Robin Hood History

The Story Of A Legend

What is the real history of the Robin Hood legends? What (if anything) do we know about the real Robin Hood? Discover the story behind the story and the value it has for our modern world.

Robin Hood Silhouette

Who Was The Real Robin Hood

I would love nothing better than to tell you the birth and death date of the historical Robin Hood, and answer questions about what he did, how he became an outlaw, and what he valued most.

But I would be lying.

Sadly, nothing is known. We have no absolute proof the hero ever existed. (Keep in mind, that absence of proof of his existence does not mean proof he did not exist.)

Did Robin Hood Really Exist?

Facts About Robin Hood

This question of Robin's existence is one we can't answer with certainty.

We can, however, make some educated guesses on what we do know.
  1. The era he lived can be placed with some certainty from clues within the legend.
  2. Robin Hood's location is well-known.
  3. The legend has an element of authenticity absent in other legends.
  4. Written legends of Robin Hood have been found within a hundred years of his existence.

Information About Robin Hood

Robin Hood's Real Name

His name is lost to us. Obviously, his last name was not "hood" but rather a description of him as an outlaw.

Movies and books like to give him the first name "Robin." It might be possible that his first name actually was Robin or Robert.

But it is possible that the similarity between the pronunciation of "Robin" and "robbing" further clouds our ability to find the man. One can easily imagine the sheriff calling him "that robbing hood."

When did Robin Hood live

These facts (and dates) are known.
  1. The Robin Hood legends take place during the reign of King Richard I. We have these facts about Richard:
    • Richard lived from 1157 to 1199.
    • His reign was 1189 to 1199.
    • He left for his first crusade in September 1190.
    • He left for his second crusade October 1192.
    • He was captured December 1192 and held for ransom.
    • His mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, helped raise the enormous ransom required.
    • Meanwhile, his younger brother, John, was ruling in his place and undermining him.
    • He was released from captivity Feb 1194.
    • He was the son of Henry II, and the great grandson of William the Conqueror.

  2. Since much of the legends of Robin Hood occur during Richard's captivity, that would place the climax of the tales in a 15 month period between Dec 1192 and Feb 1194.

Where did Robin Hood live?

The Robin Hood legends have the famous outlaw hiding in Sherwood Forest while eluding the notorious Sheriff of Nottingham.

Robin Hood Map

Nottingham is just south of Sherwood Forest (understandably its borders have changed over the centuries.)

Nottingham is 109 miles (175 kilometers) north west of London; a realistic distance for the sheriff to be acting independently in the day-to-day adminstration of his village but still under the direction of the power-hungry Prince John.

The Story of Robin Hood In Time and Place

The fact that we can pin down the time and location of the Robin Hood story does not guarantee it's historical reality, though it does increase its credibility. (Some have contended that the original legends are actually older; others finding that they do point to this era in time.)

Another layer of credibility is added by the fact that the tales as we have them fit the culture of the 12th century. Soldiers used bows and arrows, poaching in the king's forest was illegal, the feudal system was in place, the life of commoners was of little to no value to the ruling lords.

What Was The Real Robin Hood Like?

Again, obscurity makes this question impossible to answer for certain.

He was an outlaw living outside of the law by all accounts. But while the stories and movies create scenarios to justify this position, it's cause is not known.

We do know he was a hero of the common people. That is an indication that the people found the law and government to be tyrannical. This, again, is in keeping with the era of Prince John. Remember the nobles themselves rebelled against the royal authority and instituted the Magna Carta to curtail the king's over-reach. If Prince John had so infuriated the landed aristocracy, is it so hard to believe the commoners were seething in resentment?

It is highly likely that the outlaw was a harsh man, at least by our standards. It was a brutal age even for those living within the law.

The population of commoners often attended executions for entertainment. Corpses were frequently left hanging in towns and along London Bridge. About one hundred years later the common people cheered at the brutal and public execution of William Wallace.

These facts do not make our mysterious Robin guilty of any wrongs, but it is highly likely considering the era from which he hailed that some of his deeds might be a bit disturbing for modern sentiments if the true tales were ever to be found.

Information About Robin Hood's Legend

Robin Hood Takes to the Screen

The legend of Robin has continued to grow and change via the movie industry.

The first Robin Hood movie was released in 1912. Since then, there has been at least one new Robin Hood film every decade. Of particular interest to Hood-historians are the most popular: There are, of course, many more movies than those listed above, but these are the most popular.

2018 Robin Hood Movie

A 2018 film has been released. Having watched it, I would say it fits more the genre of an action movie that happens to have a character named Robin Hood in it than a story of Robin Hood.

Gone are Prince John and King Richard. The sheriff is unrealistically diabolical. Between the action scenes with a bow-turned-machine gun is a politcally correct message.

The narrator starts the film by saying he doesn't know what year that story took place. In case you forgot he said that, his ignorance of the era is demonstrated repeatedly throughout the movie.

It is not bad for an action-movie per se, but may not have any long term impact on the development of the legend.

Effect of Movies on the Robin Hood Legend

Films have had their own effect in adding layers to the multi-faceted history. Most of the events and characters shown on the movie are drawn from the literary history. But the screen has added its own mark on the legends.

Robin Hood Continues to Grow in Popular Culture

Medieval May Day games have given way to video games, but Robin and his merry men continue to thrive. Over the years other media that have passed on his tale have included:

Historical Significance of Robin Hood

The Search Has Continued

As the literary and popular Robin has continued to develop, historians have continued their search. It has not been in vain. While Robin has not been located, older references to him both in literature and law have been found.

The Common People

But sometimes in our search for Robin, we overlook what his tales have given us. This is one of the oldest and best sources of information about the common people.

While Disney princes continue to reflect the fairy tale preference for royalty, Robin Hood has given us a glimpse of the original silent majority. The admiration of the common people created and continued his legends. The legends, in turn, gave us a glimpse of those people: their homes, their burdens, their dreams and frustrations.

The History of A Legend

Literature is part of the culture of the people; it's heroes - both real and fictitious - are part of its history.

While we may have not found Robin, we have found something that may be better. His tales are one of the best examples (if not the best example) of how oral tradition developed into a written tradition and continued to evolve. We can follow its development, trace many of its sources, watch it grow before our eyes; and all the while debate politics, theology, and ethics while enjoying a swash-buckling romantic tale.

If the real Robin does step forward, would we enjoy him as much?

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