LONDON – An academic says he’s found evidence that Britain’s legendary outlaw Robin Hood wasn’t as popular as folklore suggests.
Julian Luxford says a note discovered in the margins of an ancient history book contains rare criticism of the supposedly benevolent bandit.
According to legend, Robin Hood roamed 13th-century Britain from a base in central England’s Sherwood Forest, plundering from the rich to give to the poor.
But Luxford, an art history lecturer at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews, says a 23-word inscription in the margins of a history book, written in Latin by a medieval monk about 1460, casts the outlaw as a persistent thief.
“Around this time, according to popular opinion, a certain outlaw named Robin Hood, with his accomplices, infested Sherwood and other law-abiding areas of England with continuous robberies,” the note read when translated into English, Luxford said.
“I saw his name, it leapt out at me,” Luxford, 41, said Saturday. “I knew enough about the relative dearth of references to him from the medieval period to know this might be important.”
Luxford, an expert in medieval manuscripts, said the find “contains a uniquely negative assessment of the outlaw, and provides rare evidence for monastic attitudes towards him.”
Luxford said the note – uncovered in the margin of the “Polychronicon,” a popular history book that dates from the late 1340s – is the earliest known reference to the outlaw from an English source. He said it supports arguments that the historical Robin Hood lived in the 13th century, even though most popular modern versions of the story set him in the late-12th-century reign of King Richard I.
The first mentions of Robin Hood are commonly believed to have been in late 13th-century ballads. Some academics claim the stories refer to several medieval outlaws, while others believe the tales are pure fantasy.
Luxford said his discovery may help settle debates in England about exactly where Robin Hood lived.
The northern England county of Yorkshire has long claimed he was based there, rather than neighboring Nottinghamshire – even naming a local transport hub Robin Hood Airport in tribute.
But folklore has most commonly placed Hood in Sherwood Forest – where he is reputed to have hidden from his nemesis, the Sheriff of Nottingham.
“This is another piece of evidence from the Middle Ages showing he was from Sherwood,” Luxford said. “It strengthens that connection.”