A famous outlaw and romantic hero of the Middle Ages. Whether he was a living man or only a legend is uncertain. Old ballads relate that Robin Hood and his followers roamed the green depths of Sherwood Forest, near Nottingham, in the center of England. There they lived a carefree life, passing the time playing games of archery, hunting the king's deer, and robbing the rich. They shared their spoils with the poor and never injured women or children.
According to some versions of the legend, Robin Hood became an outlaw by killing a deer on a wager. Then he had slain one of the king's foresters who threatened his life. A price was set on Robin's head, and he went into hiding. Soon there gathered about him other bold men who had been outlawed or deprived of their inheritances. Some of them hated the hard rule of the barons. Others loved the free life of the outdoors. More than once a man won an honored place in the band by defeating Robin Hood himself in a fair fight.
One day, when Robin was about to cross a narrow bridge, a stranger seven feet tall blocked the way. The two men fought with quarterstaves (long, stout sticks), and Robin Hood was knocked into the stream. As soon as he could scramble out of the water and catch his breath, Robin Hood praised this stranger and asked him to join his band. Thus Little John, so called because of his great size, became Robin Hood's right-hand man. Will Scarlet and Arthur-a-Bland, a tanner, also fought their way into the band. Others whose names often occur in the ballads are Will Stutely; Much, or Midge, a miller's son; and the romantic minstrel Alan-a-Dale. Robin Hood's chaplain and confessor was the fat and jovial Friar Tuck.
In later ballads Robin's sweetheart, Maid Marian, was introduced. When Robin Hood was outlawed, she dressed as a page and went to seek him in Sherwood Forest. At last they met. Both were disguised, and neither recognized the other. They fought until Robin, admiring her skill, invited Marian to join his band. Then she recognized his voice.
Robin Hood's greatest enemy was the sheriff of Nottingham. The sheriff tried by force and trickery to bring the outlaw to justice. He was always outwitted. He even announced a shooting match, feeling sure that Robin Hood would appear to show his skill as an archer. The outlaw did appear, but in disguise. He won the prize, a golden arrow, which was handed to him by the sheriff himself. Not until Robin was once more safe in Sherwood Forest did the sheriff learn how he had been deceived.
Although Robin Hood lived on the king's deer, the ballads say that the outlaw "loved no man in the world so much as his king."
According to one tale King Richard the Lion-Hearted went in disguise to Sherwood Forest and, having tested Robin Hood's loyalty, granted him a royal pardon.
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