The historian Roger Dodsworth in 1620AD wrote, "Robin Locksley, born in Bradfield parish of Hallamshire, wounded his stepfather to death at plough, fled into the woods and was relieved by his mother till he was discovered. Then he came to Clifton upon Calder, and became acquainted with Little John, that kept the kine. Which said John is buried at Hathersage in Derbyshire. Little John was Earl Huntley’s son. Afterwards he joined with Much the Millar’s son."
According to legend Little John, after he had buried his comrade Robin Hood at Kirklees Priory, made his way sadly back to Hathersage where he spent his last remaining days. He dug his own grave under the old yew tree in the graveyard, near the old preaching cross and directed that his cap, bow, and arrows should be hung in the church. The ballad adds:
"His bow was in the chancel hung
His last good bolt they drave
Down to the rocks, its measured length,
Westward fro’ the grave.
And root and bud this shaft put forth,
When spring returned anon,
It grew a tree, and threw a shade,
Where slept staunch Little John."
The celebrated English antiquary, Elias Ashmole wrote in 1625 (Ashmole MS 1137:fol.147) "Little John lyes buried in Hathersage Churchyard within three miles from Castleton, near High Peake, with one stone set up at his head and another at his feete, but a large distance between them." They say that a part of his bow hangs up in the said church. From thence they have long disappeared, and a bow etc. are found at Cannon Hall, a seat of The Spencers, who were also owners of Hathersage, and his bow was always known by the name of Little John's bow. It is of spliced yew, of great size and above six feet long, though the ends where the horns were attached are broken off. It was close to the brasses of the Eyre family who were appointed "Hereditary Foresters of Peak Forest" which was a royal appointment and for this service they were allowed a bovate of land at Hope. (Hope is between Hathersage and Castleton)
Robert Eyre followed his father William in this position for which they received the high salary in those days of 12 pence a day. Not only that but they held the official rank of "Gentlemen Foresters" which was a new rank of Itinerant Foresters known as “Bow Bearers,”created by Edward I who carried a long bow as their sign of office, or else the bow was borne by an attendant. It was a crown appointment, carrying the very high remuneration for those days of a shilling a day, and went to men of knightly rank. Romantic historians would like to make them a clan of Free-Booters preying on their neighbours’ cattle, but there is no real authority for this. They were staunch to the Old Catholic Faith however and often deep in plots for its dying cause. It wasn't until around 1930 that Little John's grave was taken under the care of The Ancient Order Of Foresters and by 1935AD the iron railings, the headstone, and the small stone at the side of the grave had been erected. The inscription on the headstone reads, "Here lies Little John the friend and lieutenant of Robin Hood. He died in a cottage (now destroyed) to the west of the churchyard."
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