The search for Robin Hood’s true identity

Robin Hood statue in Nottingham by James Woodford

We all grew up to the tales of Robin Hood, the dashing bandit who robbed the rich to help the poor. Movies starring Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn and Kevin Kostner have portrayed the folk hero in that admirable theme.

Disney created a cartoon feature of the tale, portraying all the familiar characters as animals, with Robin appropriately created as a sly fox. Mel Brooks produced a movie that was a parody on the famous tale, called, “Men in Tights”, the green leotard-like costumes often worn by actors in Robin Hood movies.

The story most of us recognize is of the English Saxon Lord Loxley, who fought in Crusades in the 13th Century. He returned to England to find his estate stolen and father murdered by the Normans, who had invaded and taken over the country under the evil King John.

Outlawed and hunted, Robin turned to banditry in Sherwood Forest, located in Nottinghamshire, England, and his arch enemy was the equally-evil Sheriff of Nottingham. According to the most popular legends, although there were many battles, the Sheriff could never catch the elusive bandit. Then, King Richard the Lionhearted returned from his Crusades venture and banished his traitor brother, John.

Loyal to Richard, Robin and his Merry Men were eventually pardoned and Lord Loxley’s estates restored to him. The fairy tale ending required that he lived happily ever after with the beautiful Maid Marion. That’s the version most English and American children were told and believed.

Of course, very little, if any, of the familiar tale has ever been proven to be true. One of the most recent propositions indicated that bandits of that era did exist, and their names were Godberd and Devyas, possibly the models for Robin Hood and Little John. They and their fellow outlaw bowmen were hunted down for using their bows and arrows to kill royal deer in Sherwood Forest. Unlike the legend, this version depicts them as being captured by the Sheriff of Nottingham, and imprisoned.

They were eventually freed, and according to most historians, stories of their exploits became increasingly popular in England. While Kings John and Richard and the Sheriff really lived, the outlaw band’s legends and public admiration evolved through the years. The characters of Maid Marion, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet and others were created as the tales grew more popular.

The identity of mysterious outlaw Robin Hood and his Merry Men who roamed Sherwood Forest has never been proven as historically true. However, to the delight of children through the years, when the legend is more exciting than the truth, they should believe the legend.