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Make We Merry More and Less

Jane Bliss
Douglas Gray

Chapter 2


Texte intégral

  • 1 Probably in the Bibliotheke, Pseudo-Apollodorus (1st or 2nd century AD); see OCCL (and for (...)

The question of ‘medieval ballads’ has excited much heated discussion, which sadly seems to have led to a recent neglect, with the result that they are often not thought of as belonging to medieval literature. The discussion has been blighted by the presence lurking in its background of two opposed and extreme views: 1) an ahistorical sense that ballads are somehow ‘timeless’ and 2) its opposite, a fiercely historicist view that since they are the product of a particular time and place they should be ‘dated’ at or very close to the time at which they are recorded. Objections can be raised against both extremes: some ballads recorded in relatively modern times seem certainly to be ancient, but questions of time and place are always there. The ballad of ‘Johnnie Armstrong’ (Child 169, recorded in the seventeenth century) presumably dates from soon after the death by summary execution of that Border reiver in c. 1530, although ballads with a similar type of story could well have existed. On the other hand, there is evidence that some ballads were in existence before they were ‘recorded’. And the stories of some ballads seem to be very ancient, existing sometimes in differing literary forms. Child, discussing ‘Tam Lin’ (no. 39, recorded in a volume printed 1792) mentions a Cretan fairy tale (recorded even later), with a very similar plot, and points out a similarity with the pre-Homeric story of the forced marriage of Thetis with Peleus in Apollodorus,1 remarking that such a long period of (possible) transmission will not seem unlikely ‘to those who bear in mind the tenacity of tradition among people who have never known books’.

  • 2 For this phrase, in a similar context, see Rymes, p. 113.

At this point some rough definition or description of the term ‘ballad’ will be useful: as, perhaps, a poem which tells a story, designed for singing or reciting (characteristically in stanzaic form), often short or shortish. The story, usually of a single action, is exciting or unusual and the teller normally concentrates on the crucial or dramatic situations or events. The method of narrative is ‘impersonal’. It is simple, direct, and straightforward, making much use of direct speech and of emphatic narrative techniques (repetitions and recapitulations, and the technique of ‘leaping and lingering’).2 The narrator does not psychologise, or analyse the events in depth; the story exists for its own sake. This rough definition echoes those offered by experts in ballad studies, but is deliberately wider ― to escape the problem raised by some definitions, of depending exclusively on the excellent Scottish ‘border ballads’ in Child’s collection.

Two points require a little further annotation:

  1. The question of length. The majority of the examples used here are short, but Adam Bell (no. iv) with its 70 quatrains can hardly be called short, nor can the Gest of Robyn Hode (no. v), which is even longer. In fact a number of Child’s ballads have 70 or more stanzas (some, but not all, recorded in PFMS, and ‘long ballads’ are also found in European balladry (for example, the long ballad of ‘Marsk Stig’, 101 stanzas, apparently compiled from three shorter ballads).3 A reasonable guess might be that the length of the longer examples depends on the subject matter (a battle ballad like Otterburn, 70 stanzas, or the Hunting of the Cheviot, 64–8 stanzas,4 might seem to require a fuller treatment), and also on the amount of material a performer had to hand, and on the nature of the audience and of the performance he was required to give: that both the Gest and Adam Bell are divided into ‘fyttes’ suggests at least the possibility of performance in a series of stages or sittings. It is arguable that even these passages of longer narrative still maintain a sense of an essential brevity. But it is possible that Adam Bell, like the Gest, was made from pre-existing stories of adventures, and its style is similar to that of some popular romances. ‘Ballads’ and ‘romances’ are not always clearly distinguished in early accounts: see, for example, the hostile remark in Puttenham’s Arte of English Poesie (from the later sixteenth century) on the ‘small and popular musickes’ sung by the ‘cantabanqui… or else by blind harpers or suchlike tavern minstrels that give a fit of mirth for a groat, and their matters being for the most part stories of old time, as the tale of Sir Topas, the reports of Bevis of Southampton, Guy of Warwicke, Adam Bell and Clymme of the Clough and such other old romances or historicall Rimes… ’.
  2. The word ‘impersonal’ may also mislead. A reader or hearer may well feel that they have no difficulty in identifying good characters and evil ones, and, moreover, can point to explicit statements of approval or disapproval — as in the exclamation directed against the treacherous ‘old wyfe’ in Adam Bell: ‘Evel mote she spede therefore!’ However, such moments seem to arise from the story itself and the way it is told — the reactions of a narrator in performance rather than from the conscious artifice of the original ‘author’ who first put the story together. He and his ‘personality’ or ‘individuality’ remain hidden from sight. We are aware of the presence of the narrator, but not usually of the person who first put the story together, and certainly not of his personality or individuality. Hence Kittredge’s words seem quite sensible: ‘a ballad has no author. At all events it appears to have none.’5 We must not underestimate the importance of performance: these poems were meant to be heard rather than read. And, to judge from the famous remark of Sidney, ‘I never heard the old song of Percy and Douglas that I found not my heart moved more than with a trumpet; and yet it is sung by some blind crowder [fiddler] with no rougher vice than rude style’,6 they could move their audience.
  • 7 See the reference to Child, above.

To the question ‘were there any medieval English ballads, or ballad-like poems?’ the answer is a fairly firm yes. That the evidence of our written records is fragmentary and apparently erratic does not necessarily indicate that the material was not there. The age of enthusiastic antiquarian collectors of traditional ballads was still to come. To be ‘collected’ in the Middle Ages a ballad might be seen as useful for religious instruction or sermon (as is possible with Judas, or Saint Stephen), or perhaps for personal use, sometimes because of personal taste or simple chance. Sixteenth-century printers seem to have identified a popular taste for ‘outlaw ballads’. Above all, we must not underestimate the power of popular memory, ‘the tenacity of tradition among people who have never known books.’7

  • 8 It narrowly escaped being used for lighting the fire.
  • 9 A few later ballads, of probable medieval origin, appear in the Appendix (below); their tr (...)
  • 10 The Complaynt of Scotland, ed. Wedderburn, pp. 50 & 52.
  • 11 These three are printed in Child, but were not selected for this book.
  • 12 Some of the ballads in this chapter are discussed in Gray’s Later Medieval English Literat (...)

Our selection here tries to illustrate this in its arrangement: A) ‘early texts’, from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century; B) from the seventeenth-century PFMS — a collection whose narrow escape from destruction illustrates the fragility of our surviving corpus.8 And C) a few ‘modern’ examples, which may have connections with medieval poems (chosen from a potentially long list, although in many cases the ‘transmission’ remains obscure).9 This problem occurs also in the case of apparent allusions to particular ballads. For example, in the mid-sixteenth century Complaynt of Scotland ‘the tayl of the yong Tamlene’ is mentioned, as is ‘Thom of Lyn’, a dance.10 These references, together with a couple in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, suggest very strongly that the story of the ballad of Tam Lin was known well before the text of 1792, but do not tell us about its forms or style. The remains of the early ballads and ballad-like poems, although of great interest, may now seem fragmentary or scanty, but this can be misleading. The total corpus could well have been much more extensive: we may suspect that there were more ‘religious ballads’, and probably more ‘battle ballads’ (on battles such as Harlaw, Agincourt, and Flodden,11 or less well-known encounters); we know that there were many Robin Hood ballads beside those which appeared in manuscript or print. It seems very probable that the oral tradition continued alongside the ‘popular’ tradition, presumably with overlaps, borrowings and ‘donations’ between them. And it would be deeply misleading to think of all this as something totally fixed and static. The scene was probably one of constant movement, with ballads moving between the traditions, ballads constantly developing, being retold and revised, and new ones created.12

A. Medieval and Early Modern Ballads

i) Judas13

  • 13 In Fourteenth Century Verse and Prose (pp. 168–9; notes pp. 256–7).
  • 14 Clerical minstrel poems.

This poem, found in a thirteenth-century manuscript (a preacher’s book), is often called the first recorded English ballad, although there have been dissenting voices, expressing doubts about its earliness and its apparent isolation. In fact it may not be totally isolated: the manuscript contains some (possibly) comparable narrative poems, called by the manuscript’s editor Karl Reichl ‘geistliche Spielmannsdichtung’.14 These, the legend of Saint Margaret and a poem on the Three Kings, have something of the rapidity of narrative found in Judas. The matter of the poem comes from the extensive legendary material which surrounded the figure of Judas — attempts, perhaps, to explain if not exonerate his horrendous act of treachery. Child mentions a Wendish ballad in which he lost thirty pieces of silver gambling with the Jews, and then follows their suggestion that he sell his master for them. Judas seems to have so many of the characteristics of later ballads — rapid, abrupt transitions, repetitions, the action carried by dialogue, impersonality ― that it is almost impossible not to call it a ballad.

