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The legend of Robin Hood



Information compiled with the help of author, historian and tour guide, Richard Rutherford-Moore, who specialises in Robin Hood.

Jonas Armstrong as Robin Hood in the BBC TV series
Robin Hood is said to have hid in the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest

Many towns and villages in England try to stake their claim to Robin Hood but the legend will always be associated with Nottinghamshire.

The tales of Robin Hood always include incarceration in the dungeons of Nottingham Castle. According to legend, Robin was held at the castle a few times. He was dragged off here from St Mary's Church, in the Lace Market, where he had been betrayed by a monk.

The Sheriff of Nottingham sent a messenger to the King to tell him about Robin's capture. The messenger was caught by Little John and he cut his head cut off. Disguised as messengers Little John and Much the Miller then told the Sheriff that the king would reward them for Robin's capture.

In celebration, the Sheriff and his men got drunk. In the confusion, Little John found Robin and escaped from the castle. Some people say Robin escaped using a tunnel but that's a modern myth. This story highlights the general themes of all Robin Hood tales: revenge, betrayal, disguise and murder.

Nottingham still has a Sheriff, who resides in Nottingham's Council House in Old Market Square.

In the woods

Sherwood Forest is synonymous with Robin Hood. Popular with outlaws and robbers, it offered concealment from the authorities.

The ancient Sherwood Forest, or Shire Wood, is thought to have covered a fifth of Nottinghamshire, stretching from the outskirts of Nottingham to Worksop.

Facts about Sherwood Forest
Pollen records show that there has been an unbroken cover of woodland here since the end of the last Ice Age, some 10,000 years ago
Sherwood means shire wood and the forest sometimes used to be referred to as Nottingham Forest
Sherwood Forest was once one of the largest of about 90 Royal forests, which at their greatest extent in the 13th Century covered around a third of England
Over 900 trees in Sherwood Forest are 600 years old or more

Sherwood, in the traditional era of Robin Hood, was never the impenetrable jungle often portrayed in film and television; it was a managed, purposely-developed area to suit the King's hunting forays and in addition give a financial return through its resources.

However, within Sherwood - as there are today - deeper and darker spots existed. These areas were popular with outlaws and robbers as they offered concealment from the authorities.

Most medieval outlaws were captured through being betrayed by someone they knew rather than being hunted out by the Sheriff's men. The Foresters and Rangers knew their forest 'keepings' very well - if any band of itinerant outlaws tried to settle and feed themselves using forest resources they would quickly be noticed by a regular patrol.

In 2005, Mansfield staked its claim to Robin Hood as the town's executive mayor, Tony Egginton, unveiled a new plaque in the town centre. The plaque read: "The ancient tree which grew on this site until 1940 was reputed to mark the centre of Sherwood Forest."

But if you are on the outlaw's trail then a more popular site to visit is the Major Oak, which still stands in Sherwood Forest.

Your Majesty

King John and his brother Richard are also part of Robin Hood folklore. The Royal Hunting Lodge in Bestwood Country Park is where they stayed to get away from Nottingham. At this time it was a royal deer park, one of the best parks in Sherwood Forest. It was strongly guarded and kept well stocked. It would have been a good place for Robin and his men to camp as it was close to two main roads and the deer would have been plentiful.

Deer in Nottinghamshire

Another hunting ground for Robin Hood would be the The King's Great Way, the medieval equivalent to the M1 which ran from Nottingham to York. There would have been a lot of traffic coming up and down this road in the days of Robin Hood. This is one of the places where the outlaw would watch the road to decide who to rob. However, Robin did not rob everyone, at times he simply asked for donations for his cause!

The good Friar

There are several members of Robin Hood's Merry Men who are named in ballads. One of these is Friar Tuck. The story of how the pair met has been made popular today by stage and screen.

A tree was chopped down to create a bridge so that travellers did not have to get their feet wet while crossing the River Leen but neither would back down when crossing the bridge in opposite directions. The setting for this fight can be found four feet under the modern A60 in North Nottinghamshire.

In the division of Sherwood Forest known as Lyndhurst you will find an old medieval hermitage. It was inhabited by a monk who looked after this sacred space. You will also find Friar Tuck's Well in Lyndhurst. It is marked on present day Ordnance Survey maps.

