The Original Tales of Robin Hood
Stories fit for royalty
It was only at the end of the Middle Ages when high society, including royalty, became interested in the tales. The Tudors loved Robin Hood, especially Henry VIII. At the end of the 1400's they first appear in manuscript. The tales are all written in the same kind of simple four line rhyme.
- The Little Gest of Robyn Hood
- Robin Hood and the Potter
- Robin Hood and the Monk
- Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar
- Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne
- Robin Hood’s Death
This is a long and rambling serial which combines several stories. They may once have been told separately.
Robin Hood was notorious for 'testing' dinner guests. He would invite - actually his men would kidnap - unsuspecting travellers in the forest and bring them to dinner with Robin. At the end of the meal they would be asked for payment. If they were truthful about their ability to pay they were treated with respect. If they were dishonest they would be searched and robbed of their valuables. Using this trick twice he helps an honest knight to reclaim land from St. Mary’s Abbey in York, by capturing the dishonest cellarer of the abbey.
The next episode sees Little John going to work for the Sheriff of Nottingham. While there he persuades the Sheriff’s cook to join the Merry Men. They leave for the forest taking the Sheriff’s silver. Little John returns to Nottingham and tricks the Sheriff into entering the forest. The Sheriff is captured, stripped to his underwear and sent back to town in humiliation. You’d be surprised how many times this happens throughout the tales.
The Silver Arrow Competition
This famous story of Robin Hood winning the Silver Arrow to become England’s greatest archer and almost being captured by the Sheriff is one of the oldest to survive to the modern legend. Unable to capture Robin fairly, the Sheriff plays a dirty trick by organising an archery competition. He knows that it will appeal to Robin’s vanity. Robin participates in disguise and wins. The Sheriff almost captures Robin as a result, but the Merry Men rescue him and they retreat to the safety of the forest.
Arrival of the King
The King arrives in Nottingham in search of Robin Hood. He travels to Sherwood in disguise and Robin kidnaps him. Once the King identifies himself, the loyal Robin kneels before him. The King pardons him and the Merry Men. Robin enters the King’s service at court but becomes unhappy and returns to his free life in the greenwood.
Robin dies a hero’s death. Undefeated in honest combat, the only way to kill Robin Hood is by betrayal.
Robin Hood was a loyal but difficult friend to Little John. This story begins with a typical argument between them. Robin storms off in a huff to pray in St. Mary’s Church, Nottingham. A monk recognises him there and reports him to the Sheriff. A battle between Robin and the Sheriff’s men takes place and Robin kills twelve of them. He's only captured once his sword breaks. Robin knows that if Little John had been there he would not have been captured.
Little John hears of Robin’s fate and finds out that the Sheriff has sent the monk to London to report to the King. Little John and Much the miller’s son waylay the monk on the highway and kill him.
Little John and Much take the monk’s place and end up becoming the King's representatives. They return to Nottingham where Little John gets the Sheriff drunk and frees Robin Hood.
A situation comedy
Robin is dared to challenge a potter travelling through the forest. He may be the best archer but in other forms of combat he often fails. After receiving a beating, Robin decides it would be an advantage to make friends with the potter. The potter is on his way to Nottingham to sell his wares, so the fun loving Robin persuades the potter to swap clothes so that Robin can enter Nottingham in disguise. He plans to play yet another trick on the Sheriff.
Robin begins to sell the pots at a reduced price, which catches the eye of the Sheriff’s wife. She buys the last pot and invites the 'potter’ back for dinner where he meets the Sheriff. They discuss the problems the Sheriff is having with Robin Hood.
The 'potter’ lures the Sheriff into the forest saying he knows where to find the outlaw's hideout. As ever the Sheriff falls for the trick. He's confronted by the Merry Men who humiliate him once again before returning him to Nottingham.
A practical joke
This is the story of Robin Hood hearing of a fighting friar entering the forest. The outlaw sets off to search for the friar whom he finds sleeping by a stream. Robin steals the sleeping man’s sword and uses it to force the friar to piggy back him across the stream.
Halfway across, the friar turns the tables on Robin by dropping him in. Robin is forced to carry the friar back.
They fight. Robin calls for his men, and the friar calls for his dogs. The outlaws shoot arrows but the friar’s dogs catch the arrows in their mouths. Robin sees he has met his match - yet again - and asks the friar to join his band of men.
You may recognise this story as the famous meeting between Robin Hood and Friar Tuck. But the friar hasn’t yet got a name in this early tale.
A dark tale with a hidden meaning
This is definitely the grimmest tale of Robin Hood ever recorded. Outlaws could be hunted down dead or alive by bounty hunters. They would be paid the same amount for the head of Robin Hood as that of a dead wolf.
Guy of Gisborne was originally one of these bounty hunters out hunting for Robin. When Guy tracks him down a brutal fight to the death breaks out. Robin only just manages to defeat Guy. He kills him and then mutilates Guy’s face with his sword. After that he puts on Guy’s brown cloak and goes off to trick the Sheriff again.
This surprising tale - and Robin’s mistreatment of Guy’s corpse - is best seen as a spiritual fable. As the illustration shows, Robin is dressed in his usual green and Guy of Gisborne in brown. It seems to stand for the triumph of spring over winter, life over death. This seasonal story may be an echo of the idea of Robin as the Green Man - the life force in the greenwood.
A tale of betrayal
Heroes cannot be killed by fair means. This is true for Robin Hood.
In this tale, Robin Hood becomes sick with a fever. He goes to see his cousin the Prioress of Kirklees to be bled. She deliberately bleeds him too much to weaken him.
Her lover, Roger of Doncaster then appears on the scene to finish off our hero. Robin summons up all his strength and in the following swordfight he kills Roger. But Robin is mortally wounded and he dies in Little John’s arms.
You'll notice that the famous story of him shooting his last arrow to be buried where it lands is not part of the tale. This is a later tradition. As is the oft told schoolyard story of him shooting his last arrow from his bed and his body lying to this day where it landed; on top of the wardrobe!