Gest of Robyn Hode

From International Robin Hood Bibliography
Child 117
Title A Gest of Robyn Hode
Versions 1
Variants 7
Stanzas 456
Date c. 1500

By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2013-08-07. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2023-09-18.


Scholarly and literary collections





Studies and criticism

Sources and analogues

For general discussion of, and sources relating to, other outlaw traditions and tales, e.g. those of Hereward, Eustace the Monk, Fulk Fitz-Warin, Gamelyn, Adam Bell etc., see the Analogues section, where is also found matter relating to king and subject tales, exempla etc. Below is included only matter relating to specific incidents, motifs or section of the Gest.

Stanzas Matter Title Analogue
Fytte I
59-60 Impoverished knight deserted by former friends. How a Jew lent a Christian money. Impoverished merchant can find no friend willing to stand surety; they all ignore him.
65-66 Robin Hood accepts Virign Mary as surety. How a Jew lent a Christian money. Abraham accepts Virgin Mary as guarantor for money he lends Theodorus.
Fytte III
149:2 Name: Reynolde Grënelef. Marsk Stig (DgF 145). Ranne, Ranni, Ranil, Ranild. In real life Rane Jonsen or Rane Jonsen Rani (1254-94), chamberlain to King Erik V of Denmark.
154-204 Little John lures sheriff into Robin's hands with hunting prospects as bait. Marsk Stig (DgF 145 A). At suggestion of Ranne (Ranni, Ranil, Ranild) he and his master, king Erik [V of Denmark] go hunting en route to parliament. Entire retinue except Ranne are sent away. After a long chase, night falls and Ranne suggests they take shelter in a barn where he has arranged for assassins to enter and murder the king.
Fytte V
293:3 Name: Reynold [distinct from Little John]. Marsk Stig (DgF 145). Ranne, Ranni, Ranil, Ranild. In real life Rane Jonsen or Rane Jonsen Rani (1254-94), chamberlain to King Erik V of Denmark.
Fytte VII
368-73 King and retinue disguise as gray monks. Marsk Stig (DgF 145 F & G). Regicides don habits of grey monks [as disguise].


1432 - Anonymous - Wiltshire Parliamentary Return


Late 15th cent. - Anonymous - Untitled burlesque (3)

Robyn Hudde in bernsdale stode : he leynyd hym tyll a maple thystyll
then came owre lady and swete seynt Andrew : slepes thow
wakes thou Geffrey coke
a hundredth wynter the water was brawde J cannot tell you
how depe
He toke a gose neck in hys hond and ouer the water he went
Jack boy ys thy boo J broke; or hase anyman done the
wryugulde wrage
He toke a bend boo in hys hond : and set hym down by þe fyre
my dame began to spyn a threde : hyr nose stode all a
crokyd into the sowth
Who darbe so harde darde ; as to crack under the walles of dover[2]

1509 - Barclay, Alexander - Ship of Fools (1)

The holy Bybyll, grounde of trouth and of lawe
Is nowe of many abiect and nought set by
Nor godly scripture is nat worth an hawe
But talys ar louyd grounde of rybawdry
And many blynddyd ar so with theyr foly
That no scripture thynke they so true nor gode
As is a folysshe yest of Robyn hode.[3]

1509 - Barclay, Alexander - Ship of Fools (2)

And in the mornynge whan they come to the quere
The one begynneth a Fable or a hystory
The other lenyth theyr erys it to here
Takynge it in stede of the inuyntory
Some other maketh respons antym and memory
And all of fables and iestis of Robyn hode
Or other tryfyls that skantly ar so gode.[4]

1509 - Barclay, Alexander - Ship of Fools (3)

Holde me excusyd: for why my wyll is gode
Men to induce vnto vertue and goodnes
I wryte no iest ne tale of Robyn hode
Nor sawe no sparcles ne sede of vyciousnes
Wyse men loue vertue, wylde people wantones
It longeth nat to my scyence nor cunnynge
For Phylyp the Sparowe the (Dirige) to synge.[5]

