Pedigree: This is admittedly a…generalized title, for a ubiquitous literary character, of which multiple tales in multiple forms exist. Mr. Furnivall refers to William Carew Hazlitt’s “Handbook” (not the full title, I think) for five tales of Robin Hood of which copies known to have been printed prior to 1575 survived (at least until the nineteenth century). Of those five, Mr. Furnivall selected a book printed “about 1561” (this date is parenthetical, not part of the printer’s mark) by Wyllyam Copland, labelled “A mery geste of Robyn Hoode and of hys lyfe, wyth a newe play for to be played in Maye games very pleasaunte and full of pastyme”.
Synopsis: Several discrete, and interwoven, tales are told in eight “fyttes” or sections, of various adventures, acts of charity (?), pranks, and gulls involving most but not all of the characters known to modern readers of the Robin Hood legends. This includes gifts and loans to a destitute knight, several archery contests, and disguised meetings, culminating in a prank on a seeming Abbot who turns out to be the King (Edward).
The “new play” is described as a dramatization of events recounted in “Robin Hood and Friar Tuck” and “Robin Hood and the Potter”.
Availability: An online copy of Joseph Ritson’s collection “Robin Hood (Ballads)” (printed elsewhere in three volumes, here in one), which contains both the “Lytell Geste” and, in the Appendix, Copland’s “New play for to be played in Maye Games”, is on Internet Archive via the Library of Congress:
Appendix: Mr. Furnivall, by way of showing how popular Robin Hood was at Court, includes a description (from Edward “Hall’s Chronicle”) of two occasions when Henry VIII and his guard dressed up as Robin Hood and his men to surprise the Queen and her ladies. Looking forward to checking out Hall’s descriptions of Henry’s pastimes.