Many speak of Robin Hood that never shot in his bow
By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2013-08-07. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2017-12-18.
The proverb Many speak of Robin Hood that never shot in his bow (with variants such as "many men", "never bent his bow", "never did him know" etc.) is one of the most often cited adages relating to the outlaw through the ages.
And whoso seith that for to love is vice,
Or thralldom, though he feele in it destresse,
He outher is envious, or right nyce,
Or is umyghthy, for his shrewednesse,
To loven; for swich manere folk, I gesse,
Defamen Love, as nothing of him knowe.
Thei speken, but thei benten nevere his bowe!
On old Englis it is seid "unkissid is unknowun,"
And many men speken of Robyn Hood and shotte nevere in his bowe.
Of thys a Questyon yf I shold meve,
And aske of Workers what ys thys thyng,
Anon therby I shoolde them preve;
Yf they had knowledge of our Fermentyng,
For many man spekyth wyth wondreng:
Of Robyn Hode, and of his Bow,
Whych never shot therin I trow.
Bachelers boast, how they will teach their wives good;
But many a man speaketh of Robin Hood,
That never shot in his bow. When all is sought,
Bachelers wives, and maides children be well tought.
Many speke of Roben hoode that neuer shott in his bowe
So many haue layed faultes to me, which J did neuer knowe,
But nowe beholde here J am
Whom all the worlde doeth diffame
Long haue they also shamed me
And locked my mouthe for speking free 
[...] I have heard you speak well in the Parliament, and I hope you can judge of reason also; but if I may advise you (as many fools do, and talk of Robin Hood that never shot in his bow) then draw breath at such fellows as we be, and believe but one-half of our great miracles: and yet I fear you will be a loser too, for miracles appertain to gods and not to fools. [...]
D. Reynolds [i.e. John Rainolds (1549–1607), President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford] took exceptions at those words in the Common Prayer Book, of Matrimony, With my body I thee worship. His Majesty [James I of England] looking upon the place; I was made believe, (saith he) that the phrase did import no lese than Divine worship and adoration: but by the examination I find, that it is an usual English tearm, as a Gentleman of worship, &c. And the sense agreeable unto Scriptures, Giving honour to the wife, &c. But turning to Doctor Reyn. (with smiling saith his Majesty) Many a man speakes of Robin Hood, who never shot in his Bow: if you had a good wife yourself, you would think all the honour and worship you could do to her, were well bestowed.
1. An Almanack-maker
IS an annuall author, no lesse constant in his method than matter; enlarging his yeerely edition with a figure or cipher. He cites as familiarly, as if they were his familiars, Euclid, Ptolemie, Ticho-Brache, &c. But beleeve it, many have spoke of Robin Hood, that never shot in his bow.
I shall in the First place acquaint the Reader, that the kinde Acceptance my former Endeavours received at the Hands of Candid Artists, in publishing some Chemicall Collections; very earnestly invited me to finde out a Second Piece [sig. B2v:] wherewith to present those Gratefull Persons. Whereupon I intended to rally up some of my own Conceptions in this Science, and expose them also to the Test: But (to this end, reviewing the Philosophers) I found that many (assuming that Name) wrote what their Fancies, not their Hands had wrought, and further then in Apprehension had not seene Projection; (amongst whom our Ripley was sometime One, as appeares by his Ingenious Retractation, hereafter mentioned:) and being truly sensible of the great Injury such Workes have done young Students (at the first not able to distinguish, who have written upon their undeceavable Experience, who not; and consequently, not which to follow, or whiche to avoyde) I withdrew my Thoughts (having never as yet set my selfe Effectually upon the Manuall Practise) lest I should adde to the many Injuries the World has already suffered, by delivering the bare Medley of my Dubious Apprehensions, without the confident Attestation of Practise: and be justly esteemed as indiscreete as those whom Ripley mentions, that prate
Of Robin Hode and of his Bow,
Which never shot therein J trow.
16[.] Many talk of Robin Hood, that never shot in his bow. 16. Non omnes, qui citharam tenant, sunt cithareds. Var.[...]
19[.] Robin Hood's penniworths. 19. Aurea pro Æreis.
- Book II, ll. 855-61. Chaucer, Geoffrey; Robinson, Fred Norris, ed. The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (London; Oxford, 1974), p. 411.
- Dean, James, ed. Six Ecclesiastical Satires: Friar Daw's Reply (TEAMS Texts) (online source), ll. 232-33.
- Ripley, George. The Compound of Alchymie. A most excellent, learned, and worthy worke, written by Sir George Ripley, Chanon of Bridlington in Yorkeshire, Conteining twelve Gates, in: Ashmole, Elias, ed. Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, Containing Severall Poeticall Pieces of our Famous English Philosophers, who have written the Hermetique Mysteries in their owne Ancient Language (London, 1652), pp. 107-93; see p. 175.
- Heywood, John; Sharman, Julian, ed. The Proverbs of John Heywood. Being the "Proverbes of that Author printed 1546 (London, 1874), p. 130.
- Anonymous. ¶The Welspoken Nobody ([London]: [c. 1550]).
- Roberts, R.A., ed. Calendar of the Manuscripts of the Most Hon. the Marquis of Salisbury, &c., &c., &c., Preserved at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire. Part XII (Historical Manuscripts Commission) (Hereford, 1910), p. 317.
- Barlow, William. The Summe and Substance of the Conference which it pleased his Excellent Majestie to have with the Lords Bishop, and others of his Clergie (at which the most of the Lords if the Councill were present) in his Majesties Privie-Chamber, at Hampton Court Jan. 14 1603 (Clerkenwell, England, 1804), p. 57.
- [Braithwaite, Richard.] Whimzies; Or a New Cast of Characters: From the Original Edition, Published in 1631, ed. J.O. Halliwell (London, 1859), p. 13.
- Ashmole, Elias, ed. Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, Containing Severall Poeticall Pieces of our Famous English Philosophers, who have written the Hermetique Mysteries in their owne Ancient Language (London, 1652), sig. B2.
- [Walker, William], compil.; [Willis, Thomas], compil. Phraseologia Anglo-Latina or, Phrases of the English and Latin tongue: Together with Paræmiologia Anglo-Latina or, A Collection of English and Latin Proverbs (London, 1672), sig. D4v.
- Turner, J. Horsfall. The History of Brighouse, Rastrick, and Hipperholme; with Manorial Notes on Coley, Lightcliffe, Northowram, Shelf, Fixby, Clifton and Kirklees (Bingley, Yorkshire, 1893), p. 203, mentions a few Robin Hood proverbs, including '"Many men talk of Robin Hood who never shot with his bow," that is, brag.'