Robin Hood and the Potter [Child 121]

DESCRIPTION: A potter defeats Robin. Robin disguises himself as the potter. He sells pots in Nottingham, giving some to the Sheriff's wife. She invites him home. He offers to take the Sheriff to Robin. Robin robs the Sheriff, sending him home with a horse for his wife
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1795 (Ritson); manuscript copy almost certainly made by 1505, and probably before 1470
KEYWORDS: Robinhood fight trick disguise gift
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Child 121, "Robin Hood and the Potter" (1 text, with "The Playe of Robyn Hode" in an appendix)
Leach, pp. 352-360, "Robin Hood and the Potter" (1 text)
Niles 44, "Robin Hood and the Potter" (1 text, 1 tune -- as dubious as any other JJN Robin Hood ballad. In this case, he claimed it was from, ahem, the wife of "Potsie" Cobb. Like the Niles text of "Robin Hood and the Monk," this is a summarization of the plot of the Child text in what appears to be deliberately dumbed-down verse)
ADDITIONAL: R. B. Dobson and J. Taylor, _Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw_, University of Pittsburg Press, 1976, pp. 125-132, "Robin Hood and the Potter" (1 text, newly edited from the manuscript); also a facsimile of the first page of the manuscript facing p. 124
Stephen Knight and Thomas Ohlgren, editors, _Robin Hood and Other Oudlaw Tales_, TEAMS (Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages), Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 2000, pp. 57-79, "Robin Hood and the Potter" (1 text, newly edited from the sources)

Roud #3979
The Potter and Robin Hood
NOTES: This is considered by J. C. Holt (following Child and others), to be one of the five "basic" Robin Hood ballads. (For more details on the history of the early texts, see the notes on "A Gest of Robyn Hode" [Child 117]).
Although early, the "Potter" can hardly be considered an original piece; there is a similar story told of Hereward the Wake, the English rebel against the Norman Conquest. Hereward, knowing an attack on his stronghold of Ely was coming, decided to try to spy out the plan. Leaving the island, he met a potter, and persuaded him to lend the outlaw enough pots to pretend to be a potter. Hereward then visited the Norman camp, and (pretending not to understand French) learned what he needed to learn to foil the plot (Keen, p. 18). On pp. 23-25, Keen notes that the story was also told of Eustace the Monk, who was constantly disguising himself in one way or another -- and Eustace wasn't even English; he was from Flanders. Clearly the tale was adapted to Robin Hood rather than original to him.
It is widely stated that "Robin Hood and the Butcher" [Child 122] is an updated version of this song. This is highly likely, but, given the number of similar tales, we perhaps must consider the matter not quite proved; the "Butcher" might just possibly be derived from a tale of Hereward or Eustace or someone.
Fully half the Robin Hood ballads in the Child collection (numbers (121), 123, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 130, 131, 132, (133), (134), (135), (136), (137), (150), with this one being the earliest) share all or part of the theme of a stranger meeting and defeating Robin, and being invited to join his band. Most of the others are late, but it makes one wonder if Robin ever won a battle.
This is probably the earliest, and in many ways the best, example of this genre, though it is hardly typical (since it has a second part dealing with the trick played on the Sheriff). Paul Stamler offers the following only-mildly-exaggerated description of the typical ballad of this type:
"Robin Hood meets just about anyone and they quarrel about something really stupid. Robin picks a fight, and since the other person is always bigger, stronger, and a better fighter, he wins. Robin then makes nice with him and invites him to join all the other people who've beaten him up. Somewhere during all this, Robin raises an extremely symbolic horn to his lips. Privately, everyone in Robin's band agrees that Robin would do better if he stayed on his meds."
It appears the sole manuscript of the Potter was owned by someone who gave the Latin version of his name as Ricardo Calle; his merchant's mark and signature ("Iste liber constat Ricardo calle") is in the manuscript (a copy can be seen on p. 71 of Ohlgren/Matheson).
