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Author Topic: Robin Hood  (Read 244 times)
Description: Myth, legend and history
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« on: October 18, 2007, 10:48:45 AM »


By Caroline Lewis, 17/Oct/2007

One of the above ground prison cells at the Galleries of Justice. � Galleries of Justice

   New evidence has been discovered that the medieval caves under Nottingham�s Galleries of Justice museum were once used by the Sheriff of Nottingham as a prison.

   The dark dungeon cells would have been in use when the Sheriff resided at the Shire Hall and County Gaol.
   �It is an exciting discovery,� said Tim Desmond, Chief Executive at the Galleries. �The cave has always been known as the �Sheriff�s Dungeon�, but until now we have only been aware of its later use as a chapel for the Georgian prison.�

   He pointed out that not much thought had ever been given to its previous use as a cell for the Sheriff�s Hall that was originally on the site, until research into a new exhibition on the Sheriff of Nottingham. Staff then uncovered evidence that the Sheriff did indeed imprison felons in the lower level caves under the building.

   �So far we have discovered an ancient staircase that led down to the cells and we are also excavating an area next to the cave,� said Tim.

   There is, of course, the tantalising possibility that the cave prison had a very famous resident, and there are plans to allow the public to have a look for themselves.

   �This is the first time visitors to the Galleries of Justice will be able to see the dungeon where Robin Hood would have been imprisoned in medieval times and already we have received a lot of interest from the public, from as far away as Japan,� said Tim.

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« Reply #1 on: October 18, 2007, 11:22:34 AM »

There are a number of historical Robin Hoods. The legendary character could be based on one of them. I have studied each and came to no conclusion.

Robin Hood memorial statue in Nottingham

Robin Hood and his Historical Context

"I kan [know] not parfitly [perfectly] my Paternoster as the preest it singeth,/ But I kan rymes of Robyn Hood" - William Langland's Piers Plowman (c.1362�c.1386)

Robyn hod in sherewod stod
hodud and hathud and gosu and schod
four and thuynti arrows
he bar in his hondus

Translates to:

Robin Hood in Sherwood stood
hooded & hated and hosed and shod.
Four and twenty arrows he bore in his hands.

- From a poem dating from around 1400 and the original document is preserved in the library of Lincoln Cathedral.

The Robin Hood legends form part of a corpus of outlaw stories which date from around the reign of King John. Two other key outlaws, Fulk fitzWarin and Eustace the Monk, were historical figures whose lives can be clearly identified at this time, but Robin Hood himself is much more problematical.

What is striking about these stories is that they reveal that, in an age when the Rule of Law was respected as the foundation of good government, those who put themselves outside the law had become popular heroes. This is in complete contrast to public perceptions of the outlaw at the beginning of King Henry II's reign, and shows that the existing order had come to be regarded as tyrannical. Tyranny was the abuse of law.

If the existing order was founded on the arbitrary will of evil men who could twist the law to their own ends, then it was the role of the outlaw to seek redress and justice by other means. In a violent age, these means were invariably violent. Robin Hood and his contemporaries were cunning, merciless and often brutal (in one instance Much the Miller's Son murders a monk's page to prevent him giving them away); but by the codes of their time, they were also honourable.

The legendary Major Oak

Forest legend

In all these tales, the forest figures prominently. The forest in the Middle Ages included very extensive areas of cultivated land as well as wood and waste land. They were the private preserve of the king and his officers, and were protected by a harsh series of forest laws, against which there could be no appeal - not even to the ecclesiastical courts.

Forest law was extremely unpopular, among all sections of society, but it achieved its purpose of retaining vast areas of semi-wild landscape over which the king and his court could hunt. Yet the very wildness of the land made it a perfect place for fugitives to hide out, and this is why areas such as Sherwood Forest and Barnsdale feature so prominently in outlaw legend.

The origins of the Robin Hood legend are very obscure. The first literary reference to Robin Hood comes from a passing reference in Piers Plowman, written some time around 1377, and the main body of tales date from the fifteenth century. These are found in the tales of Robin Hood and the Monk (c.1450); The Lyttle Geste of Robyn Hode (written down c.1492-1510, but probably composed c.1400); and the C17th Percy Folio, which contains three C15th stories: Robin Hoode his Death, Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne and Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar.