Hit wes upon a Scere Thorsdayº
That ure Loverd aros,
Ful milde were the wordes
He spec to Judas,
Maundy Thursday
‘Judas, thou most to Jurselem
Oure meteº for to bugge, º
food buy
Thritti platenº of selver thirty pieces
Thou bereº up o thi rugge.º must carry back
Thou comest fer i the brode stret, º highway
Fer i the brode street,
Summe of thine cunesmenº kinsmen
Ther thou meist imete.’
Imetteº wid is soster he met
The swikele wimon, º deceitful woma n
‘Judas, thou were wrtheº you deserve
Meº stendeº the wid ston. people stoned
Judas, thou were wrthe
Me stende the wid ston.
  For the false prophete
That tou bilevest upon.’
‘Be stille, º leveº soster, silent dear
Thin herte the tobreke! º may your heart break
Wiste min Loverd Crist,
Ful wel he wolde be wreke.’
‘Judas, go thou on the roc,
Heie upon the ston,
Lei thin hevedº i my barm, º head bosom
Slep thou the anon.’º quickly
Sone soº Judas as soon as
Of slepe was awake,
Thritti platen of selver
From hym weren itake.º taken
He drou hymselve bi the topº tore his hair
That al it lavede ablode; º streamed with blood
The Jewes out of Jurselem
Awendenº he were wode.º imagined mad
Foretº hym com the riche Jeu towards
That heisteº Pilatus, was called
‘Wolte sulleº thi Loverd sell
That hette Jesus?’
‘I nulº sulle my Loverd will not
For nones cunnes eiste, º any kind of treasure
Nay, boteº hit be for the thritti platen unless
That he me bitaiste.’º entrusted to
‘Wolte sulle thi Lord Crist
For enes cunnes golde?’
‘Nay, bote hit be for the platen
That he habben wolde.’
In him com ur Lord gon, º came in
As is postlesº seten at mete, disciples
‘Wouº sitte ye, postles, why
And wi nule yeº ete? why will you not
‘Wou sitte ye, postles,
And wi nule ye ete?
Ic am iboust ant isoldº bought and sold
Today for oure mete.’
Up stod him Judas,
‘Lord, am I that [frec]?º man
I was never o the studeº in the place
Ther me the evel spec.’º where people spoke evil of you
Up him stod Peter
And spec wid al is miste, º might
‘Thauº Pilatus him come though
Wid ten hundred cnist [e], º knights
Thau Pilatus him come
Wid ten hundred cnist [e],
Yet ic wolde, loverd,
For thi love fiste.’º fight
‘Still thou be, Peter,
Wel I the icnowe,
Thou wolt forsake me thrienº thrice
Arº the coc him crowe.’ before

ii) Saint Stephen and Herod

  • 15 In The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse, no. 31 (also in Child, no. 22).

This poem is found in an early fifteenth-century manuscript, a collection of songs and carols.15 It is a pious legend; the same miracle as in the ‘Carnal [crow] and the Crane’ (Child 55, recorded in Sandys Christmas Carols, 1833) but probably more ancient: there it is associated with the Three Kings and the adoration of a lion. This poem also has significant features: a dramatic style, an impersonal question and answer pattern, and perhaps a hint of incremental repetition (‘in kyng Herowdes halle’). Although religious ballads are not frequent in Child’s collection, it seems likely that in the Middle Ages they were more numerous. For another ballad recorded in the fifteenth century, see the riddle ballad The Devil and the Maid; and the PFMS King John and the Bishop (both in our Chapter 7, xv and xvi).

Seynt Stevene was a clerkº
In kyng Herowdes halle,
And servyd him of bred and cloth
As every kyng befalle.º
Stevyn out of kechonº cam
Wyth borisº hed on honde,
He saw a sterreº was fayr and bright
Over Bedlemº stonde.
kitchen boar’s star
He kystº adoun the boris hed
And went in to the halle,
‘I forsak the, kyng Herowdes,
And thi werkes allle.
I forsak the, kyng Herowdes,
And thi werkes alle,
Ther is a chyld in Bedlem born
Is beter than we alle.’
‘Quat eylytº the, Stevene?
Quat is the befalle?º
Lakkyt theº eyther mete or drynk
In kyng Herowdes halle?’
what ails has happened to you do you lack
‘Lakit me neyther mete ne drynk
In kyng Herowdes halle;
Ther is a chyld in Bedlem born
Is beter than we alle.’
‘Quat eylyt the, Stevyn? Art thu wod, º
Or thu gynnyst to brede?º
Lakkyt the eyther gold or feº
Or ony riche wede?’º
beginnest to rave reward garment
‘Lakyt me neyther gold ne fe,
Ne non ryche wede,
Ther is a chyld in Bedlem born
Shal helpyn us at our nede.’
‘That is al so soth, º Stevyn, as true
Al so soth, iwys, º indeed
As this capounº crowe shal capon
That lythº here in myn dysh.’ lies
That word was not so soneº seyd, no sooner
That word in that halle,
The capoun crew Cristus natus est! º Christ is born
Among the lordes alle.
‘Rysytº up, myn turmentowres, º rise torturers
Be toº and al be on, º two one (= one and all)
And ledyt Stevyn out of this town,
And stonyt hym wyth ston! ’
Tokyn heº Stevene took they
And stonyd hym in the way,
And therefore is his evynº eve
On Crystes owyn day.

iii) The Battle of Otterburn16

  • 16 Child, no. 161.
  • 17 Froissart, Chronicles, trans. Brereton, pp. 335–48.

Recorded in a mid-sixteenth century manuscript; the battle took place in 1388. It is an example of a ‘battle ballad’. The reference in the Complaynt of Scotland (also mid-sixteenth) to ‘The Perssee and the Mongumrye met’ may be from this version, or from the Hunting of the Cheviot or from an independent Scottish poem, now lost. This version seems to be firmly English. It has the characteristics of what seems to have been a well-liked type of ballad: an exciting narrative with much dialogue. It has some moments of genuine excitement, such as the cry of the Scottish knight, ‘Awaken Dowglas! ’, culminating in a personalised battle between two chivalric heroes. According to Froissart, Otterburn was ‘the hardest and most obstinate battle that was ever fought.’17

The ballad is long (280 lines, 70 stanzas). Our extract (stanzas 9–25, vv. 33–100; most of the first fytte) gives the run-up to the battle and its beginning. The Scots had assembled a large army, divided into two parts: the main force towards west Carlisle; the other, under the command of James Douglas and other Scottish nobles, to Newcastle, which they attacked. Douglas marched to Otterburn. The English gathered a great army and marched there. Although superior in numbers, the English were defeated. Sir Henry Percy was captured, and Douglas killed.

