A Tale of Three Outlaws

A retelling of the true story of Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough and Willliam Cloudesley, a poem: Printed at London: By Richard Cotes and are to be sold by Francis Grove … 1648.

Clim of the Clough was an archer keen,
His arrows were sharp and his aim was mean,
He could split a wand and at furlong or two,
He lived in the greenwood under the yew.

William of Cloudesley was a married man,
He’s been forced to flee ‘cos he took a stand
For freedom, liberty and honesty too,
He joined his friends under the yew.

Adam Bell was an elegant fellow,
His eyes were green and his hair was yellow,
He chose with his friends to the greenwood to go,
And there shared the job of seeking the doe.

The North Country was their native home,
Not far from Carlisle did they roam,
They took their aim and they lived right well,
Among the deep forest did they dwell.

One day young William up quoth he,
“I’m missing my wife and my family,
I’ll go to Carlisle disguis’d well,
Surely no one will be able to tell.”

‘Don’t go,” said Clim, “for they’re sure to snatch
You from under your homely thatch,
They’ll clamp you in irons and hang you dead,
‘T is no happy end for a man who’s wed.”

But William his mind was readily made,
And so wrapped in a cloth his arrows laid,
The best he took and his strongest bow,
For of his danger he did not know.

Clim and Adam were sad and grim,
To say goodbye to such as him,
For their lives were merry, their aim was true,
And no one could tell them what to do.

William saddled his horse with a merry smile,
He swung into the saddle, and turned for the stile,
That marked the road to Carlisle and home,
He sang, for fearless William was not alone.

Concerned for his life they watched him go,
They made good their arrows and tightened their bow,
They sharpened their swords and polished the steel
Mindful of danger which they knew was real.

William got home to the joy of his wife,
Who welcomed him back to his other life.
They feasted and bedded and talked and sang
But a maid in the parlour who hated the man;

She ran to the sheriff of Carlisle town, and told him
The house where William of Cloudesley was in,
They gathered the sergeants at arms and set out
To the home of the Cloudesley to start a rout.

They were happily eating when a bag at the door
William looked out and saw a score of
Soldiers and townsfolk like a drove of wild boar,
“We’ll hang you now you wicked outlaw.”

William hurried the children and Alice his wife,
To a small wicket door at the back of his place,
“Go!” he shouted, “there’s trouble in here
For all your lives I have great fear.”

He bid them go quickly to safety and home,
To the greenwood the forest where he did roam,
And find his old friends they knew well,
Clim of the Clough and Adam Bell.

He opened a shutter and fastened his bow,
And with a swish he let it go,
One after another they found the right place,
And many a soldier fell on his face.

Suddenly the house was surrounded by men,
With weapons and fire it looked like hell,
For the timbers did flame and licked to the sky,
William knew it was time to fly.

He jumped from a window and was nearly free,
But out numbered William did conceded,
He was shackled and marched to Carlisle keep,
To stand for trial his reward to reap.

The boys and Alice got away and ran,
Into the greenwood that was the plan,
They met Adam and Clim on the edge of the road,
And told them the story of terrible woe.

Adam and Clim were of one mind too,
To rescue William their brother true,
So to the city with arrows and sword,
They readied for battle true to their word.

Closed were the gates of Carlisle city,
Raised were the gallows grim not pretty,
William was tried and guilty found,
He was heading for six feet under the ground.

At the gates our friends arrived at noon,
And they blagged their way in with a lofty tune,
Of how they were messagers come from the king,
The solder on guard just let them in.

For his last word he shouted over everyone’s head,
“Who tries to kill me will quickly be dead.”
For William was sure his friends would be true,
Though many of foe and rescuers two.

They got near the gallows and steadied their hand,
When William saw them he knew rescue was planned.
Just as the rope was about to go taut,
Clim pulled a bow with arrow he shot;

Right through the rope clean cut it in two,
William fell quickly and then there were three,
To take on the whole of Carlisle’s judiciary,
The sheriff was shot and the judge had to flee;

Soon people were running back into the town,
The army that rallied kept getting shot down.
Arrow and arrow and arrow was fired,
By those accurate archers who never tired.

By five nearly 300 people were dead,
The gates were reopened the outlaws fled,
Into the greenwood and earned liberty,
With Alice delighted that they were all free.

News of this rescue the two men had done
Reached the monarch in distant London.
He mused at the thought that those people had died
But he knew in his heart he was not on their side.

But William said one day, “I have a plan
To go down to London petition the king
For our freedom, our rights, our true liberty
I want to live well but I want to live free.”

The others agreed and so they all set off
With Alice the boys and a couple of calves.
They travelled for days and they heard people say,
‘T was amazing what happened in Carlisle that day.

The heroes were feasted and lauded each mile,
For corruption was rife in that town of Carlisle,
It took several days to reach London town,
They found them some lodgings looking around.

William of Cloudesley got down on one knee
And petitioned the King, “We want to be free.”
For the King was feared of that three hundred dead,
By the strength of these outlaws whose plea he had read.

He threw them in jail and threatens to hang
Each member and wife of this notorious gang.
The Queen’s liking of them was hard to disguise,
Excellent archers to have on one’s side.

“You owe me a favour, which I now recall,
I want them as servants one and all.
So free them and into my service will come
The outlaws, the wife and each of the sons.”

The King was not happy so he made a deal
If his archers could beat them at target and wand,
For the sake of the townsfolk he took the stand.
The children and all he threatened to hang.

“If they win their liberty I’ll call
For payment of duties will be their all,
I would rather have outlaws with arrows so keen,
Fighting for country for King and for Queen.”

So a field was set up the targets prepared
The distance was measured, the archers dared,
The trumpets sounded to the field they came,
Our three outlaws ready for game.

The first round was easy just target bull’s-eye,
None of our friends missed a single try,
The king’s chaps were good but missed one or two,
The score was Outlaws ahead their status grew.

When all targets were won by our fellows in green,
They asked if the wand could be split down the beam,
The King’s chaps were good but mostly they missed,
But William, Clim and dear Adam were perfect at this.

Soon it was clear to the court and the Queen,
That before them stood archers of talent so mean,
That whatever the task the target would win,
Hanging these chaps would cause chagrin.

So the King he stepped forward and said.
“One last task so difficult I want to ask,
If you can shoot through an apple instead
Placed on the top of your little boys head.”

“Then I’ll give you your freedom and more
You will be in my service and clear of the law,
You status is earned I think this is enough
If you can complete this is terribly tough.”

So William he tied his sweet lad to a stake,
And he covered his eyes so he would not shake,
He placed on his head a large apple so green
That from one whole furlong the apple was seen.

He drew back his bow and with a great sigh
He sighted the arrow that with speed would fly
To take out the apple right off his head
The boy was alive and the apple was dead.

There was cheering and laughter and many a smile,
As William, Clim, and Adam walked back in great style,
They were given their freedom on parchment due,
Signed sealed and formally handed through.

William was made Ranger and his wife was to find,
Her time was much taken with the Queen so kind,
And Clim and Adam became yeomen too,
Paid every year by a king who knew;

Better to have on your side outlaws so brave
They would be useful in a close shave,
And so they all lived very peaceful at last,
Three outlaws and Alice, forgotten their past.

So this is my ballad of the outlaws three,
A true story told of how they did rise,
Clim, William and Adam who won their plea
With courage and talent with freedom their prize.

Caroline Baldock © 2020