ROBIN HOOD'S DEATH
From The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
by Francis James
earliest version of this tale is a few verses at the end of the longest
and one of the earliest ballads called A Gest of Robyn Hode. An earlier
version of the full tale of Robin's death was found in the famous Percy
folio, but because its language is more medieval and the text is fragmented,
I have decided to put a later version up first on my site. However, I have
also included the older and better version at the bottom of this page along
with the segment of the Gest that deals with Robin's demise.
the earlier version of the tale, after the Prioress bled Robin Hood, he
was stabbed by her lover Sir Roger of Doncaster or Red Roger. The
well-known tale of Robin launching his final arrow to mark his grave was
not in the earlier version. I should probably note that having iron
rods stuck into your arms and being drained of some (although not too much,
hence the Prioress's treachery) blood was a common medieval healing
techinque. The wicked prioress was not a vampire, as some modern supernaturalists
another ballad, A True Tale of Robin Hood, a "faithless friar" is said to have killed
Robin Hood, and in Robin Hood and the Valiant Knight, it is a monk who
did the dirty deed. But the story of prioress is the oldest and longest lasting
tradition of Robin Hood's death. While this story rarely appears
in film, it does make an unhappy ending to many Robin Hood children's
books. (The 1976 movie Robin and Marian, starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn is an obvious
exception. In this film, Marian is the abbess, and she poisons Robin and herself out of love.)
priory has been called in various ballads Kyrkesly, Church Lees, Kirkly
and even Bricklies or Bircklies. A gravestone can be found on the site
of the old Kirklees priory in Yorkshire, almost certainly the intended
location. The current stone is more recent than the first ballad
references to it. This gravesite is on private property, although
the owner of the property has been known to very occasionally allow visitors
if you ask nicely.
When Robin Hood and Little John
a down a down a down
Went oer yon bank of broom,
Robin Hood bold to Little John,
We have shot for many a pound.
But I am not able to shoot one shot more,
broad arrows will not flee;
But I have a cousin lives down below,
God, she will bleed me.
Now Robin he is to fair Kirkly gone,
But before he came there, as we do hear,
And when he came to fair Kirkly-Hall,
knockd all at the ring,
But none was so ready as his cousin herself
to let bold Robin in.
'Will you please to sit down, cousin Robin,'
'No, I will neither eat nor drink,
drink some beer with me?'
I am blooded by thee.'
'Well, I have a room, cousin Robin,' she said,
you did never see,
And if you please to walk therein,
blooded by me shall be.'
She took him by the lily-white hand,
let him to a private room,
And there she blooded bold Robin Hood,
one drop of blood would run down.
She blooded him in a vein of the arm,
locked him up in the room;
Then did he bleed all the live-long day,
the next day at noon.
He then bethought him of a casement there,
for to get down;
But was so weak, he could not leap,
could not get him down.
He then bethought him of his bugle-horn,
hung lown down to his knee;
He set his horn unto his mouth,
blew out weak blasts three.
Little John, when hearing him,
'I fear my master is now near dead,
Then Little John to fair Kirkly is gone,
But when he came to Kirkly-hall,
broke locks two or three:
he came bold Robin to see,
'A boon, a boon,' cries Little John,
is that boon,' said Robin Hood,
John, [thou] begs of me?'
'It is to burn fair Kirkly-hall,
nay, now nay,' quoth Robin Hood,
boon I'll not grant thee;
'I never hurt woman in all my life,
men in woman's company.
never hurt fair maid in all my time,
at mine end shall it be;
But give me my bent bow in my hand,
a broad arrow, I'll let flee;
And where this arrow is taken up,
shall my grave digged be.
me a green sod under my head,
And lay my bent bow by my side,
Which was my music sweet.
And make my grave of gravel and green,
is most right and meet.
me have length and breadth enough,
a green sod under my head;
That they may say, when I am dead
lies bold Robin Hood.'
words they readily granted him,
did bold Robin please:
And there they buried bold Robin Hood,
the fair Kirkleys.
he that never feard bow nor spear
murderd by letting blood;
And so, loving friend, the story it ends
nothing remains but his epitaph now,
reader, here you have,
To this very day which read you may,
Hey down a derry derry down.
