Robyn Hod Isle of Wight

Andrew Ayton(1) from the University of Hull, thought that the name Robyn Hod was significant; the garrison pay-roll (PRO, E101/21/32 m. 3.)  is a Latin document of the late 1330s, which lists nearly five hundred names, including twenty-five ‘Roberts’; but only one Christian name is presented in diminutive form, and that belongs to the Robyn Hod in question. He noted that diminutive forms of Christian names were not a normal feature of fourteenth-century Latin military records; a roll of the Jersey garrison in the early 1340s was also in Latin, with several hundred names, but with no diminutive forms.  Although the porter of the chamber championed by Joseph Hunter was also called Robin Hood, Ayton thought that as it was an Anglo-Norman French record, this had diminished his significance.(2)As he has pointed out, nearly all of the thirteenth and fourteenth century Robin Hoods in the records are not called Robin Hood but rather Robert Hood. Ayton mentions a man called Robert Hod serving as a messenger for Sir Thomas Lucy in 1346, and another named Robert Hood who was amongst other mounted archers serving with Thomas Ward esquire at Neufchatelen-Bray in 1363. Ayton continues: ‘As a junior member of a prominent northern banneret’s household, the first of these Roberts would, according to Sir James Holt’s view, feel a close affinity with the characters of late medieval Robin Hood ballads. On the other hand, the connection  with the legendary outlaw’s most notable skill, archery, makes the latter Robert Hood of more than normal interest; after all, none of the other often-discussed men of this name are in any way associated with the bowman’s craft. It is possible that such examples as these provide evidence of popular awareness of the Robin Hood legend in the mid-fourteenth century; but on balance, it is more likely that the name association is purely coincidental. Robert Hood is just too commonplace a name to allow for a confident connection to be made with the greenwood hero. Robin Hood on the other hand, is far from common in Latin records; and an archer of that name, as we have on the Isle of Wight in 1338, must surely be associated in some way with the legendary outlaw’. He further adds ‘Although our archer would appear to be the earliest authentic Robin Hood yet to be found in the records, he is not, of course, the original Robin Hood. He is rather a reflection of the existence of the tales’. Ayton also mentions a ‘Richard de la Lee’(3) among the hundred or so men-at-arms listed on the garrison roll, who was possibly the Richard atte Lee serving with the earl of Northampton in the Low Countries, from the summer of 1338,(4) although it is impossible to say that either were a deliberate allusion to the Richard at the Lee in the Gest.

Ayton does mention that the Christian name ‘Robin’ or surname ‘Hood’ were in themselves not unusual in fourteenth-century England, and Robin was an everyday diminutive of Robert, one of the commonest of male Christian names. Also, the Robin Hood in the Isle of Wight garrison pay-roll may have been a fabricated name for a non-existent person; the captain of the island garrison claiming pay for men who did not exist, a fraudulent practice apparently prevalent in garrison establishments. It could arise from difficulties in recruitment: a captain, unable to meet the terms of his contract, might seek to conceal the fact from the crown; but equally there were captains who would set out to make a profit through deliberate under-recruitment.

1.  Military Service and the Development of the Robin Hood Legend in the Fourteenth Century.

2.  It should be noted that in the records of the Jornal de la Chambre, the name is actually written as Robyn Hod and Robert Hod.

3.  E101/21/32 m. 3.

4.  Richard atte Lee, esquire received letters of protection in May and November 1338: Treaty Rollsii1337-1339(London, 1972), nos. 290, 653. The earl of Northampton’s retinue served in the Low Countries from 22 July 1338 to 20 February 1340: The Wardrobe Book of William de Norwell, p. 327. A Richard de la Lee had been a member of the earl of Cornwall’s retinue in Scotland in 1336 (E101/19/36 m. 1) and the name appears in various other military records of this period (e.g. E 101/35/2 m. 10; C81/1750 no. 12). The man (perhaps men) whose career in arms is considered here does not figure in John Bellamy’s recent study, Robin Hoodan historical inquiry, Ch. 6: ‘Sir Richard at the Lee’. The military connection between the Richard discussed here and the earl of Northampton may suggest, however, that he was a member of the atte Lee family of Hertfordshire (for that county represented one of the Bohun spheres of influence) which Bellamy believes to be highly significant in the development of the Gest. (Ayton, notes, pp. 133-134).