Robin Hood's Golden Prize

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Robin Hood’s Golden Prize is Child ballad 147. It is a story in the Robin Hood canon which 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.


Robin Hood disguises himself as a friar in the forest and encounters two "lusty" priests on horseback (4.4). He begs the priests for a silver groat, saying he hasn't been able to get anything to eat or drink all day. The priests explain that they have no money because they have been robbed that morning. Robin tells them he thinks they're lying, and at that they speed away on their horses, but Robin soon catches up with them. He pulls them off of their horses, whereupon the priests fall on their knees and promise to pray for money. After they've prayed for an hour, Robin says they will all search themselves for the money heaven has given them. The priests pretend to search themselves and still find no money, but when Robin searches them he finds five hundred pieces of gold, which he lays out on the ground. He gives them each fifty pounds for praying so earnestly and keeps the rest for himself. Relieved to get away physically unharmed, the priests rise from their knees to go, but Robin commands them to stay until they have taken three oaths by the forest's "holy grass": that they never again will lie, that they will never try to persuade maidens to sin or lie with other men's wives, and that they will be charitable to the poor (21.3). The priests go on their way and Robin returns to the forest.[1]

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 three seventeenth-century broadside ballad versions of this tale: two in the Roxburghe ballad collection at the British Library (3.12-13 and 3.486-487), and one in the Pepys collection at Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge (2.114).[11]


Howard Pyle altered this to a tale about Little John in his The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood.


  1. ^ The parenthetical citations in this synopsis refer to the stanzas and lines of a text transcription of a seventeenth-century broadside ballad version of this tale held in the Roxburghe ballad collection at the British Library.
  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. ^


  • 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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