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The True Story of Robin Hood

Mar 15, 2022
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23
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You probably know the story of Robin Hood, but do you really know the truth behind the myth?

In this episode, we'll go on a quest to discover the real Robin Hood, look at the original story, combine it with the historical evidence, and reveal the identity of the man who was (probably) the real Robin Hood.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:23] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Robin Hood, the legendary outlaw

[00:00:30] Now, I’m sure that you’re all familiar with the story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men from the numerous films, books and TV series based on this heroic outlaw’s feats or achievements

[00:00:45] Instead, what I’d like to focus on today is the True Story of Robin Hood. 

[00:00:51] In today’s episode we are going to go on a time-travelling journey back to 14th century England where we’ll unravel the traditional tale of Robin Hood against a backdrop of rebellion, corruption, war and even a suspected royal muder. 

[00:01:12] There’s plenty to discover, so it’s time to learn about The True Story of Robin Hood.

[00:01:19] The first question you might be asking yourself is whether there is, indeed, any truth to the story of Robin Hood. 

[00:01:24] Was there actually a man called Robin Hood? Did he steal from the rich and give to the poor? Was there a terrible Sheriff of Nottingham? And, ultimately, is there any truth to this story?

[00:01:27] These are some excellent questions, to which historians don’t always agree on the answer. 

[00:01:50] But they are very interesting to explore, so that is what we are going to do in this episode.

[00:01:57] As with any mystery, we have to consider the evidence available to us if we’re going to discover whether or not there really was a real Robin Hood. 

[00:02:10] Today, the character that we call Robin Hood is known as Robin of Locksley. 

[00:02:17] In modern versions, our noble born hero has been dispossessed of his property, his property has been taken from him, while fighting abroad in the religious wars known as the Crusades. 

[00:02:33] He becomes an outlaw, living in Sherwood Forest with his Merry Men, rescuing his love interest Maid Marian from unwanted suitors, the men who want to marry her and, perhaps most famously, stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

[00:02:54] This familiar version of Robin Hood is actually very far removed, very different to the earliest surviving text that we have about Robin Hood, a text which dates back to the early 16th century called: A Gest of Robyn Hode. 

[00:03:12] A gest, by the way, means an adventurous story.

[00:03:17] This first record of Robin Hood provides us with plenty of clues about the true story of Robin Hood, so let’s dive into it.

[00:03:29] The original version features a low-born freeman who, in typical fashion for a hero of his time, commits plenty of gory, or bloody, crimes. This Robin Hood steals from the rich, the highly unpopular and greedy abbot at St Mary’s Abbey, although he doesn’t really give to the poor.

[00:03:56] He does, however, adhere to a certain code of ethics, of moral duty, in contrast to the money-grabbing clergymen, or monks, in St. Mary’s Abbey. 

[00:04:11] While Robin Hood is presented as a low-born outlaw, a criminal, living in Barnsdale Forest, he is also shown to have superior morals

[00:04:24] What’s more, Robin Hood’s actions in the text have a restorative effect - he rights wrongs through a sort of rough justice which highlights even further the hypocritical, or the false, insincere, nature of the ruling classes. 

[00:04:45] In the Gest, in the original story, Robin Hood’s men bring a knight to dine with him. When the knight is asked to pay for his meal, he tells the truth to Robin Hood - he has no money apart from the low amount of 10 shillings, a shilling being a historical coin equivalent to twelve pence, a tiny and inadequate amount of money. 

[00:05:13] The knight goes on to tell Robin Hood of his misfortunes and how the abbot is about to seize his lands for a debt of £400 that must be repaid to the abbey before sunset, before the end of the day. 

[00:05:31] Robin Hood asks if the knight has any friends who can help him with this debt.

[00:05:36] No, the knight replies. 

[00:05:38] Before, when he was rich he had plenty of friends; now that he is poor, he has none. Robin Hood then asks if he has anyone who could provide collateral, as security that he will repay the debt. 

[00:05:55] No, the knight replies again. 

[00:05:58] There is nobody who can provide him with any collateral, except for the Virgin Mary who has never let him down

[00:06:06] Robin Hood is deeply devoted to the Virgin Mary and upon hearing these words he immediately agrees to lend the knight the £400 that he so desperately needs. £400, by the way, would be today’s equivalent of hundreds of thousands of Euros.

[00:06:26] As the day begins to draw to a close, the greedy abbot is waiting for the deadline to pass so that he can take the knight’s land and make a huge profit. However, thanks to Robin Hood, the knight arrives and repays the money just in time. 

[00:06:47] Later on in the story when Robin Hood is awaiting his repayment from the knight, a monk passes through Barnsdale Forest and is stopped by Robin Hood’s men. He behaves discourteously, or impolitely, towards Robin Hood and lies about how much money he has.

[00:07:08] Robin Hood finds out that the monk comes from St Mary’s Abbey and that he has £800 on him - Robin Hood takes this money from the monk, effectively doubling his money. After all, the Virgin Mary was his collateral, so, to Robin Hood’s eyes, the monk from St Mary’s had brought him his repayment. 

[00:07:34] When the knight finally arrives to repay his debt, Robin Hood refuses to accept the payment, saying that he has already been reimbursed, or repaid, by the monk from St Mary’s.

[00:07:49] What’s more, Robin Hood orders his men to pay the knight £400. All in all, Robin Hood does not gain or lose any money in the story, rather he rights the wrongs by rewarding the truthful knight and taking from the greedy, disrespectful monks

[00:08:10] The Gest also tells of how one of Robin Hood’s men, Little John, ends up serving the Sheriff of Nottingham. When Little John is poorly treated by the sheriff’s staff, he retaliates, he reacts, and steals the sheriff’s silverware and his money. 

