Cambridge Historical Reader: Primary - Cambridge Press

Robin Hood and his Merry Men

Most boys and girls, at some time or another, have paid a visit to a forest. How pleasant it is to play at hide and seek among the trees and bushes; to look for ferns and wild flowers; and to catch a glimpse of the birds and animals there!

In the days of Richard the Lion-Heart, very large forests were to be found in many parts of our country. One of these, called Sherwood forest, covered a great part of the middle of England. Here lived a bold outlaw named Robin Hood, and his merry men; and many stories are told of their free, wild life in the woodland.

We are told that Robin Hood, or, to give him his real name, Robin Fitzooth, had been a rich man at one time. But he had spent all his money, and, it is also said, had killed a man in a quarrel; so he fled to the woods for safety. Here he was joined by others, who, like himself, had very good reasons for hiding there.

They could not have found a better place. So thickly grew the trees and bushes that, in most places, it was a hard matter to force a way through them. Then, again, wild animals, such as deer, wild boars, hares and rabbits, were plentiful, so that there was no lack of food for men who were skilful with the bow and arrow.

In many parts of the forest there were caves, in which they could make themselves fairly comfortable. One of these is pointed out, even now, as Robin Hood's stable. Here, when the weather was wet and cold, they could take shelter, or, at the close of day, amuse themselves with merry-making and song. Sometimes a wandering minstrel, who knew he had nothing to fear from Robin and his men, would pay them a visit, and cheer them with his art.

But in the long summer days their time was spent out of doors. Dancing on the green, chasing the king's deer, and trapping smaller animals gave them fine sport.

Sherwood forest


Now, as you know, killing a deer was thought a great crime in those days, and the sheriff, as the chief man in the county was called, sadly wanted to catch Robin and his men.

But this was no easy matter, for the outlaws knew all the narrow forest paths, and the sheriff did not. It was not at all safe for any great man, or rich abbot, to go along the bridle paths—as the roads were often called—for the outlaws took a delight in robbing such people. If, however, there were any ladies in the party, no harm befell the travellers.

These outlaws, rough though they looked and seemed, had kind hearts. Many a poor man was helped by them when in trouble; and, if the rich were robbed, the poor and weak knew that Robin Hood was their friend.

The names of some of his men have come down to us in the stories of the time. Robin's chief friend was known as "Little John." His real name was said to be John Little; but as he was seven feet high, and very big and strong likewise, he was, in pure fun, always known as "Little John." Then there were Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet and Much the Miller's son.

Robin is said to have had more than a hundred men in his band. Everyone could shoot well, and all could deal an enemy some hard blows with the quarter-staff, a favourite weapon of Englishmen in the olden time. Indeed, a man had only to prove himself good at these sports, and he became one of Robin's men.

If, at any time, their leader found himself in danger of being taken, he had only to blow a horn, which hung round his neck. Very quickly his green-coated men would be at his side, to give him the help he needed.

Robin Hood is said to have lived to a very great age. When he was dying, he asked Little John to give him his bow. Then, with what strength he had left, he shot an arrow, and asked his men to bury him where it fell.

This they did; and in Yorkshire there may still be seen a flat stone, which, the country people say covers the grave of "Bold Robin Hood."