When Francis Child assembled his 19th century ballad collection, the earliest surviving copy of The King's Disguise and Friendship with Robin Hood was from a 1740 "garland" (ballad collection). However, in 1993, a lost manuscript turned up for a never-published 1670 ballad collection. Among the ballads in what became called the Forresters Manuscript (after the title of the first ballad) was a ballad called Robin Hood and the King or Robins Death. Dating from 70 years before the ballad Child knew, the Forrester Manuscript version is very similar in many places. However, unlike The King's Disguise, it ends with the story of Robin Hood's death inspired by A Gest of Robyn Hode and Martin Parker's A True Tale of Robin Hood. (Both those ballads were an obvious influence on the 1740 King's Disguise as well.)
However, the story of Robin Hood's encounter with the king goes back farther than the 1600s. This ballad has a similar plot to a section of A Gest of Robyn Hode, the longest, most influential and one of the oldest (likely composed around 1460) Robin Hood ballads. (The relevant sections of the Gest are also reprinted below.)
This ballad also says that Robin lives in Barnsdale, the Yorkshire home of the outlaw in many early ballads.
1 King Richard hearing of the pranks
Of Robin Hood and his men
He much admir'd, and more desir'd,
To see both him and them.
2 Then with a dozen of his lords
To Nottingham he rode ;
When he came there, he made good cheer,
And took up his abode.
3 He having staid there some time,
But had no hopes to speed,
He and his lords, with [free] accord,
All put on monk's weeds.
4 From Fountain-abby they did ride,
Down to Barnsdale ;
Where Robin Hood prepared stood
All company to assail.
5 The king was higher then the rest,
And Robin thought he had
An abbot been whom he did spleen;
To rob him he was glad.
6 He took the king's horse by the head,
'Abbot,' says he, 'abide ;
I am bound to rue such knaves as you,
That live in pomp and pride.'
7 'But we are messengers from the king,'
The king himself did say ;
'Near to this place his royal Grace
To speak with thee does stay.'
8 'God save the king,' said Robin Hood,
'And all that wish him well ;
He that does deny his sovereignty,
I wish he was in hell.'
9 'O thyself thou curses,' says the king,
'For thou a traitor art:'
'Nay, but that you are his messenger,
I swear you lie in heart.
10 'For I never yet hurt any man
That honest is and true ;
But those that give their minds to live
Upon other men's due.
11 'I never hurt the husbandman,
That use to till the ground ;
Nor spill their blood that range the wood
To follow hawk or hound.
12 'My chiefest spite to clergy is,
Who in these days bear a great sway ;
With fryars and monks, with their fine sprunks,
I make my chiefest prey.
13 'But I am very glad,' says Robin Hood
'That I have met you here ;
Come, before we end, you shall, my friend,
Taste of our green-wood cheer.'
14 The king did then marvel much,
And so did all his men ;
They thought with fear, what kind of cheer
Robin would provide for them.
15 Robin took the king's horse by the head,
And led him to the tent ;
'Thou would not be so usd,' quoth he,
'But that my king thee sent.
16 'Nay, more than that,' said Robin Hood,
'For good king Richard's sake,
If you had as much gold as ever I told,
I would not one penny take.'
17 Then Robin set his horn to his mouth,
And a loud blast he did blow,
Till a hundred and ten of Robin Hood's men
Came marching all of a row.
18 And when they came bold Robin before,
Each man did bend his knee ;
'O,' thought the king, "'t is a gallant thing,
And seemly sight to see.'
19 Within himself the king did say,
These men of Robin Hood's
More humble be than mine to me ;
So the court may learn of the woods.
20 So then they all to dinner went,
Upon a carpet green ;
Black, yellow, red, finely minglëd,
Most curious to be seen.
21 Venison and fowls were plenty there,
With fish out of the river:
King Richard swore, on sea or shore,
He neer was feasted better.
22 Then Robin takes a can of ale:
'Come, let us now begin ;
Come, every man shall have his can ;
Here's a health unto the king.'
23 The king himself drank to the king,
So round about it went;
Two barrels of ale, both stout and stale,
To pledge that health were spent.
