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!



Clement Glen said...

The Ballads of Robin Hood
Robin Hood And The Monk c.1450

Anonymous said...


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hopefully this is just what im looking for, looks like i have a lot to read.

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Anonymous said...

pretty cool stuff here thank you!!!!!!!

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