Life as an Outlaw
In March last year, I filmed Paul Cook, Senior Ranger at Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve, talk about what life would have been like as an Outlaw and how the forest was so useful. It was a really cold day and the sound is not that great but you should a really good feel for how Robin Hood may have lived.
Paul starts by talking about how taxation was introduced to help fund the wars in the holy lands (Crusades). Taxation was unpopular (even more so than it is now) and the penalties for not paying taxes were horrific.
If you refused to pay your taxes, you could have an arm chopped off, an eye poked out or even be thrown into prison. Well if prison doesn’t sound that bad, it’s slightly different to the ones we have today.
In Medieval times, prison was a pit where people were thrown and left to die and it was up to the local community to throw food into the pit to help keep them alive. The remains of one of these, also known as an oubliette, has been found at the Galleries of Justice Museum where it is widely believed that the Sheriff of Nottingham distributed his law and order.
In the days before written communication and literacy was widespread, tax collection was simply a case of soldiers loyal to the crown arriving at your home and demanding payment. If you didn’t have a fixed abode, then this scenario was unlikely to happen and hence the reason why people became Outlaws.
Sherwood Forest was the perfect place for Outlaws to live because the natural habitat gave plenty of natural resources for people to live from. Another great reason was that it surrounded the main route north from London to York, a rich hunting ground for robbing wealthy travellers.
The hollow oaks that could be found in Sherwood Forest were the perfect natural place to hide treasure and weapons. It was illegal to carry weapons in the forest and the punishments could be equally as gruesome as not paying your taxes. If you were caught with a bow or arrow you could have your fingers chopped off or an eye poked out so that you couldn’t use them again.
The times that Robin Hood lived in were brutal indeed and in becoming an outlaw, many people risked horrific punishments. If you have a few minutes to spare, watch Paul’s three minute talk on the matter, it’s great to see the history brought to life in Sherwood itself.