24 And after that, a bowl of wine
In his hand took Robin Hood ;
'Until I die, I'll drink wine,' said he,
'While I live in the green-wood.'
25 "Bend all your bows," said Robin Hood,
"And with the grey goose wing
Such sport now shew as you would do
In the presence of the king."
26 They shewd such brave archery,
By cleaving sticks and wands,
That the king did say, Such men as they
Live not in many lands.
27 'Well, Robin Hood,' then says the king,
'If I could thy pardon get,
To serve the king in every thing.
Wouldst thou thy mind firm set?'
28 'Yes, with all my heart,' bold Robin said,
So they flung off their hoods ;
To serve the king in every thing,
They swore they would spend their bloods.
29 'For a clergyman was first my bane,
Which makes me hate them all ;
But if you'll be so kind to me,
Love them again I shall.'
30 The king no longer could forbear,
For he was movd with ruth ;
['Robin,' said he, 'I now tell thee
The very naked truth.]
31 'I am the king, thy sovereign king,
That appears before you all ;'
When Robin see that it was he,
Strait then he down did fall.
32 'Stand up again,' then said the king,
'I'll thee thy pardon give ;
Stand up, my friend; who can contend,
When I give leave to live?'
33 So they are all gone to Nottingham,
All shouting as they came ;
But when the people them did see,
They thought the king was slain,
34 And for that cause the outlaws were come,
To rule all as they list;
And for to shun, which way to run
The people did not wist.
35 The plowman left the plow in the fields,
The smith ran from his shop ;
Old folks also, that scarce could go,
Over their sticks did hop.
36 The king soon let them understand
He had been in the green wood,
And from that day, for evermore,
He'd forgiven Robin Hood.
37 When the people they did hear,
And the truth was known,
They all did sing, 'God save the king!
Hang care, the town's our own!'
38 'What's that Robin Hood?' then said the sheriff ;
'That varlet I do hate ;
Both me and mine he causd to dine,
And servd us all with one plate.'
39 'Ho, ho,' said Robin, 'I know what you mean ;
Come, take your gold again ;
Be friends with me, and I with thee,
And so with every man.
40 'Now, master sheriff, you are paid,
And since you are beginner,
As well as you give me my due ;
For you neer paid for that dinner.
41 'But if that it should please the king
So much your house to grace
To sup with you, for to speak true,
[I] know you neer was base.'
42 The sheriff could not [that] gain say,
For a trick was put upon him ;
A supper was drest, the king was guest,
But he thought 't would have undone him.
43 They are all gone to London court,
Robin Hood, with all his train ;
He once was there a nobel peer,
And now he 's there again.
44 Many such pranks brave Robin playd
While he lived in the green wood:
Now, my friends, attend, and hear an end
Of honest Robin Hood.
[As with much of the Robin Hood legend, the story of Robin's encounter with the king has its roots in A Gest of Robyn Hode.
surviving versions of the Gest were most likely composed around 1460 and printed near 1500 AD. It
is one of the earliest ballads and by far the longest and most influential.
For a variety of reasons, I have not put the whole Gest on my site -- even
though it's one of the best ballads. But here I offer a sample to compare
with the ballads which came later. You may find the language a bit harder to follow than more recent ballads, and Robin Hood is more violent than some later tales too. However, the Gest is also far more dramatic than the King's Disguise and Friendship with Robin Hood.
The Gest is divided into eight sections called fyttes. Earlier in the ballad, Robin Hood had trapped the Sheriff of Nottingham and only let the sheriff go after he swore an oath never to plot against Robin and his men again. So, in the fifth fytte (click here to read that section), Robin goes to an archery contest in Nottingham to see if the sheriff will keep his word. He doesn't. Robin and his men are attacked, and Little John is badly wounded. Robin and his men seek sanctuary at the castle of Sir Richard at the Lee, an ally from earlier in the ballad. And so the story continues...
Oh, and note that the king in this ballad is named Edward, not Richard. As to which Edward, there's some debate. Robin Hood scholar Thomas Ohlgren has argued that Edward could represent Edward III and Edward IV (the king on the throne when the ballad was composed). Fans of a historical Robin Hood note that a real person named Robin Hood briefly served in the court of Edward II.]
