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Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar


1-4 This stanza may well be meant as a chorus. The Percy MS reads monthes in line 1 and thirteen in Mai in line 2. Child emends In May to I say to make more sense but does not, unlike later versions of the ballad, change monthe in line 1 to moone, as is also required for sense. These changes are made here, though it is just conceivable that the manuscript is right and that the stanza (which is formulaic, and also used in Robin Hood Rescues Three Young Men, see p. 515, lines 1-4) is an element of nonsense song, a genre not unknown in the period.

5 This stanza begins a more familiar opening to a Robin Hood ballad, the "green wood setting" from which the action develops and to which (in line 143) it will return.

15 The Forresters manuscript, which has a version of the 1663 garland text, apparently transmitted by memory, and is less sharp, here has the more common idiom "a heart in grease."

17 The earliest printed text has Sadlock. Although the character is hostile to locks (his name is given as Scathelock and Scarlock, as well as the somewhat euphemized Scarlet), this must be an error.

18 This character's name remains the same in all the versions of this ballad, so can hardly be emended; he is obviously the figure elsewhere called Much, and in earlier dialectal forms some version of OE mycel might have been the base of the form. This may also lie behind the error Nick (see Robin Hood and Allin a Dale, line 22).

22 Child inserts shot after hath, but this seems unnecessary and does not appear until a much later version.

27 The term curtal has raised discussion. Most feel it refers to a shorter gown, worn for mobility: friars were associated with travel among the ordinary people, which was both a source of corruption and also, as in the Robin Hood tradition, popular acceptability. A "tucked friar" is another way of expressing this, which has become the basis for the friar's usual name, Tuck. Child, however, feels that curtal goes back to curtilarius or "gardener" and that this had been the friar's role (III, 122).
Fountains Abby: This Cistercian monastery (never a friary) is, like a number of other locations connected with Robin Hood, in North Yorkshire, very close to Ripon.

29 The fact that other outlaws know the reputation of the man who will challenge Robin is also a feature in Robin Hood and the Potter; it seems as if Robin himself is being tested.

33-34 Mary is a special object of Robin's devotion elsewhere, see Robin Hood and the Monk, line 28, and the Gest, lines 36-37. Robin's oath to abstain from eating is also curiously like King Arthur's refusal to eat until he has seen a guest; see also Gest, lines 23-26.

42 It is not clear why Fountains, always a masculine foundation, is called a nunnery: the term may be being generally used like convent, line 112.

48 After this line the Percy folio has a stanza describing the friar as a "yeoman"; both the term and the stanza seem misplaced and should presumably apply to Robin. The stanza is omitted here.

51 The Percy folio lacks me in this line, which seems necessary, as Child suggests; the manuscript has a number of simple scribal omissions of this kind; see also line 112.

53-54 It is not clear what the friar's good deed done none of long before (that is, recently) might be: could it be an ironical reference to the encounter with Will implied in lines 27-28?

56 If beare were emended to past tense bore the rhyme would work properly, but this would not fit with the auxiliary did, needed for the meter. The rhyme is not particularly bad for an early ballad.

68 In the transition at lines 67-68 from the Percy folio to the garland text, the latter's rhyme in line 68, "pain," needs emending to gree.

76 The earliest printed text reads sing or swim, and could be taken as a droll variation of the cliché. But all the other broadside and Garland versions have sink or swim and that seems the most sensible reading; Child's emendation is accepted.

78 Forresters has the simpler willow for wicker.

79 Here Forresters preserves a line that seems sharper than the 1663 garland; "Robin Hood went dropping to the stone" (i.e., dripping).

95 The text actually reads came ts knees, but as the ellipsis is not needed for meter it seems best to treat it as a mistake.

99 As Child notes (III, 122), this is one of the many horn-blowing incidents in the myth, a feature which has frequent parallels in European folk-tale. This is the only instance, however, where his opponent has an answer to the assembly of the outlaws, which perhaps explains why the horn-blowing is stressed so much early in the ballad.

108 The text has ranking but, especially in the light of the dogs' raking in line 124, this seems an error. Later texts emend the second reference to "ranging," but Child's emendation to raking is accepted.

109 cutted. Referring to his shortened gown.

112 The Percy manuscript lacks a before whole, which seems necessary, as Child suggests.
The friar uses convent ironically; he is a religious hermit, but Robin brings a body of men against him.

117 Child reads the manuscript as fate on, fate on and emends both to fute, whistle, so fitting in with futing in line 119. In fact the MS reads fate on, fute on: this can be taken to mean "play on, whistle away" which makes good sense, and so the text is not emended here.

123 A bandogg is according to Child a hunting dog so fierce it needs to be kept in "bands" or chains. These dogs could be as big as Irish wolfhounds. In the expanded broadside versions they start to savage Robin and can catch arrows in their mouths, but the Percy version does not envisage such an elaborate and improbable encounter.

125-28 This stanza is taken from the garland text as the Percy manuscript merely writes twice the lines: "Every dogg to a man," said the cutted fryar, / "And I myself to Robin Hood." Child inserts "of thine" before a dog in line 125, but this seems unnecessary.

146 Robin is offering the friar a "livery," that is, a new suit of clothing each year if he joins his service, as well as a joining fee of a noble, six and eightpence (line 144); Robin acts as a lord gathering a retinue.

147 As in the Gest and Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne, the outlaw appears to operate in the well-separated areas of Nottingham and Yorkshire. In those cases it is suggested that separate traditions have come together; here there can be no cause other than a sense of geographical mobility.
































But how many merry moones be in the yeere?
There are thirteen, I say;
The midsummer moone is the merryest of all,
Next to the merry month of May.

