“A Robin, Jolly Robin”


"(Ah/Hey) Robin, (jolly/gentle) Robin, Tell me how thy (lady/leman) doth And thou shalt know of mine." "My lady is unkinde, perdie, Alack why is she so?" One singer says his lady is constant; the other says women change like the wind

Supplemental text

A Robin, Jolly Robin
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

A Robyn Jolly Robyn

From Percy/Wheatley, I.ii.4, pp. 186-187

"[P]rinted from what appears to be the most ancient of Dr.
Harrington's poetical MSS. and which has, therefore, been marked
No. I. (Scil. p. 68.) That volume seems to have been written in
the reign of King Henry VIII. and, as it contains many of the
poems of Sir Thomas Wyat, hath had almost all the contents
attributed to him by marginal directions written in an old
but later hand...."

A Robyn,
  Jolly Robyn,
Tell me how thy leman doeth
  And thou shalt know of myn.

'My lady is unkynde perde.'
  Alack! why is she so?
'She loveth an other better than me;
  And yet she will say no.'

I fynde no such doublenes:
  I fynde women true.
My lady loveth me dowtles,
  And will change for no newe.

'Thou art happy while that doeth last;
  But I say, as I fynde,
That women's love is but a blast,
  And torneth with the wynde.'

Suche folkes can take no harme by love,
  That can abide their torn.
'Bu I alas can no way prove
  In love by lake and mourn.'

But if thou wilt avoyde thy harme
  Lerne this lessen of me,
At others fierse thy selfe to wame,
  And let them warme with the.

          *** B ***

(No title)

From Shakespeare, "Twelfth Night" Act IV, scene 2. In the scene,
the Clown and Malvolio are talking past each other. The text
below shows the reconstructed lines of the song, with Malvolio's
answers in the margin. Line numbers are in the left margin.

71 'Hey, Robin, jolly Robin,
72    Tell me how thy lady does.'      Malv: Fool.
74 'My lady is unkind, perdie!'        Malv: Fool.
76 'Alas, why is she so?'              Malv: Fool, I say.
78 'She loves another.'  Who calls, ha?


Often (though not universally) credited to Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503?-1542), and obviously well-known by the time Shakespeare wrote "Twelfth Night" (circa 1600); it is quoted by the Clown in IV.ii.71f. The music is credited to Williams Cornysh(e) (died c. 1523). The Cornysh(e) music first appears in British Library MS. Add. 31922.

It's not likely that this is a traditional song, but there are strong variations in the words (and Shakespeare's version does not look original); I include it because it was recorded on the "New Golden Ring," and people might think it traditional.

Wyatt had an incredibly complex career during the reign of Henry VIII (among other things, he was involved with Anne Boleyn before Henry noticed her), and is credited, among other things, with introducing the sonnet to England. - RBW


  1. Percy/Wheatley I, pp. 185-187, "A Robyn Jolly Robyn" (1 text)
  2. ADDITIONAL: Noah Greenberg, ed., An Anthology of English Medieval and Renaissance Vocal Music, pp. 84-87 (1 text, 1 tune with harmonization)
  4. ST Perc1185 (Full)
  5. BI, Perc1185


Author: Sir Thomas Wyatt?
Earliest date: 1765 (Percy) (quoted by Shakespeare in "Twelfth Night")
Keywords: love nonballad betrayal