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 PontefractAlice De Laci and John of GauntBarnsdale Gallery | A suspected compiler of the Geste | Images of Robyn Hode


               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.

Yet he was begyled, iwys,
Through a wycked woman,
The pryoresse of Kyrkely,
That nye was of hys kynne,

Than bespake good Robyn,
In place where as he stode,
"To morow I muste to Kyrkely,
Craftely to be leten blode."
 
'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.

The Kirklees estate
Key:
A =  Nunnery Gatehouse [mostly Tudor]   B =  Former nunnery cemetery
C = Iron Age fort   D = 'Robin Hood's Grave'

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.
The proximity to the grave of the pre-1815 "Kings Highway", now a track, was  mentioned in Grafton's Chronicle of 1562:

"The prioresse of the same place caused him to be buried by the highway-side where he used to rob and spoyle those that passed that way."

Grafton (1562) also states:

"And upon his grave the sayd prioresse did lay a very fayre stone, wherein the names of Robert Hood, William of Goldsborough and others were graven. And the cause why she buryed him there was for the common passengers and travailers knowing and seeying him there buryed might more safely and without fear take their jorneys that way, which they durst not do in the life of the sayd outlawes. And at eyther end of the sayd tombe was erected a crosse of stone, which is to be seene there at this present"

However this seems confounded later by the following in Camden's Britannica, 1607 7 :

"At Kirklees nunnery Robin Hood's tomb with a plain cross on a flat stone is shown in the cemetery. In the ground at a little distance by two grave stones, one which has the inscription for Elizabeth de Staynton, prioress there"

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:
 

  "Here lie roberd hude, Willm Gold burgh*, Thoms..."--------
                                                                       * Some have supposed that this was Will Scarlet's real name?

The Arms of Armitage 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.
Three side-linked maps of Kirklees from 1855:
Map 1
Map 2
Map 3 [detail]



Repair and conserve the site:
The site of Kirklees Priory and the purported site of Robin Hood's grave.
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 seat of Sir George Armitage [Armytage], Bart. in the township of Hartishead [Hartshead] with Clifton.
This place is memorable, on account of a Nunnery founded here in the reign of Henry II. for Benedictine Nuns. After the dissolution, the site and demesnes about the house, were granted to the Ramsdens. In the 1st of Elizabeth [1558], it became the property of the Pilkintons [Pilkingtons], and in the 8th of the same reign [1564], was alienated by Robert Pilkinton to John Armitage, and in this family it has continued to the present day. 
The site of the Priory appears to have been inhabited by the family during the rest of Elizabeth's reign, and an uncertain portion of that of King James [1603-1625], when, as appears from his arms in the hall, they removed to their present more airy and conspicuous situation. 


The situation of this Nunnery was in a warm and fertile bottom, on the verge of a deep brook to the south, and on an elevation just sufficient to protect the house from inundations. A square depression in the ground distinctly marks the cloister court, nearly thirty yards square. North of this was the body of the Church, and eighteen yards or thereabouts, to the east, are the tombs of Elizabeth de Stainton, and another protected by iron rails, immediately eastward from which, the choir has evidently terminated. The nave, transept, and choir, must have been at least 150 feet long. 
Kirklees is also famous for being the sepulture of the renowned Robin Hood, an out law and free booter, who lived in the beginning of the thirteenth century, and who, according to tradition, was suffered to bleed to death by one of the Nuns, to whom he had applied to be bled. The spot pointed out for the place of his interment, is beyond the precinct of the Nunnery, and therefore not in consecrated ground. --Whitaker's Loidis et Elmete. 


The following inscription over his remains, preserved by Dr. Gale, Dean of York, Thoresby says, was "scarce legible," and Dr. Whitaker seems to think spurious: [various authors state anywhere from 1500's-1700's- T.M.]
 
 

                   "Hear, undernead dis latil stean,
                       Here underneath dis laitl stean*

                Laiz Robert, Earl of Huntington;
                   laz robert earl of Huntingtun

                Nea arcir vir as him sa geud,
                       Ne'er arcir ver as hie sa geud
                           Ne'er arcir ver az hie sa geud 

               An pipl kauld him Robin Heud;
                      An pipl kauld im robin heud

               Sick utlawz as hi, an iz men,
                      Sick utlawz as his as iz men
                            Sick utlawz as hi an iz men 

              Vil Inglande nivr si agen:
                     Vil england nivr so agen.
                                      Vil england nivr si agen 

             Obit. 24.  Kal Dekembris, 1247."
                                     Obiit 24 kal: Dekembris 1247

               * Font size 10 type sourced from Camden's Britannia, 16077.
                        Font size  8 type other sources.
A statue of this renowned free booter, large as life, leaning on his unbent bow, with a quiver of arrows and a sword by his side, formerly stood on one side of the entrance into the old hall. "
Does anyone have any knowledge of the whereabouts of this statue? See Guest book on the main page

 
Kirklees Hall.

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.
Parker gave the following rendition:

"Decembris quarto die 1198, anno regni Richardii primi 9
Robert, Earl of Huntington lies underneath this little stone
No archer was like him so good, His wildness named him Robin Hood,
Full thirteeen years and something more, these northern parts he vexed sore
Such outlaws as he and his men, may England never know again"

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.

