Allusions to ballads
By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2014-07-17. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2022-05-17.
This page includes literary allusions to Robin Hood ballads in general as well as to specific titles.
I kan noȝt parfitly my Paternoster as þe preest it syngeþ,
But I kan rymes of Robyn hood and Randolf Erl of Chestre.
For þe peple þise dayys is wol indeuout to God and to holy chirche and þey louyn but wol lytil men of holy cherche and han gret ioye for dishesyn and dispisin men of holy chyrche, and þey ben loth to comyn in holy chyrche whan þey arn boundyn to comyn þedyr and wol loth to heryn Godys seruyse. Late þey comyn and sone gon aȝen awey. Ȝyf þey ben þer a lytil while, hem þynkyth wol longe. Þey han leuer gon to þe tauerne þan to holy chirche, leuer to heryn a tale or a song of Robyn Hood or of som rybaudye þan to heryn messe or matynys or onyþing of Goddis seruise or ony word of God. And sythe þe peple hath so lityl deuocion to God and holy chirche, Y can noȝt sen þat þey don swyche cost in holy chirche for deuocion ne for þe loue of God, for þey dispisyn God day and nyȝth with here wyckyd lyuynge and her wickyd thewys.
Writers write their fantasy, my lord, and preachers preach what either liketh them, or what God putteth in their heads. It is not by and by done, that is spoken. The people buy those foolish ballads of Jack-a-Lent. So bought they in times past pardons, and carols, and Robin Hood's tales. All be not wise men, and the foolisher a thing is, to some (although not to the more part) it is the more pleasant and meet. And peradventure of the sermons there is (and indeed there is, if it be true that we have heard) otherwise spoken and reported to you, than it was of the preachers there and then spoken or meant. Lent remaineth still, my lord, and shall, God willing, till the king's highness, with our advice and the residue of his grace's council, take another order, although some light and lewd men do bury it in writing; even as the king's majesty remaineth head of the church, although, through sinister ways, and by subtle means, some traitors have gone about, and daily do, to abuse the king's majesty's supremacy, and bring in the bishop of Rome's tyranny, with other superstition and idolatry.
[Note on the back of a slip pasted on f. 319a of Anthony Wood's MS 'Survey of the Antiquities of the City of Oxford' (1661-66):] Robin Hood and Maid Marian; R. H. and the bishop; R. H.'s progress to Notingham; R. H. newly revived; The noble fisherman or R. H.'s preferment; R. H. and the beggar; R. H. and the butcher; R. H.'s chase; R. H. and the shepherd; Renowned R. H.
62, August 8.—I now perceive it impossible to live within the cities of London and Westminster and not turn courtier. I wish your lodging had been at Wapping. But whether I write to a man of this world or to an angel is a dispute, yet I expect an answer and am indifferent from what place, but to let you see that a son of Robin Hood cannot be ill natured I will make this manly interpretation of your unkindness, that it is as difficult to find me as a stag in the forest of Sherwood, where men of that race could hardly be harboured, as many worthy balletical records can inform you, yet knowing you to be almost one of us (though of an Indian race) I dare tell you that I am sometimes at Swarkeston, sometimes at Warsop, and now at Bestwood, merry in all places and which is more, well pleased and drink your health [p. 42:] dead or alive, which your captain and cornet never will refuse, and thus I have given you a true and perfect account of the plots and affairs of this county as to mankind. But should I enter into or upon the other sex, and tell you a true account of my Lady Newcastle's horsematch, I must crave aid from Sir John Denham and his fellows who trade in nectar, yet to speak truth we have good squeezed malt that smells full out as well as saudwich (sic), and that well followed makes us appear like men; let others express our actions and hers, for we are not book-learned. And now Robin by name and not by nature I bid you farewell, and if thou darest meet me near Warsop upon the forest at the Lady Newcastle's horsematch the last of August, where in taffeta instead of armour bright 'tis six to four I may appear, you shall see such a fight as England affords not the fellow and possibly become one of the brotherhood, which will be no small honour, laying your ordinary knighthood aside, to you and a particular kindness from, &c.
