The Search for a
Real Robin Hood

Sources and Conclusions

by Allen W. Wright

Final Thoughts

I debated for a time whether I should even write a real Robin Hood page.

Most arguments for real Robin Hoods aren't that well-developed. I didn't want to foster excessive faith in a real Robin Hood.

I don't think we should pin Robin Hood down to one man, even if this was possible. Robin Hood has survived because writers keep reinventing him. They slot him into new times and different situations. If we knew there was one historical Robin, writers might not be so imaginative where they take the outlaw hero.

Also, finding a real Robin Hood might take some of the mystique out of the character. Now Robin Hood is whoever we want him to be. Would the magic be gone if we knew Robin was just a horse thief or a cruel murderer instead of a Saxon freedom fighter? I think it might.

But as a comic book once observed, mysteries are things to be shared. It's fun to delve into obscure corners of history looking for legendary wolfsheads. I think lots of intriguing things are mentioned in these Real Robin Hood pages. You can learn lots of other stuff by asking "who was Robin Hood?"

So, the quest for a real Robin Hood may be a quest worth embarking on. Just as long we never do finish our quest with a final, undisputed answer.

Sources

Here's a list of the books and articles that I used while writing this site. The first draft of A Search for a Real Robin Hood was written in 1997. I have continued to update the site, and I'll add new sources when I appropriate.

Many of the books listed here are available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Click on the links below, and you'll be taken to a place where you can order editions of those books. I get a very tiny commission if you order the books - so far it's never been enough to even cover the costs of running the website. Of course, you don't have to buy these books in order to read them. Many will be available in university libraries, and in some cases, even large public libraries might have copies.

Scholarly Books and Ballad Collections

ROBIN HOOD , revised edition by J. C. Holt. Thames and Hudson: London, 1989. In the 1980s and early 1990s, this was considered the definitive work on Robin Hood. Although it focuses mainly on the medieval side of the legend, it's still worth a look. I also used information on Philip Mark from Holt's 1961 book, The Northerners. Update: A newly-revised "Third Edition" wias released in 2011.
Buy the 2011 Third Edition on Amazon.com
Buy the 1989 Revised Edition on Amazon.com

Buy the 2011 Third Edition on Amazon.co.uk
Buy the 1989 Revised Edition on Amazon.co.uk

Buy the 2011 Third Edition on Amazon.ca
Buy the 1989 Revised Edition on Amazon.ca

ROBIN HOOD: AN HISTORICAL ENQUIRY by John Bellamy. London: Croom Helm, 1985 (American edition by Indiana University Press). Bellamy examined all kinds of historical records looking for real character behind the legend. I don't agree with many of his conclusions, but the information in his book greatly added to this page. It's long out of print, but if you want - Amazon does offer used bookstore services. You can also try Ebay.
Buy it used on Amazon.com
Buy it used on Amazon.co.uk

RYMES OF ROBYN HOOD; AN INTRODUCTION TO THE ENGLISH OUTLAW by R.B. Dobson and J. Taylor. Alan Sutton: Gloucester, UK, 1989. Originally published by Heinemann in 1976, this is a classic collection of ballads and poems with a wonderful historical introduction. A new edition was released in 1997 with an updated foreword.
Buy the 1997 edition on Amazon.com
Buy the 1997 edition on Amazon.co.uk
Buy the 1997 edition on Amazon.ca

ROBIN HOOD: AN ANTHOLOGY OF SCHOLARSHIP AND CRITICISM edited by Stephen Knight. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1999. This large tome collects and reprints several useful and important articles. Most relevant for the study of real Robin Hoods are "Robin Hood" by Joseph Hunter (the 1852 article which explores the Robin Hood of the 1320s), "The Birth and Setting of the Ballads" by J.R. Maddicott, "Ballads and Bandits: Fourteenth Century Outlaws and the Robin Hood Poems" by Barbara A. Hanawalt and "Some Further Evidence Concerning the Dating of the Origins of the Legend of Robin Hood" by David Crook (which covers the various Robin Hood surnames).
Buy Robin Hood: An Anthology of Scholarship and Criticism on Amazon.com
Buy Robin Hood: An Anthology of Scholarship and Criticism on Amazon.co.uk
Buy Robin Hood: An Anthology of Scholarship and Criticism on Amazon.ca

"The Sheriff of Nottingham and Robin Hood: The Genesis of the Legend" by Dr. David Crook THIRTEENTH-CENTURY ENGLAND II: PROCEEDINGS OF THE NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE CONFERENCE 1987, ed. P.R. Cross and S.D. Lloyd. Suffolk: Woolbridge, 1988. (This article examines Robert of Wetherby, Hobbehod and Eustace of Lowdham. Crook also contributed to Robin Hood scholarship by finding a 1260's surname "Robehood".)