Within these literary references, there is nothing to suggest that Robin Hood should date to the time of King John: in fact the only king mentioned is 'Edward our comely king', which probably refers to a visit to Nottingham of King Edward II in 1324. Yet a court roll from Berkshire indicates that the legend of Robin Hood dates much earlier than this.

The real Robin?

The King's Remembrancer's Memoranda Roll of Easter 1262 notes the pardoning of the prior of Sandleford for seizing without warrant the chattels of one William Robehod, fugitive. This case can be cross-referenced with the roll of the Justices in Eyre in Berkshire in 1261, in which a criminal gang is outlawed, including William son of Robert le Fevere, whose chattels were seized without warrant by the prior of Sandleford.

This William son of Robert and William Robehod were certainly one and the same, and some clerk during transcription had changed the name. It follows that the man who changed the name knew of the legend and equated the name of Robin Hood with outlawry.

This is merely the earliest of several such references to Robehods or Robynhods, most of them outlaws, after the mid-C13th, and it provides a useful terminus ante quem for the existence of the legend. Robin Hood must have existed before 1261 for his name to have been misused in such a way.

We should not be surprised at such misuse. There are numerous cases in the C13th & C14th of outlaws deliberately taking on the pseudonyms of Robin Hood and Little John, and it seems likely that the original Friar Tuck who got accreted to the legend was one Robert Stafford who was active in Sussex between 1417 and 1429. Yet this in itself indicates just how difficult it is to tie Robin Hood down, since each misuse of the legend adds details of its own.

Historical evidence?

It is simply not possible to locate the historical Robin Hood with any certainty. The literary corpus very firmly locates the activities of the outlaw in the north, around the Barnsdale area and Sherwood Forest.

This possibly indicates that the legend as we have it already derives from two separate sources, probably two separate 'Robin Hoods'. The Scottish historian John Major, writing in 1521, maintained that Robin Hood was active in 1193-4, at the time of John's attempted coup against Richard, and it is possible to construct an argument which supports this.

On 25th July 1225, the royal justices held an assize at York. When the penalties were recorded in the Michaelmas roll of the Exchequer, they included 32s. 6d. for the chattels of one Robert Hod, fugitive. The account was carried forward into the following year, when he had acquired the nickname of 'Hobbehod', and indicates that he had been a tenant of the archbishopric of York.

This is the only possible original bearing the name of Robin Hood who is know to have been an outlaw (there are other Hoods in Wakefield, but none of them seem to have been fugitives). An epitaph recorded by Thomas Gale in 1702 recorded that a grave purporting to be that of Robin Hood lay at Kirklees (where the legend claims he was killed), dated to 1247.

On this flimsy evidence, it is possible to construct a chronology: Robin active in the 1190s, an outlaw by 1225, dead by 1247 and a legend by 1261. Quite frankly, I wouldn't stake my reputation on it. John Major's dating is purely arbitrary, and two of his contemporaries give Robin's dates as 1283-5 or 1266; while the full date on the Kirklees gravestone, 25 Kalends Decembris 1247, is impossible as there is no 25 Kalends in the Roman calendar.

The only thing to be said in favour of Major's dating is that it fits well with the only two firm pieces of evidence we have, the court rolls of 1225 and 1261. On this basis, I think we would be fully justified in saying that Robin Hood was active during the reign of King John, but that his fame and popularity were such that within a generation his true identity had been obscured by legend.

Bloody background

Another historical outlaw of John's time suffered similar identity problems even during his lifetime, but he dealt with them in no uncertain fashion. Fulk fitzWarin was furious when he discovered that a northern robber, Piers de Bruville, was using Fulk's name to cover his banditry.

He ambushed Piers and his men in a house they were raiding and forced Piers to tie his men to their seats and behead every one of them with his own hands. When the ugly task was finished, Fulk struck off Piers' head himself, saying: 'None shall ever charge me falsely with theft.'

Fulk is in fact a far more interesting character than Robin Hood, with a personal link to King John. He was a childhood friend of John's, but their relationship was a stormy one. One day, whilst playing chess, John broke the chessboard over Fulk's head.

