"King Richard hearing of the pranks
Of Robin Hood and his men,
He much admired, and more desired
To see both him and them."
When Richard Cœur de Lion came back from the Holy Land, he found England in a sad state. Prince John had ruled very badly and had done many cruel and unjust acts. He had made the people very unhappy, so they rejoiced greatly when the King returned.
He set to work at once to try to put things right again. After he had been in London a short time, he decided to go to Nottingham to find out for himself the truth about Robin Hood.
With a dozen of his lords he rode to Nottingham. He went to the castle, where he stayed for some weeks, during which time the town was very gay. There were balls and parties and all sorts of entertainments in honour of the King.
He often used to hunt in Sherwood Forest, or even wander about there by himself. But never once did he meet Robin Hood. And Robin Hood was the very person he wanted to meet most.
Other people used still to come into Nottingham with tales of having met Robin. He still stopped all the abbots and priors and haughty knights, and made them pay toll for passing through the forest. But try how he might, King Richard never met him.
Yet Robin often saw the King, and was quite near him many times. But whenever Richard came into the forest, Robin and his men used to hide. They thought that he would probably be very angry with them for killing his deer, and for taking so much money from the haughty Norman nobles and priests. So they kept out of the way.
And because they honoured and loved the King himself, they would never have dreamed of stopping him, and of taking money away from him. Indeed Robin gave orders to his men to follow the King, if he should go to any dangerous part of the wood, so that they might protect him, and fight for him if need be. For there were many other robbers in Sherwood who were wicked men, and not just and noble like Robin.
One day the King was complaining that he had never been able to see Robin. The Bishop of Hereford heard him, and said, "If you were but a Bishop, your Majesty, or even a plain monk, you might meet with him oftener than you cared for."
The King laughed and said nothing, but the next day he and his twelve nobles disguised themselves as monks, and rode out into the forest.
They had not gone very far before they met Robin, at the head of his men, ready to attack any rich knight or abbot who might pass that way.
As the King was very fine looking, and much taller than his nobles, Robin thought he must be an abbot at least. He was very glad to see him, as abbots always had a great deal of money, and just then Robin wanted some very much.
"He took the King's horse by the head:
Abbot, says he, abide;
I'm bound to rue such knaves as you,
That live in pomp and pride."
"But we are messengers from the King," said the King himself. "His Majesty sent us to say he would like to see you. As a sign he sends you this ring."
He held out his hand and Robin saw that he wore the King's ring.
In those days people used very seldom to write letters. When the King wished to send a message to any one he called a friend or servant, told him the message, and gave him a ring. This ring the messenger had to show as a sign that he really had come from the King. Then the person to whom the message was sent knew that he was not being deceived.
These rings were called signet rings, because a certain sign was carved upon them, which only the King might use.
Every one knew the King of England's ring. As soon as Robin saw it he knew that this must indeed be a messenger from Richard.
"God bless the King," said he, taking off his hat. "God bless all those who love him. Cursed be all those who hate him, and rebel against him."
"Then you curse yourself," said the King, "for you are a traitor."
"I am not a traitor," replied Robin, "and if you were not the King's messenger you should pay dearly for that lie.
"For I never yet hurt any man,
That honest is and true;
But those who give their minds to live
Upon other men's due.
I never hurt the husbandmen,
That use to till the ground;
Nor spill their blood that range the wood,
To follow hawk or hound.
"I fight most against monks and abbots, and take as much money as I can from them, because they steal it from poor people. They ought to live good lives, and show others a good example. But they do not. They live wicked lives, therefore they ought to be punished. If they had ruled England well, while King Richard was away, we should not have to live in the woods as we do. But come," added Robin, smiling again, "you are the King's messengers and therefore are welcome to all we have. You must come and have dinner with us now. We will make you as comfortable as we can."
The Knight and all his nobles wondered very much what kind of dinner they would get. They would much rather have gone back to Nottingham, for they thought it would be a very poor sort of dinner that Robin would be able to give them. But the King wanted to see more of Robin, so he thanked him and said they would be very pleased to come.
Robin again took hold of the King's horse and led him to the place where he and his men generally had meals.
"If you were not the King's messengers," he said with a laugh and a merry twinkle in his eye, "I fear we would not treat you quite so kindly. But as it is, if you had as much gold with you as ever I counted, I would not touch a penny of it."
Presently they arrived at a big, open space with tall trees round it. Here the King and his nobles saw that dinner was prepared for a great number of people. It looked like a large picnic, for everything was laid out on the grass.
Robin showed them where to put their horses, and where to sit. Then several page boys, dressed in green, came with large silver basins full of clean, fresh water. As the custom was in those days, they knelt on one knee, before each guest, so that he might wash his hands. The King was very much surprised to find everything so comfortable.
"Then Robin set his horn to his mouth,
And a loud blast did he blow,
Till a hundred and ten of Robin Hood's men,
Came marching all in a row.
And when they came bold Robin before,
Each man did bend his knee;
Oh, thought the King, 'tis a gallant thing,
And a seemly sight to see."
When the King saw that every man passed in front of Robin, and bowed to him before he went to his place, he was very much astonished. He said to himself, "These men honour their master as if he were a King. They are far more humble before him than my men are before me."
When they were all in their places, Friar Tuck said grace in Latin. Then every one sat down and dinner began.
It was a very fine dinner indeed.
"Venison and fowls were plenty there,
With fish out of the river;
King Richard swore, on sea or shore,
He never had feasted better."
