Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne


1 When woods are bright, and branches full fair


1 MS: shales. Child emends to shawes, a word frequently used to set the early summer scene for a Robin Hood ballad. It is not an obvious error for a scribe to make, but no other likely emendation offers itself.

4 MS: singe. Child emends to songe for the sake of rhyme, but this seems unnecessary in the context of the fairly relaxed practices of ballad rhyming.

5 MS: woodweete. Child emends to woodweele, the woodwall or golden oriole; this may have become confused with bird names like godwit and peewit.

7 Editors have felt that although there is no break in the manuscript a substantial piece of narrative is missing. They feel that in the missing stanzas Robin has introduced and described a bad dream. Child locates the gap after line 8, and Dobson and Taylor agree. However, the reason they can reconstruct the notionally missing lines is that (unlike the case in Robin Hood and the Monk after line 120) there is no information missing from the poem. In view of the characteristic "leaping and lingering" style of ballads, and the way in which many Robin Hood adventures begin very rapidly after a short nature introduction, there seems in fact no reason other than the fixed ideas of realist-minded scholars to assume a gap here. The text works as it stands in the manuscript.

13 Little John tries to reassure Robin that since dreams are fleeting they do not need to be taken seriously. Dream lore is a popular theme in Middle English poetry; see Chaucer's Nun's Priest's Tale, lines 2907-3156; The House of Fame, 1-52; and The Romaunt of the Rose, lines 1-20. Like Pertelote in the Nun's Priest's Tale, Little John is giving Robin bad advice.

21 This is a six-line stanza, which can also be identified in several other early texts, e.g., Adam Bell, lines 358-63, Robin Hood and the Potter, lines 208-13, 254-59, 280-85, Robin Hood and the Monk, lines 137-42, as well as several stanzas in the short Robin and Gandeleyn.

25 Child inserts a between of and wight, but these early ballads are often very clipped in their utterance (as in line 28), and there is no convincing case for the emendation.

32 trusty tree. Presumably a corruption of the phrase "trystyng tree." It also appears as "trystyll" (trestle or platform) tree -- presumably suitable for speeches or even hangings. The three notions of tryst, trust, and trestle all embody central concepts of the outlaw band, with its meetings, fidelity, and occasional addresses by the leader.

45 Barnsdale. Child emends to Barnesdale, but this seems a freely varying spelling at this time.

49 Child omits owne.

59 yeiwe. Child reads the manuscript, damaged here, as veiwe and so, with less certainty, do Dobson and Taylor (1976, p. 142). Under ultra-violet light the word appears to be, as might be expected, yeiwe.

70 Dobson and Taylor comment "The confusion of sense in this stanza makes it probable that the text hereabouts is corrupt" (1976, p. 142); it is not clear what they mean by confusion. The action seems straightforward: because John's bow breaks, his inaccurate (and so "vaine," yet still fatal) shot misses the sheriff and hits one of his men.

76 Child reports this line as mostly illegible, but ultra violet light supports his hypothetical reading.

79 This is a long line; Percy remarks that quoth the sheriff has probably been added to clarify matters (Reliques, 1765, p. 80), yet these opening lines of speech with a speaker added recur in the ballads (see Gest, lines 309, 441, 629, 757, 1001, Potter, lines 21, 41, 81, 222, 226), and there seem no good grounds to emend; see line 103 below.

88 lyne. The lime tree is a linden, a tree that is particularly fragrant when in bloom. The term is used often for trees in general, however.

91 Guy speaks the first line and Robin the next three.

103 Guy pretends to be another forester, who also seeks Robin Hood; Little John uses the same maneuver in Robin Hood and the Monk, lines 162-82.

109 MS: mee. Ritson, Gutch, and Child emend to meet.

129 MS: on: an, meaning "if" seems a probable emendation.

138 Gysborne. Child says that "Gisburne is in the West Riding of Yorkshire, on the borders of Lancashire, seven miles from Clitheroe" (III, 91), but Bellamy suggests that Guy is connected with the village of "Guisborough in the North Riding (known in the middle ages as Giseburne)" (1985, pp. 34-35).

151 MS: reachles. Child emends to reacheles, presumably on metrical grounds, but this is unnecessary.

161 Percy emends to "backward," but "acward" meaning "back-handed," here spelled awkwarde, is common in Middle English.

167 Irish kniffe. Presumably a form of hunting knife.

175-76 MS: Robin did on his gowne of green, / On Syr Guye hee did it throwe. This does not make sense. Child emends onin line 175 to off, but this is still very awkward. It is better to assume that having inserted onerroneously in line 175 (because of the collocation with didin the context of clothing), the scribe then tried to patch line 176 by adding "hee did it." If these notional insertions are omitted, the text has the characteristically condensed tone of the early ballad.

181 MS: Barnsdale. As in line 45, Child inserts e unnecessarily.

193 wight. The MS has "wighty," which Child accepts, but this is probably a confusion of the true reading wight and "mighty."

