Robin Hood Tales

No. 122

From The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
by Francis James Child, 1888.


This ballad is something of a re-write of the earlier and longer ballad Robin Hood and the Potter. To read that earlier ballad (the surviving copy is currently believed to have been written in the 1460s) please visit The Robin Hood Project at the University of Rochester .

As with Robin Hood's Death, I am presenting two versions of this ballad. The more modern Version B appears before the older (and sadly incomplete) Version A. One thing not in version B at all (and largely occuring in a missing part of version A) is the fight between Robin and the Butcher. This fight takes up a larger part of the Potter ballad (and all of the May Games play based on the Potter tale) and is an early example of what Stephen Knight calls "Robin Hood meets his match". Similar fights take place in a lot of the later ballads, including Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar, Robin Hood and Little John and Robin Hood and Maid Marian.

The trick of luring the sheriff of Nottingham into the greenwood on the pretence of finding some beasts resembles a trick that Little John played on the sheriff in A Gest of Robyn Hode, another early ballad. In Robin Hood and the Potter, Robin outshoots the sheriff's men in a small archery contest. The disguised Robin tells the sheriff that he has often shot with Robin Hood, and the sheriff -- led by the fake potter -- goes into the greenwood hoping to trap the outlaw.

The Butcher ballads and their Potter predcessor continue to be a popular Robin Hood story, retold in many children's books.]

Version B

    1 Come, all you brave gallants, and listen a while,
      With hey down, down an a down
      That are in the bowers within;
    For of Robin Hood, that archer good,
      A song I intend to sing.

    2 Upon a time it chanced so
      Bold Robin in forrest did spy
    A jolly butcher, with a bony fine mare,
      With his flesh to the market did hye.

    3 'Good morrow, good fellow,' said jolly Robin,
      'What food hast? tell unto me;
    And thy trade to me tell, and where thou dost dwell,
      For I like well thy company.'

    4 The butcher he answered jolly Robin:
      No matter where I dwell;
    For a butcher I am, and to Notingham
      I am going, my flesh to sell.

    5 'What is [the price] of thy flesh?' said jolly Robin,
      'Come, tell it soon unto me;
    And the price of thy mare, be she never so dear,
      For a butcher fain would I be.'

    6 'The price of my flesh,' the butcher repli'd,
      'I soon will tell unto thee,
    With my bonny mare, and they are not dear,
      Four mark thou must give unto me.'

    7 'Four mark I will give thee,' saith jolly Robin,
      'Four mark it hall be thy fee;
    Thy mony come count, and let me mount,
      For a butcher I fain would be.'

    8 Now Robin he is to Notingham gone,
      His butcher's trade to begin;
    With good intent, to the sheriff he went,
      And there he took up his inn.

    9 When other butchers they opened their meat,
      Bold Robin he then begun;
    But how for to sell he knew not well,
      For a butcher he was but young.

    10 'When other butchers no meat could sell,
      Robin got both gold and fee;
    For he sold more meat for one peny
      Than others could do for three.

    11 But when he sold his meat so fast,
      No butcher by him could thrive;
    For he sold more meat for one peny
      Than others could do for five.

    12 Which made the butchers of Notingham
      To study as they did stand,
    Saying, surely he was some prodigal,
      That had sold his father's land.

    13 The butchers they stepped to jolly Robin,
      Acquainted with him for to be;
    'Come, brother,' one said, 'we all be of one trade,
      Come, will you go dine with me?'

    14 'Accurst of his heart,' said jolly Robin,
      'That a butcher both deny;
    I will go with you, my brethren true,
      And as fast as I can hie.'

    15 But when to the sheriff's house they came,
      To dinner they hied apace,
    And Robin he the man must be
      Before them all to say grace.

    16 'Pray God bless us all,' said jolly Robin,
      'And our meat within this place;
    A cup of sack so good will nourish our blood,
      And so I do end my grace.

