The potter to hes cart he went,
He was not to seke;
A god to-hande staffe therowt he hent,
Beffore Roben he leppyd.
Like the Gest ballad, the Potter is divided into ‘fitts’ but this is a much shorter ballad and has only three fitts as opposed to the Gest’s eight. It is unclear if the outlaws are Barnsdale or Sherwood men in this story. Nottingham features prominently but Wentbridge is also mentioned which is smack bang in Barnsdale and near to the Sayles where Robin and his companions operate from in the Gest.
The outlaws spot a potter coming down the road who is known for getting out of paying them ‘pavage’ (tax). He even once gave Little John a good drubbing with his staff when he tried to rob him at Wentbridge. Determined to squeeze some coin out of him this time, Robin accosts the potter. A fight ensues and the Potter wins. Impressed, Robin lets him off but asks to borrow his clothes and wares while the potter remains with his men.
Dressed as the potter, Robin heads into Nottingham where he sells the potter’s wares at ridiculously low prices, gathering a big crowd. He attracts the attention of the sheriff’s wife who, after purchasing several pots, asks him to dinner.
While at their meat, Robin overhears some of the sheriff’s men discussing an archery contest. Robin joins in and of course thrashes them all soundly. He then tells the impressed sheriff that he has a bow in his cart that was given to him by Robin Hood. The sheriff shows some excitement at this and Robin agrees to take him to the outlaw on the morrow.
The following morning Robin leads the sheriff into the greenwood and blows his horn, summoning his men. They rob the sheriff but, as his wife showed him such hospitality, Robin lets him live. He sends him home on a white palfrey which he makes a gift of to the sheriff’s wife in return for her hospitality. The ballad closes with the sheriff being mocked by his wife and Robin giving the potter ten pounds for all the pots he sold so cheaply.
Women are poorly represented in Robin Hood stories, especially in the pre-Maid Marion days. In fact they rarely pop up at all. The Potter is the only early Robin Hood ballad where a female has a role of any importance (excepting the Virgin Mary and the treacherous Prioress of Kirklees). There is some definite flirting between Robin and the sheriff’s wife and the ballad is noted for being more of a humorous tale than the others.
This is the first instance of a trope that grew to be a standard event in Robin Hood legends; Robin meets his match. The most famous of these is his fight with Little John over the bridge which dates from 1680 and has made it into most modern retellings of the legend. Another is his meeting with the curtal friar, usually identified with Friar Tuck.
Read Robin Hood and the Potter here.
The Robin Hood Project at the University of Rochester has been invaluable in my research and is well worth a look at here. http://d.lib.rochester.edu/robin-hood