In retaliation, Fulk kicked John in the stomach, and when John went crying to his father, it was John who was beaten for complaining. On the death of his father in 1197, Fulk took over his ancestral holding at Whittington; but when John came to power, he gave the honour to Fulk's old enemy, Morys fitzRoger. Fulk reacted by murdering Morys and fleeing into outlawry, where he levied war against John and his agents for 3 years.

Pardoned in November 1203, he recovered Whittington and remained in the king's peace until joining the baronial rebellion in support of Magna Carta in 1215. He was not reconciled to the king until 1217, and died c.1256-7.

The Romance of Robin

Around these bare facts a wonderfully fanciful romance has been woven in an Anglo-French chronicle which dates to the C13th. The same is true of another historical outlaw, Eustace the Monk, who seized control of the island of Sark in 1205 and terrorised the Channel with piracy until killed at Sandwich in 1217.

Both of these interweave magical incidents and anecdotes reminiscent of the tales of Hereward the Wake; but they also contain stories which can be directly compared to some of the tales of Robin Hood. Eustace, like Robin, disguises himself as a potter in order to confound his enemies: Fulk disguises himself as a charcoal-burner. Fulk robs the king's merchants, at the king's expense, and forces them to dine with him.

Eustace pulls exactly the same trick as Robin when he asks those he waylays how much they are carrying, and lets them off if they tell the truth; and like Robin with the Sheriff of Nottingham, Fulk lures the king into the forest, where he kidnaps him, invites him to dinner and eventually lets him go. These parallels are not mere coincidences, they are exact analogies, and they share much of the same mythological basis as the earlier tales of Hereward the Wake (who himself uses disguises and trickery). If our dating of Robin Hood is correct, then the tales are contemporaneous, and what we can see here is the development of a popular mythology which eulogises those men who stood out against the excesses of John's rule.

In the reign of Henry II, the outlaw was a villain. Warin de Wolcote was a parasite on society, and Henry did everyone a favour when he marched into Sherwood Forest, dragged him to Northampton and stuck his head on the city gates. By the time of John, all this has changed.

Now the likes of Fulk fitzWarin (no relation), Eustace the Monk and Robin Hood are the gadflies of authority, who turn injustice on its head. They may not rob the rich to feed the poor, but they do beat the strong to help the weak. This explains the enduring popularity of the Robin Hood legends; they are the little man's way of striking back.


Robin Hood by Roderick Hunt (OUP, 2000)
Robin Hood by JC Holt (Thames & Hudson, 1989)

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Dr Mike Ibeji is a Roman military historian who was an associate producer on Simon Schama's A History of Britain.

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« Reply #2 on: October 18, 2007, 06:25:30 PM »

 �50m rescue plan has been drawn up to save collection of mighty oaks.

For the people who care for Sherwood Forest it is like a death in the family when one of the ancient oaks falls, a tragedy that is now becoming depressingly frequent. They used to lose an average of one a year, now it is usually five, and the rate is accelerating.

The appalling calculation, which almost breaks the foresters' hearts, is that in 50 years' time the greatest collection of ancient oaks in Europe, many 1,000 years old and more, may be no more.

Yesterday, in still hazy autumn sunshine, the forest seemed magically unchanged since time immemorial, but that is an illusion. The great oaks came almost unscathed through the hurricane that 20 years ago today felled millions of trees in the south. But this year alone four fell in the January storms, two were destroyed by arson, and on August 13, with a splintering crash that sent passersby running, another toppled without warning. "It's devastating when it happens. To be honest, I cried over that one," Izi Banton, the chief ranger, said. "We had our eye on it, and we were planning a bit of gentle intervention, but nature got there first."

A rescue plan, for which a �50m bid will be made this winter from the Big Lottery Fund, includes planting 250,000 oaks on 350 acres, linking the surviving fragments and creating new stretches of the equally important grazed open heath.

"People might say, having waited three centuries what's the rush?" Austin Brady, a conservator with the Forestry Commission, and coordinator of the lottery bid, said. "But if we don't do it in the next decade or so we might well go past the point where we can claw the forest back. That won't show for another century - but then people will look back and see that we failed to save it."

