Pedigree: Mr. Furnivall mentions three editions of the same basic tale. The first, with no known surviving copy, printed (by one William Greffeth) early enough to appear in the “Stationers’ Register A” (the Worshipful Company of Stationers was first chartered in 1557). Another printing (by John Danter) dates to 1596, the copy Bishop Percy (of the Percy Folio) reprinted, along with the Stationers’ Register extract. Furnivall wrote that “Percy cooked (it) sadly in his “Reliques” “, by which I infer that Percy may have altered what he read, to an indeterminate degree. Furnivall also refers to a much later ballad titled “The King and the Barker”.
Synopsis: Greffeth’s version was titled “the story of Kynge henry the iiij and the Tanner of tamworth”. Danter’s, “a merry, pleasant and delectable history between King Edward the Fourth and a Tanner of Tamworth”. The king meets a tanner (with a load of hides), and decides to have sport with him. Unaware that he is speaking to his King, the tanner makes free with his speech, calls the stranger a spendthrift at one point and a thief at another. The king offers to trade horses with the tanner, with calamitous results for the tanner, who tries to improvise a saddle with one of his unprocessed hides. The tanner does not realize who is pranking him until the King’s men arrive and kneel before him, and after the tanner is suitably repentant, the King grants him largesse and they part in friendly fashion.
Google Books has a copy of Percy’s book (the only version I can find online) here:
Internet Archive’s copy is here: