The Robin Hood Legend
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Robin Hood : Fact or Fiction ?

Off On The Outlaw Trail Again ..!

A personal view from Richard Rutherford-Moore

 

Historic tour guide for 'On the Outlaw Trail in Robin Hood County'

Historical consultant, The History Channel 'The Real Robin Hood' (2000)

Author of 'The Legend of Robin Hood' (1999)

and

'Robin Hood : On the Outlaw Trail in Nottingham and Sherwood Forest' (2002)

 

UFO's, King Arthur, the Loch Ness Monster, The Abominable Snowman, Bigfoot, Robin Hood . you may not believe that any of these exist but the simple fact that if you could recycle the amount of printed paper matter written about them all back into trees you'd be a fair way to starting another Sherwood Forest. They are as much a part of our lives as waking up each day. A researcher who I met at the 2nd International Robin Hood Convention in 1999 publicly stated they didn't believe there had ever been a real Robin Hood after enjoying the enthusiasm of delegates two days later said "Robin Hood ! Had he never existed, someone would have had to invent him !"

Robin Hood has gone a long way from his original character through many centuries of story-telling interpretations of the world-famous outlaw and for the present-day audiences into cinema and television. Most of what the average person today knows about Robin Hood is relatively modern, based on children's adventure stories, books or radio plays written since 1860 and through adapted traditional themes in feature films such as 'Robin Hood and his Merrie Men' (1952) 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' (1938) and 'Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves' (1991). Robin has changed from the character in old stories and pre-1450 printed ballads into a totally different character - not only Robin Hood but all the persons surrounding him. An echo of this change were answers to my question What does you know most about Robin Hood ? to a clergyman, a policeman and a ten-year old girl at the Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre in 1998. The churchman said he respected Robin's kindness to the Poor ; the policeman replied that Robin Hood was simply a thief ; the ten-year-old replied that 'Robin Hood stood up for poor people, and if the Sheriff or anyone else tried to push him around he walloped them.'

 

In a History of Britain published in 1521, Robin Hood is identified by the author with being active around 1160, having a noble background and having the family name FitzOothe. After Anthony Munday's two plays in 1598 named The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntington (including - along with Robin Hood - a Maid Marian nee 'Matilda, daughter of Fitzwalter' chased around and finally poisoned by King John) Martin Parker's poem The True Tale of Robin Hood came out in 1632 and added a bit of swashbuckling and gallantry to Munday's popular theme ; this became the norm throughout the 17th Century with 'the Normans' emerging as the target for Robin's vengeance. In 1700, the term Earl of Huntington had appeared on a popular graveslab in terms very similar to the epitaph in Parker's poem. The Robin Hood we know became cemented into popular society after the publication of Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott in the early 19th Century and this is the theme followed in 1938 in the feature film - claiming in the credits to base the screenplay on 'traditional Robin Hood stories', Robin of Loxley is identified as the hero of 'oppressed Saxons under the heel of Norman tyranny'. However, it had been 150 years since the Norman Conquest and it is unlikely that any racial tension such as that portrayed had survived to the year 1194, although a 'class struggle' in perpetuity may have existed through a senior Bishop being able to say at the time "the poor and common people own nothing ; except their stomachs". To enable Robin Hood to fit into the theme as a popular 'Man of the People', he was eventually given noble birth and made an aristocrat from the mid-16th Century. It probably had an origin and connections to King Arthur, another 'man of the people' and who stood against the ancient hereditary droits de Signeur and force majeure in 'Might for Right' as an alternative to 'Might is Right'. The main theme - although very enjoyable - is historically flawed. King Richard however was not the 'good and well-loved' monarch of these tales, but a brutal and willful soldier who spent only six months of his ten-year reign in England and once said that he would willingly 'sell London if anyone could be found rich enough to buy it'. The oppressive tax system often hung around his brother King John's neck in Robin Hood stories by the author was actually created by their father Henry II, adopted by Richard I and passed on to John in turn. The original tax system was pre-1066 adapted by the Normans after the Conquest as the Saxon system was seen to be much more efficient, their legal system much easier to apply and their coinage pure in manufacture and widely accepted. The detested 'Forest Laws' that made living in Sherwood purgatory for ordinary common folk tempted by starvation to poaching were not instigated by the Norman invaders but by preceding Saxon and English kings - 'forest' was a Norman-French legal term not a descriptive one in those days : forest law encompassed lakes, streams, rivers, moorland and heath and in one case of a royal forest no woodland at all. It was - amongst lots of other things - against 'forest law' to interfere with royal deer or game even if they were eating you out of house and home by consuming your crops - it was an offence to drive them off or cause them to suffer injury on your property, punishable in the extreme by Death ; for example when in 1202 a 'royal' deer drowned by accident in a village mill-pond, the mill and pond in question became the legal property of the Crown by way of compensation for the loss of the deer.

 

Clothed in the "summer livery" of dark green and practising at the butts with an ash longbow. The forester is carrying some of his patrol gear, though his pack has been discarded nearby. One tradition gives Robin Hood the profession of Royal Forester before becoming an outlaw.
A Royal Forester, circa 1150-1200

Evidence that Papplewick was once a headquarters for Royal Foresters. An engraved graveslab said to have been laid over a forester from the 12th Century church, showing a hunting horn on a sling, a bow and arrow fitted with a "swallowtail" flesh-cutting hunting barb for large game such as deer. Similar graveslabs and effigies of foresters exist in other Nottinghamshire churches. Papplewick became the property of the new Augustinian priory of St Mary's (now "Newstead Abbey") by the grant of Henry 11 in 1172.

