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Medieval Britain

Robin Hood

by Mick Baker, 3 January 2010

Of all the romantic heroes of England, none has fired the popular imagination more than fabled bowman Robin Hood, with tales of robbing the rich to help the poor in an unjust society where hapless peasants - largely Saxon - continued to suffer under the tyranny of their cruel overlords, worthy successors of Norman ruthlessness.

Television Robin

We have all become familiar with the story of the archery contest; Robin's conflicts with the Sheriff of Nottingham and Sir Guy of Gisborne; the famous quarterstaff battle with Little John; Robin's persuading Friar Tuck to carry him over the stream; the romance with Maid Marian, wicked Prince John's ward; Alan a' Dale, the minstrel; Much the Miller's son: Will Scarlet; the robbers' den in the heart of Sherwood Forest; the return of the disguised King Richard Coeur de Lion, to reinstate the disinherited Robin etc.

Films and television have contributed to the legend. Errol Flynn's definitive Robin in the 1950s, Kevin Costner's 'Prince of Thieves', 'Robin of Sherwood', played by Jason Connery and before him, Michael Praed, the long-running television series starring Richard Green, not to mention perhaps the most accurate portrayal - 'The Legend of Robin Hood' (TV series 1975) starring Martin Potter. Sean Connery played an ageing Robin in 'Robin and Marian' and more recently there has been yet another TV series featuring Keith Allen as the Sheriff. There have even been parodies - 'Men in Tights', 'Up the Chastity Belt', 'Maid Marian and her Merry Men', and numerous comedy sketches etc.

Robin has been variously identified as Robert Hood (or Hode) the Fugitive; Robin of Loxley (in Warwickshire); Robyn Hode, the archer, Robert, the dispossessed earl of Huntingdon etc, and so on. In fact, no less than thirteen 'Robin Hoods' can be identified. The legend was set in the 1190s onwards.

Historical Hoods

The truth is both complex and mundane. It would appear that Robin Hood is an amalgam of several of the aforementioned characters.

The first mention of a Robert Hod / Hood comes in 1225, when he is named as 'fugitive'. He is named on two further dates - in 1226 and 1228 He is known to have owed Brian de Lisle, the Sheriff of Yorkshire 32/6d (thirty-two shillings and sixpence), and he also owed money to the Church. De Lisle had formerly been Justiciar of Sherwood, so it is easy to see the threads of the legend taking shape.

Robyn Hode, the yeoman archer, was possibly Robert Hood of Wakefield, who with his wife Matilda moved to Bichill in 1316. In 1318 he received a summons to fight in the army in Scotland. He refused to go and was fine three pence. He was summoned again in 1322 to fight for his lord, the earl of Lancaster, in his rebellion against the king. Hode wasn't fined for not going this time!

A certain Robyn Hode was also listed as a valet/porter in the king's service in 1324
Robert, fictitious earl of Huntingdon, may be identified with one Fulk Fitz Warine of Shropshire, who was born in 1170 and became Lord of Whittington. Outlawed on charges of Treason, Fulk was pardoned in 1202.

Meanwhile, in 1746, William Stukeley added a spurious pedigree to the fictitious earl of Huntingdon - the invention of Anthony Munday in his plays (named below) - by distorting information from Dugdale's Baronage, adding a completely fictitious family, the Fitz Ooths, making them the Lords of Kime in Lincolnshire. In time, after many tenuous links and tortuous connections, the 'Earl of Huntingdon' became 'Robin of Loxley'. Locksley is in Yorkshire. However, as stated above, Fulk Fitz Warine, Lord of Whittington, is closer to this incarnation.

Later research though, has come up with one Robert Fitz Odo, a resident of the village of Loxley in Warwickshire, who was disinherited in 1196 and pardoned, we assume in 1203, for his name is then mentioned in the nearby settlement of Harbury. The similarity between the fictitious Robert Fitz Ooth (sometimes Fitz Othe) and the genuine Robert Fitz Odo is unmistakeable, and it takes no great leap of faith to see the translation from Robert Fitz Odo to Robert (Fitz) Ode, Hode etc, Robert Fitz Odo of Loxley in Warwickshire would seem therefore to be yet another contender.

