Robin Hood: A History?

The search for Robin Hood is never conclusive. He represents more in myth than in reality: the champion of the poor and who gives one in the eye to state and religious authorities, someone wronged himself (if he was a nobleman) who gets his own back, the glamour gained by the person who steps out of the humdrum and takes risks, and someone who lives with and in nature doing his own thing amongst a group of likeminded with a love story thrown in. There were such people in English history, and it is in such people that a history trail takes place and attempts to locate an actual Robin Hood (or three).

Robin HoodA story is set a little earlier than The Vision of Piers Plowman, written by William Langland in 1377. A verse is about a drunk chaplain who knows the stories of the outlaw better than his own prayers. Robyn Hood had associates Will Scarlett and Little John from the earliest sources. Will Scarlett (William Scathlocke) might have been Robin's cousin (by different definitions). Will Scarlett was removed from York Abbey. There is a recording of John the Little involved in crime in 1318 in Beverley. It seems Little John had started a feud with the Sheriff of Holderness there. Later he was involved in crime in 1323 in Wakefield. There is also a John le Nailer who may be Little John.

There was a Robert Hood of Wakefield about this period, and in 1322 he became an outlaw. It was a strange profession in that this outlaw went back into the town for the winter. He was a forester, in terms of legitimate living. It seems that Robert Hood of Wakefield was possibly part of the Lancastrian revolt, and on the losing side. He lived about the Manor of Wakefield as a yoeman, where the bus station can be found. The Sheriff for that area was the Sheriff of Nottingham. His location was Barnsdale, Wentworth, southern Yorkshire. Robert's wife was Matilda. The names Marion and Matilda sometimes cross; sometimes Marion is a skilled archer in her own right.

In the wood Robin Hood and associates ate with a passing "guest" who was then charged for the meal. A knight came by, took his meal and was charged. He said he was penniless and furthermore had to pay monks tomorrow. Robin Hood gave him £400 with clothes and a horse. The monks were corrupt moneylenders and expected either not to see the knight or for him not to have the money, after which they would acquire the knight's property and land. However, he paid them. Some time later, a monk found himself invited into one of Robin Hood's meals. He pleaded that he was penniless. However, he was found to have £800 in his possession and lost it. Thus Robin Hood gained twice what he had lost.

In those days archery was a competition of skill and manhood. Edwards II and III had archery as compulsory for military training and readiness. The odd story is that Robin as a marksman splits the arrow, but gets away. He is pursued by the sheriff and the sheriff is killed. King Edward II later goes into the forest and Robin becomes a loyal subject. The dates that pins down the story are those of Edward II's tour of Pontefract at the time.

In later years the Robin Hood name becomes associated with Whitby, Cumbria, Surrey. Southwell Minster continued the association of the Jack in the Green with the man of the Forest. Hood became an alias for outlaw fifty years before Robert Hood of Wakefield. Before all this in 1225 there was at York Assizes a Fitzwarren who did the same forest meal racket as Robert Hood. The king went into the forest in disguise and pardoned this outlaw. There is also the association with Richard Lionhart and Locksley in either Yorkshire or Nottinghamshire in 1160. This relates to the crusades. There is association too with the Earl of Huntington (York) born about 1180.

Robin Hood is said to have died at Kirklees Priory. A story is he was related to Prioress Elizabeth, and another has it she was Matilda's cousin, and she took a lover of Sir Roger of Doncaster. It is said she bled Robin to speed his death.

Robin Hood then is something of a deep myth within British self-understanding. He became something to do with robbing the rich to help the poor and the peasants' friend whilst poaching the king's deer in Sherwood Forest. The myth was given this setting in Sherwood Forest in the 15th Century. The "Lytell Geste of Robyn Hode" comes from earlier sources. People visit Edwinstowe today for a bit of the old Sherwood Forest and see nothing but new trees and a propped up collapsing tree called the Major Oak. There is nothing there but that, selling, walking around a prepared path and people wearing funny hats.


Stimulated by Tony Robinson's programme on Robin Hood on Channel 4 in 2003 and having visited the Major Oak.

Robin Hood enthusiast

Legends of Robin Hood

Kirklees Priory