Could the real Robin Hood have been German?
Every five or six years, a new book or magazine article comes out claiming to have discovered the identity of the genuine Robin Hood. The same facts are rehashed and a new spin is put on the mystery. The most recent one I’m aware of was a piece in History Today by Sean McGlynn – one of my favourite historians – which claimed that a 12th-century resistance fighter from Kent called William of Kensham was the model for the iconic outlaw.
A lot of clever and serious people pooh-poohed this idea. But I have to admit, I rather liked it. I live in Kent, and I used to get a lot of angry people asking me to pronounce on whether Robin was from Nottinghamshire or Yorkshire, so I decided to incorporate William of Kensham (aka Willikin of the Weald) in my 2016 Outlaw Chronicles novel The Death of Robin Hood.
A few weeks ago I came across a figure from a completely different period in history, and a totally different country too. And I was surprised by the similarities with the Robin Hood myth. Widukind of Saxony is the subject of the novel I’m writing at the moment called The Saxon Wolf – the second in the Fire Born series, which kicks off in a few weeks with The Last Berserker (see the superb cover below). Widukind was a brave young Saxon who took to the thick forests of what is now north Germany to resist the invasion by Charlemagne, King of the Franks. He hid in the forest and ambushed the occupying Frankish troops, possibly using a bow and arrows, and became something of a folk hero to the oppressed Saxon people. So far, so Robin.
Also his name is an obvious pseudonym, a nom de guerre. Widukind literally mean Child of the Woods, which is another term for a wolf. Robin is known as a “wolf’s head” another name for an outlaw, one who could be killed like a wild wolf with no penalty in law. And finally, the Saxons (along with the Angles, a tribe a little to their north, and the Jutes – aka the Danes) were the people who colonised England in the 5th and 6th centuries. They were also the people who, centuries later, told the stories of Robin Hood.
So could the original Robin Hood have been a German – a Saxon who resisted the annexation of his country by the ancestors of the French? Well, no, not really. Mainly because there was no one living, breathing historical man who was the real Robin Hood. Sorry. I know this is an unpopular opinion. But there is no evidence – despite all the books and articles – of anyone actually being the kind of Robin Hood we would recognise today.
There are lots of local legends about Robin, there are lots of place names claiming kinship, and there are even a few mentions in the Pipe Rolls (legal records) in the early 13th century of criminals who called themselves Robin Hood, or Robe Hod, or similar variants. And this is all grist to the mill that churns out the books and news reports of the Real Robin Hood Industry. But there is nothing that proves definitively that there was a man called Robert or Robin who was the source of all the stories and ballads.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the mythical man. I have now written ten novels about my version of Robin Hood and three short stories. The latest novel, Robin Hood and the Castle of Bones, is available from Amazon, should you wish to check it out.
My current thinking is that Robin Hood is an archetype. We want someone like Robin to exist – the good outlaw, the hero who thumbs his nose at authority, who does what he likes, whenever he likes. Hell, I’d like to be Robin Hood. And I think that archetype is deep in our national psyche, and perhaps in all national psyches, in all people all over the world. If so, maybe the coincidence that a Saxon from the 8th century should so resemble an English outlaw from the 12th, should not be so much of a surprise after all.
Click here for a full list of the Outlaw Chronicles novels and short stories