    17 'Come fill us more wine,' said jolly Robin,
      'Let us merry be while we do stay;
    For wine and good cheer, be it never so dear,
      I vow I the reckning will pay.

    18 'Come, brother[s[, be merry,' said jolly Robin,
      'Let us drink, and never give ore;
    For the shot I will pay, ere I go my way,
      If it cost me five pounds and more.'

    19 'This is a mad blade,' the butchers then said;
      Saies the sheriff, He is some prodigal,
    That some land has sold, for silver and gold,
      And now he doth mean to spend all.

    20 'Hast thou any horn-beasts,' the sheriff repli'd,
      'Good fellow, to sell unto me?'
    'Yes, that I have, good Master Sheriff,
      I have hundreds two or three.

    21 'And a hundred aker of good free land,
      If you please it to see;
    And I'le make you as good assurance of it
      As ever my father made me.'

    22 The sheriff he saddled a good palfrey,
      With three hundred pound in gold,
    And away he went with bold Robin Hood,
      His horned beasts to behold.

    23 Away then the sheriff amd Robin did ride,
      To the forrest of merry Sherwood;
    Then the sheriff did say, God bless us this day
      From a man they call Robin Hood!

    24 But when that a little further they came,
      Bold Robin he chanced to spy
    A hundred head of good red deer,
      Come tripping the sheriff full nigh.

    25 'How like you my hornd beasts, good Master Sheriff?
      They be fat and fair for to see;'
    'I tell thee, good fellow, I would I were gone,
      For I like not thy company.'

    26 Then Robin he set his horn to his mouth,
      And blew but blasts three;
    Then quickly anon there came Little John,
      And all his company.

    27 'What is your will?' then said Little John,
      'Good master come tell it to me;'
    'I have brought hither the sheriff of Notingham,
      This day to dine with thee.'

    28 'He is welcome to me,' then said Little John,
      'I hope he will honestly pay;
    I know he has gold, if it be but well told,
      Will serve us to drink a whole day.'

    29 Then Robin took his mantle from his back,
      And laid it upon the ground,
    And out of the sheriffe['s] portmantle
      He told three hundred pound.

    30 Then Robin he brought him thorow the wood,
      And set him on his dapple gray;
    'O have me commended to your wife at home;'
      So Robin went laughing away.

Version A

[This version, found in the Bishop Percy's folio (alongside other old ballads), is missing three half-page sections. What remains is slightly closer to the older Robin Hood and the Potter ballad. In particular, while the Sheriff of Nottingham's wife is only mentioned in the newer version, here she has a few lines. In the Potter ballad, Robin gives the sheriff's wife a ring -- a hint of a possible relationship with his adversary's wife?]

    1 But Robin he walkes in the g[reene] fforrest,
      As merry as bird on boughe,
    But he that feitches good Robins head,
      Hee 'le find him game enoughe.

    2 But Robine he walkes in the greene fforrest,
      Vnder his trusty-tree;
    Sayes, Hearken, Hearken, my merrymen all,
      What tydings is come to me.

    3 The sheriffe he hath made a cry,
      Hee 'le have my head i-wis;
    But ere a tweluemonth come to an end
      I may chance to light on his.

    4 Robin he marcht in the greene forrest,
      Vnder the greenwood scray,
    And there he was ware of a proud bucher,
      Came driuing flesh by the way.

    5 The bucher he had a cut-taild dogg,
      And at Robins face he flew;
    But Robin he was a good sword,
      The bucher's dogg he slew.

    6 'Why slayes thou my dogg?' sayes the bucher,
      'For he did none ill to thee;
    By all the saints that are in heaven
      Thou shalt haue buffetts three.'

    7 He tooke his staffe then in his hand,
      And he turnd him round about:
    'Thou hast a litle wild blood in thy head,
      Good fellow, thou 'st haue it letten out.'

    8 'He that does that deed,' sayes Robin,
      'I 'le count him for a man;
    But that while will I draw my sword,
      And fend it if I can.'

