Who hasn't heard of Robin Hood? He could make a claim to be the most famous Englishman who ever lived. His story has been told and retold many times. We have tried to stay true in spirit to one of the earliest ballads about the famous robber, A Gest of Robyn Hode."
The word "gest" is old English, and a bit of a pun. It could mean a "jest" or a "guest" and it has an ancient meaning as a "heroic deed".
Normally Robin likes to entertain his guests in Sherwood Forest with food and wine, before relieving them of their gold. But in this story his guest is a sad Knight who has no money to surrender. Instead, Robin lends him money so that he can repay a loan to the cruel Abbot.
As in all Robin Hood stories, anybody in authority is a baddie (except King Richard) - and that includes the leaders of the church who are abusing their power.
More episodes will follow.
Read by Natasha. Duration 14.18
Proofread by Claire Deakin.
The Guest of Robin Hood
Of all the thieves and highway robbers who have ever lived, by far the politest was Robin Hood. He liked to entertain those he robbed as guests in his own home. Although his home was a rough camp in Greenwood, which was in the thickest and darkest part of Sherwood forest. His table was always heavy with rich food and wine. He was very choosy about those whom he invited to his lair. He only liked to rob the best sort of people; nobles, knights, barons, and leading figures of the church. He treated his victims with such great courtesy and hospitality that afterwards some of them said that it had been a privilege to have been robbed by Robin Hood.
One day Robin and his men had been out shooting game in the King’s forest. It was this habit that had made them outlaws in the first place – for the King’s brother, John, had declared that all the forests belonged to him – and anyone who hunted there without his permission would face severe punishment. King Richard himself would not have deprived the foresters of food, but he was away fighting wars overseas. While he was away, his brother John ruled England with cruelty and injustice.
On this day the hunting had been good, and Robin Hood and his men were looking forward to a fine dinner.
“But let us not be greedy and keep all this fine food for ourselves,” said Robin. “I will not eat until I have a worthy guest at my table. Little John, go and find me a fitting guest and invite him to dine with us.”
Little John’s real name was John Little, but everyone called him Little John because he was so huge. He was six foot five inches tall and as broad as a tree. He was Robin’s most trusted partner in crime, and feared nothing and nobody – not even Robin. Although he was hungry, he agreed to go and find a guest. He took two of the best men – Will Scarlet and Much the miller’s son. They went up to the highway to wait for a suitable guest to come along.
The road was quiet and they waited an hour or more for a suitable victim. At last a knight came riding down the road. As he drew near they saw that he was lost in thought, and there was a look of great sadness on his face. The three men jumped out and pointed their arrows at his chest. Their long bows were so powerful that they could easily pass through any armoured breast plate or chain mail.
“Cheer up gentle Sir Knight,” called out Little John. “You are invited to the table of my master for dinner tonight.”
The knight was startled and replied, “But I plan to dine in Barnslydale tonight, for tomorrow I must go to see the Abbot on urgent business.”
“Tis a pity,” said Little John, still aiming his arrow at the knight’s chest, “For my master will take great offence should you refuse his kind invitation.”
“And who might your master be?” asked the knight.
“His name should be known to all who pass by Sherwood Forest, for it is Robin Hood.”
“In that case I shall come,” said the knight, “For I have heard much about him.”
Will Scarlet placed a blindfold over the knight’s eyes, and they led him through the forest to the hideaway. Robin greeted the knight with great courtesy;
“Welcome to Greenwood gentle Sir Knight, all ours is yours.” They washed their hands together in the stream, and then they dined on pheasant, trout, cuts of venison, and barley bread, then swilled it down with plenty of red wine.
“I have not eaten such a dinner in these last three months,” declared the knight, “and if you visit my castle, I shall make you a fine feast in return.”
“Ah,” said Robin, “I would much prefer, kind sir, that you paid before you leave – for it is the custom in Greenwood that a peasant’s son such as I should not pay for a knight.”
The sad expression returned to the knight’s face.
“I have but ten shillings,” he said.
Robin had not entertained such a poor guest at his table before.
“If what you say is true,” he said, “I will not take one penny off you. Indeed, I shall lend you money from my own coffers.”
Robin sent Little John to look through the Knight’s belongings. When he had checked them he said, “Our gentle knight is indeed a pauper.”