 

Richard I upon his release from captivity and subsequent return to England in 1194 had to convince several castle constables (who had gained their jobs through Prince John) that it really was him and to let him in. Nottingham Castle refused, forcing Richard in a rage to smash his way into the Castle's wooden Gatehouse, burn it to the ground and hang the survivors in full view of the rest of the garrison. They eventually capitulated ; John was publicly banished from England and to stay in Normandy in the Great Hall in the Middle Bailey (although privately he was forgiven by his elder brother and permitted to come and go as he wished). Although Sir Walter Scott based the siege of the castle on this episode, with both Richard (in disguise) and Robin Hood present, history does not include Robin as present during the actual event but also misses several persons who were. Another prime time for an appearance of Robin Hood would be at the signing of Magna Carta by King John in 1215. Although not giving the poor or peasant classes much in the way of human rights, it was the beginning of the end and after all change and fair-play was what Robin Hood was supposed to be fighting for. Once again, he is not recorded as being present but neither were several important persons who were. Does the above reveal that Robin Hood was maybe not important enough, off on Crusade, busy in Sherwood, persona non grata or simply didn't exist ?

Between 1520 and 1560, two Royal historians wrote that Robin Hood was real, with evidence supporting their claims. Unfortunately neither named their sources and historians ever since have been unable to find them either, but it didn't stop Munday in 1598 using their ideas for his plays. Set against the ever-changing media and literary background, we do have some medieval records to consider. Most of the current 'hard evidence' supporting a real Robin Hood character falls within the period 1226 to 1354 ( the reigns of Henry III and Edward's I - II - III ). In a social poem written in 1377 named Piers Plowman, a reference is made to a simple chap not knowing the Lord's Prayer but knowing by heart the traditional tales of 'rhymes of Robin Hood and Randulf, Earl of Chester'. So we know that in the 14th Century Robin Hood was well-known ; the two Randulf's in question were known for exploits between 1130 and 1230 - can we go back into the 13th Century ? The line in the poem above is taken by some researchers as an indication that Robin Hood was active and well-known during this era as we have contempory records of :

'Robert Hode' cited for murder in Cirencester in 1213

'Robert Hod' outlawed at York Assizes in 1225 for failing to appear at court, after which the High Sheriff confiscates his property and belongings and offers a reward for the runaway known as 'HobbeHod'.

William le Fevers, a man brought to court in Berkshire in 1261 to answer charges of assault and robbery : in a second similar court case brought in 1262 his name is recorded as William 'Robehod'.

The surname 'Robynhod' appeared for the first time around the same period as the above, circa 1260, perhaps linked with a man or men who fought for Simon de Montfort at Evesham in 1265 as the survivors of the defeated rebels were subsequently 'outlawed', taking to the forests and woodlands for shelter and concealment as many of their ancestors had done before them, trying to buy themselves back into society by living off the proceeds of highway robbery and poaching. Through references mainly to 'Sayles' and 'Wentbridge', the 'Barnsdale' of early Robin Hood stories is placed south of the Humber Estuary sitting astride one of the main medieval roads to York and a site known and recorded in the 13th Century to be a 'nest of robbers, thieves and outlaws, requiring an armed escort by which to be able to pass through without assault'. After the battle near this spot at Borobridge in 1322, the defeated rebels who had fought for Lancaster against Edward II were also forced to take to the woods and subsist on robbery and poaching, these events taken to support the following claim. In the early 14th Century, a Robert and Matilda Hode can be found in pipe-roll records from Wakefield, in Yorkshire. Set against the background of a major revolt and battle there in 1322 during the reign of Edward II and including operations in the lawless area of Barnsdale with Edward II visiting Nottingham in 1323 many believe through this man's connections with the Royal Court and being 'outlawed' at least once that 'Robert Hode of Wakefield' was the 'real' Robin Hood of history, with his wife becoming the 'Maid Marian' of later ballads. Traditional sites in the area and named for Robin Hood are also used in support - "Robin Hood's Well" and "Robin Hood's Grave" to name but two - and also the mentions in the older ballads of Barnsdale, where one Robert Hode is once said to have dwelt. It was Edward III who gave the first royal patronage to the 'King Arthur / Robin Hood' tradition circa 1350. The claim for 'Robert Hode of Wakefield' being the real Robin Hood has been placed under the academic microscope by several successive historians and through a large gap in dates, times and locations successively dismissed as 'unlikely'.

From the year 1700, 'Robin Hood' place-names begin to appear but are also seen to have been changed and the name 'Robin Hood' added, some of these supplanting 'The Horned God' or 'The Green Man' of an ancient Neolithic and Danelaw pagan heritage. Before the year 1600 historians generally argued and debated as to 'Where and When' Robin Hood operated, not 'If'' : one typical historian, William Bower, wrote in 1440 that 'in 1266 arose the famous murderers Robin Hood and Little John, together with their accomplices from among the dispossessed, whom the stupid multitude are so inordinately fond of celebrating'. In 1795 a historian named William Stukeley borrowed from the previous attempts at doing so by the two 16th Century historians and succeeded in giving his Robin Hood a complete family tree and also an aristocratic pedigree ; once again, like his predecessors he also didn't record his sources and once again it has given researchers a headache trying to find them ever since. The background to the claims of historians from 1600 through to 2000 was that as their fellow contempory historians couldn't find any trace of original early medieval source records they pronounced that as the documentary evidence cited couldn't be found then they didn't exist and neither did the Earl of Huntington, hence Robin Hood couldn't have existed either.

