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A True Tale of Robin Hood


3 The adjective stately has interesting possibilities, both implying a formal style and also suggesting a concern with the state.

5 Both early texts read Robbin here, as later; it is not clear why Child emends to Robin; he does not do so in later instances.

6 Both of the earliest editions read That to begin this line; it makes a better variation with Which beginning line 7; the later 1686 edition which Child consulted also reads That, and he does not explain the origin of what seems an inferior reading in Which.

9-12 Parker, like the gentrifying chroniclers, combines Robin's popularity with his elevated status, as if the two are intimately connected.

24 Bod. reads loved against BL lov'd.

27 Though the longbow was no longer a serious weapon of the battlefield, regular practice in archery was urged on all male town dwellers in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

28 BL spells excercise but Bod. is correct.

29 This reason for Robin's downfall is ultimately drawn from Grafton.

33 The abbot is in the Gest, but there he is antagonistic to the knight, not Robin. Here begins Parker's relentless portrayal of Catholic clerics as the real enemies of Robin Hood, a theme already outlined strongly in Munday's Downfall.

39 The noun cutters implies both swordsmen and robbers: purse-cutters.

49 The northern location of the outlaws is a consistent theme throughout this period. It presumably the reflects difficulties London experienced in controlling the north throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

68 A remarkable and unique assertion about Robin's anti-clerical ferocity, co-existing bizarrely with the outlaw's gentle and kinde qualities in the next few lines. In Robin Hood's Golden Prize he makes the priests swear celibacy, lines 87-90, but that is hardly a parallel.

80 BL reads wisht but Bod. has the correct wish, which Child also prints.

96 A mark was thirteen shillings and four pence; the sum taken was eight thousand pounds.

97-100 There is a clear resemblance to Robin Hood and the Bishop, which is not recorded until later than A True Tale, but was no doubt in circulation.

103 In the first editions the word is is spelt ar--; the 1686 edition spells the word out fully. On villains being forced to ride backwards, face-to-arse, see Thomas Hahn and Richard W. Kaeuper, "Text and Context: Chaucer's Friar's Tale," Studies in the Age of Chaucer 5 (1983), 67-101.

130 The fact that Robin here attacks the "king's receivers" complicates the politics of the ballad; this is a survival from the late medieval combination of king and abbot as forces ranged against the outlaws, and presumably this causes the withdrawal of sympathy from Robin at the end of the ballad. He is a hero for robbing and even castrating clerics, but tackling the king is another matter. It is interesting that Parker, however, did not completely emasculate his story in this respect, and the Robin Hood figure, not dreading law (line 135), finally poses the author with something of a challenge as well. This episode appears to have stimulated the start of Robin Hood and Queen Catherin.

152 Bod.'s venson is metrically a little better than BL's venison.

183 The 1686 edition has he kept, which appears to be a compositor's error.

211-12 Parker imagines the outlaw's crimes in vivid contemporary terms; for parallels see Richard Head, The English Rogue (1650).

229 It is more normal to say "up" if a journey is going north. The idea of a place's importance conveying height is still found in the idiom of "going down" from Oxford, whatever the direction.

233 Arrows often have goose-feather flights, so the term is used metonymically of the arrow itself.

250 The model being used here is the political disturbances of the late medieval period, like that led by "Robin of Redesdale" in 1469, when Sir John Conyers deliberately chose an outlaw-like name for his quite serious rising; another instance was led by "Robin of Holderness" in the same year.

253-54 Parker explains Robin's main support through his elite qualities -- a sign of his reworking of the politics of the tradition.

263 Bod.'s i'th' is a little more precise than BL's ith', as is also the case in line 323.

282 There is a general resemblance to the end of Robin Hood's Fishing, but a closer one perhaps, to the social self-reclamation attempted by donations to charity, especially founding alms-houses by many rich and violent men in the period -- a particularly vivid and surviving set of examples are to be found in Stamford, Lincolnshire.

287-88 The statement apparently disavows the notion of penance through good works as in Catholic doctrine and moves towards the Reformation idea of those who were "elect" were the only true Christians.

293 An apparent reference back to the Gest, lines 51-52.

317-20 A curious prediction, and perhaps partial source, of the later play Robin Hood and his Crew of Souldiers in which Robin, in Nottingham in 1661, submits to the newly established king.

327 Renaissance, even Macchiavellian, counseling finds its way into the myth; the political drama has become much less direct than it used to be.