… To the Newe Castell when they cam
The Skottes they cryde on hyght, º on high
‘Syr Harry Perssy, and thou bysteº within, if thou be
Com to the fylde and fight.
For we have brentº Northomberlonde, burnt
Thy erytageº good and right, heritage
And syneº my logeyngº I have take, then encampment
Wyth my brandeº dubbyt many a knight’. sword
Syr Harry Perssy cam to the walles,
The Skottyssch oste for to se,
And sayd, ‘Andº thou hast brente Northomberlond, if
Ful sore it rewythº me. grieves
Yf thou hast haryed all Bamborowe schyre, º pillaged the region of Bamburgh
Thow hast done me grete envye: º harm
For the trespasseº thow hast me done, offence
The toneº of us schall dye! ’ one
‘Where schall I byde the?’º sayd the Dowglas, await you
‘Or where wylte thow com to me?’
‘At Otterborne, in the high way,
Ther mast thow well logeed be.
The rooº full rekelesº ther sche rinnes, º
To make the game and glee, º
The fawkenº and the fesaunt both,
Among the holtesº on hye.
deer withoutfear runs pleasure and sport falcon woods
Ther mastº thow have thy welthº at wyll may booty
Well looged ther mast be —
Yt schall not be long orº I com the tyll, ’º
Sayd Syr Harry Perssye.
before to you
‘Ther schall I byde the, ’ sayd the Dowglas,
‘By the fayth of my bodye.’
‘Thether schall I com, ’ sayd Syr Harry Perssy,
‘My trowth I plight to the.’
A pypeº of wyne he gave them over the walles,
For soth as I yow saye;
Ther he made the Dowglasse drynke,
And all hys ost that daye.
The Dowglas turnyd hym homewarde agayne,
For soth withowghten naye, º
He toke hys logeyng at Oterborne,
Upon a Wedynsday.
And ther he pyghtº hys standard dowyn,
Hys gettyngº more and lesse,
And syne he warned hys men to goo
To choseº ther geldynges gresse.º
find horses grass
A Skottysshe knygh hovedº upon the bentº —
A wacheº I dare well saye —
So was he ware onº the noble Perssy
In the dawnyng of the daye.
caught sight of
He prickedº to hys pavyleon dore rode
As faste as he might ronne,
‘Awaken, Dowglas!’ cryed the knight,
‘For Hys love that syttes in trone.
Awaken, Dowglas!’ cryed the knyght,
‘For thow maste waken wyth wynne, º joy
Yenderº have I spyed the prowde Perssye, yonder
And seven stondardes wyth hym.’
‘Nay, by my trowth, ’ the Dowglas sayed,
‘It ys but a faynedº taylle, false
He durste not loke on my bredeº banner broad
For all Ynglonde so haylle.º for the whole of England
Was I not yesterday at the Newe Castell,
That stondes so fayre on Tyne?
For all the men the Perssy had,
He coude not garreº me ones to dyne.’ make
He stepped owt at his pavelyon dore,
To loke andº it were le [s] e, º if false
‘Araye yow, lordynges, one and all!
For here bygynnes no peysse! ’º peace

The battle continues: ‘The Perssy and the Douglas mette… They swapped together whyll that the swette… Tyll the bloode fro ther bassonnettes ranne.’ Finally the Douglas is killed: ‘Ther the Dowglas lost hys lyffe, And the Perssy was lede away.’ He was, says the poem, exchanged for a Scottish prisoner, Sir Hugh Montgomery.

B. Poems from PFMS

iv) Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudesly18

  • 18 This, numbered Child 116, is printed with notes in Rymes.
  • 19 Nigel Cawthorne, A Brief History of Robin Hood, mentions this document in Chapter 3 (The H (...)
  • 20 In Selected Poems of Henryson & Dunbar: Now Lythis of ane Gentill Knycht (and ‘wyld Robein (...)
  • 21 Gray marked a note here, without indicating anything further. The poem does indeed treat W (...)

This fine outlaw ballad survives in a print by William Copland (c.1560). There are fragments of an earlier printing by John Byddell (1536), a later edition (1605) by James Roberts, and a copy in PFMS. These, with other references in the sixteenth century, suggest that it circulated widely in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Other references indicate its popularity well before the Copland print: the names of the three outlaws appear (satirically) along with those of Robin Hood and others in a Parliament Roll for Wiltshire,19 far to the south of Cumbria, where the story is set and may have originated. An even earlier reference is probably that to ‘Allan Bell’, an archer in Dunbar’s poem on Sir Thomas Norny.20 The ballad seems designed to be read aloud. It has the traditional characteristics: sudden use of direct speech (‘Thys nyght is come unto thys town Wyllyam of Cloudesle’), moments of dramatic intensity, and a certain impersonality ― Cloudesly besieged in his house is like a scene from an Icelandic saga. But its narrative style is more relaxed than that of the shorter ballads, and it sometimes reads like a popular romance ― and that makes it easier for a modern reader to read it ‘on the page’. Women have a more significant role than in the Robin Hood ballads.21 It is tempting to speculate that it may have something of the encyclopedic tendency seen in the Gest of Robyn Hode to incorporate everything known to the maker about the outlaws’ life, even to the inclusion of Cloudesly’s display of his already proven skill in archery in the ‘Wilhelm Tell feat’ (which is made into a little ‘pitous’ scene). But as it stands the poem reads well, and it must have been exciting to listen to.

These three yeomen of the north country are sworn brethren, who hunt the deer in ‘Englysshe-wood’ [Inglewood], and are outlawed ‘for venison’. William is a wedded man, and wishes to go to Carlisle to speak with Alice his wife and his three children. Adam Bell warns him of the danger, but he goes: ‘If that I come not tomorowe, brother, By pryme to you agayne, Truste not els but that I am take Or else that I am slayne.’ He is warmly received by Alice, who ‘feched him meat and drynke plenty, Lyke a true wedded wyfe… ’ [vv. 57–379, stanzas 15–94]

  • 22 This is the end of the first ‘fytte’ and the beginning of Part II.
… There lay an old wyfe in that place,
A lytle beside the fyre,
Whych Wyllyam had found, º of cherytye provided for
More than seven yere.
Up she rose and walked full styll; º silently
Evel mote she spedeº therefoore! fare
For she had not set no fote on ground
In seven yere before.
She went unto the justice hall
As fast as she could hye, º hurry
‘Thys nyght is come unto thys town
Wyllyam of Cloudesle.’
Thereof the justice was full fayneº glad
And so was the shirife also,
‘Thou shalt not travaile hether, º dame, for nought; struggle here
Thy meedº thou shalt have orº thou go.’ reward before
They gave to her a right good goune, º gown
Of scarlet it was as I heard sayne;
She toke the gyft and home she wente
And couchedº her doune agayne. lay
They rysedº the towne of mery Carlelº roused Carlisle
In all the hast that they can.
And came thronging to Wyllyames house
As fast [as] they might gone.
Theyr they besetteº that good yeman surrounded
Round about on every syde;
Wyllyam hearde great noyse of folks
That heytherward they hyed.
Alyce opened a shot-wyndow, º hinged window
And loked all about;
She was ware of the justice and the shrife bothe,
Wyth a full great route.º crowd
‘Alas! treason, ’ cryed Alyce,
‘Ever wo may thou be!
Go into my chamber, my husband, ’ she sayd,
‘Swete Wyllyam of Cloudesle.’
He toke hys sweard and hys bucler,
Hys bow and hys children thre,
And wente into hys strongest chamber,
Where he thought surestº to be. most secure
Fayre Alice folowed him as a lover true,
With a pollaxeº in her hande, long-handled axe
‘He shalbe deade that here cometh in
Thys dore, whyle I may stand.’
Cloudesle bent a wel good bowe
That was of trusty tre, º wood
He smot the justice on the brest
That hys arrowe brestº in thre. broke
‘Gods curse on his hart, ’ saide William,
‘Thys day thy coteº dydº on — coat of mail put
If it had ben no better than myne,
It had gone nere thy bone.’
‘Yelde the, Cloudesle, ’ sayd the justice,
‘And thy bowe and thy arrows the fro! ’º
‘Gods curse on hys hart, ’ sayde fair Alice,
‘That my husband councelleth so.’
[yield] from you
‘Set fyre on the house, ’ saide the sherife,
‘Syth it wyll no better be!
And brenneº we therin William, ’ he saide,
‘Hys wyfe and children thre.’
They fyred the house in many a place.
The fyre flew up on hye,
‘Alas!’ then cryed fayr Alice,
‘I se we shall here dy! ’
William openyd hys backe window,
That was in hys chamber on hye,
And wyth shetes let hys wyfe downe
And hys children thre.
‘Have here my treasure!’ sayde William,
‘My wyfe and my children thre;
For Christes love do them no harme,
But wrekeº you all on me!’
Wyllyam shot so wonderous well
Tyll hys arrows were all go, º
And the fyre so fast upon hym fell,
That hys bowstryng brentº in two.
The sperclesº brent and fell hym on,
Good Wyllyam of Cloudesle.
But then was he a wofull man, and sayde,
‘Thys is a cowards death to me.
Leverº I had, ’ sayde Wyllyam,
‘With my sworde in the route to renneº
Thenne here among myne ennemyes wodeº
Thus cruelly to bren.’
He toke hys sweard and hys buckler,
And among them all he ran;
Where the people were most in prece, º
He smot downe many a man.
There might no man standº hys stroke,
So fersly on them he ran;
Then they threw wyndowes and dores on him
And so tokeº that good yeman. captured
There they hym bounde both hand and fote,
And in depe dungeon hym cast,
‘Now, Cloudesle’ sayde the hye justice,
‘Thou shalt be hanged in hast.’
‘One vow shal I make, ’ syde the sherife.
‘A payre of new galowes shall I for the make,
And al the gates of Caerlelº shalbe shutte,
There shall no man come in therat.
Then shall not helpe Clim of the Cloughe,
Nor yet [shall] Adam Bell,
Though they came with a thousand mo,
Nor all the devels in hell.’
Early in the mornyng the justice uprose,
To the gates fast gan he gon,
And commaunded to be shut full cloceº
Lightileº everychone.º
quickly everyone
Then went he to the market-place,
As fast as he coulde hye;
A payre of new gallous there dyd he up set,
Besyde the pyllory.
A lytle boy stod them amonge,
And asked what meaned that gallow-tre;
They sayde, ‘To hange a good yeaman,
Called Wyllyam of Cloudeslie.’
That lytle boye was the towne swine-heard,
And kept fayre Alyse swine;
Full oft he had sene Cloudesle in the wodde,
And geven hym there to dyne.
He went out of a crevesº in the wall, gap
And lightly to the woode dyd gone;
There met he with the wyghtº yonge men,
Shortly and anone.º
‘Alas!’ then sayde that lytle boye,
‘Ye tary here all to longe;
Cloudesle is taken and dampned to death,
All readye for to honge.’
‘Alas!’ then sayde good Adam Bell,
‘That ever we see this daye!
He might her with us have dwelled,
So ofte as we dyd hyim praye.
He might have taryed in grene foreste,
Under the shadowes sheene, º
And have kepte both hym and us in reaste, º
Out of trouble and teene.’º
Adam bent a ryght good bow,
A great hart soneº had he slayne;
‘Take that, chylde’, he sayde, ‘to thy dynner,
And bryng me myne arrowe agayne.’
at once
‘Now go we hence, ’ sayed these wight yong men,
‘Tary we no lenger here;
We shall hym borowe, º by Gods grace,
Though we bye it full dere.’º
pay for it dearly
To Caerlel went these good yemen,
In a mery mornyng of Maye;
Her is a fyt of Cloudesli,
And another is for to saye.22
And when they came to mery Caerlell,
In a fayre mornyngtyde,
They founde the gates shut them untyllº
Round about on every syde.
against them
‘Alas!’ than sayd good Adam Bell,
‘That ever we were made men!
These gates be shyt so wonderly well,
That we may not come herein.’
Than spake Clymme of the Cloughe,
‘With a wyleº we wyll us in brynge; º
Let us say we be messengers,
Streyght comen from oure kynge.’
trick get
Adam sayd, ‘I have a letter wryten wele,
Now let us wisely werke;
We wyll say we have the kynges seale —
I holde the porter no clerke.’
Than Adam Bell bete on the gate,
With strokis greate and stronge;
The porter herde suche a noyse therate,
And to the gate he thronge.º