A famous "Robin Hood's House" once existed in Nottingham - but named not for the outlaw, but the popular lay-actor who played the character of Robin Hood for many years in May-time folk plays and similar entertainments. In 1429 Robert Strafford, the leader of a robber-band operated in Sussex but named himself at the time 'Friar Tuck' as to his intentions and a complement to the Robin Hood-characters' exploits. The first comic opera performed in France was performed there in 1285. It was written someone named Adam de la Hale who had a curious nickname - 'The Hunchback of Arras'. In his play, Le Jeu de Robin et Marian performed in French but could be set anywhere, the male lead is named Robin and is seen as a boastful shepherd who tells a shepherdess named Marian that he is afraid of nothing ; a nobleman arrives and courts Marian, flattering her with his attentions. Surprising the pair together and challenged by the new suitor, Robin turns out to be a coward. The nobleman eventually leaves Marian and Robin is received back by Marian under sufferance. You can read a lot into this brief description ; it has some of the traditional themes from Robin Hood and includes an early Marian-figure but the plot is so unlike Robin Hood that many researchers have previously dismissed it as 'unconnected with the legend'. But is it ? Two celebrated Scots historians writing between 1400 and 1440 both stated firmly that Robin Hood was alive and active between the years 1260 and 1280, but without mentioning specifically why (although it may have been to do with active research at the time on the grave of 'Little John', now in modern Strathclyde).

It has often been stated before that it is entirely possible that there was more than one Robin Hood in more than a single historical period : but it is finding the original Robin Hood that researchers and historians find the greatest - and the most frustrating - challenge. A large proportion of the remaining medieval manuscripts, records and archives have yet to be read and properly examined ; who knows what remains to be found and perhaps one day the elusive proof for a real Robin Hood may emerge. More than one historian has also claimed that Robin Hood's existence is doubtful as nobody ever took the trouble to write down in any document that they had ever actually talked with Robin Hood, seen him or knew anyone who had seen or met him : this does not reflect that until the 17th Century the average person could not read or write - the exception to this being senior clergy, who in the old Robin Hood stories are singled out by Robin Hood in his personal philosophy to his band of followers as a prime target for chastisement along with the central authority through their avarice and neglect of their peasant congregations, set down in one ballad as "These Bishoppes and Archbishoppes You shall them beat and bind ; the High Sheriff of Nottingham You keep him on your mind." The clergy were hardly going to mention Robin Hood, particularly saying anything in his favour by confirming his existence. The first books to be printed in England were based on public demand ; they were The Holy Bible and books containing rhymes, ballads and tales about Robin Hood. In a census a few years ago asking people who in their opinion was the most popular man in history, Jesus Christ came first with Robin Hood a close second.

Can we trace Robin Hood into the 12th Century ? There are real historic personages from this era who performed acts of treason, robbery and murder and in some cases suffer the consequences for their actions, but who get scanty treatment in period records. Hereward The Wake (as a single example from almost a dozen) even after the defeated Saxon rebellions and subsequent Earl of Huntingdon's execution in 1076 still refused to acknowledge the Norman ascendancy to the English throne after 1066, carried on a one-man war for many years in the Cambridgeshire Fens similar to Alfred the Great's successful resistance to the Danes two hundred years earlier, and at one time assisted by a foreign army landing by sea attacked and captured Peterborough, burning the castle-cathedral there to the ground. What happened to Hereward is not certain - you have the choice of him living to a ripe old age within his damp stronghold after being pardoned by William I or being betrayed by a close friend or relative and assassinated by Norman knights. I need not point out the similarities between the story of Hereward the Wake and the famous 'lytell Geste of Robin Hood' ballad, a possible early attempt to set down the life and times of the well-known outlaw on paper for posterity. Compared with the international popularity of Robin Hood, our stalwart folk-hero Hereward despite his own exciting adventures is in danger of passing out of our knowledge completely.

 

An 18th Century engraving of the remains of what is now known as King John's Palace, Clipstone (south-west of Edwinstowe) and dating back from the early part of the 12th century. The "hunting lodge" was expanded by Henry 1 and 11 into an extensive domain with two halls, large stables, chapels, a jail and adjacent to a large hunting park surrounded by a "pele" (fence). Both sites were secretly fortified by Prince John and had to be challenged by Richard 1 upon his return in March 1194. Robin Hood is said to have "rescued" Maid Marian held prisoner by Prince John at this site. A similar but better preserved "hunting lodge" site exists near Tuxford.