EARL DAVID OF HUNTINGDON ELEVEN FIFTY-TWO TO TWELVE NINETEEN: A STUDY IN ANGLO-SCOTTISH HISTORY by K.J. Stringer. Edinburgh University Press, 1985. (This book turns the spotlight on the life of a real earl of Huntingdon. I'm very grateful for the information in this book.)
Buy it on Amazon.com
Buy it on Amazon.co.uk

ROBIN HOOD: GREEN LORD OF THE WILDWOOD by John Matthews. Glastonbury: Gothic Image Publications, 1993. (Matthews looks at the mythological imagery in the Robin Hood research. There are some historical mistakes in his book, but it's still worth looking at.)
Buy it on Amazon.com
Buy it on Amazon.co.uk

ROBIN HOOD: THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH by Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman. London: O'Mara Books, 1995. (This book is far too sweeping in its conclusions, but I included their information on Loxley.)
Buy it on Amazon.com
Buy it on Amazon.co.uk

Robin Hood: A Complete Study of the English Outlaw by Stephen Knight. Oxford, UK and Cambridge, USA: Blackwell, 1994. This is the definitive book on the legend. It provides the most comprehensive look at changes to the Robin Hood legend. Knight doesn't believe in a real Robin Hood and he provides valuable criticism about such a quest. An interview with Professor Knight is available on my website. The book is out of print, but he has a new book:

ROBIN HOOD: A MYTHIC BIOGRAPHY by Stephen Knight. No, this still isn't a look at possible real life Robins.  Instead, it's the biography of a mythic character or rather four characters. It divides Robin's legendary persona into four archetypes. This is largely enjoyable, although given to a few overstatements -- particularly on the subject of Robin's sexuality.
Buy Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography on Amazon.com
Buy Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography on Amazon.co.uk
Buy Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography on Amazon.ca

ROBIN HOOD : THE FORRESTERS MANUSCRIPT : BRITISH LIBRARY ADDITIONAL MS 71158, edited by Stephen Knight. The manuscript of this previously unpublished 17th century ballad collection was discovered in a 1993 booksale -- a major find for Robin Hood scholarship. Stephen Knight adds notes to all the ballads. His speculations on real Bishops of Hereford came from this book.
Buy Robin Hood: The Forresters Manuscript on Amazon.com
Buy Robin Hood: The Forresters Manuscript on Amazon.co.uk
Buy Robin Hood: The Forresters Manuscript on Amazon.ca

ROBIN HOOD AND OTHER OUTLAW TALES edited by Stephen Knight and Thomas Ohlgren. It's a whopping 700 pages filled with ballads, plays, and historical background. Much of this book is online at  The Robin Hood Project at the University of Rochester.
Buy it on Amazon.com
Buy it on Amazon.co.uk
Buy it on Amazon.ca

cover MEDIEVAL OUTLAWS: TWELVE TALES IN MODERN ENGLISH edited by Thomas H. Ohlgren. Robin wasn't the only medieval outlaw. This book includes translations of the outlaw adventures of Fulk Fitz Warin, William (Braveheart) Wallace, Adam Bell and others, including A Gest of Robyn Hode. (Updated from the earlier edition which only featured ten tales. The new cover, not pictured here, features a photo I took - the same one that forms the graphic in the top left corner of this page.)
Medieval Outlaws: Twelve Tales in Modern English Translation edited by Thomas Ohlgren on Amazon.com
Medieval Outlaws: Twelve Tales in Modern English Translation edited by Thomas Ohlgren on Amazon.co.uk
Medieval Outlaws: Twelve Tales in Modern English Translation by Thomas H. Ohlgren on Amazon.ca

