The Death of Robin Hood
After absconding from King Edward’s court and returning to his men in Barnsdale, taking part in the Peasants Revolt and then presumably moving to Wakefield in the West Riding of Yorkshire away from the restrictions imposed by Gisbourne, life for Robin returned to normal. One day after hunting the dunne deer, we read Robin felt weak, unwell and could not eat. Saying he would not eat until his cousin the prioress had lett his blood Will Scarllett advised him to take half a hundred of his best bowmen with him. Robin dismissed Scarllett’s advice and rode there with only Little John for company. As they got near the priory, they met an old woman kneeling on a plank over the black water. She banned* Robin and bemoaned his death. When Robin asked why the bann, she explained, “We women have no venison to give Robin Hoode, we weepen for his deare body that this day his blood be lette”.
Entering the convent Robin gave his cousin £20.00 in gold coins, saying to spend it while it lasted, then she would have more. (Edward III introduced gold coins in 1344.) His lifeblood dripping away and realising his end was near Robin 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.”
With head bowed low, Little John, who may have been suffering from the same contagious disease as Robin, went to his relatives at 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) Robins 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 living in cloth carried the bacterium Yersinia pestis. 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. Robins death was inevitable regardless of anything the prioress and/or her lover did. Little John died soon after, perhaps also dying from the ravages of the Black Death.
The old woman kneeling on a plank may have been dying cloth. Woad turns the water black and smells vile causing Queen Elizabeth to decree that dyers (litsters) should not engage in their trade within five miles of where she was staying.
* According to the ballad of Robin's death, the prioress, a member of the knightly Mounteney family was the daughter of Robin's aunt.
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