 

A manuscript in Lincoln Cathedral said to date circa 1400 is said to be a text of an early 'lytell Geste' and includes the lines "Robin Hood in Sherwood stood, hooded and hatted, hosed and shod, four and thirty arrows he bore in his hands " There are other records in the form of ancient manuscripts which add tantalising touches to the medieval background : another anonymous note in the British Museum attributed to the year 1400 stating 'Robin Hood was born in Lockesley, a village in Yorkshire or Nottinghamshire, in the year 1160'. This popular theme ran from 1600 - despite several declarations by historians that the existence of Robin Hood was totally unproved - when it was published again in 1920 with the early historians concerned used in support but once again unfortunately not referring to where they found their source material - one in 1600 claimed that the village concerned was in Bradfield, South Yorkshire and defined the actual birthplace as a cottage at Haggars Croft. Circa 1900 Loxley was confirmed by a later historian as the birthplace of Robin Hood but not the one cited in South Yorkshire or - mainly through a printing error - in north Nottinghamshire but a village over eighty miles further south in Warwickshire. The historian in question also supplied another 'real' Robin Hood character who fitted the outlaw bill, complete with an actual gravesite.

Robin Hood stories were 'set in stone' when first printed on paper after 1450. However, this didn't last long - the basic formats began to change again, adopted to suit a time and place. It is from the printed stories and the manuscripts they evolved from that more evidence setting the stories in a recognised historical time-frame is taken as possible clues. Monetary measures and prices of goods is one way to do this. The 'lytell Geste of Robin Hood' mentions a 'comely King Edward' and is cited by some as evidence of the Robin Hood event happening between the years 1265 and 1377 - a time of tremendous social upheaval in England and as Edward II visited Nottingham in 1323 - but hinted by me in my books as an indication of the longevity of a good story and suggesting the monarch may even have been Edward the Confessor, who reigned pre-1066. I am the only researcher I know of to liken the original story of Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar in similarity to the Sunday-school story of St Christopher and in the same way, Jesus founding his church upon the 'rock' of St Peter and Robin Hood founding his personal philosophy upon his stalwart companion, 'Little John' by which way that character later gained his enormous stature and strength by being transformed into a similar 'rock'. Many researchers today do not apply the term myth to Robin Hood through the dictionary definition of a myth being 'originating from popular imagination rather than fact' and instead apply the term legend, defined by them as 'stories or tales attributed to a real or fictional person having special qualities or having performed heroic deeds themselves based in fact or fiction'.

 

A sketch reconstruction drawn by John Hodgson between 1827 and 1832 of the four-foot high figure originally carved in the 2nd Century AD. The stone upon which the figure is carved originally stood just at the side of the Roman highway named "Watling Street", a place-name mentioned in an old Robin Hood ballad.
"Robin of Risingham"

 

The trail is getting a little fainter now but can we trace Robin Hood beyond the Norman Conquest - perhaps even further, using archaeology rather than medieval records. Troops from Germany arrived at Emperor Hadrian's Wall circa 200AD to support regular Roman soldiers. Two altars from a chapel once part of the wall near Risingham were excavated after being discovered in a nearby river and dated to this era ; upon the altars stands a carved figure, a huntsman carrying a bow and arrows with his dogs, standing under an oak tree. The old Romano-British god figure Cocidius Silvanus is said to be linked upon the altars with the Germanic god Mogons. Sir Walter Scott saw the altars, wrote a poem about them inspired by a local rhyme which names the figure depicted as 'Robin'. Cernunnos is believed by historians to have been the main deity of the Celts, but hardly anything is known of him in detail except an important connection to animals, especially deer. The god Cernunnos (not actually his real name as that remains unknown) is a descriptive term likened to the gods appearance in being 'horned' and his ability to change shape. This god shares some characteristics with Robin Hood, mostly through his enigmatic mystery and the connection with woodland animals and with 'The Green Man' through his depiction in his lower parts being tentacle-like and holding coiled serpents in his hands. Images of Cernunnos have been found all over Western Europe, some having three faces and dated to this period ; the most famous image being the one seen on The Gundestrup Bowl (dug up in a Danish bog and dated to the 1st Century BC) connected with immortality through rebirth. Despite our lack of modern knowledge, Cernunnos remained a firm belief for over 400 years and was passed on by the Celts to the Romans as an altar carving of him was excavated from beneath Notre Dame Cathedral in Gallo-Roman remains dated to the 4th Century, with another of him found at Rheims showing Apollo and Mercury subservient to him as the central figure. Cernunnos has a connection in appearance to cave paintings of the Neolithic period (circa 35,000BC) and his name and characteristics are also connected to the god Odin and one of his 'English' identities, Herne the Hunter (circa 8th Century). Another Celtic deity - Esus - was a woodland god and at least one stone statue excavated in proximity to a period forest settlement shows the god holding a bow.

 

"Cerunnos"

The god is the squatting figure, with stags nearby. (Detail from The Gundestrup Cauldron)

 

Any search today for Robin Hood should take into account all these aspects which is why setting initial parameters for Robin Hood research is a good idea as a study can quickly enter very deep and lengthy areas. Initial shocks for young or new researchers are usually discovering from the oldest five ballads and the play that Robin Hood never actually stole from the Rich to give to the Poor, never rode a horse, was beaten badly in all of his early fights, and to get him out of the trouble he always ended up in through acting rashly relied on help in the spiritual form of Our Lady or the common-sense brain of Little John - who in the early days was not the giant of a man we always thought him to be - and even though Robin and John spent long periods apart and not talking to each other as a result of violent arguments, something in 2000 claimed to have been interpreted and attributed by one historian in his latest book through them having a 'love-hate' homosexual relationship.

