Noble Fisherman, The, or, Robin Hood's Preferment [Child 148]
DESCRIPTION: Robin goes to sea as a fisherman. He is scoffed at as a lubber, but when the fishing vessel is approached by a French ship of war his prowess with the bow permits the fishermen to take it and its cargo of gold.
EARLIEST DATE: 1663 (garland); a song that was likely this one was entered into the Stationer's Register in 1631
KEYWORDS: Robinhood ship battle
REFERENCES (7 citations):
Child 148, "The Noble Fisherman, or, Robin Hood's Preferment" (1 text)
Bronson 148, comments only
OBB 124, "The Noble Fisherman or Robin Hood's Preferment" (1 text)
BBI, RZN15, "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. 17-22, "Robin Hood's Fishing" (1 text, with substantial differences from the broadside and garland versions)
R. B. Dobson and J. Taylor, _Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw_, University of Pittsburg Press, 1976, pp. 180-182, "The Noble Fisherman (Robin Hood's Preferment)" (1 text)
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. 581-591, "Robin Hood's Fishing" (1 text, primarily from the Forresters manuscript rather than the broadsides used by Child)
NOTES [556 words]: For background on the Robin Hood legend, see the notes on "A Gest of Robyn Hode" [Child 117].
Dobson/Taylor, p. 179, say that Robin Hood has never "undergone a more bizarre transformation" than the one that sent him to sea, but the ballad nonetheless proved popular -- and it's worth noting that some similar outlaw tales also have interludes at sea.
Child mentions, in his notes on this ballad, that the romance of Eustac(h)e the Monk also has an episode in which the hero goes to sea. A stronger parallel might be the tale of Hereward the Wake, Hereward too takes on the disguise of a fisherman (chapter 25). Both the Hereward tale and Eustace's story are considered sources for the Robin Hood legend. But I would incline to consider the Hereward tale a more likely source for this later ballad, even though the parallel may not be as close. The tale of Eustace survives in only a single manuscript, and is unlikely to have been well known in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century; Hereward's tale was always popular.
Chambers, p. 131, notes the existence of a ship Robyn Hude at Aberdeen in 1438, which is another interesting nautical link (cf. Knight/Ohlgren, p. 581), but the significance of this is unclear.
Similarly, Bett, p. 17, mentions a Robin Hood's Bay near Whitby in Yorkshire, but there are so many sites named for Robin Hood that they cannot all be associated with the original form of the legend (whatever that original form was).
For additional details on the Eustace version, see the summary in Cawthorne, pp. 121-131, or the translation in Knight/Ohlgren. For Hereward, see Linklater, pp. 238-239, Baldwin, pp. 35-26, or, again, the translation in Knight/Ohlgren.
Knight/Ohlgren, p. 582, suggest that this is sort of a "Robin Hood and the Potter" [Child 121] converted to a sea setting; they give it relatively high praise for one of the late ballads. It is true that Robin goes incognito and takes up a trade -- but the direction of the song is completely different. And I am not impressed with the internal logic of the piece.
To be fair, piracy was definitely a problem in the medieval period; with no international agreements and no world-spanning navy (no navies at all, really), it was often "every ship for itself." Hewitt, p. 24, notes fourteen instances of piracy during the reign of Edward III, including five by English mariners in the year 1354 alone. Given the scantiness of our records, and the fact that many victims of pirates would not have survived to report it anyway, it would seem likely that there were in fact dozens of incidents involving English ships each year -- although in many cases the English were the pirates, not the victims.
The first few verses of this often contain a sort of an ode to the sailor's life, calling it a profitable calling. It can hardly have been more profitable than being an outlaw, if the "Gest" is accurate describing Robin's fortune. For that matter, according to Hewitt, p. 76, a sailor in the king's service early in the Hundred Years' War earned three pence a day. A good archer in Edward III's armies earned twice that. So it makes no sense for Robin to turn sailor even if he wanted to "go legit." I suspect these have floated in from a song praising fishermen. Possibly a fisherman decided that he wanted his own Robin Hood ballad.... - RBW
Last updated in version 2.6
- Baldwin: David Baldwin, Robin Hood: The English Outlaw Unmasked, Amberley, 2010
- Bett: Henry Bett, English Myths & Legends, being apparently a single volume edition of two separate volumes, English Myths and English Legends, published with separate pagination and separate indices and no indication of the original date (I use the 1991 Dorset Press edition of the combined volumes)
- Cawthorne: Nigel Cawthorne, A Brief History of Robin Hood: The True History Behind the Legend, Running Press, 2010
- Chambers: E. K. Chambers, English Literature at the Close of the Middle Ages, Oxford, 1945, 1947
- Dobson/Taylor: R. B. Dobson and J. Taylor, Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw, University of Pittsburg Press, 1976
- Hewitt: H. J. Hewitt, The Organization of War under Edward III, 1966 (I use the 2004 Pen & Sword edition with a new introduction by Andrew Ayton)
- Linklater: Eric Linklater, Conquest of England, Doubleday, 1966
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