1513 - Barclay, Alexander - Fourth Eclogue

Yet would I gladly heare some mery fit
Of mayde Marion, or els of Robin hood;
Or Bentleyes ale which chafeth well the bloud,
Of perre of Norwich, or sauce of Wilberton,
Or buckishe Joly well-stuffed as a ton.[6]

1520 - Rastell, John - Four Elements

Hu. Now yf that Sensuall Appetyte cā fynd
Any good mynstrellℯ after hys mynd
Dowt not we shall haue good sport
yng. And so shall we haue for a suerte
But what shall we do now tell me
The meane whyle for our cōfort
Hu. Then let vs some lusty balet syng
yng. Nay syr by þe heuyn kyng,
For me thynkyth it seruyth for no thyng
All suche peuysh prykyeryd song.
Hu. Pes man pryksong may not be dispysyd
For ther with god is well plesyd
Honowryd praysyd & seruyd
Jn the churche oft tymes among
yng. Js god well pleasyd trowst thou therby
Nay nay for there is no reason why
For is it not as good to say playnly
Gyf me a spade
As Gyf me a spa ve va ve va ve vade
But yf thou wylt haue a song þt is good
J haue one of robyn hode
The best that euer was made
Hu. Then a feleshyp let vs here it
yng. But there is a bordon thou must bere it
Or ellys it wyll not be [sig. E8r:]
Hu. ¶Than begyn and care not for [page torn]
     ¶ Downe downe downe &c.
yng. Robyn hode in barnysdale stode
And lent hym tyl a mapyll thystyll
Thā cam our lady & swete saynt andrewe
Slepyst thou wakyst thou geffrey coke
¶ A.C. wynter the water was depe
J can not tell you how brode
He toke a gose nek in his hande
And over the water he went
¶ He start vp to a thystell top
And cut hym downe a holyn clobe
He stroke þe wren betwene the hornys
That fyre sprange out of the pyggℯ tayle
¶ Jak boy is thy bowe J broke
Or hath any mā done þe wryguldy wrage
He plukkyd muskyllys out of a wyllowe
And put them in to his sachell
¶ wylkyn was an archer good
And well coude handell a spade
He toke his bend bowe in his hand
And set hym downe by the fyre
¶ He toke with hym.lx.bowes and ten
A pese of befe a nother of baken
Of all the byrdes in mery englond
So merely pypys the mery botell[7]

1587 - Churchyard, Thomas - Worthiness of Wales

And though we count, but Robin Hood a Jest,
And old wiues tales, as tatling toyes appeare:
Yet Arthurs raigne, the world cannot denye,
Such proofe there is, the troth thereof to trye:
That who so speakes, against so graue a thing,
Shall blush to blot, the shame of such a King.[8]

1606 - Drayton, Michael - Sixt Eglog

What maist thou be that ould Winken de word,
that of all shepheards wert the man alone,
that once with laughter shook'st the shepheardes
with thyne own madnes lastly ouerthrown (boord
I think thou dotst in thy declining age.
Or for the loosnesse of thy youth art sory, [p. 69:]
and therefore vowed som solemn pilgrimage
to holy Hayles, or Patricks purgatory,
Come sit we down vnder this Hawthorn tree,
the morrows light shall lend vs day enough,
And let vs tel of Gawen, or Sir Guy.
Of Robin-hood, or of ould Clim a Clough,
Or els some Romant vnto vs areede,
By former shepheards taught thee in thy youth,
Of noble Lords and Ladies gentle deed
Or of thy Loue or of thy lasses trueth.