The Sixth Fytte
317 Lythe and lysten, gentylmen,
And herkyn to your songe;
Howe the proude shyref of Notyngham,
And men of armys stronge,
318 Full fast cam to the hye shyref,
The contre vp to route,
And they besette the knyghtes castell,
The walles all aboute.
319 The proude shyref loude gan crye,
And sayde, Thou traytour knight,
Thou kepest here the kynges enemys,
Agaynst the lawe and right.
320 ‘Syr, I wyll auowe that I haue done,
The dedys that here be dyght,
Vpon all the landes that I haue,
As I am a trewe knyght.
321 ‘Wende furth, sirs, on your way,
And do no more to me
Tyll ye wyt oure kynges wille,
What he wyll say to the.
322 The shyref thus had his answere,
Without any lesynge;
[Fu]rth he yede to London towne,
All for to tel our kinge.
323 Ther he telde him of that knight,
And eke of Robyn Hode,
And also of the bolde archars,
That were soo noble and gode.
324 ‘He wyll auowe that he hath done,
To mayntene the outlawes stronge;
He wyll be lorde, and set you at nought,
In all the northe londe.’
325 ‘I wil be at Notyngham,’ saide our kynge,
‘Within this fourteenyght,
And take I wyll Robyn Hode,
And so I wyll that knight.
326 ‘Go nowe home, shyref,’ sayde our kynge,
‘And do as I byd the;
And ordeyn gode archers ynowe,
Of all the wyde contre.’
327 The shyref had his leue i-take,
And went hym on his way,
And Robyn Hode to grene wode,
Vpon a certen day.
328 And Lytel John was hole of the arowe
That shot was in his kne,
And dyd hym streyght to Robyn Hode,
Vnder the grene-wode tree.
329 Robyn Hode walked in the forest,
Vnder the leuys grene;
The proude shyref of Notyngham
Thereof he had grete tene.
330 The shyref there fayled of Robyn Hode,
He myght not haue his pray;
Than he awayted this gentyll knyght,
Bothe by nyght and day.
331 Euer he wayted the gentyll knyght,
Syr Richarde at the Lee,
As he went on haukynge by the ryuer-syde,
And let [his] haukes flee.
332 Toke he there this gentyll knight,
With men of armys stronge,
And led hym to Notyngham warde,
Bounde bothe fote and hande.
333 The sheref sware a full grete othe,
Bi hym that dyed on rode,
He had leuer than an hundred pound
That he had Robyn Hode.
334 This harde the knyghtes wyfe,
A fayr lady and a free;
She set hir on a gode palfrey,
To grene wode anone rode she.
335 Whanne she cam in the forest,
Vnder the grene-wode tree,
Fonde she there Robyn Hode,
And al his fayre mene.
336 ‘God the saue, gode Robyn,
And all thy company;
For Our dere Ladyes sake,
A bone graunte thou me.
337 ‘Late neuer my wedded lorde
Shamefully slayne be;
He is fast bowne to Notingham warde,
For the loue of the.’
338 Anone than saide goode Robyn
To that lady so fre,
What man hath your lorde [i-]take?
. . . . . .
339 . . . . . .
‘For soth as I the say;
He is nat yet thre myles
Passed on his way.’
340 Vp than sterte gode Robyn,
As man that had ben wode:
‘Buske you, my mery men,
For hym that dyed on rode.
341 ‘And he that this sorowe forsaketh,
By hym that dyed on tre,
Shall he neuer in grene wode
No lenger dwel with me.’
342 Sone there were gode bowes bent,
Mo than seuen score;
Hedge ne dyche spared they none
That was them before.
343 ‘I make myn auowe to God,’ sayde Robyn,
‘The sherif wolde I fayne see;
And if I may hym take,
I-quyte shall it be.’
344 And whan they came to Notingham,
They walked in the strete;
And with the proude sherif i-wys
Sone can they mete.
345 ‘Abyde, thou proude sherif,’ he sayde,
‘Abyde, and speke with me;
Of some tidinges of oure kinge
I wolde fayne here of the.
346 ‘This seuen yere, by dere worthy God,
Ne yede I this fast on fote;
I make myn auowe to God, thou proud sherif,
It is nat for thy gode.’
