Verse > Anthologies > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of Ballads
Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. (1863–1944).  The Oxford Book of Ballads.  1910.
115. A Little Geste of Robin Hood and his Meiny
The Third Fytte
How Little John robbed the Sheriff of Nottingham and delivered him into Robin Hood’s hands


Lithe and listen, gentlemen,
  All that now be here,
Of Little John, that was the Knight’s man,
  Good mirth shall ye hear.

It was upon a merry day,
  That young men would go shete;
Little John fet his bow anon,
  And said he would them meet.

Three times Little John shot about,
  And alway cleft the wand,        10
The proud Sherìff of Nottingham
  By the marks gan stand.

The Sheriff swore a full great oath,
  ‘By Him that died on a tree,
This man is the best archèr        15
  That yet saw I me.

‘Say me now, wight young man,
  What is now thy name?
In what country were thou born,
  And where is thy woning wane?’—        20

‘In Holderness I was bore,
  I-wis, all of my dame,
Men call me Reynold Greenleaf,
  When I am at hame.’—

‘Say me, Reynold Greenleaf,
  Wilt thou dwell with me?
And every year I will thee give
  Twenty mark to thy fee.’—

‘I have a master,’ said Little John,
  ‘A courteous knight is he        30
May ye get leave of him,
  The better may it be.’

The Sheriff got Little John
  Twelve months of the Knight,
Therefore he gave him right anon        35
  A good horse and a wight.

Now is Little John the Sheriff’s man,
  He give us well to speed,
But alway thought Little John
  To quit him well his meed.        40

‘Now so God me help,’ said Little John,
  ‘And by my true lewtè,
I shall be the worst servant to him
  That ever yet had he.’

It befell upon a Wednesday,
  The Sheriff on hunting was gone,
And Little John lay in his bed,
  And was forgotten at home.

Therefore he was fasting
  Till it was past the noon.        50
‘Good sir steward, I pray thee,
  Give me to dine,’ said Little John.

‘It is too long for Greenleaf,
  Fasting so long to be;
Therefore I pray thee, steward,        55
  My dinner give thou me.’

‘Shalt thou never eat nor drink,’ said the steward,
  ‘Till my lord be come to town.’
‘I make mine avow to God,’ said Little John,
  ‘I had liefer to crack thy crown.’        60

The butler was full uncourteous,
  There he stood on floor,
He started to the buttery,
  And shut fast the door.

Little John gave the butler such a rap,
  His back yede nigh in two:
Tho’ he lived an hundred winter,
  The worse he should go.

He spurn’d the door with his foot,
  It went up well and fine,        70
And there he made a large livery
  Both of ale and wine.

‘Sith ye will not dine,’ said Little John,
  ‘I shall give you to drink,
And though ye live an hundred winter,        75
  On Little John ye shall think.’

Little John ate, and Little John drank,
  The while that he wolde.
The Sheriff had in his kitchen a cook,
  A stout man and a bold.        80

‘I make mine avow to God,’ said the cook,
  ‘Thou art a shrewd hind,
In an household to dwell,
  For to ask thus to dine.’

And there he lent Little John,
  Good strokès three.
‘I make mine avow,’ said Little John,
  ‘These strokes liketh well me.

‘Thou art a bold man and an hardy,
  And so thinketh me;        90
And or I pass from this place,
  Assay’d better shalt thou be.’

Little John drew a good sword,
  The cook took another in hand;
They thought nothing for to flee,        95
  But stiffly for to stand.

There they fought sore together,
  Two mile way and more,
Might neither other harm done,
  The mountenance of an hour.        100

‘I make mine avow to God,’ said Little John,
  ‘And by my true lewtè,
Thou art one of the best swordsmen
  That ever yet saw I me.

‘Couldest thou shoot as well in a bow,
  To green-wood thou shouldest with me,
And two times in the year thy clothing
  I-changèd should be;

‘And every year of Robin Hood
  Twenty mark to thy fee.’—        110
‘Put up thy sword,’ said the cook,
  ‘And fellows will we be.’

Then he fette to Little John
  The numbles of a doe,
Good bread and full good wine,        115
  They ate and drank thereto.

And when they had drunken well,
  Their troths together they plight,
That they would be with Robin
  That ilk same day at night.        120

They did them to the treasure-house,
  As fast as they might gone,
The locks that were of good steel
  They broke them every one;

They took away the silver vessel,
  And all that they might get,
Pieces, masars, and spoons,
  Would they none forget;

Also they took the good pence,
  Three hundred pound and three;        130
And did them straight to Robin Hood,
  Under the green-wood tree.

