The Many Robin Hoods 4

A complaint was made by the tenants of Tutbury in Staffordshire against Piers Venables and his gang who had rescued John Forman in Sudbury, Derbyshire; Foreman had been ‘lawefully arrested’ and was being brought to the castle at Tutbury. Following this, Piers assembled many misdoers and ‘in manere of insurrection, wente into the wodes in that contre, like as it hadde be Robyn hode and his meyne’ (meinie, retinue); this appears in a parliamentary petition of 1439. In 1441 a group of labourers in Norfolk blocked the highway threatening to murder a certain Sir Geoffrey Harsyk and were fiercely singing: ‘We are Robynhodesmen, war, war, war’.(1) Early in 1450 there was an abortive rising in eastern Kent led by a Thomas Cheyne who went by the nickname the Hermit Bluebeard; the names of his rebel captains included King of the Fairies, Queen of the Fairies and Robin Hood. This was an example not only of rebels using the poacher’s device of false names but the very names were similar to the kind poachers employed. The leader of the great south-eastern rebellion of the summer of 1450, Jack Cade, was know variously as John Mortimer, John Amendall and the Captain of Kent; one of his henchman as the Captain’s Butcher.(2) Cade’s revolt features in  William Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 2, where Cade declares ‘For our enemies shall fall before us, inspired with the spirit of putting down kings and princes’. It is also where Dick the Butcher immortalises the words ‘The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers’. In 1498 Roger Marshall of Wednesbury, Staffordshire, defended himself in the Court of the Star Chamber, on a charge of leading a riotous assembly to Willenhall under the name of Robin Hood.(3) On the 9 November 1605, four days after the discovery of the Gunpowder plot, Robert Cecil, earl of Salisbury, wrote to Sir Charles Cornwallis, English ambassador in Spain, ‘it is also thought fit that some martial men should presently repaire down to those countries where the Robin Hoods are assembled to encourage the good and to terrifie the bad’.(4)

From the turmoil of the Wars of the Roses came Robin of Redesdale or Robin Mend-All, leader of a rebellion in Yorkshire in the spring of 1469. ‘Robin of Redesdale’ was possibly the pseudonym for Sir John Conyers, who held the key position of steward of the lordship of Middleham, the engine-room of Earl Warwick’s power in Yorkshire. At around the same time, there was another rebellion in Yorkshire led by Robin of Holderness, possibly the pseudonym for Robert Hillyard of Winestead, who appears to have been executed in that same year. Robin of Redesdale’s rebellion was supported by Warwick, known as ‘Kingmaker’, and the former was apparently alongside him at the battle of Edgecote in July of 1469; John Conyers is listed as one of the casualties. Sir John Conyers’s apparent assumption of the pseudonym ‘Robin of Redesdale’ echoed the recent use of the name Robin by leaders of popular protest in Yorkshire – probably an allusion to Robin Hood. In 1485 northern rebel leaders allegedly had the names of Robin of Redesdale, Jack Straw (a leader of the Peasants Revolt in Kent in 1381), and Master Mendall (recalling the Robin Mend-All of 1469). The Yorkshire rebels of 1489 summoned support ‘in the name of Master Hobbe Hyrste, Robin Goodfellow’s brother he is, as I trow’.(5)

A record has survived which shows that one Robert Hode had used the name of Robert Dore, this was discovered by David Pilling and Robert Lynley. The rebel chaplain Robert Stafford called himself Friar Tuck in the fifteenth century, and in 1231-2 Robert Twenge a Yorkshireman, led bands of men in attacks on the foreign clergy, he used the name ‘William Wither’. In 1336 Adam of Ravensworth sent a threatening letter to Richard, parson of Huntington near York, under the title of ‘Lionel, king of the rout of raverners (robbers),’ and addressed his message from ‘our castle of the wind in the Greenwood Tower in the first year of our reign’.(6) Little beyond this letter is known of the career of this ‘king of the robbers’, but threatening messages in the form of parodies of a royal writ were fairly common in the 1330s, and Lionel was part of a large and thriving criminal population.

1.   King’s Bench Roll, 1441.

2.  Lordship and Learning: studies in memory of Tevor Aston, edited by Ralph Evans. (Boydell Press, 2004, p. 175)

3. Collections For a History of Staffordshire (William Salt Archaeological Society, new ser., x. part I, 1907), pp. 80-1.

4.  Sir Ralph Winwood, Memorials of Affairs of State (London 1725), ii, pp. 172-3.

5.  For the references used in this paragraph see: Holt, Robin Hood, p. 58; A.J. Pollard, 1990, North- Eastern England During the Wars of the Roses, Lay Society, War, and Politics 1450-1500, pp. 304-305; John Gillingham, 1981, The Wars of the Roses, Peace and Conflict in Fifteenth-Century England, pp. 160-161; Anthony Goodman, 1981, The War of the RosesMilitary Activity and English Society, 1452-97, p. 205.

6.  E. L. G. Stones, ‘The Folvilles of Ashby Folville, Leicestershire and Their Associates in Crime 1326-41’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5 ser., vii (1957), pp. 134-5.