Venison is the flesh of deer. No one was supposed to shoot the deer in Sherwood Forest except the King himself. When Richard saw Robin and his men feasting on his venison he hardly knew whether to be angry or to laugh.
"You say you are no traitor," said he, turning to Robin, "yet you shoot the King's deer."
"I cannot starve my men," replied Robin. "Were Richard himself here I think he would scarcely find it in his heart to grudge these fine men their food."
"Perhaps not," replied the King with a laugh; "but it is a bold thing to do. However, it is excellently cooked, and I have never enjoyed a meal better, so I at least must forgive you."
When dinner was over, Robin took a can of ale in his hand and stood up. "Let every man fill his can," said he. "Here's a health to the King."
Every man sprang to his feet, and shouting, "God save the King," drank his health.
The King himself drank to the King. He knew he must, or Robin would have found out who he was. So he stood up with the rest, and drank his own health.
"Now," said Robin, "we must amuse our guests. Get your bows and arrows and we will show what we can do in the way of archery. Shoot your very best. Shoot as if King Richard himself were here, for these gentlemen are his friends. They will tell him if you have shot well or ill when they see him again."
"They showed such brave archery,
By cleaving sticks and wands,
That the King did say, such men as they,
Live not in many lands."
"Well, Robin," then said Richard, "if I could get your pardon from the King, would you be willing to serve him and leave this wild life in the woods? Richard has need of good men and true such as you."
"Yes, with all my heart," said bold Robin Hood.
"Men, he called out, "would you be willing to serve King Richard of England—Richard Cœur de Lion?"
"Yes, with all our hearts," they shouted. Then they flung off their hoods and caps, and swore, standing bareheaded, to serve the King in everything.
"You see, Sir Abbot," said Robin, turning to him, "we are all loyal people here."
"So I see," replied the King, and his voice sounded husky.
"If you will be so kind to me as to ask the King to forgive me," went on Robin, "I think I will begin to love monks again. A Bishop was the first cause of our misfortunes, and that is what makes me hate them all. But from this day I shall try to like them again."
Then the King felt he could keep his secret no longer. He flung off the
monk's hood with which he had kept his face and head covered till now, and
"I am thy King, thy sovereign King,
That appears before you all;
When Robin saw that it was he,
Straight then he down did fall."
"Stand up again," said the King, "I give you your pardon gladly. Stand up, my friend, I doubt if in all England I have more faithful followers than you and your men."
"Stand up again," said the King
When his men saw Robin kneeling they all knelt down too, wondering very much what was going to happen next. "It's the King," whispered one man who was near enough to hear what was said. "It's the King," whispered the next one. "The King, the King," whispered one after another, till every man in Robin's band knew that King Richard himself was standing before them.
When Richard had made Robin rise and stand by his side, he turned to the men and said, "I am King Richard. Are you ready to keep the oath you swore a few minutes ago? Are you ready to follow me as your master is, and be my men?"
"That we are!" they all shouted, flinging their hats in the air. "That we are! Long live King Richard! Three cheers for Richard Cœur de Lion!"
"So they've all gone to Nottingham
All shouting as they came,
And when the people did them see,
They thought the King was slain."
Such excitement there was, when it became known that Robin and his men were marching in a body to the town, shouting and singing as they came. Some people were frightened and wanted to run away, but they did not know where to run to.
Everybody wanted to see the sight. They came out of their houses and stood in the streets or leaned from the windows; all anxious to see what was happening.
"They have killed the King," some said.
"They are coming to take the town."
"They mean to hang the Sheriff."
"And all the Normans too."
"They are going to beat all the monks and friars."
"They will pull the monastery down."
The excitement grew and grew, till every one's face was red and every throat was hoarse.
"They haven't killed the King at all," some one shouted at last.
"He is riding at the head of them along with Robin Hood. Long live King Richard. Long live Robin Hood. Hurrah! Hurrah!"
"The ploughman left his plough in the field,
The smith ran from his shop,
Old folks also that scarce could go,
Over their sticks did hop.
The King soon let them understand
He had been in the Green Wood;
And from that day, for evermore,
Had forgiven Robin Hood."
There was great rejoicing when the people heard that Robin Hood and the King were friends. They walked up and down the streets nearly all day, singing "God Save the King."
The only person who was sorry was the Sheriff. "What! Robin Hood," said he, "that creature whom I hate?"
But Robin Hood came to him and said, "Let us be friends. I want to be friends with every one to-day. See, I have brought you back the money you paid me for your dinner in the forest."
The Sheriff was delighted to get his three hundred pounds again. He was so glad that he almost forgave Robin for all the tricks he had played.
"Now," said Robin laughingly, "I have given you back your money, so you owe me a dinner for that one I gave you in the forest. Ask the King if he will honour you by coming to supper. If he does, I will come too."
The Sheriff groaned, "If I ask the King to supper it will cost me three hundred pounds and more."
"Of course it will," replied Robin. "See that it is a fine supper, and worthy of a king."
So the poor Sheriff was obliged to ask the King to supper. He came, and so did Robin Hood. It was a very fine supper indeed. But the poor Sheriff could hardly eat anything. It made him miserable to see the King and his old enemy Robin Hood such friends. And the thought of all the money he had spent made him more miserable still. He was so unhappy that he thought he should have died.
Next day they all went off to London.
"They're all gone now to London Court,
Robin Hood and all his train;
He once was there a noble peer,
And now he's there again."
But very soon after this, unfortunately, Richard Cœur de Lion died. Prince John became King as Richard had no sons.
Prince John hated Robin, so once more he had to fly to the Green Wood with all his Merry Men, and there he remained until he died many years after.