205 Child inserts hath before MS beene. The manuscript reading is certainly unacceptable, but a better emendation would be bee, a subjunctive which a scribe could easily misread as a plural.

218 shrift. Robin continues the suggestion that he is to kill Little John and momentarily plays the priest, who hears the dying man's last words, as well as the executioner.

234 Percy euphemized the action by changing the line to "He shott him into the 'backe'-syde."

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Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne















































When shawes beene sheene and shradds full fayre,1
And leeves both large and longe,
Itt is merry, walking in the fayre forrest,
To heare the small birds singe.

The woodweele sang, and wold not cease,
Amongst the leaves a lyne.
"And it is by two wight yeoman,
By deare God, that I meane.

"Me thought they did mee beate and binde,
And tooke my bow mee froe;
If I bee Robin a-live in this lande,
Ile be wrocken on both them towe."

"Sweavens are swift, master," quoth John,
"As the wind that blowes ore a hill,
For if itt be never soe lowde this night,
To-morrow it may be still."

"Buske yee, bowne yee, my merry men all,
For John shall goe with mee,
For Ile goe seeke yond wight yeomen
In greenwood where the bee."

The cast on their gowne of greene,
A shooting gone are they,
Untill they came to the merry greenwood,
Where they had gladdest bee;
There were the ware of wight yeoman,
His body leaned to a tree.

A sword and a dagger he wore by his side,
Had beene many a mans bane,
And he was cladd in his capull-hyde,
Topp, and tayle, and mayne.

"Stand you still, master," quoth Litle John,
"Under this trusty tree,
And I will goe to yond wight yeoman,
To know his meaning trulye."

"A, John, by me thou setts noe store,
And thats a farley thinge;
How offt send I my men beffore,
And tarry myselfe behinde?

"It is noe cunning a knave to ken,
And a man but heare him speake;
And itt were not for bursting of my bowe,
John, I wold thy head breake."

But often words they breeden bale,
That parted Robin and John;
John is gone to Barnsdale,
The gates he knowes eche one.

And when hee came to Barnesdale,
Great heavinesse there hee hadd;
He found two of his owne fellowes
Were slaine both in a slade,

And Scarlett a foote flyinge was,
Over stockes and stone,
For the sheriffe with seven score men
Fast after him is gone.

"Yett one shoote Ile shoote," sayes Litle John,
"With Crist his might and mayne;
Ile make yond fellow that flyes soe fast
To be both glad and faine."

John bent up a good yeiwe bow,
And fetteled him to shoote;
The bow was made of a tender boughe,
And fell downe to his foote.

"Woe worth thee, wicked wood," sayd Litle John,
"That ere thou grew on a tree!
For this day thou art my bale,
My boote when thou shold bee!"

This shoote it was but looselye shott,
The arrowe flew in vaine,
And it mett one of the sheriffes men;
Good William a Trent was slaine.

It had beene better for William a Trent
To hange upon a gallowe
Then for to lye in the greenwoode,
There slaine with an arrowe.

And it is sayd, when men be mett,
Six can doe more then three:
And they have tane Litle John,
And bound him fast to a tree.

"Thou shalt be drawen by dale and downe,"
quoth the sheriffe,
"And hanged hye on a hill."
"But thou may fayle," quoth Litle John,
"If itt be Christs owne will."

Let us leave talking of Litle John,
For hee is bound fast to a tree,
And talke of Guy and Robin Hood,
In the green woode where they bee.

How these two yeomen together they mett,
Under the leaves of lyne,
To see what marchandise they made
Even at that same time.

"Good morrow, good fellow," quoth Sir Guy;
"Good morrow, good felow," quoth hee,
"Methinkes by this bow thou beares in thy hand,
A good archer thou seems to be."

"I am wilfull of my way," quoth Sir Guye,
"And of my morning tyde."
"Ile lead thee through the wood," quoth Robin,
"Good felow, Ile be thy guide."

"I seeke an outlaw," quoth Sir Guye,
"Men call him Robin Hood;
I had rather meet with him upon a day,
Then forty pound of golde."

"If you tow mett, itt wold be seene whether were better
Afore yee did part awaye;
Let us some other pastime find,
Good fellow, I thee pray.

"Let us some other masteryes make,
And wee will walke in the woods even;
Wee may chance meet with Robin Hoode
Att some unsett steven."

They cutt them downe the summer shroggs
Which grew both under a bryar,
And sett them three score rood in twinn,
To shoote the prickes full neare.

"Leade on, good fellow," sayd Sir Guye,
"Lead on, I doe bidd thee."
"Nay, by my faith," quoth Robin Hood,
"The leader thou shalt bee."

The first good shoot that Robin ledd
Did not shoote an inch the pricke froe;
Guy was an archer good enoughe,
But he cold neere shoote soe.

The second shoote Sir Guy shott,
He shott within the garlande;
But Robin Hoode shott it better than hee,
For he clove the good pricke-wande.

"Gods blessing on thy heart!" sayes Guye,
"Goode fellow, thy shooting is goode,
For an thy hart be as good as thy hands,
Thou were better then Robin Hood.