Shepheard no no, that world with me is past,
Merry was it when we those toys might tell
But tis not now as when thou sawst me last
A great mischance me since that time befel,
Elphin is dead, and in his graue is layde,
O to report it, how my hart it greueth,
Cruel that fate that so the time betrayd
And of our ioyes vntimely vs depriueth.[9]

1845 - Palmer, Charles Ferrers - History of Tamworth (2)

 We must now turn our attention from the very general and enlarged view, in which we have been lately compelled to give the history of Tamworth, to subjects of more particular and limited interest. And this course of proceeding we adopt with the greater pleasure, as we enter into a field freer from the dry details, which have demanded our chief consideration, since the period of the conquest. The first point, which will occupy our regard, is one connected with tales and legends, heard with intense interest and gratification in the vernal days of childhood, and remembered with pleasure, when the winter of life has chilled the energy of youth, and hoary made the head. [p. 60:]

 According to the common tradition of the locality, Tamworth and the surrounding neighbourhood were the frequent resort of the famous outlaw, Robin Hood. By the name of his butts, have ever been known the Roman tumuli at Wigginton and Elford. It has been suggested that they might have received this appellation, merely from their being the common archery grounds, where the people practised the noble art, once so highly prized in this kingdom. But, had it been usual for such places to be so named, every town and village would have boasted of its Robin Hood’s butts. There is not the least improbability in his visiting this place, as he so constantly haunted localities within about thirty miles distant. The extensive royal woods around this town would doubtless form a rich field for his adventures. The tale, however, that he was able to shoot from one of these butts to the other seems to have been a modern addition, in order to account for their designation. It was in fact a total impossibility, as the distance is nearly two miles. The longest shot which Robin is recorded to have made, was when he was requested to exhibit his dexterity with the bow by Richard, abbot of Whitby, with whom he and his lieutenant, Little John, went to dine, most probably without waiting for the formality of a special invitation. From the top of the abbey, he and his companion let two arrows fly, which fell, one on either side of a lane, not far from Whitby laths. The distance was about a mile and a quarter; and it must have been very considerably increased by the elevated situation which the shooters occupied, as the abbey stood on the summit of a cliff. This feat occurred in 1188. In memory of the transaction, the abbot caused [p. 61:] two pillars to be erected, where the arrows fell, on each of which was inscribed the name of the shooter.

 We are, indeed, unwilling to lose the connection of Tamworth with the bold rover of the forests. He is the only malefactor, whose memory reflects no disgrace on those places, with which his name is associated. On the contrary, it has attached an almost sacred character to them; for the very crimes of the outlaw were rendered hallowed to succeeding generations. His constant opposition to the tyranny of the Norman lords and his principles of equality endeared him, in the strongest manner, to the Saxons, who formed the great mass of the population. For, according to the old historians, though an arch-robber, he was the gentlest thief that ever lived, and a man of unbounded charity. The opulent and noble he deprived of their wealth, to enrich the poor; and for the oppressed, he frequently obtained the redress, for which they vainly ought elsewhere. He was not destitute of the deep religious temper of those olden times, which influenced every action of life, and, however anomalous it might be thought, gave a peculiar tinge even to the commission of misdeeds themselves. The same source of all the refined feelings, which characterize Christianity, gave him, in common with the rest, that generous and noble disposition towards the tenderer sex, so universal in the days of chivalry, whence it as descended to our times. For, according to the old ballad,

Robin loved our dere Lady;
For doute of dedely synne,
Wolds he never do company harm
That any woman was ynne.

[p. 62:] There has been much dispute respecting the title which Robin Hood is said to have possessed of earl of Huntingdon. His real name is conjectured to have been Robert Fitz-ooth; and the common-people, dropping the Norman Fitz, modified it into Hood. Robin might probably have been an alteration of Roving,–a title most appropriate to him, on account of the unsettled and wandering life which he led. All the ballads concerning him present the marks of changes in orthography, at different periods. If these opinions be correct, he most certainly was connected with the family of Simon de St. Liz, earl of Huntingdon. But in the old legends, he is often styled simply a yeoman. Thus one, entitled "a lytell geste of Robyn hode and his meyne, and of the proude sheryfe of Notyngham" begins

"Lithe and lysten, gentylmen,
That be of fre-bore blode:
I shall you tell of a good yeman,
His name was Robyn hode."

