The Real Robin Hood 2


Thomas of Muskham’s Outlaw


Francis Peck (1692-1743), Robin Whood Turned HermitThis ballad has survived in a single manuscript in a collection of ballads dated 1735, made by the Stamford priest and antiquary, Francis Peck (British Library, Add MS 28638). It is unique and was never included in the anthologies of Percy, Ritson, Gutch or Child. It cannot be described as ancient, and could be an eighteenth century fabrication. Another ballad, also in Peck’s manuscript, appears in Robin Hood: A Collection of Poems, Songs, and Ballads.

Robin Whood Turned Hermit is summarized by Peck:

‘This song is altogether founded upon Fact. Wherein the Author (first touching the former Circumstances of Robin Whood’s turning Fisherman, building an Hospital at Scarborough, the Flight of one hundred of his Men, and the staying of the other forty) brings Robin back to his remaining Friends, whom he thanks for their fidelity, then leads them from Sherwood for fear of Danger – from a greater Force coming upon them, and with them sculks about in other Places. At last coming to Lyndric a famous hill near Dale Abbey in Lancashire (sic) Robin Whood falls asleep and hath a strange Dream there. Which at his awaking, he relates to his Companions, and then tells them, that he is resolved forthwith to retire, and to turn Hermit. At his taking leave of them, he advises them all to repent and to betake themselves to better course; (especially Little John whom he also exhorts to have a great care how he sets his feet upon St. Michael’s ground for that will be very fatal to him whenere he does so). His last Message to his Lady Matilda. His Men depart, everyone to their Homes and Friends. Robin retires to Depe Dale, chuses the penitent Thief for his Patron, and spends the Remainder of his Time in great Penance and Devotion. He falls sick of fever, Repairs to Kirklees to be let Blood. A revengeful Friar cuts an artery instead of a vein; whereby he quickly bleeds to Death. The Lady Prioress and Nuns bury and lay a grave-stone over him.’

Peck makes further comments: ‘This song is, I think designed in a true Manner. Docet; delectat; flectit. It instructs; it pleases; it moves and affects the Reader.’ In a cancelled note he commented: ‘The song itself wholly new and never before printed.’

Robin Whood Turned Hermit is probably based in part, on Martin Parker’s True Tale of Robin Hood and other Robin Hood ballads, but it also contains a concoction of the deeds of an anonymous outlaw first recorded in a chronicle of the foundation of Dale abbey, written in the thirteenth century by Thomas of Muskham, who places the anonymous outlaw in the reign of Henry II (1154-89) when the whole of the area between the rivers Erewash and Derwent was royal forest. There can be no doubt that this anonymous outlaw was the model for Peck’s ballad, as he also dreamed of the Cross on Lyndric hill and repented, then dismissed his followers and went to Deepdale.

Peck published Muskham’s chronicle in his Desiderata Curiosa (2 Vols., London, 1732-1735), and a new edition ‘greatly corrected’ was published posthumously (2 Vols. in 1, London 1779). In both his summary of the ballad and in his first edition of the chronicle, Peck places Dale abbey in Lancashire – a surprising error that is corrected in the second edition. William Dugdale was the first to publish Muskham’s chronicle, somewhat inaccurately, and it has been published several times since. There is an English translation by Charles Kerry, which gives some information on the original manuscripts, and on the various other editions. There is more useful information in the edition by William PageAvrom Saltman, and some interesting observations in the article by Richard Firth Green (2005).

Muskham’s chronicle tells us about an Uthlagus (outlaw), who was sleeping on the hill of ‘Lyndrik, which is the hill beyond the gate of our monastery towards the west.’ This hill in now called Linderidge, a low hill S. W. of the Abbey (Dale & Its Abbey Derbyshire, John Ward, Derby Leicester and Nottingham, 1891, p. 23). The ruins of Dale abbey, sometimes called Stanley Park (De Parco Stanley), are located in the village named after it, six miles north east of Derby, originally this area was known as Depedale. Dale abbey itself stands in an area once covered by Sherwood Forest, a couple of miles to the West of the Erewash, a river that marks the boundary between Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Given the locality, there has been some suggestion that Muskham’s outlaw could have been one of the early incarnations of Robin Hood himself, but this theory remains unproven. See also, J. C. Holt Robin Hood, London, 1982, pp. 180-81.

Taken from No. 573 in Robin Hood Timeline.