[00:08:30] Little John gives the money and silverware to Robin Hood, then he tricks the sheriff into an ambush, where Robin Hood and his men are lying in wait. After a night sleeping rough in the forest, Robin Hood allows the sheriff to leave provided that he swears never to harm Robin Hood or his men again, which he does.

[00:08:54] Later in the story, the Sheriff of Nottingham breaks his oath, his promise, not to harm Robin Hood and his men. The sheriff organises an archery competition in an attempt to capture Robin Hood. 

[00:09:09] However, Robin Hood manages to escape and seeks refuge, he seeks shelter, with the same knight that he previously helped.

[00:09:20] This knight is captured by the sheriff, before being rescued by Robin Hood. With news of an uprising spreading and Robin Hood’s increasing notoriety, or infamy, being famous for the wrong reasons, the King ends up travelling to the area.

[00:09:37] Upon meeting Robin Hood in disguise, the King grants mercy to Robin Hood, he pardons him, as well as his followers and the knight. Robin Hood enters the King’s service as an archer and joins the Royal Court. 

[00:09:55] A year later, homesick Robin Hood returns to visit Barnsdale Forest, only to be killed by the Prioress of Kirklees. The prioress is, in fact, a relative of Robin Hood. She rather gruesomely lets him slowly bleed to death when he seeks medical treatment at her priory.

[00:10:17] Now, this is a very basic summary of the earliest surviving text about Robin Hood, but we can already identify plenty of clues that can help us to narrow down our search for the real Robin Hood, and we can come up with a fairly precise historical time and place. 

[00:10:39] These details will allow us to ascertain, or to make sure, to verify, whether or not some of the most popular real life Robin Hood suspects are indeed plausible

[00:10:54] As you may have noticed earlier, the location we are looking for is not Sherwood Forest, but Barnsdale Forest. 

[00:11:03] For reference, Barnsdale is an area in South and West Yorkshire, not so far from Nottingham.

[00:11:11] While the original text is clear about the location, coming up with a date requires a bit of detective work. Let’s put together the pieces of the puzzle.

[00:11:24] Robin Hood, even in today’s version, is a highly skilled archer and much is made of his archery skills, they are admired, and highly desirable qualities. So, we are looking for a time when archery really started to take off, when it was a sought-after skill in Britain. 

[00:11:46] To narrow things down further, let's add in an important detail from the Gest. 

[00:11:51] We are also told that the King is in the area. So, if we can find any evidence of a King visiting near to the Barnsdale area, we’ll have a good idea of when the story is set.

[00:12:07] On the 16th March 1322, some 60 km north of Barnsdale, there was a large battle called the Battle of Boroughbridge, where a group of rebellious barons, headed by a man called Thomas of Lancaster, fought against King Edward II. 

[00:12:27] King Edward II of England had a short, disastrous reign that ended in his forced abdication in 1327, when he was made to renounce or give up his throne in favour of his son, Edward III. 

[00:12:44] He was subsequently held prisoner before dying in uncertain circumstances at Berkeley Castle later on that year, in 1327. 

[00:12:56] Anyway, back to Boroughbridge, back to the battle of Boroughbridge, Thomas of Lancaster lost the battle, in part due to heavy archery fire from the King’s longbowmen, as well as being greatly outnumbered. He was taken to Pontefract Castle, a nearby castle, where he was executed. 

[00:13:19] I know that’s a lot of names and details for you, but it is important to our quest for the truth.

[00:13:27] The reason I shared this with you is that all of this proves, or suggests, that the King was in the area in 1322 with his archers, which lends credibility to the story that the real Robin Hood was actually pardoned, he was forgiven, and then recruited by the King. 

[00:13:49] With a clear date and precise location backed up by historical records, we are a step closer to finding the real Robin Hood.

[00:13:59] Out of all of the possible suggestions that have been made by historians as to who the real Robin Hood could be, only one person really fits in with both the earliest surviving text and the matching historical data. 

[00:14:15] And that person is… a man named Robert Hood of Wakefield. 

[00:14:20] Obviously, we cannot be 100% certain, but in terms of making a plausible guess, Robert Hood of Wakefield is a prime suspect, he is one of the best matches that we have.

[00:14:35] Robin was a common diminutive or familiar name for Robert. And if you are wondering about Wakefield, well that also fits in perfectly, being located just north west of Barnsdale. 

[00:14:49] So, if there is a good chance of Robin Hood having been a real person, Robert Hood of Wakefield is as close as we’re going to get to finding him, short of discovering any new miraculous evidence. 

[00:15:05] That said, while Robert Hood may be our best bet, that is our most probable choice, there are a couple of other contenders who also have some interesting details with similarities to the Gest or the historical data. 

[00:15:23] A man called Robert Hod of York features in legal records dating back to 1226. While this is a lot earlier than the time frame we were originally considering, there is written evidence that this Robert Hod became an outlaw after his possessions were confiscated to pay back money that he owed to St. Peter’s, the largest church in York.

[00:15:50] So, while Robert Hod of York is a slightly less plausible character than Robert Hood of Wakefield, he was actually a confirmed outlaw. Robert Hod of York could very well have been Robin Hood’s namesake, providing the name and inspiration for Robin Hood as a fictional character. 

[00:16:13] Another historical outlaw who could have provided inspiration for a fictional Robin Hood is Roger Godberd. While his surname, Godberd, is a lot further away from our hero’s compared to the previous two suspects, there are numerous parallels between his real life career as an outlaw and the details given in the Gest.

[00:16:39] For example, Godberd had numerous men at his call in the forest where he was hiding out and just like Robin Hood, Godberd was wanted by the Sheriff of Nottingham. 