"This is the beating heart of the forest," he said, standing by a 600-year-old giant believed to hold the oldest colony of wild bees in the country. "We have been raided for centuries for buildings all over the country, including Lincoln cathedral and St Paul's. Now we want something back in return."

Maps traced by archaeologist Ursula Spence show that if there ever was a Robin Hood, living at the time of the Crusades, he could have escaped from the back door of Nottingham castle into the forest and ridden under trees as far as Sheffield. Now the furthest he could ride without breaking cover would be three miles, through a landscape carved up by towns and villages, agriculture, roads and coal mining.

Since Victorian times the legends of the outlaw have drawn millions of tourists into the forest. Bob White, of the International Robin Hood Society, has traced thousands of organisations and businesses across the world named in his honour. "They all see him as a symbol of freedom. We found one radio station in Finland called Robin Hood, and when we asked why, they said 'We want to be a champion of the people'."

But beyond the allure of the merry archers in green, the landscape is of international scientific importance, sheltering a wealth of wildlife, including several beetles found nowhere else.

The oldest tree definitively dated by Charles Watkins, professor of rural geography at Nottingham University, grew in 1415, but conventional dating by counting tree rings does not work for the hollow-hearted ancients. Their age has traditionally been estimated by people linking arms around the trunk: the Major Oak, which by legend sheltered Robin Hood, takes a dozen sets of arms to span, and is estimated to be 1,140 years old.


Ms Banton says they have learned that the giants, known as veteran oaks, should be handled with kid gloves: any intervention, even propping branches, or felling encroaching birches to give them more sunlight and nutrients, can change the delicate ecology which has given them such stupendous lifespans. However, the Major Oak is a monument to her heavier-handed predecessors: it was lashed together in 1904 with steel collars and hawsers now bitten deep into the wood, and since then propped, and patched with concrete and fibreglass. It is still flourishing, and producing acorns. "We wouldn't do any of this now, but it seems to be tougher than anything we've thrown at it," Ms Banton said.

Sherwood's problem is what the rangers call generation gaps: periods of complete neglect, or when timber was taken and not replaced - including the time of the Spanish Armada, and the English civil war. The gnarled veterans were left, but the younger straight trees that should have replaced them were lost.

Professor Watkins's research shows that people have worried about the health of the forest for centuries. Two centuries ago, when the Royal Forest was sold off, the surveyors found: "The far greater part of those trees are now in a state of decay, and it is not easy to find such as have not some defect in the heart where such trees begin to fail."

"We have trees 500 years and older, 250-year-olds and 50-year-olds - and very little in between," Ms Banton said. "We have to be ready to fill those gaps."

Some of the most famous oaks fell long ago, including the Greendale Oak, which had a natural split that was widened into a huge archway after the owner bet that he could drive a coach and six through one of his noble trees. Others have romantic names such as Robin Hood's larder.

However, the Major Oak was named after a man who had no interest in the outlaw. Major Hayman Rooke was a retired army officer and amateur archaeologist, and was really on the trail of the druids, whom he believed responsible for planting many of the oaks as part of their rituals. He was the first to carry out a systematic study of the oldest trees - of no interest to earlier surveyors because they were useless as building timber - and wrote: "Were we even now to enter a grove of stately oaks, seven or eight hundred years old, I think we could not behold them without some degree of veneration."

Unfortunately, while Ms Spence and Mr White are agreed that there were outlaws in the forest, and that there must have been some notable around whom the Robin Hood legends congealed, she has never found the slightest evidence of Druid activity, although folk magic customs, including breaking a cup and dropping it into water as an offering, persisted in the forest into the 1960s, and she suspects until this day.

Many have been fooled by the illusion of virgin forest. The novelist Washington Irving wrote rapturously in the 19th century of riding through "a genuine wild wood, of primitive and natural growth", when he was actually riding along an avenue cut by an aristocratic landlord a century before.

What Prof Watkins's research shows, and Ms Spence is uncovering is evidence of human activity, including the ridges and furrows of ancient ploughed land where wheat and barley was grown. For over 1,000 years it was the interaction of man and nature which created a unique environment.



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