ROBIN HOOD AND THE KNIGHT
Retold by Mary Macleod
In the days of Richard I there lived a famous outlaw who was known by
the name of Robin Hood. He was born at Locksley in the county of
Nottingham, and was of noble origin, for he is often spoken of as
"Earl of Huntingdon." Robin was very wild and daring, and having
placed his life in danger by some reckless act, or possibly through
some political offence, he fled for refuge to the greenwood. His chief
haunts were Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, and Barnsdale in
Yorkshire. Round him soon flocked a band of trusty followers. An old
chronicler states that Robin Hood "entertained an hundred tall men and
good archers." They robbed none but the rich, and killed no man except
in self-defence. Robin "suffered no woman to be oppressed or otherwise
molested; poor men's goods he spared, abundantly relieving them" with
spoils got from abbeys or the houses of rich people.
Robin Hood's exploits were widely known, and although the poorer
classes were all on his side, those in authority were naturally
incensed against him. Many attempts were made to seize him, and large
rewards were offered for his capture. He was often in danger of his
life, and had many narrow escapes, but so daring was his courage, and
so quick and clever his wit and resource that he always contrived to
get clear away.
An old tradition says that the father of Robin was a forester, a
renowned archer. On one occasion he shot for a wager against the three
gallant yeomen of the north country—Adam Bell, Clym-of-the-Clough,
and William of Cloudesly, and the forester beat all three of them.
The mother of Robin Hood was a niece of the famous Guy, Earl of
Warwick, who slew the blue boar; her brother was Gamwel of Great
Gamwel Hall, a squire of famous degree, and the owner of one of the
finest houses in Nottinghamshire.
When the other outlaws flocked to Robin Hood they begged him to tell
them what sort of life they were to lead, and where they were to go,
what they were to take and what to leave, what sort of people they
were to rob, and whom they were to beat and to bind—in short, how
they were to act in every circumstance.
"Have no fear, we shall do very well," answered Robin. "But look you
do no harm to any husbandman that tilleth with his plough, nor to any
good yeoman that walketh in the greenwood, nor to any knight or squire
who is a good fellow. And harm no folk in whose company is any woman.
"But fat rascals, and all who have got rich by pilfering, canting, and
cheating, those you may beat and bind, and hold captive for ransom.
And chiefly the Sheriff of Nottingham—look you, bear him well in
And his followers promised to pay heed to his words, and carry them
Chief among the band of outlaws known as "Robin Hood's merry men" was
"Little John," so called because his name was John Little, and he was
seven feet high. Robin Hood was about twenty years old when he first
came to know Little John, and they got acquainted in this way. Robin
was walking one day in the forest when coming near a brook he chanced
to spy a stranger, a strong lusty lad like himself. The two met in the
middle of a long narrow bridge, and neither would give way. They
quarrelled as to which should be the master, and finally agreed to
fight with stout staves on the bridge, and whichever fell into the
water the other was to be declared to have won. The encounter was a
stiff one, but finally the stranger knocked down Robin Hood, and
tumbled him into the brook. Robin bore no malice, but owned at once
the other had got the best of it, and seeing what a stout nimble
fellow he was, persuaded him to join his band of archers, and go and
live with them in the greenwood.
Next to Little John the chief man was Will Scarlet, who in reality was
Robin's own cousin or nephew, young Gamwel of Gamwel Hall. Having
slain his father's steward either by accident or in some brawl, young
Will fled to his kinsman, Robin Hood, in Sherwood Forest, where, as in
the case of Little John, he first made his acquaintance by fighting
with him. As young Will on this occasion happened to be dressed very
smartly in silken doublet and scarlet stockings Robin Hood dubbed him
"Will Scarlet," by which name he was always afterwards known.
