Robin Hood's Death
Robin Hood's Death is the 120th ballad of the Child ballads collection published by Houghton Mifflin. The fragmentary Percy Folio version of it appears to be one of the oldest existing tales of Robin Hood; there is a synopsis of the story in the fifteenth century A Gest of Robyn Hode. A later broadside version of the ballad also exists, which includes the famous detail of Robin Hood's last bowshot.
In the fragmentary Percy Folio version Robin Hood goes to get himself bled (a common medieval medical practice) by his cousin, a prioress. He refuses a bodyguard that Will Scarlet offers and takes only Little John. The prioress treacherously lets out too much blood, killing him, or her lover Sir Roger of Don caster stabs him while he's weak, in revenge for Robin's side of the family inheriting their land and title. Robin Hood claims some consolation though in that he mortally wounds Roger prior to his own demise. Little John wishes to avenge him, but Robin forbids it, because he has never harmed a woman.
An old woman appears early on the journey "banning" Robin Hood. The manuscript breaks off for half a page with the outlaws asking why she is doing it. "Banning" is usually taken as "cursing" him, but may mean "lamenting" — predicting his death and weeping in advance. In the next surviving fragment Robin Hood appears to be reassuring someone who has warned him he is going to his death.
The later broadside version of this ballad omits the mysterious people (or person) Robin Hood meets on his way, and Sir Roger of Don caster, but adds the detail that Robin Hood shoots one final arrow and asks to be buried where it falls. The broadside is first recorded around the time that the Percy Folio version was first published in the mid-eighteenth century
Some versions omit the prioress's relationship to Robin, instead having her kill Robin so that Marian- who has hidden in the convent and taken orders in the belief that Robin was already dead- will inherit his title and lands, thus allowing the abbey to inherit his property.
This is now the most common account of Robin Hood's death. See Robin Hood and the Valiant Knight for a different version that commonly appeared in the Robin Hood "garlands" or collections; and also A True Tale of Robin Hood.
This version inspired the film Robin and Marian, where it is his lover, Maid Marian, now a nun, who is his downfall, poisoning Robin and herself when he suffers serious wounds in his final battle with the Sheriff of Nottingham, Marian wanting to spare him the personal anguish of living while incapable of being what he once was.
- Holt, J. C. Robin Hood p. 25 (1982) Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-27541-6.