The hand used is not overly neat, and I notice some minor differences with the letterforms used in the text of the "Potter" itself (there is a specimen facing p. 124 of Dobson/Taylor), but they are similar enough that they might be from the same scribe. (If so, then Calle was not the neatest writer; Dobson/Taylor, p. 124, say that the manuscript shows curious orthography and erroneous repetitions.)
I am not a paleographer, but the curved subscripts of the "Potter" manuscript clearly did not come into use until the fifteenth century and continued into the sixteenth (see the samples on pp. 480-490 and 540-560 of Thompson). Solely on the basis of the writing, a date c. 1500 for the manuscript (as given, e.g., by Child) seems about right.
Ohlgren believes the owner was a man he titles Richard Call, a servant of the Pastons of Norfolk (Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 21). The earliest Robin Hood play, which parallels the story of "Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne" [Child 118], also gives indications of being from the Paston archives, and we know that one of the Paston servants had played Robin Hood in a drama. Thus there is a strong Paston link to our earliest substantial Robin Hood materials, making it likely that the Pastons' Call, or some member of his family, was indeed the owner of the manuscript.
We know a good deal about this Richard Call from other sources, although few others use the surname "Call"; most give him the name "Calle" -- so e.g. Paston/Davis, p. 178; Caster, p. 131; Kendall, p. 394. The Pastons sometimes called him by the initials "R.C." (Paston/Davis, p. 177), but often spell it out as "Richard Calle"; (e.g. Fenn/Ramsay, vol. I p. 109); in vol. I p. 36, we find the man himself signing his name "Richard Calle". There are quite a few letters from Calle in the Paston correspondence (e.g. Paston/Davis, p. 17=Fenn/Ramsay, Vol. II, p. 25 is a love letter to Margery Paston).
Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 72, suggests that Calle died some time after 1504, and conjectures that he was born around 1431. Castor, p. 215, suggest that he was in his late thirties when Margery Paston was 20 or 21, which comes to about the same date. He is first mentioned in one of the Paston letters from 1453 (Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 72). Paston/Davis, p. 61, says that he became head bailiff of the Paston lands around 1455, four years before the death of Sir John Fastolfe in 1459, which set in motion a decades-long inheritance problem involving the Pastons (and, as a result, Calle) and kept the post for at least a quarter of a century. The Pastons spent many years struggling to make good their claim to the Fastolfe inheritance (cf. Wagner, p. 196; Kendall, p. 394. According to Castor, pp. 155-156, Calle was imprisoned in 1461 as an innocent sort-of-bystander in the dispute).
In 1469, against the family's wishes, Calle married a Paston daughter. (John Paston III exploded to John Paston II, "he shall never have my good will for to make my sister to sell candle[s] and mustard at Framlingham"; Paston/Davis, p. 177=Fenn/Ramsay, vol. II, p. 24). Castor, p. 215, thinks that their anger was the result of a family newly risen in status not wishing to have any links to those of lower classes. But, given the state of the conflict between the Pastons and their neighbors, it appears Calle was vital enough to the Pastons that they did not deprive him of his office even though he had stolen their daughter (Kendall, p. 400).
There is no record of an earlier marriage for Calle, although it is hard to believe that a man who was seemingly adult in 1453 would have waited that long to become engaged. (Margery Paston was much younger; Castor, p. x, estimates her as born c. 1448 and most online estimates place her birth between 1447 and 1450.)
Richard Calle and Margery had three sons, John, William, and Richard, before Margery Paston Calle died, probably in or before 1482 (Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 73). Paston/Davis, p. xxix, states that she was dead by 1479; Castor, p. x, gives her death date as c. 1480. On p. 284, Castor notes that Margery was not included in her mother's 1482 will -- although she admits this might have been a matter of long-held pique over Margery's marriage. Their oldest son may have been named for her Paston grandfather or uncles; at least, when Margaret the mother of Margery died, she left the substantial sum of 20 pounds to John Calle son of Richard (Kendall, p. 400; Castor, p. 284).
Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 73, says that after Margery Paston died, Richard Calle remarried and had two additional sons, Andrew and John. There are sundry references to Richard Calle in rental records from 1508/1509, and a chancery reference that can be dated sometime between 1500 and 1515. We should note that the 1508/1509 reference is to Richard Call, not Calle (but, of course, spellings of names were not really standardized at that time).
There is another issue. The inscription in the manuscript is not in the same hand as Richard Calle's letters in the Paston correspondence -- a point even Ohlgren admits (Ohlgren/Matheson, pp. 73-74), although his suggestion is that the scribe of the book added the inscription on Calle's behalf.
All this raises a real problem. Can we be certain that the Richard Calle of the Cambridge manuscript is the same as the Calle of the Paston letters? Many scholars have said they were not. It is true that there would not have been many literate Richard Calles in fifteenth and sixteenth century England -- but one who would have been literate was Richard Calle junior, the third son of Richard Calle and Margery Paston Calle.
This is an issue of significant concern, because there are three indications of date in the Cambridge manuscript. One, the weakest, is the handwriting. The second is the ownership mark of Richard Calle. The third is a precise but ambiguous date reference. The manuscript refers to the "espences of fflesche at the mariage of my ladey Margaret, that sche had owt off Eynglonde."
This has been taken to refer to the marriage of Margaret Tudor, the elder daughter of Henry VII of England, to James IV of Scotland in 1503 (Dobson/Taylor, p. 123). But if Ohlgren is right about Richard Calle Senior owning the manuscript, this would mean that Calle was about seventy at the time it was written -- not an impossible age, but hardly the way to bet. Ohlgren's data on Calle would have us believe he lived until at least 1508, but this is even less likely.
There are two other possibilities: Either the Calle involved is Richard Calle junior (in which case all difficulties disappear, since he was probably born around 1475), or the Margaret is some other royal Margaret.
Ohlgren, even though he thinks Richard Calle senior was the owner of the book, plumps for the second possibility. Ohlgren/Matheson, pp. 21, suggest that the wedding involved was that of Margaret of York, the sister of King Edward IV, who married Charles Duke of Burgundy in 1468 (Wagner, p. 160). This certainly fits Calle senior's dates -- and there are references in the Paston letters to the event; Ohlgren suggests based on a few hints in the letters that Calle may even have been present (Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 75).
But the phrasing of the inscription is interesting. It sounds as if this Margaret had to be given some sort of grant to pay her expenses. This fits an earlier royal wedding, that between King Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. Margaret brought no dowry at all, except a brief truce in the Hundred Years' War (Gillingham, p. 59), and even that was at the cost of major territorial concessions. And, because the English were broke, she had to be granted property in Lancashire to pay her expenses (Rubin, p. 231). The whole wedding was so obscure that most chroniclers didn't even know where it took place! This fits the description in the manuscript very well.
Admittedly the marriage took place in the 1440s, which is before any known references to Richard Calle, but this is not impossibly early. Thomas Wright, indeed, referred the manuscript of the "Potter" to the reign of Henry VI (1422-1461, briefly restored 1470-1471). Wright also dated the "Monk" to the reign of Edward II, a dating of which Dobson/Taylor, p. 123n1, are frankly contemptuous, but in the case of the "Potter" Wright may have been onto something.
"Robin Hood and the Monk" [Child 119] is usually described as the oldest Robin Hood ballad. But the strong evidence (discussed in the entry on that ballad) is that it must date from 1465 or after, later than the usual dating. If the Margaret of the inscription in the "Potter" is indeed Margaret of Anjou, then we must redate the "Potter" early enough to make it probably the earliest Robin Hood ballad, and it might be the earliest even if the Margaret of the inscription is Margaret of York.