Robert Earl of Huntington
Lies under this little stone.
No archer was like him so good,
His wildness nam'd him Robin Hood,
Full thirteen years and something more
These northern parts he vexed sore:
Such out-laws as he and his men
May England never know again.
is a picture of the real gravestone of Robin Hood on the Kirklees estate.
As you can see, the epitaph is a bit different than the ballad version.
photo was taken by David Hepworth, with the permission of Lady Armytage.
[Please do not copy without permission.]
found in a folio manuscript (along with many Robin Hood ballads) belonging
to Bishop Percy, some sections are sadly missing. The old woman who
is cursing Robin Hood and it would seem (judging from the fragment) women
weeping for him seem like the harbingers of death out of myth, like the
washer at the ford. Red Roger is carrying a glave -- a kind of sword, and
Robin's brand is also a sword. When Robin speaks of mood and houzel,
he is asking for help in receiving the last sacraments for the dead.
As I mentioned above, having a little blood drained was a common medieval
healing practice, but the prioress betrays Robin by draining too much.]
'I will neuer eate nor drinke,' Robin Hood said,
meate will doo me noe good,
Till I haue beene att merry Churchlees,
vaines for to let blood.'
'That I reade not,' said Will Scarlett,
by the assente of me,
Without halfe a hundred of your best bowmen
take to goe with yee.
'For there a good yeoman doth abide
be sure to quarrell with thee,
And if thou haue need of vs, master,
faith we will not flee.'
'And thou be feard, thou William Scarlett,
home I read thee be:'
'And you be wrothe, my deare master,
You shall neuer heare more of mee.'
'For there shall noe man with me goe,
And Litle Iohn shall be my man,
beare my benbow by my side.'
'You'st beare your bowe, master, your selfe,
shoote for a peny with mee:'
'To that I doe assent,' Robin Hood sayd,
soe, Iohn, lett it bee.'
They two bolde children shotten together,
day theire selfe in ranke,
Vntil they came to a blacke water,
over it laid a planke,
Vpon it there kneeled an old woman,
'Why dost thou bann Robin Hoode?' said Robin,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
a page missing]
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
We weepen for his deare body,
this day must be lett bloode.'
'The dame prior is my aunts daughter,
I know shee wold me noe harme this day,
all the world to winne.'
Forth then shotten these children,
Vntill they came to merry Churchlees,
merry Churchlee[s] with-in.
And when they came to merry Churchlees,
Vpp then rose dame prioresse,
Then Robin gaue to dame prioresse
And bad her spend while that wold last,
she shold haue more when shee wold.
And downe then came dame prioresse,
she came in that ilke,
With a pair off blood-irons in her hands,
wrapped all in silke.
'Sett a chaffing-dish to the fyer,' said dame prioresse
stripp thou vp thy sleeue:'
I hold him but an vnwise man
will now warning leaeve..
She laid the blood-irons to Robin Hoods vaine,
And pearct the vaine, and let out the bloode,
full red was to see.
And first it bled, the thicke, thicke bloode,
afterwards the thinne,
And well then wist good Robin Hoode
there was within.
'What cheere my master?' said Litle Iohn;
faith, Iohn, litle goode;'
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . [Half a page missing]
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
haue upon a gowne of greene,
And in my hand a bright browne brand
will well bite of thee.'
But forth then of a shot-windowe
Robin Hood he could glide;
Red Roger, with a grounden glaue,
him through the milke-white side.
Robin was light and nimble of foote,
thought to abate his pride,
For betwixt his head and his shoulders
made a wound full wide.
Says, ly there, ly there, Red Roger,
doggs they must thee eate;
'For I may haue my houzle,' he said,
I may both goe and speake.
'Now giue me mood,' Robin said to Litle Iohn,
me mood with thy hand;
I trust to God in heauen soe hye
houzle will me bestand.'
