the poor. The hard-working ploughman and peasants we will leave.”
“It’s getting late,” said Robin, “go with Much and Will up the Saylis and fetch back the first churchman; abbot, earl, baron, knight, or squire you see.” Along came a sad-looking knight, “Welcome to the Greenwood, Sir Knight” Little John said, “My master invites you to dine with us.” “Do I know your master?” Asked the knight. “His name is Robin Hood,” answered, Little John. “Yes, he is a good yeoman*. I intended dining at Blyth or Doncaster, but I would like to meet good Robin Hood.” Tears flowed down his cheeks as he spoke and Little John wondered if he would 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 ever.” “Thank you, Sir Knight,” said Robin; “but please, before you leave, a yeoman never pays for a knight.” “I have nothing,” said the knight. “Is that the truth?” asked Robin, “God help you if not!” “I only have ten shillings,” said the knight! “If that is right,” 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.” Little John spread his cloak on the ground and counting out the money confirmed the knight was true.
“Fill your glasses,” said Robin, “and let’s think how we can help the knight, his clothes are threadbare for starters. Tell me, sir knight, it will not go further than me, you are so shabby, you are indistinguishable from a scoundrel or a wastrel. Is that true?” “No, sir, not true. My ancestors lived here many winters ago. People lose their fortunes and my friends robbed me of £400, but the final blow came when my son got jailed for killing a squire and a knight in a tournament. I had to borrow £400 bail money and if I don’t pay it back, I shall lose everything.” “How will you survive if you lose your land and home?” Asked Robin, “I will go to where Christ hung and died on the mountain of Golgotha and join him there. Adieu, friends enjoy your day it can’t be worse than mine.”
Weeping, he got ready to leave, “Goodbye friends,” he said, “I cannot pay.” “Where are your friends?” Asked Robin. “Lord only knows. When I had money, nothing kept them away. Now they run like deer.” Even Little John and Scathelock had tears in their eyes. “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, nowhere would I find a better guarantor than the Mother of God. Now, Little John, go to my treasury, and bring back four hundred pounds to help this gentle knight.” “Master,” said Little John, “he needs new clothes, let us give him a new 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 half a bow-length extra. “Can’t you measure any better?” Asked Much. “There can’t be many merchants measure as you do.” “Watch 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, “Right 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. He will be disinherited if he does not come today.” “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 take everything? It will be on your conscience if you do.” “Get out of my hair,” said the abbot, “by God and Saint Richard!” In came a stubborn monk, the High Cellarer. “If he died, then his property will be ours by nightfall.”
At the abbey gates, the knight changed into his old threadbare clothes. He went into the abbot’s hall and knelt as he greeted those present. Straightway the abbot asked, “have you the money?” “Not a penny,” said the knight, testing their attitude towards the destitute. “Why come?” “To ask for an extension.” Said the knight. “Your time is gone,” 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! Get out that knight.”
Standing up, the knight exclaimed, “You insult me by making me kneel all this time and then you call me a false knight! In tournaments, I fought every challenger and beat them all, and by God, I will beat you too!” He took the four hundred pounds Robin loaned him from a bag in his pocket and handed it to the Prior. “Take the gold”, he said, “I planed to give the abbot extra for his kindness, but now I realise, that he, a rich man, planned to rob me of my lands. When the rich rob the poor and keep it for themselves something needs to be done. You are nothing but a bunch of crooks.
The abbot sat still, his mouth wide open, the pheasant’s leg in mid air. He threw back his head and shouted at the Prior, “Give me my gold.” “Prior,” said the knight, “I gave the gold to you, so you could deposit it into the abbey treasury instead of it going into the abbot’s pocket.” He slammed the door as he left the building feeling as though a weight had gone from off his shoulders. Outside, he put on his best clothes given him by Robin and his men and rode back to Uttersdale singing a merry tune. His good wife waiting for him at the gate said, “Welcome dear husband, do we still have a home?” “Good news, my dear, Robin’s loan has beaten the churchmen, secured our property, and now we can sleep safe and secure in our beds.”
Uttersdale/Verysdale. V was a late addition to the alphabet.
Third Fytte. Robin beats the Sheriff of Nottingham.
On a bright day when young men liked to shoot; Little John took his bow and walked 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 I have seen apart from Robin Hood. Tell me your name and your birthplace.” “My place of birth is Holderness, and there men 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 twelve months only, provided the sheriff gave him a good strong horse. Little John was unhappy working for the sheriff, his loyalty belonged to Robin so he devised a plan. His chance came on a Wednesday morning when the sheriff went hunting and forgot to take Little John with him. At midday Little John asked for dinner. The butler told him they ate when 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, marched into the pantry. The cook, a fat man, and a daredevil in his kitchen hit Little John in the face. “You do not tell me what to do 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 and fought to exhaustion. Neither landed a blow and knowing the cook was a good swordsman Little John suggested he joined with Robin’s band of merry men. “Drop your sword;” said the cook, “and we shall be companions.” He brought Little John the calf of a doe, good bread, plenty of wine and together they toasted their loyalty to each other.