‘Who is there nowe, ’ sayd the porter.
‘That maketh all this knockynge?’
‘We be two messengers, ’ seyd Clymme of the Cloughe,
‘Becomen streyght frome oure kynge.’

  • 23 The first hour of daytime, about 6 am (the second canonical hour, see OED).
  • 24 See A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue: a horn would be blown to bring people o (...)
‘We have a letter, ’ sayd Adam Bell,
‘To the justice we must it brynge;
Let us in, oure message to do,
That we were agayne to oure kynge.’
‘Here cometh no man in, ’ sayd the porter,
‘By hym that dyed on a tre,
Tyll a false thefe be hanged,
Called Wyllyam of Cloudysle.’
Than spake that good yeman Clym of the Cloughe,
And swore by Mary fre, º
‘If that we stande long without
Lyke a thefe hanged shalt thou be.
Lo, here we have the kynges seale;
What, lordane, º arte thou wode?’º
The porter had wendeº it had been so,
And lightly dyd of his hode.º
fool mad
took off his hood
‘Welcome be my lordes seale, ’ sayd he,
‘For that ye shall come in, ’
He opened the gate right shortly —
An evyll openynge for hym!
‘Nowe we are in, ’ sayd Adam Bell,
‘Therof we are full fayne;
But Cryst knoweth that herowedº hell,
How we shall come oute agayne.’
‘Had we the keys, ’ sayd Clym of the Clowgh,
‘Ryght well than sholde we spede;
Than might we come out well ynough,
Whan we se tyme and nede.’
They called the porter to a councell,
And wronge hys necke in two.
And kest hym in a depe dungeon,
And toke the keys hym fro.
‘Now am I porter, ’ sayd Adam Bell;
‘Se, broder, the keys have we here;
The worste porter to mery Carlyl,
That ye had this hondreth yere.
Now wyll we oure bowes bende,
Into the towne wyll we go,
For to delyver our dere broder,
Where he lyeth in care and wo.’
Then they bent theyr good yew bowes,
And loked theyr stringes were round; º
The market-place of mery Carlyll
They beset in that stounde, º
in proper shape
And as they loked them beside,
A payre of newe galowes there they se,
And the justyce with a quest of swearers, º
That had juged Clowdysle there hanged to be.
inquest of jurors
And Clowdysle hymselfe lay redy in a carte,
Fast bounde bothe fote and hande,
And a strong rope aboute his necke,
All redy for to be hanged.
The justyce called to hym a ladde;
Clowdysles clothes sholde he have,
To take the mesure of that good yoman,
And therafter to make his grave.
‘I have sene as greate a merveyll, ’ sayd Clowdesle,
‘As bytwene this and pryme, º
He that maketh thys grave for me,
Hymselfe may lye therin.’
‘Thou spekest proudely, ’ sayd the justyce;
‘I shall hange the with my hande.’
Full well that herde his bretheren two,
There styll as they dyd stande.
Than Clowdysle cast hys eyen aside,
And sawe his bretheren stande,
At a corner of the market-place,
With theyr good bowes bent in theyr hand,
Redy the justyce for to chase.
‘I se good comforte, ’ sayd Clowdysle,
‘Yet hope I well to fare;
If I might have my hands at wyll,
Ryght lyttell wolde I care.’
Than bespokeº good Adam Bell,
To Clymme of the Clowgh so fre; º
‘Broder, se ye marke the justice well;
Lo, yonder ye may him se.
And at the sheryf shoteº I wyll,
Strongly with an arowe kene’ —
A better shotte in mery Carlyll,
Thys seven yere was not sene.
They lousedº theyr arowes bothe at ones,
Of no man had they drede;
The one hyt the justice, the other the sheryf,
That bothe theyr sydes gan blede.
All men voided, º that them stode nye,
Whan the justice fell to the grounde,
And the sheryf fell nyghe hym by;
moved away
Eytherº had his dethes wounde. each
All the citezeyns fast canº fle,
They durste no kenger abyde;
There lightly they loused Clowdysle,
Where he with ropes lay tyde.
Wyllyam sterteº to an officer of the towne,
Hys axe out his hande he wronge; º
On eche syde he smote them downe,
Hym thoughtº he had taryed to longe.
it seemed to him
Wyllyam sayd to his bretheren two,
‘Thys daye let us togyder lyve and deye;
If ever you have nede as I have nowe,
The same shall ye fynde by me.’
They shytº so well in that tyde, º shot time
For theyr strynges were of sylke full sure,
That they kepteº the stretes on every syde;
That batayll dyd longe endure.
They fought togyder as bretheren true,
Lyke hardy men and bolde;
Many a man to the grounde they threwe,
And made many an herte colde.
But whan theyr arowes were all gone.
Men presyd on them full fast;
They drewe theyr swerdes than anone, º
And theyr bowes from them caste.
at once
They wente lightlyº on theyr waye,
With swerdes and buckelers rounde;
By that it was the myddes of the daye,
They had made many a wounde.
There was many an oute-horn in Carlyll blowne24
And the belles backwarde dyd they rynge;
Many a woman sayd alas,
And many theyr hands dyd wrynge.
The mayreº of Carlyll forth come was,
And with hym a full grete route, º
These thre yomen dreddeº hym full sore,
For theyr lyves stode in doubte.
The mayre came armed, a full greate pace, º
With a pollaxe in his hande;
Many a stronge man with hym was,
There in that stoureº to stande. conflict
The mayre smote at Cloudysle with his byll, º
His buckeler he brastº in two;
Full many a yoman with grete yll,
‘Alas, treson!’ they cryed for wo.
axe, halberd
‘Kepe we the gates fast! ’ they bad, º
‘That these traytours theroute not go.’
But all for nought was that they wrought,
For so fast they downe were layde
Tyll they all thre, that so manfully fought,
Were gotten without at a brayde.º
outside in a moment
‘Have here your keys!’ sayd Adam Bell.
‘Myne office I here forsake;
Yf ye do by my councell,
A newe porter ye make.’
He threwe the keys there at theyr hedes,
And bad them evyll to thryve,
And all that letteth any good yoman
To come and comforte his wive.º
Thus be these good yomen gone to the wode,
As light as lefe on lynde; º
They laughe and be mery in theyr mode, º
Theyr enemyes were farre behynde…

