The Geste of Robin Hood (Paraphrased)
First Fytte, Robin’s philosophy.
“Robin, when is it dinnertime, asked Little John. “When a guest arrives, said Robin. “Then let’s get the table ready while you tell us who we rob, beat, and leave. “We rob the rich and give to the poor, we beat the Sheriff of Nottingham and we leave the ploughmen in peace, said Robin. “Now, it is getting late. Go with Much and Will go up the Saylis and bring back the first churchman; abbot, earl, baron, knight, or squire you see.” Soon, along came a sad-looking knight. “Welcome to the Greenwood, Sir Knight,” said Little John, “my master invites you to dine with us.” “Do I know your master," asked the knight. “His name is Robin Hood,” answered Little John. “He is a good yeoman. *I intended dining at Blyth or Doncaster, but would like to meet good Robin Hood.”
* A “yeoman of the forest, a forest official, often a bailiff (Canterbury Tales). Skilled with the longbow and longsword.
Bowing, Robin said, “Welcome, Sir Knight, welcome. The knight thanked Robin for dinner, saying “When I come back to Yorkshire, if I ever do, you will have 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 true, asked Robin, “God help you if it’s not! “I only have ten shillings, said the knight! “If that is right, said Robin, “I won’t take a single penny. Should you need more, I will lend it to 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. 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 but my friends robbed me of £400. The final blow came when my son got jailed for killing a squire and a knight of Lancaster in a tournament. I had to borrow £400 bail money and if I don’t pay it back, I will 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, but now they avoid me like the plague. Even Little John and Scathelock had tears in their eyes. “If you have a guarantor, I will lend you the money, said Robin. “I only have Our Dear Lady, said the knight, “she is always by my side. “By God, said Robin, “if I searched England through and through it would be impossible to find a better guarantor than the Mother of God. Now Little John, go to my treasury, and get £400 to help this gentle knight. “Master, said Little John, “his clothes have holes in them, let’s give him a new livery to keep him warm. You have scarlet and green, master, plus many rich things. “Give him three rods of every colour, and measure it generously, said Robin. John had no measure other than his archer’s bow, so with every bow-length, he added half a length more. “Can’t you measure any better, asked Much. “You must be the only merchant who measures that way. “Watch and learn from the best master merchant in the whole 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. “John, what will you give? “I will give golden spurs to see him on his way. “When do you want your money back, asked the knight. “This day in 12 months time, under the greenwood tree, said Robin, “and as knights should ride with a squire by their 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 borrowed £400. He used his land and property as security. If he does not come today, disinherited he will be. “Give him time, said the Prior, “Do you think you should take everything, it will be on your conscience if you do. “Get out of my hair, by God and Saint Richard, said the abbot.
In came the High Cellarer. He was a stubborn man. “With luck, his property will belong to us 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 poor. “Then why come? “To ask for an extension. Said the knight. “Your time has 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 false knight. The knight stood up and exclaimed, “You insult me by making me kneel and then you call me a false knight! In tournaments, I fought every challenger and won every time, and by God, you are next. He took the £400 Robin loaned him from a bag in his pocket and handed it to the Prior. “Take the gold. I intended giving the abbot extra for his kindness, but now I realise he planned to rob me of everything I own. When loan sharks rob the poor, Robin Hood sorts them out.
The abbot sat still, his mouth wide open, the pheasant’s leg in mid-air. He threw his head back and shouted at the Prior, “Give me my gold.” Said the knight to the Prior. “Don’t let the Abbot get the money. Put it in the abbey’s treasury away from his thieving hands.” The knight slammed the door as he left the building feeling as though a weight had lifted from off his shoulders. Outside, he donned his best clothes given 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, are we now homeless? “Good news, my dear, Robin’s loan beat the churchmen at their own game. Our property is secure and they will not worry us any more.
(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. The arrogant Sheriff could not believe his eyes. “My God, he exclaimed, “apart from Robin Hood, you are the best archer I have ever seen. Tell me your name and your birthplace. “My place of birth is Holderness, and men there call me Reynold Greenleaf. “Come and work for me, Reynold Greenleaf, 20 marks a year I pay. “Not without my lord, a courteous knight, gives permission, said Little John.
Robin agreed to let Little John go with the sheriff, for 12 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 him. At midday, Little John asked for dinner. The butler refused, saying they ate when the sheriff got home. Feeling rejected Little John told the cook, “If you don’t bring my dinner this minute, I will crack your skull. The butler ignored him and so did the cook. With that, Little John strode into the kitchen and pushing the cook aside marched into the pantry. The cook, a fat man, and a dare-devil 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 are a brave man or a fool to try it on with me, said Little John. Grabbing swords they fought until exhausted. Neither landed a blow and seeing the cook’s skill Little John suggested he joined with Robin’s band of merry men. “Drop your sword, said the cook, “and we will be friends. With that, he fetched 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 silver, bowls, spoons, money and anything else they could carry. Come daylight Little John took the sheriff’s cook to Robin and told him everything they had. Then, having an idea Little John ran into the forest until he found the sheriff hunting with hound and horn. “Reynold Greenleaf, said the Sheriff, “Where have you been? “Looking for deer the same as you. 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 he saw Robin, Little John pointed 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 £303. “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. “Sheriff, said Robin, “you will live in the forest with me and my men for the next 12 months and I will teach you about life in the greenwood. “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 harm me, either on water or on land. Furthermore, 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 knight’s fortune at the expense of the Abbott.
