The cast: Verna Wass - The Fool, Stephen Wass - the Fine Lady, Colin Street - The Friar, Sheena Powell - Maid Marion, Dave Lovick - The Puriatn, Linda Leslie - Robin Hood
"In days of yore, when knights were bold, and maidens really were maidens, hobby horses stalked the streets of Banbury and May revelers created mayhem with their morris capers and jingling bells."
Each year a great tree trunk was decorated with garlands of flowers and erected as a maypole in Neithrop, around which the local community danced and made merry on Mayday, and during the church Whitsun ales. Humorous, sometimes bawdy, plays were acted out on the streets featuring Robin Hood, Maid Marion and Friar Tuck , who also joined the morris men in their dancing. The fun and games went on in towns and cities up and down the country, but were brought to an end in Banbury when the Neithrop Maypole was destroyed by puritans amid much protest and rioting in 1589.
Anthony (later Sir Anthony) Cope of Hanwell, MP for Banbury and notable local puritan, had been imprisoned in the Tower of London by Queen Elizabeth 1 for interfering in Church affairs in Parliament. On his release he returned to Banbury, and the following spring he, and his followers, caused rioting in Banbury by obstructing the erection of the maypole. The Sheriff of Oxfordshire, John Danvers, supported the people of Neithrop and a public row ensued. Danvers made a complaint to the Lord Chancellor of England, and Cope was summoned to appear before the Privy Council to explain himself. Meanwhile, not to be beaten into submission, Cope was himself raising complaint with the Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire. Matters came to a head at Oxford Assizes in July when Mr. Danvers was held to be contentious, and Mr. Cope a faithful virtuous gentleman.
The maypole was pulled down, and shortly after Mr. Danvers left the town. In 1590 Mr. Cope had wormed his way so firmly back into the Queens favour that he was knighted.
It was to commemorate these events that the following play was written and performed for the 2001 Banbury Hobby Horse Festival
Robin Hood and the Banbury Puritan
Fool Give room, give room you gallant souls,
Give me and my men room to rhyme.
For here you will see a fine display,
If you will but give us time!
For the first I call in is a Fine Lady,
So beautiful and gay.
Stand aside, I say and clear her way,
For my mistress does draw near.
Bow down my friends,
And honour her beauty,
On your knees you knaves,
And show her due duty!
[Enter the Fine Lady of Banbury mounted on her trusty mare Blanche. The Fool leads her around the crowd belabouring anyone who does not honour her before placing her at the centre of the stage].
Fool But who is this comes wandering here,
With weapon drawn before him,
A scoundrel after my Ladys deer,
Or I am much mistaken.
Fr. Tuck Deus hic, Deus hic,
God be here!
God save all this company!
For as you see I am but a jolly fryer,
Come here today to bring good cheer,
And a smile to the face of this Fine Lady.
Fool If you can do that youre a better man then I am
Fr. Tuck For I can shoot both far and near,
And handle the sword and buckler,
And this quarter staff also,
If I meet with a gentleman or yeoman.
I am not afraid to look him in the eye
And if he speaks any words to me,
He shall have stripes two or three
That shall make his body smart!
Fool Good fryer your girth is full and wide,
And your habit stained and muddy,
But here comes one who will tame your pride,
And tan your cheeks quite ruddy.
He is one we all admire,
Who stands for right and good
He is sure to pitch you into the mire,
And his name is Robin Hood.
Robin Hark, thou proud fellow that sings so boldly there,
By thy breath I think you are a thief.
I think you are come here
To steal the Fine Ladys deer.
But I am the keeper of this forest
And the Lady has put me here in trust
To care for her noble deer,
So stop thee, bold braggart I must!
Fr. Tuck The Fine Lady need not fear for her deer
(although her person I could well come near)
In faith I am come here to seek a good yeoman,
His name is Robin Hood - dyou know him?
I would make a trial of strength with him
To see who is the truer man!