‘God thee save, my dear master,
  And Christ thee save and see!’
And then said Robin to Little John,        135
  ‘Welcome might thou be;

‘And also be that fair yeoman
  Thou bringest there with thee.
What tidings from Nottingham
  Little John, tell thou me?’—        140

‘Well thee greeteth the proud Sheriff,
  And send thee here by me
His cook and his silver vessel,
  And three hundred pound and three.’—

‘I make mine avow to God,’ said Robin,
  ‘And to the Trinity,
It was never by his good will,
  This good is come to me.’

Little John him there bethought,
  On a shrewèd wile,        150
Five mile in the forest he ran,
  Him happèd at his will.

Then he met the proud Sheriff,
  Hunting with hound and horn,
Little John cou’d his courtesy,        155
  And kneelèd him beforn:

‘God thee save, my dear master,
  And Christ thee save and see!’—
‘Reynold Greenleaf,’ said the Sheriff,
  ‘Where hast thou now be?’—        160

‘I have been in this forest,
  A fair sight can I see,
It was one of the fairest sights
  That ever yet saw I me;

‘Yonder I see a right fair hart,
  His colour is of green,
Seven score of deer upon an herd
  Be with him all bedene;

‘His tyndès are so sharp, master,
  Of sixty and well mo,        170
That I durst not shoot for dread
  Lest they would me sloo.’

‘I make mine avow to God,’ said the Sheriff,
  ‘That sight would I fain see.’
‘Busk you thitherward, my dear master,        175
  Anon, and wend with me.’

The Sheriff rode, and Little John
  Of foot he was full smart,
And when they came afore Robin:
  ‘Lo, here is the master hart!’        180

Still stood the proud Sheriff,
  A sorry man was he:
‘Woe worth thee, Reynold Greenleaf!
  Thou hast now betrayèd me.’

‘I make mine avow to God,’ said Little John,
  ‘Master, ye be to blame,
I was mis-served of my dinner,
  When I was with you at hame.’

Soon he was to supper set,
  And servèd with silver white;        190
And when the Sheriff saw his vessel,
  For sorrow he might not eat.

‘Make good cheer,’ said Robin Hood,
  ‘Sheriff, for charity!
And for the love of Little John,        195
  Thy life is granted to thee.’

When they had suppèd well,
  The day was all agone,
Robin commanded Little John
  To draw off his hosen and shoon,        200

His kirtle and his courtepy,
  That was furrèd well fine,
And take him a green mantèl,
  To lap his body therein.

Robin commanded his wight young men,
  Under the green-wood tree,
They shall lie in that same sort;
  That the Sheriff might them see.

All night lay that proud Sheriff,
  In his breech and in his shirt,        210
No wonder it was in green-wood,
  Tho’ his sides do smerte.

‘Make glad cheer,’ said Robin Hood,
  ‘Sheriff, for charity!
For this is our ordèr, i-wis,        215
  Under the green-wood tree.’

‘This is harder order,’ said the Sheriff,
  ‘Than any anchor or frere;
For all the gold in merry England
  I would not long dwell here.’        220

‘All these twelve months,’ said Robin
  ‘Thou shalt dwell with me;
I shall thee teach, proud Sheriff,
  An outlaw for to be.’

‘Or I here another night lie,’ said the Sheriff,
  ‘Robin, now I pray thee,
Smite off my head rather to-morne,
  And I forgive it thee.

‘Let me go,’ then said the Sheriff,
  ‘For saint Charity!        230
And I will be thy best friend
  That ever yet had thee.’

‘Thou shalt swear me an oath,’ said Robin,
  ‘On my bright brand,
Thou shalt never await me scathe,        235
  By water nor by land.

‘And if thou find any of my men,
  By night or by day,
Upon thine oath thou shalt swear,
  To help them that thou may.’        240

Now has the Sheriff i-sworn his oath,
  And home he began to gone,
He was as full of green-wood
  As ever was hip of stone.
GLOSS:  shete] shoot.  fet] fetched.  wight] strong, brave.  woning wane] usual dwelling-place.  I-wis] assuredly.  meed] reward.  lewtè] loyalty.  yede] went.  livery] allowance of food.  Sith] since.  hind] knave, servant.  lent] gave.  mountenance] extent, space.  fette] fetched.  masars] maple-bowls.  cou’d] knew.  bedene] in company, together.  tyndès] tines, antlers.  sloo] slay.  courtepy] a short coat or cloak.  lap] wrap.  smerte] smart.  anchor] hermit.  frere] friar.  to-morne] to-morrow.  brand] sword  await] plan, plot.  scathe] harm.  hip] the fruit of the wild rose.


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