The Search for the Real Robin Hood

The reverend Joseph Hunter was the first to examine historic records in an attempt to find the real Robin Hood. His theories were continued and expanded upon by J. B. Walker, P. V. Harris, and J. Bellamy (see, The Many Robin Hoods 7). A more recent attempt to identify Robin has been made by David Crook, a retired archivist and former assistant keeper of the Public Records, which has become The National Archives, located at Kew, Richmond. Crook discovered a record of Robert of Wetherby, ‘outlaw and evildoer of our land’ (see, The Many Robin Hoods 11). He seems convinced that this Robert was the real Robin Hood, and his theories are expanded in Robin Hood: Legend and Reality (The Boydell Press, 2020). Crook points to Eustace of Lowdham, a candidate for the legendary sheriff of Nottingham mentioned by J. C. Holt (see, Hobbehod). Crook adds another dimension to Eustace: ‘During his relatively short period in office [as custodian sheriff of Yorkshire], Eustace of Lowdham carried out the usual tasks performed by all sheriffs, such as administering routine justice, maintaining the county goal in York, collecting the regular farms, paying his officials, making purchases, and carrying out his written instructions. His first account included the reference to the purchase of a chain to hang up the body of Robert of Wetherby, and the second the costs of the men he had sent to kill the fugitive’* (Legend and Reality, p. 238). To strengthen his case, Crook wrote: ‘It seems inherently most likely that the Robin Hood legend originally derived from a set of circumstances in which a Yorkshire outlaw was pursued by a sheriff somehow connected with Nottingham, but not specifically with Sherwood Forest’ (Legend and Reality, p. 229). This follows Dobson and Taylor’s suggestion that the late medieval legend could have been ‘an amalgam of two originally distinct story cycles (one centred on a Barnsdale outlaw, the other on the sheriff of Nottingham)’ (Rymes of Robyn Hood, 1976, pp. 14-15). J. C. Holt saw Eustace as ‘the only known sheriff from whom there may have been a tenuous link to the only known outlaw bearing the name of Robert Hood, [referring to Hobbehod] and he later became sheriff of Nottingham’ (Robin Hood, 1982, p. 61).

* Crook also states that: ‘By 1225, therefore, Yorkshire still faced severe difficulties with public order. Then, on 12 July that year, at Winchester, the king and the justiciar, Hubert de Burgh, authorized a writ to the barons of the Exchequer to allow to the sheriff of Yorkshire on his account the sum of 40s he had spent by royal order to hire sergeants to ‘seek and take and behead Robert of Wetherby, outlaw and evil-doer of our land’. The manhunt mentioned in this writ may have already been completed by the time it was issued’ (Legend and Reality, p. 222). Crook further adds: ‘Among other expenses claimed and allowed without any writ of authorisation was a further sum of 2s ‘for a chain to hang Robert of Wetherby’ (Legend and Reality, p. 223).

In a nutshell, Crook has proposed that Eustace, sheriff of both Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, was the sheriff responsible for the death of Robert of Wetherby, the real Robin Hood. But was Robert of Wetherby actually Robert Hood? Robert is in fact, one of the most common names in medieval England. Overall, Crook’s book is very informative and it adds a new dimension to our understanding of the records of criminals and wrong doers, as well as the function of the law in thirteenth century England. However, like his predecessors, Crook had to deal with one fundamental problem – his theories rely on the only comprehensive source of information – the early ballads. Unfortunately, they are unreliable – there is no evidence that they record historic events – a real sheriff of Nottingham – or a real Robin Hood – in essence, they are entertainments. Also, Crook’s belief that the Robin Hood legend existed in some form by 1262, has been disputed by Stephen Knight (see, William Robehod).