[00:16:52] The sheriff’s men captured him in 1272 but Godberd managed to escape, thanks to the help of a local knight, not unlike the knight in the Gest of Robin Hood. However, Godberd was eventually captured again and imprisoned. 

[00:17:11] Godberd was later pardoned by the King, as was Robin Hood. So, while Robin Hood is by no means a carbon copy, a clone, of Godberd, there is no denying that the tale of Robin Hood has a lot of striking similarities with the life of Roger Godberd. 

[00:17:31] Alternatively, another inspirational figure for the Robin Hood legend is a certain Robert Deyville. Along with his brother and their kinsmen, their relatives, the Deyvilles were linked to the Barnesdale area and there is also a mention of a settlement of a £400 mortgage, the same figure as in the Gest.

[00:17:55] Lastly, Robert Deyville’s fortified home in North Yorkshire, at a place called Hood Hill, could have been an inspiration for the name of Robin Hood. 

[00:18:06] Of course, there is also the possibility that the name Robin Hood was an alias, or another name that was used for an outlaw. This could also tie in with earlier suggestions of actual real life people who may well have provided the basis for the story of Robin Hood, and that all of these people were possible inspirational figures for the Tale of Robin Hood.

[00:18:32] The fact that we do not know whether or not he actually existed adds to his appeal, and both the man and his story have become the stuff of legend.

[00:18:43] A legend that each new generation has sculpted to suit their times, adapted to suit modern tastes but with a basis in the original text, in the Gest. 

[00:18:56] And no matter how the story is adapted, the legend of Robin Hood is a persistently appealing story.

[00:19:04] Sure, he is an outlaw, a criminal, and especially in some of the earlier editions, he could be vicious, deliberately violent and cruel. 

[00:19:15] But there is a moral element to his story. In early editions it was a semi-religious element, as we can see from his devotion to the Virgin Mary, and in later editions it’s simply about redistributing property, or wealth, from those who don’t deserve it to those who do.

[00:19:38] The success of the Robin Hood legend comes from the fact that the figures of authority and supposed virtue in all of the stories are all worse than Robin Hood himself. 

[00:19:51] Robin Hood is presented as being an outlaw but those who control the laws are hopelessly corrupt and devoid of, or with a complete lack of, virtue

[00:20:05] None more so than the greedy monks.

[00:20:09] In 16th century England, like in much of Europe, the church and appointed officials, mainly sheriffs, held all the power. 

[00:20:19] To a contemporary audience, clergy and officials were fair game; it was acceptable to make fun of or criticise them because of the sheer amount of power they held, and for their reputation for corruption.

[00:20:36] By portraying the clergy and officials as inadequate hypocrites, as being false and unable to fairly rule, the story of Robin Hood pokes fun at these almighty, powerful characters, allowing the audience to have a laugh at their expense, or directly at them. 

[00:20:57] What’s more, the way the haughty, overly proud monks act, makes them appear to deserve what they get when Robin steals from them or humiliates them. The incompetence of the Sheriff of Nottingham and any other authoritative characters, alongside their scheming and secret plans, makes them appear ridiculous, laughable.

[00:21:23] Robin Hood, on the other hand, despite technically being a criminal, is admired by the reader. 

[00:21:30] He is honest, fair, clever and brave - he’s everything that the monks are not. He is the true hero of the story.

[00:21:40] And whether or not he ever actually existed, the Legend of Robin Hood is still alive and kicking centuries later.

[00:21:49] So, with dozens of on-screen adaptations, and no doubt more adaptations to come in the future, there is no sign that the Legend of Robin Hood is losing its popularity any time soon.

[00:22:04] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The True Story of Robin Hood.

[00:22:10] I hope it’s been an interesting one, and you’ve learned a bit about the truth, or at least some of the possible truths, behind this story.

[00:22:19] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:22:23] Do you have any theories on whether or not there was ever a real Robin Hood? 

[00:22:29] Who do you think is the most probable subject?

[00:22:32] Do you have versions of a Robin Hood story, of someone who steals from the rich and gives to the poor, in your country? 

[00:22:40] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started. 

[00:22:44] You can head right in to our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:22:53] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:58] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:23] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Robin Hood, the legendary outlaw

[00:00:30] Now, I’m sure that you’re all familiar with the story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men from the numerous films, books and TV series based on this heroic outlaw’s feats or achievements

[00:00:45] Instead, what I’d like to focus on today is the True Story of Robin Hood. 

[00:00:51] In today’s episode we are going to go on a time-travelling journey back to 14th century England where we’ll unravel the traditional tale of Robin Hood against a backdrop of rebellion, corruption, war and even a suspected royal muder. 

[00:01:12] There’s plenty to discover, so it’s time to learn about The True Story of Robin Hood.

[00:01:19] The first question you might be asking yourself is whether there is, indeed, any truth to the story of Robin Hood. 

[00:01:24] Was there actually a man called Robin Hood? Did he steal from the rich and give to the poor? Was there a terrible Sheriff of Nottingham? And, ultimately, is there any truth to this story?

[00:01:27] These are some excellent questions, to which historians don’t always agree on the answer. 

[00:01:50] But they are very interesting to explore, so that is what we are going to do in this episode.

[00:01:57] As with any mystery, we have to consider the evidence available to us if we’re going to discover whether or not there really was a real Robin Hood. 

[00:02:10] Today, the character that we call Robin Hood is known as Robin of Locksley. 

[00:02:17] In modern versions, our noble born hero has been dispossessed of his property, his property has been taken from him, while fighting abroad in the religious wars known as the Crusades. 

[00:02:33] He becomes an outlaw, living in Sherwood Forest with his Merry Men, rescuing his love interest Maid Marian from unwanted suitors, the men who want to marry her and, perhaps most famously, stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

[00:02:54] This familiar version of Robin Hood is actually very far removed, very different to the earliest surviving text that we have about Robin Hood, a text which dates back to the early 16th century called: A Gest of Robyn Hode. 

