Holiday Postcard

I could not resist showing this traditional British holiday postcard after returning to the shores of England after a weeks vacation.

One Year of the Story

This is the tale of Robin Hood
And of his merry men........

And with Alan a Dale’s opening song from Walt Disney’s ‘Story of Robin Hood’ I began my first posting a year ago. I would like to thank all those that have left their kind words of encouragement in my message book or on the site over this period. There are two people in particular who have added links to this site from their web pages who I would like to thank. Anna Fraser on the ‘Robin Hood Appreciation Society’ site and ‘Robin Hood’ on his ‘Robin Hood 2007.’ Both of these sites are incredibly informative and well worth regular visits (links to their sites can be found in the right-hand column).

During the past 123 postings we have had a look at Denham Studios, some of the lives of the stars of the movie, including James Robertson Justice, Bill Owen, Joan Rice, Peter Finch and others. Also featured was the genius behind the movie, Walt Disney, and the amazing talents of Carmen Dillon, Ken Annakin and Peter Ellenshaw.

Other topics in the years postings, have included the release of the Story of Robin Hood on 8mm Disney Home Movies and the film’s showing on the luxurious cruise ship Caronia.

But this blog is also about the fascinating legend of Robin Hood. So we have examined a couple of the early ballads about the outlaw, the original size of Sherwood Forest, the ruthless rules of medieval forest law and its penalties, Friar Tuck, archery, the quarter-staff and the mystery surrounding the legends of Will Scarlet’s and Little John’s graves. All these posts are labelled in the right hand column where they can be easily accessed.

I am taking a short break, but will be back soon. In the meantime it would be great to hear from some of you. Your comments are always very welcome and encouraging, so please, if you are a first time visitor, or one of my regulars, please drop a line! When did you first hear the story of Robin Hood? Why do you think an English medieval outlaw with a wooden bow and arrow is still popular all over the world in the twenty-first century? Have you seen the new BBC series of Robin Hood and how does it compare to past productions?

See you in about a week!

A Gest of Robyn Hode

Above is one of the earliest images of Robin Hood. It comes from the first page of the Gest of Robyn Hode (c.1508) by Scotland’s pioneer printers Walter Chepman and Androw Myller. This Chepman & Myllar print of the Gest is in the National Library, Edinburgh. But this woodcut image of Robin Hood had also been used before, by one of the first printers of English books, Richard Pynson (1448-1529) as an illustration of the knight’s yeoman, in his edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1491) shown below.

Robin Hood and the Monk

We have recently looked at the extremely complex Lytell Geste of Robyn Hode which was appearing in print by about 1510. But the earliest surviving Robin Hood ballad is the ‘talking of the munke and Robyn Hode’, or as it is more commonly known, Robin Hood and the Monk, which is dated at some time after 1450.

Dobson and Taylor in their ‘Rymes of Robyn Hood’ (1989) describe Robin Hood and the Monk as the 'supreme example in medieval English literature of the genre of yeoman minstrelsy.' And the great American collector of ballads, Professor Francis James Child (1825-1896) said,
‘too much could not be said in praise of this ballad, but nothing need be said.’

‘Robin Hood and the Monk’
can be found in a Cambridge University manuscript Ff.5.48. together with The Turnament of Tottenham, The Clerk and the Nightingale and various devotional pieces. The section containing the ballad of Robin Hood has been damaged by damp, but the main problem according to Dobson and Taylor, is the carelessness of the scribe when copying the text into the manuscript, leaving a quite lengthy passage missing, between stanzas 30-31. Although the late fifteenth century handwriting of the anonymous scribe, is described as ‘very clear’ and ‘cursive’ .

There are two important points to note. This tale would have actually been heard by audiences of the late fifteenth century before the ballads were transferred to print. Also, Robin Hood and the Monk is the only surviving early ballad that has no reference to the outlaw's Yorkshire haunts. It is set in mery Scherwode, where Little John knows every path.

The ballad begins:

In somer, when the shawes be sheyne,
And leves be large and long,
Hit is full mery in feyre foreste
To here the foulys song.

To se the dere draw to the dale,
And leve the hills hee,
And shadow hem in the leves grene,
Under the grene wode tre.

Hit befell on Whitsontide,
Erly in a May mornyng,
The sun up feyre can shyne,
And the briddis mery can syng.

It has been a fortnight since Robin has heard Mass, so he decides to make amends and take Little John with him to Nottingham.

Than spake Moche, the mylner sun,
Ever more wel hym betyde!
‘Take twelve of thi wyght yemen,
Well weppynd, be this side.
Such on wolde thi selfe slon,
That twelve dar not abyde.’

But Robin will take none but Little John to ‘beyre my bow’. On the way they quarrel over a game of ‘shooting a penny.’ Robin strikes Little John with his hand and his loyal companion draws his sword.

‘Were thou not my maister,’ seid Litull John,
‘Thou shuldis by hit ful sore;
Get the a man wher thou wilt,
For thou getis me no more.’