 

Robin Hood

The historical Robin Hood

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The character of Robin Hood

First appeared

Character

Sources/Comments

Born 1160

Birth of Robin Hood

According to John Major, writing in 1521. He states that Robin was outlawed between 1193 & 1194.

1225
1226
1228
1230

Robert Hod(e) The Fugitive


 

Sometimes called 'Hobbehod'. Royal justices headed by Robert de Lexinton held assizes at York where penalties at the Exchequer (Michaelmas 1226) included 32/6d for the chattels of Robert Hod. The following year the account recurred, indicating that the debt was due from the Liberty of St Peter's York. Hod must, therefore have been a tenant of the archbishopric.

Born 1170

Fulk Fitz Warine

Becomes lord of Whittington in 1197. Outlawed on charges of treason in 1200, pardoned in 1203.

1190s

Robert Fitz Odo of Loxley

In 1196 loses his estates in Loxley, Warwickshire. Recorded in Harbury in 1203. Hitherto, the only mention of Loxley (Locksley) had been in Yorkshire. William Stukeley, in his Paleographia Britanica, in 1746, claimed that a Robert Fitz Othe was the historical Robin Hood and that the Fitz Othes were the lords of Kime in Lincolnshire. However, this has been discredited as the Kime lords are well-documented. It now seems likely that Stukeley had mistaken Fitz Odo for Fitz Othe [Brythonic/Middle English use of 'th' / 'd' sounds as in Gwynedd. 'Fitz' indicates an illegitimate connection in the bloodline, and whilst some people chose to retain the affix to indicate consanguinity, others chose to drop it for similar reasons. Thus it is quite easy to see a relationship between Robert Fitz Odo (Ode) and Robert Odo, Ode / Hode.

1316 / 1320s

Robert Hode of Wakefield

Robert Hode and his wife buy a plot of land at Bichill in 1316. In 1318, he is summoned to fight in the army against Scotland. He fails to appear and is fine 3d. In 1322, he is summoned to fight for the earl of Lancaster, in his rebellion against the king. No fine is imposed for non-attendance this time!

Born 1308

Robert Hode of Newton

First appears in court rolls in 1308. He or his son, also called Robert, dies in 1341-1342. They were preceded by Adam, who appears in the first surviving court roll of 1274. He lives until at least 1314. There were also two John Hoods. All were tenants of the manor at Wakefield and surrounding townships, such as Newton, Stanley & Alverthorpe.

24 March - 22 November 1324

Robyn Hode

Is employed as a vadletz de la chambre - a royal valet / porter in the king's service. He leaves the king's service in November and then disappears from history.

1354

Robert Hood, prisoner at Rockingham

Awaiting trial for offences committed in the forest of Rockingham.

1213

Robert Hood, servant of Alexander Nequam, abbot of Cirencester

He had slain Ralph of Cirencester in the Abbot's garden sometime between 1213 and 1216.

Died 1318

 

 

Robert Hoode
Common Councillor of London

Recorded in London in 1325, one finds a Katherine Robynhod, which is almost certainly a patronymic, for she was probably the daughter of Robert Hood who died in 1318, and gave his name to a London inn in Vintry Ward. Recorded in 1294 (Hostel Robin Hod).

Robert the Grave, of Wakefield

Penalised in 1309 for breaking the Lord of the Manor's fold at Alverthorpe. Possibly identical with Robert Hode of Wakefield or Robert of Newton.

1308

Robert Hood of Sowerby

A Richard Hood was active in 1274, when he was at odds with the foresters of Sowerby Chase. He was succeeded by his son, John (1296-1297) and his sons - both apparently called Robert(!), one of whom first appears in the court rolls in 1308. Both were active from 1313.

