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ROBIN HOOD AND GUY OF GISBORNE.
We have here a ballad of Robin Hood (from the Editor's folio MS.) which was never before printed, and carries marks of much greater antiquity than any of the common popular songs on this subject.
The severity of those tyrannical forest-laws, that were introduced by our Norman kings, and the great temptation of breaking them by such as lived near the royal forests, at a time when the yeomanry of this kingdom were every where trained up to the long-bow, and excelled all other nations in the art of shooting, must constantly have occasioned great numbers of outlaws, and especially of such as were the best marksmen. These naturally fled to the woods for shelter; and, forming into troops, endeavoured by their numbers to protect themselves from the dreadful penalties of their delinquency. The ancient punishment for killing the king's deer was loss of eyes and castration, a punishment far worse than death. This will easily account for the troops of banditti which formerly lurked in the royal forests, and, from their superior skill in archery and knowledge of all the recesses of those unfrequented solitudes, found it no difficult matter to resist or elude the civil power.
Among all those, none was ever more famous than the hero of this ballad, whose chief residence was in Shirewood forest, in Nottinghamshire; and the heads. of whose story, as collected by Stow, are briefly these.
"In this time [about the year 1190, in the reign of "Richard I.] were many robbers, and outlawes, among "the which Robin Hood, and Little John, renowned "theeves, continued in woods, despoyling and rob"bing the goods of the rich. They killed none but "such as would invade them, or by resistance for "their own defence.
"The saide Robert entertained an hundred tall men
"and good archers with such spoiles and thefts as he "got, upon whom four hundred (were they ever so strong) durst not give the onset. He suffered no "woman to be oppressed, violated, or otherwise mo"lested: poore mens goods he spared, abundantlie "relieving them with that which by theft he got from "abbeys and the houses of rich carles: whom Maior "(the historian) blameth for his rapine and theft, but "of all theeves he affirmeth him to be the prince, and "the most gentle theefe." Annals, p. 159.
The personal courage of this celebrated outlaw, his skill in archery, his humanity, and especially his levelling principle of taking from the rich and giving to the poor, have in all ages rendered him the favourite of the common people, who, not content to celebrate his memory by innumerable songs and stories, have erected him into the dignity of an earl. Indeed, it is not impossible, but our hero, to gain the more respect from his followers, or they to derive the more credit to their profession, may have given rise to such a report themselves: for we find it recorded in an epitaph, which, if genuine, must have been inscribed on his tombstone near the nunnery of Kirklees in Yorkshire; where (as the story goes) he was bled to death by a treacherous nun to whom he applied for phlebotomy:
* Hear undernead dis laitl stean
obiit 24 kal. dekembris, 1247.
This Epitaph appears to me suspicious: however, a late antiquary has given a pedigree of ROBIN HOOD, which, if genuine, shows that he had real pretensions to the Earldom of Huntington, and that his true name
See Thoresby's Ducat. Leod. p. 576. Biog. Brit. vi. 3933.
was ROBERT FITZ-OOTH.* Yet the most ancient poems on Robin Hood make no mention of this Earldom. He is expressly asserted to have been a yeomant in a very old legend in verse preserved in the archives of the public library at Cambridge,‡ in eight FYTTES or Parts, printed in black letter, quarto, thus inscribed: "Here begynneth a lytell geste of Robyn hode and "his meyne, and of the proude sheryfe of Notyngham." The first lines are,
"Lithe and lysten, gentylmen,
"That be of fre-bore blode:
"I shall you tell of a good YEMAN,
"Robyn was a proude out-lawe,
The printer's colophon is, "C Explicit Kinge Ed"warde and Robin hode and Lyttel Johan. Enprented "at London in Fletestrete at the sygne of the sone "by Wynkin de Worde.". -In Mr. Garrick's Collections is a different edition of the same poem "C "Imprinted at London upon the thre Crane wharfe "by Wyllyam Copland," containing at the end a little dramatic piece on the subject of Robin Hood and the friar, not found in the former copy, called, "A "newe playe for to be played in Maye games very plesaunte and full of pastyme. (..) C."
I shall conclude these preliminary remarks with observing, that the hero of this ballad was the favourite subject of popular songs so early as the time of K
Edward III. In the Visions of Pierce Plowman, written in that reign, monk says,
Stukeley, in his Palæographia Britannica, No. II. 1746.
Old plays, 4to. K. vol. x.
I can rimes of Boben Hod and Randal of Chester,
See also in Bp. Latimer's Sermons* a very curious and characteristical story, which shows what respect was shown to the memory of our archer in the time of that prelate.
The curious reader will find many other particulars relating to this celebrated Outlaw, in Sir JOHN HAWKINS'S Hist. of Music, vol. iii. p. 410, 4to.
For the catastrophe of Little John, who, it seems, was executed for a robbery on Arbor-hill, Dublin, (with some curious particulars relating to his skill in archery,) see Mr. J. C. WALKER's ingenious "Memoir on the Armour and Weapons of the Irish," p. 129, annexed to his "Historical Essay on the Dress of the Ancient and Modern Irish." Dublin, 1788, 4to.
Some liberties were, by the Editor, taken with this ballad; which, in this Edition, hath been brought nearer to the folio MS.
WHEN Shaws beene sheene, and shradds full fayre, And leaves both large and longe,
Itt is merrye walking in the fayre forrèst
To heare the small birdes songe.
The woodweele sang, and wold not cease,
Sitting upon the spraye,
Soe lowde, he wakened Robin Hood,
In the greenwood where he lay.
Ver. 1. For shaws the MS. has shales: and shradds should perhaps be swards: i. e. the surface of the ground: viz "when the fields are in their beauty :" or perhaps shades.
*Ser. 6th before K. Ed. Apr. 12. fol. 75. Gilpin's Life of Lat. p. 122.
Now by my faye, sayd jollye Robin,
I dreamt me of tow wighty yemen,
Methought they did mee beate and binde,
And tooke my bow mee froe;
If I be Robin alive in this lande,
Ile be wroken on them towe.
Sweavens are swift, Master, quoth John,
Buske yee, bowne yee, my merry men all,
Then the cast on their gownes of grene,
Until they came to the merry greenwood,
There were the ware of a wight yeoman,