Cecil Sharp's Note 04 (1916)

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No. 4. Robin Hood and the Tanner

This was sung to me by a blind man, eighty-two years of age, who told me that he learned it when a lad of ten, but that he had not sung it, or heard it sung, for forty years or more. He varied the several phrases of the tune, which is in the Dorian mode, in a very free and interesting manner (see English Folk Song: Some Conclusions, p. 21). I have chosen from these variations those which seemed to me to be the most characteristic. Except for one or two minor alterations, the words are given in the text precisely as they were sung to me.

The Robin Hood ballads, which, centuries ago, were extremely popular (although they were constantly denounced by the authorities), are now but rarely sung by the country folk. Those that have recently been collected are printed in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society (volume i, pp. 144 and 247; volume ii, p. 155; volume iii, pp. 61 and 268; and volume v, p. 94).

The words in the text follow with astonishing accuracy the corresponding stanzas of a black-letter broadside, which formerly belonged to Anthony à Wood, and is now preserved in the Bodleian Library. A copy of this broadside is printed in Ritson’s Robin Hood, by Child (No. 126), and also on two 17th century Garlands. The full title on the black-letter is:

“Robin Hood and the Tanner; or, Robin Hood met with his Match. A merry and pleasant song relating the gallant and fierce combat fought between Arthur Bland, a tanner of Nottingham, and Robin Hood, the greatest and noblest archer in England. Tune is, Robin Hood and the Stranger.”

The first verse runs:

In Nottingham there lives a jolly tanner With a hey down, down, a down, down. His name is Arthur-a-Bland, There is never a squire in Nottinghamshire Dare bid bold Arthur stand.

Ritson gives a tune which, however, bears no resemblance to the Somerset air, in the text.

Robin Hood is said to have been born in Locksley in Nottinghamshire about 1160, in the reign of Henry II. He was of noble blood, and his real name was Robert Fitzooth, of which Robin Hood is a corruption. He was commonly reputed to have been the Earl of Huntingdon, and it is possible that in the latter years of his life he may have had some right to the title. He led the life of an outlaw in Barnsdale (Yorks), Sherwood (Notts), and in Plompton Park (Cumberland), and gathered round him a large number of retainers. His chief lieutenants were Little John, whose surname is believed to have been Nailor; William Scadlock (Scathelock or Scarlet); George-a-Green, pinder or pound keeper of Wakefield; Much, a miller’s son; and Friar Tuck. It is said that he died in 1247, at the age of eighty-seven, at the Kirkleys Nunnery in Yorkshire, whither he had gone to be bled, and where it is supposed that he was treacherously done to death.

The Robin Hood ballads were no doubt founded upon the French trouvère-drama, “Le Jeu de Robin et Marion,” which, in its turn, was only a dramatized version, largely etiological, of the Nature myth, Robin and Maid Marian being the lineal descendants of the King and Queen of the May-day ceremonies. In this connection it is interesting to note that country singers invariably call “Robin Hood,” “Robin o’ the ’ood,” that is, of the wood.