The Early Ballads

Robin Hood and the Monk

This ballad was found in a manuscript collection written about 1450, it is believed to be the oldest surviving written ballad of Robin Hood. It begins with Robin and Little John in the greenwood, they argue then go their separate ways; Robin goes to Saint Mary’s Church in Nottingham, Little John goes to Sherwood. After being recognized in church by a ‘gret hedit Munke’ who runs to Nottingham to inform the sheriff, Robin is captured by the sheriff of Nottingham and his men. The other outlaws learn of their masters capture, so consequently, Little John and Much the Millar’s son set off to find the monk who is on his way to London with a letter, to convey the news to the king. John kills the monk, and Much kills his page, so they themselves make the delivery. Unaware of who they are, the king makes them yeomen of the crown, and sends them back to Nottingham with a letter ordering the sheriff to send Robin to him. On their return, John and Much are received by the sheriff who invites them to dine. After dinner while he is asleep, they free Robin and all return to Sherwood. The sheriff realizes he has been tricked, and is afraid he will be punished, however luckily for him, the king is impressed by the outlaw’s cleverness and he forgives both Robin and the sheriff.

Robin Hood and the Potter

 

Robin Hood and the Potter formed part of a manuscript collection written about 1503; this ballad has more of a comic element. The story begins with Robin and Little John fighting with a proud potter in “Wentbreg”, (Wentbridge in Yorkshire) who has refused to pay “pavage” for crossing their territory. Little John has a bout of fisticuffs with the potter then Robin fights him with the sword. The potter uses the quarter-staff and he knocks Robin to the ground. Taking his defeat in good stead, he suggests they exchange clothes for a joke. In the guise of a potter, Robin goes to Nottingham to sell pots. He sells his last pots to the sheriff’s wife who invites him home to dine. After dinner Robin shoots in an archery contest with the sheriff’s men, he wins the contest, which impresses the sheriff who asks the “potter” if he knows Robin Hood. Robin says he will show him the whereabouts of the outlaw’s camp, but predictably the sheriff falls into a trap and is then forced to walk home barefoot. The story ends with Robin paying the potter for his goods.

Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne

 

This complex tale or at least a version of it, was probably in existence before 1475, and was found with others in a manuscript that was rescued from a burning house in Shropshire by Thomas Percy. The manuscript is now known as the Percy Folio. Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne appeared in his Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, published in 1765. The ballad is archaic in language and has some similarity to the play of 1475. This is a much deeper and dramatic story. It begins with Robin dreaming that he has been captured by two yeomen, and on awakening, he goes to the greenwood with Little John to seek these two men. Here they see a yeoman clad in horsehide leaning against a tree. Little John offers to investigate but Robin objects and they quarrel. Little John returns to Barnsdale, where the sheriff’s men have killed two of the merry men and are now persuing Will Scarlett. Little John prepares to shoot, but his bow breaks and he is captured and tied to a tree to await execution.