Over the last few months we have had several modern day heroes of archery and there have been mutterings that the most famous exponent of our art has not yet been mentioned- Robert Hode, Robin Hood or Robin Of Loxley. Known throughout the world for taunting that rascal the sheriff of Nottingham and rescuing the Maid Marion from his evil clutches. After at least 800 years he still has the power to elicit several hundred million dollars from Hollywood to tell more tales of his escapades and further enhance the legend. With Russell Crowe starring in the latest film about to hit the screens perhaps a closer look is required.
So what is the truth behind such a powerful figure, is it the man himself, the things he is supposed to have done, or could it be the spirit of what he stands for at a time when the powerful exploited the dispossessed and the gap between rich and poor was measured in life expectancy as much as wealth.
We have 2 excellent submissions this month, the first is from the website www.robinhoodloxley.net an astounding collation of Robin Hood information, here you will find likely candidates for the real man, lists of Sheriffs of Nottingham, public records regarding various Roberts and various Hoods, even family trees and genealogical records - for those interested in Robin Hood and in fact even for those that didn't think they were this website will enthral you.
Robin Hood is no fictional character as this pardon in the Public Records Office at Kew proves. It reads "Robert Hode (Hood) otherwise known as Robert Dore of Wadsley (Yorkshire) given the King`s pardon on 22nd May 1382." Loxley and Wadsley commons were held by the De-Wadsley family.
This was during the Peasants Revolt when Robin Hood was involved in the municipal riots at York between Simon de Quixley and John of Gisburne during the contest for the position of Lord Mayor of York. Gisbourn was surrounded by scandal, there was rioting, Gisburne had to flee the city and the king was obliged to intervene to restore order.
Robin Hood supported Simon de Quixley against Gisbourne and those familiar with the legendary outlaw will know that his arch enemy was Guy of Gisborne. The opposition of Robin Hood to Gisbourne will not have endeared the two men to each other and Robin Hood was outlawed and locked up with others in the city prison tower. Robin Hood’s involvement in the Peasants Revolt rings true with the image we have of him today.
Medieval history abounds with ‘robin-hoods,’ there was Robin Hood and Little John at Evesham in 1265AD among the brambles and briar's, there was Robin Hood who was pardoned at York in 1382AD and many more including William-le-Fever who was also the leader of a gang of outlaws. When William appeared in court the clerk wrote 'Robehod' in the margin of the Plea Roll at the side of his name, no doubt indicating he was a robber in the same way as knights belong to the knighthood and priests belonged to the priesthood. The author Mark Twain used the term 'robberhood' in the same context. Originally 'Hood' appears to have been derived from the Saxon word "houdt" meaning "the whood" which when combined with 'robber' becomes 'robberhood.' Later it became corrupted to Robin Hood and we can see the transition between the old and the new when we look at the old manuscripts.
People turned to outlawry for many reasons and the law of primogeniture had a part to play in this. Primogeniture meant the eldest son inherited everything on the death of his parents causing the younger members of the family to become homeless. Hopefully the daughters made good marriages or failing that might enter the church as nuns while the young men of the family survived as best they could. The infamous Folville and Cotteril gangs are two examples of well educated family members of the nobility who became outlaws due to their eldest brother inheriting the estate. Those who fought on the loosing side in battle were automatically outlawed and it was better to escape to the woods for fear of being put to death or alternatively being put to work building castles and the like and living as serfs under conditions of slavery on the estates of the barons. Also living in the woods were the unemployed and the unemployable and of course there was the criminal element. Whatever the reason for people being in the woods they were 'home' to many. There was shelter, concealment and food and in addition there was always the proceeds of highway robbery with which they could perhaps buy a pardon and return to society.
ROBIN HOOD WAS KNOWN TO THE KINGS OF ENGLAND
The deeds of Robin Hood were well known to the kings of England. King Edward II in his visitation of the northern counties c. 1323 went after Robin Hood when he discovered the devastation caused to the king's deer.
King Henry VII knew of Robin Hood and in 1487 the account of his journey to Pontefract Castle recorded "Robin Hood's Well" at Barnsdale between Pontefract and a little beyond Doncaster which pinpoints its position very precisely.
