This is less of a blog post and more of a brief list of the earliest Robin Hood tales. All pre-date the sixteenth century in terms of their initial creation, but not necessarily in terms of when they were written down. I have taken the details from J.C. Holt’s Robin Hood (dated 1982) in which five initial MSS are listed.
- Robin Hood and the Monk (dated 1450) – This tale was included with a prayer against thieves and robbers as well as a treatise on the seven deadly sins, various poetic and moralistic materials.
- Robin Hood and the Potter (dated c. 1503) – This is part of a MS collection of romances and moralistic pieces.
- A Gest of Robyn Hode (printed early-16th century) – The Gest seems to be a drawing together of various Robin Hood tales into one large poem. It is likely to be representative of the legend as it existed at that point, but is not comprehensive as confirmed by the survival of other stories that are not included here. It was printed fist in Antwerp in the early sixteenth-century by Wynken de Worde with three further editions produced with minor corrections and additions up to 1534. It was probably derived from a single written source, dated to the early fifteenth-century.
- Percy Folio (published 1765) – derived from a MS probably from the early fifteenth-century, this document contained Robin Hood and his Death (closely resembling the Gest) and Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne (which shares some subject matter with a play which only now survives as a fragment in a MS dated c. 1475). Thomas Percy was Bishop of Dromoe, Ireland and had it published in his Reliques of Ancient English Poetry.
- Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar (c. 1417) – a ballard.
Although all surviving early texts of Robin Hood date to the fifteenth century or later, these were certainly all based on earlier oral traditions probably beginning sometime early in the thirteenth century. There were therefore over 200 years between when the legend began and the versions that we now have as evidence. Holt notes that ‘they spring, not from the point of origin of the legend, but from different stages in its growth’ (Holt, p. 12).
J.C. Holt, Robin Hood (Thames & Hudson: London, 1982)