When it got dark, they broke into the treasurer’s house and took the silver vessel, other pieces of silver maple-bowls, spoons, three hundred and three pounds and anything else they could carry. Come daylight they went 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?” “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 treat 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 lay down to sleep as did the others. 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.” “You have a hard order,” said the Sheriff, “even hermits and friars don’t suffer this way. I will not stay here for all the gold in Merry England.” “You will live in the forest with me and my men for the next twelve months,” said Robin, “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 promise me you will never 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 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, 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 if they are poor, we shall help them.” Off the three went and 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 and you will come with us.” “Make your men stand down, or they will die,” said the Monk. “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 are 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. They took the monk to Robin’s lodge and made him wash. During dinner Robin asked, “Where do you live?” “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 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 might 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 do you bring?” Asked Robin. “Twenty marks,” the High Cellarer said, “just enough for my daily expenses.” “If that is all, I won’t take a penny; and if you need more, I shall lend it you. Should you have more,” said Robin, “you will have it no longer. For, by your own admission, you only need twenty marks. Little John check him out.” Little John spread his mantle on the ground and counted over eight hundred pounds in the monk’s wallet. Little John let it lie still and going to Robin said, “Our Lady doubled your pay.” “By precious God,” said Robin Hood, “Our Dear Lady is the best guarantor in the entire world.” The monk jumped on his horse and off he galloped shouting over his shoulder, “Blyth and Doncaster are cheaper.” “Greet well your Abbot and your Prior I pray,” said Robin, “and bid the Abbot send a monk to dine with me every day.” Robin had beaten the High Cellarer.
Sir Richard at the Lee arrived while it was still light. Dismounting, he knelt on one knee. “May God save you, Robin Hood, and your company!” “Welcome be thou; noble knight, do you still own your land, the truth, tell me now?” “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 that helps a yeoman is a friend of mine.” “I bring the four hundred pounds you loaned me,” said the knight, “and twenty marks for your kindness.” Robin refused the money saying, “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 £400 more, so I want nothing from you. The £400 you earned during the last year replaces the £400 you lost to your friends, your son is out of jail 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 announced a tournament in Nottingham against the Sheriff’s men. Each archer had six shots, and the winner got a silver arrow. Three times Robin sliced the wand as did good Gilbert, with the white hand. Robin won the silver arrow, but during a fracas, an arrow hit Little John in the knee. As he could neither walk or ride a horse he begged Robin to protect him from the Sheriff, saying: “I would rather die, than fall into his hands. Get your brown sword and chop off my head.” “No way,” said Robin. “Not for all the gold in England.” Robin gave Little John a piggyback and stopping occasionally to get his breath back carried him till they came to a fair castle double ditched, within a wood where dwelt the noble knight Sir Richard at the Lee. Ushering them in, Sir Richard shut the gates and lifted up the drawbridge. Taking them into the main hall, they feasted like kings for twelve days. The knight gave Robin and his men the meal he promised at the Saylis and more, while at the same time 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,” said Sir Richard, “I will support everything I did, go away, be on your way, and don’t come back till you find 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 him. “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. Obeying the king’s orders, the sheriff plotted 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. When the knight’s wife heard her husband’s fate, 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.” 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 and hit the Sheriff in the heart. 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 we all shall thrive.” Drawing their bright, sharp swords Robin’s men attacked the Sheriff’s men. Robin ran to Sir Richard, cut his ropes, thrust a bow in his hands and said, “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.” Robin beat the sheriff and his men.
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 as he told the sheriff he would do. In Lancashire Robin herded and killed the deer at will, but search as he might the king struggled to find a single one. Furious with Robin Hood, he said, “I will give the knight’s lands to whoever brings me his head.” 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, go to the abbey in the valley below and put on monks habits. You Sire wear abbots clothing, and I will lead you to him.”
The king processed to Nottingham, his ‘monks’ wore grey and the horses followed. Robin was there under a linden tree, surrounded by archers bold. Taking the king’s horse Robin said “Sir Abbot, please stay a while, we yeomen are poor, yet you hold churches, rents, and gold. Please help.” Then, spoke our comely King straightway saying, “the king, and I spent much in Nottingham and only forty pounds are left. If I had a hundred pounds, you could have half.” Robin took the forty pounds, saying while sharing it with his men, “you promised fifty, thank you, sir, forty will do until we meet again.” “Thank you!” Said our King.
Sometime after Robin invited the ’Abbot’ to dine under the trysting tree. He took his full great horn and gave a loud blast. Seventy strong young men came and knelt in front of him all in formation. This impressed the king, Robin’s men obeyed him better than his own. 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, Thank you Sir, blessed art thou be.”
The meal finished, Robin entertained the abbot with an archery contest. Our King fearing he might lose, said to move the marks closer. Bending their bows, Robin shot twice and both times he split the wand as did good Gilbert with the white hand. Little John and good Scathelock failed and each time Robin hit them sore. Robin’s last shot missed the target by at least three fingers width. Up 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 the strength of his blow sent Robin flying to the ground. “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 identity of the abbot and 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, I love you true! 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! Mercy, I plead my lord the King, and for my men, I crave.“ ”Mercy then, Robin,“ said our King, ”Yes, for God,“ 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 so shall it be. I will be there in your court, your service for to see and bring my men seven score and three and if I dislike your service, 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 hopefully you will clothe me in green before Christmas too.” The king threw off his cloak and put on Lincoln Green, the same as his knights. “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 are too good Robin my man, I doubt I will ever win, 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 and old women hobbled on their sticks as quick 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 knelt on one knee and thanked our comely king.
Robin lived in the king’s court for twelve months and three. His money and property gone as he sought favour in the king’s court. His own men had gone too, except for Little John and William Scathelock. As Robin watched the young men shooting way off target he thought; “I used to be the best archer in the whole of Merry England, 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 and need to go there barefoot, wearing a hair shirt as a penance for my sins.” “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. He said goodbye and 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 deer.” He shot a full noble heart, his horn he blew so the outlaws of the forest knew he was back and all his seven score men came, ready standing in a row. “Welcome,” they said, bending the knee, their hoods removed, “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