In Inglewood, Cloudesly is reunited with Alice and his children. The outlaws decide to go to the king to obtain a charter of peace. The queen pleads for mercy to be shown to them, and the king somewhat reluctantly agrees. Messengers arrive with news of the carnage they have caused in the north, but the king has now given his word (‘I wyll se these felowes shote, That in the north have wrought this wo’), and they give a demonstration, with Cloudesly performing the feat of shooting an apple on the head of his seven-year-old son. The king and the queen give them offices at court; the three go to Rome to be absolved of their sins, they return to stay with the king, and die good men all three: ‘Thus endeth the lyves of these good yemen, God sende them eternall blysse, And all that with hand-bowe shoteth, That of heven they may never mysse!’

v) A Gest of Robyn Hode25

  • 25 In Rymes.
  • 26 See Introduction to this text, in Rymes.
  • 27 See Norman Davies, The Isles: A History, p. 333.
  • 28 See chapter 10, below.
  • 29 Rymes contains a goodly collection, as does Robin Hood eds Knight and Ohlgren.
  • 30 The Introduction to this text, in Rymes, lists printed versions and fragments.

Of all the outlaw ballads and stories, the tales of Robin Hood and his companions and enemies seem to have been the most popular. Robin Hood remains an elusive figure. The careful and informative work of medieval historians has not so far produced a historical prototype satisfactory to everyone.26 The earliest reference seems to be the ‘Robehod fugitivus’ (possibly a nickname) in a Berkshire document of 1262.27 The surviving medieval stories do not help us with information about his origins: he is a ‘yeoman’, but we are not told the reasons for his outlawry; he seems to exist, fully formed, as the outlaw hero. ‘Rhymes of Robin Hood’ are alluded to by Langland in the later fourteenth century. The stories sometimes furnished the plots for folk plays.28 They clearly existed in large numbers; in spite of great losses we have a small but varied group of surviving texts.29 Of these the longest and most ambitious work is the Gest of Robyn Hode, which survives only in printed versions and some fragments.30 Modern editions are usually based on the Antwerp edition, supplemented by Wynkyn de Worde’s. It is a long poem (456 stanzas) almost certainly based on earlier Robin Hood ballads, probably put together in the mid-fifteenth century as a ‘ballad-romance’, a popular epic, or a ‘long ballad’ as found in some European examples, or in Adam Bell. Three stories are woven together: the adventures of Robin Hood with a knight, with the sheriff of Nottingham, and with the king. Our extract, the third ‘fytte’, tells how Robin’s follower Little John tricked the sheriff and delivered him to Robin.

Fytte 1 briefly introduces Robin Hood and some of his men in Barnsdale (Yorks). Little John, remarking ‘It is fer dayes, God sende us a gest, That we were at oure dynere!’, is sent with two companions to Watling Street, to find some unknown guest who can be invited to dinner (for which he will pay). They meet a sorrowful knight: ‘All dreri was his semblaunce, He rode in simple aray; A soriar man than he was one Rode never in somer day.’ He is brought to Robin in the wood, and given dinner: ‘Brede and wyne they had right ynoughe, And umbles of the dere, Swannes and fessauntes they had full gode, And foules of the ryvere.’ But when the question of payment is raised, the knight says he has only ten shillings. This is checked by Little John, and the knight’s story emerges: to save his son, who slew a knight, his goods have all been sold, and his lands are pledged to the abbot of St Mary’s Abbey for four hundred pounds; the only security he has is Our Lady, and payment is due. Robin produces the four hundred pounds, and the knight is given clothes and a horse; Little John is to be his ‘knave’ [servant]. In Fytte 2 the grateful knight comes to St Mary’s to pay the abbot. The abbot and most of the monks are thinking only of the money. The knight arrives, in simple garments, and tests the abbot by sayng that that he has not brought a penny. A furious scene follows, and the knight departs, leaving the four hundred pounds: ‘Have here thi golde, sir abbot… Had thou ben curtes at my comynge, Rewarded shuldest thou have be.’ After a year has passed, and the knight has four hundred pounds, he sets off to pay Robin Hood. On the way he sees a great wrestling contest, and helps a yeoman who is a stranger. And here Fytte 3 begins…

The Third Fytte, An Adventure of Little John (alias Grenelef)