329 Bod. has one of its rare compositor's errors here, reading Kiug.

333-36 Seventeenth-century politics are shaping here the course of the medieval outlaw's career. Robin no longer has the instinctive support of his men.

345-46 Robin's death is introduced almost as brusquely as in the Gest and with the same effect of resolving an impasse in the plot.

352 BL has his here, which must be an error picked up from line 350.

365 This is the first mention of another hostile cleric in the death sequence: the Prioress is sometimes helped by a yeoman who is hostile to Robin, rather like Guy of Gisborne. See the end of the Gest.

373 In spite of his modernization of the politics and his containment of the hero, Parker is still story-teller enough to underline the essential mythic elements of the story. Whether he is international hero or social bandit, the central figure only comes to death through treachery of someone very close to him, though as in line 383, the tone soon changes.

374 Bod. reads Who, which seems preferable to BL's That.

405 Parker attempts to resolve a contradiction in the story: Robin is betrayed at Kirklees yet also remembered there. Parker has some of the instincts of a scholar, or at least a rationalizer.

409 Parker clearly invokes the scholarly quest for Robin Hood as found in Grafton, Camden, and Leland.

419 Bod. has cleare which loses the rhyme and must be an error.

425 The Gest says Robin dwelled in the green wood after leaving the court twenty yere and two. Perhaps thirteene is meant as an unluckier period.

427 The resemblance to the theme song of the 1950s British television series starring Richard Greene --"Feared by the bad, loved by the good" -- is presumably accidental.

429 Child reads impossible which he cites as the Bod. reading, and a correction to BL's unpossible. But Bod. actually also reads unpossible, which must be accepted.

431 There follows a curious passage, partly nostalgic for the heroic freedom of the past, partly anxious to assure readers of the security of the present. The Robin Hood tradition, it appears, has the power to test its transmitters.

442 BL and Child read dreampt, but Bod.'s dreamt is preferable.

448 The 1686 edition prints Especially but both early editions have the metrically slightly rougher Specially.

460 The meaning seems obscure. Does it imply that he "proved to be more prosperous than he ought to have done?" If so, then should might be a better reading, but the texts are unanimous for could. Or does it perhaps mean "he seemed more prosperous than he really was?" It is clear that Parker is here trying, as thoughout this passage, to moderate enthusiasm for the hero, and this seems to lead him into a lack of clarity.

463 It is not clear what Parker has in mind as our great and horrid crimes, but it adds to the sense of tension throughout this passage, and brings to a somewhat anxious climax the recurrent modernization of the Robin Hood story, as his actions hover between the anti-state violence and quasi-cavalier gentility.

470 Bod. has the slightly more accurate if 'twere, where BL reads if't were.

476 Child reads Hee'l but in fact both early editions have Hee'le.

478 BL has a comma after Bestowed, but Bod. does not; the latter seems the better reading.

480 To support his insistence on veracity, Parker appended the alleged epitaph from Kirklees: this was much copied, even translated into bogus Middle English and carved in stone. It appears to have been written by Parker on the basis of the remarks and hints given by Grafton and Camden; for a discussion, see Holt, 1989, pp. 41-42, and Knight, 1994, pp. 19-21:


Robert Earle of Huntington
Lies under this little stone.
No archer was like him so good:
His wildnesse named him Robbin Hood.
Full thirteene years, and something more,
These northerne parts he vexed sore.
Such out-lawes as he and his men
May England never know agen.
































































































Both gentlemen, or yeomen bould,
Or whatsoever you are,
To have a stately story tould,
Attention now prepare.

It is a tale of Robbin Hood,
That I to you will tell,
Which being rightly understood,
I know will please you well.

This Robbin, so much talked on,
Was once a man of fame,
Instiled Earle of Huntington,
Lord Robert Hood by name.

In courtship and magnificence,
His carriage won him prayse,
And greater favour with his prince
Than any in his dayes.

In bounteous liberality
He too much did excell,
And loved men of quality
More than exceeding well.

His great revennues all he sould
For wine and costly cheere;
He kept three hundred bowmen bold,
He shooting loved so deare.

No archer living in his time
With him might well compare;
He practisd all his youthfull prime
That exercise most rare.

At last, by his profuse expence,
He had consumd his wealth,
And being outlawed by his prince,
In woods he livd by stealth.

The abbot of Saint Maries rich,
To whom he mony ought,
His hatred to this earle was such
That he his downefall wrought.

