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03/27/2003 Archived Entry: "Robin Hood"

Recently I spent a few days at Ravenscar on the east coast about ten miles north of Scarborough. The dining room windows of the Raven Hall Hotel take in a breathtaking vista across the wide bay and I decided I must get out there and walk along the cliff top to Robin Hoodís Bay. As I walked, it seemed so peaceful in the early morning sunshine, with yellowhammers trilling in the gorse bushes close by and the sound of a distant motorboat on patrol. I was reminded of a time not quite so tranquil when, according to local legend, Robin Hood had a hideout on this spectacular stretch of coastline.

Robin Hood's Bay

Everyone knows that Robin Hood is one of Englandís most famous romantic heroes, but did he really exist? This is a continuing puzzle and there are many stories of his life. One of them claims Robin Hood was born at Wakefield in West Yorkshire where the manor court rolls of 1272-1307 show the existence of a forester called Adam Hood. In 1290, he and his wife produced a son called Robert, a name which at that time was often shortened to Robin.
The young Robin was taught the ways of forest life and was once fined 2d for stealing wood. In 1315, when he was 25, he married Matilda who was described as "a bonny fine maid of worthy degree" and for a time they lived at Campsall between Wakefield and Doncaster. It is possible that Matilda was surnamed Fitzwalter and the daughter of the Baron of Arlingford. Sometime after their wedding, the couple leased a plot of land at Bickhill near Wakefield for which they paid two shillings. It was ten yards long by five yards wide, and there they built a five-bedroomed house. The site was near a medieval market and is near the present Bull Ring.
Robin was recruited by the Earl of Lancaster to fight against Edward II (1307-27); he had no choice but to fight because the land he had leased belonged to the Earl of Lancaster. Robin Hood was 32 when the battle was fought at Boroughbridge in 1322, the king being the victor.
Robin, now considered a rebel because he had fought against the king, had his house confiscated and thus he and Matilda were homeless. She called herself Marion, a name often given to girls called Matilda and the couple fled into the forest to live as outlaws. The dales of Yorkshire were heavily afforested at that time, the massive forest of Barnsdale stretching south from the Yorkshire Dales to join the huge Sherwood Forest near Nottingham.
Robin made two firm friends, one being a seven foot high sailor called John Little and another called Will who always dressed in red. He became known as Will Scarlet. It is known that Edward II began to take a keen interest in Robin and his expanding band of friends because this group of outlaws were rapidly becoming a legend. They roamed the forests around Harrogate and Knaresborough - the story of him meeting Little John on a footbridge and being knocked into the river is said to have occurred near Fountains Abbey. Friar Tuck also hailed from Fountains - there's a lovely story of Robin's first meeting with the "curtal fryar" in the grounds of the abbey.
In one of his battles with the king's men, however, Robin Hood was severely injured and taken to his cousin's convent at Kirklees near Huddersfield in West Yorkshire. She was Elizabeth Stainton, a noted physician and prioress of the convent, and as his supporters waited in the woods, she treated her ailing cousin. But she allowed him to bleed to death for reasons which are not clear. The dying Robin shot an arrow from the room in which he lay and said he wished to be buried where the arrow fell. That grave is in the grounds of the present Kirklees Priory but there is no public access.
If these facts are true, it means Robin Hood was a Yorkshireman, a suggestion that is akin to treason in Nottingham. There are other references to him in Yorkshire; but did he really come to Robin Hoodís Bay when the Kingís men were hunting for him? These stories perpetuate the mystery of Robin Hood but we still donít know whether his life was one of pure fiction or whether the man of this enduring legend actually lived.

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