Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Legend of Robin Hood

First off I apologize for this blog coming out later in the week, but I've been battling a cold/flu and trying to get ready for the Holidays :) Without further ado, I give you The Legend of Robin Hood...

What do you think of when you hear mention of Robin Hood? Do you think of a handsome man depriving greedy abbotts, princes and sheriffs of their coin and jewels, and then gallantly taking them to distribute among the poor? A criminal? A murderer? Do you think of a debonair hero whisking his lady love onto his horse for a romantic ride? Or do you think of a humorous fox? Tell me, what does Robin Hood mean to you?

(To the left is a memorial statue of Robin Hood in Nottingham.)

The first references to Robin Hood were not told in romantic or even bawdy ballads. They weren't written in stories or records of the affluent or the poor. No, a mere mention here and there in various rolls of the English Justices across England. The name was spelled differently, often seen as Robinhood, Robehod, Hobbehod or Rabunhod. The name started to pop up in the 13th century. But it wasn't in reference to one person. In actuality, it appeared that our dear Robin was just another name for crook and criminal. But who's to say that they didn't start calling all thieves of the nobles Robin's after the hero in our imaginations, started to truly do his deeds?

The name took hold and would continue to brand those with treacherous backgrounds well into the middle ages and beyond, with even Guy Fawkes calling Robert Cecil and his followers, Robin Hoods, in 1605.

Starting in the 14th century you will begin to see the name pop up in a more literary fashion, such authors as William Langdon and his poem, (1377) "The vision of William concerning Piers Plowman." Andrew of Wyntoun, and his work Orygynale Chronicle written in 1420, and written in the late 13oo's and edited in 1440 by Walter Bower, John of Fordun's Scotichronicon. In this last particular tale, it must be noted that the battle in Sherwood Forest, is very similar to a battle that took place there with Roger Godberd, who has often been sited as perhaps being the "real" Robin Hood. Here is a passage from Scotichronicon:

"Then arose the famous siccarius, [murderer,] Robert Hood, as well as Little John, together with their accomplices from among the disinherited, whom the foolish populace are so inordinately fond of celebrating both in tragedies and comedies, and about whom they are delighted to hear the jesters and minstrels sing above all other ballads."

Another great tale of Robin Hood, is The Gest of Robyn Hode, written supposedly sometime in the mid-15th century. Here is the first lines of this ballad:

“Lythe and listin, gentilmen,
That be of frebore blode;
I shall you tel of a gode yeman,
His name was Robyn Hode.”

(Here's a link to read the whole thing, I highly recommend you do: http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/gest.htm)

There is some speculation that the real Robin Hood was actually the Earl of Huntington. The below inscription is on a grave in Kirkless Priory, however many say the grave cannot possibly have come from the 13th century. But according to legend, this is where he travelled to where he was killed by the prioress and Sir Roger of Doncaster. This same inscription was written in notes by Thomas Gale, Dean of York in the 17th century, insinuating the very real existence of such a man.

"Hear undernead dis laitl stean
Lais Robert Earl of Huntingun
Near arcir der as hie sa geud
An pipl kauld im Robin Heud
Sic utlaws as hi an is men
Vil England nivr si agen.
Obiit 24 Kal Dekembris 1247"

One thing you will find repeatedly in all tales of this gallant, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor man, are the names of his "merry men" and of course his love interest, Maid Marian. There's Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet, Allan a Dale, and of course the very evil Sheriff of Nottingham, and Prince John. He's always portrayed as a brilliant archer. We know he lived in Sherwood Forest, where today although the acreage has gone from nearly 100,000 from Robin's time to 450, visitors still flock to the Major Oak, where tales tell us was the major meeting point for the band. Back in the day Sherwood forest was dense and packed not only with trees and the King's deer, but outlaws. It was easy to hide from the law in that forest... His hometown was referred to as Locksley, most likely Loxley of Yorkshire. These are the major key points, as time progressed the story has changed a little at a time, but never strays from the key characters and setting.

So do you think this mystery man existed? I for one do. Most ballads and tales came from something. I suspect there was such a man, perhaps not as notorious as stories would have you believe, but there must have been someone to promote such a strong legend that even fascinates us today, some 800 years later.


Anne Sorgeson said...

I believe there was something there too. You are right stories start from some truth. :) How cool! I love your research!!

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you Anne!

Unknown said...

Hi! I'm a big fan of your blog- there is something so fascinating to me about medieval life.

