The Kirklees Connection - A HOAX
And dyde pore men moch good1
Kyrkely, Kirkly, Kyrkesly, Kirkleahs, Kyrkesley, Church Lee, Churchlee, Church-lees, Churchlees9, Kirklees, the clearing with a church.
'Kyrkely' of the Robyn Hode ballad A Lytell Geste of Robyn Hode has long been thought to be Kirklees in West Yorkshire. The ballad collector Child in fact used 'Kyrkesly' and 'Kirklees' interchangably without any corroborating evidence. There is good reason to doubt this connection.
At Kirklees lies the site of an early Anglian church and a later priory or "nunnery". Kirklees as it is known today was situated in the what was the western division of the manor of Wakefield. In later embellishments to the tales Robin Hood allegedly shot his arrow from the nunnery's gatehouse window, just before his death, the arrow's resting place being also that of Robin's2. This fanciful tale helped to build a mountain on an already doubtful foundation. If Robin had loosed the arrow from the priory gatehouse, then the grave should be further north. The present grave site is some 650 yards11 away which is believed to be far too distant for a longbow shot, especially uphill. Pointedly, some have claimed an upper limit of 200 yards for the flight of an arrow from a longbow. If the hilltop had been cleared at the time of interment then the grave would have had a commanding position looking eastwards into Calderdale and this is probably the reason why it is so located, not because of an apochryphal tale, requiring an as yet, unimaginably powerful longbow.
This indicates that the presently accepted burial site on the ridge was deliberately chosen for its vista and position rather than being chosen by an arbitrary and impossible bow shot. The nearby earthwork as described on Ordnance Survey maps has been suggested by some as the site of a "Roman encampment". However, little evidence substantiates this assertion. It does not appear as a site on the O.S. map of Roman Britain nor early Anglian times and is therefore more likely to be the site of a pre-Roman British [Iron Age] encampment situated in an elevated position guarding the entry to the upper Calder valley. In this case it is likely that the inhabitants would have been able to communicate with the British encampment at Castle Hill near Almondbury. The site of this so called Tower Hill would bear suitable archaeological excavation in its own right, as has occurred at Castle Hill.
In relation to the supposed site of the ballad hero's burial,
"In 1795 The late Sir Samuel Armytage, owner of the premises caused
the ground to be dug a yard deep and found that it had never been
disturbed"4. It could be argued that perhaps the stone
had been removed from an original site nearby. This would appear to
solve the arrow distance problem as well as the lack of any skeletal
remains and gives greater prominence to the siting of the supposed
grave. However, the lack of evidence for a body renders the Corpus
delicti of low quality.
Grafton (1562) also states:
However this seems confounded later by the following in Camden's
Britannica, 1607 7 :
In 1665 almost 100 years after Grafton had recorded his comments, Dr.
Nathaniel Johnston3 made a drawing at Kirklees in which the
Robin Hood grave slab bore an inscription which was much weathered by
the doctor's time:
Note that the crosslets on the Armitage Coat of Arms appear
to be taken from the purported grave slab of Robert Hude. That Elizabeth
de Stainton's grave is now in the priory garden there is no doubt, so
was one of the graves moved? Certainly they now are separated and it is
unlikely that an outlaw's grave would be included in consecrated ground.
The ridge position for the present site of Robin's supposed grave is set
amongst other gravestones, perhaps this is a later cemetery for the
laity who died at Kirklees priory and were buried either side of the
roadway. We can perhaps exclude the Armitage family using this cemetery
as they appear to have had their vault at St. Peter's, Hartshead. There
is a definite need for a grave site map and list. Steven Hill's
grandfather worked on the Kirklees estate as a tenant farmer and left
letters which described how he ploughed a field and turned up some bones
at the lower end of this field. Sir George, the owner at the time,
indicated this could have been the site of a cemetery. Steven describes
this site as being in the field just below the wood before The Three
Nuns. Barbara Green states that part of a stone cross originally
described as being part of the grave of Robin Hood may be found in the
cemetery of St. Peter's, Hartshead and that the grave may have been
moved during the English Civil War.7 By the 1800's the grave
slab [on the ridge?] had been cut off by railway workers and later in
the century the grave was excavated [by Sir Samuel Armytage7]
but nothing was found. An iron railing fence on a low brick wall was
placed around the grave site on the ridge by Sir George Armytage. There
are numerous other stone crosses, empty stone coffins and sarcophogi on
the same hillside, nothing has been done to catalogue or conserve them7.
