The Tale Of Robin Hood Of Sherwood Forest: Between Fact And Fiction

The medieval English folk tale of Robin Hood, the alleged medieval outlaw of Sherwood Forest dressed in Lincoln green who stole from the rich and gave to the poor alongside his Merry Men, has been fascinating historians and readers alike for many centuries. A rebellious, skilled archer and swordsman who, according to the legend, fought against tyranny, corruption, and imposture in the turbulent times of Prince John and Richard the Lionheart (King Richard I of England) could be nothing more but a mere invention stemming from 14th century English ballads and the collective consciousness of the persecuted English peasantry which bursted into Wat Tyler’s Rebellion in 1381.

15th century miniature depicting two groups of rebels meeting outside London during The Peasant’s Revolt in England (late 14th century). Image source: Wikimedia Commons

In the passing of time, there were numerous attempts aimed at finding a truthful and reliable historical counterpart to the legendary Robin Hood, yet all these efforts were fruitless in the end. Subsequently, post-medieval literature claimed that Robin Hood was actually a fallen nobleman who revolted against local and central authority from personal reasons. His archenemy, the Sheriff of Nottingham (working under the authority of the usurper Prince John), was the embodiment of aggressive and authoritarian rulership, representing a rather popular (and greedy) type of a nobleman of the period of time in which Robin Hood might have well lived (i.e. late 12th century England).

Robin Hood on horseback, late medieval miniature. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Nowadays, there’s little consensus amongst scholars regarding the possibility according to which he could have actually existed. The bulk of medieval literature that fathered his legend and such afferent characters as Maid Marian, the Merry Men (e.g. Little John or Will Scarlet), the Bishop of Hereford, or Friar Tuck is generally regarded as fictional and it wasn’t until the 15th century that his legend became well known.

Rainbow over Sherwood Forest (September 2006). Image source: Wikimedia Commons

One of the central themes of Robin Hood’s tales though, namely the interdiction of hunting in the royal forests of medieval England, was, nonetheless, a historical reality of those times. This, alongside other grains of truth (for example the ambivalence of the churchmen), contributed to a certain historical accurate portrayal concerning the political, administrative, and social order of that time, albeit with a multitude of Romanticised elements.

Even the renowned region throughout which the incursions of Robin Hood and his outlawed men against the oligarchic medieval barons who crossed the forest of Sherwood is debated. While the legend relies heavily on the royal forest of Sherwood, Nottinghamshire, East Midlands as being the ‘headquarters’ of Robin and his merry men, information stemming from the late medieval English ballads clarify that the action might have actually taken place in Yorkshire, northern England.

Whatever the truth may be with respect to his legend, Robin Hood has been doubtlessly hailed as a hero of the oppressed and the nightmare of the evil for many generations. His cultural legacy include a wide range of popular culture products such as comic books, but also a series of classic films and TV series, children’s novels, video games, and much more. Additionally, Robin Hood is also emblematised on the flag of Nottinghamshire, East Midlands.

The flag of Nottinghamshire, East Midlands, England, United Kingdom. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Deep inside Sherwood Forest, where Robin Hood’s spirit still lives on to this day. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Last but not least, down below you can watch a brief documentary by Timeline – World History Documentaries on Youtube on the parallels between fact and fiction with respect to Robin Hood’s legend:

Documentation sources and external links:

Further reading:

  • Robin Hood by Henry Gilbert (the link redirects to www.amazon.com)
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9 Responses to The Tale Of Robin Hood Of Sherwood Forest: Between Fact And Fiction

  1. I have always loved the tale of Robin Hood. Very well written, glad I read this!

    • Victor Rouă says:

      Pas mal… Thank you for endorsing this book. It seem well worth reading! I haven’t watched the old films with Robin though and I really think I should at some point in the future! 😀

  2. A J Harrison says:

    There will be tears at bedtime. Robin hailed from Loxley in Sheffield. He fought in the wars with King Richard, On returning home his lands had been seized so he left for pastures new, There must be some truth in the legend as Little John is buried at Hathersage & his grave can be viewed

    • John says:

      Good point. So what is the connection or is his grave made up (I did view it on Google).

    • Victor Rouă says:

      After I finished reading Henry Gilbert’s ‘Robin Hood’ I cried terribly. I bitterly moaned Robin’s death in his bed, surrounded by his close ones, the surviving Merry Men (his death was unworthy of a hero, he was poisoned by a nun at the orders of a coward evil nobleman, Roger of Doncaster)…

      But, if I recall correctly, his henchmen (led by Little John) carried on and protected honest travellers through Sherwood Forest against ruthless highwaymen (at least close to his death; at some point, due to old age, at least by medieval standards, Robin lost his powers as a medieval superhero if you will and was unable to lead the Merry Men as he did during his heyday as the legend of Sherwood Forest).

      After his death, Robin’s grave had been well kept for some time by two of his most loyal henchmen, Ket the Trow and Hob o’ the Hill, two good hobgoblins who remained loyal to our hero even after his physical death. The Merry Men disbanded after Robin’s passing and each of them went their own way in the wide world.

      Anyway, I first read this book a long while ago, when I was still a kid in primary school, if I’m not mistaken. A brilliant novel though. Made my childhood more exciting for certain and I thereby recommend it with no hesitations whatsoever! 🙂

  3. S says:

    Robin of locksley was said to have been buried on the kirkless estate where he died when it was a monastery. Theres a memorial in the woods to him on the property, that had been considered his actual resting place for probably centuries to be honest. Until an archeologists actually had permission to examine it with ground penetrating radar. They found no evidence that the ground had even been disturbed let alone hold a body. I believe theres a documentary or TV show something of that nature of the discoveries.

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