On the day of this great match, the king’s bowmen, who were thought the best archers in all England, were ranged on one side. After a time, the queen’s champions came in, and were ranged on the other side; they were all strangers, and no man in the court knew any of them. King Richard then declared what the prize was that should be bestowed upon the conquerors, and the lords of the court began to make bets upon the venture. The bets were three to one in favour of the king’s men. “Is there no knight of the privy council,” said Queen Eleanor, “who will venture his money on my side? Come hither to me, Sir Robert Lee, thou art a knight of high descent.” Sir Robert Lee begged the queen to excuse him from such a trial. “Come hitherto me, thou Bishop of Hereford,” said Queen Eleanor, “for thou art a noble priest.” Now this bishop was Robin Hood’s old foe. “By my silver mitre,” said the bishop, “I will not bet a penny.” “If thou wilt not bet on the queen’s side,” said Robin Hood, “what wilt thou bet on the king’s?” “On the king’s side,” said the bishop, “I will venture all the money in my purse.” “Throw thy purse on the ground,” said Robin Hood, “and let us see what it contains.” It was a hundred pounds. Robin Hood took a bag of the same value from his side, and threw it upon the green.
When the match was just going to begin, Queen Eleanor fell upon her knees to the king her son. “A boon! a boon!” said she, “I must ask a boon of thee before the trial begins.” “What is it ?” said King Richard. “Why,” replied the queen, “that you will not be angry with any of those that are of my party; and that they shall be free to stay in our court all the days of the match, and shall then have forty days to retire when they like.” The king agreed to this. When the keepers of the course were marking out the distance from which they should shoot at the butt, their captain cried out, like a bold boaster as he was, “Measure no mark for us, we will shoot at the sun and the moon.” But he was mistaken; for Robin Hood and his party cleft with their arrows every wand and stick that was set up, and won all the money. Said the Bishop of Hereford, “I know very well now who these fellows are; they are Robin Hood and his gang.” The king replied, “If I had known that, I would not have granted them leave to depart; but I cannot break my word.” Saying this, King Richard ordered a noble feast for Robin Hood and his yeomanry; and then sent them away with honour.
King Richard often thought upon what he had seen of Robin Hood and his fellows. He was very fond of archery; he had heard of many generous actions that were told about them, and he admired their gallant spirit and manners. Thought he, “If I could but make these men my faithful subjects, what a pride they would be to my court!” The king at last fixed upon a plan by which he might see Robin Hood once more.
He called twelve lords of his court, and told his plan to them; and then he and his lords all dressed themselves like so many monks, and away they rode to Sherwood Forest. Robin Hood saw them at a distance, as they were coming, and resolved to rob them. The king was taller than the rest, and Robin Hood judged that he was the abbot; so he took the king’s horse by the bridle, and said, “Abbot. I bid you stand: it was a priest that first worked my ruin, and I have sworn to spare none of his fellows.” “But we are going on a message from the king,” said Richard. Robin Hood then let go the bridle, and said, “God save the king! and confound all his foes!” “Thou cursest thyself,” said Richard, “for thou art a robber, an outlaw, and a traitor.” “If you were not his servant,” said the other, “I should say, You lie; for I never yet hurt man that was honest and true, but only those who give their minds to live upon other people’s earnings. I never hurt the farmer who tills the ground; I protect women and children; and the poor for twenty miles round are the better for me.”
Robin Hood then asked the strangers to dine with him. “You would not be used so,” said he, “if you were not the king’s servants: yet, for King Richard’s sake, if you had as much money as ever I told, I would not deprive you of a penny.” Then Robin Hood put his horn to his mouth, and blew a shrill blast, when a hundred and ten of his company came marching all in a row. The king thought, “This is a fine sight:” these men of Robin Hood’s obey their captain better than his people did him.”
After dinner, the king said to Robin, “What would you give, my brave fellow, if I could get your pardon from the king? Would you set your mind firmly in every thing to be a true and useful subject?”
This was the very thing that Robin wanted; it was the wish that had haunted his thoughts night and day: it was with the hope of this that he made the rich present to Queen Eleanor.
“My friend,” said Robin, “I am tired of the lawless life that I lead: I never loved it. Other men may praise my bold adventures and generous actions; but I hate my way of living, and every thing that belongs to it. King Richard is a noble prince and a gallant soldier; and, if he would take me into his favour, he should never have reason to repent it, but should find me the most faithful and loving of alt his subjects.”
“I am King Richard,” said the stranger: and, when he had said this, Robin and all his company fell upon their knees before him.
“Stand up, my brave fellows,” said the king; “you have been robbers, and you ought not to have been such. The greatest miser in my kingdom ought not to be treated with force, but to be persuaded to dispose of his money properly. But you are brave fellows; you say that you are well inclined, and you have power and skill to do me service. I freely grant to every one of you my pardon. Not one of you shall be called to account for any thing that is past; only take care that you behave yourselves in such a manner in future, that I never may have reason to repent the kindness that I now treat you with.”
From Robin Hood: being a complete history of all the notable and merry exploits performed by him and his men on many occasions. London: William Darton, 1822.