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Little John A Begging


8 No other ballad shows the outlaws directly begging for money; in the Gest Robin orders his men off to seek money by robbery, but it seems unlikely that they would demean themselves by begging. The improbability of this opening is dictated by the later action in which John the false beggar exposes even falser beggars, but this forced quality is not found in the earlier ballads, which open with dramatic but inherently credible sequences.

11 The wording here closely resembles that of Robin Hood Rescues Three Young Men, 89-92; this is not so clearly the case in the version in the Percy Folio and some cross-influence in the London broadside industry appears to have occurred.

23 There are three beggars in the Percy version, not four; later in this ballad when Little John deals with them separately, only three are identified, see lines 50-53.

31 Little John pretends to hear bells ringing when, as becomes clear (and as he presumably has guessed), it is the coins he hears jingling in the coat pockets and bags.

38 In addition to London, the beggars mention two towns at opposite ends of England (Berwick in the north and Dover in the south) and Coventry in the midlands.

41 The "beggars" call John a crooked carril, or churl, because he is stooping in disguise; like them he is pretending to be physically disabled.

48 nere. The version in the 1663 garland has "never" in this line, which is perhaps metrically better, but this does not seem good enough reason to emend.

53 Wood's text reads "them," as if John makes all three beggars run, but the sense is sharper if "him," the reading of the 1663 and 1670 garlands and that of Child, is accepted, as then John makes each of the beggars breach his previous pretence.

59 At a time when, it has been estimated, a craftsman earned three pounds a year, these are unimaginably large sums of money, perhaps equivalent to the astronomical "street value" quoted today for drugs impounded by police.

64 John's humorous oath, repeated by Robin at line 84, swears never to drink water until all the money is expended.

76 John's success at the "beggers trade" is reminiscent of Robin's as a potter or a butcher, and even John's as the sheriff's yeoman in the Gest. The outlaws expose the corrupt or improper nature of a trade and also make huge profits.

80 Both the 1663 and 1670 garlands read "Three hundred and three" but this must be an error as John collects two sums adding up to six hundred and three.



















All you that delight to spend some time
With a hey down down a down down
A merry song for to sing,
Unto me draw neer, and you shall hear
How Little John went a begging.

As Robin Hood walked the forrest along,
And all his yeomandree,
Sayes Robin, "Some of you must a begging go,
And Little John, it must be thee."

Sayes John, "If I must a begging go,
I will have a palmers weed,
With a staff and a coat, and bags of all sort,
The better then shall I speed.

"Come give me now a bag for my bread,
And another for my cheese,
And one for a peny, when as I get any,
That nothing I may leese."

Now Little John he is a begging gone,
Seeking for some relief,
But of all the beggers he met on the way,
Little John he was the chief.

But as he was walking himself alone
Four beggers he chanced to spy,
Some deaf and some blind, and some came behind:
Says John, "Here's brave company!

"Good morrow," said John, "my brethren dear,
Good fortune I had you to see;
Which way do you go? Pray let me know,
For I want some company.

"O what is here to do?" then said Little John,
"Why rings all these bells?" said he,
"What dog is a-hanging? Come let us be ganging,
That we the truth may see."

"Here is no dog a-hanging," then one of them said,
"Good fellow, we tell unto thee;
But here is one dead wil give us cheese and bread,
And it may be one single peny.'

"We have brethren in London," another he said,
"So have we in Coventry,
In Barwick and Dover, and all the world over,
But nere a crookt carril like thee.

"Therefore stand thee back, thou crooked carel,
And take that knock on the crown."
"Nay," said Little John, "I'le not yet be gone,
For a bout will I have with you round.

"Now have at you all," then said Little John,
"If you be so full of your blows;
Fight on all four, and nere give ore,
Whether you be friends or foes."

John nipped the dumb, and made him to rore,
And the blind that could not see,
And he that a cripple had been seven years,
He made him run faster then he.

And flinging them all against the wall,
With many a sturdie bang,
It made John sing, to hear the gold ring,
Which against the walls cryed "Twang."

Then he got out of the beggers cloak
Three hundred pound in gold.
"Good fortune had I," then said Little John.
"Such a good sight to behold."

But what found he in a beggers bag,
But three hundred pound and three?
"If I drink water while this doth last,
Then an ill death may I dye!

"And my begging-trade I will now give ore,
My fortune hath bin so good,
Therefore I'le not stay, but I will away,
To the forrest of merry Sherwood."

And when to the forrest of Sherwood he came,
He quickly there did see,
His master good, bold Robin Hood,
And all his company.

"What news? What news?" then said Robin Hood,
"Come, Little John, tell unto me,
How hast thou sped with thy beggers trade?
For that I fain would see."

"No news but good," then said Little John,
"With begging ful wel I have sped;
Six hundred and three I have here for thee,
In silver and gold so red."

Then Robin took Little John by the hand
And danced about the oak tree.
"If we drink water while this doth last,
Then an il death may we die!"

So to conclude my merry new song,
All you that delight it to sing,
'Tis of Robin Hood, that archer good,
And how Little John went a begging.

yeomanry (men)
(see note)

pilgrim's clothing; (see note)


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(see note)
let us go

Even if

(see note)

crooked churl; (see note)


never; over; (see note)

(see note)

(see note)

(see note)


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Go to Robin Hood's Birth, Breeding, Valour, and Marriage: Introduction