Robin Hood FAQ

by Allen W. Wright

Robin Hood Frequently Asked Questions
Do you have some questions about Robin Hood?

Here are some answers to basic questions with links to where you can learn more.

The answers are written by Allen W. Wright, an independent scholar from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He has published articles on the Robin Hood legend, and also appeared in several radio and television documentaries, including the award-winning Hunting for Robin Hood.

Please note that the Robin Hood legend has changed a greater deal over the years. Different stories say different things.

The answers are in accordion style. Click on the question to reveal the answer.

Questions About Robin Hood

Robin Hood is a legendary character who has appeared in ballads, books, comic books, magazines, plays, musicals, video games, movies and TV shows. Click here for a beginner's guide portrait of the hero today, a composite figure resulting from centuries of storytelling. Click here to read about how the legend grew and changed over the years. From the earliest stories to the present day, Robin Hood has been assisted by an outlaw gang usually called "the Merry Men", A regular foe is the hated Sheriff of Nottingham.

When asked this question on a radio show I once quipped "No one's quite sure if Robin Hood's actually real. Unless, of course, you've got a book to sell. Then you're sure."

The problem isn't that we haven't found a Robin Hood. The problem is that we've found too many.

There are medieval records of many people named Robin or Robert Hood. Some were outlaws. These real Robin Hoods lived in different places and times. Scholars have widely varying theories as to whether any of them were the inspirations to the legend. Others feel Robin Hood is entirely fictional. The 19th century ballad collector Francis Child said that "Robin Hood is absolutely a creation of the ballad-muse". The early ballads do resemble other outlaw stories. Certainly the legend as we know it today is largely fiction. But there still may have been real outlaws that inspired the tales.

One popular candidate is a Robert Hod, who appears in the court records of Yorkshire in the 1220s. He's also referred to as Hobbehod.

The Search for a Real Robin Hood section of my site lists various real outlaws - some named Robin Hood - that may or may not have inspired the legend. But before starting out to find a real Robin Hood, I'd recommend taking a grain of salt. 

The most common answers would be Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire and the town/city of Nottingham itself. The evil Sheriff of Nottingham appears in several ballads, including the very earliest, and much of the action takes place in Nottingham. Sherwood Forest (or "mery Scherwode") is identified as Robin's base in the 15th century ballad Robin Hood and the Monk. A reference in Lincoln Cathedral from around AD 1420 also claims "Robyn hode in scherewode stod." 

The term "forest" in the Middle Ages was a legal term -- identifying an area governed by the special laws with regards to hunting and other matters. There were town and villages inside of Sherwood Forest. The village of Edwinstowe, nearby the modern Sherwood Forest Visitors' Centre, proclaims itself "Robin Hood's Village" and tradition states that Robin Hood and Maid Marian were married in the village church.

But Sherwood is not the only greenwood home associated with Robin Hood. While Robin does go to Nottingham and fight its evil sheriff in the early ballad A Gest of Robyn Hode, Robin's forest home is in Barnsdale, in Yorkshire. Robin Hood also identifies himself as "Robin Hood of Barnesdale" in the ballad Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne. The medieval Barnsdale wasn't an official royal forest like Sherwood was, and it was much smaller. The neighbouring village of Wentbridge is also vaguely mentioned in some early ballads. And there's a record of the phrase "Robin Hode in Barnesdale stode" being used in AD 1429 court case.

There are references to other Yorkshire locations too. A "Life of Robin Hood" from around AD 1600 gives his birthplace as Locksley, which appears to be Loxley, now part of Sheffield, in Yorkshire. 

The traditional location of Robin Hood's Death is Kirklees Priory in Yorkshire.

Most modern Robin Hood fiction is set during the reigns of King Richard I (AD 1189 - 1199) and his brother King John (AD 1199 - 1216). Many books, films and TV shows take place while Richard was in capitivity on his way home from the Crusades. They depict Richard triumphantly returning to Nottingham. And in true history, King Richard did lay seige to Nottingham Castle in March 1194 after returning to England. (The historical record makes no mention of Robin Hood being involved in those events, however.)

Some films -- such as 1976's Robin and Marian starring Sean Connery and 2010's Robin Hood starring Russell Crowe-- begin with King Richard's death in 1199. However, while both of those films appear to be set at the beginning of King John's reign, they bring in political aspects from almost a decade later too.

The early parts of the popular children's novel The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire are set in the reign of Henry II, and the later parts are set in the reign of Henry's son King Richard.

The first historians to assign a date to the legend couldn't agree on its setting. Andrew of Wyntoun wriiting in the 1420s assigns Robin Hood and Little John to the year 1283, during the reign of Edward I. Walter Bower, writing in the 1440s, dates Robin Hood to 1266, during the reign of Henry III (son of King John and father of Edward I). And writing in 1520s, John Major used the Richard and John setting that's most common today.

The king is referred to as Edward, a "comely king", in the ballad A Gest of Robyn Hode. There is debate over which of the Edwards this refers to. One of the common candidates for a real Robin Hood lived in the reign of Edward II, while his son Edward III seems to better fit the description. And the ballad was likely compiled in the reign of Edward IV.

Some modern Robin Hood novels change the setting. Steven A. McKay uses the Edward reference in the Gest, and historical records of a person named Robin Hood at the time, to set his Forest Lord series in the 1320s, the reign of Edward II. Parke Godwin in his novel Sherwood and Stephen R. Lawhead in his King Raven series both set the Robin Hood story over a century earlier than its most common setting.

As with many of the answers, it depends on the version of the story.

In modern novels, TV shows and movies, Robin is often given the nickname "Robin Hood" as a variation of "Robin in the Hood" or "Robin of the Hood". But in the earliest ballads and references, there's nothing to suggest that Robin (or Robert - as Robin was a short form of Robert) Hood wasn't the character's real name.

In 1599, Anthony Munday (with Henry Chettle) produced two plays The Downfall of Robert, Earle of Huntington and The Death of Robert, Earle of Huntington. This appears to be the first time where Robin is given the title of Earl of Huntington (or Huntingdon as the real-world location and earldom is spelled). The name/title of Huntingdon or Huntington has remained popular with writers of fiction, such as in the 1922 film starring Douglas Fairbanks where for much of the film Robin is referred to as "Huntingdon".

The actual earl of Huntingdon in the reigns of Richard I and John was David, brother to the king of Scotland. But in 1746, antiquarian William Stukeley forged a pedigree for Robin Hood and said he was Robert Fitzooth, a rival claimant for the earldom. There's no evidence that such a person existed, but Stukeley's pedigree was widely repeated and the Fitzooth name still appears in Robin Hood fiction, including the novels of Paul Creswick and Roger Lancelyn Green, as well as the 1952 film The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, although in the film the Fitzooth family are simple foresters and it's Marian's father who is the earl.

