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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 in which hapless peasants - largely Saxon - continued to suffer under the tyranny of their cruel Plantagenet 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, and so on.

Films and television have contributed to the legend. On tv there has been Errol Flynn's definitive Robin in the 1950s, Robin of Sherwood, played stiffly by Jason Connery and, before him, superbly by Michael Praed, the long-running television series starring Richard Green, and a similar twenty-first century effort, Robin Hood, starring Jonas Armstrong, not to mention perhaps the most accurate portrayal - The Legend of Robin Hood (a tv series of 1975) starring Martin Potter. On the big screen, Sean Connery played an ageing Robin in Robin and Marian, Russell Crowe put in a steadfast appearance in Robin Hood (2010), and then there was Kevin Costner's unwatchable Prince of Thieves,  There have even been parodies - Men in Tights, Up the Chastity Belt, Maid Marian and her Merry Men, and numerous comedy sketches.

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, 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.

Robin Hood

An artist's impression of the historical Robin Hood (click or tap on image to read more on a separate page)

The first mention of a Robert Hod or Hood comes from 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, sheriff of Yorkshire, 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 attend the army being send to fight 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, the fictitious earl of Huntingdon, may be identified with one Fulk Fitz Warine of Shropshire, who was born in 1170 and who 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.

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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.
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 thirty-two shillings and sixpence 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 because 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. So 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 fined three shillings. 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 are preceded by Adam, who appears in the first surviving court roll of 1274. He lives until at least 1314. There are also two John Hoods. All are tenants of the manor at Wakefield and surrounding townships, such as Newton, Stanley, and Alverthorpe.
24 March - 22 November 1324 Robyn Hode Is employed as a vadletz de la chambre - a royal valet or 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 and 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
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 & Derbyshire
Chief Justice of the Forest
Sheriff of Yorkshire
(Brian de Lisle)
1225 - 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 versus 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; therefore 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 becoming intertwined during the sixteenth century.
1316, 1320s Matilda
(probably Matilda Hode of Wakefield)
According to one account, she and Robert of Wakefield 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.
Little John According to one source, this was not an ironic nickname - he really was about 1.2 metres 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 upon whether one places a comma after 'Much'). Maybe both he and his father were named (nicknamed) Much.
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 (click or tap on image to read more on a separate page)



Text copyright © Mick Baker. Images copyright © Dan Shadrake and used with permission. An original feature for the History Files.