Robin Hood, Who “Robbed the Rich to Feed the Poor”
“Heere, underneethe thys Lyttel stone,
Lies Robert, Earle of Huntingdone.
For twenty years and somethynge more
Hee robb’d the rich to feed the poore.
No archer was as hee soe goode,
And menne did call hym ‘Robin Hood’
Such outlaws as hee and hys menne
Will England never see agayne.”
SO RUNS an old rhyme. The man about whom it was written undoubtedly lived and was known from one end of England to the other. But whether half the stories told about him is true is quite another matter. It is hard in writing of Robin Hood to sift fact from legend. This story can but tell the popular version of his career without vouching for its entire truth.
Robin Hood is said to have been born in 1160, and to have been a nobleman’s son who, through injustice, was outlawed. He took refuge in Sherwood forest, in Nottinghamshire, England. There he gathered about him a band of men as deperate as himself, and prepared to make war on the world at large.
It was a rude, violent age. Human life was held lightly. Laws were barbarous. For shooting deer in the royal forests the penalty was torture and (for the second offense) death. The barons and other rich and powerful men could overtax and ill-use the poor almost without restraint. Persons who suffered under such tyranny had usually no redress. Often they revenged themselves by plundering their former masters and by preying on humanity at large.
Says one old historian (Stow).
“In this time were many robbers and outlaws, among which Robin Hood and Little John, renowned theeves, continued in the woods, despoyling and robbing the goodes of the rich. The said Robin suffered no woman to be oppressed or molested. Poore men’s goodes he spared; abundantlie relieving them with that which by theft he got from the houses of the rich. Of all theeves Maior (an early writer) affirmeth him to be the prince and the most gentle theefe.”
Robin and his band dwelt in the greenwood, patrolling the highroads and holding up rich travelers. Especially did they enjoy capturing dishonest money lenders and cruel landlords. Robin’s favorite method with such prisoners was to conduct them to his secret glade and there regale them with a feast. (The food consisted largely of stolen deer and dainties filched from noblemen’s larders.) After the meal he would suggest that they pay for their entertainment by giving him all their money and jewels. At other times he would go, disguised, to some town, make friends with a local rich man and under some pretext lure him to the forest.
That Robin did not steal from the poor was not an especially noble trait. The poor had nothing worth stealing. Moreover, by helping the peasants with a little money now and then he made them his friends and gave them an interest in warning him against his pursuers.
Robin and his men were splendid archers. Their skill with bow and arrow reached the king’s ears. His majesty is said to have been so much pleased with the band’s archery that he pardoned them all. But Robin could not long remain out of trouble. He fell foul of the law once more, and the sheriff of Nottingham was sent to crush him. In the woodland battle that followed the sheriff’s men were beaten off. Soon afterward Robin fell dangerously ill.
There was no surgeon nearby. So his men carried him to a convent, where his cousin was a lay sister. She had great repute in medicine and Robin though she might save him. She dared not refure shelter to the sick man for fear of his followers’ wrath. But she dared not cure him, lest the king should hear that the convent had harbored and aided an outlaw. So, according to the story, she opened a vein in his arm and left him to bleed to death.
When the dying man learned of her treachery he set his bugle to his lips and blew a feeble blast. Little John, his lieutenant, heard it, and rushed to the sick room. Robin, so runs the old ballad, forbade Little John to take vengeance on the convent. Then, setting arrow to bow for the last time, he sent the shaft whizzing out through an open window and begged to be buried at the spot where his arrow should strike earth.
A likeable, rollicking, sentimental outlaw. His life story (even stripped of all legend and folklore) seems to entitle him to a goodly place among Historic Blackguards.
The Gettysburg Times (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) Jul 12, 1912
Merry Robin image from:
Title: The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood: Of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire
Author: Howard Pyle
Publisher: Charles Scribner, 1884
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