LITTLE JOHN AND THE SHERIFF OF NOTTINGHAM
Retold by Mary Macleod
It will be remembered that when the poor knight left Robin Hood in the
forest Little John went with him to act as his yeoman. He stayed for
some time in Sir Richard's service, and a light and pleasant post he
found it, for he was free to do pretty much as he liked.
It happened one fine day that the young men of Nottingham were eager
to go shooting, so Little John fetched his bow, and said he would meet
them in a trial of skill. While the match was going on, the Sheriff of
Nottingham chanced to pass, and he stood for a while near the marks to
watch the sport.
Three times Little John shot, and each time he cleft the wand.
"By my faith, this man is the best archer that ever I saw," cried the
sheriff. "Tell me now, my fine lad, what is your name? In what county
were you born, and where do you dwell?"
"I was born at Holderness," said Little John, "and when I am at home
men call me Reynold Greenleaf."
"Tell me, Reynold Greenleaf, will you come and live with me? I will
give you twenty marks a year as wages."
"I have a master already, a noble knight," answered Little John. "It
would be better if you would get leave of him."
The sheriff was so pleased with the prowess of Little John that he
wanted to get him into his own service, so he went to the knight, and
it was agreed the sheriff should have him for twelve months. Little
John was therefore given at once a strong horse, well equipped, and
now behold him the sheriff's man.
But Little John had not forgotten Robin Hood's words of warning about
the sheriff; he knew him to be a false and greedy man, and a ruthless
enemy to the outlaws, and Little John was always thinking how he could
pay him out for his treachery.
"By my loyalty and truth," said Little John to himself, "I will be the
worst servant to him that ever he had."
Little John soon found that his new place was little to his liking.
The other servants were not well pleased to see the newcomer; they
were jealous of the favour shown to him at first by his master, and
treated him with rudeness and contempt. The sheriff himself was very
mean; he wished to secure Little John for his service, for he knew
such a comely lad and fine archer would do him credit, but once he was
sure of him he paid no heed to seeing that he was properly lodged and
It happened one day the sheriff went out hunting, and Little John was
left at home forgotten. No meal was served to him, and he was left
fasting till noon. As he was by this time very hungry he went to the
steward, and asked civilly for something to eat.
"Good sir steward, I pray thee give me to dine," he said. "It is too
long for Greenleaf to be so long fasting, therefore I pray thee,
steward, give me my dinner."
"I've had no orders," said the steward rudely. "Thou shalt have
nothing to eat or to drink till my lord comes back to town."
"Rather than that I'll crack thy head," said Little John.
The steward started forward to the buttery, and shut fast the door,
but Little John gave him such a rap on his back it almost broke in
two—as long as he lived he would be the worse for the blow. Then
Little John put his foot to the door, and burst it open, and Little
John went in and helped himself plentifully to both ale and wine.
"Since you will not dine, I will give you to drink," he said to the
steward; "though you live for a hundred years you shall remember
He ate and drank for as long as he chose, and the steward dared say
nothing, for he was still smarting from the blow. But the sheriff had
in his employ a cook, a bold, sturdy man, and he was no coward either.
"A fine sort of fellow you are to dwell in a house and ask for dinner
thus," he cried, and he dealt Little John three good blows.
"I vow I am very well pleased with those strokes of yours," said
Little John, "and before I leave this place you shall be tested
He drew his good sword, and the cook seized another, and they went for
each other then and there. Neither had any thought of giving in, but
both meant to resist stoutly. There they fought sorely for a whole
hour, and neither could in any way harm the other.
"Thou art truly one of the very best swordsmen that ever I saw," said
Little John. "Couldst thou shoot as well with a bow thou shouldst go
with me to the greenwood. Thou wouldst have from Robin Hood twenty
marks a year as wages, and a change of clothing twice a year."
"Put up thy sword, and we will be comrades," said the cook.
He fetched at once for Little John a right good meal—dainty venison,
good bread, and excellent wine—and they both ate and drank heartily.
