Leave a comment
The Sheriff Who Came to Dinner with Robin Hood
Download the audio (13 min 13 sec)
Robin Hood liked to invite guests to dine with him at his table in Sherwood Forest. If his guests were rich and powerful he would ask them to pay for their dinner with gold or jewels. But if they were poor or down on their luck, he would help them out with money from his own coffers. In this story, I’ll tell you how Robin entertained the Sheriff of Nottingham – and he was very rich and powerful indeed.
Robin Hood’s most trusted outlaw was Little John. In fact, there was nothing little about him at all. He was huge. And if there was one thing that he really loved it was his food. In particular, he liked to eat venison – which is the meat of deer. There were plenty of deer in Sherwood Forest, but it was forbidden to shoot them by punishment of death. The law didn’t stop Little John, because he feared nothing or nobody.
Sometimes he would arrive at Robin Hood’s lair with a bag full of hares, partridges, and pheasants and he would say to Robin:
“Come on my friend, let’s get a good fire going. I’ll soon have these ready for roasting and what a fine dinner we shall have.”
But quite often Robin would make Little John wait for his dinner until a rich and respectable guest had come to join them. And at those times, when Little John was hungry, he would become very tetchy and bad-tempered indeed. All the other robbers who lived with Robin Hood would stay out of his way, because nobody wanted to get into a fight with a man as big and strong as Little John.
One day, Robin asked Little John to go into the city of Nottingham to see if he could pick up any news or gossip. It so happened, that on that same day there was a shooting competition in the market place. Little John could not resist a chance to show of his skill with his bow and arrow, and he paid the fee of one penny to join the contest.
Each archer had to shoot an arrow into a post. Those who missed dropped out, and those that hit went on to the next round when the posts were moved further back. Little John split six posts down the middle with his arrows. Nobody else could match him.
The Sheriff of Nottingham gave him the first prize and declared:
“This man is the best archer that I ever did see. Say now, my hearty young man, what is your name and where were you born?”
“I was born in Yorkshire,” replied Little John. “And my name is Reynold Grenelef.
“Well then, Reynold Grenelef,” said the Sheriff, “Come and work for me. I will pay you 20 marks a year and give you food and shelter.”
If he had known who Little John really was, he would have taken him not to his house, but to his gaol, for the Sheriff was the law around those parts, and the law had no greater enemies than Robin Hood and Little John.
At first Little John tried to think of a cheeky reply to the Sheriff’s offer, and then he thought to himself.
“So help me. I shall be the worst servant he ever had.”
And he said out loud: “I thank your Lordship. I shall come to your house this evening and start my service for you. I promise that you will never have another servant the like of Reynold Grenelef.”
That evening, Little John settled into his new home in the servant’s quarters in the mansion belonging to the Sherriff of Nottingham. He had not eaten all day, and so he called out to the steward who was in charge of the dining hall:
“Good Steward I pray, when will dinner be?”
To which the Steward replied:
“There will be no dinner for you till the master gets back.”
“And when will that be?” asked Little John.
“Not till next week, for he’s gone hunting with the Abbot.”
At this, Little John picked up the steward and began to shake him:
“What? A whole week without food? That will be the worse for my temper, and your head, for I swear I’ll take a crowbar and beat you with it.”
The butler heard the row, and came to give the new servant a clout round the ears, but when I saw the size of Little John, he held back. Little John pushed past him and kicked door open.
Inside the kitchen he found a keg of wine, which he cracked open and began to guzzle from. Then he seized a leg of lamb out of the pantry, and started to tear chunks of meat off it with his teeth.
The cook had not seen Little John before, and was amazed that a stranger should dare to burst into his kitchen and help himself to food and drink. He came up to Little John and gave him three good punches in the belly:
“Little John looked up and said:
“Give me more of those. I liked them well.”
Then the cook drew his sword, and Little John drew his, and as neither would back away, they set about each other with their blades.
Out on the road they fought, and across the green. Their clashing steel made so much noise that you might have thought that two whole armies were in battle. Their swords were made thick and strong for breaking open armour. But neither man grew tired as they wielded their heavy weapons for over an hour.
“I swear by my true life,” said Little John, “That you are the best swordsman that I ever did see. If only you can shoot as well with a bow, then you should come with me to Green Wood and join the band of Robin Hood. You’ll have three new sets of clothes a year and 20 marks for your purse.”
And the cook replied:
“Set down your sword and we shall be friends.”
And as they were both hungry after the fight, they went back to the Sheriff’s house and stuffed themselves with sweetmeats from the pantry. After that, they gathered all the precious things that they could find around the house. They took goblets and plates, trays and caskets. Nor did they forget the silver spoons. They found a crowbar and broke into the safe where they fond plenty of money in gold coins. All this they put into a chest and rode off with it to Green Wood and Robin Hood.
Robin was greatly amused by Little John’s story of his time in the service of the Sheriff, and he was indeed pleased with the chest full of loot. But he said:
“I cannot eat off the Sheriff’s plate unless his Lordship joins us here in Green Wood for dinner.”
And thinking this over, Little John said:
“Then let me fetch the Sheriff to you.”
He rode off across the forest to the Sheriff’s hunting lodge, and waited for him to return back from the day’s hunting with his hounds. When the Sheriff saw his new servant the said:
“So look who it is. Reynold Grenelef. What brings you here my man?”
Little John knelt before him and said:
“Good master. Five miles from here is one of the fairest sights I ever did see : Tender young hares and a herd of sixty or more deer. I did not dare aim my arrows for fear of the law, but thought I’d come and to tell you what I saw.”
The Sheriff replied that it would be a delight to watch Little John display his hunting skills with the Long Bow and arrow and added:
“Fear not the law, for I am the law here and I would love to see this sport.”
Then Little John led the Sheriff across the forest but not to the hunting grounds, for he took him instead to the camp of Robin Hood and his band of outlaws.
When the Sheriff saw that he was surrounded by brigands he exclaimed:
“Reynold Grenelef. You have betrayed me!”\
And Little John replied.
“Master, I swear it was not my fault, for your steward and your butler would not give me dinner.”
Then Little John made the Sheriff take off his fine clothes and gave them to his cook, who put them on.
Robin invited the Sheriff, just wearing his shirt and britches, to sit down at his table, with this cook on one side and his “servant”, Little John, on the other. He placed before him his own silver plate, and filled his own goblet with wine. The feast was a good one, but the Sheriff had lost his appetite. He did not believe that he would leave the forest alive.
“Cheer up Lord Sheriff,” said Robin, “For I give you your life. You can live here with me for a year and I’ll teach you to be an outlaw.”
The Sheriff replied: “Better that in the morning you cut off my head.”
And Robin said: “Better in the morning that you should go free. But first you must swear an oath by St. Mary that you will never do any harm to me or my men.”
The Sheriff was too proud to agree to such a promise right away, but in the morning, after a night as the guest of Robin Hood, he thought better of it, and he agreed to swear the oath:
“For as long as I live I shall be Robin Hood’s best friend, and if any day or night, by water or by land, I shall ever find Robin Hood or any of his men, I shall help them in any way I can.”
And when he had sworn his oath, the Sheriff went on his way home, still wearing just his shirt and britches, and riding on a mule.