Robin Hood popular ballads and scholars references.
Evidence indicates that the Robin Hood stories and oral ballads/narratives were around a long time before the earliest surviving written ballad, was penned. The oldest surviving printing and earliest ballad based upon earlier work is "A Gest of Robyn Hode".
Those considered to be ballads/narratives are shown below and are numbered in order of chronological appearance, other influential references are marked with an asterisk (*). The hyperlink titles to the ballads are from the Robin Hood Project, University of Rochester.
As English literary works, these renderings of the Robin Hood story are seen as basic fare for the people rather than highly crafted and sophisticated works, such as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
The popularity grows
The original ballads have Robin and his men almost as anti-heroes of yeoman or peasant stock, perhaps a freeman who takes up arms against the tyrrany and corruption of the Shire-Reeve of Nottingham and French-Norman influences. The early ballads [The Geste, R.H. and the monk and R.H. and the Potter] all have exaggeration in terms of quantity or ability. The possibility that the "Black Death" of the 1300's terminated a number of the ballad characters, if they existed, is quite feasible. Certainly the loss of 1/3 of the population would result in a dream of times lost. After the 1400's there seem to be additions to the story, which appear without any known previous literary basis- a time of, shall we say "creativity".
An eagle mantling
Later, Leyland in 1542 made Robin out to be a disinherited nobleman who fought with the peasants. This latter version of events is more in line with the modern Robin Hood story, forced to live in Sherwood Forest as an outlaw, robbing from the rich to give to the poor.
Henry VIII's Court played no small part in popularising the story, and many a loyal subject aquiesced to this demand and produced, or should we say developed, many "new" facets at this time.
This led to a renewal of the Robin Hood story.
From Anthony Munday's plays, new plays evolved which more than
ever linked Robin to Sherwood and Nottingham rather than Barnsdale and
The first mention of Robin being born in Lockesley (Loxley) in Yorkshire appears in the "Sloane Manuscript" which also mentions that Robin "haunted around Barnsdale Forest". By 1637 an antiquarian, John Harrison stated that a house on Loxley Chase referred to as Little Haggar's Croft was reputed to be Robin's birthplace in 1190. However this seems remarkable by its late appearance and that it post-dates the Sloane MS. By now Roger Dodsworth also claimed Robin had been born here in what was called "Hallamshire" (Between Derbyshire and the South Riding of Yorkshire).
Much of these later Elizabethan additions in the 1600's, as in the 1500's of Henry VIII's time would appear to be improvisation to feed the fire.
A remarkable century marked by its lack of literary remarks. Stukely, the antiquarian, claimed to have discovered a family bearing the title of Earl of Huntington in the time of Richard I. The bearer of the title one Robert FitzOthe apparently being corrupted to Robert Hood. ("Fitz" indicated a bastard Royal bloodline). However David of Scotland was Earl of Huntington in the reign of Richard I, there was no Robert Earl of Huntington in the reign of Richard I.
Thus the claim by Stukley appears to lack credibility.
Joseph Hunter now suggested that Robin was a "Contrariant" or Lancastrian rebel, returning the story to West and South Yorkshire.
In "The True History of Robin Hood" and an article in the Yorkshire Arch. Journ. #36 (1944), J.W. Walker provided some evidence that a person with the name Robert Hode lived at "Bickhill" in Wakefield (The Market Place) with his wife Matilda and that he probably fought in Thomas Earl of Lancaster's uprising against Edward II.
In 1982 Professor J.C. Holt of Cambridge was following the same path and stripping the outer layers of paint which covered the early story. The form was true but the details had been marred.
By 1985 John Bellamy had determined that Faucumberg was the Shire-Reeve of Yorkshire from April 1325 to September 1327 and also from 1328 to 1330. By 1325 he had been appointed keeper of Nottingham Castle.
Like all great stories, the original has probably suffered from plagiarism, additions and invention, like a living thing it has evolved and continues to do so.
Copyright © Tim Midgley 2000, links revised, July 2023.