IMAGINING ROBIN HOOD: THE LATE MEDIEVAL STORIES IN HISTORICAL CONTEXT by A.J. Pollard. The book provides an extremely lucid look at the earliest ballads in the light of the time they were likely composed. His suggestion that as a "yeoman of the forest" Robin Hood was meant to be a forester is interesting.
Buy Imagining Robin Hood on Amazon.com
Buy Imagining Robin Hood on Amazon.com
Buy Imagining Robin Hood on Amazon.ca

THE OUTLAWS OF MEDIEVAL LEGEND by Maurice Keen. London: Routledge, 2000. First published in 1961, this is a classic study of Robin Hood and other medieval outlaws. Originally, Keen supported the idea that Robin Hood legend was inspired by the political sentiment behind the Peasants' Revolt. He has since changed his mind and the updated introduction features Keen's thoughts on more recent Robin Hood scholarship.
Buy The Outlaws of Medieval Legend on Amazon.com
Buy The Outlaws of Medieval Legend on Amazon.co.uk
Buy The Outlaws of Medieval Legend on Amazon.ca

ROBIN HOOD IN POPULAR CULTURE; VIOLENCE, TRANSGRESSION, AND CULTURE, edited by Thomas Hahn. This book collects the papers from the first International Conference for Robin Hood Studies, held in 1997. I attended this conference, and can assure you the volume will contain several excellent papers -- including plenary addresses by Stephen Knight and Barrie Dobson, as well as a very important paper by Thomas Ohlgren. The book covers Robin Hood ballads, poems, novels, theatre, television, film and more.
Buy it on Amazon.com
Buy it on Amazon.co.uk
Buy it on Amazon.ca

ROBIN HOOD: THE EARLY POEMS, 1465 - 1560 by Thomas H. Ohlgren. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2007. For more advanced studies, Thomas Ohlgren offers insightful articles on Robin Hood and the Monk, Robin Hood and the Potter and A Lyttel Geste of Robyn Hode. It also includes a linguistic analysis of the texts by Lister M. Matheson.
Buy it on Amazon.com
Buy it on Amazon.co.uk
Buy it on Amazon.ca

THE EARLY RYMES OF ROBYN HOOD: An Edition of the Texts, ca. 1425 - 1560 edited by Thomas H. Ohlgren and Lister M. Matheson. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2013. In most volumes, the Robin Hood texts are edited - variant versions are combined to "produce the best text", typos are "fixed" and spelling and punctuation is adjusted for a modern audience. All very helpful for the general reader, but those editions don't give a true picture of the original sources. This includes reproductions of the texts of Robin Hood and the Monk (including a previously unpublished fragment), Robin Hood and the Potter, seven different editions of A Gest of Robyn Hode and the three early plays. It is a very useful volume for advanced studies.
Buy it on Amazon.com
Buy it on Amazon.co.uk
Buy it on Amazon.ca

The Plantagenet Chronicles, a series of coffee table books edited by Elizabeth Hallam were emmensely helpful in writing the Kings and Queens section. These books contain extracts of historical chronicles of the Middle Ages translated into English, and are supplemented by articles on a variety of topics and many pictures and illustrations. Below are the individual volumes used.

THE PLANTAGENET CHRONICLES, edited by Elizabeth Hallam. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1986. The first book in the series covers the early background of this family and the reigns of Henry II, Richard I and John.
Buy it on Amazon.com
Buy it on Amazon.co.uk

CHRONICLES OF THE AGE OF CHIVALRY [Also titled: FOUR GOTHIC KINGS], edited by Elizabeth Hallam. London: Weidenfeld, 1987. The second volume covers the reigns of Henry III, Edward I, Edward II and Edward III.
Buy it on Amazon.com
Buy it on Amazon.co.uk

THE PLANTAGENET ENCYCLOPEDIA, edited by Elizabeth Hallam. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1990. A companion volume to the series, this features short encyclopedic entries on the people, places, events and concepts discussed in the rest of the series. It's a good quick reference guide.
Buy it on Amazon.com
Buy it on Amazon.co.uk


Note: The search for a real Robin Hood is but a minor part of Robin Hood studies. The character that has delighted us for generations is a literary character. For a more advanced look at how the legend has changed over time, please visit other sections of this website.

Contact Us

© Text and Location pictures, Copyright 2018 Allen W. Wright - All Rights Reserved
The Robin of Sherwood photos are courtesy Spirit of Sherwood and used with permission