Repair and conserve the site:
The site of the 1800's edifice purported to be Robin Hood's grave is shown on the map at + The grave site lies between 200'-250' above sea level near the S.E. end of a spur or ridge of land. This spur has been given a very steep S.W. slope by the lateral N.E. migration of the river Calder. This steep slope, a formidable six foot wall, almost impenetrable undergrowth and wooded cover have frequently sheltered the site from the ravages of historic invaders, plunderers and later, cultists and souvenir hunters.
In an effort to protect such a precious site, the present owner, Margarete Armytage has maintained until now a stoical resistance towards the invasion of tourists and other interested parties, although as the owner who runs the estate as an agricultural business, she states that visits may be granted by appointment only. The state of the grave in recent times would indicate that it requires some urgent repair work.
Perhaps a more fitting investigation may be
caried out by archaeological excavation of the priory and its
foundations in order to determine, without preconception, the history
and function of this relatively undisturbed former religious site. On
the death of her husband, Lady Armytage sold Kirklees Hall in 1983 which
now forms luxury residential units. Her new residence is on the site of
the priory and garden. Elizabeth de Staynton's grave is now in the
residence garden6. This "new site" is approximately
where the original Armytage residence at Kirklees was established in
Elizabeth I's time [Baines-see below]. The
original priory cloister, church, garden and consecrated cemetery were
situated on the north side of Nun Brook. Any archaeological study is
likely to reveal more about the legend of Kirklees as the death place of
Robin Hood, rather than the area being used by local entrepreneurs
trying to make money from tourism or even, God forbid, a Theme Park.
Please leave the theme parks in Nottingham !
KIRKLEES HALL [Description from Baine's Directory of the County of York 1823]:
The date from the epitaph above puts the death date in Henry III's
time. The oldest reference to the above epitaph comes from Martin
Parker in 16318 who apparently saw it and gave it a death
date in the time of Richard I.
The similarity to the epitaph stone now in the brick wall of the
"Robin Hood" grave on the ridge is strong, which may indicate
that the present epitaph may be a copy of this apparently earlier
version. The reference to Robin Hood being the 'Earl of Huntington' is
taken straight out of Anthony Munday's plays, there is no evidence that
the ballad hero was such, it being a later embellishment of the story.
SOME TRIVIA FROM AROUND THE TRAPS.
Found on a British tourist site the following:
1. To be confirmed: "Easter 2001 to 1st October 2001. Tours of Robin Hood's grave at Kirklees in Yorkshire conducted by Lady Armytage. Prospective visitors should contact Lady Armytage in advance by telephoning 01484 713016. Important - The grave is on private property and visits must be arranged in advance by telephoning the above number" - One Foot on the Grave for the public! Since 2013 the Kirklees estate and Hall have been sold by the Armitage family.
2. In the list of Yorkshire
sheriffs there are named:
3. From : Bibliomania.
Steve who at one time operated the Hartshead web site says that in
1938 his grandfather was invited to take up the tenancy of Home Farm,
on the Kirklees Park property. Steve's father recalled a room in the old
Gatehouse. This was a small room with a bed in the centre, by the window
to the right a small table with a candle. To the right of this stood a
full suit of armour beside which stood a bow and three arrows. Ritson in
1795 mentioned, that Robin's bow and arrows were preserved at Fountains
Abbey. Thus it is likely that the alleged bow and arrows were removed,
perhaps by one of the new land owners. However according to the ballad,
Robin asked Little John to bury him with his sword, bow and arrows.
Note that Ritson's 1795 drawing [right hand image] probably appears closer to the appearance of the original gatehouse. Its form is essentially Tudor and thought to be post dissolution12 but may have been extensively modified over the period of its life ending in 1538. The gate can just be seen between the left and right wings. There seems to have been considerable modification to the right wing and the upstairs windows of the left wing and the gateway seems to have been filled in.
