There’s been much controversy, at least among the sort of geeks who care about such things, over whether Robin Hood was real. My answer: it depends on what you mean by Robin Hood and what you mean by ’real.’
Certainly the Errol Flynn version of the Robin Hood story is largely fictional (no offense to the late and very handsome Mr. Flynn, whom I enjoy watching in almost any role, historical inaccuracies and all.) For one, Prince John was hardly a worse king than Richard Lionheart. Understand that this is damning John with extremely faint praise. Richard hated England, hated the English, and did not speak the language. He bled the country dry so he could go off and play soldiers in sunny Palestine. Any version of the Robin Hood tale that has Good King Richard coming in to save the day is as much a fantasy as tales of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. (Not saying that these versions aren’t enjoyable in their own right; I myself collect film, TV, and novel versions of Robin Hood. Just keep in mind that they aren’t history.)
There have been two candidates proposed for the ‘real’ Robin Hood: Robert, Lord Locksley and Robert, Earl Huntington. The 1980’s BBC series Robin of Sherwood took advantage of this when the actor playing Robert of Locksley quit. They wrote in a passing of the torch to Robert of Huntington, and the series went on. Robin of Sherwood was one of the few interpretations that got the whole Saxon/Norman conflict right and didn’t have the Lionheart riding in with a pardon. Some of the dialogue and plotting was a bit campy, but I will always love the series for its nod to the deeper pagan roots of the Robin Hood legend.
But I digress (often, as anyone who regularly reads my blogs will tell you.) The point is, historical records show that there were, indeed, men by the names Robert of Huntington and Robert of Locksley who lived in England roughly contemporary with the later Robin Hood legends. This is hardly definitive, especially since there is no record that either of them were outlawed. Also, the early roots of the Robin Hood legend predate the lifetime of either man,
Were there outlaws and robbers hiding in Sherwood Forest during the time of Richard Lionheart? Almost certainly—those were dangerous times. Did they rob from the rich and give to the poor? There’s no evidence that they did, although to scholars who insist that such charity would be unlikely I counter with the power of enlightened self-interest. The Saxon peasants already hated their Norman overlords. A few coins here and there would buy their silence with regard to the outlaws’ movements and perhaps even a safe bolt-hole when necessary.
The legend of Robin Hood has its antecedents in the pre-Christian Lord of Forests, in the Green Man carved above church lintels even though the image has been around long before the first Christians set foot on the British Isles. He is the trickster Robin Goodfellow, and he is the stag god, Herne, hunter and hunted, ready to spill his own blood for the sake of his people. Perhaps he is more, not less, real for the fact that no single man is large enough to encompass his story.
Shawna Reppert is an award0winnning author of Amazon best-selling fantasy and steampunk. Fellow lovers of Robin Hood may like her contemporary fantasy short story The Sword and the Kestrel, in which the last decendant of Guy Osbourne must try to break the family curse and make peace with the Lord of Forests. Also look for her upcoming medieval fantasy Brother to the Wolf. Though set in an ariginal world and not, strictly speaking, a Robin Hood tale, it is very much influenced by her love for and study of the legend