Verse > Anthologies > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of Ballads
Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. (1863–1944).  The Oxford Book of Ballads.  1910.
115. A Little Geste of Robin Hood and his Meiny
The First Fytte
How Robin Hood befriended a poor Knight, Sir Richard at the Lee


LITHE and listen, Gentlemen,
  That be of free-born blood:
I shall you tell of a good yeoman,
  His name was Robin Hood.

Robin was a proud outlaw,
  The while he walked on ground;
So courteous an outlaw as he was one
  Was never none y-found.

Robin stood in Barnèsdale,
  And leaned him to a tree;        10
And by him stood Little John,
  A good yeoman was he.

And also did good Scathèlock,
  And Much, the miller’s son;
There was none inch of his body,        15
  But it was worth a groom.

Then bespake him Little John
  All unto Robin Hood:
‘Master, an ye would dine betimes
  It would do you much good.’        20

Then bespake him good Robin:
  ‘To dine I have no lest,
Till that I have some bold baron,
  Or some uncouth guest,

‘Till that I have some bold baron
  That may pay for the best,
Or else some knight, or some squièr
  That dwelleth here by West.’

A good mannèr then had Robin;
  In land where that he were,        30
Every day ere he would dine
  Three masses would he hear:

The one in worship of the Father,
  The other of the Holy Ghost,
The third was of Our dear Lady        35
  That he loved alder-most.

Robin loved our dear Lady;
  For doubt of deadly sin
Would he no company do harm
  That woman was therein.        40

‘Master,’ then said Little John,
  ‘An we our board shall spread,
Tell us whither we shall go,
  And what life we shall lead;

‘Where we shall take, where we shall leave,
  Where we shall abide behind,
Where we shall rob, where we shall reave,
  Where we shall beat and bind.’

‘Thereof no force,’ then said Robin;
  ‘We shall do well enow;        50
But look ye do no husband harm
  That tilleth with his plough.

‘No more ye shall no good yeoman
  That walketh by green-wood shaw;
Nor yet no knight nor no squièr        55
  That will be a good fellaw.

‘These bishops and these archbishops,
  Ye shall them beat and bind;
The High Sheriff of Nottingham,
  Him hold ye in your mind.’        60

‘This word shall be held,’ said Little John,
  ‘This lesson we shall lere;
It is far days; God send us a guest,
  That we were at our dinnere.’

‘Take thy good bow,’ said Robin Hood,
  ‘Let Much wend with thee,
And so shall William Scathèlock,
  And no man abide with me;

‘And walk ye up unto the Sayles,
  And so to Watling Street,        70
And wait after some uncouth guest;
  Upchance ye may them meet.

‘Be he an earl, or any baron,
  Abbot, or any knight,
Bring ye him to lodge with me;        75
  His dinner shall be dight.’

Then went they up unto the Sayles,
  Those yeoman allè three;
They lookèd east, they lookèd west,
  They mightè no man see.        80

But as they looked in Barnèsdale,
  By a dernè street,
Then came a knight a-riding up;
  Full soon they gan him meet.

All dreary then was his semblaunt,
  And little was his pride;
His one foot in the stirrup stood,
  The other waved beside.

His hood hang’d in his eyen two;
  He rode in simple array;        90
A sorrier man than he was one
  Rode never in summer day.

Little John was full courteous,
  And set him on his knee;
‘Welcome be ye, gentle Knight,        95
  Welcome are ye to me.

‘Welcome be thou to greenè wood.
  Hendè Knight and free;
My master hath abiden you fasting
  Sir, all these hourès three.’        100

‘Who is thy master?’ said the Knight.
  John said, ‘Robin Hood.’
‘He is a good yeoman,’ said the Knight,
  ‘Of him I have heard much good.

‘I grant,’ he said, ‘with you to wend,
  My brethren, all in fere;
My purpose was to have dined today
  At Blyth or Doncastere.’

Forth then went this gentle Knight,
  With a careful cheer;        110
The tears out of his eyen ran,
  And fell down by his leer.

They brought him to the lodgè door;
  When Robin gan him see,
Full courteously did off his hood,        115
  And set him on his knee.

‘Welcome, Sir Knight,’ then said Robin,
  ‘Welcome art thou to me;
I have abiden you fasting, sir,
  All these hourès three.’        120

Then answerèd the gentle Knight,
  With wordès fair and free;
‘God thee savè, good Robin,
  And all thy fair meinèe.’