'Now giue me leaue, giue me leaue, master,' he said,
Christs loue giue leaue to me,
To set a fier within this hall,
to burne vp all Churchlee.'
'That I reade not, said Robin Hoode then,
Iohn, for it may not be;
If I shold doe any widow hurt, at my latter end,
he said, 'wold blame me;
'But take me vpon thy backe, Litle Iohn,
beare me to yonder streete,
And there make me a full fayre graue,
grauell and of greete.
sett my bright sword at my head,
arrowes at my feete,
And lay my vew-bow by my side,
met-yard wi . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
a page missing]
Death Scene from A Gest of Robyn Hode
the story of Robin Hood's death has been around longer than the versions
of the ballad above. The events of Robin's death are summarized at
the end of a long early ballad.
surviving versions of the Gest were most likely composed around 1460 and printed near 1500 AD. It
is one of the earliest ballads and by far the longest (divided into eight sections called fyttes) and most influential.
For a variety of reasons, I have not put the whole Gest on my site -- even
though it's one of the best ballads. But here I offer a sample to compare
with the ballads which came later. If you want to read the Gest in full, an annotated version appears at the Robin Hood Project at the University of Rochester website.
often end with Robin Hood being pardoned by the king [Richard the Lionheart
in the recent versions, but a king named Edward in the original ballad.
Current scholarship by Thomas Ohlgren and others suggests that the ballad
best reflects the time period of Edward III.] And like in the films,
the king comes to the greenwood in the disguise of an abbot. He befriends
and pardons Robin Hood.
Click here to read that section of the Gest where the king meets and pardons Robin Hood.
most movies don't show what comes next. Here are the concluding stanzas of the Gest where Robin becomes an outlaw again, and eventually dies.]
The Eighth Fytte (Continued)
Had Robyn dwelled he kynges courte
twelue monethes and thre,
That [he had] spent an hondred pounde,
euery place where Robyn came
more he layde downe,
Both for knyghtes and for squyres,
gete hym grete renowne.
than the yere was all agone
had no man but twayne,
Lytell Johan and good Scathelocke,
With hym all for to gone.
sawe yonge men shote
'Alas!' than sayd good Robyn,
I was an archere good,
styffe and eke a stronge;
I was compted the best archere
was in mery Englonde.
then sayd good Robyn,
Yf I dwele lenger with the kynge,
than went Robyn Hode
he came to our kynge;
'My lorde the kynge of Englonde,
made a chapell in Bernysdale,
It is of Mary Magdaleyne,
myght neuer in this seuen nyght
tyme to slepe ne wynke,
Nother all these seuen dayes
longeth sore to Bernysdale,
Barefote and wolwarde I haue hyght
it be so,' than sayd our kynge,
Seuen nyght I gyue the leue,
No lengre, to dwell fro me.'
lorde,' then sayd Robyn,
He toke his leue full courteysly,
grene wode then went he.
he came to grene wode,
There he herde the notes small
is ferre gone,' sayd Robyn,
Me lyste a lytell for to shote
slewe a full grete harte;
horne than gan he blow,
That all the outlawes of that forest
That horne coud they knowe,
gadred them togyder,
Seven score of wyght yonge men
And fayre dyde of theyre hodes,
set them on theyr kne:
'Welcome,' they saydm 'our [dere] mayster,
this grene-wode tre.'
dwelled in grene wode
For all drede of Edwarde our kynge,
he was begyled, i-wys,
The pryoresse of Kyrkesly,
That nye was of hys kynne:
the loue of a knyght,
That was her owne speciall;
euyll mote they thee!
toke togyder theyr counsell
And how they myght best do that dede,
bespake good Robyn,
place where as he stode,
'To morow I muste to Kyrke[s]ly,
to be leten blode.'
Roger of Donkestere,
And there they betrayed good Robyn Hode,
Through theyr false playe.
haue mercy on his soule,
For he was a good outlawe,
dyde pore men moch god.
Now that you've finished the ballad cycle:
NEXT: Prologue, an excerpt from The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
GO BACK TO: Robin Hood's Progress to Nottingham (often seen as Robin's first crime)