Probably the most common "real name" for Robin Hood is Robin/Robert of Locksley / Loxley. (The "cks" spelling is more common in fiction, but the real villages of Loxley, such as the one in Yorkshire, are spelled with an x.) Locksley is listed as Robin Hood's birthplace in a prose "Life of Robin Hood" (circa 1600). And in the 17th century, the antiquarian Roger Dodsworth wrote an account where Robin was really "Robert Locksley", outlawed for killing his step-father. In Sir Walter Scott's 1819 novel Ivanhoe, Robin Hood spends much of the novel under the alias of Locksley. Scott explained that "From the ballads of Robin Hood, we learn that this celebrated outlaw when in disguise, sometimes assumed the name of Locksley, from a village where he was born".

As Ivanhoe was one of the most popular novels of the 19th century, it's use of the Locksley name has carried over to many later novels, films and TV versions. Robin is "Robin of Locksley" in the 1938 movie The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn, the 1950s TV series starring Richard Greene, the 1991 film Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner and the 2006 TV series starring Jonas Armstrong. In the first two seasons of Robin of Sherwood, the outlaw's real name is Robin of Loxley, but that character is killed off and "Robert of Huntingdon" (son of the earl) becomes the new Robin Hood.

And writers are still coming up with new "real names" for Robin Hood. He's Bran ap Brychan in Stephen R. Lawhead's King Raven Trilogy, and Robin Longstride (although he assumes the identity of the deceased Robert Loxley) in the 2010 film starring Russell Crowe. 

Well, as in the answers above, any possiblity of a real Robin Hood is murky at best. However, this is probably the best known expression about the legend.

The final lines of the late 15th century ballad A Gest of Robyn Hode are "For he was a good outlawe,/ And dyde pore men moch god." But the only example of this in the ballad itself is when he helps a knight pay his debt. Robin does actively give to the poor in the later ballad A True Tale of Robin Hood, and he is also generous with his earnings in the ballad Robin Hood's Fishing (aka The Noble Fisherman). But in general, the Robin Hood of the ballads does not give to the poor in the way he does in modern film and television versions.

However, even though the giving to the poor motif rarely appears in the surviving ballads, it does turn up in references to Robin Hood. In 1521, chronicler John Major, in his Historia Majoris Britanniae, wrote that Robin Hood "would allow no woman to suffer injustice, nor would he spoil the poor, but rather enriched them from the plunder taken from the abbots." And William Warner's historical poem from the 1580s, Albions England describes Robin's good deeds and actually includes the phrase "Those tooke from rich to giue the poore".

Sometimes Robin Hood justifies his robberies by saying he takes money from the true thieves who prey on the poor.

In the 1973 Robin Hood Disney cartoon, Little John questions what they are doing:

LITTLE JOHN: You know somethin', Robin. I was just wonderin', are we good guys or bad guys? You know, I mean, uh? Our robbin' the rich to feed the poor.

ROBIN HOOD: Rob? Tsk tsk tsk. That's a naughty word. We never rob. We just sort of borrow a bit from those who can afford it.

LITTLE JOHN: Borrow? Boy, are we in debt.

In his 1989 revised edition of Robin Hood, historian J.C. Holt suggests that the idea of Robin Hood robbing from the rich to give to the poor might have got its start in the village "May Games" festivals of the 15th and 16th centuries. Often times a figure dressed as Robin Hood would sell ales or paper badges -- sometimes leading processions to neighbouring villages to raise money. The money went to the church wardens, and as while the cash may have been used for fixing the local churches and such, church wardens did help with poor relief. "That Robin took from the rich and gave to the poor could have come about by an easy elision of associations. It could equally have been a brain-wave of some anonymous church warden who envisaged harnessing Robin's reputation to this end." (p. 196) 

It should be noted that even if Robin's charitable activities are sparse in the early ballads, the idea of him giving to the poor does appear long before stories of him robbing tax money. There's nowhere in the early ballads where Robin steals taxes.

Even More Robin Hood Questions

If you say “a Robin Hood hat” most people would immediately picture the sort of hat worn by Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood in the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood or by the cartoon fox in Disney’s 1973 Robin Hood cartoon. That hat is a variation on the bycocket, a hat commonly worn from 14th to 16th centuries (a couple hundred years when most Robin Hood films are supposed to take place.) While the earliest surviving ballads were written at a time when the bycocket was in style, they don’t mention Robin Hood wearing one. There is a woodcut illustration in a printing of the ballad A Gest of Robyn Hode that resembles the classic Robin Hood hat, but this image was recycled from Chaucer's yeoman. And as you'll read below, there is one other reference to Robin Hood wearing a hat.

Tights in the modern sense came after Robin Hood's time, although he does wear them in 19th and 20th century stage productions and some movies. A more medieval fashion that resembles tights in some ways is hose (plural hosen) -- usually made of wool. Unlike modern tights, medieval hose did not cover the crotch area.

The hat and hose are actually referred to in one of the earliest Robin Hood references, a few lines of poetry scribbled into a manuscript at Lincoln Cathedral, circa AD 1425.

Robyn hode in scherewod stod
hodud and hathud hosut and schold
ffour and thuynti arowes
he bar in hit hondus.

In more modern English, that would be: Robin Hood in Sherwood stood,/ Hooded and hatted, hosed and shod / Four and twenty arrows / He bore in his hands.

Robin Hood has not worn tights or a pointy hat in several movies including 1969's Wolfshead (released in 1973), 1976's Robin and Marian, 1991's Robin Hood -- Prince of Thieves, the 2010 Robin Hood with Russell Crowe and many others. And yet,the publicity departments of Robin Hood movies and TV shows (even in 2018) make a big deal of the fact that this time he's not wearing tights.

So, what about the colour green?

The colour most associated with Robin Hood in ballads, poems and novels is Lincoln green.

In the Eighth Fytte of the 15th century ballad A Gest of Robyn Hode, the king asks if Robin Hood has any green cloth, and the king, his knights and Robin go to Nottingham dressed in "Lyncolne grene". In some sources, such as the 16th century play Robin Hood and the Friar, Robin's band wear Kendal green. Both shades are named for towns with prominent cloth industries.

However, green is not the only colour associated with Robin Hood. In the first fytte of the above mentioned Gest ballad, Robin is said to have both scarlet and green cloth (Stephen Knight and Thomas Ohlgren have suggested now lost forms of this passage may have said "scarlet in grain" rather than scarlet and green And scarlet was originally an expensive type of fabric, often but not exclusively using expensive dyes of a reddish hue.) And the fourth fytte of this ballad, Robin's men are described as wearing coats "of scarlet and of raye", or striped scarlet. However, the third fytte of the same ballad also implies Robin's men wear green. It's been said that Robin did not originally wear green, although it might be more accurate to say originally he did not exclusively wear green. Many of the early sources are silent on what colour he wears, although the 16th century records for village Robin Hood festivals often mention the purchase of green clothing.

