Robin Hood Tales

No. 139

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

Warning! This ballad is far more violent than the Robin Hood stories you might be used to.


The earliest ballads don't explain why Robin and his men became outlaws -- they just are. Over the centuries, various stories have been written about the motivations behind Robin Hood becoming an outlaw. This is one of them. It is more exciting but also more bloody than the 16th century theory that Robin Hood became an outlaw because he went into debt. While this ballad is first recorded in the 17th century, a summary of these events occurs in the Sloane manuscript of 1600. It often opens the ballad collections of the 17th and 18th century, and a somewhat cleaned up version commonly appears in Robin Hood children's books even today.

In Howard Pyle's 1883 The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire, Robin only killed one of the foresters, and he was felt great remorse at having taken a life. The Robin Hood of the ballads did not have the same morals as his counterpart in 19th century children's novels. Click here to read Howard Pyle's version of this story.

Some books and movies offer a different origin, but one that also involves foresters. Much the Miller's Son was caught for killing a deer. He was hungry, yet the laws of the time said that only the king could hunt deer. Robin stopped the foresters from capturing Much. (This scene most notably appeared in the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn, and many later TV and film versions have included a variation of it.) The killing of deer and the forest laws are themes that re-occur in many Robin Hood ballads.

Four stanzas of this ballad have survived in the memories of singers from Nova Scotia, Canada. Those stanzas are of Robin killing and maiming with not even the hint of motivation offered here.

Click here to view images of the original Progress to Nottingham broadside ballad in different variations from the Broadside Ballads Online site from the Bodleian Libraries.


      1 Robin Hood hee was and a tall young man,
          Derry derry down
        And fifteen winters old,
         And Robin Hood he was a proper young man,
        Of courage stout and bold.
          Hey down derry derry down.

      2 Robin Hood he would and to fair Nottingham,
        With the general for to dine;
         There was he ware of fifteen forresters,
        And a drinking bear, ale, and wine.

      3 'What news? What news?' said bold Robin Hood;
        'What news, fain wouldest thou know?
         'Our king hath provided a shooting-match:'
        'And I'm ready with my bow.'
      4 'We hold it in scorn,' then said the forresters,
        That ever a boy so young
         Should bear a bow before our king,
        That's not able to draw one string.'

      5 'I'le hold you twenty marks,' said bold Robin Hood,
        'By the leave of Our Lady,
         That I'le hit a mark a hundred rod,
        And I'le cause a hart to dye.'

      6 'We'l hold you twenty mark,' then said the forresters,
        'By the leave of Our Lady,
         Thou hitst not the marke a hundred rod,
        Nor causest a hart to dye.'

      7 Robin Hood he bent up a noble bow,
        And a broad arrow he let flye,
         He hit the mark a hundred rod,
        And he causest a hart to dye.'

      8 Some said hee brake ribs one or two,
        And some said hee brake three;
         The arrow within the hart would not abide,
        But it glanced in two or three.

      9 The hart did skip, and the hart did leap,
        And the hart lay on the ground,
         'The wager is mine,' said bold Robin Hood,
        'If 't were for a thousand pound.'

      10 'The wager's none of thine,' then said the forresters,
        'Although thou beest in haste;
           Take up thy bow, and get thee hence,
        Lest wee thy sides do baste.'

      11 Robin Hood he took up his noble bow,
        And his broad arrows all amain,
           And Robin Hood he laught, and begun to smile,
        As hee went over the plain.

      12 Then Robin Hood hee bent his noble bow,
        And his broad arrows he let flye,
           Till fourteen of these fifteen forresters
        Vpon the ground did lye.

      13 He that did this quarrel first begin
        Went tripping over the plain,
           But Robin Hood he bent his noble bow,
        And hee fetcht him back again.

      14 'You said I was no archer,' said Robin Hood,
        'But say so now again;'
           With that he sent another arrow
        That split his head in twain.

      15 'You have found mee an archer,' saith Robin Hood,
        'Which will make your wives to wring,
           And wish that you had never spoke the word,
        That I could not draw one string.'

      16 The people that lived in fair Nottingham
        Came runing out amain,
            Supposing to have taken bold Robin Hood,
        With the forresters that were slain.

      17 Some lost legs, and some lost arms,
        And some did lose their blood,
           But Robin Hood hee took up his noble bow,
        And is gone to the merry green wood.

      18 They carryed these forresters into fair Nottingham,
        As many there did know;
           They digd them graves in their church-yard,
        And they buried them all a row.

    NEXT: The Ballad of Robin Hood and Little John

    ALSO: Read a version of the foresters story from Howard Pyle's classic children's novel The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood.

    ALSO: If you're interested in learning about how the Robin Hood legend grew and changed over the years, check out Wolfshead Through the Ages: The History of Robin Hood.

    ALSO: Maybe you are interested in learning about the real-life outlaws that possibly inspired the legend, read the Search for a Real Robin Hood

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    Introductory text copyright, © Allen W. Wright, 1997 - 2004.

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