Robin Hood's Chase

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Robin Hood's Chase is Child ballad 146,[1] and a sequel to Child ballad 145, Robin Hood and Queen Katherine. This song has survived as, among other forms, a late seventeenth-century English broadside ballad, and is one of several ballads about the medieval folk hero that form part of the Child ballad collection, which is one of the most comprehensive collections of traditional English ballads.


The tale opens with an account of the archery contest in Robin Hood and Queen Katherine, for which Queen Katherine has wagered "three hundred Tun of good red wine / and three hundred Tun of Beer" (2.4-5).[Note 1] She summons Robin Hood to tell him of the match and Robin agrees to it, with the proviso that if he misses the mark, whether it be light or dark, he will be hanged. Robin wins the match against the Queen's archers, but King Henry (possibly intended as Henry VIII of England) is angry that he has won and pursues Robin in a very long chase through many towns, including Yorkshire, Newcastle, Berwick, and many others. At first, Robin is protected by the Queen, but he must flee the court before the King returns. The first village the King visits in pursuit of Robin Hood is Nottingham, where Robin is hiding in Sherwood Forest. But the King hears Robin and knows he is there, and so Little John suggests they flee to Yorkshire; from there, Robin Hood and his men pass through the fore-mentioned towns and others besides. Finally, Robin decides they should go to London; perhaps the King is chasing them because the Queen wishes to see Robin. When he meets the Queen in London, he tells her he is there to see the King and the Queen tells him of the King's pursuit to Sherwood. Robin tells her he will then go back to Sherwood to speak to Henry. The King returns after Robin has left the court, and when he hears that Robin has been there he says "Dame fortune" has been "unkind" and calls Robin a "cunning knave" (21.5, 23.4). Hearing this, the Queen begs Henry to pardon Robin Hood's life and so the chase comes to an end.

Historical and cultural significance[edit]

This ballad is part of a group of ballads about Robin Hood that in turn, like many of the popular ballads collected by Francis James Child, were in their time considered a threat to the Protestant religion.[2] Puritan writers, like Edward Dering writing in 1572, considered such tales "'childish follye'" and "'witless devices.'"[3] Writing of the Robin Hood ballads after A Gest of Robyn Hode, their Victorian collector Francis Child claimed that variations on the "'Robin met with his match'" theme, such as this ballad, are "sometimes wearisome, sometimes sickening," and that "a considerable part of the Robin Hood poetry looks like char-work done for the petty press, and should be judged as such."[4] Child had also called the Roxburghe and Pepys collections (in which some of these ballads are included) "'veritable dung-hills [...], in which only after a great deal of sickening grubbing, one finds a very moderate jewel.'"[5] However, as folklorist and ethnomusicologist Mary Ellen Brown has pointed out, Child's denigration of the later Robin Hood ballads is evidence of an ideological view he shared with many other scholars of his time who wanted to exclude cheap printed ballads such as these from their pedigree of the oral tradition and early literature.[6] Child and others were reluctant to include such broadsides in their collections because they thought they "regularized the text, rather than reflecting and/or participating in tradition, which fostered multiformity."[6] On the other hand, the broadsides are significant in themselves as showing, as English jurist and legal scholar John Selden (1584–1654) puts it, "'how the wind sits. As take a straw and throw it up in the air; you shall see by that which way the wind is, which you shall not do by casting up a stone. More solid things do not show the complexion of the times so well as ballads and libels.'"[7] Even though the broadsides are cultural ephemera, unlike weightier tomes, they are important because they are markers of contemporary "current events and popular trends."[7] It has been speculated that in his time Robin Hood represented a figure of peasant revolt, but the English medieval historian J. C. Holt has argued that the tales developed among the gentry, that he is a yeoman rather than a peasant, and that the tales do not mention peasants' complaints, such as oppressive taxes.[8] Moreover, he does not seem to rebel against societal standards but to uphold them by being munificent, devout, and affable.[9] Other scholars have seen the literature around Robin Hood as reflecting the interests of the common people against feudalism.[10] The latter interpretation supports Selden's view that popular ballads provide a valuable window onto the thoughts and feelings of the common people on topical matters: for the peasantry, Robin Hood may have been a redemptive figure.

Library/archival holdings[edit]

The English Broadside Ballad Archive at the University of California, Santa Barbara holds four seventeenth-century broadside ballad versions of this tale: one in the Pepys collection at Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge (2.104), one in the Crawford collection at the National Library of Scotland (279), and two in the Roxburghe ballad collection at the British Library (3.418–419 and 3.14–15).[11]


  1. ^ The parenthetical citations in this synopsis refer to the stanzas and lines of a text transcription of a 17th-century broadside ballad version of this tale held in the Pepys collection at Magdalene College, Cambridge.


  1. ^ Francis James Child (1898). English and Scottish Popular Ballads. Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Houghton, Mifflin and Company. Retrieved 12 August 2012. 
  2. ^ Watt (1993), pp. 39–40
  3. ^ Watt (1993), pp. 39–40, quoting Edward Dering, A brief and necessary instruction (1572), sig.A2v.
  4. ^ Child (2003), p. 42
  5. ^ Brown (2010), p. 67; Brown's italics
  6. ^ a b Brown (2010), p. 69
  7. ^ a b Fumerton & Guerrini (2010), p. 1
  8. ^ Holt (1898), pp. 37–38
  9. ^ Holt (1898), p. 10
  10. ^ Singman (1998), p. 46, and first chapter as a whole
  11. ^ "Robin Hood's Chase". English Broadside Ballad Archive. University of California, Santa Barbara. 


  • Brown, Mary Ellen (2010). "Child's ballads and the broadside conundrum". In Patricia Fumerton, Anita Guerrini & Kris McAbee. Ballads and Broadsides in Britain, 1500–1800. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company. pp. 57–72. ISBN 978-0-7546-6248-8. 
  • Child, Francis James, ed. (2003) [1888–1889]. The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. 3. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications. 
  • Fumerton, Patricia; Guerrini, Anita (2010). "Introduction: straws in the wind". In Patricia Fumerton, Anita Guerrini & Kris McAbee. Ballads and Broadsides in Britain, 1500–1800. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company. pp. 1–9. ISBN 978-0-7546-6248-8. 
  • Holt, J. C. (1989). Robin Hood. Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-27541-6. 
  • Singman, Jeffrey L. (1998). Robin Hood: The Shaping of the Legend. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-313-30101-8. 
  • Watt, Tessa (1993). Cheap Print and Popular Piety, 1550–1640. Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521458276. 

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