So being outlawed, as 'tis told,
He with a crew went forth
Of lusty cutters, stout and bold,
And robbed in the North.

Among the rest, one Little John,
A yeoman bold and free,
Who could, if it stood him upon,
With ease encounter three.

One hundred men in all he got,
With whom the story sayes,
Three hundred common men durst not
Hold combate any wayes.

They Yorkshire woods frequented much,
And Lancashire also,
Wherein their practises were such
That they wrought mickle woe.

None rich durst travell to and fro,
Though nere so strongly armd,
But by these theeves, so strong in show,
They still were robd and harmd.

His chiefest spight to the clergie was,
That lived in monstrous pride;
No one of them he would let passe
Along the high-way side,

But first they must to dinner goe,
And afterwards to shrift;
Full many a one he served so,
Thus while he livd by theft.

No monkes nor fryers he would let goe,
Without paying their fees;
If they thought much to be usd so,
Their stones he made them leese.

For such as they the country filld
With bastards in those dayes;
Which to prevent, these sparkes did geld
All that came by their wayes.

But Robbin Hood so gentle was,
And bore so brave a minde,
If any in distresse did passe,
To them he was so kinde

That he would give and lend to them,
To helpe them at their neede:
This made all poore men pray for him,
And wish he well might speede.

The widdow and the fatherlesse
He would send meanes unto,
And those whom famine did oppresse
Found him a friendly foe.

Nor would he doe a woman wrong,
But see her safe conveid;
He would protect with power strong
All those who crav'd his ayde.

The abbot of Saint Maries then,
Who him undid before,
Was riding with two hundred men,
And gold and silver store.

But Robbin Hood upon him set
With his couragious sparkes,
And all the coyne perforce did get,
Which was twelve thousand markes.

He bound the abbot to a tree,
And would not let him passe
Before that to his men and he
His lordship had sayd masse.

Which being done, upon his horse
He set him fast astride,
And with his face towards his arse
He forced him to ride.

His men were faine to be his guide,
For he rode backward home;
The abbot, being thus vilified,
Did sorely chafe and fume.

Thus Robbin Hood did vindicate
His former wrongs receavd;
For twas this covetous prelate
That him of land bereavd.

The abbot he rode to the king
With all the haste he could,
And to his Grace he every thing
Exactly did unfold.

And sayd if that no course were tane,
By force or statagem,
To take this rebell and his traine,
No man should passe for them.

The king protested by and by
Unto the abbot then
That Robbin Hood with speed should dye,
With all his merry men.

But ere the king did any send,
He did another feate,
Which did his Grace much more offend;
The fact indeed was great.

For in a short time after that,
The kings receivers went
Towards London with the coyne they got,
For's Highnesse northerne rent.

Bold Robbin Hood and Little John,
With the rest of their traine,
Not dreading law, set them upon,
And did their gold obtaine.

The king much moved at the same,
And the abbots talke also,
In this his anger did proclaime,
And sent word to and fro,

That whosoere, alive or dead,
Could bring him Robbin Hood,
Should have one thousand markes, well payd
In gold and silver good.

This promise of the king did make
Full many yeomen bold
Attempt stout Robbin Hood to take,
With all the force they could.

But still when any came to him,
Within the gay greene wood,
He entertainement gave to them,
With venson fat and good.

And shewd to them such martiall sport,
With his long bow and arrow,
That they of him did give report,
How that it was great sorow,

That such a worthy man as he
Should thus be put to shift,
Being late a lord of high degree,
Of living quite bereft.

The king, to take him, more and more
Sent men of mickle might:
But he and his still beate them sore,
And conquered them in fight.

Or else, with love and courtesie,
To him he won their hearts:
Thus still he lived by robbery,
Throughout the northerne parts.

And all the country stood in dread
Of Robbin Hood and's men;
For stouter lads nere livd by bread,
In those dayes nor since then.

The abbot which before I nam'd
Sought all the meanes he could
To have by force this rebell tane,
And his adherents bold.

Therefore he armd five hundred men,
With furniture compleate,
But the outlawes slew halfe of them,
And made the rest retreate.

The long bow and the arrow keene
They were so usd unto
That still they kept the forest greene,
In spight o'th' proudest foe.

Twelve of the abbots men he tooke,
Who came him to have tane;
When all the rest the field forsooke,
These he did entertaine

With banquetting and merriment,
And, having usd them well,
He to their lord them safely sent,
And willd them him to tell

That if he would be pleasd at last
To beg of our good king
That he might pardon what was past,
And him to favour bring,

He would surrender backe agen
The money which before
Was taken by him and his men,
From him and many more.