347 Robyn bent a full goode bowe,
An arrowe he drowe at wyll;
He hit so the proude sherife
Vpon the grounde he lay full still.
348 And or he myght vp aryse,
On his fete to stonde,
He smote of the sherifs hede
With his bright[e] bronde.
349 ‘Lye thou there, thou proude sherife,
Euyll mote thou cheue!
There myght no man to the truste
The whyles thou were a lyue.’
350 His men drewe out theyr bryght swerdes,
That were so sharpe and kene,
And layde on the sheryues men,
And dryued them downe bydene.
351 Robyn stert to that knyght,
And cut a two his bonde,
And toke hym in his hand a bowe,
And bad hym by hym stonde.
352 ‘Leue thy hors the behynde,
And lerne for to renne;
Thou shalt with me to grene wode,
Through myre, mosse, and fenne.
353 ‘Thou shalt with me to grene wode,
Without ony leasynge,
Tyll that I haue gete vs grace
Of Edwarde, our comly kynge.’
The Seventh Fytte
354 The kynge came to Notynghame,
With knyghtes in grete araye,
For to take that gentyll knyght
And Robyn Hode, and yf he may.
355 He asked men of that countre
After Robyn Hode,
And after that gentyll knyght,
That was so bolde and stout.
356 Whan they had tolde hym the case
Our kynge vnderstode ther tale,
And seased in his honde
The knyghtes londes all.
357 All the passe of Lancasshyre
He went both ferre and nere,
Tyll he came to Plomton Parke;
He faylyd many of his dere.
358 There our kynge was wont to se
Herdes many one,
He coud vnneth fynde one dere,
That bare ony good horne.
359 The kynge was wonder wroth withall,
And swore by the Trynyte,
‘I wolde I had Robyn Hode,
With eyen I myght hym se.
360 ‘And he that wolde smyte of the knyghtes hede,
And brynge it to me,
He shall haue the knyghtes londes,
Syr Rycharde at the Le.
361 ‘I gyue it hym with my charter,
And sele it [with] my honde,
To haue and holde for euer more,
In all mery Englonde.’
362 Than bespake a fayre olde knyght,
That was treue in his fay:
A, my leege lorde the kynge,
One worde I shall you say.
363 There is no man in this countre
May haue the knyghtes londes,
Whyle Robyn Hode may ryde of gone,
And bere a bowe in his hondes,
364 That he ne shall lese his hede,
That is the best ball in his hode:
Giue it no man, my lorde the kynge,
That ye wyll any good.
365 Half a yere dwelled our comly kynge
In Notyngham, and well more;
Coude he not here of Robyn Hode,
In what countre that he were.
366 But alway went good Robyn
By halke and eke by hyll,
And alway slewe the kynges dere,
And welt them at his wyll.
367 Than bespake a proude fostere,
That stode by our kynges kne;
Yf ye wyll se good Robyn,
Ye must do after me.
368 Take fyue of the best knyghtes
That be in your lede,
And walke downe by yon abbay,
And gete you monkes wede.
369 And I wyll be your ledes-man,
And lede you the way,
And or ye come to Notyngham,
Myn hede then dare I lay,
370 That ye shall mete with good Robyn,
On lyue yf that he be;
Or ye come to Notyngham,
With eyen ye shall hym se.
371 Full hast[e]ly our kynge was dyght,
So were his knyghtes fyue,
Euerych of them in monkes wede,
And hasted them thyder blyve.
372 Our kynge was grete aboue his cole,
A brode hat on his crowne,
Ryght as he were abbot-lyke,
They rode up in-to the towne.
373 Styf botes our kynge had on,
Forsoth as I you say;
He rode syngynge to grene wode,
The couent was clothed in graye.
374 His male-hors and his grete somers
Folowed our kynge behynde,
Tyll they came to grene wode,
A myle vnder the lynde.
375 There they met with good Robyn,
Stondynge on the waye,
And so dyde many a bolde archere,
For soth as I you say.
376 Robyn toke the kynges hors,
Hastely in that stede,
And sayd, Syr abbot, by your leue,
A whyle ye must abyde.