[00:03:12] A gest, by the way, means an adventurous story.

[00:03:17] This first record of Robin Hood provides us with plenty of clues about the true story of Robin Hood, so let’s dive into it.

[00:03:29] The original version features a low-born freeman who, in typical fashion for a hero of his time, commits plenty of gory, or bloody, crimes. This Robin Hood steals from the rich, the highly unpopular and greedy abbot at St Mary’s Abbey, although he doesn’t really give to the poor.

[00:03:56] He does, however, adhere to a certain code of ethics, of moral duty, in contrast to the money-grabbing clergymen, or monks, in St. Mary’s Abbey. 

[00:04:11] While Robin Hood is presented as a low-born outlaw, a criminal, living in Barnsdale Forest, he is also shown to have superior morals

[00:04:24] What’s more, Robin Hood’s actions in the text have a restorative effect - he rights wrongs through a sort of rough justice which highlights even further the hypocritical, or the false, insincere, nature of the ruling classes. 

[00:04:45] In the Gest, in the original story, Robin Hood’s men bring a knight to dine with him. When the knight is asked to pay for his meal, he tells the truth to Robin Hood - he has no money apart from the low amount of 10 shillings, a shilling being a historical coin equivalent to twelve pence, a tiny and inadequate amount of money. 

[00:05:13] The knight goes on to tell Robin Hood of his misfortunes and how the abbot is about to seize his lands for a debt of £400 that must be repaid to the abbey before sunset, before the end of the day. 

[00:05:31] Robin Hood asks if the knight has any friends who can help him with this debt.

[00:05:36] No, the knight replies. 

[00:05:38] Before, when he was rich he had plenty of friends; now that he is poor, he has none. Robin Hood then asks if he has anyone who could provide collateral, as security that he will repay the debt. 

[00:05:55] No, the knight replies again. 

[00:05:58] There is nobody who can provide him with any collateral, except for the Virgin Mary who has never let him down

[00:06:06] Robin Hood is deeply devoted to the Virgin Mary and upon hearing these words he immediately agrees to lend the knight the £400 that he so desperately needs. £400, by the way, would be today’s equivalent of hundreds of thousands of Euros.

[00:06:26] As the day begins to draw to a close, the greedy abbot is waiting for the deadline to pass so that he can take the knight’s land and make a huge profit. However, thanks to Robin Hood, the knight arrives and repays the money just in time. 

[00:06:47] Later on in the story when Robin Hood is awaiting his repayment from the knight, a monk passes through Barnsdale Forest and is stopped by Robin Hood’s men. He behaves discourteously, or impolitely, towards Robin Hood and lies about how much money he has.

[00:07:08] Robin Hood finds out that the monk comes from St Mary’s Abbey and that he has £800 on him - Robin Hood takes this money from the monk, effectively doubling his money. After all, the Virgin Mary was his collateral, so, to Robin Hood’s eyes, the monk from St Mary’s had brought him his repayment. 

[00:07:34] When the knight finally arrives to repay his debt, Robin Hood refuses to accept the payment, saying that he has already been reimbursed, or repaid, by the monk from St Mary’s.

[00:07:49] What’s more, Robin Hood orders his men to pay the knight £400. All in all, Robin Hood does not gain or lose any money in the story, rather he rights the wrongs by rewarding the truthful knight and taking from the greedy, disrespectful monks

[00:08:10] The Gest also tells of how one of Robin Hood’s men, Little John, ends up serving the Sheriff of Nottingham. When Little John is poorly treated by the sheriff’s staff, he retaliates, he reacts, and steals the sheriff’s silverware and his money. 

[00:08:30] Little John gives the money and silverware to Robin Hood, then he tricks the sheriff into an ambush, where Robin Hood and his men are lying in wait. After a night sleeping rough in the forest, Robin Hood allows the sheriff to leave provided that he swears never to harm Robin Hood or his men again, which he does.

[00:08:54] Later in the story, the Sheriff of Nottingham breaks his oath, his promise, not to harm Robin Hood and his men. The sheriff organises an archery competition in an attempt to capture Robin Hood. 

[00:09:09] However, Robin Hood manages to escape and seeks refuge, he seeks shelter, with the same knight that he previously helped.

[00:09:20] This knight is captured by the sheriff, before being rescued by Robin Hood. With news of an uprising spreading and Robin Hood’s increasing notoriety, or infamy, being famous for the wrong reasons, the King ends up travelling to the area.

[00:09:37] Upon meeting Robin Hood in disguise, the King grants mercy to Robin Hood, he pardons him, as well as his followers and the knight. Robin Hood enters the King’s service as an archer and joins the Royal Court. 

[00:09:55] A year later, homesick Robin Hood returns to visit Barnsdale Forest, only to be killed by the Prioress of Kirklees. The prioress is, in fact, a relative of Robin Hood. She rather gruesomely lets him slowly bleed to death when he seeks medical treatment at her priory.

[00:10:17] Now, this is a very basic summary of the earliest surviving text about Robin Hood, but we can already identify plenty of clues that can help us to narrow down our search for the real Robin Hood, and we can come up with a fairly precise historical time and place. 

[00:10:39] These details will allow us to ascertain, or to make sure, to verify, whether or not some of the most popular real life Robin Hood suspects are indeed plausible

[00:10:54] As you may have noticed earlier, the location we are looking for is not Sherwood Forest, but Barnsdale Forest. 

[00:11:03] For reference, Barnsdale is an area in South and West Yorkshire, not so far from Nottingham.

[00:11:11] While the original text is clear about the location, coming up with a date requires a bit of detective work. Let’s put together the pieces of the puzzle.

