This caused Robin Hood and Sir Richard at the Lee to scrutinize the King’s features more keenly, when they recognised his Majesty in monk’s attire, and all the outlaws fell on their knees and craved pardon. In the eighth and last ‘fytte’ is a description of how Robin Hood and his men join the King’s retinue and go to Nottingham to the Court. They continue as followers of Edward for over a year, when Robin Hood, pining for the freedom of the forest, craves permission to return for a time. This is given him, and having once more gathered his band around him, he leads a merry life in the forest. The piece concludes with the end of the bold hero at Kirklees Nunnery, where his aunt, the Prioress, treacherously bled him to death.

The printer’s colophon to this lengthy composition is:

‘C (black letter) Explicit King Edwarde and Robin Hode and Lyttel Johan. Enprented at London in Flete Strete at the sygne of the Sone by Wynkin de Worde.’ In Mr. Garrick’s collection of old plays is a different edition of the same poem ‘imprinted at London upon the thre Crane wharfe by Wyllyam Copland,’ containing at the end a little dramatic piece on the subject of Robin Hood and the Friar not found in the former copy, called a ‘ newe playe for to be played in Maye games very pleasaunte and full of pastyme.’ In ‘Visions of Piers the Plowman,’ written in the reign of King Edward III., a monk says:

‘I can rimes of Robin Hood and Randal of Chester,
But of our Lorde and our Ladie I lerne nothing at all.’

Not unnaturally, when we remember that Sherwood Forest covered so large a portion of the county, stretching almost to the gates of the county town, most of the ballads popular among the peasantry centuries ago were associated with deer- stealing exploits, in which Robin Hood and his men took so prominent a part. In the last century there was a well-known ballad having for its subject a night’s expedition in Thorneywood Chase, in which the hero is made to escape the keepers, and to capture a store of venison. Returning from their free-booting errand, they are betrayed by a publican’s wife, to whom they offered to sell a portion of their ill-gotten plunder, and are tried at the Quarter Sessions, but acquitted:

‘The Sessions are over, and we’re all here,
The Sessions are over, and we all sit here;
The very best game I ever did see,
Is a duck or deer, but a deer for me.’

A series of curious traditions attaches to a pleasant little village seven miles from Nottingham, which is said to have been the scene of some foolish proceedings on the part of a number of madmen, by whom the village was inhabited early in the sixteenth century. Andrew Borde, who compiled his ‘Merry Tales of the Mad men of Gotham’ in the days of Henry VIII., gives an amusing account of these strange inhabitants of Gotham, and the stories reproduced in Stuart times constituted one of the most popular jest-books in general circulation in the days of Charles I. The village of Gotham possesses little evidence of antiquity to-day, and no old building, except the church, which is in the Early English style, containing some interesting monuments. One of its public-houses, however, perpetuates the name of Cuckoo Bush, wherein the Gothamites are said to have tried to hedge in the cuckoo. Borde’s book consisted of twenty stories, of which the following are specimens:


On a time, the men of Gotham would have pinned in the cuckoo, whereby she would sing all the year, and in the midst of the town they made a hedge round in compass, and they had got a cuckoo, and had put her into it, and said: ‘Sing here all the year, and thou shalt lack neither meat nor drink.’ The cuckoo, as soon as she perceived herself encompassed within the hedge, flew away. ‘A vengeance on her,’ said they; ‘we made not our hedge high enough.’


When that Good Friday was come, the men of Gotham did cast their heads together what to do with their white herring, their red herring, their sprats, and salt fish. One consulted with the other, and agreed that such fish should be cast into their pond or pool (the which was in the middle of the town), that it might increase again the next year; and every man that had any fish, did cast them into the pool. The one said: I have thus many white herrings;’ another said: ‘I have thus many sprats;’ another said: ‘I have thus many red herrings;’ and the other said: ‘I have thus many salt fishes. Let all go together into the pool or pond, and we shall fare like lords next Lent.’ At the beginning of the next Lent following, the men did draw the pond to have their fish, and there was nothing but a great eel. ‘Ah!’ said they all, ‘a mischief on this eel! for he hath eat up all our fish.’ ‘What shall we do with him?’ said the one to the other. ‘Kill him,’ said the one of them. ‘Chop him all to pieces,’ said another. ‘Nay, not so,’ said the other, ‘let us drown him.’ ‘Be it so,’ said all. They went to another pool or pond by, and did cast in the eel into the water. ‘Lie there,’ said they, ‘and shift for thyself: for no help thou shalt have of us,’ and there they left the eel to be drowned.

Questions have arisen as to whether the Gotham referred to was the village of that name in Nottinghamshire, or one of a similar name in Sussex; but for many years the site of the Cuckoo-bush was pointed out in the Nottinghamshire Gotham, and a local story exists that the bush was planted in commemoration of a freak played by the inhabitants on King John as he passed through on his way to Nottingham. Richard Braithwaite in his ‘Time’s Curtaine Draune,’ published in 1621, describes ‘a silly scene’ which he witnessed at Gotham, ‘a small towne nere Nottingham,’ and Barnaby, in his ‘Journal’ (1648-1650), makes a drunken traveller say:

‘Thence to Gotham, where sure am I,
Though not all fools, I saw many.’

Mr. W. Davenport Adams thinks it is quite possible that the best of the tales of Gotham were foreign in origin, were afterwards naturalized in England, and finally localized, and that the collection reprinted by Mr. Hazlitt was simply made up by Borde from his recollections of popular story-telling. Fuller says: ‘Gotham doth breed as wise men as any other place,’ and an anonymous writer expresses the sum and substance of the matter in the following lines:

‘Tell me no more of Gotham fools,
Or of their little eels in pools
Which they were told were drowning.

            *          *          *          *          *

‘The fools are those who thither go
To see the cuckoo-bush, I trow,
The wood, the barn, the pools;
For such are seen both here and there,
And passed by without a sneer
By all but arrant fools.’

A story is told in the ‘Percy Reliques’ concerning Henry II. and the Miller of Mansfield. The noble forest of Sherwood furnished abundant sport for the monarchs of Norman and Plantagenet times, and the Kings made the locality one of their favourite haunts. One day Henry II., when hunting, lost his way, and met a miller who, offering shelter to the benighted sportsman, took him home and gave him a share of his son’s bed. A search was instituted for the King, and the next morning his attendant found him at the cottage. The miller was astonished when the rank of his guest was disclosed, and the King evidently relishing the joke, conferred the honour of knighthood on his humble host, who thus rejoiced under the dignified cognomen of Sir John Cockle, and subsequently ‘overseer of Sherwood Forest.’

‘Then Sir John Cockle the King call’d unto him,
And of merry Sherwood made him o’er-seer;
And gave him out of hand three hundred pound yearlye;
Now take heed you steale no more of my deer;
And once a quarter let’s here have your view;
And now, Sir John Cockle, I bid you adieu.’

Such is the brief outline of a tradition which is somewhat coarse in the form that it originally took shape.

None of the old-world customs which lingered to a period within living memory now remain. The May-poles have disappeared, excepting in one or two parishes, notably on Wellow Green, and the old instruments of torture, the stocks, the ducking-stool, and the brank have gone for ever, though their names are perpetuated by the appellations attached to some localities. An amusing story remains of the last man in the stocks at Newark. A boon companion went to sympathize with him, and to inquire for what offence he had been seized. The old toper explained all he had been doing, on which his friend remarked: ‘Why, they can’t put you in for that!’ ‘But,’ said the prisoner, ‘I am in,’ and surely a more conclusive argument was never advanced in the whole history of rhetoric.