    9 But Robin he stroke att the bloudy bucher,
      In place were he did stand,

    [Half a page missing.]
    [Presumably, judging by the Potter and other Butcher ballads, Robin loses the fight, and then offers to buy the butcher's meat. Then, Robin travels to Nottingham disguised as a butcher. He draws the attention of the sheriff's wife.]

    10 'I [am] a younge bucher,' sayes Robin,
      'You fine dames am I come amonge;
    But euer I beseech you, good Mrs Sheriffe,
      You must see me take noe wronge.'

    11 'Thou art verry welcome,' said Master Sheriff's wiffe,
      'Thy inne heere up [to] take;
    If any good ffellow come in thy companie,
      Hee 'st be welcome for thy sake.'

    12 Robin called ffor ale, soe did he for wine,
      And for it he did pay:
    'I must to my markett goe,' says Robin,
      'For I hold time itt of the day.'

    13 But Robin is to the markett gone,
      Soe quickly and beliue,
    He sold more flesh for one peny
      Then othe[r] buchers did for fiue.

    14 The drew about the younge bucher,
      Like sheepe into a fold;
    Yea neuer a bucher had sold a bitt
      Till Robin he had all sold.

    15 When Robin Hood had his markett made,
      His flesh was sold and gone;
    Yea he had receiued but a litle mony,
      But thirty pence and one.

    16 Seaven buchers, the garded Robin Hood,
      Ffull many time and oft;
    Sayes, We must drinke with you, brother bucher,
      It's custome of our crafte.

    17 'If that be the custome of your crafte,
      As heere you tell to me,
    Att four of the clocke in the afternoone
      At the sheriffs hall I wilbe.'

    [Half a page missing.]

    18 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
      'If thou doe like it well;
    Yea heere is more by three hundred pound
      Then thou hast beasts to sell.'

    19 Robyn sayd naught, the more he thought:
      'Mony neere comes out of time;
    If once I catch thee in the greene fforest,
      That mony it shall be mine.'

    20 But on the next day seuen butchers
      Came to guard the sheriffe that day;
    But Robin he was the whigh[t]est man,
      He led them all the way.

    21 He led them into the greene fforest,
      Vnder the trusty tree;
    Yea, there were harts, and ther were hynds,
      And staggs with heads full high.

    22 Yea, there were harts and there were hynds,
      And many a goodly ffawne;
    'Now praised be God,' says bold Robin,
      'All these they be my owne.

    23 'These are my horned beasts,' says Robin,
      'Master Sherriffe, which must make the stake;'
    'But euer alacke, now,' said the sheriffe,
      'That tydings come to late!'

    24 Robin sett a shrill horne to his mouth,
      And a loud blast he did blow,
    And then halfe a hundred bold archers
      Came rakeing on a row.

    25 But when the came befor bold Robin,
      Even there the stood all bare:
    'You are welcome, master, from Nottingham:
      How haue you sold your ware?'

    [Half a page missing.]
    [But safely home in Nottingham, the sheriff tells his wife what happened.]

    26 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 
      . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
      It proues bold Robin Hood.

    27 'Yea, he hath robbed me of all my gold
      And siluer that euer I had;
    But that I had a verry good wife at home,
      I shold haue lost my head.

    28 'But I had a verry good wife at home,
      Which made him gentle cheere,
    And therfor, for my wifes sake,
      I shold haue better favor heere.

    29 'But such favor as he shewed me
      I might haue of the devills dam,
    That will rob a man of all he hath,
      And send him nake home.'

    30 'That is very well done,' then says his wiffe,
      'Itt is well done, I say;
    You might haue tarryed att Nottingham,
      Soe fayre as I did you pray.'

    31 'I haue learned wisdome,' sayes the sherriffe,
      'And, wife, I haue learned of thee;
    But if Robin walke easte, or he walke west,
      He shall neuer be sought for me.'

    NEXT: Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar

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    Text copyright, © Allen W. Wright, 1997 - 2009.

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