Postscript.—I have a lady and some of my race remembers you. Direct your letters by the Nottingham post to Bestwood and they will find.
[...] the Derbyshire Peak Archery Meeting has been held at Chatsworth, and numerously and brilliantly attended. This society of Bowmen originated with the Duke of Devonshire, who is its head and patron. This distinguished nobleman lives in a style of princely magnificence. Wherever he is—whether at his beautiful paladian villa, on the borders of the Thames at Chiswick—at Devonshire House, in Piccadilly—or at his Palace of the Peak, at Chatsworth—the gaieties and the elegancies of life are there also. [... p. 130: ...]
From fifty to sixty ladies and gentlemen entered the lists as competitors for the prize, and a band of music intimated the commencement of the sports of the day. The Duke of Devonshire, who was attended by a page, had the honour of drawing the first bow-string, and he early placed an arrow on the outer verge of the target. But it was reserved for a lady to bear away the prize; with an aim as unerring as the “blind boy's but-shaft,” she hit the bull's-eye in the centre: her success was announced by a signal from the provost or superintendant of the target, and the pealing in of a loud strain of music communicated her triumph to the assembled multitude of spectators. Mrs. Jedediah Strutt was the fair victor on this occasion, and shortly after wards an arrow from Miss Bateman's bow, penetrated the inner circle of the target. At the termination of the contest, the two gold medals were adjudged to Mrs. J. Strutt and Col. Clowes. When this victory was decided, two sets of bows and arrows, in addition to the usual prizes, were given by Mrs. Mundy, the lady paramount of the field,—and Sir Charles Colville, the president. In the contest for these prizes Miss Bateman was again successful, and W. Mundy, Esq. won the gentlemen's bow and arrows: the ladies, indeed, were the best marks-MEN; they directed their shafts with greater certainty than the men, and more frequently hit the target.
As the different candidates took their places in succession on the ground, I watched the fixing of the arrow on the string, saw the bow gradually drawn to its extreme tension,—heard the twang of the winged messenger as it departed,—tracked its progress through the air, and saw it strike or miss the target with an interest far beyond what I had imagined could have been excited by such an exhibition. Some of the arrows trembled and wavered in their progress; others, driven by a more determined and a firmer hand, passed steadily and swiftly to the mark: but the archers of the Peak are new to the [p. 131:] sport; and probably some years of practice will pass away before they will be sufficiently expert either to “notch” each others shafts when on the target, or split a willow wand at a hundred paces distant, with the skill and adroitness of Locksley, the brave bowman of Ivanhoe.
The scene altogether was novel and pictorial in effect; gratifying to the eye by its peculiar and characteristic beauty, and interesting to the mind from the associations it created: the ballad history of Robin Hood, which was the delight and wonder of my boyhood, and the achievements of his faithful associates, were once more revived and recollected. In advanced life, when the space between youth and age is a division of fearful length, our early impressions seen through the vista of departed years, become more powerfully interesting as they are farthest removed: we love to dwell upon scenes and circumstances which delighted us when life and all its enjoyments were new, and threw a charm over our earlier years. A pensive feeling that lingers about half-forgotten remembrances, was connected with the animated picture in Chatsworth Park: although far more refined, elegant, and imposing, than the archery of Nottingham and Sherwood Forest, it was still a scene of archery; and the females who were mingled with it, adorned it with beauty, and made it lovely to behold. When drawing the arrow to the head, they were graceful in figure as the statue of Diana; and the anxious feeling with which they marked its flight through the trackless air to its destination, gave additional lustre to the eye, and to the whole countenance a more animated and interesting expression. An artist was upon the grounds studying the scenery of Chatsworth, and storing his mind and his sketch-book with the brilliant picture which the park presented: but only a Turner could do justice to such a subject: he dips his pencil in light itself, and every thing it touches glows and sparkles with sunshine; his colours are as ethereal, as beautiful, and as transparent as the rainbow: he could impart to such a scene its peculiar splendour, people it with groups of living figures,—give grace to their motions and animation to their features; he could cloathe the hills and woods that surround this lovely spot with the majesty of nature, and the glittering play of the waters of the fountains amongst the branches of the trees would be but sport for his pencil. Turner, at Chatsworth, on this bright and busy day, might have produced a successful rival to his own celebrated picture of Richmond Hill.
