Robin Hood - Medieval Thief Or Legend ?
The story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men is a favorite in British lore and legends. But did this Nottinghamshire outlaw really exist?
Legends are defined as stories based on actual facts. These legends are set in a specific place and time and portray a human hero or heroine and their so-called life and exploits. Many of these legends have been handed down from generation to generation, century to century, the first versions usually created by wandering storytellers or minstrels. These legends were eventually written down and became the basis for such literary masterpieces as the “Iliad”, the tales of King Arthur, and the stories of the great king, Charlemagne. How often these legends have changed, been embellished or totally exaggerated from their original incarnations, is hard to guess.
One such famous legend is the story of Robin Hood. This heroic rebel and enemy of King John and the Sheriff of Nottingham, has been the subject of ballads, stage plays, various television series and countless movies. Some of the actors who have stepped into Robin Hood’s pointed green shoes are Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn, Sean Connery and most recently, Kevin Costner. Each one has portrayed Robin Hood with a healthy dose of creative licence. And why not? While many of the basic facts surrounding Robin Hood and his exploits remain constant, the man himself remains an enigma. To this day there is still the question, did he exist at all?
The first stories about Robin Hood began circulating over 700 years ago. A supposed nobleman turned outlaw, he and his band of Merry Men lived in Sherwood Forest. There in the “gloomy greenwood” they built their own little community of outlaws, poached King Henry’s “royal” deer and regularly set out to rob from the rich. Whatever loot Robin and his outlaw band confiscated was returned to the poor, who were consistently being overtaxed by King Richard’s greedy younger brother, John. Robin’s sworn enemies were Guy of Gisbourne and the Sheriff of Nottingham. His faithful ladylove was Maid Marian. The cast of characters was rounded out by Friar Tuck, who oftentimes added a bit of comic relief and wisdom to the proceedings.
So who was this noble Englishman who risked life and limb and that of his merry men to carry out his heroic exploits? Historians just don’t know for sure. There seem to be many possible candidates. The biggest hurdle in identifying the real Robin Hood is that Robin or Robert was a very common Medieval name. So was Hood. In going back and checking available local records in and around Nottingham and Yorkshire, there is reference to literally dozens of men who might have been a Robin, Robyn or Robert or a Hood, Hode, Hod or Hobbehod.
In 1225 or 1226 there is mention of one Robert Hod who was a thief and a fugitive. Around the same time and in the same vicinity was another outlaw named Robert of Wetherby who did end up being done in by the local sheriff, by beheading or some other gruesome method. In 1746 Dr. William Stukeley proposed that the real Robin Hood was a knight named Robert fitz Odo (aka Fitzooth) who was born in Loxley, was outlawed and lost his lands. No records indicate that he was an outlaw, however.
In the 1599, Anthony Munday characterized Robin Hood as the Earl of Huntington. Some of the Earl’s exploits could very well mirror those of Robin Hood. He was a well-titled lord, and once friends with King John, and even helped him mount a rebellion against his father, which was foiled. As a result Huntington lost his title for ten years. His wife’s name was Maud, who was also called Matilda. Maid Marian’s real name was Matilda. There is no record of Huntington for over three years. It’s speculated he followed Richard to the Third Crusade, but this was never substantiated. He later supported Richard, not King John, then was later outlawed for debts and forest encroachment, then mounted another rebellion against John with the aid of Robert Fitzwater, the name of Maid Marian’s father. Still, nothing in this real Earl’s background suggests or proves that he was the legendary Robin Hood.
A few more possibles: Robert Hood was a servant of the Abbot of Cirencester and murdered a man around 1216. The legend of Robin Hood says he had a ongoing disagreement with the church. In 1354 a Robin Hood was thrown in jail for forest offences. There were even some men who used Robin Hood as an alias when they were arrested for their crimes. In 1498 Roger Marshall claimed the uprising he led was inspired by the stories of Robin Hood’s exploits. And in 1605 the men who organized the “Gunpowder Plot” to destroy parliament were dubbed “Robin Hoods” by a parliamentarian.
There are many more real Medieval outlaws, monks, barons and even mythological figures that the legend of Robin Hood may be based on. Robin was a common name for the Devil or the Tuetonic elf, Hodekin. Sprites or hobgoblins were named Robin Goodfellow or. Celts believed the color of death was green. It’s also the color associated with fairies. And some ballads portray Robin as, Robin of the Wood. There are even stories where the outlaw is associated with witches and with the trickster Puck.
Is it any wonder that there is no clear proof or even agreement as to who Robin Hood really was? He may be any of the figures mentioned, a combination there-of, or none of them at all. Whether he was a baron, an everyday local thief, or simply a fictional figure whose character has been embellished over the ages, Robin Hood’s famous legend lives on.