Was the ballad hero buried here?
English folklore is an extremely colourful if misinformative portrayal of  historical events. One might surmise that the hero is purely a character of The Geste, the imaginings of the ballad-muse based on [a] real-life inspiration[s]. The Kirklees connection in the Geste with Barnsdale seems incongruous. This connection is made in the later verses of the ballad and is likely to have been added as an after thought, perhaps by a different person to the one who began the tale. Why would Robyn and Little John have travelled all this way from Barnsdale when there was an equally suitable Cistercian nunnery at Hampole?  It seems that the person who completed the Geste was using his local Barnsdale knowledge and shifting it to Kirklees. Why? Perhaps to avoid a legal suit or more likely it cast, once again, dark clouds over the lands of the manor of Wakefield, within whose lands the Kirklees nunnery lay. Scandalous behaviour in the monasteries at this time was rife, and this helped move the spotlight from Hampole to Kirklees, neither of which were blameless. The two nunneries were in contact with each other for in history there appears to have been an exchange or transfer programme operating between one Cistercian nunnery and the other. This was probably carried out to move the scandal away from its source. In the 1300's the prioresses were very busy covering up their in-house scandals, something certain aspects of today's tabloid media would welcome if only to increase the sales of their lurid efforts. In 1323 a nun, Agnes de Swystane, was sent from Kirklees, for an unknown reason, to Hampole nunnery. The prioresses at the time were Margaret de Screvyn [Kirklees priory] and Margaret de Hecke [Hampole priory].
If the author of the Geste was resident in Burghwallis as we have suggested elsewhere, then they were writing from the perspective of a liegeman of the De Laci family or their inheritor within the honour of Pontefract. The manor of Wakefield, under the Warrenes and Pontefract under the De Lacis and later Thomas earl of Lancaster had been in constant local dispute since at least 1317 after the 'abduction' of Thomas Plantagenet's wife, Alice de Laci, heiress to Pontefract. There were plenty of persons appearing in the Wakefield Court Rolls in the late 1200's and early 1300's with names similar to 'Robert Hood' of Sowerby, Wakefield and Newton near Wakefield. This allowed the author/compiler to again utilise the poor social behaviour of the manor to castigate his local opposition whilst garnering a name for his hero. When we feed in the name 'De Doncastre' of the later verses we also see the use of an actual persons name, Roger De Doncaster, who was most probably related to John De Doncaster, a local justice and steward to the abbot of St. Mary's York and John the eighth earl of Warrene in the manor of Wakefield . It was earl Warrene's knight who had Alice De Laci 'abducted' and taken to the Warrene castle at Reigate in Surrey.
Thus it is considered here that from the ballad and the ballad only, the notion that a non-historical character called Robyn Hode was buried here, gained momentum and was greatly enlarged upon in subsequent ballad renderings.



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:
    Joh. Armitage, de Kirklees, arm.1614
    Sir S. Armytage, bart.1740
    Sir George Armytage 1775
    Sir George Armytage /Armitage, bt.1791
Also a Welter Fawkes esq. in 1789 [This Fawkes name is in the Fawkes Middlesex household which the Armytage's were visiting during  the1881 census]
These appointments would no doubt have spurred them on to investigate the nexus between the title and the local stories and structures concerning "Robin Hood" and "The Sheriff of Nottingham" Did their titles also include that of the Sheriff of Nottinghamshire as with some other sheriffs? [Note There was never was a sheriff of Nottingham but there was a keeper of Nottingham Castle [constable] and a Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire - the counties]

3. From : Bibliomania.
"Bow and arrow of Robin Hood: The [supposed] traditional bow and arrow of Robin Hood are religiously preserved at Kirklees Hall,
A computer generated image of the room in the gatehouse ca. 1938 Yorkshire, the seat of Sir George Armytage; and the site of his grave is pointed out in the park".
This rivals Little John's bow at Hathersage Church which was later moved to Cannon Hall, Cawthorne. The last I heard, the bow of Little John was held by a laird in Scotland. Does anyone have any more recent knowledge of this?
See Guestbook on main page

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.
                                                  
                                                       


                                                A comparison of two images of the Gatehouse:

Kirklees Gatehouse Ritson's drawing of Kirklees Gatehouse 1795.

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 The final arrow 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.
Note: A Margaret de Savile was at one time a prioress at Kirklees. Her father was Sir John Savile who married the heiress Isobel de Eland, relative of Sir John de Eland, the wicked Yorkshire sheriff and John earl Warrene's steward for the manor of Wakefield. See Elland Feud.

5. At the Heritage Web the following reference was found :
:"[1760] ARMYTAGE, G.  ACCOUNT OF THE EXCAVATIONS AT KIRKLEES PRIORY,
YORKSHIRE. Proc. Soc. Antiq. 21, (1),1905-1906. 14pp, 2b/w pls, 1 folding plan, 4.00"

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.


False Trail 

Further recent investigation indicates that the Kirklees burial site is a false trail  perpetrated, knowingly or unknowingly by one of the early owners of the dissolved priory. These have included  Nichoas Savile and John Tasburgh, Sir Thomas Saville of Thornhill, the well-known historical figure, Sir Thomas Gargrave, Robert Pilkington and Alice his wife (dtr. of Sir Thomas Savile) and John Armitage, sheriff of Yorkshire in the 1600's. 

                                                    

                  OWNERS10           RELEVANT YEARS
The Priory of Kirklees Until dissolved ~ 1538/1539
The Crown in King Henry VIII 1538/9-1544 [1542 - John Leland in his Collectanea mentions the presence of Robin's grave.]
Nicholas Savile^ and John Tasburgh13 1544
Sir Thomas Savile of Thornhill  ? -?
Sir Thomas Gargrave ? - 1548
Robert Pilkington of Bradley and his wife Alice   (daughter of Sir Thomas Savile) 1548-1565
John I Armytage, clothier of Farnley Tyas. 1565

                                                                                                          ^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.

HomeHome                                   


Sources :
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.

12. Ibid.

13. W.Y.A.S. WYHER/10267.

 



Sketch of the lodge from which Robin is reputed to have shot his bow. 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 PontefractAlice De Laci and John of GauntBarnsdale Gallery | A suspected compiler of the Geste | Images of Robyn Hode