The King Hunts Robin
Picture: The site of Robin's birthplace.
As Sir Richard the impoverished knight returned home to his wife, his fortune restored, Robin announced a tournament against the sheriff’s men. Robin won, but during a fight, an arrow hit Little John in the knee. He could neither walk nor ride a horse, so hoisting his friend onto his back, Robin carried him until they came to the safety of Sir Richard’s castle. The sheriff, being unhappy, told his story to the king in London Town. “Hurry back, get the best archers in England, and I will handle the matter when I get there,” said the king. Back home, the sheriff captured Sir Richard while he hunted by the riverside. Now he was the king’s prisoner along with King John of France and the hostages taken captive at Poitiers.
Keeping his promise, King Edward took his English magnates plus the King of France and his countrymen to Nottingham’s Bestwood in 1364. From there they went to Lancashire on a lavish hunting trip. (Dobson & Taylor) Not a single deer could they see as the royal party travelled to Plumpton Park2 through the pass of Lancashire. King Edward became angry and dismissed Rufus De Strelley for making false returns in his keepership of the forest. (John Granby) Meanwhile, Robin herded and killed the deer at will on Lancaster’s (John O’Gaunt) land. Determined to capture Robin, the king told Sir Richard at the Lea, whoever cuts off the knights head and brings it here will have the knight’s lands.
Their attempts at finding the elusive knight failed. Half a year went by without sight or sound of him. Then, a proud forester told the king, “if you want to find good Robin, you must follow me. Bring five of your best knights, put on monks robes.3 and I will lead you to him this side of Nottingham” (i.e. Lancashire.) With that, the king put on abbots clothing while the others wore monks’ habits. As promised, the king met with Robin, who thought they were churchmen. After serving his guests an excellent meal of venison, they shot arrows together. Robin twice split the wand, as did good Gilbert with the white hand. When the outlaws discovered the abbot’s true identity Robin, and Sir Richard of the Lea looked into the king’s face. “My Lord the King of England,” said Robin, “I love you true, of thy goodness and thy grace under your trysting-tree, I beg for my men and me! Yes, for God. Please, God, he saves me! Mercy, I pray my lord the King, and for my men, I crave.” (In June 1369 King Edward III granted a special pardon to all outlaws.4)
The king spoke to Sir Richard at the Lee and returned his land, bidding him loyal be. Robin on one knee thanked his comely king who commanded him, to live in his court. On the way to London, they held archery competitions including one at Nottingham, the battle of Auray took place shortly after on the 19th of September. Fifteen months later, back in England, his money gone from buying favours in the king’s court and with only Little John and William Scathelock for company, and the king going senile, Robin persuaded Edward to give him temporary leave of absence. Having gained his freedom, he never returned.
1. King Edward charged his sheriffs and sometimes his knights with recruiting the best archers. They held competitions throughout the country. The Geste describes two of these events. In the one at Bestwood, Robyn Hood, Gylberte with the white hand, Little John, good Scathelocke and the king shot at two rose-garlands fifty paces apart. The loser suffered a “buffet” on the head. Then, Robin and the King went from Bestwood to Nottingham, dressed in Lincoln Green, shooting at targets as they went. The king needed to recruit archers for the impending Battle of Auray on 19th September 1364.
2. The route King Edward took along the Pass of Lancashire possibly followed the old Roman Road to York. It started near Blackpool on the west coast, then diverted south to Great/Little Plumpton near Westby, then followed the Calder, Ribble and Wharfe river valleys and continued east to the southern edge of the Forest of Bowland, noted for its wild boar. Within the Forest of Bowland is the Forest of Gisburn. At that time the land belonged to King Edward’s son John O Gaunt so presumably, the hunting was fit for a king.
3. Edward III often wore a disguise. In 1341, he competed against 250 others while disguised and trounced them all. Three years later Edward disguised himself again and won the prize as the best knight in the royal household on three consecutive days. When his son John of Gaunt married in 1359 he celebrated with a tournament, competing against his four eldest sons plus 19 nobles dressed as the mayor and aldermen of London and again, he beat the field with honour. In one tournament he wore Thomas Breadstone’s coat of arms and in 1348 he fought incognito at Calais under the command of Walter Mauny. (M. Prestwich)
4. (Charles R. Young, The Royal Forests of Medieval England (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1979), p. 147.)
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