They washèd together and wipèd both,
  And set to their dinnere;
Bread and wine they had enough,
  And numbles of the deer.

Swans and pheasants they had full good,
  And fowls of the rivere;        130
There failèd none so little a bird
  That ever was bred on brere.

‘Do gladly, Sir Knight,’ said Robin.
  ‘Gramerci, sir,’ said he;
‘Such a dinner had I not        135
  Of all these weekès three.

‘If I come again, Robin,
  Here by this country,
As good a dinner I shall thee make
  As thou hast made to me.’        140

‘Gramerci, Knight,’ said Robin Hood;
  ‘My dinner when I have,
I was never so greedy, by dear-worth God,
  My dinner for to crave.

‘But pray ere ye wend,’ said Robin Hood;
  ‘Me thinketh it is good right;
It was never the manner, by dear-worth God,
  A yeoman to pay for a knight.’

‘I have nought in my coffers,’ said the Knight,
  ‘That I may proffer for shame:’        150
‘Little John, go look,’ said Robin Hood,
  ‘Nor let not for no blame.’

‘Tell me truth,’ said Robin Hood,
  ‘So God have part of thee.’—
‘I have no more than ten shillings,        155
  So God have part of me.’

‘If thou hast no more,’ said Robin,
  ‘I will not one penny;
And if thou need of any more,
  More shall I lendè thee.        160

‘Go now forth, Little John,
  The truthè tell thou me;
If there be no more but ten shillings,
  No penny that I see.’

Little John his mantle spread
  Full fair upon the ground,
And there he found in the Knight’s coffer
  But even half a pound.

Little John let it lie full still,
  And went to his master low;        170
‘What tidings, John?’ said Robin Hood.—
  ‘Sir, the Knight is true enow.’

‘Fill of the best wine,’ said Robin,
  ‘The Knight shall begin;
Muchè wonder thinketh me        175
  Thy clothing is so thin.

‘Tell me one word,’ said Robin,
  ‘And counsel shall it be;
I trow thou wert made a knight of force,
  Or else of yeomanry.        180

‘Or else thou hast been a sorry husband,
  And lived in stroke and strife;
An okerer, or a lecher,
  With wrong hast led thy life.’

‘I am none of thosè,’ said the Knight,
  ‘By Him that madè me;
An hundred winter here before
  Mine anc’tors knights have be.

‘But oft it hath befal’n, Robin,
  A man hath been disgrate;        190
But God, that sitteth in heaven above,
  May amend his state.

‘Within these two years, Robin,’ he said,
  ‘My neighbours well it kenn’d,
Four hundred pounds of good monèy        195
  Full well then might I spend.

‘Now have I no good,’ said the Knight,
  ‘God hath shapen such an end,
But my children and my wife,
  Till God it may amend.’        200

‘In what mannèr,’ then said Robin,
  ‘Hast thou lorn thy richess?’
‘For my great folly,’ he said,
  ‘And for my kindèness.

‘I had a son forsooth, Robin,
  That should have been mine heir;
When he was twenty winter old
  In field would joust full fair.

‘He slew a knight of Lancashire,
  And a squièr bold;        210
For to save him in his right
  My goods are set and sold.

‘My lands are set to wed, Robin,
  Until a certain day,
To a rich Abbot here beside        215
  Of St. Mary’s Abbèy.’

‘What is the sum?’ said Robin Hood;
  ‘The truthè tell thou me;’
‘Sir,’ he said, ‘four hundred pound;
  The Abbot told it me.’        220

‘An thou lose thy land,’ said Robin Hood,
  ‘What shall fall of thee?’—
‘Hastily I will me busk
  Over the saltè sea,

‘And see where Christ was quick and dead,
  On the mount of Calvary;
Farewell, friend, and have good day;
  It may no better be.’

Tears fell out of his eyen two;
  He would have gone his way;        230
‘Farewell, friends, and have good day,
  I have no more to pay.’

‘Where be thy friends,’ said Robin Hood.
  ‘Sir, never one will me know;
While I was rich enough at home        235
  Great boast then would they blow.

‘And now they run away from me,
  As beastès in a raw;
They takè no more heed of me
  Than they me never saw.’        240

For ruth then weptè Little John,
  Scathèlock and Much in fere;
‘Fill of the best wine,’ said Robin,
  ‘For here is a simple cheer.