The old Robin Hood ballad, The Curtal Friar, takes place here - with a Friar Tuck very different from the one we know today. It is the only time Robin Hood ever wore armour before expecting a fight. Sir Walter Scott wrote part of his novel Ivanhoe here - an adventure featuring Robin Hood as 'Locksley' - and it is said that Washington Irving was inspired enough by his visit here to write The Legend of Spooky Hollow on his return home to America.

Legend has it that Friar Tuck poisoned King John in Newark Castle as revenge for the murder of Maid Marian.

Facts about Nottingham Castle
Nottingham Castle was first built in 1068 by William the Conqueror on a narrow sandstone ridge
The castle was originally built to command the bridge over the River Trent on an important route from London to York
A stone castle was constructed by Henry II in 1170 but was demolished in 1649 after Charles I's execution
The building that you can see today was inspired by Italian architecture. It was built by the Duke of Newcastle, William Cavendish and his son, Henry, during the period 1674-1679

In October 1216 King John marched north with an army during a war against rebellious English barons. At Newark Castle he rested but feasted. Having eaten too much on an already bad stomach he died during the night. After King John's death there were the usual accusations of poison. Could Friar Tuck be to blame?

The gang

Another Merry Man, Will Scarlet, is said to be buried in the churchyard of St. Mary of the Purification, in Blidworth; though no solid proof exists. Will's grave is marked by a fragment of the old church and several yew trees. However, in the old ballad we see him in trouble from the Sheriff's men but never killed.

Local legend also holds that Maid Marian stayed in a cottage, roughly opposite the tavern in Blidworth, until Will called for her and escorted the girl to her marriage with Robin Hood.

Maid Marian and Robin Hood are also said to have wed in Nottinghamshire, in the village of Edwinstowe, at the Church of St Mary. The Church, built around 1175 is still used as a place of worship.

The story of Robin Hood and Alan A Dale starts in Papplewick. One day, Robin Hood is leaning against a tree and sees a happy young man. The next day the same man is miserable. It turns out to be Alan-a-Dale; he was going to get married to his betrothed, Ellen, but she had been promised to a local Norman. Robin helps them out. Friar Tuck marries Alan-a-Dale and Ellen and they live happily ever after.

In St. James' Church, Papplewick, Robin Hood also makes a bow from a yew tree. It was a Celtic belief that the yew tree had the power over life and death. Later scientists at the Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham proved that there is a chemical in the yew tree that can be used to kill cancer cells. Therefore in this sense the Celts were actually correct.

There is also an excuse to visit the former home of another of Nottinghamshire's legends, poet Lord Byron. According to the history books an 'army of outlaws' regularly robbed the monks of St Mary's Priory, Newstead.

The prosperity of St. Mary's Priory, founded in 1172 and now known as Newstead Abbey, was based on wool. The place never enjoyed any wealth as the outlaws here knew exactly when and who to hit to get the money travelling in and out of the Priory. If Robin Hood ever did meet Richard the Lionheart, it would have been somewhere around here. Richard I in late March-April 1194 and King John on several occasions between 1199 and 1215 stayed here when out hunting in Sherwood Forest.

Another Nottinghamshire attraction, Southwell Minster, also has connections with the legend. Southwell Minster was built around 1100. Any serf or peasant coming out of Sherwood Forest from their wattle and daub hut to see this grandeur will have been awestruck.

Southwell Minster marks 900th year

Various symbols within the Chapter House and elsewhere have a curious pagan past - the foliate heads of 'Green Men' can be found here and in other Notts churches built in or after the 12th Century. They are said to be a visual representation of the earlier disguise of Robin Hood, as a god of woodland and fertility: once firmly believed in and worshipped before eclipsed by Christianity and taking on another form reflecting a new role in a new society.

Also look for the stained glass depicting King Edwin, Ethelburga and her chaplain Paulinus in Southwell Cathedral, seventh century characters who have associations in the Legend of Robin Hood.

Nottinghamshire Tourism has set up a Robin Hood trail. It features 12 locations across Nottinghamshire which are easily accessible by car. At each site there is a unit in the shape of a long bow. There you'll find a story and bespoke illustration of a typical Robin Hood scene. You can download instructions for your Sat Nav as well as an audio trail podcast on the Visit Nottingham website.




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