In summer time, when leaves grow green,
And flowers are fresh and gay,
Robin Hood and his merry men
Were disposed to play.

Then some would leap, and some would run,
And some would use artillery:
"Which of you can a good bow draw,
A good archer to be?

"Which of you can kill a buck?
Or who can kill a do?
Or who can kill a hart of greece,
Five hundred foot him fro."

Will Scadlock he killd a buck
And Midge he killd a do,
And Little John killd a hart of greece,
Five hundred foot him fro.

"God's blessing on thy heart," said Robin Hood,
"That hath such a shot for me;
I would ride my horse an hundred miles,
To finde one could match with thee."

That causd Will Scadlock to laugh,
He laughed full heartily:
"There lives a curtal frier in Fountains Abby
Will beat both him and thee.

"That curtal frier in Fountains Abby
Well can a strong bow draw;
He will beat you and your yeomen,
Set them all on a row."

Robin Hood took a solemn oath,
It was by Mary free,
That he would neither eat nor drink
Till the frier he did see.

Robin Hood put on his harness good,
And on his head a cap of steel,
Broad sword and buckler by his side,
And they became him weel.

He builded his men in a brake of fearne,
A litle from that nunery;
Sayes, "If you heare my litle horne blow,
Then looke you come to me."

When Robin came to Fontaines Abey,
Whereas that fryer lay,
He was ware of the fryer where he stood,
And to him thus can he say:

"I am a wet weary man," said Robin Hood,
"Good fellow, as thou may see;
Wilt beare me over this wild water,
For sweete Saint Charity?"

The fryer bethought him of a good deed;
He had done none of long before;
He hent up Robin Hood on his backe,
And over he did him beare.

But when he came over that wild water,
A longe sword there he drew:
"Beare me backe againe, bold outlawe,
Or of this though shalt have enoughe."

Then Robin Hood hent the fryar on his back,
And neither sayd good nor ill,
Till he came ore that wild water,
The yeoman he walked still.

Then Robin Hood wett his fayre greene hoze
A span above his knee;
Says "Beare me ore againe, thou cutted fryer
Or it shall breed thy gree."

The frier took Robin Hood on's back again,
And stept up to the knee;
Till he came at the middle stream,
Neither good nor bad spake he.

And coming to the middle stream,
There he threw Robin in:
"And chuse thee, chuse thee, fine fellow,
Whether thou wilt sink or swim."

Robin Hood swam to a bush of broom,
The frier to a wicker wand;
Bold Robin Hood is gone to shore,
And took his bow in hand.

One of his best arrows under his belt
To the frier he let flye;
The curtal frier, with his steel buckler,
He put that arrow by.

"Shoot on, shoot on, thou fine fellow,
Shoot on as thou hast begun;
If thou shoot here a summers day,
Thy mark I will not shun."
Robin Hood shot passing well,
Till his arrows all were gone;
They took their swords and steel bucklers,
And fought with might and maine,

From ten o'th' clock that day,
Till four i'th' afternoon;
Then Robin Hood came to his knees,
Of the frier to beg a boon.

"A boon, a boon, thou curtal frier,
I beg it on my knee;
Give me leave to set my horn to my mouth,
And to blow blasts three."

"That I will do," said the curtal frier,
"Of thy blasts I have no doubt;
I hope thou'lt blow so passing well
Till both thy eyes fall out."

Robin Hood set his horn to his mouth,
He blew but blasts three;
Half a hundred yeoman, with bows bent,
Came raking over the lee.

"I beshrew thy head," said the cutted friar,
"Thou thinkes I shall be shente;
I thought thou had but a man or two,
And thou hast a whole convent.

"I lett thee have a blast on thy horne,
Now give me leave to whistle another;
I cold not bidd thee noe better play
And thou wert my owne borne brother."

"Now fate on, fute on, thou cutted fryar,
I pray God thou neere be still;
It is not the futing in a fryers fist
That can doe me any ill."

The fryar sett his neave to his mouth,
A lowd blast he did blow;
Then halfe a hundred good bandoggs
Came raking all on a rowe.

"Here's for every man a dog,
And I myself for thee."
"Nay, by my faith," quoth Robin Hood,
"Frier, that may not be.

"Over God's forbott," said Robin Hood,
"That ever that soe shold bee;
I had rather be mached with three of the tikes
Ere I wold be matched on thee.

"But stay thy tikes, thou fryar," he said,
"And freindshipp I'le have with thee;
But stay thy tikes, thou fryar" he said,
"And save good yeomanry."

The fryar he sett his neave to his mouth,
A lowd blast he did blow;
The doggs the coucht downe every one,
They couched downe on a rowe.

"What is thy will, thou yeoman?" he said,
"Have done and tell it me."
"If that thou will goe to merry greenwood,
A noble shall be thy fee."

"And every holy day throughout the year,
Changed shall thy garment be,
If thou wilt go to fair Nottingham,
And there remain with me."

This curtal frier had kept Fountains Dale
Seven long years or more;
There was neither knight, lord, nor earl
Could make him yield before.
(see note)

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female deer
fat hart; (see note)

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(see note)

from him

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(see note)
generous (noble)

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remembered; (see note)
not long before
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cause you grief; (see note)

on his

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willow tree; (see note)
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small shield

I will not hide from your shot

(see note)

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you will


hurrying; open ground; (see note)

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body of men; (see note)

play on, whistle away; (see note)


fierce dogs; (see note)

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May God forbid


they lay

coin worth six shillings and eightpence

(see note)
(see note)


Go to The Jolly Pinder of Wakefield: Introduction