Also, in one version of the later ballad Robin Hood and Queen Catherin, Robin's men wear lincoln green while Robin himself dresses in scarlet red. In the ballad The Jolly Pinder of Wakefield, Robin Hood promises a new recruit clothes of different colours -- "the one green, the other brown". 

Robin Hood is traditionally depicted using what would come to be called a traditional English longbow. These bows were most commonly made from the wood of a yew tree, and at least two ballads describe Robin's bow as being made of yew - A Gest of Robyn Hode and Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne.

While perhaps not as common -- at least at the man-sized length of Robin's longbow -- in King Richard's day, the longbow has loomed large in English history and folklore. Longbow archers are often credited with securing victory during the Hundred Years War, at battles such as Crecy (1346) and Agincourt (1415).

In the Gest, Robin is given 100 bows along with arrows:

He purveyed him an hundred bowes,
The strynges well ydyght,
An hundred shefe of arowes gode,
The hedys burneshed full bryght;

And every arowe an elle longe,
With pecok wel idyght,
Inocked all with whyte silver;
It was a semely syght.

That means they were fletched with peacock feathers. The arrows are described as being an ell long. The ell could very in length depending on the time and place -- varying from 18 to 45 inches in length. Apparently the ell in the ballad is at the upper end of the scale -- 45 inches. Elsewhere, Robin's arrows are called a clothyard shaft. Clothyards can very from 27 to 36 inches. Robin has extremely long arrows, which would imply great height and strength.

In the ballad Robin Hood and the Potter, Robin finds that the sheriff's bows are too weak and bend too much under his mighty arms.

In movies and TV shows it's common to depict Robin with a longbow and the villainous sheriff's men with crossbows. This might hark back to the pop culture view of the Hundred Years War which expressed the supremacy of the English (or Welsh) longbow over the crossbow many of the French used.

Robin has used other kinds of bows though. In the 2006 TV series, Robin uses recurve bow or short bow. It's supposed to be a "Saracen bow" although the actual prop used is of Hungarian design. In the first episode, Robin explains to Will Scarlet's younger brother:

"This is a Saracen bow. It is recurved. The bow is straightened when you draw. It makes it small but powerful."

In the 2018 Robin Hood movie Little John calls Robin's original longbow "firewood" and tells Robin he needs a "street bow" instead. Little John gives Robin what appears to be another recurve Saracen bow.

Robin Hood has been depicted as both a peasant and nobleman, but in the earliest surviving ballads he was neither.

Originally he was a yeoman -- a term which has various meaning. It can be a small, but free, landowner beneath the normal gentry. A yeoman can also be someone who works in a royal or noble household. A yeoman of the forest is a term for a forester -- someone who enforces the forest laws (laws that Robin would routinely break).

In the 16th century, there were references to Robin Hood being an earl. Elizabethan playwright Anthony Munday made Robin the Earl of Huntingdon (or Huntington) in his plays. The title seems to have stuck, but later tellings give him other titles such as "Earl of Locksley". 

While movies and TV shows often still call Robin an earl, they rarely depict the rank with the true level of power and influence that an earl would have. The real Earl of Huntingdon in King Richard's day was Earl David, and he was the king of Scotland's brother.

Other books and TV shows depict Robin as a knight or lesser noble.

In the 1976 film Robin and Marian, King Richard refers to Robin as a "peasant".

It depends on the version of the legend.

The earliest surviving ballads just start with Robin as an outlaw. They don't explain how or why he was outlawed. Perhaps it didn't matter.

In the mid 16th century, chroniclers such as Richard Grafton knew a particularly heroic and dramatic reason why Robin Hood became an outlaw -- "he fell into great debt, by reason wherof, so many actions and sutes were commenced against him, wherunto he aunswered not, that by order of lawe he was outlawed." Later versions such as Anthony Munday's 1599 play The Downfall of Robert, Earle of Huntington, Martin Parker's 1632 ballad A True Tale of Robin Hood and in Thomas Love Peacock's 1822 novel Maid Marian also mention Robin's debts as at least a partial reason for his outlawry.

As much as it might resonate with modern audiences feeling the financial pinch, the debt story wasn't an entirely satisfactory origin.

The prose life of Robin Hood which appears in a Sloane manuscript from circa AD 1600 also has Robin outlawed for debts, but also says that shortly afterwards Robin encountered some foresters who mocked his archery skills. As can be seen by the ballad Robin Hood's Progress to Nottingham which expands this story, things did not end well for the foresters. In some ways, it's less an origin story and more just a "first offence". A somewhat cleaned-up version of this story appears in children's books such as Howard Pyle's 1883 novel The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire.

Robin's tendency to flout the forest laws is part of the reason why he's outlawed in Peacock's Maid Marian. In the 1820s verse narrative In “Robin Hood’s Flight” by Leigh Hunt, Robin poaches a deer to feed Will Scarlet (or Will Nokes, depending on the version) and kills the abbot who tries to seize them. A similar scene appears in many versions of the Robin Hood legend -- most notably when Errol Flynn's Robin rescues Much from Guy of Gisbourne in the 1938 film. Numerous later films and TV shows have followed the Errol Flynn movie and included a similar scene. Robin's defence of Much leads to his outlawry in the 1980s TV show Robin of Sherwood and the 1991 film Robin Hood starring Patrick Bergin.

However, that's not actually why he was outlawed in the 1938 movie The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn. Robin isn't outlawed until later in the film after he breaks into Nottingham Castle, taunts Prince John, threatens murderous rebellion and kills a few guards. By that point, Robin was just asking to be outlawed.

Some versions of the legend, including the the 1950s TV series starring Richard Greene, the 1991 film Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner and the 2006 TV series starring Jonas Armstrong show Robin Hood returning home from the Crusades to discover that his lands have been taken over or destroyed by the sheriff or some other villain. 

Although so many aspects of the Robin Hood legend have changed over the years, the story of Robin Hood's death has remained surprirsingly consistent.

There is a brief mention of Robin Hood's death at the end of the popular early ballad A Gest of Robyn Hode. This ballad says that Robin was killed by the prioress of Kyrkely (which would be Kirklees Priory, near Huddersfield in Yorkshire) and her lover Sir Roger of Doncaster (or Donkesly). The prioress is said to be related to Robin Hood. It also establishes that Robin Hood went to the priory to have his blood let (a common medieval healing practice). 

While the Gest doesn't specifiy exactly how the prioress and Sir Roger betrayed Robin though false play, these details are elaborated on in a full ballad called Robin Hood's Death or The Death of Robin Hood, which appears in a few variations. The longer, but fragmented, version which survives in the mid-17th century Percy folio appears medieval in tone, and is sometimes counted among the earliest ballad tradition.

Robin announces that he will neither eat nor drink until he's been to Church Lees to have his blood let. Will Scarlett objects, telling Robin that he should take 50 of his best men with him. But Robin argues with Scarlett, saying he'll only take Little John with him. On the way to the nunnery, Robin and Little John encounter and old woman who is cursing Robin Hood. Unfortunately, half a page is missing at this point so we don't know why she's doing this.

