Was Robin a real Medieval Yorkshireman or a later romantic fable?
Robin Hood statue in Nottingham: Image via Wikipedia
“Robin Hood, Robin Hood riding through the glen. Robin Hood, Robin Hood with his band of men….” was the theme song from the 1950s series ”The Adventures of Robin Hood”. Since then there have various TV series. There have been films with Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn, Sean Connery and Kevin Costner. Now Russell Crowe will take on the legend’s Lincoln green mantle. Robin is a concept that stays in western consciousness – the man who steals from the rich to give to the poor, the man who fights injustice. A prototype of what has become the modern “superhero”. But did he really exist or is the English outlaw that we know the creation of the courtly romances of the Middle Ages and then Elizabethan and Victorian wishful thinking?
The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1930s film: Image via Wikipedia
Elizabethan song of Robin Hood: Image via Wikipedia
“In this our spacious isle I think there is not one but he hath heard some talk of Hood and Little John.” wrote Michael Drayton in 1613. The first written references to Robin Hood appears in a version of Langland’s Piers Plowman as well as ballads from the 14th and 15th centuries and belong to the common folk and not the literature of the court. Robin of Loxley. Robin Longstride. Robbing Hood. Robyn Hode. Robert Hude. Take your pick.
When I lived in North Yorkshire it was common knowledge that Robinhad been a Yorkshireman long before he went south and became part of the Sherwood Forest bunch. After all, why else would Robin Hood’s Bay be named so? West of the coastal village, right in the middle of the North York Moors, is the ancient village of Lastingham, founded in the 600s AD by the monk Cedd and the site of his monastery. All that remains form this time is the 8th Century crypt under the 11thCentury church. Robin was said to hidden there while on the lam for something he did not do. The crypt is rumoured to have had a secret passageway out onto the moors at this time and there is still a blocked door in the crypt. Robin is also said to have stayed near the Mallyan Spout waterfall to the north, in Goathland. There is another place called Robin Hood near Leeds in West Yorkshire. Today people think they require transport to travel any distance, but in the ‘good olde days’ legs were used. In the Victorian era, the Bronte sisters of Haworth, Yorkshire, would walk 10+ miles one way. Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire do border each other, so it is plausible that Robin did travel around the two counties.