The modern media generally sets out any claim or dispute involving Robin Hood in an inwardly light-hearted but straightforwardly controversial manner and then sits back to await the knee-jerk reaction to their report from readers or viewers as any reader of the Nottingham Evening Post or listener to BBC Radio Nottingham will already be well aware of. These sometimes offensive and commercially-orientated claims persist and are guaranteed coverage by local media as the faithful 'merry-persons' of Nottinghamshire can always be relied upon to give a mighty verbal-volley of sharpened barbs in return to any 'outside' claims by authors or historians as to speculative changes in Robin Hoods' traditional origins or his adopted home that take him in any form away from Sherwood Forest or Nottingham. The ensuing and sometimes thunderous exchanges usually last for two or three days until another story breaks and the ruffled feathers are allowed to settle back down until the next claim. A 'revelation' by a journalist in the Independent (July 2001) from a university researcher stating Robin Hood was not a nobleman or a peasant but 'something in between, perhaps a civil servant' died a death when it was pointed out that this was not a new discovery at all and speculation through the hunting terms used in certain Robin Hood stories about his origins as a royal forester who fell foul of the law and became an outlaw had been published in the 18th Century. Most journalists have an obvious problem taking anything to do with Robin Hood seriously. This is a reflection on the post-1950's in the aspect of Robin Hood being seen as mainly for children and involving play-acting by adults dressed in whatever their wives or girlfriends could run up for them on a sewing machine and invariably referred to as wearing 'green tights' before the spoof film 'Robin Hood ; Men In Tights' (1993) - the standard joke has since worn thin.

 

"There's been a killing here..." An illustration of a Royal Forester patrolling the snow from an old Robin Hood book for children. This is much more the sort of appearance of a woodsman than most illustrations but dressed like this the man would not survive long in Sherwood in winter-time with the seasonal arrival of the wolf-pack and temperatures of minus ten.

 

The transfer of Robin Hood away from the adult themes of murder, revenge, betrayal, poaching, imbibing ale and an early-morning roadside punch-up at the drop of a hat began with the troubles caused by young people in the 15th - early 17th Centuries playing the parts of 'Robin Hood and The Merry Men' during May Day celebrations and festivals and by the resulting drunkeness and rioting being seen as wholly immature by the older generation who got the job of sorting them all out both during and after the revels ; one chronicler in 1550 wrote ". the (May Day) celebrations were kept in a tavern rather than a church, in such an intemperance of eating and drinking as is the sworn enemy of chastity, and in dances and lewd songs that are equally her foe." Another chronicler over a hundred years earlier in 1439 wrote about an assembly of youngsters preparing to celebrate a village May Day but " in a manner of war, riot, rout and insurrection were arrayed and in the manner of insurrection went off into the nearby woods of the country like as had been Robin Hood and his Merry Men." In Scotland in the 15th century, when the southron 'Robin Hood bug' caught on as a May Day opportunity for a drunken spree got out of hand, stern-faced Scots clergymen banned the portrayal of Robin Hood or any member of his band and reinforced this by also forbidding the practice there of the election of the traditional 'Lord of Misrule'. By the mid-18th Century a man could write that the locals in his village still thought of Robin Hood as "displaying a spirit of freedom and independence from unjust authority which endeared him to the common people whose cause he maintained." One facet of Robin Hood today is still the rowdy adolescent aspect that lies just beneath the surface waiting to burst out and indulge itself in unacceptable behaviour - to 'grown-ups' anyway, and something Sigmund Freud would have no problem recognising. By Victorian times, Robin Hood enjoyed a popular resurgence within upper-class society but the lower classes of the time were expected by them to both know and keep their place in society and not revenge themselves 'as Robin Hood would and did' on a cruel world or a dominating upper-class by turning to crime or drink. Robin's previous bad behaviour was moderated and any violence amended into the simple honesty of a young, healthy outdoor back-to-nature nobleman who 'fought only in self-defence, never permitted any harm to come to females, and stole only from greedy abbots' ; any lapses or contradictions in this as sometimes occurred could be forgiven as one could forgive a child's bad behaviour or an adolescent who knew no better. J M Barrie noted the changes in Robin Hood whilst working as a journalist in Nottingham and they inspired him to create his childhood hero Peter Pan, an green-clad adventurous boy living in Never-Never Land who never grows any older. The similarities between Peter Pan and Robin Hood are pretty obvious, with Barrie himself giving the royalties from the book to The Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children and bequeathing to them the copyright, which ran out in 1987.

 

The Victorian resurgence; Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest challenged by a sentry of "The Robin Hood Rifles", an adornement for a Nottingham stately home circa 1860. The "Robin Hood Rifles" were originally a late Victorian military volunteer rifle unit based at Nottingham Castle. Above the front door of this particular dwelling is a large and beautifully carved plinth showing the smiling head of Robin Hood flanked by the heads of all the main characters from the legend.