Robin is confident he's in no danger because the prioress is his cousin -- specifically his aunt's daughter. Robin pays the prioress 20 pounds of gold, and she fetches the "blood irons" (lancing knives). She drains both the thick and thin blood from Robin. He realizes she has drained too much. Robin begins to tell Little John what has happened.

The surviving ballad is again missing half a page. When the action resumes Robin Hood appears to be speaking with the villainous Red Roger who is lurking outside the window.  Although Robin is weakened, he manages to slay Red Roger. But Robin is dying and he asks Little John for the sacrements. Little John asks for permission to burn Churchlee to the ground. Robin refuses because God would blame him if a woman was hurt. The text is missing the final half page, as Robin was telling Little John how to arrange his body.

A much shorter version of the tale appears in the late 18th century ballad collections (or garlands). Will Scarlett, the old woman and Red Roger do not appear in this version. The nunnery is caleld Kirkley Hall in this version. But it does contain two evocative elements. Robin blows three blasts on his horn to summon Little John to his side. Robin Hood then asks for his bow and makes a final shot. He tells Little John to bury him where the arrow lands.

This version of the ballad concludes with Robin Hood epipath, and indeed there is a tombstone with just such an inscription on the grounds of the former Kirklees Priory. (However, it should be noted that the grave is not nearly as old as the legend of Robin Hood dying at Kirklees. The grave may be an early example of a tourist trap.)

Robin Hood's death at the hands of the wicked prioress appears in many children novels.

When other ballads mention Robin Hood's death, they follow the broadstrokes of this tale with one slight change. A True Tale of Robin Hood by Martin Parker also features Robin being bled to death by a spiteful member of the clergy, but this 17th century ballad swaps the gender of the killer. The prioress only buries Robin Hood, and instead it is a "faithless friar" who bleeds the outlaw. A monk also did the bloodletting in the ballad Robin Hood and the Valiant Knight.

Robin's fatal encounter with the prioress (or abbess as she's often called) has been depicted on film and television -- although instead of bleeding to death, Robin Hood is merely poisoned. In the 1975 British TV series The Legend of Robin Hood starring Martin Potter, the evil prioress is the sister of Guy of Gisborne. She administers a feverishly sick Robin poisoned berries, in revenge for the death of her brother.

The 1976 film Robin and Marian starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn also has Robin die at the hands of the abbess of Kirklees. The twist in this film is that the abbess is actually Maid Marian, and she poisons Robin out of love.

A 1997 episode of The New Adventures of Robin Hood "Witches of the Abbey" follows the original ballad in that Robin's aunt is the abbess of Kirklees. But then it departs wildly from the legend. The abbess is part of a trio of witches, and Robin's supposed death is merely a ruse so he can sneak into the Locksley family crypt inside the abbey.

There are also two other television depictions of Robin Hood's death although they do not match the classic tale.

In "The Greatest Enemy", the second series finale of the 1980s TV series Robin of Sherwood, Robin of Loxley, Marion and Much are chased by the sheriff's men. They make their way to a tor, and Robin covers his friends escape by staying at shooting his last arrows. He shoots his final arrow into the air and then breaks his bow. The sheriff's men advance. The sheriff later says they buried Robin in Sherwood and that the body was unrecognizable after the soldiers were through with it. But in this TV show, Robin was the servant of a forest spirit, Herne the Hunter. Herne chose Robert of Huntingdon to take over from the fallen Loxley to become the new Robin Hood. This was done to allow Loxley's actor to leave the show for a role on Broadway.

In the final episode of the 2006-2009 version of Robin Hood, Robin is stabbed with a poisoned sword by Isabella, sister to Guy of Gisborne. He is taken to Sherwood and dies seeing a vision of Marian. (She had been killed the previous season.)

The early ballads depict Robin as devoutly religious, with a special fondness for the Virgin Mary. So he is Roman Catholic in those tales.

In Robin Hood and the Monk, he risks danger to go to pray at St. Mary's Church in Nottingham. A monk betrays Robin Hood, and it results in a fight where Robin kills 14 people.

In A Gest of Robyn Hode, Robin is hestiant to loan an improvished knight 400 pounds. The knight says he has no friends to guarantee the loan save him that died on a tree (Jesus). Robin says that's not enough. The knight then mentions Our Dear Lady -- the Virgin Mary -- and Robin loans him the money. She always returns investment. Robin later robs twice as much -- 800 pounds -- from the monks of St. Mary's Abbey.

It might seem strange that Robin was devoutly religious but so many of his enemies were monks, prioresses, abbots and bishops. But in the late Middle Ages when the Robin Hood ballads were written, it was common to be both devoutly religious and highly critical of those in charge of the church.

While Robin Hood may be a Christian in many tales, in films such as Robin Hood -- Prince of Thieves and TV shows such as the 2006-2009 Robin Hood, he is also shown to have great respect for other religions as well -- in particular Muslims.

And sometimes, Robin Hood is depicted as a pagan. He's the servant of the forest god Herne the Hunter, lord of the trees, in the 1980s TV series Robin of Sherwood.


Questions about other characters in the Robin Hood legend

The Merry Men are Robin Hood's gang of outlaws. They are referred to as Merry Men in earliest ballads including A Gest of Robyn Hode and Robin Hood and the Monk. The Gest refers to them both as "mery men" and "mery meyne". "Meyne" means company. And the term Merry Men predates its use in the Robin Hood ballads as the followers of a knight or outlaw.

Recent film and television shows avoid the use of "Merry Men", or use the expression in an ironic tone. However, it should be noted that the Merry Men of the original ballads were generally tougher and more violent than the "outlaws" in modern movies and TV.

The number of Merry Men can vary. In A Gest of Robyn Hode, there are "seven score" (or 140) outlaws. In Robin Hood and the Monk, Much tells Robin to take 12 of his best men -- implying there are more than 12 in the band. In one version of Robin Hood Rescuing Three Squires, when Robin blows his horn 150 outlaws appear. When he blows it again, another 60 appear. In another version of the same tale "Ten hundred and ten of Bold Robin Hoods men / Came tripping all down the green hill."

Among the outlaws in the earliest Robin Hood ballads are:

* Little John
* Much the Miller's Son (sometimes called Midge)
* Will Scarlet (aka Will Scarlok and Will Scatheloke in the Gest and Will Scarlett in Robin Hood's Death. Sometimes Scathelock is Scarlet's real name. Sometimes they are depicted as separate characters)

Two other famous Merry Men appear in the play-games of the time: Friar Tuck and Maid Marian. Each appears in a ballad depicting their meeting with Robin Hood, but they rarely appear in other ballads. However, like Little John, Much and Will Scarlet, Tuck and Marian continue to appear in many Robin Hood plays, novels, films and TV shows.

