A Little Jest of Robin Hood
The earliest complete tale of Robin Hood comes from a 16th cebtury ballad called "A little jest of Robin Hood" I have taken the Rhyme made by Sue Bradbury and converted a small piece of the ballad into this tale. As well as being a humorous yarn it also reveals earlier tales of the Green man the God of the forest who gave shelter and aid to those in need. There may even be remnants of Goddess worship in this tale. But most of all, enjoy.
In the days when the forests of England spread across the land, it was said that a Squirrel could leave Scotland and pilgrimage to Canterbury and its feet need never touch the ground. In such a time there lived a proud outlaw named Robin Hood.
Robin had a custom, that before he would eat his dinner he must hear three masses; One for the Father, one for the Holy Spirit and one for Mary, our Lady and mother of our Lord. For her, he loved the most. She kept him from mortal sin and such was his regard for her that he would never harm a woman.
One day he stood in Barnsdale, leaning against a tree. With him were his companions, John Naelor, whom men called Little John, Will Scathlock and Much the Miller‟s son. Little John‟s stomach was rumbling, “We should eat,” He declared. “It would do us all good.”
“I‟m not yet ready to dine,” replied Robin, with a grin.
“Not until I‟ve met with a bold Baron or at least a squire.”
“Very well,” replied John with a grin that matched Robin‟s mirth. “So tell me, what to do? Where to go? What should I take or leave behind? Where do I rob?” his grin got broader as he asked “Where do I find my pleasures?”
Robin laughed. “These then are our laws and if we agree to bide them we shall do well. Do not harm a hard working Farmer, nor harm the Yeoman who wanders the greenwood. Neither harm you a good knight or his squire. Bishops and Archbishops you may beat as you will. Be watchful for the Sheriff of Nottingham, do not let that wicked man take you.”
"We'll keep that reed ,” said Little John. “It can be our lesson but God send us a guest, my stomach says it is late.”
“I‟ll stay here” said Robin. “You, Much and Will Scathlock go to Sayles and up to Watling Street. Wait there and whoever passes, bring him to me and we‟ll all dine together.”
So the three went to Sayles but there was no one on the road until they looked down towards Barnsdale. They saw a knight approaching. He had such a sorrowful look on his face, with one foot on his stirrup and the other dangling. His hood hung over his eyes. A sadder, depressed fellow they had never seen.
Little John stepped out in front of the knight and bowing deeply said, “Welcome gentle knight andwelcome to the greenwood. My master would have you dine with him this evening.”
“Who is your master?” asked the knight.
“Robin Hood.” answered John.
“A good Yeoman,” said the knight. I have heard a lot of good of him So though I thought to dine in Blythe or Doncaster, instead I will dine with Robin Hood.”
John and Will rode each side of the knight with Much leading the way. The three were thinking that this was cheery company indeed. For as they rode, tears were streaming down the knight‟s face.
When they arrived at Robin‟s lodge he was standing at the door. With a wide gr in he doffed his cap and bowed courteously.
“Welcome sir knight. I have been three long hours without food and I would not eat without a guest at my table.”
The knight replied. “God save you Robin and all your company.”
Robin set a goodly table, shamelessly feasting on the King‟s deer as well as Pheasant. Bread, fruit and wine were all in abundance.
“Should I come again to this country,” said the knight. “I‟ll make as good a feast for you as you havemade for me.”
“I thank you sir,” said Robin. “But before you go you must pay for the feast you have enjoyed. It is not proper that humble Yeomen such as we should pay for a knight.”
“For my shame I have nothing,” replied the knight.
“Before God tell me the truth,” said Robin.
“In God‟s truth I have only ten shillings,” replied the knight.
Robin looked keenly into the knight‟s sorrowful eyes. “If that is all you have I‟ll not take a penny from you. Indeed, if you need more I will loan you.”
He turned to Little John. “Tell me what you see.”
Little John laid out the knight‟s cloak and all his belongings. “The knight speaks true,” he said.
“Pour the best wine,” said Robin.
“I thought your clothes were thin. Now tell me a thing and then we‟ll speak no more of it. Was your estate destroyed by debt or lechery? Have you misspent your life?”
“Nay, nay good Robin. My fathers were honorable knights for a thousand years. It often happens that a good man‟s estate may suffer a cruel fate. Two years ago I could have spent four hundred pounds but now I have nothing except my children and my wife.”
“How have you lost all your wealth?” asked Robin.
“Through folly and kindness. I have a son, my heir, twenty winters has he seen and he loves to joust.He slew a Lancastrian knight and his squire. To save his honor and his life I sold all my goods. Also I had to pledge in bond my lands for a certain day, to a rich Abbot who lives nearby in St. Mary‟s abbey.”
“What do you owe?” Asked Robin.
“Four hundred pounds,” replied the knight.
“Where are your friends?” asked Robin
.“Good Robin, in my wealth they boasted that they knew me but now I am shunned. They act as though they knew me not.”