377 ‘We be yemen of this foreste,
We lyue by our kynges dere,
Vnder the grene-wode tre;
[Other shyft haue not wee.]
378 ‘And ye haue chyrches and rentes both,
And gold full grete plente;
Gyue vs some of your spendynge,
For saynt[e] charyte.’
379 Than bespake our cumly kynge,
Anone than sayd he;
I brought no more to grene wode
But forty pounde with me.
380 I haue layne at Notyngham
This fourtynyght with our kynge,
And spent I haue full moche good,
On many a grete lordynge.
381 And I haue but forty pounde,
No more than haue I me;
But yf I had an hondred pounde,
I wolde vouch it safe on the.
382 Robyn toke the forty pounde,
And departed it in two partye;
Halfendell he gaue his mery men,
And bad them mery to be.
383 Full curteysly Robyn gan say;
Syr, haue this for your spendyng;
We shall mete another day;
‘Gramercy,’ than sayd our kynge.
384 ‘But well the greteth Edwarde, our kynge,
And sent to the his seale,
And byddeth the com to Notyngham,
Both to mete and mele’
385 He toke out the brode targe,
And sone he lete hym se;
Robyn coud his courteysy,
And set hym on his kne.
386 ‘I loue no man in all the worlde
So well as I do my kynge;
Welcome is my lordes seale;
And, monke, for thy tydynge,
387 ‘Syr abbot, for thy tydynges,
To day thou shalt dyne with me,
For the loue of my kynge,
Under my trystell-tre.’
388 Forth he lad our comly kynge,
Full fayre by the honde;
Many a dere there was slayne,
And full fast dyghtande.
389 Robyn toke a full grete horne,
And loude he gan blowe;
Seuen score of wyght yonge men
Came redy on a rowe.
390 All they kneled on theyr kne,
Full fayre before Robyn:
The kynge sayd hym selfe vntyll,
And swore by Saynt Austyn,
391 ‘Here is a wonder semely syght;
Me thynketh, by Goddes pyne,
His men are more at his byddynge
Then my men be at myn.’
392 Full hast[e]ly was theyr dyner idyght,
And therto gan they gone;
They serued our kynge with al theyr myght,
Both Robyn and Lytell Johan.
393 Anone before our kynge was set
The fatte venyson,
The good whyte brede, the good rede wyne,
And therto the fyne ale and browne.
394 ‘Make good chere,’ said Robyn,
‘Abbot, for charyte;
And for this ylke tydynge,
Blyssed mote thou be.
395 ‘Now shalte thou se what lyfe we lede,
Or thou hens wende;
Than thou may enfourme our kynge,
Whan ye togyder lende.’
396 Up they sterte all in hast,
Theyr bowes were smartly bent;
Our kynge was neuer so sore agast,
He wende to haue be shente.
397 Two yerdes there were vp set,
Thereto gan they gange;
By fyfty pase, our kynge sayd,
The merkes were to longe.
398 On euery syde a rose-garlonde,
They shot vnder the lyne:
‘Who so fayleth of the rose-garlonde,’ sayd Robyn,
‘His takyll he shall tyne,
399 ‘And yelde it to his mayster,
Be it neuer so fyne;
For no man wyll I spare,
So drynke I ale or wyne:
400 ‘And bere a buffet on his hede,
I-wys ryght all bare:’
And all that fell in Robyns lote,
He smote them wonder sare.
401 Twyse Robyn shot aboute,
And euer he cleued the wande,
And so dyde good Gylberte
With the Whyte Hande.
402 Lytell Johan and good Scathelocke,
For nothynge wolde they spare;
When they fayled of the garlonde,
Robyn smote them full sore.
403 At the last shot that Robyn shot,
For all his frendes fare,
Yet he fayled of the garlonde
Thre fyngers and mare.
404 Than bespake good Gylberte,
And thus he gan say;
‘Mayster,’ he sayd, ’your takyll is lost,
Stande forth and take your pay.’
405 ‘If it be so,’ sayd Robyn,
‘That may no better be,
Syr abbot, I delyuer the myn arowe,
I pray the, syr, serue thou me.’