If he is the better man than me
Truly his servant I will be,
But if I prove stronger than he
Then fair is fair, he will serve me.
Robin Ah! Thou gasless warrior,
If thou art a Godly man
I dont care a fig
For thy looking so big,
So defend thyself if thou can.
Robin Yield thee fryer, in thy long coat.
Fr.Tuck Lay off me knave, you hurt my throat!
Go louse yourself you ragged knave,
I am but a poor fryer,
To seek Robin Hood I am come here.
Robin You lousy fryer, what do you want with him,
He never loved fryers, or their kith and kin.
I know as much for I am he you seek,
And I will set to until I make you meek.
Fr. Tuck At first I thought you were a knave,
But now I see that I must be your slave.
You Rowley are a better man than me,
And from now on,
I must your servant be.
Robin Tis true Fryer, I am the better man,
You are the weakest link,
And you must serve me as best you can,
Or you shall surely sink,
(As low as William Hague)
I will reward you with gold and fee,
Oh, and by the way this good lady free.
[The Fool brings out Maid Marion and presents her to Friar Tuck]
Fool Good Lady free?
Theres many a man here
Whold like to take a turn round the maypole
With this maiden!
Md Marion I can tickle a mans tonsils I cannot deny,
But before I agree to take on this fryer,
Into his habits I first must enquire,
I see he can eat by the size of his belly,
It seems he can drink too
By his breath I can smell it.
His lust is revealed by his twinkling eye,
In short I do love him- and will til he die.
(Which may be sooner than he thinks!)
Fr.Tuck I see you are a maid I can trust,
To serve a fryer at his lust,
But before we away to frolic and prance,
Set down your maypole,
And on with the dance!
[Friar Tuck, Maid Marion, Robin Hood and the Fool perform a Morris Dance.
This is broken up by the arrival of the Puritan ranting and raving].
Puritan Leave off your grotesque dancing,
And your jingling of bells,
Your capering and your prancing,
Which is carrying you all to hell.
Your devils music is leading you there,
Be gone foul pipe and tabourer.
Fool Ah! Dear Mr. Cope, please do step in,
How delighted we are to see you,
So soon released from the Tower of London,
What possessed the good Queen to free you?
It cant have been the charm of you silvery tongue,
Nor yet your personal beauty,
And if we had our way you would have been hung,
For your misplaced sense of duty!
(They're all the same these MPs.......interfering busy-bodies etc.)
Puritan Get you gone you fools,
And obey Gods rules!
For you cannot sweet talk me.
I will have Gods will,
If it does me kill,
And your maypole will cease to be.
Fr.Tuck What prattling prig do we have here,
Filled full of pompous piety,
You seem to think you have Gods ear,
On the subject of propriety.
How dare you preach to a Holy Friar,
Known for his truth and virtue,
Now get you gone, for if you stay here,
I soon will be forced to hurt you.
[While he is speaking he flirts with Maid Marion.]
Puritan What a Holy Friar, with this lewd wench,
This painted, bawdy trollop!
It is plain to see,
It is my duty,
To give you both a wallop!
Md. Marion You loathsome worm,
Ill make you squirm,
Youll swallow you pride
Or Ill tan you hide,
And make you ears to burn!
Robin Good bye Mr. Cope,
You have not got a hope,
Of taming the good citizens of Banbury.
We will have our fine maypole,
And our Fine Lady fair,
And our Morris dance too if we wish it.
For we have the Sheriff with us,
And the population too,,
And were heading for a landslide at the polls!
Now do the decent thing,
Please dont let us here delay you,
Or by tearing limb from limb,
We will soon be forced to slay you.
[While Robin speaks the actors gather round in threatening mood, and the Puritan runs off shrieking for help.]
Fool My Lady thanks you all, for listening to our story,
She will no longer keep you from your business.
But remember one and all,
What this killjoy did befall,
And uphold your own traditions in their glory!
V.W. June 8th 2001