It is possible that there was a man named Robert/Robin Hood that inspired the legend, but he cannot be identified. One thing is certain, the legend evolved, but how it began is a mystery. The earliest surviving ballads are thought to be no earlier than the fifteenth century, and they may not reveal the original story. ‘Rymes of Robyn Hood’ existed in the last quarter of the fourteenth century, but what were these rhymes. Were they in written form or just an oral tradition (see, no. 1 in Robin Hood Timeline). Part of what was probably and early poem is found in Andrew of Wyntoun’s chronicle, completed in c. 1420. He wrote:

Than litill Iohne and Robyne rude Then Little John and Robin Hood
Waichmen were commendit gud As forest outlaws were well renowned
In Yngilwod and Bernysdale In Inglewood and Barnsdale
And vsit ϸis tyme ϸar travale* All this time they plied their trade


* See, no. 9 in Robin Hood Timeline, and also, Dobson and Taylor, Rymes of Robyn Hood, 1976, p. 4; J. C. Holt, Robin Hood, 1982, p. 40; Stephen Knight, Robin Hood: A Complete Study of the English Outlaw, 1994, pp. 32-33; David Crook, Robin Hood: Legend and Reality, 2020, p. 36.

It is impossible to know how much written material has been lost. Part of an early ‘poem’ was discovered in a Lincoln Cathedral manuscript. Here, the setting is Sherwood Forest, and Robin is a bowman – the legend was evolving. See, The Lincoln Cathedral Manuscript.

Andrew of Wyntoun was the first to place Robin in an historical context and the next was Walter Bower. Both were Scotsmen, and they place Robin in the thirteenth century (see, nos. 9 and 17 in Robin Hood Timeline). I discovered, some fifteen years ago, a curious set of circumstances in Bower’s Scotichronicon of the 1440s. He tells us that in 1266 ‘there arose from among the disinherited* and outlaws and raised his head that most famous armed robber Robert Hood, along with Little John and their accomplices. The foolish common folk eagerly celebrate the deeds of these men with gawping enthusiasm in comedies and tragedies [Robin Hood plays?], and take pleasure in hearing jesters and bards singing [of them] more than in other romances’.

* The ‘disinherited’ were the dispossessed supporters of the failed baronial rebellion against Henry III, led by Simon de Montfort – he was killed in the battle of Evesham in 1265.

More importantly, Bower recites a tale about Robin being in Barnsdale ‘avoiding the king’s anger and the prince’s rage’. The date is 1266, so this can only be Henry III and his son prince Edward, who became Edward I. Bower reveals more information: ‘In that year also (1266) the disinherited English barons and those loyal to the king clashed fiercely; amongst them Roger de Mortimer occupied the Welsh Marches and John d’Eyville occupied the Isle of Ely; Robert Hood was an outlaw amongst the woodland briars and thorns’. It is historical fact that d’Eyville was the leader of the rebels holding out in the Isle of Ely, remnants of the baronial rebellion, and among them was Robertus Hod. There was an inquiry concerning his chattels, which could suggest that he was one of the ‘disinherited and outlaws’ mentioned by Bower (see, Robert Hod Isle of Ely). This deserves some consideration. The eminent historian and professor F. M. Powicke, thought that ‘there is no more likely occasion’ for the legend of Robin Hood than ‘the adventures of men like John d’Eyvill [at large in Sherwood] or Adam Gurdon or David of Uffington’ (King Henry III and the Lord Edward, Oxford, 1966, pp. 529-30).

The search for a real Robin Hood has invariably raised more questions than answers. It is possible that Robin was a composite figure, a creation based on the tales of real life outlaws such as Fulk fitz Warin, Hereward the Wake, and Eustace the Monk; and perhaps there were other sources as well, such as the Tale of Gamelyn and the Hermit and the Outlaw (see, The Gest of Robin Hood and The Hermit and the Outlaw). It is impossible to say whether or not there was a man behind the legend. I can only say that the definitive answer is lost in time.