1326

Eustace de Folville

Gang leader, pardoned in 1333 after five charges had been laid against him, on condition he made himself available for royal service when required. Richard de Folville had shot and killed one of his pursuers, and injured others as they chased him into his church at Teigh, Rutland. Richard was dragged out and beheaded. Perhaps some of this real-life criminal's exploits became tacked on to the pantheon of Robin Hood legends. Associated were the Cotterel brothers who marauded in Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire in the same period.

1330s

Sir John Molyns

Terrorised Buckinghamshire and took to kidnapping and organising murder in revenge for his dismissal from royal service.

1387 & 1392

John Lord Fitzwalter

Led a gang of ruffians in Essex, levying blackmail on the citizens of Colchester.

1342

 William Beckwith

Organised a band based in Knaresborough Forest in Yorkshire which remained active in 1392, two years after Beckwith's death.

Died 1247

Death of Robin Hood

According to John Major.

Died 1347

Death of Robin Hood

According to the Geste.

1498

'Robin Hood'

Used as an alias by Roger Marshall of Wednesbury, when he led a band of a hundred men in an allegedly lawless affray in Willenhall.

1469

Robin of Redesdale (Mend-all)

Used as an alias by Sir John Conyers, when, in 1469, malcontents took the field against the Yorkist government in Northumberland.

1469

Robin of Holderness

Used as an alias by Robert Hillyard of Winestead.

 

The supporting characters

Mentioned

Character

Sources/Comments

1318
1323 - 1325

Sheriff of Nottingham
(Henry de Faucumberg)

De Faucumberg has a history of stealing wood before becoming Sheriff. Fined in 1313, 1314 & 1315. Becomes Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1325-1327 and 1328-1330. In 1326 de Faucumberg is instructed to track down an outlaw gang led by Eustace de Folville.

1209 - 1224

Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire
(Philip Mark)

1209 - 1217
1221 - 1224
1233 - 1234

Chief Forester Notts & Derbys
Chief Justice of the Forest
Sheriff of Yorkshire
(Brian de Lisle)

1225 - 1226
1226

1232 - 1233

Sheriff of Yorkshire
Deputy Sheriff & Forest Justice
for the North of the Trent
Sheriff of Nottinghamshire
(Eustace of Lowdham)

When Deputy Sheriff of Yorkshire, it was Eustace who had to collect and account at the Michaelmas Exchequer of 1226 for the penalties imposed by Robert of Lexinton, who sat in judgement on Robert Hod, the fugitive.

late 1400s

Sir Guy of Gisburn / Gisborne

Features in one original ballad, Robin Hood & Guy of Gisborne, in which he is brutally slain and mutilated by Robin. This may be seen as a morality play, Good vs Evil or, more likely Spring, represented by Robin in Lincoln Green, defeating Winter, represented by the brown clad Sir Guy.

1508

Maid Marian

French pastoral play entitled Robin & Marion, 1283 (by Adam de la Halle) - (no resemblance originally, in any respect apart from the names) - in which the shepherdess Marion, loyal to her lover Robin, successfully resists the advances of a knight. The story contributed to the May Games in France, and was taken over by an English poet, John Gower in a long poem of 1376-1379 on virtues and vices, in which the eponymous heroes participate in rustic festivals; thus the names of Robin and Marion (Marian) were associated with such festivals quite early on and in view of this, it is remarkable that there is no mention of Marian in the earliest stories of Robin Hood. Two independent traditions therefore - Robin Hood and the Robin of the pastourelle - developed side by side and became intertwined during the sixteenth century.

1316, 1320s

Matilda (probably Matilda Hode of Wakefield)

According to one account, she and Robert of Wakefield (viz.) changed their names to Robin and Marian.

1700s

Clorinda

Queen of the Shepherds - a much later addition to the legend. According to the song, she was linked with Robin at Tutbury (Titbury) and was supposed to marry him.

1417 & 1429

Friar Tuck

A royal writ refers to trouble with a renegade Sussex priest who was robbing merchants with the help of a band of armed men. He is referred to as Robert Stafford, the chaplain of Lindfield, known as Friar Tuck. A further point of interest is that Lindfield is the next parish to Fletching, where the surname 'Robynhod' was first recorded in 1296. If it is correct to think of Fletching as a centre from which the legend spread in Sussex, it is easy to see how it came to embrace Friar Tuck. He was still at large in 1429.

