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Robin Hood and Little John

[ Roud 1322 ; Master title: Robin Hood and Little John ; Child 125 ; Ballad Index C125 ; Bodleian Roud 1322 ; GlosTrad Roud 1322 ; Wiltshire 203 ; DT RHLITJON ; trad.]

John Jacob Niles: The Ballad Book of John Jacob Niles

John Strachan of Fyvie, Aberdeenshire, sang three verses of Robin Hood and Little John on 16 July 1951 to Alan Lomax and Hamish Henderson. This recording was later released on the anthology The Child Ballads 2 (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 5; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968). It was also included in 2002 with the title The Knight and the Shepherd’s Daughter on Strachan’s Rounder anthology Songs From Aberdeenshire, and in 2011 on the anthology of Scottish recordings by Alan Lomax in 1951-57, Whaur the Pig Gaed on the Spree. Hamish Henderson and Ewan McVicar noted:

Another outlaw song, English this time. Robin meets John Little, they fight, and John eventually beats Robin. They then become friends and Robin renames John ‘Little John’ because he is so tall—a small jest to have survived so many years. The once-so popular Robin Hood ballads seem of astonishing length. John’s verses here are numbers 1, 7, and 18 of a 39-verse text given by F. J. Child, but several other Robin Hood ballads run to 90 or more verses.

Roy Harris sang Robin Hood and Little John in 1977 on his Topic album of songs and ballads, By Sandbank Fields. He noted:

A number of Robin Hood songs have the same story—meeting, challenging and being beaten by a stranger, calling up the gang and enlisting the doughty one as a recruit. A neat reversal of the old saying “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!” The changing of the name adds a bit to the story here. Words from Ritson’s Robin Hood, tune from me, and a recording debut on dulcimer by my son, Neil. Welcome, son!


John Strachan sings Robin Hood and Little John

When Robin Hood was aboot twenty years old
He happened to meet Little John.
A jolly bridge blade, just fit for the trade,
And he was a sturdy young man.

They happened to meet in Nottingham Bridge
And neither of them would give way.
Quo brave Robin Hood in right merry mood,
“I’ll show you right Nottingham play!”

Robin laid on sae thick and sae hard.
He made Little John tae admire.
And every knock it made his bones smoke
As if he had been in a fire.

Roy Harris sings Robin Hood and Little John

When Robin Hood was about twenty years old
He happened to meet Little John,
A right merry blade and fit for the trade,
And he was a gallant young man.

Though he was called Little, his limbs they were large,
And his stature was seven feet high;
Wherever he came, they quaked at his name,
For soon he could make them to fly.

They happened to meet on a long narrow bridge
And neither of them would give way.
Said bold Robin Hood and sturdily stood,
“I’ll show you right Nottingham play!”

"Thou talk like a coward," the stranger replied,
“Well armed with a long bow you stand
To shoot at my breast, while I, I protest,
Have nought but a staff in my hand.”

“The name of a coward” said Robin, “I scorn.”
Therefore my long bow I’ll lay bay;
Now, for thy sake, a staff will I take,
The test of the battle to try.”

“Here is a staff and it’s lusty and tough,
And here on the bridge we will play.
Whoever falls in the other shall win
The battle and so we’ll away.”

Now Robin, he gave the stranger a blow
So hard that he made his bones ring.
The stranger he said, “This must be repaid;
I’ll give you as much as you bring.”

The stranger gave Robin a crack on the crown
Which caused the blood to appear.
And Robin, enraged, more fiercely engaged
And laid on his blows more severe.

It’s then, in a fury the stranger he grew
And gave him a damnable look,
And with it a blow that laid him full low
And tumbled him into the brook.

“I pray thee, good fellow, where art thou now?”
The stranger he laughed and he cried.
Said bold Robin Hood, “Good faith, in the flood
And floating along with the tide.”

“Well, I must acknowledge thou art a brave soul,
With thee I’ll no longer content;
For needs must I say, thou hast won the day,
Our battle shall be at an end.”

The sound of his horn to the valley did fly
At which his brave bowmen appeared
And clothed in green, all fine to be seen,
And up to their master they steered.

“O, what is the matter?” said William Stutely,
“Good master, you are wet to the skin.”
“No matter,” said he, “the lad that you see
In fighting has tumbled me in.”

“O, here is my hand,” the stranger replied,
“I’ll serve you with all of my heart
My name is John Little, a man of good mettle
Don’t doubt me for I’ll play my part.”

“Your name shall be altered,” said William Stutely,
“And I will your godfather be;
Prepare then a feast, and none of the least,
And we will right merry be.

“This fellow was called John Little,” said he,
“Which name should be changed anon.
The words we’ll transpose, wherever he goes
His name shall be called Little John.”

And so, ever after, as long as he lived,
Although he was proper and tall,
Yet, nevertheless, the truth to express,
Still Little John they did him call.