  • 31 As everybody knows, Robin and his fellows could shoot at a peeled wand set in the gr (...)
  • 32 East Yorkshire; a flat marshy area, east of Hull.
Lythº and lystyn, gentilmen, attend
All that nowe be here,
Of Litell Johnn, that was the knightes man,
Goode myrth [es] ye shall here.
It was upon a mery day
That yonge men wolde go shete, º to shoot
Lytell John fetº his bowe anone, º fetched quickly
And sayde he wolde them mete.
Thre tymes Litell John shet aboute,
And alwey he slet the wande; º split the stick31
The proude sherif of Notingham
By the markesº can stande.º targets stood
The sherif swore a full greate othe,
‘By hym that dyede on a tre, º died on a cross
This man is the best arschereº archer
That evere yet sawe I [me].
Sey me nowe, wightº yonge man, brave
What is nowe thy name?
In what countre were thou borne,
And where is thy wonynge wane?’º dwelling place
‘In Holdernes, º sir, I was borne, Holderness32
Iwys al of my dame,
Men cal me Reyno [l] de Grenelefe.
Whan I am at home.’
‘Sey me, Reyno [l] de Grenelefe,
Wolde thou dwell with me?
And every yere I woll the gyve
Twenty marke to thy fee.’º wages
‘I have a maister, ’ sayde Litell John,
‘A curteys knight is he —
May ye leveº gete of hym, permission
The better may it be.’
The sherif gateº Litell John got
Twelve monethes ofº the knight; from
Therfore he gave him right anoneº immediately
A gode hors and a wight.º strong
Nowe is Litell John the sherifes man,
God lendeº us well to spede! º
But alwey thought Lytell John
grant prosper
To quyte hym wele his mede.º pay his deserts
‘Nowe so God me helpe, ’ sayde Litell John,
‘And by my true leutye, º
I shall be the worst servaunt to hym
That ever yet had he.’
It fell upon a Wednesday
The sheriff on huntynge was gone,
And Litel John lay in his bed,
And was forieteº at home.
Therfore he was fastingº without food
Til it was past the none,
‘Gode sir stuarde, º I pray to the,
Gyve me my dynere, ’ saide Litell John.
‘It is longe for Grenelefe
Fastinge thus for to be,
Therfore I pray the, sir stuarde,
Mi dyner gif [thou] me.’
‘Shalt thou never ete ne drynke, ’ sayde the stuarde,
‘Tyll my lorde be come to towne! ’
‘I make myn avowe to God, ’ sayde Litell John,
‘I had leverº to crake thy crowne! ’
would rather
The botelerº was full uncurteys,
There he stode on flore.
He start to the botery
And shet fast the dore.
  • 33 Rose-hips, or haws (of thorn) are more ‘stone’ than fruit.
Lytell John gave the boteler suche a tapº blow
His backe went nere in two —
Though he lived an hundred ierº
The wors [e] shuld he go.
He spornedº the dore with his fote, kicked
It went open wel and fine,
And there he made a large lyverayº
Bothe of ale and of wyne.
took a good allowance
‘Sith ye wol nat dyne, ’ sayde Litell John,
‘I shall gyve you to drynke —
And though ye lyve an hundred winter,
On Lytell John ye shall thinke.’
Litell John ete, and Litel John drank,
The while that he wolde.
The sherife had in his kechyn a coke, º
A stouteº man and a bolde, strong
‘I make myn avowe to God, ’ sayde the coke,
‘Thou arte a shrewde hyndeº
In ani hous for to dwel,
For to aske thus to dyne.’
wicked servant
And there he lentº Litell John gave
Godº strokis thre, good
‘I make myn avowe to God’ sayde Lytell John,
‘These strokis likedº well me.
Thou arte a bolde man and hardy,
And so thinketh me; º
And orº I pas fro this place before
Assayedº better shalt thou be.’ tested
Lytell John drew a ful gode sworde,
The coke toke another in hande —
They thought no thyngeº for to fle,
But stifflyº for to stande.
not at all
There they faught soreº togedere
Two myle wayº and well more,
Myght neyther other harme doneº
fought bitterly
the time taken to go two miles
do harm
The mountnaunceº of an owre.º length hour
‘I make myn avowe to God, ’ sayde Litell Johnn,
‘And by my true lewte,
Thou art one of the best swordemen
That ever yit sawe I [me].
Cowdest thouº shote as well in a bowe,
To grene wode thou shuldest with me,
And two times in the yere thy clothinge
Chaunged shulde be,
if you could
And every yere ofº Robyn Hode from
Twenty merke to thy fe.’º
‘Put up thy swerde, ’ saide the coke,
‘And felowes woll we be.’
Thenne he fetº to Lytell Johnn fetched
The nowmbles of a do, º
Gode brede and full gode wyne —
They ete and drank theretoo.
entrails of a doe
And when they had dronkyn well
Theyre trouthes togeder they plight
That they wo [l] de be with Robyn
That ilkeº same nyght.
They dyd themº to the tresourehowsº
As fast as they myght gone,
went treasure-house
The lokkes that were of full gode steleº
They brake them everichone.
They toke away the silver vessell,
And all that they might get —
Pecis, º masarsº ne sponis
Wolde they not forget.
vessels cups
Also [they] toke the gode pens,
Thre hunred pounde and more,
And did them st [r] eyteº to Robyn Hode, went straight
Under the grene wode hore.º grey
‘God the save, my dere mayster,
And Criste the save and se!’º
And thanne sayde Robyn to Litell John,
‘Welcome myght thou be!
watch over
Also be that fayre yeman
Thou bryngest there with the;
What tydynges fro Noty [n] gham?
Lytill Johnn, tell thou me.’
‘Well the gretith the proude sheryf,
And sende [th] the here by me
His cokeº and his silver vessel
And thre hundred pounde and thre.’
‘I make myne avowe to God, ’ sayde Robyn,
‘And to the Trenyte,
It was never by his gode wyll
This godeº is come to me.’
Lytyll John there hym bethought
On a shrewde wyle.º cunning trick
Fyve myle in the forest he ran,
Hym happedº all his wyll. came to pass
Than he met the proude sheryf
Huntynge with howndes and horne —
Lytell John coudeº of curtesye, knew
And knelyd hym beforne,
‘God the save, my dere mayster,
And Criste the save and se!’
‘Reynolde Grenelefe, ’ sayde the sheryf,
‘Where hast thou nowe be?’
‘I have be in this forest,
A fayre syght canº I se, did
It was one of the fairest syghtes
That ever yet sawe I me.
Yonder I sawe a right fayre harteº hart
His coloure is of grene,
Seven score of dere upon a herdeº in a herd
Be with hym all bydene.º together
Their tyndesº are so sharpe, maister, antlers
Of sexty and well mo,
That I durst not shote for drede,
Lest they wolde me slo.’º slay
‘I make myn avowe to God, ’ sayde the sheryf,
‘That syght wolde I fayneº se.’ gladly
‘Buske you thederwarde, º mi dere mayster, hasten thither
Anone, º and wende with me.’ quickly
The sheriff rode, and Litell Johnn
Of fote he was full smerte, º
And whane they came before Robyn,
‘Lo, sir, here is the mayster-herte.’
Still stode the proude sheryf.
A sory man was he,
‘Wo the worthe, º Raynolde Grenelefe!
Thou hast betrayed nowe me.’
a curse on you
‘I make myn avowe to God, ’ sayde Litell John,
‘Mayster, ye be to blame,
I was mysservedº of my dynere
Whan I was with you at home.’
badly served
Sone he was to souper sette,
And served well with silver white,
And whan the sheryf sawe his vessel,
For sorowe he might not ete.
‘Make glad chere, ’ sayde Robyn Hode,
‘Sheryf, for charite,
And for the love of Litill John
Thy lyfe I graunt to the.’
Whan they had souped well,
The day was al gone;
Robyn commaude [d] Litell John
To drawe of his hosen and his shone, º
stockings and shoes
His kirtell, º and his cote of pie, º tunic short jacket
That was fured well and fine,
And to [ke] hym a grene mantel
To lapº his body therin. wrap
Robyn commaundyd his wight yonge men,
Under the grene wode tree,
They shulde lye in that same sute, º
That the sherif myght them see.
All nyght lay the proude sherif
In his brecheº and in his [s] chert, º
breeches shirt
No wonder it was, in grene wode
Though his sydes gan to smerte.º
‘Make glade chere, ’ sayde Robyn Hode,
‘Sheryf, for charite,
For this is our ordre iwys, º
Under the grene wode tree.’
‘This is harder order, ’ sayde the sheryef,
‘Than any ankir or frereº —
anchorite or friar
For all the golde in mery Englonde
I wolde nat longe dwell her.’º
‘All this twelve monthes, ’ sayde Robin,
‘Thou shalt dwell with me —
I shall the teche, proude sherif,
An outlawe for to be.’
‘Orº I be here another nyght, ’ sayde the sheyif,
‘Robyn, nowe pray I the,
Smyte ofº mijn hede rather tomorowe,
And I forgyve it the.
smite off
‘Lat me go, ’ than sayde the sheryf,
‘For saynte charite,
And I woll be the best [e] frende
That ever yet had ye.’
‘Thou shalt swere me an othe’, sayde Robyn,
‘On my bright bronde, º
Shalt thou never awayte me scatheº
By water ne by lande,
lie in wait to do me harm
And if thou fynde any of my men,
By nyght or [by] day,
Upon thyn othe thou shalt swere
To helpe them tha [t] º thou may.’
as far as
Nowe hathe the sherif sworne his othe,
And home he began to gone —
He was as full of grene wode
As ever was hepeº of stone.

In fytte 4 Robin is still waiting for his money: ‘I drede Our Lady be wroth with me, For she sent me nat my pay’. Little John is sent up to Watling Street to find ‘some unknown guest’. He finds two black monks from the abbey and their retinue. One is taken to Robin. He has never heard of Mary as a ‘borowe’, but Robin tells him that he is her messenger. He says that he has only twenty marks, but Little John’s checking reveals eight hundred pounds and more: ‘Our Lady hath doubled your cast [throw, outlay]’, he remarks to Robin. Now the knight arrives with his four hundred pounds. Robin tells him to keep it and use it well: ‘Our Lady by her selerer Hath sent to me my pay.’ The following Fyttes relate the other stories of Robin’s adventures, ending with his brief stay in the king’s court, his return to the greenwood, and his death.

vi) Sir Aldingar34

  • 34 PFMS, vol i, p. 165 ff.
  • 35 For the Reliques, see Hales and Furnivall Forewords (to PFMS), pp. xxii–iii & xxxvii ff: a (...)

Percy used this in his Reliques (1765);35 Scott used another version in the ‘Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border’ (1803). The ballad has parallels in Scandinavian ballads. A very similar story is told by William of Malmesbury (see Chapter 4 (ii), below).

