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The Death of Robin Hood


1 This text is constructed from Percy's folio and, where the folio pages are torn, the 1786 English Archer version, as follows: Percy, lines 11-78, 95-126; English Archer, lines 1-10, 79-94, 127-46; editorial linking is provided in lines 42-43 and 97-98.

3 Broom is fairly often invoked in the refrains to lyrics and ballads. The flower that provided the badge of the Plantagenet kings, broom (genet) was thought to have special powers and seems to have been connected with springtime and magic.

5 Robin and John shoot for a wager in several early texts, such as Robin Hood and the Monk and Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne.

6 Hey, etc. A nonsense refrain akin to line 2, to be sung at the end of each stanza. Compare Hey nonny nonny of "A lover and his lass" in Shakespeare's As You Like It. The refrains would bring each stanza to six lines.

8 The text reads fly, but Child emends to flee on the grounds of rhyme. (See line 130 where the form also appears.) Though the next issue of the garland corrects to flee the change is not necessary in the light of the many partial rhymes found in the less literary of the ballads.

13 The adjective merry seems odd for a priory, especially when it will be the location of a tragedy. The term is repeated in lines 53-55. The garland version merely calls the place fair Kirklees.

19 The MS reads there is a good yeoman, but this is clearly an error and is should be omitted, as it is by Child. The reference is presumably to Roger, who is involved with the Prioress as Robin's enemy in this and other versions of the story. There is a resemblance in the language to the presentation of Guy of Gisborne in the earlier ballad.

26 There is a reminiscence here, and in line 31, of the way in which Robin quarrels with his followers to his own disadvantage in Robin Hood and the Monk and, it seems, in Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne. In the Percy version Little John seems to go with him nevertheless, but in the garland version Robin goes alone (without the preceding argument), and John hurries to help Robin when he hears his horn.

26-27 Child prints a row of asterisks here as if there is a gap in the text, but none appears in the Percy folio, and none seems implied in the dialogue and action; Dobson and Taylor do not indicate a break here. See the similar instance in Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne, lines 6-7.

32 The MS reads Nor shoote for a peny. Nor is presumably a scribal error picked up from the beginning of line 28, and needs emending to And.

38 It sounds as if the outlaws laid a plank over the water, but laid means "was lying."

40 Commentators translate banning as "cursing"; this does not make sense. There is an earlier sense of bann as "call on" as in the marriage banns; line 45 makes it clear that the women are prescient of Robin's ending, and that the meaning of banning cannot be "curse," but "lament."

42-43 These lines are ripped out in Percy and are reconstructed as here.

69-70 The narrator's direct evaluative comment is unusual in a ballad.

97 Red Roger is presumably related to Syr Roger of Donkesley or Donkestere, who is involved in Robin's death in the Gest (lines 1806 and 1817).

97-98 The two versions of the ballad do not join neatly here. Lines 96-97 are provided editorially as Robin's answer to John, and the next stanza appears to be John's response, but see line 102.

99 This line is in Percy's hand in the manuscript, and is presumably a piece of editorial linking written by him.

102 The MS reads bite of thee, but if the speaker is John, then emendation to for is needed. It may be that preceding material has been lost which means Robin speaks these lines in a threatening way to Roger. But with what text is available, the emendation is necessary to make sense.

103 The MS also has forth then as if Robin actually escapes, and Child prints this, but it is, from the following action, an impossible reading; to emend to But before then of, meaning "But before then from," makes sense.

The MS reads shop-windowe which must be a scribal error for shot-windowe. The action is obscure here; it seems that Robin, with John's help, is escaping, but Roger catches him at the window and stabs him; Robin is able to kill Roger. Robin knows he is badly wounded, but unlike Roger, who has died unabsolved, he will be able to receive his houzle before death.

105 The MS reads grounding glave, presumably an error for grounden, Child's emendation, which is accepted here.

115 Dobson and Taylor (1976, p. 136) suggest that mood here means "help" or "God" i.e., the sacraments; but this has been referred to in houzle, line 113. Child, in a late note (V, 240), feels that an emendation to "Give me my God" is "not perhaps too bold a suggestion." He returns to this still later (V, 297), arguing that communion bread was called "God." This seems unnecessary. The Old English word mod means courage, and that is the proper heroic thing to ask for at such a moment from a faithful attendant; this is effectively a secular and heroic redefinition of the Catholic deathbed practices, which a layman could not administer.

127 The garland version employs two six-line stanzas here.

136 The reference appears to be to placing a harp with a dead person.

146 Kirkleys is the only place where Robin is supposed to be buried, which is a little unusual for a hero with such a wide-ranging myth. Presumably this is because the Gest, Grafton, and Parker were all specific on this point. An epitaph and even an illustration of the alleged grave were in circulation by the seventeenth century.






























When Robin Hood and Little John
Down a down a down a down
Went oer yon bank of broom,
Said Robin Hood bold to Little John,
"We have shot for many a pound.
Hey, etc.

"But I am not able to shoot one shot more,
My broad arrows will not fly;
But I have a cousin lives down below,
Please God, she will bleed me.

