As I mentioned before, my series looking at some of the characters from Harry Potter has concluded and today I am going to be starting a new series. I had an idea for what I wanted this next series to be about, but recent events have caused me to change my mind. In light of the fabulous recurve bow I received for Christmas and my newfound archery skills, I have decided to do a series on the most famous archer there is: Robin Hood.
The Man Beneath the Hood
I doubt there is anyone who has not heard the name Robin Hood and some version of his story. Over the centuries his story has morphed and grown with each retelling. Today, most of us know him as a noble turned outlaw who lived in the Sherwood forest where he and his merry men would steal from the rich to give to poor. But how much of the legend is true? Did Robin Hood really exist and if so who was he?
Historians and scholars have been seeking the answers to these questions for years and none have been able to come up with any definitive answers. One of the earliest written records of a candidate for the famous outlaw comes from the year 1225. In an assize from York there is an entry for a Robert Hod, fugitive who had chattels worth 32 shillings and 6 pence. This same entry is included later with the addition of the nickname “Hobbehod”. Other than the name and the fact that he was an outlaw, there is nothing to connect Robert to the Robin Hood of legend.
Most of the other records of men with names that could be considered a variation of Robin Hood have something else that seems to disqualify them. Many of them were not actual outlaws and others appeared at a time too late to be considered serious candidates. There is evidence that the name Robin Hood was symbolic of outlaws as early as 1261 when an outlaw by the name of William son of Robert le Fevere is referred to in an official document as William Robehod. There are even some who believe that the name was never anything more than a symbol that various outlaws wore as a mantle. If he was a real man, though, the account of William Robehod seems to support the idea that he was around during the time of King Richard and Prince John or an even earlier time in history.
I am certainly no historical scholar, but it seems to me that if Robin Hood was based on a real person it was probably a compilation of multiple people. Thankfully, the people who are actual historical scholars agree with me. Score one for me.
There was a man named Hereward the Wake who was an outlaw in the time of William the Conqueror and fought against the Normans. Two centuries later Eustace the Monk left the monastery and became an outlaw. He began his career in the forest, but later moved to the Channel where he led a fleet of pirates. Around the same time as Eustace one of the more interesting candidates came on the scene.
Fulk fitz Warrin was a baron from Shropshire who had been a childhood playmate of Prince John. Beginning in the year 1200 he spent three years living as an outlaw in the forest after which time he was pardoned. It seems, though, that Fulk enjoyed the life of rebellion. In the year 1215 he left the king’s peace and joined the rebellion of barons who supported the Magna Carta.
On the surface, these three men may seem to have very little to do with Robin Hood, but there are many parallels between some of the things they are reported to have done and the stories of Robin Hood. Things like adopting the same disguises as Robin, such as a potter, and rewarding those waylaid for displays of honesty can be attributed to these men. It is also speculated that the idea of the displaced noble could have stemmed from Fulk.
There are many other names throughout the centuries that have been claimed by some to be connected to legendary outlaw. Whether or not any of them are the actual inspiration for the legend is not yet known, but it is fascinating to look through the possible candidates. And who knows, maybe one day the crucial piece of evidence will be found that definitively ties one of these men, or someone we don’t even know about yet, to the outlaw of Sherwood forest.
What are your thoughts on the search for the real Robin Hood? Do you believe he was a real person or a compilation of people? Or do you think that he was never anything more than a symbol with no historical counterpart? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.