Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne

This ballad introduces another character into the Robin Hood legend: Guy of Gisborne (see, The Early Ballads). It survives in the British Library (additional MS. 27, 879, fos. 129r-130v) and was correctly edited by Hales and Furnivall, in their Bishop Percy’s Folio Manuscript, where it is given the title, Guye of Gisborne, by the unknown seventeenth-century scribe (see, The Rhymes of Robin Hood 2). The manuscript was found by Thomas Percy, bishop of Dromore, Ireland (1782-1811) – he rescued it from being burnt in a house in Shropshire, and used it for his Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, first published in London in 1765. According to Percy, Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne ‘carries marks of much greater antiquity than any of the common popular songs on this subject’ (Reliques, London, 1765, vol. 1, p. 74). The unknown scribe of the manuscript appears to have left out some lines in the second stanza, which could deprive us of the full knowledge of Robin’s dream (see, Percy’s Folio Manuscript) however some additional lines were added in the somewhat different version, Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne, which was first printed in Percy’s Reliques.* Also, the text does not explain how Robin, after dispatching Guy, could have known of Little John’s capture and the need to rescue him. As Dobson and Taylor mention ‘the story as it survives in the Percy Folio must have undergone ‘considerable derangement” – and they see it as ‘one of the most important as well as most intriguing ballads in the Robin Hood canon, not least because of its exceptionally violent tone and concisely dramatic qualities’ (Rymes of Robyn Hood, 1976, p. 141). According to Knight and Ohlgren there ‘seem to be quite ancient motifs in the ballad, notably Guy’s horse-hide and head, which seems more like a ritual costume than a disguise’ (Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales, Medieval Institute Publications, 1997: Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne: Introduction).

The first correct, and still definitive, edition of the Robin Hood ballads in the Percy Folio, is by Hales and Furnivall (see, The Rhymes of Robin Hood 2).

Other Editions: J. Ritson, Robin Hood: A collection of all the ancient poems, songs, and ballads, 1795, vol. 1, pp. 114-15; J. M. Gutch, A Lytell Geste of Robin Hode, 1847, vol. 2, pp. 74-83; F. J. Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, 1888, vol. 3, pp. 91-4; A. Quiller-Couch, The Oxford Book of Ballads, 1910, pp. 575-84; MacEdward Leach, The Ballad Book, 1955, pp. 334-40; R. B. Dobson and J. Taylor, Rymes of Robyn Hood, 1976, pp. 141-45; S. Knight and T. Ohlgren, Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales, Medieval Institute Publications, 1997.

There are some points that should be mentioned:

1. Joseph Ritson’s version, Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne, is almost an exact copy of that which appears in Percy’s Reliques, 1765 (see The Rhymes of Robin Hood 5).

2. Francis James Child thought that ‘Gisburne is in the West Riding of Yorkshire, on the borders of Lancashire, seven miles from Clitheroe’ (The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, III, 91). On the other hand, John Bellamy suggests that Guy is connected with the village of ‘Guisborough in the North Riding (known in the middle ages as Giseburne)’ (Robin Hood: an Historical Enquiry, 1985, pp. 34-35).

3. Two other places are named in ‘Guy’; Barnsdale and Nottingham.

4. In ‘Guy,’ the sheriff of Nottingham intrudes into Barnsdale in Yorkshire, which also happens in the Gest.

5. In ‘Guy,’ there are some similarities with Robin Hood and the Monk (see nos. 2 and 3 in Robin Hood and the Monk).

6. In ‘Guy,’ one of the sheriff’s men is named as ‘William a Trent’.

7. ‘Gy of Gysburne’ is mentioned in Dunbar’s poem Of Sir Thomas Norray (see no. 72 in Robin Hood Timeline).