“How come so poor?” Asked Robin.
The sad knight told his story: He had a son who was a fine, strong, but hot-tempered young man. He liked to joust, and in a contest he had killed the son of a baron. The baron demanded blood money of four hundred pounds, and if it was not paid, the knight’s son would be put on trial for murder and executed. In those days, four hundred pounds was a great deal of money, and although the knight had a steady income from his lands, he did not have such a sum ready to give. He was forced to borrow from a wealthy churchman, the Abbot of the Monastery of St. Mary. The Abbot gave the knight just three months to repay the loan, and if he failed to pay back the money in that time, the knight must give the Abbot all his land instead. The time of the loan was almost up, and the Knight was travelling to the Abbot to plead for more time to pay,
“But the Abbot did not become rich by showing mercy,” said the knight, “and therefore I fully expect that by tomorrow evening I will truly be a landless pauper. I plan to take a ship and join King Richard who is fighting in the Holy Lands.”
"Too many good knights are overseas," said Robin, "which is why there is so much injustice at home. No, by St. Mary who is dear to me, I shall make you a loan of four hundred pounds and you shall repay the Abbot."
The next day at the Monastery of St. Mary, a monk spoke to the Abbot:
“Your Worshipful Grace... Today the knight must repay his loan or forfeit his lands.”
“He will surely forfeit,” replied the Abbot, “for I do not think he will find four hundred pounds in so short a time.”
When the knight and Little John arrived outside the Monastery, they changed into their poor clothes again, before entering and asking to see the Abbot.
The porter at the gate said, “That surely is the shabbiest and saddest looking Knight that I ever did see.”
Inside the main hall, the knight knelt down before Abbot. The Abbot did not greet him, but said straight out, “Well, have you brought my money?”
“Not one penny,” replied the knight.
The monk said, "Then why did you come to waste His Grace’s time like this? Your lands are lost. Go away."
“I came,” said the knight, “to ask for mercy and more time to pay.”
“You shall not have a minute more,” said the Abbot. “Your lands are mine. Be off.”
“If you give me more time, I shall serve you faithfully,” said the knight. “Show mercy, for it is good to help one who has need.”
At this the Abbot swore a great oath and roundly cursed him.
“Out false knight! Speed out of my hall!” he shouted.
“I am no false knight,” replied the debtor. With that he opened his bag and emptied the gold onto the floor. “If you had shown mercy, I would have repaid your debt and served you faithfully, but as it is, here is your money. Now the papers to my land, Your Grace, if you please.”
The Abbot had no choice but to hand back the deeds to the knight’s land – although he was sorry to do so, for it was worth a good deal more than four hundred pounds in gold.
Two day’s later, the knight returned to his castle wearing his sad expression. “Are we paupers?” Asked his wife. “No,” said he, brightening up, "we are saved. God bless Robin Hood!”
A year passed, and the knight gathered together four hundred pounds to repay his debt to Robin. He also made 100 arrows and had them plumbed with peacock feathers as a gift to show his gratitude.
A good friar arranged a meeting with Robin beneath a great oak tree in Greenwood. On the way, the knight stopped to watch a wrestling match between the son of a nobleman and a peasant. The two men pushed, grappled, arm locked, tripped, and threw each other, but the peasant was the stronger, and he soon had the nobleman’s son pinned to the ground and unable to move. He claimed his prize – a pound in gold – but the nobleman’s friends would not pay. Instead, the judge of the contest drew his sword and was about to kill the peasant for his impudence.
Seeing this, the knight rode up and declared, “The man that harms the victor of this match will have to contend with me!” The nobleman’s friends did not want to take on a knight, and they released the peasant.
“Follow me,” said the knight, “and I will take you to join Robin Hood and his men.”
The peasant agreed, for he knew that if he did not, the noblemen would get him later.
The knight arrived late for his meeting with Robin, and when he explained what had delayed him on the way, Robin said, “Gentle Sir Knight, consider the four hundred pounds a gift, for I will not accept a penny from a man who stands up for justice.”
“Then take these,” said the knight, and he showed Robin the 100 arrows plumbed with peacock feathers.
That evening the gentle knight was a guest at Robin’s table for a second time, and they feasted until they could eat no more.