Other Tales

There are other medieval tales that contain some or many of the elements that are prominent in the early ballads of Robin Hood. The greenwood, outlawry, yeomanry, pitted battle, beheading, the merry men, skill in archery, pursuit by the sheriff, the meeting/reconciliation with the king, even the outlaw’s death by bleeding is not unique, as can be seen from the following selection:

The Hermit and the Outlaw

The Tale of Gamelyn

Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudesly

The Outlaw’s Song of Trailbaston

Robyn and Gandeleyn

England’s greatest outlaw hero has been given the attributes of earlier real-life outlaws, the most notable of those were:

Fulk fitz Warin

Eustace the Monk

Herewerd the Wake

One of the most favourite topics in English popular poetry is the chance encounter of a king, unrecognised as such, with one of his lower subjects, this often occurs in the woods. In the Robin Hood cycle there is one of these meetings (in the seventh an eighth fitts of the Little Gest) but there the king visits Robin deliberately and in disguise, whereas in many of the other tales the meeting is accidental. The most familiar of these are:

The King and the Barker

The King and the Miller

The King and the Tanner

Of the older ‘king meets his subject’ poems there is the following selection:

King Edward and the Shepherd

King Edward and the Hermit

John the Reeve

Rauf Coilyear

A story told by Giraldus Cambrensis has King Henry II, separated from his hunting party, going to a Cistercian monastery at nightfall, he is well received, but not as king (for this they did not know) but as a knight of the king’s house and retinue; this story is earlier than any of the other older poems.(1)

‘The Shepherd and the King’. King Alfred disguised in ragged clothes, meets a shepherd who takes him home. Alfred is scolded by the shepherds wife for letting her cake burn as he sits by the fire.(2) ‘King James and the Tinker.’ King James while chasing his deer, leaves his nobles and rides to an ale-house where he sets to drinking with a tinker.(3) ‘The King and the Forester.’ King William the Third, is forbidden to hunt by a forester who does not recognize him, eventually the king presents the forester with fifty guineas, and appoints him ranger.(4) ‘The King and the Cobbler’ (a prose history). King Henry Eighth, while in the city, acquaints himself with a cobbler, and is entertained in the cobbler’s cellar.(5)

A Belgian story of the Emperor Charles Fifth and a broom- maker, has the Emperor instructing the broom-maker to bring a load of his ware to the palace to sell, as Charles the Great does in the tale of Rauf Coilyear: Maria von Ploennies, Die Sagen Belgiens, p. 251. In the same collection p.246 f., is the story of a man who wishes to see the king (an anecdote of Charles Fifth and a peasant), this story turns up again in Thiele’s ‘Kongen og Bonden,’ Danmarks Folkesager, I, 62 (1843); Christian the Fourth, after a long walk, takes a seat in the cart of a countryman who is on his way to the castle, the countryman wishes that he might see the king. The Russian story, Afanasief, VII, 233, No 32 is about a tsar who has lost himself while hunting, he passes the night with a deserter in a robbers-hut in a wood.

1. Giraldi Cambrensis Opera, ed. Brewer, Speculum Ecclesiae, IV, 213-15, of about 1216.

2. This is as old as Asser, who was King Alfred’s friend and biographer: Annales, Wise, Oxford, 1722, p. 30; September 25, 1578, licensed to Ric, Jones, ‘A merry Songe of a Kinge and a Shepherd’: Arber, II, 338; December 14, 1624, to Master Pavier and others, among 128 ballads, ‘King and Shepperd’: Arber, IV, 131; Wood, 401, fol. 1 b; Douce, I, fol. 1 b; Euing, Nos 331, 332; Pepys, I, 76, No 36, I, 506, No 260; Crawford, No 648; Roxburghe, I, 504, printed by Chappell, III, 210.

3. ‘King James and the Tinker,’ Douce, III, fol. 126 b, fol. 136 b, no printer, place, or date; ‘King James the First and the Tinker,’ Garland of Mirth and Delight, no place or date; The same: ‘King James and the Tinkler,’ Dixon, in Richardson’s Borderer’s Table-Book, VII, 7, and Ancient Poems, Ballads, and Songs, ect., p. 109, Percy Society, vol. xvii; ‘King James the First and the fortunate Tinker,’ The King and Tinker’s Garland, containing three excellent songs, Sheffield, 1745, Halliwell, Notices of Fugitive Tracts, p. 29, No. 36, Percy Society, vol. xxix (not seen); ‘The King and the Tinkler,’ a rifacimento, in Maidment’s Scotish Ballads and Songs, 1859, p. 92, Kinloch  MSS, V, 293.

4. ‘The Loyal Forrister, or Royal Pastime,’ printed for C. Bates in Pye-Corner (c. 1696), Euing, No 156; ‘King William and his Forrester,’ no imprint, c. 1690-94, Crawford, No. 1421; ‘The King and the Forrester,’ Roxburghe, III, 790, Ebsworth VII, 763 (Bow Church-Yard?); ‘King William going a hunting,’ Motherwell’s MS., p. 101, from tradition.

5. ‘The King and the Cobler.’ Charles Dennison, at the sign of the Stationer’s Arms within Aldgate (1685-89, Chappell); Wood, 254, xi; Pepys, Penny Merriments, vol. i; Halliwell, Notices of Popular Histories, p. 48, Percy Society, vol. xxiii, Newcastle, without date; Manchester Penny Histories (last quarter of the eighteenth century), Liebrecht, Zur Volkskunde, p. 482, No. 6.