Robin Hood

By: Cyndi Hall


When I think about Robin Hood, I immediately picture Errol Flynn, or Kevin Costner. In my minds eye I see a man green tights and a feather in his cap, or I see a man in leather britches battling the evil Sheriff George, played by Alan Rickman. But, seriously, who was Robin Hood? Was he actually a historical fact or simply a medieval fiction? Why has the Robin Hood Legend become so loved and well known across the world and through the generations captivating audiences from young children, to teen, men, and of course…women.

Most of the knowledge concerning the Robin Hood legend derives from the early ballads and tales which have passed through the centuries.

Of these, the most significant are: A Gest of Robin Hood, Robin Hood and the Monk,
Robin Hood and the Potter, Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne, Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar, and Robin Hood's Death. All of these tales were written down before 1550.

Despite the “legend” status of Robin Hood, there are many reasons to believe that he could have been an actual man. Many researchers have uncovered evidence about this period in Nottingham, and points to the reality of everyone’s favorite outlaw.

We have always read that Robin Hood is a gallant hero, robbing the rich to feed the poor and constantly fighting injustice. Everyone immediately recognizes the names: Little John, Friar Tuck, Maid Marion, Will Scarlett, and of course…the Sheriff of Nottingham.

The legend portrays Robin as a fearless bandit, leading his “merry men,” into victory after victory. We read that Robin was an excellent archer, and lived his life in Sherwood Forest, poaching deer from the King.

Most people don’t realize that the earliest Robin Hood tale was about a yeoman, who haunted Barnsdale Forest, not Sherwood. Robin he didn't become some sort of English nobleman fighting oppressors until Sir Walter Scott added a few touches to him in Ivanhoe. The original outlaw supposedly was a once a ragged vagrant moving from place to place, trying to just “make it.”

There is something very interesting about this story. A document of court records was found in the London public records office dating from 1226. It states that a man named Robert Hod fled the jurisdiction of the king's justices, and his possessions were seized by the Sheriff of York. (In the Middle Ages, the name Robert was synonymous with Robin.) The document reads that this sheriff "owes 32 shilling 6 pence of chattels of Rob Hod, fugitive." The Sheriff of York later became the Sheriff of Nottingham. In 1227, the sheriff still owed the court the money for Robert Hod's belongings. Eventually Hod was found and hanged.

Forty years later, another fugitive was nicknamed Robyn Hod in court records. Rolls of Parliament in 1437 show a petition for the arrest of Piers Venables of Derbyshire who had resorted to violence and robbery and taking refuge in the Forest.

Other possibilities of the origins of Robin Hood have been tossed out as well. The name Robin Hood could have come from the title to Grandmasters in a witch coven, who wore hoods. The name Robin was one of the names given to the gods they worshiped, and so the name "Robin with a Hood" could have come about. Fairies and forest elves wore hoods, and one fairy name was Robin Goodfellow, and so the name Robin could have been combined with Hood in mythology.  Others think that forest bandits adopted the name, with Robin being a generic form of “thief’s.”

Supposedly, Little John's grave is at a church cemetery at Hathersage in Derbyshire, as quoted from a 17th-century text about a Robert Lockesley who met up with a Little John. The Little John grave is 13 ft. 4 in. long, and in 1795 it was written that the grave was exhumed and the bones were of an extremely large man.

There is a grave for a “Robin Hood,” in the area of Kirklees Priory at Yorkshire, England. The story of the epitaph is very interesting. In 1665 a drawing of the grave was made and was published in 1786, when the words on the grave marker were no longer completely legible. The grave read "Here lies Roberd Hude, William Goldburgh, Thomas." It is unclear who William Goldburgh and Thomas are. 

A man named Thomas Gale was dean of York from 1697-1702, and he left in his papers the words that were supposedly on Robin Hood's grave. The date of death was recorded as 12-24-1247. A similar epitaph was published at the end of The True Tale of Robin Hood by Martin Parker, which gives the death date as 12-4-1198.  The Parker epitaph reads:  Robert Earle of Huntington/Lies under this little stone./No archer was like him so good;/His wildnesse named him Robbin Hood./Full thirteene yeares, and something more,/These northerne parts he vexed sore./Such out-lawes as he and his men/May England never know agen  

Researchers have agreed on the likelihood that the man who became Robin Hood was alive under the reign of Richard I around 1193. Most believe that this man who was deemed an outlaw around the end of the 12th century, and from there, the name became Robin Hood and was used to refer to other outlaws. And so the legend grew... 

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