Poore men might safely passe by him,
And some that way would chuse,
For well they knew that to helpe them
He evermore did use.

But where he knew a miser rich,
That did the poore oppresse,
To feele his coyne his hand did itch;
Hee'de have it, more or lesse.

And sometimes, when the high-way fayld,
Then he his courage rouses;
He and his men have oft assayld
Such rich men in their houses.

So that, through dread of Robbin then
And his adventurous crew,
The mizers kept great store of men,
Which else maintaynd but few.

King Richard, of that name the first,
Sirnamed Cuer de Lyon,
Went to defeate the Pagans curst,
Who kept the coasts of Syon.

The Bishop of Ely, chancelor,
Was left as vice-roy here,
Who like a potent emperor
Did proudly domminere.

Our chronicles of him report
That commonly he rode
With a thousand horse from court to court,
Where he would make abode.

He, riding downe towards the north,
With his aforesayd traine,
Robbin and his did issue forth,
Them all to entertaine.

And, with the gallant gray-goose wing,
They shewed to them such play,
That made their horses kicke and fling,
And downe their riders lay.

Full glad and faine the bishop was,
For all his thousand men,
To seeke what meanes he could to passe
From out of Robbins ken.

Two hundred of his men were kild,
And fourescore horses good;
Thirty, who did as captives yeeld,
Were carryed to the greene wood.

Which afterwards were ransomed,
For twenty markes a man;
The rest set spurres to horse, and fled
To th'town of Warrington.

The bishop, sore enraged then,
Did, in King Richards name,
Muster a power of northerne men,
These outlawes bold to tame.

But Robbin, with his courtesie,
So wonne the meaner sort,
That they were loath on him to try
What rigor did import.

So that bold Robbin and his traine
Did live unhurt of them,
Untill King Richard came againe
From faire Jerusalem.

And then the talke of Robbin Hood
His royall eares did fill;
His Grace admir'd that i'th' greene wood
He thus continued still.

So that the country farre and neare
Did give him great applause;
For none of them neede stand in feare,
But such as broake the lawes.

He wished well unto the king,
And prayed still for his health,
And never practised any thing
Against the common wealth.

Onely, because he was undone
By th'crewell clergie then,
All meanes that he could thinke upon
To vex such kinde of men

He enterprized, with hatefull spleene;
In which he was to blame,
For fault of some, to wreeke his teene
On all that by him came.

With wealth which he by robbery got
Eight almes-houses he built,
Thinking thereby to purge the blot
Of blood which he had spilt.

Such was their blinde devotion then,
Depending on their workes;
Which, if 'twere true, we Christian men
Inferiour were to Turkes.

But, to speake true of Robbin Hood,
And wrong him not a jot,
He never would shed any mans blood
That him invaded not.

Nor would he injure husbandmen,
That toyld at cart and plough;
For well he knew, were't not for them,
To live no man knew how.

The king in person, with some lords,
To Notingham did ride,
To try what strength and skill affords
To crush these outlawes pride.

And, as he once before had done,
He did againe proclaime,
What whosoere would take upon
To bring to Notingham,

Or any place within the land,
Rebellious Robbin Hood,
Should be prefered in place to stand
With those of noble blood.

When Robbin Hood heard of the same,
Within a little space,
Into the towne of Nottingham
A letter to his Grace

He shot upon an arrow-head,
One evening cunningly;
Which was brought to the king, and read
Before his Majesty.

The tennour of this letter was
That Robbin would submit,
And be true leigeman to his Grace,
In any thing that's fit,

So that his Highnesse would forgive
Him and his merry men all;
If not, he must i'th' greene wood live,
And take what chance did fall.

The king would faine have pardoned him,
But that some lords did say,
"This president will much condemne
Your Grace another day."

While that the king and lords did stay
Debating on this thing,
Some of these outlawes fled away
Unto the Scottish king.

For they supposd, if he were tane,
Or to the king did yeeld,
By th'commons all the rest on's traine
Full quickely would be quelld.

Of more than full a hundred men
But forty tarryed still,
Who were resolvd to sticke to him,
Let fortune worke her will.

If none had fled, all for his sake
Had got their pardon free;
The king to favour meant to take
His merry men and he.

But ere the pardon to him came,
This famous archer dy'd.
His death, and manner of the same,
I'le presently describe.