‘Hast thou any friends,’ said Robin Hood,
  ‘Thy borrows that will be?’
‘I havè none,’ then said the Knight,
  ‘But Him that died on tree!’

‘Do way thy japès,’ said Robin,
  ‘Thereof will I right none;        250
Ween’st thou I would have God to borrow,
  Peter, Paul or John?

‘Nay, by Him that madè me,
  And shope both sun and moon,
Find better borrow,’ said Robin,        255
  ‘Or money get’st thou none.’

‘I have none other,’ said the Knight,
  ‘The soothè for to say,
But if it be Our dear Lady;
  She fail’d never ere this day.’        260

‘By dear-worth God,’ said Robin Hood,
  ‘To seek all England thorough,
Yet found I never to my pay
  A muchè better borrow.

‘Come now forth, Little John,
  And go to my treasury,
And bringè me four hundred pound,
  And look well told it be.’

Forth then wentè Little John,
  And Scathèlock went before;        270
He told him out four hundred pound
  By eight and twenty score.

‘Is this well told?’ said Little Much;
  John said, ‘What grieveth thee?
It is alms to help a gentle knight        275
  That is fal’n in poverty.’

‘Master,’ then said Little John,
  ‘His clothing is full thin;
Ye must give the Knight a livery
  To lap his body therein.        280

‘For ye have scarlet and green, master,
  And many a rich array;
There is no merchant in merry England
  So rich, I dare well say.’—

‘Take him three yards of each coloùr,
  And look well mete it be.’—
Little John took no measùre
  But his bowè-tree.

And at every handful that he met
  He leapèd o’er feet three;        290
‘What devilkin’s draper,’ said Little Much,
  ‘Thinkest thou for to be?’

Scathèlock stood full still and laughed,
  And said, ‘He meteth right.
John may give him good measure,        295
  For it costeth him but light.’

‘Master,’ then said Little John
  All unto Robin Hood,
‘Ye must give the Knight a horse
  To lead home all this good.’        300

‘Take him a grey courser,’ said Robin,
  ‘And a saddle new;
He is Our Lady’s messenger;
  God grant that he be true!’

‘And a good palfrey,’ said Little Much,
  ‘To maintain him in his right;’
‘And a pair of boots,’ said Scathèlock,
  ‘For he is a gentle knight.’

‘What shalt thou give him, Little John?’—
  ‘Sir, a pair of gilt spurs clean,        310
To pray for all this company;
  God bring him out of teen.’

‘When shall my day be,’ said the Knight,
  ‘Sir, an your willè be?’—
‘This day twelve moneth,’ said Robin,        315
  ‘Under this green-wood tree.

‘It were great shamè,’ said Robin,
  ‘A knight alone to ride,
Withoutè squire, yeoman, or page,
  To walkè by his side.        320

‘I shall thee lend Little John, my man,
  For he shall be thy knave;
In a yeoman’s stead he may thee stand,
  If thou great needè have.’
GLOSS:  Meiny] retinue.  Lithe] hearken.  Barnèsdale] a forest region between Pontefract and Doncaster.  groom] man.  lest] lust, desire.  uncouth] unknown, strange.  were] might be.  alder] of all.  doubt] fear.  reave] plunder.  force] matter, account.  husband] husbandman.  shaw] grove.  lere] learn.  far days] late in the day.  the Sayles] a small farm near Pontefract.  Watling Street] the great North road.  Upchance] perchance.  dight] prepared.  dernè] hidden, retired.  street] road.  semblaunt] aspect.  And set him, &c.] and knelt down.  Hendè] gracious.  fere] company.  Blyth] near E. Retford.  careful cheer] sad countenance.  leer] cheek.  numbles] inwards, tripe.  brere] briar.  dear-worth] precious.  let] desist.  have part of thee] side with thee, aid thee.  counsel] secret.  of force] by force.  of yeomanry] from the yeoman class.  a sorry husband] a wretched manager.  okerer] usurer.  lecher] an unchaste man.  disgrate] fallen in fortune.  kenn’d] knew.  lorn] lost.  set to wed] put to pledge, mortgaged.  told] counted.  fall of] become of.  busk] make ready to go.  raw] row.  borrows] sureties.  Do way thy japès] away with thy jests.  to] for.  shope] created.  But if] unless.  lap] wrap.  mete] meted, measured.  met] measured.  palfrey] a saddle-horse.  teen] trouble.  knave] servant.


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