406 ‘It falleth not for myn ordre,’ sayd our kynge,
‘Robyn, by thy leue,
For to smyte no good yeman,
For doute I sholde hym greue.’
407 ‘Smyte on boldely,’ sayd Robyn,
‘I giue the large leue:’
Anone our kynge, with that worde,
He folde vp his sleue,
408 And sych a buffet he gaue Robyn,.
To grounde he yede full nere:
‘I make myn avowe to God,’ sayd Robyn,
‘Thou arte a stalworthe frere
409 ‘There is pith in thyn arme,’ sayd Robyn,
‘I trowe thou canst well shete:’
Thus our kynge and Robyn Hode
Togeder gan they mete.
410 Robyn beheld our comly kynge
Wystly in the face,
So dyde Syr Rycharde at the Le,
And kneled downe in that place.
411 And so dyde all the wylde outlawes,
Whan they se them knele:
‘My lorde the kynge of Englonde,
Now I knowe you well.
412 ‘Mercy then, Robyn,’ sayd our kynge,
‘Vnder your trystyll-tre,
Of thy goodnesse and thy grace,
For my men and me!’
413 ‘Yes, for God,’ sayd Robyn,
‘And also God me saue,
I aske mersy, my lorde the kynge,
And for my men I craue.’
414 ‘Yes, for God,’ than sayd our kynge,
‘And therto sent I me,
With that thou leue the gren wode,
And all thy company;
415 ‘And come home, syr, to my courte,
And there dwell with me.’
‘I make myn avowe to God,’ sayd Robyn,
‘And ryght so shall it be.
416 ‘I wyll come to your courte,
Your seruyse for to se,
And brynge with me of my men
Seuen score and thre.
417 ‘But me lyke well your seruyse,
I [wyll] come agayne full soone,
And shote at the donne dere,
As I am wonte to done.’
The Eighth Fytte
418 ‘Haste thou ony grene cloth,’ sayd our kynge,
‘That thou wylte sell nowe to me?’
‘Ye, for God,’ sayd Robyn,
‘Thyrty yerdes and thre.’
419 ‘Robyn,’ sayd our kynge,
‘Now pray I the,
Sell me some of that cloth,
To me and my meyne.’
420 ‘Yes, for God,’ then sayd Robyn,
‘Or elles I were a fole;
Another day ye wyll me clothe,
I trowe, ayenst the Yole.’
421 The kynge kest of his cole then,
A grene garment he dyde on,
And euery knyght also, i-wys,
Another had full sone.
422 Whan they were clothed in Lyncolne grene,
They keste away theyr graye;
‘Now we shall to Notyngham,’
All thus our kynge gan say.
423 They bente theyr bowes, and forth they went,
Shotynge all in-fere,
Towarde the towne of Notyngham,
Outlawes as they were.
424 Our kynge and Robyn rode togyder,
For soth as I you say,
And they shote plucke-buffet,
As they went by the way.
425 And many a buffet our kynge wan
Of Robyn Hode that day,
And nothynge spared good Robyn
Our kynge in his pay.
426 ‘So God me helpe,’ sayd our kynge,
‘Thy game is nought to lere;
I sholde not get a shote of the,
Though I shote all this yere.’
427 All the people of Notyngham
They stode and behelde;
They sawe nothynge but mantels of grene
That couered all the felde.
428 Than euery man to other gan say,’
I drede our kynge be slone;
Come Robyn Hode to the towne, i-wys
On lyue he lefte neuer one.
429 Full hast[e]ly they began to fle,
Both yemen and knaues,
And olde wyues that myght euyll goo,
They hypped on theyr staues.
430 The kynge l[o]ughe full fast,
And commaunded them agayne;
When they se our comly kynge,
I-wys they were full fayne.
431 They ete and dranke, and made them glad,
And sange with notes hye;
Than bespake our comly kynge
To Syr Rycharde at the Lee.
432 He gaue hym there his londe agayne,
A good man he bad hym be;
Robyn thanked our comly kynge,
And set hym on his kne.
But the story does not end there. Click here to read the final stanzas of the Gest, where Robin Hood leaves the king's service, returns to his outlaw ways and eventually dies.
OR NEXT: Robin Hood's Death