For, being vext to thinke upon
His followers revolt,
In melancholly passion
He did recount their fault.

"Perfideous traytors!" sayd he then,
"In all your dangers past
Have I you guarded as my men
To leave me thus at last?"

This sad perplexity did cause
A fever, as some say,
Which him unto confusion drawes,
Though by a stranger way.

This deadly danger to prevent,
He hide him with all speede
Unto a nunnery, with intent
For his healths sake to bleede.

A faithless fryer did pretend
In love to let him blood;
But he by falshood wrought the end
Of famous Robbin Hood.

The fryer, as some say, did this
To vindicate the wrong
Which to the clergie he and his
Had done by power strong.

Thus dyed he by trechery,
Who could not dye by force;
Had he livd longer, certainely,
King Richard, in remorse,

Had unto favour him receavd;
He brave men elevated;
'Tis pitty he was of life bereavd
By one which he so hated.

A treacherous leech this fryer was,
To let him bleed to death;
And Robbin was, me thinkes, an asse,
To trust him with his breath.

His corpes the priores of the place,
The next day that he dy'd,
Caused to be buried, in mean case,
Close by the high-way side.

And over him she caused a stone
To be fixed on the ground;
An epitaph was set thereon,
Wherein his name was found.

The date o'th' yeare, and day also,
Shee made to be set there,
That all who by the way did goe
Might see it plaine appeare

That such a man as Robbin Hood
Was buried in that place;
And how he lived in the greene wood,
And robd there for a space.

It seems that though the clergy he
Had put to mickle woe,
He should not quite forgotten be,
Although he was their foe.

This woman, though she did him hate,
Yet loved his memory;
And thought it wondrous pitty that
His fame should with him dye.

This epitaph, as records tell,
Within this hundred yeares
By many was discerned well,
But time all things outweares.

His followers, when he was dead,
Were some received to grace;
The rest to forraigne countries fled,
And left their native place.

Although his funerall was but meane,
This woman had in minde
Least his fame should be buried cleane
From those that came behind.

For certainely, before nor since,
No man ere understood,
Under the reigne of any prince,
Of one like Robbin Hood.

Full thirteene yeares, and something more,
These outlawes lived thus,
Feared of the rich, loved of the poore,
A thing most marvelous.

A thing unpossible to us
This story seemes to be;
None dares be now so venturous;
But times are chang'd, we see.

We that live in these latter dayes
Of civill government,
If neede be, have a hundred wayes
Such outlawes to prevent.

In those dayes men more barbarous were,
And lived lesse in awe;
Now, God be thanked! people feare
More to offend the law.

No roaring guns were then in use,
They dreamt of no such thing;
Our English men in fight did chuse
The gallant gray-goose wing.

In which activity these men,
Through practise, were so good,
That in those dayes non equald them,
Specially Robbin Hood.

So that, it seems, keeping in caves,
In woods and forrests thicke,
Thei'd beate a multitude with staves,
Their arrowes did so pricke.

And none durst neare unto them come,
Unlesse in courtesie;
All such he bravely would send home,
With mirth and jollity.

Which courtesie won him such love,
As I before have told;
'Twas the cheefe cause that he did prove
More prosperous than he could.

Let us be thankefull for these times
Of plenty, truth and peace,
And leave our great and horrid crimes,
Least they cause this to cease.

I know there's many fained tales
Of Robbin Hood and's crew;
But chronicles, which seldome fayles,
Reports this to be true.

Let none then thinke this a lye,
For, if 'twere put to th' worst,
They may the truth of all discry
I th'raigne of Richard the first.

If any reader please to try,
As I direction show,
The truth of this brave history,
Hee'le finde it true I know.

And I shall thinke my labour well
Bestowed to purpose good,
When't shall be sayd that I did tell
True tales of Robbin Hood.

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Called (Styled)


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swordsmen; (see note)

was necessary

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confession [of wealth]

testicles; lose; (see note)

men (gallants); castrate

prosper; (see note)


men (gallants)
coin (money)
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For his


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in difficulties

great strength

and his


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taken (seized)

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Zion (Palestine)

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knowledge (power)

[in Lancashire]

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avenge his anger

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Who did not injure him

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precedent; (see note)

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taken; (see note)

of his following

only 40 remained

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in a poor state


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Lest; completely; (see note)

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adventurous; (see note)

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Go to Robin Hood and the Pedlars: Introduction