J. Walker McSpadden
Chapter I: How Robin Hood Became an Outlaw
List and hearken, gentlemen,In the days of good King Harry the Second of England—he of the warring sons—there were certain forests in the north country set aside for the King's hunting, and no man might shoot deer therein under penalty of death. These forests were guarded by the King's Foresters, the chief of whom, in each wood, was no mean man but equal in authority to the Sheriff in his walled town, or even to my lord Bishop in his abbey.
That be of free-born blood,
I shall you tell of a good yeoman,
His name was Robin Hood.
Robin was a proud outlaw,
While as he walked on the ground.
So courteous an outlaw as he was one
Was never none else found.
One of the greatest of royal preserves was Sherwood and Barnesdale forests near the two towns of Nottingham and Barnesdale. Here for some years dwelt one Hugh Fitzooth as Head Forester, with his good wife and son Robert. The boy had been born in Lockesley town—in the year 1160, stern records say—and was often called Lockesley, or Rob of Lockesley. He was a comely, well-knit stripling, and as soon as he was strong enough to walk his chief delight was to go with his father into the forest. As soon as his right arm received thew and sinew he learned to draw the long bow and speed a true arrow. While on winter evenings his greatest joy was to hear his father tell of bold Will o' the Green, the outlaw, who for many summers defied the King's Foresters and feasted with his men upon King's deer. And on other stormy days the boy learned to whittle out a straight shaft for the long bow, and tip it with gray goose feathers.
The fond mother sighed when she saw the boy's face light up at these woodland tales. She was of gentle birth, and had hoped to see her son famous at court or abbey. She taught him to read and to write, to doff his cap without awkwardness and to answer directly and truthfully both lord and peasant. But the boy, although he took kindly to these lessons of breeding, was yet happiest when he had his beloved bow in hand and strolled at will, listening to the murmur of the trees.
Two playmates had Rob in these gladsome early days. One was Will Gamewell, his father's brother's son, who lived at Gamewell Lodge, hard by Nottingham town. The other was Marian Fitzwalter, only child of the Earl of Huntingdon. The castle of Huntingdon could be seen from the top of one of the tall trees in Sherwood; and on more than one bright day Rob's white signal from this tree told Marian that he awaited her there: for you must know that Rob did not visit her at the castle. His father and her father were enemies. Some people whispered that Hugh Fitzooth was the rightful Earl of Huntingdon, but that he had been defrauded out of his lands by Fitzwalter, who had won the King's favor by a crusade to the Holy Land. But little cared Rob or Marian for this enmity, however it had arisen. They knew that the great green—wood was open to them, and that the wide, wide world was full of the scent of flowers and the song of birds.
Days of youth speed all too swiftly, and troubled skies come all too soon. Rob's father had two other enemies besides Fitzwalter, in the persons of the lean Sheriff of Nottingham and the fat Bishop of Hereford. These three enemies one day got possession of the King's ear and whispered therein to such good—or evil—purpose that Hugh Fitzooth was removed from his post of King's Forester. He and his wife and Rob, then a youth of nineteen, were descended upon, during a cold winter's evening, and dispossessed without warning. The Sheriff arrested the Forester for treason—of which, poor man, he was as guiltless as you or I—and carried him to Nottingham jail. Rob and his mother were sheltered over night in the jail, also, but next morning were roughly bade to go about their business. Thereupon they turned for succor to their only kinsman, Squire George of Gamewell, who sheltered them in all kindness.
But the shock, and the winter night's journey, proved too much for Dame Fitzooth. She had not been strong for some time before leaving the forest. In less than two months she was no more. Rob felt as though his heart was broken at this loss. But scarcely had the first spring flowers begun to blossom upon her grave, when he met another crushing blow in the loss of his father. That stern man had died in prison before his accusers could agree upon the charges by which he was to be brought to trial.