King Henry VIII knew about Robin Hood. His printer Richard Grafton and his historian John Leyland both visited Kirklees Priory. Richard Grafton in his influential history "Chronicle at Large" c.1569 drew a sketch of Robin Hood's grave at Kirklees as it was then and tells us the legendary outlaw had the king's price on his head and his lands confiscated. This he said can be verified from records in the King's Exchequer along with an "olde and aunciente pamphlet." As the kings printer and associate of the kings historian he will have had access to these records.
One surviving "olde and ancient pamphlet" is the handwritten Sloane Manuscript which appears to be an early version of the 'Geste of Robin Hood.' It would be nice to think it is in the handwriting of the author of the Geste who Joseph Hunter claims was Richard Rolle 1290-1349. It begins with Robin Hood in Loxley, Yorkshire and ends with Little John's burial at Hathersage. This is a short extract:-
"After which tyme he continued that course of lyfe about XX years, tyl, distempered with could and age, he had great payne in his lymes, his bloud being corrupted; therefore, to be eased of his payne, by letting blud, he repaired to the priores of Kyrkesley, which some say was his aunt, a woman very skylful in physique and surgery; who, perceiving him to be Robin Hood, and way'ing howe fel an enemy he was to religious persons, toke reveng of him for her owne howse, and al others, by letting him bleed to death; and she buryed him vnder a greate stone, by the hy way'es side. It is also sayd, that one Sir Roger of Doncaster, bearing grudge to Robin for some injury, incited the prioress, with whom he was very familiar, in such manner to dispatch him, and then al his company was soone dispersed".
Our second submission is from Geoffrey Towers, an article which allows an insight into the circumstances and times which allow a man such as Robin Hood to exist.
Legend is a powerful force. Often it is the vehicle for the hopes and dreams of each generation that perpetuates it. The hopes and dreams themselves carry a desire for justice. Legend does not disappoint as it can accommodate change, whilst retaining it's essence.
In 1377, William Langland makes reference to the 'rymes of Robin Hood' in the vision of William, concerning Piers Plowman.
'I can naughte perfitly my paternoster as the prest it syngeth, but i can rymes of Robin Hood and Randolf erle of chestre'
By the 1600's ther were over 200 references to him. Ships were named after him and outlaws referred to as 'Robin Hoods' by the King's officials. Outlaws themselves took the name as a 'badge of honour'. The ballads and plays retold and expanded the story so that it was very much in the public consciousness.
As times changed, so did Robin Hood. In Renaissance drama he became an Earl. In the 19th century his appeal was as a Saxon freedom fighter. More recently he courted new age mysticism and probably, as the final straw, became an all American action hero! ( no offence to our cousins intended, just Hollywood )
A great deal has been written about the probable Robin Hood that spawned the legend. But, equally interesting, is what do we know of the times and conditions in which he could have lived? Historians and researchers have a range of views on the dates of Robin Hood, the very earliest placing him at the end of the 11th century and into the 12th century. The earliest dates in legend are an interesting place to start.
These were turbulent times, as England was in the grip of a brutal enemy occupation and it is my belief that this period could have provided the ingredients for our story and hero.
The battle of Hastings in 1066 is probably one of the best known dates in our culture. It's familiarity can obscure the implications and the lasting change on the Anglo Saxon way of life. Many of the nobility were killed in this battle, together with the battle of Stamford bridge two weeks earlier. Those fortunate to have survived would have been dispossessed. Their property and lands would have been given by William the Conqueror to those who had come with him from Normandy. Life would have never been the same again. Many of the dispossessed fled to the forests and marshes, living in makeshift tents and carrying on the struggle against the Norman invaders. Many chose not to live in buildings lest they became 'soft' and were known as 'Silvitici' ( men of the woods ) and were regarded as outlaws.
