The Rhymes of Robin Hood

To give the reader a better understanding of how the story of Robin Hood has evolved, I have reproduced all the ballads that form what is generally known as the traditional English cycle. With the exceptions of Robin Hood and the MonkRobin Hood and the Potter and the versions in the Percy Folio, most have survived in broadsides and chapbooks (Robin Hood Garlands) of the seventeenth century or later. Many are preserved in the great collections of Wood, Pepys and Roxburgh, and have been reproduced in varying quantities in successive books, such as those of Thomas Evans, Joseph Ritson, John Mathew Gutch and Francis James Child. (see Printed Sources for the Tales of Robin Hood in this section) Other ballads that contain Robin Hood’s name, but are not considered part of the cycle, have been excluded.

The five oldest surviving tales (see The Early Ballads) show us Robin Hood as he must have been know in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Amongst the remaining  tales, new adventures and new characters can be found, and here we have a personal look at the changes that have been made in the following centuries. I  have chosen all the ballads as they appear, in what I consider to be, the two most important bodies of work; those of The Percy Folio,(1)and Joseph Ritson.(2)The remaining ballads needed to complete the cycle are from the editions of Robert Jamieson(3)and Francis James Child.(4)

1. The name given to the manuscript rescued from a burning house in Shropshire by Thomas Percy, (bishop of Dromore, Ireland from 1782 to 1811). Written in the seventeenth century, the folio contains important ballads of Robin Hood. Two in the folio, Robin Hoode his Death, and Guye of Gisborne, (which happen to be two of the oldest surviving), make their first appearance. There can be no doubt that they existed in some form, in the fifteenth century, as Guye of Gisborne shares some of the subject matter with a play about Robin Hood, (see The Dramatic Fragment) and Robin Hoode his Death is closely related to the closing verses of the Gest. Percy included Guye of Gisborne in his Reliques of Ancient English Poetry,  published in 1765.  I have used Bishop Percy’s Folio Manuscript: Ballads and Romances, ed. J.W. Hales and F.J Furnivall (3 vols, N. Trubner & Co: London, 1867-68). This is considered the first correct, and still definitive edition of the Robin Hood ballads in the Percy Folio.

2. Joseph Ritson, Robin Hood: A collection of all the Ancient Poems, Songs and Ballads, now extant, relative to that celebrated Outlaw. First published in 1795 (2 vols., London), Ritson’s collection contains an edition of the Gest, and the first printed text of Robin Hood and the Potter. His is still considered to be the most comprehensive collection of Robin Hood ballads and literary references. I have used the later edition of 1820; other significant editions are those of 1832, 1846, 1862, 1884 and 1885.

3. Robert Jamieson, Popular Ballads and Songs, from Tradition,  Maunscripts, and Scarce Editions (2 vols., Edinburgh, 1806). I have  reproduced only Robin Hood and the Monk from this edition, which happens to contain the first printed text.

4. Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. I have used the Dover edition, first published in 1965, which is an unabridged and unaltered republication of the work originally  published by Houghton, Miffin and Company: 1882-98 (5 vols., Boston). Vol. III, pp. 39-233, contains Child’s notes and texts of  the Robin Hood ballads,  the standard edition since it’s first appearence in 1888. Child’s English and Scottish Ballads (8 vols., Boston 1857-9), and editions of 1864 and 1885-6 are the forerunners of this much more extensive collection.