Robin looked at his companions and saw that even Little John and Much who had seen sorrow had tears in their eyes at the knight‟s tale.
“Have you some friend who would be your warrant for your loan?” asked Robin.
“I have no friend save Him who died at Calvary,” replied the knight.
“Do not jest with me,” said Robin. “I need not the warrant of God or Peter or Paul or John. I need a better warrant than this so find one.”
“In truth Robin, I have no other lest it be our Lady. She has never failed me.”
“Though I search all my life” said Robin “I could find no better warrant. Little John, go to my treasury and count out the money.”
“Is this well done, think you?” asked Much.
“What else can we do?” asked Little John “For a good man come to such poverty.”
“Master!” said Little John “His clothes are so thin and we have cloth of scarlet and green. Can we not give him a livery?”
“Three yards of every color. “ And giving John a sly wink Robin added, “And measure it well.”
Little John measured with his bow and somehow managed to add another three feet to each cloth. “You must be the Devil‟s draper,” cried Much.
Will Scathlock laughed. “Giving the knight good measure costs Little John light.”
“Now, gentle master,” said John. “You must give the knight a horse.”
“Indeed,” said Robin “With a new saddle, for he is our Lady‟s messenger.”
“And a good palfrey,” added Much.
“And a pair of boots fit for a gentle knight,” said Will.
“What will you grant him John?” asked Robin.
“Fine gilt spurs and may he be lifted out of his woe,” replied John.
When all had been granted Robin spoke to the knight “When may I require you, sir?”
“Set a day,” replied the knight.
“Then, gentle knight, let it be one year from now. You will pay your debt under this tree.” A twinkle came to Robin‟s eye then. “And as it is a shame for any knight to ride unaccompanied, I‟ll lend you Little John to serve you.”
The knight and Little John rode away and when the knight looked on Barnsdale he blessed the noblest company he had ever met.
As they rode, the knight confided in Little John. “Tomorrow I must go to York and unto Saint Mary‟s Abbey. For if I do not pay the Abbot of that place the full four hundred pounds, my land is lost for good.”
Now the Abbot did not expect payment for the loan and so had gathered the Chief Justice of England and the Sheriff of Nottingham as well as other notables to witness the forfeiture of the debt.
On the morrow, when the debt was due, all sat in the great hall awaiting the days occurrences when the knight came to the gate.
“Welcome sir knight!” said the Porter. “My Lord and many a fine gentleman are at their feast.” He swore under his breath, “God‟s truth, these are the finest horses I ever did see.” He ordered the stable boys to have them fed and eased but the knight refused.
“Until I am assured they will stay outside.”
Entering the great hall he called out, “Sir Abbot, I have kept my day.”
The first words of the Abbot were, “Do you have the payment?”
“Not a penny piece,” replied the knight.
“Why come you?” asked the Abbot “If you cannot pay your debt.”
The knight went down humbly upon his knee before that company and said “Before God and you, I beg a longer stay.”
“Your time is up,‟ said the Abbot “your land is forfeit.”
“Good Sir Justice” pleaded the knight “Defend me.”
“I will not,” replied the Justice. “I took the Abbot‟s fee and gifts for this service.”
“Then good Sir Sheriff,” cried the knight “Be my friend.”
“Nay before God I will not,” replied the Sheriff.
“Good Sir Abbot” then said the knight. “Be my friend and in all courtesy hold my land in fee. I will serve you and gladly honor you until you have from me four hundred pounds.”
“By God” swore the Abbot “You will get no release from me.”
The knight looked all around that noble company and admonished them. “ill fair it is to find a friend when a fair friend you need.”
The Abbot‟s face went dark. He called the knight a “Villain” and “False” and ordered him from the hall.
Then the gentle knight said. “You lie in your hall. I was never a villain false.” Then rising to his feet he continued “It is not courteous that you make me kneel so long.” Then going to the table he took out his bag and shook out four hundred pounds.
“Take back your gold Sir Abbot, Had you shown me courtesy I would have repaid you more.” Then turning to the Sheriff and the company there to witness, he declared “I have kept my day and I will have my land again.”
He went from that place with a merry heart and cast off all his cares. He met his Lady at the gate to his land in Verysdale. “Welcome my Lord” said she “And is our land lost for good?”
“Be merry my good wife,” he replied. “And pray for Robin Hood. May his soul ever be in bliss. Were it not for him, beggars would we be. Through his kindness I have settled everything with the Abbot and will repay that good yeoman a year hence.”
The gentle knight dwelt happily and gathered the four hundred pounds with which to repay Robin. He hired a hundred men, armed and equipped with himself at the head, then rode out to Barnsdale. A merry sight indeed.
On their way the knight passed by a wrestling match upon a bridge. He stopped to see what was afoot. All the best yeomen were there fighting for a fine white bull. Many other prizes were also waiting for the claim of the best. Yet, there was one man whose worthiness was plain but he was far from friends and home. The knight feared this man would be slain and took pity on him and vowed, for love of Robin Hood, that he would come to no harm. He marched in with his men and stopped the play on that good yeoman and offered a drink to all that were there and so stayed while the games were on.