[00:11:24] Robin Hood, even in today’s version, is a highly skilled archer and much is made of his archery skills, they are admired, and highly desirable qualities. So, we are looking for a time when archery really started to take off, when it was a sought-after skill in Britain. 

[00:11:46] To narrow things down further, let's add in an important detail from the Gest. 

[00:11:51] We are also told that the King is in the area. So, if we can find any evidence of a King visiting near to the Barnsdale area, we’ll have a good idea of when the story is set.

[00:12:07] On the 16th March 1322, some 60 km north of Barnsdale, there was a large battle called the Battle of Boroughbridge, where a group of rebellious barons, headed by a man called Thomas of Lancaster, fought against King Edward II. 

[00:12:27] King Edward II of England had a short, disastrous reign that ended in his forced abdication in 1327, when he was made to renounce or give up his throne in favour of his son, Edward III. 

[00:12:44] He was subsequently held prisoner before dying in uncertain circumstances at Berkeley Castle later on that year, in 1327. 

[00:12:56] Anyway, back to Boroughbridge, back to the battle of Boroughbridge, Thomas of Lancaster lost the battle, in part due to heavy archery fire from the King’s longbowmen, as well as being greatly outnumbered. He was taken to Pontefract Castle, a nearby castle, where he was executed. 

[00:13:19] I know that’s a lot of names and details for you, but it is important to our quest for the truth.

[00:13:27] The reason I shared this with you is that all of this proves, or suggests, that the King was in the area in 1322 with his archers, which lends credibility to the story that the real Robin Hood was actually pardoned, he was forgiven, and then recruited by the King. 

[00:13:49] With a clear date and precise location backed up by historical records, we are a step closer to finding the real Robin Hood.

[00:13:59] Out of all of the possible suggestions that have been made by historians as to who the real Robin Hood could be, only one person really fits in with both the earliest surviving text and the matching historical data. 

[00:14:15] And that person is… a man named Robert Hood of Wakefield. 

[00:14:20] Obviously, we cannot be 100% certain, but in terms of making a plausible guess, Robert Hood of Wakefield is a prime suspect, he is one of the best matches that we have.

[00:14:35] Robin was a common diminutive or familiar name for Robert. And if you are wondering about Wakefield, well that also fits in perfectly, being located just north west of Barnsdale. 

[00:14:49] So, if there is a good chance of Robin Hood having been a real person, Robert Hood of Wakefield is as close as we’re going to get to finding him, short of discovering any new miraculous evidence. 

[00:15:05] That said, while Robert Hood may be our best bet, that is our most probable choice, there are a couple of other contenders who also have some interesting details with similarities to the Gest or the historical data. 

[00:15:23] A man called Robert Hod of York features in legal records dating back to 1226. While this is a lot earlier than the time frame we were originally considering, there is written evidence that this Robert Hod became an outlaw after his possessions were confiscated to pay back money that he owed to St. Peter’s, the largest church in York.

[00:15:50] So, while Robert Hod of York is a slightly less plausible character than Robert Hood of Wakefield, he was actually a confirmed outlaw. Robert Hod of York could very well have been Robin Hood’s namesake, providing the name and inspiration for Robin Hood as a fictional character. 

[00:16:13] Another historical outlaw who could have provided inspiration for a fictional Robin Hood is Roger Godberd. While his surname, Godberd, is a lot further away from our hero’s compared to the previous two suspects, there are numerous parallels between his real life career as an outlaw and the details given in the Gest.

[00:16:39] For example, Godberd had numerous men at his call in the forest where he was hiding out and just like Robin Hood, Godberd was wanted by the Sheriff of Nottingham. 

[00:16:52] The sheriff’s men captured him in 1272 but Godberd managed to escape, thanks to the help of a local knight, not unlike the knight in the Gest of Robin Hood. However, Godberd was eventually captured again and imprisoned. 

[00:17:11] Godberd was later pardoned by the King, as was Robin Hood. So, while Robin Hood is by no means a carbon copy, a clone, of Godberd, there is no denying that the tale of Robin Hood has a lot of striking similarities with the life of Roger Godberd. 

[00:17:31] Alternatively, another inspirational figure for the Robin Hood legend is a certain Robert Deyville. Along with his brother and their kinsmen, their relatives, the Deyvilles were linked to the Barnesdale area and there is also a mention of a settlement of a £400 mortgage, the same figure as in the Gest.

[00:17:55] Lastly, Robert Deyville’s fortified home in North Yorkshire, at a place called Hood Hill, could have been an inspiration for the name of Robin Hood. 

[00:18:06] Of course, there is also the possibility that the name Robin Hood was an alias, or another name that was used for an outlaw. This could also tie in with earlier suggestions of actual real life people who may well have provided the basis for the story of Robin Hood, and that all of these people were possible inspirational figures for the Tale of Robin Hood.

[00:18:32] The fact that we do not know whether or not he actually existed adds to his appeal, and both the man and his story have become the stuff of legend.

[00:18:43] A legend that each new generation has sculpted to suit their times, adapted to suit modern tastes but with a basis in the original text, in the Gest. 

[00:18:56] And no matter how the story is adapted, the legend of Robin Hood is a persistently appealing story.

[00:19:04] Sure, he is an outlaw, a criminal, and especially in some of the earlier editions, he could be vicious, deliberately violent and cruel. 

[00:19:15] But there is a moral element to his story. In early editions it was a semi-religious element, as we can see from his devotion to the Virgin Mary, and in later editions it’s simply about redistributing property, or wealth, from those who don’t deserve it to those who do.

[00:19:38] The success of the Robin Hood legend comes from the fact that the figures of authority and supposed virtue in all of the stories are all worse than Robin Hood himself. 

