Robin Hood Tales

No. 123, Version B

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


[Friar Tuck is one of the best-known members of Robin Hood's band, but like Maid Marian, he is not present in the earliest ballads.  And both Tuck and Marian only have one major appearance in any Robin Hood ballad, although there is a passing reference in a couple of others.

But while Tuck and Marian didn't appear in the surviving early ballads, they were characters in the 15th - 17th century village festivals ("May Games") that often featured a Robin Hood play.  Tuck's first appearance as a fighting member of Robin's band comes from a dramatic fragment from 1475, but there he is just another outlaw.  An earlier version of this story is also a May Game play, printed in 1560 alongside another play adapting an older ballad about Robin Hood and the Potter.  At the end of that play, Robin offers Tuck a woman as incentive to join the Merry Men -- although unnamed, many scholars have assumed that woman was meant to be Marian.  She was sometimes pictured as the friar's dancing partner.

You'll notice here that the friar is never named (except in the title of the older version of this ballad found in the Percy folio).  But in the 1560 play, he was repeatedly called Friar Tuck.  This tale is a popular one and has been recycled for a variety of Robin Hood children's books, movies and TV shows: including the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn and the "Friar Tuck" episode of the 1950s TV series also called The Adventures of Robin Hood.

The stream running towards Fountains AbbeyThe friar's home of Fountains Abbey (belonging to the Cistercian or white-robed monks) was in west Yorkshire, a common area for Robin Hood locations.  However, Fountain Dale near Mansfield, Nottinghamshire also claims to be the friar's home.  (Apparently though, the Nottinghamshire Fountain Dale was not called that until long after this ballad appeared.)

Oh, curtal friar -- this could refer to the shortened or "curtailed"  gown that the friar wore, or possibly linked to the Latin word for gardner.  To have a curtailed gown, one could also say it was "tucked up", a possible origin of Tuck's name.  However, a real-life chaplain turned criminal, Robert Stafford, did employ the alias of Friar Tuck in 1417 -- the first mention of such a character.]

For more information on Friar Tuck, check out the article on my Beginner's Guide to Robin Hood section. I also describe the historical outlaw named Friar Tuck on my Search for a Real Robin Hood section. The links take you directly to the Friar Tuck segments. And finally, I have an article about Robin Hood and the Friar, the play first published in 1560 that greatly resembles this ballad.

Click here to see images of multiple editions of this ballad at the Broadside Ballads Online website from the University of Oxford's Bodleian Libraries.


      1  In summer time, when leaves grow green,
        And flowers are fresh and gay,
           Robin Hood and his merry men
                Were disposed to play.

      2  Then some would leap, and some would run,
        And some would use artillery:
          'Which of you can a good bow draw,
        A good archer to be?

      3  'Which of you can kill a buck?
        Or who can kill a do?
          Or who can kill a hart of greece,
        Five hundred foot him fro?'
      4  Will Scadlock he killd a buck,
        And Midge he killd a do,
          And Little John killed a hart of greece,
                Five hundred foot him fro?'

      5  'God's blessing on thy heart,' said Robin Hood,
        'That hath [shot] such a shot for me;
           I would ride my horse an hundred miles,
        To finde one could match with thee.'

      6  'That causd Will Scadlock to laugh,
        He laughed full heartily:
          'There lives a curtal frier in Fountains Abby
        Will beat both him and thee.
      7  'That curtal frier in Fountains Abby
        Well can a strong bow draw;
          He will beat you and your yeomen,
        Set them all on a row.'

      8  Robin Hood took a solemn oath,
        It was by Mary free,
         That he would neither eat nor drink
        Till the frier he did see.

      9  Robin Hood put on his harness good,
        And on his head a cap of steel,
          Broad sword and buckler by his side,
        And they became him weel.

      10 He took his bow into his hand,
        It was made of a trusty tree,
            With a sheaf of arrows at his belt,
        To the Fountains Dale went he.

      11 And comming unto Fountain[s] Dale,
        No further would he ride;
           There was he aware of a curtal frier,
        Walking by the water-side.

      12 The fryer had on a harniss good,
        And on his head a cap of steal,
            Broad sword and buckler by his side,
        And they became him weel.

      13 Robin Hood lighted off his horse,
        And tied him to a thorn:
            'Carry me over the water, thou curtal frier,
        Or else thy life's forlorn.'

