Was Robin Hood Real?

The Doctor is going to Sherwood Forest.


I feel ya Clara (though what are you wearing?) I love Robin Hood too. Vigilante types with a charming smile and the law unto themselves. Give me Robin Hood and Sir Percy Blakeney any day over Superman. When I first heard that Mark Gatiss was going to be penning a Robin Hood related episode for Peter Capaldi’s first season of Doctor Who, I nearly wet myself. All my favorite things rolled into one. If there’s something I love more than Sherlock Holmes it may just be Robin Hood. And that’s everything from the original Middle English ballads to that foxy fox to the horrible Kevin Costner movie (because omg Alan Rickman). Robin Hood: Men In Tights was my first Mel Brooks film and I could probably quote it word for word. I love the stories so much I have a truly horrible and cheesy German Robin Hood musical on DVD (and you can totes watch parts of it on YouTube).


So, you can understand my excitement that The Doctor is going to meet Robin Hood.

“But wait just a gosh darn tootin’ minute!”, I hear everyone say, how can The Doctor and Clara go see Robin Hood? He’s just a story…


Ahem. Allow me to enlighten you. All legends come from somewhere, correct? Everything has a starting point, whether it’s someone’s imagination or, more likely, there is some one or a few people who inspire a story that becomes a legend. There’s always that spark that starts it all. Robin Hood is no different.

As a senior history major back in the day of my undergraduate degree, I had to take Historical Methods, in which we devised our own research topic and had to write a twenty-five page paper on the subject. I had been seduced by medieval history and so I decided to research and write about the legend of Robin Hood and fourteenth century English bandit culture. My thesis was to determine why England needed an outlaw hero and the societal determinates that contributed to this. Also, was Robin Hood a real person?

johnWait, fourteenth century? Wasn’t King John in the TWELFTH century?! Everyone knows Robin Hood went up against the evil and corrupt King John who totally usurped the throne from his amazing and brilliant big brother Richard right? I mean, Richard totally wasn’t an arrogant douchebag who barely spent any time in England at all and got an arrow in the FACE because he was being such a boasting twerp, right? And what do you mean John wasn’t a lion who sucked his thumb?!

You would be correct. King John ruled from 1199-1216. But that’s not when the original Robin Hood ballads first appeared. No, the first written record of Robin Hood was in the 1377 poem, The Vision of William Concerning Piers Plowman by William Langland.

‘If I shulde deye bi this day-me liste nought to loke;
I can noughte perfitly my pater-noster- as the prest it syngeth,
But I can rymes of Robyn hood-and Randolf erle of Chestre,
Ac neither of owre lorde ne of owre lady-the leste that evere was made.’

That’s the first thing that appears for awhile, and then The Gest of Robyn Hode comes along at 13,900 words of exciting Middle English. We’re introduced to Robyn himself, as well as Lytell John, Willyam Scarlok, the Sheriff of Nottingham and a king… by the name of Edwarde. Not John. Not Richard. Edward. There were three Edwards between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuryand it’s the latter two that I decided must be the Edward of the ballads. Not only was the fourteenth century a very turbulent time politically and socially, it’s also when banditry was at its height in the midlands of England, aka, where Sherwood Forest is.I explain this a bit more eloquently in the paper, as evidence below (click to enlarge):


Just to burst your bubble a bit more, the Sheriff of NOttingham? Not that bad of a guy. Overworked and underpaid, sheriffs in medieval England had a lot of crap to put up with and, naturally, weren’t very well liked. Moreover, the Robin Hood of the ballads and potentially historically, was a bit of a jerk.

Steal from the rich and give to the poor? Puh-lease. Robin was not a philanthropist. He stole from the rich and went to the casino. He took it for himself and his rag tag followers. He made life hellacious for the Sheriff and ended up beheading him. Yeah, you read that right. Robin Hood was a bit of a douche.But what is important to take away from this is that Robin wouldn’t have operated in Nottingham. That’s just where the sheriff was based. He had a much larger area to survey and maintain and according to the ballads, it was Barnsdale that Robin was originally from. It’s all in the same area, but hey, historical accuracy for the win. Here’s a map (which will ultimately make more sense in the greater context of the entire thesis, also click to enlarge)!


For those who love the tale of Maid Marian and Robin, hate to break it to you… but she and jovial Friar Tuck were fifteenth century additions. They weren’t in the originals. Sorry Marian.

Amy Yasbeck

I was and still am, very proud of this paper. I lived and breathed it for weeks on end and I read a lot of Middle English and did my own translations. I also won an award for it (the Richard and Miriam L. Mix Award for Excellence in Historical Writing for 2009 if curious). So I genuinely hope those of you who do, enjoy reading it. It’s a fun paper and while it’s very much so a history thesis, I hope it always reads in an entertaining way.

So go on then, learn something about the “real” Robin Hood ;)

Clicking on the graphic below or this link will allow you to read and download my original thesis and learn about how Robin Hood came to be in all its glory. It includes an appendix and bibliography for further reading. Huge thanks to my history professor and amazing advisor on this thesis, Dr. Cullen Chandler, as well as the library team at Lycoming College, who helped me dig this old thing up. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

RobinHoodSo what do you think? Was Robin Hood real? Was he just a story? Are we all just stories in the end?

Regardless, I think we can all agree that Robin Hood was one sly dog who really liked green.


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Big hair. Big glasses. Freelance writer, audio engineer, and all around nerd with a musical addiction and a fondness for tea.

3 thoughts on “Was Robin Hood Real?”

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