Tag Archive | Crime

The real Robin Hood

The Real Robin Hood

The Real Robin Hood

Robin Hood, a charismatic fellow of folk lore and fairy tales. Did he really exist, and was he a hero?

There is little concrete information on the real Robin Hood, and a great deal of fantasy has arisen around the figure in the form of story books, comics, television programs, and films. So how did the legend come about?

Earliest records of Robin Hood (Robyn Hode)

There is more historical truth in many of the old ballads than in many modern histories

John Selden (1584-1654), keeper of records in the Tower of London.

The earliest record of Robin Hood is the child ballad Robin Hood and the Monk which exists in a manuscript dating back to sometime after 1450.  This text characterises Robin Hood’s strong religious faith and hostility towards aristocrats and royalty. It speaks in a far less lighthearted tone than the tales of today.

“This traytur name is Robyn Hode,
Under the grene wode lynde;
He robbyt me onys of a hundred pound,
Hit shalle never out of my mynde.”

Read my post on Robin Hood and the Monk.

A Gest of Robin Hood

A Gest of Robin Hood

A second publication, the ballad A Gest of Robin Hood, or A Lyttell Geste of Robyn Hode, was published between 1492 and 1534, and is possibly the second oldest record of Robin Hood. The ballad is lengthy and consists of eight fyttes. It is believed to be comprised of a number of existing tales dating back to 1450, as stated by James Holt.

This tale differs from Robin Hood and the Monk in that in portrays Robin as the charismatic outlaw we know and love today. The anti-establishmentarianistic Robin is loved by the poor and feared by the rich. Robin is portrayed as a “good outlaw”, fighting a system which is shown to be corrupt. He commits crimes, but his crimes are necessary retaliations against a system that has wronged him, his family, and his people. His crimes are for the greater good.

A Gest of Robin Hood can be read in it’s full middle-English entirety here.

Even earlier mentions

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.

The Vision of William Concerning Piers the Plowman– William Langland (c. 1377).

The Scottish poet Andrew of Wyntoun (c. 1350 – c. 1423) refers to Robin Hood and Little John in his eight-syllabled metre Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland. Under the year 1283, Wyntoun speaks of Robin and Little John as real people, perhaps with relevance to Scotland’s own outlaw William Wallace. Another interesting fact of this document is that it is the first record of the word “Catholic”, of which Wyntoun was devout. You can read the publication in it’s entirety here.

Another Scott, the chronicler Walter Bower (1385 – 1449), wrote the following in his Scotichronicon (Scottish Chronicles) (c. 1440). He writes in Latin, under the year 1266:

the famous murderer, Robin Hood, as well as Little John.

A third Scott, the philosopher and chronicler John Mair, spoke of Robin Hood in his Historia majoris Britannae, tam Angliae quam Scotiae (1521). In his text he associates Robin Hood to the period of Richard I, which differs from earlier ballads that refer to king Edward (either I or II). John Mair’s text was popularised by novelist Sir Walter Scott in his work Ivanhoe (1820), and was then used as a basis by future novelists  and film directors.

Substance of facts?

Robin Hood and Little John by Louis Rhead 1912

Robin Hood and Little John

There is substance in John Mair’s association of Robin Hood during the reign of Richard I (1189 – 1199). According to J Holt, a biographer of Robin Hood, he was seen as an active criminal between 1193-1194. Later, during the reign of King Henry III (1216 – 1272), during 1225, Robin Hood became outlawed.  L.V.D. Owen, a researcher, found a record in the Yorkshire assize roles for 1225-1226 a mention of  a “Robert Hod, fugitive, had chattels worth 32s. 6d.” The money owed was to the Liberty of St. Peter’s York, a figure Holt notes as a tenant of the Archbishop of York.  Owen’s further research unearthed further references to Robert Hod, and one using the nickname Hobbehod.

Holt claims Hood was dead by 1247, based on a note by Thomas Gale, Dean of York (1697 – 1702) that Robin died on 24th December 1247.

Still, there are other suggestions about the history of Robin Hood. Robin Hood researcher David Crook has found evidence of the fugitive Robert of Wetherby, otherwise named Robert Hood, who resided in Yorkshire in 1225 (the same year Robin Hood was believed to be outlawed). According to records, Robert Hood was hunted down by the Sheriff of Yorksire (former Sheriff of Nottingham) and when caught, decapitated on capture and hung in public.

