“They say he is already in the forest of Arden, and a many merry men with him; and there they live like the old Robin Hood of England... and fleet the time carelessly as they did in the golden world.”–
--AS YOU LIKE IT.
AS has been already said, some of the ballad makers have so far erred from the truth as to represent Robin Hood as being outlawed by Henry VIII., and several stories are told of Queen Katherine’s interceding with her husband for the pardon of the bold outlaw. However this may be, it is known that Robin Hood once shot a match on the queen’s side against the king’s archers, and here is the story:–
 This seems to have been the opinion of the author from whom we draw the following account of our hero’s life,– to show how the doctors will disagree even on a topic as important as Robin Hood:–
“Robin Hood was descended from the noble family of the Earl of Huntingdon, and being outlawed by Henry VIII. for many extravagancies and outrages he had committed, he did draw together a company of such bold and licentious persons as himself, who lived for the most part on robberies committed in or near unto Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire. He had these always ready at his command, so that if need did require he at the winding of his horn would have fifty or more of them in readiness to assist him. He whom he most affected was called Little John by reason of his low stature, though not inferior to any of them in strength of body and stoutness of spirit. He would not entertain any into his service whom he had not first fought with himself and made sufficient trial of his courage and dexterity how to use his weapons, which was the reason that oftentimes he came home hurt and beaten as he was; which was nevertheless no occasion of the diminution of his love to the person whom he fought with, for ever afterwards he would be the more familiar with him, and better respect him for it. Many petitions were referred to the king for a pardon for him, which the king (understanding of the many mad pranks he and his associates played) would give no ear unto; but being attended with a considerable guard, did make a progress himself to find him out and bring him to condign punishment. At last, by the means and mediation of Queen Katherine the king’s wrath was qualified, and his pardon sealed, and he spent his old age in peace, at a house of his own, not far from Nottingham, being generally beloved and respected by all.”
Robin Hood on one occasion sent a present to Queen Katherine with which she was so pleased that she swore she would be a friend to the noble outlaw as long as she might live. So one day the queen went to her chamber and called to her a page of her company and bade him make haste and prepare to ride to Nottinghamshire to find Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest; for the queen had made a match with the king, her archers against his archers, and the queen proposed to have Robin Hood and his band to shoot on her side against the king’s archers.
Now as for the page, he started for Nottingham and posted all the way, and inquired on the road for Robin Hood, where he might be, but he could not find any one who could let him know exactly. So he took up his quarters at an inn at Nottingham. And in the room of the inn he sat him down and called for a bottle of Rhenish wine, and he drank the queen’s health out of it. Now at his side was sitting a yeoman of the country, clad in Lincoln green, with a long bow in his hand. And he turned to the page and asked him, “What is thy business, my sweet boy, so far in the north country, for methinks you must come from London?” So then the page told him that it was his business to find Robin Hood the outlaw, and for that he asked every yeoman that he met. And he asked his friend if he knew anything which might help him. “Truly,” said the yeoman, “that I do. And if you will get to horse early to–morrow morning I will show you Robin Hood and all his gay yeomen.”
So the next morning they got them to horse and rode out into the forest, and the yeoman brought the page to where were Robin Hood and his yeomen. And the page fell down on his knee and said to Robin Hood, “Queen Katherine greets you well by me, and hath sent you this ring as a token. She bids you post up to London town, for that there shall be some sport there in which she has a mind you shall have a hand.” And at this Robin took off his mantle of Lincoln green from his back and sent it by the page to Queen Katherine with a promise that he and his band would follow him as soon as they might.
So Robin Hood clothed all his men in Lincoln green and himself in scarlet, and each man wore a black hat with a white feather stuck therein. And thus Robin Hood and his band came up to London. And Robin fell down on his knees before the queen, and she bade him welcome with all his band. For the match between the queen’s archers and the king’s was to come off the next day in Finsbury fields.
Here first came the king’s archers marching with bold bearing, and then came Robin Hood and his archers for the queen. And they laid out the marks there. And the king laid a wager with the queen on the shooting. Now the wager was three hundred tun of Rhenish, and three hundred tun of good English beer, and three hundred fat harts. So then the queen asked if there were any knights with the king who would take her side. But they were unwilling, for said they, “How shall we bet on these men whom we have never seen, when we know Clifton and the rest of the king’s archers, and have seen them shoot?” Now this Clifton was one of the king’s archers and a great boaster. And when he had reached the shooting field he had cried out, “Measure no marks for us, my lord the king, for we will shoot at the sun and moon.” But for all that Robin Hood beat him at the shooting. And the queen asked the Bishop of Herefordshire to back her archers. But he swore by his mitre that he would not bet a single penny on the queen’s archers for he knew them not. “What will you bet against them,” asked Robin Hood at this, “since you think our shooting is the worse?” “Truly,” said the bishop, “I will bet all the money that may be in my purse,” and he pulled it up from where it hung at his side. “What is in your purse?” asked Robin Hood. And the bishop tossed it down on the ground saying, “Fifteen rose–nobles, and that’s an hundred pound.” So Robin Hood tossed out a bag beside the bishop’s purse on the green.