Alan-a-Dale also appears in a later ballad, and appears in many modern versions of the tale. Will Stutely is another common character in the later tradition.

Many ballads feature Robin Hood encountering a stranger and losing to them in a fight. Robin then asks the stranger to join his band. Robin Hood and Little John is the most famous example of this tradition, but there are several others.

The 1980s TV series Robin of Sherwood introduced a new member of the band -- a Saracen warrior named Nasir. Copyright restrictions prevent Nasir from being carried over to later versions. But Nasir did start a trend for having a Muslim member of the band - this includes Azeem in Robin Hood -- Prince of Thieves and Djaq in the 2006 TV series. In 2018 Robin Hood film depicts Little John as a Moor.

The most common answer would be Maid Marian (or Marion or Marianne). She was first introduced into the legend through the theatrical tradition and has only one major ballad appearance -- Robin Hood and Maid Marian. But Marian continues to play a prominent role in the novels, plays, TV shows and movies based on the Robin Hood legend.

The most common surname for Marian is Fitzwalter, which was first given as Fitzwater in the Elizabethan plays by Anthony Munday. In those plays Marian's true first name is Matilda. (Likely connected to the daughter of Baron Robert Fitzwalter. The historical baron had claimed his feud with King John stemmed from the king trying to seduce his daughter Matilda.)

Marian, however, is the not the only romantic interest of Robin Hood. In the 17th century ballad Robin Hood's Birth, Breeding, Valour, and Marriage Robin Hood marries Clorinda "queen of the shepherds" -- a skilled archer. She reappears as Clarinda in the 1751 production Robin Hood: A New Musical Entertainment.

In his 1956 children's novel The Adventures of Robin Hood Roger Lancelyn Green establishes that Clorinda is merely an alias that Marian uses when in the forest.

In one variation of the ballad Rose the Red and White Lily, Robin Hood and Little John marry the sisters in a double wedding. (In the more common versions of the ballad the groom is not Robin Hood, but similarly named ballad character Brown Robin.)

In the TV series Once Upon a Time, after Marian's death, Robin Hood becomes involved with Regina, the formerly Evil Queen from the Snow White stories. Fans of this relationship christened it #OutlawQueen. This show's Robin was also seduced by Zelena, the Wicked Witch of the West (from The Wizard of Oz), who impersonated a supposedly rescued Marian.

Well, it's debatable if a Robin Hood that resembled the legendary character ever existed. But the idea of Robin Hood receiving a pardon from the king has been part of the tradition since one of the earliest surviving ballads.

Robin Hood receives a pardon from the king in A Gest of Robyn Hode. The story of the pardon was retold in the later ballad The King's Disguise and Friendship with Robin Hood. A similar pardoning scene has appeared in many Robin Hood books, TV shows and movies.

What distinguishes the Gest's pardoning from many of the later pardons is that Robin Hood is not happy living as a pardoned member of the king's court. After 15 months, all of his men except for Little John and Will Scathelocke have left him. Robin's spent all his money. His skill has diminished. He's broke and bored. 

So Robin makes the excuse to go visit a chapel he founded in Barnsdale. The king grants him one week's leave. Once Robin's back in his greenwood haunts, Robin blows his horn and 140 of his outlaw band appear. Robin decides to spent another 22 years living in the woods as an outlaw. In this ballad, living as an outlaw is Robin's natural state.

Usually in the movies, Robin being accepted back into the court and legal society is the happy ending. Even the later versions which show Robin leaving the king's service, it's because the king has done something evil. We can see Robin Hood break with the king in 1976's Robin and Marian, the 1984 episode "The King's Fool" of Robin of Sherwood, and the 2010 Robin Hood film starring Russell Crowe.

A meeting with the king is not unique to the Robin Hood legend. For example, Mark Truesdale's 2018 book The King and Commoner Tradition: Carnivalesque Politics in Medieval and Early Modern Literature explores this trope in detail.

Robin Hood isn't even the only medieval outlaw to receive a royal pardon, even though this other story doesn't fit the king and commoner trope as well as Robin Hood's pardon. In the ballad Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudesley the queen convinces the king to pardon the three titular outlaws of past crimes. Moments later a messenger arrives to tell how the now-pardoned outlaws had previously killed 300 people in the town of Carlisle. Ooops.

So, who was the king that pardoned Robin Hood?

Well, that's where it gets a bit complicated.

The answer you are probably thinking of is Richard I (1189-1199) also known as Coeur de Lion or "The Lionheart". Richard is the king's name in the later ballad The King's Disguise and Friendship with Robin Hood. Many modern stories tell of Richard and his cruel brother John (Prince John in many tales, but he did become king in 1199 and reigned until 1216.) We'll get to those two ... eventually.

King Richard is not the king mentioned in the original Robin Hood ballad where the outlaw meets the king.

The Gest says that the king who pardoned Robin Hood was named "Edwarde, our comly kynge." But which Edward is that?

Stephen Knight has argued it could be Edward IV (1461 - 1470 and 1471 - 1483 - with a brief period in 1470 where his predecessor Henry VI reclaimed the throne). Edward IV was possibly on the throne when the Gest was compiled into its present form.

But a more heroic and romanticized King Edward would have been King Edward III (1327 - 1377). This Edward would have either been on the throne or very recently died at the time of the earliest surviving literary reference to the Robin Hood legend in the 1377 edition of William Langland's Piers Plowman (the "B-text", where a character remarks he knows the rhymes of Robin Hood). Edward III is the king in other stories where commoners have encountered the king in disguise. And in one poem, this Edward is described as comely, just as the one in the Gest is.

He was also the king during the Battle of Crecy (1346), a well-regarded triumph for the English longbow over the French.

But some believers in a real Robin Hood look to Edward III's father, Edward II (1307-1327). After all, a real man named Robin Hood served in his court. (Although the connections to the legend are dubious at best.) 

And then, there's Andrew of Wyntoun -- writer of the Orygynale Chronicle from around AD 1420. He places Robin Hood in the year AD 1283 -- the reign of Edward I (1272 - 1307). Perhaps it's appropriate that it was in the wars of Edward I that the longbow also figured prominently.

But another early chronicler picked a different year for Robin Hood. Writing around 1440, Walter Bower says that Robin Hood was active in 1266, the reign of Henry III (1216-1272)

And he's not the only Henry associated with Robin Hood. The ballads Robin Hood and Queen Katherine and Robin Hood's Chase appear to take place during the reign of Henry VIII (1509 - 1547) and possibly his first wife Catherine of Aragon. (Three of this king's six wives were named Catherine.)  Of course this Henry lived after the Robin Hood ballads were first circulated.

Authors such as Howard Pyle -- who wrote a children's classic in 1883 -- have changed the king and queen from Henry VIII and Catherine to King Henry II (1154-1189) and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. One source published around 1600 says Robin was born in AD 1160, and that is Henry II's reign. Queen Eleanor outlived her husband, and she's been a supporting character in Robin Hood films and TV movies set during the reigns of her children.