1280s
mid-1400s

Little John
 

According to one source, this was not an ironic nickname - he really was about four feet tall. Referred to by Andrew Wyntoun as being active with Robin Hood in the 1280s. The earliest reference to Little John's grave at Hathersage appears in 1680.

Much the Miller (putative)

According to one source it was he rather than Little John who was the giant of the Merry Men, but generally - depending on the placement of a comma - there is no mention of him.

mid-1400s

Much, the Miller's son

Is his name 'Much', or is he the nameless son of Much the Miller? - (it depends if one puts a comma after 'Much'). Maybe both he and his father were named (nicknamed) Much.

1287
mid-1400s

Will Scathlock (Scarlett)

A William Scathlock is listed as being a monk at St Mary's Abbey in York in the late thirteenth century. He was expelled from the abbey in 1287.

1700s

Allen a'Dale

According to a later ballad writer, Robin Hood helped Allen, a villager whose intended bride was kidnapped by a rich old knight.

late 1900s

Nazir

A modern addition, Nazir was a Moor, recruited from the Holy Land following an exploit of Robin's in the Crusades.

 

The original tales / source material

Mentioned

Title of ballard

Characters/Comments

1322

 

A document of this year refers to a 'stone of Robin Hood' in Yorkshire, suggesting that the ballads - if not the actual man - were well known by that date.

1377

Langland's Piers Plowman

Mentions Robyn Hood.

Earliest mention of Robyn Hood, suggesting that rhymes about him were already extant in the last quarter of the fourteenth century.

1450

Robin Hood & The Monk

Robin, Little John, Much the Miller's son.

1502

Robin Hood & The Potter

Robin, Little John, The Sheriff.

1492 - 1534

A Geste of Robyn Hode or
A Lytell Geste of Robyn Hode

Robin, Little John, Much the Miller's son, Will Scarlock, The Sheriff.

There were five versions in all, deriving from a single source, which has been lost and its author unknown, but which may have been composed as early as 1400.

pre-1490s

Robin Hoode His Death

Robin, Will Scarlett, Little John.

One of the manuscripts in the Percy Folio (published 1650), rescued from destruction in the mid-1700s. This manuscript, however, is much earlier.

pre-1470s

Robin Hood & Guy of Gisborne

Robin, Little John, Guy of Gisborne.

Also contained in the Percy Folio (published 1650).

pre-1470s

Robin Hood & the Curtal Friar

Robin, the Friar.

Also contained in the Percy Folio (published 1650).

1325 - 1340

Fouke le Fitz Waryn

1475

Dramatic fragment

Robin, Will Scarlett, Friar Tuck.

The Sheriff Fragment of twenty-one lines, which duplicates part of Guy of Gisborne and The Curtal Friar.

1420

Andrew Wyntoun - Original Chronicle of Scotland

Says that Robin and Little John were renowned in the thirteenth century.

1445

Walter Bower, continues John Fordun's fourteenth century Scotichronicon

He wrote about 'the most famous cut-throat Robin Hood... whom the foolish multitude are so extravagantly fond of celebrating'. He dates Robin's activities to 1266.

1473

Sir John Paston's letter to his brother

Refers to 'Robin Hood Plays' in which he paid a servant to act as Robin. He also refers to Barnsdale as Robin's base, implying that he considered Robin to be an historical figure.

1521

John Major - History of Greater Britain

Scottish writer Major places the Robin Hood story in the 1200s, recording a date of 1160 for his birth, and 1247 for his death. Major asserts that Robin Hood was outlawed between 1193 & 1194.

1542

John Leland, Collectiana

Henry VIII's chief antiquarian, refers to a Robin Hood as an historical figure.

1562

Richard Grafton's Chronicle

Claims to have discovered an 'old and authentic pamphlet' recording Robin's life.

 

The later tradition

Including nineteenth century author, F J Childs' collection of 33 Ballads (marked in green) - 1663 & 1670.