[00:19:51] Robin Hood is presented as being an outlaw but those who control the laws are hopelessly corrupt and devoid of, or with a complete lack of, virtue

[00:20:05] None more so than the greedy monks.

[00:20:09] In 16th century England, like in much of Europe, the church and appointed officials, mainly sheriffs, held all the power. 

[00:20:19] To a contemporary audience, clergy and officials were fair game; it was acceptable to make fun of or criticise them because of the sheer amount of power they held, and for their reputation for corruption.

[00:20:36] By portraying the clergy and officials as inadequate hypocrites, as being false and unable to fairly rule, the story of Robin Hood pokes fun at these almighty, powerful characters, allowing the audience to have a laugh at their expense, or directly at them. 

[00:20:57] What’s more, the way the haughty, overly proud monks act, makes them appear to deserve what they get when Robin steals from them or humiliates them. The incompetence of the Sheriff of Nottingham and any other authoritative characters, alongside their scheming and secret plans, makes them appear ridiculous, laughable.

[00:21:23] Robin Hood, on the other hand, despite technically being a criminal, is admired by the reader. 

[00:21:30] He is honest, fair, clever and brave - he’s everything that the monks are not. He is the true hero of the story.

[00:21:40] And whether or not he ever actually existed, the Legend of Robin Hood is still alive and kicking centuries later.

[00:21:49] So, with dozens of on-screen adaptations, and no doubt more adaptations to come in the future, there is no sign that the Legend of Robin Hood is losing its popularity any time soon.

[00:22:04] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The True Story of Robin Hood.

[00:22:10] I hope it’s been an interesting one, and you’ve learned a bit about the truth, or at least some of the possible truths, behind this story.

[00:22:19] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:22:23] Do you have any theories on whether or not there was ever a real Robin Hood? 

[00:22:29] Who do you think is the most probable subject?

[00:22:32] Do you have versions of a Robin Hood story, of someone who steals from the rich and gives to the poor, in your country? 

[00:22:40] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started. 

[00:22:44] You can head right in to our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:22:53] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:58] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:23] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Robin Hood, the legendary outlaw

[00:00:30] Now, I’m sure that you’re all familiar with the story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men from the numerous films, books and TV series based on this heroic outlaw’s feats or achievements

[00:00:45] Instead, what I’d like to focus on today is the True Story of Robin Hood. 

[00:00:51] In today’s episode we are going to go on a time-travelling journey back to 14th century England where we’ll unravel the traditional tale of Robin Hood against a backdrop of rebellion, corruption, war and even a suspected royal muder. 

[00:01:12] There’s plenty to discover, so it’s time to learn about The True Story of Robin Hood.

[00:01:19] The first question you might be asking yourself is whether there is, indeed, any truth to the story of Robin Hood. 

[00:01:24] Was there actually a man called Robin Hood? Did he steal from the rich and give to the poor? Was there a terrible Sheriff of Nottingham? And, ultimately, is there any truth to this story?

[00:01:27] These are some excellent questions, to which historians don’t always agree on the answer. 

[00:01:50] But they are very interesting to explore, so that is what we are going to do in this episode.

[00:01:57] As with any mystery, we have to consider the evidence available to us if we’re going to discover whether or not there really was a real Robin Hood. 

[00:02:10] Today, the character that we call Robin Hood is known as Robin of Locksley. 

[00:02:17] In modern versions, our noble born hero has been dispossessed of his property, his property has been taken from him, while fighting abroad in the religious wars known as the Crusades. 

[00:02:33] He becomes an outlaw, living in Sherwood Forest with his Merry Men, rescuing his love interest Maid Marian from unwanted suitors, the men who want to marry her and, perhaps most famously, stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

[00:02:54] This familiar version of Robin Hood is actually very far removed, very different to the earliest surviving text that we have about Robin Hood, a text which dates back to the early 16th century called: A Gest of Robyn Hode. 

[00:03:12] A gest, by the way, means an adventurous story.

[00:03:17] This first record of Robin Hood provides us with plenty of clues about the true story of Robin Hood, so let’s dive into it.

[00:03:29] The original version features a low-born freeman who, in typical fashion for a hero of his time, commits plenty of gory, or bloody, crimes. This Robin Hood steals from the rich, the highly unpopular and greedy abbot at St Mary’s Abbey, although he doesn’t really give to the poor.

[00:03:56] He does, however, adhere to a certain code of ethics, of moral duty, in contrast to the money-grabbing clergymen, or monks, in St. Mary’s Abbey. 

[00:04:11] While Robin Hood is presented as a low-born outlaw, a criminal, living in Barnsdale Forest, he is also shown to have superior morals

[00:04:24] What’s more, Robin Hood’s actions in the text have a restorative effect - he rights wrongs through a sort of rough justice which highlights even further the hypocritical, or the false, insincere, nature of the ruling classes. 

[00:04:45] In the Gest, in the original story, Robin Hood’s men bring a knight to dine with him. When the knight is asked to pay for his meal, he tells the truth to Robin Hood - he has no money apart from the low amount of 10 shillings, a shilling being a historical coin equivalent to twelve pence, a tiny and inadequate amount of money. 

[00:05:13] The knight goes on to tell Robin Hood of his misfortunes and how the abbot is about to seize his lands for a debt of £400 that must be repaid to the abbey before sunset, before the end of the day. 

[00:05:31] Robin Hood asks if the knight has any friends who can help him with this debt.

[00:05:36] No, the knight replies. 

[00:05:38] Before, when he was rich he had plenty of friends; now that he is poor, he has none. Robin Hood then asks if he has anyone who could provide collateral, as security that he will repay the debt. 

[00:05:55] No, the knight replies again. 

