The Death of Robin Hood
Leaving aside for a moment, the discrepancies in the various accounts regarding Sir Roger of Doncaster, we read Robin felt weak, unwell and could not eat. He sought help from his cousin the prioress who; he thought might cure him by the common practice of blood-letting. Robin refused Scarlett’s suggestion of a bodyguard and went to Kirklees with only Little John for company. As they got close to the priory, they met an old woman kneeling on a plank over black water. She banned* Robin and lamented his death. When Robin asked why the bann, she replied, “We, women, have no venison to give Robin Hoode. We weepen for his deare body that this day his blood be lette.”
Robin entered the priory where the nuns nursed the first plague victims and gave his*cousin £20.00 in gold coins, saying to spend it while it lasted, then she would have more. His lifeblood dripping away, Robin realising what was happening said, “Give me my bent bow in my hand, and a broad arrow I will let flee; where this arrow falls, there shall my grave dug be. Lay me a green sod under my head, and another at my feet; and lay my bent bow by my side. It was my music sweet. Make my grave of gravel and green, most right and meet. Let me have length and breadth enough, with a green sod under my head; so they may say when I am dead here lies bold Robin Hood.” These words, they readily granted him. It did bold Robin please, and there they buried bold Robin Hood, within the fair Kirkleys.
Sadly, Little John, who might have suffered from the same infectious disease as Robin, made his way to Hathersage, where he dug his own grave under the old Yew tree. The Lyttle Geste of Robyn Hode, concludes with the line, “he (Robin) did poor men much good”.
The historical setting.
BANN: from Old English bannan means to proclaim or to announce a forthcoming event, as in marriage banns.
The old woman on the plank over black water who announced (banned) Robin's forthcoming death, no doubt recognised his symptoms from earlier outbreaks of the plague that came to England from Calais in 1348. There were fresh outbreaks of plague, for example, at York in 1361, 1369, 1375, 1378, 1390 and 1400. Rat fleas carried the bacterium Yersinia pestis. They infested cloth, Robin dealt in cloth, and York was a seaport. Outbreaks continued until the Great Plague of London in 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666. Robin's death was inevitable regardless of what the prioress and/or her lover did. Little John died as well. It was a sad end to a great man.
* According to the ballad the prioress was his aunt's daughter.
NEXT Copyright © 2014, Graham Kirkby.