Also, there's a new Peterman's Eye Travel site and today's post is about medieval history. Thought I'd share!



Eliza Knight said...

Thank you Tina! I'm so glad you like it :)

I will check out that site!

Cindy K. Green said...

Great blog, Eliza. I love the Robin Hood character (based the hero in my fantasy novel after Robin). He's always been a favorite of mine. I even took time when I taught World History to have the kids learn more about the real RH when we studied Medieval Europe.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

This was great, Eliza. I have always been fascinated with this story. Whether it is true or not, embellished or true, in my heart Robin Hood is a hero and we all need our heros....

Lisa Alexander Griffin said...

Loved the post, Eliza. I also believe their is some truth in lore.If someone were to steal that would be for the noblest reason. lol.

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you Cindy, Paisley and Lisa!!!

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

What a great post Eliza. I've been fascinated by the Robin Hood legend ever since I saw the Errol Flynn film as a child, which has never been equaled, Robin Hood,Men in Tights the exception. I do believe that their is a grain of truth in the legend, but then I believe King Arthur existed as well. Have you seen any of the new Robin Hood series on BBC America?

Eliza Knight said...

Thanks Elizabeth! I believe that Arthur existed also! And Robin Hood Men in Tights is one of my favorites. Cary Elwes is a favorite actor of mine. I love him in Princess Bride.

I saw one episode of Robin Hood on BBC, and planned to watch more but I was watching it on demand, and comcast kept messing up...so I haven't finished yet. I may get the dvd's. From what I saw it looked good. Do you like it? I love that they are coming out with all these period shows, even if they aren't all historically accurate, they are so much better than "regular" tv. Almost like one long continuous movie.

Denise said...

Thank you for sharing this Eliza. I absolutely love Robin Hood. I love the BBC series as it's something great to watch and is as close as we are going to get besides knowing what history has left us. You can purchase the show on iTunes if you are looking for it.

TammiMagee said...

I live reasonably close to Sherwood Forest and recently went there for the first time. I was a little disappointed with Major Oak as it has lots of metal pipes holding all of its branches up-understandable in a way given the tree's age but they do ruin how the tree looks. I was fascinated to read on one of the info boards there that Major Oak was a popular place to visit during the Victorian period when wealthy Vcitorians would pose in front of the tree-they even had some of the pictures! Of course, you can no longer get as close as the Victorians and so any pictures of people in front of it now are quite a fair distance away.
Great post Eliza!

Shannon Robinson said...

Great post Eliza! I agree with you and believe that the legend we all know and love did at one time exist. My favorite portrayal of the story is Kevin Costner's "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves". Can't help wanting that fairy tale to come true! LOL!
Thanks for sharing!

Clement Glen said...

Thats a very informative and well-rounded post Eliza.

One of the most fascinating candidates who could have triggered the start of the legend was a 'Robert Hood fugitive' mentioned nine times in Yorkshire in the 1220's.

In the 1227 entry he is given the unusual nick-name HOBBEHOOD! What is also exciting is the fact that the Sheriff of Yorkshire who seized his chattels, Eustace of Lowdham, later became the Sheriff of Nottinghm.

The legend of Robin Hood is a very complex subject and can lead to all sorts of interesting topics. I have a blog that covers the legend,the history and an almost forgotten live action movie made by Walt Disney in England in 1952. Take a peek at:


Merrie Christmas to you and all your readers!

W. A. Mozart said...

Dear Friend, Gracious Lady!

I do beg your pardon, for this comment is not about the acclaimed Robin Hood, nor any of his ilk. It is about wayward me.

I regret that I have been quite remiss in my correspondence over the Autumn season, and I am compelled to beg your forgiveness. I am feeling more myself now, and I promise to continue to better myself in this regard and humbly ask to remain

Your true and faithful friend,

Lauren said...

Ok I admit! I was in need of some Hobbehod history!

Gillian Layne said...

Your blog posts are absolutely amazing, and I have been quite remiss in not commenting before now. Thanks for all this delicious information!

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you so much for the wonderful commets, Denisse, Tammi, Shannon, Clement of the Glen, Lauren and Gillian!

I'm so glad you all enjoy the blog! If it were't for my faithful readers, History Undressed wouldn't be the same :)

Eliza Knight said...


No need to apologize my friend! I always welcome you with anything you have to say :)


Randy Desre said...

Robin Hood is not really a favorite of mine. But when I think of him, I think of a criminal who has a heart. And he is quite fascinating.