"I will never eate nor drinke," Robin Hood said,
"Nor meate will doo me noe good,
Till I have beene att merry Churchlees,
My vaines for to let blood."

"That I reade not," said Will Scarllett,
"Master, by the assente of me,
Without halfe a hundred of your best bowmen
You take to goe with yee.

"For there a good yeoman doth abide
Will be sure to quarrell with thee,
And if thou have need of us, master,
In faith we will not flee."

"And thou be feard, thou William Scarlett,
Att home I read thee bee."
"And you be wrothe, my deare master,
You shall never heare more of mee."

"For there shall noe man with me goe,
Nor man with mee ryde,
And Litle John shall be my man,
And beare my benbow by my side."

"You'st beare your bowe, master, your selfe,
And shoote for a peny with mee."
"To that I doe assent," Robin Hood sayd,
"And soe, John, lett it bee."

They two bolde children shotten together,
All day theire selfe in ranke,
Until they came to blacke water,
And over it laid a planke.

Upon it there kneeled an old woman,
Was banning Robin Hoode;
"Why dost thou bann Robin Hoode?" said Robin,
"Knowst thou of him no good?"

"We women have no benison
To give to Robin Hoode;
Wee weepen for his deare body,
That this day must be lett bloode."

"The dame prior is my aunts daughter,
And nie unto my kinne;
I know shee wold me noe harme this day,
For all the world to winne."

Forth then shotten these children two,
And they did never lin,
Until they came to merry Churchlees,
To merry Churchlees with-in.

And when they came to merry Churchlees,
They knoced upon a pin;
Upp then rose dame prioresse,
And lett good Robin in.

Then Robin gave to dame prioresse
Twenty pound in gold,
And bad her spend while that wold last,
And shee shold have more when shee wold.

And downe then came dame prioresse,
Downe she came in that ilke,
With a pair of blood-irons in her hands,
Were wrapped all in silke.

"Sett a chaffing-dish to the fyer," said dame prioresse,
"And stripp thou up thy sleeve."
I hold him but an unwise man
That will noe warning leeve.

She laid the blood-irons to Robin Hoods vaine,
Alacke, the more pitye!
And pearct the vaine, and let out the bloode,
That full red was to see.

And first it bled, the thicke, thicke bloode,
And afterwards the thinne,
And well then wist good Robin Hoode,
Treason there was within.

He then bethought him of a casement there,
Thinking for to get down,
But was so weak he could not leap,
He could not get him down.

He then bethought him of his bugle-horn,
Which hung low down to his knee;
He set his horn unto his mouth,
And blew out weak blasts three.

Then Little John, when hearing him,
As he sat under a tree:
"I fear my master is now near dead,
He blows so wearily."

Then Little John to fair Kirkly is gone,
As fast as he can dree;
But when he came to Kirkly-hall,
He broke locks two or three.

"What cheere my master?" said Little John;
"In faith, John, little goode.
My cousin and Red Roger,
Between them let my blood."

"I have upon a gowne of greene,
Is cut short by my knee,
And in my hand a bright browne brand
That will well bite for thee."

But before then of a shot-windowe
Good Robin Hood he could glide,
Red Roger, with a grounden glave,
Thrust him through the milke-white side.

But Robin was light and nimble of foote,
And thought to abate his pride,
For betwixt his head and his shoulders
He made a wound full wide.

Says, "Ly there, ly there, Red Roger,
The doggs they must thee eate;
For I may have my houzle," he said,
"For I may both goe and speake."

"Now give me mood," Robin said to Little John,
"Give me mood with thy hand;
I trust to God in heaven soe hye
My houzle will me bestand."

"Now give me leave, give me leave, master," he said,
"For Christs love give leave to me,
To set a fier within this hall,
And to burne up all Churchlee."

"That I reade not," said Robin Hoode then,
"Litle John, for it may not be;
If I shold doe any widow hurt, at my latter end,
God," he said, "wold blame me.

"I never hurt fair maid in all my time,
Nor at mine end shall it be,
But give me my bent bow in my hand,
And a broad arrow I'll let flee;
And where this arrow is taken up,
There shall my grave digged be.

"Lay me a green sod under my head,
And another at my feet;
And lay my bent bow by my side,
Which was my music sweet;
And make my grave of gravel and green,
Which is most right and meet.

"Let me have length and breadth enough,
With a green sod under my head;
That they may say, when I am dead
Here lies bold Robin Hood."

These words they readily granted him,
Which did bold Robin please:
And there they buried bold Robin Hood,
Within the fair Kirkleys.
(see note)

over; (see note)

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(see note)

I advise you to stay at home
If; angry
(see note)

long bow

you must
(see note)

young men

was lying; (see note)

lamenting; (see note)

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wishes me no harm

went; young men

knocked; door-latch

desired it

that same [place]
surgical knives

(see note)





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a shuttered window; (see note)

sharpened sword; (see note)

last rites

courage (see note)

confession; assist


(see note)


piece of turf

(see note)


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Go to A True Tale of Robin Hood: Introduction