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The Death of the Hart Royal

[ Roud - ; probably Ruth Tongue]

Benji Kirkpatrick sang The Death of the Hart Royal in 2016 on Faustus’ Westpark album Death and Other Animals. They noted:

From Ruth Tongue’s manuscripts, in 1974 this “Fragmented ballad from the 15th century or before” was “Reconstructed from couplets or single lines of a very old hunting ballad (Tune now lost)”. She was “…helped in this completion by the old families of former forest-folk. Known once as very famous locally but dusty with age by faulty memories. Mostly from a very old forester of over 90 whose grandfather told him this, in take [sic] Woods near Crich Derbyshire 1920s”. Under a heading ‘Querys’, Tongue writes “Is this, as it seems, the folk memory of a sacrifice of a Woodland King to a Woodland Deity?” Beneath this, in ‘Forest Lore Notes’, she asserts; “a) The Hart Royal must have 10 lines on his antlers, b) The Oak is the Watchman & Councellor of all woods, c) Robin Hood (also locally called Robin Goodfellow or Puck) is the ghostly guardian of the Good Greenwood, bringing swift noble death to the hard hunted.”

Very probably the song was actually written by Ruth Tongue, as were others like I’d Rather Be Tending My Sheep, Judas Was a Red-Headed Man, and The Three Danish Galleys.


Faustus sing The Death of the Hart Royal

The Hart Royal sped where the old oak stood,
Dark were his flanks, his lips ran blood.
King John has sent after me companies three,
But none of them shall bring death to me.

They hunted me high, they hunted me low,
With horse and hound and fine crossbow.
All through the land up to Nottingham town,
But never a one could drag me down.

Chorus (after each verse):
Hart Royal am I, Hart Royal am I,
And the Lord of the Greenwood shall watch me die.

They followed me far but the hounds ran true,
From dawning to dusk they harried me through.
The horses went lame, their hearts did crack,
But still the hounds are on my back.

Call Robin Hood with his long bow,
To him alone does the Hart Royal bow.
He never will die at the hands of men,
Call Lord of the Oak once again.

There Robin stood on a far-off hill,
Let fly his shot, the Hart lay still.
Farewell good Hart bold Robin he said,
The Hart sighed and lay dead.

Last chorus:
Hart Royal am I, Hart Royal am I,
And the Lord of the Greenwood shall watch me die.
Hart Royal am I, Hart Royal am I,
And the Lord of the Greenwood watched me die.


The lyrics are from Faustus’ Bandcamp page with corrections by Garry Gillard for the actual singing of Benji Kirkpatrick.