So what of Maid Marion or Friar Tuck?

The early ballads and records contain no mention of Maid Marion or Friar Tuck. It would seem Marion was a purely fictitious creation, perhaps since the French pastoral play Robin et Marion (c. 1283). Friar Tuck, however, is another story…

Further reading

A murder of a maid – Thomas Savage

Thomas Savage

Thomas Savage from exclassics.com.

The following excerpts can be found in A Complete History of the Lives and Robberies of the Most Notorious Highwaymen, Footpads, Shoplifts, and Cheats of Both Sexes by Captain Alexander Smith. They document the murder of a maid by a sixteen year old apprentice, a Thomas Savage from St Giles in the Fields. It is said the accused was later captured and hung for his deed.

Historical records of the era detail a Thomas Savage, 3rd Earl Rivers (born 1628), who died 14th September 1694 on Great Queens Street, St Giles in the Fields.  Thomas Savage was a wealthy royalist and reputable person of note, but it is recorded he had three children – Richard Savage (4th Earl Rivers, born 1654), Elizabeth Savage, and a Thomas Savage (born circa 1648). A connection between this Thomas Savage and the Thomas Savage spoken of in the excerpt is speculation, but there is likely a connection given the date and location.

The following text is paraphrased as the original text is several pages long.

This unhappy person, namely Thomas Savage, was born of honest parents in the parish of St Giles in the Fields.

Breaking the Sabbath (by his own confession) was the first inlet of his vices, especially whoredom, drunkenness, and theft; for frequenting a bawdy-house in Ratcliff Highway, he there became acquainted with one Hannah Blay, a vile common strumpet, to whom he would often carry two or three bottles of wine at a time, to junket with her.

The strumpet, her wicked desires unsatisfied, requests Thomas bring her money, which he may do by robbing his master. This is something Thomas can not do, as at home the maid is always with him. The strumpet entices Thomas to murder the maid:

Hang the jade, quoth she, knock her brains out, and I’ll receive the money, and go anywhere with you beyond sea, to avoid the stroke of justice.

On the day of the murder, the strumpet made him “almost drunk with bad brandy” before sending him on his way between 12 and 1 o’clock.

The maid then upbraiding him with having been at a bawdy-house, which would be the ruin of him in the end, he was much vexed with her, and while he was at dinner, the devil entered so strongly into him that he resolved within himself to kill her.

He went into the bar and fetched a hammer, with which he began to make a great noise, as he sat by the fire, by knocking on the bellows. Hereupon says the maid to him: “Sure the boy is mad! Sirrah, what do you make this noise for?”

To this he made no answer, but going to the kitchen- window began to knock and make the same noise there, of which the maid then taking no notice, he, to provoke her, got on the clean dresser, and walked up and down thereon several times with his dirty shoes. This piece of malice exasperating the maid, so that she scolded at him pretty heartily, he threw the hammer at her suddenly with such violence that, hitting her on the head, it felled her to the ground, and she shrieked out. He then went and took up the hammer, intending to repeat the blow, but laid it down again thrice, not being yet hardened enough in cruelty to strike her any more; but at last, taking it up the fourth time, the devil had then gained such an absolute mastery over him that he gave her several strokes with all the force he could, and quickly dispatched her out of the world.

The account is several pages long, speaking of the eventual capture of Thomas Savage, but a strange turn of events occur when the man is hanged:

The sheriff ordered him to be cut down, when, being received into the arms of some of his friends, he was conveyed into a house not far from the place of execution. There being laid upon a table, he began, to the astonishment of the beholders, to breathe, and rattle in the throat, so that it was evident life was whole in him. Hereupon he was carried from thence to a bed in the same house, where he breathed more strongly, and opened his eyes and mouth, though his teeth were set before, and he offered to speak, but could not recover the use of his tongue.

However, his reviving being blazed abroad within an hour, the sheriff’s officers came to the house where he was, and carrying him back to the place of execution, hung him up again till he was really dead.

It was a common belief at the time that if a prisoner survived a hanging it was deemed as an Act of God, meaning the prisoner would be set free. The accuracy of the above paragraph is therefore open to debate.

As for the strumpet, it was said she delayed her execution by claiming to be pregnant. Often, in these cases it is common to escape execution.

More can be read on Google Books and ExClassics.