      14 The frier took Robin Hood on his back,
        Deep water he did bestride,
            And spake neither good word nor bad,
        Till he came at the other side.

      15 Lightly leapt Robin Hood off the friers back
        The frier said to him again,
            Carry me over this water, fine fellow,
        Or it shall breed thy pain.

      16 Robin Hood took the frier on 's back,
        Deep water he did bestride,
             And spake neither good word nor bad,
        Till he came at the other side.

      17 Lightly leapt the fryer off Robin Hoods back;
        Robin Hood said to him again,
            Carry me over this water, thou curtal frier,
        Or it shall breed thy pain.

      18 The frier took Robin Hood on 's back again,
        And stept up to the knee;
            Till he came at the middle stream,
        Neither good nor bad spake he.
      19 And coming to the middle stream,
        There he threw Robin in:
           'And chuse thee, chuse thee, fine fellow,
                Whether thou wilt sink or swim.'

      20 Robin Hood swam to a bush of broom,
        The frier to a wicker wand;
           Bold Robin Hood is gone to the shore,
        And took his bow in hand.

      21 One of his best arrows under his belt
        To the frier he let flye;
           The curtal frier, with his steel buckler,
        He put that arrow by.
      22 'Shoot on, shoot on, thou fine fellow,
        Shoot on as thou hast begun;
            If thou shoot here a summers day,
                Thy mark I will not shun.'

      23 Robin Hood shot passing well,
        Till his arrows all were gone;
            Theytook their swords and steel bucklers,
        And fought with might and maine;

      24 From ten oth' clock that day,
        Till four ith' afternoon;
           Then Robin Hood came to his knees,
        Of the frier to beg a boon.
      25 'A boon, a boon, thou curtal frier,
        I beg it on my knee;
          Give me leave to set my horn to my mouth,
        And to blow blasts three.'

      26 'That will I do,' said the curtal frier,
        'Of thy blasts I have no doubt;
           I hope thou 'lt blow so passing well
        Till both thy eyes fall out.'

      27 Robin Hood set his horn to his mouth,
        He blew but blasts three;
            Half a hundred yeomen, with bows bent,
        Came raking over the lee.

      28 'Whose men are these,' said the frier,
        'That come so hastily?'
            'These men are mine,' said Robin Hood;
        'Frier, what is that to thee?'

      29 'A boon, a boon,' said the curtal frier,
        'The like I gave to thee;
           Give me leave to set my fist to my mouth,
        And to whute whutes three.'

      30 'That will I do,' said Robin Hood,
        'Or else I were to blame;
            Three whutes in a friers fist
        Would make me glad and fain.'

      31 The frier he set his fist to his mouth,
        And whuted whutes three;
            Half a hundred good ban-dogs
        Came running the frier unto.

      32 'Here's for every man of thine a dog,
        And I my self for thee:'
            'Nay, by my faith,' quoth Robin Hood,
        'Frier, that may not be.'

      33 Two dogs at once to Robin Hood did go,
        The one behind, the other before;
            Robin Hoods mantle of Lincoln green
        Off from his back they tore.

      34 And whether his men shot east or west,
        Or they shot north or south,
            The curtal dogs, so taught they were,
        They kept their arrows in their mouth.

      35 'Take up thy dogs,' said Little John,
        'Frier, at my bidding be;'
            'Whose man art thou,' said the curtal frier,
        'Comes here to prate with me?'

      36 'I am Little John, Robin Hoods man,
        Frier, I will not lie;
            If thou take not up thy dogs soon,
        I'le take up them and thee.'
      37 Little John had a bow in his hand,
        He shot with might and main;
            Soon half a score of the friers dogs
        Lay dead upon the plain.
      38 'Hold thy hand, good fellow,' said the curtal frier,
        'Thy master and I will agree;
            And we will have new orders taken,
        With all the haste that may be.'
      39 'If thou wilt forsake fair Fountains Dale,
        And Fountains Abby free,
            Every Sunday throughout the year,
        A noble shall be thy fee.
      40 'And every holy day throughout the year,
        Changed shall thy garment be,
            If thou wilt go to fair Nottingham,
        And there remain with me.'
      41 This curtal frier had kept Fountains Dale
        Seven long years or more;
            There was neither knight, lord, nor earl
        Could make him yield before.

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    Introductory text and Fountains Abbey photo copyright, © Allen W. Wright, 1997 - 2009.

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