Who is Robin Hood? What are some of the theories and tales told to try
to explain him? What does Robin Hood stand for? These questions are
answered in this (obviously incomplete) Robin hood biography.
I didn't learn about Robin Hood until I discovered him myself -- that is,
I was never read any stories about him as a child. I selected his name
as my online nick and gained my interest in Robin this way.
I find it fascinating that the Robin Hood stories vary so much. A man no
doubt slighted by the monks and learned people who were given the responsibility
of recording history managed to be the boogie man in many aristocrats'
nightmares. Just which Robin is the real one? It is this
mystery, combined with the value system and the whole atmosphere of the Robin
Hood tales, which intrigue me.
The spirit of Robin Hood permeates every part of my belief system.
Ideally, Robin is the man most people should strive to be, as he
possesses the rare combination of courage, charisma, intelligence,
and goodness. Robin reveres his religion and particularly the Virgin
Mary. He believes in things. I can only hope to be one who
believes so strongly in something that I can take action upon it.
LET US BEGIN...
Robin Hood is known by many different names, including Robin Hood,
Robin Wood, Robert Earl of Huntington, Roberd Hude, Robert Hood, and other
variations. You can easily see how his existence passed down through folk
tale has been distorted in time. My favorite name for Rob is "Robin Hood",
simply because it plays on words so much. You can read it fast, making it
sound like "Robbing Hood", an outlaw who robs. Robin was known to wear a
hood in some tales, adding to the meaning of "Hood". Finally, if you were
to adapt the word "hood" into modern day usage, you could say "Rob in the
'Hood", a name which would probably make a pretty good John Singleton or
Spike Lee movie. Just for the sake of interest, "the 'hood" adds a nice
sense of brotherhood, childhood memories, and family ties.
"Unlike the other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English
-"Robin Hood: Men in Tights"
Robin Hood exists in many forms, simply because his
stories were first passed around by spoken word, in the form of folk tales
and ballads dating back to the 1300's. Some people have made careers of
trying to prove whether he was a real person or not. There aren't any
actual records of his existence, yet the multitude of paintings, tales,
books, and other writings seem to show how he WAS a real person. But we
must all agree that in the least, Robin Hood excites our romantic side with
his tales of bravery, courage, and loyalty in the lands around Sherwood
Robin stands as the hero of the common people and yeomans and a symbol of
"right against might". Because of the Sheriff of Nottingham's and Prince
John's tyrannical rule and exploitation of the common people in
Nottinghamshire, Robin united his fellow folk and rebelled against the
Sheriff. Robin is also known for "robbing the rich and giving to the
poor." Many of us are familiar with movie scenes showing Robin and his men
overpowering the Sheriff's men and giving the stolen gold to the common
people. He wasn't completely one-sided, though, as he would be the first to
help a rich person in need. Women were never hurt by Robin's hand, due to
his reverence to the Virgin Mary.
Robin Hood's tales are often heavily tied in with the
absence of Richard I, the Lion Heart, who happened to be leading the
Crusades at the time. The Sheriff (or in many stories, Prince John) would
assume tyrannical control in his absence. Richard was also held for ransom
by Leopold of Austria and some Robin Hood stories reflect this.
whom I constantly refer back to for historical accuracy, says, "Oh,
incidentally, when Richard returned to England, only one castle of
John's didn't immediately surrender -- Nottingham. Richard I had to
seiged the place for three days. And when he was done, he went hunting
in Sherwood. And who was one of the key figures in the act on Nottingham?
Why, the Earl of Huntingdon! Although he was really David, not Robin Hood."
DETAILS THROUGH TALES
Robin Hood was a master with the bow, famous for his
ability to beat any fellow archer in competition. He was very intelligent,
warm, sincere, honest, and loyal to his true king, and dedicated to
providing for the poor people who sought him for support. I hope to
eventually gain some of these qualities myself, which I have partly done
already through playing my RobinHood character.