Besides these two famous outlaws there were many others of lesser note
who from time to time joined the band. Among them may be mentioned
"Gilbert of the white hand" who was almost as good an archer as Robin
himself; Allen-a-Dale, whose bride Robin Hood helped him to secure;
Much, the son of a miller; George-a-Green; Friar Tuck; Will Stutely,
who was taken prisoner by the Sheriff of Nottingham and nearly hanged,
but was rescued from the gallows by the gallant yeomen;
Arthur-a-Bland, the sturdy tanner of Nottingham, who beat Robin when
they fought with staves; the jolly tinker of Banbury who went out to
arrest Robin, but ended by joining his band, and the chief ranger of
Sherwood Forest, who did the same.
Lastly, there was the bonny maid of noble degree, who was known in the
north country as Maid Marian. She had loved Robin Hood when they were
young together, in the days when he was still the Earl of Huntingdon,
but spiteful fortune forced them to part. Robin had to fly for refuge
to the greenwood, and Maid Marian, unable to live without him, dressed
herself like a page, with quiver and bow, sword and buckler, and went
in search of him. Long and wearily she ranged the forest, and when the
lovers met they did not know each other, for Robin, too, had been
obliged to disguise himself. They fought as foes, and so sore was the
fray that both were wounded, but Robin so much admired the valour of
the stranger lad that he bade him stay his hand, and asked him to join
his company. When Marian knew the voice of her lover she quickly made
herself known to him, and great was the rejoicing. A stately banquet
was quickly prepared, which was served in a shady bower, and they
feasted merrily, while all the tall and comely yeomen drank to the
health of Robin Hood's bride. So for many years they dwelt together
with great content in the greenwood.
It happened one day as Robin Hood stood under a tree in Barnsdale that
Little John went up to him, and said:
"Master, if you would dine soon, would it not be well?"
"I do not care to dine," answered Robin, "until I have some bold baron
or stranger guest to eat with us, or else some rich rascal who will
pay for the feast, or else some knight or squire who dwells in these
"It is already far on in the day; now heaven send us a guest soon, so
that we may get to dinner," said Little John.
"Take thy good bow in thy hand," said Robin, "and let Will Scarlet and
Much go with thee, and walk up to the Sayles and so to Watling Street.
There wait for some strange guest whom it may very well chance you
will meet. Be it earl or baron, or abbot or knight, bring him here to
lodge; his dinner shall be ready for him."
So these three good yeomen, Little John, Will Scarlet, and Much went
off to the great high-road which is known as Watling Street, and there
they looked east and they looked west, but not a man could they see.
But as they looked in Barnsdale, by a little private path there came a
knight riding, whom they soon met. Very dreary and woebegone seemed
this traveller; one foot was in the stirrup, the other dangled
outside; his hood hung down over his eyes; his attire was poor and
shabby; no sorrier man than he ever rode on a summer's day.
Little John bent low in courtesy before him.
"Welcome, sir knight! Welcome to greenwood! I am right glad to see
you. My master hath awaited you fasting these three hours."
"Who is your master?" asked the knight.
"Robin Hood, sir," answered Little John.
"He is a brave yeoman; I have heard much good of him," said the
knight. "I will go in company with you, my comrades. My purpose was to
have dined to-day at Blyth or Doncaster."
So the knight went with the yeomen, but his face was still sad and
careworn, and tears often fell from his eyes. Little John and Will
Scarlet brought him to the door of the lodge in Barnsdale, where the
outlaws were staying at that time, and as soon as Robin saw him he
lifted his hood courteously, and bent low in token of respect.
"Welcome, sir knight, welcome. I am right glad to see you. I have
awaited you fasting, sir, for the last three hours."
"God save thee, good Robin, and all thy fair company," returned the
Robin brought clear water from the well for the guest to wash himself
from the dust of travel, and then they sat down to dinner. The meal
was spread under the trees in the greenwood, and rarely had the
stranger seen a repast so amply furnished. Bread and wine they had in
plenty, and dainty portions of deer, swans and pheasants, plump and
tender, and all kinds of water-fowl from the river, and every sort of
woodland bird that was good for eating.
Robin heaped his guest's plate with choice morsels, and bade him fall
"Eat well, sir knight, eat well," he urged him.
"Thanks, thanks," said the knight. "I have not had such a dinner as
this for three weeks. If I come again into this country, Robin, I will
make as good a dinner for you as you have made for me."