4."The extensive family and estate papers of the Armytage family
of Kirklees Hall are already held in
West Yorkshire Archives, but an item recently received refers to the
very early period of Kirklees Priory. It is a facsimile of a quitclaim
dated 1234 by Sibil, prioress of Kirklees, to the monks of Rievaulx
Abbey, relating to lands in Harden, Cullingworth and elsewhere. The
small Cistercian priory of Kirklees was founded in 1155. At the
Dissolution there was a scattering of its lands and possessions. The
site of the priory was granted in 1544 to John Tasburgh and Nicholas
Savile. The Saviles were a noted family in the area and much of the
Kirklees estate was acquired by various family members. In 1565 Robert
Pilkington and his wife, Alice Savile, conveyed the manor of Kirklees to
John Armytage of Farnley Tyas, and the Armytage family maintained
possession until the twentieth century.
5. At the Heritage Web the following reference was found :
6. Dr. David Hepworth of Huddersfield University has taken photographs of the "Robin Hood" grave. His photographs definitely look better than those taken in the previous decade although there is some evidence that the best aspect has been portrayed.
^Ritson says 'Henry Savil' and John Tasburgh
Having acquired the Kirklees estate the previous owners assumed 'Kyrkely'
in the Geste to be Kirklees. From this nucleus of conflation a
false burial site was constructed to commemorate the supposed outlaw's
last resting place. This falsity has created a monster in itself, not
the least for the Armitage family, who whilst trying to run a farming
business have been inundated and bombarded with requests for entrance to
visit the site by the superficially curious and the downright mentally
unhinged. In fact the person who inspired the ballad hero is buried far
away in another county, lost, forgotten and profoundly uncelebrated.
1. Copeland,William., A Mery Geste of Robyn Hood, 1550.
2. Death and Burial of Robin Hood in "A Geste of Robin Hood".
3. Gough, Richard., Sepulchral Monuments of Great Britain,1786.
4. Ritson, Joseph., Robin Hood: A collection of all the ancient poems, songs and ballads now extant and relating to that celebrated outlaw,1795, Reprinted E.P. Publishing, 1972.also a facsimile reprint of the 1865 edition, Broomhead Publishing*. 2000.
* From Broomhead Publishing, 1, Cromwell St., Heaton Norris, Stockport, Cheshire, SK4 1LY
5. Email communication with Barbara Green who kindly supplied information from the Yorkshire Robin Hood Society.
6. Green, Barbara., Secrets of the Grave, Palmyra Press, 2001.
7. Ibid. p. 21.
8. Parker, Martin., A Tale of Robin Hood, about 1631.
9. A late and fragmentary version of the death of Robin Hood, preserved in the Percy Folio Manuscript, ed. Hales and Furnivall, I, 53.
10. West Yorkshire Archive Service. Reference KM [Kirklees Manuscripts].
11. Harris. P. V. The Truth about Robin Hood, p. 34.
13. W.Y.A.S. WYHER/10267.
Other references if you can find them:
i] Pobjoy, Harold, Rev., A History of the Ancient Parish of Hartshead cum Clifton, 1930's. Reprinted. in Ridings Magazine 1972.
ii] Pobjoy, Harold, Rev., The Merry Pageant of Robyn Hode, 1929.
Copyright © 1998. Tim Midgley, links revised July 2023.
Robin Hood search for the Truth | Robin Hood Places | Hood surname statistics | Robin Hood of Wakefield | Robert Hood of Newton | The Pinder of Wakefield | Marian | Friars | Loxley and 'Huntington' | Myriads of Robin Hoods | Ballads of Robin Hood | Kirklees | The Armytages of Kirklees | Little John | Roger De Doncaster | The Penurious Knyght | Our Comly King | Shire Reeve | Priory of Kirklees | Wakefield Rolls | Saylis of the Geste- a new site | Robert III Butler of Skelbrooke | Barnsdale and the Geste | De Lacis of Pontefract | Alice De Laci and John of Gaunt | Barnsdale Gallery | A suspected compiler of the Geste | Images of Robyn Hode