Yet another early chronicler, John Major writing around AD 1520, sets Robin Hood in another king's reign Richard I (1189-1199) and with him John I (1199-1216). That's probably the setting you are most familiar with.

The Elizabethan Robin Hood plays written by Anthony Munday also took place in the reigns of King Richard and King John. Robin Hood was a supporting character,

And then there's Sir Walter Scott's 1819 novel Ivanhoe -- which was one of the most popular and influential novels of the 19th century. Robin Hood appears under the alias of Locksley and splits an arrow at the archery contest before Prince John. King Richard also appears in the novel, disgused as the Black Knight. While the novel was romanticized and exagerrated, it did draw upon genuine history for some of the background. 

King Richard did not spend much time in England. Very shortly after being crowned king he left England to go on the Third Crusade. Richard gave his brother Count (or Prince) John control of six counties, Nottinghamshire among them. On the way home from the Crusade, Richard was captured by Duke Leopold of Austria and was later transferred to him to the capitivity of Henry VI, the Holy Roman Emperor. Emperor Henry demanded that England a ransom of 150,00 marks for the return of their king.

Meanwhile, John had extended his control past his allotted six counties. And he conspired with King Philip II of France to try bribe Emperor Henry into keeping Richard captive for longer. But Richard was released in February 1194. He travelled across England, and in March 1194 King Richard had to lay siege to Nottingham Castle. The castle was held by John's supporters, who may have also doubted it was truly the king who returned.

Perhaps it's due to Ivanhoe's popularity that this background was shaped and fictionalized into the background of many Robin Hood books, TV shows and movies.

In fiction King Richard the Lionheart is portrayed as a romantic hero. But more recent versions have painted a less flattering portrait of the king. In these tales, the ransom tale is almost overlooked in favour of another piece of history.

While on Crusade in 1191, King Richard took the city of Acre. Richard tried to ransom the Muslim prisoners and also exchange them for Christian prisoners. Richard's deadline was not met. So, on August 20, 1191 King Richard ordered the massacre of 2,600 prisoners on the hill of Ayyadieh.

Richard's horrific act haunts Robin Hood in several modern tellings of the legend. For example, in the 2010 film Russell Crowe's Robin Hood tells King Richard that the massacre after Acre had made Richard and the English "Godless".

Richard was a warrior. The 1938 film starring Errol Flynn ends with King Richard victorious at Nottingham in 1194 -- back safe and sound in England to dispense wise laws. But the 1984 episode of Robin of Sherwood accurately depicts Richard held a council at Nottingham where he sold the royal appointments off to the highest bidder. By May of 1194, Richard left England -- never to return. He spent the next five years fighting to regain lost territories in France.

On March 25, 1199, King Richard was struck by an arrow during a campaign against an obscure castle in Chalus, France. The wound became infected and Richard died on April 6, 1199. His death is depicted in the 1976 film Robin and Marian and also in the 2010 Robin Hood film.

In both cases, Richard's death occurs early in the films, So the rest of the tale takes place in the reign of King John.

John's reign provides many storytelling opportunities that have been exploited by Robin Hood writers. John feuded with Pope Innocent III over the appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The pope placed England under Interdict between 1208 and 1213. Essentially this means the church went on strike and major church functions did not happen.

Robin and Marian depicts Robin leaving for England right after Richard's death and arriving to find that England is already under Interdict -- even though those two historical events are nine years apart. Even the supposedly realistic Robin Hood films distort history.

Then, there's the Barons Revolt. On June 15, 1215, aggrieved barons forced King John to sign a charter which upon its reissue years later would be known as the Great Charter, or to give it its more familiar Latin name -- the Magna Carta. The significance of the charter is a subject for historical debate. But many of our just laws and freedoms are depicted as having sprung from this charter.

Of course, fiction writers have inserted Robin Hood into that event too.

The 2010 film has Robin Hood leaving France for England immediately after King Richard's death, Upon his arrival, Robin is embroiled in Charter politics and a French invasion. While not quite the Magna Carta of 1215 or the 1216 invasion -- it parallels genuine historical events closely enough that it feels like it took this Robin 16 years to travel from France to England. It's yet another "realistic" version of the legend playing as fast and loose with history as the technicolor swashbuckling epics of days gone by.

So, you might be wondering why Richard and John's reigns are so tied up with lands in France. Well, this is another aspect of the Robin Hood legend that mostly comes from Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe.

Scott's novel depicted the tensions between the French-speaking Normans and the English Saxons. So, who were the Normans? They were originally Vikings who had settled in France and become assimilated to a degree, subjects of the French king.

In 1066 Duke William of Normandy invaded England and defeated and killed the English king Harold. William became the king of the English and installed his fellow Normans into positions of power.

When William conquered England -- the dukes of Normandy now had a dual role. For their lands in France -- they were mere dukes, subjects of the French king. But in England -- they were kings and the ruler. Between William and Richard's days, marriages and alliances had given the English rulers even more French possessions. (Most of which were lost in the reign of King John.)

Scott's depiction of Norman and Saxon tensions was highly influential. While not a notable aspect of the legend before Ivanhoe, afterwards many Robin Hood books later films and TV show would depict the ruling Norman class being prejudiced toward the English Saxons.

But these tales were set in the days of Richard I -- over a hundred years of the Norman conquest of England. So naturally some writers have shifted the Robin Hood story back to the days of William the Conqueror. (Parke Godwin's 1991 novel Sherwood is a prime example of this.

Oh, and there's yet one more king worth mentioning. 

In T.H. White's novel The Sword in the Stone, book one of The Once and Future King, Robin Hood is helped by a lad nicknamed Wart. Wart's foster brother Kay came up with the nickname as a variation on the lad's true name -- Art or Arthur. As in King Arthur and the Round Table. Traditionally the Arthurian stories are set centuries before Robin Hood's day. But it should be clear by now that while fiction may borrow from history -- it is not history.

To some extent Little John asks this question in the early printed ballad A Gest of Robyn Hode. He asks Robin what life they shall lead, including:

"Where we shall take, where we shall leve,
Where we shall abide behynde;
Where we shall robbe, where we shal reve,
Where we shall bete and bynde."

Robin tells Little John not to hurt small farmers, good yeoman, knights or squires. But then Robin adds:

"These bisshoppes and these archebishoppes,
Ye shall them bete and bynde;
The hye sherif of Notyingham,
Hym holde ye in your mynde."

And that statement hold true for much of the Robin Hood legend -- high church figures and the Sheriff of Nottingham are among Robin Hood's greatest enemies.

In the Gest, Robin bedevils the monks of St. Mary Abbey -- in particular the greedy abbot and the high cellarer. In one Elizabethan play, the prior of St. Mary's is Robin Hood's uncle and he conspires to have Robin outlawed. In later works such as Lord Alfred Tennyson's 1892 play The Foresters and the 1980s TV series Robin of Sherwood, the abbot is the Sheriff of Nottingham's brother.

