A brief history of the times of Robin Hood
The world famous legend of Robin Hood has always been contentious and its origins have always been disputed. I’ve looked into some of the research to come up with my own personal key dates and facts around what many people perceive to be the times of Robin Hood.
Like all legends, we can never know when exactly Robin Hood lived and at what point he was really involved in English history. Whilst I’ve included the origins of the first Nottingham Castle, I’ve mainly picked up on dates during the time of Richard the Lionheart with key references to Nottinghamshire and parts of the legend.
1068: The first stone medieval castle is built in Nottingham. The castle stood on rock higher than is currently there today as the land was flattened to make way for the current Ducal Palace. The castle had an inner bailey, middle bailey and outer bailey as part of it’s fortifications. It was used by the Normans to help control the local area and was a strategic stronghold given it’s views over the trent valley.
1100-1135: Archery is in common use and Henry I declares that an archer would be absolved of murder if he killed a man during archery practice but only if he shouted ‘Fast!’ (meaning stand fast or stand still) as a warning to anyone straying nearby.
1146: Rufford Abbey founded by Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Lincoln with Cistercian Monks from the great Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire.
1170: Newstead Abbey built under Henry II and was originally used as an Augustinian Priory.
Tales often include references to Robin Hood robbing a greedy church and some monks were outlaws, notably in the legend with Friar Tuck of course.
1189: King Richard I comes to the throne succeeding Henry II. He only spends six months in England before departing on the Crusades. Local people would gather to join the Crusades at Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem at the foot of Nottingham Castle.
1191: Richard arrives in Acre (now part of Israel) which began much of the Third Crusade in the Middle East. Whilst Richard is away, John rebels against Richard with the aid of his father Philip. John takes control of English areas under recognition as Richard’s presumptive heir, including Nottingham.
1194: The siege of Nottingham Castle takes place as King Richard’s returning army regains control from forces loyal to Prince John. Nottingham Castle was an important strategic stronghold in being able to regain control of the area and the routes north.
1199: King Richard dies and is succeeded by King John, who finally finds himself as ruler after years of ambition and pretension to the throne.
Evidence suggests that John would have visited a hunting lodge, the remains of which are at King’s Clipstone.
1215: The Magna Carta is issued and forces King John to accept that English Law is a higher authority than his own will. Clauses included concessions to the King and a year later the Charter of the Forest was created.
Forest at the time was a term used to describe land under protection for royal hunting by nobility. Areas such as Clumber Park, Thoresby Park, Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve and Sherwood Pines would essentially be protected areas.
1216: King John dies at Newark Castle and is succeeded by Henry III.
1228: Early references to a Robinhood or Robehood appear in rolls of English Justices. People who failed to turn up at a hearing would be declared an Outlaw, literally living outside the law. If you go to the Galleries of Justice Museum you’ll find the site where the Sheriff of Nottingham would have distributed law and order in medieval England and modern interpretations of crime and punishment.
Other links to the legend take place elsewhere and at other times too but for me this period gives a real insight as to how the whole of Nottinghamshire was intertwined with the period around Richard I and King John. It also clearly gives a backdrop to the monks and religion that feature in the legend with references to Newstead and Rufford Abbey.
From the start of Richard I’s reign to the early written references to ‘Robinhood’, the timeline covers around 40 years. Life expectancy was much lower than it is now but this period could cover a man’s lifespan.
I think it’s highly likely that there could have been some kind of hooded outlaw in these times, there may even have been several. The times must have been brutal but this timeline gives an exciting view into the historical backdrop around the original tales of Robin Hood.