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Robin Hood and Queen Catherin: Introduction

Robin Hood and Queen Catherin was a popular ballad in the seventeenth century. It is in Percy's Folio, but too much of the text has been lost through ripped pages for this to be used as a basis for the text. A closely related version, entitled Renowned Robin Hood, exists in six separate broadsides and the two early garlands of 1663 and 1670. The earliest full text of this version in the Wood collection in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, must have been produced by 1655 when Grove, the printer, ceased operations. To judge from its royal content its publication is likely to have derived from before the Civil War began in earnest in 1642: Wing dates the earliest copy c. 1630. However, this ballad has always seemed somewhat incoherent in its opening section and quite unfollowable in its account of the archery contest: it was not clear how many of Robin's men shoot and what aliases they used -- and was Clifton one of their disguises or the name of the king's leading archer? These problems were resolved with the discovery of the Forresters manuscript in 1993. This is one of the two ballads where Forresters is clearly superior to Child's versions, apparently because they represent a fuller text before it was cut down to fit a broadside page (the other is Robin Hood's Fishing). This is the text printed here.

The ballad seems to have been derived from a number of sources. The Gest, Parker's A True Tale of Robin Hood, Robin Hood and the Bishop, probably Munday's Downfall and perhaps Adam Bell were all known to the compiler of what is effectively a Robin Hood adventure within the framework of the court of Henry VIII. Although Robin is on good terms with the queen and becomes accepted by the king, this is not really a gentrified ballad, in that Robin is merely a highway robber and fine archer. The only truly gentrified touch is in the ending added to the ballad in the 1663 garland, where the king finally pardons Robin and makes him "Earle of fair Huntington." Both Wood and Forresters (the end of Percy is missing) conclude with a disagreement between Robin and John, rather unusual for this late date, and reminiscent of their earlier differences of opinion as in Robin Hood and the Monk or Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne.

Even in its somewhat confused broadside form, this was an effective and popular ballad. Child found it "very pleasant" (1965, III, 197), but he also recognized its "exaggeration" and that it was a "piece of regular hack work." It clearly is a made-up ballad drawing on several popular elements. The idea that the queen sympathizes with outlaws is also found in the very popular Adam Bell. Robin Hood and Queen Catherin is constructed for an audience in what the Percy version calls "lovely London," apart from Nottingham which is placed, perhaps in irony, far in the North, line 60. It is tempting to think the ballad may have been produced soon after Martin Parker's A True Tale of Robin Hood, which has royal connections, action in the north, and a sense of the conflict among the outlaws with which this full and, in the Forresters version, well-constructed ballad ends.

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