[00:05:58] There is nobody who can provide him with any collateral, except for the Virgin Mary who has never let him down

[00:06:06] Robin Hood is deeply devoted to the Virgin Mary and upon hearing these words he immediately agrees to lend the knight the £400 that he so desperately needs. £400, by the way, would be today’s equivalent of hundreds of thousands of Euros.

[00:06:26] As the day begins to draw to a close, the greedy abbot is waiting for the deadline to pass so that he can take the knight’s land and make a huge profit. However, thanks to Robin Hood, the knight arrives and repays the money just in time. 

[00:06:47] Later on in the story when Robin Hood is awaiting his repayment from the knight, a monk passes through Barnsdale Forest and is stopped by Robin Hood’s men. He behaves discourteously, or impolitely, towards Robin Hood and lies about how much money he has.

[00:07:08] Robin Hood finds out that the monk comes from St Mary’s Abbey and that he has £800 on him - Robin Hood takes this money from the monk, effectively doubling his money. After all, the Virgin Mary was his collateral, so, to Robin Hood’s eyes, the monk from St Mary’s had brought him his repayment. 

[00:07:34] When the knight finally arrives to repay his debt, Robin Hood refuses to accept the payment, saying that he has already been reimbursed, or repaid, by the monk from St Mary’s.

[00:07:49] What’s more, Robin Hood orders his men to pay the knight £400. All in all, Robin Hood does not gain or lose any money in the story, rather he rights the wrongs by rewarding the truthful knight and taking from the greedy, disrespectful monks

[00:08:10] The Gest also tells of how one of Robin Hood’s men, Little John, ends up serving the Sheriff of Nottingham. When Little John is poorly treated by the sheriff’s staff, he retaliates, he reacts, and steals the sheriff’s silverware and his money. 

[00:08:30] Little John gives the money and silverware to Robin Hood, then he tricks the sheriff into an ambush, where Robin Hood and his men are lying in wait. After a night sleeping rough in the forest, Robin Hood allows the sheriff to leave provided that he swears never to harm Robin Hood or his men again, which he does.

[00:08:54] Later in the story, the Sheriff of Nottingham breaks his oath, his promise, not to harm Robin Hood and his men. The sheriff organises an archery competition in an attempt to capture Robin Hood. 

[00:09:09] However, Robin Hood manages to escape and seeks refuge, he seeks shelter, with the same knight that he previously helped.

[00:09:20] This knight is captured by the sheriff, before being rescued by Robin Hood. With news of an uprising spreading and Robin Hood’s increasing notoriety, or infamy, being famous for the wrong reasons, the King ends up travelling to the area.

[00:09:37] Upon meeting Robin Hood in disguise, the King grants mercy to Robin Hood, he pardons him, as well as his followers and the knight. Robin Hood enters the King’s service as an archer and joins the Royal Court. 

[00:09:55] A year later, homesick Robin Hood returns to visit Barnsdale Forest, only to be killed by the Prioress of Kirklees. The prioress is, in fact, a relative of Robin Hood. She rather gruesomely lets him slowly bleed to death when he seeks medical treatment at her priory.

[00:10:17] Now, this is a very basic summary of the earliest surviving text about Robin Hood, but we can already identify plenty of clues that can help us to narrow down our search for the real Robin Hood, and we can come up with a fairly precise historical time and place. 

[00:10:39] These details will allow us to ascertain, or to make sure, to verify, whether or not some of the most popular real life Robin Hood suspects are indeed plausible

[00:10:54] As you may have noticed earlier, the location we are looking for is not Sherwood Forest, but Barnsdale Forest. 

[00:11:03] For reference, Barnsdale is an area in South and West Yorkshire, not so far from Nottingham.

[00:11:11] While the original text is clear about the location, coming up with a date requires a bit of detective work. Let’s put together the pieces of the puzzle.

[00:11:24] Robin Hood, even in today’s version, is a highly skilled archer and much is made of his archery skills, they are admired, and highly desirable qualities. So, we are looking for a time when archery really started to take off, when it was a sought-after skill in Britain. 

[00:11:46] To narrow things down further, let's add in an important detail from the Gest. 

[00:11:51] We are also told that the King is in the area. So, if we can find any evidence of a King visiting near to the Barnsdale area, we’ll have a good idea of when the story is set.

[00:12:07] On the 16th March 1322, some 60 km north of Barnsdale, there was a large battle called the Battle of Boroughbridge, where a group of rebellious barons, headed by a man called Thomas of Lancaster, fought against King Edward II. 

[00:12:27] King Edward II of England had a short, disastrous reign that ended in his forced abdication in 1327, when he was made to renounce or give up his throne in favour of his son, Edward III. 

[00:12:44] He was subsequently held prisoner before dying in uncertain circumstances at Berkeley Castle later on that year, in 1327. 

[00:12:56] Anyway, back to Boroughbridge, back to the battle of Boroughbridge, Thomas of Lancaster lost the battle, in part due to heavy archery fire from the King’s longbowmen, as well as being greatly outnumbered. He was taken to Pontefract Castle, a nearby castle, where he was executed. 

[00:13:19] I know that’s a lot of names and details for you, but it is important to our quest for the truth.

[00:13:27] The reason I shared this with you is that all of this proves, or suggests, that the King was in the area in 1322 with his archers, which lends credibility to the story that the real Robin Hood was actually pardoned, he was forgiven, and then recruited by the King. 

[00:13:49] With a clear date and precise location backed up by historical records, we are a step closer to finding the real Robin Hood.

[00:13:59] Out of all of the possible suggestions that have been made by historians as to who the real Robin Hood could be, only one person really fits in with both the earliest surviving text and the matching historical data. 

[00:14:15] And that person is… a man named Robert Hood of Wakefield. 

