It is impossible to leave the subject of Sherwood Forest without some mention of one whose name has kept the forest in people's minds throughout the centuries, Robin Hood.

While it is true to say that everyone knows of Robin Hood, it is only when enquiry is made that it becomes obvious how little is really known about him; indeed, even his actual existence has been called into question. Critics have placed him in various centuries and reigns from the time of Henry II, (with his birth in 1160) down to about the year 1346; while the various ballads are equally indefinite, one at least referring to Queen Catherine, thereby placing him as late as the 15th century, which as Euclid says, is absurd. Equally unconvincing is the theory propounded by Bradley and others that Robin Hood is a mere development of a Teutonic myth, with Hood representing Hod, the God of the Wind; Maid Marian, Morgen the Dawn Maiden, and Friar Tuck as Toki the Spirit of Frost and Sun; and alas for romance, Maid Marian does not appear in any of the early ballads. There is no lack of literature on Robin Hood, as is shewn in Gable's Bibliography (published by the University of Nebraska), which, between the years 1475-1935 lists over one thousand authors, and over seven hundred different publishers. One of the latest and most exhaustive articles on Robin Hood appeared in the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal for 1944. This identified Robin Hood as one of the followers of the Earl of Lancaster outlawed after the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322, and by reference to the records of Edward II found evidence of the employment of a Robin Hood as porter in the king's household in 1324, thus supporting the ballad story of Robin being pardoned and received into the king's service, until the call of the greenwood came again and he returned to his old ways for the next twenty-two years.

There are, however, several difficulties, even allowing for the coincidences of names and employments. In the first place, if the Robin Hood of these records is to be identified with our Robin Hood, what good reason is there to ignore the record of 14 Henry III (1230) in which the sheriff of Yorkshire appears as owing "xxij s et vj.d. de catallis Roberti Hood, fugitivi"—especially since the date would make this Robert Hood contemporary with Randolph Earl of Chester (with whom his name is linked in one of the earliest literary references, Piers Plowman), and would place him within the period Richard I to Henry III.

It is usually, and rightly, said that the earliest literary reference to Robin Hood is in Langland's "Piers Plowman," c. 1360, where the secular priest says he cannot repeat his paternoster but adds, "I can rymes of Robin Hode and Randolf Erl of Chester." There is also a mention of him in Fordun's Scotichronicon, a chronicle begun before 1380, which speaks of the ballads of Robin Hood being well known at that time; it places his outlawry about the year 1265, but this passage of Scotichronicon is in the continuation written about 1445 by Bower.

There is an interesting statement made in Bailey, "Annals of Nottingham" in which he speaks of an old Latin poem, written in 1304, where Robin Hood is compared with William Wallace. Unfortunately he gives neither source nor author, but if the information is authentic it certainly offers reasonable grounds for placing Robin Hood prior to the reign of Edward II. Allowing the time necessary for circulation of ballad history this poem would suggest that the famous outlaw operated in the reign of Henry III and possibly in that of Edward I.

There is, of course, his reputed tombstone at Kirklees mentioned by Thoresby, which gives his death as the year 1247, but the inscription, though perhaps Elizabethan, is probably comparable with that of Mr. Pickwick's famous find bilst um pshi S.M. ark. It reads:


If the Latin poem of 1304 is genuine then the records of his service under Edward II must clearly be discounted, for if he accepted the king's service in 1324, served him for fifteen months, and then spent a further twenty-two years in the forest, he must have been a very weary old man when he died.

Another possible theory is that he was one of those who joined in the rebellion of Simon de Montfort, stirred up by patriotism ("England for the English") during Henry's misrule, and that after the Battle of Evesham, where de Montfort was defeated in 1265, he escaped with other rebels and maintained a guerilla warfare until he accepted service under "Edward our comely King," i.e., Edward I.

An admitted difficulty of accepting Edward I as "our comely King" is that in the Lytle Geste the king proceeds from Nottingham into Lancashire. Now, while all three Edwards came to Nottinghamshire, it appears that Edward II was the only one who went on to Lancashire.

It seems fair to assume that Robin was of good yeoman stock, rather than to support his claim to be Earl of Huntingdon; that he was born at Locksley near Sheffield; that the main sphere of his operations was in the Forests of Barnsledale and Sherwood; and that he gathered round him men of similar tastes and ideas. His crimes were mainly concerned with relief of oppression, and the breaking of the forest laws. Throughout, he was famed for his chivalry and courage, his archery, and strangely enough, considering his outlook towards bishops and abbots he was a religious man.

A good custom then had Robin In whatever land he were Every day, ere he would dine Three masses would he hear, and his chivalry towards women had a religious motive.

Robin loved our dear Lady
For doubt of deadly sin
Would he never do company harm
That any woman was in.

From earliest times his exploits took hold on the imagination of the people, and many Robin Hood plays were incorporated into the revelry of the people on May Day, to such an extent that in the early part of the 16th century festivals of Robin Hood occasionally ousted the holy days of the church. The classic example was the experience of Bishop Latimer who, having given previous notice of his intention to preach one holy day, on his journey homeward to London found the church locked and was told, "Sir, this is a busy day with us. We cannot hear ye; it is Robin Hood's Day." The Robin Hood games were not confined to England, but were also performed in Scotland, and were so much an occasion of tumult that it was found necessary to suppress them in 1551.

In various counties up and down England there are place-names keeping his memory alive, in Somerset, Essex, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire, Shropshire, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, and, of course, Nottinghamshire with Robin Hood's Chair, Stride, Well, Butts, Penny Stone and Hills. How many inns and hotels are named after him or his followers it would be impossible to guess. That so many names and all these ballads and stories can relate only to a myth is surely incredible.