The King Hunts Robin
Picture, the site of Robin Hood's birthplace.
As the impoverished knight turned for home his fortune restored, Robin announced a tournament against the sheriff’s men. Robin won the prize, but during a fight, an arrow hit Little John in the knee. He could neither walk nor ride a horse. With that, Robin lifted Little John onto his back and carried his friend until he came to Sir Richard’s castle. Sir Richard ushered them in, shut the gates, and raised the drawbridge. The sheriff, being unhappy, told his story to the king in London Town. “I will handle the matter when I go to Nottingham,” said the king. “Hurry home and get the best archers in England.1” Back home, the sheriff captured the knight as he hunted along the riverbank. Now he was the king’s prisoner along with King John of France and the hostages captured at Poitiers.
The king kept his promise and took his English magnates plus King John of France and the hostages captured at Poitiers to Bestwood in Nottingham and then to Lancashire on an extravagant hunting trip in 1364. (Dobson & Taylor). Angered by the lack of deer as the royal party travelled through the pass of Lancashire to Plumpton Park2 the king dismissed Rufus De Strelley, for making false returns in his keeper-ship of the forest (John Granby). Meanwhile in Lancashire much of which belonged to John O’Gaunt the Duke of Lancaster, Robin herded and killed the deer at will. Determined to capture him, 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 came to nought. 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, wear monks robes3 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 with a fine 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. 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. 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 He then 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. This Robin did, playing pluck buffet with the king in archery competitions on the way to Nottingham. After spending fifteen months living in the king’s court his money and men all gone except for Little John and William Scathelock Robin returned to his beloved Barnsdale to shoot the dunne deer.
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 Breadstones 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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