When they had well feasted they plighted their troth together that
they would be with Robin that self-same night. Then they ran as fast
as they could to the sheriff's treasury, and though the locks were of
good steel they broke them every one. They carried off all the silver
plate—vessels, dishes, gold pieces, cups, and spoons, nothing was
They took also the money—three hundred and three pounds—and then
they went off straight to Robin Hood in the forest.
"God save thee, my dear master," cried Little John.
"Welcome art thou, and also that fair yeoman whom thou bringest with
thee," said Robin Hood. "What tidings from Nottingham, Little John?"
"The proud sheriff greeteth thee well, and sendeth you here by me his
cook and his silver vessels and three hundred and three pounds," said
"I dare take my oath it was never by his good will these goods come to
me," laughed Robin.
Thus they all made merry in the greenwood, and said the sheriff had
been rightly paid for the greed and tyranny with which he performed
the duties of his office, for by bribery and oppression he had got his
Presently Little John bethought him of a shrewd device by which they
could still further get the better of him. He ran into the forest here
and there, and when he had gone about five miles it fell out as he
wished; he came across the sheriff himself hunting with hound and
horn. Little John was mindful of his manners, and went and knelt on
his knee before him, and saluted him courteously.
"Why, Reynold Greenleaf, where hast thou been now?" cried the sheriff.
"I have been in the forest," said Little John, "and there I have seen
a wondrous sight, one of the finest I ever yet saw. Yonder I saw a
right gallant hart; his colour is green. Seven score of deer in a herd
altogether are with him. His antlers are so sharp, master, I durst not
shoot, for dread lest they should slay me."
"By heaven, I would fain see that sight," said the sheriff.
"Turn thy steps thither, then, at once, dear master," said Little
John. "Come with me; I will show you where he lies."
The sheriff rode off, and Little John ran beside him, for he was full
smart of foot. Through the forest they went, and by-and-by they came
to Robin Hood in the midst of his band of yeomen.
"Lo, there is the master hart," said Little John. The sheriff stood
still in dismay, and he was a sorry man.
"Woe worth thee, Reynold Greenleaf, thou hast betrayed me."
"Ye are to blame, master, I swear," said Little John. "When I was at
home with you I was misserved of my dinner."
Then the outlaws made their guest sit down to supper with them, which
he did with no good will, for he would fain have departed to his home
at Nottingham. He was served on his own silver dishes, and when he saw
his beautiful cups and vessels the sheriff for sorrow could not eat.
"Cheer up, sheriff," urged Robin Hood. "For the sake of Little John
thy life is granted thee. What, man, eat and be merry! Here is fine
fat venison served in a goodly vessel."
By the time they had well supped, the day was done. Robin then bade
his men strip the sheriff of his fine clothes, his hose and his shoes,
his kirtle, and the large handsome coat all trimmed with fur—and to
give him in their place a green mantle to wrap himself in. He further
bade his sturdy lads all to lie round the sheriff in a circle under
the greenwood tree, so that he might see them, and know there was no
chance of escape.
It was a sorry night the sheriff passed, cold and shivering, in his
shirt and breeches, on the hard ground; small wonder that his bones
ached, and that he sighed piteously for his soft warm bed at home.
"Come, come, sheriff, cheer up!" said Robin; "for this is our order,
you know, under the greenwood tree."
"This is a harder order than any anchorite or friar!" groaned the
sheriff. "For all the gold in merry England I would not dwell here
"Thou wilt dwell here with me for the next twelve months," said
Robin. "I shall teach thee, proud sheriff, to be an outlaw."
"Before I lie here another night, Robin, smite off my head rather, and
I'll forgive it thee," said the sheriff. "Let me go, for pity's sake!"
he begged, "and I will be the best friend that ever thou hadst."
"Before I let thee go, thou shalt swear me here an oath," said the
outlaw. "Swear on my sword that thou wilt never seek to do me harm by
water or by land. And if thou find any of my men, by night or by day,
thou shalt swear on thy oath to help them all thou canst."
There was no other way to get back his freedom, so the sheriff was
compelled to take the oath demanded by Robin. Then he was allowed to
depart, and he went back to Nottingham a sad and sorry man, feeling
that he had had more than enough of the greenwood to last him a very