There are stories of Robin Hood's tendency for
unnecessary violence. Whether this is true or simply propaganda added by
monks or whatnot is unknown. When Robin kills the sheriff in one story, he
beheads him. Guy of Gisbourne is beheaded and his head is carried on the
top of Robin's bow. One tale even goes so far as to suggest necrophilia
with the dead corpse of Guy.
Some people say that Robin is high-born, possibly
even being the Earl of Huntingdon, Robert Fitzooth. Kelly Anne Hamel
suggests that Robin Hood might instead have been the Earl of Locksley, who
was also known as the Earl of Huntington.
"Robert Earle of Huntington
Lies under this little stone.
No archer was like him so good:
His wildnesse named him Robbin Hood.
Full thirteene yeares, and something more,
These northerne parts he vexed sore.
Such out-lawes as he and his men
May England never know agen."
-Martin Parker's translation
of Robin's epitaph
However, another tale describes him as a common man
who becomes a bandit after hunting one of the King's stags. The Sheriff is
ready to chop off Robin's hand, the hand he used to launch the arrow that
killed the stag, but Robin suddenly escapes into the forest. Yet another
tale, more well-known than others, is that Robin is born into the family of
the Locksleys. Most tales will agree, though, that Robin is a bandit who
makes his home in Sherwood Forest, along with other common people who have
had their property seized by the Sheriff.
Edward C. Meyers said in a Usenet post that "during
the 13th and 14th centuries the name Robin Hood was often used by law
officers in England as a temporary ID of captured outlaws otherwise unknown,
much the same way as modern police use the name John Doe." This is an
interesting tidbit, as it may explain why there seem to be so many different
Robin Hoods spanning many centuries...
An obvious question is, "When did Robin Hood live?"
site at Geocities, "A Little Tale of Robin Hood", gives much data
concerning dates for Robin Hood. Scroll down to "WHO WAS ROBIN HOOD?"
The site states that there is plenty of evidence both for and
against the most popular Robin Hood theories, that he lived
in the 12th century AD.
Evidence stated for, quoted near verbatim (sans formatting) from site:
1) The conditions of life in medieval England described in the stories
about Robin accord with other documents.
2) The undoubted existence of people, places and events referred to in
the stories: e.g. Sherwood, Nottingham, the Sheriff, John, Richard,
Eleanor, the corrupt Church, and the association of Robin with the historical
figure, the Earl of Huntingdon 1160-1247.
3) A Robin Hood is mentioned by name in the official documents (pipe
roll) for Yorkshire of 1230 (1225 by some counts), where he is described as "Robertus Hood,
fugitivis," who has failed to appear in court. He is mentioned also as
an historical figure in Wyntoun's Chronicle of Scotland
c.1420. A book published in Scotland in 1521 places his life in the
time of Richard I.
4) King Richard on his return from captivity besieged Nottingham Castle,
which surrendered on 28 March 1194. The following day, Richard holidayed
in Sherwood Forest.
5) A reference to Robin Hood in William Langland's Piers
Ploughman, a story written in c.1370.
6) local traditions about Robin Hood and his associates. Robin Hood
Bay near Whitby, for example, is where he is said to have gone fishing
and to have stored boats whenever it was necessary to flee by sea. Little
John is said to have been a real man named John Nailor. A bow thought
to be Robin's is in the possession of the Armytage family at Kirklees,
and the site of his grave is claimed to be in the same region. A nearby
forest is called Barnsdale. Its southern edge borders on Sherwood.
7) The name "Robinhood" appears as a surname for the first time in 1262.
To offset this, there is plenty of evidence to dispute claims of his
living in the 12th century. Again, I quote near verbatim (sans formatting):
1) The conditions described could apply to any era of medieval life.
2) The fictional and often erroneous association of events, people
and places, for example Friar Tuck. Friars did not come to England
until 1225. Robin's traditional weapon, the longbow, did not reach England
from Wales until c.1250. (A followup e-mail from Brian Gibbons however says,
"This is wrong. The so-called longbow was not a new weapon different from
earlier weapons. this is a mistake by a 19yh century military historian
whose name escapes me at the moment. Bows gradually got longer throughout
the Middle Ages, ther was no sudden change. For more on the history of the
longbow I recommend The Medieval Archer by Jim Bradbury and Long bow by
Robert Hardy.") There is also no proof that the Sheriff of
Nottingham was particularly tyrannical. (although he was apparently a
supporter of Prince John)
3) Richard is not mentioned as having any plans to right wrongs against
the English. He was selfish in his motivations for attacking Nottingham.
