The Search for the Historical Robin Hood

My purpose here is to show some of the patterns and problems which arise in the search for any historical person who comes down to us predominately in legendary stories.

My main source for information on this page is: Robin Hood, by J.C. Holt

Period of Oral Tradition

The real Robin Hood is thought to have lived at the end of the twelveth century, but the oldest written manuscripts only date to the fifteenth century.

Later Addition of New Characters

Maid Marian doesn't show up in the legends before 1283 or Friar Tuck before 1417.

Recycled Stories About Other People

Adam Bell, another outlaw from the same period, appears in stories that are essentially the same as some of Robin's. It is not clear if they originally were about him or Robin.

Later Embellishments

Robin "robbed from the rich and gave to the poor" only after the 17th century, originally he was just an outlaw.

Social Promotion

Robin only became the "Earl of Huntingdon" in 1598, prior to that he was not a nobleman.

Physical Setting Changes

Sherwood forest? How about Barnesdale? Local legends capitalized on the stories.

Identify Theft

Other outlaws of the period gained credibility by claiming to be him.


(c) 2004 Thomas F. Swezey All rights reserved.