"Thanks for my dinner, good knight, when I have it," returned the
outlaw. "I was never so greedy as to crave for dinner. But before you
go, would it not be seemly for you to pay for what you have eaten? It
was never the custom for a yeoman to pay for a knight."
"I have nothing in my coffers that I can proffer, for shame," said the
"Go, Little John, and look," said Robin. "Now swear to me that you are
telling the truth," he added to his guest.
"I swear to you, by heaven, I have no more than ten shillings," said
"If you have no more than that I will not take one penny," said
Robin. "And if you have need of any more I will lend it you. Go now,
Little John, and tell me the truth. If there be no more than ten
shillings, not one penny of that will I touch."
Little John spread out his mantle on the ground ready to hold any
treasure he might find, but when lie looked in the knight's coifer he
saw nothing but one piece of money of the value of half a pound. He
left it lying where it was, and went to tell his master.
"What tidings, John?" asked Robin.
"Sir, the knight is true enough."
"Fill a cup with the best wine, and hand it first to the knight," said
Robin. "Sir, I much wonder that your clothing is so thin. Tell me one
thing, I pray. I trow you must have been made a knight by force, or
else you have squandered your means by reckless or riotous living?
Perhaps you have been foolish and thriftless, or else have lost all
your money in brawling and strife? Or possibly you have been a usurer
or a drunkard, or wasted your life in wickedness and wrong-doing?"
"I am none of those things, by heaven that made me," declared the
knight. "For a hundred years my ancestors have been knights. It has
often befallen, Robin, that a man may be disgraced, but God who waits
in heaven above can amend his state. Within two or three years, my
neighbours knew it well, I could spend with ease four hundred pounds
of good money. Now I have no goods left but my wife and my
children. God has ordained this until He see fit to better my
"In what manner did you lose your riches?" asked Robin.
"By my great folly and kindness," was the answer. "I had a son, who
should have been my heir. At twenty years old he could joust right
well in the field. Unhappily the luckless boy slew a knight of
Lancashire, and to pay the heavy penalty exacted from him to save his
rights I was forced to sell all my goods. Besides this, Robin, my
lands are pledged until a certain day to a rich abbot living close by
here at St. Mary's Abbey."
"What is the sum?" asked Robin.
"Sir, four hundred pounds, which the abbot lent me."
"Now, if you lose your land what will become of you?" asked Robin.
"I will depart in haste over the salt sea to Palestine. Farewell,
friend, there is no better way." Tears filled the knight's eyes, and
he made a movement to go. "Farewell, friends, farewell! I have no more
that I can pay you."
But Robin stopped him as he would have gone.
"Where are your friends?" he asked.
"Sir, there are none who will know me now. When I was rich enough at
home they were glad to come and flatter me, but now they all run from
me. They take no more heed of me than if they had never seen me."
The knight's sorrowful story so touched the hearts of Little John and
Will Scarlet that they wept for pity.
"Come, fill of the best wine," cried Robin. "Come, sir, courage!
Never be downcast! Have you any friends from whom you can borrow?"
"None," replied the knight.
"Come forth, Little John, and go to my treasury," said Robin. "Bring
me four hundred pounds, and look that you count it out carefully."
Then forth went Little John, and with him went Will Scarlet, and he
counted out four hundred pounds. But Much, the miller's son, did not
look very well pleased to see all this money going into the hands of a
"Is this wisely done?" he muttered.
"What grieves you?" said Little John. "It is alms to help a noble
knight who has fallen into poverty. Master," he went on to Robin Hood,
"his clothing is full thin; you must give the knight a suit of raiment
to wrap himself in. For you have scarlet and green cloth, master, and
plenty of rich apparel. I dare well say there is no merchant in
England who has a finer store."
"Give him three yards of cloth of every colour," said Robin Hood, "and
see that it be well meted out."
Little John took no other measure than his bow, and every handful he
measured he leapt over three feet.
"What devilkin's draper do you think you are?" asked little Much in
Will Scarlet stood still and laughed.
