Robin Hood in Richard’s Era
It was in the 15th century when the legends of the infamous outlaw Robin Hood first began to be written down. Although most of our versions today have Robin existing in the reigns of Richard Lionheart and King John, the late medieval ballads state that the King was one of the Edwards, probably Edward II. However, the 1599 play George A Green actually sets the action in the reign of Edward IV! The Lionheart/John versions first appear in the later 16th century and captured the general imagination thereafter.
The first mention of Robin Hood as a possibly historical figure was in 1420, in Andrew of Wyntoun’s Orygynale Chronicle (although prior to that, the character had been mentioned in the 1300’s in Piers Plowman.)
Andrew of Wyntoun wrote:
Lytil Jhon and Robyne Hude
Wayth-men ware commendyd gude
In Yngil-wode and Barnysdale
Thai oysyd all this tyme thare trawale.
The ballad Robin Hood and the Monk is the earliest surviving traditional ballad and dates from about 1450, while Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham from circa 1475, the latter, in particular, giving us many of the modern elements of the legend we know today.
At the time, Robin was also a popular figure in traditional May Day celebrations, and there is some evidence that plays about him were performed in the Paston household in the late 15th century
Undoubtedly, Richard III, Edward IV and other nobles of the day were all very familiar with the tale…and it is interesting that the 15th rebels against Edward, Robin of Redesdale and Robin of Holderness, both adopted this name. It appears that the Christian name was frequently used as an outlaw’s pseudonym, and the similar sounding Hobbehod or Robbehod was sometimes given to a convicted murderer or cutthroat.
In 1490, during the reign of Henry VII, there was even a complaint brought all the way to the Star Chamber of men behaving badly while dressed as figures from the Robin Hood legend! (They tried to defend themselves by claiming they were only trying to raise money for the church!)
The demise of the famous outlaw, according to legend, was not by the hand of his enemy the Sheriff, but by being bled to death by the treacherous prioress of Kirklees priory in Yorkshire. This appears in the fragmentary ballad ‘The Death of Robin Hood’ which was collected in the Percy Folio and is probably 15th c in origin. It is the only Robin Hood ballad to contain a hint of mysticism, where an old woman washing at the stream calls curses on Robin’s head shortly before his death.
Recently I had the pleasure of being able to look around the ruins of Kirklees Priory and view the purported gravesite of the famous medieval outlaw, both of which are on private land and seldom open to the public. Sadly, today, ruins and grave are in poor condition and in need of extensive conservation. The topmost room of the gatehouse (below,left top) is where Robin Hood was supposed to have breathed his last, after shooting his famous final arrow to the nearby rise where the ‘grave’ now stands.
At least this question seems to have been answered: