Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar [Child 123]

DESCRIPTION: Robin learns of a friar's prowess and seeks him out. Each submits once to carrying the other over water, then the friar dumps Robin in. They fight long, then Robin's men and the friar's dogs enter the fray. The friar is invited to join the band.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1663 (garland)
KEYWORDS: Robinhood clergy fight outlaw
REFERENCES (9 citations):
Child 123, "Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar" (2 texts)
Bronson 123, "Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar" (1 version)
Leach, pp. 361-365, "Robin and the Curtal Friar" (1 text)
OBB 118, "Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar" (1 text)
BBI, RZN13, "In summer time when leaves grow green"
ADDITIONAL: Stephen Knight, editor (with a manuscript description by Hilton Kelliher), _Robin Hood: The Forresters Manuscript_ (British Library Additional MS 71158), D. S. Brewer, 1998, pp. 72-76, "Robin Hood and the Fryer" (1 text, similar to several of the broadsides)
R. B. Dobson and J. Taylor, _Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw_, University of Pittsburg Press, 1976, pp. 159-164, "Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar" (2 texts, from the Percy Folio and a broadside)
Stephen Knight and Thomas Ohlgren, editors, _Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales_, TEAMS (Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages), Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 2000, pp. 458-468, "Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar" (1 text, conflated from the Percy and garland texts)
Leslie Shepard, _The Broadside Ballad_, Legacy Books, 1962, 1978, p. 135, "The Famous Battle between ROBIN HOOD and the Curtal Fryer" (reproduction of a broadside page)

Roud #1621
NOTES [535 words]: This friar is otherwise known as Friar Tuck, so called because his frock is tucked up. Child says Curtal relates to the keeping of the "curtile", or vegetable garden, but acknowledges that others thought it meant he had a curtailed, or shortened, frock. - KK
For background on the Robin Hood legend, see the notes on "A Gest of Robyn Hode" [Child 117]. Knight/Ohlgren however note that the song does not refer to Friar Tuck by that name, even though the Percy Folio calls the song "Robin Hood and Fryer Tucke."
There is a record of a "Friar Tuck," though not in any way associated with Robin Hood. Two writs of 1417 mention a man of that name who had gathered a gang of outlaws in Surrey and Sussex. He remained at large in 1429 (though nothing was heard of him in the interval); his true name was reported to be Robert Stafford.
The association of Robin Hood and the Friar may have arisen from the May Games (in which both a Friar and Robin were characters), and the Friar may possibly have been associated with Friar Tuck because the latter was an outlaw.
Dobson/Taylor, p. 158, declare that the Friar's association with Fountains Abbey "can only be a post-Reformation fabrication." They give no reason for this statement. Fountains Abbey certainly existed during the Robin Hood era; according to Tatton-Brown/Crook, pp. 112-115, it was a Cisterian community founded in 1152 (meaning that it existed even in the time of Richard I), and it is in Yorkshire.
On the other hand, the fact that it is Cisterian means that it was inhabited by monks, not friars -- indeed, the first friars did not reach England until much later; the first were the Dominicans, who came to England in 1221 (Powicke, p. 24). This doesn't eliminate the idea of a friar being associated with Fountains, but it makes it less likely -- and it does make it impossible to date the Curtal Friar and Robin to the reigns of Richard I (died 1199) or John (died 1216).
Another problem is finding a friar hunting with dogs. First, dogs were barred from the royal forests unless their foretoes were clipped, or "lawed," to prevent them chasing game (Young, p. 41), and second, the Third Lateran Council had tried to prevent hunting with dogs altogether (Young, p. 44).
I do note with interest that Fountains Abbey -- despite being founded on very poor land (Alexander, p. 98), apparently to ensure the poverty of its inhabitants -- seems to have spent a fair bit of money on minstrels, at least in the 1450s (Holt, p. 137). Could the Friar have come to be associated with Fountains because a minstrel came there and decided to praise his patrons?
Fully half the Robin Hood ballads in the Child collection (numbers (121 -- the earliest and most basic example of the type), 123, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 130, 131, 132, (133), (134), (135), (136), (137), (150)) share all or part of the theme of a stranger meeting and defeating Robin, and being invited to join his band. Most of these are late, but it makes one wonder if Robin ever won a battle.
Bronson has extensive notes on the dubious nature of the tune of this piece, which is from Rimbault based on an alleged handwritten copy no longer found in the book where Rimbault claimed to find it. - RBW
BibliographyLast updated in version 2.6
File: C123

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List

Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography

The Ballad Index Copyright 2018 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.