While Robin waited for his feast till mid-afternoon, a merry tale is told of how the knight released Little John for him to serve the Sheriff of Nottingham and how the Sheriff rued that bargain. That tale will be told in another place. Little John was back with Robin when the knight‟s debt was due.
“Let us dine,” said Little John.
“Nay, we cannot, ” said Robin. “Our Lady must be wroth with me for she has not sent me my pay.”
“Doubt not.” Said John “The knight is true and the sun has not yet set. I swear he will repay you.”
“Take your bow Little John and take Much and Will Scathlock too. Go again to Sayles and so to Watling Street and wait there for whatever guest you may bring. If he be rich or poor, I‟ll give him all my best.”
So the three went again to Sayles and stood in the same spot as before but saw no one until, looking towards Barnsdale, hey saw a pair of monks on good palfreys riding their way.
“I‟ll pledge my life” said Little John “That these two monks have Robin‟s pay.”
Then John stepped out into the path and drawing his bow said “Monk, ride no further. Your life is in my hand. You have bad luck this day for my master is angry that you have kept him from his food.”
“Who is your master?” asked the Monk.
John answered. “Robin Hood.”
“I never heard much good of that thief,” replied the Monk.
“You will regret that lie,” said John. “For Robin now requires you to dine with him. Send the other fellow away. One Monk is enough to dine with.”
They brought the Monk to Robin‟s lodge though he was loath to go. At the door of the lodge Robin threw back his hood and showed the Monk his face. The Monk was not so courteous and left his hood up.
“By God,” said Little John “He‟s nothing but a churl. I care nothing for a man who knows no courtesy.”
“Blow your horn John,” said Robin. “And call our company to dine.”
Seven score men came through the greenwood then to dine with Robin and his guest. The Monk was given leave to wash and dry and then was served with food of the best.
“Eat well, sir Monk and tell me, here do you make your vows? Where is your Abbey?”
“Saint Mary‟s Abbey, where I am the high cellarer.”
“You are more than welcome then,” said Robin. “Give him the best of all our wines that he may drink to me. And yet I marvel. Through all this day I have not received my pay. Surely my Lady must be angered of me.”
“Fear not,” said Little John. “The Monk is from Her Abbey surely he has brought you your pay.”
“She was the Knight‟s warrant, „tis true” said Robin “Sir Monk, do you come with silver? Let me see it and I will help you whenever you have need.”
The Monk swore an oath. “I never heard of such a warranty,” he said.
“I swear to God it is so,” said Robin. “ God is held to be a righteous man and so is his mother and you have told me with your own mouth that you serve her every day. So you must be her messenger with themoney that is owed me. Therefore I do thank you for dining with me this day.”
“Sir!” cried the Monk. “Lord strike me but I have only twenty marks in my coffers.”
“If that is all you have sir Monk then I‟ll not take a penny and for love of our Lady, if you have need, I‟ll lend you more but if you speak false then all your money is forfeit.”
Then Little John spread out the Monk‟s cloak and counted out eight hundred pounds.
“We have a true servant of our Lady” said John “For here is double what you lent.”
“I vow to God,” said Robin. “Of all the women in the world our Lady is the most true. Now fill the Monk‟s glass and bid him drink to our Lady‟s health while you search through his coffers on yonder horse.”
“By God!” said the monk “That is less than kind. To bid me to dinner then to beat me and bind me.”
“It is our custom,” said Robin. “To leave little behind. Have one more drink at least.”
“Nay,” said the Monk. “I‟m sorry I came so near you. It would have been cheaper far for me to have dined in Blyth or Doncaster than here.”
“Then greet well your Abbot from me,” said Robin. “And bid him send me such a Monk as you to dine with me every day.”
Soon after the Monk had left the Knight rode up to greet Robin and his company. The knight jumped down from his palfrey and dropped to one knee before Robin.
“God save you good Robin and your merry men.”
“Right welcome to you gentle knight,” said Robin.
“Do you have your land again?”
“Yes and for that I thank God and you. Forgive me the tardiness of my hour but on the way here I saw a wrestling match where they would steal the prize from the winner, so I tarried to aid him. Take it not amiss.”
“No by God,” said Robin “A knight who aids a yeoman shall always be my friend.”
“Here then,” said the knight.
“Is the four hundred pounds you lent me and twenty marks to thank you for your courtesy.”
"Keep it all,” said Robin. “I have already been paid. Our Lady sent her cellarer and I am paid in full.”
Then Robin told the tale and he and the knight laughed long and merrily.
“Now sir knight,” said Robin. “Use the money well and by my truth, you will never need while I can do you good.”
This then, is how Robin Hood saved a good Knight and succored a man in need. Our Lady grants us that we too may do right.