The origins of Robin Hood have long been debated, as they will continue to be, but like today, his reputation was of such note by the sixteenth century that he was a permanent fixture in plays, poems and ballads throughout England. It was during this time that much of Robin’s tale began to acquire the details we associate with him today, such as his association with Richard the Lionhart and the Black Prince, or his skill with the sword. Yet while his tale and traits changed, he always remained the well-beloved outlaw.
The oldest known tales written down date to somewhere between about 1450 and 1500, though references to his tale exist from as early as the 1370s. The fifteenth and sixteenth century works widely vary in their tales about Robin, and provide a great study of the use of stock characters of this period. If you would like to learn more about the early tales, Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw by R.B. Dobson and J. Taylor is an well-recommended starting place.
One tale, called “Robin Hood and the Potter,” was probably written in the early sixteenth century. Unlike earlier tales, it is less suspenseful and more comedic, and no one dies in the tale. Eighty-three stanzas in length, it was probably written to be read aloud to an audience. Below is a synopsis of the tale.
Robin Hood and the Potter
A potter, who has often passed through the woods Robin Hood inhabits, is demanded by Robin to pay for passage. Upon his refusal, they fight and the potter wins. After the battle, Robin agrees to change clothes with the potter and take his wares into Nottingham to sell. Robin sells the pots cheaply and quickly, and attracts the attention of the sheriff and his wife, while still in disguise. The sheriff and his wife show Robin good hospitality and Robin demonstrates that he can shoot the bow. He then claims to know Robin Hood, and so leads the sheriff into the forest to find Robin Hood. Once in the forest, Robin and his men surround the sheriff, but because he showed Robin such great hospitality, Robin and his men let the sheriff and potter go free.