"Tell me thy name, good fellow," quoth Guy,
"Under the leaves of lyne."
"Nay, by my faith," quoth good Robin,
"Till thou have told me thine."

"I dwell by dale and downe," quoth Guye,
"And I have done many a curst turne;
And he that calles me by my right name
Calles me Guye of good Gysborne."

"My dwelling is in the wood," sayes Robin,
"By thee I set right nought;
My name is Robin Hood of Barnesdale,
A fellow thou has long sought."

He that had neither beene a kithe nor kin
Might have seene a full fayre sight,
To see how together these yeomen went,
With blades both browne and bright.

To have seene how these yeomen together fought,
Two howers of a summers day;
Itt was neither Guy nor Robin Hood
That fettled them to flye away.

Robin was reachles on a roote,
And stumbled at that tyde,
And Guy was quicke and nimble with-all,
And hitt him ore the left side.

"Ah, deere Lady!" sayd Robin Hoode,
"Thou art both mother and may!
I thinke it was never mans destinye
To dye before his day."

Robin thought on Our Lady deere,
And soone leapt up againe,
And thus he came with an awkwarde stroke;
Good Sir Guy hee has slayne.

He tooke Sir Guys head by the hayre,
And sticked itt on his bowes end:
"Thou hast beene traytor all thy liffe,
Which thing must have an ende."

Robin pulled forth an Irish kniffe,
And nicked Sir Guy in the face,
That hee was never on a woman borne
Cold tell who Sir Guye was.

Saies, "Lye there, lye there, good Sir Guye,
And with me be not wrothe;
If thou have had the worse stroakes at my hand,
Thou shalt have the better cloathe."

Robin did his gowne of greene,
On Sir Guye it throwe;
And hee put on that capull-hyde,
That cladd him topp to toe.

"The bowe, the arrowes, and litle horne,
And with me now Ile beare;
For now I will goe to Barnsdale,
To see how my men doe fare."

Robin sett Guyes horne to his mouth,
A lowd blast in it he did blow;
That beheard the sheriffe of Nottingham,
As he leaned under a lowe.

"Hearken! hearken!" sayd the sheriffe,
"I heard noe tydings but good,
For yonder I heare Sir Guyes horne blowe,
For he hath slaine Robin Hoode.

"For yonder I heare Sir Guyes horne blow,
Itt blowes soe well in tyde,
For yonder comes that wight yeoman,
Cladd in his capull-hyde.

"Come hither, thou good Sir Guy,
Aske of mee what thou wilt have."
"Ile none of thy gold," sayes Robin Hood,
"Nor Ile none of itt have."

"But now I have slaine the master," he sayd,
"Let me goe strike the knave;
This is all the reward I aske,
Nor noe other will I have."

"Thou art a madman," said the shiriffe,
"Thou sholdest have had a knights fee;
Seeing thy asking bee soe badd,
Well granted it shall be."

But Litle John heard his master speake,
Well he knew that was his steven;
"Now shall I be loset," quoth Litle Iohn,
"With Christs might in heaven."

But Robin hee hyed him towards Litle John,
Hee thought hee wold loose him belive;
The sheriffe and all his companye
Fast after him did drive.

"Stand abacke! stand abacke!" sayd Robin;
"Why draw you mee soe neere?
Itt was never the use in our countrye
One's shrift another shold heere."

But Robin pulled forth an Irysh kniffe,
And losed John hand and foote,
And gave him Sir Guyes bow in his hand,
And bade it be his boote.

But John tooke Guyes bow in his hand
His arrowes were rawstye by the roote;
The sherriffe saw Litle John draw a bow
And fettle him to shoote.

Towards his house in Nottingam
He fled full fast away,
And soe did all his companye,
Not one behind did stay.

But he cold neither soe fast goe,
Nor away soe fast runn,
But Litle John, with an arrow broade,
Did cleave his heart in twinn.
(see note)

(see note)

woodwall (golden oriole); (see note)
of the lime tree
sturdy; (see note)

from me

revenged; two

Dreams; (see note)

Prepare you, get ready


They put on; (see note)

they were aware; (see note)
against a tree


trysting tree; (see note)


takes no skill to know a knave

cause anger

(see note)

(see note)
forest glade

on foot

shot I'll shoot


yew; (see note)

Misery come to you



(see note)

(see note)

dragged by a horse
(see note)

lime (trees in general); (see note)

(see note)


competitive feats of skill

(see note)
unexpected occasion


315 yards apart

center of the target

ring suspended on stick

stick that holds up ring

if; heart; (see note)

cursed deed

(see note)

friends or relatives




careless; (see note)


Virgin Mary

backhanded; (see note)


(see note)



took off; (see note)
Threw it over Guy's body

(see note)

stood; hill

(see note)

servant (i.e., Little John)

fief (land-holding)
(see note)

set loose

at once

confession; (see note)


rusty with blood at their tips



twain; (see note)

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