 

A site near to where I now live in Sherwood Forest was known locally in the 18th Century as "Robin Hood's Piss-Pot" but was suitably amended in order not to offend the sensibilities of visiting Victorians to "Robin Hood's Chamber Pot" and when it was found that still conjured up unacceptable images then became "Robin Hood's Hill" (even though there were already three other sites within sight of the spot). Mock Beggars Castle was once the name for a singularly striking natural double-outcrop of rock adjacent to a large Neolithic - Bronze Age settlement with several circles in Derbyshire. Below it in a field stands a megalithic structure, a tall stone circle named Nine Stone Close beside a small Iron Age fort. The outcrop since circa year 1700 has been known as Robin Hood's Stride : the associated folk tale states that Robin Hood once stood on the rocky outcrop legs apart with one foot on each turret, and urinated on the meadow. Nine maidens who glimpsed him doing so were instantly turned to stone, and have remained there ever since. Another similar story involves the stone circle at the northern end of this site, with The Nine Ladies linked with an outlying stone, The Kings' Stone. Both are traditional stories concerning fertility or continuity but giving Robin Hood a role in each of them that is somewhat different from his usual exploits. In this instance, pagans who still use the site for worship and ritual point to the Robin Hood in this instance actually being The Green Man or The Horned God aspect of the 'Old Religion'. There are many other 'Robin Hood' sites nearby ; for example, ten miles north of this spot lies the traditional grave of 'Little John' in the village of Hathersage and fifteen miles to the north-west, the South Yorkshire village of Loxley. The enigmatic 'foliate head' still ornamenting church and cathedral today and said to be modelled on The Green Man began to appear in 12th Century England, although known in central Europe before that time : it's appearance in England co-inciding with the traditional era of Robin Hood circa 1180-1280 is used to indicate a link between them. You can spot these foliate heads in churches throughout England and in old Sherwood from Edwinstowe to Southwell and in St Mary's Nottingham, a church within the old Saxon burgh.

 

An unusual "Green Man" or "foliate head" seen hiding under a misericord in Southwell Minster - the Chapter House holds several stone carvings of the same image.

 

Witches used to get similar treatment from journalists (particularly in the Sunday newspapers) but has in recent years this has moderated with the drop in church congregations and the rise in New Age beliefs, the acceptance of witches as a minority group by Government and Borough Council alike and the introduction of college classes in wicca. Robin Hood's arrival in Sherwood Forest has been likened to Jesus' cleansing of the Temple after his arrival in Jerusalem : Robin Hood's stated aims to his band of 'Merry Men' and especially by singling out the senior clergy for attention through robbery, justified by the fact that many of these 'lived well in accumulated splendour whilst their flocks starved' have been used by pagan groups who regard Robin Hood as an social rebel following an alternative religion, indicating that the Mary or Marian of the stories is actually an aspect of The Goddess or The Earth Mother. If you add up the numbers of the traditional members of Robin Hood's band you find there were thirteen persons - from there it is a small step for the above groups to speculate them as a Witches Coven. This aspect has been used in the past as a wedge - with Robin as the logical spearhead - against the adoption of a rather oppressive Christianity and supporting the 'Old Religion' of stream, tree and stone worship. The importance of the oak, ash and birch in Celtic, Scandinavian and Saxon-Danish religion and folklore is linked by most research authors to Robin Hood and his woodland world and the less tangible mystical world of Faery. This 'New Age' Robin Hood following an alternative covert but perfectly natural religion has many supporters today in book and convention through the cult-television series, Robin of Sherwood.

 

A young Abbots Bromley horn-dancer taking a break during the medieval fair in Lichfield: although the traditional dance exists in England today, its true meaning has been lost for centuries. During one old dance, "Maid Marian" stirs a cauldron to renew the life of "Robin Hood".

 

The whimsical names of almost all the characters in the Robin Hood legend are usually not taken seriously and taken as a theme introducing comedy. This does not reflect that during the years 1075 to 1300 the interpretation of Common Law depended on the aristocratic Lord of the Manor and the punishments for crimes were generally brutal and severe. If the perpetrator could not be found he would be outlawed and his family or village legally inflicted with the punishment in the form of a heavy fine : taking an alias or an assumed name would be one way to save your real name becoming known even after arrest - it was legal to torture a prisoner within this period under certain circumstances, but a known outlaw had no protection at all - with the authorities then seeking redress or revenge for your crimes against your family or home. It suits the devil-may-care attitude prevailing in the Robin Hood ballads that any alias assumed would not be one to be taken very seriously or one that was simply the opposite of the obvious truth ; as in 'Little John', 'Friar Tuck' or 'Will Scathelocke / Scarlet'.

Robin Hood's hatred for independently rich 'bishopes and abbotts' and his actions in instigating woodland roadside robbery of these and their staff and later 'to beat and bind them' is generally seen as revenge rather than demanding charity but as the reader can see no firm reason for Robin Hood taking revenge in this form has ever been established. Some Robin Hood stories and film / television screenplays involve wealthy property or land-owning travellers in addition to clergymen being detained by the outlaw band, forcibly invited to join Robin Hood in a forest dinner of stolen roasted deer and 'in return for the hospitality' asked before their release to make a 'donation' to the outlaws' coffers, the size of which is judged on their social status, the size of their purse and 'the poor they did oppresse'. This is similar to the traditional hospitality offered to travellers by several medieval religious establishments in and around Sherwood Forest (such as Lenton Abbey, Saint Mary's Priory and Rufford Abbey) an is an obvious form of the outlaws mimicking in their own way the actions of a corrupt clergy and diverting funds from them which could be used in an acceptable way by the outlaws : for example, a double-sting in the case of The Poor Knight of the 'lytell Geste of Robin Hood'. Most of the lowest religious class were monks within the monastery system. They built their own houses and churches and worked very hard in harsh conditions. One of the earliest stories is Robin Hood and the Monk, with a later story concerning a cellarer (a monk-administrator within a monastery concerned with food and drink). 'Little John' swipes off the head of the latter then dumps the body in a ditch and Robin Hood robs the former of a large sum of money which the cellarer has hidden on his person to avoid just that.