They both go off in a temper.

While Robin is praying in the church of St. Mary’s in Nottingham, he is recognised by a ‘gret-hedid munke’ who runs off to inform the sheriff. On the way the monk orders all the town gates to be closed.

‘Rise up,’ he seid, ‘thou prowde schereff,
Buske the and make the bowne;
I have spyed the kynggis felon,
Ffor soothe he is in this town.’

The monk continues:

‘This traytur name is Robyn Hode,
Under the grene wode lynde;
He robbyt me onys of a hundred pound,
Hit shalle never out of my mynde.’

When the sheriff and his men arrive at St. Mary’s Church, Robin begins to wish he had not quarrelled with Little John. He manages to kill twelve with his two-handed sword, but becomes over powered when his sword breaks on the sheriff’s head.

Due to damage and a section missing from the manuscript we are suddenly in Sherwood Forest, where the outlaws fall swooning at the news of their leaders capture. But Little John tells them to pluck up their hearts :

‘He has servyd Oure Lady many a day,
And yet wil, securly;
Therfor I trust in Hir specialy;
No wyckud deth shal he dye.’

The monk and his page are then told to travel with a letter telling the news of the capture of Robin Hood to the king. But they eventually meet up with Little John and Much, who have spent the night at the house of Much's uncle. 'The hye way was full nere.'

John asks the monk of news about a ‘false outlaw’ who robbed Much and himself of 20 marks. The monk replies that Robin Hood once stole one hundred pounds from him and they may thank him for laying hands on the outlaw first.

The two yeoman then suggest that they should accompany the monk, as many outlaws are lurking about. So Little John leads the monk’s horse, whilst Much leads that of the page.

Suddenly Little John pulled the monk off his horse by the hood and let him fall to the ground.

‘He was my maister,’ seid Litull John,
‘That thou hase browght in bale;
Shalle you never cum at our kyng,
Ffor to telle hym tale.’

John smote of the munkis hed,
No longer wolde he dwell;
So did Moch the litull page,
Ffor ferd lest he wold tell.

John and Much then bury the monk and his page and set off with the letters to the king.

‘God yow save, my lege king!’
To speke John was full bolde;
He gaf hym the letters in his hond,
The kyng did hit unfold.

The kyng red the letters anon,
And seid, ‘So mot I the,
Ther was never yoman in mery Ingland
I longut so sore to se.’

They explain to the king that the monk had died on his way to London, so the monarch gives John and Much £20 and makes them yeoman of the Crown. The king then gave Little John a seal with instructions to the sheriff to let Little John and Much escort Robin Hood to London.

Little John and Much return to Nottingham, but find all the town gates locked. When Little John asks the porter why, he replies that it is through fear that Robin will be rescued by his men.

Litull John spyrred after the schereff,
And sone he hym fonde;
He oppyned the kingus prive seell,
And gaf hym in his honde.

The sheriff asks what has happened to the monk, Little John replies that the king has made him abbot of Westminster
‘a lorde of that abbay’.

The scheref made John gode chere,
And gaf hym wyne of the best;
At nyght thei went to her bedde,
And every man to his rest.

When the scheref was on slepe,
Dronken of wyne and ale,
Litul John and Moch for soothe
Toke the way unto the jale.

Little John calls the gaoler and tells him that ‘Robyn Hode had brokyn prison’.

The porter rose anon sertan,
As sone as he herd John calle;
Litul John was redy with a swerd,
And bare hym to the walle.

Robin is unbound and given a sword. Once outside the outlaws then make for the lowest point of the wall and jump to freedom.

Be that the cok began to crow,
The day began to spryng;
The scheref fond the jaylier ded,
The comyn bell made he ryng.

The sheriff causes the town (comyn) bell to be rung and makes it known that whoever can bring Robin Hood to him, ‘wheder he be yoman or knave’, shall have his reward.

The scheref made to seke Notyngham,
Both be street and stye,
And Robyn was in mery Scherwode,
As light as lef on lynde.

Once in the forest Little John explains that he has done his master a good turn for an evil one and it is time for him to leave. But Robin will not let him go and offers him leadership of the outlaw band. Little John declines, but says, ‘lat me be a fellow.’ Robin’s men then celebrate their leaders safe return.

They filled in wyne and made hem glad,
Under the levys smale,
And yete pastes of venison,
That gode was with ale.

Meanwhile the king hears how Robin Hood had escaped and the sheriff dared not come to see him.

Then bespake oure cumly kyng,
In an angur hye:
‘Little John hase begyled the schereff,
In faith so hase he me.’

The king explains that the sheriff might have died for his negligence had he not been tricked as well.

I made hem yemen of the crowne,
And gaf hem fee with my hond;
I gaf hem grith, seid oure kyng
Thorowout all mery Inglond.

Such yeoman as these, the king says,
‘in all Inglond ar not thre.’