4) Langland's early mention of Robin (1370) is vague, gives no dates,
and links Robin's adventures with another character altogether, Randolph,
Earl of Chester. It is unlikely that Langland, the author, would have
remembered events from 180 years before.
6) The official documents place Hood 100 years later and hundreds of miles
further north. These documents make no claim that Hood was an outlaw. There
is no proof that he was in Lancaster's army, or that he was a doughty
fighter, and there is no mention of any of his associates.
7) A local tradition, repeated in The Litell Geste, holds that
Robin was poisoned by his kinswoman, the prioreess of Kirklees in 1247. This
date does not readily match up with either of the two eras most strongly
associated with Robin, the late twelfth century and the early fourteenth
I received a very informative e-mail from Stephen Winick, who had
this to say. Please read it!
THE DEATH OF ROBIN
Even Robin's death is unclear.
Calder reports that the Robin Hood died on December 14, 1247,
but that figure can easily be disputed because no solid evidence has really
been given. Allen
Wright filled me in with some more information about this: "[The birth
date above] comes from the supposed epitaph on a supposed gravestone in
Kirklees Priory where it is said that he died on the 24 Kalends of December,
1247. December had no kalends. It also names him the earl of Huntingdon
and is clearly a later invention, not the stone of any real Robin Hood."
Hilchey wrote me, "I just wanted to let you know that while watching
a biography on Robin Hood on A&E, it showed the resting place for a
'Robin Heud', 'enemy of the Sheriff of Nottingham'. This grave remains
today just outside of a small town called Kirlees in England. The date
of his death was the 25th of Dec, 1247."
Some versions of stories claim Robin is killed by one
of his close friends, and others say he was killed in battle. I've seen
this version twice: Robin becomes ill and is taken in by an evil nun.
She seems to be taking care of him, but she lets his wounds bleed.
Luckily, Little John rescues Robin from the nun, but it's too late --
Robin becomes too weak and dies. It's interesting that this version has
appeared more than once -- in ballads, that's not all that common unless
both originated from the same reason, or unless...the story is true!
Sean Connery's movie, "Robin and Marian", ends with Marian poisoning
Robin because she loves him so much and doesn't want to see him lose
his edge in old age (a sort of "Porphyria's Lover" type of thing). Robin
is shocked at first, but accepts her poisoning him in the end. Little
John is instructed to bury Robin where his arrow lands, and then he
proceeds to shoot an arrow out of the window of his deathbed's room.
Little John of course obeys. Brandon
Goldsworthy points out that another version says that Robin was too
weak to pull his bow, and Little John had to do it for him. Now I'm not
sure if the nun (Marian is a nun in this movie, after Robin went on the
Crusades) is the same one, and the evil aspect got tacked on, or if it's
the same story. Anyone have citations?
Two sources have written to tell me that they've read another version that
it was not Marian or a nun who killed Robin, but instead his cousin, the
Prioress of Kirklees. She sided with Robin's enemies and bled him to death,
since they were too cowardly to kill him themselves. Robin thought she
was performing an old medical procedure, but that was not the case.
Here is an
interesting tidbit about Robin's grave.
If you're looking for more historical data, Mr. Wright
(who has contributed so much to this site that I'd go so far as saying he
should be co-author!) sent me this: "One of the more traditional dates of
Robin's birth is 1160. Recorded in the Sloane manuscript circa 1600. It
is the first document to give his birthplace as Locksley. And it says he
died on November 18, 1247. There's no historical record of a Robin
matching these dates. And earlier documents set Robin Hood in different
"Christ have mercy on his soul,
That died on the rood.
For he was a good outlaw,
And did poor men much good."