And with that they began shooting, and shot three bouts and they came out even; the king’s and the queen’s. “The next three shots,” said the king, “shall pay for all.” And so the king’s archers shot, and then Robin Hood, and Little John and Midge the miller’s son shot for the queen, and came every man of them nearer the prick in the willow wand than did any of the king’s men. So the queen’s archers having beaten, Queen Katherine asked a boon of the king, and he granted it. “Give me, I pray you,” said the queen, “safe conduct for the archers of my party to come and to go home and to stay in London here some time to enjoy themselves.” “I grant it,” said the king. “Then you are welcome, Robin Hood,” said the queen, “and so is Little John and Midge the miller’s son and every one of you.” “Is this Robin Hood?” asked the king, “for I had heard that he was killed in a quarrel in the north country.” And the bishop too asked, “Is this Robin Hood? If I had known that I would not have bet a penny with him. He took me one Saturday evening and bound me fast to a tree, and there he made me sing a mass for him and his yeomanry about.” “Well, if I did,” said Robin Hood, “surely I needed all the masses that I might get for my soul.” And with that he and his yeomanry departed, and when their safe conduct was expired they journeyed north again to Sherwood Forest.
But Robin Hood, once having supplied himself with good store of money, which he had gotten of the sheriff of Nottingham, bought him a stout gelding, and riding on him one day towards Nottingham, it was his fortune to meet with a poor beggar. Robin Hood was of a frolic spirit, and no accepter of persons; but observing the beggar to have several sorts of bags, which were fastened to his patched coat, he did ride up to him, and giving him the time of day, he demanded of him what countryman he was. “A Yorkshireman,” said the beggar; “and I would desire of you to give me something.” “Give thee!” said Robin Hood; “why, I have nothing to give thee. I am a poor ranger in the forest, and thou seemest to be a lusty knave; shall I give thee a good bastinado over thy shoulders?” “Content, content,” said the beggar; “I durst lay all my bags to a threaden joust, thou wilt repent it.” With that Robin Hood alighted, and the beggar, with his long quarterstaff, so well defended himself, that, let Robin Hood do what he could, he could not come within the beggar, to flash him to a remembrance of his overboldness; and nothing vexed him more than to find that the beggar’s staff was as hard and as obdurate as iron itself; but not so Robin Hood’s head, for the beggar with all his force did let his staff descend with such a side blow, that Robin Hood, for all his skill, could not defend it, but the blood came trickling down his face, which, turning Robin Hood’s courage into revenge and fury, he let fly at him with his trusty sword, and doubled blow upon blow; but perceiving that the beggar did hold him so hard to it that one of his blows was but the forerunner of another, and every blow to be almost the Postilion of Death, he cried out to him to hold his hand. “That will I not do,” said the beggar, “unless thou wilt resign unto me thy horse, and thy sword, and thy clothes, with all the money thou hast in thy pockets.” “The change is uneven,” said Robin Hood, “but for once I am content.”
So, putting on the beggar’s clothes, the beggar was the gentleman, and Robin Hood was the beggar, who, entering into Nottingham town with his patched coat and several wallets, understood that three brethren were that day to suffer at the gallows, being condemned for killing the king’s deer, he made no more ado, but went directly to the sheriff’s house, where a young gentleman, seeing him to stand at the door, demanded of him what he would have. Robin Hood returned answer that he came to crave neither meat nor drink, but the lives of these three brothers who were condemned to die. “That cannot be,” said the young gentleman, “for they are all this day to suffer according to law, for stealing of the king’s deer, and they are already conveyed out of the town to the place of execution.” “I will be with them presently,” said Robin Hood, and coming to the gallows he found many making great lamentation for them. Robin Hood did comfort them, and assured them they should not die; and blowing his horn, behold on a sudden a hundred brave archers came unto him, by whose help, having released the prisoners, and killed the, hangman, and hurt many of the sheriff’s officers, they took those who were condemned to die for killing the king’s deer along with them, who, being very thankful for the preservation of their lives, became afterwards of the yeomanry of Robin Hood.