‘He is trew to his maister,’ seid our kyng,
‘I sey, be swete Seynt John,
He lovys better Robyn Hode
Then he dose us ychon.

‘Robyn Hode is ever bond to hym,
Bothe in street and stalle;
Speke no more of this matter,’ seid oure kyng,
‘But John has begyled us alle.’

Thus endys the talking of the munke
And Robyn Hode I wysse;
God, that is ever a crowned kyng,
Bryng us all to his blisse!


Robin et Marion

The association between Robin Hood and Maid Marian, is believed by most scholars, to have arisen through the many rustic spring and summer festivals. One remarkably early link between these two names is in the French pastourelle play, Le Jeu de Robin et Marion, created at the Court of Naples for Charles of Anjou about 1283 by Adam de la Halle (1235?-1288?) one of the last French trouveres.

The trouveres were troubadours from northern France, between the 11th to the 14th century, whose beautiful poetry and songs celebrating love or ‘fine amour’ were composed in the northern dialects of France. The first trouveres appeared in the court of Marie de Champagne, sister of Richard the Lionheart, in about 1170. Some 2130 poems and songs have survived by these entertainers, including work by King Richard’s faithful legendry trouvere, Blondel de Nesle (c.1155-1202).

De la Halle, Adam of the Market, Adam the Uneven One, or Hunchback of Arras as he was also known, was a trouvere poet and musician from Arras, in the centre of the Artois region of France. He is credited with over sixty musical combinations and is often described as the innovator of the earliest French secular theatre. His combination of music and drama led to the beginning of Opera Comique.

The exact date of his birth is not known but it is considered to have been sometime between 1235-1240. Adam is believed to have been the son of a ‘Master Henry the Uneven One who is employed in Arras’. He studied grammar, theology and music at the Cistercian Abbey of Vaucelles near Cambric and went on to the Notre Dame School in Paris. He later married Marie who is often the subject of many of his chansons.

As a member of the Brotherhood of Jugglers and the Middle Class men of Arras, Adam de la Halle moved in courtly circles, and in 1271 he became one of the train of Robert II Count of Artois (1250-1302). His use of the name Robin, may be a droll reference to his patron.

The date of de la Halle’s death is controversial, but it is generally agreed to have been in Naples, about 1288.

Robin et Marion survives in various manuscript sources and is probably the first play with music, on a secular subject by a single composer. The play, based on a popular widespread refrain, Robins m’aime, Robins m’a: Robins m’a demandee : si m’ara , became popular all over Europe. A performance was recorded in a letter of remission for the first time at Angers in the Loire Valley in 1392:

Jehan le Begue and five or six other students, his companions, went round the town of Angers, masked, to perform a play called ‘Of Robin and Marion’ as in customarily done each year during the Whitsuntide fair by local people, whether students, burghers’ sons or other groups.

It must be stressed that Robin, the country boy- the lover of Marian the shepherdess- is not an outlaw. But this theatrical adaption of the pastourrelle, the story of Marion’s near seduction by a knight had a very large influence on the English May Games. The English poet, John Gower (c.1330– 1408) in his Speculum Mediantis (Mirroir de l’Omme), a work of 30,000 lines written between 1376-78 describes Robin and Marion’s role in the village festivals and goes on to condemn monks that revel and follow the rule of Robin, rather than Saint Augustine.

De la Halle’s play was originally accompanied by lively dancing, singing and folk music, including instruments such as cornets, bagpipes and a drum. His compositions can still be seen today.

Below are translated excerpts from the first scene of his play :

Robin loves me, Robin is mine,
Robin wants me, he shall have me.
Robin has bought for me a fine scarlet dress, a petticoat and belt,
A leur i va !
Robin loves me, Robin is mine,
Robin wants me, he shall have me.

I am returning from tournament
And I find Marion alone
The girl with the gorgeous body.

Oh! Robin, if you love me,
Save me, for love’s sake!

God give you good day,
Shepherdess !

God keep you, sir!
Robin’s not like his sort,
He’s much more merry:
He stirs up our whole town
When he plays his bagpipes.

Now tell me, sweet shepherdess,
Could you love a nobleman ?

Back off, fine sir.
I don't know any nobleman;
Of all the men in the world,
I only love Robin.
It’s his custom to seek me out here
Every day, evening and morning;
To bring me some of his cheese.
(I’ve got some of it left in my bodice
As well as a big hunk of bread)
Which he brought me at dinner time.

Well now, tell me pretty shepherdess,
How would you like to come with me
On this lovely palfrey
And play games
Down by that thicket
In the valley ?

Oh dear! Sir, back off your horse
It nearly kicked me,
Robin’s horse doesn’t lash out
When I walk behind the plough.

Shepherdess, be my love
Please grant my request.

Sir, keep away from me:
It’s not seemly for you to be here.
I was very nearly kicked by your horse
What is your name?


You are wasting your time, Sir
I shall never love anyone except Robin.

© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007