The Sheriff hurried back to Nottingham, leaving Robin and his men in peace. “Is it dinner time yet, 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 will keep his word. “While we wait, said Robin, “take your best bow, and go with Much and Will to the Saylis and if someone comes who is poor, we will help them.Off the three went. Soon a Benedictine Monk appeared riding a good saddle-horse. “It looks as though he brings our money, said Little John. “Prepare your bows; he has over 50 men and seven pack-horses. “Brethren, said Little John. “We three men invite you to dinner, 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 will 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 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 will 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, “enough for my daily expenses. “If that is all, I won’t take a penny; and if you need more, I will lend it to you. Should you have more, said Robin, “you will have it no longer. For, by your own admission, you only need 20 marks.
Little John, check him out. Little John spread his mantle on the ground and counted over £800 in the monk’s wallet. Little John said to Robin, “Our Lady has doubled your pay. “By precious God, said Robin Hood, “Our Dear Lady is the best guarantor in the entire world. The monks jumped on their horses and galloped away, shouting “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.
Sir Richard of 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 £400 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. I am satisfied with what I have and for that reason, I have written off your debt to me. The £400 you earned during the year covers the £400 you lost to your friends, your son is out of jail and we are both £400 better off than we were 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. They each had six shots, and the winner got a silver arrow. Three times Robin sliced the wand as did Gilbert, with the white hand. Robin won the silver arrow, but during a fracas, someone hit Little John in the knee with an arrow. He could neither walk nor ride a horse. “Robin, said Little John, “don’t let the sheriff get me, 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. With one heave Robin lifted Little John onto his back and carried his friend until they came to a fair castle double ditched, sheltered in a wood. There lived the noble knight Sir Richard at the Lee. He ushered them in, shut the gates, raised the drawbridge, and took them into the main hall where they feasted like kings for 12 days, repaying Robin many times over for the meal he had promised at the Saylis. Even better, he had beaten the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Sixth Fytte. The sheriff meets his end.
“You are a traitor, the Sheriff said to Sir Richard. “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. Do not come back until you find the king’s will. Straightway the sheriff went to London Town to see the King. There he told of how the knight protected Robin Hood. “My king, said the sheriff, “the knight said he supported everything he did to protect the outlaws. He is making you my king powerless in your northern kingdom.
“I am going to Nottingham. I will take care of Robin Hood and the knight when I get there. Go home sheriff and get the best archers in England. By this time Little John could walk and run again on his injured knee.
The sheriff plotted how to capture Sir Richard as ordered by the king. His chance came when Sir Richard was hunting by the river bank while Robin was in the Greenwood hunting deer. Mission accomplished the sheriff took Sir Richard to Nottingham tied hand and foot. 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. The sheriff has my wedded lord bound fast in Nottingham for his loyalty to you, for the sake of our Dear Lady, please I ask, bring him safe back home.
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, “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 will thrive. Robin’s men attacked the Sheriff’s men with their bright, sharp swords while Robin cut Sir Richard free. He thrust a bow into his hands and said, “Leave your horse and learn to run. From now on, 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 as he said he would. In Lancashire Robin was herding and killing deer at will while 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, up 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.
They found Robin under a linden tree surrounded by archers bold. Robin took the king’s horse and said “Sir Abbot, please stay awhile, 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 I only have 40 pounds left. If I had a hundred pounds, you could have half. Robin took the £40, saying while sharing it with his men, “you promised fifty, thank you, sir, forty will do for now until we meet again. “Thank you! Said our King.
Then 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 before him 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 his sleeve up 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 can well shoot ¦ Robin’s voice faded as he realised the abbot’s true identity and knelt before the King.
Our King and Robin met this way. After confirming he was the king, Robin, and Sir Richard of 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, he said. “Now you leave the Greenwood and your company and come to my court and there you will dwell with me. “I made my support to God, said Robin, “And it will be. I will be there in your court, your service to see and bring my men seven score and three. If I dislike your service, I will return and shoot the dunnÃ¨ 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 you will clothe me in green before Christmas too.
The king threw off his cloak and put on Lincoln Green like his knights. “To Nottingham, we go, said our King. They bent 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 will never win, even if we played all year.
The people of Nottingham stood and stared, mantles of green covered the field. “Our king must have died, they said, “and Robin Hood has come to town. He leaves no one alive. Panicking, they fled. Yeoman and old women hobbled on 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 15 months. His money, property, and men had gone except for Little John and William Scathelock as he sought favour in the king’s court. Robin watched the young men shooting way off target and thought; “I was the best archer in the whole of Merry England, but now my strength has gone. If I stay any longer with the king, I will die of heartache.
His mind made up, our Robin talked with the king: “Sire, 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, Sire, said Robin on his bended knee.
Saying goodbye, he headed to the Greenwood. Bird-song filled the air as Robin arrived back home on a bright and sunny morning. He felt young again, “I missed this place, I love to shoot. He shot a full noble heart and then he blew his horn. Knowing their master had returned, all 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 20 years and two. Till his wicked kinswoman, the prioress of Kirklees betrayed him for the love of her special lover. Much evil did she and the knight Sir Rogers of Doncaster plot in secret together how best to kill him. By their foul play, they betrayed the noble Robin Hood. Christ, have mercy on his soul.”
Copyright © 2018, Graham Kirkby NEXT PAGE