A recent chronological study1of ballads and documents from medieval times revives the historian Joseph Hunter's premise that the man behind the myth may have originated from Bichill, the Wake- field market place.
The writers have not taken the null hypothesis path but have attempted to support any evidence that would indicate their original hypotheses. Hunter in "Hallamshire" first proposed that this person had in fact actually lived at the time of Edward II and was one of Thomas Plantagenet's (Earl of Lancaster's) followers.
But see other evidence.
Hunter stated that this Robertus Hood had lived in the forest from April 1322, following defeat at Boroughbridge, to December 1323 when he fell into the hands of Edward II and was pardoned. According to Hunter he was made one of the valets of the Royal Household, for which there are records (Porteous de la Chambre).
Baine, following Hunter gives the date of Hood's death as 1347 at the age of 77. Hunter based this upon the year 1323 when he suposes Hode was pardoned, added 15 months that the Geste says Robyn was in the king's service [Ed. II] and then added another 22 years for the time the Geste says Robin returned to the forest before he visited Kirklees. Of course this has a litany of assumptions, not the least of which was that Robyn Hode of the King's accounts was the same as the ballad character. The accuracy for time in the Geste cannot be considered to be historical time as it is not an historical document. An earlier death date proposed by John Major for Robyn Hode was exactly 100 years earlier in 1247. This has been accepted unchallenged and transferred to a gravestone at Kirklees. John Major's date has given rise to the assumption that the ballad hero was based upon someone who lived during reigns of Henry II, Richard and John. However John Major provides no evidence whatsoever for the assertion that the basis in real life for this ballad hero died in 1247.
Hunter's dates would make Robyn's birth year to be about 1270. If Hunter's dates are to be believed this would have made Robin Hood 52 years of age when he fought at the battle of Boroughbridge, no wonder Lancaster's army was defeated if this was typical of the soldiers' ages! It would also mean he would have started his "career" as an outlaw at the age of about 53, is this realistic? No it isn't, I would therefore suggest that neither of these theses are correct but are massive red-herrings.
The ballad hero became popular
in the 1400's. The first detailed history, A Lytell Geste of Robyn
Hode printed around 1495, locates him in south-west Yorkshire,
later writers placing him in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire.
not parfitli mi paternoster, as the preist it singeth, But I can
Hunter also concluded that
this person's real name was Robert Fitzooth (corrupted to Hood) and
that he was descended from Gilbert de Gaunt, Earl of Ryme and Lindsey
Thomas Plantagenet, Earl of Lancaster.
Thomas Plantagenet 2nd Earl of Lancaster was Lord of Staincross Wapentake in the ninth year of Edward II . This is in the returns made by the sheriff's of the hundreds and Wapentakes in several baliwicks, in the liberty of Osgodcross! He gained the Earldoms of Lincoln, Salisbury, Leicester and Derby. Thomas was the son of Edmund Earl of Lancaster and thus Edward I's nephew and cousin to Edward II.
Thomas was contracted to marry Alice de Laci (Lacy,
Lassy, Lasci) born 1285, daughter of Henry de Laci (d. 1311) of
Pontefract when she was 9 years old. They were married in 1294. This
secured king Edward I's nephew into the baronage of "The honour
of Pontefract", however Thomas became one of the leading barons to later
rise against Edward II.
Wakefield Manor Court Rolls
These are court records from 1272.6 The name Robertus Hood appears in the Wakefield Manorial Court Rolls up into the 1320's.2 This source indicates that a person of the name Robertus Hood lived in Wakefield, as a tenant with his wife Matilda. Whether of course this is the person upon whom the early ballads are based, is purely conjectural for there are other contenders of the same name in the same time frame (e.g. there was a Robert Hood of Sowerby and also a Robert Hood of Newton in 1308 and later mentioned in 1331-2), the authors seem eager and hasty to prove the connection. Indeed there are some amazing coincidences and nexxii but some healthy scepticism in reading the data will not go awry. (sceptics tend to :), cynics don't)
In 1316 the Wakefield Manor Court Rolls recorded that Robert and Matilda Hood bought a plot of land at "Bichill" in Wakefield [Bichill was the market-place]. In 1357 another record states "tenement on Bichill formerly in the tenure of Robert Hood".3 The Court Rolls for the manor of Wakefield for 1331-3 also refer to a Robert Hood.15
There are a number of references to "Robert Hood de Newton" [North of Wakefield just west of Pinder Fields]:
In 1852, Joseph Hunter found found the following
in the Wakefield Court Rolls:
On Jan 25th, 1316 Robert and his wife Matilda gave 2 shillings for leave to take one piece of the lord's waste on Bichill (the market place) between the houses of Phillip Damyson and and Thomas Alayn, this land being 30' long and 16 feet wide "to hold to the aforesaid Robert and Matilda and their heirs rendering yearly 6 pence at the three terms of the year to the lord". Wakefield Manor court rolls also show that in 1322, 1357 and 1358 there was a five roomed house on this site.