 This circumstance has formed the foundation of one of the greatest objections, which has been urged against his having held the title. A little consideration, however, will remove the difficulty, in a very great measure. A yeoman he might have been; for he does not appear to have possessed any estates. It is probable that the family property was confiscated in his father’s time, in consequence of the rebellion of Robert de Ferrers against Henry II., in 1173. According to the collection, called "Robin Hood’s Garland," he was a native of Loxley, which belonged to the Ferrers’ family. He [p. 63:] could not have assumed the title until the death of John Scott, tenth and last earl of Huntingdon (also of Chester), in 1237. He was, at that time, an old man; and his deeds of renown were almost brought to a close. Hence the ballads relating to exploits which occurred previously to this time might rightly denominate him a yeoman.

 But even supposing that Robin Hood were Fitz-ooth, his right to the earldom of Huntingdon was of a very dubious nature. It would rather descend with the sisters and coheiresses of John Scott, than pass to him. It is not improbable that he might have assumed the title whilst it lay dormant, or it was assigned to him by the people, rather than that he properly possessed it. In fact, without regarding any other point, he was incapable as an outlaw of holding it. But here we are entering so deeply into the wide region of conjecture, that we shall draw this part of our subject to a conclusion.

 Bold Robin died when he must have attained an age of upwards of eighty years. The stone over his humble tomb, near the nunnery of Kirklees, in Yorkshire, still remains. It once bore this inscription, now effaced by time.[10]

Hear, undernead dis latil [sic] stean,
laiz robert, earl of huntingtun;
nea archir ver az hie sae geud,
an pipl kauld im Robin Heud.
sick utlawz as hi an iz men
vil England nivir si agen.
  obiit 24 kal. dekembris, 1247.

Brief mention

Also see


  1. Holt, J.C. Robin Hood (London, 1982), p. 69; facsimile p. 70; p. 194, n. 2 to ch. IV.
  2. Holt, J.C.; Takamiya, T. 'A New Version of A Rhyme of Robin Hood', English Manuscript Studies 1100-1700, vol. 1 (1989), pp. 213-21; see pp. 218-20.
  3. Barclay, Alexander, adapt.; [Brandt, Sebastian]; [Jamieson, Thomas Hill], ed. The Ship of Fools (Edinburgh; London, 1874), vol. I, p. 72.
  4. Barclay, Alexander, adapt.; [Brandt, Sebastian]; [Jamieson, Thomas Hill], ed. The Ship of Fools (Edinburgh; London, 1874), vol. II, p. 155.
  5. Barclay, Alexander, adapt.; [Brandt, Sebastian]; [Jamieson, Thomas Hill], ed. The Ship of Fools (Edinburgh; London, 1874), vol. II, p. 331.
  6. Barclay, Alexander, adapt.; [Brandt, Sebastian]; [Jamieson, Thomas Hill], ed. The Ship of Fools (Edinburgh; London, 1874), vol. I, p. lxvii.
  7. [Rastell, John.] The Nature of the Four Elements (The Tudor Facsimile Texts) (London and Edinburgh, 1908), sigs. E7v-E8r.
  8. Churchyard, Thomas. THE Worthines of Wales: VVherein are more Then a Thousand Seuerall Things Rehearsed: some Set out in Prose to the Pleasure of the Reader, and with Such Varietie of Verse For the Beautifying of the Book, as No Doubt Shal Delight Thousands to Vnderstand. Which Worke is Enterlarded with many Wonders and Right Strange Matter to Consider of (Imprinted at London, 1587), sig [C4r].
  9. Drayton, Michael. Poemes, Lyrick and Pastorall (Publications of the Spenser Society, New Series, Issue No. 4) (1891), pp. 68-69.
  10. Palmer, Charles Ferrers. The History of the Town and Castle of Tamworth, in the Counties of Stafford & Warwick (Tamworth; London, 1845), pp. 59-64.