  • 36 ‘When things are at their worst, hope is at hand’. A common proverb; see Whiting B 18 & 22

Sir Aldingar is the treacherous steward of the king. He desires to sleep with the queen, but she rejects him. In anger ‘he sought what meanes he cold find out, In a fyer to have her brent.’ A blind and lame leper is placed on the queen’s bed, and Aldingar tells the king that it is the queen’s new love. The queen laments and describes a dream she has had: a griffin carried her crown away and would have forced her into his nest, but a merlin came flying from the east and killed it. She asks for a champion to fight for her: one must be found within forty days or else she will be burnt. One messenger can find no-one, and the other only a little child, who ‘seemed noe more in a mans likenesse Then a child of four yeeres old.’ He sends the messenger back with a greeting for the queen, and a message to remember her dream: ‘When bale is att hyest, boote is att next.’36 The queen is gladdened, but is put into a tun ready to be burnt. The little child comes riding out of the east, and demands that Aldingar be brought. The steward thinks little of him, but … [vv. 167–202]

  • 37 This king may be the same as King Henry, in Gunnhild (chapter 4, below).
… The little one pulld forth a well good sword,
Iwiis, itt was all of guilt, º
gilded metal
It cast light there over that field,
It shone all of guilt.
He stroke the first stroke att Aldingar,
He stroke away his legs by his knee,
Sayes, ‘Stand up, stand up, thou false traitor,
And fight upon thy feete,
For and thou thrive as thou begins,
Of a height wee shalbe meete.’
‘A preist! A preist!’ says Aldingar,
‘Me for to houzle and shrive! º
A preist! A preist!’ says Aldingar,
‘While I am a man living alive!
give the sacrament and absolution
I wold have laine by our comlie queene,
To it shee wold never consent;
I thought to have betrayd her to our king,
In a fyer to have had her brent.
There came a lame lazarº to the kings gates,
A lazar both blind and lame;
I tooke the lazar upon my backe,
In the queenes bed I did him lay.
I bad him “lie still, lazar”, where he lay,
Looke he went not away,
I wold make him a whole man and a sound
In two houres of a day.
Ever alacke! ’ says Sir Aldingar,
‘Falsing never doth well.
Forgive, forgive me, queene, madam [e]
For Christs love forgive me!’
‘God forgave his death, Aldingar,
And freely I forgive thee.’
‘Now take thy wife, thou king Harry,37
And love her as thou shold,
Thy wiffe shee is as true to thee
As stone that lies on the castle wall.’

vii) Glasgerion38

  • 38 PFMS vol. i, p. 246 ff.
  • 39 For the Reliques, see Hales and Furnivall Forewords (to PFMS), pp. xxii–iii & xxxvii ff.

Used by Percy in the Reliques;39 Chaucer mentions ‘the Bret Glascurion’ among the harpers in his House of Fame (v. 1208). He seems to be the Welsh tenth-century Y Bardd Glas Keraint, the Blue [i.e. chief] Bard Geraint, of whom little is known. He may well be the Glasgerion of the ballad. His harping skill is described at the beginning of the ballad; in a later Scottish ballad collected from the recitation of an old woman (Robert Jamieson’s Popular Ballads and Songs from Tradition, 1806, Child’s version B) the harper, there called Glenkindie, was the ‘best harper That ever harpd on a string… He’d harpit a fish out o saut water, Or water out o a stane, Or milk out o a maiden’s breast, That bairn had never nane’.

Glasgerion is a king’s son and an excellent harper. The king’s daughter of Normandy is so moved by his playing that she invites him to her bower when men are at rest. He tells his boy, Jack, of this, and Jack tells him to sleep and he will awaken him before cockcrow… [vv. 33–96]

… But upp then rose that litherº ladd,
And did on hose and shoone,
A coller he cast upon his necke,
Hee seemed a gentleman,
And when he came to that ladies chamber,
He thrild upon a pinn, º
The lady was true of her promise,
Rose up and let him in.
rattled the door-pin
He did not take the lady gay
To boulster nor to bed,
But downe upon her chamber flore
Ful soone he hath her layd.
He did not kisse that lady gay
When he came nor when he youd, º
And sore mistrusted that lady gay
He was of some churles blood.
But home then came that lither ladd,
And did of his hose and shoone,
And cast that coller from about his necke —
He was but a churles sonne,
‘Awaken, ’ quoth hee, ‘my master deere,
I holde it time to be gone,
For I have sadled your horsse, master,
Well bridled I have your steed —
Have I not served a good breakfast,
When time comes I have need?’
But up then rose good Glasgerryon,
And did on both hose and shoone,
And cast a coller about his necke,
He was a kings sonne.
And when he came to that ladies chamber
He thrild upon a pinn —
The lady was more then true of promise,
Rose up and let him in.
Saies, ‘Whether have you left with me
Your braclett or your glove?
Or are you returned backe againe
To know more of my love?’
Glasgerryon swore a full great othe,
By oake and ashe and thorne,
‘Lady, I was never in your chamber
Sith the time that I was borne.’
‘O! then it was your little foote page
Falsly hath beguiled me!’
And then shee pulld forth a little penknife,
That hanged by her knee,
Says, ‘There shall never noe churles blood
Spring within my body!’
But home then went Glassgerryon,
A woeº man, good [Lord] was hee,
Sayes, ‘Come hither, thou Jacke my boy,
Come thou hither to me.
For if I had killed a man tonight,
Jacke, I wold tell it thee,
But if I have not killed a man tonight,
Jacke, thou hast killed three!’
And he puld out his bright browneº sword,
And dryed it on his sleeve,
And he smote off that lither ladds head,
And asked noe man noe leave.
He sett the sworde point till his brest,
The pumillº till a stone —
Thorrow that falsnese of that lither ladd
These three lives werne all gone.

C. Some Later Ballads

Some ballads recorded in later times which possibly have some link with medieval tales or ballads. The list is a long one, and the connections are often uncertain.

viii) Fair Annie40

  • 40 Child, no. 62 (in vol. ii), stanzas 21 to end.

The story behind this Scottish ballad, recorded in Scott’s ‘Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border’ (1802) and Robert Jamieson’s ‘Popular Ballads and Songs from Tradition’ (1806), seems to be somehow related to that of Marie de France’s Lai le Freine, in which twins are separated soon after birth. One is a foundling, left with only a rich robe (compare Emaré in our chapter Romances, iii) and a ring. She grows up to be a gentle and patient woman. She is loved by a knight, but when he is persuaded to marry he chooses a nobly born lady, who is in fact Freine’s twin. Freine is in the hall when the bride arrives, but thanks to the robe and the ring is ‘recognised’, and marries the knight herself. This lai was translated into Middle English in the fourteenth century, but survives only in an incomplete form: the recognition scene and the denouement are lost. A Scandinavian ballad exists in Danish and Swedish, and there are versions in Dutch and German. The Scottish ballad begins with Annie’s lord informing her that he is going across the sea to bring home ‘a braw bride’; Annie, who has borne him seven sons, welcomes the new bride, but laments bitterly…

… When bells were rung, and mass was sung,
And a’ men bound to bed,
Lord Thomas and his new come bride
To their chamber they ere gaed.º
Annie made her bed a little forbyeº
To hear what they might say,
‘And ever alas! ’ fair Annie cried,
‘That I should see this day!
Ginº my seven sons were seven young rats,
Running on the castle wa’, º
And I were a grey cat mysell,
I soon would worry them a’,
Gin my seven sons were seven young hares,
Running oer yon lilly lee, º
And I were a grey hound mysell,
Soon worried they a’ should be.’
beautiful field
And wae and sad fair Annie sat,
And drearie was her sang,
And ever as she sobbd and grat, º
‘Wae to the man that did the wrang! ’
‘My gown is on, ’ said the new come bride,
‘My shoes are on my feet,
And I will to fair Annie’s chamber,
To see what gars her greet.º
makes her weep
What ails ye, what ails ye, fair Annie,
That ye make sic a moan:
Has your wine barrels cast the girdsº
Or is your white bread gone?
O whaº was’t your father, Annie,
Or wha was’t your mother?
And had ye ony sister, Annie,
Or had ye ony brother?’
‘The earl of Wemyss was my father,
The countess of Wemyss my mother,
And a’ the folk about the house
To me were sister and brother.’
‘If the earl of Wemyss was your father
I wot saeº was he mine —
And it shall not be for lack o’ gowdº
That ye your love shall tine, º
For I have seven ships o’ mine ain, º
A’ loaded to the brim,
And I will gie them a’ to thee,
Wi four to thine eldest son.
  But thanks to a’ the powers in heaven
That I gae maiden hame!’

ix) The Three Ravens

  • 41 The Corpus Christi Carol (see below, in ch. 7) is number 247 in The Oxford Book of Medieva (...)

Child no. 26. Recorded in 1611, it was apparently very popular, but is now less well known than the generally similar ‘Twa Corbies’ (in Scott’s ‘Minstrelsy’). See also ‘The New-Slain Knight’ (Child no. 263). A perhaps remote resemblance to the image of the wounded knight, in the enigmatic Corpus Christi Carol, has been suggested;41 and it is possible that famous poem is a ‘religious’ version derived from a ballad of a slain knight such as this.