First appeared

Title

Comments

1632

Martin Parker's The True Tale of Robin Hood

1598

The Downfall of Robert Earl of Huntingdon by Anthony Munday

1600

The Death of Robert Earl of Huntingdon by Anthony Munday & Henry Chettle

1600

A Short Life of Robin Hood

Also known as the Sloan Manuscript.

1735

Robin Whood Turned Hermit

Robin Hood & The Bishop
Robin Hood's Golden Prize
Robin Hood & The Bishop of Hereford
Robin Hood Rescuing Three Squires
Robin Hood Rescuing Will Stutly
Robin Hood & Queen Katherine
Robin Hood's Progress to Nottingham
The Golden Arrow
Robin Hood's Chase

 

The King's Disguise & Friendship with Robin Hood
Robin Hood & The Valiant Knight
Robin Hood Newly Reviv'd
The Bold Pedlar & Robin Hood
Robin Hood & The Prince of Aragon
Robin Hood's Birth, Breeding, Valor & Marriage
The Noble Fisherman
Robin Hood & Allen a'Dale
Robin Hood & Little John

Robin Hood & The Pinder of Wakefield
Robin Hood's Delight
Robin Hood & The Ranger
Robin Hood and the Scotchman
Little John a'Begging
Robin Hood & The Shepherd
Robin Hood & The Pedlars
Robin Hood & The Tanner
Robin Hood & The Butcher
Robin Hood & The Tinker
Robin Hood & The Beggar

early 18th C

Robin Hood's Garland

Features Sir Robert of Loxley. Collection first published by the printer, C Dicey of London.

1746

William Stukeley

1795

Joseph Ritson's Robin Hood

Account 'savaged' in 1846, by Thomas Wright, who argued that Robin Hood was entirely mythical, being no more than a variant of 'Robin of the Wood'.

17th C

Roger Dodsworth

Refers to Robert Locksley in South Yorkshire, who becomes acquainted with Little John, whose grave is at Hathersage in Derbyshire.

1852

Mr Hunter's Critical and Historical Tracts. No IV. The Ballad Hero Robin Hood

Joseph Hunter completely refashioned the whole question of Robin's possible identity. He identifies him as Robert Hood of Wakefield who then takes service as a porter with King Edward II after the latter's royal progress in 1323, finally leaving to return to his haunts in Barnsdale in 1324. This is no more than conjecture. Hunter sought to verify the Geste by recorded fact, but on finding none, had to use the Geste to corroborate his hypothesis! - A circular route.

1944

Yorkshire Archaeological Journal No. 36

J W Walker stated that Robert and Matilda Hode changed their names to Robin and Marian.

Plus original ballads.

 

Extract from Robin Hood's Birth, Breeding, Valour and Marriage

This battle was fought near to Titbury town,
When the bagpipes bated the bull;
I am king of the fiddlers, and sware 'tis a truth,
And I call him that doubts it a gull.

For I saw them fighting, and fiddled the while,
And Clorinda sung, Hey derry down!
The bumpkins are beaten, put up thy sword, Bob,
And now let's dance into the town.

Before we came to it, we heard a strange shouting,
And all that were in it, lookd madly;
For some were a bull-back, some dancing a morris,
And some singing Arthur-a-Bradly.

And there we see Thomas, our justices clerk,
And Mary, to whom he was kind;
For Tom rode before her, and calld Mary, Madam,
And kist her full sweetly behind.

And so may your worships. But we went to dinner,
With Thomas and Mary and Nan;
They all drank a health to Clorinda, and told her
Bold Robin, he was a fine man.

 

Robin Hood's territory

Robin Hood's territory: Sherwood and Barnsdale in the Middle Ages

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Copyright
Images and text copyright BBC or affiliates. Reproduction is made on a 'fair dealing' basis for the purpose of disseminating relevant information to a specific audience. No breach of copyright is intended or inferred.
Text copyright Mick Baker. Images copyright Dan Shadrake and used with permission. An original feature for the History Files.