As it drew on towards eventide, the mirth increased. The rude legendary ballads of Sir Lancelot of the Lake, Beavois [sic] of Southampton, Robin Hood, The Pindar of Wakefield, and the Friar of Fountain's Abbey, Clim of the Clough, Ranulph of Chester, his Exploits in the Holy Land, together with the wondrous deeds of war and love performed by Sir Roger of Calverly, had been sung and recited to strange and uncouth music. Carols, too, were chanted between whiles in a most unreverend fashion. A huge Christmas pie, made in the shape of a cratch or cradle, was placed on the board. This being accounted a great test of orthodoxy, every one was obliged to eat a slice, lest he should be suspected of favouring the heretical tenets then spreading widely throughout the land.
At the corner of Hanging Bridge, near to the church gate, was, for many years, the shop where the Swindells family carried on business as printers, and from whose press were issued chapbooks in an almost endless variety. The business was commenced by George Swindells, a native of Disley, who died in 1796; and was continued by his widow Alice, in conjunction with their eldest son, John. The family retained possession of the shop until 1846. A younger son, Henry, conducted business as a printer in Deansgate for many years. I have before me a collection of a dozen of the chapbooks issued from Hanging Bridge, which, although comparing unfavourably with the children's books of to-day, are exceedingly interesting. The subjects dealt with are Jane Shore, Robinson Crusoe, with a woodcut representing the adventurer fully equipped; Robin Hood, with nine illustrations; the Happy Cottagers, one of the illustrations representing a spinning wheel standing as high as the cottage; Blue Beard, [p. 56:] illustrated, and a number garland. With their poor paper, old type, and crude illustrations, they take us back to the days when books were scarce and dear. To prevent any possibility of confusion, I may say that I am in no way related to the family of printers.
Another tramp told the story of Gilderoy, the Scottish robber. Gilderoy was the man who was condemned to be hanged, escaped, captured the judge who had sentenced him, and (splendid fellow!) hanged him. The tramps liked the story, of course, but the interesting thing was to see that they had got it all wrong. Their version was that Gilderoy escaped to America, whereas in reality he was recaptured and put to death. The story had been amended, no doubt deliberately; just as children amend the stories of Samson and Robin Hood, giving them happy endings which are quite imaginary.
- Langland, William; Kane, G., ed.; Donaldson, E.T., ed. Piers Plowman (London, 1975), p. 331 (Passus V, ll. 394-95).
- Barnum, Priscilla Heath, ed. Dives and Pauper (Early English Text Society, vols. 275, 280, 323) (London, New York, Toronto, 1976-2004), vol. I, pt. 1, p. 189.
- Foxe, John; Townsend, George, introd.; Cattley, Stephen Reed, ed. The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe: A New and Complete Edition (London, 1837-41), vol. VI, p. 35.
- Wood, Anthony; Clark, Andrew, ed. Survey of the Antiquities of the City of Oxford, composed in 1661-6 (Oxford Historical Society, vols. 15, 17, 37) (Oxford, 1889-99), vol. II, p. 111 n. 3.
- Cartwright, J. J., ed.; Rigg, J. M., ed.; Lomas, S. C., ed.; Maxwell-Lyte, A., ed.; Brodie, R. H., compil. Calendar of the Manuscripts of the Marquis of Bath preserved at Longleat, Wiltshire (Historical Manuscripts Commission, Cd. 2048, Cd. 3474, Cd. 3849) (London; Dublin; Hereford, 1904-1908), vol. I, pp. 41-42.
- Rhodes, E. Peak Scenery, or, Excursions in Derbyshire: made chiefly for the Purpose of Picturesque Observation (London; Sheffield, 1818-1823), pt. IV, pp. 129-32.
- Roby, John. Traditions of Lancashire (London, 1829), vol. I, p. 167.
- Swindells, T. Manchester Streets and Manchester Men. First Series (Manchester, 1906), pp. 55-56.
- Orwell, George. Down and out in Paris and London (London etc., 2013), p. 191.