[00:14:20] Obviously, we cannot be 100% certain, but in terms of making a plausible guess, Robert Hood of Wakefield is a prime suspect, he is one of the best matches that we have.

[00:14:35] Robin was a common diminutive or familiar name for Robert. And if you are wondering about Wakefield, well that also fits in perfectly, being located just north west of Barnsdale. 

[00:14:49] So, if there is a good chance of Robin Hood having been a real person, Robert Hood of Wakefield is as close as we’re going to get to finding him, short of discovering any new miraculous evidence. 

[00:15:05] That said, while Robert Hood may be our best bet, that is our most probable choice, there are a couple of other contenders who also have some interesting details with similarities to the Gest or the historical data. 

[00:15:23] A man called Robert Hod of York features in legal records dating back to 1226. While this is a lot earlier than the time frame we were originally considering, there is written evidence that this Robert Hod became an outlaw after his possessions were confiscated to pay back money that he owed to St. Peter’s, the largest church in York.

[00:15:50] So, while Robert Hod of York is a slightly less plausible character than Robert Hood of Wakefield, he was actually a confirmed outlaw. Robert Hod of York could very well have been Robin Hood’s namesake, providing the name and inspiration for Robin Hood as a fictional character. 

[00:16:13] Another historical outlaw who could have provided inspiration for a fictional Robin Hood is Roger Godberd. While his surname, Godberd, is a lot further away from our hero’s compared to the previous two suspects, there are numerous parallels between his real life career as an outlaw and the details given in the Gest.

[00:16:39] For example, Godberd had numerous men at his call in the forest where he was hiding out and just like Robin Hood, Godberd was wanted by the Sheriff of Nottingham. 

[00:16:52] The sheriff’s men captured him in 1272 but Godberd managed to escape, thanks to the help of a local knight, not unlike the knight in the Gest of Robin Hood. However, Godberd was eventually captured again and imprisoned. 

[00:17:11] Godberd was later pardoned by the King, as was Robin Hood. So, while Robin Hood is by no means a carbon copy, a clone, of Godberd, there is no denying that the tale of Robin Hood has a lot of striking similarities with the life of Roger Godberd. 

[00:17:31] Alternatively, another inspirational figure for the Robin Hood legend is a certain Robert Deyville. Along with his brother and their kinsmen, their relatives, the Deyvilles were linked to the Barnesdale area and there is also a mention of a settlement of a £400 mortgage, the same figure as in the Gest.

[00:17:55] Lastly, Robert Deyville’s fortified home in North Yorkshire, at a place called Hood Hill, could have been an inspiration for the name of Robin Hood. 

[00:18:06] Of course, there is also the possibility that the name Robin Hood was an alias, or another name that was used for an outlaw. This could also tie in with earlier suggestions of actual real life people who may well have provided the basis for the story of Robin Hood, and that all of these people were possible inspirational figures for the Tale of Robin Hood.

[00:18:32] The fact that we do not know whether or not he actually existed adds to his appeal, and both the man and his story have become the stuff of legend.

[00:18:43] A legend that each new generation has sculpted to suit their times, adapted to suit modern tastes but with a basis in the original text, in the Gest. 

[00:18:56] And no matter how the story is adapted, the legend of Robin Hood is a persistently appealing story.

[00:19:04] Sure, he is an outlaw, a criminal, and especially in some of the earlier editions, he could be vicious, deliberately violent and cruel. 

[00:19:15] But there is a moral element to his story. In early editions it was a semi-religious element, as we can see from his devotion to the Virgin Mary, and in later editions it’s simply about redistributing property, or wealth, from those who don’t deserve it to those who do.

[00:19:38] The success of the Robin Hood legend comes from the fact that the figures of authority and supposed virtue in all of the stories are all worse than Robin Hood himself. 

[00:19:51] Robin Hood is presented as being an outlaw but those who control the laws are hopelessly corrupt and devoid of, or with a complete lack of, virtue

[00:20:05] None more so than the greedy monks.

[00:20:09] In 16th century England, like in much of Europe, the church and appointed officials, mainly sheriffs, held all the power. 

[00:20:19] To a contemporary audience, clergy and officials were fair game; it was acceptable to make fun of or criticise them because of the sheer amount of power they held, and for their reputation for corruption.

[00:20:36] By portraying the clergy and officials as inadequate hypocrites, as being false and unable to fairly rule, the story of Robin Hood pokes fun at these almighty, powerful characters, allowing the audience to have a laugh at their expense, or directly at them. 

[00:20:57] What’s more, the way the haughty, overly proud monks act, makes them appear to deserve what they get when Robin steals from them or humiliates them. The incompetence of the Sheriff of Nottingham and any other authoritative characters, alongside their scheming and secret plans, makes them appear ridiculous, laughable.

[00:21:23] Robin Hood, on the other hand, despite technically being a criminal, is admired by the reader. 

[00:21:30] He is honest, fair, clever and brave - he’s everything that the monks are not. He is the true hero of the story.

[00:21:40] And whether or not he ever actually existed, the Legend of Robin Hood is still alive and kicking centuries later.

[00:21:49] So, with dozens of on-screen adaptations, and no doubt more adaptations to come in the future, there is no sign that the Legend of Robin Hood is losing its popularity any time soon.

[00:22:04] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The True Story of Robin Hood.

[00:22:10] I hope it’s been an interesting one, and you’ve learned a bit about the truth, or at least some of the possible truths, behind this story.

[00:22:19] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:22:23] Do you have any theories on whether or not there was ever a real Robin Hood? 

[00:22:29] Who do you think is the most probable subject?

[00:22:32] Do you have versions of a Robin Hood story, of someone who steals from the rich and gives to the poor, in your country? 

[00:22:40] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started. 

[00:22:44] You can head right in to our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:22:53] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:58] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]