Robin Hood (spelled Robyn Hode in older manuscripts) is a heroic outlaw in English folklore, a highly skilled archer and swordsman. He has become known for “robbing from the rich and giving to the poor”, assisted by a group of outlaws known as his “Merry Men”. The origin of the legend is claimed by some to have stemmed from actual outlaws, but some say it is only from ballad and story.
Robin Hood and his band of “merry men” are usually shown as living in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, where much of the action in the early ballads takes place. So does the very first recorded Robin Hood rhyme, four lines from the early 15th century, beginning:
“Robyn hode in scherewode stod.”
Robin, Marian and His Merry Men
The first clear reference to “rhymes of Robin Hood” is from the late-14th-century poem Piers Plowman. In these early accounts Robin Hood’s help of the lower classes, his outstanding skill as an archer and his particular hatred of the Sheriff of Nottingham are already clear. Little John, Much the Miller’s Son and Will Scarlet (as Will “Scarlok” or “Scathelocke”) all appear, although not yet Maid Marian or Friar Tuck. It is not certain what should be made of these latter two absences as it is known that Friar Tuck, for one, has been part of the legend since at least the later 15th century.
In popular culture Robin Hood is typically seen as a supporter of the late 12th century King Richard the Lionheart, Robin being driven to being an outlaw during the misrule of Richard’s brother John (who owned Nottingham Castle), while Richard was away on Crusade.
As well as ballads, the legend was also passed on by “Robin Hood games” or plays that were an important part of the late medieval and early modern May Day festivities. The first record of a Robin Hood game was in 1426 in Exeter, but the reference does not indicate how old or widespread this custom was at the time. The Robin Hood games are known to have flourished in the later 15th and 16th centuries. It is commonly stated as fact that Maid Marian and Friar Tuck entered the legend through the May Games.
Where did Robin Hood live?
In modern versions of the legend, Robin Hood is said to live in Sherwood Forest in the county of Nottinghamshire. For this reason the people of present-day Nottinghamshire have a special affinity with Robin Hood, often claiming him as the symbol of the county.
Specific sites linked to Robin Hood include the Major Oak tree, located in Sherwood Forest County Park, which is claimed to have been used by him as a hideout. Robin Hood’s Well, located near Newstead Abbey (within the boundaries of Sherwood Forest), and the Church of St. Mary in the village of Edwinstowe, where Robin and Maid Marian are historically thought to have been married!
Did Robin Hood ever go to Nottingham Castle?
There are many stories of Robin Hood and Nottingham Castle. Nottingham Castle was used by the Sheriff of Nottingham as a court and if Robin was captured, he would have been held prisoner within the dungeons or towers of the Castle. However, the stories always tell of Robin getting out sometimes with the help of his Merry Men and who knows he may have even used the caves and tunnels under the Castle to escape back to Sherwood Forest!
Where did Robin Hood die and where is he buried?
Robin Hood himself was once thought to have been buried in the grounds of Kirklees Priory in West Yorkshire. The story said that the Prioress was a relative of Robin’s. Robin was ill and staying at the Priory where the Prioress was supposedly caring for him. However, she betrayed him, his health worsened, and he eventually died there.
Before he died, he told Little John (or possibly another of his Merry Men) where to bury him. He shot an arrow from the Priory window and where the arrow landed was to be the site of his grave. The grave with an inscription is within sight of the ruins of the Kirklees Priory.
Was Robin Hood a real person?
The answer to this is that we don’t know! Lots of people have lots of different opinions. Some people think that he was real, some that he was only a story, and with some even believing he was from Yorkshire.
The early ballads link Robin Hood to real places and many are convinced that he was a real person. A number of theories as to the identity of “the real Robin Hood” have their own supporters. Some of these theories say that “Robin Hood” or “Robert Hood” or the like was his actual name; others suggest that this may have been merely a nickname disguising a medieval bandit perhaps known to history under another name.
We know that lots of people in Medieval England had the name Robin Hood, or something similar, and some are even known to have been outlaws, but not many documents from that time survive to help us.
Robin Hood over the years…
A British Army Territorial (reserves) battalion formed in Nottingham in 1859 was known as The Robin Hood Battalion through various reorganisations until the “Robin Hood” name finally disappeared in 1992. With the 1881 Childers reforms that linked regular and reserve units into regimental families, the Robin Hood Battalion became part of The Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment). They still have a small museum in Nottingham Castle’s Museum & Art Gallery today! For more information about the Sherwood Foresters Museum at Nottingham Castle please click here.
Robin Hood today
Robin Hood is still around in Nottingham today! BBC Radio Nottingham also uses the phrase ‘Robin Hood County’ on its regular programmmes. The Robin Hood Way runs through Nottinghamshire and the county is home to literally thousands of other places, roads, inns and objects bearing Robin’s name.
Nottingham Castle also hosts an annual festival called the Robin Hood Pageant in October. They also run regular tours, storytelling sessions and events around the Robin Hood Story throughout the year. For information on events at Nottingham Castle please click here.
The Robin Hood statue still stands proudly outside Nottingham Castles Gatehouse for everyone to see and is probably the most photographed landmark in the City!