Argument.--The Sheriff of Nottingham secures the assistance of the High Sheriff, and besets the knight's castle, accusing him of harbouring the king's enemies. The knight bids him appeal to the king, saying he will 'avow' (i.e. make good or justify) all he has done, on the pledge of all his lands. The sheriffs raise the siege and go to London, where the king says he will be at Nottingham in two weeks and will capture both the knight and Robin Hood. The sheriff returns home to get together a band of archers to assist the king; but meanwhile Robin has escaped to the greenwood. However, the sheriff lies in wait for the knight, captures him and takes him bound to Nottingham. The knight's lady rides to Robin and begs him to save her lord; whereupon Robin and his men hasten to Nottingham, kill the sheriff, release the knight, and carry him off to the greenwood.
The latter episode--of Robin's release, at the request of his wife, of a knight taken captive by the sheriff--comes probably from a separate ballad: Robin Hood rescuing Three Squires tells a similar story. This the compiler of the Gest has apparently woven in with the story of the previous fyttes, though he has not done so very thoroughly (e.g., the inconsistency of Robin's question to the knight's wife, 'What man hath your lord i-take?' with his knowledge of the knight's defiance of the sheriff). The compiler has also neatly prepared the way for the introduction of the seventh and eighth fyttes by the knight's appeal to the king; but, having done so, he has apparently forgotten the king's undertaking to come to Nottingham, and has allowed the sheriff to anticipate that plan and capture the knight without assistance.
THE SIXTH FYTTE
Lythe and lysten, gentylmen,
And herkyn to your songe;
Howe the proudë shyref of Notyngham,
And men of armys stronge,
Full fast cam to the hyë shyref,
The contrë up to route,
And they besette the knyghtës castell,
The wallës all aboute.
The proudë shyref loude gan crye,
And sayde, 'Thou traytour knight,
Thou kepest here the kynges enemys,
Agaynst the lawe and right.'
'Syr, I wyll avowe that I have done,
The dedys that here be dyght,
Upon all the landës that I have,
As I am a trewë knyght.
'Wende furth, sirs, on your way,
And do no more to me
Tyll ye wyt oure kyngës wille,
What he wyll say to thee.'
The shyref thus had his answere,
Without any lesynge;
Forth he yede to London towne,
All for to tel our kinge.
Ther he telde him of that knight,
And eke of Robyn Hode,
And also of the bolde archars,
That were soo noble and gode.
'He wyll avowe that he hath done,
To mayntene the outlawes stronge;
He wyll be lorde, and set you at nought,
In all the northe londe.'
'I wil be at Notyngham,' sayde our kynge,
'Within this fourteennyght,
And take I wyll Robyn Hode
And so I wyll that knight.
'Go nowe home, shyref,' sayde our kynge,
'And do as I byd thee;
And ordeyn gode archers ynowe,
Of all the wyde contrë.'
The shyref had his leve i-take,
And went hym on his way;
And Robyn Hode to grenë wode,
Upon a certen day.
And Lytel John was hole of the arowe
That shot was in his kne,
And dyd hym streyght to Robyn Hode,
Under the grene wode tree.
Robyn Hode walked in the forest,
Under the levys grene;
The proud shyref of Notyngham
Thereof he had grete tene.
The shyref there fayled of Robyn Hode,
He myght not have his pray;
Than he awayted this gentyll knyght,
Bothe by nyght and day.
Ever he wayted the gentyll knyght,
Syr Richarde at the Lee,
As he went on haukynge by the ryver-syde
And lete his haukës flee.
Toke he there this gentyll knight,
With men of armys stronge,
And led hym to Notynghamwarde,
Bounde bothe fote and hande.
The sheref sware a full grete othe,
Bi him that dyed on rode,
He had lever than an hundred pound
That he had Robyn Hode.
This harde the knyghtës wyfe,
A fayr lady and a free;
She set hir on a gode palfrey,
To grene wode anone rode she.
Whanne she cam in the forest,
Under the grene wode tree,
Fonde she there Robyn Hode,
And all his fayre menë.
'God thee savë, gode Robyn,
And all thy company;
For Our derë Ladyes sake,
A bonë graunte thou me.
'Late never my wedded lorde
Shamefully slayne be;
He is fast bowne to Notinghamwarde,
For the love of thee.'
Anone than saide goode Robyn
To that lady so fre,
'What man hath your lorde ytake?'
['The proude shirife,' than sayd she.
'You may them overtake, Robyn,]
For soth as I thee say;
He is nat yet thre mylës
Passed on his way.'
Up than sterte gode Robyn,
As man that had ben wode:
'Buske you, my mery men,
For hym that dyed on rode.
'And he that this sorowe forsaketh,
By hym that dyed on tre,
Shall he never in grenë wode
No lenger dwel with me.'
Sone there were gode bowës bent,
Mo than seven score;
Hedge ne dyche spared they none
That was them before.
'I make myn avowe to God,' sayde Robyn,
'The sherif wolde I fayne see;
And if I may him take,
I-quyt then shall he be.'
And when they came to Notingham,
They walked in the strete;
And with the proudë sherif i-wys
Sonë can they mete.
'Abyde, thou proudë sherif,' he sayde,
'Abyde, and speke with me;
Of some tidinges of oure kinge
I wolde fayne here of thee.
'This seven yere, by dere worthy God,
Ne yede I this fast on fote;
I make myn avowe to God, thou proudë sherif,
It is not for thy gode.'
Robyn bent a full goode bowe,
An arrowe he drowe at wyll;
He hit so the proudë sherife
Upon the grounde he lay full still.
And or he myght up aryse,
On his fete to stonde,
He smote of the sherifs hede
With his brightë bronde.
'Lye thou there, thou proudë sherife;
Evyll mote thou cheve!
There myght no man to thee truste
The whyles thou were a lyve.'
His men drewe out theyr bryght swerdes,
That were so sharpe and kene,
And layde on the sheryves men,
And dryved them downe bydene.
Robyn stert to that knyght,
And cut a two his bonde,
And toke hym in his hand a bowe,
And bad hym by hym stonde.
'Leve thy hors thee behynde,
And lerne for to renne;
Thou shalt with me to grenë wode,
Through myrë, mosse, and fenne.
'Thou shalt with me to grenë wode,
Without ony leasynge,
Tyll that I have gete us grace
Of Edwarde, our comly kynge.'