Crook also discovered that Richard of Barking and Robert of Bassingbourne were the two senior clerks and scribes responsible for writing the records of the accounts rendered by the sheriffs, the pipe roll written by Bassingbourne, and its duplicate the chancellor’s roll written by Barking (Legend and Reality, p. 247). Furthermore, Crook states that Robert of Bassingbourne ‘altered ‘Robert Hod’ to ‘Hobbehod’ in the pipe roll for 1226-7, and repeated it in the one for the following year’ (Legend and Reality, p. 253). See also, Hobbehod.

Crook offers some curious speculation: ‘during one of those vacations from his work in the Exchequer at Westminster, most likely that of the summer of 1227, Robert of Bassingbourn visited his church a Mexborough, which lies only nine miles south of Barnsdale Bar. There perhaps he found the country alive with stories about a notorious criminal, popularly known to some as ‘Hobbehod’, who had formerly been at large in the southern parts of Yorkshire. After a successful career, perhaps as a highway robber, during which he managed for a time to evade capture, he had in 1225 at last succumbed to a group of professional man-hunters employed by the sheriff at the king’s expense. They had, as instructed, hunted him down and beheaded him, and the sheriff has displayed his body by hanging it in chains in York as an example to others.’ Crook also adds: ‘Returning before Michaelmas to work at Westminster, and preparing the Yorkshire account for the pipe roll for the eleventh year of the reign (1226-7), Bassingbourne guessed, rightly or wrongly, that the Robert Hod whose name he had entered in the previous roll was the criminal about whom he had heard so much during his recent visit to Yorkshire’ (Legend and Reality, p. 250). But as to whether Robert of Wetherby and Hobbehod were one and the same person, Crook was actually non-committal. He himself admits: ‘All that can be said for certain is that the two men shared the same, very common, forename, and broke the law in the same, very large, county at about the same time’ (Legend and Reality, p. 254, and The Many Robin Hoods 11).

Robert Hod of Linton


A discovery by Robert Lynley, some twenty years ago, offers a plausible candidate for the Yorkshire fugitive Hobbehod – Robert Hod of Linton (see, Perambulations). Lynley’s records, collated below, could possibly point to one and the same man:

1. (1210-1212) The Sheriff ordered the arrest of Robert de Linton, Nigel Pincerna, Matthew de Bram and others, apparently concerning a case of Mort de Ancestor (the death of an ancestor). All three men were present at the Hornington attack (see, no. 4 below). As can be seen in the second entry, the name ‘Robertus Camerius de Linton’ appears; the Latin word ‘Camerius’ means a Chamberlain, an officer who manages the household of a monarch or noble. Robertus Camerarius de Linton / Roberti Camerarii is also recorded in The Percy Chartulary (page 59) in connection with land held, that apparently passed to ‘Hobkin, clerk, son of the aforesaid Robert Chamberlain’ (the son of Robert Hod de Linton?), and in the same record Willelmi de Perci is mentioned. On page 75 of The Percy Chartulary it is recorded that the meadow called Hobekinheng had been held by Hobkin, the clerk, son of Robert the chamberlain. On page 91 of The Percy Chartulary there appears Roberti de Linton / Roberti Camerarii de Linton / Roberti Camerarii / Robertus Camerarius, and Robertus Hudi, also in connection with land held. It should be pointed out that Willelmi de Perci held land in Linton and Wetherby; he died in 1245 (The Percy Chartulary, viii). There is an undeniable connection between the Percys and Robert Hod de Linton (see also, no. 1 below).

2. (1218-1219) Robert de Linton robbed Ivo of Wetherby.

3. (1223?) A record of a Robert Hod as a witness to a land grant, and there are other grants that are similar which mention Robert de Linton, and all relate to the area within one or two miles of Linton/Wetherby, which is not far from Barnsdale. As can be seen, Matthew de Bram is also mentioned as a witness to this land grant, and so is Nigel the butler of Dicton. The Latin word for butler is Pincerna, so Nigel the butler must be the Nigel Pincerna mentioned along with Matthew de Bram in no. 1 above and no. 4 below. This almost certainly confirms that Robert Hod and Robert de Linton were one and the same person.

