Ten strange facts about Robin Hood
1. There were many Robin Hoods
By 1262 many criminals were being referred to in the court records as “Robin Hoods” – so the name had popular currency by then. There is a suggestion that some criminals in the 13th and 14th centuries adopted the name “Robin Hood” to add a bit of glamour to their brutal crimes.
2. Robin Hood may have been a job description not a name
In some medieval dialects Hood and Wood are pronounced the same. And Robert, pronounced in a French accent could be Robber. So Robin Hood might simply be the Robber of the Woods.
3. Robin Hood supports the status quo
The Robin Hood of the early ballads is not a revolutionary. He is anti-corruption, but in no sense does he want to change the social order, ordained by Almighty God. He did not think the peasants were being exploited, but believed each class must discharge it’s duties for the common good.
4. Being a medieval outlaw could well have been a seasonal occupation.
It the early ballads it is always summer in the Greenwood, never winter. In summer the foliage hides you and sleeping rough is feasible. There is some evidence to suggest that medieval outlaws went home or stayed with friends or relatives in the freezing winter.
5. Robin Hood is middle class
In the early ballads, Robin Hood is a yeoman – not the Earl of Locksley or Huntingdon. It was the Tudors who ennobled him. But as a yeoman, Robin is not particularly lowly: until 1300, the term is used, along with armiger and esquire, to describe the broad mass of lesser landowners. Essentially, Robin Hood is middle class.
6. Sherwood Forest was huge
It was 100,000 acres, extending from Nottingham to the River Meden. In those days a “forest” was an administrative area owned by the King where special laws applied – it was his hunting preserve and not necessarily an area of woodland as we use the term today. There would be fields, meadows, commons, villages, etc in a “forest”. The northern tip of Sherwood was only thirty miles from Barnsdale, so Robin Hood could easily have operated in both areas. In 1194, King Richard chased a deer from Sherwood to Barnsdale. The Yorkshire/Nottinghamshire debate doesn’t make much sense when you can travel between the two in a day or so.
7. Robin Hood may have been from Kent
Some historians suggest the Robin Hood legend may have been based on a real individual called Willikin of the Weald. He was a yeoman who raised a force of archers in the then thickly wooded Weald of Kent to fight off the invading French army of Prince Louis (son of Philip II of France) in 1216 (See my novel The Death of Robin Hood).
8. There was no sheriff of Nottingham in the time of Robin Hood
The office of sheriff of the town of Nottingham was created in the 15th century (in 1449). The royal official in charge of tax collection (and oppressing the peasants) in the 12th and 13th centuries would have been titles the sheriff of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and the Royal Forests. The current sheriff of Nottingham (as of 25 April 2015) is a nice lady called Jackie Morris.
9. Britain had skilled fighting bowmen long before Crecy and Agincourt
Welsh archers were famous in the 12thcentury, and a contingent accompanied Richard the Lionheart on the Third Crusade. Gerald of Wales, writing in 1188, tells of an oak door “the width of a man’s palm” that had been penetrated by arrows.
10. Maid Marion may have been black
The name Maid Marion may have originated as Murrian – meaning the Moorish one. Marion comes late to the Robin Hood legends – she’s French – appearing as a regular character in the English May games only in the 1500s. These games featured Morris (Moorish) dancing and Marion was a bawdy, ludicrous pantomime figure, played by a man. At first she was associated with Friar Tuck, not Robin.