There were three ravens sat on a tree.
Downe a downe, hay down, hay downe
There were three ravens sat on a tree,
With a downe
There were three ravens sat on a tree,
They were as blacke as they might be,
With a downe derrie, derrie, derrie, downe, downe.
The one of them said to his mate,
‘Where shall we our breakefast take?’
‘Downe in yonder green field,
There lies a knight slain under his shield,
His hounds they lie downe at his feete,
So well they can their master keepe.
His haukes they flie so eagerly
There’s no fowle dare him come nie.’
Downe there comes a fallow doe,
As great with yong as she might goe.
She lift up his bloudy hed,
And kist his wounds that were so red.
She got him up upon her backe,
And carried him to earthen lake.º
She buried him before the prime,
She was dead herselfe ere evensong time.
God send every gentleman,
Such haukes, such hounds, and such a leman.

x) Thomas the Rhymer42

  • 42 See [Thomas] The Romance and Prophecies of Thomas of Erceldoune, ed. Murray, where two oth (...)

Child no. 37; the best known version is that of Mrs Brown in the early nineteenth century. The ballad has some intriguingly close parallels with the late medieval English romance Thomas of Erceldoune: see our chapter Romances (ix). Even older than Mrs Brown’s, and even closer to the romance is Child’s version C from Scott’s ‘Materials for the Border Minstrelsy’: Mrs Greenwood (1806) ‘from the recitation of her mother and aunt, both of them then over 60, who learnt it in childhood from a very old woman, at Longnewton, near Jedburgh.’

  • 43 Pleasure-park. Here, and for a matching verse in Thomas of Erceldoune (pace Child’s gl (...)
Thomas lay on the Huntlie bank,
A spying ferliesº wi his eee, º
And he did spy a lady gay,
Come riding down by the lang lee.
wonders eye
Her steed was o the dapple grey,
And at its mane there hung bells nine;
He thought he heard that lady say,
‘They gowden bells sall a’ be thine.’
Her mantle was o velvet green,
And a’ set round wi jewels fine;
Her hawk and hounds were at her side,
And her bugle-horn wi gowd did shine.
Thomas took aff baith cloak and cap,
For to salute this gay lady:
‘O save ye, save ye, fair Queen o Heavn,
And ay weelº met ye save and see! ’º
ever well protect
‘I’m no the Queen o Heavn, Thomas;
I never carried my head sae hee;
For I am but a lady gay,
Come out to hunt in my follee.º
Now ginº ye kiss my mouth, Thomas,
Ye manna miss my fair bode; º
Then ye may eenº gang hame and tell
That ye’ve lain wi a gay ladee.’
‘O gin I loeº a lady fair,
Nae ill tales o her wad I tell,
And it’s wi thee I fain wad gae, º
Tho it were een to heavn or hell.’
would go
‘Then harp and carp, º Thomas, ’ she said,
‘Then harp and carp alang wi me;
speak, tell tales
But it will be seven years and a day
Till ye win back to yere ainº countrie.’
your own
The lady rade, True Thomas ran,
Untill they cam to a water wan; º
O it was night and nae delight.
And Thomas wade aboonº the knee.
It was dark night, and nae starn-light.º
And on they waded lang days three,
And they heard the roring o a flood,
And Thomas a waefouº man was he.
Then they rade on, and farther on,
Untill they came to a garden green;
To puº an apple he put up his hand,
For the lack o food he was like to tyne.º
‘O haudº yere hand, Thomas, ’ she cried,
‘And let that green flourishing be;
For it’s the very fruit o hell.
Beguiles baith man and woman o yere countrie.
But look afore ye, True Thomas,
And I shall show ye ferlies three;
Yon is the gateº leads to our land,
Where thou and I saeº soon shall be.
And dinna ye see yon road, Thomas,
That lies out-owrº yon lilly lee?º
Weelº is the man yon gate may gang, º
For it leads him straight to the heavens hie.
lovely lea
But do you see yon road, Thomas,
That lies out-owr yon frosty fell?
Ill is the man yon gate may gang,
For it leads him straight to the pit o hell.
Now when ye come to our court, Thomas,
See that a weel-learned man ye be;
For they will ask ye one and all,
But ye maunº answer nane but me.
And when nae answer they obtain,
Then will they come and question me,
And I will answer them againº
That I gat yere aithº at the Eildon tree.
in reply
Ilkaº seven years, Thomas,
We pay our teindingsº unto hell,
And ye’re sae leesomeº and sae strang
That I fear, Thomas, it will be yeresell.’º
pleasing yourself


1 Probably in the Bibliotheke, Pseudo-Apollodorus (1st or 2nd century AD); see OCCL (and for the story).

2 For this phrase, in a similar context, see Rymes, p. 113.

3 ‘Marsk Stig Made An Outlaw’ is in Rymes.

4 Both Otterburn and Cheviot are in Child; only Otterburn appears in this book.

5 George Lyman Kittredge, English professor and folklorist, collaborated with Child on his edition of Ballads.

6 Cited in (for example) Stewart, Philip Sidney, p. 114; Puttenham’s comment (in the paragraph above) follows on p. 115.

7 See the reference to Child, above.

8 It narrowly escaped being used for lighting the fire.

9 A few later ballads, of probable medieval origin, appear in the Appendix (below); their transmission is more obscure than those in this chapter.

10 The Complaynt of Scotland, ed. Wedderburn, pp. 50 & 52.

11 These three are printed in Child, but were not selected for this book.

12 Some of the ballads in this chapter are discussed in Gray’s Later Medieval English Literature, the section entitled Romances and Tales.

13 In Fourteenth Century Verse and Prose (pp. 168–9; notes pp. 256–7).

14 Clerical minstrel poems.

15 In The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse, no. 31 (also in Child, no. 22).

16 Child, no. 161.

17 Froissart, Chronicles, trans. Brereton, pp. 335–48.

18 This, numbered Child 116, is printed with notes in Rymes.

19 Nigel Cawthorne, A Brief History of Robin Hood, mentions this document in Chapter 3 (The Hero of the Ballads). See also Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales, Knight and Ohlgren, Introduction to Adam Bell.

20 In Selected Poems of Henryson & Dunbar: Now Lythis of ane Gentill Knycht (and ‘wyld Robein’ probably refers to Robin Hood; see notes on pp. 232–3).

21 Gray marked a note here, without indicating anything further. The poem does indeed treat William’s wife, and the queen, sympathetically; but this book is not about the way women are portrayed in his chosen texts so I have not followed up the idea.

22 This is the end of the first ‘fytte’ and the beginning of Part II.

23 The first hour of daytime, about 6 am (the second canonical hour, see OED).

24 See A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue: a horn would be blown to bring people out. Bells (next line) were rung backwards to sound the alarm.

25 In Rymes.

26 See Introduction to this text, in Rymes.

27 See Norman Davies, The Isles: A History, p. 333.

28 See chapter 10, below.

29 Rymes contains a goodly collection, as does Robin Hood eds Knight and Ohlgren.

30 The Introduction to this text, in Rymes, lists printed versions and fragments.

31 As everybody knows, Robin and his fellows could shoot at a peeled wand set in the ground at long range, splitting it every time.

32 East Yorkshire; a flat marshy area, east of Hull.

33 Rose-hips, or haws (of thorn) are more ‘stone’ than fruit.

34 PFMS, vol i, p. 165 ff.

35 For the Reliques, see Hales and Furnivall Forewords (to PFMS), pp. xxii–iii & xxxvii ff: a discussion of the contents and their importance.

36 ‘When things are at their worst, hope is at hand’. A common proverb; see Whiting B 18 & 22.

37 This king may be the same as King Henry, in Gunnhild (chapter 4, below).

38 PFMS vol. i, p. 246 ff.

39 For the Reliques, see Hales and Furnivall Forewords (to PFMS), pp. xxii–iii & xxxvii ff.

40 Child, no. 62 (in vol. ii), stanzas 21 to end.

41 The Corpus Christi Carol (see below, in ch. 7) is number 247 in The Oxford Book of Medieval Verse.

42 See [Thomas] The Romance and Prophecies of Thomas of Erceldoune, ed. Murray, where two other versions of Thomas the Rhymer are printed at pp. liii–v; but Gray probably used Child 37 C*, which is different again (in the 5-volume Child, see vol. 4 pp. 454– 5, sub 37). The Ballads are also available in a 1904 one-volume Student’s Cambridge edition, where versions A and C* are on pp. 63–6.

43 Pleasure-park. Here, and for a matching verse in Thomas of Erceldoune (pace Child’s glossary for the ballad; there is no glossary in the edition of Erceldoune), see Mawer, ‘La Folie in Place-names’.


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