Robin's other clerical foes including a monk in Robin Hood and the Monk and the greedy bishop in the ballad Robin Hood and the Bishop of Hereford.

Robin is betrayed and murdered by his own cousin the Prioress of Kirkless in Robin Hood's Death. Another ballad claims Robin was killed by a faithless friar.

As for the other foe mentioned by Robin in those opening lines from A Gest of Robyn Hode, the Sheriff of Nottingham causes trouble in several ballads, books, movies and TV shows. He is a proud and corrupt figure that symbolizes the law gone wrong.

Alan Rickman's version of the sheriff from Robin Hood -- Prince of Thieves achieves a level of high camp when he orders "And call off Christmas!"

Another villain from the medieval tradition is Guy of Gisborne. He appears in one ballad that's generally believed to medieval even though the surviving copy of the ballad is from later. In Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne, Guy is identified as a yeoman and a bounty hunter assigned to capture or kill the outlaw for the sheriff. He's depicted as wearing a costume from a horse's hide.

However, Robin does call him "Sir Guye" in the ballad, and in later version of the legend Sir Guy is depicted as a powerful and proper knight. Sometimes he seems to be in charge -- such as Basil Rathbone's splendid Sir Guy of Gisbourne in the the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood that starred Errol Flynn as Robin Hood. Other times he's just a lacky of the sheriff, such as Robert Addie's Sir Guy of Gisburne in the Robin of Sherwood TV series.

And Guy of Gisborne can be a complex figure, such as when portrayed by Richard Armitage in the 2006 Robin Hood TV series. Armitage's leather-clad Guy can swing between being sympathetic to being outright evil. The final season of the show features Guy achieving a degree of redemption.

Sometimes the sheriff and Sir Guy have a powerful ally in the corrupt Prince John (later King John). Prince John doesn't appear in the actual ballads, but he does cause trouble in the two Elizabethan plays by Anthony Munday, where he's obsessed by Marian/Matilda. Sir Walter Scott's 1819 novel Ivanhoe, which features Robin Hood in a supporting role, is set during the time Prince John was seizing control of England in the absence of his brother King Richard. Many later Robin Hood books, films and TV shows followed in the tradition of Ivanhoe.

For those concerned about depicting a criminal such as Robin Hood sympathically, the addition of Prince John is an ideal solution. John is depicted as a usurper -- taking a throne that is not rightfully his. Prince John's laws and sheriffs are not legitimate. And so when Prince John is around, Robin is only defying false law.

However, some productions such as 1976's Robin and Marian, 1980s Robin of Sherwood, the 1990s comedy TV series Maid Marian and Her Merry Men and the 2010 film with Russell Crowe depict King Richard as being as corrupt, evil and dangerous as his brother.

Writers add new foes for Robin to fight. Often they can be nasty knights or powerful robber barons. There are series of villains depicted as descendants of the cruel real-life 11th century Robert of Belleme, 3rd earl of Shrewsbury. Henry Gilbert introduced Isenbart de Belame in his 1912 novel Robin Hood and the Men of the Greenwood. Belame's most heinous act was the murder of Maid Marian. In E. Charles Vivian's version of the tale, he returns as Isambart de Belame. And then in 1984's "Robin Hood and the Sorcerer" -- the first episode of Robin of Sherwood -- the titular sorcerer is Baron Simon de Belleme.

While there is no magic in the original Robin Hood ballads, later writers have Robin face off against magical menaces including Maudlin, the Witch of Papplewick, in Ben Jonson's unfinished 17th century play The Sad Shepherd. In The Sword in the Stone, T.H. White has a young yet-to-be King Arthur (aka Wart) help "Robin Wood" rescue Friar Tuck from the clutches of Morgan le Fay.

Those who have been reading from the top are probably tired of me saying "it depends on the version", but like so much else about the Robin Hood legend, it does depend on the version of the story.

For the most part, the ballads do not mention Robin Hood having children. A rare exception is a version (C) of Rose the Red and White Lily, a ballad which has other versions that feature other characters instead of Robin Hood. (The 19th century ballad collector Francis Child did not place this ballad alongside the other Robin Hood ballads in his collection.) Of course, fiction writers have occasionally created children for Robin Hood. There are films focusing on Robin's children, among the most recent is 2001's Princess of Thieves starring Keira Knightley as Robin's daughter Gwyn. Various children of Robin Hood have turned up in novels and comics as well. The Other Children of Robin Hood feature on my Princess of Thieves spotlight looks at some of them.

Various ballads, plays and novels have mentioned other relatives. The prioress of Kirklees who was responsible for Robin's death in the 15th century ballad A Gest of Robyn Hode and the later ballad Robin Hood's Death is called Robin's "cousin" or "aunt's daughter".

In the ballad The Bold Pedlar and Robin Hood, the outlaw meets the pedlar "Gamble Gold of the gay green woods" who Robin realizes is "my mother's own sister's son". In the similar ballad, Robin Hood Newly Revived or Robin Hood and Will Scarlet, Robin encounters "Young Gamwell" (aka Will Scarlet) who is the son of Robin's sister. The ballad refers to Robin as both Scarlet's uncle and cousin, although back then the term cousin was used more loosely than it is today. Other sources make Will the son of Robin's uncle and so truly Robin's cousin in the modern sense of the word. The 1991 film Robin Hood -- Prince of Thieves plays with this tradition by making Will Scarlet, Robin's half-brother.

A more senior member of the Gamwell clan appears in the ballad Robin Hood's Birth, Breeding, Valour, and Marriage - George Gamwell of Gamwell Hall, Robin Hood's uncle -- the brother of Robin's mother. Robin's uncle from the tedious Gamwell clan also turns up in the Robin Hood novels of Pierce Egan and Paul Creswick. The father of Young Gamwell (aka Will Scarlet or Scadlock) also makes a brief appearance in the ballad Robin Hood and the Prince of Aragon as a "Maxfield earl".

In Anthony Munday's play from the 1590s The Downfall of Robert, Earle of Huntington, Robin's uncle is the Prior of York, Gilbert de Hood. The Earl of Huntington, the future Robin Hood, owes money to his uncle and the evil Prior is partly responsible for Robin being outlawed. Robin's uncle is partly responsible for both the death of Robin Hood and King Richard in Munday's second play The Death of Robert, Earle of Huntington.

Robin Hood's parents appear in the ballad Robin Hood's Birth, Breeding, Valour, and Marriage where Robin's dad is a forester and a better archer than the legendary Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudesley. They also appear in the ballad The Birth of Robin Hood which 19th century ballad collector Francis Child retitled Willie and Earl Richard's Daughter as he felt "this ballad certainly does not belong to the cycle of Robin Hood". Robin's mother is the daughter of an earl (the earl of Huntingdon in the B version) and the earl's steward named Willie or Archibald in differing versions.