The intention that Robin Hood uses stolen funds to support poor peasants is hinted at, but never stated in any of the older ballads. Henry VIII 'dissolved' all these religious houses in the 16th Century ; he later celebrated May Day in a woodland bower entertained by men and women dressed as 'Robin Hood and his Merry Men'. Could this have been a royal joke at the passing of independent and obstinate monasteries under the overall supervision of the Pope or was Henry VIII acknowledging he got the idea from Robin Hood ? It was after all two of his court historians that both went on record stating Robin Hood was definitely both 'real' and 'noble'.

All we know of the intended end of the Robin Hood story are several tales at their conclusion briefly dealing with the death of Robin Hood himself, all of which have different endings. Apart from a BBC serialisation in the 70's and the feature film Robin and Marian (1976) the death of Robin Hood generally gets a brief mention as in the 'lytell Geste' with the ending an enigmatic request for Christ to forgive Robin Hood and bless his soul as 'though an outlaw he did pore men much good.' Two later stories - The Death of Robin Hood and Robin Hood and The Valiant Knight - were never quite popular and both had different endings, with the end of The Valiant Knight story including a dispersal of the outlaw band after Robin's death to foreign parts and their eventual demise ; in both stories the epitaph is the wording associated with the traditional grave of Robin Hood at Kirklees which can be read either way, Pro or Con. 'Little John' is conspicuous by his absence in The Valiant Knight where it is a monk who finally causes Robin's death by over-bleeding and the substitution for John by the mysterious William of Loxley ; John plays a major part in The Death of Robin Hood possibly in order to live and tell the tale. None of the other characters ever meet a sticky end in the stories with the possible exception of Will Scarlet whose demise is hinted at in early stories of Robin Hood and Sir Guy of Gisbourne but apparently deleted from later stories based on this theme. It may well be that the terrific violence of Robin and Guy's duel with swords which plays a major part of this tale was thought to be quite enough for a reader or audience without the inclusion of a second major fight resulting in the death of one of the main supporting characters, outnumbered and probably cut to pieces by the Sheriff's men.

We are left to speculate that Will was laid to rest behind the old church at Blidworth and everyone else enjoyed a long, sad, reflectful but peaceful life ; Much returning to his mill, Marian retiring to a convent, John going walk-about through the British Isles or joining the early medieval equivalent of The Foreign Legion in order to forget his comrade's death before settling down years later in his lonely moorland cottage, Tuck going back to his hermitage to eat and drink himself to a comfortable old age perhaps after - in a modern story - a final revenge for the deaths of Robin and Marian by poisoning King John in Newark Castle in October 1216. The final fate of Tuck and Will in the film Robin and Marian is left to our imagination as they are last seen being surrounded by the late Sheriff's soldiers.

The obvious financial advantages beginning in the early 18th Century where people began to travel widely and of having something tangible as an attraction and to show them led to 'legendary' or 'traditional' aspects purveyed by societies such as The Brotherhood of Robin Hood and their collection of 'relics' around Robin Hood's Well in Nottingham, the past difficulties surrounding The Major's Oak near Edwinstowe and the controversies centred around the traditional graves, tombs or final resting-places of Robin Hood, Little John and Maid Marian.

The 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood remains the classic work and set most of the standards for years for storybooks and other productions : ask the average person or child today to describe the physical appearance of Robin Hood to you and you get Errol Flynn's portrayal in this film ; although anywhere in Sherwood Forest you are identified with being Robin Hood if you carry a bow and arrows whether you are in a costume or not. The 1938 film had a special meaning for English audiences seeing ordinary homely and straightforward blue-eyed English chaps eventually defeating tyranny in the form of nasty scheming dark-eyed foreigners with almost upon leaving the cinema facing an imminent war with Nazi Germany and the threat of total destruction by their Luftwaffe. Although equally as adventurous, Kevin Costner couldn't match Errol Flynn in Robin Hood ; Prince of Thieves film with a tongue-in-cheek flavoured script adding science, technology and explosives, a younger brother for Robin and for once The Sheriff of Nottingham stealing scenes, the best lines and the female hearts of cinema audiences away from Robin Hood. In the same year (1991) the film Robin Hood with Patrick Bergen and Uma Thurman was screened, a script with an intriguingly fresh angle on a familiar theme and atmospheric earthy visuals ; many die-hard Robin-fans found it the better of the two films but although Prince of Thieves got a bit of stick through a few moans from older Robin-fans Robin Hood got nowhere by comparison as it was eclipsed by the media-hype of the big-budget Prince of Thieves. Two scripts for Robin Hood feature films to be based in Britain are currently circulating, one of these a spoof named Bows and Arrows and the other a more serious adventure.