Also in 1316, Thomas Earl of Lancaster attacked
and ousted Maud De Neirford [Warrene's concubine at the time] from Sandal
Castle. In 1318 Lancaster took Conisbrough Castle until in 1320, Lancaster
had taken over the town of Wakefield, where he raised a new army.
Hood's name was not mentioned amongst the defaulters, presumably,
on the basis of Hunter's thesis, he joined Lancaster's army.
By 1319 John 8th Earl de Warrene was forced, due to his excommunication over his divorce from the king's relative, to grant his lands in the North to Lancaster. Thus from 1317 [forcibly 1317-19] to early March 1322 the Wakefield Manor was in the hands of the Earl of Lancaster.
Lancaster was defeated in a rebellion
against King Edward II's troops at Boroughbridge. His followers were
all made fugitives ['outlawed'], perhaps decamping to Barnsdale and surrounds.
A list of seized property made in the same year included a "building of five rooms of a new construction
on Bichill, Wakefield", assumptively the residence of Robert and
The greatest evidence indicating the true origins of the balladeer's legend begins with a reference to Robert Hood in 1318 who is summoned to fight in the army against Scotland, but he did not appear and was so fined. However in 1322 Robert Hood was again summoned to fight for Thomas Earl of Lancaster, who was in rebellion with other barons and Robert de Bruce against the king, Edward II. This time there appears to have been no fine so presumably he joined the fateful force. The loss of the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322 against the king's forces led to the Lancastrian army taking to the forests, of which one in particular, Barnsdale Forest, south of Thomas of Lancaster's seat, Pontefract, was ostensibly a major attraction.
A survey of the surname Hood in the 1881 British
Census shows there were 9115 persons of that name, of these 705
were born in Yorkshire (<10%) with 246 born in Britain as Robert
Hood. A survey of the surname in the villages and towns in parts
of Yorkshire at this time shows:
By this time the industrial attraction for Sheffield
is apparent, but no clear evidence here suggests that the Hood
name was any more common in the Wakefield area than any other shown,
in fact it is the reverse. Pickering or Howgrave would have more of
a claim under this survey. However Holt4 in 1991 states that
in the 1200-1300's many members of the Hood family were living in
and around Wakefield.
"Even the notorious outlaw, Robin Hood is said to have observed the Sabbath in religious rites in the woods. An inn in Ouchthorpe Lane, Wakefield was dedicated to his memory and the fields there were the scene of his conflict with George a Green, the redoubtable Pinder of Wakefield, songs in whose praise used to be sung and sold in the Wakefield market. These old ballads used to please the farmers who brought their grain to Westgate Market and their dairy produce to the Cross". 6
Despite various persons of the name Hood appearing in the Wakefield Court Rolls, none of them is shown to have been outlawed or to have gained the wide popularity throughout England that would be necessary for the ballad character's acceptance. Nor has any Robert Hood of Wakefield ever been successfully associated with the Robert Hode of Edward II's rolls. Thus although these names within the manor of Wakefield are very seductive, none of them, I have found, have any relationship to the man who was the real-life person who modelled for the ballad character Robyn Hode. A far more plausible medieval character is evident whom I hope to detail in a forthcoming publication.
Link: 'Robin Hood were a Yorkshireman' This piece of Yorkshire dialect expresses the belief [based upon ther ballads] that Robyn Hode was a Yorkshireman. Disappointingly, research has shown that the man who inspired the ballads was neither born in Yorkshire or Nottinghamshire.
1. Phillips & Keatman; Robin Hood: The Man Behind The Myth, 1995 .
2. Hunter, Joseph; Critical & Historical Tracts No. IV, The Ballad Hero: Robin Hood, London, 1852.
3. The True History of Robin Hood J.W. Walker, Wakefield, 1973
4. Holt, J.C., Robin Hood, London, 1991
5. Hunter, Joseph, Hallamshire.
6 Crowther, G., A Descriptive History of the Wakefield Battles.
7. Major, John, History of Greater Britain, 1521.
8. Walker, Sheridan, Sue., Wakefield Court Rolls of the Yorkshire
Archaeological Society vol. III, 1331-3, Y.A.S., Leeds,1983.
9. Hallam E., [Ed.] The Plantagenet Encyclopaedia, Tiger Books, London,
Copyright © Tim Midgley 2000, revised 24th October 2011.