As if dispossession was not bad enough, the ghastly and extreme brutality of the 'Harrowing of the North' would have left a deep and indelible scar on the Anglo Saxon community. William's brutal retaliation to the Northern Earls uprising and armed resistance, shocked even the Norman writers of the day. Between 1069 and 1070 he set about extinguishing all human and animal life within 100 miles along the East coast and some 60 miles inland. All houses were reduced to ash. Crops and agricultural tools were destroyed. All people, men, women and children over 12 years were to be killed, I do not need to spell out what would have happened to the children under 12, most, if not all died from starvation and exposure. Corpses littered the countryside and it is estimated that at least 100,000 died as a result of this action.
The full toll of the Norman occupation becomes clear in the estimate that half to three quarters of the male Nobility were killed and many wives and daughters forced to marry Normans. The hatred for William and the Normans would have been wholehearted and pretty much universal, giving support to any form of resistance. All classes of the old society would have been affected by the occupation. Hereward the Wake was an iconic figure of resistance during these dark and evil times, many fled to join him.
William's new order was slowly unveiled as it sought to to reduce the former culture to a distant memory. The French Feudal system took root with its' pyramid of power, designed to reward and assist the new 'Masters'
The system worked from the top. The King gave land to nobles in return for their loyalty and help in the invasion. The nobles gave land to the knights and adventurers who fought for them. Knights gave land to what were known as 'villeins' ( a form of slavery ) and serfs who gave rent and other dues in return. Basically you owed loyalty and taxes to whoever gave you land. The villeins were tied to their land and village, which had the desired effect, ( from the point of view of authority ) of keeping everyone in 'their place' From this hard and restrictive existence, the life of an outlaw must have been perceived as exciting and full of adventure.
"England has become the dwelling place of foreigners and the property of strangers..............William of Malmesbury"
Those who looked to the Church for spiritual relief from their nightmare were to be gravely disappointed, for the Church that the Normans brought with them, could be every bit as corrupt and brutal as the feudal system that cohabited with it. In spite of this, ( for there is always a remnant within ( any ) generation ), there is a suggestion that many Saxons did not abandon their faith, rather they made a distinction between faith and the corrupt system. Many ecclesiastical appointments were given to Normans who used the opportunity to extort more taxes from the people.
William, who loved hunting and regarded the deer as his children and he, their father, made large areas of woodland subject to 'Forest Law'. This meant that not only the animals that lived in the forest belonged to the King, the very leaves on the trees did as well. This law made life very difficult for those living nearby since it was now forbidden to kill animals in the forest for food or even to gather sticks for a fire without the harshest penalties ( removal of limbs, eyes.... etc ).
The ingredients for our story are then, in place. We have a plot which is the overthrow of a country's sovereignty and the imposition of an unjust ruling system. Any resistance is met with wanton cruelty. The heart of Saxon England is ripped out. Even the Norman church appears to be in league with the conspiracy. The Saxon nobility are dismantled and the few that make their peace with William, survive only if they trade in their freedom for the feudal system. The enemy is clear. The Normans, from the King; the King's men; the Sheriff, the new nobility and the clergy. Their crime? The removal of freedom, removal of hope, premeditated brutality and greed. 'Gangsters', in other words.
Enter our hero; a fine archer ( perhaps one of the archers left behind by Harold and who fought with the Northern Earls ) and swordsman. A man with a faith and a burning desire for justice. Dispossessed of his lands and branded an outlaw. A natural leader living in the forests in post occupation England, joined by other dispossessed nobles and others who have placed their hopes of freedom in his hands. Their aim: to wage guerilla war on the enemies of Saxon England. In this new uncertain world, their survival against the occupying war machine gives many, hope that the 'old days' could return'.
Sadly the old days did not return and the feudal way of life became the 'English 'way of life. Organised resistance was crushed and the 'Silvitici' became a memory. Castles developed, machines of war developed, the bow developed, the justice system developed and improved, agriculture and trade developed. Kings came and went, the Norman church developed and eventually changed. After the death of our hero, there were others happy to carry the name and the dream. Different adversaries, different times, but the same battle for perceived justice. The ballads and plays flourished with this English folklore so that the rhymes of Robin Hood were known by virtually everybody.
Rarely has a legend endured such longevity and universal appeal, illustrated by the fact that we are still captivated by it nearly 1000 years later.
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