 

Robin Hood to most people: Errol Flynn in the 1938 feature film The Adventures of Robin Hood. The costumes for the film were designed using historical sources but didn't survive the transition into colourful Hollywood creations using man-made fibres. Dressed like this, you would have soon been in tatters passing through medieval woodlands. Although for the film Errol was schooled to use the longbow by a leading American exponent of archery (who played Robin Hood's final opponent in The Silver Arrow contest scenes) the back-quiver is anathema to all modern re-enactment and "living history" bowmen and archers as it is wholly impractical in the field.

 

Films today - before we potentially totally disappear into virtual reality - is probably the nearest equivalent we have to the verbal story-tellers of old, enthralling an audience who sit with their eyes and ears firmly fixed to what is going on before them, any troubles outside the theatre momentarily forgotten in the make-believe world unfolding before them. Like the characters in the films, each generation changes Robin Hood into what they see as important to them and give him the necessary characteristics they can identify with, hence any search must also include an aspect of looking with your heart in addition to looking with the eyes in your head. Robin Hood through these changes has become such a multi-faceted character that it seems he's 'been there and done that' in all cases. Over the past ten years evidence has been dished up for Robin to be alternatively reported as being black, gay, female or a drug addict (not all at the same time). To use a modern term by comparison, Robin Hood will never have a 'shelf-life' because of the above - but like Robin's sword this is a two-edged weapon and cuts both ways - if there is a little of each of us within Robin Hood there is also a little piece of Robin Hood within each of every one of us.

The common themes in the old Robin Hood ballads are disguise, greed, trickery, revenge, betrayal, bravery and violence in stories set against the natural background of the peaceful and simple tranquility of our imagined idyllic rural heritage in which the birds always sang, the sun always shone, money problems simply didn't exist and nobody was ever homeless, cold or hungry. How far can we go back looking for Robin Hood ? Has his trail beyond the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle totally disappeared ? What are we left with ?

We have a tremendous legacy of belief or wanting-to-believe laid down in perpetuating successive layers by our predecessors and even by the researchers and historians who have thrown doubt on the legend. An original 'Robin Hood' from the Paleolithic times through successive new occupations and migrations to these isles probably inherited qualities or characteristics taken from prehistoric Neolithic hunting rituals, Celtic religion, Romano-Germanic legends, Norse saga, Scandinavian / Danish folklore and in the 10th Century through connections by England with Normandy and France the early beginnings of what became in the 11th-12th Century Frankish courtly love songs and poems.

Can the proverb that 'It isn't as important where you've been or done as where you are going and what you are going to do in the future' be applied to History ? I tried to show in my book that I personally believe Robin Hood in one form or another has been with us all the way back to when we first stood upright, looked about us and bent to pick up our first stick - and he has no plans to ever leave us. My less tangible 'shelf-life' view throughout the wooded, foggy, marshy mystery surrounding any quest for Robin Hood - or by comparison to the common themes of the ballads the way we behave to each other and those less fortunate in our everyday lives - is what I see as most important to us as a society. Robin Hood to me isn't a King Arthur, a Good Samaritan and especially not a politician and he's far from being perfect ; he is cheeky, sometimes lazy, he gets into trouble and bites off more than he can chew, drinks beer, misses his favourite things and gets bad-tempered, doesn't wear a clean white shirt every day, does his best to defeat an enemy but helps a wounded enemy in difficulty, is physically as hard as steel but has a heart of gold, he knows right from wrong (even though he is sometimes a little contrary about it to himself), gets old and a little cranky but could probably be the best friend you could ever have. In other words - he's human, just like us.

I had a very complimentary comment from a reader and past tour passenger about the epilogue on Robin Hood in my book, The Legend of Robin Hood (despite the error in publication of the wrong computer disc most of my intended sentiments remained and reached the readership). The epilogue was partly inspired by the motto of the present City of Nottingham, 'Virtue Lives On After Death'. This motto might also be seen as a fair epitaph to Robin Hood on any of the gravestones on any of his graves as the spirit of Robin Hood is alive and well today, supported by many 'Merry-Persons'. Despite everything, he is still a part of our lives. Anyone that wishes to find Robin Hood today could make a start to their quest by looking closely into a pool of water under the shade of a greenwood tree. Good Luck and Good Hunting !

 

An example of a very recent adoption of a Robin Hood-ism: "Sycamore Gap", a site right on Hadrian's Wall - after the inclusion of the spot as a location in the film Robin Hood; Prince of Thieves - is now popularly known locally as "Robin Hood's Tree".

 

The above article is based on correspondence from fellow enthusiasts and is the format for the author's proposed next outlaw book "Robin Hood - On the Outlaw Trail Again : Outside Sherwood" but specially written for The World-Wide Robin Hood Society in the interests of outlaw-fans everywhere.

The opinions and views in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher ; any lapse in political-correctness could possibly be intentional.

The author presented "Robin Hood's Sherwood Forest" to the delegates of the 2nd International Convention for Robin Hood Studies in July 1999, and features in the Notts Tourist Unit brochure 'On the Robin Hood Trail' and the accompanying video.

The main colour photograph shows 'Blacke Dickon, 12th Century Forester of Sherwood' wearing a museum-quality reproduction working outfit designed and made by the author engaging in archery practice at Skipton Castle in August 2001 (and telling a few Robin Hood stories).