4. (1224) William de Percy and some of his tenants attacked the mill at Hornington (south of York) that was owned by Robert de Percy. In the attack, millstones were smashed and servants were beaten and robbed. Three of the malefactors were Robert de Linton , Nigel Pincerna, and Matthew de Bram (see, Robert of Linton and nos. 1 and 3 above). The attack at Hornington is recorded by David Crook (Legend and Reality, p. 221), but no mention of Robert de Linton.

5. (1230-1240?) A Robertus Hode (also written as Robertus Hudi), a landowner, appears in a Percy Chartulary concerning Whitewell, a vill near Linton.

6. (1241-42) Robert Hod of Linton, Pipe Rolls, Yorkshire, debt in Archis Cirographorum.

7. (1257-58) Robert Hod of Lynton, Pipe Rolls, Yorkshire, under heading of Robert de Ros, forest justice (see, Robert Hod of Lynton).

1. The two records above (nos. 4 and 5) provide further impetus to a connection between Robert Hod of Linton and the Percys who were powerful landowners in Yorkshire. In addition to the Hornington attack (no. 4 above) there were other disputes between the Percys (see, The Percy Chartulary).

2. Did the Percys give Robert Hod of Linton a land tenancy – this could make him a yeoman or freeman (see, Feudal Land Tenure).

3. Was there a dispute between Robert Hod and the Percys.

4. Did the Percys reclaim Robert Hod’s tenancy.

5. Did Robert Hod become a fugitive in 1225, as was the case with Hobbehod.

6. Were the charges against Hobbehod finally resolved in 1240 (see, The Dean and Chapter of York.

Additional Considerations


The fact that the Yorkshire fugitive is recorded as ‘hobbehod’ on two occasions (see, Hobbehod) is quite unusual. Hob is an old English nickname for Robyn or Robert, so in effect ‘hobbehod’ could be read as Robehod or Robynhod. David Crook discovered the record of the fugitive William, son of Robert le Fevere, who is also referred to as William Robehod (see, William Robehod). In addition, there are several medieval men recorded as having the surname Robehod/Robynhood or similar (see, List of Names), and a manuscript of the c. 1390s refers to Robin Hood as Robynhod (see, no. 2 in Robin Hood Timeline). Although these surnames could be construed as a patronymic (ie. the name of the father), could Robehod (or Robynhood) actually be a nickname for killers, outlaws, or thieves; could this be a reference to the memory of the Yorkshire fugitive Hobbehod? The earliest man given the surname Robehod, so far discovered, appears to be Crook’s William Robehod, but when we examine some of the others with the same surname, recorded as killers, outlaws, or thieves, the theory gathers momentum:

1. In the Hampshire eyre of 1272 the presenting jury for Fareham hundred said that John Robehod was one of four men in the tithing of Roger le Page of Compton who killed John son of Simon after a quarrel at an inn at Charford, after which he fled and was outlawed (Crook, Legend and Reality, p. 176, n, 69; TNA, JUST 1/780, rot. 18d).

2. In the same year Alexander Robehod was one of many men indicted for burglary, homicide or larceny in Lexden hundred in Essex who failed to appear before the eyre justices and so were outlawed; unlike many of the others he was not reported as being in a tithing, and so may have been a wandering vagabond (Crook, Legend and Reality, p. 176, n, 70; TNA, JUST 1/238, rot. 58).

3. In the 1286 Suffolk eyre, in Blackbourne hundred, Gilbert Robehod was released to pledges by the justices after an unspecified charge in Suffolk had led to a steward taking 10s from him (Crook, Legend and Reality, p. 176, n, 71; TNA, JUST 1/827, rot. 41d).

4. In 1294 in the Hampshire hundred of Evingar a Robert Robehod, who had been born at Sutton Scotney, was indicted for stealing four sheep (Crook, Legend and Reality, p. 176, n, 72; TNA, JUST 1/1301, rot. 12).

For various names that refer or possibly refer to Robin Hood, see, The Many Robin Hoods 3.