Now King Richard, hearing of the deeds of Robin Hood and his men, wondered much at them, and desired greatly himself to see him, and his men as well. So he with a dozen of his lords rode to Nottingham town and there took up his abode. And being at Nottingham, the king one day with his lords put on friars’ gowns every one, and rode forth from Fountain Abbey down to Barnsdale. And as they were riding there they saw Robin Hood and all his band standing ready to assail them. The king, being taller than the rest, was thought by Robin to be the abbot. So he made up to him, and seized his horse by the head, and bade him stand. “For,” said he, “it is against such knaves as you that I am bound to make war.” “But,” said the king himself, “we are messengers from the king, who is but a little away, waiting to speak with you.” “God save the king,” said Robin Hood, “and all his well–wishers. And accursed be every one who may deny his sovereignty.” “You are cursing yourself,” said the king, “for you are a traitor.” “Now,” said Robin Hood, “if you were not the king’s messenger, I would make you rue that word of yours. I am as true a man to the king as lives. And I never yet injured any honest man and true, but only those who make their living by stealing from others. I have never in my life harmed either husbandman or huntsman. But my chief spite lies against the clergy, who have in these days great power. But I am right glad to have met you here. Come with me, and you shall taste our greenwood cheer.” But the king and his lords marvelled, wondering what kind of cheer Robin might provide for them. And Robin took the king’s horse by the head, and led him towards his tent. “It is because thou comest from the king,” said he, “that I use you in this wise; and hadst thou as much gold as ever I had, it should be all of it safe for good King Richard’s sake.” And with that he took out his horn, and blew on it a loud blast. And thereat came marching forth from the wood five score and ten of Robin’s followers, and each one bent the knee before Robin Hood. “Surely,” thought the king, “it is a goodly sight to see; for they are more humble to their master than my servants are to me, Here may the court learn something from the greenwood.” And here they laid a dinner for the king and his lords, and the king swore that he had never feasted better. Then Robin Hood, taking a can of ale, said, “Let us now begin, each man with his can. Here’s a health to the king.” And they all drank the health to the king, the king himself, as well as another.
And after the dinner they all took their bows, and showed the king such archery that the king said he had never seen such men as they in any foreign land. And then said the king to Robin Hood, “If I could get thee a pardon from King Richard, wouldst thou serve the king well in everything?” “Yes, with all my heart,” said Robin. And so said all his men.
And with that the king declared himself to them, and said, “I am the king, your sovereign, that is now before you.” And at this Robin and all his men fell down on their knees; but the king raised them up, saying to them that he pardoned each one of them, and that they should every one of them be in his service. So the king returned to Nottingham, and with him returned Robin Hood and his men, to the great joy of the townspeople, whom they had for a long time sorely vexed.
“And they are gone to London court,
Robin Hood and all his train;
He once was there a noble peer,
And now he’s there again.”
But Robin Hood returned to Sherwood Forest, and there met his death. For one day, being wounded in a fight, he fled out of the battle with Little John. And being at some distance, Robin Hood said to his lieutenant, “Now truly I cannot shoot even one shot more, for the arrows will not fly. For I am sore wounded. So I will go to my cousin, the abbess, who dwelleth near here in Kirkley Hall, and she shall bleed me, that I may be well again.” So Robin Hood left Little John, and he went his way to Kirkley; and reaching the Hall, his strength nearly left him, yet he knocked heavily at the door. And his cousin came down first to let him in. And when she saw him she knew that it was her cousin Robin Hood, and she received him with a joyful face. Then said Robin, “You see me, my cousin, how weak I am. Therefore I pray you to bleed me, that I may be whole again.” And his cousin took him by the hand, and led him into an upper room, and laid him on a bed, and she bled him. But the treacherous woman tied not up the vein again, but left him so that his life began to flow from him. And he, finding his strength leaving him, thought to escape; but he could not, for the door was locked, and the casement window was so high that he might not leap down from it. Then, knowing that he must die, he reached forth his hand to his bugle horn, which lay by him on the bed. And setting the horn to his mouth, be blew weakly, though with all his strength, three blasts upon it. And Little John, as he sat under the tree in the greenwood, heard his blowing, and he said, “Now must Robin be near death, for his blast is very weak.”
And he got up and ran to Kirkley Hall as fast as he might. And coming to the door, he found it locked; but he broke it down, and so came to Robin Hood. And coming to the bed, he fell upon his knees, and said, “Master, I beg a boon of thee,– that thou lettest me burn down Kirkley Hall and all the nunnery.” “Nay,” quoth Robin Hood; “nay, I cannot grant you your boon; for never in my life did I hurt woman, or man in woman’s company, nor shall it be done when I die. But for me, give me my long bow, and I will let fly an arrow, and where you shall find the arrow, there bury me. And make my grave long and broad, that I may rest easily; and place my head upon a green sod, and place my bow at my side.” And these words Little John readily promised him, so that Robin Hood was pleased. And they buried him as he had asked, an arrow–shot from Kirkley Hall.