Ohlgren quotes Julia Boffey as saying that the manuscript of the "Potter" appears to be the work of someone who was "someone used to writing [but] not a professional scribe" (Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 69). Based on the lack of ruling and other characteristics described by Boffey, this sounds right -- the scribe was literate, and indeed wrote quite frequently, but did not as a matter of course write books, and did not know the scribal methods of ruling the pages to assure an attractive result.
Turning to the manuscript's contents, Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 69, count no fewer than six different hands involved, although (based on Ohlgren/Matheson's folio count) the main hand is responsible for some 90% of the text, including the entire text of the "Potter" (the tenth of 17 items in the manuscript, based on the list on p. 70 of Knight/Matheson, and one of only two items in the book longer than three folio).
Several of the items are clearly for educating children. Others are religious -- one consists of four proverbs in English (at least two of which Richard Calle quoted to his wife in letters; Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 80). These appear, interestingly, to be from the Wycliffe translation -- which was, of course, very heterodox. It is also ironic, because "The Miracle of the Lady who Buried the Host" is a thoroughly unlikely justification of the doctrine of transubstantiation, which had been Catholic dogma since 1215 but which was denied by Wycliffe. All of these pieces, however, are short. The four longest pieces in the manuscript are the most interesting:
* "The Adulterous Falmouth Squire" -- a tale known in eight copies, and seemingly intended as an exemplum, or story with a moral attached. The key story involves two brothers who die on the same day. The younger, who was innocent of fornication, is in heaven; the older, who was an adulterer, is in hell suffering extreme torture.
* "The Cheylde and hes Stepdame" -- Otherwise known as "The Frere/Friar and the Boy." This too was popular enough to be found in multiple manuscripts, and was printed by Wynken de Worde, perhaps around 1500. A more recent version is found on pp. 250-254 of Briggs. Asbjornsen and Moe had a Norwegian version known in translation as "Little Freddie and His Fiddle."
This is interesting in light of Calle's marital story, because it is a tale of a boy with a wicked stepmother, who one day shares his meal with a stranger and is rewarded with gifts (a bow that cannot miss, and a pipe that always makes the hearers dance, plus the power to cause his stepmother to break wind or, in cleaned-up versions, suffer laughing fits) which save him from his troubles. Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 85, note that the version in the Cambridge MS. has a different ending from the usual versions. It is fascinating to note that another copy of "The Friar and the Boy" was also bound with the Wynken de Worde print of the "Gest" (Ohlgren/Matheson, p. 117).
* "Robin Hode and the Potter"
* "The Kynge and the Barker." A unique text, printed by Child as an appendix to "King Edward the Fourth and a Tanner of Tamworth" [Child 273], it is one of the many sorts of tales of a commoner meeting the king in disguise. Child considers it to be ancestral to ballad #273, although he says that it has been much modified over time.
Ohlgren sees many reasons why Richard Calle might have liked the tale of the "Potter." Ohlgren/Matheson, pp. 25, 82, suggests that Calle had reason to enjoy the idea of a sheriff being outwitted, having himself suffered badly at the hands of a sheriff during the interminable conflicts between the Paston family and the other Norfolk landowners -- he even expressed a hope for a better sheriff in future. And on pp. 80-81 Ohlgren argues that Calle would have liked the image of Robin flirting with the sheriff's wife, a woman above his station, just as Calle courted Margery Paston. He also thinks this might have influenced Calle's decision to include "The Cheylde and the Stepdame."
On the other hand, the "Potter" also sees Robin Hood violating the standards of the merchant class by selling pots too cheaply (charging just three pennies rather than the usual five). Ohlgren/Matheson, pp. 88-89, thinks Calle would approve of this trickery, but I strongly doubt that a man from a family of grocers would like being so badly undercut. And on pp. 89-90, Ohlgren starts edging toward claiming Robin Hood learned game theory, or at least Adam Smith style economics, in the course of the ballad. This would perhaps be possible in the Tudor era, when the great joint stock companies were formed, but this goes against Ohlgren's claim of a Yorkist date.- RBW
Bibliography Last updated in version 3.3
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