"John may well give him good measure," he said. "It cost him but
Little John paid no heed to their scoffing, but quietly went on with
"Master," he said to Robin Hood, when he had put aside a bountiful
store for their guest, "you must give the knight a horse to carry home
all these goods."
"Give him a grey courser, and put a new saddle on it," said Robin.
"And a good palfrey as befits his rank," added little Much.
"And a pair of boots, for he is a noble knight," said Will Scarlet.
"And what will you give him, Little John?" asked Robin.
"Sir, a pair of shining gilt spurs to pray for all this company. God
bring him safely out of all his trouble."
The poor knight scarcely knew how to thank them for all their
"When shall the day be for me to pay back the money you have lent me?"
he said. "What is your will?"
"This day twelve-month under this greenwood tree," said Robin. "It
were a great shame," he added, "for a knight to ride alone without
squire, yeomen, or page to walk by his side. I will lend you my man,
Little John, to be your lad. He may stand you in yeoman stead if ever
you are in need."
As the knight went on his way he thought how well matters had happened
for him, and when he looked on Barnsdale be blessed Robin Hood. And
when he thought of Will Scarlet, Much, and Little John he blessed them
for the best company he had ever been in.
"To-morrow I must go to York town to St. Mary's Abbey," he said to
Little John, "and to the abbot of that place I have to pay four
hundred pounds. If I am not there by to-morrow night my lands will be
lost for ever."
The next day he strode out of the abbot's hall, all his care gone; he
flung off his worn raiment, put on his good clothing, and left the
other lying where it fell. He went forth singing merrily, back to his
own home at Wierysdale, and his lady met him at the gate.
"Welcome, my lord," said his wife. "Sir, are all your possessions
"Be merry, dame," said the knight, "and pray for Robin Hood that his
soul may always dwell in bliss. He helped me out of my distress; had
it not been for his kindness we should have been beggars. The abbot
and I are in accord; he is served with his money; the good yeoman lent
it me as I came by the way."
* * * * * *
The good knight, whose name was Sir Richard Lee, dwelt in prosperity
at home till he had four hundred pounds all ready to pay back Robin
Hood. He provided himself with a hundred bows made with the best
string, and a hundred sheaves of good arrows with brightly burnished
heads. Every arrow was an ell long, well dressed with peacock's
feathers, and they were all inlaid with silver so that it was a goodly
sight to see. The knight provided himself also with a hundred men,
well armed, and clothed in white and red, and in the same fashion he
attired himself. He bore a lance in his hand, and a man led the horse
which carried his change of apparel. And thus he rode with a light
heart to Barnsdale.
As he drew near a bridge he was forced to tarry awhile, for there was
a great wrestling, and all the best yeomen of the West Country had
flocked to it. A good game had been arranged, and valuable prizes
were offered. A white bull had been put up, and a great courser, with
saddle and bridle all burnished with gold, a pair of gloves, a red
gold ring, and a pipe of wine in prime condition. The man who bore
himself the best would carry off the prize.
Now there was a certain worthy yeoman there who ought by rights to
have been awarded the prize, but because he was a stranger the other
wrestlers were jealous, and all set on him unfairly. As he was far
from home and had no friends there, he would certainly have been slain
if it had not been for the knight who, from the place where he stood,
saw what was going on. He took pity on the yeoman, and swore no harm
should be done to him, for the love he bore to Robin Hood. He pressed
forward into the place, and his hundred archers followed him, with
bows bent and sharp arrows to attack the crowd. They shouldered every
one aside, and made room for Sir Richard Lee to make known what he had
Then the knight took the yeoman by the hand, and declared he had
fairly won the prize. He bought the wine from him for five marks, and
bade that it should be broached at once, and that every one who wished
should have a draught. Thus good humour and jollity were restored, and
the rest of the sports went on merrily.
The knight tarried till the games were done, and in the meanwhile it
came to be three hours after noon. And all this time Robin had waited
fasting for the coming of the knight to whom twelve months before he
had lent the four hundred pounds.