Robin Hood's father dies on-screen in many films and TV shows including the 1952 The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (Hugh Fitzooth, a forester), the 1980s TV series Robin of Sherwood (Ailric of Loxley, the leader of a Saxon rebellion), 1991's Robin Hood -- Prince of Thieves (Lord Locksley) and the 2010 movie Robin Hood (the visionary stonemason Thomas Longstride).

Heroes -- including Moses, King Arthur, Superman and Harry Potter -- are often raised by foster families. In Pierce Egan the Younger's 1840 novel Robin Hood and Little John, the earl of Huntingdon's son is fostered by the forester Gilbert Head. A similar fostering occurs in the 1975 TV series The Legend of Robin Hood, and in the 1980s TV series Robin of Sherwood, Robin's father gives his son to a miller for safe-keeping. In that show, fellow Merry Man Much the Miller's Son is Robin of Loxley's foster-brother. In Robin of Sherwood Robin also goes by the title of "Herne's Son", as the servant of Herne, a Pagan god. (After Robin of Loxley is killed, Robert of Huntingdon assumes the mantle of Herne's Son. A later episode of Robin of Sherwood reveals that the villainous Guy of Gisburne is the illegitimate son of the earl of Huntingdon and Robert's half-brother.)

While Robin often marries Maid Marian in the modern legend, the novel of Major Charles Gilson bucks this tradition by making Marian Robin's sister instead.  

The Sheriff of Nottingham crosses paths -- and sometimes swords -- with Robin Hood in several ballads, including the very earliest. Robin Hood kills him several times over.

But was he real? Well, the position certainly was -- and still is. The modern day Sheriff of Nottingham often serves as a sort of cultural ambasador building on the title's legendardy reputation.

But the town (later city) of Nottingham did not acquire a sheriff until 1449. The sheriff in the legend of Robin Hood would actually have been the High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, representing both the entire shire not just one town.

Sheriffs had an enormous amount of power -- they oversaw legal proceedings, collected taxes and administered the counties. There was also enormous potential for corruption.

King Henry II had an Inquest of the Sheriffs in 1170 and kicked most of them out of office.

Another effort to clean up the corruption of sheriffs came in 1215, in that document that would in later re-issues be known as the Magna Carta.

Among the Magna Carta's articles are:

45. We will appoint as justices, constables, sheriffs, or other officials, only men that know the law of the realm and are minded to keep it well.


48. All evil customs relating to forests and warrens, foresters, warreners, sheriffs and their servants, or river-banks and their wardens, are at once to be investigated in every county by twelve sworn knights of the county, and within forty days of their enquiry the evil customs are to be abolished completely and irrevocably. But we, or our chief justice if we are not in England, are first to be informed.

Article 50 even called for the removal of the current Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. I'll speak more of that below.

The Magna Carta is often seen as a key foundation of western law and democracy. But at the time, the rights and provisions were established to benefit the barons who were rebelling against the king.

A few decades later, more barons rebelled against King John's son Henry III and established the Provisions of Oxford. Its terms included limiting the power of the sheriffs and restricting the office to only one year terms. (Although many sheriffs later served multiple -- although not often consecutive -- terms.)

Yet a century later, there were still efforts to clean up the corruption of the sheriffs.

But what about our sheriff? The Sheriff of Nottingham of legend. He appears in many ballads. And yet in all these tales, we are never given the sheriff's real name.

He's only known by the title. He's a symbol of corruption rather than a personal figure.

Some writers have used the name of a historical sheriff in their fiction. The sheriff in Henry Gilbert's 1912 novel Robin Hood and the Men of the Greenwood is Ralph Murdach. The historical Ralf Murdach or Murdac had served as sheriff in the last year's of Henry II's reign and was still a castellan of Notthingam Castle during King Richard's return to England in 1194. Tony Lee also used Murdac in his 2009 graphic novel Outlaw, as did Angus Donald in a 2009 novel also called Outlaw.

Richard Kluger explored the life of one of King John's real sheriffs, Philip Mark, in his 1992 novel The Sheriff of Nottingham. Philip Mark also appeared as a temporary replacement for the usually fictional sheriff in the 1980s Robin of Sherwood TV series.

Philip Mark, or Philip Marc as his name in often spelled, was a follower of King John, and born in France. Article 50 of the Magna Carta from 1215 directed that foreign-born officials -- including listing Marc by name -- shall be removed from their offices and "and in future they shall hold no offices in England." However, despite this provision in one of the most influential legal documents of all time, Marc retained his position as Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire for several more years, his career finally ending in late 1224. Robin Hood historian J.C. Holt pegged Philip Mark/Marc as one of the most likely inspirations for the ballad's evil sheriff.

For much of his time as sheriff, Marc was assisted by a clerk or deputy sheriff named Eustace of Lowdham. As he handled many of the fiscal responsibilities of the sheriff, it is possible than many would have just referred to Lowdham as "the sheriff". Holt stated Lowdham might be an even better candidate for the legend's chief adversary.  Lowdham briefly became the High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Dertbyshire himself in the 1230s. However, in between his post as deputy sheriff and high sheriff in Nottinghamshire, Lowdham was the High Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1225 and 1226. And it was during his time of Sheriff of Yorkshire that was of the most likely candidates for a real Robin Hood, Robert Hod aka Hoobehod, was made a fugitive.

Sir Henry de Faucumberg, a genuine 14th century sheriff of both Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire appears throughout Steven A. McKay's Forest Lord series, beginning with Wolf's Head in 2013.

One real-life 14th century sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire was an actual ally to outlaw gangs - Sir Robert Ingram. R.B. Dobson and J. Taylor suggested that Ingram might be the inspiration for the legendary villain. The now-former sheriff Ingram appears as an ally in The Folville Chronicles series by Jennifer Ash.

However, various writers have given the sheriff a proper name. Robin Hood's treacherous steward Warman becomes the sheriff in Anthony Munday's 1599 play The Downfall of Robert, Earle of Huntington.

The sheriff is named Robert de Rainault in E. Charles Vivian's Robin Hood children's novel and this name was later used in the 1980s TV series Robin of Sherwood.

Alan Rickman's memorable sheriff in the 1991 film Robin Hood -- Prince of Thieves has the rather unmemorable name George. Keith Allen plays a sheriff named Vaisey in the 2006 Robin Hood TV series although he's later replaced by Guy of Gisborne's sister Isabella.


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© Text Copyright 2019 Allen W. Wright - All Rights Reserved
© Photos Copyright 2019 Allen W. Wright - All Rights Reserved
Photos on this page include a Wolfshead Bowman in Sherwood Forest and the Robin Hood statue that used to be in the caves beneath Nottingham's Salutation Inn.

This page is part of Robin Hood - Bold Outlaw of Barnsdale and Sherwood.