Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Robin Hood

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ROBIN HOOD, the hero of a group of old English ballads, represented as an outlaw and a robber, but of a gallant and generous nature, whose familiar haunts are the forests of Sherwood and Barnsdale, where he fleets the time carelessly in the merry greenwood. He is ever genial and good-natured, religious, respectful to the Virgin and to all women for her sake, with a kind of gracious and noble dignity in his bearing. He lives by the king's deer, though personally most loyal, and wages ceaseless warfare on all proud bishops, abbots, and knights, taking of their superfluity, and giving liberally to the poor and to all honest men in distress, of whatever degree. He is unrivalled with the bow and quarterstaff; but in as many as eight of the extant ballads comes off the worse in the combat with some stout fellow, whom he thereupon induces to join his company. His chief comrades are Little John, Scathlok (Scarlet), and Much; to these the “Gest” adds Gilbert of the White Hand and Reynold. A stalwart curtal friar, called Friar Tuck in the title though not in the ballad, fights with Robin Hood, and apparently accepts the invitation to join his company, as he appears later in two broadsides which also mention Maid Marion. Such is the romantic figure of the greatest of English popular heroes — a kind of yeoman counterpart to the knightly Arthur.

The earliest notice of Robin Hood yet found is that pointed out by Percy in “Piers Plowman,” which, according to Skeat, cannot be older than about 1377. In the next century we find him mentioned in Wyntoun's “Chronicle of Scotland” (1420). Bower, in his “Scotichronicon” (1441-1447), describes the lower orders of his time as entertaining themselves with ballads both merry and serious about Robin Hood, Little John, and their mates, and preferring them to all others; and Major or Mair (1470-1550) says in his “Historia Maioris Britanniæ” that Robin Hood ballads were sung all over Britain. The last passage gives apparently the earliest mention of those more romantic and redeeming features of Robin Hood which earned him a place in Fuller's “Worthies of England.”

Fragments of two Robin Hood plays exist, one dating from 1475, the other printed by Copland with the “Gest” about 1550. The latter is described in the title as “very proper to be played in May-games.” Robin Hood was a popular figure in these during the 16th century, as we find from Stow, Hall, and other writers, and there is evidence that in this connection he was known as far N. as Aberdeen.