Robin Hood is a tale that every little boy fantasizes about, every little girl dreams of as her hero and a character film makers would like to cash in on, but how much of the story is really true? Well that may (and probably should) remain a mystery forever.
Films such as the 1991 release Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio or the latest 2010 flick – Robin Hood starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett ensure that the character never dies.
Okay we do know the story but how about reminiscing it once again. Robin of Loxley lived under the governance of a Nottinghamshire's minor noble Richard the Lionheart. Robin was outlawed for treason and this was punishable by death, his offense – poaching deer in the royal forest. This happens at a time when the kindhearted King Richard is away on his 3rd Crusade and his evil brother John is ruling. The highly skilled swordsman and archer – Robin, escaped the clutches of the Sheriff and sought refuge in the greenwood of Sherwood Forest. Robin makes a living by looting rich travelers passing through the forest. But the kind of gentleman that he is, he doesn't keep the loot for himself and instead distributes it amongst the poor. This wins him a band of followers nicknamed the “merry men” and of course the love of his life, Maid Marian. Nottingham's evil sheriff despite repeated efforts is unable to capture our hero and finally King Richard returns to his kingdom. The kindhearted king pardons Robin Hood and his men and restores his lands, but Robin Hood always remains the poor man's hero. Of course this is only the romantic version. There are other versions where our hero meets his death from the abbess of Kirklees Priory, a kinswoman, but we, sweet souls, would not like to have bad endings, would we? And this is as far as the story goes.
With no historical records certifying Robin Hood's existence, the character may well be a popular ballad role which caught the fancy of the young and old and got carried from generation to generation. The name Robin Hood first appeared sometime in 1228 in various forms like 'Robinhood', 'Hobbehod' or 'Robehod' in the rolls of English Justices as an outlaw. Historians have found 8 references of “Rabunhod” from 1261 to 1300 spreading across England's south to north, Berkshire to York. What may be surprising to note is the old grave stone marked “Robard Hude” found in the Kirklees Priory grounds.
Contrary to the stories as can be seen from the ballads, early Robin Hood legends do not depict him as an aristocrat which probably came into being in later versions. Robin Hood was always portrayed as a simple yeoman who takes to crime due to the atrocities of the rich people. Hence it is no wonder that the poor took to this folk tale like ants to sugar.
"Lythe and listin, gentilmen,
That be of frebore blode;
I shall you tel of a gode yeman,
His name was Robyn Hode."
-A Gest of Robyn Hode
This was the early printed ballad found that refers to Robin Hood. Later on many versions to The Tales and Adventures of Robin Hood can be found. The most popular of them are Robin and the Knight, Robin and the Potter, Robin Hood and the Monk, Robin and the Curtal Friar, Robin and the Silver Arrow and lastly The Death of Robin Hood. Even the great English poet and playwright William Shakespeare was fascinated by the Robin Hood folklore and depicted a similar character in his early work The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Apart from spouse Maid Marian, Robin's band of “merry men” included Will Scarlet, Little John, Friar Tuck, Much the Miller's son and Richard at the Lee. Of course no Robin Hood story will be complete without the bad guys – so here they are – Sheriff of Nottingham, Guy of Gisborne and Prioress of Kirklees. Incidentally at the time these ballads of Robin Hood were being weaved, Nottingham did not have a specific Sheriff (the first Sheriff post was created only sometime in 1449). That is probably the reason the Sheriff in Robin Hood tales do not have a name. However, Nottinghamshire and the neighboring Derbyshire did have a common Sheriff.
The present people of Nottinghamshire have surely gown warm to these folk tales and have put up many signs of Robin Hood's existence. You can find major road signs depicting Robin Hood holding his bow and arrow, welcoming the visitors. There is also a Robin Hood Way and the entire county of Nottinghamshire has thousands of inns, roads and other objects bearing the legendary name. There is also a major oak tree which legends say Robin Hood used as a hideout. So you can pleasantly warm up to the thought that your favorite hero Robin Hood was not just a folk tale or a bedtime story like Superman, but still lives in the hearts and minds of many people like a legend.